Monday, September 16, 2013

Paper Bags and Cardboard Boxes

The title of this post probably requires some explanation.

The British tanks were part of a somewhat unique design journey in the 30s.  The Brits had a light cavalry role in mind for their tanks so armor was sacrificed for speed and maneuverability.  Unfortunately, like so many peacetime military projects, thorough development wasn't conducted and many serious problems weren't worked out in time for the war, such as bad transmissions and a track system that allowed the vehicle to get around as well as a horse.  The tanks were also designed to fire on the move with an unusual floating arrangement for the 2pdr gun  which is reflected in the Tally-Ho! special rule.

For 1939 they weren't great but they were not that bad.  I find them extremely dangerous to Italians in EW, perhaps not to the French.  Of course, they were laughable next to the T34, but then again everyone's tanks were except maybe the French, so nothing unusual there.  I think the best opinion on them is from Robert Crisp [Brazen Chariots author]:

     "...we had been equipped with ancient A10s and A13s, and even some A9s dragged out of various war museums and exhibitions.  They were ponderous square things, like mobile prefab houses and just about as flimsy.  By far their worst failing was their complete inability to move more than a mile or two in any sort of heavy going without breaking a track, or shedding one on a sharp turn.
     Of the 60 odd tanks 3R.T.R had taken to Greece at the beginning of the year, not a half a dozen were casualties of direct enemy action.  All the others had been abandoned with broken tracks or other mechanical breakdowns.  They littered the passes and defiles of Macedonia and Thessaly, stripped of their machine guns, but otherwise intact.  They were of no help to the enemy; no other army would have contemplated using them.  I like to think of them, even now, furnishing some sort of chilly, overcrowded dwelling place for a family of homeless Greek peasants.
     Whoever was responsible for the design of British tanks in between the wars ought to have a considerable weight on his conscience."  p.5-6.

Amusingly well put!  In Flames of War the A9 has FA1 and only the later models upgrade to bullet-proof FA2, but the A10 becomes Slow in consequence and it isn't until the A13 that a Fast FA2 tank is in British possession.  Unfortunately, their special rules make even the A9 a bit pricey and the A10s and A13s get into German cost levels, while the Crusader is nearly as expensive as the MkIII [a much better tank in FoW IMHO].  

The officially designated light tank was the MkVI B & C.  It was basically a Bren Carrier with a closed top and turret.  In Flames of War, however, it is nearly as good as the main battle tanks, but cheaper and with guns almost as useful as they've high RoF and FP5+ which makes them handy against infantry and guns.

In any event, they are a lot of fun to play and use - damn the history and the rules!  Their weak armor resulted in them getting the nickname "Paper Bags & Cardboard Boxes" at the FLGS [this may be Gary A's funniest comment of all time].  The paper bags of course are the light tanks, while the cardboard boxes are the 'heavier' cruiser tank series.  If nothing else, the cruisers have a heavier light gun to bolster their "heavier" claim.

Pictured below in all their glory are my Cardboard Boxes.  9 A13s in the back, A10s front left and A9s front right.  They are all Old Glory Command Decision miniatures from when BF had theirs OOP about 8 years ago.  They are nice models, the only irritant being that the A9s and 10s have fixed hatch covers for the turret. so no open hatches with commander without some custom work.  One A9 has the first attempt at Caunter:  
Closeup of the A9s:
And of the A10s, two converted to Close Support [CS] tanks.  Since the rest have "No HE" I consider them essential in every force with their 3" howitzers and FP3+, plus the template they can drop, or else the company has nothing but MGs to fight infantry and guns:
and the A13s:

As for the MkVI light tanks, these were bought from Peter Pig when BF had them out of print, and they are lovely little all-metal models.  They had nearly no flash and were cast from strong clean metal.  I got them cleaned and primed and now they're awaiting their Caunter scheme.  However, they also have fixed hatch covers and I haven't the energy to cut some off at the moment.  The B is in the front with the larger gun.  There were very few Bs in the desert, they were used as 2iC tanks in infantry tank companies I believe, the vast majority were Cs:

and more MkVI C.  The pic's a little dark, but it shows the excellent crisp details:
There you have it - Early War British Armor in all its glory.  All the tanks played an important part in the victory over the Italians in Operation Compass.  By Operation Crusader, the MkVI were nearly gone and relegated to scout roles.  The remaining A's were all destroyed with the 8th Hussars at Sidi Rezegh, where the Panzers pretty much went right through them at one desperate point in that lengthy battle.  I doubt their loss was regretted by the few crewmen who survived...

MAIN EVENT! "Flames of War" v. "A Fistful of Tows 3" which will survive??

Well, Gunny Highway, the fellow who provided the first comment of the page [special prize in order?] gave me some impetus for thought.  While I do like FoW and it's the #1 game at the FLGS, I wouldn't mind trying something that is a bit simpler and that also encourages historical tactics more consistently.  Sometimes I feel like I'm fighting the system when I try to play like the real guys fought.  Some investigation here and there led me to check into other rules.  

One group I know plays "Fireball Forward" occasionally, I plan to make the next one if possible.  A buddy of mine - the venerable Bede in the blog list - has "Blitzkrieg Commander" [aka Warmaster WWII] and FFT3 above.  He suggested I help him with a battle for the latter first as he wants to blog it.  I went to the site and checked it out:  

There are plenty of useful things including a playthru, QRS and a steamlined WWII set of rules with examples.  While it bills itself as a mechanized warfare game, the infantry rules also look interesting and not just meant to leave them there on the sidelines while the mechanized knights decide the battle [or run them over].  

So I'm going to give them a shot with my buddy's modern stuff, and if I like it enough I'll borrow it and then do a play-thru comparison against FoW using the exact same forces and the same battle - desert forces "Up the Blue!" of course.  We'll see how it plays out.  I like that it has Overwatch fire and off-board artillery, and a few other touches, in the streamlined WWII rules.  Tally-Ho!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

It's Crud-a-licious!

The Crusader Armoured Squadron in all its glory.  OK, they can't spell 'armoured' but then again, they can't get their tanks to go a day's march without breaking down, either.  All part of the fun!  Pictured is the HQ front left [differentiated by two crew figures] with the Crusader CS 'close support' tanks next to them.  Note that nearly all tanks are Old Glory Command Decision tanks, with the CS tanks and the spare tank next to them being BF.  The BF are noticeable for the spare fuel tank that is cast directly onto the rear.  The OG one is separate and glued on [correct and better looking, but sometimes fragile].  Also worthy of note is that the third tank in each platoon is a 6pdr Crud III from MW.  Apparently I opted for the flexibility to have some of them in the army.  In EW they can just be ignored and played as regular Crud I's and II's.

The HQ of CiC and 2iC.  I figure the pensive looking fellow gazing ahead must be the CiC and the fellow looking at him for orders must be the 2iC.  That sort of 'story in the diorama' is a big part of the fun for me.
The Close Support 'CS' Cruds.  They're armed with a 3" howitzer whose most noticeable features are the ability to Tally Ho! [move with full RoF 2] while shooting dug-in guns and infantry with Firepower 3+.  Aside from that, they're useless with Anti-Tank 5.  Well, they're dangerous to halftracks, MkII tanks and uhm, actual desert rats, I guess.  Still, they're important to the company and IMHO the first thing any bunch of guns and infantry should try to knock out.

Of interest to modelers is the difference between these Battlefront castings and the Old Glory ones.  Both have sculpting and casting strengths and weaknesses, and depend on taste [or budget - the OG ones are less than half the price I think].  The barrels I made myself with plastic rods from Plastruct.  In real life the barrels are hard to tell from the 2pdrs, but I wanted to have a clear difference so I and opponents could tell.  Just seems fair to me.

Typical platoon of two Crud II, one Crud III with 6pdr [note the flat gun mantle compared to the 2pdr guns to the left].  Personally, I'm very satisfied with how the Old Glory models came out, and overall prefer them to the BF castings.  Also, as an old-time gamer I just like the heft of metal.

The original paint job got messed up with a poor washing job.  I forget what I did to rectify it exactly, but after being too disheartened to deal with them for about a year, I actively sought advice at TMP, BF and WWPD, as well as a couple of guys at the FLGS.  The net was that I hand painted them with Vallejo Dark Sand, sprayed them all with Testors gloss finish, THEN applied a GW Devlan Mud wash [or Gryphonne Sepia...but probably Devlan].  Special thanks to Butch S for sharing how he does all his desert Limeys.

With the tanks basically painted, they just need some wear marks, baggage, sand drybrushed on, decals, aerials with pennants, and the crews painted.  Whew!  Quite a lot of work for a squadron that historically probably only lasted 20 minutes in heavy action with Ariete.  But more on that later.  Meanwhile, we can appreciate that the Crud represents the pinnacle of British cruiser tank design, and therefore the sleek appearance should dissuade us from discussions of mechanical reliability or the power of its gun, the lack of HE and shortage of MGs.  Quite a lot, really...!

Monday, September 9, 2013

First Post! Why North Africa and why Flames of War 15mm?

This blog will hopefully document the completion of  projects begun almost ten years ago - WWII desert forces for FoW in 15mm.  I think it was v.1 that got me started with the desert forces.  Most of the models weren't even made by BF at that point, and I had access to an Old Glory discount, so most of my models are Old Glory Command Decision pieces.  So the first question in my mind for a blog is always - WHY?

Well, when I was a kid someone gave me "Brazen Chariots" by Robert Crisp, the the South African crickateer and journalist.  It had an impact with its vivid first-hand account, personal details, odd events, and honest evaluation of both his own performance and that of the 'higher-ups'.  Ever since I've loved the Stuart and his account.  In bullet form, there's lots of reasons to play this game and front:
  • Flames of War is THE WWII miniatures game.  While not without flaws, it has a finer balance of re-enactment, clear rules, scale, playability, sociability, and support community than of any set of WWII rules.  In other words, all the others have MORE overall problems.  FoW also provides you with a FREE INCLUDED framework to play a complete stranger at a moments notice, something many people don't appreciate since they don't remember the days when WWII gaming had no decent rules and no way to play, and was basically a dead end in the hobby.  Yep, it has its haters, but the huge community and success speaks for itself.  Every time I try another WWII game, all it makes me realize is how good FoW really is.
  • Interesting opponents and match-ups!  DAK don't fight like RE don't fight like 8th Army.  Each has their own play style, strengths and challenges.
  • Wild variety of equipment!  And if you're British, loads of it is on your side!  If you're German, you capture lots if it at one point or another!
  • Tons of information, inspiration and great history in English
  • Painting goes from very simple to very unusual camo and it's all historical!
  • Plenty of great models!
  • "War without Hate" as Rommel said.  As ugly as WWII often is, the desert war was without much of the horrors against civilians and generally the two sides respected each other and the rules of war.  Pretty much the polar opposite of the Eastern Front and the Pacific War.
  • The British Army alone fielded more national varieties in the desert than most nations fielded in the entire war.  And they can be replicated in FoW with relative ease.  The Italians also had some unusual units and equipment.  It's a front and time that's almost without standardization, and nearly anything can be fielded historically.
  • My local area has not only a large FoW community, but there's loads of FoW North African armies.  Since I have both British and Italians, it's easy for me to get an historical matchup.  
So basically, this is a no-brainer.

I've made a few attempts to finish my desert armies, but since I keep buying more and don't sell any unpainted stuff off, I haven't gotten anywhere close!  And I've hardly any DAK at all!  If nothing else, I need to finish two complete sides so that I can host desert games with people who don't have any and want to try it out, and also so that I can demo with people and play either Axis or Allies historically [not a fan of blue-on-blue, really].

Period & Theater
My favorite battle is definitely EW with Crusader.  It's a knock-down drag-out fight between two evenly matched opponents and there's plenty to game here.  There are great MW fights also, but they represent the end of the 'classical' desert war and make it into the North African and Mediterranean Theater with the entry of the US and British from the West and into Tunisia.

So it's all good, but I need to focus on Crusader at least for now.

Companies The original project somehow became a Crusader [Crud] Squadron and a Carri Compagnia. This despite the fact that the Stuart Honey is one of my favorite tanks.  I dimly remember using playtest EW lists and my first forays into making desert terrain in the basement of the house I had with wife #1.  With the divorce, house sale, and all those transitions the armies suffered severe neglect.  

Round 2. Eventually I got into playing again and did some more work.  I finished about 2000 pts of Italians that were official in MW and the v.2 rules, even playing a tournament with them. 

THE Tournament.  My only tournament play, it was memorable for a match against a Russian infantry company with KV1 support, and the guy was really mouthy!  He basically dismissed any thought of losing as soon as he found out I fielded Italians.  Because since the Italians lost the war they should lose the game...?  Of course, I won the game.  I ignored his KV1s and instead focused on wiping out his infantry with loads and loads of MG dice, including those occupying a town.  Then I circumnavigated the board at high speed and seized an objective from his depleted army.  I think the hilarious thing about the "heavy tank mentality" is the gamers who assume that since they bought an unbeatable object that they simply must win.  The fact that it's a game based upon a point system, fair fights, and carefully constructed missions seems to have been missed by them. Anyway...

Round 3. More personal developments lead to more neglect.  A second wife, a second house later, I was turning my attention to the Crud squadron - long overdue!  All went well until I was trying an ink wash with the models, and they game out way too dark.  Very discouraging.  And of course another disaster followed with me losing a [horrible, I must say] job and then an immediate move near my wife's family and job so we could pick up the pieces.  So the Cruds go back to the box with their almost-done but now problematic paint job. 

I resurrected the Italians and did enough additions to them to field a full Italian Compagnia Bersaglieri that was mostly driven by loads of gun teams and infantry with some tank support [tankette support, quite often].  It helped that a FLGS group did an EW league and I was able to get the occasional game in there.

Round 4.  Finally, I finished the paint job on the Cruds, cleaning, priming and basing some support platoons, and even playing a few games borrowing or substituting Italian gear as British.  Then...another move since I gained a [perfectly decent] job.  All back in the box, months in storage, spring and summer hiatus from FoW and most wargaming.  Good news is we live a couple minutes from the FLGS, and now...

Round 5. Tally-ho!