Sunday, July 27, 2014

Heinkel 111

I had intended to post the pics I finally found of my Perry's Napoleonic French wagon with cantinierre demurely seated next to the driver. Its a really nice piece that fits well as decoration on the wargaming table BUT I found myself taking on one of my biggest model-making challenges yet. My son gave me his old partially completed HE 111 bomber for my birthday. At first it looked like all the parts were still there mostly in their bags in the box but it was too good to be true.  I discovered the cockpit assembly and bomb rack were put together or rather had been - but the entire cockpit part was actually missing and nowhere to be found. There was nothing for it but to scratch build it out of spare bits of kit etc, following as closely as possible the model diagram in the assembly instructions. My admiration for people who are master modellers grew appreciably as I'm sure tackling such problems leads to madness!

Needless to say just doing this bit alone to ages as I had to shape the flooring to fit and construct the unique HE111 pilot's joystick yoke. It took hours and hours. Of course it also had to fit into the HE's plexiglass nosecone.


The other thing I found to be a huge challenge was the model itself.  It's an expensive Revell and very accurate BUT it doesn't fit together well. I had to make and then finish the model before fitting all the many plexiglass panels. There were annoying gaps everywhere and I ended up using model bog to fill them in. Bugger.


I made it in flight mode to match the rest of my Luftwaffe force - with the bomb bay doors open so its about to deliver its load.
I have to say, model issues aside, its a very impressive plane. At 1/72nd scale its wingspan is slightly smaller than the JU52 and it will look most impressive gliding menacingly over the wargaming table! (If I ever get to use it that is!)


I now have a complete selection for air ops over Greece and the Med. Just one Italian bomber to go but I have to do my Italian army first - so not anytime soon!


Friday, July 18, 2014

Wintercon 2014 - Chain of Command 'Air Assault' Games: Galatas (Crete 1941)

One of the biggest challenges was bringing BOTH the Pegasus Bridge AND the Galatas games to Wintercon. Frankly either one of them would have been enough but Andrew had devised and written two scenarios of four separate games and after a few play tests - we couldn't do just one!  However, we did find out playing the Pegasus Bridge games that a day was barely enough time. It became apparent early during the first Galatas game that we would need ALL that day to see it play to a conclusion, without a hope of doing the planned next game. Nonetheless, despite running out of time and our rules guru Andrew having to unfortunately drop out of the Galatas game completely, it still came off as John, Jason and myself all threw ourselves into it - another wargaming spectacle was repeated on the second day of Wintercon! The fact we managed to pull it off is in no small measure to Andrew's really excellent scenario and adaptation of the Chain of Command (CoC) rules.

As well as showcasing Two Fat Lardy's CoC as a ruleset for larger scale actions, with the first game of the Galatas scenario we were also giving a world-first introduction to Rif Raf Miniatures latest line of 28mm WWII figures - the redoubtable Greeks!




They are all in greatcoats - obviously intended for the Albanian - Northern Greece theatres, mostly against the Italians (to whom they gave a right flogging) so a bit warmish for Crete in the summer but they are Greeks and, as far as I'm aware - RifRaf are the ONLY supplier of such figures on the market - so good on 'em I say!  They have produced a very good range of figures in multiple poses and a wide variety of weapons, accurately reflecting the fact the Greeks used whatever they could lay their hands on - particularly captured Italian weapons - but were primarily equipped with a variety of French and British stuff. They come with both the French Hotchkiss and British Vickers HMGs, for example. The Italian style helmets were manufactured under licence before the war so most available steel helmets were of this variety but French Hadrian helmets were also used and as the campaign went on, increasingly British Tommy 'ats!

The poor old Greeks that made it to Crete after the debacle on the mainland had lost most of their weapons and kit so were equipped with whatever the equally hard-pressed British could spare. The Greeks on the mainland were armed with a few submachine guns, primarily the Thompson drum fed SMG but increasingly much prized captured Italian Berettas. Apart from two French  LMGs the Greeks in our scenario are only rifle armed, to reflect the historically dire situation they were in on Crete with regard to equipment.

Galatas with its scattered defences
The Monastery & its Greek defenders (3 rifle sections & one LMG)
The village defences - two rifle sections & a Vickers HMG
The Kiwi section (with 2" mortar and Bren) isolated in the woods.
Aussie crewed captured Italian artillery & Greek LMG protecting outside an olive grove opposite the village and overlooking the valley, providing support to the village defences.

In the first game of our Galatas scenario the Greeks formed the bulk of the forces defending the village and the key position of the monastery - roughly an understrength platoon for each. They had two LMGs and one Vickers HMG for support with a captured Italian 75mm gun (minus the sights!) manned by an Australian artillery crew, a couple of New Zealand advisors (officer & an NCO for the Vickers as the inexperienced Greeks were unfamiliar with it) and one small section of Kiwis in an isolated position on a wooded hill between the monastery and the village. The Kiwis and Aussie gun crew are regulars but all the Greeks are classed as 'green'.

JU52s sweep over the fields outside Galatas

Historically, the Germans were indeed fortunate to face such thin and poorly equipped defences so far apart, otherwise their landing could have been a disaster like the ones they suffered earlier at Maleme and Heraklion etc. Galatas and its neighbouring monastery were the key positions to Canea, the last sizeable city and port on Crete held by the Allied 'Creforce' and from which they could evacuate.  To finally crack the Allied defences on Crete and trap thousands of Allied troops, the Germans had to back up their costly and hard-won earlier successes at Maleme and Heraklion.

The flight of JU52s reach their drop zones [Photo: Greg Blake]


The German's air drop outside Galatas was the last of Op MERCURY but the entire operation was still very much on a knife's edge. Had they failed at Galatas and the Allies successfully counterattacked, given the horrendous casualties already suffered, the Germans may well have called off their entire operation - they were also lucky that Creforce commander Freyberg was completely unaware of just how dire the German's position was - no doubt because the Allies' situation looked even more disastrous! Galatas wasn't a large battle - little more than a battalion-sized action - but it was very much a do-or-die situation for both sides. In the end local Allied success at Galatas bought them enough time to successfully evacuate many thousands of troops who would otherwise have to have been abandoned and likely captured. Our first game is based on the initial German landing at Galatas which saw them seize - after some hard fighting - both the crucial monastery and village. The second game is of the famous Kiwi counterattack which saw them retake - for a time - Galatas.  We have planned to play this one in about a month's time at our local club.

Initial landings outside Galatas - note the weapons container between the Greek defenders and German paras!

For our Galatas game I was Greek commander for a change with fellow Greek commander Ian and Kiwi/Aussie gun commander Paul with Jason and young Andrew the 1st Fallschirmjaeger force targeting the town and veteran gamer Greg the 2nd German force tasked with taking the monastery on Church Hill. John volunteered to be the umpire/rules guru in Andrew's stead. With this game I changed the start by not allowing the Germans first turn after landing.  Our last test game was a bit of a walk-over for the Germans attacking the town as they got the chance to recover their weapons containers AND open up on the hapless Greek defenders before the latter got a fire a shot off in defence. This meant that the Greeks never got going - Greek rifle sections with 8 firing dice faced the German para sections with over 30! Once the Germans unleash this firepower the odds go even more in their favour very quickly. I reasoned that the first drop would have met no defensive fire due to the element of surprise but the defenders would have been alerted by the noise if nothing else and would have either panicked or opened fire - the Greeks are green troops but they are also aggressive and opened fire with whatever they had. I could see Jason wasn't too impressed by this unilateral change but in the end it worked out as the German sticks mostly landed on top of or a move away from their weapons, with only about three exceptions out of 17 separate drops in three waves!

Initial drop - the paras land beside their container and quickly arm themselves

Although the second and third wave of drops could have been under fire, the reality was that the defenders had no AA and only three LMGs and one HMG to defend BOTH the town and the monastery.  One Greek LMG fired a burst at a JU52 on its last run but as I said to the German CO Greg - only allowing a hit on a D6 was perhaps too harsh!  After all dozens of the lumbering JUs were shot down by ground fire, many more returning to the mainland riddled and full of dead or dying German paras.

Last para drop - they were meant to attack Church Hill  but somehow came down outside of the town - the audacious Greek LMG in the background fired a burst at the JU as it passed overhead.

The JU the Greeks fired at was actually closer to them flying overhead at under 500 meters (the Germans usually jumped at 3-400 meters) than the paras in the field in front of them - probably should have allowed hits on D5 & 6. Similar to hits on an AFV, you then dice to see if you damaged the plane or killed paras or crew etc.  Next time we play this sort of scenario its something I'd like to try!

Jason's second and third waves dropped into a hot LZ - under intense fire from the Greek defenders and Aussie gunners firing over open sights (just as well - the captured Italian 75 didn't come with sights!)

The game starts with the first wave of German para drops, the number allowed dictated by the command dice and the number of sections (separate elements) carried by each plane. After the drop points are nominated the weapons containers are diced for direction & distance from the drop points, then the para sticks to see how close (or not) they are to their weapons. In two cases in this game the weapons containers landed some distance from their para sticks - the worse being Jason's lead section whose container landed in the walled roadway just outside the town - right under the noses of the Greek defenders.  The paras dropped into the open field beyond - right in the sights of the Greek Vickers HMG!  If I'd had my wits about me I would have tried to recover the Germans weapons before they did (you can do that in this scenario) but German firepower was so overwhelming - my rifle section command (officer, NCO and runner) were wiped out in one round of shooting (it was one of their belt-fed MGs that did it I think), dangerously reducing the Greek's overall moral.

Handgranaten Loss! 1st German assault on the town destroys one of the remaining Greek rifle sections - but also gets wiped out in the process. The Greeks are aggressive fighters and love hand-to-hand!
German mortar, HMGs (and eventually the mountain gun) zero in on the remaining strongpoint.  The amount of firepower thrown against the building was astonishing - as was the Greek's ability to survive it! 

The German's were gradually worn down too - although the Vickers HMG got plenty of hits, caused very few casualties - the Greek rifles (all eight of them!) did as much damage!  In the end the remainder of Jason's squad charged the Greeks behind the wall defences of Galatas and in the ensuing hand-to-hand six paras killed six Greeks who also killed them. The surviving Greek NCO had had enough and bolted - and the fragile Greek morale took another nearly fatal hit.  Luckily my command dice rolling had given me a D6 CoC which I burned to avoid my overall morale breaking completely. But it was only putting off the inevitable.

On the other side of the table Ian was putting up a good fight defending the monastery on Church Hill. In fact such was his shooting prowess that the Germans never even threatened the hill - although it was a major objective along with the town.  The German commanders decided it would be too costly to assault across open fields.  Interestingly they never used their CoC dice to call in an airstrike with the available Stuka or ME110. In our test game the Germans were faced with the same problem but the effects of the combined bombardment and airstrike were devastating and broke the Greek defenders. Likewise Paul's Kiwis inflicted serious damage on two German units but once again German firepower gradually eroded the small Kiwi section's effectiveness to the point where they were forced to retreat.

The much reduced paras bring their gun into action and finally force the Kiwis and Greeks to retire.

In the end numbers and constant pressure told, at first pinning then breaking Kiwi resolve and forcing them to retreat.

The final part of the game was Greg deciding to drop his remaining sticks of paras in about the only spot not contested or exposed to enemy fire the fields next to the olive grove on the hill opposite the town - also one of the German objectives.  We had a bit of a discussion about paras dropping into wooded areas and the mayhem that usually follows.  The most the German commanders would conceded was one shock per stick to represent the 'confusion'.  So, no broken legs (or necks) then. I personally think they should dice for casualties - a D5-6 then roll again for how many - but I think I may have been overruled... or something!   Anyhow, Greg's landings were a masterstroke as they finally overran the LMG and Aussie gun crew (the former wisely surrendered, the latter after a short, hard fight) and they were marched off into captivity.

The end is near for the Aussie gunners who didn't manage to hit much with their antiquated Italian gun but kept firing until the paras overran them - the three surviving crew joined the captured Greek LMG crew.
The Germans capture their first objective - Olive Grove Hill.

This left the rest of Greg's force combine its efforts with Jason and Andrew's main force and concentrate on reducing the remaining Greeks  in Galatas.  As his last squad and HMG had landed next to the vineyard, behind a defending Greek rifle section, the latter decided to bolt into the main house/strongpoint in town and join the hard-pressed Vickers and HQ sections and their Kiwi advisors. Twice Greg thre 30+ firing dice at them and came up with... a couple of shock markers.  The amount of ordnance thrown at the house was extraordinary - and eventually told.  Once we started loosing more men, the accumulation of shock plus the Kiwis forced withdrawal AND the capture of the gun and LMG meant Greek morale finally broke and the defenders of Galatas had no choice but to surrender.

The surviving Allies in Galatas, pounded into submission, with mounting casualties and no hope of relief, are forced to surrender .

I don't know what is to become of the virtually unscathed Greek defenders of the Church Hill monastery. Perhaps their morale broke too - I can't remember (we'd run out of time anyway!) I think if they held out the Germans would have just bombarded them and called in an airstrike or two. 

The Battle of Galatas

Interestingly the Germans, although victorious (3 out of 4 objectives) didn't have things entirely their own way as it proved a costly win with two entire sections out of nine destroyed and several others badly mauled.  They still have all their heavy weapons intact - and even an Italian 75 if they want it (but apart from the desperate Allies - who would?) and they were about to be reinforced by Gebirgsjaeger (Mountain Troops) - all of which they will need for the next scenario when they are the defenders of Galatas.

A big thank you to all who played and helped run what was a spectacular and enjoyable game.  Can't wait until we get to do the second part of Galatas - the Kiwi counterattack with the famous haka & charge by the Maori Battalion. Oh, and there'll be tanks too!