Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Chain of Command Campaign: Game 1 - "Patrol"

18.45 hours: 

Second Lieutenant Sandy St Clair looked at his watch. He’d given up believing the time shown on the watch-face two days after D-Day. It was his nerves making him look. He knew that. But he couldn’t stop twisting his wrist and staring at the monochrome dial he’d bought in Bow Lane a lifetime ago. Each time he looked, he felt as if it was more of a wrench to look away and remind himself where he was.

He could taste the battle in his mouth. His face was inches away from the dry earth, body flattened hard against the Normandy ground. His tongue registered the dirt and soil on his lips, mixed with the smoke and stench of a day old battle. Somewhere in his mouth was the tang of burnt scorched metal from the German tank left in flames half a mile back. It mixed in an unholy cocktail at the back of his throat with the charred, blackened, half-nightmare smell of the bodies in the ditch a few yards from his side.

18.46 hours:

How could half a minute have passed so fast?

He felt the whisper at his side of his platoon sergeant, fingers jabbing forward up the road, the jingle-jangle of his platoon’s equipment deafening after the few minutes silence. Crouching, then moving, head down, his legs felt like stone as he rose and walked to the hill crest overlooking the Church his platoon scouts had located twenty minutes earlier. Why wasn’t it marked on the map? Where on earth was he anyway? Nothing seemed to make sense in the close hedgerow terrain. He looked at his watch again.

And he looked at it again, just one more time.

18.47 hours:

He was sweating in the dusk sunlight, now watching the church from the hill-crest through the cloud of mayflies above the ripening barley. He could see ghosts in the hedgerows. They were wearing field-grey tunics and camouflaged clothing.

“Now in my dial of glass appears

the soldier who is going to die. 

He smiles, and moves about in ways 
his mother knows, habits of his.
The wires touch his face: I cry 
NOW. Death, like a familiar, hears”

Still 18.47 hours

He watched the other section of his platoon spreading across the road, and looked back to his men, following. Looking at him. Looking to him. He waved the Bren team to the front, hands working urgently. He caught a glimpse of the time on his wrist. He felt he had to look again, quickly, and check just one last time, watching the second dial moving. He resisted the urge, crouched down and signalled to the mortar crew. He checked his watch again as the first smoke round fell in front of the Church. The second hand on the monochrome dial had hardly moved.

18.48 hours:

His head was screaming, filled with the evil chatter of the Bren team’s gun ripping and wickering into the stone wall of the Church, smashing the Gothic window. He saw the stained glass break but never heard it smash. He was too busy running for the hedge. He was screaming as he lunged into the thick, wiry, clawing brambles and gorse, his hand pinned almost in front of his face. The first thing he saw was his watch face. He wasn't sure of whether his watch was just there, co-incidentally, in front of his face or whether he had been frantically searching for it.  Another 15 seconds gone.

18.49 hours:

He’d shouted himself hoarse by the time he’d seen the section creeping towards the hill-crest of the neighbouring hill. Stalking, slowly, up the chalk down.

He had more to look at to his front, as he watched keenly, eyes streaming from the smoke falling all the time from the mortar around the church. Were They still in there? Were They even there at all? His head was pounding and he looked at this watch again.

Still 18.49 hours:

Stop staring at it! Look up! Stop staring at it.

He looked at his watch again.  Something inside him squealed and wanted to tear his hand off and the watch with it. He looked up.

He saw the section still crawling, crouching, moving on the other hill. What was on the other side? The map was useless now, and he could see nothing through the field glasses. Lenses held to his eyes, a world of grey mist and chemical smoke. He wished he was there in that grey world of fog and shadow, or anywhere, rather than here.

18.50 hours:

He heard the ambush on the neighbouring hill, rather than seeing it. The sound of the MG42 tearing through the hillside was almost as distinctive as the sounds of the German hand grenades. He waved frantically at his Bren team to change targets, hoping they could see the Enemy.

He noticed his field glasses were shaking as he watched the remnants of the broken German section running for cover before more chemical smoke drifted across the lenses and made him retch. Was it just the smoke which was making him retch? What was wrong with him?

18.52 hours:

He checked his watch again. His hand was still shaking. He signalled for the Bren team to cease fire at the Church. And waited.

He watched the second hand on the monochrome dial crawl around the watch-face as the stench of battle slowly filled his mouth again.


This was the first game in our “Chain of Command” campaign set in Normandy, three weeks after D-Day. The game was taken from the Chain of Command rules, being the Patrol Scenario in which two small forces probe against each other’s front lines. it was a tight, hard game, fought cagily between the two sides. I tried, with Big Al as the other British leader, to keep in mind the fire & movement tactics of the infantry training manuals Richard had passed to me a couple of weeks ago. But sometimes, ambushes are hard to spot! We had the dice on our side in the main firefight, with the losses inflicted on Panda's German force eventually breaking their morale and pushing the Germans back to their outpost lines.

I’ll try and post a game each week as we fight through the campaign over the next month or so. It'll be interesting to see if Lieutenant St. Clair’s nerves can hold on. 

The extract from the poem is from “How to Kill” from the excellent Keith Douglas, killed in action on the 9th June 1944.

Monday, 26 August 2013

The Verdun Project: French Support Weapons and Veteran Infantry (Part 1)

I’ve wanted the French forces I’m building up to be accompanied by a few support weapons. A number of these were critically important at Verdun, and in the later French offensives of 1917 and 1918.

Unfortunately, the modelling choice of support weapons in 28mm is not very extensive. Its really a question of assembling the support elements from a variety of manufacturers, and bringing the different weapons together as a unified force by similar basing and painting techniques.

I wanted in this post to give an overview of the figures available, and also give a bit more of an insight in converting late Great War French figures. Please bear in mind that I’m very far from a great military modeller, and the bulk of conversions are really just to add some variety into the French forces I want to field on the wargaming table.  I also thought that a couple of insights into how th various 28mm model kits fit together might be helpful.

First up, is “Le Soixante-Quinze”....

Errr….not quite, although the cocktail of the same name was created in 1915 at the New York Bar in Paris, supposedly because the effect of the drink was felt by stunned Parisians to be a little like being shelled at the front! 

No, the “Soizante-Quinze” I’ve been focusing on is the famous French 75mm artillery piece, used widely in the French army during the War but only really effective against targets which were not deeply entrenched owing to its low trajectory of fire. The brace of 75s I’m building are from Scarab Miniatures. I’ve had these for a long time, and they’re undoubtedly a handsome pair of models – although not without some difficulties in construction. Unfortunately, the gun shields are not quite accurately modelled, in that the gun shield aperture is slightly wider than was used in late war version of the gun.  I think I can live with the slight difference though.

Pinning the barrels onto the gun carriage is, I think, recommended.  The 75 had a long barrel which does not balance well on the carriage in the model version without some strong suport.  Pinning through the gun carriage and into the underside of the barrel really helps in this regard.  Also the gun wheels are very narrow on the model – and while this is accurate, the model needs careful and delicate handling at all times once assembled. 

Fixing the gun shield in place needs a lot of care. There are no orienting lugs on which the shield can be glued onto the carriage, and the gun shield is too thin to pin effectively. I therefore opted to fix a block of blue styofam under the carriage to give the gun shield something to attach and glue on to. This seems to have fixed the shields in place firmly, and hopefully the Styrofoam block should be invisible on the finished model once painted.

Here’s the assembled guns with Brigade Miniatures’ late War gun crews (to match with the French Infantry I’ve been painting).


You’ll see that the base work is undulating. This is intentional, and helps the ground support the slightly flimsy gun wheels and provide a bit more base for the wheels to be glued to when finished. Although the undulations look prominent in the photos, they should (fingers crossed) be virtually invisible when the bases are painted and the groundwork finished.

Next up, a brace of heavy machine guns. First, a captured MG08 on a sled mount being crewed by French gunners, and second a Hotchkiss Mle 1914. I forget where I picked the MG08 from, but it fits very well with the Brigade Games’ gunners. It wasn't unheard of for French gunners to have captured German machine gun positions and to have turned the guns on their former owners (I’m sure that the same was true in reverse – some German stosstrupps certainly used the French Chauchat light machine gun because of its weight and ease of deployment).

The only additions I’ve made to the models and the gunners are to fashion some ammunition belts for the MG08 and an ammunition strip for the Hotchkiss, both of which can be added when the figures are painted. The ammunition strip was made from thick foil from a wine bottle (not sure which vintage!), with the “bullets” being “grey stuff”. You can actually buy some excellent ammunition strips from Jeff at Dragon Forge Design, but I’d run out!

Then I made up another Crapouillot trench mortar from Brigade Games, and a couple of infantry mounted 37mm trench guns from Old Glory. The latter are difficult models to assemble, but were a significant part of French small unit tactics in 1917 and 1918. I pinned the 37mm gun to the ground mount very carefully with fine wire, without which mounting the gun is pretty precarious. The model is worth the (considerable) trouble to assemble, and fits very well for size with Brigade Games’ late War French figures. You may wonder why I didn’t use the Scarab Miniatures’ 37mm trench gun. While the Scarab 37mm is an excellent model, it looks very large alongside the Brigade Games models. It’s a shame that the rank-and-file Scarab models were not cast just a little smaller to fit with the Brigade Games range, but the Old Glory figures are a good substitute.

Last but not least, I’ve had it in mind to build up half a platoon (maybe more) of veteran French Poilu. These could be veterans, Foreign Legionnaires or simply hardened defenders of a Verdun position. I made a few head swaps (replacing Adrien helmets for wounded heads and caps), added a few extra bedding rolls and packs to the “barda” (field packs) of the Poilu, and roughened up the greatcoats of some of the troops. I found that the head swaps worked best with building up the greatcoat collars of some of the figures (but that may just be me as I always seem to make a mess of head-swaps).


I added an M2 gas mask on another prone infantryman accompanying a Chauchat automatic rifle to disguise the slightly mis-cast face on this figure.  As I've mentioned before, producing a reasonable version of the M2 gas mask is very simple in this scale.

I also used the brilliant hand grenade pack from the very highly recommended Victoria Miniatures to swap out the very late War hand grenades cast on the figures with some earlier Foug or P4-style grenades from earlier in the War and which were more suitable for 1916 (as shown in the two photos below).

I also based up my final pack of Old Glory French casualties, this time simply for decoration and without holders for “shock” or “wounds” dice.
So here’s the infantry force ready to paint. I added a more “front line” command stand, complete with artillery spotter, which is a bit more common-place than the Battalion command stand in full dress I painted last month.

 All I need to do now, is to paint them!

Friday, 23 August 2013

En France

No painting, book reviews, terrain building or rules adaptations in this post, I'm afraid.

This week I've been in France, with my daughter, visiting my sister who's lived in Toulouse since 1991. While my wife is home supervising some building work at Roundwood Towers, I've been left to enjoy the sights, sounds, tastes and aromas of a beautiful French city in great company. 

Here's some of this week's inspiration...


For me (and for a few of you, I'm sure), part of our hobby of wargaming is getting inspired.  And by this I mean the process of being somewhere or seeing something which makes you want to get back and keep on hobbying, painting, modelling, gaming, or just doing.  2013 has really been my "Year of the French", and I'd always planned a trip to France as part of it.  While neither my sister nor daughter have any interest in things military, it was great to spend some time in the country I've been reading about all year and try and inflict my hamfisted attempts to speak French on unsuspecting Toulousians. 

If you're ever in Toulouse, I'd recommend the Musée des Augustins de Toulouse (above) - a good place to spend a couple of hours. 
So, no wargaming this post, but a more traditional service will be resumed over this weekend.  I'm intending to make significant progress on the French weapons teams and artillery.  And maybe post a couple of books reviews if I have time left - "German Strategy and the Path to Verdun" and "French Trench Warfare 1917-1918", both interesting reads which I finished while away.
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