Sunday, December 22, 2013

Somewhere in Normandy Part 2

We finally had an opportunity to complete our Somewhere in Normandy scenario begun about a month ago (see above post). December proved to be a busy month! This small non-historical scenario is played in 20mm using Battlefront WWII rules.

German Forces
One of my readers suggested that it was helpful to see the Canadian forces involved, and that I should do the same with the Germans. I had wanted to keep the exact composition of the German forces a secret from the attacker, but here is what the Canadians were up against.

The bridge's rearguard was composed of a reduced veteran panzergrenadier company, reinforced by an SdKfz. 10 AA halftrack and a Marder III, all dug in or in fortified positions in the village and manor. In addition a platoon of German engineers (non-combatant) arrived in their transport to wire the bridge for demolition.

16. SdKfz. 10 positioned at edge of village
A heavy machinegun in the adjacent building and a German 20 mm halftrack hold up the Canadian attack at the east end of the village.

17. Marder III withdraws
The German engineers quickly wire the two of the three remaining demolitions needed to blow the bridge. The Marder withdraws from the north of the river to cover the German rearguard's retreat. 

18. Staghound and armoured halftrack engage east end of village
After the initial burst of fire that tore up the Canadian infantry at the east end of the village (Part 1), the Staghound and an armoured halftrack now lead the attack. German mortar fire knocks out the dismounted Vickers section. A Bren carrier and the Canadian commander's White scout car press up to the river to engage the German engineers at the bridge with machinegun fire, hoping to stop them from laying the final charge.

19. German left flank begins to break
On the German left flank Canadian mortar fire and supporting fire from the M10's soften up the defence. Morale breaks and a light machinegun section panics and retreats to the river, shot up before it could gain the far bank. A second German section is KO'd by the M10's 50 cals. and the heavy machinegun is knocked out by infantry close assault.

20. SdKfz. 10 knocked out
The same bad morale roll causes the SdKfz. 10 to panic on the German right flank, and it is promptly knocked out in enfilade as it turns to retreat.

21. View from the lane east of the village
The Canadian infantry hold back while their light armour attempts to winkle out the defending heavy machinegun nest.

22. Canadian right flank pushes forward
With the back broken in the German defence on this flank, the Canadian infantry push forward through the cover of the tall crops to assault the manor house.

23. Overview
In this overview you can see the two flanks of the Canadian attack pushing forward. The Marder, withdrawn to the far side of the river, holds an excellent position to stop any encroachment on the bridge while the German engineers have successfully placed their fourth and final demolition charge on the bridge.

24. Bridge blown!
As the Canadians close in the bridge is blown. A German section, dug in next to the bridge, made a last moment attempt to sprint across to the south side of the river but were suppressed by enemy small arms fire before they could reach the far side. A successful bail out roll allowed them to leap into the river as the bridge went up in smoke and flames.
Although the blowing of the bridge assures the Germans of a minor victory the scenario plays out for two more turns which will determine if the Germans can achieve a major victory. This will de a factor of victory points achieved through enemy casualties and successful German withdrawal (voluntary) to the south side of the river, with the defenders needing to achieve a 2 to1 ratio in their favour.

25. Germans attempt to pull back
With the bridge blown, the German units north of the river attempt to pull back. A Canadian M10 ventures into the village where it is unsuccessfully close assaulted by the German infantry while a second German machinegiun opens up from the east end of the village, pinning the Canadian troops trying to work their way into the houses.
On the west flank, Canadian troops close assault the manor, knocking out the German command post and engaging a panzerfaust armed infantry section that had been lying in ambush there, guarding against any armoured encroachment down the road. Meanwhile the German mortar, lacking targets, retreats to the river bank in order to withdraw.

26. Engineers' transport knocked out
The remaining engineers scramble for their truck to bug out but the truck is knocked out by a Vickers team, which had bailed out from their carrier on the previous turn after it had been KO'd by the Marder.

27. Marder engaged by Staghound
Under cover of smoke the Staghound moves to the river bank, engaging the Marder on the far side of the river. Meanwhile the Canadian infantry, with little to shoot at, try their hand at making shadow puppets on a farmhouse wall.

28. Canadians seize north bank
The last of the German defenders are cleared from the north bank as Canadian troops spill out and around the now cleared manor, knocking out the German mortar before it could retreat, as well as an engineer section on the north side of the river. The remaining German engineers panic and flee while one surviving German infantry section rallies by the Marder.

29. From the north side of the river
Carriers and M10's, obscured by the smoke of the burning bridge, move forward to help clear out the last of the Germans north of the river.

30. Game over
As the Marder and Staghound trade some parting shots the Canadians move in to secure the village. With the bridge blown the German player achieves a minor victory but the Canadians' agressive pursuit of the rear guard (whose moral had broken, sending them into full retreat) combined with the defenders withdrawing only two units successfully south of the river, meant that the Germans were unable to achieve the 2 to 1 Victory Point ratio necessary to claim a major victory.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Somewhere in Normandy Part 1

With the idea of creating a series of small “learning scenarios” to introduce a new player to the complex subtleties of the Battlefront WWII rules, I put together a small (4' square) tabletop representing the dense hedgerow country in Normandy. Non-historical, the scenario is a basic “seize the bridge” scenario with a small reconnaissance component built in as an excuse to get my much-loved but often neglected armoured cars onto the table top.
The narrative goes something like this:
The German lines have broken and the enemy is in full retreat. A Canadian armoured car platoon, part of the brigade's armoured car squadron, ranges ahead of the slower moving armour, searching for ways forward over an intervening river. According to the maps a bridge lies ahead and the armoured car platoon moves cautiously forward to assess the situation …

1. The Battlefield
All is quiet other than a few stray livestock grazing around the sleepy village nestled on the banks of a slow moving river.

2. The village seen from the low hill to the north.
A tall manor house to the west will clearly give defenders a good vantage point to view any enemy encroachments.

3. The Allied forces.
The Allied forces consist of a Staghound armoured car platoon and a motor company. The motor company also has a Vickers platoon attached.

4. Sunken road east of village.
A sunken road runs along the river east of the village and becomes a focus of later fighting.

5. Platoon commander surveys bridge.
The armoured car platoon enters from the north side of the table. Creeping up a low hill the platoon commander dismounts and continues on foot to the ridge. Quickly he spots the bridge intact in the distance! But not surprisingly, there appears to be a German rearguard protecting it. A Marder is spotted lurking behind the hedgerow below and some sort of weapons pit is identified next to the bridge.

The platoon commander quickly radios back to brigade that the bridge is unblown but defended by a German rearguard of unknown composition. Brigade replies that the bulk of its forces are still held up beyond the previous river but a motor company that has managed to cross over a damaged bridge will be sent immediately in support of the armoured cars. When it arrives they are ordered to seize the bridge before it is destroyed. In the meantime the AC platoon are to try to remain unobserved and see what else they can discover.

6. Staghound KO'd.
While this information is being conveyed the second Staghound noses into the bocage on the right flank for a better look and is immediately knocked out by the Marder. Having dispatched this threat the German self-propelled gun then swivels its guns onto the platoon commander and knocks him out in turn with a couple of rounds of HE.

7. German engineers arrive.
In the meantime German engineers finally arrive with a truck full of high explosive. They quickly dismount and begin work preparing the bridge for demolition.

8. Motor company arrives.
Half an hour after the armoured car platoon commander radioed brigade for help a Canadian motor company arrives. The motor company captain quickly makes contact with the surviving Staghound, which has been badly shaken by a mortar attack as it probed the left flank of the German defences and has retreated to the shelter of the hill. But before being stonked he had found a way forward along an undefended farmer's lane and wheat field east of the village that would safely bypass the Marder.

9. 3” mortars emplace on the hill.
The 3” mortar section set up their weapons undetected on the ridge of the hill, with a clear view down to the village and river.

10. Advance up left flank.
A Vickers section moves up the undefended lane way and dismounts to provide covering fire down the sunken road to the village. The Canadian commander splits his forces between the right and left flank, with a platoon of the motor company and two carrier sections moving forward on this flank, along with the command vehicle. Although undefended, the advance is observed by the German commander positioned in the upper floors of the village manor house. The Vickers section is quickly spotted by Germans lurking with their panzerfausts in ambush at the far side of the sunken road, and this information, conveyed to their captain, allows mortar fire to be immediately zeroed in.

11. Advance on right flank.
Meanwhile the Canadian right flank moves into the orchard past the knocked out Staghound, in preparation to advance through a field of tall crops north of the manor house.

12. Left flank comes under fire.
The motor company platoon dismounts from their armoured halftracks into an open field east of the village. A heavy machine gun and 20mm flak gun mounted on a halftrack open up in ambush from the village and knock out two of the three sections as they move across the field. The surviving section scrambles towards the bocage where they can't be observed.
Meanwhile the carrier sections dismount and advance by a safer though more circuitous route through the wheat field. Before they could fall back to the village, the German panzerfaust armed section positioned in ambush on the far side of the sunken road is engaged and knocked out by the Vickers and 50mm MG fire from the halftrack, while, under cover of smoke, the Staghound maneuvers to bring covering fire onto the Germans firing from the village. 

13. Right flank goes in.
Having sent a couple of sections forward to reconnoitre, the Canadians breach from the orchard and advance through the fields north of the manor under cover of smoke laid down by the 2” mortar. A platoon of Germans are discovered dug in around the manor and their opening salvo pins a number of the attackers, driving them to ground.

14. First demolition laid.
As the sound of gunfire comes from north of the village, the German engineers work still unobserved at mining the bridge. A first of the four demolitions necessary to destroy the bridge is successfully prepared.

15. End of Part 1.
An overview shows the Canadian attack going in on both flanks. The Marder, outflanked by the left column of attack, has pulled back to a more useful position on the edge of the village. The cows are still grazing peacefully …
To be continued.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Building Terrain - Tilly-sur-Seulles

Over the summer we put on a large multi-player game, bigger than what can usually be accommodated in an afternoon of play. Gaming over two days at a rented hall, we still only partially completed Mark Davies' Battlefront WWII scenario, The Pompadour's Revenge. More frustratingly, it didn't conclude decisively (in fact, just as things were getting interesting) and ever since then I and the other principal, Phong Nguyen-Ho, have been itching to give it another crack, picking up where we left off.
We will be doing just that this weekend. But as it is now pretty obvious on which part of the terrain the battle will be fought I have been able to recreate a smaller 6.5' X 5' playing area in my studio. Better, having all week to create this undulating and densely terrained board, I've been able to more closely match Mark's original map, largely due to a new grid technique that I'm employing.
Not being a fan of permanent terrain, or to be more precise, finding that it doesn't work well for me mostly because it is pretty inflexible as far as storage goes and I'm interested in recreating historic battlefields, this entire board is modular. It took quite a while to set up but I find that is part of the pleasure of gaming. So I have decided to document it, just in case others are interested in at least one way of recreating an historical battlefield from a map.

Here is the section of the map I reproduced from the game. I've flipped it as this is the orientation I used to set up and photograph the table. I have strengthened the grid and terrain lines in Photoshop so they are easily recognizable.

I start by building my table top with a series of 2'X4' pieces of masonite. I have about a dozen of these on hand. The boards are supported by two tables. I use a bit of packing tape to keep them from shifting.

My next step is roughing in the first level of terrain with pieces of styrofoam. The playing board will have four levels, so I obviously start with the lowest first. I keep about four garbage bags of styrofoam bits in the basement, some tapered on the edge but not all.  You can see the wonky wire grid I've made, 18" square as I'm sizing up the map by half again to accommodate 20mm figures. In essence the grid represents a square foot of map.

Here is the grid in use with some of the first level terrain roughed in. Below is the section of map being recreated (lower left black terrain line).

With the first layer roughed in with styrofoam, I taper the edges of the contours that aren't already tapered and link the bits using sheet leading. I scrounged pieces of this from a renovation building site and love it for terra forming. But the edges could be softened and linked with bits of fabric as well, which is what I used to do. The advantage of the sheet leading is its pliability and firmness.

I build up successive layers using the same techniques, moving the grid across the board foot by foot. Bits of stiff card are used to cover over gaps in the styrofoam pieces and more sheet leading is used to contour the edges. This picture shows levels one, two and three completed.

This picture shows a cross section of the table (and my junk underneath!) with its stacked layers.

And here are the completed levels.

Next I spread my ground cloth over the terrain, snugging the cloth to the terrain as closely as possible. In Battlefront the various levels are important to be able to identify for spotting purposes, so the edges of the levels need to be easily identified. This ground cloth (I have a few different ones for different terrain) is a dark green slightly textured fabric I picked up cheap at the discount bin in a fabric store, mottled with a bit of spray paint.

My next step is to rough in the roads, streams and river, again using the grid to get everything in its proper place. I'm not sweating the details at this point, as I can always tidy up the connections afterwards.
In the foreground you can see I have employed two different types of dirt road sections, stiff ones that I created early on in my gaming career (yes, it's a career!) with card and later ones that I have done on fabric so that they can conform to terrain. I ran out of flexible ones so had to use some of the stiff ones for flat areas.
You may also notice that my ground cloth didn't quite span the board so I used bits of "field" fabric from my grab bags to cover the rest (left side of photo). The terrain is so varied and broken up that this won't really be obvious by the end.
And finally, I have roughed in the streets and buildings of Tilly at this point as that bit of crucial terrain has to be right for the rest of the table to work.

Here is a ground eye view, showing the terrain levels and the undulating roads and streams. The paved road is strips of asphalt tile which I'm not totally satisfied with as they have a bit too much profile, even though they can be bent to conform to the terrain.  The stream is my newest creation, a heavy vinyl, spray-painted on the back side, coated with tub and tile clear silicone on the top, and textured by beating it with a plastic spoon (thank you YouTube!) This has finally completed my quest for a stream that can conform to terrain, something I can create metres of for pennies and very little expenditure of time.

Now I add the rest of the buildings, mostly using my modular ruin pieces as this was well fought-over terrain! To my mind this is the ugly part the board has to go through before one can get to the extensive finishing touches. As an artist I know that every painting goes through the same stage (or modeller, when you have done some of the underpainting - you know what I'm talkin' about!) and you just have to move through it.

The building on the left shows one of my more recent solutions for building on sloping terrin. I created about a half dozen or more wedge shaped bases that I can set my houses on, as I hate seeing buildings at a 45 degree angle on a hillside.

Using my grid again I now place all the hedgerows and orchards. Mark's map has more hedgerows then any I've encountered and I exhausted all of my hedgerow bits. I have attached Woodland Scenics clumping foliage to strips of velcro that are adhesive one side (adhesive hook and loops strips that I buy at the Dollar Store) so that my hedgerows can conform to undulating terrain without rolling downhill.
Below you can see the bit of  map this represents.

Here is the completed table. After placing all of the hedgerows and orchards, I have placed bits of field to break up the terrain (lichen sheets), bordered the stream with more lichen and softened some of the road edges with narrow velcro strips with small bits of Woodland scenic foliage to create a verge.

A few details. Here is an orchard with another building resting on the wedge-shaped base that allows me to place buildings on slopes.

The chateau just south of Tilley. I built this building specifically for this scenario, roughly basing it on the actual structure which still stands today, but at a size and proportions that can cover the correct footprint.

Marcel, the hamlet located in the dip down to the stream, with its two bridges.

The river (I'm guessing the Seulles) which runs up one side of the board. These I created on stiff pieces of card and originally simply painted them. But this summer I got inspired and coated them all with a super thick shellac (the kind used to coat tacky wooden-based souvenir plaques with stupid sayings) which makes the river satisfyingly wet!

Tilly houses. I find ruins serve wargaming well as you aren't fiddling with removing roofs. You can see some of the rubble bits I have created to break up the streetscapes as well as shell craters made with a papier maché product, Sculptamold. I use this on my buildings for texturing as well. Indispensable!

The view from the high ground, showing the undulating terrain down to the Pont-Esprit stream. In the foreground you can see some of the velcro strips with foliage that I use, thick ones for hedgerows and skinny ones for verges.

View from the area near Buceels, the British-held side of the board, with Tilly in the background and the high ground in the top center.