Archive for December, 2015

Helion & Co – a quick plus plus on customer service

Many thanks to Helion & Co for their great customer service!

Helion & Co Ltd is a military history book publisher here in the UK. I approached them on Friday about whether I could reproduce a map from their book “The Combat History of the 21. Panzer Division” for one of our Mission Command scenarios. Not only did I receive permission on the Saturday morning, but also today I received high quality images to use. So within 1 working day of the request, I have all the material I need!

A huge thank you to Helion (www.helion.co.uk)!

The relevant image now forms part of the “21 into 6 won’t go?” scenario at http://www.surprisedstaregames.co.uk/MissionCommand.

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Mission Command: Scenario 1 – 21 into 6 won’t go?

At long last, I’ve produced the first “proper” scenario for Mission Command.  This is now an addition to the Introductory teaching scenario in the Umpire’s Manual.

This first scenario is one of a set called “21 into 6 Won’t Go?”.  The set presents some “what if?” situations on D-Day 6 June 1944 in the area around the bridge over the Orne canal that came to be known as Pegasus Bridge. The Abbeywood Irregulars wargaming group has played variations of this several times over the last few years, taking advantage of the relatively easy availability of British paratroops (thanks to Pete) and 21st Panzer Division vehicles (thanks to yours truly), supplemented by the many extras in the collections of our players. I like to think we’ve had a lot of fun experimenting with timings and sizes of the opposing forces, and no doubt we’ll continue to experiment in the future.

Historically the British 6th Airborne Division’s role was to protect the left flank of the invasion beaches. Specially trained elite British glider troops captured the Orne canal bridge and the Orne river bridge via a coup de main (Operation Deadstick). The major part of the division landed by parachute or glider to the east and south of Caen as well as at the crossings over the River Dives further to the east. The main opposition to the 6th Airborne was from elements of the German 716th Infantry Division, a relatively weak “static” division, and the 21st Panzer Division, both of which were not concentrated and were hampered by a combination of parachute landings over a wide area, German command confusion, Allied air supremacy, Allied naval gunfire and determined fighting by 6th Airborne. The Germans were sufficiently disrupted – partly through enemy action and partly through their own failings – that they didn’t carry out a large scale counter-attack until late in the afternoon. Although part of the counter-attacking forces reached the coast at Lion-sur-Mer at about 19:00, the main armoured components of 21st Panzer Division attacking to the west of the Orne were beaten off by the 3rd British Division, and the German troops at the coast were withdrawn when further British airborne landed in the late evening. 6th Airborne was reinforced by commandos and by elements of 3rd Division, and the Germans were never to see the sea again.

What if the German 21st Panzer Division had launched a major attack on the British 6th Airborne Division during the morning of 6 June? This was after all the expectation not only of the British high command but also of many of the senior officers of 21st Panzer Division at the time.

The first scenario, now available for download at http://www.surprisedstaregames.co.uk/MissionCommand, suggests that a Kampfgruppe of 21st Panzer Division was able to attack at 10:00 on 6 June. The sequence of events as a result of the airborne landings shows that the Division was formally alerted at about 02:00 and that most elements, including its tanks, were ready to move by 04:00. An examination of the pre-invasion deployment of 21st Panzer Division and its routes of march suggest that a 10:00 start time for an attack towards the Ranville area would have been very reasonable – if anything, rather late. The first scenario is restricted to the area to the east of the Orne, so that the size of the forces on each side and the area of battle can be handled by relatively small teams of players. The second scenario is intended to cover both sides of the Orne, and includes larger forces on both sides, together with British reinforcements from the invasion beaches. The third and final scenario suggests that the German concentration was very rapid, so that an attack can happen very early in the morning before the invasion itself has started.

Researching this particular scenario has been a fascinating exercise. The major source for 21 Panzer Division (“neu” as the re-built division was known) is Werner Kortenhaus’ book “The Combat History of the 21 Panzer Division”, initially available only in German.  Having acquired this excellent publication a few years back and made use of my limited knowledge of German, I made a reasonable (with a dictionary!) stab at the historical reality, as far as one can go, and reinforced by other less detailed sources. Then the book was translated and published in English by Helion & Co, so reference became a lot easier!  Herr Kortenhaus was in 4th Kompanie of the 21st’s Panzer regiment during the invasion and supplemented his own personal recollections by collecting unpublished accounts from other survivors.  Exact details of equipment and numbers of soldiers are, of course, impossible, despite the publication in the book of the 1 June 1944 monthly strength report. Interestingly there are some differences between the monthly report and the equipment inventory for 5 June also published in this volume.  For a wargame designer this is a bit of a relief, because it means that many of the potential factual errors in the listings that we use in our scenarios are at least defensible.

One specific detail of 21 Panzer’s equipment is the situation regarding French tanks in its second tank battalion.  About half of the battalion is listed as Somua S35 and Hotchkiss conversions.  However, I’ve not found evidence of them being used in combat (if anyone out there has evidence, please let me know).  Kortenhaus, being in the first battalion, may not have known, and he suggests that second battalion was in the process of converting entirely to Panzer IVH.  I rather like the idea that a couple of companies of II Abeilung Panzer Regiment 22 had Panzer IVHs straight from the factory with no camouflage paint and untrained crew – truly green!

Of course a major point of interest in 21st Panzer division is its reliance on Major Becker’s French vehicle conversions. This scenario allows you to deploy the Unic P107 (f) half-track and the assault guns made from old Hotchkiss tank chassis, as well as SP artillery mounted on the Lorraine Schlepper.  It’s also worth bearing in mind that this “fully mobile” Panzer division had a battalion of horse-drawn guns.

On the British side we engaged in extensive research on the composition and orders for 6 Airborne Division.  Much of this material is available on the web from the excellent Paradata website (http://www.paradata.org.uk/). This huge body of information enabled us to confirm what landed when, and in particular that 5 Brigade had a strong battery of AT guns from 03:30 onwards, including 17 pounders.  One of the advantages the paras had was the availability of heavy weapons, certainly unexpected by the Germans. Support included not only the AT guns to add extra punch to the usual PIAT, but also a dedicated battery of 25 pounders from 3rd British Infantry Division (with the rest of the regiment in extremis), and importantly the dedicated support of significant naval gun assets.  This is by no means to denigrate the performance of 5 Brigade, which accomplished its tasks on the day (pretty much the only brigade to achieve all its D-Day objectives, I think).  It helps to explain why 21 Panzer Division had such a hard time against the supposedly “lightly-armed” paras.

We hope that this set of scenarios will shed some light on why events unfolded as they did, and some understanding of what might have happened if the actors had made different, and still very reasonable, decisions.

Airfix Battles – oldie models, new games

Though Mission Command has been taking up a lot of my 2015, what with launch of the alpha version, another little project was offered to me by that kind Mr Birch at Modiphius Entertainment. Airfix Battles!

Airfix! Certainly a name to conjure with for those of us of a certain age. Like most wargamers of my vintage, I was brought up on those 1/72 and 1/76 scale figures and models. I’m not ashamed to say that I still have a few trays of Airfix Napoleonic Line Infantry that I can use alongside the more conventional lead stuff acquired over the years. It was only at my last house move that I decided to ditch a swathe of 40+ year old Airfix plastic – huge numbers of ACW and Napoleonic soldiers consigned to a skip :(. But enough of reminiscences.

Nick Fallon and Chris Birch asked me to give them a hand with ‘One War’ as Airfix Battles was initially labelled. My credentials were mostly as a WW2 buff – I’d introduced them to Mission Command earlier, so I wasn’t an entirely unknown quantity – so I was brought in to help out with historical details in the first instance. I found the project very interesting and a great contrast with Mission Command. The latter has focused very much on detailed simulation, whereas Airfix Battles is all about playability. Yes, theme has to be accurate and the ‘feel’ of the game is vital. However, the Airfix Battles Introductory Set has to do what it says on the tin – introduce newbies to the wargaming hobby, specifically WW2 land battles, while also appeal to the, ahem, older fan. Players have to be up and having fun within minutes.

After a few weeks of tinkering and developing, I was honoured to be asked to co-design the system with Nick and Chris. How could I refuse?

To be entirely fair the Airfix Battles system had been at least sketched out by the time I got involved. It’s a D6 system based on squared maps with only 1 Unit – primarily infantry and vehicles – allowed per square. Movement and shooting are configured on the basis of squares, where a more complex board wargame might use hexes, and a tabletop game would use tape measures. It uses Unit cards to describe the troops themselves. In the first set these cover stuff you’d see in a late war Normandy game – Shermans, Panzer IVs, basic infantry squads, MG sections, snipers and the like.

Players take actions with their troops by playing Command Cards from a limited hand. Actions are what you would expect – primarily about moving and firing – but we have interesting and fun combinations with additions to movement points and variations to firing, so that the unexpected can easily crop up and challenge the unprepared. IMHO the system does a good job of representing ‘fire and movement’. Keeping the enemies’ heads down really pays, especially if you’re aiming to assault a dug in squad!

Airfix Battles has preconfigured small scenarios to teach the rules gradually. More experienced players can dive into larger fare and design their own forces, as each Unit has a points value dependent on its weapons, abilities, and importantly its ‘War Dice value’, a number that must be rolled to succeed when the Unit fires or rallies. You can play with a single player on each side, or with 2 or more players per side taking team decisions. There’s also a solo play mechanism.

The Intro Set will come with counters for those who don’t already have Airfix models. But it’s really time to break out the old Airfix collection, base up those WW2 infantry, re-paint those Panzer IVs, and declare ‘Panzer Marsch!’