Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Worst Case Scenario #12: 'Condor Down! Condor Down!' - Stuka Crash-Site Recovery, Bilbao 1937

On the night of the 6th of August 1936, a nondescript freighter from Hamburg quietly slipped into Cadiz harbour. Secretly packed within the ship's hold was the first prototype of a new weapon, an experimental aircraft to be tested by the Condor Legion in Spain, the very first Ju 87 'Stuka' dive bomber which  later was to become the icon of the dreaded Blitzkrieg.

The Stuka prototype was piloted by Unteroffizier Herman Beurer, who, after conducting a series of non-combat flight trials, took part in the Nationalist campaign against Bilbao in June 1937. No account survives today which describes Beurer's operations, but it's presumed that his Stuka finished its tour, was quietly crated back to Germany and modifications were made to later models based on his combat experiences.

In Anthony Beevor's 'The Battle for Spain' the author mentions that the head of the Condor Legion's Luftwaffe, Wolfram von Richthoffen (cousin to the famous Manfred), was so concerned about having any of the Stukas shot down that he assigned inordinately heavy ME109 fighter-support to help protect them.   

So from this information my mind began to churn and I came up with a hypothetical 'Chain of Command' scenario. In it, Beurer and his prototype Stuka, much to the horror of von Richthoffen, have been forced down behind Republican lines and both sides are frantic to recover both the aircrew and the wreckage of the prototype.

The scenario is essentially a race against time for both sides. The Nationalists want to retrieve the aircrew and destroy the Stuka before the Republicans can secure them for their obvious propaganda and technical value. The Republicans, in turn, want to capture the aircrew for interrogation and they also wish to film the crashed Stuka in order to display it to the world press (and we can assume that more than a few Soviet commissars would be very interested in the prototype's design).

Scenario Details

The Nationalists

Beurer and his rear gunner, Willi, have pulled themselves from the wreckage along with some supplies. Nonetheless, before they can attempt to destroy their aircraft they hear a vehicle approaching from the Republican lines. Spooked, the two airmen manage to dash to cover where they lay concealed awaiting an opportunity to escape to their own lines.

The German aircrew are kept off-board and their possible locations (four sites) are marked on the tabletop for all to see. If the Republicans close to within 4" of any of the marked locations it is revealed whether the aircrew are there or not. 

The aircrew are armed with a MG34 taken from the Stuka. Due to them only being able to recover a few drums of ammunition from the Stuka, the MG34 will run out of ammunition when more 1's than 6's are rolled in a burst.

The Nationalist rescue force starts off-board, but will have initiative at the game's start. They consist of:

- The force commander with an attached 50mm Light Mortar term.

- One section of Moroccan Regulares armed with rifles. They also have a LMG team and a Tank Hunter team. They are considered Veteran troops and are Aggressive.

- One section of Guardia Civil armed with a mix of rifles and SMGs. They also have a LMG team. They are considered Green troops

- One section of Carlist Requites armed with rifles. They also have a LMG team. While they are considered Regular troops they also carry a reliquary cross giving them bonuses in close assaults and moral tests (they have to call out 'Viva Christo Rey!'). Also, if they are within 10" of the Moroccans they have to test whether they take a few pot-shots at them (their Catholic sensibilities being offended by the presence of Muslims on Spanish soil).

- An Italian CV33 Tankette (just 'cause I love the look of the little guy)

- Finally, but perhaps most importantly, a Panzer I with a Luftwaffe air observer in the turret.

These can come in from each of the two Jump-Off points in any order that the Nationalist players desires. The vehicles have to enter from the short edge.

The Republicans

The game begins with the Stuka crash-site being approached by a squad of Assault Guards mounted in an armoured truck. They are Veteran troops armed with rifles. They also have a Tank Hunter team (SMG and dynamite) and are considered Aggressive.

The rest of the Republican force is as follows:

-The force commander with an attached 50mm Light Mortar team.

- One section of Bilbao Civil Guard. They will have a LMG team and a Tank Hunter team. They are considered Green.

- One section of International Brigade infantry. They have a LMG team and a Tank Hunter team. They are considered as Regulars.

- A Hispano Suiza towing a Bofors anti-tank gun. Regulars.

- A press film crew from Bilbao.

As mentioned previously only the Assault Guard section is on the table at the start of the game. The rest of the Republicans will enter piecemeal. At the start of each Republican phase each component 'section' needs to roll a '6' to be able to enter the table.

The Friction

Every phase a die is rolled. If it is a '1' or '2' a flight of ME109s are sighted coming in for a strafing attack. This attack will happen at the end of the next phase (meaning that usually both sides will have a chance to take cover with some of their units before the strafing attack begins, if they desire).

The ME109 strafing is random as the fighter pilots are in a panic to deny anyone access to the crash-site (being humiliated in allowing the Stuka to be shot down in the first place). Re-roll the target randomization if the PzI is initially selected as the pilots should be aware of its silhouette and air-recognition markings. The ME109 strafing is an 8 dice HMG attack with an AT of 1 (but always hitting the top armour). 

When the Pz I enters the battlefield with the air observer they will discover that, due to atmospheric conditions (or whatever), they cannot raise the Luftwaffe on their wireless set to direct their attacks. Instead, the air observer will have to splice into the telephone line crossing the table to establish a 'land line' to gain control of the Luftwaffe attacks. This will take one phase where the Pz I is activated next to one of the phone poles. Once communication is established the air observer will be able to call in air support from his position.

The PzI rushing up to link into the phone lines while the Nationalist infantry begins their assault.
Finally, a Film Crew is being rushed to the crash site to film the wreckage for newsreels around the world. Unlike the other Republican Reinforcements they do not roll to arrive on each Activation Phase but instead will come onto the scene on Turn 2.

Once the film crew arrives they will need time to set up their equipment. This is reflected in them accumulating 12 points. Each time the film crew is activated in a Phase (they are a Team) they roll a D6 and accrue that many points. 

Our Game

Our game began with the Stuka aircrew dashing into the walled field to hide while the newly arrived Assault Guards cautiously advanced down the riverbed towards the stone hermitage on the other flank. Meanwhile, the nationalists entered the battlefield with both the Moroccans and Carlists sections (initially kept apart a safe distance) while being supported by the Panzer I which picked its way through the woods. 

The Nationalist command conferring to organize their advance.
The ME109 strafing attacks were felt quite early with some Moroccans becoming casualties to their 'blue-on-blue' fire. Spurred to action, the Luftwaffe observer ordered the Panzer I driver to take them to the phone lines as fast as possible to stem the uncoordinated air attacks. (The Pz I never did tie into the phone lines as the Nationalist players always had something better to do with their command dice - or so they thought...)

The situation at half-time.
As the game progressed the rest of the Republicans infantry managed to make it onto the battlefield with the International Brigade fighters and Bilbao's Civil Guard taking long-range pot shots at the Moroccans and Carlists from their positions along the riverbed. On the other flank, the Assault Guards discovered that the Stuka aircrew was not hiding in the Hermitage and so began to shift their search towards the small church. 

The Civil Guard dishing it out and taking it.
The Republicans managed to 'fill up' their Chain of Command dice first and moved the game to Turn 2, allowing them to bring in the film crew. Nonetheless, the Nationalists responded to this up by retaining the initiative over the next two Phases moving up, and throwing in, the Guardia Civil and Carlists against the Assault Guards who were moving through the cornfield. 

The Guardia Civil and Carlists move forward to attack the Assault Guards (seen just right of the cornfield).
The close assaults were bloody with the Guardia first being thrown back in disarray by the Asaltos. Undeterred, the subsequent Carlist attack, led at the front by their reliquary standard bearer, screaming 'Viva Christo Rey!', forced the Assault Guards back with heavy casualties being suffered on both sides. 

'Viva Christo Rey!'
Two critical events happened at this point. First, the Moroccan Regulares met up with the German aircrew in the walled field, rescuing them from immediate capture. The second was that the Film Crew had arrived onboard and were beginning to set up their equipment behind the protection of the armoured truck in order to film the wreckage of the Stuka. 

The Film Crew setting up for their newsreel...
In the last few phases of the game the Moroccans and Luftwaffe aircrew advanced to the edge of the field and managed to catch the International Brigade troops in the flank with withering fire to which they were forced to fall back to the riverbed near the crash site.

The Moroccans and aircrew fall back firing...
...taking the International Brigade troops with enfilading fire.
As the film crew were masked by the armoured truck and supported by both the Civil Guard and the fighters from the International Brigade, the understrength Nationalists tried to drop mortar rounds on the truck, but to no avail. 

It was at this point that the Nationalist players realized that if they had access to the ME109s circling above the battleground they could have had them attacking the Stuka crash site. Oops! A mistake to be sure, but we all know how games can give us tunnel vision when we have the bit between the teeth...

So with darkness falling the Condor Legion will have to be content with the recovery of their aircrew, while suffering the humiliation of seeing their new secret weapon filmed for all the world to see - von Richthofen will be furious. All in all, a Republican victory.

It was a great game and I wish to thank all the guys for making it such a fun night. I have to mention that two of our young players, Conn and Aiden (sp), where initially just supposed to be stopping by to drop off spectacles for Conn's father, Sean, and take a brief look at the table before going out to chase girls. Well, I'm quite chuffed to say that the game managed to draw them away from their prurient pursuits for the entire evening. They looked a little chagrinned at midnight when they realized that they had missed their party, with their girlfriends texting them, wondering where they ended up. To me that's as good a compliment as I can expect for any game!

Next up: A few new additions for the Pulp Adventure collection.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Spanish Civil War: Condor Legion Panzer I, Luftwaffe Aircrew & Pirates(!)

A couple new(ish) additions to the Spanish Civil War collection.

First is a Panzer I from the Condor Legion. You know, those guys that were not really from Germany, not really fighting for Franco and not really in Spain - yeah, those guys. This one's a little worse for wear, but still stoically clattering along.

This nice lump of metal is from Empress Miniatures. About seven or so parts to it - a great little kit. 

And two Luftwaffe aircrew who are desperately fighting their way out of a jam. 28mm figures from Wargames Foundry.

I particularly like the fellow who's yanked out an MG34 from his downed aircraft. He's definitely playing for keeps (probably a wise choice, especially if they were brought down anywhere near Guernica...).

This panzer and the two aircrew will feature in an upcoming SCW battle report so, if you're interested, stay tuned for that.

I also received in the mail a rather stout parcel from North Star Miniature Figures. Yes, it's the 'I Want It All' Pirate 'Nickstarter'. To be absolutely clear, I think pirates are cool n'all but I'm really no huge fan, but I do like Steve Saleh's sculpts and couldn't resist getting a whole schwack of his work (with free shipping to boot). Shiver me timbers, I have a lot of painting to do...

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The First VCs of The Great War: Lieutenant Maurice Dease and Private Frank Godley, 23rd August 1914

One hundred years ago today, on August 23rd 1914, the 4th battalion, Royal Fusiliers were ordered to defend the Nimy bridges, which were only a few kilometers from the main British force at Mons.

By 10:00 that morning the British positions around the bridges came under heavy German artillery fire which was then followed by direct assault by the 84th Infantry Regiment. 

In answer, the Royal Fusiliers caused heavy casualties amongst the Germans, who initially advanced in tightly-packed formations. Being shocked by the rapid fire of the Fusiliers, the Germans soon abandoned this costly tactic and began to advance in open order. As more German troops were thrown into the attack, the situation for the Royal Fusiliers became perilous in the extreme. Yet to withdraw while still in contact with the enemy would expose them to close-range enemy fire. Therefore it was vital that the battalion's machineguns, now under the command of Lieutenant Maurice Dease, hold back the Germans long enough for the rest of the men to withdraw.

Lieutenant Maurice Dease, the first posthumous recipient of the Victoria Cross of the Great War.
By this time, however, virtually all the men of Dease's two sections had either been killed or wounded. So the young Lieutenant, along with Private Sidney Godley, took over a gun and kept the Germans at bay. Having been wounded several times, Lieutenant Dease was taken back to the dressing station where he later died of his wounds.

Dease and Godley depicted at the railway bridge near Nimy. Painting by David Rowlands
Meanwhile, Private Godley, himself wounded by numerous shell fragments and a bullet wound to the head, maintained fire from his machinegun. 

Sidney Godley, first Private soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in World War One.
Godley continued to hold his position for two hours, allowing the rest of the British force to fall back safely. Once out of ammunition, Godley, dismantled his gun, threw it into the canal and attempted to crawl away. Weak from his wounds he was eventually captured by the advancing Germans.

A contemporary rendition of the defence of the bridge at Nimy.
For their actions that day, both Dease and Goldley were awarded the Victoria Cross, the first of the war. Godley was informed of his award by his German captors while being held at a prisoner of war camp near Berlin. He was formally awarded the decoration by King George V on February 15th, 1919.

Drawing inspiration from this event I painted up a 28mm early war British Vickers crew sculpted by the talented Paul Hicks, sold by  Musketeer Miniatures. I've gone with my usual greyscale treatment with this trio. A great set, with very clean castings and exhibiting excellent animation in all the sculpts. 

The Vickers Crew along with some infantry support.
Next up is a new indulgence from across the pond and something else for the Spanish Civil War...

Monday, August 18, 2014

28mm 'Raketrucksacktruppen' Squad for Pulp Adventures

So, my thinking is that if paratroopers are cool, and rocket packs are cool, then a whole squad of badass German fallshirmjaegers sporting jet packs must be the absolute tits. 

I call them 'Raketrucksacktruppen'. (With deepest apologies to my German friends for my appalling 'Sgt. Rock Deutsch'.) I thought the name fitting with the comic book nature of these guys.

These figures are from Bob Murch's excellent Pulp Miniature range. I swapped out their original oxygen tanks in favour of rockets packs as, well, it just seemed the sensible thing to do.

It looks like I'm going through a bit of a 'Blue Period' lately, but I thought these fellas would look good in cool tones, similar to the early-war uniform of the Fallshirmjaegers.

Anyway, I'm hoping these Raketrucksacktruppen will create suitable mayhem in our 'Strange Aeons' pulp adventures. 

Next: Back to the first weeks of the Great War...

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Duel: Dancing or Villainy - Which is your Favourite?

Last night Sarah showed me the recent Johnny Walker Blue Label commercial 'The Gentleman's Wager' which I found quite fun, smart and very stylish. Thinking I was quite 'up on things', I showed it to a young, hip female colleague at work who watched it quietly and then dismissively said that Tom Hiddleston's 'Villain' ad for Jaguar was much better. At first I was a bit gutted, but then I recalled that this particular staff-member believes Mr. Hiddleston is hands down 'The Perfect Man' striding upon this green earth and so I surmised that he could be selling radium-infused baby seal eyes, gift-packaged in hollowed-out elephant tusks and she'd still be enraptured with whatever he had to say.

Nevertheless, I went home and watched the Jaguar commercial to see for myself. 

Well, it's very good. It has great presence, it's sleek in a bond-like way and is unashamedly cheeky. I freely admit that Tom adds a lot of sex appeal to the ad (and that F-Type Coupe sounds bloody amazing), nonetheless I think it lacks the subtlety, depth and elegant restraint that Jude Law and Giancarlo Giannini bring with their performances in the Johnny Walker commercial. [Spoiler] If you watch 'the Gentleman's Wager' again you'll see from the start that these two men have probably been trading this boat back and forth for years. There is a charming playfulness between the two that is very fun to watch.

Anyway, for a bit of silliness, I think we should have a little poll to see what you visitors think. Here are the two ads - give them both a look:

Tom Hiddleston's 'The Art of Villainy' 

Law & Gianni's 'The Gentleman's Wager'

Sorry JF, I really think Hiddleston gets pwned in this matchup. But, hey, that's just my opinion. What do you folks think? Give a click for your favourite on the panel to the right. 

I'm going to have a nice, neat glass of whisky on Sunday while I wait for the final votes...

Addendum: The final vote tally was: 14 votes for Law & Giannini's 'The Gentleman's Wager' whereas 7 votes were cast for Hiddleston's 'The Art of Villainy'. I think the dancing girls buffered the votes a bit (and why not), but there you have it.