In which I blog about my miniature wargaming and whatever else takes my interest!

In which I blog about my miniature wargaming and whatever else takes my interest!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Kampfgruppe for All Seasons

Adventures in World War Two Gaming

I found this old unpublished article while rooting about on the Mac's hard drive. I had meant it for HMG Magazine. The pics I took are pretty low-rez so are crap for print but will do for blog publishing. So here's the army I built before the Canadians.
I haven’t owned any WW2 miniatures since I was a kid, carelessly mixing 1/72nd scale Matchbox and Airfix figures with 1/87th scale Rocco Minitanks. Other periods beckoned and every time I played WW2 it seemed to be an exercise in rivet counting. But there are some really great WW2 movies, tanks are kinda cool and even the most PC-conscious person can’t argue that defeating Nazi Germany wasn’t a Good Thing. So I kept coming back to it. For a while I was part of a club that played a lot of microarmor games. Great thundering phalanxes of tanks (early war and late war vehicles mixed with a callous disregard for historical context) wheeling around the table shooting each other to bits while a few scattered sections of infantry (usually represented by looted board game counters) hoped for a lucky bazooka shot. Angles of penetration and amounts of cover were argued over and no one worried about proper use of combined arms.
Years pass, I continue reading and playing the odd game. Another circle of gaming friends is formed. A few of us briefly dally with 10mm miniatures, but then Don sells the range and we’re cut off from our source of cheap figures. We’re all casting about for a common period to work on. World War 2 seems to be the most universally acceptable. But which campaign? Which year? Flames of War was the hot new thing and my friend Mike was diving in with an abandon normally reserved for all you can eat buffets. Having sold off his micro scale Western Desert collection, he was now buying a ludicrous amount of Battlefront 15mm miniatures for all participants in the same campaign. So North Africa was pretty well covered. Lorenzo had some very nice Russians, but Patrick was building a 1940 French mechanized force and I wanted to do Canadians and was toying with Poles…. We were missing something.
Oh right, the Germans…
So we needed a German force that could potentially fight in every year and on every front from the invasion of Poland in ’39 to the fall of Berlin in ’45 (except, of course, North Africa).
Kampfgruppe Hotlead
By this time we had played a couple of games of FoW and become tired of it. The Games Workshop style multiple army list source books was also annoying. But Keith had turned us on to the I Ain’t Been Shot Mum rules by the Too Fat Lardies. These are quirky, frustrating rules using card driven activation and lots of friction and fog of war. They’re incredibly fun. No longer can the rules lawyer hang about waiting for the optimum shot. One quickly learns to go when your card comes up, or you might not get the chance later. Like FoW, IABSM is centered on an infantry company with attached supporting arms. This was the scale I wanted to play in; big enough you can have combined arms, but small enough that individual leaders have an important effect on the flow of the battle.
So I proposed that we use some excess funds from our Hotlead Convention account to build a German army consisting of a company of infantry and some supporting platoons, plus a platoon of armour of every type of main battle tank from ’39 to ’45. The Landsers would all be in basic field grey since camouflaged zeltbahns would be too specific to the late war. With IABSM artillery is generally off table, so we were able to dispense with buying any field artillery except for a few self-propelled guns, and for the tank destroyers some basic representatives would have to do, otherwise there would be too many variants to cope with.
My friend Scott had started a German mid-war FoW army, but had burned out on painting it. So this was bought at a reasonable deal to form the core of the army. The initial force was three platoons of infantry, a MMG platoon and a 80mm mortar platoon. Supporting them were 2 Pak38 antitank guns, 3 Tigers, 5 PzIVf2s and 3 StuGIIIs. These were all Battlefront miniatures. I’ve come to like the Battlefront infantry. It’s nice to be able to buy a platoon, complete with support weapons and command figures in a single blister. The various upgrades allowed in the army lists have resulted in a few extras which are always good for rounding out any army. Scott had also purchased the “Artillery HQ” pack which gave me a slew of extra command figures and riflemen, plus a nice HQ vignette with a radio operator at a table.

The infantry were initially all based 5 figures to a plastic BF stand. If I could do it over again I think I’d base them 4 to a stand and have some stands of 2 for removing casualties. This would also make the later war 8 man infantry sections easier to represent. But as it is each platoon has 4 sections of 9 or 10 men, plus a 50mm mortar team, an anti-tank rifle team and a team of ‘panzer knackers’ with AT mines for later in 1941 when they stopped lugging about the ATRs. I also have a mixed assortment of 2 or 3 man FoW style command stands and single command figures on 1/2 inch washers for I Ain’t Been Shot Mum! style Big Men.
This was a good start and just needed some additional vehicles to expand it in each direction to cover the early and late wars as well.
Panzer IIIs and Panzer IVs would be the core of the armored forces. I’m not a rivet counter, so just having a platoon of each with short barrels and another platoon of each with long barrels would do. I really can’t tell the difference visually between a PzIIId or a PzIIIh. For each of these platoons a single bag of three Old Glory models would do.

Panzer column invades my French village.

Panzer III platoon

Panzer Is and Panzer IIs were a big part of the German tank force in the early campaigns. Panzer Is were almost half of the German strength in 1939, but continued in use in declining numbers up until Barbarossa, so ignoring them would be silly. Panzer IIs I just find to be too cute. So for the light panzers, because they’re weakly armored and gunned, I got two packs of each to give them full strength platoons plus an extra for command. 2 Battlefront Panzer 38(t) tanks plus a pack of 3 Old Glory models rounded out the early war selection of armor.

Early war panzer kompanie

For the late war some Panzer IVhs with the schurzen were necessary, and because I think schurzen are kind of sexy and give one a lot of scope for camouflage patterns, I added a pack of Panzer IIIms to the order of battle too. The PzIII had a limited operational use with the schurzen, but they give another option for 1943 games and were still found useful as command tanks or artillery observation vehicles in 1944. Rounding out the late war inventory would be a pack of Old Glory Panthers and King Tigers just for completeness sake.

Late War Marder III tank destroyers

Late War PzIVH tanks in my Italian town


The switch was made to buying the Old Glory tanks because with the Old Glory Army card the price couldn’t be beat. I find mixing the two manufacturers is not really a problem. There is a bit of difference between the BF and OG Pz38(t) and Opel Blitz truck models but in the heat of a game I don’t notice. Although when painting some BF Paner Grenadiers for a friend I noticed that the BF Sdkfz251 halftracks are significantly larger than the Old Glory models.

Early war panzer grenadiers with their rides

Late war Battlefront Sdkfz251s painted for the Mad Padre

For supporting arms some Pak 36 and Pak 40 antitank guns were added to extend the AT support to cover both the early war and the late war. Towed 75mm and 150mm infantry guns were added as well in case the grenadier platoons needed some direct fire support from the Regimental Gun Company. Scott had also acquired some 120mm mortars, intending to upgrade the mortar platoon. However the Battlefront mortar crews were kneeling and lying prone to serve their 80mm tubes.

BF mortar platoon with OG transport

They would look silly trying to operate gigantic 120mm tubes! So I used some extra standing artillery crew figures (again those big Old Glory bags come to the rescue) to man the heavy mortar platoon. At 15mm the difference between a howitzer shell and mortar bomb cradled in a figures arms isn’t very apparent.

Pak40 75mm anti-tank gun platoon.

75mm infantry gun and 37mm Pak36 AT gun

Section of 150mm infantry support guns

Old Glory SiG33 and Panzer Jaeger 1 with added crew. [Edit: picture added 31/10/2010]
For early SPG support, the kampfgruppe has a pair of OG Panzer jeager Is, a pair of OG SiG33Bs and a pair of OG StuGIIId. For late war they have a pack of OG Marder IIIs and the BF StuGIIIgs. The SiG33s are awkward and clumsy; a big 150mm infantry gun bolted to a Panzer I chassis with an armored box around the gun. It was slow and couldn’t carry much ammunition on board. But it’s delightfully quirky and is the beginning of Nazi Germany’s fine tradition of prolonging the life of obsolete tanks by turning them into assault guns. Someday I’d like to add a few of the French tank chassis based assault guns used by 21st Panzer Division in Normandy, but that’s for the future. The Panzer Jeagers and SiGs did not come with any gun crew, and open topped, crewless vehicles I find visually disconcerting. Extra artillery crew figures were modified to fit in the fighting compartments of both vehicles.
I wasn’t initially going to add any armored recce units. A friend wanted to do an aufklarungs force, so I left that to him. But he lives a fair distance away and I kept running into scenarios requiring some armored cars. So a small assortment of Sdkfz 222 four wheeled armored cars and Sdkfz 234/1 eight wheeled armored cars would be required. A patrol of the Sdkfz 250/9 was also purchased, again because they’re cute.

Finally for anti-aircraft protection I got a pack of Sdkfz251 halftracks with 37mm flak guns. Three of course is way too many, but one would be grey for early and one in camouflage for late and the third went to support the friend’s aufklarungs force.
Since many scenarios in 1940 and ’41 have the Germans on the offensive with mechanized columns smashing through French or Russian defenses, some means of motoring the grenadiers around the battlefield was required. An assortment of Sdkfz 251 halftracks and Opel Blitz trucks were purchased. I would have liked to get some of the Krupp Protze trucks used as infantry carriers early in the war, but Old Glory does not produce them, which is an odd oversight on their part. BF produces them in resin of course, but that wasn’t in the budget. I opted on a few packs of the Horsch heavy field car as a substitute. A purist would object, but they’re close enough for me. They can also be used to move around heavy weapons teams or the light Paks and infantry guns.

Old glory Opel blitz on the left and a Battlefront Opel blitz on the right

For air support I’ve opted for some of the pre-painted, plastic 1/144th scale aircraft one can find at Wal-Mart. The initial installment was a pair of Stukas in the early war green over blue-grey camouflage. I had to use my pin vise to drill holes in the bottom of the fuselage to mount them on a stand made from heavy steel wire epoxied to a quarter inch thick, by 2 inch diameter steel washer. The hole was drilled at an angle so the Stukas are in a suitable diving position. A tuft of steel wool painted black at the base of the supporting rod helps hide it and adds a bit of drama too. Later at a convention Bring and Buy I found a box with a Fw190 in a mottled grey camo paired up with a rocket armed Hellcat in RNAS markings and Invasion Stripes.

So What Color is Dunkelgelb Exactly?
I started by painting the infantry, figuring with the infantry platoons done, then scenarios could be built around what sort of supports were ready to play with. A basic black prime and then blocking in the feldgrau and some highlights had them sorted pretty quick.
For the vehicles there is the great divide of early war grey versus late war dunkelgelb with camouflage. In the middle, say very late 1942 to late 1943 one could mix the two schemes, but camouflaged Panzers overrunning French poilus in 1940 or grey Panzers fighting in Normandy in ’44 just doesn’t look right to me. So I had to decide who was going to get the early war grey or the late war camouflage. Some, like the Panzer I were easy. But then there’s the Pz II which served until ’45 as a recce vehicle. I took the Battle of Stalingrad as my Great Divide. Everything that would be typical order of battle kit before Stalingrad would be in grey. Everything that started coming out after, from early ’43 on, would be in dunkelgelb. Since the 234/1 and 250/9 recce vehicles came out later, they would have to be in the dunkelgelb. This meant I had to put the 222 armored cars in grey so that there would be some early war armored recce available. The Panzer IIs being an important part of the light panzer companies up until 1941, meant that I would paint them grey too, using them as early war armored units rather than for late war recce.
Most of the transport is grey too. My reasoning being that by the late war the Germans were on the defensive and lacking in transport. So two platoons worth of halftracks and most of the trucks are grey. One platoon of halftracks are in camouflage for any Normandy campaign counterattacks that become scenarios. To help me in many of my decisions about which models to buy or how to paint them I referred to the Achtung Panzer! website a lot.

My late war StuGs and Recce posing with the Panzer Grenadier platoon I painted for the Mad Padre

Panzer grey is dead easy to paint, especially when starting with a black prime. Heavy dry brush of Vallejo German Grey and then successively lighter dry brushes of lighter shades of grey until getting to something that looked good with nice highlights. For the tracks I just leave them black and then a very heavy coating of muddy brown (Americana “Mississippi Mud”), dry brushing the brown up onto the fenders and lower hull to make the tanks look good and dirty. Any details like tools or stowage on the hull was then picked out and commanders painted.
Dunkelgelb is a bit harder. It’s sort of a sandy yellowish greenish tanish color. It also varied in shade depending on manufacturing lot and what substance the crews used to mix the paint paste with; oil, gasoline or water. Again I start with a black primer coat, then a heavy dry brush of Vallejo 70821 “German Camouflage Beige”, highlighted with 70914 “Green Ochre”. I then use 70826 “German Camouflage Medium Brown” and 70890 “Reflective Green” in stripes or splotches for the camouflage patterns. Tools and stowage are painted and then the tracks and road wheels are given a liberal application of “Mississippi Mud” dry brushing up onto fenders, lower hull and lower schurzen. Some of the crew commanders and SP gun crews are also given camouflage smocks using the Camo Beige with Camo Brown and Reflective Green dots. Crew to fit in the fighting compartment of the Marders were painted separately and then glued into place after painting.
Into Battle
So far I’ve gotten games in against Patrick’s French and Lorenzo’s Russians using the early war armor and the late war armor has had a few encounters with my small, but growing Canadian force (see my earlier blog posting about my Canadian army).
The I Ain’t Been Shot Mum rules have a lot of fog of war and command friction, which adds some spice to early war games with thinly armoured light tanks encountering heavily armoured monsters like Char Bs. The AT rules in IABSM allow for a range of results from totally destroyed to just making the target withdraw, so engaging a Char B with MG42s can have a positive result if that’s all you’ve got to shoot with and the dice go your way. Playing the early war scenarios has given me a great deal of respect for the armour of the time. Trying to engage French R35s with 20mm armed PzIIs or Somua S35 heavy tanks with 47mm armed PzJgrIs can be a challenge. Even from the flank the Panzer Jaegers had a hard time getting a penetration on the S35. Fortunately with their one man turrets French tanks are slow and clumsy in a fire fight. I have found that the best way to deal with French heavy tanks is to either swarm them with about 5:1 odds or even better, pound them with Stukas.

The best way to deal with Char B heavy tanks!

Schutzen supported by Panzer IIs storm a French held ridge.

Panzer break through on the French flank.

In another game we were playing a TFL Barbarossa scenario from the Vyznama or Bust supplement. The vaunted Panzertruppen did not have a good day. On our left flank our platoon of Panzer IIIs ran into some T26s and got shot to pieces. The much mocked T26, sporting a 47mm gun could penetrate every tank we fielded and managed to destroy our single 50mm armed Panzer III in the first volley. The remaining Panzer IIIs were armed with 37mm guns and rolled very badly whenever they got an opportunity to shoot in reply. On my flank I was running a platoon of Pz38s who rolled over a hill and spotted a lone KV2. With a flurry of shooting and reversing gears I got most of them hull down to engage the lone behemoth in a firefight. I scored an engine hit, but he had just run out of gas. I then jammed his turret, but didn’t get to change position before he finally landed a 152mm shell on one of my light panzers. We then got flanked by a platoon of Russian infantry making our own center’s valiant stand against a Russian bayonet charge rather pointless.
Of course, good scenario design is half the battle. It’s always too tempting to include far too much armour and too many support platoons for the size of force. Most companies of infantry were happy to have one or two AFVs in support, if they saw any at all.

PzIVs engaging Canadian armour in Italy, 1944

As a Post Script, most of this army is actually painted! The Panzer IIMs, the Tigers (I & II), the 120mm mortar pltoon and the late war transport are still to be done though.


  1. Hi James:

    Great blog post and nice to see my totally awesome PG zug and their APCs featured. One thought about the final paragraph - I haven't played that Vyazma scenario, but I'm wondering if the scenario design adequately handicapped the Russians for their lousy doctrine, undermanned and slower firing tanks, and poorer command and control? There are lots of accounts of Soviet tanks being knocked out because they didn't take advantage of the ground, stayed exposed on the skyline, etc.

    Whatever. This is a very nice post and your stuff all looks good.



  2. No the scenario was OK, just young Mitchell's die rolling was really appalling! (he was commanding the PzIIIs in the shoot out with the T26s) We also added a few more units so we may have unbalanced things, but it was still fun.

  3. camouflaged zeltbahns were standard issue at the start of the war.

  4. True. But visually, having the landsers in camo'd zeltbahns really shouts 'late war'.

    Of course I'd ideally like to have Germans in greatcoats for those scenarios from about Nov.44 and onwards.