Sunday, 29 March 2020

Universal Carriers

The Universal Carrier was a nifty little creature, used extensively by British and other Commonwealth and Imperial armies as a multi-purpose vehicle, sort of an armoured, tracked jeep.  I think many gamers look at it and try to figure out if it can be used as a sort of mini-tank, but that's not how it was used in the real world, and thus it shouldn't be used that way on our gaming tables.  The trick is to find appropriate uses for this amazingly versatile little vehicle.

I ordered a set of three carriers from Jeff at Die Waffenkammer. Jeff's models are absolutely gorgeous, and a pleasure to work with.  Plus, I'm pleased that my WWII Canadians will be operating carriers from a Canadian company!  It doesn't hurt that his prices are better than his competitors.

Carriers were used to transport Vickers guns with their crews, 3" mortar teams, as tows for 6-pdr anti-tank guns and in many other roles.  As for me, I'll be using these as support options for Chain of Command.  I can choose either a single carrier (with crew and JL) or a recce section of two carriers.  As a result, I decided to paint one of the carriers with the insignia of the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment, to represent a carrier from the Ploughjockies' carrier platoon, and the other two with the green over blue of the 4th Princess Louise Dragoon Guards, to represent a recce group from the Plugs.  

The stowage was included with the vehicles, so I mixed things up a bit to make each vehicle unique.  As my understanding was that by July 1943, the Boys rifle was no longer used much, I've focussed on providing each of these carriers with Bren guns.  One of them carries a PIAT.

Crew are a mix of the figures provided by Die Waffenkammer and some Perry Miniatures' Desert Rats who have been converted to fit into the vehicles.  I haven't glued them in place, as I envision one possible use will be to use the speed of the carriers to deliver a Bren gun team somewhere onto a battlefield where it can be most useful.  The carrier will drive where needed and the Bren team will dismount.  I did some head swaps to give all the crews Perry Miniatures heads.

Here's a photo showing Katie, a Hasty P carrier with more than the approved number of passengers, somewhere in Sicily, July 1943.

And here's my attempt to copy the photo.

For now, my plan is to set the crews inside the vehicles with no magnets.  They each fit nicely, no one falls out unless I do something silly like with my photo above.  If I have trouble keeping the boys on board when the carriers move, I will look at using poster putty or something similar.

Of course, if I try to simulate magic, flying carriers then all bets are off!

For Tim, I have included an officer to ride Katie, a young subaltern gazing up at the skies, looking for raptors or other exotic avians, to represent one Farley Mowat, storyteller, environmentalist and veteran of the Hasty Ps.  

And finally, here is the beginnings of a scout troop for the Piddle-dee Gees.  A full scout troop has 6 carriers, plus 2 scout and 2 armoured cars, but it would be common for smaller groups to be sent out to locate the enemy.

Update!! 2020-03-31:  Found this nifty video in my YouTube feed.

Saturday, 28 March 2020

Ottiss the Otter

You know when you get a new toy, and everything else just moves back in priority?  So that happened this week.

Chris from Trumpeters has a couple of 3D printers and has been looking for projects to work on.  At the same time, I've been looking for an Otter Light Reconnaissance Car (LRC) for my Canadians in Sicily.  I found a STL file on Wargaming 3D which Chris was able to print on his fancy new resin printer.  

The Otter LRC was based on the CMP 15cwt chassis, taking advantage of this vehicle that was being mass-produced in Canadian factories.  The idea was to make something that was the equivalent of the Humber LRC, a widely used British armoured car.  The Otter had a more powerful engine, but as it was one ton heavier, performance was actually lower than the Humber's, but still considered satisfactory.  Having found one reference to them as "wretched" and "arguably the worst military vehicle ever produced in Canada", I knew I needed to include this marvelous creature in my army. 

The Otter was armed with a Bren gun in the small turret and a hull-mounted Boys Anti-tank rifle.  It's not really intended to engage the enemy directly, it's only supposed to provide enough protection to a recce team to allow them to report the presence of the enemy as they get themselves out of harm's way.  As described by Major Harold Parker of the Plugs, "We keep driving until the enemy shoots at us.  Then we know he is there."

The "Plugs" or the "Piddle-dee Gees" was the nickname given to the 4th Reconnaissance Regiment (4th Princess Louise Dragoon Guards), which was the reconnaissance regiment of the 1st Canadian Division.  They were equipped with a combination of Otter LRC, Fox Armoured Cars and universal carriers, and their scouting role meant that they were most often at the forefront of the 1st Division's actions throughout all the action in Sicily and southern Italy.

Chris provided me two complete Otters, as well as a slightly miscast hull that I can use to build a wrecked car.  You can see in the photo above that I've given them the '41' green-over-blue insignia for the Plugs as well as the red patch of the 1st Division.  The vehicle names are invented.  Bison was a name I saw on an internet photo of an Otter model that someone else made.  Ottiss, however, has a special story.  For Christmas, I gave Erik a stuffed otter.  He immediately adopted it, gave it the name 'Ottiss" (not Otis, I confirmed with him right away), and Ottiss sleeps with Erik every night.  So the name for the first Otter to join my army was of course pre-determined!

The Otter is based on the CMP 15 cwt truck, and of course I already had one (the Rubicon Models version) in my collection.  The CMP looks to be ever so slightly larger, but I carefully measured, and the dimensions are as correct as I can determine for both vehicles.

In particular, you can see that the wheel base is identical.

A couple of comments on the 3D models.  If you look very carefully, you can see the striations from the printing process on these models.  I understand that I can use solvent to smooth out the striations, which I will experiment with on the scrap hull.  However, the striations are very subtle, so they don't bother me and I'll probably find the extra effort not worth the bother.  Chris also provided Bren guns and Boys rifles for these models, but I decided the detail on these were poor, so I substituted some resin guns from my bits box, left over from some Die Waffenkammer kits. I also added some smoke dispensers (the tubes in the front between the two windows).

I'll be looking for opportunities to get these on the table soon, will just need to see how long this COVID-19 isolation lasts!

Thursday, 19 March 2020

New markers for Chain of Command

After my Chain of Command game last week, I realised that my collection of markers for this game was inadequate.  Here are the first few of the new markers.

I've updated my quick and dirty Patrol Markers with some that are a little bit neater.  The gold maple leaf on red represent the 1st Canadian Infantry Division.  At least, it's supposed to be a red background:  next time I will try to find a better colour printer 8^)  The black and white marker shows the insignia of the Fallschirm-Panzer-Division 1. Hermann Göring.  When each marker is locked, it can be flipped over to show its updated status.  I realise now that 5 is an odd number to choose.  Most scenarios call for 3 or 4 markers, and there is one scenario (Flank Attack) where one side gets 6, but none actually require 5 markers.  I suppose the markers could also be re-purposed (for example, as jump off points), so I'm not too fussed about how many there are.

Tracking which leaders were wounded and the severity of the wounds got to be a bit of a hassle in the game, so I've made some markers.  They are marked differently on each side, either -1 C.I. to show that the JL or SL has had his command initiative reduced by one, or wounded to show that he's out of action until the turn end.  These can also be used if a FOO is wounded.

These are some 'covering fire' markers.  I couldn't think of a good way to show covering fire, which is really a bunch of bullets fired in the general direction of an enemy team or section in order to get them to keep their heads down, so I went with smoke clouds.  It's exaggerated but hopefully gets the point across without having to put a plastic chit on the table.  These are each 4" long, representing a single team's fire.  A full section can cover 9", in which case two of these can be put down side by each to show the greater amount of cover fire being thrown down.

And finally, a bunch of 3" smoke markers!  Each of these smoke clouds is on a 3" disc, so the extent of each smoke cloud's area of effect should be easy to measure. Smoke was a big part of the last game, and will likely factor in any game with British, Commonwealth or Imperial troops.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Chain of Command Op Husky AAR

After months of preparing, I finally was able to play Chain of Command Operation Husky!  Of course, this was only my second 'proper' game of CoC, so I made lots of poor choices while I figure out what the troops can and cannot do.

Of course, I forgot to bring my camera, so big thanks to Doug and Gord for sharing their photos for this report.

The scenario is lifted from "A Qualified Success", a mini-campaign for Chain of Command that I found here:

The campaign as written puts British troops from the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI) against Italian Coastal Division defenders.  I substituted my Hasty Pees from the 1st Canadian Division for the KOYLI (same ratings, equipment, organisation so the only difference is the name), and HG Panzergrenadiers for the Italians (slight change, but one that accommodated in the rules - main effect is to boost the Canadian support options to make up for the improved capacity of the Panzergrenadiers).  I'm still focussed on learning the main game rules, so I set aside the campaign and just looked at the scenarios.  The scenario I chose was Scenario Two:  Resistance at Cassibile.

First up here are a couple of views of the table.  Don't mind the FJ in the foreground, they are set out in squads (gruppe, I think, in Deutsche!).   

And a view from the other British/Canadian table edge.  I'm expecting these photos to be useful references when I try to set up the table again!

First lesson - it's a good idea to set out the forces in advance, along with a detailed TO&E (Table of Organisation and Equipment) to define what forces each player has and how they are organised.  Further, I'm going to list out all available support choices.  Naturally, these are already on the army list sheet, but since I don't have every possible choice ready to put on the table, I will make it simpler for the players and just let them know exactly what is available for them to choose from.

The shot above was taken after the patrol phase.  Naturally, I want to play the patrol phase many more times so I can get a better handle on its intricacies.  I am going to make some 'proper' jump off points (JOP) for both sides - in the photo above, Sgt Schultz is standing in as a German JOP.  And of course (just out of shot) Col Klink is another German JOP!

I didn't take any notes from this game, but came away more with a set of impressions, and a list of things I need to improve or obtain before the next game.

The patrol phase ended up with the German JOP in the corner of the field, in the tower and in a building at the back of the square.  Canadians had one JOP behind the bushes next to the road, in the back of the orchard and one more near their table edge.  The quick and dirty patrol markers I made a few weeks ago were dismissed out of hand as unsuitable, so I will make some that are more appropriate.  At least make sure they are not quite so dirty...

Here's a shot of the town.  You can see the Col Klink JOP on the roof of the small house, beside a tripod-mounted MMG.

Here's a shot from early in the game.  Canadians are advancing through the orchard, and the Germans have deployed into the field to stop them.  Meanwhile, the Sherman tank trundles down the road.

Once I'd committed the Canadians to attack on the left, the Germans deployed a second gruppe into the field.  At this point, with the Germans safely in hard cover, with 2 belt-fed LMG per squad, I should have figured out that I had insufficient forces to overcome the forces facing my side of the battlefield.  The Germans also had a gruppe in the church tower! Unfortunately for me, I'd committed two sections to the orchard, and was too slow to pull them back to find a better way forward.

Meanwhile, I advanced the Sherman along the road whenever I got the chance.  Shooting HE from the tank gun was fun, especially when I found I could destabilise buildings.  Once again, though, I didn't concentrate enough on destroying one thing, but switched between targets.

This was the only thing the Germans had with any chance of hurting the tank.  The armour penetration value (AP) of the recoilless rifle was not great, only 4 compared to the Sherman's 7 armour, so it was a long shot to have any effect.  Gord suggested it would be better to provide the Germans with a PAK 36 (mit stielgranate!).  I may see if I can find one, but I'll also make sure the Germans know that the 88mm Flak is available.  Probably worth the points, if they can position it well!

As with other games that I play, I like to use livestock for morale markers.  Here, the sheep and goats represent shock.  As you can see, there are 4 shock on the rifle team to the left, and 1 shock on the Bren team to the right.  Maybe I can be even more organised next time, and designate different animal types as shock for different teams, to help distinguish which shock is attached to which team.

The Canadians ended up receiving a great deal of shock in this game, so I had to expand beyond my usual choice of sheep and goats.  After one of the sections was pretty much wiped out (the two figures visible are the section's corporal (junior leader or JL) and the platoon sergeant (senior leader or SL).  You can see that I needed to deploy not just sheep and goats, but also rats, dogs and mules!

Photos are a bit out of order!  Here you can see the smoke screen that the Canadians laid down with the 2" mortar.  This particular game didn't see us rolling a lot of 5s, so it took a while to accumulate Chain of Command dice.  (Note to self, I need to get some appropriate CoC marker dice!).  Also, there were no 'natural' turn ends from rolling three 6s in any phase.  As a result, the smoke built up and lasted a long time.  We made a bit of an error in our interpretation of smoke - smoke from mortars should block line of sight, preventing firing through the smoke.  However, we played smoke as if it was from a hand-launched smoke grenade, which just provides a -1 on 'to hit' rolls.  So, despite the smoke, both sides were happily blasting away through it, on the theory that if you roll enough dice, you'll get hits!  The bases visible are each 3" long to show the extent of each smoke shell's effects.  Of course the smoke had no effect on the LMG in the tower as it maintained a clear LOS on the target.  

Here's a nice shot of the Sherman advancing along the road, as the recoilless rifle sets up to shoot.

It was clear at a certain point that the Canadian attack was not going to succeed, but since this was a learning game, we played through to when the Canadian morale failed.  This was an interesting thing to do, as the Canucks started with high morale, and the Germans with low.  The Germans suffered a few 'Bad Things Happen' events, with one of the gruppe JLs being wounded, then killed.  The recoilless rifle was moved out into cover before it was wiped out as well.  These ran down the German morale, but then the Canucks really started to take hits from the concentrated LMG fire, which piled on the shock and casualties until they broke.

One of Doug's big challenges through the game was only having a single Senior Leader, while the Canadians had two SL.  Doug rolled lots of 4s on his command dice - but since he could only use one at a time, the extra 4s went to waste.  I of course found (as per the TFL design!) that combining the dice to make a 3 or a 4 was often more useful than using a 1 or a 2.  I can see in another game that the Germans might want to spend one of the support points on a second SL.

For the next little while, I will build up some more markers and various other game aids.  The Force Morale and CoC dice trackers that I made some time ago are good, but I will tweak them to make them better!  I will follow the same concept, but include a place to track the number of CoC dice.  As mentioned above, I need more markers, including smoke and suppressing fire.  JOPs as well.  

For this particular scenario, I discussed with Doug after the game and we are going to count the wall around the field as soft cover (on the basis that it is an old, tumble down wall that doesn't provide as good cover as the stone houses!).  That will line up better with the plan from the PSC, where it is presented as a hedge.

Thanks again to Doug and Gord for a great game, and for supplying the photos!  Thanks to Gord for his guidance on the rules.  Looking forward to trying this again soon.

Sunday, 15 March 2020

And the man with the flak said "everyone attack!"

I must admit, this was mostly an impulse purchase.  However, the famous 88 mm flak gun shows up multiple times in the accounts I've read about Operation Husky, starting with the Hermann Goring Division's ambush at Grammichele.

So here it is, the Warlord Games/Bolt Action/Italeri Luftwaffe Field Division 8.8 cm Flak 37.  

This is a List 7 option for the Germans in Chain of Command - so I don't expect it to be selected very often.  It will be similar putting all the eggs in one basket.  It's a very powerful gun, and will punch a hole in any tank, or demolish any infantry it can see. However, it's effectively immobile, at least within the scope of the game, so an opponent will likely find a way to counteract it by flanking it. 

This model can rotate on its base. It's supposed to be able to elevate as well, but it turns out that was beyond my model-building skills!  

In game terms, the 88mm Flak has a crew of 10 (including the chap sitting in the firing seat).  The kit only came with 7 crewmen, so I made up the difference with three men from Perry Miniatures Afrika Korps.  The Perry men stand out, they are a bit slight compared to the Warlord figures.

This gun might never make it on the table, but it was a fun build!