Archive for the 'Surprised Stare Games' Category

Hell on Wheels 2: Frome Big Game for May 2019

Our Frome Big Game for May 2019 was a second version of the Mission Command: Normandy game we ran at Salute – All Hell (on Wheels) Broke Out. It was set in the area south of St Lo on 27 July 1944 during Operation Cobra, the American breakout
from Normandy. The scenario is mostly historical, but simplified for ease of play. The US aim for this stage of Operation Cobra was to break through the German positions south-west and south of St Lo, then strike to Coutances and the coast, thereby cutting off the majority of the German 7th Army and opening the way to Brittany. The German aim was to prevent the breakthrough, and later, to escape the encirclement. In the previous 2 days in the area of the front for the scenario, US 30th Infantry Division had cleared the way for the armoured advance, and the CCA of 2d Armored Division (Hell on Wheels) had broken through due south to Canisy. Now, CCB must create an angle of advance to the south-west and the roads to Cérences and the coast. The scenario starts in the morning of 27 July with leading units of US 2d Armored Division’s CCB advancing from Canisy.

The purpose of the scenario was to set the American players the problem of co-ordinating their forces quickly against a much smaller German force. Historically, CCB more-or-less brushed aside the mixed force of Panzer Lehr that the Germans pushed desperately at them here, then motored forward encountering little resistance for the rest of the day. For our purposes, we modelled the Advance Guard of CCB/2d Armored Division, consisting of a couple of tank companies, supported by 2 companies of armored infantry, 1 of tank destroyers, plus some reconnaissance and self-propelled artillery. It also had fighter-bomber support from P-47 Thunderbolts. To make a game of it, we boosted the Germans a little from their historical forces and gave them a day to dig in – so, only simple entrenchments and a small number of alternative positions. The Americans win if they can exit 3 companies (including 1 of tanks) off the German end of the table within 12 turns (2 hours of game time). This is effectively a 4 kilometre+ advance through the last German resistance and then off into open country.

For the Salute game, the Germans had a few tank obstacles, which had the effect of funnelling the American vehicles. This led to a bottleneck that enabled the Germans to focus their defence. With masterful play from Richard, one of our best MC:N players, the Americans failed to complete their conversion of the breakthrough to a quick exploitation. Holding up CCB would have meant that other components of 2d and 3d US Armored Divisions would have had more work to do. However, the purpose of the Salute demonstration game was to show off the MC:N system and that worked very well.

At Frome, we removed the rather unhistorical tank obstacles, widened the table a bit and modified both sides forces slightly. The Americans gained the rest of the tank battalion – as 2d Armored Div was a ‘heavy’ version, this consisted of a company of Stuarts – and the rest of the Field Artillery Regiment. The Germans gained a StuGIII element.

We had 6 American players, 2 German and myself as umpire. A few players had played at Salute, so knew the scenario. In fact, Richard switched sides to become the American C-in-C, while Lloyd flipped from American to German.

AmericanSetup2

American setup

North is at the top of the board for simplicity! The Americans took note of the cramped nature of their development in the previous game, so their setup involved an infantry and tank company (in MC:N, ‘joint activation’) in the south, a second such grouping in the north, with recce supplied across the full length of the stream, with the Stuarts concentrated also in the north. A second echelon was to be provided by the tank destroyers and various assets of HQ units.

Artillery firepower was concentrated in a regimental force, for smoke (initially) and then for pounding various targets. Though it didn’t cause many casualties during the day, this was because the Germans were not forced to defend in static positions – and the artillery fire did make them move once they had been discovered.

The American recce was extremely unlucky. The Germans had put troops well forward, including their tanks, so some recce were hit as they crossed the stream. Unfortunately, each separate recce group managed to fail their morale tests, so they were largely thrown back and unable to report on the situation till the follow-up troops had already crossed. In fact, this joint infantry and tank group in the north should really have been delayed, owing to lack of the recce information, but it was hit almost immediately by flanking tank fire, so it started to lose Shermans. Therefore, it launched its attack despite the recce failure.

Standing orders from the American players for these experienced troops was always to have significant elements in overwatch to respond to fire. This worked very well and the Germans quickly lost most of their tanks in forward positions… leaving some StuGs as their sole remaining armour component.

Note the knocked out armoured car element in the stream above. In the distance is a knocked out Panzer IV element that had been giving flank fire onto the Shermans, defiladed from attack by the southern group. It was destroyed by the northern group’s overwatching units.

The northern companies ran into entrenched panzerfausts in a patch of brush. Although they inflicted losses, the Germans were relatively quickly overwhelmed. The yellow cubes are suppression markers. Note the empty entrenchment marker next to the panzerfaust element – an HMG element has just legged it, as it could do very little against the armour. The tank destroyer second echelon is just crossing the stream.

DSC_0220

Southern companies advance by bounds

The southern companies advanced swiftly and by bounds against little opposition. The German tanks in the way were fixed on the northern advance and were dealt with by them, leaving the southern units with a relatively clear route.

In the picture above, the 2 leading Sherman elements (representing half a company) have taken up a position on the ridge – they will go into overwatch so the other elements of the companies can pass through to the village just out of shot to the south. Note the mortar elements at the back ready to give support by smoke or HE.

PoundingLeSault

Pounding Le Sault

This is one of my own iPhone pictures to show an overview of the early part of the American advance. Note the good spacing of the tanks in the bottom right of the shot, contrasting with the necessarily bunched up vehicles near the road. If the Germans had had medium artillery, this bunching would have been a problem for the Americans.

The StuG towards the top of the picture has engaged the Shermans with opportunity fire. IIRC, return fire was inhibited, because of the shoulder of the woods. Hence, the importance of supporting artillery and air power – Thunderbolts were used to try to shift the Germans. Although the aircraft didn’t do much damage, they were a concern for the Germans, as it proved difficult to impossible for them to hold their positions. Without time to dig in properly, the Germans were to find it a very hard day.

The village of Le Sault above was being pounded by US artillery. Meanwhile the leading infantry of the southern group was hit by mortar fire – red cube is a casualty, yellows are suppressions. This was a well coordinated advance. If there *had* been opposition here, the Americans were well prepared.

DSC_0232

Another advantage the Americans had was the ever-present Piper Cub spotter plane for the artillery. It was used primarily to continue to report the whereabouts of the StuGs, which therefore had to keep moving (largely back) to avoid reprisals from aircraft or artillery. Under MC:N rules, the spotter plane can stay in the air for 6 turns, so this was half of the game. It would have been vulnerable to antiaircraft fire, but in this scenario the Germans only had MGs and preferred to remain concealed. 2cm auto-cannons would have probably discouraged this brazen Piper Cub.

DSC_0236

Taking the center

Part of the northern group of companies flooded over the raised ground in the centre, accepting some light casualties, primarily from mortar fire. Personally, I would have been a little more circumspect, but fortunately the Germans were unable to respond with an artillery strike (they had only 1 battery of Wespe, and limited ammunition).

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The final ridge

The final ridge contained the main concentrated German infantry force – a single coherent element (in MC:N, this type has integrated MG and panzerfaust – this unit also has a command function).  An attempt to overrun it with half-tracks failed. It might have been better to have simply shot it to bits, but as speed was of the essence, I think an overrun attempt wasn’t a terrible idea. Note that it has now been suppressed thoroughly; each suppression is -1 on its chance to hit. As it is surrounded, it’s likely to surrender (in MC:N, if an element is forced to retire or retreat with no clear route, and enemy is within 5cm (100 metres), then it surrenders).

DSC_0242

Smoke at the enemy position

This smoke (above) was used to prevent the StuGs from engaging the Americans in the centre. It’s good practice to put the smoke close to the enemy position, to minimise their field of fire.

FinalAdvance

Final position

By the end of the game, the American infantry and tank companies in the south had exited to the left (west), to continue the exploitation with no resistance ahead of them. They were quickly joined by the tank destroyer company to confirm the American victory. Only mopping up remains to be done, while the StuGs will pull back north and west to try to fight another day. Note the empty abandoned entrenchments over the battlefield.

The last action of the game was a massive bombardment of the woods to the bottom left of the picture. As luck would have it, this was the exact position of the German kampfgruppe. They managed to flee with only light casualties; it could have been much worse.

For a more historical version of this game, keep the Americans as indicated, but remove the German’s StuG element, give them no alternative positions and no proper tank positions. It’s important then to focus very much on American command control. We now prefer to separate the C-in-Cs from the tabletop, so they have rely on subordinates to tell them what’s going on.

Pictures: mainly from Neil Ford’s excellent work.

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Mission Command: Normandy – notes from the front, 5

Blowing Hot and Cold

A key concept in Mission Command is that of a hot situation or a cold situation. Our reasoning is that when it gets “up close and personal”, troops react differently. There’s a strong tendency to keep down, to remain out of sight as much as possible, and generally to avoid being targeted. So, this leads to some changes in actions that troops can take.

A situation is defined as “hot”, if there’s a visible enemy within 25cm or you are shot at within 25cm. This is 500 metres on the ground, so danger is imminent. In some circumstances, you can be shot at within 25cm without being able to see the firing element sufficiently to return fire – you know that they’re “over there”, but cannot pinpoint the fire. You’re still hot. If 1 element in the group is hot, the whole group is hot. Otherwise, the situation is cold.

To understand what this means in practice, it helps to know what you can do with the elements under your control. An element has 2 actions in a turn, unless it’s suppressed, in which case it gets only 1 action. The main actions are things like Move, Shoot and Communicate, and there’s also a bunch of specialist actions like Hedgerow Gapping, Overrun, Demolitions and so on. There are some important restrictions on when an action can be carried out. For example, a Shoot action is only a first action. This means that it’s Shoot then Move, if you want to do both in 1 turn. In this case, the firing element will take a -2 modifier on the firing, representing the reduced time spent shooting because it’s also moving in the time period. So, it’s best to do some forward planning with your elements. Moving in 1 turn, then setting up in Overwatch in the next turn, will enable your forces to immediately engage an enemy group with fire when it comes into view, for example, by moving or by firing itself and thereby revealing its position.

In a cold situation, an element can Move Twice (capital M, capital T) as 1 action. This means it moves up to 2 times its normal movement rate in 1 action. It can then do another Move Twice action as its second action, resulting in it moving 4 times its normal movement rate in 1 turn. An infantry element has a normal movement rate of 5cm (100 metres on the ground), so in a cold situation it can move up to 20cm or 400 metres. This enables us to overcome a common wargame difficulty that troops are fixed to a single, usually relatively low “combat movement rate” regardless of the actual circumstances. As a contrast, in a hot situation, our infantry element cannot do Move Twice actions, but only Move Once actions. It could therefore move up to 10cm or 200 metres in a single turn (2 Move Once actions), half the rate when it’s cold. But doing 2 Move actions in a single turn counts as moving fast, which makes the element more vulnerable to fire, so a more cautious movement is to do a single Move Once action in the turn. Furthermore, if the element has been shot at and suppressed – a relatively common occurrence – it only has 1 action anyway, so can only carry out 1 Move Once action, for 5cm or 100 metres in 1 turn.

Communication is a vital part of Mission Command, and is carried out through Communicate actions. It’s worth noting here that, with only 2 actions, an element cannot Shoot, Move and Communicate in the same turn – you have to choose. In a cold situation, Communicate can be a first action, a second action, or conceivably both. An element receiving a new order as its first action can then start to do it as its second action. However, in a hot situation, troops are more keen on staying alive than communicating, so Communicate can only be the last action of the 2 actions allowed for the element. So, it’s slower to change orders, report back or share information when bullets are flying round your head. This includes Forward Observation Officers in particular, as it can slow down calling in artillery support.

We give numerous examples of hot and cold situations in the Reference Manual and in the Playing Mission Command: Normandy supplement.

p25_tanksSmoke

A bit of a hot situation

Mission Command: Normandy – notes from the front, 4

21 into 6 Won’t Go

hh:mm, 6 June 1944

The evening for the Germans has been unpleasant. Although our weather experts had suggested that the invasion was possible during 5 and 6 June, the weather hasn’t been particularly good, so we hadn’t really anticipated it. Some of our troops had even been on exercises overnight, with blank ammunition. The waiting was expected to continue, and everyone has been enjoying the Normandy butter, cheese, ‘crème freche’ and cider.

05:30 variant: From soon after midnight, local commanders received reports that paratroopers were dropping and gliders were landing in the area of operations. All units were alerted, and local resistance ‘in situ’ was ordered. Very soon the first prisoners were taken. Interrogation has revealed that the British 6th Airborne Division jumped during the night in order to take the bridges over the Orne at Ranville intact. In addition, paratroops have been reported from near Bayeux through to the Seine estuary, with many obviously targeting bridges across the Dives. It’s not yet clear whether this is a raid or the start of the invasion.

It is now 05:30. General Feuchtinger (CO 21st Panzer Division) has been in Paris for a few days and has not yet returned. Unfortunately the Division’s chief of staff is also away, so the Division’s overall leadership has not yet got a grip on the situation. Fortunately Rommel at Heeres Gruppe B HQ has acted quickly, has placed the 22 Panzer Regiment commander (Oberst Oppeln-Bronikowski) in temporary command and given direct instructions to the more junior staff at post. Rommel himself is expected at Divisional HQ in St Pierre sur Dives shortly. Combat formations of 21 Panzer Division have set up all round defensive positions during the night, and have started local counter-attacks. Our standing orders are to go into action immediately in the event of an airborne landing, using all available local forces, and including the whole division. In the absence of Feuchtinger, Rommel, via 7th Armee, has attached the Division to 84th Korps (General der Artillerie Erich Marcks) and ordered it to attack the airborne troops in its area, including in particular those around the Orne bridges to the north and those threatening Caen and the Dives bridges.

10:00 variant: As paragraph 1 in 05:30 variant above, then…

Fortunately, Rommel had managed to persuade Hitler that a face-to-face conference initially planned for early June should wait, so the German high command has been able to get some grip on the situation. Unfortunately, communication with Heeres Gruppe B during the night has been disrupted, and orders for a night attack had not been given. So 21st Panzer Division had set up a defensive front during the night and early hours of the morning, while the coastal division (716) has been subjected to extreme assault. General Feuchtinger has been in Paris for a few days, but has returned immediately on receipt of news of the attack. He has received orders from Rommel to organise an attack by the entire Division against the easternmost beaches and the airborne forces to the north. It is now 10:00.

Historical variant: As paragraph 1 in 05:30 variant above, then…

“Gradually we were becoming filled with anger. The clearance for an immediate night attack, so as to take advantage of the initial confusion among our opponents, had still not come… The hours passed. We had set up a defensive front where we had been condemned to inactivity… But clearance was strictly denied… If Rommel had been with us instead of in Germany, he would have disregarded all orders and taken action… Finally, [we’ve been ordered] to attack at once, with the whole division, east of the Orne…” [from Panzer Commander, The Memoirs or Colonel Hans Von Luck]

But now new orders have come from 7th Armee: “The bulk of the 21st Panzer Division will attack the enemy forces that have landed west of the Orne; only elements of von Luck’s combat group will attack the bridgehead east of the Orne.”

It is now 16:20 (!) and the attack starts.

Frankreich, Rommel bei 21. Pz.Div.

Rommel inspects the 21st Panzer Division

The purpose of this scenario, or rather set of scenarios, is to give some insight into the tactical situation facing the 21st Panzer Division and British 6th Airborne Division on 6 June 1944. As there is more coherent information about what happened on the eastern side of the Orne around Ranville than the western side around Bénouville, I’ve focused most of the action on the Ranville side. With up to 4 players per team, we recommend that the forces should consist of around a Brigade or so; roughly 2 to 4 battalions plus supports. Historically, Von Luck’s kampfgruppe (east side of the river) consisted of:

  • 4th Company, Panzerregiment 22 (Kortenhaus’ outfit, which is one reason his book covers this in some detail; see Notes from the Front 3)
  • 2nd Battalion, 125th Panzergrenadier Regiment
  • 9th and 10th companies
  • 3rd Company, 125th Panzergrenadier Regiment
  • Assault Gun Battalion 200
  • Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion 21 (though this didn’t arrive till after midnight, so can effectively be discounted)
  • Elements of 716th Infantry Division

The British had 5th Parachute Brigade. On the eastern side of the Orne, this consisted of 12th and 13th Parachute Regiments, plus D Company, 2nd Battalion, the Ox & Bucks Light Infantry, who had taken the bridges in the night. Plus supports. This, again, provides a solid set of forces for up to 4 players. With more players, it’s relatively easy to add in a small force on the western side of the bridges; 7th Para Regiment for the British and some companies from 192nd Panzergrenadiers, including their 8th heavy company for the Germans.

Both parachute battalions were comparatively weak early on, but later in the day they got stronger as more paras rallied to the drop zone. Therefore, it’s important to increase the parachute battalions’ starting strengths when playing later variants. For example, 3rd Company of 13th Regiment was dropped wildly astray, so this unit can either be omitted entirely or included as a fairly random late reinforcement.

One of the important things to bear in mind in this set of scenarios is that the British forces here are by no means the lightly-armed troops surrounded by masses of Panzers that legend would have us believe. Supporting forces included a strong battery of AT guns landed by glider that we represent by 3 6-pounder models and 1 17-pounder model. The paras also have access later in the day to 3 25-pounder batteries of the 76th Field Artillery from 3rd Infantry Division, as well as 6″ and 4″ naval gun support from HMS Mauritius. The naval guns are the equivalent of 4 medium artillery models and 2 field artillery models. So, from mid-morning at the latest, 5th Parachute Brigade will be able to use as much artillery firepower as the whole of 21st Panzer Division’s complement. However, in the earliest time variant, this firepower will not be available at the start.

HMS_Mauritius_firing

HMS Mauritius firing

Both the inaccurate drops of the paras and the disparate left behind elements of 716th Division can be modelled by the use of pre-written Event Cards. These can be pre-programmed as timed “injects” into the scenario, or used through the umpires judgement to spice things up. A further fun event that we’ve used is the intervention of the German navy, as depicted in this photo (in contrast to the one above).

GermanNavyInAction

German gunboat on the Caen Canal – 6 June 1944

Details of 21 into 6 Won’t Go are on our website.

Mission Command: Normandy – Update on production

The Reference Manual is now being printed! Copies should be here in less than a week. A second proof of the Playing Mission Command: Normandy supplement is due shortly, then I’ll press the button on that one as well. I needed a second proof because I’ve made a few last-minute additions I’d like to check on paper.

The lead times have always impressed me (I’m easily impressed!) about producing wargames rules, rather than my more usual board games. With the wargames books, once the layout is done, I can have copies here from Lulu within a week (sometimes quicker), whereas making board games – wooden pieces, much cardboard, cards, rulebook, and so on – can take up to 10 weeks from a UK or Europe manufacturer, not to mention further flung factories. Even a small card game can take 4 weeks, though a print-on-demand outfit can be quicker.

What do you get in our Mission Command: Normandy package? The Reference Manual and the players’ supplement are full-colour inside and out A4 paperback books. In addition, we have lots of support materials – scenarios, chits, area fire templates and play aids – available for free download from our website (http://www.surprisedstaregames.co.uk/MissionCommand/).

The Reference Manual is 128 pages long, aimed at umpires, those running or organising games and keen players. In addition to the sections you’d expect about the rules (sequence of play, actions, command, terrain, movement, shooting, spotting, morale and air), it has a section on how to umpire the game, including how to write your own scenarios. It has extensive tables at the back for reference, plus some sample unit organisations. The umpires section has an introductory scenario for umpires to use as an introduction to new players.

Playing Mission Command: Normandy is the supplement for players. It’s 80 pages long and is aimed at introducing the game, but without overwhelming players with the technicalities. It’s focused very much on getting inside the game quickly and easily. However, it’s not absolutely essential to read or own the book to play the game – it’s a helping hand. The introductory scenario in the Reference Manual is repeated here, but naturally only the material for players is included, and there’s a wealth of information about how to get started. The book also has sections on how to fight using the three main national forces in Normandy, the British and Commonwealth, US and German armies. We’ve focused on differences between these armies and how they’re reflected in the command, control and communications setup. The final part of the book is a fairly extensive example of combat, for which we’re also producing a video.

All this means that we’ll be ready for Salute in just over 3 weeks time! Now, where’s that scenario I’m writing…

Mission Command: Normandy – notes from the front, 3

21st Panzer Division, neu

An early part of my research into Normandy ’44 for the game was to look at 21st Panzer Division. As the closest Panzer division to the beaches, I figured it was a reasonable place to start, especially in the light of the controversies  – or discussion points at the very least – about the division’s D-day counter-attack. I thought it might be an idea to present a multi-variant “what-if” set of scenarios looking at this. It also meant I could indulge in getting hold of models of some of those French conversion vehicles produced by Major Becker’s workshop; the U304(f) half-tracks, Hotchkiss tank chassis with PaK 40, the 10.5 and 15 cm guns on Lorraines, and so on. This mini-project was assisted greatly by the publication of Werner Kortenhaus’ history of the division, initially in German and later in English. This source gives authoritative details of the strength and deployment of the division, so could form the basis of the scenario from the German point of view. There are, of course, loads of books in English on the British, Canadian, French and Polish units.

21PzDiv-PzGr-125-1-1Ko-3

Most of a “gepanzert” Panzergrenadier company

Representing these units for 6 June 1944 in Mission Command: Normandy isn’t particularly difficult, though some care is needed in regard to some of the French converted vehicles and the tanks of II/Panzerregiment 22. At this point the division was pretty much wholly up to strength; there’s even a 1 June strength return to refer to. A Panzergrenadier company looks like this in our command card structure:

  • Coherent infantry element with command
  • 2x coherent infantry elements
  • HMG element
  • 4x U304(f) half-track elements
  • U304(f) half-track element with 3.7cm gun
  • U304(f) half-track element with 8cm mortar (with support element for dismount)

The “coherent” elements each have small arms, LMG and Panzerfaust capability and can fire 2 of these 3 weapon systems each turn. Most U304s had a forward-firing LMG mounted on it and a further pintle-mounted one on the back, and this multiplies up the number of MGs in the company considerably. Also, these French conversions (the original vehicles were unarmoured, the German ones are armoured) count as small vehicles, so they’re slightly harder to spot. Theoretically the vehicles can give supporting fire. However, that’s a dangerous practice, because they are very vulnerable. They have only Armour Class 1 (the weakest class) and can be knocked out by almost any AT weapon that hits; even an HMG has a 50% chance up to 300 metres away. The LMGs on the half-tracks were often used to supplement the AA defence of the battalion, which consisted of 3 2cm FlaK 38 mounted on half-tracks. The 3.7cm gun model (at the back in the picture above) represents the platoon leaders’ vehicles. I suspect the 3.7cm gun wasn’t used much at this stage of the war. The mortar could be used from the vehicles, or the element can dismount and use it conventionally.

21PzDiv-PzGr-125-1-1Ko-5

Close-up of the U304(f), converted French Unic P107

The full Panzergrenadier Battalion has 3 of these companies, plus a 4th heavy company with PaK 40 guns on Somua half-tracks, plus the U304s with FlaK 38. Unusually, the first battalion of each of 125th and 192nd Panzergrenadier Regiments was “gepanzert”, the other 2 battalions were lorried. The Regiments also have a 9th company with 15cm guns on the Lorraine tractor and a 10th company with “Reihenwerfer” (20 French mortar tubes on the Somua half-track). The other artillery pieces of the division are mainly 10.5cm field guns on the Lorraine tractor, with a smattering of horse-drawn (!) 122mm Russian guns.

21PzDiv-125-1-advancing

Panzergrenadier Regiment advancing; Reihenwerfer and 15cm guns on Lorraine tractors at the back

The tanks of Panzerregiment 22 are quite interesting. While initially the division wasn’t allowed to have German equipment, hence the French conversions, by June 1944 the division had been strengthened by replacing obsolete French tanks with Panzer IVs (not Panthers and Tigers as Allied intelligence surmised). Incidentally, the reconnaissance battalion was equipped, I think entirely, with German vehicles, probably because there were no suitable or reliable French equivalents. The 1 June strength return suggests that the whole of the 1st battalion of Panzerregiment 22 was equipped with Panzer IVHs, while the 2nd battalion still had only about 40% Panzer IVs, the rest being a mix of Somua S35 and Hotchkiss H38 vehicles. On the other hand, there are references to the rest of 2nd battalion having Panzer IVs “in June”, so I like to think that a couple of companies of Panzer IVs were rushed to the regiment at Falaise still in their factory paint jobs! There seems no evidence that the French tanks of the division were used in anger, which must have been a relief to the crews.

Our representation of Panzerregiment 22 would be as follows (roughly 4 real vehicles to each model):

Regiment HQ: Panzer IVH + Panzerbefehlswagen III (command)

1st Battalion

  • Panzer IVH + Panzerbefehlswagen III (command)
  • 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th Companies: 4 Panzer IVH

2nd Battalion

  • Panzer IVH + Panzerbefehlswagen Somua S35 (command)
  • 5th: 2 Somua S35, 1 Panzer IVH
  • 6th: 3 Somua S35, 1 Hotchkiss H38, 1 Panzer IVH
  • 7th: 3 Somua S35, 1 Panzer IVH
  • 8th: 2 Panzer IVE (with short 7.5cm gun)

Or, replace the Panzerbefehlswagen Somua S35 with a Panzer III and all obsolete tanks with Panzer IVH; for the 6 June scenarios, paint them with the dark yellow factory paint only and no camouflage, presuming the crews had no time to paint them up properly.

More about the scenario next time.

Mission Command: Normandy – notes from the front, 2

Scales

One of the first questions I hear from fellow wargamers is often “What scale (of miniatures) is it for?”

As a member of the “cardboard chits are fine” school of wargaming, I’m not offended by the use of unpainted figures on the tabletop, or the use of a block of wood with “Sherman” scribbled on it for a tank . I’m not really concerned about over-sized or under-sized models, or whether a piece of cloth can adequately stand in for a cornfield. So, as you might suspect, the design of Mission Command is not focused on a particular scale of figures. Instead, it’s basing that is important; not absolutely vital, but important.

We use 50mm frontage bases for full-size infantry elements, and around half that for reduced-size support elements. This means you can use troops from various other popular game systems. The full-size infantry elements have 5 or 6 figures, the reduced-size support elements 2 or 3; these are just for ease of recognition, so you could use other numbers of figures on the bases. With a 1 millimetre to 2 metre ground scale, this gives us an infantry element of 25 to 50 men a frontage of about 100 metres. A closed up company group could have a frontage of, say, 200 metres on the ground, while it could be extended, with up to 5cm gaps between elements to maintain communications, to about 500 metres, and even more with fixed line communications. The important thing is that players can readily see what the stuff represents. Similarly with vehicles. Frontage for vehicle models, each model representing 2 to 5 real vehicles, is 25mm to 30mm. Depth of bases isn’t critical.

Main Attack

The fairly minimalist approach to visuals

We don’t track time accurately. This is quite deliberate, because we were conscious of that “hurry up and wait” feeling expressed by many in combat; not much happens for a long time, then it all happens at once. So, a round (1 turn per side) is a variable length anywhere between 2 or 3 minutes up to a quarter of an hour. If the scenario requires people to know about durations, we use an average of 10 minutes per round. Interestingly, this gives us real time and game time at about the same pace in a moderately sized game with experienced players.

How to model infantry organisation was a bit of a challenge. We wanted to show different weapon types, so that decisions on where to deploy troops was important, but we didn’t want to overload players with micro-management. Our compromise was to make a “group” of elements of company size the smallest unit that would normally receive orders. This meant we didn’t need to model organisational structures below company level (platoons, and so on), but we could show the firepower capabilities of a company, together with its resilience. In addition, players can quickly “do the same thing” with all the elements in a company for speed of play. We have the full-size infantry elements with small arms and integrated LMG firepower (together sometimes with anti-tank, such as bazookas), and the reduced-size with only 1 weapon type, LMG, HMG, PIAT, flamethrower and so on. The larger element has the ability to absorb 3 casualties, then be replaced by a reduced-size element. These smaller “support” elements can only absorb 2 casualties. This means that in total a company group can absorb between 15 and 20 casualties. In contrast, a tank squadron would be about 4 models, each 1 representing 2 to 5 real vehicles. But each hit destroys a model, so armoured vehicle elements have a lot of firepower and manoeuvrability but little resilience, so they can’t really hold ground.

Gun elements are similar to tanks, 2 to 5 real ones per model, usually with separate vehicle tows represented by vulnerable vehicle models. Aircraft too are the same numerical scale as tanks (2 to 5 per model), but pretty much any physical scale will do – they’re up in the air after all.

In essence, the purpose of the figures and models is simply to represent the real thing, such that a participant can recognise what they are (though a German tank can always be represented by a Tiger till it can be seen close-up!). The game is not prescriptive about cosmetics, though we do try to make it look good for exhibition games.

A tanker's eye view from our Villers-Bocage scenario at Salute 2018. Courtesy of Neil Ford.

One of my favourite pictures. A tanker’s eye view from our Villers-Bocage scenario at Salute 2018. Courtesy of Neil Ford.

Oh all right… we normally use 15mm figures, because that’s what our main Frome group of players generally wants to use for WW2. However, I also recommend using 6mm figures, because its much cheaper.

Mission Command: Normandy – notes from the front, 1

The full colour, final published release version of Mission Command: Normandy will be launched on 6th April 2019 at Salute in the London Excel centre. It’s been many years a-coming; my archives go back to 2007, and our first game approximating to Mission Command took place on 5th April 2008. In recognition of this very long gestation period and the release of the final Reference Manual and Playing Mission Command: Normandy players’ guide, I’m writing a few blog posts to describe the game.

Mission Command: Normandy Reference Manual cover

Reference Manual cover

In short, Mission Command is a system for umpired World War 2 tactical and operational level simulation-style wargames using miniatures. It’s designed by myself and my brother-in-arms Peter Connew. Pete leads the Abbeywood Irregulars, a now Frome-based wargamers group. Both of us have been playing and designing wargames for several decades in a variety of periods. Although we’ve played the Mission Command system across several theatres – mainly late war Normandy and Eastern Front, but also dabbling in the North African theatre with our late friend Stephen Welford – when we decided to publish something, we focused on Normandy 1944. This was largely because we’d played more games in this theatre than any other, and we had ready access to figures and interest from our compatriots in the Abbeywood Irregulars.

Part of our reason for starting and finishing this project was that we (and our fellow Frome-ish wargamers) were dissatisfied with the then-existing WW2 miniatures rules back around 2007. This is, I hope, reflected in our stated Mission Command approach, which:

  • captures the essence of tactical and operational combat command from roughly company level to division level without real warfare’s bloodshed, fear, death and destruction
  • models the differences in how different armies fight
  • reflects World War Two practice of tactical and operational command, control and communications.

Looking back at a designer diary I wrote back in 2015: “We favoured gritty realism over slick presentation, and historical authenticity over ‘hollywood wargaming’. We weren’t afraid of weighty tomes (for Napoleonics, our favoured rules were General de Brigade), nor did we shy away from excessive versioning or as some might put it, correcting, of published rule sets (DBM with slips of amendments stuck in was favoured over the more professionally presented Field of Glory).” So, we were prepared to go for more of a simulation approach than most modern wargames, while still retaining the idea of a “fun, but serious” experience.

The Mission Command system is not a “professional wargame”. It’s not been designed with the education and training of military people in mind, nor for the purposes of analysis, and therefore it lacks explicit evaluation and debriefing sections. The game system can, I believe, be readily adapted through scenario design to more educational or analytical purposes, and we do try to “offer a safe, vicarious reflection of some of the situational and decision dynamics associated with armed conflict” (Professor Phil Sabin, Connections UK, 2013). We hope that our umpires and players might learn something, as well as participating in an enjoyable and challenging wargame.

Mission Command addresses a problematic command level for wargames, namely between battalion and division. So, it doesn’t have only a small number of troops, as in a skirmish game, and neither does it go up the scale sufficiently to abstract out the difficulties of different troop types and their interplay. Quite the opposite: we attempt to take on the difficulties of command, control and communications (as well as the mechanics of moving the troops around and shooting at things) at the level where there is immense articulation of units, and where local tactical success might be converted into operational achievement. Regarding the complexity of this task, we worried about throwing the baby out with the bathwater, something that we fear can happen with wargames that over-simplify combat at this level for reasons of playability. On the other hand, we naturally wanted a playable game, so we’ve simplified things where necessary in an attempt to keep the baby in the bath, while reducing the water to manageable levels. Ahem.

In terms of playing Mission Command: Normandy, it’s all about scenarios. While the Reference Manual gives the umpires or other game organisers guidance on setting up and running the game, and the Playing Mission Command: Normandy supplement describes the game for players, the experience of a specific game lies in the historical or pseudo-historical scenarios designed for it. Some of these are available on the Mission Command website, and others will be designed by other groups. Our hope is that the processes of designing, playing and reflecting on these scenarios will lead participants to a greater understanding of combat in World War 2.

Oh, and if you’re at Salute in April, do drop by and have a chat; we’re at GC15 for our demo game, and TC16 for our trade stand.