Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Sadler's Operation Mercury, The Battle for Crete, 1941

Having an interest in the Marita-Merkur operation since the days of GDW's Europa game, of the same name, I pulled John Sadler's Operation Mercury from the shelf and packed it along with me on vacation. Coming in at slightly more than 200 pages, the book made a good read for a long flight.  With MMP's upcoming release of their treatment of the operation at the tactical level in Operation Mercury, I felt a pressing incentive to gain some background on the short Crete invasion in anticipation of the boardgame's release.

Sadler begins by laying the foundation for the situation and why the Balkans and later Crete played a role in early WWII operational planning.  His description of the geography over which the Germans would attack provides a good sense of the rugged terrain and the uniqueness of the island's infrastructure.  Crete's geography drove the direction of the campaign and Sadler's fine description enhances understanding.

Having ejected the allies from Greece, Sadler lays the case for the German invasion of the island after being pressed into action by Italy's invasion of Greece.  Having put down the groundwork for "why" the invasion, Sadler explains the "how" by providing a history of the Fallshirmjager arm and Student's championing of this asset.  One chapter is spent on Student's guidance of this air drop capability and his ideas on vertical envelopment of invasion from the air.  Very interesting stuff.

With the British suffering defeat after defeat in the early phases of the war, Sadler intimates that the defeat and evacuation of Crete was reminiscent of the glorious defeat of the Spartans at Thermopylae.  Thermopylae?  Maybe not quite.  Having put up a vigorous resistance at the outset of the operation, Commonwealth forces retreated and evacuated the island almost as soon as momentum shifted to the Germans.  Left behind in their evacuation were their hard-fighting comrades, the Cretans.

While my expectations were for a non-partisan treatment of the battle, most of the narrative focused on the British and Commonwealth perspective.  The retelling of the battle emphasized the shooting gallery presented to the allies as the Germans descended helplessly from the air into the waiting sights of small arms.  With deficiencies in Allied AA and large caliber weapons, great heroics were witnessed as small arms fire tore apart, transport, glider, and paratrooper alike.  This was murder not war.  The destruction of the assaulting force was catastrophic in a loss of men and materiel.  While great feats of combat are prescribed to the Commonwealth, the actions of the Cretans, themselves, are under-represented. The exception to this is the courageous actions of the local citizens and militia gallantly led by British officers.  Standing out for the Commonwealth were the tenacious actions of the New Zealand Maoris.

When recounting the air drop, Operation Mercury primarily spends all of the action around the Maleme airfield.  Brutal combat continued around the airfield to deny the Germans a bridgehead until the Germans gained a toehold.  Once the airfield fell and German reinforcements began arriving, British  command ordered a retreat and evacuation of the island.  The theme, for me, was that the fighting spirit of the individual is steadfast only to be undone by incompetencies in higher command.

While MMP's Operation Mercury will likely offer many opportunities for scenario development and immediate translation to the gaming table, Sadler's Operation Mercury provides much fodder for scenario design itself.  As I read the battle accounts, thoughts kept turning towards developing small scale actions for Chain of Command in 28mm.  With early war British in the collection, visions of fielding German Fallshirmjäger or Gebirgsjäger naturally surfaced.  Jake has Fallshirmjäger so a game could be had straight away.  Scott may have some of these Germans too.  My 15mm early war collection could see action in this theatre as well.  Possibilities and opportunities abound. Operation Mercury has placed gaming this invasion onto my list of periods to see future action on the table.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Afghan Tribal Artillery for Great Game

Another addition to the Great Game project!  Off the desk this time is native Afghan crew and gun.  Gun and crew are from Wargames Foundry and as expected Foundry's mid-19th Century ranges still offer state of the art sculpting from so many years ago. 
Years ago, I had a number of Old Glory and Foundry Pathans and Afghan Regulars for Colonial gaming.  I loved the battalions of Afghans in beehive hat and Turkomen in fur headdresses. Classic figures!  Those figures are long gone, though.  Oh, how I wish I still had them.  While I will not likely be duplicating the Regular Afghan troops from the 2nd Afghan War, many groups of Afghan tribesmen should certainly be considered.
Still, more Russian foot and horse remain in The Lead Pile with a battalion of Empress Miniatures' Russians on its way as a test.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Mounted Arquebusiers

Casting Room Miniatures (an arm of Wargames Foundry) recently offered a 20% discount.  Having never given them much notice, the offered discount, favorable exchange rate, and free shipping were too much to resist.  Frequently on the look out for Reconquista, Great Italian Wars, and Trojan War era figures, I found all available at Casting Room.
Figures do not maintain the same crispness of sculpting as other Foundry figures.  Some, as in the arquebusiers shown here, have arms seemingly too rounded at the joints.  Anatomy appears a little "off" on some figures as well especially in facial features.  Could be simply my personal preferences in sculpting style coming to the fore.
Despite these few caveats, the trio of mounted arquebusier look very good to me.  The horses, themselves, match up very well with both Foundry's Renaissance horses and Perry's Stradiots.  Besides the mounted arquebusiers shown here (and a second trio to be fielded later), mounted Norman knights and Trojan chariots were added into the order to reach the ever important free shipping minimum order value.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Action at Brawner's Farm - BatRep

With the lead up to the Action at Brawner's Farm detailed back in June (see Action at Brawner's Farm - Scenario), I recently gathered the troops for a refight.  The action begins at 5:15pm with elements of Jackson's Corps springing a surprise attack upon King's Division as it marches along the Warrenton Pike.  With limited daylight, Jackson must strike swiftly to take advantage of this surprise before the Federals can react.  As fate would have it, Jackson's attack struck the later acclaimed Iron Brigade under Gibbon and Doubleday.  This would be the Iron Brigade's baptism of fire.  As game moderator, I did not take many notes during the heated action so photos must relay the narrative.

The action opened with Confederate artillery catching the Federals in column marching east along the Warrenton Pike.  We pick up the action after the initial Confederate artillery fire. 
Surprised and taking fire,
Gibbon and Doubleday deploy their regiments to the north of the pike.
As the Federals deploy,
Jackson becomes impatient that his commanders are not acting.
Grabbing the 26 GA and 60 GA,
Jackson,himself, strikes off for Brawner's Farm.
Jackson leads the Georgians to take Brawner's Farm
Deployed, the Federal infantry advance through the woods
 to threaten Brawner's Farm and discourage artillery fire
Doubleday sends two regiments into the woods on the Federal
 left to pin half of the Stonewall Brigade.
Taking casualties, the Stonewall BDE holds its ground
Will stalemate on the left, Federals mass their guns
 and advance upon Brawner's Farm in the center.
Jackson beats the Federals to the farm and digs in
 for the assaults that will be coming.
Jackson takes fire but holds the farm
Federals close in on Jackson at Brawner's Farm.
With his subordinates inactive, Jackson must hold on
as the Union wave crests on his position.
Jackson's position is threatened on both flanks
Taking heavy casualties,
the Stonewall Brigade falls back from the farm.
Federal guns pound the Rebel positions disordering
all of the Confederate formations.
In the confusion, Jackson falls from his horse.
Mortally wounded!
Jackson is carried from the field.
With the Confederate center reeling,
 Doubleday pushes on against the Rebel right.
With no response from the Reb forces lingering in reserve,
Rebels fall back to the copse of trees seeking reprieve
 from the ferocious Federal artillery.
Heavily outnumbered, Confederates hug the treeline
in search of shelter.
Rockbridge battery deploys near the railroad cut and
begins lending support while Maryland and Courtney batteries
 take up positions near Stony Ridge.
Two battle lines are drawn up as Confederates
cling to the bank of the railroad cut.
Finally!  As dusk looms, Trimble and Lawton snap into action.
Both formations step out of the railroad cut. 
With night approaching and Jackson lost, Ewell calls off
the attack to regroup and reconsider his options
for the morrow.
With heavy fighting, both forces were approaching heavy casualties.  Although Gibbon was roughed up and would unlikely offer much resistance to combined attacks by Lawton and Trimble on the Federal right, Ewell had no stomach for continuing the fight.

The loss of Jackson will be felt, no doubt.  In the Iron Brigade's baptism of fire, they came through to fight Jackson to a standstill.  Gibbon and Doubleday gain a victory for their actions on the field this evening.

What if Ewell had pressed on as night fell?  Could Lawton and Trimble have tipped the balance and gained victory from the jaws of defeat?

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Cycling the Palouse - Hangman Valley to Tower Mountain

View looking down into valley
Cycling the Palouse; I never tire of taking the bike out for a spin in the afternoon under the warm summer sun.  After 20 miles navigating the rolling Palouse, the five mile climb from the valley bottom at Hangman Valley Golf Course up to Tower Mountain was tackled before heading back to town.
Elevation Profile: Hangman Valley to Tower Mountain
The climb out of Hangman Valley to near the top of Tower is a nearly relentless push upwards over the entire five miles.  As seen from the map above, pitches in the last mile reach 22 percent!  That is a tough slog and quite steep especially when viewed at road level.  Temperatures in the mid 80s F add even a bigger challenge. 
Last two miles of the climb where the road ramps up.
Tower Mountain in background.
As seen from the map. the last three-quarters of a mile are the most difficult.  After climbing onto the lower approaches to the summit, the road makes a 90 degree left turn and heads seemingly straight up.  The steepness of the last ramp up cannot be accurately gauged from the photos.  The following photos snapped on the descent suggest the road is quite tranquil.  Looks are deceiving!  The climb leans toward violence rather than tranquility.      
On the descent 1
On the descent 2
On the descent 3
On the descent 4
On the descent 5
A tough five miles to end a ride but the views and satisfaction are worth the effort.  Temperatures will soon be relaxing into the fall so these climbs will be more pleasant.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Heavy Casualty Markers for RFF in 10mm

Brady-esque post battle clean up
Having mustered the 10mm ACW collection out for a Regimental Fire & Fury (RFF) game on the 27th, inspiration struck to paint a couple of Heavy Casualty Markers for the game.  Painting inspiration sparked after the game so no markers were seen in the Saturday game.  Since neither side reached the Heavy Casualty threshold, this point was moot.

The inspiration had actually struck in the weeks leading up to the game since my most recent order from Lancashire Games included several packs of Blaze Away 10mm ACW figures.  Before thoughts returned to the 10mm ACW project in anticipation of the upcoming game, Blaze Away was not on my figure radar having fielded the 10mm ACW collection solely from Old Glory 10s.  In a lark, several packs of Wounded and Horse Holders were added into the more traditional 1859 resupply.

Since only one marker per army is needed, these are quick additions towards "game enhancement."  Each market has two stretcher teams with wounded and three casualties strewn around the base.  Is there any question that these compositions depict a "heavy casualty" battlefield situation?  I think not.  When one of these is plopped onto the gaming table, it is clear that one side is facing an uphill battle from this point forward. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

Second French Empire Hussar Regiment #2

Continuing on with the 1859 project, a twelve figure regiment of French hussars departs its bivouac on the painting desk.
Figures, like so many recently, are from Lancashire Games.  Again, excellent sculpting as I have come to expect from Lancashire.  With their brown jackets and light blue trousers and shakos, these fine fellows can be recognized as the 2nd Hussar Regiment.
Note that some troopers carry a firearm strapped to their back while other do not.  Rather than a purposeful decision, my guess is the absence of firearm is due to the vagaries of the casting process.  This argument is strengthened by finding a loose firearm sliding around in the pack.  Nevertheless, fine sculpts.  One more curiosity present on the French hussars.  I bought these dozen horsemen in a Battle Pack listed as containing 12 Chasseurs a Cheval and 12 Hussars.  Without a photo of the figure available on the website, I wonder if these are actually Chasseurs d'Afrique?  Perhaps the Chasseurs d'Afrique and hussar figures are interchangeable?  When painting, no recognizable hussar braid was visible on the jacket but perhaps only the dolman is worn?  A dozen Chasseurs d'Afrique should be ordered to compare with the hussars and confirm. 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Cycling the Palouse - Wildfire

Two weeks ago, several wildfires broke out near my fair city.  With temperatures in the mid-90s F, very little ground moisture, and high winds, conditions were ripe for disaster.  Disaster struck.  The ignition points of the two closest fires were about five miles north and about eight miles south of the house.  Luckily for us, wind direction guided the fire away from Spokane proper.  After several tense days of watching evacuation zones and a return to cooler temperatures, the fires were contained.
The fire south of the city cut across a narrow valley often a part of my regular cycling routine as I head out onto the Palouse.  Altering my normal southerly route until the situation stabilized and clean up could be addressed, I finally returned to this route midweek.  With news reports of several homes lost to fire, my thoughts focused on assessing damage as I cycled out of town.  In the photo below, the wildfire swept up and over the hill in the background.  
To my surprise, I passed no homes or ranches destroyed by the fire.  In several instances, evidence of fire stopped only yards from a home.  These families were fortunate, indeed, and must have suffered great anxiety as the flames bore down on their property.  Dotting the roadside were numerous reminders of the work done.  Besides a charred landscape, those reminders included hand painted signs thanking the firefighters and farmers for their diligent work in saving their homes from destruction.
As I neared the steep climb out of the valley and up onto the Palouse Plateau, the destruction came into view.  The fire had swept down and across the narrow Latah Creek Valley from the west and up the canyon walls on the east.  The Valley Chapel Road switchback climbing up and out of the valley and onto the rolling farmland on the plateau witnessed the fire sweeping across it.  Both sides of the canyon were scorched by the wildfire and a heavy smell of smoke lingered as I climbed the hill.  As I reached the Longhorn ranch near the top of the climb, the fire line stopped.  While devastating, the fire seemed to cut a narrow swath across the valley without touching any of the homes in that narrow strip of farm and woodland.
With trees scorched and all underbrush burned away, it will take time for the now, barren landscape to recover.  The results could have been much worse.