Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Project QUEBEC: British ORBAT

British Order of Battle

Project QUEBEC

Inevitably, I am have commenced the pre-production phase of a new wargames project: the battle on the Plains of Abraham 1759, prelude to the fall of Quebec. I am not going to include a precis of this battle on the blog as there's more than enough material on the web covering that well known historical narrative - wiki always being a useful place to start. Speaking of starts, I thought I'd lead off with the above image which is an operational depiction over an extended timeline running right to left. Whilst most battlefield depictions take a 'snap shot' in time and perspective, this is a narrative account. No doubt there is a term for this sort of work but I am no art historian so if anyone can help here, please comment.

Harry Payn: Scaling the Heights of Abraham
So, why Quebec? Apart from 'why not?', it's because it is one of those momentous events in history where a battle determined the immediate future of a country - Canada. Whilst the war lasted a while longer, Canada was passing into the British empire. It is a battle of particular drama as both sides had everything to lose and all to gain. The British assault was a high risk operation. The forces were evenly matched and the result was the death of both opposing generals - Wolfe on the field and Montcalm of his wounds soon after. Both unlucky generals and high drama indeed.

Wolfe shot in battle.
In reality, this was a battle I was always going to wargame. From the age of five back in the 60s I had those plastic soldiers with removable bodies, heads and weapons. I never looked back. I spent three years in England from the age of six and all my friends were into soldiers. I wonder if they still are. My school had four sporting houses named after famous Englishmen: Livingston, Scott, Clive and Wolfe. The story of Quebec has been with me ever since. When in Canada, my parents simply had to take me to the city, battle field and museum - it was just easier. The only real surprise in this project is that I've waited so many years before embarking on it.

on the Plains of Abraham
Whilst my good mate Matt already has the jump on me with his French collection, I will nevertheless be completing both sides. As his British are based around the Ticonderoga campaign, I will start with them but will switch between armies. The figure scale in this project will be my constant 28mm preference and I have poured over the internet and discussed figure manufacturing options with fellow gamers on TMP (The Miniatures Page). I will be collecting from Redoubt, Front Rank, Conquest and Old Glory. Also, a new Australian Manufacturer, Drunken Grenadier, will be making French and British for my period.                                                    

George Campion: Battle of the Plains of Abraham

Also, I am endeavouring to do something a little different than what I have seen in the hobby. I am adopting the BAR rule set (Battles of the Anciene Regime) which is squarely aimed at the big battalions theory or wargaming. It focuses more attention on battalion movement and deployment by division (sub-set within a battalion) which I find more reminiscent of the period and suitable for what was largely a European and linear style of battle. Using the largest unit representation in the rules (60 figure French battalion) I have divided this into the official (paper) strength of French battalions serving in Canada (557 all ranks) to arrive at a representative scale of 1: 9.2. Whilst most would suggest going to a round 1:10, I have a calculator and the extra few figures might come in handy. I'll certainly be able to play with anyone else in the future and just shed figures depending upon rules and ORBATs.

1894 reproduction of The Battle of Quebec
by Augustus Thorley

I also have every intention of sculpting a few figures of my own, probably starting with characters. With famous and much illustrated commanders such as Levi, Bougainville, Montcalm, Wolfe, Townsend and Howe I am surprised at the lack of representation and the standard on offer and will attempt to cover the gap. This project is neither deadlined or urgent and overlaps with my Project Lewes. If I can have at least one brigade completed by the end of the year I shall be pleased enough. Whilst I am yet to place my first order, I have developed a comprehensive ORBAT and army list for the British, the first version to be uploaded as a pdf shortly. 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Variation on a theme

It's been years since I began playing Rapid Fire 20mm WWII wargames and over a year since my last bash so, over this Canberra Wargames Convention (CANCON) weekend my old school mate Grant and I decided to finally have a crack at an imaginary scenario based on the Gallabat game within the original rule set. Our was set around a similar desert fort somewhere in Cyrenaica. Played on an 8' by 5' table, the main features were a road running it's length, across a salt pan (salt marsh) and bisecting a low dry stone wall (replacing the dry river bed in the Gallabat game). A couple of strong points were in place behind the wall, as was a ruin, with the main feature, the fort, in front. Behind the fort were some steep hills and the main road exit, the direction from which the British assault was to commence.
In defence, set up anywhere on the table, were: 1 x battalion Colonials (Askari's - elite morale but militia fire effect); 1 x battalion Regulars (militia troops); half battalion of Black Shirts (elite morale, regular fire effect); 2 x 65mm canone. In reserve was a three tank company of CV33 (machine gun tanks) and two sorties of CR32/42 providing air support. Italian mission: hold. Complete victory if they drove off the attack and a partial victory if all else failed, they still held the fort (undisputed). Game duration was 15 turns and I, the unluckiest of generals, took command of that defence.
Grant, commanding the attack had: 1 x battalion of regular British motorised infantry; 1 battalion of Indian regular infantry (no transport); 2 x antiquated 18 pounders; a mixed company of 2 Vickers VI tanks and 1 x Matilda II; a company of 2 x Humber Light Reconnaisance cars and one sortie of a Kityhawk. Mission: drive off the Italians or secure the fort as a partial victory after 15 turns.
I used selected carboard squares with pre-designated numbers for some concealed elements, including four dummies to aid the fog of war and attempted to bluff the British. Two bluffs were placed amongst the scrub trees in road's bend to slow the advance and another two clearly visible in the fort courtyard to deceive Grant into thinking the fort was better protected than it was. They are removed whenever I open fire, break cover or was acquired by the Brits.

Grant pushed everything down the road and, once discovering the first bluff, gambled on the other scrub tree counter also being a bluff (rightly) embussed his motorised infantry just round the bend and deployed his guns to the rear and began opening up on anything he could see. As soon as I saw this was more than a probe, I radioed for the planes.
To allow for breakdowns and difficulties in desert tank mobilisation, each tank was diced for to arrive (failing on a 1 or 2 on a d6). Further, in line with the Gallabat scenario, we shedded tracks on a roll of 1 each turn a tank moved. Whilst staggered, all three British tanks were soon on and just as soon began shredding tracks. I think it's fair to say at no stage in the game were all three running simultaneously - their accompanying recovery vehicle in constant use.

Holding my fire, stalling for time, I kept concealed, encouraging Grant to push his scouts as fast and as hard as he could down the road. At the wall, a concealed Anti-tank rifle opened up, giving away his position and perhaps predictably shot wide. Imitating history; however, one of the 65mm canone's fired over open sights, stopping the rush dead. The drivers failed their morale check, the rear vehicle high-tailing it and the forward crew abandoning their car in panic only to be ruthlessly gunned down by the black shirted Fascists. So, it was one-nil to the Italians.
Grant developed his left flank assault when i elected to open up with a concealed machine gun at the stone wall only to remind myself I am no judge of distance and fired to no effect, out of range! I also opened up a barrage with my 65's, manageing to hit several small rocks and scared a jerborah. Meanwhile, the fort garrison kept low. Grant and I realised this was going to be a comedy of errors as most units on the table had never been fielded before (new models always failing in my world).
Tying up my ordinance on his open  left flank, the British developed the other prong of his attack as fast as the Matilda could move - very slow as it shedded tracks twice in the game. Nevertheless, the machine guns of all tanks swept the companies holding the forward positions behind a low wall in front of the fort. The pressure was on and the colonial garrison was getting close to a critical morale check.
Meanwhile the other British battalion rushed the stone wall, opening up all the way and inflicting many casualties on the black shirts with the aid of the returning Humber. At this stage of the game (thankfully) my CV33s attended (two of them) which, burned up the road, swung around the hard pressed flank and opened up with a withering supporting fire which, combined with the MSVN black shirts and switched fire from the 65's decimated the assault in two turns, the remainder surrendering after an appalling morale roll.

Meantime there was a small air war happening in the skies above. Grant had rolled a three for the number of turns his pre-ordered sortie could hang about for. MY call for help was successful but took four turns to arrive, luckily coinciding with the first turn of the kityhawk. They drove each other off for two turns but the CR32/42 was driven off on the last and the allied air menace strafed and knocked out one of my guns.

I rolled for five turns and had a second sortie up my sleeve. Returning the next turn, I returned the favour and strafed his entire battery with some exceptional rolling and leaving only one crewman left. Grant never re-crewed his guns, the battery being silenced forever. The game remained in the balance. With the loss of the guns and half the infantry, Grant would have to blow the fort doors with his Matilda or ram them to get in, provided he didn't lose too many men storming the walls.

Losing confidence, I broke cover from the dry stone wall with an additional company of regulars, making as fast as they could for the rear gates. Grant had called for a body count of the colonials - they were 14 down, needing only another 6 losses for a morale role. He had lost to much to drive me off completely but the fort was in jeopardy.
Rushing the CV33s up the road, I then promptly forgot to fire them (after all , it's a social game and been a while since Grant and I gamed together). That cost me as the Matilda heavily damaged one, causing an abandonment and company withdrawal for two subsequent turns. The exchange of fire was furious, my remaining 65 taking out the mobile Vickers VI (the other having shedded at a critical moment).
In the end, the British had just taken too many hits and with air supremacy secured, my CR32/42 repeatedly passed over the Indians, all four machine guns blazing. Rolling well, it cut up the advance and yet another poor roll on a second test saw the unit rout and the offensive melt away. At the end of 11 turns, with 4 to spare, the Italians had withstood.
Whilst this scenario is based on Gallabat, in which the British also failed, Grant and I agreed that we had under-compensated for a third British infantry battalion. Replacing them with the two Humbers was, perhaps, too little. We will try it again one day with two separate tank companies - one of two Matildas and the other of the two Vickers mark VI.  On the other hand, the Italians were also short a battalion. With four turns to spare for a partial victory, holding back the infantry and concentrating available ordinance may have yielded better returns. Ah well, such are the fortunes of wargaming.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Western Desert Warriors

For several years I have been returning to the Western Desert or North African theatre of WWII in 20mm. Rapid Fire but I have never actually wargamed it. No-one in my circle of fellow gamers has had a project co-inciding with this interest leaving my accumulating army rather lopsided and unopposed. To date, I have built three battalions of Italians, with numerous support arms but they have always lacked a foe - until now.

Based on the combined arms groups known as 'Jock Columns', I purchased most of the makings for this battle group years ago, but as experienced wargamers around the world know all too well, shopping and building are two mutually exclusive past times. Not any more ... at least for this mob. The figures are from Raventhorpe who, at my time of purchase was the only company offering greatcoats for early war British infantry. I wanted a unit that was operating in the winter desert between being booted out of Cyrenaica and capable of joining in the counter-offensive 'Operation Compass' later that year in 1940.
The infantry could no doubt serve me in all other Mediterranean theatres and in North Africa up to the fall of Tripoli. About the only truly consistent uniform item painted by me was the sand coloured helmets. Otherwise, the figures are painted in a mixture of sands, browns and khaki.

I opted for three different vehicle types for motorised transport. I went for the distinctive Canadian Military Pattern (CMP) 3 ton lorry with the No.13 cab (leading photo), the Bedford OY 3 ton lorry and the Morris GS 15cwt (pictured above). All vehicles needed to be in general service at this period and all models are white metal offerings from Skytrex. As usual, I required to refer to images of corresponding lorries to figure out the configuration of these models - assembly details such as where to locate spare tyres was not as obvious to me as it might have been. On this note a request to manufacturers - it you can't include an assembly guide with the model, then a few more shots of completed kits on your websites would be invaluable.
All vehicles are marked up for 7th armoured division with the original jerbora field sign, original base bridge plates (yellow circles with weight classification) and have the designation numerals '61' on a green field sign for the first motorised infantry battalion for the division - or is that the second? All markings are hand painted and I located them variously across and between the three vehicle types.
The following image is the assembled cast - a little reminiscent of the original Rapid Fire photos within the first rule set. I have based most of my figures in pairs for ease of movement but in a fore and aft alignment like fighting pairs - fire and movement being the idea. The ruin in the background is scratch built and there is an entire composite desert fort I have also scratch built which can be adapted for a small or medium sized structure.


I've had these models unbuilt for some time and fancying a break from painting mid-thirteenth century soldiers (Project Lewes Blog) I thought I'd step back in time a couple of hundred years. Those familiar with this site will know I've built half of the original royal castle at York (28mm scale) but there's little point have a dirty great motte and bailey defence without some artillery to siege it ... so here are the first two items for the artillery park.
They are both Gripping Beast catapult models and I have to say they are beautifully sculpted and thoughtfully modelled. Having said that, it required all of my medieval catapult references to figure what the parts were and how they went together. Why, oh why do white metal models rarely ever come with instructions?
The base is a basic box frame with the windlass fixed as part of the casting. The principle upright is a similar box frame complete with cushion to take the throwing arm and both of these two main section fit well together with a minimum of filing and make for a sturdy model. I fixed my base section to a 3mm MDF base from the start, building the model as one piece.
As you can see, there are three more supports, forming a series of A-frames to the front of the mechanism. It comes with the throwing arm, with a hook and alternate slings; two levers for the windlass; a rigid rope fixing the arm to the windlass; and, two bags of stone shot. I fixed the main frame with Araldite and used Supa Glue for the rest.
The three man crew are well sculpted, two being posed to operate the windlass and one carrying shot.  When building this model, be sure to pose your figures where yo want them and fix the levers to fit into the hands of the receiving figures when placed. As you can see, I marked and labelled the position for each figures, posing the set before completion.
I use WAB for my medieval wargames  and provided I have an 'Artillerist' hero (character figure) with my 'battery', anyone can man the machine. Therefore, my crew are fixed to the model and cannot flee. As you can see, I strung a few spare spears and a shield to flesh out the vignette, so you can see, my crew will stay and fight!
I have only two catapults but if I ever make another for my Normans, I will alter the model to reflect a different stage in shooting. These come cast in a half wound back state. At some stage I'll give them a wicker wall for protection but in the meantime they'll have to rely on their range to keep them out of bow-shot.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Experiments in Photography

Largely because it's been a while since posting and becasue I realised there is nothing pictorial on my blog to support my Rapid Fire tables postings, I finally followed through on an idea I've had for photographing my models. I've never bothered with back-drops before so I surfed the web, downloaded, printed off and mounted a few images to accompany my armoured and reconnaisance elements for my Wehrmacht 1940 army.

The great thing about this exercise is that my back-drop images are only the width of a portrait oriented A4 sheet and I did this in no time at all on my work table. Anyone interested in this sort of thing needs to keep the flash off their camera but with plenty of yellow light, preferable natural. I have a Canon PowerShot S70 and just set it to 'close-up', hold it steady and away I go.
This is certainly about as close up as I want to go for my 20mm efforts and I'm sure many would agree that different scales and paint jobs for that matter don't warrant too close a shot to highlight all the imperfections. After all, these aren't creations aimed at competetive modelling. They are built for wargaming. The first few backgrounds are from watercolours.
At times you can see the creases in the corrugated cardboard I mounted the prints on. The angle of the lighting should overcome this feature if it bothers you. I haven't bothered with many foreground items as I can't remember how to pre-designate my focus - something for next time perhaps.  These pictures are only the ones which turned out - plenty didn't.
The models are a couple of years old, some being renovated older efforts from my teenage years. They represent old Esci kits (Pz II's), Skytrex (Bfz I), Airfix (Pz IV), HaT motorcylists and even an old Matchbox kit.  Most of my elements are for Guderian's division but I have one company of Pz 38T's from Rommel's to mix it up a little - had to have them.
As you can see, I also used some sketch back-drops which I think work quite well. It is not my intention to represent models to trick the eye and pass themselves off as real life. Rather, I think it adds a little context and all of the images used here as of France. For me, the sketch back-drop helps draw the eye to the model and I think I might even prefer it. I did not use colour photographs this time.
 As you may have noticed. I tend to festoon my vehicles with plenty of campaign baggage. I also prefer to have aerials when I can (steel wire cut as high as my storage cases will allow) and tend to give my command vehicles for each company some externally visible crew - either SHQA&B or Eureka miniatures. It reminds me tanks are man operated machines, not robots.
These days I represent my open topped vehicles such as Kubelwagons in two versions: fully crewed and empty for when my units alight. I also still paint everything by brush - not owning a sray gun nor familiar with how to use one. This is something I will remedy this year. To date, if an edge needs to be 'smudged' I use a tiny piece of synthetic sponge with needle nosed tweezers and dab.
This last image uses a black and white photo with poor resolution and still works I think. My additional scenic effect is a plaster house bought for $1.00 years back in one of those bargain shops. With some, filing, sanding, painting and prodigous quantities of sealant I hope I turned it into a convincing French bakery.