Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Scratch built terrain for WW1 Middle East in 15mm

There is so much to love about the festive season – family (tricky relations ... maybe less so!), holidays, excellent nosh, left-overs ... and time to get stuck into wargaming projects.

The main focus of this Christmas break has been consolidating my collection of (mainly scratch built) 15mm terrain for my WW1 Sinai, Palestine and Mesopotamia gaming with TFL's If the Lord Spares Us ruleset. Rules errata and list of scenarios here.

Here is a selection of the pieces I have created so far:

1. Entrenchments and wire
I have created stands of a simple wire entanglement (see below) using copper wire coiled around a rod, glued to a base and with tooth pick uprights. A dozen of these probably took no more than an hour from start to finish - I'm happy with the overall result from that fairly minimal effort.
Barbed wire entanglements were constructed using cold copper wire (some 1.5mm electrical wire stripped of its plastic insulation).
I am planning on using a felt base mat with a combination of hex-terrain underneath the mat to create different elevations and simple multi-layer hills made of cork. Trenches will be represented using Battlefield Accessories' Hasty Entrenchments as seen in this previous post. While it would be great to have trenches dug into terrain boards, I prefer the flexibility of this arrangement.
Battlefield Accessories 'Hasty Entrenchments' - 12 per pack with each piece individual.
My reading so far suggests that strongpoints and redoubts used by the Ottoman forces in the campaign were largely limited fairly thinly wired trench systems. Bunkers were rarely used with cement being a rare resource in the desert. It's hard to discuss such defensive positions without briefly recalling Tank Redoubt - the shell of a destroyed Mark 1 tank used by the Ottoman troops as a strong point at the Second Battle of Gaza (19 April 1917) – maybe an Irregular Miniatures Mk 1 could be used for this!

Incidentally, I found an interesting (to me, at least) newspaper article about the Imperial Camel Corps (with mention of Tank Redoubt) at Second Gaza here:

2. Buildings

I have created a series of adobe buildings for villages and oasis buildings. I have used Matakishi's building technique using 6mm floor tile cork for the base structure.

This time I've experimented with improving the texturing of the outside by using a layer of Woodland Scenics plaster cloth over the cork. I find the resulting finish worth the extra effort.
I've then painted the dry plaster cloth with Vallejo Iraqui Sand, followed by a wash of dark brown and a dry brush of off white to pick up the highlights. The result, in my opinion is a very passable building that is cheap, easy to make.

3. Wadi
The dictionary definition for wadi is:

  • the bed or valley of a stream in regions of southwestern Asia and northern Africa that is usually dry except during the rainy season and that often forms an oasis :  gully, wash
  • a shallow usually sharply defined depression in a desert region

While some wadi that were encountered during the desert campaigns of 1915-18 were obviously of the larger type – deep ravines and valleys cut by a seasonal riverbed, these are tricky to easily represent on the tabletop.
Margin of Wady Ghuzze at Shellal, Palestine, Australian War Memorial
To represent the smaller wadi that were common during this campaign, I have adopted a fairly simple dry river bed made up of textured canvas (from an old terrain mat I cut up) with gravel lining the edges. I scattered a little flock over this and gave it a solid spray with matt varnish.
Simple wadi terrain
4. Oasis
The oasis and desert wells were locations of strategic importance during this campaign – obviously, due to the limited water supplies carried by the troops. Ion Idriess, in his memoir of his time in Gallipoli, Sinai and Palestine with the 5th Australian Light Horse (The Desert Column), provides many accounts of riding considerable distances to engage the Ottoman forces with only a canteen of water to last a day or more – often shared with their horses! The accounts of infantry mad with thirst is horrible to contemplate.
The groundwork for the oasis was built up using acrylic brown mastic over a textured polystyrene sheet with gravel, flocking and some small stones around the edge. I added some dry grass tufts for a bit of character. The water is just painted at present.

This project has finally provided a use for a pack of 100 plastic palm trees purchased from a supplier on Ebay (for only a few dollars). They could do with a paint job, but don't look too bad.

5. Hills
I've opted for a simple hills made up of layers of flocked and painted 6mm cork tile in the style of those pioneered by Major General Tremorden Rederring's Colonial-era Wargames website - sadly no longer being maintained. I formed the shapes by breaking the cork sheet by hand, giving a rough edge that paints up well as exposed rock and overcomes the issue of getting miniatures to stand up on slopes.

I will also use the wooden hex terrain which I have used for Great War Spearhead II – see this previous post.

6. Terrain mat
This is still a work in progress. I'm planning on using a felt mat from a local (Melbourne, Australia) supplier of felt:

JJ Davies can provide felt in widths of up to 180cm and will cut to order. I'll provide a review once I have purchased it. I will probably use colour # 311 or 318 and may use a few patches of spray paint on it to give some variation. More to follow on this.

That's about it for now. The next step is to get to work on the mounted troops (Australian Light Horse, Imperial Camel Corps and Ottoman cavalry), artillery and some irregular Arab infantry. And, maybe some gaming! Ha ha.

Thanks for dropping by – I hope the festive season has been good to you and thanks for your support in 2015.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Dash for the oasis

With a busy end to the working year and the demands of the silly season, wargaming becomes a late night affair!

I've been dead keen to give If the Lord Spares Us a run now that I have a regiment of British infantry and the equivalent for the Ottoman Empire. However, every time I get a game set up and have done the obligatory quick re-read of the rules, it's well after midnight.

Anyway, here's a few pictures of the last attempt - abandoned after a few turns. A full British brigade was assulting an Ottoman force of two under-strength Taburs (battalions) entrenched on high ground in front of an oasis.

It's late in 1915, and the British infantry are faced with the job of carrying through the assault or being stuck without water.  A wadi snakes across the board just in front of the British deployment zone. I've included the 'Water, water!" card as a part of the deck to introduce the impact of limited water supply for the troops. This seems to have been a constant feature of the Sinai campaign.

Both Ottoman taburs were rated as 'Johnny Turks' and the assaulting British had one battalion of 'Jolly Good Fellows' (regulars) and two battalions of 'Saturday Boys'. (territorials) All units were deployed as blinds with one dummy blind added to each side.

A Turkish blind was placed on the entrenchments near the oasis in the foreground, but early British scouting only encountered patrols in the area. The advance continued in ernest.
Quickly the British infantry occupied the wadi, providing the last cover before the assault on the high ground. 
Small arms fire from Hill 175 (on the far right) caused some suppression of the British centre - but a fortunate turn up of the 'stiff upper lip' card, overcame this early reverse. 
On the British left, fire from the wadi started to tell on the defenders of Hill 150 (on the left) suppressing the defenders.
The battalion in the British Centre had orders to assault the oasis between Hill 150 and Hill 175. Poor timing by the battalion commanders (due to the order of the activations cards) resulted the centre advancing ahead the flanks. However, being the only regular battalion, they weathered the enfilade fire being directed from the high ground.
The British infantry on the left lined the dry banks of the wadi in preparation for an assault to draw fire away from the centre. By this time the 'Water, water' card was in play and the British infantry was slowed down to 8" move per turn. It would be a slow and costly advance to the Turkish trenches on Hill 175.
A sweeping view of the British Brigade awaiting the whistle's call to advance again.
At this point, I realised I'd given no thought to using my off board artillery (for either side). That was going to lead to more rule reading, and so exhaustion got the better of me and I called it a night. 

Even in these early turns, I could see the difficulties caused by assaulting fixed positions – with the Turkish machine guns able to fire on every activation.  The British MGs were largely silent having moved each turn on which the battalions were activated (thus, unable to fire). Some artillery support would have balanced up the situation, somewhat.

Summer holidays begin this week. I'm sure to get back to this scenario soon. Until we meet again, if the Lord spares us!

Monday, 23 November 2015

Tea Break!

It feels like time for a tea break. I've spent what few spare moments I could muster in the past week painting what Messrs. Skinner and Clarke of Too Fat Lardies tell me is an Alai (regiment) of Ottoman Infantry for If the Lord Spares Us.

With an almost military sense of precision, the deck of cards for the aforementioned ruleset arrived today paving the way for some introductory infantry vs. infantry bouts. The cards were purchased from Arts Cow created and uploaded by a gent by the name of Joe Collins. Well done that man!

The deck cost about US $20 to get out here - but there's nothing like custom made cards to add a bit of colour to a game.

No ... no time for a tea break ... I'm off to re-read the rules and settle down to some biffo among the shifting sands.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

"A man will never need a grave dug if he is shot in this desert"

After reading Wavell's rather dry "The Palestine Campaigns" (pardon the pun), I needed to get back to some history told 'against the grain' - a personal narrative of this theatre of war.

I'm now 'enjoying' Ion Idriess' raw and gritty account of his time with the 5th Light Horse, AIF, in Gallipoli, Sinai and Palestine. A very worthwhile read to get a sense of the horrors endured by the common soldier in this theatre of war.

Having been wounded twice on the Gallipoli peninsular, Idriess find himself convalescing in Egypt. As Gallipoli had been evacuated by this time (March 1916) the 5th finds itself stationed near the old battlefield of Tel-el-Kebir (1882):

Close by is the old battlefield of Tel-el-Kebir. Remnants of buttons, bullets, bayonets and cartridge cases are littered there while yellowed skulls show where the Khamseens have blown the sand away. The scurrying winds have uncovered old bodies in an uncanny state of preservation, surely due to some chemical preservative in the sands. Several boys looked mustily young and sleeping. It was a shock to see them, so still and quiet and old. They gave me an uneasy impression that from some aloof world they were accusing me-and really I never knew they once existed. Our boys buried them deep.

A few days later, while drilling in the sand-swept desert, an officer remarked, 'A man will never need a grave dug if he is shot in this desert."

Ion Idriess, The Desert Column: Leaves from the Diary of an Australian Trooper in Gallipoli, Sinai and Palestine, Angus and Robertson Ltd, 1934, Sydney, pp. 69-71.

Anyway, with all this wonderful inspiration, I've managed to get my first British infantry brigade together for If the Lord Spares Us. It's nominally a brigade of the 42nd (East Lancashire) Territorial Division. Here's a few of my typically fuzzy (Sorry! Must buy a decent camera) pics:

The armoured car is from Irregular Miniatures (Improvised Armoured Car IRR-NC099) with a lewis gun from a Peter Pig 'Home Guard' (WW2) figure and the head and torso of an Eureka figure.
I cut the weapon and lower arms from the Lewis gunner, and gut away the same portion of the Eureka figure. Then I cut the legs off the Eureka guy and glued the torso with Lewis gun to the legs of the Irregular gunner. The figure seated in the back of the armoured car was cut out (drilled, actually).

Here's the result. The paint job leaves a lot to be desired - I hope to add some detail and better AFV-style weathering when I learn how to do it!

Ottoman infantry next! Thanks for dropping by.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

6mm scratch-built entrenchments for Great War Spearhead II

I love an excuse to drop everything and scratch build something.

I was setting up for my second game of Great War Spearhead II (GWSH II) with the aim of playing the "A Hot Day's Work" – a tasty little introductory scenario from Robin Sutton's The Great Adventure. This provides another hypothetical rearguard action by the BEF during the Great Retreat of 1914 – this time with a few more troops on each side and the lack of a bridge over an impassable river to focus one's defence on!

I was ready to go when, on rereading the scenario background, I saw that the BEF could start the game entrenched. 'But you don't have any entrenchment markers!', I hear you say.

I've always ben rather keen on the foxholes and trench markets produced by Timecast. So, I thought I'd have a go at something similar and decided to use card bases and form the trenches using caulking compound.

Here's a quick step by step:

Add a blob of acrylic caulking compound to each 30 x 30 mm (1.1/4") square of thick card.
Wet your fingertip (stops it sticking) and smooth it out over the base. Then sprinkle a strip of flocking either side
while wet - be careful to leave the centre clean.
While the caulk was drying a little, I cut a trench-like template from a cheap plastic crate (purchased from a thrift shop - I use them for a range scratch building tasks - e.g. 28mm window frames etc.)
When the caulk is touch dry (20 minutes on a warm day) wet the template and press it into the caulk. Be sure to press each section down firmly - I used a screwdriver blade.
Gently lift out the template. You have a passable trench impression. I then went over each with a palate knife and reshaped the caulk and scratched it away down to the card on the trench floor.
They need some work work in terms of a bit of dry brushing to give the earth more texture. You could also add shell holes and other interesting detail if you are inclined.

Here they are in action (well... abandoned!). As I say, some detailing will take them the next step.
For a quick job, I feel they make a passable trench marker. The template produced a rather deep traverse between each fire bay but for a quick job, I can put up with that.

How did the game go, I hear you ask? The aim for the British was to defend the village in the centre of the board.
The German commander executed a cunning flank march and swept in on the British left.
The BEF suffered heavy losses in the woods as they rushed to establish a new defensive perimeter on their left.  British artillery had been ineffective so far and the German forward observer was having communication problems as a result of the pace of the advance (fire missions called for, never arrived).
Once both sides got into small arms range the casualties were very heavy. With the addition of some indirect fire from a regiment of the Royal Artillery and two regiments of German field guns, things got very sticky indeed. The BEF's machine guns took a heavy toll on the German infantry advancing in the open. In this turn alone, both sides suffered nearly half of the losses they experienced in the whole game!
Despite their steady advance through the woods, the German's eventually lost over half of their  troops (Morale: Regular) and failed their regimental morale check and withdrew from the field. The veteran BEF, while suffering severe losses, held  on and slowed the German advance one more.
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Wednesday, 30 September 2015

GWSH II - Rolling with the punches, France, August 1914

I am pleased to report that my 6mm Great War project that I started back in July 2014, has finally got off the blocks. After months of (occasional) painting and gathering terrain, I finally played my first game of  Great War Spearhead II last weekend.

I thought it best to start with a simple scenario so I chose Rolling with the Punches - one of Robin Sutton's excellent GWSH II introductory scenarios from his Great Adventure site. This scenario has a small BEF force seeking to delay a German advanced guard during the Great Retreat of August and September 1914.
This gave me the first opportunity to try out my MDF hex terrain. This is a no frills version of the very effective method of using Hexon terrain to build up contours under a terrain mat employed by Robert Dunlop. Alas shipping Hexon terrain to the Antipodes costs more in postage than it cost me to buy this magnificent collection (and you see only a portion of it here) of hand cut (!!!) MDF hexes. I obtained these as a bit of a one off from a local supplier (thanks Mike!). Not that the postage cost is the fault of Kallistra, just a fact of geography!
Hills are laid out in preparation for the felt cloth

I ironed around the hills to improve definition of the contours through the felt.
The aim of this scenario is for this detachment of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to hold the bridge for 6 turns to allow the remaining elements (not depicted) of the BEF to secure a defensive position further south. I was playing solo so to add a level of surprise, I set up he BEF and provided four possible lines of attack for the Germans all of which culminated at the bridge.
The Germans took the initiative but drew the furthest entry point from the bridge. They approach in a series of columns while the BEF defends a perimeter in front of the bridge. British artillery lined the far side of the river near the village and their HQ.
The BEF were under 'defend' orders so had to sight the Germans before they could adjust their deployment.  
German infantry are sighted as they advance up the valley. The German commander orders a regiment of  77mm field guns to deploy on the nearby hill (middle left)
On a tight schedule, the Germans surge forward into small arms range.
Small arms fire takes its toll on the German left while a battery of British 18 pdrs open fire. 

Finally, German field gun regiment lays down a barrage on the British centre hoping to punch a hole through which the advance can continue. Despite the fury of the barrage, the Old Contemptibles stood their ground. At this stage I realised the 6 turns given to the Germans was unrealistic given their distant entry point and decided to extend the time
available to 8 turns.

As the volume of fire increased, companies of infantry were being mown down (destroyed companies marked with white skulls on red bases) on both sides and  those remaining troops were largely suppressed (white skull)

Turn 8: The German advance has stalled. The BEF have paid a heavy price but the order is given to fall back as the main body is now well on its way to the next defensive position. The BEF live to fight another day.
I really enjoyed this first touch of the GWSH II rules. I'm sure I made many mistakes but time and rereading in the light of this experience will sort that out.

I know I've got a long way to go towards learning the intricacies of industrial warfare. The overwhelming feeling from this game was that of blundering into contact, with the Germans driven to accept heavy losses to keep to their tight timetable. Not unlike the events of 1914!