Wednesday 15 April 2015


1138. On the disputed border between the County of Antioch and the Emirate of Homs lies the stream and village of Khereyab. Here, with the army of Raymond Marshal of Antioch on the march, the Emir of Homs drew up his forces to meet the infidel invaders, foreigners` greedy to steal their lands and access to the waters of Khereyab which fed fertile lands downstream.

This would be final big play test for my forthcoming ‘Soldiers of God; rules set – a card-driven game for the Crusades. In game terms it was a large field battle between 300 pts of Crusaders and 300 pts of Saracens. Commanding the Army of Homs, I pre-chose my Battle Plan (in the game, each force has a plan of attack or defence, chosen before picking their forces, which dictates some of the action cards available to the commander each turn). I picked a defensive plan, ‘Hold and Harry’, in which my army’s centre would hold its place and make best use of their missile weapons, whilst the right and left flank would harry the enemy, again with missile weapons, but most effectively with quickly advancing and retiring skirmish units. These flanks were built around mercenary horse archer light cavalry, support by some Ghulam ‘medium’ cavalry behind, should the enemy breakthrough my light missile troops. My centre was massed levy infantry (including some Sudanese mercenaries but all pretty poor stuff), backed by some archers and a single ballista light war engine.

The Marshal of Antioch led his force with a Battle Plan of ‘right echelon attack’. Attacking hard on his right, advancing steadily in the centre and holding on the left. His army had the Knights Templar and mounted men-at-arms on the right to launch the main assault, with their extreme flank held by Turcopole native light cavalry. Men-at-arms, archers and crossbows were in the centre, with more men-at-arms, armed pilgrims (diverted from the road to Jerusalem) and more Turcopoles on the extreme left.

Deployment complete, the more offensively minded Crusaders began their attack, with their right flank quickly running into swarms of advancing light cavalry, all darkening the skies with an arrow storm that saw the mounted men-at-arms routed from the field, a bad start. But the Turcopole’s rash charge did defeat and rout some Arab light cavalry (they had already thought about deserting on the first action card play of the game – so were obviously not to be trusted anyway).

Saracen archery proved deadly, the horse archers racing in to fire, turn and ride away, leaving the heavier crusaders pressing forwards peppered by waves of arrows. Disorder built in the ranks. On my right, the horse archers held on the stream banks and launched volleys into the village of Khereyab, now occupied by enemy men-at-arms and pilgrims, but these troops had no way of replying and just took the best cover they could. Happy with that, I left the skirmishing light cavalry to just harass the village all game, keeping those unit’s heads down.

In the centre the Crusaders pressed forwards, only targeted by the occasional ballista bolt, until a free horse archer unit circled around from their right flank and freely galloped around the rear to threaten the Crusader’s baggage train. Men-at-arm were forced to halt and wheel about to face the horse archers, weakening their attack. To add to their woes, another unit of horse archers attempted a flank march and passed the test (I needed a 6 and got it) to arrive on the enemy board edge. Suddenly, the Crusader’s centre looked surrounded, horse archers attacking from left, right and centre. Tactical it looked grim.

The only chance was to press the right flank attack rapidly, launching the Knights Templars into a furious charge, which final caught up with the retiring horse archers, but their final charge lacked impact, and my light cavalry managed to hold out. They would fight a cautious, attritional melee to hold the heavy knights. They slowly lost the fight to the best troops of the age, but it bought valuable time for the rest of my forces to finish the surrounded and beleaguered centre.

With no decisive victory of the right, the Crusaders centre could not hold out. Arrows from front and rear peppered them, a Ghulam unit charged and smashed the peasant archers, winning the melee in a ‘gory massacre’ (big wins mean a gory massacre has occurred and extra army morale is lost for the heavy and gruesome losses). Then the men-at-arms also broke and routed, taking arrows from front and rear, and leaving the baggage train exposed to the horse archers, who gleefully fell up it to loot it. The sudden massive morale loss for the collapse of the centre saw the Crusader’s defeated and withdrawing to save themselves.

Antioch’s invading army had been crushed. It starting Morale value had been 23, it now stood at -6. The Saracens had been 25, it was still 15. A major victory for the Saracens (and a big win for me, hurrah!).

The SoG rules are now complete, this test threw up nothing that worried either player. It was fast, furious, unpredictable and great fun. My battle plan had worked well, the light cavalry had harassed the life from the enemy, turn after turn. The Crusader’s attack had been a shambles, every unit was going home looking like hedgehogs. It had been 4 hours of furious play, with a 30 minute break for a bacon-butty lunch.

Now to finish the production work in the next couple of weeks. Look out for more details about SoG in the near future. Very happy with game rules, and I can see it being turned to other ‘ancients’ periods in the future - maybe ‘Soldiers of Rome’, ‘Soldiers of Persia’ or even a fantasy battles version (a bit ahead of myself, but just getting enthusiastic).

Here are a few snaps. My camera batteries died after deployment and, keen to get on and play, I couldn’t be bothered to find new ones. So these will have to do this time. 

 The battlefiled before the armies arrive. Saracens on the left, Crusaders on the right.

 The village and fields of Khereyab. Soon to be occupied by infidel invaders, pinned down under endless arrows from across the stream.

 Saracen lines, from right flank to centre. Horse archers skirmishing. Ghulams just behind.

 The Crusaders opposite, with their own Turcopoles.

Crusader's infantry centre (and baggage train camels).Most would be dead or routed by the end of the battle. The baggage looted.

Point of the attack - the Knights Templar and mounted men-at-arms (they ain't Knights). The Saracen hordes would prove too numerous even for these vaunted warriors. The command stand (supporting the Templars) was killed by a stray horse archer's arrow in the face early on - another turn of bad luck for the Christains.

Monday 13 April 2015

PETIT DEU-PONT - A Battlegroup game in the Ardennes, Dec 17th, 1944.

With the German offensive just getting underway, troops of 26th Volksgrenadier Division have orders to advance to the river Clerf and secure two bridges in the vicinity of an old saw mill at Petite Deu-Pont. Holding Petite Deu-Pont were a rapidly gathered US force of any available troops in the local area, with order to hold the river crossings. Shelled by German artillery through the night, at dawn, the grey-clad figures of the German grenadiers could be seen approaching through the mists and trees, along with the ominous rumble of enemy armoured vehicles.

I would be commanding the US defenders, a 600 pt chosen from the BG Overlord lists (US Infantry Division), my opponent would be the 600 pts of Volksgrenadiers (a play-test list) on the attack.

The bulk of the German force consisted of an inexperienced infantry platoon, with 2 foot patrols and a sniper as its scouts. Using the Infiltration special rule, one of these foot patrols gained the ‘Behind Enemy Lines’ special rule, making them very dangerous (see later). The infantry were supported by an off-table 120mm mortar battery, 4 (or was it 5?) timed 80mm mortar strikes, a StuG battery of 3 vehicles and a specialist choice of a Jagdpanzer IV and a massive Sturmmorser Tiger! To help out also came 2 supply wagons (1 for the Sturmmorser of course), Forward HQ, wire team and other small change.

The US defenders (my picks) were an inexperience infantry platoon (of cooks, mechanics and clerks) with a bazooka team, a single 76mm-armed Sherman, a 3” AT gun, with loader team, dug-in. Forward HQ (upgraded to radio comms network), forward observer and off-table 155 guns (woo-hoo), 20 foxholes for some of the men to hide in, a sniper, a .30cal MMG team and a forward aid post (just because my BR looked a bit weak). In reserve would be a combat engineer squad in M3 halftrack and an M8 Greyhound armoured car, racing to the rescue (some hope). 

I deployed first with a thin line in the trees and on the high ground opposite the saw mill buildings, my forward observer was covering the left, senior officer the right, for calling in the 155s which would hopefully derail the German attack plan.  In the end, they came strongest up the middle! Such is war.

The battle was hard fought from the off, my lines raked by very heavy mortar fire, with casualties instantly mounting, I lost my MMG team and pinned the AT gun and several squads, even my aid post took some losses in the stonks (boo). My return artillery whistled in, initially to little effect, but they were just getting their ranges sorted. Thankfully, the Sturmmorser failed its first spotting attempts for infantry in cover (not firing)and couldn’t open fire!  As the incoming and out-going rounds screamed overhead most of my force was placed on ambush fire. This did not save my only tank. The Sherman was waiting well back from the front, hoping to move to engage wherever the StuGs arrived, but in darkness the US lines had been penetrated and the foot patrol crept through the trees, found the tank parked on the track and fired a panzerfaust into its engine compartment – kaboom! No more US tanks for this battle then! The infiltrating squad was then hunted down and was eliminated in a close range firefight with two US infantry squads, which arrived from reserve, but not before taking about 7-8 casualties with them. The foot patrol had done a good job, but were now on their way to POW cages.

Early BR counters heavily favoured the Germans as my BR total quickly raced to 20 in about 3 turns. This was going to be a walk over at this rate, my 'rear-area lurkers' had obviously not signed-up  for this hard-fighting. Doubly so when the Sturmmorser finally opened fire and wiped out an entire squad in foxholes in 1 direct hit, which just about flatten the hillock they were on, overlooking both bridges. Still, it had to go and re-arm how, saving me from too much punishment next turn.

The US reserves arrived, along the track, but ran into more heavy mortar fire. One deviating shell wiped out the Forward HQ in his jeep (ouch!) and then blew up the engineer’s half track, leaving the lane choked with wreckage and wounded men. The Germans pressed cautiously forwards, into the saw mill’s buildings and two Stugs moved on the central bridge via the narrow track. US infantry fire pinned down their supporting infantry, but the StuGs raked the stream’s far bank with HE and MG fire, pinning the US troops down in return.

US morale was close to cracking, even when a small German flanking force arrived on my left, a Jagdpanzer and an infantry squad. This caused my left flank squad and FO (so no anti-tank weapons at all) to pull back fast and concede their wood line to the surprise Germans, but at least save themselves (and the counters). The M8 arrived and valiantly tried to help out, but 37mm guns aren’t much use duelling with a Jagdpanzer, even desperately trying area fire to pin it. The first German hit saw the plucky M8 wrecked, not a fair fight!

Meanwhile, my last hope seemed to be the 155s, which hammered the far bank, turn after turn, making the German advance a costly one, as direct hits saw an MG team, then the wire team wiped out, and even pinned the Sturmtiger for a few turns (thank god, because 1 more shot like the first would have finished me).

The German commander was now confident the Americans wouldn’t stand, both his objectives were in reach, and the first StuG (the battery commander) reached the bridge to claim that objective. Taking that counter, expecting to break, my luck changed, it was an air attack! Rolling for it, I got a 6, a P-47 dropped through the low cloud and appeared in the haze to rocket the lead StuG commander into a fireball on the bridge. 2 BR counters to the Germans drew a serious grimace, that had hurt the Volksgrenaider’s shakey morale. Next turn, a second StuG by the bridge was destroyed by the next attack run, braving German small arms fire from the ground. Next turn, the bold pilot switched to MGs and came in strafing, and another enemy MG team was wiped out in blaze of .50 cal rounds. Adding to this, the 155s scored another direct hit and the last MG team was blown into next week by a 155mm air bursting directly overhead.

That BR counter cost the Germans the game, breaking their attack. The Jagdpanzer  hit reverse and pulled back, along with the beastly Sturmmorser and the last of the grey-clad grenadiers in the saw mill. The bridges at Petite Deu-Pont were somehow, miraculously, still in American hands. I had 1 BR point left! The air attacks had saved the day.

So close, and a brilliant game. The German had it in the bag for so long, but a few diehard US units held out beyond all hope of victory with star performances from the P-47, my forward observer who earned his salary with repeated fire missions and never failed a comms check all game, and my sniper, who scored 4 kills and multiple pins picking-off unwary German conscripts in the saw mill.

The game had a great Ardennes feel, a desperate US defence by scratch forces had just held on (how, I have no idea, except my last 4 count draws cost me 1 BR – 2 air attacks (one arrived), a Confusion and a 1
; – and I only had 2 BR left as well – pure fluke).

Here are some snaps;
 US infantry dug-in on the Clerf, watching the bridge objective.

 And on a hillock over-looking the saw mill. They would have very bad day when the Sturmmorser opened fire.
 Solo US tank waiting in immediate reserve on the tree-lined track to the bridge and mill. It never moved or fired.

 Aid post, hidden at the back, but still hit by a mortar bomb.

 Volksgrenadiers advance on the saw mill.

 On their right, more landsers and the beast roll forwards.

 Kaboom, surprise Panzerfaust up the jacksy, it never happened like this in Fury!

 155 shells find their range on the saw mill's courtyard.

Left flankers, Jagdpanzer and infantry in support. With nothing to fight back with, my guys just ran (well fell back).

 OP team in jeep pulls back to safer ground, then gets back on the horn.

 Carnage on the track to Petit Deu-Pont. More timed mortar strikes (walked right into that one).

 Bazooka team in a foxhole cover the bridge, until StuG fire wiped them out too!

 A change in luck, 2 counter pulls, 2 Air Attacks, and one arrived as well, despite the low cloud cover.

 The result at the bridge, both rocketed StuGs burn and the game changed in the US' favour.

Wednesday 8 April 2015


The arrival of the Easter holidays has allowed me some time to crack on with the first tanks for my 8th Army project. 6 Armourfast Crusader IIs have been constructed and painted and with Value Gear stowage and AB crews added, they are now complete.

I use the same colours as the other vehicles (ending the shading with Citadel Bleached Bone), then added chips and weathering before getting very generous with the light sand weathering powders and pigment fixer. I think they look suitably dusty and desert-worn. I like my tanks grubby with an ‘on-campaign’ look – they are (or will be) my battered, battle veterans, so my painting style has evolved from clean highlights to a far rougher (and faster) approach, a little bit of Impressionism having its influence, with quick washes just splashed on. They look the business from 3 feet away on a tabletop.

Here are a few snaps. Anyhow, as the Foo Fighters proclaim - done, done and on to the next ones.... 

I have the infantry to complete and base before doing their soft-skins transports and a few of the last support vehicles. I have my eye on an AEC crane/recovery truck, some MWD light trucks, a portee 2pdr and a Kittyhawk for air support. That should be the final phase of the project and see the army in fighting shape for a first engagement.