Monday, 27 July 2015

Soldiers of God, Out Now! Hurrah!

The game has now hit the stores, available from North Star, Warlord Games, Gripping Beast, Plastic Soldier Company, and Perry Miniatures will be stocking in a couple of weeks (busy men the twins, but I'll catch-up with them eventually).

Ran a game at Gripping Beast last week, a rather stonking Saracen win, with some seriously good dice rolled by Darren and Martin never getting a break. You know it's not your day when the enemy plays 'Confusion' and takes the great card you were about to play off you. Martin did well not to cry. 

Initial responses have been excellent. I've had a first battle report sent to me, another crushing Saracen win... but the guys playing down at Entoyment in Bournemouth loved it and are now furiosuly painting Arab infantry.

I'm pysched for game myself... time to play and Crusaders and show the infidel some real steel and holy fury. I'll play the game as a intro-session and write it up for new players (or prospective ones) to read up.

Articles for the game will be appearing shortly in WSS and WI magazines, in the next few months. A scenario for the Battle of Arsuf in WSS, a basic intro to the game in WI. Hopefully, a tactics/ how to play article will follow in WI too, but I'm still writing it.

For the hell of it, here is the game's advert. Please feel free to spread it (and a good word) around the internet, on forums, blogs, etc, word of mouth is the best form of promotion and I can't really get involved in that, mainly because I obviously think the game is ace, or I wouldn't have published it.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Updating the US Army

I've have had a few weeks off painting, post my big push to get my 8th Army project finished. But, as a creature of habit, the urge to get the brushes and paints out never goes away for long, and tele is mostly utter rubbish in the evenings. I have, like most, a list of 'stuff' I'd like to do as long as my arm, but I restrict myself to one major project a year, which I try to actually get finished and gamed with. Only then do I allow myself to be distracted by the many other shiney things.

So, looking through the plastics/lead/resin mountain, what should I do now my major 2015 project was complete? Well, every few years I like to go back over my older armies, to rejuvinate them, update the models, fix the broken stuff, re-paint the rough stuff(!), add a few new units for the missing stuff and generally spruce it up with more stowage, etc. Both my American and Russian WW2 20mm armies are looking a bit battle-worn. They bear the marks of being dragged to many wargames shows and 'away day' games. Paint chips, bent barrels and broken wheels, etc aplenty. So, with 'BG Wacht am Rhein' looming large on the horizon I decided it would be worthwhile giving my US army some TLC. The Russians will have to wait.

So, auditing the existive US forces, I have decided the old Airfix half tracks have now done 20 years tabletop service, and that is long enough. They aren't bad, but the models are small. I should replace them with nice new PSC ones. The old passengers and stowage could be salvaged and reused, with some new ones added too. In all, I have 6 to do, before moving on to other M3s variants, like my radio half track, supply half track, M21 mortar carrier and M16 AA. First, the basic troop carriers, enough for an armoured infantry platoon (4), an extra squad and an engineer squad.

Following that, I'll look at retouching all the infantry that jump out of them, with a bit of re-basing too. I also want to add a Sherman Calliope for late war battles and a 90mm AA and M4 tow (I think only Milicast make one of these) as ad hoc anti-tank defences in the Ardennes. There actually isn't much my US collection doesn't already have. Maybe a few British allied tanks, like a Crocodile, for Fall of the Reich games - oh yeah, a big flamethrower would be sweat.

I've been working on the replacement half tracks this week, and they are now done. Here they are, fresh from Detriot and ready to roll.

 The first three, pigments brushed on.

 'Pudgy', the platoon command vehicle (marked by the aerial) and the guy with binos spotting.

 The second three (they are actually different).

 Platoon MG section's track, marked with an extra .30cal

 Squad transport, passengers are from all sorts of places, SHQ crew, PSC plastics, others I don't even remember any more. In all, 48 blokes to crew these.

What they are replacing, one of my old Airfix kits, now being retired (and sold at a bring and buy at my next show). Perfectly presentable just not as good as the new ones. 

Friday, 10 July 2015

Surprise Assault...

Later this year, Battlegroup will be launching a surprise assault, sometime just before Christmas, with a new supplement for the fighting in the Ardennes in 1944-45. Work is already well under way.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

THE BATTLE OF ST VITH. A Battlegroup ‘Wacht am Rhein’ play-test AAR

South of Wallerode, December 21st, 1944

When the Ardennes offensive began on December 16th, a vital early objective for 5th Panzer Army’s attack was the road hub town of St Vith. But, by December 18th, 7th Armoured Division had rushed its Combat Command B into place to hold the town after the defeat of the frontline US 106th Infantry Division on the Schnee Eifel in the previous days. The US tankers had a few days to get into place and hold-off the initial probing attacks, whilst the Germans regrouped their forces, brought up extra artillery and moved up the Fuhrer Begleit (Escort) Brigade from reserve for the assault.

The vanguard of the Fuhrer Begleit Brigade would support the main attack of the 18th and 62nd Volksgrenadier Divisions against St Vith. After a heavy artillery bombardment the Volksgrenadiers advanced, supported by their own StuGs and Hetzers and some of the Begleit Brigade’s Panzer IVs. There was fighting all along the frontline north-east, east and south-east of the town, but the Germans soon made gains with the 295th Grenadier Regiment and the attached Sturmgeschutz Brigade 244 attacking along the main St Vith-Schönberg road from the west. Here, flanked by the dense woods of the Bois de Wallerode, they made progress all afternoon, until the woods gave out to farm pastures south of the village of Wallerode, just 3km from St Vith itself. At Wallerode the 7th Armoured Division met the threatening advance with its Shermans of 31st Tank Battalion and 38th Armoured Infantry, supported by M10s and M36s of 814th Tank Destroyer Battalion. But, through the early evening, the Volksgrenadier’s strong attack was successful, forcing the US tankers to withdraw back to St Vith itself. But, closely pursued by the enemy, the US troops panicked and abandon St Vith that evening. By midnight, German tanks and troops were in the streets of St Vith and the road hub town had fallen.

This game recreated the early evening battle south of Wallerode, just outside St Vith, where the forests end and the German attack continued over the open farmland around St Vith, as marked on the map.

The location was found on Google maps. I even took a street-view tour of the battlefield, which was informative, and shows how limiting wargmes terrain is when compared to the real world. But our boards were a good approximation.  

Each of the three players aside had selected a 750 pt battlegroup. The Germans had two Volksgrenadier battlegroups (a new list being trialled for the book) and a Fuhrer Begleit battlegroup (Panzer Division with restrictions). The US faced them with two Armoured Division lists (from 7th Armoured) and a cavalry group (armoured division with extra restrictions for the scenario) including a reconnaissance troop of six jeep teams and three M8 Greyhounds (under my command – the short straw!).

Here are the force list for each side, add to which were a Forward HQ, signals unit and a forward aid post.

German Battlegroups

North – from Fuhrer Begleit Brigade
2 x Pz IV H platoons, each 3 tanks
FO team in SdKfz 250
SdKfz 234/1
Armoured Pz Gren platoon with MG42s and Panzerfausts
80mm mortar team
HMG42 team
Sdkfz 251/9 SPG
Towed 20mm AA gun + medium truck
Time 105mm barrage (on turn 2)

Centre – from 295 Volksgrenadier Regiment
Infiltration (special rule)
Volksgrenadier Platoon with Panzerfausts
Combat medic
HMG-42 team
80mm mortar team
Panzerschreck team

Volksgrenaider Platoon
Panzerschreck team
80mm mortar team

StuG III Battery (3 StuGs)
FO team
2 x 76.2mm guns (off-table)
120mm mortar team + loader team
 StuH 42G
Motorised Recce Team (2 Panzerfausts)
Supply horse-drawn wagon
1 2nd Priority Artillery Request
1 3rd Priority Artillery Request

Centre (and South) – from 295 Volksgrenadier Regiment
Infiltration (special rule)
Volksgrenadier Platoon with Panzerfausts
Pak38 ATG with loader team and horse-drawn tow

Volksgrenadier Platoon with Panzerfausts
75mm IG18 with loader team and horse drawn tow

StuG III Battery (3 StuGs)
Flak36 ‘88 with loader team and tow
SdKfz 222 armoured car
Grenadier foot patrol
4 timed 76.2mm artillery strikes (turns 3,4,5,6 on village)
‘Greif’ team, 3 men in a Jeep
Supply horse-drawn wagon
2 2nd priority artillery requests

American Battlegroups
North – from CCB 7th Armoured Division
Dismounted Armoured Inf Platoon (Regulars)
57mm ATG and tow
Tank Destroyer Platoon (1 x M10, 2x M18s)
M4 Platoon (3 M4 Shermans, with 76mm guns)
4 x Foxholes
155mm L45 Battery (off-table)
Combat Engineer Squad with flamethrower and demo-charge
Recce Ptn Cmd (3 men in Jeep)
Pre-Registered Target Point
Supply Truck

Centre – from CCB 7th Armoured Division
Armoured Infantry Platoon, in 4 M3 HTs
Combat Medic
Medium Tank Platoon (5 M4 Shermans)
2 M36 Jacksons
Armoured FO (M4 Sherman)
Armoured Artillery Battery (3 M7 Priests)
Battery of 2 81mm mortars (off-table)
Sherman ARV
Supply Truck
Pre-Registered Target Point

South – from 18th Cavalry Group
Forward Air Controller in Jeep
Comms relay team
Reconnaissance Troop (6 jeep teams, 3 M8ACs)
Light Tank Platoon (4 M5 Stuarts)
Supply Half-track
57mm ATG + beep tow
Dismounted Armoured Infantry Squad (Regs)
Tank Destroyer Battery (3 M10s)
Battery of 2 155mm guns (off-table)
1 Minefield
Wild Rumours (special rule)

With the 12’x6’ snow boards set-up, liberally amounts of baking soda scattered and the six battlegroups deployed, it was time to start the game. We rolled for weather conditions, it was snowing and misty, no air attacks would count (they were 0s instead) and all timed airstrikes were cancelled (but nobody had taken any). So air power would play no part today – bad news for the US players.

The German plan was to concentrate their attacks to the north, with the Fuhrer Begleit launching the northern attack, led by all 6 of its Panzer IVs, with the grenadiers in reserve, ready to rush on and seize the objectives once the tanks had softened up the resistance. In the centre the two Volksgrenadier groups of infantry led by StuGs would combine to capture the central farm and then the road junction beyond. The south was screened by a single 88 and a recce team who had infiltrated into the woods to sneakily claim its objective.

The Americans had deployed with the cavalry group in the south, mainly at my request as it had the cover and forests in which to hide the light armour. Out in the open I felt it wouldn’t last 2 minutes and quickly break. My jeep teams dismounted their machine guns into the buildings and set-up with good lines of sight for the off table ‘Long-Toms’ and mortars. Fortunately, they had almost nothing to fight.

The rest of the US would be in for a harder battle. The armour in centre formed a gun line, on ambush fire, to await the StuGs, with their mounted armoured infantry to launch a counter-attack to contest the central farm. The M3 mounted infantry were soon on reserve move, waiting for the order to go. Behind them the battery of M7 Priests started their long day’s work, hammering a pre-registered target point which was right in the middle of the Volksgrenadier advance (and would cause them pain all game). The Priests fired every turn, except when they were reloading with105 ammo. In the north, the tanks planned to counter-attack to re-take the farm and house (an objective), whilst a thin line of infantry in foxholes linked the two forces along the line of the lane, about to face a heavy attack.

The map shows the main German (orange) and US (green) advances in the game. 

The northern-most farm, the scene of close quarters fighting as the Fuhrer Begleit Brigade took it.
The road south into the hamlet, site of the Priest battery and the aid post, in the paddock.

Across these snowy fields the Volksgrenadiers would come.

The southern forest and hamlet, hiding the cavalry troops.

The wreckage of the day's early probe towards St Vith.

Early Turns
The Germans began to roll forwards, under thundering US artillery from on-table Priests and off-table 155s and mortars, which caused much pinning and disruption (and would all game). In the centre the StuGs opened fire at long range, and the Shermans returned fire, but any early hits glanced off the armour, it was going to be a long gunnery fight. 

In the north the Panzer IVs opened fire too, and found their mark early, knocking out one Sherman, whilst the 57mm anti-tank gun deployed into a hedge, only to find themselves low (and out) of ammunition. Somebody must have brought the wrong ammo boxes. As a concellation, artillery fire scored a direct hit and knocked out a Panzer IV (it was the officer too, bonus!). 

In the south, seeing that the German Forward HQ and signals van had taken up residence in the farm, but had no protection beyond a single 88 on ambush fire, I decided to take the initiative and counter-attack.  Two M5 Stuarts, an MG Jeep and an M10 headed off at high speed along the main roads loop (St Vith to Schonberg) to destroy the HQ units, easy counters and a serious blow to the Germans should my recce guys make it. The 88 ambush fired (at the Jeep!) and missed and the race was on. The German players suddenly looked very worried and were scrambling for reserves to throw in to save the HQ, who themselves were taking up their rifles to fight.

Those reserve arrived in the form of a Volksgrenadier squad, whose Panzerfaust destroyed my leading M5, then the 88 hit my second M5 and it was a burning wreck too. The squad’s MG turned the jeep into scrap metal too. Suddenly, the counter-attack didn’t look so clever! The last M10 exchanged fire with the 88, missing as it was only armed with AP rounds and was trying to actually hit the gun directly. Then, as it reversed away it hit a mine (a random counter draw) and was disabled. End of counter-attack – boo! 

 First bloody, an officer Panzer IV is knocked out by 155 fire.
The other tanks reach the hedge line and open fire. 

 The US forces deploy to meet them.

But their ATG runs out of shots. 

 The central Sherman firing line, white smoke indicates waiting on ambush fire. 

Coming the other way, the Volksgrenadier attack heads into range. 
 The extreme south, blocking the way throguh the forest. They weren't needed and moved to the main road. 
 Foxholes, braced and about to receive some heavy fire. 

A 57mm ATG deploys up the main road, in the wake of an M10. 

 The hamlet under artillery fire, pinning an M10. It stayed that way for many turns.

 Here come the US cavalry, quickly up the main road to attack the German HQ in their farm.
More StuGs in the centre, with horse tows behind for the infantry support guns. 

The only cover available for the Volksgrenadier infantry.

The cavalry arrive, taking some 88 fire.

Called into emergency action, the 88 swings round to take aim at the road.

 Ouch, carnage on the cavalry counter-attack...

 ... and the M10 reverses and hits a mine - must have been one of our own! 

The truesome Priest battery, keeping up a maximum rate of fire from the table edge

The initial exchanges had been seen neither side get an advantage. The Germans may be just edging it on counters taken, but their attack had slowed to a crawl. They were directing constant fire from off-table 76.2mm guns, 120mm mortars and the StuH onto the US foxholes, as well as raking them with MG fire. The poor GIs were being whittled away, one after another the foxholes were emptied, but the absorbed a lot of fire power in the process.

In the north the tank gun-duel continued, but the US weren’t winning it, and another Sherman was now smoking. Running out of anti-tank shots, the reserve M10 and M18s arrived, only for a 37mm shot (from the arriving panzer grenadier’s 251/10) knocked out one – the best shot ever from a door-knocker – depressing!  Meanwhile, the infantry were now engaged in a close assault for the farm and neighbouring house, seeing off the first panzer grenadiers, but then being overrun as the next German squad stormed in, stick grenades flying. They had the objective, and the northern US forces were looking very depleted. Sean had too many orders for what units he had left – not a good sign.

The long range gun fight in the centre also swung the Germans way, when StuGs found their mark and 3 Shermans were soon left burning amongst the raining down 120mm mortars shells ( and one busy loader team that had passed 4 out 5 tests). Finally, the armoured infantry where free enough from pinning to get going. Their reserve move saw them race for the central farm and, in their next turn, .50cals blazing to pin the target Germans, the squads were out of their transports and close assaulting. Behind them their support weapons MGs deployed and cut down advancing Volksgrenadier infantry who had reached the road junction objective and claimed it – the German high water mark for this game. At the farm the attacking US infantry cleared the farm building of an MG team and the disguised ‘Grief’ team, and when their bazooka knocked out the 222 armoured car in the courtyard, they had the objective as well, and had quickly doled out five BR counters to the Germans in the process.

The German response was to direct mortar fire and long range 37mm AA cannon fire on the farm, which pinned the US troops, but they couldn’t get the objective back. In fact, all their fire achieved little in a flurry of 4+ cover saves passed by the US. When M3 MG fire stripped a PaK38 of its last crewmen, the resulting counter saw the southern-most Volksgrenadier battlegroup break. The sudden loss of the farm had been too much for them and they began pulling back.

 The Fuhrer's panzer grenadiers arrive at full speed, overtaking the tanks in the assault. 

 Scratch one Sherman to a 75mmL48 cannon.

The northern house, an objective, about to fall. 

Unless the reserve tank destroyers arriving can stop them...

... erm, no! The M18 is a victim of the door-knocker. Rude!

The StuGs press on in the centre, banging shots back at the Shermans as they crawl forwards.

But they are all still there, if running low on AP ammo. Where is the supply truck? Oh, still in reserve. It eventually arrived, but by then 3 Shermans were in flames.
Covering from the hamlet, the M10 officer did more arty spotting that firing. Note the armoured cars waiting the call to move on the road. They soon whisked off further south.
 A StuG hit by stray 155 artillery fire, just as my M10 had it lined up as well.
Volksgrenadier support weapons massing by the hedge, mortar team, HMG, FO. All hitting the foxhole line ahead.
One StuG is smoked by a Sherman shell, finally a penetrating hit.

 The patiently awaited M3 rush to the central farm finally arrives (after much pinning by mortar fire) and the assault is on. The lurking PaK38 behind was hit by MG fire and knocked-out, the last counter that broke the defence of the farm.
 The Platoon HQ and combat medic break into the farm.

Meanwhile, the German infantry move to the road junction and briefly claim it. .30cal MG fire would later sweep them off it. 

End Game
One German battlegroup had broken, they seemed rather doomed, but they pulled back in the centre, quickly re-armed their remaining StuGs and set to making any US advance difficult. Their off-table Russian artillery was still hammering in, along with a 150mm Nebelwerfer strike called up from Corps support, (it scored two direct hits on a Sherman, which miraculously survived). To add to the injustice, the Sherman ARV’s third attempt to fix a knocked out tank rolled a 6, it was back rolling and into the action!

In the north, the panzer grenadiers and panzers pushed on, overran the 57mm anti-tank gun and suddenly that US armoured battlegroup broke, all it remaining units were removed. Dammit, it was very close.

The continuing battle in the centre, around the farm would be crucial. The Germans tried a new attack, supported by heavy StuG fire, they blasted the farm, destroying one US squad, but their final close assault was a last gasp effort, when only 3 men (and a medic!) made the final rush, and they were repulsed with easy. The farm was now secure and more US tanks and infantry were on the way to reinforce it. Also, two Shermans had moved back onto road junction and reclaimed it, before one caught a StuG shell and was knocked out (for the second time). But, the Germans were losing BR (and hope) fast.

In the south, with no opposition again, I took the chance to go after the FHQ for a second time, this time with the only mobile troops left available, my armoured car squadron. They raced off across the fields and began brassing-up the farm. Forced to save their FHQ again, the last Volksgrenadier squad from reserve ran into the farm. When they unleashed an inaccurate Panzerfaust at an M8, caution got the better of the crews and they pulled back (still firing their MGs) whilst their handy officer called in the 155s again. The Long Toms smashed into the farm with lethal accuracy, wiping out the German squad and their MG team. It was too much for the last Volksgrenadiers, their BR was finally gone, they broke. With 2 from 3 German battlegroups broken, the game was over, the US had won.

 The last Sherman in the northern batlegroup goes up in flames. Trouble, deep trouble. 

 Armoured infantry still fighting for the farm
 Glad to be upgraded to Regs, now they are involved in close assaults. 

 But the engineers never made it far enough forwards to use that flamethrower. Pinned, and whittled away behind the hedge, they quit when the battlegroup broke. 
 The last two tank destroyers re-supply - or not! Panzerfausts put pay to them both, and ends the US armour's resistance in the northern sector. 

The Fuhrer's elite, securing the objective behind. 
 ARV arrives to do some good work and get a Sherman back in business. 

 The M36s arrived to trade fire with the StuGs, and lost as well, The first one is hit and burns. Man, the tank destroyers have been so poor! We had 8, and lost 7. Kills scored in return ... 0 (I counted them twice).
 My luck isn't always bad... my command and control roll on turn 8, we used 5D6, with the result divided as we wished between commanders, who then added their officers to it. Maxed out!! First time for everything. This isn't faked.

The Schonberg road, in the south, an ad-hoc roadblock of 57mm ATG, armoured infantry squad and M8s. These were soon needed. 
Off race the armoured cars on a second mission to decapitate the German force.

Final reinforcements on the way to the central farm, the last armoured infantry squad is led by 2 Shermans and the last M10 on the table. 
The lead M8 opens fire on the farm with co-axial MG. A returning Panzerfaust narrowly missed, so he pulled back to let the arty do the business. It did!
Reclaiming the central road junction, and forcing another counter on the brittle Germans. 

The centre of the board at end of play.

It had been an excellent game, 6 hours of fierce battle (brilliant fun for a Sunday afternoon, and thanks to Ken, Xones and Andy on the German side, and Sean and Russ with me with the Yanks). The Americans had triumphed, but as we reviewed the game it turned out that the Fuhrer Begleit still had 10 BR left,  Russ’ US armour had just 4 (so 1 or 2 counters would most likely break them) and my cavalry had 6 BR... so, very close indeed at just 10 BR a piece. I think I shall include this as a mutli-player scenario in the WaR book.

The German attack plan had been sound, concentrating for two main efforts, rather than three attacks, except they had ignored the US’ weakest battlegroup, my cavalry, a strong attack against them surely would have broken them. The US armour had had a tough day (when doesn’t it?), but had done just enough to hold the Germans, whilst the artillery had, I think, done a lot of damage in pinning - god bless the Priests and off-table 155s.  

Hope you all enjoyed the AAR and pics. Look-out for the BG Wacht am Rhein book, sometime before Christmas this year. 

Also, (not that it really matters) but I’m on a hot streak. I have won (or helped win) my last six wargames – woohoo! Long may it continue (yeah, right!).