Saturday 31 August 2013

The big hoose

John A recently presented me with these plastic buildings he found in a charity shop.  Originally intended for use with a Thomas the Tank Engine toy train set, John thought they'd fit well with my 1/32 figures.  Based on the photos showing a Conte 54mm Confederate officer I think they'll do nicely!

Friday 30 August 2013

Ground crew crisis!

The recent Megablitz game revealed (as did it's predecessor...) something of a shortage of ground crew toys.  Although seemingly irrelevant, when it is considered that many games cover areas of 200+ km in depth it will readily be appreciated that much of the air support available is actually based on table!  I have already completed a few stands using the Airfix RAF/Luftwaffe/USAAF Personnel sets but more vehicles were needed.  I started this batch before the A Battle Lost? game but ran out of time to finish them.  I'll post more photos of the individual toys later.

A Battle Lost? Part 7 - sources and recommended reading

I have been interested in the 1940 campaign for many years now and this is reflected in the contents of my bookshelves.  While other books have come and gone, however, one gets re-read about once a decade and referred to frequently.  So if you only ever read one book about this period make sure it is Mr. Horne's finest.  After delving deeply into the background to both the war and the state of it's protagonists, a detailed yet very readable account of the campaign itself.  It is, and is likely to remain one of my top ten books!
During the conversation at Shrivenham, a couple of people recommended this book.  I've only just begun reading it and so far the author is addressing the concept (was there one?) and overuse of the word 'Blitzkrieg.'  So far so good.
Effectively the French official history, this three volume set contains the best set of operational-level maps I have seen for this campaign.  Oh, and it's in French...
Speaking of maps, this modern (well mid-1990s) sheet covers most of the important areas.  I used it as the basis of the game, disregarding the autoroutes and scaling down many of the bigger urban areas.

Thursday 29 August 2013

A Battle Lost? Part 6 - The Panzers halt. Briefly

More French reinforcements turned up from the south in the shape of 4 DCR (an armoured division) under the command of a certain Colonel De Gaulle.  Soon, as well as tacking the enemy, the Colonel was sending lengthy notes to AGHQ with lots of 'helpful advice' on how to run the war.  While it's appearance caused a stir, sadly his division was weaker than it looked as many subunits were still in the process of forming.
14 Panzer appeared to be a consistently well-run unit, though it was burning out by game's end.
The glorious counterattack of the French 5 DIM was all to brief - when this photo was taken many of it's stands were reduced to zero Strength Points.
23PD, 19PD and 8PD, accompanied by Korps assets.
Clearly the Korps commander felt that 23PD required close personal supervision!
While the Panzers grabbed all the glory, the footsloggers of the three infantry divisions fought several set-piece battles for important areas.  Here 44ID prepares to assault the French defenders of Valenciennes.

Sunday 25 August 2013

A question of cohesion

During the recent Megablitz game at the Defence Academy Shrivenham, I stuck my Michelin map to a whiteboard using a blob of Blu-Tac which I found in the room.  When packing up, many of the players lent a hand and someone other than me folded up the map.  When I was sorting things out last week I was surprised to find the Blu-Tac still attached.  Now I am worried that it may have been the only thing holding the British armed forces together!  What should I do?

Friday 23 August 2013

Aid for the needy

At the Megablitz game last Saturday several players generously took pity on my well-documented shortage of toys and made donations to my collection.  Fred Cartwright provided the E-100 (above) - a plastic kit which he threw in with some Hungarian AFVs I bought from him.  I expect it's only a matter of time before major retailers adopt his innovative "Free E-100 with every Hungarian Panzer Division" approach.  I'm sure it's a winner.
Recent convert and fellow blogist The Dancing Cake Tin brought along this metal kit of an M3A1 Scout Car.  In the fullness of time a Russian Tank corps will be glad of it.
Last and er, most Chris Kemp - always keenly aware of the importance of logistic vehicles - provides this engagingly disreputable looking quartet.  Rest assured Chris - I have work for them all!

Thursday 22 August 2013

A Battle Lost? Part 5 - 'We have lost the battle!'

Many French aircraft were overrun on their fields.  
The Air Umpire's artistic talents were much in demand...
After fending off initial assaults some French divisions surrendered en masse.
Eventually French reinforcements arrived in the shape of 5 DIM (motorised infantry division).  With it's nine rifle battalions and supporting elements this was the strongest French formation seen so far. Here is 5DIM counterattacking near Bethune.
Commanded by Bob Cordery, 5DIM was soon known as 'Bob and his lorries'.
Recce from 5DIM (right) clashes with their opposite numbers from 14PD.
By now the remaining French aerodromes were crowded with refugees from other bases.
19PD is another of my older units.
One of the better French units was 7NAID (North African Infantry Division).  I built this division some years ago - mostly using figures from the old Hotspur Spanish Civil War range.  The CO is a Raventhorpe cavalry officer and the vehicles dodgy die-casts.

A Battle Lost? Part 4 - A look at the toys

More pics from the game now.  Above is a French infantry division in a defensive position.
Sadly the Germans (8PD in this case) generally drove around such defences..
...leaving them to be assaulted by the follow-up infantry divisions.  
Here we see 72 ID getting stuck in with corps-level artillery support.
72ID starting to sweep round the flanks.
Elements of 14PD on the march.  Some divisions became quite 
fragmented and commanders had to spend time getting them back in order.
3 Infantry Division (mot)
Another French division nervously prepares for a fight.
Meanwhile, at the French Army Group HQ, few traces of the developing crisis can be seen.  
Note the General's fancy motor car.

Wednesday 21 August 2013

A Battle Lost? Part 3 - Rommel rides again!

My thanks to Peter Antill for sending me this previously unpublished chapter from Rommel's memoirs.  We will probably never know how it ended up in a wheelie bin in the Swindon area.

 7PD marches west.  
The Panzer Gruppe HQ can be seen close behind while stragglers from 2PD are still present.
photo by Peter Antill
An aerial view of 7PD - possible photographed from the Korps commander's Storch.
photo by Peter Antill

7th Panzer Division (The 'Ghost' Division)

After coming on in line of march along with the rest of the corps as part of the second echelon, the division slowly made its way around the only major town on that map (Hirson?) to the south which by that time was in the process of being reduced by one  of Tom's infantry divisions. The presence of the division in its rear area encouraged the enemy division that was holding the town to surrender.  Progress was slower than hoped for due to having to go across country but this enabled the division to steer clear of centres of enemy resistance, despite the temptation to assault an enemy infantry division to capture a crossing on the Somme River (Origny-Sainte-Benoite?) in conjunction with Rob's 2nd Panzer Division. We continued to follow the orders given by the corps commander, while keeping our recon elements very active - indeed they captured the airfield just off Route 29 early on. After crossing the Somme (at Etreux?), the division then moved west and then northwest, joining the road to Arras just behind Cambrai completely undetected by the enemy. It then moved swiftly towards Arras under orders to pass through one of XXXI Corps' lead divisions that was holding the town and head for the Channel. The road leading out of Arras was unfortunately blocked by a French armoured division and so the 7th Panzer diverted southwest and then west towards Rue and the coast. The recon elements once again showed their courage when they captured a large French airfield, which was quickly secured by the corps HQ.

(signed) Generalmajor Erwin Rommel
7PD poised at the western edge of the table.  Assuming the division reached Abbeville 
by the end of the 18 May, this represented an advance of over 200km in three days!
photo by Peter Antill

Tuesday 20 August 2013

A Battle Lost? Part 2 - les Allemands sont arrivés

Prior to the game the French C in C sent out a briefing to his generals.  I reproduce it below with the kind permission of John Bassett.


1. Objective
Our orders are to form a defensive line and throw back the invaders.

2. Forces
1st Army Group under command of General Billotte (me!) consists of elements of:
- 1 Army (sector north: Mauberge-Avesnes)
Chris Agar and James Cotgrave:
18, 22 Infantry Divs
- 6 Army (sector south: Hirson-Guise)
Rob Cooper and Bob Cordery:
7 North African Infantry, 30 Mountain, 53 Infantry Divs
- 7 Army (sector west: Cambrai-St Quentin) 
Charles Singleton and Patrick Wingfield: 
5, 9, 13 Infantry Divs
- Reserve:
two armoured divisions (1, 4 DCR), one motorised division (5 Motorised Infantry Div).
We are supported to our south by 2 Army and to our north by Lord Gort's BEF.

3. Area of Operations
1st Army Group holds a sector of the frontier with Belgium, opposite the Ardennes forest. The sector is mostly open country, with the Sambre to the east and the Somme to the south. 

4. Intelligence
Intelligence indicates that the Germans are preparing a major offensive involving seven Panzer divisions, one motorised division and at least three infantry divisions.
The Germans are believed to be organised in three or four Korps. Enemy commanders include von Rundstedt, Kleist, Manstein, Guderian and Rommel. I doubt they're any good...
Any further intelligence will be gratefully received!

5. Armee de l’Air
We can be proud that France has the most sophisticated air tasking system in the world. All requests for air support must be made in writing by Div HQ and passed to Army, then Army Group. 
Requests must make reference to terrain features and include date/time (game time) of issue.

6. Communications
I have established Army Group HQ in a well-provided chateau some way to the rear... In practice I'll be in the same room as you, but not at the game table.
Communication to and from Army Group HQ must be made in writing via the Game Director.
I need Army HQs to be my eyes and ears. Send me regular sitreps, covering the state of your own forces, intelligence on the enemy in your sector, requests for air support, reinforcements etc. Please make sure these are all timed/dated (game time).

The scanty nature of the above reflects the rather fluid nature of the situation.  To say nothing of the panic and disbelief prevailing at the time in the real French HQ - likened by one of it's inmates to 'a submarine without a periscope.'
 A French infantry division defends Avesnes
 Douai in the central sector.  French Bloch 210 bombers have just taken 
off on a trainng flight - escorted by Hawk 75 fighters.
 23 Panzer Division on the march
Early in the day the German CO's labels fell into French hands and were dispatched to HQ.
 French troops at St. Quentin.  Well to the rear - for now...
 The shape of things to come?  The panzers bypass French positions.
 A dramatic view of 23PD.
 Avesnes.  The garrison wonders when the Germans will attack.  
Meanwhile Armee de l'Air ground crew abandons the airfield.
 The increasingly busy aerodrome at St. Quentin.

Monday 19 August 2013

A Battle lost? Part 1 - different war, same place

When deciding on a scenario for this years game I considered various options before narrowing them down to two - the Gazala battles in North Africa (1942) and the campaign in the west in 1940.  As I had around 20 players to entertain this ruled out Gazala, which would struggle to provide gainful employment to more than a dozen or so.  So back in Europe, having played a version of the Dyle Plan in Belgium some yeas ago I decided on the panzer breakthrough in mid-May. This assumed a successful crossing of the Meuse and would see no fewer then seven Panzer divisions let loose in northern France against a French Army Group already suffering from (in its upper echelons at least) poor morale and much bewilderment.
The real map.  Like the originals this was one of Michelin's finest.  The six tables are marked out with highlighter pen. The line marking the northern edge of the playing area runs north of Fauqambergues, Bethune, Valenciennes, Beaumont.  In the south, Amiens is the big urban area just off map 6, and the line then runs to the south of Montcornet and Berlise.  Abbeville is just off to the west of the marked area.
The elite of the Wehrmacht listen attentively to General Von Munster's briefing.

The French commander was given eight infantry divisions and and assets including three tank battalions and some artillery and allowed to deploy them more or less as he pleased.  Two armoured divisions and a motorised infantry division were on their way to reinforce.  He was also told that the six aerodromes in his sector held considerable air assets.
The French team indulges in one of several musical interludes.  At one point the 
Germans offered to withdraw if only the French would stop singing!
The table setup.  Three of us managed to rearrange the room and set up these tables in only 1 hour!

I reproduce below (with the kind permission of Jim Wallman) the briefing document issued by Von Munster to his Generals.  Further down the page are the individual table maps.

German Briefing
 Objectives:  Head for the coast, cutting off French 1st Army and the BEF to the north.  Do not get distracted by chasing individual enemy units or besieging towns.

Command Structure
Panzer Gruppe West
Lt-General Hermann Von Munster
Jim Wallman

XIV Corps
General of Infantry Gustav Anton von Wietersheim
Jerry Elsmore

11 Division
44 Division
72 Division
Lt General Herbert von Böckmann
Tom Mouat
23 Pz Division

Major-General Hans Reichsfreiherr von Boineburg-Lengsfeld
Trevor Ringrose

XIX Corps
General of Cavalry Heinz Guderian
Phil Steele
11 Pz Division
General der Panzertruppen Ludwig Crüwell
Wayne Thomas
7 Pz Division
Brigadier-general Erwin Rommel
Peter Antill
2 Pz Division
Maj-General Rudolf Veiel

XXXI Corps
Major-General Georg-Hans Reinhardt
Fred Cartwright

3 Mot. Division
Major-General Walter Lichel
Adrian Hussey
14 Pz Division
Major-General Erick-Oskar Hansen
Harry Kelly
8 Pz Division
Colonel Erich Brandenberger
John Armatys
19 Pz Division
General der Panzertruppen Otto von Knobelsdorff
Colin Maby
Lufwaffe Support : Luftflotte 2
Requests for air support are all via Panzer Gruppe W HQ at all times.  Maximum concentration is to be used, so requests for ‘penny packet’ air support will be automatically denied.
Lufwaffe resources allocated to this operation are:
2 Fighter, 2 Zestorer, 3 Stuka, 1 Bomber and 1 recce squadrons

Communications:  Commanders may only communicate with their immediate superior or subordinates.  All communication will be in writing unless the unit HQs are co-located.

You represent the best the German Reich has to offer and your Fatherland expects great things of you.  This is the first battle against a modern and well equipped major power and its allies and will be a true test of the new German Army. 
Medals will be issued to commanders who show the highest energy and correct degree of offensive spirit.
Similarly, where performance does not reach the highest standards of the Wehrmacht, the high command will be removing underperforming officers to duties more in keeping with their abilities. 

There is, as yet, no Army doctrine for armoured warfare.  Theorists are agreed that massed armoured formations supported by air power are the weapon of the future, but exactly how that will work in practice has not yet been pinned down.  Experience in Poland showed us that our panzer divisions were prone to breakdowns and had serious logistical problems, but the lack of an enemy with modern weapons meant that we could not properly test war fighting doctrines.  Many of the logistical issues have now been resolved, but the principles of modern tank warfare are still in their in their infancy.  There is confidence at the highest level that concentrated massed tank offensives will achieve a great victory.  However, military experience tells us that it also carries with it very great potential risks.

Each Corps is therefore able to develop the tactics is feels will be most successful, subject to some overriding principles – these principles are:

a.     Our primary mission is to reach the Channel, not to necessarily destroy enemy units.

b.    Speed of advance is everything.  We demonstrated in Great War during the Kaiserschlacht Offensive in 1918 that bypassing strong points and advancing rapidly throws the enemy into disarray. 

c.    We only have a few Panzer Divisions.  There are no more coming if we lose these. 

d.    Our enemy is well equipped and cunning.  None of us can forget the French Army’s ability to exploit weakness and counterattack with ferocity as they did on the Marne in 1914. So - whilst we are facing some of the weakest units of the French Army, we must not forget that they have powerful reserves and might still ‘pull something out of the bag.’
Once the campaign is successfully concluded, we will be in a position to firm up our doctrine for Panzer Troops based on your actions experience and successes.

Coming next - opening moves