My blog about my wargaming activities. I collect a lot of 15mm miniatures for the American War of Independence and so collect a lot of rules for this period. I started miniatures with Napoleonics, so I have a number of armies in 6mm and 15mm figures for skirmishing. I have15mm WW II figures that I use for Flames of War, Memoir '44, and someday, Poor Bloody Infantry. Finally there is my on-again, off-again relationship with paper soldiers that I sometimes write about.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Second World War Wargaming

Second World War Wargaming (SWWW) is one of the chapters, and thus a set of rules, from Neil Thomas' book Wargaming an Introduction.


I have a fair number of well-painted, 15mm WWII miniatures, all based for Flames of War, which I no longer play. (I don't know of anyone in the immediate area that still play those rules, although there are a number of people that have collections from when FoW was the "thing".)


I have been looking for quite some time for an alternate set of rules where I can use my troops, based as they are, and still get a good game going.


The latest attempt was using NUTS! Big Battles. I usually play rules from Two Hour Wargames incorrectly for at least the first three tries. I don't know why. But these did not feel right.


Previously, I had tried Peter Pig's Poor Bloody Infantry (PBI), but I always got hung up on the pre-game. So maybe "tried" is not the correct word. I thought about it a lot. A few people said I would probably need to make some additional LMG bases given that they are embedded in FoW and they are separate entities in PBI. Right or wrong, that sort of turned me off.


When I first read SWWW I noted that they were intended as "skirmish" rules (every miniature represented a single man, weapon, or vehicle) using singly-based miniatures, but included army lists in the classic Neil Thomas style, where you would have a variety of unit types and weapon systems befitting a battalion strength attack, but were playing somewhere in the platoon to company level.


As I indicated previously, that aspect of Neil Thomas' rules turned me off, although I admit I am warming up to it.


Well today I decided to actually try some of these rules that I purchased and see if they have the problems that you imagine they do when you simply read through them. I find that some of the issues that you flag turn out to be nothing. Either you missed a rule or a rule is more nuanced than you originally read, so the issue becomes a non-issue. Sometimes, however, there are issues that arise that develop from a game, and you realize that the rules don't cover the situation adequately. Such as this game using these rules.

Before I gave the rules a try I read a particular blog article about these rules. The article was over on Soldier's East and it provided a number of observations about the rules. One thing that struck me is that how to operate armored infantry in a half-track wasn't very clear to him either. As it happens, my scenario sort of pushes that boundary.

Battle for Some Village

This is actually the same board that a gaming buddy and I used for our test game of NUTS! Big Battles. The forces were pretty much the same too.

The Germans would have three large Pioneer squads entrenched outside a village at a key crossroads. Also in attendance was a single StuG III assault gun and an armored truck packing a quad 20mm anti-aircraft gun. The Germans would be defending the center plus the entrenchments to the west. On turn four a Gepanzerte Panzergrenadier squad would enter from the road to the east. On turn eight a second StuG III would also enter, from the same road.


The American forces consisted of a full armored infantry platoon, fully kitted out with weapons and half-tracks. They would enter the board, along with a single Sherman tank, from the west or the road in the northwest corner.


On turn ten two Sherman tanks would appear on the northwest road as reinforcements. As you can see by the force above, the starting American forces are pretty formidable. Six M3 half-tracks with six Bazooka teams, two LMG teams, one Mortar team, one Sherman, and a lot of infantry makes for quite a starting advantage.

My setup for the Germans was pretty standard. The AA is in the crossroads, ready to catch a marauding American aircraft trying to attack the StuG III. The StuG is hunkered down, ready to take a shot at anything that comes down the road. The three infantry squads are in entrenchments (pretty significant cover), while the platoon commander is resting in the shade in the small wooded area by the town.


When I played the Americans in FoW I frequently tried using the armored infantry mounted in half-tracks. I liked the looks of them, but was never really sure how they operated. I finally bought a copy of Osprey Publishing's World War II US Armored Infantry Tactics, but it was so confused (as it actually was during the war), that I did not get much from it. In fact, within the span of a few paragraphs you can read how the half-tracks were not and were used to support the infantry with their machine guns after the infantry dismounted.


Nice looking pictures though!

Put another way, I am never sure when to dismount my infantry: as soon as possible or ... until it is too late? (The latter usually happens to me, to be honest.)

So, one good way to test a set of rules is to do something ... 'stupid' ... and see what happens. If it works out, those are probably rules to step away from. My initial thought was to move infantry into the two farm houses on the west side and engage the entrenchments with fire. But then I decided to take a few squads and just run up on the entrenched troops and keep the infantry mounted. Let's see what happens!

Turn 1


First and Second squads swing around the south end of the western approach to the village. Because they moved more than a half move they cannot fire. Meanwhile the Third Squad and the Machine Gun Squad advance onto the board and dismount. Because they transported units are dismounting the half-tracks can only make a half move. The Mortar Squad sneaks down the wooded road from the northwest, but does not dismount the mortar team. The platoon headquarters remains in the center, hiding from the StuG. The Sherman barrels down the down to engage the StuG.
As a side note, all of Thomas' rules are eminently tweakable. For example, the American Shermans have gyro-stabilizers on them, allowing them to fire on the move. The normal rule for firing the tank main gun on the move is that the tank may only make a half move and fire. I decide that American gyro-stabilizers allow the tank to make a full move and still fire the main gun. Adds a little flavor without too much added detail.
The Sherman – being at very long range – misses the StuG.

The first thing that I note is that the ranges of the rifles and LMGs are basically only 12", with 6" being short range. So I actually have to move up to 12" before I can even fire. First surprise: the small arms firing ranges are not very long.


The Germans return fire with all of the infantry stands that they can and get nothing. At this point it was necessary to work out how the armored infantry in half-tracks would work. Shooting at the infantry is like shooting at a unit in cover, so you roll to hit on the Cover line. Once you have obtained a hit the infantry gets a save. Normally infantry can have anywhere from a 3+ save to a 5+ save, due to its morale state. But because armored infantry does not check its morale while mounted in its half-tracks, that means that its save while mounted is 5+. (Remember, the bonus for cover has already been accounted for in the To Hit roll.)

I fumble a bit trying to calculate the firepower numbers. That is basically because I am unfamiliar with my troops, they are a non-standard formation (in size and composition), and I keep changing my mind on what the figures represent (use WYSIWYG or a standardized formation?), plus there is the unfamiliarity with the rules.
Pro tip: don't print your rules double-sided. It only adds to the confusion in trying to find charts because then you have to look on both sides of the page.
The StuG fire also missed the very long range shot. Being an assault gun, the StuG cannot move and fire. The best it can do is pivot and fire. Meanwhile the AA truck repositions to south of the village in order to disrupt the armored infantry attack. I figure the half-tracks won't stand up to quad 20mm guns for very long.

Turn 2

The Americans continue to swing to the south of the village. This allows them to put the buildings and the small woods between their fragile half-tracks and the StuG. If the StuG crew wishes to fire at the attack, it will have to move, sacrificing its fire for at least one turn.


This is where the second surprise comes in. The armored infantry and machine guns from the half-tracks find out that you cannot obtain an effective hit against entrenched troops until you get to short range, or 6" or less! So again the armored infantry do not get to fire as they are still out of range.

The Sherman, however, switches to HE and lands a hit on one of the entrenched squads (indicated by the orange blast marker). This shell is equivalent to ten mortar shells(!), but again the chance to hit entrenched troops is so low that no hits result.

I decide to flank the turning flank of the American armored infantry with my AA truck. Going over the open ground with that vehicle is horribly slow! (I think I was mistakenly moving it as a Truck, rather than an Average speed half-track.)

I also decide to move one of the infantry squads out of their entrenchments so they can better get stuck in and support the center trench. Maybe not the best of moves against all of those mobile American pillboxes (the half-tracks), but I have to try something.


I decide to gamble and shoot at the flanking half-track on the north side of the village rather than shifting the StuG to the south. It misses.

Although several German units are firing, and there are a few hits at long range, all of the hits are saved so no American casualties have occurred yet.

Turn 3

I now understand that I have to move up to close range with my American armored infantry in order to effect any hits against entrenched troops. Now I know that the German pioneers don't have any panzerfausts, panzerschrecks, and such amongst them, but the Americans should have expected them to. Nonetheless, I continue to push forward on the attack in order to see just how much of a mobile pillbox these rules allow armored infantry in half-tracks to be.


I pour fire into the central entrenchment three half-tracks, a armored infantry squad, and the platoon headquarters and amazingly obtain four hits. Now we are getting somewhere! But rather than use my final half-track and armored infantry squad to pour fire into the exposed infantry, I only fire a few SMGs at them, obtaining one additional hit. The remaining fire goes against the (armored) AA truck, to know avail. Further, the Sherman again misses its shot at the dodging and weaving AA truck!

Turn 3

After making the morale checks, this is what the German units look like. Yellow markers indicate that the bases are suppressed, meaning it can neither move nor fire. But, it also means that the figures get a save of 3–6! Light green markers indicate that the bases are partially suppressed, meaning it can move half and fire at half effect, while it has a save of 4–6. (Note that Thomas never uses the term "suppressed" or "pinned"; that is just my description.)

By the way, I use red glass pebbles to indicate a hit that happens this turn (as a reminder for the unit to take a morale check) and then convert the hits to grass green markers to show previous hits.


The colors are a bit hard to distinguish in the photos, but the central squad is suppressed and the southern squad is partially suppressed.

Although it looked pretty bad for the Germans, between the AA truck unleashing its quad 20mm fire, and the remaining squads getting really lucky with their fire, you start to see what happens when you don't calculate the math of getting into close range. The American armored infantry were blown away.


Let's review the math, shall we? The armored infantry needed to get into short range as long range shots are totally ineffective against infantry entrenched. When in short range they hit on a '6' and the enemy saved on a '5–6'. When the infantry return fire they hit the armored infantry on a '4–6' and they save on a '5–6'. Basically triple the casualties.


I did two things wrong here though. I definitely did not mark the entire southern squad as partially suppressed, so 2/3rds of the squad fired at full strength. I also might have accidentally fired the central squad. It looks like an awful lot of casualties for a situation where the central squad could not fire at all. If I did that – and I am not really sure if I did – the central armored infantry squad (with seven hits) would have been unscathed.

That said, the AA truck counted as two HMGs (that had to fire on the same target), for a total of 12 dice. It had a good roll and combined with the fire of the southern squad, filled that half-track with holes. The fire against the headquarters half-track (top of the picture) was very lucky. The Germans landed all three shots and the Americans saved none. It happens.

With the attacking forces crippled, I draw a curtain closed on the scenario. (That and my gaming cave was getting a little chilly and the dogs wanted their dinner.)

Conclusions

I liked the game, but there was a lot of futzing about, and that was caused purely by using bases of multiple figures rather than singly based figures. The idea is that you look at the unit, count the rifles, count the SMGs, and count the LMGs and calculate the firepower. Easy to do with singly based figures and the suggested 1/72nd figures; harder with multiple 15mm figures on a base. The fact that I tried to use standardized squad sizes rather than the actual figure counts on the bases did not help, either.

If I were to do this again, and there is no reason not to, as it was a pretty fun game, I would do something like the figure below. I would put three numbers on the back of every base. The first number represents the number of rifles, the second the number of SMGs, and the third the number of LMGs. For each hit on the base I would remove one rifle until they are all gone, then one SMG until they are all gone, and finally the LMGs. I would not consider randomizing hits to see who goes unless I were using singly based figures.


This method would allow you to quickly see how many of each weapon system you have and calculate the Firepower. (I might even include a fourth number, which represents unarmed loaders, ammo bearers, etc.) You could also include the Firepower total, but would probably end up calculating anyway if the base has any SMGs.
UPDATE: after consideration, I think I would do what Neil Thomas does in his other rules: take hits until the unit has taken a sufficient number and then remove the unit. Until that number is hit, the firepower is not decreased. This simplifies things considerably.
A second change I would make would be to get rid of the two range bands for SMGs. Make no long range for SMGs; count it all as short range. The reason for this is convenience. As the maximum range for an SMG is the same as long range for rifles and LMGs, this allows you to calculate firepower much more simply. If you are at long range for rifles, don't count the SMGs. If you are at the rifle's short range, count your SMGs. Much simpler.
UPDATE: Further, instead of listing out rifles, SMGs, and LMGs, simply indicate its firepower with SMGs and its firepower without. This requires using the change to SMGs that I list above. Normally these rules do not change the firepower rating by range, but rather how much firepower can reach out to a given range.
The biggest question is: should half-tracks be forced to move to the rear when armored infantry dismounts or can it continue to provide support with its LMG? I think the latter is true. Re-reading my book on US Armored Infantry it seems someone was always manning the LMG (later the HMG) while troops were dismounted. But they would be in support, and certainly not leading the attack. In the end, you need a rule to wipe out the LMG gunner if the player decides to use it offensively. I think simply one unsaved hit removes the gunner, which then forces the driver to retreat with the vehicle.

One interesting point that came out of my reading is that the bazooka team was not an add-on, as it is with Flames of War army lists; it was a replacement for rifles. When the troop dismounted the squad leader called "Rockets out!" if he wanted the designated squad members to grab the bazooka and their rounds. This might be a little problematic with bases with multiple figures. You might have to do something like shown in the photo below.


If the unit deploys the two man bazooka base then the normal squad base only counts as having one rifle and one SMG, rather than three and one when the bazooka is not deployed.
UPDATE: If using the firepower ratings indicated above, rather than the weapon breakdown, then you could simply have a firepower rating with and without bazookas.
All in all, it was a fun game. I might well try it again, but with singly based 28mm figures. The main thing will be to try it without using entrenchments, which really made this scenario a tough nut to crack. I really just sat there for about five minutes trying to figure out how to approach it. (Must be the reason why one of my gaming buddies hated it when I purchased dug-in infantry in Flames of War.)

9 comments:

  1. Great post! Nice use of the FOW figures for Neil Thomas' rules. To me it seemed like the most fiddly of his rules (although I haven't tried his "skirmish" rules for colonial battles, yet).

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    1. Thanks. The more I think about it though, the more I think I should just handle casualties like he does with every other rules: hits don't reduce firepower until the unit is gone completely.

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  2. Thanks for a really interesting article. I have book-marked to come back and read it again. NT rules are solid enough to hand all sorts of house rules off them. I have seen people use a short length of pipe cleaner (soft surface) on a multi base to denote casualties and simply move the pipe cleaner along, between figures as casualties are taken.

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  3. Interesting post .. thanks for that.. have you tried the WWII one's in One Hour Wargames? I wonder if they are the same or influenced...

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    Replies
    1. No, but that is next on the list. A gaming buddy of mine has played OHW quite a bit and likes them.

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  4. Very cool article. I look forward to more!

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  5. This was very interesting. I'm looking to return to WW2 and am looking for simple retro rules.

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  6. Thanks for posting that, really interesting and I may give these a go.

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  7. Dale, nice stuff. i like that you are actually THINKING bout your gaming.
    If you want some input in the OHW rules, I will say that they are GREAT! I made a considerable effort to develop them as a set of playable and realistic rules, and they are here: http://upthebluefow.blogspot.com/
    And I humbly offer them to you! I haven't played the Intro rules, but am too busy trying out the ACW ones.
    Best,
    Alex

    ReplyDelete

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Huachuca City, Arizona, United States
I am 50 yrs old now. I bought a house in Huachuca City, AZ (although I have a townhouse in Houston, TX and a small home in Tucson, AZ) working on a contract for "the next two years" that is going on five years now. To while away the hours I like to wargame -- with wooden, lead, and sometimes paper miniatures -- usually solo. Although I am a 'rules junkie', I almost always use rules of my own (I like to build upon others' ideas, but it seems like there is always something "missing" or "wrong").