Miniature Ordnance Review looks at the world of historical and fantasy miniatures wargaming and model building. From 15mm Flames of War, to Warhammer 40K, to 1/35th scale tanks, with some potential surprises on the horizon - you'll find them here!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

T-72 Photo Etch Update

Given I only managed to get nine reasonably acceptable front plates of the 15 I need out of yesterday's batch, I knew I needed another batch of photo-etched plates for my NVA T-72s. I managed to get the batch running today and made a few adjustments along the way to hopefully get a better result, and thankfully I did actually manage to get that better result. I believe all twelve of these will work, so I'll be able to pitch a few of the more over-etched examples from the previous batch!


This batch worked so well it managed to almost keep the whole set of sprues. There appears to be one spot where the etching solution bled through on the top left example, but with a little filler that one should work just fine too!

This time I used a longer exposure time (12 minutes instead of 10) to better expose the resist. I also adjusted my exposure lamp to hopefully provide more even light coverage. I also backed off on the concentration of the developer, and left it in the developer a shorter amount of time. The etching took a bit longer as I was reusing the same etch solution, which they say is good for multiple runs, and I spent more time double checking it.

I had thought to use some thicker metal for future projects, but looking at the edge creep on these, I wonder if it wouldn't be counterproductive as I can get undercut (wet etches are by there very nature isotropic) - so I may even to thinner on future projects.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Battlefront's T-72 and Advanced Moldeling Syndrome - Part 2

In my quest to improve Battlefront's T-72 and get my NVA army ready for painting, I've gone to great lengths to get the lower front glacis plate correct. Unlike the newer T-64 kit that has the lower front glacis plate detail molded in, the early T-72 kit is flat with no detail. Soviet T-72 tanks would have had the distinctive toothed plate with eight engineering attachment points above it, whereas the Czech and Polish produced varieties (like those received by the East Germans) would have only had four.


Step one in getting the miniatures ready for upgrading was to fill the seam on the front glacis. I've seen some photos where there is a clear weld line in roughly that area, but the gap seems overly large in scale and its placement wasn't perfect, so I decided discretion was the better part of valor and I filled it.


I used Mr. Surfacer 1200 to fill the gap because it is a nice liquid that can be easily brushed on and controlled. Once the Mr Surfacer had dried (nominally 2 hours, but longer is better), I sanded down the front to make it ready for detailing.

So... the elephant in the room... how to make the detailed toothed front plate? Well, I could use styrene, and that would take a long time, and be nearly impossible to replicate easily and consistently. Or I could throw the Hail Mary and dig out a technique I last used in graduate school - photoetching.

The first step to photo etching is coming up with good artwork. Between the Zvezda 15mm T-72 and the Battlefront T-64, I was able to scale myself a decent front plate for the T-72 in Photoshop. The artwork is printed out on clear film which has to be registered as you have a front and back pattern and will be etching from both sides!

I used the Micromark photo-etch system, and for a hobbyist system it ended up working pretty well. I had a little over-etch which spoiled about 3 of the 12 possible parts, but I think I can fix that next time with a longer exposure. The system requires you to clean the brass, ad a film-based resist to it, expose, and then develop the resist. Once the resist is developed (which uses a sodium hydroxide solution), the brass itself is etched in ferric chloride (and yes, the whole thing does the chemist in me proud!).


One side finished etching before the other, so I had to pull half of the parts out of the bath while the rest were still etching. Once I was done etching, the remaining resist has to be removed in a concentrated sodium hydroxide bath.


All told I was able to get what I think will be nine functional parts (see above). As I currently have fifteen T-72 to finish up, I'm going to have to do another batch of twelve parts, so I may not end up using some of the more over-etched examples above.


Once the T-72 had been sanded, I added the photo-etched part to the lower front glacis and then added the engineering points and other details with strip styrene. I have a great tool called The Chopper that allows you to make multiple replicates of a piece that is a constant length. I'm using Evergreen styrene for the details.

So soon I should have my bevvy of T-72 tanks for my NVA force ready to prime and paint, and they'll not have a naked lower glacis!!! I'm hoping to get one more run through the photo-etcher done this weekend so I'll have enough to finish the lot.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Not Your Typical Volksarmee - A Painting Guide for East German Infantry Part 1

The main Team Yankee book includes some fairly decent painting instructions for NVA infantry, but if you look at the zoomed figures on page 31 of the Volksarmee book and compare them to the distance shots on page 32, the colors don't match up well to my eye. Also, the actual camouflage scheme used by the NVA (also on page 31) is very intricate making the attempt on the figure itself look fairly crude. The lines and pattern are far too large and ultimately don't begin to give a proper scale effect for NVA BDU camouflage, officially called Strichtarn, but colloquially known as "Ein Strich - Kein Strich" by DDR troops. I therefore went in search of more information and worked to develop my own paint scheme for these troops.

The first thing that I discovered is because Strichtarn was in use for so many years and produced in several places, there is a great deal of inconsistency in the exact coloration. The other thing I realized is that on a 15mm miniature replicating the actual camouflage scheme is impossible and it won't look right even if you do. Unlike World War II Waffen SS schemes that can still be rendered effectively on a 15mm miniature, as you shrink Strichtarn to correct for scale, it simply comes out looking brown with maybe a beige highlight to it. The other thing I discovered was that there was a variety of gear that came (or could come) in colors and patterns other than Strichtarn.

NVA BDU

The photo above comes from one of the few references I've been able to find in English on the NVA, Uniforms of the East German Military: 1949-1990 by Klaus-Ulrich Keubke and Manfred Kunz. I also have a few pouches and other pieces of East German militaria I was able handle and look a personally in developing the palette for painting my own Motorisierte Schützen.

The basic color suggestions for the uniform itself (as long as you're painting it as a solid uniform) in the Volksarmee book aren't bad. Using both the Battlefront and other online conversion tables for the new Flames of War colors back to the old Vallejo equivalents, I was able to settle on a base coat of 921 English Uniform followed by a wash (discussed later) and highlights of 873 U.S. Field Drab and 821 German Camouflage Beige (with the latter being a very light highlight). I went ahead and painted the helmets as if they were covered as well, but they could also be colored green (which I may do to help tell squads apart if I paint more infantry).

Uniform Paint Palette

The large bag carried with a shoulder strap as well as most of the East German harness and many rifle slings are a blue-grey color. For these items I chose 992 Neutral Grey. The roll on the back appears to be a beige color, so I went with 987 Medium Grey. Flesh and Black were just the old Quartermasters Flat Flesh (Vallejo 955) and Black (Vallejo 950) colors as you don't need anything fancy there.

In Progress View From the Front

For the weapons and the wood handle on the entrenching tool, I moved over to Ammo of Mig paints. The entrenching tool was painted with 037 New Wood, while the weapons utilized a variety of paints from the Weapons Colors set. Most of these colors can be picked up separately - I generally used the Red Brown Base and Red Brown Shine.

Ammo of Mig Weapon Color Set covers multiple eras

East German AK-74 (MPi KM) rifles were usually fairly dark and utilized Bakelite or polymer furniture (stocks). The buttstocks typically had a stippling pattern on them, though at 15mm scale this would be invisible.

NVA MPi-KM

NVA magazines could be the dark blued finish above, or they could be a very light tan Bakelite. Generally Bakelite magazines would be smooth sided whereas the metal magazines are ribbed, so any magazine that looked like it had ribs on the side, I painted as a metal blued magazine.

NVA Bakelite MPi-KM Magazines

NVA canteens appear to have come in a variety of finishes, and some had Strichtarn covers, so I went with a mix of light green canteens (I used 830 German Field Grey) and some left in German Camouflage Beige.

NVA Canteen

The magazine pouch is also generally Strichtarn, but to make it stand out I hit it with a stronger highlight of the German Camouflage Beige.

NVA Magazine Pouch

Taken all together, this give a lot more visual interest to the Motorisierte Schützen than the scheme advocated in the Volksarmee book which essentially has one uniform color, a web gear color, black boots, flesh and weapon colors.

In Progress View from the Rear

For any green painted surfaces I went back to some old Flames of War books and used the conversion charts again, ultimately settling on 890 Reflective Green for any of the heavy weapons or the light machine gun ammunition boxes.

In an effort to move a bit more quickly in my infantry painting, I wanted to find a shading system that would allow the minimum amount of repainting and highlighting after the wash - especially on faces and other areas of exposed flesh. I picked up some of the army painter Quickshade washes, and these have really done the trick. I use a mixture of Flesh Wash and Strong Tone on flesh - which works well with the very light flesh color. Strong Tone works well on the uniform, and Dark Tone works well on weapons and any gray web gear.

Pre-mixed washes can save time and improve consistency

For the ground work, I went back to Ammo of Mig products which I've used successfully in past projects. For the NVA infantry I started with a base coat of Loose Ground from the Splashes line. I then used a stipple brush to add Kursk Soil and finally Dry Light Soil from the Heavy Mud range.

Ammo of Mig Ground and Nature effects

Taken as a group the three products provide a reasonably convincing looking ground effect without having to use a pumice or fill (as the splashes can be used as a paintable fill - though it may take a couple of coats). These are all oil based, unlike the acrylics used for all other steps, so you'll need thinner to clean your brushes!

Anti-tank missile team ready for final flocking

The photo above shows one of the anti-tank missile teams ready for adding final grass tufts and static grass. Unfortunately my phone camera washed out a lot of the subtlety in the ground work and highlights on the figures, but I'll try and get better pictures once they're complete.

One Company nearly complete!

At this point at least one full company of Motorisierte Schützen are ready for dullcote. I have a few other bases just about ready to go, and I've picked up another platoon to bulk out numbers in case I want to run multiple companies going forward. I'll post more (and hopefully better) photos once I get the rest of the basing completed!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? The M247 Sergeant York in Team Yankee

With the upcoming release of Stripes, the expanded American Army and Marine Corps lists for Team Yankee, it has been confirmed that one of the options will be the M247 Sergeant York Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun. The inclusion of this vehicle has ignited a small firestorm of controversy because despite 50 examples being produced, the M247 was never fielded abroad and the project was canceled for a variety of reasons - whereas other weapon systems that were actually fielded in 1985, such as the M2 Bradley IFV and ERA equipped Soviet tanks aren't yet in the game


Too Legit to Quit???

Finding unbiased information on the exact performance of the M247 is difficult - largely because of the political environment at the time of its development. The Wikipedia article on the M247 seems to echo the very critical party line on the system, but what happens if you peel the onion back a bit? Here's a snippet from an editorial about the Sergeant York from 1984's New York Times:
"...a man with a machine gun can bring down a helicopter. The Army should know: it lost 4,643 of them in Vietnam, nearly all to rifles and machine guns. Why does it need radar-guided guns, which cost $6.5 million each? Because, as Gregg Easterbrook has recounted in The Atlantic Monthly, in 1973 the Israelis captured a Soviet radar-controlled gun called the Shilka. Tested by the Army, the Shilka proved a poor weapon, incapable of hitting maneuvering aircraft. But the Army was envious. Ten years later it has a high-tech, armor-plated lemon all its own."
Contrast this to the Wikipedia article on the Shilka which states:
"The guns are useful against low-flying aircraft and lightly protected ground targets. Due to its effectiveness against ground targets, ZSU-23-4s have been used in urban environments (e.g., Afghanistan, Abkhazia, Chechnya, Syria and Lebanon). This is primarily because the guns can elevate much higher than a tank or APC cannon, enabling armored units equipped with ZSU-23-4s to return fire against ambushes from above."
So it is clear that some of the editorials from the time were looking at the M247 through the lens of it being a copy of the "failed" Shilka weapon system - which in retrospect seems inaccurate at best.

In addition, at least a fair portion of the negative press surrounding the M247 all seems to cite back to Gregg Easterbrook and a few of his articles in The Atlantic Monthly. Granted, there were many legitimate criticisms of the development and evaluation process around the Sergeant York, but these were sensationalized to a certain extent in the press making the York the poster child for military waste and cronyism in the early Reagan years, and that narrative has pretty much stuck with the system - especially after it was officially canceled.


As a counterpoint to the "it can't hit anything but a latrine fan and a grandstand" narrative, there is an article on Quora from Tom Farrier who claims to have actually flown against it in testing, and his experience is almost completely opposite what is reported in the Easterbrook articles:
"In 1982 I participated in both cooperative and non-cooperative tests at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland, flying an Air Force CH-3E helicopter against a Sergeant York. I would have been dead many times over had it been shooting live rounds at us instead of just video."
So what's "The Truth" about the M247 Sergeant York? As with most contentious issues, it likely falls somewhere between the two extremes above. Was it good enough to be pressed into combat in a hypothetical World War III scenario in 1985? Honestly, we'll never know.

In terms of its inclusion in Team Yankee, I see the following major questions and my thoughts on them...

  1. Was it a "fantasy vehicle"? No - not really - 50 of them were produced and accepted for service (hence the "M" designation), but they weren't deployed to Europe.
  2. Did it ever function as advertised?  Seems like it sort of depended on the day and the conditions. It seems clear that there were possibly some shenanigans in awarding the initial contract, but at least in some testing it functioned well.
  3. Would I rather see actual fielded systems like the M2 Bradley and ERA in Team Yankee than a marginal system like the M247?  Yes
  4. Does its inclusion turn Team Yankee into Warhammer 40K or some other sci-fi / fantasy game?  Nope
In the end the inclusion of the M247 will likely remain a controversial choice for a while. Yes - the weapon system was ultimately canceled, but it isn't a complete flight of fancy in a wargame exploring a hypothetical Cold War gone hot scenario in 1985. In our real timeline, the M247 wasn't actually canceled until August 27, 1985 - which is actually AFTER the start of the alternate Team Yankee timeline. So for all intents and purposes, the 50 M247 Sergenat York AA vehicles were technically in active service when our game starts.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Coda - My Final Firestorm Red Thunder Battle Report

Bonus post for today!!!  My final battle report from the Firestorm Red Thunder online campaign. I sort of went into symbolism mode a bit on this one, but hey - it was my last report. Time to cut loose, yes?

Preamble


co·da
[ˈkōdə]

NOUN

  • the concluding passage of a piece or movement, typically forming an addition to the basic structure.
  • the concluding section of a dance, especially of a pas de deux, or the finale of a ballet in which the dancers parade before the audience.
  • a concluding event, remark, or section
Well, this will likely be the final battle report I file for Firestorm Red Thunder. My son and I played another game tonight - I picked up some new terrain and finally got my mat in, so we re-worked the table just a bit, rolled for a mission, and went from there. He still seems to be enjoying the game and used a Marvin the Martian head to denote his force commander - hence his handle for this game. I'm going to have to update his forces a bit so they'll be more competitive going forward, but I have the vehicles to do part of it. I'm also hoping when Stripes comes out that we'll be able to flesh out his force a bit more as well.

I really enjoyed the style I used last time for the battle report, so I figured I'd go with it again because it was fun to do. So welcome to another chapter, but not the final chapter by any measure!


Excerpts from "A History of the Third World War" by...


Chapter 8 - The American Offensive Stalls in the DDR

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility;
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger. . . .

- King Henry - Henry The Fifth Act 3, scene 1, 1–6

The American offensive through the Hof Corridor using POMCUS (Prepositioning Of Materiel Configured in Unit Sets) forces in the second week of the war took the Soviets and East Germans completely by surprise. American armored and mechanized divisions were able to open a gap and pour across the Inner German Border, or innerdeutsche Grenze, driving on Leipzig with an eye to open a corridor to Berlin itself. The American high command was, however, equally unprepared for the ferocity of the Warsaw Pack counter-attack and soon found themselves engaged on all sides as Soviet, East German, and even the occasional Polish unit attempted to reduce the Leipzig Salient as it came to be known...


In addition to the prestige of driving into Warsaw Pact territory and opening a corridor to Berlin, the Americans sought to neutralize the Soviet SAM batteries which were prevalent in that part of East Germany. Leipzig effectively marked the eastern boundary of one of the primary SAM umbrellas. Unfortunately making it that far prevented the Americans from making any further meaningful contributions on other fronts of the war as Hannover continued to be squeezed in a pocket. Eventually the city would...


A small town near Halle served as the setting for one of many spectacular reversals of fortune encountered by the Americans in East Germany. Their counterattack in the area was designed to push the East Germans off balance, but they were dealing with the elite of the NVA, or Nationale Volksarmee, in the 9. Panzer Division "Heinz Hoffmann." At this point in the war, the East German commanders were ruthless - willing to take severe casualties in order to crush the American offensive. However, attrition levels would eventually...



The East Germans focused their forces on two key assets in the town, a ford across the local river, and the rail yard. Expecting the Americans to focus their effort on the rail yard, the NVA forces were well positioned to cut off any advance in that area. They also knew that they could rely on reinforcement from the direction of the town as well - it was just a matter of holding off long enough to force the Americans back.


Much ink has been spent analyzing the American offensive into East German with many sources, mostly British, declaring it at best a "reckless misadventure" and at worst "fatal hubris." However, careful analysis shows that the Americans were not quite so reckless as some analysis would indicate. They attempted to husband their resources, and individual commanders generally showed a coolness under fire that belied the overall worsening strategic situation. It would be these commanders which would ultimately...


In fact, it would often be the East German commanders showing more reckless behavior. Of course, weight of numbers was generally their only advantage. Despite showing better discipline than some of their Soviet counterparts, the NVA went to battle in tanks that in many ways were inferior to their Soviet counterparts both in protection and armament. NATO tanks were in every way more mobile and could put more shots downrange moving or at a standstill. Warsaw Pact commanders, especially in NSWP (Non-Soviet Warsaw Pact) forces, therefore had to play numbers games with the lives of their troops - sacrificing some to allow others to be in a favorable position to defeat the enemy.

The net result is that the first echelon troops were burned through very quickly, forcing the commitment of...


In this particular battle, the American commander's tactical grasp of the situation was excellent, and he quickly realized that the ford was the better target to attack. The East German commander was therefore forced to throw weight of armor against the Americans to keep them pinned down until additional help could be redeployed from the rail yard. However, the American continued to use his mobility to his advantage - first moving up mechanized infantry to take over a Party Official's house near the ford, while simultaneously attacking the NVA artillery battery and wiping out a short company of T-72 tanks.


The NVA commander near Halle did his level best to make good use of the terrain and put his panzers in a position to force back the Americans, but his T-72s simply lacked the mobility of the American Abrams, and many of them found themselves bogged down in soft ground in wooded areas dotting the region. This opened a window of opportunity for the Americans to seize the ford and force the NVA out of the area. This would have opened the road to Leipzig...


“A piece of spaghetti or a military unit can only be led from the front end.”

― George S. Patton Jr.

The M1 Abrams tank was a quantum leap forward in military technology for the U.S. Army, but there were always too few at the point of attack to bring home any lasting victory, and so it was near Halle as well. The American commander was able to keep the flanking NVA armor at bay with Copperhead rounds from his M109 howitzers, while his surviving Abrams tanks and the infantry pushed the assault on the ford home, but it always went back to the numbers game. At this point in the war there seemed to be an inexhaustible supply of Warsaw Pact men and materiel. Later on...


... and yet the Americans did have a chance to secure at least a tactical victory in this battle. Two surviving Abrams tanks supported by mechanized infantry reached the ford and found themselves at close range with the remaining T-72 tanks supported by a couple of T-55s. Uncharacteristically, the American gunnery failed at this point, and despite outflanking the NVA to the rear, the commander's tank was ultimately destroyed.

So the end result was like so many in the region which saw brave Americans killed or captured. The surviving American infantry in the Party Official's house were captured and sent off to POW camps. It was only after the war that...

Final, Final Notes and Battle Honors


If the American dice hadn't suddenly gone very cold, I firmly believe my son would have pushed me off of the objective and I would have had to scramble to try and take it back. When his two Abrams finally busted through with infantry support, I thought he might have it, but then he missed literally everything, but he was a great sport about it.

Wrapping it all up...

故兵貴勝 不貴久

"What is essential in war is victory, not prolonged operations."

- Sun Tzu

So this is it - the final battle report I'm likely to have for Firestorm Red Thunder. Overall I've found this campaign to be a lot of fun, and a great learning experience - not just about the Team Yankee game, but about Cold War history and weapon systems as well. When I've played previous incarnations of Flames of War, I've often been the expert - especially on all things German. This time around it was nice to play the role of the avid student.

Thank Yous

First I'd like to thank Battlefront, especially Phil Yates, and the Beasts of War Crew for putting together a great campaign and system!

I'd also like to thank my co-generals on the Warsaw Pact Team, Red Alert and Alexei - along with the whole Pact crew for many great battles and discussions on the faction forum!

I'd like to thank my friends in the local gaming group at Guardian games, especially Ryan, Barca, and Zeke for use of their armies in the early days, and their support (and occasional indulgence) as the campaign progressed.

Thanks also to the American, West German, and British commanders for rallying your troops and for many outstanding battle reports!

I was in high school during 1985, and was in undergraduate school with the Berlin Wall fell and later when the Soviet Union dissolved. As fun as the Team Yankee wargame is, and as mentally stimulating as considering various cold war gone hot scenarios is, quite frankly I'm glad the Cold War ended as it did rather than what we're playing on the table. So in keeping with the theme of this report - I leave you with a song that appeared at the right time... feel free to bring out the lighters!

Until next time, this is General Fingolfen, Warsaw Pact Liaison signing off...



Warsaw Pact Wins



The ČSLA in Niederbayern - A Firestorm Red Thunder After Action Report

Only a couple of more battle reports to port over at this point.  For this one I wanted to focus on a different area of the conflict and one of the other combatants involved in the conflict, in this case the ČSLA or Czechoslovak People's Army. My primary reference was an older Osprey book which, as fate would have it, had some errors in bringing over the correct terminology. One of the members of the campaign (landaredh) helped out with some corrections:

It is ČSLA (as it stands for Československá Lidová Armáda – meaning Czechoslovak People’s Army) but more importantly

1. Tanková Divize

20. Motostřelecká Divize

Tankova Divisia souds like a butchered Slovak version (It would actually by 1.Tanková Divízia in Slovak).

Also, apparently the ČSLA didn't have Shilkas. Hopefully we can get expedient Czechoslovak and Polish lists written up for the next campaign.

Preamble


As the overall firestorm campaign begins to wind down, the plan is for the "Fulda Gap" firestorm campaign at Guardian Games to pick back up. Attendance tonight was good, but we only ended up with two tables running because people were running late because of traffic, work, and all of those other normal life issues that interfere with good gaming! Tonight I played Barca, and unfortunately his force wasn't ideal to face mine, but he was game and started out strongly.

Once facet of the hypothetical World War III as presented in the Team Yankee books that I don't think has been adequately explored are the Non-Soviet Warsaw Pact (NSWP) armies apart from the NVA. In the German theater one would likely see Czech and even Polish forces operating alongside Soviet and East German forces. Unfortunately at this point we don't have specific rules for either the Czechs or Poles, but the East Germans are probably as good an approximation as any at this point for their force organization given the lack of T-64s in any nation outside of the U.S.S.R.

Though I don't have any at this point, there are some unique Czech and Polish vehicles that could also look good on the table that would proxy pretty well for existing units. For example, the Czech OT-64 SKOT APC is pretty much a drop-in replacement for the BTR-60. Vehicles like the 152mm SpGH DANA wheeled self-propelled gun are a bit more problematic, as the gun is on the level of an Acacia, but the largest gun artillery currently available in the NVA list is the Carnation - and both of those vehicles are tracked, not wheeled. One could still likely get away with a Carnation proxy, but it would be fun to see some of these vehicles on the table.

So what follows is the battle report of 1 Tankova Divizia of the CSLA (Czechoslovak People's Army) encountering an American force outside of its normal support areas. I've decided to go with a different narrative style this time - someone (we don't know who) writing a history of the Third World War. I'll have the narrative drop off from time to time as we just don't know how this thing is going to turn out yet. I hope you enjoy it!

Excerpts from "A History of the Third World War" by...


Chapter 6 - The CSLA Adventure in Niederbayern

"If the nation only knew their hands dripped with innocent blood, it would have met them not with applause but with stones." - Georgy Zhukov

In the opening weeks of World War III, Soviet forces were quickly able to overrun much of northern Germany and conquered Denmark. Their offensive was brought to a standstill as they tried to reach Amsterdam, but in central Germany they managed to break through into the Ruhr and closed on Frankfurt trapping much of the BOAR in a pocket around Hanover. Toward the south, the Americans made a thrust through the Hof Corridor into the Deutsche Demokratische Republik near Leipzig in an effort to relieve Berlin, but were met with unexpectedly harsh resistance stalling that offensive. In the South, the Americans were able to begin pushing Soviet forces back in Niederbayern leading Stavka to commit the Czechoslovak 1 Tankova Divizia to the fighting in the region as they committed their forces further north.

Realizing that most of the Soviet forces had repositioned themselves, the Americans were confident they could hold the line in Neiderbayern and perhaps begin pushing into Czechoslovakia itself. They neglected to consider that they were facing a relatively fresh enemy who had been used sparingly in the first weeks of the war and enjoyed very short supply lines back to the Czechoslovak armaments factories.


The American Fifth Mechanized Infantry Division, the Red Diamond or Red Devil Division, was deployed through the POMCUS (Prepositioning Of Materiel Configured in Unit Sets) system in the second week of the war. While most POMCUS forces were committed to the attack into East Germany through the Hof Corridor, the 5th Mechanized Infantry Division was diverted south to shore up the lines and force back Warsaw Pact forces in Niederbayern near the border of Czechoslovakia.

Equipped with the new M1 Abrams tank, the 4th Battalion, 35th Armor Regiment, 1 Brigade was at the northern end of the local front. The Abrams tank was a technical marvel, but it was thirsty and it was somewhat under-gunned, especially as compared to the new Bundeswehr tank, the Leopard 2. This led to several tanks being lost early in the deployment when they engaged numerically superior Warsaw Pact, especially Czechoslovak, forces without adequate support. Ultimately, their tactics would improve...


One such misadventure started on August 17, 1985, when a company of M1 Abrams tanks had fallen behind and stopped to refuel. They had just completed the refueling operation when they encountered probing elements of the Czechoslovak 1 Tankova Divizia. The CSLA force was balanced and included reconnaissance elements, artillery, and anti-aircraft units in addition to its T-72B and T-55AM2 main force, but lacked any real infantry support as the motor rifle groups had been focused further south.


"Some goddamn fool once said that flanks have got to be secure. Since then sonofabitches all over the globe have been guarding their flanks. I don’t agree with that. My flanks are something for the enemy to worry about, not me. Before he finds out where my flanks are, I’ll be cutting the bastard’s throat." - George Patton

The CSLA battlegroup sought to use its superior numbers to outflank and overwhelm the enemy, but the scrappy Americans were having none of it...


Taking the initiative, their first platoon moved forward aggressively to eliminate a short company of CSLA T-72B tanks on the south flank while the second platoon moved to cut off the rest of the force, including a battalion of T55AM2 tanks and two more short companies of T-72B tanks. If one of their number had not bogged down due to the soft mud in a small wooded area, their breakthrough attack may well have succeeded. Early M1 tanks often suffered from mud build up between the side skirts and the drive sprocket ring, which was ironically meant to hamper mud seizing the drive train. This issue was later fixed...


With three of his T-72 tanks burning, the CSLA commander immediately ordered his force to advance on the northern flank, while he repositioned one company of T-72B tanks to the southern flank. He also ordered the Reconnaissance squadron to attempt an end run around the American forces to cut off any avenue of retreat. His surviving tanks on the southern flank engaged the American tanks, but their shots simply bounced off the armor of the Abrams. At this point in the conflict, the Soviets were not supplying NSWP armies with the best available ammunition. This would...


The CSLA end run with the reconnaissance group ended up being a suicide run as all four BRDM armored cars were cut down by the Abrams tanks. However, inexplicably the Abrams were still out in the open - allowing the fresh T-72B company to work itself into a better firing position, and ultimately the entire platoon was destroyed - three M1 tanks, leaving the south flank entirely open. The loss of these tanks would have immediate implications at the...


The 4th Battalion tanks on the northern flank found themselves under intense fire from all quarters - including Spandrel missiles, T-72B and T-55AM2 tanks. They were able to wipe out an entire company of T-72B tanks, several T-55AM2, and at least one Spandrel, but found their position untenable. With the southern flank failing, the surviving Abrams tanks used their superior mobility to bid a hasty retreat from the battlefield.


As was standard practice at the time, the CSLA official unit histories hailed this as a great victory, but was it really? Certainly it was a tactical victory - an American force had been encountered and forced to quit the field allowing local gains. However, for the loss of four M1 tanks, the Americans destroyed six T-72B tanks, three T-55AM2, one Spandrel armored car, and four BRDM reconnaissance vehicles. The lack of reconnaissance capability would come back to haunt 1 Tankova Divizia a few days later at the Battle of...

Final Notes and Battle Honors


This will likely be my next to last battle report, and the last one I'll be able to play with the crew at Guardian Games before the end of the Firestorm Campaign. I want to thank everyone in the local gaming group for their enthusiasm and support during the campaign, and I look forward to getting back to our local campaign here next weekend!

I don't know what Battlefront's long-term plans are for other NSWP nations outside of the NVA, but I personally would love to see a few more options in the future. That being said, if you're willing to get different decals and proxy a few things, there's no reason you can't get a Czechoslovakian or Polish force going using the existing Soviet or Volksarmee books - you just wouldn't have access to some of the equipment available to Soviet lists as things like the T-64 weren't exported.

I'll leave you with a final fun fact - the 152mm SpGH DANA is still in service in several countries. Here's one tooling around at NATO Days 2012:



Warsaw Pact Wins

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Closing the Ruhr Pocket - A Firetorm Red Thunder After Action Report

So I'm bringing over another of my battle reports from the recent Firestorm campaign to the blog. This one is special because it was the first major game with real terrain I've been able to play in the new house, and now my son is joining the party as well!


Preamble

So I finally (!) got my home game room and game table together enough to pull out all of the terrain and set up games at the house! My son Sean had wanted to play for a while, so I sat down and busted out as many Americans I could during the morning and early afternoon (even raiding some kits I'd originally picked up during the big Viet Nam sale a while back), found a few likely Flames of War infantry stands I could use as proxies, and then went about getting the board ready. He's played Warhammer 40K, but he thought this looked fun as well... and he's been obsessed with McPizza King since I showed him the PDF with the signs. So we set up the board, with McPizza King front and center and went from there! We played No Retreat because it has the Deep Reserves rule, limiting how many tanks I could put on the table on the first turn.

So - on with the show!!!



Personal Journal of Major Erich Kriegler, NVA

After several days continuous fighting around Leipzig, that theater has been passed to other forces and we've been recommitted to fighting in the Ruhr. I hope this drive will force the surrender of the West German puppet state allowing us to unite Germany once more in the cause of international socialism, but honestly I'd settle for a few days leave at this point!

We've been advancing quickly in this area, and I secured a small town between Münster and Duisburg with a minimal force as most of the armor and the reconnaissance platoon probe along our axis of advance. All of the road signs in the region have all been knocked down to confuse our advance, and all of the documents in the town hall were burned and the computers erased before we arrived. I set up a temporary command at a small farm at the edge of town near an old rail station. The rail station looks serviceable and may be of some military value. The capitalist overlord of the town also had a horde of wine and other valuables. I have the approaches to the rail yard mined - including both sides of the petrol station (drained dry - we already checked) and the parking lot of the McPizza King (still in operation - despite all stories to the contrary, the pepperoni poppers are actually quite good).


My force has been supplemented by a battery of Hail missile launchers. These are modernized versions of the Stalinorgel used by the Red Army during the last war. I'm not sure how much value they'll be, but I was ordered to bring them along during this advance, and I am a loyal soldier. If nothing else, I can have the crews guard the wine cellar.


I soon receive reports of an American probing attack - armor and mechanized infantry at the very least, and they'll be here before dawn! What I wouldn't give for a few of those American thermal imaging systems at this point!

The reconnaissance platoon indicates that this is a new American commander who has bloodied the nose of a few units in the area, and looks to push our forces out of town before we can consolidate. At least I know we currently enjoy local air superiority so I won't have those blasted helicopters to contend with!


Given the darkness I deploy my forces carefully so I don't present bright targets for the Americans. I don't want my force destroyed before I even see the enemy! I get in my panzer and join first company's T-72 tanks behind a small wood near the farm at the edge of town. I assign the Shilka battery and Hail battery to guard the decadent manor home. My 2S1 artillery battery is covering the approaches to the rail yard, and I've sent the Spandrel launchers forward in hopes they can find a good spot to launch a surprise attack.


My observers report movement in the south end of town. Armor, mechanized infantry, and armored artillery. Looks like he's come prepared. Hopefully his artillery doesn't have any of those blasted heavy anti-tank rounds. His forces are too far away to reliably target at night, so now we play the waiting game, I work to make sure my panzers can cut off his if he makes a run for the rail yard.



Through the inky blackness it is hard to see what the Americans have planned. It appears that their mechanized infantry in their APCs are simply strolling through the middle of town! What do they have planned? I have reports of American heavy tanks on both the left and right flanks. I can't guard everything with the meager force I have available to me now! The Shilka and Hail batteries won't survive direct American armored attack. I radio 2nd and 3rd companies along with the T55 group, they are on their way, but through the dark they aren't making good time.


I can now see the Americans, and they are incredibly close! They have already broken into the rail station grounds, completely bypassing the minefields around the petrol station. The enemy APCs have pulled up to the old church to the north of the town - it looks like they may begin occupying it. Tanks are also closing in on the manor house, if the others don't arrive soon, it is going to be too late! Before I can order my panzers forward, two enemy panzers open fire on the 2S1 that had been observing out of the woods, obliterating it in an instant. The light of the pyre creates eerie shadows in the forest and railroad yard, I know I must close on the railroad yard, and hope that the others can hold off the enemy tanks near the manor. The Spandrels radio and indicate they have a firing solution on the enemy panzers near the manor. I order them to engage as 1st company moves up to cover the rail yard.


The American infantry begins to take up positions just as first company's T-72 panzers reach the rail yard. They're playing hide and seek with the American panzers, but Schultz's tank peeks out for a moment too long and is destroyed by incoming American fire. With the American mechanized infantry in the church behind first company, and the American tanks just on the other side of the railroad building, they are in position to be enveloped quickly. I franticly radio to all incoming forces to move forward with all speed, else we'll be forced to withdraw!


The situation on the opposite flank is equally dire, American panzers have entered the woods near the manor house and are attacking the Shilka battery. Uncharacteristically, their gunfire is inaccurate and only one vehicle is lost.

Then over the radio I hear the most welcome news ever! Second and third companies, along with the first company of T-55 panzers have reached the area! Now we'll see how these Americans deal with the weight of righteous steel!



Despite these new reinforcements, we still find ourselves at a tactical disadvantage. I order first company to turn to face the American infantry in the church, as their anti-tank missiles will murder our T-72s from the rear. I order 2nd company to cover the rear flank of first company, while third company begins to engage the Americans near the manor. I order the first company of T55 panzers to deploy center as the battlefield is suddenly quite crowded and friendly fire is a real concern. That way they can react a crisis on either flank, and they can begin to engage the Americans inside the church.

The American APCs begin to shoot their machine guns at the Spandrels, damaging one, but the remaining spandrels continue to fire, without effect, at the American tanks. One American tank on near the manor is hit, but the fire appears to have been ineffective as it quickly rights itself. The Shilka battery destroys a couple of APCs, but are in turn quickly reduced by the American tanks with the remaining gun fleeing to the rear.


The 2nd and 3rd T-55 companies and the reconnaissance platoon radio in and report that they have nearly reached the operational area as well. This bodes well for our chances, but I don't want to underestimate the Americans. They are using terrain and concealment well, and although it is now daylight, that helps them in cover as they can move with near impunity in the woods!

Third company manages to knock out an American panzer, but the other retreats further into the woods and opens fire on the recently arrived company of T-55 tanks, destroying one and damaging a second. Its commander reports that they may be out of action for some time! Near the rail station, it is a stalemate as both sides jockey for position. I begin to move my tanks closer to get out of range of those damnable American hand-held anti-tank missiles!


We finally manage to destroy the American panzer threatening the manor house, but the American infantry destroys the spandrel launchers at the edge of the wood. Between the BRDM armored cars and a company of T55s, we have the American infantry pinned down in the church. I order third company's T72s to come around and flank the American panzers, however just as they get into position two are struck and destroyed. The enemy observer vehicle had cunningly maneuvered into a position where it could sight his artillery, and they fired their laser guided munitions. Their observer was clearly quite skilled, as soon thereafter two more T-72s were lost in an effort to relieve the infantry in the church.


At this point I've had nearly two full companies of T-72s wrecked. Second company had already succumbed to enemy fire, but the enemy command tank and one of his first platoon tanks had been taken out leaving only one. We engaged in a battle of maneuver with successive waves of T-72 and T-55 tanks dueling with the nimble American beast. If I couldn't destroy him, I was going to push him far enough back to secure the area.

Though they put up a tough fight, ultimately the infantry in the church and buildings are effectively wiped out. No one is firing anymore, and we'll move in and pick up the wounded as prisoners. At this point, the American force pulls back, but yet again the cost has been extremely high. We are once more victorious, but if we continue to take these loses, we'll make no further gains!!!



Final Notes and Battle Honors:

First and foremost my son had a great time playing the game, and I think I may have him hooked. I'll likely be building / painting the forces for a while, but seems like I'll be able to get in a few games at home going forward. The other thing that amazed me was that he was good! He had an intuitive grasp of where his guys needed to be and what they could do. He had me in a real bind early in the game with my tanks stuck between his Dragon missile launchers and his Abrams. If I had only gotten one unit of reserves that turn, I would have had to have made a really tough choice on where it would go given he was threatening both objectives.

I've also pretty much decided that infantry is a must going forward. Sure, I can get the job done with my tanks, but they're a hammer... a blunt instrument... and they can beat through just about anything if they can get there, but it isn't a clean job by any stretch of the imagination. So now I'm going to focus on getting those finished up... of course, then I'll have to work up "real" infantry for my son as well.

So in honor of the weapon system that nearly cost me two companies of T-72s - here's a short video on the Copperhead...


Warsaw Pact Wins