Tuesday, June 30, 2015

On the Road to Izdeshkovo: An I Ain't Been Shot Mum Eastern Front AAR

On Saturday last I played in 15mm WW2  game using the Too Fat Lardies’ I Ain’t Been Shot Mum! rules.  James kindly gave me the choice of games since it would be my last chance before the coming move to hang out with the Stratford gang at Rabbit HQ.   It seemed a natural choice to play with my new Soviet horde.  For the occasion I bought the TFL campaign book, Vyzama or Bust, written by Richard Avery.  VorB is a laddered campaign game, with about a dozen scenarios that vary depending on who wins or loses.  

We started at the very beginning, “Germans Thrust Toward Izdeshkovo”, which is set at the opening of Operation Typhoon, in September of 1941, as the Germans try one last push on Moscow before the winter comes.   The Soviets get a scratch force to try and hold a vital road on the road leading east from Smolensk, which is already in German hands.  You can read my thrilling account below, or read James’ highly biased and inaccurate report here.

The Major’s voice cut through their murmuring as the young conscripts shuffled into the farmhouse.  “Allright, boys, remember your defensive drills.  I want this farm to be a proper fighting position when I get back.”  Private Evgenny Gradov finished smashing the farmhouse window with his rifle butt and gazed outside anxiously.   He watched Major Sveshnikov trot across the street and enter the house where the Maxim team was located.   Gradov liked the Major and hoped he would return soon.   He always felt safer when the Major was nearby.  Sveshnikov reminded Evgenny of his father.   The major’s age and competence helped the young riflemen to feel brave even as the army seemed to be coming apart around them.   Evgenny liked how the Major called them “boys” whereas Commissar Petrov called them “comrades”.  “Boys” was a warm word.  They did not fear the Major, but they respected him and wanted to please him.  The Commissar, well, they just feared him.

 “Evgenny Alexeiovitch, help me move this table over.”  Startled from his thoughts, Evgenny helped his friend Sasha place the heavy farmhouse table on its side against the wall.  It might help stop a bullet.  They could hope.  Evgenny didn’t like being trapped in the log farmhouse, especially with the damned Stukas that always seemed to hover over head.  However, it was dry here, and he was glad he wasn’t with the other half of his platoon, in the dripping wet woods down the road.

Russian dispositions.  Scott C and I defended the Motherland.  We had a force of 4 45mm AT guns with ZIS trucks to tow them.  Our force could deploy anywhere north (left in the picture below) of the two hills.  We had to hold the village right beside the bridge as well as interdict the road running through our positions.  It seemed clever to put two of the AT guns in the woods on the far side of the creek.  The other two were set up blocking the road in case Fritz tried to run up it with his motorized elements.  We had an 82mm mortar and Maxim medium machine gun from the support company.  We placed the MMG and a Lvl 3 BM in the village, closest to the hills, with two of the rifle squads (including young Evgenny), our Company HQ, and the Commisar, in the rest of the village, to support the MMG position.  The other half of our rifle squads was in the woods in the centre, along with a sniper and a level 2 Big Man.   Our armour reserve was in the centre, ready to reinforce either way.   Our goal was to make it a tough fight for the village, but to leave enough forces along the road that we had a decent chance of still interdicting it at game’s end.

James and Patrick as the fascist hordes gloating over their imminent victory.  


“Here they come!”  His corporal’s voice startled Evgenny.  He chambered a round in his Mosin Nagant and peered through the broken window.  On the hills across the road, he saw grey shapes appear and his  mouth went dry as the dreaded German tanks appeared.   Three halftracks climbed down the hill, their tracks churning and finding it hard going on the muddy slopes.  Field grey forms jumped from the halftracks and went prone around them.  Evgenny had never seen Fritz so close before.   In all the long and chaotic month since he’d been called up he had seen his regiment dwindle, as companies were detached, sent off on missions, and never heard from again during the long retreat.  In fact, he’d never fired a shot in anger.  Now here they were.   

Behind him he could hear Commissar Petrov shouting into his field telephone.  “I don’t care if you’re not in position.   If I don’t get fire support now, I’ll shoot you myself!"

The Soviet ace in the sleeve was three fire missions from four 120mm mortar tubes.   However, in IABSM, off board artillery can be a bit of a chancy thing, so Scott and I weren't counting too much on it.  Here the first German blinds come into the open and are automatically spotted.  They know we have blinds in the village, but don’t spot them.  James and Patrick have the infantry platoon debus and go to ground while the Panzer IIIs take up hull down positions on the hill in overwatch.

“Why don’t they fire?”  Sasha sounded frightened.   Evgenny shushed him.  It wouldn’t be wise to appear nervous with the Commissar right behind them, but he was also nervous.   His heart lifted as he heard the Maxim gun’s rattle, and then loud sounds as the antitank gunners opened up from the woods.  Immediately two of the three halftracks erupted in flame and began burning, black smoke pouring out of the them.  The farmhouse erupted in cheers, and it took a moment for their corporal to get them back to their loopholes and fire positions.  “Make ready!”  

When Evgenny looked out the window again, he was horrified to see field grey forms swarming towards the farmhouse across the road.   Some lay still in the field, but he was awed by their speed and the skill with which they moved, some falling and firing while others dashed forward, then alternating.  His rifle company had never learned to move like that.  The Maxim’s rattle continued, but suddenly there was a flurry of explosions as stick grenades were tossed into the log house sheltering the machine gunners.  Evgenny watched a lace curtain billowing out from the window from the force of the grenades.  It looked incongruously delicate.    A few shouts, and then the Maxim was silent.  “Hold your fire!”  Commissar Petrov came over and peered through Evgenny’s window, making the young private nervous.  “Wait for my command and a good target!” Suddenly Evgenny realized that Major Sveshnikov was probably dead, and would never again be there to make him feel brave.

Scott and I were fortunate that our AT guns across the stream weren’t anticipated, so we got some good side shots and took advantage of them, using the Tea Break card to open fire at close range.  We weren’t so lucky with the MMG as the Germans had gone to ground and were poor targets.  James and Patrick were aggressive on their next card and rushed the MMG position with their Panzer Grenadier platoon, which also had a level three Big Man.  They used their surviving halftrack and tank fire to Pin the MMG team, which was an advantage in the close combat that followed.  While the Germans lost some men, they eliminated the MMG.  However, both the Soviet and German Level Three Big Men died in the assault.

Since we now saw what we thought was the main German attack, we rolled our armour forwards.  The KV1 engaged the Panzers while the T26 tanks engaged the Germans in the farmhouse with MG fire.  Note in the shot below that I have some wrong models on the table.  My early war Soviet tank recognition skills need work.  The PzIIIIs proved hard targets because they were hull down, while the KV1s armour saved it time and again.  Soon the damage began piling up on both sides.

“Look, comrades!  Stalin’s dragons roll forward!  Look at that big monster!  What a beauty!”   Evgenny didn’t understand how a tank could be a dragon, especially as his grandmother had showed him her icon of St. George and explained that the dragon was evil, but he was glad to see the tanks.   He wanted to watch the duel unfolding, but the corporal was ordering them to fire.   For the first few shots the Moisin hurt his shoulder.  None of them had much practice with firing, but Evgenny did his best, pointing his rifle at the house, firing, and working the bolt carefully to avoid jams.  He could hear the rest of his section shooting from the barn across the farmyard and heard the loud rattles as the smaller tanks added their machine guns.  Chips flew off the house where the Germans sheltered.  Not many bullets were coming back at them.     Evgenny was glad to be doing something.

Stuka!  James and Patrick did very well in obtaining their air support.  The JU-87s made several appearances over the battlefield, aiming primarily at our tanks, which were conveniently bunched together.    We were lucky as a direct hit would have been fatal, but the near misses began to accumulate damage and shock.  One of the nice things about IABSM is that even big tanks can be degraded by incremental damage and shock, so that the crew will eventually bail out if they’ve had too much.  We were coming close to that with out KV-1, which had accrued damage to its gunsight and engine.  On the other hand, we had immobilized one PzIII and knocked out the gun of another.  Our T26 tanks were horribly vulnerable, but their 45mm guns were shooting to good effect.  

Unfortunately at this point, the low ammunition card for the Soviets came up, reflecting the supply shortages of the period.  Our tanks and the 45mm AT guns across the stream could now only engage targets at close range (less than 18 inches), which was annoying.  The only good thing going for us at this point was that the Panzer Grenadier platoons had been badly shredded and was practically out of the fight.

James had put a lot of woods onto the table, and most of them weren’t really used.  He and Patrick did push a second infantry platoon into the centre of the woods, and I felt it best to pull my section back, harassing the Germans as our Sniper card came up.   In retrospect I realized I had misread the rules and could have put another two squads of ten men each on the table.  However, since Soviet troops are rated as Poor Regulars in this scenario, it wouldn’t have done much.   By game’s end this German section was in a position to threaten the village, and could see the 45mm AT gun that I had pulled over from my right flank.  We never got the 120mm support but we managed without it.    By 11:30pm James and Patrick hadn’t made enough headway to claim a reasonable chance of victory.  They were hamstrung by the fact that a third of their OOB, including their support platoon, never entered the fight because of the vagaries of the cards. They did make a final Stuka strike on the farmhouse where brave Evgenny and his section were holding out, but with minimal success.  If we were to play the next linked scenario, and I hope we will at some point, it will be a Soviet counterattack.


A second before the bomb hit the farmyard, Evgenny thought he heard the scream of the Stuka’s siren.  The next thing he knew, he was lying flat on his back, covered with dust and fragments of wood and glass.   Faintly he could hear shouting, and then, through blurred eyes, saw a hand reaching out to him.  He gripped it and was hauled to his feet.  Evgenny was surprised to see that it was Commissar Petrov who had helped him up.  “They’re pulling back!  We won!   We won!”  The Commissar kept saying this, his voice sounding surprised that they should still be alive.   Evgenny felt that way too, but he wouldn’t admit it.



Sunday, June 28, 2015

Revell Krupp Protze and a Basing Blitz

I had a great game last night with Rabbit Man and the gang.  I’ll write it up anon but you can read James’ account of how the Fascist hordes were stalled on the road to Moscow.

I haven’t made a plastic kit in a while.  I found this in a local hobby store some months ago and thought I’d use it to keep my hand in.  It’s the Revell Krupp Protze truck with 3.7 cm anti-tank gun. It will be useful for Chain of Command games, which make sense for my 20mm collection.

I don’t think it quite dawned on me that this was a 1/76 scale kit.   All the other Revell kits I’ve made are 1/72.  Some research on the inter webs revealed that this was originally a Matchbox kit.

Painted with Vallejo 73.603 German Panzer Grey Surface Primer.  Drybrushed with Americana Yellow Ochre hobby paint.  I see in the photo below I forgot to dry rush the bit above the drop gate, which looks far too clean.

Nice to have a 3.7cm AT gun.  I think I’ll base it separately.  I can use the crew figures from the Matchbox Opel Blitz and 7.5cm PAK kit.

For the past two weeks I’ve been on a basing blitz.   I’ve made up MDF bases for all my 20mm German vehicles.  Each one is magnetized on the bottom, to fit into the ubiquitous cookie tins to get ready for the coming move and for better storage.   Here are the German A and B echelons.  It’s interesting to look at the various paint schemes I’ve used over the years, including the three Hanomags, a grey and rust pattern which I think I originally took from a Matchbox paint guide in my youthful naiveté.  There are two Pz MkIIs and a Pz 38 in that paint scheme which I haven’t based yet.




These figures bring my 2015 totals to:

28mm:  Foot Figures: 19; Mounted Figures: 10

20mm:  Vehicles: 1; Artillery: 1 

15mm: Armour/Vehicles: 5

6mm:  Scenic pieces:  7

Kilometres Run: 252

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

My Hundred Days, Or, Napoleon Bonaparte, My Part In His Downfall

It seems there were refights of the Hundred Days battles all over the world last week, and Toronto was no exception.  Last Sunday I was invited to play in a re-fight of the battle of Ligny, hosted by a gentleman named Glenn Pearce who, along with his circle, call themselves the Napoleonic Miniatures Wargame Society of Toronto, now in their 50th year as a club.  That seemed a pretty large claim to fame, so I was keen to attend.  Glenn learned of my existence through some Naps posts on this blog, which shows how useful the internet has been.  I recall in the early 1990s how difficult it was finding opponents in one’s area.

I had to leave early on Sunday morning to drive clear across Toronto to Glenn’s home in the eastern suburbs.   When I arrived in his comfortable basement, this is what I saw.

I was one of two Prussian subordinate commanders supporting Glenn as Blucher, facing two French players.   Here’s the centre of the Prussian position with the famous windmill in the centre, as the artillery fire commences.  All figures are 6mm, from Glenn’s collection as far as I could tell.  The club has been playing Baccus’ Polemmos rules for years, but after finding their Marechal d'Empire rules to be dissatisfying, have been writing their own.  I hope it isn’t betraying a confidence to say that these rules will be forthcoming from Baccus in late 2015 or early 2016.

I was given the role of Von Thielman, commanding the Prussian III Corps.   On my immediate left were the cavalry brigades of Von Marwitz and Von Luttum under Von Hobe.  These two brigades took up much of my attention in the morning.  Here Von Marwitz watches the French cavalry of Pajol approach.  

Players of the Polemos system will understand the basic mechanics of these modified rules.  Both sides start each turn with a random amount of Tempo Points, which are modified by their army cohesion levels, and then bid for initiative.  Tempo Points (TPs) need to be distributed to brigade commanders to effect outcomes on the battlefield.  Not all sub-commanders are created equal, and some require more TPs than others.  The side with initiative requires less TPs do perform actions in a turn than the side without initiative, though the player without initiative can spend extra tempo points to seize the initiative and allow brigades to move before the enemy does.   In this case, part of the French plan was to push hard at the wings and force Blucher to spend TPs to shore up his flanks, leaving him without a full hand of TPs to counter the main French blows in the centre.

Here Marwitz confronts the lead French cavalry brigade under Soult (the Marshall’s little brother).  Marwitz was quite a good commander as the Prussians went, and led a charmed life, leading two successive charges to throw Soult’s Division back.  He bought quite a lot of time holding the left flank for Blucher, but sadly, he led one charge too many and fell to French blades.   Von Lottum’s cavalry did not do so well and the French horse began to push back the Prussian left.

All this skirmishing left me unable to really follow the action in the centre (it was a big table) but here you can see that the French have breached St. Amand on the left and are pushing hard on Ligny village in the top centre.   Lobau’s VI Corps was marching hard towards the Prussian centre left and the Guard was moving to threaten the right.   One of the things I liked about these rules is that each brigade/division has its own integrity level, and its chances of remaining on the table depend on the number of its elements are eliminated or routing.  As the weaker Prussian brigades, primarily of Landwehr, began to disintegrate, the Prussian army cohesion level fell.  This had the effect of giving Glenn a Blucher fewer TPs to work with, and gave the French the initiative more often.  It became harder and harder for him to give me the TPs I needed on my flank, since he was weighing my requests against his own needs and that of my colleague, the right wing sub-commander.

A reprieve for me, as Prince Wilhem’s cavalry corps arrives to shore up my left flank.  By this time Marwitz and Lottum are done.  Just below the woods, Subervie’s cavalry are in a position to roll up the Prussians struggling to hold the French of Lobau.  Because of the shortages of TPs mentioned above, it was difficult for me to really use these reinforcements effectively.  They kind of just sat and watched things.

My infantry under Thielman are being pressed hard.

On the right things are heating up.  The Prussian cavalry mass on the flanks of the Young Guard, and do a grand job of checking that advance.  I couldn’t really follow this flank well, but it was a huge fur ball when we called the game at 4pm.   By then we agreed that the French were leading in all categories, having far fewer casualties, a higher army cohesion level, and more TPs in hand each turn.   Time for Blucher to fall back on Wavre.  Vorwarts, my children!

Notice anything odd about Napoleon?  Our host has replaced Boney’s face with his own in a number of famous portraits of Bonaparte.  That says something about a healthy ego, I think. :)

In conclusion, this was a grand day of gaming in a grand scale, with some good fellows.   It’s always awkward to be the new boy at the club, and to eat up precious gaming time with explanations (sometimes several were needed to explain the same point) but Glenn and his friends were generous to a fault.  I like the way they model command and control, and while some of the mechanics too a while to get used to (for example, artillery is restricted to a straight forward fire zone rather than the usual 45 degree fire zone on each side, and artillery used in long range fire cannot be used to defend or support a defence in close combat).  I don’t foresee many Sundays free in the year to come, as I expect to be doing some substitute ministry this fall and winter, but I hope to play with these fellows again.

Blessings to your die rolls!


Monday, June 22, 2015

An Unexpected Kindness: The Sudden Descent of Black Kinch's Legion

There are moments when the kindness and goodness of people leaves me overwhelmed, ridiculously happy, and renewed in my faith in humanity.  

I’ve mentioned here before that Madame Padre and I have some turbulence ahead of us.   Mme. had recent surgery which revealed cancer ( difficult phrase to type), and we are currently waiting for an appointment with an oncologist to conduct an assessment and determine a plan of attack.  We are fortunate in that our impending posting and move (just 15 days now until we take possession of our new house, and 20 until our stuff arrives there) will place us closer to Toronto and its excellent hospitals, so Kay will get the care she needs.  I should say that her spirit is nothing short of indomitable, and she inspires me continuously.

On Friday a mysterious package (the best kind, really) arrived on our doorstep, from Mr. and Mrs. Kinch in Dublin, Ireland.   I suspect they would prefer this to go unacknowledged, but it was a very thoughtful gift of some books on Irish gardens and flowers to solace Mme. during the long months ahead.  These from Mrs. Kinch, and a very kind gift indeed.

Also enclosed were these splendid 28mm figures from CK, who tells me he needs to divest himself of them lest he “have to start a whole 28mm collection”.   Well, I am happy to help him avoid that fate, even if it means opening up my home to “this scabrous pack of dastardly mercenaries”.

I am certainly no expert, but what appear to be Tarleton helmets gives them the look of dismounted dragoons, possibly from the American Wars.  They are splendidly done.


The Black Kinch leading his men forward.  I am told that “The history of ‘Black Kinch’, as he was known, is a catalogue of horror, republicanism, bigamy, murder, licentiousness and general misbehaviour.  He was most recently employed by the American rebels, but will take his dollars where he can."

I’m sure that his crimes are such that BK would like to put some distance between himself and the scenes of his crimes.   Fortunately I have a 28mm 18th century Russian army that is recruiting light infantry to seize the Crimea from the Tatar and Ottoman hordes.   Perhaps a fat sack of rubles and the promise of Ottoman plunder will keep his rogues and rascals by his side.   As an added bonus, the green uniforms will fit in well.  Here Captain Smironov and Father Mikhail swear Black Kinch’s Legion into the Czar’s service.

I should get some more of these chaps, if I can find out who manufactures them.  It would be nice to have a whole unit - I can imagine Black Kinch attracting riffraff from Muscovy, thugs from Belgrade, dock sweepings from Naples and the very worst kind of Cossacks to his ranks - provided of course that they are suitably uniformed.  A very kind and welcome gift, so thank you so much, dear Kinches.   I am sure I will have stirring tales of BK on the Steppes to regale you with in the months to come.


Monday, June 15, 2015

Seen At The Canadian Forces College

Last week I was attending a conference at the Canadian Forces College, in Toronto, and took these photos.  I’d never been there before, and found it a delightful little place, tucked into a lush patch of ground and gardens just off Yonge St. south of the 401, if you know Toronto at all.  CFC is dedicated to security studies and training in strategic leadership.  Its Staff and Command courses produce the Canadian Armed Forces’ senior officers.   I’ not sure what the US military equivalent would be, but I imagine its UK counterpart would be the Joint Services Command and Staff College at Watchfield. When I was there last week there was a course of Majors just finishing, on their way to promotion, and many of them looked impossibly young.

The campus resembles a small liberal arts college, except for the hardware at the centre of the grounds, including this CF-104 Lockheed Starfighter, affectionately dubbed the Widowmaker.   It was basically a rocket on little stubby wings.  I imagine it took nerves of steel to fly.  There are some alarming Starfighter crash videos scattered over the internet.

 An early model Leopard tank.  Madame Padre needs one for the garden, I think.


The Royal Canadian Navy is represented as well.

The original building on the site, a stately home which was taken over as the Royal Canadian Air Force staff college during World War Two.  Now known as Armoured Heights, it serves as the Mess and social area for the college, and is quite spectacular inside and out.



This lovely  stained glass window in the library speaks to the College’s origins as an RCAF establishment.


I was quite taken with this piece hanging above the main stairs of the main building.  It looks a bit like Tarawa or Omaha Beach except that the weapons and aircraft are modern, and the ship in the middle appears to be an aircraft carrier.  It’s a huge piece, carved in wood.  Very impressive.


Some memorable faces.


Whatever this chap wants, he seems to want it NOW!

Good to be home.   Still 24 days before the movers come.   Lots of time to accomplish some hobby goals before then, I think.



Saturday, June 6, 2015

A Ridiculous Amount of Russians

The chance to buy a friend’s collection of 15mm WW2 Soviets last Thursday has allowed me to go from fielding a couple of platoons to … well, to a horde, basically, or good enough for a horde on most tables.  I’m not sure what the NATO military symbol for a horde would be ...

A mass of riflemen, forty bases, or six full platoons and 2/3rds of a seventh.  That plus what I’ve got would allow me to field a full infantry battalion.  All quite well painted and based, ready to go on the tabletop.

Lots of command stands including these grim-faced NKVD types to keep the dialectic of history advancing in the right direction.


Chaps with flags.  I love Russians with flags.

Heavy machine guns.  Six stands of Maxims, plus one out of the shot for repairs and I think another three in the carrying cases that came with the deal.   Let the fascists try to breach our lines with these death-spitters ready to support our glorious infantry.

Eight stands of medium mortars - 82mm I think.


And at least one stand to represent Forward Observers.


Six stands of 120mm mortars.  Not sure if these would ever be on a table, since that would normally count as off board artillery, but fun to have in one’s back pocket.

Either an artillery command post or a regimental HQ.

Two 45mm AT guns.

And four of their bigger brothers, a nasty surprise for Fritz tanks!


Not sure what calibre of guns these are, but again, I’d normally expect to have them off-table.   

A good representation of specialist troops.  Scouts:


… and engineers, ready to make things hot for Frtiz.

Of course there will be tanks.  A nice selection of earlier war kit here.


My Soviet tank recognition skills are fairly minimal.   Three T-40s, I’m guessing?  Another chap with a flag, excellent.  If it was Warhammer, he’d have a sword instead of a flag.  And his tank would be a lot bigger.


T30s?  I’m not sure.  I’m fairly certain they blow up when the Germans look at them.


Here’s something cool.  Five BA-10 armoured cars.   Since lots of these were captured during Barbarossa, it might be fun to paint one of these as a Jerry tank for behind the lines scenarios against partisans.  Nice to have some recce capability.

Three T-26 tanks, I think?

More T26s with variant turrets?  Assuming these turrets belong with these guys.

OK, these guys I know.   With my existing PSC models, these will allow me to field fifteen early model T34s.     The models shown here are all metal castings.  After getting used to the plastic version of a model, it’s surprising to feel that weight in the hand again.

Four SU-122 SP guns - fearsome big things.

And their lighter cousins, four SU-76 SP guns to go in with the assaulting infantry.

Four KV-1s, a nasty surprise for the invading fascists in 1941-42.

And some oddballs, just because.  A T-28 which looks like it would be more at home in an All Quiet on the Martian Front.  This has to go on the table in early war game, because so tanky.

A KV-2, basically a big mobile (maybe not that mobile) pillbox spitting 152mm death.

And finally, do not open until assaulting Berlin, an SU-152 assault gun.


There’s a lot more that came in the deal, including many unpainted figures, mostly by Command Decision, more hordes of riflemen and a LOT of SMG armed troops, which will eventually give me at least an SMG company.  There are numerous trucks, oddly all captured German kit including some tracked versions of the Opel Blitz, a trio of White scout cars, and one of the most endearingly useless of tanks, the T35 “land battleship”, a giant in three big hunks of lead and four turrets.  

There’s a lot of repainting and finishing work for the tanks, but it’s a welcome luxury to be able to act and grab a collection of this size, rather than take years trying to amass enough toys in small purchases.  I couldn’t have afforded a fraction of this stuff if priced retail, so this was a huge bargain.  It also gives me a respectable Soviet force to throw at my friend James’ substantial Kampfgruppe of early and mod war German kit.

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