Piotr Stolarski's blog

November Uprising: Battle of Grochów-Białołęka (24-25 February 1831)

"Poles! The hour of vengeance has struck. Today we must die or vanquish! Onward, your hearts shall be the Thermopylae of your enemies!"

(- words of Second Lieutenant Piotr Wysocki, instigator of the November Uprising, on entering the Cadet School for Infantry, Warsaw)

On 29 November 1830, radical Polish army cadets, supported by young intellectuals, stormed the Belweder Palace - Warsaw residence of the Russian Governor of Poland, Grand Duke Constantine – who escaped dressed in women’s attire. The Poles soon secured the capital, and deposed the Tsar as King of Poland, in a bid for full independence.

The inevitable backlash followed: a 115,000-strong Russian army invaded Poland on 5 February 1831 to crush the National Uprising, sparking a war lasting nine months (February-October 1831), inspiring revolutionaries and Romantics across Europe - including Fryderyk Chopin.

Having been painting 42mm figures for two years to refight the November Uprising, last Friday's club game saw their first appearance, along with my ‘Unruly Eagles’ period rules. Phil and Jonathan took charge of the Russian army attacking the Poles outside Warsaw – who were led by Theo and Patrick.

I had also compiled a sourcebook on the war ('Blood & Glory'), and chose the double Battle of Grochów-Białołęka (24-25 February 1831) scenario, which took place early in the conflict.

The Poles (40,000 men, 120 guns – led by General Józef Chłopicki) centred their defence on the ‘Grochów copse’ – a small alder wood near the eponymous village, to the east of Warsaw. This wood was surrounded by impassable marshes, complicating the Russian approach to Warsaw.

The main Russian army (60,000 men, 228 guns – led by Field Marshal von Diebitsch), including the Russian Guard, mounted a frontal assault on the small wood. They also sent their Grenadier Corps under Shakhovskiy (13,500 men, 56 guns) to attack the Polish left flank at Białołęka: which General Krukowiecki (14,200 men, 22 guns) was tasked with holding to prevent the Polish suburb of Praga (with a bridge over the Vistula connecting Warsaw) being taken.

The fight for Grochów copse was intense: Phil’s Russians made mass assaults and eventually expelled one of Patrick’s light infantry units. Meanwhile, Theo took Białołęka in the face of Jonathan’s attack.

We played a simplified version of the rules to save time, and these provoked some discussion about melees and the number of actions in a turn, largely owing to unfamiliarity with them. The game lacked a few players to make a thorough playtest possible, and ended in a stalemate, which did not quite live up to its billing.

However, everyone seemed to like the figures, which embodied an 'old school' aesthetic. These were 40-42mm in scale from a range of manufacturers: Irregular Miniatures, Sash & Saber, Spencer Smith, and Perry Miniatures. A joy to paint (mostly in a ‘toy soldier’ style), they also take up a lot of space, are pretty costly, and are very heavy to transport: so seem utterly suitable for refighting the reckless November Uprising!

Overall, a fun if low-key night. Phil suggested I put on a game at Rob’s War Room, which might be the best setting given the time needed to do it justice, and the bulkiness of the boxes required to transport all the figures. Thanks to Rob for lending me some marshes for the game. This is a new period for the club, and I hope to put on some engaging battles in the future.

The real battles ended as follows: at Białołęka, the Poles (770 casualties) drove off the Russians (1,080 casualties); whereas at Grochów, the Poles suffered 7,000 casualties, while the Russians lost at least 9,500 men – both sides retreating.

Historically, Grochów-Białołęka had been a crucial defensive performance by the Poles, halting the Russian drive on Warsaw. The Uprising was saved, and an enduring national legend was forged.

Second Lieutenant Piotr Wysocki (1797-1875) fought at Grochów, and rose to the rank of Colonel during the war, but after the Uprising's collapse was later sentenced to 20 years of hard labour in Siberia by the Russians. He survived, and returned to Poland, becoming a national hero, and embodiment of Romantic nationalism. His grave slab inscription sums it all up:

"Everything for the Fatherland - nothing for me".

HAVOC & HEROICS: REFIGHTING SWORD BEACH AT ROB’S WAR ROOM, 3-5 June 2022

INTRODUCTION

Heston and Ealing Wargames Club witnessed its most anticipated game of recent times last weekend - played at club secretary Rob Wingrave’s bespoke garden War Room (Friday 3 – Sunday 5 June 2022).

After several prior scaled-down play tests of the rules (Spearhead tweaked for 20mm figures), our refight of the British assault at Sword Beach on D-Day involved 10 British and 3 German players, with a busy Rob umpiring.

A man who doesn’t do things by halves, Rob had put five years of research, painting and preparation into the game. Rob’s Sword Beach (and it was unmistakably Rob’s achievement) included 1,000 Allied and 200 German figures, 200 vehicles, 48 buildings, 13 sections of strongpoints, 320 beach obstacles, 10 feet of sea wall, and 60 actual feet of barbed wire lovingly painted or constructed, not to mention terrain features, 36 landing craft, ships, aircraft, and 1,000 individually made sandbags. He had also visited Sword Beach in person, and appeared to have to committed its features to memory!

TERRAIN AND PARAMETERS

The 23ft x 6ft table looked magnificent, with the attention to detail worthy of the most meticulous railway enthusiast – but considerably cooler. The Germans were hugely outnumbered but occupied numerous strong defensive positions, from west to east: Trout, the Chateau, Cod, Morris, WN18, Hillman, Sole, Daimler, and the Riva Bella outside Ouistreham town. These typically had at least one line of barbed wire and minefields in their vicinity, and sported infantry, MG positions, artillery, AT guns, and/or tobruks (turrets), bunkers, and trenches.

Rob had made almost everything, including the beach and sea-shore sections, with figures and terrain finished to the highest standard, after in-depth research into the local geography, the plans and course of the historical assaults, orders of battle, and uniforms.

His intention was to simulate the difficulties faced by the British, with each turn representing 5 minutes of historical time, and wargamers having to make decisions as their units arrived and faced unexpected problems or succumbed to German fire.

The Germans were not expected to defeat the assault, but rather delay and inflict as many casualties as possible, choosing their targets and timing their attacks as effectively as possible.

BEST-LAID PLANS

The British players nominated Juan as C-in-C. Besides a landing force, Juan controlled the naval support fire, with 9 destroyers and 4 light cruisers (as well as battleships and monitors) to be allocated targets every turn or every other turn respectively.

Each sector of the beaches being assaulted was to accommodate 15 successive waves of attackers and support troops: in Phase 1: waves 1-3; Phase 2: waves 4-6; Phase 3: waves 7-9; and Phase 4: waves 10-15.

We had to land a combination of infantry, tanks, and support teams (including bulldozers, flail tanks, bridge-layers, fascine-carriers, bobbin-tanks, and mine-clearers on foot, as well as engineers and demolition teams). The beaches had to be cleared (while new waves landed!), and the sea wall next to the main strongpoint (Cod) either breached or surmounted with fascines and bridges for the infantry, tanks and other vehicles to reach the German defences.

In total, the British on Sword Beach had two infantry brigades (3 btns each), two tank btns, an assault regiment of Funnies, a beach group of three battalions, four companies of attached engineers, and three Field Artillery Regiments (each of 3 btns), to exclude the Commandos. The Germans had just two weak battalions (only one company at Cod), plus support weapons and the strongpoints themselves.

DAY ONE: FRIDAY 3 JUNE 2022

A decision was made to focus naval gunfire on off-board German assets. Before the game began, the Paras (off-table) captured Merville battery. The naval bombardment was generally trained on the German off-table heavy artillery throughout the game, as well as telephone lines, and successfully managed to prevent the former targeting the attackers. After the landings, naval guns could change targets.

In terms of the main assault, facing land – to the south – the British players were arranged from west to east along two beaches. On day one, furthest west, I was responsible for Queen White Beach (West), Jonathan – to my left – was in charge of Queen White Beach (East). Next along was Juan on the adjacent Queen Red Beach (West), while beside Juan, Simon and Mark took charge of Queen Red Beach (East), with Mark controlling Lord Lovat’s 1st Special Service Brigade (Commandos). The two German players were: Trevor (HQ, East and Eastern Central – Casino, Riva Bella, Flak Tower, WN18, Daimler, Morris, Hillman); and Brian (West and Centre – Cod, Trout, and Chateau).

After several turns of naval bombardment, the DD tanks landed in the first wave: a few were delayed and one was sunk. Their arrival prompted several wry jokes about the need for them to ‘drop skirts’. The DDs moved for 5 turns at 4” per turn. One of Jonathan’s tanks was destroyed by a German PAK40 AT-gun.

It all started to go awry in the second wave, however, as the landing craft arrived. Bad dice rolls led to a few being suppressed with units onboard unable to disembark. The Royal Marines on Queen Red Beach had difficulties with landing armour as a result; a destroyed bulldozer blocked a landing craft ramp. Meanwhile German infantry fired from ambush.

One of my big landing craft sank before landing (writing off several specialist tanks) and another landed with all units aboard suppressed, and therefore delayed. Other craft landed as expected, spewing out flail tanks, assault engineers, and a bulldozer. Unfortunately, Juan also lost a large landing craft sunk. Both Juan and Mark also landed craft, but were suppressed.

On the following turn, my fascine and Bobbin tanks, and two flail tanks, began to move inland. In a comic touch, Rob now deployed the ‘French mayor (of Ouistreham)’ and the ‘Fat German’ models, inspired by characters from The Longest Day, who gave morale bonuses to their respective sides. But German fire now began to take its toll of the arriving British infantry and tanks, whereas Allied fire seemed to bounce off: with the Tobruk emplacements needing a 11-12 roll on 2d6 to suppress (two suppressions to a kill).

The third wave began on turn 15, with a lot of infantry landing on the beaches. No landing craft were sunk but a few were delayed, and more progress was being made. We had to re-use landing craft models after each wave. More tanks, and Churchill AVREs arrived on my beach, along with additional landing craft full of demolition and mine clearance teams.

The Beach Group of men on foot began mine clearing in earnest (laying down area templates of acetate paper each turn). My orders stipulated than the entire beach had to be swept (easier said than done as the shore became increasingly crowded). Jonathan’s infantry, without a point of egress from the beach, were being targetted by German MG positions – particularly by one mounted on the sea wall.

More positively, some progress was made in preparing the assault on Cod. This huge complex including an 88 bunker, multiple trenches, multiple MG turrets, dug in artillery, and was ringed with two lines of barbed wire, mine fields, and hedges all round. I placed a fascine next to the sea wall before Cod, and placed a bridge across the same wall using a Churchill bridging tank, close by. A couple of Centaur tanks arrived from a large landing craft ahead of the Commando attack I was meant to launch on the Trout position later in the game. I had a success in blowing up a German MG bunker using my AVRE Bobbin tank, which had finished laying its carpet: the first German casualty of the game.

I now realised, not for the last time, that I had been doing something wrongly: using small not large acetate templates to mark the progress of my flail tanks clearing mines. I quickly swapped the templates around using the benefit of hindsight! (I also continued to ignore the demolition teams through most of the game, assuming they were all mine-clearers… this oversight did not help with the Cod assault!)

Most of our bulldozers had been destroyed by German fire: what were they for, again? Under pressure of successive waves, we had little time to plan and coordinate. The Germans suddenly realised they had more 81mm mortars than they’d been firing: Adolf was blamed. Several attempts to delay the next wave had all failed, which meant the forces were piling up relentlessly.

At the end of play on Friday (just before 11pm) it was 7.55am in historical terms. The British had established footholds on both main beaches. On Queen Red, wire had been cleared, but not for the first time in the game, players wished to push on in a direction forbidden by the scenario orders. Unfortunately, we had lost two large landing craft sunk, which meant a loss of 8 AVREs and four Sherman flail tanks, and after poor dice-rolling had many craft suppressed (meaning each onboard unit had to roll to unsuppress to move – impossible if the leading unit was immobile due to suppression), with less progress than expected. We had completed three of 15 waves, and I had established points of entry into Cod on Queen White Beach (West).

It seemed this D-Day lark wasn’t as easy as the movies made out!

DAY TWO: SATURDAY 4 JUNE 2022

Day two of the game saw some changes in personnel. While I remained on Queen White (West), Francis took over from Jonathan next to me on Queen White (East). Juan was still in charge of Queen Red (West), but Doug (East Yorkshire Infantry) took over from Simon - who now commanded Mark's Commandos on Queen Red (East), assisted by Theo. The German players remained the same, but Neil took over command of the East sector (Casino, Riva Bella, Flak Tower) from Trevor (who remained in control of WN18, Daimler, Morris, Hillman, and HQ).

Saturday began with WAVE 4, as tanks and infantry began to move across the western end of the sea wall in front of Cod. My mine clearers fanned out on foot and were making good progress, but I lost a Churchill tank to 88 fire from the Cod position. This inconveniently blocked one route of attack, with armour accumulating in this sector. To add insult to injury, both my Churchill flail tanks were blown up on the beach. More positively, Francis’s infantry occupied a ruined building beyond the sea wall close to Cod, from where they could mass for an assault.

On Queen Red, a German pillbox was destroyed, and while Juan attacked the eastern end of the Cod position, Doug mounted the sea road and moved inland with his infantry. Theo’s French Commandos, supported by tanks, moved cautiously towards the Riva Bella stronghold, but were taking casualties from the defenders.

The French Mayor of Ouistreham was still punch-drunk and cycling near the allied lines. While I rhetorically encouraged my side to cheat, the German commander, Trevor, declared that the Fuehrer had decreed the Allied attack was only a feint, with the main attack to be on the Pas de Calais. I divulged ironically that the main attack was actually being launched at Bordeaux.

With WAVE 5 came four large landing craft carrying Shermans earmarked for the attack on Cod. Several other craft were delayed, and one sunk. One of my Centaurs was blown up by German artillery. Francis began to lay down mortar fire on Cod, but it had no effect. His infantry was being blasted and eliminated by an MG42 turret at Cod. My remaining Centaur tank managed to fire and suppress the Trout bunker momentarily, but was also destroyed shortly afterwards.

The whole of the active portion of White Beach (West) had been cleared of mines. Meanwhile, on Queen Red, Doug’s swarming infantry were heading for position WN18; Theo advanced along the Queen Red (East) with his French commandos towards the Casino at Riva Bella; and Juan destroyed a Tobruk at Cod using three AVREs.

By WAVE 6, the Allies were finally inching forwards. The shore had been cleared of obstacles, facilitating landing craft approaches. WN18 was subjected to a fierce assault by a lot of Doug’s infantry. My Sherman column was crossing the sea wall, while Francis launched several close assaults on Cod with his South Lancashire infantry battalion, suffering heavy casualties, but destroying one MG Tobruk.

One of my AVRE Churchills brewed a Somua turret on the sea front. The tanks were by now supporting the assault on Cod, but there was little space for them to manoeuvre, making them sitting ducks or cosy spectators at a drive-thru movie. Dead tanks were soon littering the vicinity of Cod like fallen chips. During the game, we lost 8 destroyed and multiple temporarily suppressed/delayed by fire, barbed wire, or mines. The two German MG tobruks were dealing death like manic pushers on a troubled council estate: decimating Francis’s close assaulting infantry.

Meanwhile, back at WN18, Doug’s close assault succeeded, but the bunker did not surrender until a little later: this was the first Allied objective fully secured in the game.

At this point, the Allied players had a light-bulb moment: they realised that AVREs could destroy the sea wall (!). There was also some confusion about Forward Observation Officers or FOOs (how many, where were they, and how effective were they?). A tank blocking the entrance to Cod on the sea-wall was being moved by a recovery vehicle. We had previously ignored these seemingly irrelevant machines.

With WAVE 7, three large landing craft arrived at Queen White (West), bearing six Priest self-propelled guns. Another was delayed. My Commandos, destined for an all-out attack on the Trout position, had also finally arrived. I directed multiple mine-clearing squads to the far western end of the table towards Trout: even though the fort hadn’t been taken, these were the orders for the Beach Group.

Naval artillery called in by a FOO only managed to suppress Cod’s main defences; meanwhile Shermans firing on Cod, massed to its west, failed to roll the 11/12 needed to suppress. German MG positions on Cod were still raining brimstone onto the attacking British infantry, despite most allied fire being directed against them. Further Allied naval bombardments against Cod made no impact. Poor dice rolling was frustrating the Allies, with German player Brian so successful that he was seemingly rolling dodgy dice with some glee. Meanwhile, the Allies were puzzled about the number and location of their 9 naval FOOs (four were apparently on table at this point in the game)… what was going on??

Yet, despite mounting casualties, things had begun to turn. From Queen Red beach, making impressive progress, Doug’s infantry pushed on to Sole bunker. Juan destroyed a building at Cod with his AVRE tanks. And Francis, having marshalled infantry in a blind-spot behind the main bunker, now captured the main fort at Cod in a very close assault with his Suffolk Infantry (knocking out the swivelling 88 inside)! However, his South Lancashires failed a morale test and were forced to retire to the beach, taking their supporting troops with them. Still, masses of infantry were making their way to Cod and WN18, even though Theo’s advancing French commandos were taking heavy casualties from the Germans at Riva Bella and the Casino.

The Germans, unfazed, were still picking off Allied units however, with Trevor launching a successful fighter strafing run (the model being Josef 'Pips' Priller’s Focke Wulf FW190 from Longest Day) against three infantry platoons near Sole – killing one. The Trout AT gun also claimed one of my Shermans. An allied naval bombardment then opened up on Hillman.

By now I was rushing my Commandos to Trout along the sea-road, and set up four Priests behind them for fire support (only to be told later than they had to attack Cod instead). This deflating news virtually doomed the Commandos to a quick and sticky end, but the Allies had to stick strictly to their orders, even if they seemed illogical on the ground. I decided against assaulting Trout through its adjacent sea-wall (which would involve faffing around with explosives). It seemed at the time this was unlikely to succeed and probably a waste of time, but I was quite probably wrong about this – with hindsight.

By the time Francis left, he had taken and occupied Cod’s main gun position. This was a great achievement given that this was his first WWII game. Brian evacuated a defensive position in Cod, moving his infantry further east along the trench. But at Cod there were still two active MG turrets, the trenches manned with infantry, an anti-tank gun, two barbed wire lines, as well as the minefield to deal with, with hedges and marshes beyond! All this made a rapid exploitation or consolidation virtually impossible. Lots of infantry had been lost to assaulting the bunker and trenches, and the Germans were still resisting fiercely and effectively.

DAY THREE: SUNDAY 5 JUNE 2022

A change of players on the final day resulted in Jonathan replacing Francis at Queen White (East), while Kamall and Chris took over control of the navy and Lord Lovat’s Special Service Brigade.

We began with WAVE 8, with three landing craft suppressed on Queen Red. My Commandos approached Trout – without support from self-propelled artillery (which now targeted Cod). Ominously, my dice rolling for fire from a destroyer and cruiser on Trout had no effect; and the Commandos’ mortar also failed. Naval fire did hit my mine-clearers, but they were not affected, continuing to drink tea, munch biscuits and smoke.

Doug’s East Yorkshire Infantry were now outpacing everyone on the table, moving into Ouistreham, past Sole – which was soon assaulted. A naval bombardment targeted Hillman again. Smoke was put down on Queen Red to mask the Allied advance.

The Casino and Riva Bella compound near Ouistreham, protected with mines, AT guns, MGs and trenches, had not been taken. Most of the French Commandos had died before getting anywhere near it.

Meanwhile, two MG tobruks at Cod were both finally destroyed in quick succession by Jonathan! (This enabled him to place a naval FOO in the 88 bunker.) Progress at Cod was still very slow, with many tanks stuck on wire or suppressed by mines. Jonathan’s Suffolks, of which one unit remained, were suddenly forced to retire from Cod, taking their supporting tanks with them (funny how a retreat order quickly unsuppresses awkward vehicles!). To add angst to frustration: their next supporting wave in landing craft had to turn back as well, allegedly owing to reports of heavy casualties on the Suffolks. Allied players were aghast. I tried to assassinate the ‘Fat German’ on a bike with a tank round… and failed.

The inevitable destruction of my Commandos assaulting Trout now unfolded, despite charging into contact within a few turns. First the leading units were suppressed by barbed wire, with one being destroyed by German artillery. They kept rushing on, three platoons wide, but faced impossible odds. Brian began a flanking move, which forced me to divert three platoons. Within a couple of turns, all these brave men (fired at from one trench, two bunkers, one MG turret, one deployed MG on a flank, two infantry platoons, and two artillery pieces) had lost 7 platoons – including 5 in one turn!

The Allies were struggling with poor dice-rolling, but Brian was now using dodgy dice for sure (or maybe my poor tactics just made him look good)! My Sherman which destroyed suppressed infantry at Cod was a minor consolation.

Before the next wave arrived, with Jonathan and Juan making progress in the rear area of Cod, Brian surrendered his infantry garrison at Cod (other troops remained). The British assault had been considerably more bloody than the historical assault, with two battalions snuffed out. Sole was close to falling, also.

WAVE 9 saw three small landing craft land on Queen White (West) bearing Signals, ambulance, and one artillery piece. Otto the bicycling German was vapourised in a naval bombardment - brought in by Jonathan's naval FOO - to loud cheers; his death took away a morale bonus for the Cod garrison. After the Germans surrendered at Cod, our tanks began to push on.

Kamall took charge of the 45th Royal Marine Commandos landing on Queen Red, while the East Yorkshires commanded by Doug pushed into Ouistreham – forcing its garrison to retire. The Germans still held the church – but Doug’s men soon assaulted and took it, and were prepping an assault on Daimler by game's end.

My own Commandos lost two more platoons in senseless frontal attacks on Trout. Having by now lost 11 platoons, I pulled the remainder back. By the end of Wave 9 we had played 41 turns, and I had lost 15 Commando stands, including two snipers. What a massacre!

In WAVE 10, I deployed the 2nd Royal Warwickshire Regiment, Jonathan deployed the 2nd King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, and Kamall the 1st Royal Norfolk Regiment. These were supposed to take Hermanville – beyond Cod. Mines were being cleared at Cod to make passage easier.

I gathered remnants from the Cod attack to push on. Three of my tanks were approaching Morris on road, having finally broken through the defensive lines to the rear of Cod. Yet Brian’s cheeky so-called “opportunity fire” destroyed one as it passed a lane on its right flank.

My remaining Commandos, who had managed to inflict a few casualties on Brian’s infantry outflanking them, now routed with near on 100% casualties taken. Trout had held out. Yet, Daimler was subjected to naval bombardment, and lost a gun it its bunker.

The game sputtered to a conclusion in late afternoon. Waves 11-15 would undoubtedly have swept the remaining Germans off the table, but we had run out of time, so they never landed. There were very few tanks left on the table, the majority having been knocked out or evacuated from Cod.

CONCLUSION

It had been a fantastic spectacle and a multi-faceted, immersive, experience: and pretty exhausting, to boot!

Rob spent 20 hours over the three days acting as ‘goalie’ umpire, and had spent 30 hours setting up the table and models and preparing the unit-labels. He adjusted Spearhead to quicken play, and had imposed orders on units to force progress and keep things in line with the actual day.

According to Rob, the outcome at Trout was a 'very historical' result; we had taken Cod earlier but at much greater cost, causing later delays; and Daimler would have eventually fallen, but link up with the paras was delayed. Overall, Rob felt that the Germans did slightly better than historically. Brian's dodgy dice helped, no doubt.

Doug’s progress had been the most impressive, having taken WN18 and Sole, and much of Ouistreham; albeit Cod and Trout were more difficult positions to crack. He remarked that the demolition teams had not blown holes in the sea wall on Friday, which made the taking of Cod slower. I must admit I was unaware of demolition teams existing until day 3.

Mark commented: ‘I really enjoyed Friday evening - table was just awesome and the attention to detail great. I think Rob answered it slightly at the end of the evening - we had made great progress with a set of rules that although not completely new to everyone was bespoke for the game. To get as far as we did reflect the organisation of the board and the supporting documents that Rob provided - we all knew what was required at any given time. Just looking at the pictures that are doing the rounds today as part of the anniversary of D-Day you can see the clutter the damage and the lack of space on the beaches in real life that was reflected on Friday. I had frustrations due to crap dice (down to me not the game) but still hugely enjoyed it.’

Francis added ‘Just the fact that the South Lancashire regiment took very heavy losses. It was left to the Suffolks to eventually take the 88mm gun emplacement at Cod by storming it. The orders of having to keep moving prevented sufficient rounds of artillery or tanks firing statically to suppress the machine gun posts wreaking havoc on those poor South Lancs. The multitude of men and vehicles became very confused. Lots learned in a short space of time. Just have to look harder for dead ground and approach routes. More infantry should have moved ahead of the tanks. Great game. Superb effort putting it on. Some much detail and excellent painting quality. Even the unit tabs looked professional.’

Phil, whose notes of the game were a great help to me in this blog post, said: ‘despite detailed planning as in the real battle, fog of war and confusion was present throughout the three days. Statistics of the game not as impressive as the real thing but still amazing in wargaming terms’.

My perspective is that the Allies should have conferred before the game to ensure all players were aware of the key units and how best to use them. With the mass of reinforcements coming in, picking the needles from the haystack may have been decisive. Terrain also proved a huge challenge I had not anticipated. On the other hand, the game was stimulating precisely because it simulated the intricate planning and training undergone in real life, as well as the cruelty of fixed orders and the chaos of war. Unfortunately, while we received the historically organised troops in their correct waves, some of us (myself included) lacked the knowledge of the rules, orders, and history, to translate this into the necessary results: yet somehow relying on ‘gut feeling’ rather than rules worked out OK in what was still an enjoyable game.

Massive thanks to Rob were expressed by all. This had been wargaming at its most impressive, delivered by a generous host totally passionate about his project, with the skill and dedication to achieve it independently – yet for the enjoyment of all.

The game succeeded by combining playability and historical exactness, offering multiple challenges to players, and different levels of engagement. The hospitality provided by Rob (sandwich lunch on Saturday and pizzas on Sunday) was also much appreciated, as always. We played Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan on DVD for atmosphere: not that it was lacking - with an inclusive spirit and friendly banter predominating.

Rob will now be having a well earned rest, but plans for follow-up games include – 21st Panzer for Goodwood and later Arnhem. Should Rob wish, the game could be put on at a convention, and certainly has replay value, including in scaled-down versions on a club night.

Figures

Rob’s huge 20mm WWII collection consist of models from various manufacturers (see below). Rob added: ‘From my perspective I would like to reference a big thank you to Andy Grubb at Britannia Models / Grubby Tanks. A significant amount of the terrain, troops and vehicles are from his ranges (as an example 34 landing craft out of the 36 used were his) but more importantly he was a real gent in sorting out bespoke solutions for me. As an example, to create my Naval FOOs I only wanted the radio operator from his beach master set and he was happy to supply them individually rather than me buying 9 sets and have 18 figures I did not want. He also game me free figures every time I made an order and they were always with this project in mind - the broken sea wall sections were one of his gifts!’

Manufactures

German Vehicles / Guns / Figures

Britannia
SHQ
FAA
Foundry
AB
Eary War Miniatures
Raventhorpe
Airfix
Blitz
Esci

British Vehicles / Guns / Figures

Britannia
SHQ
Plastic Soldier Company
S & S Models
MSS
Valiant
Matchbox
Esci
FAA
AB
Eary War Miniatures
Raventhorpe
Airfix

Buildings /Strongpoints

Hovels
Britannia
Defence in Depth
Lancer Miniatures
Raventhorpe Buildings (Mike Sewell)
Airfix
Empires at War (MDF)

6mm French Wars of Religion

French Catholics and Huguenots (Calvinists) fought it out at the club last night… on the tabletop. Thankfully it was just a wargame: a loose refight of the Battle of Dreux (1562).

The Huguenots (Kamall, Theo, Patrick) had better and more plentiful cavalry, while the Catholic side (Rob, Doug, Jonathan) had superior and more numerous infantry.

We used my ‘True Religion’ rules, which seemed to play well, apart from an oversight which meant that after Rob rolled a one to establish the quality of his commander, denoting a ‘Favourite’ (not a good thing), the unit to which it was attached could neither score hits nor save anything…

I have a strong interest in the Reformation/Counter-Reformation period, having completed a PhD on the Polish Counter-Reformation back in 2008, so it was fascinating to read up on the French Wars of Religion.

With lots of colourful unit types including the Gendarmes (knights), Swiss pikemen, Landsknechts, and a range of cavalry including chargers, pistoleers, arquebusiers, and light cavalry with bows/javelins, not forgetting early artillery, this period is a visual feast, straddling late medieval and early modern times.

The eight civil wars in France (1562-1598) were absolutely vicious (two kings were also assassinated) but were as much or more about power and politics than religion per se. Aristocratic factions, the Crown, the so-called politiques (Catholics favouring religious toleration), foreign powers, not to mention big personalities such as Henry of Navarre and the Guise brothers, were all involved, making this a heady brew with wonderful wargaming potential.

My figures were mainly Heroics & Ros, with gendarmes from Rapier Miniatures (I actually used ancient Greek Companion cavalry with cloaks for these… which sums up the merits and issues with 6mm figures in all honesty). On the positive side of the ledger, most of these figures could be used for the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) too, which I intend to do at some point.

Overall, this was a fun game with some enjoyable banter. The Huguenots managed to win the refight, having destroyed more units, a result which reversed the outcome of the historical engagement.

Leaguers vs. Kislevites: Very Simple Sci-Fi!

It is 2822 AD.

On Urth-II, the Commonwealth of Free Planets, led by Grand Hetman Zelazny IX, is in a life-or-death struggle for the city of Kislev. Assembling a scratch force from veterans of the Solar Wars, Zelazny faces his Old Enemy: Khan Nee Tup of The League of Imperial Oligarchs, who has despatched a Grand Army to crush all resistance. Can the doughty Kislevites stand firm under Zelazny’s inspirational direction, or will the numberless Leaguer legions crush them like grapes to the greater glory of the all-seeing Khan?

Last night’s club game saw a whimsical trial of the ‘Very Simple Sci-Fi’ rules which I adopted from a 2002 Miniature Wargames article by Malcolm Stewart. Theo, Mal and Patrick, with fewer troops, were defending Kislev from the oncoming Leaguer forces of Rob and Doug, in what was also the first run out for my 10mm sci-fi figures. Commanding armies including a wide range of units (infantry, bikes, roughriders, tanks, artillery, robots, mechs, titans, etc.) the object of the game was to control three of the five built up areas in Kislev by the end of the game.

Theo and Mal lost a lot of units early on after an aggressive deployment. They did however seize a Leaguer urban area early in the game using dropships to transport infantry in a deft manoeuvre, giving them the advantage. Unphased, Rob and Doug managed to retake this district, and late on in the game launched their own successful air-assault on one of the Commonwealth’s strongholds.

The game was a quick affair, despite a flow of reinforcements, with Rob and Doug taking all five built up areas in the city by 10pm, allowing for some thirsty wargamers to repair to the local pub. The Commonwealth’s forces suffered a decisive defeat, but the merciless Khan earmarked both his victorious commanders for another vanguard role in the next battle, while the disconsolate Zelaznyites were merely threatened with public ignominy.

Designed by their original author for children but apparently fun for adults too – the rules were simple and easy to grasp. Each unit (base) had three factors (move, fire, armour), between 1 and 6 in rating, all reduced by one factor every time it took a hit. Exploiting cover and coordinating different unit types was the key to victory. While winning the initiative is key (possibly too central to how the game plays) and some clarification may be needed about line of sight and a few other issues, these rules do allow for a bloody and decisive clash on a club night.

I had fun painting up the armies. I sourced 10mm sci-fi figures mostly from Warrior Miniatures and Pendraken, plus odds and ends at home including 10mm Samurai, Crusades figures, converted WWII tanks, as well as mechs and titans (the latter bought from Trevor and repainted). The overall effect was very much ‘Epic 40K’, particularly given the ex-Epic buildings bought cheaply on EBay.

With the sky being the limit for sci-fi rules and scenarios (enabling creative narratives and endless historical mash-ups) I’ll enjoy thinking of more for the future, while probably tweaking the rules, and maybe tabling a War Room big-game… which might be over by lunchtime!

3mm Modern Skirmish

Theo's first club game as umpire last night was a Modern period skirmish game, using his own set of rules. Theo had play-tested them at my house a week before.

A Red force (Philip, Patrick and I) clashed in a valley with the Blue force (Rob, Doug, Mal), using a large table decorated with multi-layered hills, roads, a river, woods, some farms, and some pillboxes. The Red force: two infantry platoons and several technicals (armed militia in Toyota pickup trucks) was tasked with holding a missile battery and preventing the Blues (with a number of infantry platoons including special forces, plus helicopters, and a convoy of trucks) from exiting off the northern table edge.

The Reds managed to win the game, despite the destruction of Patrick's vehicles carrying a senior commander, having inflicted more casualties, and destroyed one Blue helicopter with ground fire. The Blue convoy did not manage to get off the table.

A number of things struck me about the game. The figures - in 3mm scale - were unusual and nicely painted and based, each infantry base having a coloured strip to identify mortars, anti-tank rifles, machine guns, snipers, AA, grenade launchers, or riflemen. Each penny-sized base could be slotted into a movement tray in various configurations. While the table was very large, the ground-scale was supposed to be accurate, in other words, each millimetre was equivalent to one metre. The generous movement distances and weapons ranges meant that the units could manoeuvre quickly. The overall effect was panoramic, and reminded me of the film Behind Enemy Lines (starring Owen Wilson and Gene Hackman), in which a downed American pilot had to negotiate a hostile countryside to avoid capture. The use of 'blinds' to mask real or ostensible troop positions was a good way of lending fog of war to the scenario.

On the night, Theo and a few players were of the view that the Red team's use of interrupting fire and overwatch made their defence too easy, and the corresponding Blue advance consequently too difficult. The rules themselves are certainly grounded in the arcana of modern weapons systems and capabilities and in that sense were realistic, to my mind. As with any new ruleset, we were all being spoon-fed by the umpire, but this is not so much a criticism as a reality of wargaming. Whether Theo wants to tweak them further, or streamline them, is of course up to him. However, I do see the rules and figures - which are fairly generic - being used in other settings such as Iraq, Afghanistan, or the Middle East, in any period after World War Two. The blend of small forces and detailed rules in a large landscape lends itself to imaginative scenarios, and certainly adds something different to our repertoire of club games, which tend to be predominantly tactical (rather than operational) in nature.

Looking forward to another 3mm Moderns game in the not too distant future!

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Piotr Stolarski's blog