Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Cruel Seas - Soviet Minesweeper "Mina"

I've just about finished painting my Soviet fleet box for Cruel Seas. If you have not seen the fleet boxes and are looking at playing CS they're certainly a good place to start. The Soviet one contains four each of the G5 and D3 MTBs, a pair of Bronnekaters (Project 1124s NOT 1125s as Warlord keep insisting) and the Fugas class Minesweeper. The other nations follow a similar pattern - one "big" ship and a selection of little ones.

I left assembling and painting the Fugas til last. Partly this was a matter of being a bit intimidated by the size of the thing, and partly because it was clear the model was of a very early ship, possibly even pre war. This was quite interesting because the ship data card included in the set didn't match the stats in the rule book, but did match the model. I wanted more guns, particularly AA guns as a mid to late war ship - and it was clear this was not only desirable from a gaming point of view, it was also quite historically correct. (edit - they errata'd the stats in the book). The pic below shows how the ships gained additional firepower as the war progressed. The Warlord model is very close to the original Project 53 design , what I was wanting to try for was something closer to the T407 Mina, which as an up-gunned Project 53

The model itself was quite nice, consisting of a very crisply cast rein hull, and some metal details. The only assembly issue being the lifeboat davits which needed a bit of work to get even close to the right position, but they fitted in the end.

My limited research suggested the best way to up gun the ship was to re-site the aft 45mm (which for whatever reason Warlord insist is a 40mm*) further aft and replace it with a 37mm AA gun, and add a pair of the same behind the bridge. Ideally I should have cut the rear of the bridge with the two DshK HMG mounts away, but it was a hefty piece of metal and I bottled that. The Mina with this configuration can be seen in the pic below nearest to the camera.

Getting the 37mm AA was a royal PITA. Warlord don't include this gun in their accessories set, but initially I thought his would be easy - just pick some up from a 1:300 manufacturer such as Heroics and Ros. This idea came a cropper fast as unlike every other nation Heroics and Ros don't make a 37/40mm AA gun for the Soviets. Scotia do, but it is a strange 2 part model with the gun platform integral to a square of metal to represent the ground and it would be a pain to separate. GHQ DO make a beautiful gun in towed and firing set up, but they're also rather expensive and ordering the three I wanted would have increased the cost of the project by 50%. Similarly the other Warlord guns of about the same style such as the Bofors in the US accessories set wouldn't really be suitable as this has a gunshield. 3d prints to the rescue. Paul Davison printed me out some 37mm he found on Thingyverse (or similar) and they cleaned up well. The first prints were way too fine, so I asked him to artificially scale them up to match the oversized guns Warlord were providing, and after a bit of trial and error Paul delivered as requested (Cheers m8). As the gun mounts included the round platforms they also were easy to fit to the ship abaft the bridge with minimum messing about - I had to file the paravane a bit to get them to sit right but all in all they look quite reasonable. I do fear for their long term survival given the extreme thinness but I can always ask Paul to print some more**.

* Warlord are pretty crap at identifying guns OR maybe they think the punters are so dense they cant handle the info, but they seem to have decided to re-designate quite a few of the Soviet guns - so for instance they refer to the very common 45mm as a "40mm", and the 76.2mm F34 on the Bronekaters as "6 Pdrs" . To a rivet counter like me this is really annoying. I suspect this is because they are shoehorning them into fixed categories, but surely the correct way to do this is to say "treat as" rather than just arbitrarily change the name? 

So there she is. It has to be said the additional AA will make her a tougher opponent for any S Boats she runs into, but she remains a bit lightweight when compared to some of the other larger ships in Cruel Seas. Being classed as a large ship she is very vulnerable to torpedo attacks, and her relatively slow top speed wont help either. All in all a really nice model and well worth picking up if you are planning on playing Soviets in Cruel Seas

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Aeronautica Imperialis - If it has wings I will give it a go

So I split the starter set with Paul and ................

Ok getting ahead of myself. On the assumption that some of the "History Guys" here may not have heard, Games Workshop have just released a new version of their Warhammer 40k dogfight game Aeronautica Imperialis in the usual ridiculous high production quality. Given my current love affair with Blood Red Skies, I thought it would be worth a look. Steve at the shop (Asgard Wargames, highly recommended purveyor of gaming stuff) had a demo copy and said it was a bit like BRS with hexes and Orks, and he usually has a good eye for games. Then again, he was trying to sell me it so err.......Doh! he caught me again - Kerching!!

So anyway I picked it up. Production quality is excellent. There are 4 Imperial and 5 Ork models in the box. These are plastic kits - very detailed and flexible. They're not in the same scale as the original AI models released a few years ago by Forge World in case you were wondering - they're quite a bit bigger and will match the scale of Adeptus Titanicus. The game tokens are good quality and map sheet is again good quality paper - but I suspect that will be the first thing most players will replace. The map sheet itself is a 2" hex grid which is used for movement. The rules are a starter version - so just the basics, but the accompanying hardback Rynns World source book contains ground attack and campaign rules, plus stats for a couple of more Ork and Imperial plane variants.

Assembled and painted Orks - and yes I was still in Korean War mode hence the Squig 15
So is it like BRS with Orks ? Here Steve was wide of the mark, but then again he is mainly a GW guy so doesn't have the historical background so I'll forgive him. The rules seem quite "traditional", in fact it is clearly a "homage" to such 80s classics as Blue Max, with pre plotting and hex movement. Blue Max players will be right at home. Planes are restricted to a selection of fixed manoeuvres, so for instance an Ork Fighterbommer can choose between options 1-4 whereas an Imperial Thunderbolt can choose 1-6. The manoeuvres are a bit more flexible than in Blue Max - I suspect this is partly to do with there being fewer manoeuvres available and the diagrams giving both port and starboard options on the same manoeuvre. The other change is the higher speeds mean there is no manoeuvres that are limited to certain speeds unlike in BM, and instead there is a minimum distance between direction changes. It all works, which is good, and the balance between the forces is interesting - Imperials want to fight at mid to long range to make best use of their better tech, but the Orcs like to get in close and nasty - it's a nice touch.

Blue Max 

Aeronautica Imperialis
Having had a couple of games this familiarity with Blue Max is causing me some problems. I'm sure once I can mentally replace the GW terms with something more familiar I will be able to handle the manoeuvre options better, but at the moment my planes are often ending up a bit random in their end positions because I don't connect "swoop" with wing-over (or whatever) . Other than that it seems very straightforward and simple. And quite a bit of fun.

Squig 15 FTW!

The real issue for me with AI is Blood Red Skies does the chaotic dogfight so much better. If I had not played BRS I would have been quite happy with AI. There is just a better feel to the split second decision making that dogfights should be about. AI seems too planned, like someone is ordering a battleship to steer a course, predicting where an opponent may end up in a couple of minutes time,  BRS is the seat of the pants reacting to the enemy on a moment by moment basis. Also there is no tailing as such - you cant get on the tail of an opponent and follow him, but you do get a free shot, which is something. As it is, the whole pre plotting thing seems a bit retro, like flares and mullet haircuts.

I think AI will of course do well, and that GW will continue to turn out some great models. I'm certain to pick up the Ork Heavy Bommer and if Tau happen I may grab those too - I always have a weakness for Commies.

So all in all if you like your 40K this is going to be popular, but maybe if you fancy something a bit more representative and more seat of the pants than pre planning, grab a copy of Blood Red Skies and give WW2 a go.

Incidentally, the two games are connected. Andy Chambers wrote the first 40K aircraft game "Bommerz over da Sulfur River", and he also wrote Blood Red Skies - interesting factoid.       

Monday, 9 September 2019

Cruel Seas - Comrade Tender

Warlord keep steadily adding to their Cruel Seas range, and just about all the nations have something in the range to act as a small troop transport - except the Soviets. This is a bit of a gap as a couple of scenarios require you to land troops. The Germans have Seibel Ferries and F Lighters, the Brits and Yanks have a variety of landing craft, and the Japanese have several choices, but the Soviets are a bit lacking at at the moment. I'm "tooling up" for  a campaign and will need something to act as a troop transport, or just a target in some missions, so I have been looking around for something suitable. Step forward the Lagoda Tender.

I first heard about these interesting little vessels about twenty years ago when I found a collection of Soviet era commemorative postcards on a local flea market. I took them home and framed them it, to hang on the stairs to the games room (err loft). Several of them showed these funny little barge things doing undoubtedly heroic acts. Sadly the staircase was in the sunlight, so they've now faded, as did my memory of them, till now.

The Lagoda tenders were a series of boats initially built in Leningrad during the siege and used to get supplies in and civilians out of the besieged city. They were a VERY simple design, probably the epitome of function over form, basically a welded flat bottomed barge made from crude metal plates and powered by an engine taken from a truck. When I said crude I did mean it - the bow is basically two metal sheets welded into a straight V shape, in fact there are no curves anywhere on the boat, and they're steered by a tiller rather than a rudder and wheel. They were at least two versions, the larger being 43 feet long, weighed 25 tons and chugged along at about 6 knots flat out. While undoubtedly basic they were equally robust and they could carry about 50 passengers or cargo, and could be armed with a DshK HMG for anti aircraft defence. That simplicity did however mean they were incredibly robust, and the shallow draught and flat bottom meant they could land just about on any beach or shore. During the siege they built 118 of these and between them they made over 10,000 trips to and from the city, carrying 150,000 tons of cargo in and taking thousands of civilians out, constantly under threat of air attack. Many were damaged, but none were reported lost, quite an achievement. It didn't end there. As the tide of he war turned the design was so successful they became an integral part of Soviet amphibious operations, taking part in landings both the Black Sea and Baltic. The Lagoda Tenders are held in high regard in Russian history, similar to the Little Ships of Dunkirk here in the UK, and gained the nickname "Comrade Tender".

So back to the games element. I discovered Scotia \ Grendel did a 1:300 model in their Ship to Shore range. I bookmarked them, but had "a Cunning Plan". My regular oppo Paul had just acquired a 3d printer. So far he's been printing out models that are designed by others and made available for personal use on Thingyverse and the like. I've been tentatively thinking about dipping my toe in to doing 3d design myself, but so far lack the time or talent to really get it to work. Surely the Lagoda Tender, a boat that consists of straight lines, would be a good project to start with? I mentioned this to Paul too, but he seemed sceptical. I think with hindsight he knows me better than I would like to think:-) - after a couple of tries at various programs I did the equivalent of screwing the drawing up into a ball and throwing it in the bin! I went on to the Scotia site and ordered three from them. However unbeknown to me my comments had lodged in Paul's mind, and a couple of days later he sent me a pic - I'll follow that up in another post.

Meanwhile Scotia delivered, and the model is rather nice. Resin cast and with crisp detail they painted up quickly.  Proportionally they look about right, with a bit of exaggeration to the height to allow them to have a bit of depth in the hold, which is no bad thing in my view. Price wise they are £3.50 each which initially I pulled a bit of a face at but with hindsight is about the same as the equivalent Warlord LCMs (with the added bonus that being resin they will hopefully take less damage to the paintwork when handling) so not so bad.

a pair of Scotia Lagoda Tenders
Size comparison with a Warlord Vosper

the real thing preserved

In Cruel Seas
One of the oft repeated issues with Cruel Seas is there is no explanation of how they arrive at the stats or points, and the points system provided manages to miss out on a couple of really crucial factors. All that being said, after having a look at some of the boats already in the rules it should not be too difficult to come up with some stats. There are three small landing craft available in the Cruel Seas rule book. the Japanese Daihastu, and the UK and US LCM. These all have 20 Hull Points. The Lagoda is slightly bigger and made of steel rather than wood, so 25 Hull Points seems fair. This will also mean it is almost always going to survive the 5 D6 damage you would expect from an air attack in Cruel Seas, which seems to fit too. It is Small sized, and immune to torpedo attack due to the shallow draught. Comparing it with the others it would either be free (ie zero points) if unarmed (like a UK LCM) or 5 points each if up-gunned with a fearsome DshK HMG. Turns will be the normal 45 degrees per move phase, and speed breaks down into 2\4\6 cm which is painfully slow but correct, and helps balance out the points compared to the LCMs which are faster.

So there you go - if you're looking for something to add to your Soviet Cruel Seas collection these are worth a try.

Scotia Lagoda Tender
Some useful history and pics from the Engines of the Red Army website - worth a look

Something a bit bigger next time

Thursday, 29 August 2019

SPQR - Warlord do it again

SPQR from Warlord Games has been out about a month now. It's described as a "Warband" level game, set in the Ancients period, which my guide to modern gaming idiom Ste "Arkwright" Johnson helpfully translated to me as big skirmish. He will get another mention later.

The tagline is that it is all about the Heroes forging their legends and carving their names in history at the head of a small band of (unnamed) disposable followers (minions in the rules). The rules are credited to Matt Sprague - of Mongoose fame (infamy?)

The game is available in two formats - rules only for £20 (£10 digital) or starter set for £40. The starter is particularly good value as it contains 50 plastic Celts and 20 plastic Republican Roman figures from Warlord's existing ranges. They are also adding resin figures which are very nice too.

The rule book is very pretty, well laid out and excellently illustrated. Surprisingly the rules are quite short - amounting to about 20 illustrated pages, followed by the bulk of the book being army lists and scenarios. There is a lot to like here. The Heroes develop between games. Each battle gains you experience, which can then be used to buy  "Talents" - basically skill trees where you progress upwards gaining new related skills, or you can start a new tree. Heroes, in true Hollywood fashion are rarely actually killed - when they are struck down they mostly survive to return in a later game or suffer a minor injury, although serious injuries and death are possible. Another interesting mechanic is the "parry" - where in certain circumstances you can force an opponent to reroll an attack using your shield or sword to parry his blow. All attacks are simultaneous so to me this sits really well with the vibe of heroes slugging it out, and for me feels much more cinematic than the one sided roll to hit roll to wound that predominates many games today. The army lists and historical backgrounds that go with them also seem well thought through and read well, and where some may wander a bit into fantasy for some, like Druids curses, all in all that seems pretty good.

The problems come however when you start to read the rules and play the game. There are some pretty big "huh?" moments. The rules don't really explain how hits are allocated in combat - or rather they do - wounds from missile attacks are inflicted on the closest figures in the firing unit, melee wounds are taken from the rear. This is all well and good until you introduce a Hero into the mix, who will probably have different stats to the unit he is leading. If he's at the front does he soak up all the arrows? The rules say you can't single a Hero out in a unit, but what if he's just stood the closest to an archer unit? Do they shoot the unit and miraculously hit everyone but him? Or does he take a proportion of the hits, and if so how is this decided? There are also some decidedly iffy melee mechanics. When a unit fights everyone in both units roll their attack dice. Fair enough. When a third unit charges into the rear of an engaged unit however, the unit being charged suffers no penalties for being charged in the rear at all - in fact it simply about turns and fights a fresh round of melee to its rear with the new charger while the unit to its front does nothing - presumably breaks out the sandwiches and takes a breather? Actually it is worse than that, because the guys charged in the rear gets to fight TWICE unhindered. If a 10 man unit is fighting another unit it gets (for instance) 10 attacks in the melee, but if a second unit joins in all 10 guys fight again - so if attacked by two units of 10 it fights 20 times, but if attacked by a single unit of 20 it only fights 10 times - WTF???? Pretty soon you realise the only actual tactic is to ensure your move to contact is at least 3" so you can claim the charge bonus in melee, and to do it with the largest unit you can (30 figures in case you are wondering). Manoeuvre or tactical finesse in SPQR has zero value, to several decimal places.

There are quite a few issues like this. Arkwright suggested I was expecting too much for what is a "Beer and Pretzels" \ Bar Brawl game. He may have a point, but I think my pretzels should be properly baked, and in the admittedly small number of bar brawls I have been involved in, hitting the guy from behind has proven 100% advantageous.

There are also some other issues, mainly centred around contradictory rules and points values. I'm less worried about this sort of stuff as I'm happy that a Gaul pays less \ more than a Roman for a javelin (or whatever), but there was quite a lot of criticism from players when it people got to have something more than a cursory glance.

It feels like this has not been playtested sufficiently thoroughly. In fact this seems like a rerun of what happened with Cruel Seas, where Warlord issued a 12 page FAQ explaining \ correcting the rules about a week after release

There has now been 2 SPQR FAQs issued within a month of publication. These do deal with the Hero issue quite well, but only by retconed the whole process and rewriting how Heroes and units operate, including a total rewrite of how many figures in a unit now fight. The results have (I think) fixed many of the issues, but the wider question remains - "why did it go to publication in such a state?"

Warlord are developing a reputation for this sort of thing. Clearly it is not reasonable to expect a 100% fault free product, though some achieve it, but both Cruel Seas and SPQR appeared to be released in an unfinished or untested state, and the players are left to make the fixes as Warlord rush off and claim everything is ok.

I like Warlord. Almost to a man they're friendly and helpful - the "almost" being reserved for the "gent" who has been banning people (and me!) from the official SPQR Facebook group for having the temerity to be critical. It is also true that even with the initial launch problems Cruel Seas is undoubtedly a fun game, and I suspect SPQR could be, with a few more nudges. It is also true that the starter sets for both are very good value even if you just want the figures \ models. I just think they are showing a distinct lack of care with the finished product which is stopping an ok product to be a great one. 

So would I recommend them - yes, I would, but with another Latin phrase in mind "Caveat Emptor".

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Soviet D3 MTBs for Cruel Seas

Back to Cruel Seas and following on from the G5 let's look at the  "other" Soviet WW2 MTB available in Cruel Seas, the TKA D3.

Unlike the G5, which frankly should be put in the box marked "Good in theory but maybe a bit ahead of it's time....", the D3 is much more recognisably a Motor Torpedo Boat, in fact it sits pretty neatly alongside the Italian MAS boat in size and capability. Similar to the MAS boat the gun armament was not particularly heavy - a couple of DshK heavy machine guns. Judging from the stat card the model in Cruel Seas is the Series 1, of which 26 were made. These had Soviet engines and managed 32 knots. The later Series 2 versions benefited from Lend \ Lease Packard engines and that boosted their top speed up to 45 knots. 47 of the latter were built, and some carried slightly heavier gun armament including a 20 or 25mm autocannon, an improvement but still not capable of standing up to an S Boat.

As far as I am aware there are two D3 models available, one from Warlord, the other from Heroics and Ros. Both are in metal. I can't confirm this, but I suspect the H&R may be based on a Type 2, however the gun mount, like many H&R models is quite small. The arrangement of the guns and the bridge also seems unlike anything I can find in pics of the real boats. Actually it looks a bit like the OD200 Anti Sub cutter??

I know Warlord exaggerate the size of their guns to make them more identifiable, and I think H&R would have been wise to have followed this example. I'm going to bang a new gun mount on the H&R model and claim it as a variant.

The H&R model comes in 2 parts, hull and a gun mount, the Warlord version has 5 parts, hull, 2 torpedoes, 2 guns \ gunners and a mast. The detail on the Warlord version is very much better than the H&R, with scribed deck planking and just more detail in general. Assembly of the Warlord model is pretty easy, the only problem being the torpedoes which will need to be held in place til your glue sets as they tend to fall off. In fact I think I would leave them off until the model is painted as they tend to get in the way a bit.

Here are a pair of Warlord D3s with a H&R one at the front - with a Warlord gun on the central position.

On the whole I think the Warlord version is a much nicer model. The H&R version is available for £4 each, Warlord are selling their D3 in packs of four for £15. Given that, it really is a "no brainer" for me and I would go for the Warlord model on just about all counts.

There is also the option of messing about with the Warlord model to make some different versions. You could add a single 20mm amidships as a late model, or if you feel like a challenge there were a couple of D3s that were converted into SKA patrol gunboats with the torps replaced by a 37mm at the rear and the DshKs raised on pedestal mounts - all of which should be doable using the Warlord weapons sets for the DshKs and some plasticard and bits for the 37mm.

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Soft vs Hard

I suspect this is going to cause some comments. I should say from the outset I'm not attempting to cast any doubt on the bravery of anyone. That being said, on to the main part....

I'm busy painting up some Germans for Chain of Command to use in the rather excellent Blitzkrieg 1940 campaign supplement from Two Fat Lardies. Actually my "cunning plan" is to add to the stuff I already have for Stalingrad, as the infantry are pretty much interchangeable so all I need is some new (earlier) vehicles. This is turning out to be predictably more complicated than first envisaged, but that is something for a later post.  All that got me thinking about how we wargamers value hard stats, and tend to disregard the soft ones.

I'm going to use two examples to explain this. The Char B, and the Douglas TBD Devastator. 

The Char B is well regarded by history and wargamers. On the table top it is an absolute beast, with an excellent 47mm gun in the turret to engage armour, and a short barrelled 75mm howitzer in the hull to shoot softer targets. The 75 is rather strange in that it is fixed - you aim the gun by aiming the tank - actually the driver aims and fires the 75mm using a complex but quite responsive steering system. The Char B also has very heavy armour, particularly on the front. When we read about it, and French tanks in general, the usual comments are that the tanks are excellent but the French deployed them in "penny packets" which meant the Germans could concentrate their tanks and beat the French monsters piecemeal.  You can't read about the Char B without getting the story of  Captain Pierre Billotte and his attack at the village of Stonne, where his tank Char B1 "Eure" on it's own managed to break through the German positions and destroyed thirteen Panzers which he caught in a line on the main street, which seems to support the "good tank" theory. Bilotte said he ordered his hull gun to engage the last panzer while he used the turret gun on the lead one, and then having blocked both ends of the street with wrecks proceeded to work his way down the column, apparently taking 140 hits that bounced off his thick armour in the process, before calmly heading back to his start point. 

This is a preserved Char B, actually in Stonne as a memorial to the battle.

Stirring stuff. The problem is, that really seems to be it. I've been reading through German reports and after a week or so of frustration, it seems pretty much that Billotte and his rampage is almost unique, and when we look at French tanks fighting German ones, even the mighty Char B, they are totally useless. Germans do lose lots of tanks, but not to French tanks. The French anti tank gunners and artillery both perform very well, but the tanks do almost nothing.  So what about the penny packets? I really can't see any evidence this is the case. Billotte may have carried out his devastating lone ride on his own, but he started with a company of 7 tanks and managed to lose the other 6. In fact he is a good example of what went wrong as he was the Company Commander yet he got separated from the rest of his unit and due to the poor communications and some sort of brain fade he ends up on his own. Company Commanders really shouldn't do this. It is true that French tanks were often outnumbered, but even when they were not, they don't seem to have performed very well against other tanks.

The thing about the Char B however is that although the "hard" stats look good, gun, armour etc the soft stats, the things we don't really represent well in wargames, are awful. Really awful. These problems are twofold. Firstly visibility. All tanks have visibility problems, French tanks are probably the worse of the bunch because unlike everyone else the French didn't believe in turret hatches and instead fitted their tanks with a domed cupola. The Commander couldn't stick his head up to look around. Instead the French had doors in the back of the turret that the TC would have to squirm through to see outside. How bad this feature is cannot be over stressed. German accounts speak of Panzers simply driving past French tanks at ranges of 80-100 meters and the French apparently not even seeing them.  If he did see something he then would have to get back in the turret to communicate with the crew, and that's when the real (second) problem starts. 

This pic above shows a Char B being loaded onto a tank transporter at Saumur tank museum. You can clearly see the commanders rear turret "door \ seat". 

The second problem is that the Commander isn't just the commander, he is also the gunner for the 47mm AND co ax MG. He also loads them. He is also supposed to command the tank, instruct the rest of the crew and if he is a platoon or Company Commander, direct the other tanks too. He doesn't have a seat in the turret either, unless he has the rear turret hatch open and he sits on the outside.

So let's talk through an engagement scenario.  The commander is sat outside, protected a little from fire directly to his front by the bulk of the turret, but against shell splinters or anything approaching him from any other angle he is totally exposed. His B1 is advancing slowly - it's not a fast tank, and anyway unlike most tanks the driver cant get instructions about where to drive very well because the commander, on his turret door seat, can't see forward where the tank is driving. This may help explain the number of pictures of Char Bs abandoned in roadside ditches. How he communicates with the rest of the tank crew from that position is something of a mystery anyway. Hopefully he sees his target - so he quickly shimmies back into the turret - losing his view of the target in the process, and remember his tank is moving, and he has no seat, so he is getting thrown around inside a metal box banging his head on the walls no doubt. Now he has a choice - he can either rotate the turret - and at least here the APX turret is electrically powered, then lay the gun on target, or load the gun. On this last one he does have some help - there is a radio operator below him in the hull who can at least pass him the shells for his 47mm, and the gun is primarily an anti tank gun so choice of ammo is not that much of a problem. So he loads the 47mm AP the radio man  has passed up to him - and then where is the target? He has three options. He can jump back out onto his turret door \ seat to get a fairly clear view, or he can use the rotating cupola and try to locate the target through the very narrow slits in it, or he can use the gunners sight. The best view is of course from the rear turret door, but there is a war going on out there. The view from the cupola is very limited, and the gunners sight is basically a telescope that has excellent focus but almost zero field of view. If he uses the cupola once he has located the target he must move out of that position into the gunner's position - losing the target again, but hopefully if he has got the turret lined up and both the target and his tank haven't moved far he can use the gunners sight and take the shot. If he misses, or more likely  momentarily loses sight of the target when the gun goes off six inches from his ear, he has to reload, then re-acquire, aim then.....

You can see where this is going. In this light the German stories of French tanks just stopping in the middle of a field and apparently allowing the panzers to just drive around at their leisure and shoot them in the rear starts to make sense. In comparison a PzIII has a three man turret. The Commander has a split hatch with rotating cupola. Even in combat he can drop the bulk of his body through the hatch and fight the tank "head up" to maintain visibility and situational awareness. He has internal communication with his crew via headsets and a throat mike. His job is to command his tank, and coordinate with the others in the platoon, nothing more. The gunner has nothing to do other than follow his commander's instructions til he locates the target, and then shoot. After each shot he can keep the target in his sights because the loader will load the gun for him. My money is on the panzer - every time. So what happened at Stonne?

To put this in context, Stonne was a very intense fight. The village changed hands 17 times in three days. French sources compared the close and vicious infantry fighting that took place there to Verdun in the First World War, and some Germans compared it to Stalingrad. 

According to reports Billotte approached down the road and suddenly came face to face with this column of panzers at 30 meter range. Now at this point the story starts to sound a bit strange. I can believe he didn't see the panzers, given the problems with his tanks visibility, but it seems a stretch that they didn't see him in his rather large tank. It also seems strange that he could order his driver to do the "shoot the rear tank" trick and shoot a tank thirteen tanks down a column when at the same time the panzers cant just turn around and drive away? Are they really parked nose to tail in the middle of a battle? If they are - how do you shoot the thirteenth - surely the line of fire s blocked by all those parked panzers?? Remember, the Char B cant fire the 75mm on the move............. It just seems strange. I also can't find any German reports that directly corroborate this event, though they do note the loss of 25 tanks in the three day battle. This map claims to show the route taken by Billotte, and if it's accurate, his gunner could not see the other end of the column.

Here is the village today on Google Earth - the road layout remarkably unchanged from 1940 though many of the buildings that lined the road have now gone.

Maybe not all the tanks claimed were killed on the day, maybe some are victims of the earlier battles and get included in the total anyway? Then again, if the Germans do sit it out and try and shoot the Char B in the face their chance of success isn't that high. I also wonder how much the Bonny Tyler factor kicked in. At the end of WW2 France was very much a country riven by internal division and self doubt. After the disaster of 1940 there was a great deal of finger pointing and scapegoating. In some ways this is still happening today, with various explanations being offered for the French collapse in 1940. This is understandable, and a nation in such a position, as Bonnie famously said "Needs a Hero". Billotte is a great candidate, a dashing tank commander who also happened to be the son of a high ranking general (sorry I forgot to mention that). 

My second example is a plane that all wargamers know is a pile of crap - the Douglas TBD Devastator, a byword for mediocrity.

In two major engagements in 1942 the Devastator Squadrons achieved almost precisely zero (pun intended) and lost the vast majority of their planes in doing so - losses at Midway topped 90%. Actually that's a bit unfair as the TBDs did manage to cripple the light carrier Shoho at Coral Sea, but.....

The problem is when you look at the hard stats the TBD isn't that bad. OK it is certainly slow, particularly in comparison to Japanese aircraft or land based planes, but this can also be compared with the British Fairy Swordfish, an antiquated biplane that still managed to give useful service through WW2 and accounted for damaging \ sinking several battleships and 20 odd submarines, and the Swordfish makes the Devastator look decidedly sprightly. Why did it do so badly?

The answer is, really, it didnt. At Midway there were six new TBF Avengers based on the island. The Avenger is acclaimed as one of the better torpedo planes of WW2. but they lost 5 out of 6 trying to attack the Japanese fleet, and achieved no hits. This pattern is repeated regularly with torpedo bombers throughout the war - against any sort of fighter opposition they simply fail to perform, to the extent that in the USN retired most torpedo squadrons or converted them to bombing units. To some extent the Japanese are the exception, their superbly trained crews pushed their Kates through to point blank range before dropping, but also suffered crippling losses in the process so they simply could not do it again.

I think the Devastator's bad rep is therefore not really to do with a measurable deficiency in equipment or capability, the "hard" stats, but more about the environment and circumstances they were deployed in, the "soft" factors we find hard to represent in our games. Char Bs have good "hard" stats but lousy "soft" ones, so do much better in games than their real performance would justify, Devastators are seen as a disaster without recognising that any plane that has to fly low, slow and in a straight line to make an attack will get mauled by an even vaguely capable defence 

So there you go, some musings on hard and soft stats and factors that maybe we should be more aware of. There are many other examples, equipment that has a bad reputation with gamers (Sherman) but were loved by their crews because they were easy to live and work in.

All of which wont help when that bloody Char B rolls down the road, but at least I can say in "real life" it would probably just have been abandoned in the nearest ditch.


Just Lasered transport foam - Really Useful stuff

How to transport Blood Red Skies models?

My BRS collection is steadily growing. This is causing me a couple of problems with storage and transport. Initially I was just putting the models on their bases and keeping them in a 4 litre really useful box. This was ok as long as they all had bases and were plastic, or resin, but due to my growing collection I was running into a number of unforeseen issues.

Some issues here I fear :-)
 Firstly I was running out of bases. I'm a big fan of Armaments in Miniature models, and they don't come with bases. Converting them to take BRS bases is easy, but that meant to store them I needed to buy bases or leave them rattling around with the possibility of damage. Warlord will sell bases of course, but at £8 a pack it was adding to the overall costs.

Secondly, I wanted some models that were going to be metal, and at that point leaving them loose in a box is not going to work.

Thirdly, me and my mate Paul just bought a resin 3d printer. The implications are pretty massive here as it means we can print our own models - assuming we can either find or create the files. The world is very much our mollusc, but we will have to be careful with the resin miniatures which can be a bit brittle, so again, loose was not looking like a good option.

Enter JustLasered. I first saw their products at the Warlord Open Day last year, when Warlord had a prototype of some foam inserts they had cut for the BRS base set. Making enquiries I discovered they could do custom cut trays to fit Really Useful Boxes, so after a few emails I decided to give it a try with my Battle of Britain Luftwaffe collection. As my models were not standard Warlord ones I send some samples so they could get the dimensions correct. I ended up with a set of custom cut foam trays that hold 9 Me109s. 6 Me110s, 3 Do17s, 3 Ju88s, and 6 Ju87s, plus a tray of bases, and a tray topper. All that fits neatly into a 9 litre Really Useful Box. All the cut outs include recesses to take my "widgets". All in all pretty damn good product.

I also asked for a top layer to hold it in place. I chose the Luftwaffe Eagle clutching a Swastika symbol. With hindsight this may have been something to think about - Mel at JL suggested replacing the Swastika but on balance I decided to stick with the history, but I understand how some people may not like it.

These were so good in fact I've just taken delivery of another set to carry my Japanese.

So what are the downsides? Volume is certainly an issue - my original "chuck them in" system meant they fit a 4 litre RUB, where the new foam needs a 9 litre - I should say both boxes are the same footprint but the 9 litre is taller. If you only had 1 layer of planes and 1 of bases they would fit in a 4 litre, which does leave you with plenty of options if you just want to haul one or 2 squadrons around.

Secondly,  planning. These are bespoke cases, so you have to know what you want to put in there. With my Japanese I have had them cut slots for my Ki43 I that I one day will be buying. I'm ordering a Soviet set and have asked to have slots cut for Il2s even though I don't own any yet.

Lastly cost. As these are individually cut there is no standard price - you need to check with JustLasered, but the sets I have were very reasonably priced. On the other hand having the ability to store planes without bases, and the need for less bases means I'm saving £££ on not having to have every plane on a base, which is nice. 

So all in all very happy with these, and I would happily recommend them. Cheers

Just Lasered