Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Red October Cement Works Pt. 1

Closely following on from my last post, here's another one featuring a terrain project on which I've been working, on-and-off, for well over a few years now.

Anyone who plays Blitzkrieg Commander knows there are times when you need to roll a lot of dice- especially when you start fielding Panthers, T-34/85's, and heavy guns!

After a few games with us rolling the dice directly on the table, more often than not the dice would start bouncing off one another and start flying around.  Spreading out like so many shell fragments, they would end up careening into model vehicles, terrain and miniatures alike.  After a few scary incidents with fragile plastic parts, I long ago decided that it would probably be a good idea if we were to acquire ourselves a dice tower.  

I know that dice towers can be bought commercially, and that even making one from scratch wouldn't take all that much effort.  But I wanted something unique that would be integral to the tabletop, and thought about how I could incorporate a dice tower into some kind of terrain feature or building.

As a lot of Eastern Front battles featured fights for and around factories (think Stalingrad or the grain tower at Ponyri), I thought that the classic, boxy dice tower shape would lend itself well to being incorporated into some kind of industrial architecture. so the idea for constructing the Red October Cement Factory (Красный Октябрь Цементный завод) came into being.

A quick search of the internet saw me come across this very useful site which featured plans for a reasonably sized, easy to build tower.

I printed out the .pdf files, and stuck them to the back of some dense foam board- the kind that had and adhesive surface on one side.  All I had to do was peel off the packing paper and carefully place the pages on the board as a template.  Then it was just a case of cutting out the pieces, and then gluing them together with white glue and lots of dressmakers pins!

At this point one of the sides hadn't been glued on, as first the interior needed to be painted.

With the dice tower coming along nicely,  I sought out some old foam offcuts (left over from my monastery project),  a couple of junk food containers courtesy of Nabisco, and another classic old Airfix kit I was happily willing to kit-bash.

After putting the basic building together from the control tower kit, experimenting with the layout on my desk gave me the basic idea for something that would have a (relatively) compact footprint for the gaming table on no more than a 30cm x 30cm base.  Something that would be manageable to carry around, yet remain imposing.

Next stage was to paint the interior of the dice tower and slap on the sides.

Everything was faced with wooden strips.  I decided to go vertical rather than horizontal with the facing, based on some pictures I saw of old factories, and also to give the structure a sense of height.

This all took time, and I got pretty tired of it at one point!  But after a long break, I got back to it and added a covered conveyor system to the top of the tower.  Right now I'm looking for material that can be used for the corrugated iron roofing, and then its adding pipes, a crane, wires, and assorted industrial frippery to give it atmosphere. 

But right now, I need to work on tarting up the administration building (the old control tower), so that it has less of an Airfix-y look about it.

No, its not a litter box, although he was fascinated with the sound of the dice rattling down the tower and seeing them appear in the tray.  He'll have to be watched. 

Hopefully I should have it done by the end of the month, in time for a game in May.

All quiet on the Eastern Front.

I realized I haven't updated any of my blogs for ages, and this one for over three whole years.  This is partly because I've already been having to spend a lot of time at the computer what with work and other commitments, but mostly due a lack of anything relevant to say!  Its been ages since my last WW2 game using my Russians.  

Which is not to say I haven't been gaming; I have.  This past year it has been Bolt Action with my IJA in 28mm, and even some Dark Ages games using the fun One Hour Wargames rules by Neil Thomas.  We even managed another Napoleonics game using Black Powder.  Still, due to life and family commitments among the usual crowd, getting in any sort of regular gaming has been an elusive goal, so its been a mixed bag of games so far- not that I'm complaining, its great just to be able to game at all!

But 20mm Eastern Front games have, unfortunately, been off the radar, so there has been no action there from either the gaming or modelling angle.  Until very recently, when Rod and I thought it would be great to try the Battlegroup Kursk rules that have been languishing unloved on my shelf over the past few years.  Nothing wrong with BKC, but we thought we would try something different, and like the morale system that BGK uses.


No matter how long it stays on the back-burner, I find I always keep coming back to 20mm WW2 at some time or another.  My WW2 Soviet collection is long in the tooth, but is large and has given excellent service.  Still it could always grow, and I think some of the older models and figures need to be retired or at least get a fresh coat of paint and/ or a new uniform issue, and perhaps a more up-to-date (and less time-consuming) basing. 

And through no fault of his own, our German player has been working weekends so my Russians now find themselves with no-one to fight!   Besides, his Germans are more for 1944-45, while I'm more interested in 1943; so I decided it is high time to build up a German force of my own.  

So as a strategic reserve I've rummaged through my kit cache and cobbled together six Italeri fast-build Pz-III's and a PSC Stug III (where I managed to mix up the drive and idler sprockets and only noticed after the cement had set- since patched up after a fashion).  

Pleased with the results, and looking at the gaps in my collection I recently ordered some new kit from PSC.  These includes a Marder, a box of infantry and heavy weapons, and of course the iconic Hanomags.

I'm also getting back to work on my bevy of Zvezda T-34/76's and PSC T-70's to face them, along with a bit of artillery support. Basically the vehicles just need some stowage (already ordered from Value Gear in the US, and on its way here), and for me to add grab rails on the T-34's from brass wire.  Then it's painting time.
I also needed to blow the dust off them!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

12-y Gvardeiskoi Tankovoi Brigady

A few weeks ago I received two boxes of PSC's excellent little T-70 light tank, along with one box of four 76.2mm Zis 3 "Crash-Boom" artillery pieces.

These are very nice little kits, and I really like the tiny T-70's.  I already have two I got years ago from Skytrex, but they were really squashy little castings- these are much, much better models and better capture the shape of the actual vehicle.

Looking over the mountain of kits sitting on top of the bookshelves (and threatening to fly off in all directions come the next sizeable earth tremor), I realize now that I finally have all I need to create a Soviet 1943 Tank Brigade for Blitzkrieg Commander II, using the organizations given in Frank Chadwick's Command Decision rule set.   

BKC-II doesn't cover national formations, and if it did the book would have had to be huge!  But it does contain comprehensive stats for vehicles, artillery, and infantry for the gamer to assemble a points-based force.  

This is fine, but I've always liked basing my wargaming forces on historical orders of battleFortunatelythe BKC website has available a very useful guide on converting orders of battles for BKC-II.  So I sat down and converted the CD list for a 1943 Soviet Tank Brigade for use in BKC-II games, as you can see here.   

It is a scaled-down version to be sure, and one vehicle equals approximately five actual vehicles.  This keeps vehicle and troop numbers manageable and rationalizes some of the abstractions in the rules.  

After all, I've always done it in my horse-and-musket wargaming where painting up 36 miniatures to represent a battalion is a lot more feasible that trying to do it using 750 miniatures at a 1:1 representation! 

It does mean that players have to remind themselves during the game that this stand of figures represents a platoon, and that the tank lurking behind the dilapidated hut over there represents five actual vehicles.  The results are the outcome of combat between two bodies of troops, not individuals.  It's not a skirmish game.

I should point out that my list represents a brigade at full strength, and almost as soon as these brigades were committed to combat on the Eastern Front, the actual strength of the unit would start to diminish due to combat losses and attrition, sometimes ending up with a staggeringly few operational vehicles.  

But in gaming terms it's good for the start of a campaign, and if we are playing a points-based game it would be much more likely for a force selection to be made from an actual formation like this, rather than just to cherry-pick an ad-hoc formation from the whole range of actual vehicles and units available (German players please take note!)

My brigade will represent the 12-y Gvardeiskoi Tankovoi Brigady, or 12th Guards Tank Brigade under the command of Col. Nikolai Grigoryevich Dushak from 1943 to 1945.  This brigade was part of the 4-y Gvardeiskoi Tankovoi Korpus, the 4th Guards Tank Corps commanded by Gen-Lt. Pavel Pavlovich Poluboyarov.

Poluboyarov was one of the rising stars of the RKKA, and after the war went on to become Marshal of Armoured Forces.

Here they are in action.  Col. Dushak on the left, his boss Gen. Poluboyarov on the right, as they do their part in hurling the Fascist vipers out of the Socialist Motherland.  
At some point I will add a list for other elements of the 4th Tank Corps, including heavy tank and SPG support, a motorized rifle and motorcycle battalion, and other goodies.  

Right now I'm working on making a list for that other essential for a Soviet player, a common-and-garden infantry regiment from a Rifle Division along with it's typical support units.  Gotta love horse-drawn artillery


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Dusting off the Popovs

Not much activity on this blog over the last year, basically because the focus at the West Tokyo Wargamers has been on Napoleonic wargaming using Warlord Games' Black Powder rules.

However, on our gaming day in February, most of the usual grognards were unable to make it due to various commitments.  So without a quorum for Napoleonics, Giovanni and I both felt that it could be a good opportunity for a long-overdue game of Blitzkrieg Commander II

So we decided that we would leave the olive groves of the Peninsula behind us for the day, and instead dust off our Soviets and Germans for another bloody struggle among the birch forests and rolling steppes of the Eastern Front.
We decided to keep the game small- 1000 points from late 1943. The evening before the game we devised our lists using the oh-so-useful Battlegroups Online tool over at the BKC website.  

It didn't take long to discover that you don't get much for 1000 points!  But that was part of the challenge, tweaking and varying the possible choice that would get me the best "bang" for my virtual rubles.  

And when I saw what a tiny force Giovanni was able to field with only 1000 points worth of Krupp steel and lantern-jawed Lansers from the corresponding German list, maybe I would have a chance!

Giovanni's Huns.  The A/T gun is there for decoration, as Giovanni didn't have enough points to pay for one. But he was able to field two Pz-IV's, a Grille SPG, and a number of halftracks and trucks full to the brim with well-armed and ruthless warriors of the Third Reich.
Most of my points were spent on infantry- lots of it.  I went for just one tank, but selected a good one; an OT-34 flamethrower variant. Very nasty if it could get to close quarters.  My artillery consisted of two indirect fire weapons- an 82mm and a 120mm mortar.  I had enough points left over for a 76.2 gun for A/T work

I went for three command stands, one with a factor of 8, the others of 7.  In contrast, the Germans would be able to run rings round me with their two stands, which boasted a command rating of 10 and 9.  They also enjoyed a command radius of 20cm (being Soviets, mine was only a measly 15cm).  

So as far as tactics went, the K.I.S.S. principle dictated that I wouldn't be trying anything too adventurous, lest I get my bare Bolshevik butt spanked by the much-more-mobile Fascists for my pains
NKVD make sure that the Soviet infantry are dutifully maintaining the required Revolutionary Zeal- or else!

View of the village (hamlet really).
The river ran down the middle of table lengthwise, with two crossable fords.
The Soviets had built a timber bunker in the woods next to the village, covering one of the fords.  As it turned out, the Germans were able to drive across the ford with impunity due to good command rolls on their part, and shitty shooting on mine.

The Germans started with an attack on the settlement with part of their force, while Panzer Grenadiers supported by a Pz-IV commenced a flanking attack.
The bunker was actually designed for our 28mm Napoleonic games as a powder magazine for a redoubt, but it works just fine here.
The OT-34 heads off to take on the infantry, but trying to pass the necessary command roll proves elusive.
And then the PZ-IV has him in his sights...
...promptly sending my only armour asset to Socialist Valhalla.  Oh, crap.  
The elated Pz-IV crew went on to celebrate by blasting my now-exposed 82mm mortar team into oblivion.   

The Soviet field telephone lines were becoming red hot with panicky calls for help, only to be answered with terse instructions to just suck it all up, and to get on with the job of ridding the Motherland of the Fascist threat.  Orders that were well-seasoned with dark, dire and deadly serious threats.
With the Pz-IV apparently crushing the Soviets like so many ants, its following German infantry- now without the OT-34 to cower from- discover new-found courage, and decide to launch an attack in a determined effort to clear out the Soviet infantry holding the woods.  

We learned here that this is where a Soviet infantry force is at its best; in short-range fighting, in close terrain, and where numbers count.  
It was a very long time since we last played the game, and even longer since our last large-scale close combat engagement.  So were unfamiliar with the game mechanics, and had to refer in detail to the rulebook.  The rules work elegantly well for infantry fights, and turned out a lot easier to work out than we had expected (once we got it right!)

The German infantry fought fiercely, but in the face of overwhelming local odds were eventually repulsed, never to return.  For them, ze war vas over.  

Meanwhile, German infantry enter the village, but find themselves held at bay by some very accurate mortar fire. The mortar was to give sterling service throughout the game.

The all-destroying PZ-IV was on the prowl for fresh prey, and soon found itself engaging in a dual with my 76.2mm A/T gun, which now found itself on the verge of being outflanked.   

Fortunately it was able to turn to face the threat, but its crew were very much aware that the Germans were encased in several inches of hardened Krupp nickel-steel plating.  In contrast, the Red gunners had only the thickness of their padded cotton jackets for protection.

Not encouraging...
But luck was on the side of the doughty Popovs this time, and had run out for the Germans.  Scratch one Pz-IV.  

It didn't help that Giovanni neglected to chance another shot by taking one more try at a command roll. 

The remaining  Pz-IV, assisted by a Grille SPG, advances in support of the hard-pressed German infantry in the village.
These now face the prospect of a whole company of Soviet infantry rushing to aid the defense, all flushed with confidence from their having just recently thrashed the Hitlerite flanking force.
But with such a small force, the Germans have taken losses that they cannot really afford.  They have to roll to see if they break under the pressure of excessive casualties- and lo and behold, they do!


The Germans decide to call off the attack, and lick their wounds as the commanders go back to the drawing board.  They would be back- but doubtless only after the Stukas get their chance to even the odds.  But that would be a story for another day.

So a rare Soviet victory!  We really enjoyed the game as it was very much touch-and-go.  

The Soviets didn't have much in the way of sexy armour and mobility, especially once the OT-34 flamethrower tank was toasted.  And don't expect too much in the way of complicated, sweeping maneuvers given their poor command factors and tactical doctrine. But give them a strong position, and a built-up area to fight in, and they are in their element.

Well worth dusting off the figures, and it rekindled my interest in WW2 gaming.  After the game, I decided to beef up my forces and ordered some of the new T-70's from PSC, along with some field guns.  I can't yet decide to assemble them as 57mm A/T guns, or as a battery of 76.2mm field guns.  

Decisions, decisions...

Monday, October 10, 2011

It's the Gulags for me...

The recent games day at the West Tokyo Wargamers saw Brian and I try our hands at another  WW2 game using Blitzkrieg Commander II.  
Let the recriminations begin:  The NKVD were to have a busy day...
Brian has a British army for BKC II, but this time he wanted to try his hand at taking on the Soviets, and I was willing to oblige.  So for this game, he arranged to borrow Giovanni's Germans.   We decided that the scenario would see the Germans attacking a settlement defended by the Soviets, sometime in late 1943. Germans had 1750 pts, the Soviets just over  1500.  

We were joined for this game by Sawamoto-san,  a young university student here with an interest in WW2.  He had seen our blog and showed up to the club to see what we were all about.  He had never played a miniature wargame before (he had some experience with computer games), but he was very willing to give it a go.  For a first time player, he did very well, and clearly understood how to use his armoured infantry properly!

Giovanni was generous enough to bring much of his terrain and vehicles for us to use.  But he hadn't bought much in the way of infantry, so Brian had little choice but to devise an armour-heavy, elite force which would be tasked with trying to winkle the Popovs out of a defensive position.  

I wasn't unduly concerned at this, given the difficulties of nailing infantry in cover in BKC II.  The terrain was dense, and not really conducive to armour operations- it would be tough for him to take- and importantly to hold- the ground.  While it would be tough for me to deal with all that armour,  I felt it could be done with the force at my disposal, which had a good amount of artillery for its size. I was reasonably confident my Russkis would give a good account of themselves.

The table setup- view from the German side
Wrong!!!   Unfortunately, just about everything that could go wrong for the Soviets, did!  I made some fundamental deployment errors at the beginning, and to make matters worse my die rolling could not be more abysmal. A command blunder resulted in a large part of my force virtually committing suicide.  Let's say for now that will be no more room at the Gulag this week, and supplies of cigarettes and blindfolds for the officers involved are running low.

The settlement- lots of good cover for Ivan
The Soviet forces prior to deployment

Lots of infantry!
...supported by a couple of T-70m light tanks

As well as meatier stuff!  This is an OT-34 flamethrower tank I made years ago, with an SU-122 behind it.
The Soviets take their positions on the left
...while the Germans enter the field.  The Sturmtiger is proxying for a Brummbar.
Soviet armour heads down the road.  A decision the Soviet command would later regret...
On the right, the Popovs prepare A/T positions and orders are given.
I've always found the 120mm mortar an extremely useful asset, and this game was no exception.

Major Wretchedski assures the C/O that everything is under control..
Great cover, A/T weapons, mortar support- what could possibly go wrong?
Fascists in the woods!
"Something wicked this way comes..."
Gepanzert troops approach from the opposite flank, armed to the teeth with weaponry, brickwork and other construction materials.
"Maxim Sergeivitch, I really don't like the look of this!"
The halftracks dropped the infantry off in the woods
As a pincer attack is clearly taking shape
"Oh why...
..didn't I think... put the OT-34...
...behind some decent cover?!?"
Stug III's enter the fray

"Where are you, Little Popov?
Brian had clearly been learning the tricks of the BKC II trade since the last time I played with him. and has learned that when you have those 7.5 cm KwK 40 guns at your disposal, you don't need to get close- stand off and hit the enemy from a distance, with as many vehicles as you can bear on the target.  And I obliged by stupidly putting my tank in the open. 

But despite losing the OT-34 (and with it's 12 attack dice, I really could have kicked myself for not using it more effectively), my situation was by no means a desperate one.  The Germans infantry had infiltrated the woods on the left, but could not see the Russians behind cover, who were waiting for the Germans to make the first move so they could open up on them with everything they had.

But then, disaster struck with my first command blunder of the game.  And it was a doozy.

The Soviet commander on the left mistakenly ordered his men not just to break cover, but also to charge the nearest enemy to the front.  The Soviets were about to recreate the first day of the Somme.  
"URRAH!... urk!"
In the process they were pretty much wiped out, a few remaining (and mauled) stands retreating back into cover.  Think of that scene at the opening of Enemy at the Gates...

In fact, the next 15 minutes of the game was spent working out the firing for that 80% of the German army who could get a shot in.  And few missed!  The Fascists rolled fantastically well all game.  

As for me, I was rolling high when I wanted low, and vice-versa.  Not that it would have made any difference in this situation, and given the volume of firepower I was subject to.  Brian was almost embarrassed at the destruction he was doling out, but my agitation was really directed at the dice gods and at my own stupidity, not him!

...and then
...there were none. dakka-dakka-dakka...
An enraged NKVD colonel orders the arrest, interrogation (with extreme prejudice), and liquidation of Major Wretchedski for his failure.
The Germans are quick to capitalize on the Soviet blunder, and assault the remaining platoons in the settlement.  An A/T stand fights bravely for a brief time, but is overwhelmed by numbers.
At this point in the battle, discretion is the better part of valour...

The Soviets continue to monotonously fail their command rolls, while the Germans grow weary from the mental effort of having to decide which units to slay next.  In all my time playing BKC II, I have never seem myself so completely deserted by the Dice Gods.  Usually things balance out over time, but this time Fate was really putting her boot into Popov crotch.

The Devil's last fart in the direction of International Socialism came in the form of another command blunder, this time by the Soviet overall commander.  The whole Soviet force, clearly demoralized and disoriented by all the crap coming down their way, pulled back out of their defences exposing themselves again to a blizzard of Krupp steel.

At that point time the sands of time were running out, so the Soviet commander accepted the inevitable and ordered a general retreat.  Somewhat academic, as everyone and his pack mule was high-tailing it back to the safety of the Ural mountains anyway.  

It will be a dreadful day of reckoning back in Moscow. 

It's all over for the Soviet defenders
To the victors, the spoils...

I'd like to say it was fun, and it had it's moments, but in truth I found myself frustrated on numerous occasions. It was quite possibly the very worst defeat I have ever experienced in a wargame.   It is easy to blame poor dice rolling (and I will, to an extent!), but there were other factors as well.  

One was that I did not use my armour as effectively as I could.  Not only the OT-34, but with hindsight I should have placed my A/T gun and/ or the light tanks in the woods where the halftracks infiltrated.  I could have hit them coming in, and pulled them back quickly before the inevitable retribution would start heading my way.

Another error was not playing the Soviets to their strengths.  The Germans have far more flexibility with their higher CV's, command range of 25cm rather than my 15cm, and in this game at least greater mobility.  I would have been better to have concentrated my forces in one half of the settlement where the odds of passing the command rolls would have been higher.

Finally, not that it really mattered the way this game played out, we really need to play with army break points.  The Soviets can take a lot of punishment while the Germans really do not like taking too many casualties.  In most games this could mean the Germans being more cautious with their assets.  Mind you, Brian was being pretty cautious as it was!  

But Brian and Sawamoto-san played a very good game, making no mistakes and making sensible use of terrain and of the resources they had.  While they were heavy in armour, their force was weak in infantry, and it was infantry that would be needed to assault and turf me out of the settlements.  But through my command blunders and my throwing away my armour support, I basically served them the victory; on a platter, with a side order of borscht and washed down with a bottle of strong vodka.   

Clearly I lacked sufficient revolutionary zeal, and I would surely be paying the price in days to come.

Oh well, there will be other games, and I'll be having some more friends to help me, too...

Finally, music to listen to while drowning my sorrows in vodka: "Song of the Desantniki"