Saturday, 10 August 2013

Desert wadis - practical wargame terrain

In general terms there are two considerations for wargaming terrain. The first is the aesthetic quality, the second is practicality. Sometimes the aesthetic can be practical, especially when it comes to 'moveable' / free standing terrain. Fantastic looking buildings can be made and ways found to make them practical - by giving them gardens for occupying troops to go in, etc. Trees and other vegetation can also be both because they can be moved around to make space for any troops passing through them. Things become a little more tricky when it comes to larger features, especially hills, rivers and other major topographical features.

If I were to wish for something to add to my wargaming set up, it would be a collection of nicely sculpted modular terrain tiles. No it's not! Scrub that wish because I could probably have them if I wanted - my modelling skills and knowledge are probably good enough - what I need is a spare £500,000 to buy a spare house big enough to store it all in; because lets face it, I'd want an awful lot of modules to re-fight this and that battle. Therein lies the truth about practical wargames terrain - storage.

At Fiasco, Leeds Wargames Show later this year, I intend doing a WW2 Western Desert demo game. For it, I need a lot of wadis and escarpment. I have two options. I can spend a heap of money and do it with purpose built terrain modules - which I will have to take down to the dump immediately afterwards because I'll have nowhere to store it - or I can do what I usually do and go the way of versatile, easy to store, applique terrain pieces.

This week I started planning and making my applique wadi sections. Aesthetically they leave a little, possibly a lot, to be desired, but with a little imagination you can see what they represent. They are certainly better than the pieces of beige paper I've been using up to now.

They are also extremely easy, and fairly cheap, to produce - I marked and cut the 2mm MDF and glued the banks on sixteen feet this afternoon. I also did a test run on a couple of feet. Here is the result of that test and a "How I....".

A 12" wadi section. The wadi is 9cm wide overall with 2cm 'banks'. The base is 2mm MDF well primed and undercoated. The banks are foam core. 
I wanted to be sure of the width of the gap / wadi bed, so I cut the banks down the centre. This also saves on wastage and means section ends match up. I also marked each pair A, B, C, etc. just in case they got mixed up.
 Next I trimmed off the outer bank of the wadi with various craft knives. It does not have to be accurate, but fairly even is best.
 Here is a pic of the wadi in section.
 After trimming the banks, I undercoated them. This is a water based household, exterior undercoat.
 PA good coat of PVA and sprinkled sand and grit gives texture. I will need to go out and get another 4 litre container of this - I've almost used 4 litres in a year!
 There is too much of this to do with an ink wash, so I'm doing these with a cheap acrylic.
 Dry brushed with the paint I used for the table (Dulux emulsion) will blend it in.
 More dry brushing with a lighter colour at the base of the wadi so it stands out a little.
And that's it. I will be doing turns as simple arcs of 30 (x9) and 45 (x4) degrees. They are river beds, after all, and can meander a bit.

As flexible as the paper sections (almost), more durable and better looking than the paper, but not as good as sculpted modular terrain - though sixteen feet of modular wadi terrain tile is a lot of module. These will do until.....

Thursday, 8 August 2013

The Battle of Sidi Rezegh (day 2) in full swing.

Here are some shots of the battle at the end of last night's play. I can't believe that the table, for Command Decision, is only 6 x 6; even on a 10 x 6 it looks quite crowded.
British and German armour engages west of the aerodrome. The Germans are tearing into the British tanks.
 A regiment of A15 Crusaders from 22nd Armoured Brigade rushes through a gun line of 2pdr AT guns still on their portees. 
 5th Panzer Regiment, fans out across the desert, supported by an 88 which has quickly been brought into action. The regiment is advancing on a front of 1500m. 
 On the northern (left) flank of 5th Panzer Regiment, more close support artillery comes into the fray.
 Around the aerodrome the British are forming a second defensive area - they have lost 'B' and the first German infantry are, in limited numbers, above the second escarpment.
 British 25pdrs of 60th and 4th field regiments cluster around the aerodrome.
 Below the second escarpment the Germans, of Group Knabe, are renewing their attack after initially being repulsed.
On point 'A' a company of 1st KRRC and command and control elements are the last defenders holding the escarpment. 
The Germans move on 'B' (central) with close artillery support. It is the German artillery, including the 210cm Morser 18s firing from Belhamed, that have done the killing - the German infantry is advancing on empty positions.

Last night was one of the only times I have ever felt sorry for Peter. He only won 10% of the initiative, and Graham was winning it in big numbers including a runs of over 40 initiative points. Next week will see the conclusion because both sides are now quite low on morale chips. 'B' has fallen to the Germans. 'A' is destined to fall due to the artillery concentrations that are bound to fall on it. It will come down to who holds 'C'. My money, is on a hard fought draw.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Briefings for "Broken Spearhead"

The following briefings are for the previous post on my version the Command Decision scenario in Benghazi Handicap. It differs somewhat from the original. The primary source for the briefings was Sidi Rezeg Battles 1941 by Agar Hamilton and Turner.

BTW: This post is picture light, and in a horrible font, because yet again my cursor function is not working properly on this blog!

Yesterday saw the hardest fighting (of the British offensive to relieve Tobruk) so far. The fighting was chaotic as formations of both sides clashed to their front and rear. Between Tobruk and Gabr Saleh, British 70th Division was trying to batter its way out of Tobruk (objective Ed Duda) in the face of ‘Bologna’ and 90th Light, the latter also fighting off probing attacks by 7th Armoured Brigade and 7th Support Group to its rear from Sidi Rezegh. In their turn, 7th Armoured Brigade and Support Group were facing both ways in an attempt to fend off a concerted attack by 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions coming out of the desert from the east. The Panzer divisions were unable to concentrate fully because they were simultaneously holding off 4th and 22nd Armoured Brigades, which had chased them from Gabr Saleh.

At the end of the day there was no doubt that DAK had come out on top, especially in terms of material. However, the British had shown a good deal of tenacity and, despite very heavy losses, maintained the very important strategic position at Sidi Rezegh.

Brigadier Campbell (7th Support Group), officer commanding Sidi Rezegh, noon, 22nd November 1941

At Sidi Rezegh, plans for linking up with 70th Division at Ed Duda have been suspended until 22nd Armoured Brigade and 5th South African Brigade reinforce the position from the south. Support Group and 7th Armoured Brigade have spent the morning reorganizing and consolidating their position on the commanding ridge (second escarpment) overlooking Trig Capuzzo and around the aerodrome. Both 7th Armoured Brigade and Support Group are not in the best shape. Yesterday’s losses cannot be made good. Brigadier Davy (7th Armoured Brigade), has reported he has 28 runners, several of which have been hit more than once - he started the operation with 168 tanks – and morale has been adversely affected. It is a comforting thought that the Germans withdrew their armour, northward down the escarpment and out of the battle area, this morning. The arrival of 22nd Armoured Brigade is not expected for some time; 5th South African Brigade has been ordered to hold the third escarpment.

Major General Gott (7th Armoured Division) has personally given orders that Sidi Rezegh must be held at all cost. It will be the jump off point for units battering their way to relieve Tobruk. Following the arrival of the reinforcements a northward advance on Ed Duda can be resumed.

4th Field Regiment RHA begins the game off table. One or both batteries can be ordered forward to the battle area at any time. Once ordered forward the guns cannot be stopped and cannot shoot whilst in transit. The batteries will be in transit for two Artillery Action cards. The guns will arrive (making a normal move) from the south, at the aerodrome, on the appearance of a third Artillery Action card. 

22nd Armoured Brigade will arrive as reinforcements on the appearance of the Stratagem 1 card from the start of turn 4. Its regiments will arrive (making a normal move) on the card’s appearance, along the British base line east of the third escarpment. There must be a 12” gap between regiments. Note: This deployment is the real reason for the inclusion of the third escarpment in the battle area.

To achieve a decisive victory: Hold the majority of high ground at the second escarpment (including A and one B) and the aerodrome buildings at C.

To achieve a crushing victory: Providing that the above requirement is met, at least four companies (any strength) of tanks or infantry must cross the German base line west of point D – they move onto Ed Duda. 

Major General von Ravenstein, officer commanding 21st Panzer Division, noon, 22nd November 1941

At the end of the day there was no doubt that DAK had come out on top. However, the British had shown a good deal of tenacity and, despite heavy losses, maintained the important position at Sidi Rezegh.

This morning, following receipt of orders from DAK, 15th and 21st Panzer Divisions moved north to take up defensive positions below the second escarpment. 21st Panzer Division was ordered to concentrate at Belhamed ridge and be ready to counter-attack the expected resumption of the British advance on Tobruk.

General Rommel, in person, has recently arrived at Division Headquarters. He has personally given you new orders. You must undertake a two pronged attack to secure the second escarpment. He has ordered Group Knabe to make a frontal attack from the north supported by the heavy artillery of Group BÅ‘ttcher (408th Heavy Artillery). Meanwhile, Group Stephan will take a circuitous route via the by-pass road and attack the aerodrome from the west.

Group Stephan will arrive as reinforcements on the appearance of the Stratagem 2 card from the start of turn 3. Its composite units will arrive (making a double move) on the card’s appearance, directly west [flank baseline] of the aerodrome, with at least one battalion of 5th Panzer Regiment leading.

To achieve a decisive victory: 21st Panzer Division must secure the majority of high ground at the second escarpment (including A and one B) and the aerodrome buildings at C.

To achieve a crushing victory: Providing that the above requirement is met, 21st Panzer Division must effectively eliminate all British armour.

Note: In time, the British are expected to continue their attacks toward Ed Duda. The baseline west of point D is the exit point for such attacks.