Monday, April 14, 2014

Lenino to Berlin 43-45: Battle of Lenino

Battle of Lenino is the first battle we are going to play in our Lenino to Berlin 43-45 campaign.

The battle of Lenino was a baptism of fire for the Polish 1st Tadeusz Kościuszko Infantry Divisiona newly formed People’s Army of Poland. The main fights took place between 12 and 13 October 1943. Although, for many years (during communism period in Poland) the strategic meaning of the battle was visibly overstated, it is fair to say that the battle was important from the political point of viewit purported to show the brotherhood of Polish and Soviet soldiers.

If you are interested in historical details, I recommend you reading the article at Wikipedia, whereas I will try to keep the description of the battle short. The Polish 1st Division belonged to the 33th Army, whose task was to break through the German Panther line and reach the Dnieper River. The task for the Polish division was to assault the German line between the village of Polzukhi and hill 215.5. The attack led through the valley of the Mereya river. Crossing the shallow river wasn’t a big problem in itself. The real issue was operating in the swampy valley of the river.

Two Soviet divisions – 42th and 290th, supported the Polish attack on both flanks. Unfortunately, both of them were undermanned (around 4000 personnel each).

During two days of fighting, the Poles were able to take Polzukhi and hill 215.5. However, they suffered heavy losses (25%) and were not able to continue the advance. They also inflicted heavy casualties on the German 337th infantry division.

There were many issues that affected the performance of the 1st Polish Division. I would like to point to a few of them:
  • The terrain: the swampy valley of Mereya river made river crossing difficult for tanks. Most of time infantry fought without any armor support (e.g., first tanks reached hill 215.5 only after the battle already raged for four hours).
  • Insufficient training:  for 80% of the Polish soldiers it was their initial combat encounter. Many historians claim that the unit was deployed to front too soon, because of political pressure. 
  • The German defensive line was very well prepared.
  • The artillery preparation was shorter than it was supposed to be.
  • There was a thick fog making effective recon difficult.
  • Logistic problems: lack of ammunition; problems with organizing river crossing for tanks.
  • The Soviet units on both flanks didn’t manage to break through German defenses, leaving the flanks of the 1st Polish Division exposed to counter attacks.
  • There were personal problems in the Polish Division (some officers were inexperienced or incompetent, not to mention some had severe alcohol problems).  

The support equipment available for soldiers in the 1st Polish Division:
  • AT guns: 45mm and 76mm
  • Howitzers: 122mm
  • Mortars: 50mm, 82mm and 120mm
  • Tanks: T-34 and T-70
  • Armored cars: BA-64 (presumably)

We decided to play three games to represent the battle. For all of them we will use the Battlegroup Kursk book.

1. Assault on hill 215.5

Scenario: High Ground (page 175).

It will somehow summarize the assault of the 1st Regiment (and 3rd Regiment on the second day). The assault started at 6:00 AM with the recon operation in the strength of Battalion (preceded by preparation by heavy artillery). The soldiers were able to cross the river and even to take the first line of German entrenchments.  However, the losses in the Battalion were heavy (50%). In fact Germans had withdrawn from the first line to avoid losses from the artillery fire. The main assault started at 10:30. The armor was not able to cross the river on time, so infantry was unsupported until the first tanks appeared on the hill at 14:30. The Poles were able to eventually secure the hill. The Germans launched a couple of counter-attacks (tanks, infantry, and heavy support from the Luftwaffe). 

2. Trigubovo

Scenario: Attack-Counter-Attack (page 171) – buildings in the middle, river in the South or South + West / East, road.

German forces had to withdraw from hill 215.5 into the village of Trigubovo. German commanders knew that the village is crucial for holding the defensive line. The fights to secure the village were fierce. Polish 1st Regiment was able to take the village, but it was soon counter-attacked and pushed back (Germans attacked with tanks, including the famous Ferdinand tank destroyers).  Again, Polish forces lacked tank support (which arrived late). The fights lasted till the evening and were continued at night (with the support of 16 tanks). The 1st Regiment suffered heavy losses and finally had to be joined by the remaining 3rd Regiment. Despite many assaults Poles were not able to re-secure the village.

3. Polzukhi

Scenario: Defense Line (page 174) – buildings in the Front Line Zone that go deeper into the defenders area.

The 2nd Regiment was ordered to assault Pozlukhi. German resistance in the village was heavy. They launched a couple of counter-attacks (with tanks, infantry and air support). Poles were able to capture the village and hold it to the end of the battle. However, in one moment of the battle, only the heavy barrage from howitzers battery saved the fate of the 2nd Regiment.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Campaign: from Lenino to Berlin 43-45

To add some flavor to our regular BGK battles we decided to look for a campaign system.
Initially, our vision was to create a complex campaign system ourselves. We thought about including things like earning / loosing points that are used reinforce your army, etc.  However, after long discussions we decided to drop the project, because we felt that there is a really thin line between something great and complete disaster. Unfortunately, creating such system requires lots of play testing = time that we don’t have right now.

Recently, we got a completely different idea. We decided to combine the pleasure of playing tabletop strategy with a little bit of historical research. The idea is to add some historical background to our battles. The theme of the campaign will be the battle route of Peoples' Army of Poland on the Eastern Front (LWP). The army entered combat in October 43 and finished the war in Berlin in 45. This will enable us to go smoothly between different Battlegroup books (Kursk, Overlord, and Fall of the Reich) and record the results of all the battles.

The rules are more than simple. We analyze the battle route of LWP, and, for each major battle, we do a little bit of research to understand:
  • What units that were involved in combat?
  • What equipment did they have?
  • Were there any special conditions / problems, etc.?
  • What terrain features were present?
Based on this information we will try to select a BG scenario that would best represent the battle conditions. We will also try to incorporate the information about the equipment into our rosters (we will still prepare a valid 500-point order of battle for the Battlegroup game). If the battle is a bigger one, we split it into a number of smaller encounters. We don’t want to have exact, historical scenarios, because they would involve very deep research, and at the end, it is hard to find well-balanced encounters that would be fun to play.

Finally, we will play the game; write a short report, and award a victory point to the winner.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Project Gulaschkanone: 15mm Field Kitchen Objective Marker

I think that most of us enjoy seeing some scenic objective markers on tables. Many of them are real eye candies that often show different side of battlefront life - usually with a little bit of humor. 
It has been a while since I started to think about such projects myself. Finally I got it!
Initially, I thought that my idea for a marker was pretty original, but it quickly turned out that it is quite a regular topic (however, I haven’t seen such marker at any table I've played so far). What was the idea - a field kitchen! That theme really gives you as a modeler a huge space for experimenting. 
I decided to build a diorama showing a German field kitchen a.k.a. Gulaschkanone. The name comes from its shape while being towed - the chimney was disassembled and transported horizontally making it look like a cannon.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any model in 15mm scale, so I even started to collect pieces and bits from different models to scratch-build it. After some time, it turned out that QRF has one in its range. I was really happy that I didn’t have to sculpt it myself.

QRF GSV16 Field Kitchen

The model is a piece of art. It is beautifully sculpted; the casting is also very good. For the price of 5 GBP you receive a whole set containing the kitchen itself with the front cart, four horses and two cooks (one is very well fed ;). The model is close to the original kitchen, however, one piece of the front cart is missing (a kind of shelf at rear used to transport milk/water containers).  Fortunately, it wasn't a problem to add it myself.

Scenic Objective Marker

What you can see below is the objective just before painting. I combined QRF set with couple of Battlefront’s figures, a little bit of PSC stowage and the dog from one of the H0 railway sets. In addition, I sculpted some of the equipment myself.

After painting it looks like that. I feel that my soldier will die for that objective with joy…

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Scenic objective marker: Munitionsschlepper 38

As you probably noticed I recently spent my (very limited) spare time on playing Battlegroup Kursk (BGK), however, I still keep my Flames of War army ready for combat. Today, I would like to write about my recent project that is dedicated to both games.

In BGK you have to take care about re-supplying your vehicles with ammunition. Frankly speaking it is a very important aspect of the game – especially for German players. For instance, Germans can take trucks and armored ammo carriers. Especially, the second type of vehicles gives Germans advantage. Trucks are easy to destroy, while armored ammo carriers are well protected from small-arms fire and can even survive hits from small caliber guns. To be honest, before we started to play BGK I was not aware that Germans used so many types of converted vehicles as ammo carriers.

I started to look for some models that could represent armored ammo carrier vehicles. I also thought it could be a good idea to build a simple scenic objective marker for Flames of War that will use the vehicle. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find such models in 15mm scale, because not many tabletop WWII games focus on the supply aspect. I found a set of StuG battery support vehicles produced by Forged in Battle that includes Sdkfz 252 supply vehicles. The main problem was that there were three vehicles in the box, but I only needed one. The second one was that according to the stats of the vehicle in BGK it seems to represent a converted tank. (Update: QRF has also Munitionsschlepper 38 in their range)

I started to investigate what types of ammo carriers German used during WWII. I found some that were built on the chassis of Panzer 38. I thought it is a good idea to convert a cheap Zvezda Panzer 38 kit to an ammo carrier (in Poland it costs less than 3 Euro). Unfortunately, it was difficult to find any original photos of such vehicles. I found two model kits in 1/72 scale, one produced by ATTACK and the second one by UM. They both represent Munitionsschlepper auf Fgst Panzer 38(t) Ausf. C. However, I wanted to look for original photos, and finally, I was lucky to find them at Wehrmacht history page.

The Zvezda Panzer 38(t) kit is really a model I could recommend. The casting quality and level of details is very good, although, some of the details casting is a little bit flat making it quite difficult to pin wash. You'll get a single, small sprue that contains only 6 pieces (plus a flag). It is extremely easy to assemble the model, what is quite important for wargamers. The only drawback is that you won't get any stowage or crew members. It won't be also easy to customize the vehicle, because hatches are casted in hull and turret.

The conversion of Zvezda model was really straightforward. I only had to drill a hole in the turret mounting-point and use a little bit of green stuff to model the coverage and remove hull MG leaving just its mounting point. I also used Battlefront’s artillery crew figures and some PSC stowage. To make the vehicle dual-purpose I added a magnet at the bottom of the model and another one to the scenic base. This enables removing vehicle once I play BGK and stick it to the base for Flames of War scenic objective marker. Moreover, I also added a magnet to one of my Zvezda Opel trucks, so it can be also used as an objective marker for BGK, when I use ammo carrier on table.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

PSC: Tiger 1 finished

I've just finished a new 15mm Tiger I model by Plastic Soldier Company and I finally have a platoon of 3 Tigers ready for  my new, nasty Battlegroup Kursk 500 pts. roster, so Kondziu beware!...

I don't want to write yet another review of the PSC kit - you'll find plenty of them here and there. Let me just share my general impressions about the model.

What you get is a single (but large) sprue with the parts enabling you to built different variants of the Tiger 1 tank, starting from the early desert version and ending up with its late versions with modified tracks system. The hull and turret are not covered with zimmerit, so if you like it you will have to add it yourself. The model has a very nice system for mounting the turret and something I haven't seen in 15mm scale - the gun mantle which enables you to control the gun angle (sic!).

In my opinion it is a real "model kit". It requires some time to assemble it, which might not be too convenient for wargamers, but will definitely give lots of pleasure to modelers. On the other hand, how many Tigers you need in your army?

There is however, one big issue related to tracks. I assembled many PSC models and I didn't have so much trouble with them (although many people complain about them). In this model it was a nightmare.

The model fits very well to Battlefront's one. It has slightly lower profile and some minor difference in turret (e.g., hatches). As you can see below it is not so easy to find a difference if you look from some distance. I decided to assemble a mid version so of course you'll easily notice which is which by looking at tracks.
Left - Battlefront, Right - PSC
Left - Battlefront, Right - PSC
Left - Battlefront, Right - PSC
Finally, I think it is a very nice model. I love the Battlefront's model very much - in my opinion it is one of their bests. I think that PSC is at least comparable, and if not only the tracks I would say it is even a little bit better.