Sunday, March 30, 2014

Go To It! - British Parachute Platoon for Chain of Command

Well, it's been a busy few months since the last update. Full time teaching is rather full on. Besides being exhausting, it's also rather enjoyable though, and at the moment I'm teaching Year 9 all about the First World War. They all seem rather engaged, and we've been having some rather stimulating discussions about the nature and experience of the war, and the way it is seen in popular culture. The introduction of the new national curriculum has allowed a much more global, less parochial view of the conflict. We celebrated 'harmony day' last week by examining the roles of a variety of cultures and nations in the war. The kids were very interested, and often surprised. Investigating the Indian commitment to the war, and the war in East Africa in particular provoked a lot of discussion.

I'm still aiming to introduce some kind of gaming group in the school, and there are a number of students who are rather keen. I think I'll wait till after report time though.

Anyway, i've been cracking on with the painting in the odd spare moments, and have managed to get some bits and pieces painted up. The new airbrush does tend to speed things up a bit, particularly with the intricate 1940 French and late war German vehicle camo patterns.

Anyway, I'm thinking that the best way to get images of these up on the blog is in a series of posts, each 'parading' one of the force's i've been working on.

So, for this update the focus will be on my British Parachute platoon, and accompanying support units, all for Chain of Command. I've managed to get a few Chain of Command: At The Sharp End campaign games in with these guys (AARs to come, I promise!), and they are very interesting, flexible and potent force to play with. I've based my force around the 6th Airborne Division in Normandy, but they could easily be used for 1st Airborne at Arnhem or 6th bouncing the Rhine in 1945.

The figures are all '20mm', so somewhere around 1/72 scale. They are mostly the superbly sculpted and realistically animated Battlefield/Blitz figures, with a leavening of Britannia. I think that despite the differing sculpting styles they fit together rather well. I've included the background info generated using At The Sharp End for the command figures. The platoon is based on one from the 12th Parachute Battalion.

Platoon Command
This consists of the platoon commander, platoon sergeant, one two man PIAT team, a sniper, and one two man 2" mortar team.

Lt Rawlinson
Lt. Edward Rawlinson is the platoon commander. A former factory worker from Northampton in the Midlands, Rawlinson enlisted in 1940 as a private. He saw action in the Mediterranean and Sicily, where his practicality, capability and bravery saw him rise through the ranks. 27 years old, and of average stature, Rawlinson jumped at the opportunity to volunteer for the Airborne.

Sgt Threepwood
Sgt Reginald 'Lofty' Threepwood is the platoon sergeant. A bohemian from a wealthy family near Tonbridge, the intellectual looking 27 year old studied the classics at Trinity college, Oxford before moving to London and living the good life off family money. During the blitz, his favourite club was destroyed by bombs. Threepwood was injured badly, and his many of his friends and his fiancee were killed in the explosion. Since that night his joie de vivre has been replaced by a burning hatred of all things German. Following his recovery, he signed up for service. Posted to a training unit near Bristol due to his injuries, he was promoted quickly. He jumped at the chance to volunteer for the airborne and so finally take his revenge on the enemy. 

No.1 Section 

Sgt McReedie
Parachute sections follow the standard British infantry model of Section commander, three man Bren light machinegun team, and six man rifle team. The difference is that the Section commander is a Sergeant rather than a Corporal, and Sten (or even looted MP40) submachine guns are more prevalent. 

No.1 section is commanded by Sgt Douglas McReedie. 25 year old ‘Dougie’ McReedie was formerly apprenticed to the sole mechanic in the small North Ayrshire village of Glengarnock before jumping at the chance to enlist in the regulars in ’40. He fought with the 51st Division in North Africa, before transferring to the Airborne. McReedie is short in stature, a real bantam.

No.2 Section

Sgt Hitchens
No.2 section is commanded by Sgt. James Hitchens. An Irishman born in the outskirts of Ulster, Hitchens fudged his age to join up in 1933, since then the army has been his true home. He’s served in many campaigns, from the Northwestern Frontier and East Africa to Narvik, North Africa and Italy. He was one of the first to volunteer for the Airborne. 27 years of age, he is a strapping six-footer.

No.3 Section

Sgt Ballantyne
This section is 'beefed up' with an extra Bren gun, making it a potent force to provide a base of fire. This section comprises two fire teams, one of five and one of four men, each based around a Bren light machine gun.

No.3 section is commanded by Sgt. John Ballantyne, a farmer’s son from the North. He worked on the family farm near Ripon on the Yorkshire Dales before volunteering in ’39. He saw some action in North Africa before volunteering to the Airborne. He is 27 years of age, and physically an average sort.

Support Options:

Vickers heavy machine gun team. All Britannia

6 pounder anti-tank gun and crew. All Britannia, excepting one Battlefield crewman

FOO team. Britannia.

Medic. Britannia

Recce Jeep. Britannia

Recce Carrier. Britannia

Tetrarch light tank. Milicast.

Horsa Glider. Not really a support option, but thought I should include it. It is from Italeri.

So there you have it. The only items which I have to add to this unit are a flamethrower team and some engineers.

Next up, I'll be covering my 21st Panzer forces. I've just begun working on Dux Britanniarum forces, as I want to get the remainder of my Romano-British and Saxons finished off so I can get some games in.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

CoC - At The Sharp End Review

A bit of exciting news came through yesterday, with Rich et al at Toofatlardies releasing their Second World War campaign supplement, Chain of Command: At The Sharp End. I've had a read through and have to say it is superb. The supplement is available in pdf format for the princley sum of £6.00. The 48 page pdf is full colour, clearly laid out and has loads of helpful images and diagrams.

In a nutshell, the supplement enables you to create a platoon level campaign during the second world war, though it would be easily translatable to other conflicts like the Spanish Civil War or Korean War with little effort. As with the excellent campaign system in Dux Britanniarum, the focus is on playability and minimising paperwork and planning. Three 'levels' of campaign are included, the No Map Campaign is the least fuss, taking literally minutes to set up and play. The Simple Map Campaign involves a little more planning, but includes a background narrative which, if you're anything like myself, is really the reason why we play campaigns. The Full Map Campaign requires the most effort to set up, but is also the most rewarding in terms of narrative and historical engagement. To be honest, the level of preperation required even for the Full Map Campaign is pretty negligable, and if you're like me and enjoy digging out a GSGS map and a couple of Battlezone or Battleground books, then it can hardly be called strenuous.
I managed to get a Full Map Campaign based around the 21st Panzer Division's counterattack against the 12 Parachute Battalion in Ranville on D-Day. It took me just an hour or two yesterday afternoon to sort out, and I had figures on the table playing the first battle last night.
The book contains some example Full Map Campaigns based around the Canadians on Juno Beach and the 5th Wiltshire's attack on Hill 112.

The campaign system itself is elegant, immersive, and plays quickly with minimal book-keeping. Besides the ebb and flow of the campaign, the casualties, reinforcements and replacements, even bravery citations and awards are all simulated effectively, making for a very immersive experience. Playing the first game of my Ranville campaign, I was struck by how much more conservative I was with the forces, particularly the understrength paras. In the campaign system, the player must balance the benefits of victory in one battle with the impact of casualties on the overall campaign. Which adds another layer to the Chain of Command rules, and is fantastic and engaging stuff.

Also included in the supplement is a section where you can create your platoons key characters. This part will be familiar to those who've played Sharp Practice, Platoon Forward or Squadron Forward. I really love this kind of stuff, and it really helps the engagement level when your No.2 Section commander is no longer 'Para running, with Sten' from figure pack PAR12,  but 25 year old barrel-chested Sergeant Ernie Brown,  a former door to door salesman who sold brushes, mops and feather dusters to the housewives of Colchester before joining up. Detailed backgrounds, selected randomly using 2D6, are included for the British, USA, Germany and USSR. Sidney of the superb  Roundwood's World  blog has posted an excellent character generation sheet for French Big Men in WWI, which i'll be modifying for use with my 1940 French.

Throughout the campaign, your platoon leader will be affected by three opinions. Victories and defeats will impact on your standing with the CO, and so the likelihood of getting the pick of the support options. Too many setbacks will see you called into an uncomfortable interview with the CO. Besides the CO, being too reckless with your men's lives will earn you their enmity and you could face a mutiny or even become the victim of a mysterious accident.
Finally, the effects of battle can weigh on your platoon leaders own outlook. A raft of successes can lead him to heady optimism and exhilaration, while defeat can leave him insecure and uncertain. Battle fatigue may lead to mental exhaustion or a breakdown. It's all very engaging stuff, and again is easily tracked with minimal paperwork and adds another layer of narrative to the campaign.

So that's my take on At The Sharp End. I'd also add that while it's got Chain of Command on the title page and is obviously aimed at this ruleset, there is absolutely nothing stopping you from using it with Battlegroup Overlord, Bolt Action or any number of WWII rulesets. It's a fantastic resource, and gets a very big two thumbs up from me!

I'll be posting more about the campaign i've set up, including AARs and the maps i've generated. For my next update, I'll introduce the British Airborne platoon which I painted up late last year, including the personalities i've generated for the command characters using At The Sharp End.

Stay tuned!

Monday, January 27, 2014

2014 - New Beginnings

Churchill, the Big Man paints merrily away
As I mentioned in my last post, 2014 will be a year of new beginnings for me. New job, with the attendant reliable and decently sized income will be a big change for Laura and I. It'll be interesting also to see how full time teaching impacts on my hobby. Going by last term, I still managed to get a fair bit of painting and gaming in. That said, I envision report and assessment times being pretty hectic indeed.

So, while lots of my lucky Australian gaming friends are down in Canberra at CANCON, Australia's biggest wargaming show, I thought I should post a wrap-up of 2013 and my plans for 2014.

First off, in real life, 2013 was pretty momentous. I got married to Laura, the love of my life, in March, finished university in November and started teaching 'for real' in September! This year i'll be working full time (yay!), and officially graduating in June.

Last year saw me getting a load of gaming in, including a load of 'firsts.' It saw my first foray into WWII aerial wargaming with Bag the Hun 2, my first experience of play testing with the excellent Chain of Command rules, and running my first participation game at my first Australian war-games show, MOAB! I also got a bunch of games with the blokes at the local gaming group. Lots of WWII rapid fire-ish scale stuff using homebrew WWII  rules, as well as scratching the Napoleonic itch with a few games of Sharp Practice. As well as all of this, I caught the X-Wing bug and have played quite a few games of this excellent and fast little game.

For 2014, my plan is to keep this up. I'm going to check out the next meeting of the Central Coast Wargames club, which actually meets literally just down the road from me. I'll take my SAGA vikings down and hopefully get a chance to see what all the fuss is about this ruleset! I'm also looking forward to the Chain of Command campaign supplement, which Rich is currently furiously working away on. I'm planning on running a few campaigns, using 1940 French and Germans, as well as my Normandy British Infantry/Paras and 21st Panzer Division troops. Additionally, I've chatted with a few of the guys at the local gaming club who are keen to put on a model show this year. If it all goes to plan, we'll be putting on a few participation games as well, of Sharp Practice, some basic WWII 'introduction' rules for the kids, alongside Chain of Command - kind of a mini war-games show on the NSW Central Coast.

With the 70th anniversary of D-Day, I'm also planning on running a Chain of Command campaign around the landings on Omaha and the battles inland around St Laurent-sur-Mer, and another around the Airborne bridgehead across the Orne.

Last year saw me finish of a fair amount of painting. I finished some little 1/300 aircraft for BTH2, added more bits to my 20mm Normandy British platoon, finished a 21st Panzer division panzer grenadier platoon along with a load of armour and support options, and painted up a British Airborne platoon along with a bunch more support options. I've also finished quite a bit of terrain, including a scratch built Chateau St. Come. Finally, I finished off a few more units of figures for Sharp Practice, so all in all a very productive year for me. In case you haven't noticed, i'm not one of those painters who finish of thousands of figures, so the 200 odd figures and 30 or so vehicles I completed actually mark the most productive painting year i've ever had! So i'm well chuffed. :) I also got a large display cabinet, which I was surprised to find is already almost full of painted figures!

For the coming year, i've got a few projects. I've actually joined the Guild's annual build competition, and am going to be enlisting in the Toofatlardies painting campaign over on Vis Lardia Online. For my Birthday and Christmas I scored a load of lead, some books and an airbrush and compressor. I've been experimenting with the airbrush, which is great for painting armour and which i'm hoping to use to paint 28mm horses, which I find almost unbearably unpleasant to paint by hand for some unknown reason. Probably because it takes almost as long as a figure and well... it's only a horse! Hopefully airbrush will allow me to paint them up in batches quickly.

So, for 2014 my admittedly rather ambitious planned projects are as follows - 20mm stuff is in roughly chronological order, the rest will doubtless be interspersed throughout. Please hold your laughter till the end. :)

20mm 1940 French and Germans for Chain of Command

For this project, i'll be painting up a platoon a piece for these troops along with a load of support. For the French, I've a full platoon of motorised dragoons along with their trucks, a motorcycle combination squad mounted and dismounted, Panhard armoured cars, SOMUA medium tanks, some more Hotchkiss tanks, a team each for 25mm AT gun, hotchkiss machine-gun, 60mm mortar, and a 47mm AT gun, even a Char B1 bis. I'd also love to add some Renault R-35s, a Latil staff car, and an FCM-36 or two. Figures are mostly the excellent Early War Miniatures, with a smattering of Battlefield. Armour and vehicles are all EWM, bar two plastic S-Models Hotchkiss H-39s.

For the Germans, i've got the full infantry platoon along with a raft of Panzers I thru IV (the Pz IV will be a conversion from a Panzer IVH - my first conversion), Krupp trucks, SdKfz 222s etc. I'll undoubtedly add more support to this force. For the Jerries I'll be using a mix of figures from Battlefield, Kelly's Heroes, and Elheim. The vehicles are again a grab bag from S-Models, MMS, Dragon, ICM, Pegasus and the single PSC Panzer IV conversion.

20mm D-Day US 29th Division Platoon for Chain of Command

I've just managed to pick up a platoon's worth of the 20mm Battlefield 'Bloody Omaha' Americans. These figures are long out of production, and are rarer than hen's teeth. The figures are kitted out for the landing, including some superb little dioramas of wounded men, medics, bangalore teams, etc. On the way are a full platoon along with a load of support options - a flamethrower team, medics, wire-cutting team, .30cal teams, a 60mm mortar alongside some of the little vignettes.

I'm looking forward to getting my hands on them, and have dug out a Britannia DD Sherman which i'll paint up from 741st Tank Battalion, and of course i'll have to get a Britannia LCVP or two. This is a little bit of a side project, but i've always loved these figures, and with the 70th anniversary of D-Day now is the perfect time! I'll eventually add some more support options to let the yanks of the 29th Blue and Grey division battle through the bocage towards St. Lo.

20mm Russian Platoon for Chain of Command

This is another side project. I'll be trying out the 'super fast Soviets' method Piers Brand posted over on the guild to paint up a platoon of Plastic Soldier Russians leavened with some of the excellent Elheim figures. These guys also have a few PSC T-34s and a Dragon  waiting in the painting queue, and the recently released T-35 from S-Models is impractical but utterly irresistible!

I'll probably add some T-26s from S-Models too to so my 1940 Germans can head east.

20mm Late War Germans

I've a load of vehicles to finish off for my Germans. A couple of Dragon Tiger Is, alongside an SdKfz 234/1 Armoured car, a Marder I, and more crazy 21st Panzer Division vehicles. Also, there'll be some more crew, as well as an 8 man recce team to go with the S&S models SdKfz 250/1 'neu' halftracks i painted up last year. I'll also need a one or two more MG34 teams for the Omaha project.

20mm Terrain

Bunker above St-Laurent draw, Omaha Beach
I'm planning on expanding my collection of buildings to allow me to play some FIBUA battles. These will be a combination of scratch builds, and some of the goodies from Jens at, including the excellent Café Gondrée. Along with the rumoured Pegasus Bridge model coming from Will at Plastic Soldier Company this will fill a gap in my collection and enable me to game this iconic battle. Also, with the US D-Day troops, i'm planning on doing an Omaha beach terrain board. I already have one 2"x2" beach board which I made as part of my Riva-Bella casino board years ago, so i'd add another so i can have a 4" wide board leading from the surf up to the bluffs, probably around the Les Moulins draw in the 116th Regimental Combat Team's sector. Alongside this, i'll probably add some trees, probably some  conifer looking types for east front scenarios, as well as perhaps some of the pegasus models Russian farmhouses.

28mm SAGA Vikings

Add another 2 points of troops to my viking war band to bring it up to 6 points. Another 4 man hirdman unit and a unit of thrall archers should do it.

28mm SAGA Norman Warband

Start and finish my 4 point Norman warband, and add another 2 points of troops - probably dismounted milites and another unit of mounted milites. Hopefully aided by my yet-to-be-discovered super speedy method of airbrushing horses.

28mm SAGA Byzantine Warband

Oh, yeah, and I got a 4 point Byzantine warband for Christmas, so this will be getting a similar treatment, again aided by a spectacularly fast, easy and effective airbrushing technique for painting horses. :)

28mm Minden Seven Years' War Prussians and Austrians

Ok, so I also got a copy of Maurice for my birthday. And a load of the beautiful Minden Seven Years' War figures. Musketeers, Grenadiers, Light infantry, Cavalry. It's all there, and is in the painting line. Ideally, I'd love to finish at least 24 figure unit for both the Prussians and the Austrians. It would be fantastic to finish more! As a side note to this, I've joined the Ebor kick-starter for Great Northern War Swedes, so will be receiving a boatload of Swedes at some stage this year. 2015 might be shaping up to be the year of the Maurice projects.

1/300 1940 RAF/Luftwaffe/Armee de l'Air Aircraft

Finally, I want to build up my Bag The Hun 2 forces, at the very least adding another flight of Hurricanes, a couple of Spitfires, and another of 109s. Oh, and some Dorniers. And some Stukas. And you really need a Heinkel or two, don't you. And the Boulton-Paul Defiant is pretty unique. Then there's the French... Figures are all from Heroics & Ros

So, there you have it. It's really very ambitious for me, but I figure if I remain relatively disciplined and avoid the dreaded wargamer lurgi, the symptom of which is crying 'oh look, those (insert obscure conflict here)  figures are very nice. I really do need them don't I....

Wish me luck, I'm gonna need it!
Early War Miniatures French wait patiently for some paint

Friday, January 24, 2014

Something Fresh - SAGA Vikings

Well, it's been a while between posts, so I hope you are all going very well, had a fantastic Christmas and 2014 is puttering along nicely.

The last few months have been very eventful in the world of Ben. Following my last AAR, I popped down to MOAB in south Sydney to put on a demonstration game of Chain of Command. It was a great day, and you can find out all about it over on the TooFatLardies blog here. Speaking of the Lardies, i've also written an article on using Chain of Command to game the mammoth Battle of Hannut, between the French tanks and dragoons of the Cavalry Corps and the German 3rd and 4th Panzer divisions in 1940. This appeared in the latest TooFatLardies Christmas Special, an excellent collection of thought provoking articles, scenarios, and gaming ideas which, while coming out of the Lardy stable,  easily translate into many other rulesets. The mini campaign in my article could easily be used with Bolt Action for example. You can grab it here for the very reasonable price of £6.00.

As I mentioned in some previous updates, I finished my studies in November 2013. After four years of study, it's a little surreal to wave goodbye the the world of University - at least for the time being. I had
embarked on my degree with an aim to going on to complete pro-graduate studies, however the school which I completed my 10 week internship in has changed that. It's a local junior campus of a larger college, serving over 1200 year 7 to year 10 students. The kids, staff and the executive are all fantastic, and it was a really rewarding and fun place to do my internship. Fourth term last year, I was in almost every day with casual work - very nice to be paid, even if it was a little challenging to teach mathematics, cooking, and even needlework. I've been offered, and accepted, a full year long contract to teach History and Geography for 2014. This is doubly exciting as in Australia we have a new national curriculum rolling out, with a much less insular and more global slant, and i've been able to create a major unit for year 9 covering the First and Second World Wars, and area which I find fascinating and very relevant. Consequently, i've built up a unit based not on badly out of date text books but rather loads of contemporary accounts, sources and fresh and new resources and documentaries. I've even got a film study in there, based around building historical empathy and using the superb 'Joyeux Noël.' I'm looking forward to getting a chance to try it out, and we're due to kick off around the middle of first term.

So, perhaps that goes some way to explain, if not excuse, my sabbatical from this blog. However, despite the paucity of posts, I have been painting away in my spare moments, and have finished a few projects. My plan for this year is to do shorter, but more regular updates on this blog. The occasional essay-lengt AAR will still be in there, however for the most part they'll be a bit shorter.

When I'm painting, I usually listen to either podcasts such as the excellent Meeples and Miniatures and In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg, or to audiobooks. I've been listening to Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Stories series. If you haven't read/listened to them, they're Cornwell at his fun-if-predictable best. As a result of this, and chatting with some blokes at the local gaming group, I decided to dip my toe into Tomahawk Studio's greatly lauded SAGA ruleset. I picked up a Viking and Norman starter army, along with a set of the rules, a copy of Robert Ferguson's excellent and comprehensive Hammer and the Cross and some MDF odds and sods from War Bases.

I've always had a fascination with the Viking era, and my visit to the Historiska Museet in Stockholm did little to suffuse this, especially when parts of the collection seemed to follow me to upside-down land, what with the Sydney Maritime Museum hosting an exhibition including a reconstruction of the Gokstadt Ship. An excellent part of this exhibition concerned textiles and dying techniques, including some examples of cloth coloured with traditional methods. I leaned heavily on this, along with Jenny Dean's excellent site, when deciding on the colour schemes for high and low status warriors. I do like painting dark ages figures, as choosing colour schemes requires a mix of creativity and historical research which I really do enjoy.

So without further ado, here are some pictures of my SAGA Vikings.

First off, the warlord, a superb sculpt from the lads at Gripping Beast Towers. As I was reading Njal's Saga while painting him, I imagined him as Kári Sölmundarson, hirdmann of the Hebridean Jarl Sigmund, mercenary, avenger of Njal's hall burning, lethal warrior basically all-around viking hero. Add to that the fact he is one of the only survivors in one of the most famous of the icelandic Sagas, and I think it's very fitting that Kári leads my SAGA war band! According with a warrior of such renown, he's dressed in the best of 10th century fashion, with a rare and exquisite red dyed tunic and some fancy striped trews. His helmet and armour is highly polished, and his shield is decorated with one of the most intricate of the excellent Little Big Man Studios shield transfers, and the shattered shield of a vanquished foe lies below his feet.  Speaking of which, i've tried something different with the basing. I've gone for a cold  Northern European autumn look, with moss covered stones and fallen leaves over damp, soggy ground - think Northumbria, Scotland, the Orkneys, Ireland, the Hebrides or even Iceland.

Next up, the berserkir. These feral warriors fought sans armour and with great ferocity, feared by foe and friend alike. While their historicity is not solid, individual berserkr do appear in the sagas, and there was an excellent article in a recent issue of Medieval Warfare magazine. These guys all got striped trews, as they're high-status (if violent and insane) warriors. Shields are hand painted, and this is my first attempt at larger areas of flesh. I tried to avoid the 'skeleton' look which can be the result of my usual layering approach to painting. More layers and a more gradual colour transition than i'm used to seems to have avoided this - to my eye at least. I armed these guys with short and long handed axes, as I imagine that the battle-crazed berserkir could wield such heavy weapons with comparative ease.

These lads are the hirdmenn, plastic figures from the beasties. As with the warlord, colour selections tend towards the rarer high status dyes. A mix of axes and swords for these lads, and they're all well equipped with mail and helmet, even if the mail is not quite as shining and the helmets a little more battered than those of their fearless leader. Shield designs are LBMS transfers.

Finally, here are two units of bondir, the warrior types. This lot are less well equipped than the other warriors, no mail and helmets are rare. To counter this in the SAGA rules they usually operate in larger groups. My war band does not as yet have any thralls, levy archers of even lower status and who fight in even larger units. For the bondir I chose to use a muted palate of mostly lower status dyes, browns, yellows, muddy greens, with a few splashes of colour here and there. Shields are again from LBMS.

So, that's it for the vikings. I've got another unit of hirdmen and and have plans to grab a pack of thrall archers which will take the group up to 6 points. Incidentally, they've yet to be 'blooded', but one of the local gaming groups run a fair bit of SAGA so I plan to take them down next month and see how the rules run. Going by the way my freshly painted units usually perform, i'm not holding out high hopes.

The Norman warband are undercoated and waiting in line while I finish off what i'm currently working on, 1940 French and German troops for Chain of Command... but more on them later :)

I'll pop up another few posts in the next few days, including an update of my plans for 2014 and some pictures of my British Parachute platoon who were glimpsed in the last Chain of Command AAR.

Till then, keep painting and gaming!