Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Armoured Encounter - Poland 1939

Wargamers - what can you do with them? I like to tell myself I'm hot on historical detail and historical knowledge - 'know your period', is my watchword. And so I'm well aware that the 1939 Polish campaign was mostly about infantry battles, especially on the Polish side. But the wargamer in me can't resist setting up those tanks. 

I also love to use the scenarios of Steve Jones, which are regularly published in Miniature Wargames. The one I am using here was called 'Threemen's Farm' (MW390). It was based on the Battle of Freeman's Farm during the American War of Independence, but examples were given for three different wargames periods. In the WW2 period, Steve featured the 1939 campaign, and gave infantry forces for both sides. I quickly decided to dump this sensible idea and go for an unhistorical armoured dust-up between the battlegroups that have featured in the last 2 posts on this blog.

The map from the article is shown below - once again, many thanks to Henry Hyde for letting me use it. The arrival sectors for the various forces (see below) are indicated, and the deployment area for the Blue Light Force is shown. The table I used was 6' x 5', so I had a bit more depth to play over than the original setup.

© Henry Hyde 2015.

Points values for the forces given below are approximate, especially for the Polish motorised brigade which does not feature in the army lists for Battlegroup Blitzkrieg. For these guys I have developed my own organisation and guessed the points. The Battle Rating (BR) values are also my own best guess. I have only given details of actual troops where they differ from the Battlegroup Blitzkrieg army lists. Special rules are in italics.

Polish Battlegroup, 10th Motorised Brigade (blue) (all rated regular)
Main Force
Forward HQ (PF508 car, senior officer, mortar spotter)
Forward Signals Unit (communications)
Vickers tank Platoon (3 Vickers 47mm, 2 Vickers mg)
Supply Column (1 PF621 truck, re-supply)

Reserve Force
Infantry Platoon (Platoon command squad officer, runner, 3 rifle squads, 3 LMG squads)
MMG team
37mm Bofors Anti-Tank Gun (PF508 tow)
Anti-Tank Rifle team

Light Force
Tankette Platoon (2 TKS mg, 1 TKS 20mm)
Recce Command (rifle squad, PF508 car, officer, scout, mortar spotter)
Infantry Foot Patrol (1 rifle squad, 1 LMG squad, scouts)
Anti-tank rifle team

Off-Table Mortars
2 x 81mm mortars

450 points, BR 34.    3 officers, 3 scouts.

Arrival Schedule
The Light Force is deployed on table at game start, in the woods as shown on the map. The Main Force arrives on move 1. The Reserve Force arrives once the Poles have lost 2 units. This latter is a new method for me to decide arrival, but seems an interesting suggestion by Steve, so I decided to try it. I presume it represents off-table forces responding to the sounds of battle and/or calls for help from the leading units. Arrival sectors for the Main Force and Reserve are shown on the map.

German Battlegroup, 3rd Light Division (red) (all rated regular)
Forward HQ (Horch staff car, senior officer, artillery spotter)
Forward Signals Unit (communications)
Panzer 38(t) Platoon (4 tanks, officer)
Supply Column (1 Blitz truck, re-supply)

Right Wing
Infantry Platoon (officer, runner)
MMG team
37mm Anti-Tank Gun (Protze tow)
Anti-Tank Rifle team

Left Wing
Recce command (officer, scout, mortar spotter)
Kradschutzen Recce Patrol (scouts)
Kradschutzen MG Patrol (scout)
Sdkfz 221 armoured car (scout, mortar spotter)

470 points, BR 39.    4 officers, 5 scouts.

Arrival Schedule
The Centre and Right Wing arrive on move 1. The Left Wing arrives when the Germans have lost 2 units. Arrival sectors are shown on the map.

The Germans have the best tanks and more infantry in their infantry platoon, so they don't get any off-table mortars in order to keep things roughly even. Their Forward Signals truck is therefore redundant, but I kept it in for the hell of it. BGB players will note the engagement is towards the lower end of the points band for a platoon level game. This should keep everything quick and simple, and fits in with the forces used by Steve in his article, which are fairly modest as well.

The Game In Photos

Table set up. The Polish Light Force are already deployed in the woods at bottom right.
The Polish Main Force moves up along the axis of the road.
The German Pz38(t) platoon move forward towards the farm.
In the background German infantry moves across to support their tanks and claim the farm.
Elements of the Polish Light Force advance as well.
First blood to the Germans. A long range shot from a 37mm anti-tank gun claims a Vickers gun tank.
The Germans are in possession of the farm,  but Polish units are moving up to contest the objective.
A Pz38(t) has been destroyed in the background by a Vickers tank.
The German Left Wing force has arrived and deployed off their motorcycles.
They advance to threaten the Polish units still in the woods ahead of them.
Bottom right: mine strike + soft skin loaded with ammo = kaboom!
With German units around the road junction contained by mortar fire and an unexpected air strike, the Polish tanks, supported by the infantry of the Reserve, move to their right to challenge the Germans at the farm.
Overview at the end of the game, after 7 moves. The Germans have suffered significant casualties
and their tanks are out of ammo, with no prospect of resupply. They decide to withdraw.
I expected the Poles to have the worst of it, but they triumphed in the end. This was partly due to some lucky die rolls, but more particularly they drew a few favourable Special Counters which helped them immensely. The airstrike they received was very effective against some German infantry in the open, and a mine strike card concluded the game when the German re-supply truck was destroyed, and left the 2 remaining Panzers out of ammo. After 7 moves the Poles had lost only 10 out of their Battle Rating of 34, whereas the Germans had lost 25 out of 39. One does, of course, prefer to see one side or the other winning due to better tactics rather than luck, but in a solo game the intervention of fate and an unexpected surprise or two are fun.

Using a deeper table meant the opposing forces took longer to engage, and this slowed the game down. The original 6' x 4' size used by Steve will work better. However, the points system proved itself by producing 2 very well matched opponents, giving both sides a good chance of winning.

When I first started playing BGB I ignored the ammo rules for simplicity, but have now started using them. I don't, however, distinguish between HE and AP - this is just a bit too fiddly for me. Using the ammo rules does bring a new dimension into the game - with the Vickers tanks only having 5 rounds and the Panzer 38(t)s only having 7, re-supply becomes a really important part of your tactics. In fact, I quickly realised I should have gone for at least 2 re-supply trucks per side. 

Playing the game after a bit of a hiatus reminded me of just how simple the basic mechanisms are. With a modest game like this (and 2 players), quick and fun games result where you can concentrate on your tactics rather than constantly worrying about the rules. The number of possible special rules for each period or campaign does tend to blur the picture somewhat, particularly in bigger games, but I think it is my inexperience with the rules that is really causing the odd mistake. Using these rules regularly should produce a lot of good games.

A couple of house rules for the record. The woods on the Polish left were obviously intended to be more open, so I have the following rules for Open Woods. Movement is only reduced by a D3 rather than a D6, and line of sight is not blocked at all. However, all units in open woods count as obscured. I also tweaked the rules for air strikes - the supplement (p.14) reduces the chance of Polish aircraft arriving to a roll of 6 only, but in game terms this makes air activity too unlikely for my taste. I prefer to keep the Polish roll at 5+, but increase the German roll to 4+ to represent their air advantage.

I'm definitely planning more BGB games. In fact, Mr Jones has another tempting scenario out in MW393, so it's time to re-commence the enjoyable process of planning terrain and forces.

See you soon!

Friday, 1 January 2016

Battlegroup Blitzkrieg - Polish Mechanised Brigade 1939

In the light of my previous post, I was tempted to produce another one to cover what might be thought of as the natural wargaming opponent of the German Light Divisions, the Polish Mechanised Cavalry Brigades. Of course, there were only 2 of these, the 10th Mechanised Brigade and the Warsaw Mechanised Brigade, but both saw a good deal of action and despite all their problems (in particular, their reliance on a very small number of inadequate tanks and constant fuel shortages), they managed to punch above their weight on a number of occasions.

I had to buy a couple of extra Vickers tanks to make a full 5 tank platoon, of 3 gun tanks and 2 MG tanks. Unfortunately, unlike the excellent Zvezda kits of the Panzer 38(t), no decent 15mm models of the Vickers 6 ton in Polish service are available. I have decided to make do with the distinctly second rate (make that third rate) model from QRF - wrong turret shape, no sign of the distinctive air intakes, hull made ridiculously shallow to save metal, etc. Sigh. Like many wargamers who appreciate this period, the advent of the Flames of War range a few years back raised high hopes for a good selection of the main vehicles, but alas the range was left to wither after the initial releases. No Vickers tanks, no soft skins at all. So much for the advantages of commercial wargaming. However, I cannot leave this subject without saluting the efforts of one wargamer who applied his considerable modelling skills to this problem. Check the link.

So anyway, the tank platoon looks like this,

The gun tanks lead whilst the MG tanks wisely keep to the rear.

And of course I couldn't resist putting together a small battlegroup to set against the German one I outlined in the previous post.

The infantry organisation is adapted to the 4 figure bases left over from my days of using Blitzkrieg Commander.
No chance of re-basing in the forseeable future - I have better things to do with my wargaming time! 

In this case I had to do rather more work, as the organisation of the mechanised brigades is not covered in the BGB supplement (oh, for shame!). I would refer any interested parties to check out this thread on the BGB forum, particularly for the response from the chap calling himself 'gebhk' who clearly knows his stuff. As you can see, the infantry platoon is much smaller than the normal, very large one employed in Polish infantry formations, being based (of course) on the cavalry organisation. For those noticing the absence of the distinctive black leather coats of the 'Black Brigade', I will have to admit that I use ordinary infantry figures in the mechanised units. So assume this is the Warsaw Brigade. Or a unit of the 10th who are vegans and don't wear leather.

Anyway, the battlegroup I chose has a Vickers platoon; a TKS platoon including one tankette with a 20mm gun; an infantry platoon supported by an anti-tank rifle, towed anti-tank gun and MMG team in a Lazik; a motorcycle reconnaissance section; and off-table support from a battery of 2 81mm mortars. I left out the transport trucks for the infantry in this instance - the 2 Praga RV trucks for the mortars are superfluous and are included for effect only.

These are the first photos (and this is the first post) from our new home in the Cotswolds. I have discovered that the lighting in the dining room, from a rather old-fashioned light fitting with 5 separate lamps, actually produces rather a nice bright and even light for wargaming in general, and wargaming photography in particular. I will have to ruthlessly sabotage Mrs Flint's project to replace this fitting with something more contemporary.

Anyway, with Christmas and New Year out of the way, and all boxes unpacked, it is time to get some gaming going. My intention is that the first game to be played here will be a solo BGB engagement designed to refresh my knowledge of the rules. I have something in mind that will pit units of the German 3rd Light Division against some from a Polish Mechanised Brigade, using a couple of evenly matched battlegroups similar to those featured here and in my previous post. This will be an encounter engagement based on a scenario recently featured in Miniature Wargames.

Watch this space. Oh, and Happy New Year!