15mm European houses

A brief interlude from the battle reports to show some scenery:

Last year I was given these 15mm buildings, which is perfect because we were preparing for the Crossfire campaign, and we only had a couple of non-ruined buildings (previous campaign had been Stalingrad – so the ‘buildings’ were more bits of wall sticking out of rubble than actual houses). These were mostly painted with emulsion tester pots, with smaller details being finished off in acrylic. They are solid resin, and drawings of two of them are actually visible in the original Crossfire rulebook – so it feels as though we are playing the game exactly the way we are meant to!

The chateau-like one in the middle is definitely quite small scale for 1:100 – but I think that’s a good thing. Scaling to actual size results in buildings that are larger than they really need to be, and giving the right visual impression is enough for me.

 

Normandy – Tessel-Bretteville Recon (Battle 3)

This game was played at a different scale to standard Crossfire, in that normally the smallest element is a rifle squad. This game was played so that elements represented sections instead of squads, as per the rules on Lloyd’s site. The location was at the far east of the campaign map:

British briefing was as follows:

The 7th Dorsets have occupied Fontenay. They are not directly taking part in the attacks on the 18th June but are sending out patrols to recce the area to the South of them. This game represents a platoon sized “fighting patrol”. Your objective is to recce the countryside prior to any larger scale advance. Try to find out the scale of the German forces, the location of any forward positions (machine guns, ATGs etc). Engage targets if opportune to do so, but this is primarily to locate rather than destroy the enemy.

Objectives

  • Get LOS to the three locations marked with red X on the map (not necessarily at the same time)
  • Avoid casualties. If you take more than one third casualties (including commanders and squads), you must withdraw immediately.
  • Uncover as many German units as possible.
  • Destroy high value German targets if encountered.

I don’t have any pictures or even much detail of the battle, the results from the British CO were as follows:

“Got LOS to all three points shown on the map. All the Germans that were revealed were killed/captured except one mg which retreated.
I did not take one thirds casualties and inflicted enough casualties on the Germans to force them to retreat leaving the British in control of the battlefield.”
Casualties 
British: 1 lmg team, 1 rifle section, 1 squad commander,  and the two inch mortar
German: 3 msg, 3 rifle teams and 1 commander. An FO was also captured.”
Because it was being played at a smaller scale than usual, the casualties were fairly negligible for the overall division, however, the British victory has moved the front lines on the campaign map and has also given the British C-in-C a small bonus in Command Points for the next day. Command Points in these campaign rules are required for the C-in-C to deploy forces on the overall map.

Normandy – West of Hottot Report (Battle 2)

This game covered the second prong of the British attack. Overnight the 5th Dorsetshire had advanced to the wood, the edge of which is just visible below at the top of the map. At 0800 18 June, a massive rolling bombardment began, and the infantry advanced behind it. The British had four rifle companies available immediately, with more infantry and armour available to exploit a breakthrough.

Rolling artillery barrage rules

British forces sometimes used their artillery in a ‘creeping’ line directly in front of an infantry advance. The rolling barrage is allocated by the C-in-C, and is not available as a firing option for in-game FOs. Often the following infantry struggled to keep up with the barrage and the suppressed Germans had time to recover before being attacked.

Stretch a piece of string across the table. It advances 3” inches (or as specified in the scenario) at the beginning of each German initiative and any elements it crosses is hit. Each element, is only hit in the first turn it is touched by the line. Hidden elements are hit when the barrage first touches the cover they are hidden in. Roll 3d6 for each element (reduced by 1d6 if they have cover for Indirect fire). If the unit is hidden then the owning player can do this in secret, and might want to roll some ‘dummy’ dice when the barrage moves across empty features to avoid their opponent guessing too easily where hidden troops are.

The German line was mostly held by Green troops from the 3-857 “coastal” battalion – a low quality unit that had already suffered casualties in its retreat from the coast. These started to take significant casualties as the bombardment passed over them. They started with an ineffectual ambush on the advancing British and were then rapidly battered by the artillery.

A contemporary account of one of these barrages (at the start of Operation Epsom) by SS-Standartenfuhrer Kurt Meyer gives an idea of how heavy it was:

“The earth seemed to open and gobble us all up. All hell had been let loose. I lay in a roadside ditch listening to the noise of battle. There was no let up to the artillery barrage. All telephone lines had been destroyed and communications with Divisional Headquarters and units at the front no longer existed…My ears tried unsuccessfully to analyze the sounds of battle and all I heard was the permanent spitting, cracking and booming of the bursting shells, mixed with the noise of tank tracks.”

Fearing a collapse, the German player immediately called for Pz IVs which were waiting in reserve to the south. Luckily they responded quickly and raced up the dirt road.

The Germans also had some Veterans of the 2/2 Panzer Grenadiers who were mostly stationed in Hottot, to the east of the battlefield. These had only just moved to reinforce, so were not hidden at the start of the game. Below is a shot of the table – the British, with four companies in their lead battalion, are attacking across a broad front.

The Pz IVs can be seen at the crossroads on the right hand side, having just driven up the brown road. With the tanks and the veteran troops on the east side, the Germans pushed forward slightly, trying to relieve the pressure on their weaker comrades. The British were reluctant to engage 2/2 PzGr, especially once the tanks arrived to support them. 2/2 did lose a single rifle squad and a platoon commander to fire from a British 25 pdr, but suffered no casualties apart from that.

3-857 Company B was furthest west and got the worst of it, suffering heavy casualties mostly to artillery (rolling or otherwise), and a couple of close combats from the British. 3-857 company C fared better, but still took some tough losses.

The moving clock was being used. After about three hours of real life play, and about two hours of actual game time, the game had to finish, leaving the troops as in the photo below.

The extent of the British advance can be seen as marked by the red line on the map below. The British had taken extremely light casualties – only one rifle squad, the Germans had lost about ten – mostly Green.

As the battle had only reached about 10 30 in game time, and both sides had plenty of troops left, it was decided to fight the rest of the day as Battle 4 (report to follow).

Normandy – Juvigny Battle Report (Battle 1)

As players from both sides know what has happened in each tabletop game, I’m not considering it secret. This is what happened at this location, with the red arrow indicating the British attack. I have orientated the map to match the initial photo showing the whole table. In game time, the British attack began early morning after an initial pre-planned bombardment hitting the centre of the village and other surrounding areas. The British pushed forward through the dense terrain directly north of the village. No armour was used on either side.

The German forces prevented the British from capturing the main road bridges, which were the most important strategic point in the area, with the British calling off the attack at 1400 hours – the area was clearly held in strength by some of the best German troops. Overall German casualties on table could be described as light, with British casualties being moderate.

The following text and pictures were sent to me by Stephen Phenow

First the board.  Light is coming through the open garage door which lightens the board’s end. British will advance down the center road from left to right. Germans are hidden behind the road in the fields and houses and behind the bridge.

The British assumed that after the pre battle it would safe roll up their A/T guns. German Mortars destroyed the first one and second drove into an orchard where it stayed for the rest of the battle.

“A” Company 1st Platoon is Ambushed. As first platoon approached the road the prone Germans in the field and orchards opened fire. Wrecking 1st Platoon. 2nd Platoon did not fare much better as 1st platoon was suppressed and went to ground.

British Commander looks on in dismay as B Company’s 2nd is wiped out by an ambush and mortar attack at the bridges in centre.

The ambush at the bridges. Nothing is left of 2nd platoon, B, 3rd platoon advances through smoke to fill the gap.

Panzer Grenadiers can be seen behind the pink house waiting to counter attack. They were not needed. 3rd platoon pulled back.

 

1st Platoon “C” company was ordered to advance to take pressure of ‘A’ Company. Its squads were hit by a Nebelwuffer strike and suppressed.

 

 

Normandy Crossfire Day 1 – Update

A short summary of Campaign Day 1 – I will post some more detail once the two remaining games have been played (3 & 4)

The day started with a British bombardment in the area of Juvigny (area 1), followed up by an infantry attack through the orchards north of the village at around 0630. A second attack began a couple of hours later by British infantry who had been mustering in the wood at 808662. They were preceded by a rolling bombardment which inflicted heavy casualties on a German coastal battalion located north of the main Hottot road.

The Juvigny game (area 1) has been fought out to a conclusion at dusk. The British have advanced on the village, but the centre of the village and the road bridge is still being held by the German defenders.

The Hottot game (area 2) has only reached about 1100 in game time, so another Day 1 battle (area 4) will be played to determine what happens next. The British have advanced about a third of the way across the battlefield with minimal casualties. The Germans are still holding the road, but have taken much more significant losses, particularly in their centre, and had to commit tanks from their reserve to avoid a collapse.

The east has been relatively quiet – the game to be played at area 3 represents a British recce probing forwards into the German forward defenses and observation posts.

Games 3 & 4 have not been played yet, but should be before Christmas. At that point, the two Commander-in-Chiefs will then make another round of map moves and decide on their orders for Day 2, with the Day 2 battles taking place in mid to late January.

The green boundaries represent the extent of Crossfire tables.

Normandy 18 June 44 – Battle 1

In our new campaign, the Commanders-in-Chiefs have made their map moves, so it’s time for the first round of tabletop Crossfire battles.

It’s 04:30 18 June, and the night suddenly echoes to the roar of artillery. The 25 pounders of the Royal Field Artillery shell Juvigny and the surrounding area for over an hour and half. The Germans crouch lower in their entrenchments and wait for the wave of Tommies which will inevitably follow such a ‘softening up’. The bombardment finishes, and there is a brief respite before the first probing British rifle squads encounter German observation posts and forward defences in the grey light and damp of the dawn.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the first attack is falling at dawn on the tip of the German front line, where the Germans are trying to hold the two bridges at Juvigny. The river is easily fordable, but with few major roads in the area, securing a decent crossing will facilitate the Allied advance.

We’re going to be staggering the games, probably playing around one a week in total, or one per month between individual players. This one should be played this Sunday (14 November).

The first will be a good sized battle on a 4ft x 8ft table. As it hasn’t happened yet, I can’t share much detail other than to post up the map. The grid is in 2ftx2ft squares. The British are coming from the North.

This based on this area of the 1940s 1:50,000 map

The map and the table don’t quite line up – mainly this is because when modern aerial photos are overlaid, it’s clear that the original map wasn’t all that accurate – some features are probably out by at least 50 to 100m, which could be a problem if you were calling in close-in artillery support…

Creating a Crossfire table from a historical map

In the current Crossfire campaign, the tabletop games will be fought on a layout that will mimic the real terrain as closely as possible. The process of producing these is as follows.

The battlefields will use a scale of 1000m to 4′ of tabletop, or about 1:833. Crossfire doesn’t have an explicit ground scale but this is in the mid range of plausible estimates based on troop frontages etc. Conveniently, it also means that a square on the 1:50,000 map is the same size as the width of a classic wargames table, making it easy to visualise how an area of the map might translate to the table.

For the purposes of this example, I’m doing a 4’x6′ layout of the area just north of Hottot. Players in the campaign should note that I have no specific reason to think this will be an actual battle location, I just picked it because I wanted to illustrate how a relatively empty looking area of map actually has plenty in it.As the table is 4’x6′, that equates to a rectangle 1 x 1.5 map squares. This one is precisely lined up with the grid lines, but obviously they don’t have to be, and the direction of attack/major terrain features might imply a more appropriate orientation.

Once I had that, I screengrabbed the Google maps satellite photo of the same area. Having done a few comparisons of these with WW2 1:25,000 maps (which show all the field boundaries), the fields in existence today are very similar, although there has been a loss of quite a few of the orchards and hedges. Here the map has been overlaid with a 2′ grid.

As you can see, even today the ’empty’ area of the map is full of small fields, hedges and ditches. Here’s a composite so you can see both together. They don’t align perfectly – the original map wasn’t completely accurate anyway. The light green map areas are orchards. They don’t appear to exist any longer, but the field boundaries seem to roughly align with the orchard locations, so we can see where they used to be.

I then traced over it to create the ground in a “Crossfire” style. The streams here would be very small – barely more than ditches, so I haven’t bothered to depict them, other than putting a hedge down to represent the trees and scrub along the line of the stream. Likewise although there are some contours, I’m going to treat this as flat. Here’s a photo from the farm in the top-centre looking east towards the stream. Although the dip is perceptible and there is some ‘dead ground’ that can’t be seen because of the contours, I don’t think it needs a hill or contour line – the normal LOS rules would be sufficient to block this area.

Here’s the final Crossfire map. It’s late June, so most of the fields have been counted as ‘in season’ which means they give cover and block LOS. The buildings have been translated into typical 3″ Crossfire building sectors. Each would represent, say, a farm and its outbuildings or a group of cottages and their surrounding gardens. Some of the villages were subjected to quite heavy bombing/artillery so some might be rubble instead.

Start of Normandy Crossfire Campaign

After a long period of planning, I have finally kicked off a Crossfire campaign, set in Normandy 1944, consisting of rounds of connected Crossfire battles, each representing one day. The battles will be fought by five pairs of players, one British and one German, all at separate locations during each real world month. The results will be used to determine the progress of the campaign and what happens in the next round.

Crossfire is a WW2 game played at up to battalion level,  usually at 15 or 20mm. It uses a flexible turn system, where one player keeps making moves until something goes wrong – a failed rally roll, incoming reactive fire etc, and then the initiative passes to the other player. This results in a very tactical game which avoids being a head-to-head grind like many rule sets.

The map being used is a 1:50,000 from the period. There’s an excellent scan available at this site Caen – Normandy War Guide. The location is about twelve miles west of Caen. It’s 18 June – 12 days after D-day and although the Allies have pushed in twenty miles from the coast, they’ve been unable to break the German defences in Caen itself, in spite of it being an early objective. The German coastal defenses were held by low quality infantry divisions which have been pushed back rapidly by overwhelming allied forces. In the last few days, some better quality panzer divisions, held in reserve, are beginning to stabilise the line.  This map shows the two front lines on day 1 of the campaign.

Below is an example showing how orders will be marked on the campaign map. To give an idea of scale, each map square will correspond to 4’x4′ on the table and each of the blobs an infantry battalion. The inner circle represents it being in relatively close order – the outer circle the maximum size of a typical frontage when attacking.

 

 

Blood Red Skies – Strikes and CAP

The previous post covered how to hunt out your enemy’s carrier and send the strike to it. So, what happens next? Strikes are either at low level with torpedoes or high level with dive bombers. The prepared defender will have some aircraft on Combat Air Patrol (CAP), which can also be at either level.

If the attacker has sent aircraft at both levels, then decide randomly which is resolved first. The attacker then has some choices. If they have any aircraft on the deck, they can scramble them. There’s two benefits to this – if aircraft are on the deck when the carrier is successfully bombed then it significantly increases the risk of fire, and some of the aircraft may be destroyed. The scrambled aircraft can also take part in the defence, although they automatically start ‘disadvantaged’ from the carrier, so it’s hard for them to get into position before it’s too late. Attacking bombers get +1 if there are no defending aircraft, so it’s probably worth throwing up a couple just to deprive them of this bonus.

The defender can also pull aircraft down from High CAP to defend a low level attack. They start in high cover which is good because they are advantaged, but bad because they effectively lose a turn. Low CAP can go to defend against a high level attack, but they will automatically be disadvantaged, and a high attack with no High CAP opposing will automatically be advantaged.

 

The attacker and defender place elements alternately. If the attacker has multiple bomber elements, they might decide to attack from opposite sides of the table to split the defending forces, or keep together in a tight pack and try to punch through. Once all are placed, if the attacker didn’t get a very good location roll, the defender can reposition their carrier up to 9″ in any direction.

Escorting fighters are generally used to tail and outmanoeuvre the defending fighters – by the time they could break them with boom chits, the bombers will have generally already succeeded or failed, so it’s better to try to reduce their effectiveness and stop them getting any shots in on the bombers.

Attacking bombers will want to dive to reduce the number of turns it takes to get to the target – however, diving too early means multiple turns at disadvantaged – increasing their risk of being shot down, whereas diving too late runs the risk that they will be outmanoeuvred by enemy planes, and their advantage levels will be wasted.

Defending fighters tend to attack recklessly – there are only a few turns to stop the bombers, so the risk of picking up boom chits is worth getting an attack in. However, Japanese fighters with the ‘vulnerable’ trait are at significant risk from tail guns – which go up from 1 to 2 dice, so head on or side attacks are preferable.

Laden bombers do not acquire boom chits in the normal way, so the defenders are going to have to shoot them down to stop them. The carrier is considered to be a 2″ diameter target, although we use a 1:700 model on the table to add atmosphere. A dive bomber has to pass right over the target to attack. A torpedo bomber has to begin its attack turn disadvantaged and pointing at the target within 6″ of it. Before an aircraft attacks, the carrier gets a d6 as AA defence. On a 6 it has automatically caused the attacking aircraft to miss, and the aircraft must make an agility check or be destroyed.

The attacking player can choose to break off the attack at the end of any turn, and the game ends immediately.

Blood Red Skies – Carrier searching

This post covers our search rules for the Blood Red Skies campaign. These are key to getting the right ‘historical’ feel to a carrier vs carrier action because of the importance of locating the enemy and the uncertainty involved. Working off some real world historical events, we wanted to include:

  1. Going after the wrong target. At the Battle of the Coral Sea, both sides sent strikes at what they believed were the enemy fleet carriers, but the IJN hit a US oiler, and the US planes struck the light carrier Shoho. This is reflected in the rules by dummy ‘location fixes’ – if you attack one of them, you are heading for disappointment.
  2. The chance of a strike failing to connect with its target. At Midway most of Hornet’s strike force failed to locate the enemy. The rules mean that even if you strike the right target, you have to make a roll based on your bomber leader’s skill, and the number of ‘fixes’ you have, to actually attack the enemy carrier.
  3.  Aircraft starting to run low on fuel and deciding how much longer to keep looking. At Midway some of the aircraft had to ditch because they had spent too long trying to find the enemy before turning back. If you fail the roll in #2 above, you can decide to ‘push it’ and re-roll, but you may lose some of the returning aircraft.

    The USN oiler Neosho – initially identified as a carrier…

The uncertainty for both sides was also paramount. Neither side was completely sure whether either they had found the enemy, or whether their own position had been identified.

We stuck with the basic 3×3 grid from Ken’s rules, although in ours, all 9 squares are searchable locations representing the area where the enemy carrier is expected to be. At the start of each campaign day, each player secretly chooses a location for their carrier and writes it on their game sheet.

To determine the search success, each player has a pack of cards. Separate out all the diamonds and keep five of them. The other diamonds are not used in the game. Of these five diamonds, each player selects two to be dummies, and notes down their numbers. The three remaining diamonds are added to six random cards from the rest of the deck. This is the ‘correct square’ pile, containing three ‘location fixes’ and six ‘nothing founds’. The remainder of the pack (33 assorted non-diamonds plus two diamond ‘dummy location fixes’) is the ‘incorrect square’ pile.

Part of game sheet

Aircraft with multiple crew (generally the bombers) can then be used to search for the enemy carrier. All aircraft are allocated on the game sheet, which also includes CAP etc. They have enough fuel to search a map square for two turns of an hour each, and they can move to an adjacent square for their second turn of searching. You call out the squares that your aircraft are searching, and the enemy player gives you a card from either the ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ pile as appropriate (keeping secret which pile the card has come from). You don’t know if the ‘location fixes’ you find are real or dummies, and he doesn’t know if you’ve found anything yet. To simplify the game play, the pilot skill is not taken into account for the searching (as in Ken’s rules).

Once you have one or more location fixes, you can launch a strike. One is risky, two is adequate and three is ideal. The turn of your strike, you reveal which square you are attacking and how many ‘fix’ cards you have. You roll dice to locate the target – one dice for each skill level of your best bomber pilot, plus two dice for each location fix. If you get one 6, you have found it but the enemy player will get to reposition it during deployment, if you get two 6s, then it will be smack in the middle of the table. If you get no 6s then you can either return to your home carrier or go for a re-roll, but this will require pilot skill checks for returning aircraft, even if the second roll is also unsuccessful. Assuming you locate something, then enemy player will then reveal whether the location fixes were real or dummies.

Location fixes can also be obtained by other means – you get a ‘free’ one if your carrier is attacked, because the attacking aircraft will tend to give away the enemy position. Some of the carrier doctrines can also be used – for example ‘Submarine’ allows you to search a square each turn without aircraft.

In the next post I’ll cover the CAP and deployment.