Centenary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme

Today marks the one hundredth anniversary of the first day of what the British called the Battle of Albert, which was the first phase of the Battle of the Somme.

Whereas most of the ceremonies held today will concentrate on what is often thought to have been the British Army’s worst day, the role played by the French Army should not be forgotten. The offensive that started on 1st July 1916 was a combined offensive by units of the British Third and Fourth Armies and the French Sixth Army, and took place on a front that ran from Foucaucourt on the south bank of the Somme to Gommecourt, 2 miles beyond Serre on the north bank.

In the sector between Foucaucort and the Albert–Bapaume road (where the French and southernmost divisions of the British Fourth Army attacked), the attack was a success, and the Germans were forced to retreat. It was very different story in the sector between the Albert–Bapaume road and Gommecourt where the bulk of the British Fourth Army mounted its attack. (The British Third Army’s role was to mount diversionary attacks north of Gommecourt.) The British attacks were met with fierce resistance and few units even reached the German front line. Whereas the French only suffered 1,590 casualties, the British losses were in excess of 57,000, of whom 19,240 were killed.

The reason why these terrible losses had such an impact on the British national psyche is not difficult to understand. A large number of the units that went over the top on the first day of the battle were Kitchener battalions. In other words they were units raised during the initial period of patriotic fervour that occurred in the early days and months of the war, and a large number of them were so-called ‘Pals’ battalions. These were often raised from what were quite small geographic areas (i.e. a town or district in a city) where most of the members of the battalion were know to each other. Other ‘Pals’ battalions were recruited from people who shared a common interest or profession (e.g. sportsmen, stockbrokers). When a ‘Pals battalion’ suffered casualties, the impact on a local area was immense, and for many towns and districts it was a disaster. For example, of the ‘Accrington Pals’ who took part in the attack, 235 were killed and 350 wounded within the space of twenty minutes.

The concept of the ‘Pals’ battalions was never repeated, and it is not difficult to see why.


The centenary of the Battle of Jutland

Today marks the centenary of the first day of what was arguably the largest naval battle ever to have taken place.

The Battle of Jutland (or in German, Skagerrakschlacht [the Battle of the Skagerrak]) may or may not have been a victory for one side or the other, but the cost was tremendous. In the space of twenty four hours the British lost 6,094 killed and 674 wounded and the Germans 2,551 killed and 507 wounded. The losses in ships was also heavy.

British losses (totaling 113,300 tons):

  • Battlecruisers: Indefatigable, Queen Mary, and Invincible
  • Armoured cruisers: Black Prince, Warrior, and Defence
  • Destroyer flotilla leaders: Tipperary
  • Destroyers: Shark, Sparrowhawk, Turbulent, Ardent, Fortune, Nomad, and Nestor

German losses (totaling 62,300 tons):

  • Battlecruiser: Lützow
  • Pre-Dreadnought: Pommern
  • Light cruisers: Frauenlob, Elbing, Rostock, and Wiesbaden
  • Destroyers: V48, S35, V27, V4, and V29

The Battle of Jutland was not a repeat of the Battle of Trafalgar, although a lot of British people expected the Royal Navy to win just such a decisive victory. It did, however, prevent the German High Seas Fleet from seizing control of the North Sea – even for a day – and it failed to break the stranglehold of the blockade that the Royal Navy maintained from the beginning of the war. In the end it was the latter which helped to win the war for the Allies.


To mark this day, there have been quite a few re-fights of the battle, one of the largest of which took place at the US Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island. They used the rules and equipment (but not the models) that the US Navy used to re-fight the battle during the 1930s.

The following photographs of this re-fight are all copyright US Naval War College.


Battle for Sevastopol: A review

I expected a good film … but this was – in my opinion – an excellent one.

The story was well told, the characters believable, and the action scenes (including those created using CGI) were extremely good, as the following selection shows.

The German attack on Odessa

The evacuation from Odessa to Sevastopol

The evacuation of essential personnel from Sevastopol

As the story of a Russian sniper during the Great Patriotic War, I suppose that the closest film I can compare it with is ENEMY AT THE GATES … and in my opinion this is a better film, and well worth the £5.00 it cost me!


Battle for Sevastopol

I am always on the lookout for interesting, cheap DVDs to watch, and today I seem to have struck lucky again. For the princely sum of £5.00 I have bought a copy of BATTLE FOR SEVASTOPOL, which was only released on film in 2012.

The film tells the story of Lyudmila Pavlichenko, a young Ukrainian who joined the Red Army and became one of the deadliest snipers in World War II. (She is credited with at least 309 ‘kills’.) She was eventually taken out of the front line and sent on visits to the other Allied nations. She first visited Canada and the United States, and was the first Soviet citizen to be received by a US President in the White House. She so impressed Eleanor Roosevelt that the latter persuaded her to tour America to tell people about her experiences as a soldier and sniper. In Chicago, she addressed a crowd with the following words:

‘Gentlemen, I am twenty five years old and I have killed three hundred and nine fascist occupants by now. Don’t you think, gentlemen, that you have been hiding behind my back for too long?’

Whilst in the United States she was presented with a Colt semi-automatic pistol. This gift of a firearm was followed by a further one (a sighted Winchester rifle) when she visited to Canada. Pavlichenko also visited the United Kingdom, and during her stay she went to Birmingham and Coventry.

On her return to the Soviet Union the now Major Pavlichenko became an instructor and trainer of snipers. For her work both in the front line and as a trainer she was awarded the Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union. After the war she completed her education at Kiev University and became a historian, working as a research assistant of the Chief HQ of the Soviet Navy.

The film was directed by Serhiy Mokrytskyi, produced by Nataliya Mokrytska and Egor Olesov, written by Maksym Budarin, Maksym Dankevych, Leonid Korin, and Egor Olesov, and stars Yulia Peresild (as Lyudmila Pavlichenko), Joan Blackham (as Eleanor Roosevelt), and Yevgeny Tsyganov (as Leonid Kitsenko).


Airfix Battles: My second play-test

For my second play-test I selected the third scenario/’mission’ from the book. I made this choice because I wanted to see how the rules for armoured vehicles worked.

In this scenario the American forces had:

  • 1 x Sherman M4A2 Tank + 1 Lieutenant
  • 2 x Sherman M4A2 Tanks
  • 1 Infantry Squad + 1 Lieutenant
  • 1 Infantry Squad

The Germans forces included:

  • 1 x Panzer IV Tank + 1 Lieutenant
  • 1 x Tiger Tank
  • 1 Grenadier Squad + 1 Lieutenant
  • 1 Grenadier Squad

Starting Positions
Each side deployed in their respective Deployment Zones.

Turn 1
As both sides have two officers, one of whom can expend two Command Cards, both sides are dealt three Command Cards.

The Germans threw the highest D6 die score and moved first. They were dealt the following Command Cards:

  • ‘Either 1 Infantry Unit that is Dug In may Fire with 1 extra D6 OR 1 Artillery Unit may Fire with 1 extra AT D6.’
  • ‘2 Vehicle Units may Move once each and then Fire once each.’
  • ‘1 Unit may Fire during an enemy Move. This Fire must target the enemy Unit that Moved.’ (Interrupt Command Card)

As the Germans have no Units that meet the criteria of the first of their Command Cards, that was discarded.

Both the Tank Units moved …

… and then fired.

As a result, the leading Sherman M4A2 Tank (+ 1 Lieutenant) Unit was hit and had its armour penetrated twice. Despite this, the Unit passed its Morale Check.

The Americans were dealt the following Command Cards:

  • ‘1 Vehicle Unit may Move once, and then 1 Infantry Unit may Move once then Fire once OR 1 Infantry Unit may Move then Fire with 1 extra AT dice for each AT weapon it carries.’
  • ‘2 Vehicle Units may Move once each and then Fire once each.’
  • ‘Either an Infantry Unit regains up to 2 men OR A Vehicle Unit regains 1 Hit Dice.’ (Interrupt Command Card)

The Americans immediately used the Interrupt Command Card to restore part of the damage already suffered by the Sherman M4A2 Tank, and then moved that Tank Unit and one of the others forward.

They then opened fire on the nearest German Tank Units … and inflicted damage on both! (Neither German Tank Unit failed their Morale Test.)

At this point the Germans played their Interrupt Command Card, and the Tiger Tank Unit fired at the Sherman M4A2 Tank (+ 1 Lieutenant) Unit, and damaged it yet again. Although damaged, the Unit still manage to pass its Morale Check.

The Americans then moved their remaining Tank Unit and left-hand Infantry Unit forward. The latter then fired at the German Panzer IV Tank Unit, but did it no damage.

Turn 2
For a second time the Germans threw the highest D6 die score and moved first. They were dealt the following Command Cards:

  • ‘1 Infantry Unit may Move using 3 times its normal move. If the Unit is targeted by Interrupt Fire or Stay Frosty, it does not receive a Save OR Move 1 Vehicle with +2 and 1 free 90 degree turn.’
  • ‘Either 2 Infantry Units may Fire then Move with +1 OR 2 Vehicle Units may Fire then Move.’
  • ‘Play on a pinned or retreating Unit after resolving any set of Morale Checks for that Unit. Automatically rally the Unit to A-OK.’ (Interrupt Command Card)

The Germans decided to fire with both their Tank Units and then to move them.

The Tiger Tank Unit fell back slightly after having fired at the Sherman M4A2 Tank (+ 1 Lieutenant) Unit …

… which it hit, damaged, and pinned.

The Panzer IV Tank Unit moved forward and turned to engage the left-hand Sherman M4A2 Tank Unit …

… which it also hit and damaged. (The American Tank Unit did not fail its subsequent Morale Check.)

The Germans then moved one of their Grenadier Units forward to support the Tank Units.

(At this point I realised that in error I had moved the German Tank Units and then fired rather than ‘Fire then Move’ as the Command Card stipulated. I decided to leave matters as they were, but to try to pay better attention to what was printed on the Command Cards in future!)

The Americans were dealt the following Command Cards:

  • ‘2 Infantry Units may Fire then Move with +1 OR 2 Vehicle Units may Fire then Move.’
  • ‘2 Vehicle Units may Fire once each.’
  • ‘1 Unit may Move during an enemy Move. The Unit may not declare an Assault.’ (Interrupt Command Card)

The Americans chose to fire with their their left-hand and central Sherman M4A2 Tank Units at the German Panzer IV Tank Unit …

… but neither managed to damage the German Tank Unit.

The Americans then chose to ‘Fire and Move’ with the central and right-hand M4A2 Tank Units at the German Tiger Tank Unit …

… which they both hit. As a result of failing its Morale Check, the Tiger Tank Unit became pinned.

The central and right-hand M4A2 Tank Units then moved forward in order to threaten the very exposed German Grenadier Unit … and in order to occupy the Objective.

As the Interrupt Command Card was unusable, the turn ended.

Turn 3
The Americans threw the highest D6 die score and moved first. They were dealt the following Command Cards:

  • ‘2 Vehicle Units may Fire once each.’
  • ‘1 Unit may Move with +2, and then Fire Once.’
  • ‘1 Unit may Move during an enemy Move, but must end its Move further away from the Unit’s nearest enemy. The Unit may not declare an Assault.’

The central and right-hand M4A2 Tank Units both fired at the Tiger Tank Unit …

… which they hit and destroyed!

The left-hand American Infantry Unit moved forward, and fired at the German Grenadier Unit immediately in front of it.

They inflicted 4 casualties, and the German Units became pinned when it failed its Morale Check.

The Germans were dealt the following Command Cards:

  • ‘2 Vehicles may Fire once each.’
  • ‘1 Infantry Unit that is Dug In or in cover may Fire with 1 extra D6 OR 1 AT Unit may Fire with 1 extra AT dice.’
  • ‘Either 1 Infantry Unit with Rifles may Move then Fire using Rifles. Re-roll once for each miss when firing at a target within 2 squares OR 1 vehicle Unit may Move once and Fire all its weapons once each.’

The German Panzer IV Tank Unit fired at the central M4A2 Tank Unit …

… which it hit and pinned. (The M4A2 Tank Unit failed its Morale Check.)

The unpinned German Grenadier Unit moved into the rough terrain to its right, and fired at the nearby American Infantry Unit …

… on which it inflicted 6 casualties, causing it to be pinned when it failed its Morale Check.

As the remaining Command Card was unusable, the turn ended.

Turn 4
The Germans threw the highest D6 die score and moved first. They were dealt the following Command Cards:

  • ‘1 Infantry Unit may Move using 3 times its normal move. If the Unit is targeted by Interrupt Fire or Stay Frosty, it does not receive a Save OR Move 1 Vehicle with +2 and 1 free 90 degree turn.’
  • ‘1 Infantry Unit may Fire once then Move with +2. Rough Terrain cost 1 to enter OR 1 Vehicle Unit may Move and Assault. It gains +1 to Morale Checks during this Order.’
  • ‘Either an Infantry Unit regains up to 2 men OR A Vehicle Unit regains 1 Hit Dice.’ (Interrupt Command Card)

Knowing that they were losing the battle, but wanting to ensure that they were able to withdraw to fight another day, the Panzer IV Tank Unit turned and moved away from the American Tanks.

The unpinned German Grenadier Unit fired at the nearby American Infantry Unit …

… and wiped it out.

They then withdrew towards their Deployment Zone.

The Americans were then dealt the following Combat Cards:

  • ‘1 Infantry Unit may Move using 3 times its normal move. If the Unit is targeted by Interrupt Fire or Stay Frosty, it does not receive a Save OR Move 1 Vehicle with +2 and 1 free 90 degree turn.’
  • ‘1 Unit may Move with +2 and then Fire once.’
  • ‘1 Unit may Fire during an enemy Move. This Fire must target the enemy Unit that Moved.’ (Interrupt Command Card)

The remaining unpinned M4A2 Tank Unit fired at the withdrawing German Panzer IV Tank Unit … and missed!

At this point the Americans decided not to use any more of their Command Cards, and the turn – and the battle – ended.

The result was a resounding victory for the Americans, who had not only occupied the Objective but also destroyed a Tiger Tank Unit is the process. On the other hand, the Germans had managed to destroy an American Infantry Unit.

Comments

  1. The addition of armoured vehicles adds another dimension to the game, and I found it even more enjoyable that my first play-test.
  2. Once Units get pinned, you have a devil of a job getting them going again.
  3. The Interrupt Command Cards are very useful, but in a solo game only by the side that goes first can use them. I suspect that this is not a problem in a normal face-to-face battle.
  4. I have found these rules simple to learn and use, but the results they produce are quite subtle and not predictable.

Airfix Battles: The Force Card Reinforcement Pack arrives!

Somewhat ahead of schedule (I wasn’t expecting them until 1st June), my per-order bonus Force Card Reinforcement Pack arrived in the post yesterday. It comprises 24 new Force Cards including:

  • Axis:
    • 2 x Panther Tank
    • 1 x Tiger Tank + Michael Wittmann
    • 1 x StuG IIIG Assault Gun
    • 1 x Tiger II (King Tiger) Tank
    • 1 x Sdfkz 222 Armoured Car
  • Allies (American):
    • 1 x Sherman Calliope Tank
    • 1 x M8 greyhound Armoured Car
    • 1 x M10 Tank Hunter
    • 1 x Bazooka Team
    • 1 x Engineers
  • Allies (British):
    • 1 x Sherman Firefly Tank + Captain
    • 1 x Cromwell IV Tank
    • 1 x Churchill VII Tank
    • 1 x Churchill Crocodile Tank
    • 1 x Bren Carrier
    • 1 x Captain
    • 1 x Lieutenant
    • 1 x Commando Sergeant
    • 1 x Veterans
    • 1 x Commandos
    • 2 x Tommies
    • 1 x 6pdr AT Gun

These additions to the range of Force Cards certainly offer some interesting opportunities for future scenarios/missions.


Airfix Battles: The first play-test

I had a couple of hours to spare so I thought that I would mount my first play-test of AIRFIX BATTLES. I chose to set up the first scenario (or ‘mission’) in the book.

Both sides comprised two squads of Infantry, some Veterans, and a Captain.

In order to get a better feel for how the game works, I used the solo play option for both sides, using D6 scores to determine which side moved first each turn. (After Turn 2 (see below) I also removed any exclusively Vehicle-related Command Cards from the pack that I used as I thought that including them might slow the game down.) I’m not sure if this was what the designers originally intended, but it enabled me to conduct the play-test as an interested observer, not as a participant.

Starting Positions
Each side deployed in their respective Deployment Zones.

Turn 1
Both sides drew a ‘2 Units may Fire then Move with +1’ Command Card, with the Germans moving first.

The Americans then moved.

Turn 2
The Germans drew a ‘1 Unit may Move with +2 and then Fire once’ Command Card and the Americans drew a ‘2 Vehicle Units may Move once each, and then Fire once each’ Command Card.

As the Germans were the only side with a card that could be used, they chose to move their Veterans and to fire at one of the American Units …

… with quite devastating results. (They caused 3 casualties and the American Unit had to take a Morale Check, which it failed. As a result it was now Pinned.)

Turn 3
The Americans drew a ‘1 Infantry Unit may Move 3 times its normal move’ Command Card and the Germans drew a ‘1 Infantry Unit may Fire once then Move +2’ Command Card.

The unpinned American Infantry Unit charged forward and assaulted the German Infantry Unit occupying a farm.

They were met by defensive fire, which depleted their numbers by 3.

Their assault went in, with the result that the German also lost 3 men.

The Germans then counter-assaulted, and inflicted another 2 casualties on the Americans.

Both sides then undertook a Morale Check … with the result that the German Infantry Unit became Pinned but the Americans were not!

The German Veterans now fired at the already pinned American Infantry Unit …

… and inflicted 3 more casualties on it.

The Veterans then withdrew to support their own pinned Infantry Unit.

The pinned American Unit took a further Morale Check … which it failed. As a result, the Unit withdrew towards its side’s Deployment Zone.

Turn 4
With things seemingly not going very well for the Americans, which side went first this turn was very important. The Germans threw the better D6 die score and went first

The Germans drew a ‘1 Unit may Fire with +1 on each Die Roll when rolling to hit’ Command Card and the Americans drew a ‘1 Infantry Unit with Rifles may Move then Fire using the Rifles. Re-roll once for each miss when firing at a target within 2 squares’ Command Card.

As the Germans had no Units that qualified to use their Command Card (the only Unit that might have been able to use it was Pinned), the Americans were able to use theirs. The American Infantry Unit that had previously assaulted the German Infantry Unit in the farm chose not to move and fired at them …

… and inflicted a further 3 casualties.

The German Infantry Unit then failed its Morale Check and fell back, leaving the farm unoccupied.

Turn 5
The situation on the tabletop had now reached a stage where both sides were roughly equal. They had both had an Infantry Unit fall back, and both still had intact Veterans and Officers. The Americans had suffered a few more casualties than the Germans, but not sufficient to restrict their ability to achieve their objective.

The Germans drew a ‘1 Vehicle Unit may Move once, and then 1 Infantry Unit may Move once then Fire once’ Command Card and the Americans drew a ‘Fire with 1 Infantry Unit. Then 1 different Infantry Unit may Fire and then Move’ Command Card.

As the Germans had no Vehicle Units, they moved their Veteran Unit so that it could fire at the remaining American Infantry Unit.

The effect was devastating, and the American Unit’s sole survivor began to retreat towards his side’s Deployment Zone.

At this point the Germans had achieved their objective and thus won the battle.

Comments

  1. During the set-up stage I did have a few problems trying to work out which figures were which as the images on the counters are quite small. I really wish that I had bought a box each of Airfix’s WW2 German and WW2 US troops before mounting the play-test as I would have had no problems identifying which figures were armed with which weapons. (In fact, it doesn’t really matter what is depicted on each counter as this is not important as far as resolving combat is concerned … but for aesthetic reasons I think I prefer to be able to identify the weapons each figure is armed with.)
  2. I really like the Assault Rules! The fact that the defenders can lay down defensive fire before the Assault takes place at least gives them a chance to stopping it in its tracks. In addition, the ability of defending Units to counter-assault makes the outcome for both sides uncertain until the whole process is finished.
  3. Infantry casualty rates seem to be quite high … but I suppose that they might have been lower in this play-test if I had used the available cover somewhat better and not mounted an assault on such a heavily garrisoned farm.
  4. It was fun to play, even though my method of playing solo might have left something to be desired. The play-test did enable me to use most of the main game mechanisms, which worked extremely well and were quite simple once they had been mastered.

This was my first play-test of the AIRFIX BATTLES rules, and I hope to mount further battles in the near future so that I can see how well they work when Armoured Vehicle and Artillery Units are involved as well.