Monday, 21 July 2014

From Bautzen and Barossa to... Burma?

It took a long time for me to decide whether to post this here or not.  It is definitely not Napoleonic-related, but doesn't really fit in with any of my other blogs- and I am not going to bother making a new one for me to ignore! So I crave the indulgence of all you Grognards out there as I now set the clock 130 years forward, from 1814 to 1944. 

But it does explain why things have been quiet on this blog recently! 

I confess to having been (somewhat surreptitiously) working on a 28mm Imperial Japanese Army for some time now.  

It's something I've always wanted to do, having played with the plastic 1/32 Airfix figures as a kid, and the increasing number of excellent 28mm miniatures and choice of vehicles for the period eventually pushed me into it.  

My Japanese infantry will represent the 4th (Sendai) Regiment of the 2nd Division, IJA. They served from China, Guam, and then on to the Solomons where they were part of the Aoba Detachment.  This force played a big part in the Guadalcanal battles which pretty much gutted the regiment, although it went on later to serve in Burma and to garrison Singapore.    

It was also the regiment my late Father-in-Law served in during the war, so I thought it would be a good choice- not that the uniform would be that different from any other infantry regiment at the time! 

It didn't take a lot of work to twist Matt's (rubber) arm into doing some British for the Burma theatre, so in due course Matt and I played our first Bolt Action game yesterday at the monthly meeting of the West Tokyo Wargamers this past Sunday.  And it was a lot of fun!   

We had long been anxious to give the rules a go.  I had some figures finished and ready for gaming with, but decided I couldn't wait to get them all painted before playing a game (and gaming is always an incentive to paint more!).  I didn't want to use unpainted figures on the table, so I decided to make do with those figures in my collection that were at least 80% finished, which turned out being enough for me to organize a game.  

Matt, on the other hand, has always been a prolific painter and his squads were all ready- right down to having their individual names painted on the bases (the squad of nineteenth-century pugilists were to do particularly well!).

First impressions are very positive.  The game moved quickly, despite us being totally unfamiliar with the rules, and it had just the kind of "Commando Comics" feel to it that we were looking for.

I grew up in Canada where I never saw them in any bookstore, but I first came across the Commando comic books when I bought my first ones on a trip to Bovington Tank Museum way back during a visit to the "Auld Countrie" in 1973.  I remember having devoured them all on the trip back to Brighton.  My grandparents took due notice, and would regularly send us bundles of these small comic books. Must have had about fifty during the years.
 
IIRC, "politically-correct" they most certainly weren't by the standards of today.  But I read each one cover to cover until they fell apart!  

Now as history, I find the Pacific War pretty dark reading (as can be most wars, but even more so in this case as it was just so brutal).  As a game I therefore want to keep things light.  So I look to Commando, Valiant and Warlord comics- not to mention Hollywood- as my muses for this period.

For the game I set up a simple scenario, set somewhere in Burma, 1944. I had two squads of IJA infantry and command, a heavy mortar and sniper team.  In addition I had a MG-armed Type-94 tankette, which I also refer to as the "Two-Man Mobile Crematorium (Tracked)".  This was a resin model I picked up from Kazu's Warlord Games' shop here in Tokyo.
Kind of like cooking a roast; hours of preparation only to be eaten in a blink of an eye.
These were to face off against Matt's three larger squads of British, a Boys A/T rifle, and a light mortar.  Pretty balanced forces, actually.
We already had the river pieces, and Giovanni had made loads of jungle vegetation bases for a future Darkest Africa project, so terrain wasn't a problem (although we have lots more to make after raiding the local pet shop for fish tank accessories).  

The hut was one of the Sarissa Productions MDF kits from Warlord Games.  It was quick and easy to assemble, and the only change I made was to cover the rather uninspiring planked roof with teddy bear fur that was then soaked in PVA and combed into shape while still wet. I haven't painted it yet, as I was unsure how to go about painting an MDF kit, and anyway it looked natural enough on the table. I might give a light wood stain later, but it's not a priority.

My Japanese infantry and support weapons are metal models that I have bought over the last couple of years from a variety of manufacturers; Warlord Games (their jungle fighters are just fantastic), The Assault Group (TAG), and Brigade Games.  Matt's British are from the Perry Twins' North Africa range, painted jungle green.

Back to the game, and the objective was a wounded British intelligence officer who had sought refuge in the hut, which was situated next to a tea plantation (what better place for a British officer to meet his fate). A detachment from the Royal Loamshire Regiment was given the order to rescue him- or at least prevent him from falling into Japanese hands- while the Japanese in their turn were on their way to find and deliver him to the tender mercies of the Kempeitai.
They started off closer to the hut, but had less cover than the British who were advancing through jungle- slowly, but unseen. 

The game was going well for the Japanese until the third move. 

My beloved Type-94 tankette didn't last long; it managed to put a pin on a squad of riflemen who were hiding at the edge of the jungle, only to fall victim to a Boys A/T rifle team, who lucked out with their die rolling.
"大便!"
It has been written that woes come not in single spies, but in battalions, and this proved to be the case.  Shortly after my tankette was carbonized, I ordered the squad nearest the hut to leave the cover of the jungle along the bank of the stream, and to race directly across the open field to the doorway. 

In doing so, I learned that you really, really don't want to get caught out in the open by British riflemen.
In what proved to be an absolute turkey-shoot, I lost most of my squad in single shake of the dice. Being Japanese with the fanatic rule, they did manage to stay around to fight it out but what with the losses they suffered, this squad was pretty much no longer capable of inflicting any really significant damage on the enemy. 

I had been warned.  I had read online that in Bolt Action with a Japanese army you need large squads- ten or twelve rifles rather than the seven-man squads I was fielding- and I could see why. The Banzai! rule makes the Japanese pretty fearsome, but units need to be large enough to absorb the inevitable casualties they will take as they charge into close combat.

All this time, the mortars were blazing away at each other ineffectually, but I think I was doing something wrong- a re-read of the rule book is called for.

Over at the hut, the third British squad was infiltrating the jungle, and boldly charged the Japanese to their front- my force headquarters! The Japanese C/O drew his katana and along with his bugler charged into the foe- with predictable results. 
 
In the midst of all the carnage, my sniper team had managed to slip undetected into the hut, where they began a desperate search for the Intel officer. To do this, we assumed that he would be hiding in some cupboard, and that the Japanese would find him on a roll of six per soldier in the hut.
Well, either the officer was hiding in a Tardis, or the snipers had spectacles the thickness of coke bottles as they failed to find him before the victorious British squad climbed the stairs and dispatched the snipers with nary a care in the world.
The Intel officer was thus spared the cruel fate of being in the clutches of the kempeitai, and was escorted back to the British lines for debriefing and a good hot cuppa.
It was all over bar the shooting. My other squad had learnt its lesson about crossing over exposed terrain, and aside from taking potshots at the British who were taking out the hut, they spent their time lurking more or less ineffectually along the riverbank for the rest of the game, until they were wiped out after being assaulted front and flank.

Pretty gutless behavior for a Japanese commander, it has to be said.  Mea Culpa.
 
After making short work of my infantry, the British ended an absolutely topping day's sport by wiping out the Japanese to the last mortar crewman, who was sent to join his comrades at Yasukuni when the British C/O himself, along with the company sergeant, splashed across the stream to take him out in a burst of tommy-gun fire.
Bolt Action was a blast. We really liked the order dice system- it kept the game going back and forth without having to herd gamers back to the table because of long periods of inactivity. The basic mechanics were simple and easy to remember and the game could have gone either way (had I not thrown away half my infantry!)

The game took less than three hours, making one this size ideal for club play.  Most importantly, there was much laughter all round, so time well spent.

Really looking forward to the next game.  I have some US Marines waiting in the wings as well, so that if Matt can't make it with his Commonwealth troops, then maybe there may be some Solomon Island actions looming in the future.

*****

Lest it be thought that we haven't been keeping the Faith, there was indeed Napoleonics being played at the club on Friday.  

Giovanni and Sada had this rather spectacular looking game, the French trying (unsuccessfully it turned out) to seize La Haye Sainte from its Kings German Legion and Hannoverian defenders.  Here are some pictures, so please call off the hounds and put away any pitchforks!



We have another games day scheduled for August, but being the summer holiday season for a lot of people we've no idea what will be on the agenda yet.





Sunday, 27 April 2014

Die Raketen Batterie von Braun- Part 1

And now for something completely different...

Born in 1785, Karl Werner Magnus Maximilian, Freiherr von Braun, was the youngest son in an old family of minor nobility living in the town of Posen in Prussia. 
Freiherr von Braun as a young man
Karl had always been rather serious boy, one born with a curious turn of mind.  He was noted for his keen interest in science; as a young lad he had spent many an hour in the sandy wetlands of the family estate.  Here, fascinated and inspired by the combustive properties of the local marsh gas, he would try to capture samples of the gas in various containers, and to set them alight.  

Eventually, upon having fashioned a primitive gun tube and successfully harnessing it to a bottle of marsh gas, he gleaned his earliest understanding of the principles of propulsion.  This earned him severe corporal punishment for having only narrowly missed taking out his sister's right eye.  However, he manfully suffered for his science, and the heavy hand of parental authority did not deter him from further investigation and experimentation.

He soon branched out into creating his own miniature explosives, specializing in observing the pyrotechnic interactions between various home-made firecrackers and local amphibious life.

His interest in chemistry developed over the years.  He was fortunate to have the support and assistance of an older cousin, owner of the local apothecary.  This man was touched by young Karl's interest in scientific matters, and provided much encouragement and sound advice as well as the necessary materials.  

Being thus supplied with a constant supply of volatile chemicals, the boy was able to carry out increasingly more ambitious projects, which only whetted his appetite for more learning.  Despite frequent scorched eyebrows- and the occasional caning for property damage- Karl took to his new-found passion with increasingly single-minded devotion, and under his cousin's tutelage conducted his experiments with an appreciation of rigorous scientific methodology well in advance of his tender years.

Soon after his thirteenth birthday, Karl's uncle had taken him along on a visit to the university at Heidelberg, where he chanced to attend a lecture on the mathematics of ballistics and parabolic theory.  

He sat entranced during the talk, taking copious notes on Newtonian mechanics, and there he determined upon developing an understanding of both mathematics and physics as well as of chemistry.  He became a voracious reader of the leading scientific papers of the time, and demonstrated considerable aptitude in all these areas.

Being of the impoverished Prussian nobility, it was expected as a matter of course that young Karl would in due time enter the service of his King. Unlike his two older brothers, who entered the Prussian service in the cavalry and infantry respectively, Karl was instead naturally inclined towards serving in the less prestigious artillery.  The year 1803 saw him receive his commission as a lieutenant in the Horse Artillery.  

The young von Braun proved a dedicated officer, diligent in his duties.  He took a great interest in his new profession, and voraciously read all the manuals on artillery- and particularly on ballistic science- available to him at the time.

In 1806, Prussia declared its ill-fated war against Napoleon, and von Braun had his first taste of combat with the army of Prince Hohenlohe.  In the disastrous Jena-Aeurstadt campaign, he took part in some minor skirmishes, but never witnessed a major engagement.  Most of the time his battery found itself exhausted by long retreat and frequent, if futile, changes of marching orders which never seemed to have achieved any result beyond exhausting both men and horses.  

In a fate that would be similarly suffered by much of the Prussian army, the battery was finally forced to undergo the humiliation of surrendering to the victorious French.  The anger and shame felt upon the capitulation of the fortress of Magdeburg, along with that of his battery, was to have a lasting effect upon a proud Prussian officer like the young Leutnant von Braun. 

Despite the evident promise of his career in the artillery, with the subsequent disbandment of most of the Prussian army- and having no connections with persons of influence at the court- the despondent young officer now found himself unemployed.

Returning to civilian life with neither land nor prospects, von Braun sought a career in academia.  He obtained a glowing letter of reference from his former battery commander- himself an alumnus of the University of Heidelberg.  With this letter, and the force of his own determination, he got himself noticed.  After a number of successful interviews where he impressed the faculty with his depth of knowledge, his intellectual discipline, and his passion for his field, he was offered a position as a Lecturer of Chemistry and Physics at the University of Magdeburg.

To be continued...

 


Saturday, 26 April 2014

The Crossing at "El Arroyo Negro"

Somewhere in Spain, 1813...

This was the first of the small Black Powder games we have been having at the club.  In my last post, I explained why we wanted to return to small games for  a while.  So the week before the game I hit my books and surfed the Internet looking for a suitable scenario.

I found one here, on the Warlord Games forum.  While designed for the ACW, I saw no reason why it wouldn't work for Napoleonics.  

The scenario itself was based on the historical action at Blackburn Ford, just before the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861.  It seemed just the kind of thing we were looking for; not only was there a small number of units involved, but it was possible for both sides to claim a win given the victory conditions.

It proved a very workable and enjoyable scenario, so thanks to robertrim for sharing it online.

What follows is based on the scenario notes that I sent out to the players the week before the game. These were lifted pretty much directly from robertrim's post on the Warlord forum, and I then reworked them to better suit the Napoleonic period, with some tweaks regarding force composition.
Map showing initial layout.
Terrain:  No buildings, two hills and lots of trees on one side of the river.

Background:  Spain, 1813, and a French brigade commander is assigned to do reconnaissance in force to see if the road to Vitoria is open at El Arroya Negro.  It isn’t; his forces meet as small deployed brigade from a newly-arrived British division. Although his orders were just to recon the area and not to engage, the aggressive French commander forgets his orders and engages anyway.  

This boldness may be rewarded; if, during the fighting his troops spot the rest of the British division, upon hearing this news the French army commander would then decide to alter his plan of march the next day to then try and outflank the British forces.   

So what is it to be, Hero or Goat? 

Scenario: We would ideally need three GW gaming mats, but two would do if space is a problem. There is a river running across the centre of the table; it is fordable in the middle. 

Order of Battle: 

French: one infantry brigade: 
  • 4 battalions (untried, freshly raised fourth battalions*)
  • 1 artillery battery
  • 1 battalion of infantry in reserve with the brigadier.  Reliable.
Command rating 7.  Note that the voltigeur companies can be converged into one unit, if desired. 

British: one infantry brigade:
  • 2 regiments (untried, freshly raised* newly arrived to the Peninsula)
  • 1 Light infantry battalion (small) crack
  • 1 artillery battery
Command rating 8
 
British Divisional HQ: command stand with 1 regiment reliable infantry.
Command rating 7 

* See Black Powder rules p.90/91 


Set up:  The French will deploy 4 regiments in column formation on their side of the ford. The battery is deployed on the hill (foot artillery).

The British battery is deployed on the other hill.

The British commander will deploy one regiment in skirmish formation within the tree line behind the hill. The other regiments are deployed in line behind the tree line

Objectives:  The French must reach the British side to see if the British army has arrived. The French will at first assume it is just an outpost defending the crossing.  If he spots the approaching division (the army commander stand) he will know this is part of a bigger force and will have to report this to his HQ. 

French strategic victory: At least one regiment spots the enemy and is able to reach the French side of the river in non-disordered and non-shaken condition.  Once a regiment reaches the French side within these conditions the strategic victory will be won, but the game continues. 

French tactical victory:  They break the British before their own brigade breaks.

British strategic victory: The French are not able to spot the enemy and/or is not able to carry the message home.

British tactical victory: They break the French brigade. 

Special rules:  To the rescue! The British divisional command stand and its supporting infantry arrive at the table at the end of turn 6 on the road leading down to the ford.  The unit will be placed at the table edge. The next turn he may freely move and participate in the battle.

Spotted: A French unit on the British side of the table within 24” from the British reserve regiment, which is able to draw a line from it’s commander to the British divisional commander stand, without any obstacles (trees, regiments, hills) in the way will spot early and may take the message home.

Fording: As soon as a unit touches the ford it may be positioned on the other side in the same formation as entered. The unit will become disordered and will stay disordered until the end of the next turn. 

Surprise: The French are not expecting any opposition and would be completely surprised. The very first volley of his brigade will -2 from the firing dice (excluding the cannon)

The game ends one full turn after all French regiments left on the table are returned to the French side of the river.  


*****

THE BATTLE 

First of all, apologies for the poor quality of my photos.  I forgot my digital camera and was relying on my less-than-stellar cellphone camera.  On top of that we were in the worst room in terms of photography, with dim lighting and the spring sunlight streaming through the windows.

You can see more (and better!) pictures on Sada's own write up of the battle here.
Sada uncrates the lads.  Note his new tree stands, which added a lot to the game.
Views from the French side of the table.

Les Grands Fromages confer...
Giovanni's latest unit, the Tirailleurs du Po.  His homage to his home team, which were to perform creditably on the day of battle.
Set off by a gorgeous GMB flag.  Figures themselves are Victrix.
British guns, which were well-sited to cover the river crossing.
What would a game be without those great dashers of French dreams, the Sweeps?
I did say it was a small game!  These two battalions were tasked with holding off the French horde.  They were to do so magnificently.

Before the game, Guillaume (himself an alumnus of a very distinguished French wargaming club) played a game of Saga with Giovanni.  They had also bagged one of our usual GW battlemats, so we played the game on a darker green felt cloth that we usually use for our WW2 games.  It did the job, although it made taking pictures more difficult due to the colour contrast.
The whole British force available at the start of the game.
The game got off to a roaring start, but not as planned.  One French battalion received order to go straight ahead to the river, which they did with great speed, rolling for three actions.  

Unfortunately, their more cautious comrades managed to fail their command rolls, leaving the leading battalion alone and unsupported.  The difficulties of trying to deliver a coordinated attack was to bedevil the French commanders throughout the game.
Ever so slowly, the rest of the brigade advances piecemeal.
The lead battalion is met by accurate rifle fire, delivered from the safety of the opposite side of the river.
Unsupported outgunned, outranged, & outraged...
Attempts to form column and charge across the ford are stymied by casualties and disorder.
It all proves to much, and the regiment dissolves in panic- and in disgust. 'L'enfer, c'est les autres!"
As luck would have it, the supports finally arrive, but too late.  This evens the odds a bit for the British.
Recriminations and slurs ensue as the French try to recover the situation
I was sitting this game out as I was the umpire, but it was interesting hearing Guillaume and Giovanni assess the situation in French!  Contributed to the atmosphere.
Turn 6, and British reinforcements arrive- well out of sight of the French, who were really struggling to find a way across the river.
This was where we discovered a glitch with the scenario which I hadn't foreseen.  The scenario rules have French spend one move in disorder having crossed the river.  

However, the way we play Black Powder is that at the beginning of every new turn we roll to see which side gets the initiative.  This is a straight up die roll independent of command ratings, and the British were consistently winning this roll.  As a result, the French would effectively find themselves just standing stupidly in the middle of the river and get shot at for two phases, which effectively meant they spent much of their time unable to change formation or to clear the ford.

This needed a rethink and quick change to that part of the scenario rules.
The British go Sumo; just push the blighters back into the river!  Close contact prevented them from being shot at by the French supports.  It was a good tactic.
Bottleneck!
Sada and Chris handled their British assets with caution- and good sense.
The first French unit that tried to cross the river was sent packing, but the French had by now realized that the way ahead was to make use of their superior numbers, and to rely on overpowering musketry to clear the way.  

They also decided that their artillery would serve them best by being redeployed further forward.  This was a good idea, but came too late in the game to make any impact.  Moving forward took time and needed favorable command rolls.
Too little, too late!
The impact of this change in tactics soon made itself felt, and the British found themselves short two units as the Rifles and a line unit crumbled under the French fire.  The British player was left just with his artillery and two line units.  By now the French had started getting their act together, and were beginning to gain the upper hand. 

However, our available time was running out; although half of a British brigade had been destroyed, the French had so far failed to spot the approaching divisional supports.  There was not enough moves in hand for the French to force the crossing and then locate the British divisional command stand, let alone to get back across the river.  

A halt was duly called, and although tactically indecisive for both sides it ended up a British strategic victory. The French army was fated to march unwittingly into the disaster of Vitoria.

Despite a few glitches, (and our forgetting the first fire special rules in the heat of combat), the scenario went well and was a nail-biter throughout; there isn't much margin of error for either side.  

The challenge to the French is coordinating an attack- not easy with a less-than-stellar command rating.  If they succeed, they are pretty much guaranteed of overpowering the weak British brigade in front of them.  

But the need to spot the British reserves means that just beating les Rosbifs is not enough- they have to get over the river, spot the approaching division, and make their way back to the other side in order to gain a strategic win.  This takes time (and favourable dice rolls in the command phase), so they have to get there "fastest with the mostest"- without getting too much of a bloody nose in the process.

For the British, it is a case of trying to frustrate French efforts without taking too many casualties!  Damage or disorder as many of the enemy at long range, and buy time with (enemy!) lives.

Intelligent use of skirmishers, and keeping the artillery protected behind the hill while at the same time covering the crossing at a safe distance, can make the difference.  A good dose o' luck never hurts either.


 *****

The week after the game, Giovanni and I headed to Akihabara where Japan's first historical wargaming store had opened!  
Kazuhiro (seen here) is now the Warlord Games' sales representative for Japan, and has just set up a Warlord Games shop.  He is in partnership with Arrow Hobbies, who previously dealt only with GW and other fantasy gaming products.
 
So if you have an interest in Warlord Games' products, and should you ever find yourself in Tokyo and that capital of all things otaku, Akihabara, do drop by and give Kazu your support. 

And of course, be sure to contact the West Tokyo Wargamers should your visit coincide with one of our gaming days!