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A Critique of the Manpower Crisis of 1944

Western Allied infantry manpower shortages in the European Theatre in 1944

Much ink has been spilt about the apparent US and British manpower shortages in the European Theatre in 1944. There was indeed a planning headache caused by the US decision to maintain their 90 division Army ceiling, despite constant conflicting demands across theatres, and by British and Commonwealth sensitivity to infantry losses. However, I argue here that the actual significance of this problem may have been grossly overstated. I should probably stress that I have not by any means read all the literature on this topic, and I’m happy to be enlightened by more suggestions!

The US manpower balance was between the conflicting needs of the Army’s strategy, US production requirements and the demands of other services. For the strategy question, US planners estimated their manpower requirements for the Germany First policy in terms of how many divisions would be required to defeat Germany. One of the tools they used was to compare the number of US divisions with the number of German divisions as a rule of thumb. Simplistically, they calculated that they needed at least as many as the Germans, plus reserves, bearing in mind that the British had a large number available too, and the Allies had overwhelming air and naval power. The US planners major concern was that their reserve of 18 divisions (in fact, this was later increased to 25) would be insufficient, bearing in mind the German reserve of 11 divisions.

Unfortunately, this crude tool grossly distorted the actual position in terms of manpower and combat strength. Some distortions should possibly have been taken into account at the time, others only become visible with hindsight. I’ve used Niklas Zetterling’s Normandy 1944 for most of the figures here.

German infantry divisions in the West were comparatively small in numbers of men compared with US divisions. In addition they had grossly inferior combat strength, even taking into account their small size, owing to largely horse-drawn or immobile artillery. It is also worth noting that German mobile divisions were significantly below establishment in AT units, especially important in defence, especially at the start of the Normandy campaign.

The US and British command echelons often complained about their lack of infantry. Tanks were not generally a problem, because the reserve tank park was huge. As evidence of this infantry shortage, the British were forced to disband at least 1 division in order to redistribute men to other units. The US in turn, though later, professed a major shortage in December 1944 as a result of the requirements to repel the Ardennes Offensive. This soaked up their reserve divisions in the US. However, note that these reserves did exist and were used for their purpose. The concern was that a further major crisis after the Ardennes would be problematic.

The nature and relative importance of the Western Allied problem is revealed by looking elsewhere. In Normandy by the end of July, total German combat unit strength was somewhat under 400,000, taking into account casualties. The Germans received relatively few replacements for their frontline divisions – about 10,000 men by 23 July and maybe between 30,000 and 40,000 in total by the end of the campaign (Zetterling, Normandy 1944, p31-2). German casualties in Normandy had been nearly 120,000, reflecting a shortfall of around 100,000 in front-line divisions by the end of July. Mean infantry division strength at the start of June was around 10,500, with a divisional slice (average divisional strength plus a share of non-divisional manpower) of around 14,900. This compares to an average Western Allied slice of slightly greater than 40,000, and Allied combat unit numbers at the end of July of about 1.5 million.

As planned by the Allies, the Germans found it impossible to match the Allied force build-up in Normandy, partly because of their adherence to the Pas de Calais defence till July, partly due to Allied air power, and mostly because of the demands of the East. From the German perspective, the only way the Ardennes Offensive in December was possible was through denuding the East so much that it crippled defence against the invasion of East Prussia by the Soviets in early 1945; the defeat in Normandy and the loss of East Prussia due to the requirements of the Ardennes Offensive were prime examples of German manpower difficulties in the West.

German divisions were expected to fight on without replacements, and with virtually no time out of the front line for the entire Normandy campaign. Whole divisions were frequently disbanded and absorbed into other formations (for example, 16 Luftwaffe into 21st Panzer Division) or simply became a collection of flotsam and jetsam attached to kampfgruppe from other divisions (for example, 716 Infanterie), until withdrawn or disbanded.

The Soviets too, far from having a never-ending supply of manpower, were suffering. They were recruiting under 18s and possibly even under 17s by 1945. Their major difficulty all through the war was recruiting enough troops in order to train some of them adequately prior to commitment. Extensive losses forced them to commit significant quantities of troops whose training would, in the West, have rendered them unfit for commitment to combat, leading to even greater losses, in a cycle only ended by victory at horrendous manpower costs in 1945.

Japan, in contrast, despite commitment of over a million men to the China theatre, knew that its production capacity, not manpower, was the limiting factor in the Pacific Theatre. In fact, it proved to be shipping in particular that was critical, removing their ability to transfer troops and logistics to counter threats. So, despite no shortage of manpower, they were not able to deploy combat strength to resist allied amphibious attacks effectively. The US was able to exploit the Japanese lack of mobility once command of the air and sea had been established, negating Japanese manpower strength by bypassing and isolating powerful positions such as Rabaul. The Japanese expenditure of manpower was profligate, including the loss of around 180,000 army troops to sinkings by submarine, and further hundreds of thousands left stranded.

So, looking over the other side of the hill, Western Allied manpower shortages, though they were a planning headache, were as nothing compared to their enemies’, and arguably the Soviets too. When assessing combat strength, it’s also important to look beyond crude comparisons of numbers of divisions. A Western Allied division had about two-and-a-half times the divisional slice of a German one, so already represented a huge numerical superiority, even before we take into account the Western Allies massive preponderance in materiel and air power. Rough parity of divisions in Normandy represented a combat power superiority of at least 4 to 1 and very likely much much more. It may be that the US had reached its Army manpower limit by December 1944. It’s not difficult to argue that Germany had reached its effective manpower limit by the Spring of 1944. Some of the evidence for this was concealed from Allied planners, but there was significant intelligence about German divisional manpower totals and concomitant combat strengths that may have been missed.

Postscript: This blog post represents an idea that needs further investigation and research. It’s a starting point for a hypothesis. It suggests that realistic and hard-headed assessment of enemy strategic capabilities was either not attempted except at a very broad-brush level, or was very difficult to apply. Perhaps it was less important in Allied decision-making than the more straightforward application of our own resources and capabilities, and a more suck-it-and-see approach to strategy than might appear.

Busman’s holiday on the number 1460 to Northampton

I decided to take a break from my Kingmaker playtesting on Discord and Tabletopia by playing a solo physical game. My choice, rather bizarrely perhaps, was Northampton 1460, Graham Evans’ excellent storytelling game of the battle of Northampton in the Wars of the Roses.

The game can be played solitaire or 2-player, and there are also 2 modes: you can play it using the historical timeline or freeform. The structure of Northampton 1460 is similar to W1815, in that the armies are not free to deploy where they like, they must occupy their historical deployment grounds and carry out more-or-less the actions that they did during the historical battle. The freeform version allows you to experiment with doing things in a different sequence from the historical one, whereas the historical timeline constrains you into the historical order, with variation only from your own particular dice rolls for your particular enactment of the battle.

Without further ado, I present:

THE BATTLE OF NORTHAMPTON 1460 (9TH NOVEMBER 2020)!

Northampton 1460 game cover: note that this is a game in a book!

Set-up

Game set-up

Here we see the full components of the game itself, though I note that I’ve managed to clip III, VI and XI on the Weather and Turn Track. I hope you can imagine Quarte, None and Compline to the right! The game book contains rules and historical background material in addition to pull-out pages to enable you to construct your copy. Of course, you might decide to scan the game pages so as to leave the book intact.

The armies are represented by 3 Battles each – Yorkists at the bottom, Lancastrians in their camp at the top. In addition, we have the small cavalry contingents – Scrope and Greriffin – on the left, and the Papal Legate and Archbishop of Canterbury on the right of the Yorkists by the Eleanor Cross (now re-furbished, go and see it if you have the opportunity!), Henry VI in his tent in the camp, and finally Margaret of Anjou, with her son Edward, Prince of Wales in the Delapre Abbey. The cavalry only have 1 hit each and generally carry out a bit of skirmishing prior to the main engagement. The Battles each have from 4 to eight hits, each hit represented by a square counter illustrated with an appropriate coat of arms. The Lancastrians start on 11 Morale, the Yorkists on 10. There is also a stack of weather cards, because rain was an important factor in neutralising the artillery, particularly the preponderance of the Lancastrians in this arm. Finally, each side has 8 cards that describe the actions that can be taken and their effects. I’m going to carry these out in the historical sequence, which is largely denoted by the circled number in the top right of each card, guided by instructions at the back of the rules.

Turns alternate between the Yorkists and the Lancastrians, and the game lasts up to 9 rounds. You draw a weather card at the start of each Yorkist turn, the Yorkists going first, then the Lancastrians.

Cavalry Skirmish

Bolton 1 Northampton 0

The first weather card today is sunny! Just what the Lancastrians need, because 2 or more suns in a row will dry out their guns and make them more effective.

In Prime (Round 1), the first action of the battle is for Lord Scrope’s cavalry to attack that of Greriffin in a preliminary skirmish. Scrope has a 4 in 6 chance of driving off the Lancastrian cavalry, which he duly does. Turning over Scrope’s card, we see that Scrope plays no further part in the battle, preferring to sack the town. Even before the battle is truly joined, it’s not a good day for the people of Northampton.

There is no effective Lancastrian response to this outrage. Henry VI is content to pray in his tent for victory and peace for all England; this prayer has an outside chance (1 or 6) of affecting the morale of either army, but has no effect for now. This ends the first round.

The Archbishop of Canterbury intervenes to try to stop the bloodshed

Terce: Thomas Bourchier, the Archbish of Canterbury, attempts to negotiate.

Terce (Round 2) turns wet, so no benefit to the Lancastrian guns.

Warwick (the Kingmaker) leading the Yorkist army sends emissaries led by Thomas Bourchier, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to the King’s advisers to try to negotiate a settlement. Unsurprisingly, the negotiation fails. Henry continues ineffectually to pray for peace. The failure of the negotiation makes the Yorkist army despondent (they lose a point of Morale).

Excommunication!

Quarte: Anathema!

Quarte (Round 3) is perchance of a damp persuasion.

For a different type of persuasion, there now occurs one of those ‘most weird’ happenstances – truly this happened in 1460! Present at this battle was Bishop Francesco Coppini, the Papal Legate, under some instructions from the Pope to support the Yorkists, though as a Legate he carried the Pope’s full authority. At this point, he excommunicated the entire Lancastrian Army! While it is unclear what effect this had at the time, or indeed whether excommunication was a tactical ranged weapon, in this game at least some Lancastrians are downcast at being cast out of the Church (they lose 1 Morale). In a kind of “how many battalions has the Pope?” response, the Lancastrian guns attempt to fire upon the Yorkists. The result is that God seems not to like artillery much, and the Lancastrians do no damage and lose 1 of their 3 guns.

At the end of this round, both sides have suffered 1 Morale loss, but the main Battles have not yet engaged.

Artillery duel?!

Sext Guns

Sext (Round 4) is sunny again, but really too little too late for the gunnery.

Both sides try to get their guns to work, but it’s the literal damp squib! To add insult to lack of injury, the Lancastrians lose yet another gun. Maybe that excommunication is having physical aftereffects?!

Forward for Richard!

Octe: naught to see here

At Octe, the sun is again not sunny; ’tis verily wet for 10th July.

The first Yorkist battle to attack is that led by William Neville – no, not THAT Neville, one of the other ones – Lord Fauconberg. It seems this part of the camp is too strong and coupled wtih Egremont’s counterattack, the Yorkists take considerable casualties and fear spreads among their solders (they lose 2 casualties and 1 Morale in total). Will it be the Lancastrians’ day after all?

A Warwick, A Warwick!

None: Warwick 1 Buckingham 2

None sunne. But just 1 sun does no good.

Now Warwick leads his own Battle forward to battle. This kingmaking malarky is proving a tad tricky! Warwick’s troops are also stopped at the barricades and lose heavily, though their opponents also lose men and morale.

After None, Lancastrian morale is at 9, but the Yorkists are becoming increasingly desperate at only 7, as they’ve not made much impression on the Lancastrian position. If their morale drops to 5, they’ll have to take a test and risk their army collapsing.

The Future King!

Decime: March marches.

Decime’s weather is also sunny, so the Lancastrians at last have 2 suns in a row. Unfortunately, it’s far too late for their artillery to have a significant effect now that battle is being joined all along the line.

Edward of March, the future Edward IV who never lost a battle, now shows his mettle. His determined attack wrecks Shrewsbury’s Battle, aided by the turncoat Grey of Ruthin, who lets Edward’s soldiers into the Lancastrian camp. Edward rolled a 6, unnecessarily high as there were positive modifiers because all the Yorkist Battles are engaged. However, a roll of a 1 or 2 would probably have been disastrous, as it would have repelled this Yorkist attack and hit their morale hard. The fortunes of war have favoured the Yorkists for now.

Grey’s treachery means the Yorkists are in the Lancastrian camp, which flips a lot of cards to their alternative side, and favours now a Yorkist victory. Buckingham’s men try to resist Edward’s assault into the camp, but they’re starting to lose the struggle.

The Lancastrians have to take a morale check, because they only have 5 Morale left. If the roll exceeds their current Morale, they have to ask for Quarter, in other words, try to surrender. They pass the test – for now.

Margaret calls it

No Quarter at Vespers

Now they’re in the camp, it’s pretty much all over for the Lancastrians. Edward’s soldiers sweep through Buckingham’s ranks and capture the King. Seeing the writing on the wall, Margaret of Anjou, unable to reach her husband, sweeps up her son and flees. She escapes from the Abbey and manages to avoid capture in the Lancastrian rout that follows. The Lancastrians troops, seeing the King captured and with Margaret running, suffer a collapse in their morale (they lose their Morale check), and ask for Quarter. This is denied by the enraged Yorkists, who proceed to butcher anyone they can catch. In the rout that follows, Buckingham is captured and executed, while somewhat surprisingly Egremont survives and is merely imprisoned.

The Outcome of the 9th November 2020 battle

Graham helpfully provides a method for translating your version of the tactical battle result into a comparative scale of strategic victory, dependent on who survives, who was imprisoned and who got away. In this re-fighting of the battle, Margaret of Anjou and Prince Edward got away, the Lancastrian army was routed, and were given no Quarter, while Henry was captured as was Egremont. The remaining Lancastrian commanders, Shrewsbury and Buckingham, were slain. No Yorkist commanders were killed. Totting up, this gives the Yorkists +9 points, which equates neatly to the historical outcome: “a major Yorkist victory. York/Warwick faction take control of the Government. No one ever considers using artillery forts again for the rest of the war.”

Many thanks to Graham Evans for designing such an excellent, fun and informative game, and to the Northamptonshire Battlefields Society for publishing it.

If you’d like a copy of the game, it is available either from the Northamptonshire Battlefields Society or from myself at alan@alanpaull.co.uk. All proceeds in both cases go to the Northamptonshire Battlefields Society.

The Society has also published a book by Mike Ingram on the battle, available from their website.

SSG@Spiel.digital – live and kicking

22 to 25 October saw the SSG team at Spiel.digital, albeit from the comfort of our own home-offices / lounge / library / other (insert here).

Although Spiel.digital had its disadvantages, in that we couldn’t actually meet actual people in actual person, we did achieve an impressive amount of live streaming. Impressive, bearing in mind that the only previous live streams we had run ourselves were a couple of toes-in-the-water at Virtually Expo. All of these are available on our Twitch stream at https://www.twitch.tv/surprisedstaregames, but it may be easier to get them from YouTube. We have a channel there too, now; just search for Surprised Stare Games.

A History of Surprises

Under the admirable chairmanship of actor, wordsmith, game reviewer and apocalypse-juggler Ben Maddox (see 5G4D), Tony, Charlie and I rummaged through the attic-spaces of SSG’s history and back catalogue of games. This perambulation into the past took 4 sessions of live streaming, and it seemed, at the time at least, to provide an entertaining and informative account of SSG’s first 20 years. It was also a celebration of Tony’s massive contribution to SSG over the years, in the light of our decision to part company. Tony will now plough his own intrepid furrough, while Charlie and I continue to build on SSG’s 20 year old foundations. To find out more about all of this, have a listen to the recordings of A History of Surprises.

SSG@Spiel.digital game design live streams

In addition to our inward-looking history streams, we talked to quite a few famous guests about many aspects of game design. We had a lot of fun making these videos over the 4 days of Spiel.digital – see what you think!

Creating Differently – Bez Shahriari and Alan Paull talk about their different approaches to game design. We look at “doing what we want to do”, design versus development, iteration and testing, amongst other things.

Ideas into Mechanisms – Rob Harper and Alan Paull chat about how we convert ideas into practical game mechanics. We use as our main example our latest prototype of Snails & Grails, a weird medieval themed adventure game that we are designing with David J Mortimer.

Remaking Kingmaker – Alan Paull presents a live stream about the re-development of Kingmaker for Gibsons Games (to date). Aided by two notable playtesters, Mike Oliver and Peter Piggott, Alan explains the reasoning behind the current prototype of the classic 1974 board game, originally designed by Andrew McNeil. The session contains a look at the new short format game on Tabletopia. Mike and Peter offer their views on the changes, and we have a few questions from the audience.

Greater Than The Sum of its Parts – Alan Paull and Tony Boydell chat with famous designers Brett Gilbert and Matt Dunstan about the pluses and perils of co-designing games. Brett and Matt collaborated on, amongst other things, the award-winning Elysium (2015), and the recent game Chocolate Factory (with David Digby).

What makes a good wargame? – Alan Paull and Graeme Tate muse on this age-old question, in relation to board wargames. We defined what we meant by ‘wargame’, then looked at and chewed over some criteria that might be used to determine a ‘good’ one, using examples both old and new.

A History of Surprises

At Spiel.digital, Tony, Charlie and I mused for several hours on the history of Surprised Stare Games, from its earliest beginnings, nay prior even to that!

I’ve brought these live stream videos together in a YouTube Playlist, as a very introverted documentary about what happened, at least as we remember it now. Alternatively, please feel free to watch via Twitch at https://www.twitch.tv/surprisedstaregames.

Of particular note is the excellent chairmanship of Mr Ben Maddox of Berlin, and of the 5 Games 4 Doomsday podcast.

Please do nip over the YouTube and watch A History of Surprises.

To live stream or not to live stream, that is the question

I’ve been pondering whether to commit to weekly live streams. This has been provoked by our Surprised Stare Games live streams over Spiel.digital, which seemed quite successful. Having the tech now suggests taking advantage of it might be good for SSG marketing (we’ve not traditionally been good at social media).

If I was to do a weekly Surprised Stare live stream, what topics might you like to see? Game design stuff? Designer notes? Military history? Special guests?

And also, what time of the week would be best? Friday afternoon? Some time at the weekend? A weekday evening?

SSG@Spiel.digital

Surprised Stare Games will be at Spiel.digital!

To track us down, use the Search facility, or browse for our virtual stand in the “Expert” or “2-player” games themes.

We will have our new games The Ming Voyages and The March of Progress on display, including various how-to-play videos.

We will be running an exciting series of live streams during Spiel.digital:

Creating Differently
with Bez Shahriari and Alan Paull, Thursday 1300 – 1400
A History of Surprises part 1
with Tony Boydell and Alan Paull, chaired by Ben Maddox (5G4D), Thursday 1500 – 1600
Remaking Kingmaker!
with Alan Paull, Mike Oliver and Peter Piggott, Thursday 1900 – 2000
Ideas into Mechanisms
with Rob Harper and Alan Paull, Friday 1100 – 1200
Greater Than The Sum of its Parts?!
with Brett Gilbert, Matthew Dunstan, Tony Boydell and Alan Paull, Saturday 1100 – 1200
Ask Us Anything!
with Tony Boydell and Alan Paull, Saturday 1230 – 1330
A History of Surprises part 2
with Tony Boydell and Alan Paull, Saturday 1500 – 1600
What makes a good wargame?
with Alan Paull and Graeme Tate, Sunday 1300 – 1400
A History of Surprises part 4
with Tony Boydell and Alan Paull, Sunday 1500 – 1600

Countdown to launch!

We’re nearly there. The Kickstarter page is drafted and ready to launch. Pre-launch page is here:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1031232934/2006460398?ref=bg0hfa&token=44d9a11a.

Official launch of the Kickstarter is 17:00 UK time on Monday 24 February 2020 (18:00 Central European Time).

Pocket Campaigns video tutorials and playthroughs today!

Quick reminder: Paul Grogan @ Gaming Rules! will be doing live tutorial and playthrough videos today of The Ming Voyages at 2pm and The March of Progress at 4pm. Come along if you can! The videos will be available shortly after transmission if you can’t make the live show.

Essen prep: The March of Progress

TMoP_prototype_product_shot

World War 2 in the West, starting setup, though the Germans should also start with 2VP cubes and the Western Allies with 1VP cube.

I’ve been working on the World War 2 in the West scenario for a while now, mainly with Pete, but also playing extensively with others. This scenario is the longest one (usually!) in the set – it’s a 2-part affair with the Germans only winning if they win both parts by achieving 15 VPs each time. The Western Allies only win by taking Berlin, but they can do this in either part, if they’re good enough.

Like the Napoleonic scenario, this one is asymmetric, so balance is tricky. We’ve played around a lot with varying the starting dice and varying the starting VP cubes, as well as looking very carefully at the transition between parts 1 and 2. Much depends on what card each player chooses right at the start and the immediate follow-ups. There’s also a change in the rules, so that the scenario is heavily based on logistics. For example, rather than reducing your VP dice to increase your army strength, you can pay 5 VP cubes. That sounds hefty, but, for the Allies at least, VP cubes are not their victory condition – it’s all about taking Berlin.

The situation changes in this scenario at the start of part 2. The side with most VP cubes at the end of part 1 will start part 2 with VP cubes equal to the difference between the 2 sides. So, it’s possible for either player to start part 2 with a VP cube advantage. The Germans primarily need to get VP cubes to win, whereas the Allies need them to increase their army strength, to move all 3 armies up at the same time and to boost their attacks with air power – this last is through swapping out the ATTACK+1 card for a new ATTACK+1 WITH AIR POWER. This can lead to some stark choices, particularly as the Germans have VWEAPONS to hit the Allies VP cubes.

I’m taking the prototype of The March of Progress to Essen, with copies for our potential partners, Frosted Games and 2Tomatoes. Hopefully, there will be the opportunity for some demos!

Dolphin Adventures: setup

Better pic, showing setup! Fish will be smaller and blue. Tokens smaller too. Shoals will be a cluster of fish.

setup

Researching Mission Command

Mission Command Designer Diary Retrospective: 5

Wow! Rather a long gap between Retrospectives 4 and 5. Very sorry for the hiatus between June and September. Hopefully the remaining Retrospectives will follow on a bit quicker. In my defence, I’ve been working away at another couple of projects – a Euro board game called ‘Dolphin Adventures’ and an introductory board wargame, possibly the subject of a different post at a later date.

This post is a little bit of an interlude from describing how we developed the mechanics and implemented our approach, to talk about research. As there are a lot of very knowledgeable WW2 buffs in and around wargaming, we figured that it was important to do extensive research, so that we have defensible positions for the decisions we’ve made. We’re keen to make the game based on reality, but on the other hand, it cannot be so complex in its reflection of reality that it becomes less than attractive to play. So, as in all simulation games, we’ve made some compromises, and electing to present an umpired game, we do rely to an extent on the unknown umpire to use judgement to keep the game flowing, rather than to stick rigidly to the letter of the rules.

Mission Command is primarily about command, control and communications. I describe it sometimes as a means of demonstrating that combined arms tactics – co-ordinating infantry, artillery, tanks, AT guns, other supporting weapons and air power – was fiendishly difficult. Pretty much any of the thousands of secondary source military history books show this, a good starting point being Antony Beevor’s best-selling books on Stalingrad, Berlin, D-Day, The Second World War as a whole, and his latest one, Ardennes 1944. John Keegan’s books are also excellent for an overview of the military aspects of the topic. This is just a small sample from an overwhelmingly long list.

For the type of detail that we need for Mission Command, we have to go to primary sources, for which the Internet is a godsend. When I was writing my first wargames rules back in the ’70s (not for publication, I hasten to add!), detailed source material was in very short supply, unless you had access to the British Library or university collections (which I did not at that stage). Now, a search online can pull up vast amounts of material, and it’s a problem of sorting the wheat from the chaff – information overload is a common problem. There are numerous collections, including the Bundesarchiv and the US War Department, as well as commercial, semi-professional and amateur sites with relevant materials. Various US organisations have published vast numbers of de-classified briefings on their own forces, and translations of German, Italian, Japanese and Soviet documents from WW2, which are invaluable. For example Lone Sentry and other websites have all the US Intelligence Bulletins, issued monthly from September 1942 to the end of the war. Combined Arms Research Digital Library has a whole collection of “obsolete” military manuals, and the US War Department makes much of this information freely available.

For how it’s supposed to be done, we consulted various descriptions of national doctrines, for instance the German “Truppenführung” of 1933/4, and the US Field Service Regulations for Operations. Fortunately many such documents are now published (in English) and readily available on the Internet. However, theory and practice varied considerably, so eye-witness accounts and good quality detailed narratives are essential for investigating what actually happened – or might have happened. Divisional histories now abound – simply look up your favourites on Amazon for a flavour – and can give some detail, though often lacking the precision in terms of units, numbers and outcomes that are needed for accurate modelling. Some of these are devoted to praising their subject and many are purely descriptive rather than analytical, so I’ve found that cross-referencing from several sources is essential. It’s helpful to have divisional accounts from both sides. For example, for some of our Normandy scenarios we’ve compared the History of the 12th SS Hitler Jugend (Meyer), the Combat History of the 21 Panzer Division (Kortenhaus), the accounts of 43rd Wessex, 51st Highland, 3rd Canadian, and so on, to give us multiple perspectives on the same combat actions.

For orders of battle, it’s tempting to go for easily available ‘official’ ones. However, while units might have been at their pristine best at the start of a campaign (though that’s debatable), once the fighting started, the formal orbats, numbers of men, and amounts and types of equipment were quickly reduced or varied. In addition, it’s important to remember that quoted strengths, particularly at division or higher levels, often included support troops in addition to combat troops, and in many cases the ‘tail’ outnumbered the fighting men. Written material was not necessarily accurate – even the legendarily bureaucratic German Army monthly reports were suspect late in the war – but sometimes that’s all the evidence available. An example of this classic issue that we encountered was how to establish the composition of a late war German Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion: there are several published ‘official’ orbats from 1943 through to the end of the war, but shortages of equipment, adequately trained men, and the simple fact that it took several months to change from an older pattern to the new one, meant that in many cases we’re using a best guess of its actual composition. Equipment lists would often state, for example ‘armoured car’, or perhaps ‘light armoured car’, because the precise type was not considered important. Non-standard divisions, like the 21st Panzer (neu), are even more difficult to pin down, owing to use of converted equipment from conquered countries, in this case mainly French. For this reason our scenarios may have listing that are quite different from “official” sources, as we’ve attempted to take into account likely attrition rates, and the statements of eye-witness combatants.

For the potentially controversial issue of the effectiveness of weapons, we’ve reviewed multiple sources, including other wargames as well as primary sources with judgements of combat effectiveness and documents with field test results. Our view was that we’d go with our assessment of the ‘inherent military probability’ of effectiveness, taking into account as much evidence as we could realistically review. Fortunately the scale of our game (a vehicle model = 3-5 vehicles; an infantry figure = about 10 men) means that we don’t look specifically at individual shots at individual vehicles or men, but rather at the effect of a bunch of shots on a bunch of vehicles or men. At this scale, a KO on a vehicle doesn’t mean that all the vehicles have been knocked out, but simply that that group of vehicles is rendered ineffective – probably one or two have been brewed up, the others perhaps damaged, or the crews have removed themselves from the action. Similarly casualties amongst infantry are split between killed, wounded and ‘had enough’.

However, in relation to tank and anti-tank guns, we still wanted to differentiate between types across the range of light, medium and heavy tanks, and across the whole war. We felt that the relatively coarse-grained approach of small, medium, large, very large guns (or similar) didn’t do justice to the variations from our research. There was a reason why guns were upgraded by increments sometimes within a single tank type, and that’s to do with their effectiveness in action. So we have a fairly large gun table – though it reduces a lot in any one scenario. In fact, there’s even more variation by type of ammunition used, but we shrank from that complexity – it’s far too complex to track the availability and selection of ammo type at our scale. In a couple of areas we would have liked to do that (specifically the 6 pounders in Normandy and later with discarding sabot ammunition, and the US use of Pozit fuses in late ’44), but we decided the additional complexity didn’t warrant it.

Using similar reasoning our armour table has armour values from 1 to 10 to give sufficient variation to take account of strengthening armour across various models of medium tank over several years (for example the Churchill or Panzer IV), and giving realistic values to weakly armoured half-tracked troop carriers, stretching up to heavy tanks, such as the Jagdtiger.

Our research into scenarios has also been very lengthy, though I’ve not yet been able to turn many of our play test versions into published ones – these will be following over the coming weeks. As I’ve mentioned, the divisional histories, especially those written by eye-witnesses are very valuable for reasonably accurate accounts of units involved, what happened where – corroborated against other evidence – and evidence of what combat was like. Some books written by military historians are strong on overall narrative of the ‘arrows on a map’ style, which don’t often cover actions at company, battalion or brigade level in enough detail for a coherent scenario. Some books can be very misleading (for example those by Stephen Ambrose), as they may be focusing on a good story, peddling a particular theory or simply repeating another person’s view without analysing it, instead of giving an account with evidence. For example, Stephen Ambrose’s story of German ‘tanks’ at Pegasus Bridge early on 6 June is entirely misleading, but has been followed in several accounts, and the exaggeration distorts the undoubted achievements of the forces taking the Orne bridges and those relieving the coup de main force there.

Perhaps the most important part of our research is that as the game design, development and production continues, we also continue to collect, read, absorb and analyse new material. The game will likely change as a result until the final production version, and even then, as is the case with many wargames, contact with many many more players will result in further information and perhaps more revisions.

Next stop, Ranville – planning session, August 2015

We had a good session at the Huntingdon District Wargames Club on Thursday last (13 August 2015).  It was mainly a planning game, based on a session I’d designed for the Conference of Wargamers in July (I’d had to skip that owing to illness).  The start of the scenario was 05:30 in the morning of 6 June 1944 in the HQ of Kampfgruppe von Luck (21st Panzer Division) just south of the 6th Airborne Division’s landing around Ranville and what later became known as Pegasus Bridge.  The fiction of the game was that 21st Panzer Division has got its act together and is committing an early morning attack by a reinforced battalion and half a battalion of tanks, with supports, against the relatively unprepared British.  Questions, discussion and non-definitive answers were around how, where and when to attack, what should be the fire plan for supporting the attack, and finally, what might be its impact given likely British responses.

Orders were to take the bridges and eliminate the paratroops incursion on the east side of the Orne all the way to the coast.  Other Kampfgruppe were dealing with the west side of the Orne, and the landings around the River Dives.

The final plan looked pretty strong, with Ranville as the schwerpunkt:

  • Prong A – Pz IV company, plus veteran Panzergrenadier company to attack Ranville from the south-west, with supporting direct fire assault guns.  Heavy Pzgren company to swing wider to the west past the direct approach to Ranville to stretch the defence, and be ready to support a direct assault on the bridges.
  • Prong B – Reinforced veteran Pz IV company, plus Panzergrenadier company to attack Ranville simultaneously from the south-east, with supporting direct fire assault guns.
  • Short concentrated bombardment of Ranville by 2 batteries of 15cm guns while the attack moves forward.
  • Supporting barrage of various hedge lines (likely British forward positions) by 10.5cm guns and mortars.
  • Once Ranville had fallen, 2 companies of panzergrenadiers to secure it and its flanks, while the first 2 companies launched an immediate assault across the bridges.

Ranville_Pic2

“Prong B” – closing in on Ranville from the SE

We didn’t have time to fight the full battle, but were able to deploy the troops and make some educated guesses about the potential results, as I’ve researched quite a bit about the historical deployments of both sides.  Interestingly both 6 Division HQ and 5 Brigade HQ were in or very close to Ranville, and would have been caught in the bombardment, while the British deployment of AT guns to the hedge lines might well have lost these essential defensive elements too.  Looking at the comparative strength of the two sides (bearing in mind that the paratroops were very under strength owing to relatively scattered drops), it seems highly probably that Ranville and then the bridges would have fallen within 2 to 3 hours of the 06:15 attack start time.

Ranville_Pic1

“Prong A” – closing in on Ranville from the SW. Note the artillery bombardment on Ranville itself, and 4th (schweres) Kompanie on the left ready to move on le Bas de Ranville to give support to an assault on the bridges.

I hope that we can fight the engagement through at another session!  This scenario will form one of the variants of the “21 into 6 won’t go” set of scenarios currently being written up.

The Big Game

Mission Command Designer Diary Retrospective: 3

This post was to have been about the Poor Bloody Infantry and our re-writing of the infantry rules. But in the interests of getting the story in the right order – and it is supposed to be a diary, after all – I’m going to make a quick diversion to the Eastern Front, and our Big Games.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, the Abbeywood Irregulars play in a large church hall. It’s a fabulous building in the centre of Frome, called the Bennett Centre – named for William James Early Bennett, the Vicar of Frome Selwood, who built a new Infant School on the site in the 1850s; later it became Frome St John the Baptist Church Hall, and we’re priveleged to name the current vicar as a vital member of our AWI group. For those interested in the history of this wonderfully re-furbished location, see: http://bennettcentre.org.uk/ – visitors are also welcomed. Part of the re-furbishment has been to remove the terrible post-war false ceilings and ‘modernisation’, so that now the building’s main hall shows off its rafters, ceiling and arched windows, up to the bell tower on the roof, as you can see from this picture.

BennettCentre

The Bennett Centre (circa 1850)

The hall is airy and well lit by daylight, and new, but traditional, lantern-style lights are suspended from the roof to supplement when needed. There’s even a large stone fireplace. Most importantly the hall is large enough for a multitude of wargamers. AWI is host to one of the South West DBM tournaments (every October), and we can readily fit in 6 lots of 6ft x 5ft tables, with plenty of space to move around. In Mission Command terms, that means a Big Game can be 30km x 25km if necessary.

For June 2010 we mounted an Eastern Front game based on a Russian attack on the cut-off Germans in the Courland Peninsula in January 1945. For this game we had the better part of a Russian Tank Corps versus 14th Panzer Division, albeit the Germans at roughly 50% strength. The Russians were hoping to push the Germans back and over a river, so we needed some depth to the position. We used 5 large tables, with a 2:3 split so players could reach the troops in the middle (see picture), but they had to remember that the gap didn’t represent any real distance so an element on one side of the gap could move straight onto the other side.

Courland

Courland tables

The Germans were intended to have a team of 4 (C-in-C, chief of staff plus 2 tactical ops), though on the day we had to adjust to only 3, as I recall. This left them properly stretched (possibly stressed!), which gave a realistic tension. The Russians had a team of C-in-C plus 4, commensurate with their larger numbers of troops. We didn’t permit C-in-Cs to directly move elements on the table, but only to work via their tactical commanders. Therefore they were able to, and wanted to, concentrate solely on the overall operation, especially on how effective (or otherwise) their artillery attacks were, and to gather and react to information coming back from the table. We gave them sufficiently colourful briefings, suggesting to the Russian tactical commmanders that “You must adhere to your orders. High Command takes a dim view of officers with excessive initiative, and you’ve seen many examples of the unfortunate results. Getting shot by the Germans may result in a pension for your wife and family, getting shot by your own side certainly won’t.”

The Russians were able to put in a textbook attack: a large, well thought out artillery fire plan, infantry and supporting infantry over the bridges rapidly, consolidation of gains against desperate German counter-attacks; then a pause as the artillery had to be moved up and a new fire plan arranged. On the other side, the Germans attempted a classic mobile defence with a relatively thin front line. Unfortunately for them the speed of the Russian tank attack caught them a little flat footed, particularly a poorly placed 8.8cm battery that was outflanked and overrun (the commander didn’t survive to explain his error). Their tank counter-attack was a little too late, and the Russians were able to take them on on relatively equal terms. Defence of the built-up area was, nevertheless, excellent, so although the Russians could claim to have penetrated the position, they were likely to be threatened by flanking forces from the town, so couldn’t claim a decisive victory.

In game and scenario design terms, this was a useful play test, because it showed that Russian and German units were handled differently, in accordance with the command and communications structures described in the materials. For example the Germans had more flexible but less powerful artillery, a Russian set piece could steam-roller ahead behind its bombardment, and German mobile and flexible defence was difficult to co-ordinate but could be very successful when they made excellent use of cover and the timing worked. We were encouraged that one of our Russian players, who was completely new to the game, was still able to pick it up and command a tank brigade successfully. The scenario was a tank-heavy game (so perhaps more traditional in WW2 wargaming terms), and it worked well.

Skipping lightly over our Western Desert game in November 2010 (of which more perhaps another time), our next major Eastern Front game built on the Courland experience. We decided to try a full-blown multiple table game to represent a major German attack on a Russian Tank Corps over a sizeable area. This was to be a breakthrough attempt by the Germans using a Panzer Division and an Infantry Division, so we needed to enable penetration and large scale sweeping manoeuvre. We set up the game as a series of match-ups on separate tables, initially one player versus one player, with the C-in-Cs carrying out the overall direction as in the previous game. Each one-on-one table was in effect a separate game linked over time to its neighbours. Each simultaneous match was intended to last up to two hours, then be adjudicated, at which point tied games would be re-matched (in effect continued), losing forces would retire to the rear or move left / right (if able) onto friendly tables, and winners could advance or stay where they were. It’s probably worth quoting our Basic Assumptions:

1. No diagonal movement across conflict tables (winning troops have options of Advance, Stand, Move Left, Move Right).

2. Tied games require either Rematch (assuming one or other side requires that), Stand with no “hostile” intent, Withdraw or Move – Left or Right. [Each CinC elects without knowledge of the other].

3. Losing forces may retire directly to rear or move left/right onto friendly tables. [i.e. tables where friends either won last bound or were not contested.]

4. Reserves will march in formation designed for such at COLD bound rates if on tables which are not actively fighting.

5. Forces which motor thru’ a table as part of the attack (i.e. NOT as part of the Reserves) within 1 hour will be provided with a bonus positioning on their next table, those completing their movement across table within 90 minutes will receive a lesser bonus.

[Note: typical bonuses might be (and depend on map/terrain also) – 1 hr the swift force may start the next game up to 1000m in from the table edge assuming they wished to continue ahead. Also disruption to defenders positioning of troops – he may not position anything other than infantry within 1200m of the enemy’s table edge. 90 minutes – Start up to 500m from table edge but defenders may not position any element other than infantry within 1000m of enemy table edge, Defender’s tanks may not be dug in [?].

6. Umpires may, before table games commence advise a reduction in game time to 90 minutes (otherwise 2 hours as standard) – particularly in first round of games if position lightly held etc.

7. Artillery fire will be limited with Map fire being constrained to prominent features only. [Pre registered firing marks other than onto clear features will not be permitted].

8. We will try to get 4 games in. Might mean 5pm is not achievable.

As you may have noticed, there were some tentative parts to this. In the mixing of the ingredients and the cooking, the recipe worked pretty well though. Players were engrossed all day. Although the starting positions were one-on-one, after the first session we were flexible enough to modify our basic assumptions. One largish encounter continued into sessions 2 and 3, as the Germans pushed across a minefield into a village. The main German armoured attack overran the Russians, the remnants retreating to the east. Advancing virtually unopposed in session 2, the Germans were able to exploit rapidly along an undefended table, while part of the armour peeled off to the east. Players unused to this type of sweeping manoeuvre needed a bit of guidance from the umpires and some insistence from C-in-C – there is a tendency amongst some wargamers to simply head for the nearest enemy, rather than to exploit open spaces. The Russians stuck to their plan, which was to engage the Germans with a mobile defence, and to force the enemy to attack Russian blocking forces in terrain favourable to the defence. However, the Germans retained the initiative, because their breakthrough enabled them to pick their route of advance, and it became difficult for the Russians to co-ordinate, especially because their artillery and armour lacked the command and control flexibility of the Germans. The Germans were able to carry out the classic armoured finesse of hitting Russian artillery with direct fire, their Panthers destroying a regiment of Katyusha rockets while outranging T34s (with mainly 76mm, not 85mm guns). The system of separate tables enabled the Germans to recce ahead with fast-moving armoured cars to find the weak spots, while by-passing strongpoints.

By the end of the day, two main points emerged – (i) the Germans had broken through to the north and were going to be able to link up with an off-table pincer coming from that direction, thereby cutting off all Russian forces to the west. This thrust was to have been blocked by Russian reserve armour, but the speed of the advance and the failure of the Russians to recognise the German schwerpunkt quickly, meant that the reserves were 10km away and far too late to block. In terms of our game mechanics, this was an excellent result, because it demonstrated that the Big Game structure functioned as designed. We had a believable result, well within expected parameters (and the players agreed, which is always critical). And (ii) signifant German forces (half the armour, plus most of their motorised infantry) were engaged in a direct fight with the main force of the Russians. This larger engagement happened because the Germans needed to pin them, and the Russians wanted to bring on a major combat on their terms. Our scenario management permitted this through two expedients: pushing together the tables from two or three of our one-to-ones, and sychronising the time scales.

The latter point was a major learning experience for the umpires. Naturally, when we were operating across several separate tables, the time scales or flow of game turns varied, as players were slower or quicker. One table might be on turn 9, while an adjacent table was on turn 12. If the two tables came to interact, either firing from one to the other, or moving troops between tables, it was necessary to synchronise them, or players would be confused, particularly when looking at communication delays, for example for calling in artillery fire. Our method was initially to attempt to split the difference and adjust both tables. However, this method was not entirely practical, as it could create confusion on both tables. Pete and I decided during the game that the slickest method was to match the two tables using the table that had the most turns as the base line. The other table’s game turn indicator (sequentially numbered cards) was adjusted at the first point of interaction, and then both would operate as if they were a single table. All existing communication delays on the second table would be adjusted to the time scale of the first – a one-time adjustment that proved easy to operate. This mechanism worked because Mission Command doesn’t force any particular relationship between a game turn and elapsed time; our game turn lasts roughly 10 minutes but can happily be variable in length.

Our take-away from this scenario was that the Big Game concepts functioned well, as long as the umpires, and to an extent the C-in-Cs were flexible in reacting to changing circumstances. Some of the sub-games would continue through more than one session, others would last the prescribed 2 hours, but many would be shorter as recce forces or overmatching forces moved rapidly through the next table. While at the start of the day the sub-games would be one-on-one, later sessions could readily be two v one, or larger, as troops moved and operations developed. We didn’t want to force a rigid structure on the players, because that threatened to shake the believability of the overall game. Most operational decisions were taken by C-in-Cs between sessions (which was our initial thought), but we also found that a quick sub-game, say, one hour, might enable intervention during a neighbouring longer engagement, and this type of occurrence was not only acceptable, it was to be encouraged, because it helped C-in-Cs have an impact during a session and maintained the game flow. Without our flexible approach the game would suffer from a disjointed feel and leave some players with a poorer experience.
Next: PBI re-write

Snowdonia: Siege of Petersburg

At a loose moment a while back when Tony was talking about lots of designers doing expansions for Snowdonia, I laughingly said I’d design a Snowdonia – American Civil War mash-up. ACW has lots of railway building (including the US Military Railroad in various places), and logistics is what railways do and what armies need, so I figured ‘what’s the problem?’

A few months (maybe a year?) later, and we’re now unpacking here at the new Chez Paulls in Warboys (yes, military pun there) nr Huntingdon, Cambs. Having found a table, a copy of Snowdonia and my original notes, I’m now putting the lot together to see what happens.

I’ve researched a fair amount on the topic, as I’ve been reading freebie eBooks – autobiogs of Grant, Sherman and Sheridan are all fair ol’ reads. This has been coupled with use of Wikipedia and fairly gung-ho US tourist websites – perhaps not so scholarly, but at least they’ve put stations in vaguely the right positions. I homed in on the Siege of Petersburg in 1864 as a reasonable scenario. This was a very extensive siege over several months, incorporating operations round Petersburg and Richmond as Grant et al attempted to manoeuvre Lee and comrades out of his entrenched positions, while Lee tried to pick off any vulnerable Union detachments. Leaving large armies in more or less the same place for long periods required railroads (sic) for supplies and for swift tactical manoeuvres. The siege was typified by building railroads (primarily a Union activity), as they established communications from the Virginian coast at City Point to the siege lines round Petersburg) and defending / destroying them. Sheridan, the Union Cavalry Corps commander, was responsible for several successful cavalry raids to rip up track and burn stations, cutting the Confederate supply lines or at least forcing them to use much worse road and track transport. The rebels too carried out raids and even sabotage-bombed part of the City Point port.

Though the railroad lines tended to radiate out from Richmond and Petersburg, the Union army helpfully built a US Military Railroad from City Point down towards Petersburg, linking (in my mind anyway) to the Weldon Railroad that was a critical line for the rebels to hold. This forms the script for the Snowdonia expansion, and allows me to use wonderful names such as ‘Stony Creek Depot’, ‘Reams Station’ and ‘Jerusalem Plank Road’ conjuring up an appropriate image of the American Civil War, capped off by Appomattox Manor, Grant’s HQ.

Players are the usual gangs of labourers, but this time you’re working under the rather less than watchful eyes of the Blue and the Gray. As the generals are busy fighting the war, your men can fulfill contracts along the whole line without regard to any particular partisanship (as long as you get paid, what do you care?). Some of the line starts completed, but that’s not likely to last, as Military Events replace some of the classic Snowdonia event track items. You’ll hopefully be able to influence these events by strategic positioning of military stores and garrisons to help one side or the other, as your own personal aims dictate. But eventually the final climactic battle will happen, and this will decide whether any bonuses will be paid to you for specific contracts keyed to Union or Confederate victory. Will you win the logistics war, despite or because of, the outcome of the Siege of Petersburg?

Now for some rigorous play-testing to see if the scenario will stand up to the billing!

Microgame experiment 3: WW2 tactical game ?!?

As a few fellow designers have been putting together some rather excellent 18-card (plus tokens) microgames, I thought that I’d have another go at this design constrained format. I’d been toying with the idea of doing a WW2 logistics microgame, but lacked inspiration. Then it came to me that it *ought* to be possible to design one to demonstrate the difficulty of combined arms tactics in WW2. As an aside, my wife did question whether it was actually *useful* to do this – but then, it’s my project and I sometimes like to follow a whim.

A dozen pages of fairly amorphous notes later, I’ve come up with something that’s a cross between Magic The Gathering and Up Front, boiled down to 18 cards, 5 sets of coloured cubes and a d6. I gave it a solo run through and, surprisingly, it ran from start to finish without breaking. It bent a bit, but it feels like it might be viable with a few tweaks and a very carefully worded rulebook.

The cards include a very few ‘units’ representing infantry plus supporting tanks, artillery, HMGs and anti-tank weapons. The support stuff is expected to be attached to the infantry, so I can get away with multi-function cards here, to give players decisions about what function to use. There are even fewer terrain cards (just a Hill, Woods, and Building), also doubling up as Entrenchments. The rest of the cards are actions, such as Fire, Move, Withdraw, Retreat and so on. With a hand size of only 3 and a deck reduced by stuff staying on the table (deployed), the flow of cards is key. I decided that you can play a card, then any follow-up cards permitted by the initial card played; for example, Move means you can follow-up with Fire, Smoke means you can follow-up with Move. You complete your turn when you run out of follow-ups (usually very quickly ‘cos you only have a 3-card hand). Then you can manipulate the deck in one of three simple ways and refresh your hand to 3. However, your opponent can interrupt your play and cancel the rest of your turn – for example, a Move can be interrupted by Fire.

I’ve added in simple range tokens, so there’s some manoeuvre element. Plus an enemy that’s fired on has obviously been spotted, and gets a target token – making it easier to hit next time. That also encourages manoeuvre, because you’ll want to move to remove the target token.

I’ve kept firing to a simple d6 modified by supporting units, terrain and one or two other intricacies, probably to be honed away in due course.

The victory conditions are simply to force the enemy to take retreat tokens; 3 such tokens and it’s presumed you’ve broken the position. Or alternatively, if no effective resistance is offered, you advance to a negative range chit (a la Up Front).

The motivation for the game is to show that combined arms is difficult. Therefore I’m aiming for it to be a challenge to attach enough supporting units and gain positions so that you can amass sufficient modifiers to inflict casualties and force the enemy back. So far, with only one playtest, we’re not yet there. But it was reassuring that a quick attack with just infantry was beaten off by a combined arms force, even if the latter only just held on.

Step one accomplished!

Mission Command: Hanging out the washing 1

Saturday, 7 December 2013. A small gathering of Mission Commanders at Frome to try out the new fortification rules for MC. The scenario: A rather hastily put together one owing to lack of sufficient time (other game design projects, including our Ivor The Engine board game, getting in the way) saw a British brigade group feeling its way forward to the main line of resistance of the Westwall (or Siegfried Line) in February 1945. This was a pseudo-historical scenario, so people couldn’t look up what happened. We had 4 British players (there were a few late dropouts owing to Christmas stuff), a single German player (2 hoped for, but work intervened) and 2 umpires.

Dear British players: The Americans to the south are pushing east towards the Rhine in a series of difficult operations. As they move east, the British corps position, of which your forces are a component, have not kept pace, so the American flank has lengthened and there is the potential for a dangerous German response in the future. Montgomery has decided that your forces need to push back the weak German forces immediately to your east and south, preparatory to crossing the River Wurm, an important tributary of the Ruhr. This will close out the salient. The difficulty is that the Wurm forms part of the Siegfried Line (the Westwall).

Although aerial reconnaissance has been carried out, the exact locations and strength of the enemy’s defences are not known. Today’s operation has two limited objectives: (i) find out where the German main line of resistance is, and locate any outlying defences; (ii) push the German forces that are to the west of Munchenkirchen back to their MLR. This operation will help planners to decide where to cross the Wurm.

In contrast, dear German player: You and your men are exhausted, but at least you’re still alive. If you can hold the Rhine, maybe the Führer can come up with a plan to throw back the allies. In the last fortnight the pressure has eased slightly. You’re still grossly outnumbered, the allies have air supremacy, artillery supremacy and tank supremacy, but you’re holding out. Your unit is Kampfgruppe Hoffnung, positioned just west of the River Wurm, near to the town of Munchenkirchen, which is part of the Westwall. Now you’ve heard that the British have started to move forward again; at least you have good defences close to hand.

The German mission would have been a delaying action, but the Germans don’t do those – they do ‘defence’ and ‘withdrawal’, though sometimes it can feel the same in the late war period.

The game worked well within its confines. Meaning that there’s a good scenario in there waiting to get out, and I should have spent more time preparing (but that’s often the way). The British more or less succeeded in their mission. The German left flank was pushed back with some loss, as a roughly company strength group got itself surrounded in a relatively isolated strongpoint, which was then demolished by petard mortars – a very effective weapon. The British advance was cautious and probably about as fast as historically, I guess. They pushed forward roughly 1.5 km in about 3 hours, taking casualties mainly from artillery (well emplaced and far back ex-Soviet 15.2cm howitzers primarily), and having to deploy against successive pillboxes and dug in anti-tank positions. There was extensive, judicious and effective use of smoke, which limited German mortar fire particularly, and  an initial rolling barrage. Counter-battery fire knocked out one Wespe battery, but despite several attempts, couldn’t seem to get the other one.

The Germans managed to knock out a couple of the Churchill ‘dustbins’ through flanking fire – as one British participant put it (I think approvingly) “enfilading fire from a defilade position”. It takes a lot of work to design a good defense, and I’ve learned a lot myself from doing this setup and seeing what does and doesn’t work. German artillery (as historically) was the killer to the British; several companies got pasted, including some engineers working on a road block, and this caused loss of time as they naturally pulled back to regroup (‘ran away’ as the Germans might put it). However, back they came to resume the advance or to put in a fresh company. They were also able to bring up supporting tanks too, which the Germans were unable to do (having no tanks and virtually no fuel). For the British it was really a matter of time and grinding casualties, put down smoke and artillery shells, receive surprise fire from a new strongpoint, bring up the engineers and smash through; an essential combined arms effort which was difficult to co-ordinate (though I’d say that John, an experienced real life military commander, made it look fairly easy).

The fortification rules worked well – one d20 roll and a lookup table to determine the outcome, with graded effects. It was apparent quickly (and correctly) that although the field guns and small arms could keep the Germans’ heads down, it needed heavier weapons, engineers and demolitions to get through. And then the only German defence is flanking antitank fire against the engineers and their heavy equipment, and artillery fire to try to stop the infantry. Unfortunately for the Germans, there’s just not enough artillery to hold back the tide completely. So as long as the British can take the casualties, they will probably manage to grind through. Then again, this was only the outpost line and extensions to the main line of resistance. The main Westwall was going to require more firepower to overcome. Next time.

Many thanks to all the participants.

Education or Training?

From the Simulating War forum on Yahoogroups, a participant quoted a memorable piece from General Andrew Graham, recent Director of the UK Defence Academy, to indicate the distinction between education and training:

Your 14-year old daughter comes home from school and tells you that she has been taught sex.
You ask her if it was sex education or sex training

Mission Command – recreational wargaming with a surprising difference!

This post is an introduction to Mission Command, a set of miniatures rules that I’m working on with Pete Connew. It’s currently being written with an expectation of completion before October of this year in a state fit for publication.

Jun44: 1/125 PzGds, 21 Pz Div on dawn manoeuvres

Jun44: 1/125 PzGds, 21 Pz Div on dawn manoeuvres

Mission Command is a set of World War Two recreational wargaming rules for use with miniatures. The rules attempt to capture the essence of operational combat command from roughly company level to army corps level without the bloodshed, fear, death and destruction normally associated with actual warfare. The focus of the rules is on helping players to learn more about the effectiveness (or otherwise) of a national army’s operational doctrine – its way of fighting – during the Second World War using tabletop miniatures.

Why do we need another set of World War Two figure wargaming rules? Mission Command was borne out of a desire to discover a set of World War Two miniatures rules that satisfied our wargaming group’s interest in relatively large operational level games that permitted the use of ‘realistic’ national doctrines. We had experimented for several years with various rules sets, but found that differences in doctrine were rarely covered; for example in one rules set a Dutch battalion’s organisation and capability was almost identical to a Japanese one, when in fact there are some significant differences. In addition many Second World War rule sets focus primarily on tanks and other vehicles, whereas many, if not most, Second World War engagements were characterised by infantry combat or combined arms battles involving large numbers of foot soldiers.

Our distinctive approach with Mission Command is to provide a model that attempts to reflect doctrine, particularly in command, control and communications, and to enable players to integrate the various types of troops in an historical fashion. With Mission Command, if you’re handling a German Panzer Division, it will be a different experience from handling an equivalent Soviet unit. This approach places these rules at the simulation side of the simulation versus game spectrum.

Courland Jan '45: Russian Reserves Moving Forward

Courland Jan ’45: Russian Reserves Moving Forward

A Mission Command game is founded on realistic, historically accurate or pseudo-historical scenarios that present background information and occasionally some pre-game activity. The game itself is run by one or two umpires, who will supervise and facilitate the game for two teams of players. In very large games each side may be divided up into smaller command teams, typically one operational commander, a chief of staff in charge of orders and liaison with other friendly teams, and an intelligence officer responsible for gathering information about the enemy and making appropriate plans. One player in the team may usefully be given command of artillery fire plans.

Pleskau Autumn '44: Death Of A Tiger

Pleskau Autumn ’44: Death Of A Tiger

In Mission Command, the exercise of command, control and communications is not as abstracted as in most modern wargames – there are no command dice, no PIPs and no artificial ‘fog of war’ mechanisms. Each command of company level or above has to be given orders at the start of the game which can be modified later, but orders are brief. Communications and changes of orders are carried out by command units, but as units are restricted by the necessities of combat, players will find that they have to make difficult choices about what they do during combat; fog of war, imperfect information and sometimes confusion emerge naturally from the interactions of players attempting to carry out operations in accordance with doctrinal restrictions and complicated tactical situations.

I hope that these few paragraphs help to convey what we’re attempting with Mission Command. As our review and re-write of the rules continues over the coming weeks, I’ll continue this blog to keep you up-to-date.

Pegasus Bridge, 6 Jun '44: Lucky Luftwaffe

Pegasus Bridge, 6 Jun ’44: Lucky Luftwaffe

Asculum, 279 BC, 1 April 2012

Preamble

No, not an April Fool’s joke, but a genuine play of Asculum using the Lost Battles historical setup.

We played twice properly, swapping sides, having played once on Saturday with so many rules mistakes that we discounted that game (we were both very tired having been playing various board games on Friday night with late night and early rising to follow). We’re both experienced wargamers and have crossed swords many times. I strongly suspect that Bart may be the better player, so I have to go with the virtue of experience over ability.

In game one I was the Greeks, Bart the Romans. We were playing with Favour of the Gods, in an attempt to iron out some of the more extravagant combat dice results. Asculum pits an early Roman legionary army against a later Greek one that includes phalanxes (but not hoplites), a smattering of elephants, together with significantly strong cavalry. A major difference is in the leadership with Pyrrus an inspiring leader for the Greeks versus a couple of uninspiring Roman commanders, Decius and Saverius.

Game on!

My plan was relatively cautious. Although I was stronger in cavalry, it seemed to me that the power of the Greek phalanxes and veteran cavalry with the inspiring Pyrrhus in the middle ought to be enough to overwhelm the legions, while the primary danger of defeat lay in the Romans winning with their cavalry on one or other of the flanks. So my plan was to neutralise both flanks and crush the legions in the centre.

As the elephants (the Greeks have 2 x Indian elephant units) are at an advantage against cavalry, I moved them out to each flank to support the existing cavalry and discourage Bart from advancing on either flank. I advanced my whole centre line joining up with the 3 units that start in a forward position. This helps a lot on the right centre, which thus has 4 phalanx units forming 2 powerful attack blocks against heavy infantry. The Roman legions moved up to meet me in the centre, facing about their cavalry on the flanks but not advancing it. Whichever one of us advanced their cavalry first would be subject to a move and attack, so it didn’t seem to be in either of our interests to take the risk at that point.

I launched attacks along the line to commence the destruction of the legions. I had some very good combat dice rolls, with a couple of double hits by committing to all-out attacks. Interestingly he hadn’t screened his legions with the Light Infantry (perhaps misunderstanding the rules) and I recall that he moved them to support the cavalry instead. That meant he took the two hits each time on the legions. Unfortunately for me, his counter-attacks were successful and I had a phalanx and a heavy infantry shattered.

Although the early exchanges were roughly even, it was clear that the Greeks had an easier time of it – Pyrrus giving 4 exemptions is key to the Greek advantage, on top of the phalanx bonuses, only partially off-set by the defensive bonus of fresh legions. With inactive flanks the Greeks could afford to spend command points like water to give attack bonuses (especially as I rolled well on the extra dice most times). The following couple of turns were very one sided with the legions taking a hammering (all but one were spent), whereas only 3 Greek units became spent. I was waiting for the moment to unleash the Guard cavalry to complete the victory.

The Romans knew the battle was lost, so Bart decided to minimise the defeat and withdraw before I could shatter his army. As I hadn’t advanced on the flank of any of his legions, he took advantage of the free 180 degree turn, which enabled him to disengage. He sensibly covered the withdrawal of his battle line with his cavalry, swinging both cavalry units from his right flank into the centre to prevent my veterans from thundering into the rear of the legions. I wasn’t able to shatter either of the shielding units, though both became spent. He then had enough command points to abandon the field without further loss, ending with only a couple of fresh units but none shattered.

First Decision Point

Totting up the points, we found that the Greeks had achieved a major game victory by 92 points to 58. Bart was rather unhappy that he was effectively forced to withdraw by some rather excellent Greek combat rolls, and there was some truth in that.

Middle-amble

Later in the day we reversed sides. We’d discussed the first game, and Bart thought that maybe leaving the Romans on their base line might be a good tactic – if they didn’t advance, then the Greeks wouldn’t get the first infantry attack, and if the Romans could inflict some early casualties, they might have a chance, whereas if it went pear-shaped they could get away more quickly. I thought this was a bit of a defeatist approach, as you would be conceding the morale effect of losing the centre spaces without a fight.

My plan in this second game was to try out a regular Roman attack suggested by the deployment, namely push forward in the middle, and use the cavalry on the flanks to force a way past one or other flank and turn on the relatively inflexible phalanxes from flank or rear.

Game Two!

In fact, this was what happened, except *to* the Romans rather than *by* the Romans. Bart-Pyrrus reinforced his right flank cavalry with a second veteran cavalry unit from the centre and pushed them forward. In the centre I covered the legions with the Light Infantry, which gave the latter a little bit of protection, while Bart led with the eflephants – requiring only 1 command for an attack bonus is a significant advantage, expecially as they can be withdrawn if spent. Unfortunately for me the Greeks again got the best dice rolls. I attempted to fight my way forward with my right flank cavalry, so that I would have a similar advantage to his likely win on my left. I also tried a manoeuvre by withdrawing my right centre, to lure him into a very shaky (for me) trap, hoping that my right flank cavalry would win and could attack him in the front and flank at the same time. Withdrawal also saved me a command point that I could use for boosting the cavalry attack. I also hoped to gain some points advantage as he was leading with the elephants (4 points, as opposed to 3 for his infantry).

It didn’t work. Not only did my cavalry fail to sweep away the enemy cavalry, my left flank cavalry were minced in very short order, and I soon found 3 units of fresh cavalry behind me. Saverius withdrew some legionaries in good order covered by the right flank cavalry, leaving Decius to his fate. 30 points were shattered (doubled to 60 of course in the final count).

Second Decision Point

The result was 116 to 74, so although the Romans had inflicted more damage than in the previous game, they taken proportionately more through not being able to withdraw as quickly, owing to the Greeks pushing through the left flank.

It’s all Greek

Overall we both enjoyed the games a lot, and we were finding in the second game that it was relatively easy to remember the combat modifiers. The influence of broad tactical decisions is striking – for example overlapping a flank with cavalry effectively prevents a large infantry group from withdrawing without taking inordinate losses, so the flank engagements are critical (and correctly so). Timing of advances and withdrawals, even in a battle as relatively simple as Asculum (no terrain and at least the Romans haven’t got complicated troop types), presents difficult decisions. Because the luck of combat can be a swing factor (in both games the Greeks got the better dice rolls), both players were trying to mitigate the risks by getting every ounce out of the available command points and combat modifiers. There were some really agonising decisions about whether to commit to an all out attack, especially for the weaker Romans, and about whether to give up the Favour of the Gods. Keeping the Favour was a good tactic, because it denied your opponent the use of it to re-roll poor dice.

As a result of the two games (admittedly not a large sample), we would suggest that the Romans may have had some additional advantage at Asculum from somewhere, either in terms of numbers, effectiveness or terrain, otherwise a long attritional battle seems unlikely. Both our games were over by Turn 6 I think. It might be interesting to give the Romans a smattering of veterans for example. Or alternatively the historical Greeks were just not as good on the day as our Greeks were. The phalanxes (in pairs) are good against the legions. Pyrrus’ exemptions mean that the Greeks are rarely stretched for command points, whereas the Romans often are. So leadership was a major factor here, with Pyrrus’ Guard cavalry a potential battle winner. I wonder if Pyrrus was perhaps reluctant to commit his high quality cavalry? If this might have been the case, then perhaps the Greeks could be deprived of some veteran cavalry to reflect this. However, our battles demonstrated that it does take quite a lot to beat down the legions, and in both games significant numbers were able to withdraw in good order when defeat looked inevitable.

Last tank to Rossoszyca

Rossoszyca is a village in the administrative district of Gmina Warta, within Sieradz County,Łódź Voivodeship, in central Poland. It lies approximately 11 kilometres (7 mi) east of Warta, 12 km (7 mi) north of Sieradz, and 49 km (30 mi) west of the regional capital Łódź. The village has a population of 570. [Wikipedia]

Poland, of course, was the key country

(quote: W. Averell Harriman)

Abbey Wood Irregulars met on Saturday 5 March and transported themselves back to August 1944 into a fictional offensive by the German Army against the Soviet forces in Poland. Jerry (German CinC), J, Mike and Stephen led a German Corps consisting of 14 Panzer Division and 30 Infantry Division against Colin (Soviet CinC), Ed, Steve, Richard and James with a Soviet Tank Corps. Pete and myself were umpires, Pete having been the main organiser, responsible for most of the scenario and troop organisation with me doing a little to help, plus running intelligence briefings for Jerry and Colin. Thank goodness Jerry was running the Jerries and not the Russians – it saved a lot of confusion.

This 15mm miniatures wargame was one of our series using a revised version of the Wargames Research Group 1973 rules for the period 1925 to 1950.

Cover of original WGRG rules

Our changes to the rules have been fairly radical, starting with the game scale: we play 1mm = 2m ground scale, with 1 infantry figure = 10 men, 1 vehicle figure = from 3 to 5 actual vehicles. This means that we can play large scale battles in 15mm, as long as we have access to a large hall, which we do at the re-furbished Bennett Centre, St John the Baptist Church Hall, Frome. We’ve streamlined the rule set a little to make it quicker to play, but in the main have adhered to its design principles, stressing command, control, communications and different tactical doctrine. These are all reflected very well in the rules, such that German and Russian methods are very different, with the Germans able to operate flexible ‘mission command’ kampfgruppen created from diverse formations, while the Russians tend towards greater centralisation and are less able to react to local circumstances, their disadvantages usually off-set by superior numbers – though not today.

I covered the couple of innovations for this game in my previous blog post. Basically, we have a new method of basing infantry companies, representing company capability, rather than company structures, and we ran a series of one-on-one games across 40 grid squares, rather than one massive table. Another shift is that we play bounds as either ‘hot’ or ‘cold’. The latter are 15 minute turns when troops are relatively distant from each other, so to speed up play movement is x5 and firing x2. This represents a period of relative calm when the two sides are not closely engaged (mostly outside 500m) and reserves can be brought up quickly. Hot turns are normal turns, 5 minutes long and with normal movement and firing.

For our engagement in Poland we used about 16 6′ x 2’6″ tables. Ten of them were set out in pairs to form five 6’x5′ playing areas, leaving the remaining six for the CinCs to use for miniatures plus command, control, communications and, at times, intelligence. The CinCs were separated by a self-standing partition, so they couldn’t see into each others’ command area, and so they could pin maps up. Did I mention we had a lot of space?

Preliminary skirmishing

Before we went head-to-head on Saturday, there was a bit of argy-bargy in the form of planning and reconnaissance from both sides. The terrain in the battle area was mainly fairly flat, occasionally rolling plains, with some significant woods, sparse small towns and villages, even sparser roads, and a series of streams on the western end, leading into a lake. The German positions were off the south map edge, the Russians anywhere desired on map. The overall strategic position was that the German forces formed the southern pincer of a two-pronged attack that aimed to meet roughly at the top of the map to cut off Russian forces off-map to the west. The Russians aimed to stop this pincer using their on-map forces plus potentially reinforcements from the east, but not from the west.

West part of map
West part of map
East part of the map
East part of the map

The German commander initially planned to launch a broad front attack from A1 to A4, leading off with infantry to clear the towns, villages and woods, then sweeping forward with the panzers later on. Looking back on it, the umpires should probably have presumed that both sides would use standard recce doctrine; but in our wisdom we decided to let the CinCs do it themselves. This led to some relatively ad hoc recce by the Germans, who kept the Luftwaffe under wraps and were not keen on using vehicles – they wanted to see but not be seen or heard. Eventually at D-Day-1 the Germans carried out some more serious ground recce, and we presumed a reasonable degree of air too – or the attack would have been in the dark. By this means the Germans found out that the Russians were deployed in some depth, but not dug in, as the Tank Corps had only arrived a few days previously and there hadn’t been time for much construction work. The Russians also discovered more or less what they were up against, but were not aware of the extra battalion of Tigers attached to 14 Pz, nor of the extra infantry (a PzGren battalion and fleshing out of 30 Div) the Germans had to beef up their attack.

The Russians were deployed in several main groupings from Okun Mahr to Szadek, Rossosyzca to Warja and occupied the woods around both Szadek and Rossosyzca, with a forward (forlorn hope?) of a tank battalion and a part of a motorised brigade north of Sieradz, but not in the town. It turned out that owing to a confusion about the map scale the Russians had deployed their artillery out of range of the German deployment area, so they couldn’t do early counter-battery fire. They also distributed their artillery across the front, rather than the normal Russian practice of concentrating it. On the other hand, the Germans concentrated theirs, so there was rather a cross-over of doctrine; the Germans had centralised artillery and a large scale infantry attack, while the Russians had local artillery support with a mobile defence.

Achtung Panzer!

Remember that saying that no plan survives the first encounter with the enemy? Well, the German plan didn’t survive first encounter with the other German players. Ditching the idea of leading with the infantry, the Germans revised their plan and sensibly led off with 14 Panzer. Their initial pre-game deployment meant they were restricted to A1 – A4, which was possibly not the best tank country. However, it turned out that the potentially awkward watery bits were only about 6″ deep and no real impediment to tanks. The Germans started with a 3 hour artillery barrage (again more characteristically Russian than German) on Sieradz, Rossosyzca and environs. Relatively little damage was done, though the Russians lost some mortars, AT guns and quite a few American trucks.

The game structure was intended to permit sweeping tactical moves, encounter engagements, rearguard actions and set piece battles, and so it turned out. The umpires initially planned for up to 4 rounds of 90 minute to 2 hour engagements, with maybe 15 minutes break between each, for players to report back to CinCs and for them to log losses, decide on routes of advance and where to direct reserves, and for the umpires to set up new terrain. We expected to have each pair of combatants fighting on one table in one round, then, if one player had crossed the table, we’d give the winning forces an advantage on the next table, dependent on the amount of time taken to achieve the victory. The next round would then follow with ground gained immediately by the previously victorious side, so getting a time advantage too.

In reality we ended up with 3 formal rounds, but also a number of rolling advances across several tables during single rounds, as small Russian delaying forces were either dealt with or avoided by the German panzer thrusts, keen to get forward as fast as possible. This worked quite well, even though it meant we had to set up new tables rapidly in response to direction changes from the lead German commanders. It also meant, I think, that Russian command control was stretched to react to many different potential threats; fortunately Colin was well organised, or it could have gone very badly wrong. For the final round, we even had a situation at C3 and C4 where two German attacks were going in alongside each other separated by a wood, so we pushed the tables together, in case they interacted. In fact the woods meant that these were treated as separate battles by the commanders.

As umpires we tried to remain flexible in our approach and to go with the flow of how the players wanted the game to develop. It would have been a mistake to stick to an inflexible approach of 4 defined rounds, especially as the rules permitted a lot of up the line and back again communication with CinCs. It was slightly unfortunate that we were 2 players short, because I would have preferred the CinCs to be sat only at their command posts, relying on reports from their sub-commanders prior to making decisions, but we had to get them involved in actual direct fighting, which had the effect of unrealistically shortening the lines of communications. I suspect this was to the slight advantage of the Russians, who were thereby able to react more quickly perhaps than they should have been. Hey ho, slightly reduced fog of war, I guess.

Looking from west to east, the Germans starting in A1 made rapid advances against relatively small forces from A1 through B1 and to C1, using the Tiger Battalion and a battalion of Panzer IVs supported by motorised infantry and recce following up from Sieradz area. The Germans starting in A2 got stopped cold north of Sieradz by a strong showing from Richard with a handful of T34s and some supporting infantry. Richard held his position all day without losing a tank, and dealing out quite a bit of damage to the Germans, despite pretty lousy shooting dice from his tanks most of the time. The Germans were slightly nonplussed by the lack of any Russians at all in the town, which they’d flattened with the late night artillery barrage. They also lost several vehicles including a Stug III to mines on the roads (a typical dirty trick from Colin!). However, to be fair to the Germans, Pz Grenadiers went round to both left and right of the Russian positions and swept on to support the main attack towards the lake. By the end of the day, the Germans had about a couple of companies in the north of Sieradz with AT guns, but they’d lost all but one of their Assault Guns in the Stug Battalion to T34s, as well as a number of vehicles to air attack. However, these Soviets were in a precarious position owing to what was happening to left and right.

German Schwerpunkt: frontages and objective

German Schwerpunkt: frontages and objective

In A3 and A4 the German Recce, Panther and Pz IV battalions were storming forward against light Russian forces, who were retiring on their main positions around Rossosyzca and Szadek. The Germans made quite good use of smoke in response to taking fire – though it would have been better perhaps to put down pre-emptive smoke screens as part of a fire plan. It’s a curious fact that wargamers only seem to remember smoke reactively; perhaps because they’re not actually going to be shot at in reality. Also most German artillery fire was in response to local conditions, whereas most Russians was pre-planned, so that aspect of doctrine went well. It’s very difficult to get players to do artillery fire plans when short staffed – there’s no time.

By the time the Germans had penetrated across B3, B4, B5, the Russian artillery was becoming effective. They had some well chosen pre-registered barrage lines which upset the Germans considerably. In addition a regiment of Katyusha rocket launchers is a major event, even to Panthers and this caused a lot of pain to J’s advance, because they had a very well-sited forward observer. Fortunately for the Germans J detached a Panther company, covered by smoke, and in possibly the best tactical manoeuvre of the game this company was able to engage and destroy the Katyushas in the open, despite the covering support of a swarm of T34s, who were outranged by the Panthers. This bit of the action showed the very real danger of a German break through – it can devastate enemy artillery, and in fact this action might have been even more decisive if it had been the whole Panther battalion instead of one company – but they had other fish to fry.

While the Russians had been pushed back on their main position in the east around Szadek, on the western flank the position was dire. This main German armoured thrust pushed due north from A1, then round the east of the lake, sweeping away the small Russian defence force. They then discovered that, except for some artillery that had to make a break away from the area to survive, there was nothing barring them from the north. The Russians had not reacted quickly to the threat on this flank and were unable to get significant forces there in time to prevent the German link-up with the northern pincer, despite the existence of unengaged Russian armour (including KVs) far to the east. This was before the final round of the game, and with the backup of German infantry from the Sieradz area, it was clear that the Germans had achieved at least a tactical victory.

If the Russians could pull something out of the bag around Rossosyzca, then they might be able to reinforce their positions north of Sieradz and choke off the break through. On the other hand the Germans were rampaging towards Rossosyzca from the south and south-east with two battalions of armour, about 4 battalions of motorised infantry, a battalion of assault guns and an armoured recce battalion. Against them were a brigade of T34s, a motorised infantry brigade plus all of the Soviet self-propelled artillery. A major punch-up ensued.

While the German infantry and assault guns approached the Russian infantry positions in C3, the biggest tank engagement was happening to their left in C4. Colin had cleverly lined the edge of the wood with dummy tanks that were duly engaged by the Panthers, who were then engaged by successive AT gun positions as the Panthers came into effective range. The Soviets had hoped to squeeze the Germans by attacking simultaneously from the north with T34s and SU122s, but German smoke screened the north attack successfully. At this stage the Germans had the advantage in numbers and range, though the SU122s were remarkably effective in an antitank role, and the Panthers’ guns were not as effective as they might have been. I think the Germans should have manoeuvred by companies to flank the SUs to take advantage of the Panther turret, while the SUs would have had to move to keep them in arc.

Saving the day for the Soviets another two battalions of T34s arrived, having motored from off-map to the east through Sieradz to join their comrades. Choosing to throw these in as quickly as possible, again the tanks were not manoeuvred, but came up alongside their buddies, barely able to flank the Panthers. It would have been more audacious to swing them round to the south to cut off the Germans. By the end of the armoured engagement honours were even, with only half a dozen vehicles left on each side. The Russians were perhaps the more grateful, as stopping the Germans here meant that the Germans were unable to convert their victory into an outright strategic one, as the Russian Tank Corps still had plenty of fight left, and the right hand German armoured attack had been blunted. Panther, Panther, Burning Bright was an alternative title to this post!

So the Germans achieved a tactical victory on the day, but the Russians could take some comfort from the fact that they would have been able to fight on and the German breakthrough might perhaps be threatened in the days to come.

The Aftermath

The game designers’ main objective had been to try out our new infantry rules and the experiment of the ‘chequerboard’ style of play. The former hadn’t caused any particular difficulties, though further play testing would be required because there had been relatively little infantry fighting. It was nice to see that there was no gung ho charging into contact with infantry mounted in vehicles, which we’ve seen and seen punished in earlier games!

Chequerboard play was very well received; everyone seemed to enjoy it, and it meant that virtually everyone was busy from start to finish. There was also a much better sense of movement and a mobile tank battle than in a more conventional single table game. Here, I think we got a sense of the ranges of things rather better; that heavy artillery needs to be used effectively from distance, but that troops also need good support from mortars and lighter artillery pieces with a shorter communication distance to react to local circumstances – for smoke especially. Germans leading from the front can advance very fast, as their doctrine permits a lot of initiative to local commanders, whereas the Russians are much more conscious of senior commanders making decisions.

Many favourable comments have been received, and I present a few of those in conclusion.

“I thought the game worked very well. And gave that extra strategic edge that some of the other single table games seem to lack. Maybe a map with pins in to represent unit locations, on the day? So that the CinC can have a better idea where the troops have moved to? I think we lost a Motor Rifle Bt, because it was forgotten about! I found on all of my tables that we played almost constantly in hot moves. When a cold turn was being played, we did it in single turn steps with a short pause from J to let me ‘react’ to his movements. With the table so much smaller than normal the extra speed gained from the cold moves was almost null and void!”

“The only Inf I used died/surrendered rather quickly. The only thing that I feel might need some amendments is the morale rules. I had a company = a tank/AT gun. And in the end, I never really had to take any moral tests! It did seem a little off as my AT guns were down to 60% effectives, in the regiment. And carried on fighting. At the time I was happy to carry on brewing up Panthers but it should possibly be looked at for the next game!” [We’ve noted this for a rules revision – morale in this set was by company, regardless of what ‘company’ actually meant.]

“Everyone picked it up really quickly, certainly made things a lot swifter, & the potential bonus on the next table was a big incentive to not hang around. There’s still a few issues of communication to be ironed out. Air cover as I found out – was a must…”

“The length of cold turns could be sorted out by a roll on an average dice, air power was always a threat unless fog-bound.”

“Regarding Cold Bounds: Maybe there could be a Cold variable for say 3 x Normal movement for a Lorried/Motorised/Tank/Assault Gun Battalion under Mortar or Arty fire? Not going to move as fast as a normal Cold bound, but the intensity of plunging shells, means they could leg it as long as they don’t fire(pedal-to-the-metal, don’t-look-back-type-thing).”

Damn – I forgot to take pix, so this is a very text-heavy post! More pictures next time. [If anyone took any on Saturday, please let me have copies, and I’ll add some in!]

Opinionated Gamers blog link added

It does what it says in the title.

Games blog posts

Very sorry, but I can’t seem to get the habit of writing short, frequent blog posts.

Dramatic Consequences Game Library

6 Nimmt Key Market Traders of Carthage
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