Tuesday, 25 July 2017

WWII era small arms at the Cambodian War Museum

Having worked in museums I'm extremely familiar with the protocols for handling exhibits.  You don't.  So a visit to the Cambodian War Museum in Siem Reap was a pleasant surprise, because it offered unfettered, unsupervised and unlimited handling of a host of small arms.  All are left over from the conflicts that blighted that unfortunate country between 1965 and 1991 and the vast majority were of Soviet origin, including many of WWII era design (if not manufacture).

A few variations on the MP43/AK47 theme....

You wanna pick one up? Sure, just help yourself

While most stuff was of Soviet origin there were some US weapons on display

This lot caught my eye, in particular the PPSh-41

I was immediately drawn to the three above because of their WWII vintage.  I was really surprised at the weight of the BAR, it was much heavier than I expected and felt like quite a cumbersome weapon to carry.

Most of the war museums I've visited have been well represented with weapons from the Western allies and the Germans, but much less so with Soviet equipment (or Japanese for that matter).  One reason the PPSh caught my eye was because of a discussion on The Guild forum a few months back regarding sculpts of 20mm figures using the weapon.  The question being, what is the correct way to hold one?  I have no idea what it says in the training manual, but picking one up gave some good indication of what might work.

Keeping in mind the drum magazine is empty, the hold I'm using above seemed the most comfortable, but I suspect with a full drum the balance would shift a bit. However, more significant, is the position of the firer's left hand fingers and their proximity to the cocking handle.  I cocked it manually and pulled the trigger and that is not a piece of metal you want your fingers close to if it's moving backwards and forwards repeatedly. 

This grip seemed more comfortable and balanced and appeared to offer better control of the direction of fire, but I have no idea how hot the barrel can become, so not sure if this is an option.

I've heard it said that this is the correct method, but to be honest it feels awkward.  This was exactly what my wife said before she took the pictures.  Again, there is no ammunition in the drum magazine, so this may make a difference.  Anyhow, I'm no small arms expert, but it was interesting to pick the gun up and try the different options.

There were other bits and pieces that I couldn't resist picking up:

A picture from my forthcoming book on responsible parenting......

The Museum also features some vehicles and guns, all exhibited outside and subject to the elements, so certainly not museum best-practice.  All of the tanks were wrecks, although in a few cases, despite having a good look I couldn't work out what the cause of damage had been.  Most had been burning at some stage, but I could find little evidence of armour penetration.  Mines? Air or artillery strikes perhaps?

1938 vintage Soviet 122mm
If you can pick up the guns, surely you can climb on the tanks?

Katyusha anyone?

All very interesting.  We followed this with an unplanned side trip to one of the sites of the killing fields.  That was a sobering reminder of the consequences of these wars and put things in a bit of perspective.  And, just in case you think I spend all my free time visiting war museums, here's a few holiday snaps from Ankgor.

Angkor Wat temple at sunrise

Ankor Tom city gate, like a scene from Tomb Raider

The temples and the city walls of the ancient capital Angkor Tom have a number of extensive wall reliefs depicting warfare of the period.  They remain the most extensive documentation of the military history of the Angkor kingdom (circa 1100AD).  The kingdom seemed to have two main enemies - the Cham Kingdom, out of what is today central Vietnam and the Siam Kingdom.  Siem Reap the town closest to the site of Angkor actually means 'Siam Defeated' in the Khmer language.  

Chinese mercenaries fighting for the Khmer and war elephants

Khmer soliders and war chariots.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Von Luck Campaign Scenario 4 'The Church on the Flank'

So after another defeat at the hands of Dave's panzer grenadiers the action shifts to Scenario 4 'The Church on the Flank' - see here for the AAR  Scenario 3 Corridor of Death (part two).  The Paras can use a fresh platoon here, but they only have 3 support points to draw on.  However the terrain looks promising for the defender with the Germans having to cross a fair amount of open ground in front of a defensive position with several houses and stone walls.  That said, the Germans do have a quite considerable 20 support points available to help them tackle the terrain and this could ease that task for them.

So far Dave has invariably called in a mortar barrage for support and looking at this terrain I would be very surprised if he doesn't do it again.  At first glance the obvious place to defend is the church and surrounding graveyard and I'd estimate that's rather conveniently also about 18" square.  If it were me, that's where the barrage would come down.  That's one of several reason why I think it unwise to anchor a defence around the church.  Firstly, the church building itself offers little for the defender. What few windows it has face north and south and the tower is such an open target I doubt anything would survive up there for long.  Looking at the stone walls in front of the church, while they offer some good cover and allow the defender to sweep the open ground with fire, it is also very exposed to German return fire (and they can muster quite a lot of that).

Dave is too experienced a player to hastily rush across that open ground and I can be certain that when he feels ready to do so, it will be only when he can bring a lot of fire down on any defender who dares show himself.  I'm outgunned by the panzer grenadiers and my only chance is to try to pick him off in detail and not allow him to bring that overwhelming firepower to bear.  For those reasons I'm going to avoid the obvious and not defend within the church grounds.

So here is my thinking, I will look to cover the open ground from both flanks.  Both points 1 and 2 are not open to his entire front, which should mean it will be hard for him to bring the fire of several units to bear on units in either of these locations.  However, I'm not convinced the open ground will be a killing ground.  I think the graveyard in the church grounds could be the place - it only provides light cover to anyone moving across it and yet allows the Paras to take up positions on several sides, behind the walls or in the upper levels of buildings, and hit an attacker from several sides.  With my gut feeling that Dave will put a mortar barrage on the church and then advance up behind it, this becomes my preferred plan of defence and I will look to place my JoPs accordingly.  As for support, I have two entrenchments at no cost as part of the campaign progress. I will add another two entrenchments and my final support point goes on an Adjutant, as I may need both Senior Leaders on the table if my defence is to be as flexible as possible.

As nothing in life is certain and just in case I've got Dave's intentions all wrong, I decided to place one JoP in the church, just to ensure I could respond if things played out differently.

German JoP in blue, British in red.

The Germans have far fewer options for JoP placement, so no surprise they have them in the sunken lane and behind the hedgerows.  Force Morale saw British start at 11 and the Germans at 10.  So with that done, we started.  I start the first command rolls and while my plan is to deploy once he is much closer, I'm hoping to build up some CoC dice while he is deploying and making those initial moves.  In the early rolls Dave slowly begins to deploy onto the table, while I roll a lot of 6s including one triple.  I hoped perhaps he'd called on a Werfer barrage for support, but no such luck, so that triple 6 was wasted.  I followed that roll with four 5s and a 6.  It then looked like things were getting really out of hand when I rolled four 6s.  The random event was the discovery of a wine stash, but with my Force Morale already at 11, it made no difference.  Crazy stuff.  While this is all going on the Germans have begun to deploy in force.

So, no Lorraine Schlepper, but a 75mm HE round is not to be ignored.

That's a tripod mounted MG42 in the corner of the hedge
As I thought, Dave has deployed carefully and ready to cover any forward move with a lot of firepower.  At this range there is no need to reveal myself, so I hang fire and hope some of those double phases and turn end command rolls come back later in the game.

So far this is pretty much how I was expecting things to unfold - cautious German advance combining Overwatch with Tactical movement.  It then comes as no surprise to see a Forward Observer turn up behind the hedges.  No unpleasant surprises so far.

With the Germans edging forward I decide I need to deploy some threat, just to keep them cautious, so I deploy a sniper into the Church tower (yes, it's an obvious location, but he can snipe away looking for leaders to hit).  He manages to inflict a casualty on the section on my right flank and some shock.  I think it also led Dave to believe my defence would be centred on the church because the FO brings his ranging shot down in the graveyard.

With that I decide to deploy the Sergeant and the 2" mortar.  I'm thinking that if I can isolate some of his sections and block some of the Overwatch using smoke, then I can try to inflict casualties on any exposed units when he can't return too much fire.

The 2" mortar gets ready to lay down some smoke
I'm going to need this smoke to work some magic.  As you can see, there's a lot of German fire ready to pour down on that churchyard.

With the threat of a mortar barrage on the churchyard the Germans begin to edge forward.

The 2" mortar lays down some smoke that blocks the line of sight for the MMG and the FO and with that I deploy the entrenched Para support section and its two bren teams on my right, slightly behind the farmhouse.  There is a German MG42 team that has detached itself carelessly from its section (a roll for a normal move of 11" saw it rush ahead) and that becomes my target.

The Bren teams do their work, causing two casualties and enough shock to break the team and send them racing to the rear.  Meantime the German MMG team has moved out into the open to try to find a line of sight to the entrenched Paras.

The Bren section are proving a real threat to the Germans who start to move away from that flank towards the centre.  The 2" mortar tries to blind the Pak40 but the smoke drifts and this allows the 75mm to get off a shot at the Paras.  There is only one casualty but it's the Junior Leader and he dies. Fortunately the Sergeant is close by, so I still have command options for the section, but that was an unlucky result for me there.  On the flip side the exposed German MMG team is now a target. The Para Sergeant is on hand to use the British Concentrated Fire characteristic to try to take it out and one of the Bren teams manages to inflict casualties and shock. Despite all this the Germans continue to move forward, always making full use of Overwatch and Tactical movement.

The Germans shift the emphasis of their attack away from the bren section.
I think the picture above is an excellent illustration of why the churchyard wall is not a great spot for a defender.  All those German units in the open are an incredibly inviting target, but it's an illusion.  Even if we assume the Paras won't be hit with a barrage, they are faced with a possible 47 dice fire attack from the panzer grenadiers in a single phase. Even if they return some effective fire it's a prolonged fire fight they are bound to lose.  Dave's tactical approach is a good one and going toe-to-toe with that many panzer grenadiers are poor odds indeed.

I continue to focus the fire from my bren teams on the remnants of the MMG team and finally manage to inflict more casualties and enough shock to see the sole surviving crew member break and fall back.  The Germans are steadily moving forward, but they are slowly taking casualties.

The FO moves away from the smoke and when he eventually has a line of sight to the Bren Section he doesn't even bother to call for another ranging shot, but instead calls for the barrage to shift and come down at full effect.  He's successful and the Bren section, the Sergeant and the 2" mortar team are all under the barrage.  The Bren section is entrenched, so they have some cover, but the others are not, so could be in trouble. I have a CoC die I could use to end the turn, but that will also clear away my smoke.  Dave also has one, so I couldn't necessarily eliminate the barrage anyway.  Hmmmmm.

81mm mortar rounds crash around the entrenched Paras. 

With the German attack shifting towards my left and centre it was time to deploy another section, this time to the other flank.  We immediately engage with the nearest German section and inflict a few casualties, but we also get return fire from the Pak40.  Being entrenched helps here and some Shock accumulates, but nothing more serious.  This really sees his attack shift to the centre and towards the church.


Despite my fire on the left flank the Germans manage to make it up to the churchyard wall.  The Pak40 has turned into a real menace putting some very effective fire onto the section and causing quite a few casualties.  With the Germans about to enter the churchyard it was time to pull back and face that direction anyway.  Now is the time I need my Bren section.  I decide to use a CoC dice to end the turn.  I can afford to lose the smoke now and I have a wounded leader who can get back up on his feet.  There are other advantages as German Overwatch and Tactical markers are removed.  Dave counters with a CoC dice of his own to keep the barrage going.  I'm not totally surprised, but other than a triple or quadruple 6 nothing else would cause the barrage to lift.  

The Germans make it into the churchyard.

The game is now coming to a critical point.  We have both taken casualties, but with the Germans now in the Churchyard and close to capturing a JoP I decide to use my remaining CoC dice to move that JoP back, instead of ending the turn to try and eliminate the barrage.  In hindsight that was a bad move, I think having the bren section back in action would have been well worth the risk of a drop in FM.  At that point it was time to deploy my final section for what I hope will be a decisive firefight in the churchyard.  So with one Para section on the left side of the churchyard and the newly deployed one covering the centre I'm hoping I can stall the German advance.  I have elite troops behind hard cover, he has regulars in light cover.  He does have more firepower, but the odds are less in his favour.  I deploy my Senior Leader at this point, so that he can help influence both sections and get maximum effort from all teams.

Paras poised to fight it out over the gravestones.

A furious firefight ensues, but the German firepower begins to tell and the Paras casualties mount disproportionately.  Dave manages to roll a double phase at a critical moment.  With the first phase he rolls 36 dice and gets 3 hits.  I breath a sigh of relief.  His next phase attack is far more devastating and the Para section on my left takes 6 casualties.  To add insult to injury the leaders are really taking hits and that begins to drive down force morale.  The Germans have taken a lot of casualties too, but they sense a last push here might just do it.  A weakened German section comes around one side of the Church and rushes into close combat with the Para section in the centre.  The Paras wipe out the Germans but in the process take a few casualties and a wounded leader and the Para force morale drops to 3.

A small band of courageous Germans prepare to take on some Paras

The leader takes another wound and British force morale drops to 3

At this point the Paras are on the back foot.  The Senior Leader is a casualty; one section with the Platoon Sergeant are pinned under the barrage; one other section has only two surviving men, and the other is without a leader. The options aren't great.  What I have available is outgunned, outnumbered and is supported with more leaders.  Sure, the Germans are weakened, but with leaders present and a force morale of 7 they have many more options and it's clear which way this one has gone.  Chalk up another defeat for the Paras.  That said, it's been a close run thing.  The Germans took 19 casualties (14 from the platoon and 5 from supports) while the Paras took 17, so despite the loss, the Paras have managed to dish out punishment to yet another German platoon.

It's most likely too little, too late for this campaign.  Much will depend on the outcome of the next scenario.  The Germans have two attempts at that scenario for campaign victory.  I have a fresh platoon I can bring on and the Germans have enough men to create one full platoon.  To go the distance I need to win the next scenario and inflict significant loss on the Germans without taking too much myself.

The British finish with the CO's opinion at -5 (that will be one less support next game); the Men's Opinion at -7 (that's -2 to the FM roll) and the Platoon commander's outlook as Sad (I'm not surprised).

The German CO is impressed and his opinion is at +3, the men a little less given the increasing number of casualties, so is at -4 (that's -1 to their FM roll) but the platoon commander is feeling Secure.

So next up we go to Scenario Five 'Delaying Action at the Chateau'.

Previous scenario reports are here:

Scenario 3 Corridor of Death (part two)
Scenario 3 Corridor of Death (part one)
Scenario 2 Probe among the hedgerows
Scenario 1 Patrol on the ring contour

Monday, 26 June 2017

Musee des Blindes tank museum Saumur

A recent trip to France for work took me close to Saumur in the Loire Valley, home to the Musee Des Blindes and its very impressive collection of tanks.  Having visited Bovington I'd say this is a very comparable size collection and one that was amassed for a very similar reason.  The collection spans both world wars as well as more recent conflicts and as might be expected has a particularly good selection of French AFVs.  Most impressive though is the WWII German collection and it was pleasing to see several vehicles that I've never seen before, as well as quite a few that I've been making as models.

The German collection has every tank except for a PzKfwI

With no PzKfwI on display the German WW2 story starts with a PzKfwII.

The collection also has an Ausf L, the later model PzKfwII designed as a recconaisance vehicle.  This one is clearly in working order because they fired up the engine while I was there.

While the PzII looks like the light tank that it was, the PzKfwIII looks like a much more formidable vehicle and really varies little in size from the PzIV.

PzKfwIII Ausf H

My more diminutive 1/72 version of the later model Ausf L

The big German cats are well represented, with a Tiger I and II, as well as two Panthers (an Ausf A and Ausf G if I've got my rivet counting right).

PzKfwV Ausf A (or possibly D, I'm guessing)

PzKfwV Ausf G
A more diminutive 1/72 Panther, a recent addition to my collection.
These two Panthers are the third and fourth I've managed to see, the other two being the one at Bovington and the one in the Canadian War Museum.

Bovington's Panther, sporting a rather natty paint job.

Canadian War Museum's Panther goes for a more traditional tri colour scheme.

Now, I don't know about you, but I've always thought of the Tiger I being as big, if not slightly bigger, than the Panther, but if you look at this picture below, taken from the rear, you can see the engine deck of the Panther is quite a bit higher than the Tiger, as is the turret.  The fact the Tiger weighed about 6 tonnes more than the Panther probably contributed to why I thought it must be a bigger tank. 

An also interesting size comparison can be made between the Panther and the Jagdpanther.  While the sloping front armour of the Jagdpanther makes it look quite sleek, it is still as high as the turreted Panther, something quite obvious from this picture.

No reduction in height and no turret, but the Jagdpanther has that very powerful 88mm gun.

Talking of Jadgpanzers I had just recently made and painted these two below, so it was good to get a sense of their size and scale seeing the real thing.

First up in 1/72 scale....

Then in 1/1 scale.  The Jagdpanzer IV (this is the earlier model with the shorter barrelled 75mm gun)

There's something very attractive about the compactness of the Hetzer design
The Hetzer is a small vehicle, but it's not necessarily that much lower than other tank destroyers, particularly if you look at the height compared with the StuG next to it in the picture above.  That said, it's clear to see how much better it was at concealing itself than the Marder III, which is one of the ugliest and ungainliest looking of all the adaptations of the Pz38 chassis.  The picture below shows the significant height difference between the two.

That Marder III is not only ungainly, it's butt ugly....

But no matter how sleek and well armoured, everything is vulnerable, just like this final model Pz IV Jagdpanzer that has taken some severe damage.  On that note I'll leave the remaining pictures for a future post.

Ouch..... (note that there is one AP round still embedded in the frontal armour)