Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Stalingrad - Red Barricades Factory

I've been wanting to wargame Stalingrad the last twenty five years or so.  The thing you always run up against is the sheer amount of gear required.  I've played plenty of Stalingrad games in 6mm, never in 1/72 which is my preferred scale. I managed to get the Red Barricades Factory scenario to the table towards the end of 2023.  

My pals Sydney and KT came over and we gave it a run through.  As a first draft of a table, it wasn't bad. 

There are some things I'd like to fix before I go much further, but it's getting there.  

The table setup 

The scenario briefing; 

"By mid October the fighting amidst the rubble of the Red Barricades Factory Complex in the northern section of Stalingrad had drawn in more and more of the German 6th Army’s forces. On the 22nd the 79th Infantry division, supported by engineers, tanks and artillery, launched an intense attack over the Railroad embankment toward the Barricades Factory.

Under heavy fire from dug-in tanks and Russian snipers, the German troops slowly made ground toward the Factory. The Soviet line finally broke, but by day’s end only a corner of the factory had been taken.

The stage is set, the battle lines are drawn, and you are in command. The rest is history."

KT regarding Sydney with perplexity as he advances

I need to do some more work on the table.  Having the buildings sit on the white table without some attempt to blend the two together doesn't look right. 

German infantry probes making their way forward.  

Sydney was very careful to use his armour to destroy barbed wire to clear the way for the infantry.

Soviet infantry contesting the bombed out buildings as the German's advanced. 

The building in the foreground is a 3d print that was very kindly supplied by KT and painted by Capability Savage.  I had a shortage of suitable buildings for the board, so I subbed in some European buildings that I build for our Bastogne game. These were taken from the European Buildings book by Peter Dennis published by Helion.  These are scaled for 28mm, but they worked just fine for 1/72.  The paper buildings went together very quickly and needed no painting strictly speaking.  To make them work for the winter board, I gave them a quick dusting with a white spray paint and then added snow effect flock to the rooves. 

Soviet infantry (foreground) being outflanked and surrounded by German infantry (background)

A strong push on the German left by infantry forced the Soviets out of their initial positions.  The Germans then began to put the Soviet second line under pressure.  German engineers are clearing land mines, but they were taking casualties from the Soviet snipers.  The snipers were deadly, but they didn't cause enough casualties quickly enough to stop the German advance. 

Once the infantry had cleared the way, the Panzers started to roll. The barbed wire marks barbed wire (obviously enough), but the shell holes actually mark minefields.  I use these because the minefields have a concealed effectiveness, being rated as 0, 2 or 4 depending on how thickly the mines are spread.  The 0 minefields are dummies and using the shell holes allows me to put a slip of paper underneath to show how effective they are.  The German player only finds this out when they either enter the minefield or probe it with engineers, while the Soviets can check at any time. 

Soviet infantry fleeing encirclement. 

You can see that the forward German armour unit has taken one hit, which I've marked with a blast marker. 

The scenario actually uses  Beach Obstactles to represent rubble that is impassable to tanks, but which infantry can shelter behind.  As I didn't have anything suitable, I used the Beach Obstactles I built for our last D-Day game. I had a look for photos of Stalingrad and I know that the Soviets made extensive use of tank traps, so I'll substitute those.  KT very kindly 3d printed some for me. 

After developing the German attack on his left, Sydney begins pushing on his right. KT's Soviet artillery managed to find the range after several turns of lack lustre shooting and rains shells down on the advancing German armour. 

The final move

Having pummeled and out outmanoeuvred his opponent, Sydney unleashed the panzers. The Soviets just weren't able to withstand the pressure and that ended the game. 

I think Sydney definitely had the upper hand throughout the game as KT found it hard to co-ordinate a response because of the Soviet command rules.  Sydney was also more methodical in his approach, carefully bringing infantry, armour and artillery to bear to crumble the Soviet defences.  He was also better at evacuating badly mauled units from the front line which prevented KT finishing them off and scoring badly needed victory points. 

A fine game with two good friends.  I hope to do it more often, but this year keeps getting away from me. 

Lastly, I've actually got back into shooting recently, something I really enjoyed as a youngster and that I would like to go back to again.  Heading out to the range with a rented .22 was a lot of fun. There is something very satisfying about poking small holes in bits of paper far away.  I'm not sure if I'd take the plunge of getting my own kit, but there was a lot of entertainment in knocking about with rented stuff.  Perhaps I make a habit of it. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Sikh War Project - A project long in the making?

The 16th lancers charging Sikh troops

I've been thinking about wargaming the Sikh wars since I first read about them in Ian Hernon's book "Britain's Forgotten Wars".  There's something tremendously compelling about the situation of a kingdom so divided against itself that it's court conspire against their own army. 

It reminds me about reading about the later years of the New Model Army or the Roman Army during the Crisis of the Third Century.  An organisation that became so mad with power that it became ungovernable and ended up either being bought off or destroyed.  That coupled with the fact that the Sikhs are a fascinating people combining asceticism, excess, warrior glamour with an exotic locale - I'd be a fool not to give it a try. 

Files boxes, notes and bags and bags of figures. 

The plan is to wargame the four main battles of the First Sikh War using the Colonial Campaigns ruleset against my old foe the Welsh Wizard.  We've already played Naushera and Jumrud from the Sikh-Afghan wars. 

I had been picking up figures from the excellent Newline Designs range of figures and have most of what is required for the First Sikh War. Now, I made the listen of reading John French's excellent book on the British in India from Foundry which includes a raft of details on different units, some of whom were wearing shakos rather than the more usual peaked cap. 

At the moment the challenge will be finding figures for the Ghurkas both in Sikh and HEIC employ and for those British infantry units that wore shakos rather than peaked chaps. Irregular do some Sikh war British infantry in shakos, but they are bell topped rather than covered. 

I'm still debating how punctilious I want to be about this, as I mainly just want to get the game on the table, but then again - I will know if I get it wrong and sometimes that's enough. 

Figures for painting, sorted into bags and marked with a label. 

There was a lot of gathering and sorting and lining up with the various orders of battle I want to cover.  Realistically, if I want to get this project to the table in a decent amount of time I am going to have to subcontract the painting for a fair amount of it. But having thought about this seriously, my time for painting is very limited with a young family and a demanding job, so needs must where the Devil drives. 

More Storage

I've been building up a collection of jungle trees, palms, exotic vegetation, elephant grass and so on for a while now.  But up until recently, it all lived in a number of different boxes scattered around the War Room.  I picked this box up in Woodies (a local DIY shop) for a tenner.  It's robust, clear plastic (which means that I don't need to worry about labels) and will stack with others.  I'm beginning to think that I may start using these for the majority of my terrain collection as using smaller boxes is just not working very well. 

Friday, February 23, 2024

Battlemasters with Kinchlets

"Pay attention Sir Harry, the Hun is here, here and here." - LadyBaby

Finished up a practice game of the old MB Games/Citadel miniatures game Battlemasters with the Kinchlets (with feline auxiliary). They successfully defended the tower from the baddies. We’re playing a Dads v Kids game on Saturday with their cousins and I'm looking forward to it. 

“Imma gonna punch that goblin inna snoot” - Bear

I had planned on giving the kids special characters, but they asked if they could have “gifts” like the Pevensie children in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. 

One quick rewrite later and we are sorted.  The mechanical affect was exactly the same, but the kids enjoyed being able to pick one over the other.  The LadyBaby picked a diamond bottle filled with a healing elixir distilled from flowers grown in the mountains of the Sun (she has always loved Lucy in the Narnia stories) while Bear plumped for a sword and shield like Peter.  

The mechanic effect was that Bear added a die to a units dice when attacking while the LadyBaby could heal a point of damage from a unit each time the Mighty Cannon card was turned. 

“We should get him, he’s a meanie” - LadyBaby

Thus the band of Chaos Warriors were doomed. 

The LadyBaby used her diamond bottle of healing potion successfully.  Bears magic sword was less successful - he spent the game with the artillery - but he’ll remember for next time.

The LadyBaby showing Colonel Sir Harry Flashman VC the next card. 

The card mechanic where turn order and unit activation is randomised definitely keeps the kids engaged.  The LadyBaby in particular enjoyed turning over the next card to find out what would happen next. 

The LadyBaby took charge of the cavalry at an early juncture.  She approves of knights it seems. 

Slowly tipping one die at a time into the Dice Tower is apparently the secret to Bear's success. 

The game ended with a resounding Kinchlet victory as they managed to hold off the hordes of Chaos for long enough that a relief force arrived and the tower was saved!

Thoroughly enjoyable game.  What interested me most about this one was that the Kinchlets took more ownership of what was going on.  They talked between themselves to try to formulate a plan and considered different options.  The simple mechanics made it possible for them to grasp all of them and not just engage with the rules, but also with what they were actually trying to do. 

It was wonderful to watch. 

Saturday, February 17, 2024

The Art of Coarse Airbrushing

Say 'ello to my leetle tank

I picked up an airbrush last year and to be frank, I've found it quite difficult to get to grips with.  I had trouble with keeping it clean, it seemed to be constantly clogging and I was spending quite a lot of time on it to little result. 

But after several attempts and over the course of a year, I've gotten to a stage where I'm happy with it. 

The trick appears to be; 

1. Always put your thinner and flow improver in first
2. Clear after every colour change
3. Use Isopropyl alcohol in a solution for cleaning
4. Use special airbrush paints until you are *very* comfortable with thinning your own  

The plus side is that when the airbrush runs well, it's an absolute dream.  

Thin, even coats of colour, applied very quickly.  There's a good bit of work in setting the airbrush up to work, but once you get it going, you can get a lot done very wuickly

I've a very basic Spamax model which I picked up with a compressor and some other equipment and very good it is too.  My pal, Savage, has a compressor which can handle multiple airbrushes at a time, so I went over to his place to do a bit of airbrushing together.  It was a very pleasant evening and we're hoping to do it again.  

The plan is to do a Courland scenario later in the year and that's going to require some suitably snow camouflaged big cats (and which will eventually be deployed to the Bulge), so I tried an old modellers trick with cheap hairspray.  

I had first painted this panther in the early 2000s and didn't make a particularly good job of it.  I gave it a coat of Hairspray and let that dry.  I then gave it a coat of Vallejo White German Camo (there's a funny German name for it which escapes me) and then let that dry. Once that was completely dry, I went back with a wet baby bud and reactivated the hairspray around the high traffic areas. 

This is called "chipping" and gives the impression that the paint has been chipped and worn and adds visual interest to a fairly monochrome vehicle. I'm told chipping fluid from a proper model shop is better, but I was quite pleased with this.  I've a few more tanks to do, but this should make it a lot faster and easier.  Just add some weathering and a few decals and we'll be done. 

The fruit of two hours work and very pleased I am too.  A certain amount of that was setting up the airbrush and cleaning it afterward, but once I got into the swing of things, I got paint on tanks very quickly. I think one of the ways to get the best out an airbrush would be to plan to do as much airbrushing as you can in one sitting.  This would mean that you'd get the most amount of painting for the least amount of set up time. 

Location, Location, Location Endor Edition

Of course Savage, turps drinking artistic type that he is, got rather more out of his painting session - it must be the smock, the floppy hat and the red haired ladies in a state of dishabille. It's a testament to just how much work you can do with an airbrush that he covered some very large spaces in jig time with a relatively small amount of masking. 

And very impressive it is too.    

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Everybody's got something to hide 'cept for me and my War Elephant - The Battle of Nowshera 1823

Sikh Akalis (Wikipedia) 

Behold their fancy hats! What kind of battle has Sikh holy warriors (Akali) and a personal War Elephant? Only the best kind of battle. 

Ever since I read Ian Hernon's "Britain's Forgotten Wars" as a young man, I've been fascinated by the Sikh Wars and by the Sikhs. They're such a contradictory, decent, turbulent and interesting people that they repay study. I've wanted to play out some of their battles on the wargames table for ages and I had the chance to yesterday.

I picked up Tim Tilson's Colonial Campaigns - Rise and Fall of the Sikh Empire book years ago and I've had mixed success in getting it to the table. But a hefty Newline Miniatures order and a willing confederate in the person of the Welsh Wizard has presented a golden opportunity to make 2024 the year of the Sikhs.

Tilson's Book is a supplement for Larry Brom's classic The Sword and the Flame colonial rules, but rejigged for big battles. It's one of those curious things that shouldn't work, but really does. We're still getting to grips with the rules as neither of us had played them in years, but Tilson's amendments are actually quite small and work well.

Ranjit Singh - a pretty tough customer 

But what of the battle of Nowshera? 

This was a battle between the nascent Sikh Empire and the Afghans.  The Sikh's were led by a chap called Ranjit Sikh, a tough, one eyed general who built an army that married European style infantry to Sikh cavalry and an impressive artillery arm. Eager to expand his territory, he pushed into that part of Afghanistan held by the Durrani Empire and took Peshawar. 

After conquering the territory, he withdrew after leaving a small garrison.  The governor of Peshwar, an Afghan fella named Azim Khan (half brother of Dost Muhammed Khan of whom you may have heard), got understandably shirty about this. Khan gathered an army, proclaimed a jihad and made his way to Nowshera where the Singh had built a fort.  

Ranjit Singh countered by deploying his own forces to Nowshera and fell upon that part of the Afghan army that had arrived there. Khan had not yet reached Nowshera and his allies had taken up a defensive position there. 

Singh attacked this isolated part of the Afghan army and crushed it, storming the Afghan entrenchments after a powerful artillery bombardment. 

Khan fell back and Singh retook Peshwar, razed it and broke the Durrani power in the region.  Khan withdrew, possibly to see off a leadership challenger, but would soon die of cholera.

The Welsh Wizard contemplates his deployment, I'd sent him pics the day before so that we could get started quickly. 

The Durrani Afghan's put everything in the shop window, lining the walls with their infantry and keeping only their cavalry in reserve.  Both sides were awaiting reinforcements, but how long would it take them to arrive? 

I began the game with only my regular European trained infantry present, but I decided to drive on.  My plan was to refuse the right flank and press hard on the left, concentrating my best and most disciplined infantry there to crush that part of the line and roll up the position. 

The Sikh figures are almost all Newline, while the Durrani Afghans are a mix of Hagen Mahrattas, converted Cossacks and later period Afghans.  

The Durrani position was strong, but I had the qualitive edge in infantry, which I hoped would would prove decisive. One thing about Tilon's rules is that musketry was well modelled.  We thought the hit rate was quite low, but it seemed to work well and gave the right feel as units could move, but would be ground down over time. 

The musketry duel between my lads and the Afghans started to take effect. 

I used my Hagen Mahrattas (painted by Krizstian Takacs) as Durrani.  The Welsh Wizard used his fire cleverly, inflicting casualties that while they didn't wipe out units, slowed them down and made them linger longer under their guns. 

The Teddy Bear stuffing marks units that have fired their muskets and therefore need to reload. 

I concentrated my attack on the angle of the position on the grounds that it would put me in dead ground from the Afghan guns. Attacking a position held by greater numbers even of inferior troops is no joke and my reinforcements were nowhere to be seen...

I spread my fire evenly across the defending troops and managed to bait some of them into charging out of their position (this is reflected in a special rule in the scenario and did actually happen in reality) to attack my troops toiling up the slope. 

This ended predictably as the leading paltan of Sikh troops let the charging Durrani get within pistol shot and then gave them a volley at point blank range.  

With predictable results. The Durrani were broken and started running. Unfortunately for me, the Welsh Wizard brought his reinforcements in just in the nick of time and before my troops could get themselves organised and push on to solidify their hold on the position, he had managed to bring up several units of Ghazi, ferocious Sons of the Prophet, fired with religious zeal. 

This was a turning point in the game as we could hold this part of the entrenchments, Ranjit Singh would be well on the way to a victory.

Fresco in Jammu depicting Akali Phula Singh and his Akali-Nihang warriors making a last stand against Afghan Ghazi warriors in the Battle of Nowshera (Wikipedia)

This led to a turn where there were good decisions and mistakes on both sides and which was so exciting that I completely forgot to take pictures.  In brief; 

- the Ghazis faced with two disorganised Sikh paltans coming over the wall decided to stand and fire rather than charge in. 

- my reinforcements finally arrived, two units of Gorachurra (traditional Sikh armoured cavalry) and two mobs of Akali (the Sikh equivalent of Ghazi, religious warriors with giant hats and killer Frisbees) led by Poona Singh on his personal War Elephant.  I ran these lads forward as fast as I could, trying to take the weakly held left flank of the Durrani position. 

- Afghan cavalry made an attempt to flank the advancing Sikh infantry by jumping the entrenchments and swooping into their flank only to get enfiladed by the Sikh artillery who punished them severely and sent them scurrying to the rear. 

The Afghan fire hurt the Sikh regulars, but not enough. 

Meanwhile, my Gorachurras decided to chase the fleeing Durrani cavalry, supported by the Akali, who were spoiling for a fight. 

(Angry Punjabi Elephant noises)

The Durrani defenders managed to shoot up the Gorachurras on the way in and broke one unit of them and sent them fleeing to the rear, but the remainder got stuck into the rallying Afghan cavalry who attempted a counter charge, only to be simultaneously hit by Poona Singh and the Akalis. 

(Sounds of Punjabi chanting "Na na na na, Na na na na Wahey Goodbye!")

Meanwhile on the other flank, the Sikh regulars took a risk and dropped their muskets.  Drawing their tulwars they went straight in at the Ghazis.  One lot of Ghazis took one look at the line of ferocious looking beards and blades coming towards them at speed and decided that they had urgent business elsewhere.  They were chased down and butchered to a man. 

And here is where the battle took a fatal turn. My regulars took on the second unit of Ghazis and a fierce battle ensued. Tulwars clashed and bayonets flashed and the screams of the dying rent the air.  

The Ghazs either fled to the rear or fell wounded, all except their leader.  History does not record this doughty warriors name but he ended up fighting on alone.  He struck down three Sikh warriors and ended up facing General Hari Singh*.  General Singh here being played by an Ottoman mounted leader from Zvesda's Turkish Cavalry set because I haven't painted my Sikh generals yet. 

Now, I had thrown General Singh into the fray because if I'd managed to destroy this unit of Ghazis it would have meant that I would have secured one third of the trenches (worth victory points), I would have destroyed another Ghazi unit (also worth victory points) and I would have been poised to completely dislocate the entire Afghan position. 

We rolled and the result was a draw. 

We rolled again and not only did I lose the combat, but I also rolled a one, which meant that General Singh was not only defeated, but he was dead. 

Down he goes.   This provoked a round of morale tests throughout the army and badly shaken by the loss of their leader, the Sikhs began to withdraw.  With the Sikh position unravelling and the Welsh Wizard needing to return to his Tin Mine, we called the game there. 

This was a hard fought game that went all the way to the second last turn and which could have gone either way until the end game.  I've always enjoyed The Sword and the Flame because it creates these moments of drama. The heroic last stand of the unnamed Afghan leader shall live on in story and song. 

It's been a real pleasure to get back to gaming with the Wizard, a reminder of times when we were both teenagers and playing Warhammer Panzer Battles with Airfix figures.  It was also good to get my Sikhs on the table, I'm looking forward to maybe getting a few more Sikh games in this year. 

Fingers crossed. 

*This leader is listed in Tilson as General Blabharda...which I'm assuming is a joke.  I mean really.  Blab Harder?