The Army of the Duchy of Warsaw (Part 2: The Generals)

Napoleon and Prince Poniatowski at Leipzig 1813

In Part 1 I looked at some infantry regiments I’d painted for the Army of the Duchy of Warsaw, circa 1812-1813.  This time it’s the turn of the generals.  These are all AB Figures 15mm models, painted by me.

All my Napoleonic armies are organised and based for Napoleon’s Battles rules, which is a ‘grand-tactical’ game, where the smallest tactical unit is the brigade.  Divisional commanders are single figures based on a 25mm square and corps commanders are groups of figures based on a 40mm square.  I’ll sometimes use general of brigade or an infantry or cavalry Colonel in lieu of a general of division, just for a change of scenery.

As mentioned previously, my Duchy of Warsaw army is mainly geared for the latter part of the Duchy’s brief existence, namely the campaigns of 1812 and 1813.  In the case of the infantry there were some fairly major uniform changes between 1810 and 1813.  However, the uniforms of general officers did not change significantly, so these chaps are good for the entire period from 1807 to 1813.

Prince Józef Poniatowski

Prince Poniatowski

No person embodies the tragedy and heroic struggle of Poland’s fight for existence than the dashing but ultimately tragic figure of Prince Józef Poniatowski, the ‘Marshal of Three Days’.  Born into royalty in 1763 as nephew to King Stanislaw II Augustus of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (with whom he became a close and lifelong friend), he chose a military career and was initially commissioned into the Austrian Army in 1780.  Quickly reaching the rank of Colonel, he became aide-de-camp to Emperor Josef II during the Austro-Turkish War of 1788.  During this campaign, Poniatowski saved the life of the young Prince Karl Philipp von Schwarzenberg, who would become a lifelong friend and sometime ally, though frequent battlefield foe to Poniatowski.


Poniatowski returned to Poland in 1789, receiving the rank of Major General and a military command in Ukraine.  By 1791 he had reached the rank of Lieutenant General and was commander of all military forces in Ukraine.  An enthusiastic supporter of political reform, he used the threat of military force to bring the Great Sejm to a conclusion, bringing about the 3 May 1791 Constitution, which (briefly) converted Poland to a British-style democratic constitutional monarchy. 

However, Catherine the Great’s Russia was never going to tolerate a resurgent, strong, democratic and stable Poland on its border and in May 1792 invaded.  Poniatowski’s army, outnumbered 4-to-1, mounted a bitter fighting retreat, inflicting a number of defeats on the Russian Army, most notably at Zielence, but were ultimately unable to stop the Russians from reaching Warsaw.  The Polish Army was more than willing to fight a last great battle at Wasrsaw, but the King was persuaded to sue for peace and ordered the army to stand down.  Poniatowski briefly considered mounting a coup to capture the king and force a continuation of the war, but then changed his mind at the last moment.  In 1793 the Sejm of Grodno, dominated by the pro-Russian Targowica Confederation party and corrupted by Russian bribes and entryism, cancelled the Constitution and brought about the Second Partition of Poland

Prince Poniatowski

Disgusted, Poniatowski and other Polish generals resigned their commissions and Poniatowski was forced into exile.  However, in 1794 Poland rose up against the Russians, led by General Kosciusko in what would become known as the Kosciusko Uprising.  General Jan Henryk Dabrowski, who had remained in the Army following the Sejm of Grodno, backed the insurrection, bringing a considerable regular cavalry force with him and frustrating Prussian efforts to join the Russians in crushing the insurgents.  Poniatowski returned to Poland to join the insurrection and again achieved success on the battlefield, though it was all for nothing and the uprising was bloodily crushed by Russian and Prussian armies.  Kosciuszko was captured and taken to St Petersburg and Poland was then partitioned for a third and final time and ceased to exist as an independent country. 


Poniatowski was forced once again into exile, this time having his estates confiscated (they were later restored to him by Tsar Paul, though Poniatowski refused offers of a Russian military commission).  He went into something of a funk during these years, touring the palaces and salons of Vienna and Berlin, becoming a socialite and friend to Prussian, Austrian and exiled French royalty.  General Dabrowski meanwhile, initially tried unsuccessfully to win support from Prussia for the resurrection of Poland as an ally-state against Austria and Russia.  He then approached Revolutionary France with rather more success and in 1797 formed the first Polish Legions, who would go on to fight in France’s wars from the Carribbean to Moscow in the vain hope that France would back the recreation of Poland as an independent state.   


In 1806 war broke out between Prussia and Napoleonic France, with the Prussian Army being swiftly defeated by Napoleon at the twin battles of Jena and Auerstädt.  Faced with complete collapse, King Frederick-William III of Prussia asked Poniatowski in early November 1806 to become governor of Warsaw, in the hope that a popular and well-known name might hold Prussia’s Polish possessions together.  Poniatowski accepted this post, seeing it as a possible route to a recreated Poland.  However, Dabrowski had been recalled by Napoleon from Italy, to lead a ‘Greater Poland Uprising’ against Prussian and Russian rule.  Dabrowski entered Poznan on 3rd November 1806 and declared the new uprising, which was enthusiastically supported by the Polish people, ironically just as Poniatowski was being installed as the Prussian Governor of Warsaw! 


This conflict of interest between Poniatowski and Dabrowski could easily have caused major problems or even civil war, but Poniatowski was a very canny political operator and welcomed the French Marshal Murat when his cavalry arrived at Warsaw in December.  Poniatowski and Murat immediately warmed to each other (as is becoming clear, Poniatowski’s charm never failed to win him powerful friends) and Murat declared Poniatowski to be the military commander of all Polish forces, much to Dabrowski’s chagrin and indeed that of many Polish veterans, who compared Dabrowski’s record of leading the Polish Legions to that of Poniatowski, who spent that time touring the salons of the European elite.  That view was only reinforced when it was Dabrowski, not Poniatowski who led a Polish division alongside Napoleon’s army at the Battle of Friedland in 1807.  


With Russian capitulation to Napoleon at the Treaty of Tilsit on 7 July 1807, followed by the subsequent Franco-Prussian Treaty two days later, the Duchy of Warsaw was created from most of the lands lost during the Third Partition of Poland.  However, it was not allowed to become an independent kingdom and was instead subordinate to the Kingdom of Saxony, who had held kingship of Poland for some time during the 18th Century and who had a tenuous claim on Poland following the death of King Stanislas II Augustus.  As disappointing as this must have been for the Poles, they largely saw the creation of the Duchy as a stepping-stone toward future independence and grabbed it with both hands, providing Napoleon with one of his most willing and able allied states and armies.  Cynics might therefore suggest that Polish independence was the last thing that Napoleon wanted, just as long as he could keep the hope of independence alive…


Poniatowski was made Minster of War and commander of the Army of the Duchy of Warsaw, though Napoleon still did not fully trust him and left Marshal Davout in overall military command of the Duchy until mid-1808, when Poniatowski was granted overall command.  In 1809 a new war erupted between Austria and the Napoleonic French Empire and Archduke Ferdinand‘s Austrian VII Korps was soon advancing on Warsaw.  Despite being outnumbered 2:1, Poniatowski’s Poles fought the Austrians to a standstill at the Battle of Raszyn.  Nevertheless, Poniatowski was forced to retire and took the controversial decision to abandon Warsaw, instead falling back behind the line of the Vistula.  The strategy worked and successive Austrian attempts to cross the Vistula were defeated by Poniatowski and General Michal Sokolnicki.  Seizing the initiative, Poniatowski mounted a counter-offensive, liberating Lvov, Lublin and Sandomierz.  The Austrians eventually managed to re-take Sandomierz, but were forced to withdraw from Warsaw.  With Austrian resistance collapsing, Poniatowski arrived at Krakow to find the Austrians attempting to surrender to Poniatowski’s Russian ‘allies’, who until now had been conspicuous by their absence from the campaign.  Ignoring a roadblock of Russian Hussars, Poniatowski rode alone into the city to seize it for the Duchy of Warsaw.  At the successful conclusion of the war, Poniatowski saw the Duchy of Warsaw’s territory expand to incorporate those parts of Galicia that had been occupied by Austria and the army expanded accordingly.

Poniatowski at the Battle of Raszyn 1809

In 1812 Poniatowski led the V (Polish) Corps as part of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia.  Poniatowski and the Poles distinguished themselves at the Battles of Smolensk and Borodino, but by the end of that disastrous campaign, only a shattered remnant of the Corps returned to Poland and Poniatowski himself was wounded.


Recovering from his wounds, Poniatowski rapidly assembled a new Polish army at Warsaw and remained loyal to Napoleon, resisting entreaties to come over to the Russian side as the Prussians had already done.  On 5th February 1813 Poniatowski abandoned Warsaw to the Russians and marched his army to Krakow, where he would continue their training.  Dabrowski meanwhile was raising another Polish division in Germany from the survivors of various units and fortress garrisons.  Consequently, the Polish Army was absent from Napoleon’s resurgent Grande Armée which stalled the Russo-Prussian advance into Germany at the Battles of Lützen and Bautzen

Kellermann with a Polish ADC and escort from the Polish 1st Chasseurs à Cheval

With the Russians approaching once again, Poniatowski left Krakow on 7th May and marched his army through Bohemia to link up with the Grande Armée.  An armistice had by this time ended the present round of hostilities and the Army of the Duchy of Warsaw was reorganised to become the VIII Corps and IV Reserve Cavalry Corps.  Poniatowski commanded VIII Corps, while command of IV Reserve Cavalry Corps was given to the French General Kellermann, a superb cavalry leader and son of the French Marshal of the same name.  However, Dabrowski’s newly-numbered 27th Division, while officially part of VIII Corps, remained independent.  It’s been speculated that friction between Poniatowski and Dabrowski had finally spilled over into mutual loathing, hence the separation of their commands.  I can’t find anything to back up that theory, but there doesn’t seem to be any other good reason to keep Dabrowski separate, especially as VIII Corps was woefully understrength (consisting of a single infantry division of three brigades and a weak cavalry brigade). 

ADC to Poniatowski

With the recommencement of hostilities in August 1813, Dabrowski was operating on the northern flank near Berlin.  Poniatowski meanwhile, found himself under the command of his old friend Marshal Murat, on the southern flank in Upper Saxony, covering the passes through the Bohemian Mountains.  His other old friend, the Austrian Feldmarschall Schwarzenberg now commanded the Allied Army of Bohemia and Poniatowski’s task was to prevent the Grande Armée from being surprised by Schwarzenberg emerging from a mountain pass behind their right flank.  Even though Poniatowski theoretically only commanded VIII Corps, Kellermann and his cavalry frequently came under Poniatowski’s command as a combined Polish army-wing.  


Eventually, as the Grande Armée was pushed back by the converging Allied armies into a pocket around Leipzig, Schwarzenberg finally emerged from the mountains and Poniatowski’s Poles fought numerous small delaying and rearguard actions against Schwarzenberg’s advance-guard.  Murat’s wing formed a defence line south of the city, from Markleeberg in the west to Liebertwolkwitz in the east, with the Poles being responsible for the Markleeberg sector.  The Poles were only lightly engaged during the Battle of Liebertwolkwitz on 14th October 1813, but immediately following this action, General Kellermann was elevated to command a cavalry wing consisting of his IV Reserve Cavalry Corps and General Pajol’s V Reserve Cavalry Corps.  To replace Kellermann, the Polish general Michal Sokolnicki was elevated to command IV Reserve Cavalry Corps. 

Sokolnicki, with escorts from the 3rd Uhlans

A most significant promotion followed on 16th October (some sources say the 15th), as Napoleon awarded the Marshal’s Baton to Prince Poniatowski, who became the first and only non-French Marshal of the Empire.  However, there was no time for Poniatowski to enjoy his new status, as the titanic Battle of Leipzig erupted that same day.  The battle commenced with a general assault by Schwarzenberg’s Army of Bohemia against Murat’s command, around the villages of Liebertwolkwitz, Wachau, Markleeberg, Dölitz and Connewitz.  Poniatowski’s Poles, defending these last two villages, were assaulted by vastly superior numbers of Austrian troops and suffered horrific casualties as they doggedly held a number of river-crossings. 

The Poles lost over half their number in three days of bitter fighting as they slowly gave ground and fell back on Leipzig.  At last on 19th October, Napoleon ordered the army to withdraw through the city, crossing the Weiss-Elster river by means of a single bridge.  The battered but unbroken remnants of Poniatowski’s command formed part of the rearguard and resisted attack after attack while waiting patiently to cross to the west bank.  However, the unthinkable happened as a French engineer panicked and blew up the bridge while it was still packed with troops and while a considerable number, including the Poles, were still on the eastern shore!  As resistance completely collapsed in Leipzig, thousands of troops attempted to swim the river in an attempt to escape, among them Poniatowski.  However, being badly wounded and exhausted from days of constant combat, the Marshal of three days tragically drowned in the attempt.

Poniatoswki meets his end crossing the Weiss-Elster 19th October 1813

Duchy of Warsaw Generals’ Uniforms

Generals of Division

Polish general officers’ dress was very similar in style to that of their French comrades-in-arms, though with a Polish flavour.  As a general rule, their coats were dark blue, facings were crimson, metalwork was silver and horse-furniture was dark blue, edged silver.

There was a variety of coat-styles from the kurtka for cavalry generals’ full-dress, to lapelled and heavily-laced coatees, to simpler double-breasted coats and the very plain single-breasted surtout.  Collar, cuffs, turnbacks and lapels were typically crimson, though there were variations, as can be seen in the portraits above: the collar would typically always be crimson, though the other facings could be dark blue, sometimes piped in crimson.  Waistcoats were white.

A Cavalry General of Brigade

Collar, cuffs, lapels and tail-pockets were typically decorated with zig-zag silver lace indicating rank – a single row of lace for Generals of Brigade and a double row for Generals of Division.  Rank was also indicated by gold stars on the silver epaulettes – one star for Generals of Brigade and two stars for Generals of Division.  A silver aiguillette could also be worn in full-dress.

Breeches were crimson, with a silver stripe down the seam and Hungarian knots on the thighs.  Generals of Division had wider lace strips and larger knots.  For cavalry generals these could be replaced with uhlan-style crimson trousers, edged with two parallel silver stripes. 

Cavalry generals wore hussar-style boots with silver lace edge and tassels, while infantry generals wore tall boots.

A General of Division and a Cavalry General of either rank

Headgear was typically a black cocked hat.  This had a silver cockade and cockade-strap and would be edged in either a strip of black silk or scalloped silver lace.  It was crested in split ostrich-feathers, which were black for Generals of Brigade and white for Generals of Division.  Cavalry generals could alternatively wear a czapka with a dark blue top and silver decoration.  This would usually have a white egret-feather plume with a black base.

Sashes were mixed silver and crimson for both general officer ranks and were not coloured by rank like French generals.


For my Duchy of Warsaw generals I’ve used AB Figures’ French generals, which fit the bill well enough, though if you want lapels on the coat, you’ll have to paint them on (as I’ve done with one figure).  I’ve also used one spare French Guard Lancer officer, which isn’t 100% correct in terms of uniform details due to the sunburst-plate on his czapka, but he looks the part from a distance.

AB Figures do a truly superb Poniatowski figure, in a set that also includes one of his ADCs.  As can be seen from the portraits above, Poniatowski wore a uniform based on the regulation style, but which was mainly a confection of his own devising, including a magnificent brown bearskin cloak, lined with crimson silk.  The details of Poniatowski’s dress vary from painting to painting and it’s possible that all were correct at some time or another!  When I painted my Poniatowski (about 20 years ago) the reference picture I was using showed a sky-blue shabraque, which is different to the ones shown here.  As can be seen from Dabrowski’s equestrian portrait, other Polish generals were also not averse to embellishing the dress regulations! 

Poniatowski’s ADCs wore a unique hussar-style uniform in crimson, sky-blue and silver, as shown above.  Other Polish ADCs wore a far plainer uniform, as modelled alongside Kellermann and shown in the background of the General of Brigade painting above.  This was a relatively plain uniform in Chasseur à Cheval style, consisting of a dark blue habit-kinski with sky-blue collar and crimson piping down the front and around cuffs and turnbacks.  Buttons and epaulettes were silver.  This was worn over a crimson waistcoat, decorated with silver hussar-lace.  Trousers were dark blue with crimson side-stripes and the shabraque was dark blue, edged crimson.  Belts were black, edged silver.  this was topped off with a black fur colpack with crimson bag and sky-blue pompom.  The AB Figures Polish Chasseur à Cheval officer figure is perfect for as an ADC.

Enough for now!  Polish artillery next time and then the cavalry. 🙂   Oh go on then, have some more generals…

Posted in 15mm Figures, Napoleon's Battles (Rules), Napoleonic French Army, Napoleonic Minor States, Napoleonic Wars, Painted Units | 2 Comments

The Army of the Duchy of Warsaw (Part 1)

Since this lockdown started I’ve been looking forward to the games I’m going to have once it’s all over and that has served as an impetus to my painting, as well something to keep my mind occupied and positive. Consequently, I’ve been attacking the North Face of the Lead Mountain like a man possessed (don’t tell Mrs Fawr, but I’ve got about 3,000 unpainted Napoleonics… and the rest…).

With luck (and if we’re spared) my first game is going to be the Battle of Liebertwolkwitz, which was fought on 14th October 1813, being a major cavalry clash and precursor to the titanic Battle of Leipzig (the southern portion of which was fought over the same ground two days later). I’ve played the scenario before, but not for a VERY long time and I do recall it as being a fun, ding-dong of a game. It’s also quite a cosmopolitan battle, with Russians, Prussians and Austrians all present on the Allied side and a large Polish contingent fighting on the French side, which all adds interest and tabletop ‘colour’.

I’ve already got enough ancient and battered models to play the scenario, but thought it would be nice to FINALLY re-base and re-flag my mate Jase’s old Russian army (which he left with me when he emigrated to New Zealand and which was still based for WRG rules, which we stopped playing in around 1991), add a load of new AB Figures units to my own Russian army, paint an Austrian corps in shakos and finally paint Poniatowski‘s Poles…

Poniatowski’s 8th (Polish) Corps 1813

Let’s get one thing out of the way at the start; The Duchy of Warsaw was never a GRAND Duchy.  Nobody seems to know where or when this nomenclature started and it’s been refuted often enough, but the fictitious ‘Grand’ bit of the title is like a persistent weed that seems unwilling to die in wargames circles!  I’m glad I’ve got that off my chest…

Duchy of Warsaw uniforms are something of a bugger to research, with lots of contradictory sources.  I’ve gone with the information supplied in W J Rawkins’ latest booklet on the Army of the Duchy of Warsaw.  If you’ve never come across him before, he started out in the 1970s selling very useful photocopied booklets on every Napoleonic army under the sun (many of these were ripped off and sold by someone else for a long time).  He now sells them as ebooks or DVDs from his site The History Book Man and the advantage of doing them electronically is that he’s able to regularly update them as research develops.  Consequently, his new booklet on the Poles differs in details with the 1970s version I used to own.

1st Infantry Regiment 1812-1813

Starting with the infantry, here’s the 1st Infantry Regiment.  I’ve dressed them in the regulation uniform stipulated for all Duchy of Warsaw infantry regiments from 1810.  They are recorded as wearing this uniform, though some sources also describe distinctly non-regulation sky-blue collar and cuffs and even yellow cuffs (these may all have been worn during successive years from 1810 to 1813).  Prior to 1810 the 1st to 4th Infantry Regiments had yellow lapels, scarlet collar and cuffs and brass buttons, though the 1810 regulation changed that to a uniform very similar to the French line infantry uniform, though cut in Polish kurtka style with half-lapels and using crimson as the cuff and piping colour instead of scarlet.

Here’s a close-up of the 1st Infantry, showing the post-1810 regulation uniform in detail: The half-lapels and turnbacks were white, while the collar and shoulder-straps were dark blue, all edged with crimson piping.  The crimson piping also extended down the front seam of the coat below the half-lapels.  Cuffs were crimson with white cuff-flaps and may or may not have been piped white.  Buttons were brass. 

Descriptions and depictions of drummers’ uniforms vary wildly from source to source, but I went with one described for the 1st Infantry, namely a white uniform (which were very common for Polish drummers and trumpeters), with scarlet lapels and shoulder-wings edged sky-blue, with sky-blue collar, cuffs and turnbacks edged scarlet and a scarlet shako, drimmed with yellow.

The infantry-pattern czapka headdress was essentially just a squared-off black felt shako, unlike the cavalry czapka, which was a heavier leather helmet topped with a cloth-covered square ‘box’.  All regiments had a brass band just above the brim, pierced with the regimental number.  This was then surmounted by a white metal eagle and a white cockade.  Centre company pompoms were sky-blue for most regiments and white cords were worn in full dress.

Elite company distinctions were very much like the French.  The Voltigeurs had green fringed epaulettes (some had yellow, scarlet or white crescents), yellow collars and yellow or green pompoms, topped off with a yellow and green plume and yellow or green cords in full dress.  The upper edge of the czapka was normally decorated with a band of yellow lace.

The Grenadiers wore scarlet fringed epaulettes (some had white crescents or even white epaulettes with scarlet crescents) and bearskins with brass plates and scarlet rear-patches, decorated with a white lace cross. White or scarlet cords and scarlet plumes were also added in full dress.

8th Infantry Regiment 1807-1812

Prior to the 1810 regulations, the 5th to 9th Infantry Regiments had crimson lapels, collar and cuffs with white piping and cuff-flaps, dark blue turnbacks and shoulder-straps with crimson piping and white metal buttons.  Chelminski recorded the 8th Infantry Regiment as retaining this uniform until at least as late as 1812, so I’ve dressed the 8th in this uniform by way of a change of scenery.

Some sources show the 8th Infantry as adopting the 1810 regulation uniform or a variant using rose-pink instead of crimson.  While that would certainly add a splash of colour, I wonder if the pink is a mis-translation of crimson from a faded picture or faded survivng uniform?

While I haven’t painted any of these regiments, the 9th to 12th Infantry Regiments originally wore uniforms with white facings with scarlet piping and brass buttons, though again, most adopted the 1810 regulation uniform or other oddities of their own making.

The 4th, 7th and 9th Infantry Regiments were detached to the French Army of Spain in 1808 and by 1809 supply issues meant that they were wearing uniforms of French/Confederation of the Rhine style; namely square-lapelled ‘Spencer’ coats (as worn by many German contingents) and cylindrical French-style shakos.  When these regiment returned to the Duchy of Warsaw in 1812 they continued wearing these French-style uniforms that were coloured roughly according to the pre-1810 regulations.  I haven’t done any yet, but I do intend to do the 4th Infantry Regiment, using AB Confederation of the Rhine figures and a transplanted Polish Eagle standard.  I’ll also do some Vistula Legion infantry using those same figures.

When a 13th Infantry Regiment was raised in 1809, it wore an esoteric uniform made from captured Austrian uniform cloth, being white with sky-blue facings.  I did want to paint this unit, but it doesn’t appear to have been reformed following the 1812 campaign and wasn’t therefore at Leipzig (the remnants ended up as a fortress garrison).  Nevertheless, I think I might have to paint the 13th one day, as it’s such a spectacular uniform.

15th Infantry Regiment 1810-1813

Here’s the 15th Infantry Regiment.  The 14th to 17th Infantry Regiments wore the 1810 regulation uniform, though once again some regimental variations crept in, such as some units allegedly replacing the crimson piping with scarlet.

One notable feature of the 14th to 17th Regiments is that their centre companies are recorded as having pompoms coloured by company as per French regulations: 1st – green, 2nd – sky-blue, 3rd – aurore (orange) and 4th lie-de-vin (violet).  Sky-blue pompoms with company-coloured tufts are also recorded.  Some of the 1st to 13th Regiments may also have used company-coloured pompoms.

In the 1st Edition of Mr Rawkins’ Army of the Duchy of Warsaw book, he stated that the tops of infantry czapkas were decorated with a box of lace tape around the edge and an ‘X’ of lace across the centre, very much like cavalry czapkas.  However, in the latest edition, he has revised this to ‘infantry regiments may have decorated the tops with piping or lace’.  However, give me an inch and I’ll take a mile… I like the look of the ‘X’ and it makes them stand out as being Poles not French, so I’ve painted it on all my infantry.

Anyway, that’s it for now.  Generals, artillery and cavalry to come.  All the figures here are 15mm AB Figures painted by me, with flags by Fighting 15s.

Dabrowski’s 27th (Polish) Division 1813

Posted in 15mm Figures, Napoleon's Battles (Rules), Napoleonic French Army, Napoleonic Minor States, Napoleonic Wars, Painted Units | 10 Comments

Hobart’s ‘Funnies’ – 79th Armoured Division in Normandy

I was half-way through writing another Napoleonic post, when it suddenly occurred to me that I really should do a WW2 post to commemorate the D-Day anniversary. So here’s a look at ‘Hobart’s Funnies’.

Following the disastrous Dieppe Raid of 1942, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, identified the need for an armoured, 20th Century equivalent of a mediaeval siege train; capable of carrying ‘siege engines’ right up to the enemy’s fortified walls and breaching them. He tasked Major General Percy Hobart‘s 79th Armoured Division with becoming the new ‘Experimental Armoured Division (Royal Engineers)’.  However, Hobart was initially resistant to the idea and only agreed to it once he was assured that the 79th Armoured Division would be a ‘fighting’ division at the spear-point of the assault on German-occupied Europe.  Monty (who happened to be Hobart’s brother-in-law) managed to convince Eisenhower of the need for specialist armoured engineering vehicles in the coming assault on Europe and Hobart’s place in the assault on ‘Fortress Europe’ was assured.

Hobart was a very interesting character with a somewhat chequered past. In 1934 he had commanded the British Army’s very first Armoured Brigade and upon the start of the war, had gone on to create the embryonic 7th Armoured Division (‘The Desert Rats’) in Egypt. However, petty politics and resistance to his innovative and unorthodox views on armoured warfare saw him being forcibly retired, whereupon he became a Corporal in the Home Guard! Churchill’s personal intervention saw him reinstated and given command of the new 11th Armoured Division, which he trained to become arguably the best armoured formation in the British Army. Politics again saw his removal from command and Churchill once again intervened personally to have him re-instated, this time as GOC of the new 79th Armoured Division.

By the time of Operation OVERLORD, the 79th Armoured Division consisted of three brigades: 1st Army Tank Brigade was equipped with the very strange and top-secret Grant CDL (‘Canal Defence Light’), 30th Armoured Brigade was equipped with Sherman Mk V Crab flail tanks and 1st Assault Brigade Royal Engineers was equipped with the Churchill AVRE (‘Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers’), as well as Churchill ARKs, armoured bulldozers and other specialist equipment.  The division was also responsible for the development of  the Sherman DD (Duplex Drive) amphibious tank and for training crews in their use, though these were operated by other units in Normandy.  

As the war went on beyond Normandy, some of the division’s sub-units were converted to amphibious vehicles such as the Buffalo Mk II, Buffalo Mk IV, Sherman DD and Terrapin, while additional units were added, such as two Armoured Carrier Regiments (equipped with Ram Kangaroo APCs), the 33rd Armoured Brigade (which had been converted to Buffalo Mk II & IV amphibious vehicles) and the 34th Tank Brigade (which had been converted to Churchill Crocodile flamethrower tanks).  

It’s probably worth noting at this point that Churchill Crocodiles were NOT a part of the 79th Armoured Division until after Normandy, when the 34th Tank Brigade was absorbed into the division as an all-Crocodile brigade.  As discussed in my recent Churchill Tank article, the sole Crocodile unit in Normandy was 141 RAC, which belonged to 34th Tank Brigade, but in practice served as an independent unit.  They did however, often work with elements of 79th Armoured Division on numerous occasions during the Normandy Campaign.

Churchill Mk IV AVREs

The Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers or AVRE was the core of 79th Armoured Division’s combat power.  This vehicle was based on the Churchill Infantry Tank, which was suitable for a number of reasons: 1. Thick armour.  2.  Excellent mobility over rough, steep or soft ground and trenches.  3.  Plenty of internal capacity for engineering stores once the main gun and ammunition had been removed.  4.  Side and floor hatches meant that engineers could easily dismount and conduct engineering tasks outside the vehicle (e.g. dismounting to lay Bangalore  Torpedoes).  The vast majority of AVREs were built from Churchill Mk IV hulls, though a few were built from Mk IIIs (the only difference being the turret-shape). 

Instead of the usual main gun, a highly unusual 290mm Petard Spigot Mortar was fitted.  This weapon shared the same ancestry as the infantry’s PIAT and fired a very large demolition charge or ‘Petard’ (often known as the ‘Flying Dustbin’ or ‘Earthquake Bomb’), with the intention of destroying (or at least suppressing) concrete fortifications.  Somewhat alarmingly, this low-velocity weapon had a range of only around 80 yards and in order to reload, the co-driver had to slide open a hatch above his head and expose his arms to enemy fire as he inserted a fresh round into the breech (which ‘broke’ upward, rather like an upside-down shotgun, as shown below).

In addition to the Spigot Mortar, the AVRE retained the hull MG for self-defence and the crew would also often carry other engineering stores such as demolition charges, wire-cutters and Bangalore Torpedoes.  To use these, the AVRE would drive up to the obstacle and a crewman would crawl out of one of the hatches (usually the floor-hatch) and use the vehicle as cover as he place the charges.  He would then crawl back in and the vehicle would reverse before detonation of the charges.  A variety of demolition charges were also developed that could be mounted on frames at the front of the AVRE, which would drive up and push the charge against the obstacle to be demolished and hold it in place as it was detonated (I presume that the crew were also issued with ear-plugs).

Other kit commonly carried included the Small Box Girder (SBG) Bridge (which was useful for ramping sea-walls or bridging anti-tank ditches), Fascines (which were huge bundles of chestnut palings, used to fill smaller trenches and craters) and Bobbins (which were huge reels of matting that would be laid out onto soft mud, to provide a more solid roadway for following vehicles).

The two AVRE models above, carrying SBG Bridge and Fascine, are by Skytrex, with modifications such as the cables, block & tackle for the SBG bridge by Martin Small.  The other AVREs are by Flames of War.  They’re marked with the triangular bull’s head badge of the 79th Armoured Division and the cobalt blue Arm-of-Service flash of the Royal Engineers, with the ‘1233’ serial of 5th Assault Regiment Royal Engineers (ARRE).  6th ARRE had ‘1234’ and 42nd ARRE had ‘1235’.

Another element of the 1st Assault Brigade RE was the 87th Assault Dozer Squadron RE, equipped with armoured versions of the Caterpillar D7 Dozer.  Their unit serial was ‘819’, again on a cobalt-blue backing.  This is a lovely model by Skytrex.

The Otter Light Recce Car (LRC) actually belongs to someone else, namely the 18th Field Company Royal Canadian Engineers, 3rd Canadian Infantry Division, as identified by the ‘French Grey’ (i.e. a pale greyish-blue) square with gold maple-leaf and the ’51’ serial on a cobalt-blue square.  The Otter had been retired from Canadian Recce Regiments in NW Europe, having been replaced by the Humber LRC. However, it was still used for engineer recce duties by both the British and Canadian Armies.  Humber LRCs and Morris LRCs were also commonly used for engineer recce.

Another vehicle used by 1st Assault Brigade RE was the Churchill ARK Mk I (Armoured Ramp Carrier, abbreviated by a dyslexic).  This was a turretless Churchill hull, designed as a quick and easy way to place a ramp against a sea wall.  It had two treadway-decks added on top, plus two matching ramps at the rear.  They would usually carry a fascine at the front, in order to create another ramp at the front of the vehicle.  I’m not sure which unit(s) within the brigade operated these, so I’ve marked it as belonging to the 149th Assault Park Squadron RE, whose serial was ‘1236’.  This lovely model was converted for me from a Flames of War hull by the supremely talented Martin Small.

The ARK Mk II was developed in Italy, which had matching ramps at front and rear.  If trying to bridge particularly deep ditches, ARKs could also be stacked! 🙂

As mentioned above, the 30th Armoured Brigade operated Sherman Mk V Crab flail tanks.  This is a lovely Skytrex model, modified by Martin Small with ‘flails’ made from wire.

Here an AVRE belonging to 5th ARRE follows a 22nd Dragoons Crab.  A dispenser on each side of the hull dropped a trail of white chalk-dust to mark the cleared path for following vehicles.  At night, following vehicles used the array of four small red guide-lights (each mounted in the centre of a white disc) to keep station directly behind the Crab.  

30th Armoured Brigade used the standard markings for an Armoured Brigade belonging to an Armoured Division, so as the senior regiment, 22nd Dragoons had the serial ’51’ on a red square.  The 1st Lothians & Border Horse Yeomanry had ’52’ and the 2nd County of London Yeomanry (Westminster Dragoons) had ’53’.

On D-Day and on innumerable operations afterwards, the units of 79th Armoured Division proved their worth time after time in cracking German defences and aiding the infantry in seizing their objectives. However, they never operated as distinct units and instead were doled out as squadron, half-squadron and troop-sized penny-packets and placed under the command of the infantry. The various disparate elements of the division were then mixed up to complete various tasks and nowhere is this demonstrated more clearly than in the creation of mixed ‘Breaching Teams’ for Operation OVERLORD. Each Breaching Team was given a very specific task and the composition of each team was tailored to the nature of the German defences and terrain at their objective. So where there was a muddy beach, the team would included a Bobbin. Where there was a sea wall, the team would include an SBG bridge and so on. All teams had a mix of AVRE and Crab, plus a Dozer in many cases.

The actions of the Breaching Teams on D-Day are exceptionally well-described in the book ‘Iron Fist’ by Bryan Perret. Here’s an extract:

‘To the east, the breaching teams on Queen Sector of Sword Beach, where the British 8th Infantry Brigade was coming ashore at Lion-sur-Mer, consisted of ‘A’ Squadron 22nd Dragoons and 77 and 79 Assault Squadrons RE (5 ARRE).  On the right No 1 Team beached at a point overlooked by high sand dunes.  In the face of fierce fire, the Crabs flailed up the beach and over the dunes, one commander killing two snipers with a grenade thrown from the turret.  The leading AVRE, commanded by Sergeant Kilvert, was hit as it emerged from the LCT and drowned in the shallows.  Undeterred, Kilvert and his crew grabbed their personal weapons and made their way across the beach to storm a fortified farmhouse and rout an enemy patrol, later handing over their prisoners to the infantry.  The team’s remaining AVREs assisted the Crabs in completing a route inland then set off to assist 48 (also described as 41 in other accounts) RM Commando in the capture of Lion.’

[NB it seems clear that the AVREs here actually landed ahead of the Sherman DDs of 27th Armoured Brigade, who were meant to land five minutes earlier, but who were struggling through heavy seas and were overtaken (in some cases run over) by the LCTs of the Breaching Teams]

‘No 2 Team lay off the beach until the DDs of the 13/18th Hussars had touched down, and in the process drifted west of No 1 Team,  The first Crab to disembark, commanded by Sergeant Smyth, immediately charged and crushed the 75mm gun that had opened fire on No 1 Team.  The Crabs then cleared a lane across the beach until one blew a track on a mine.  It was bypassed and an SBG bridge was dropped across the wrecked gun pit, thus completing the exit.  After this, the team’s AVREs also headed for Lion.’

‘No 3 Team’s Crabs completed one lane, along which a Bobbin AVRE unrolled its carpet; the vehicle then struck a mine and, having also been hit by antitank fire, was drowned by the rising tide.  A second lane was then flailed, at the end of which an SBG bridge was laid to provide an exit from the beach.

‘No 4 Team’s LCT became the target of a heavy calibre gun and was hit repeatedly.  The leading Crab got ashore safely but the second was hit while on the ramp and nothing could get past.  When more hits caused explosions aboard the craft, killing the sector’s senior engineering officer, it was forced to withdraw and sail back to England.  When the team’s solitary Crab had part of its jib shot away by antitank fire, its commander, Lieutenant R. S. Robertson, jettisoned the rest and fought as a gun tank.’

Note that this only describes the actions of the four teams on ‘Queen Red’ (the right-hand or eastern sector of SWORD Beach). There were another four teams on ‘Queen White’ and many more on GOLD and JUNO Beaches. There has been much speculation as to what might have happened, had armoured Breaching Teams (or something similar and American, perhaps using Sherman variants) been landed at the spearhead of OMAHA Beach instead of soft, squishy combat engineers, but that’s a discussion for another day…

Here’s a drink to my father-in-law Harry, who 76 years ago today, was bobbing around off the landing beaches in LCT(E) 413, repairing the landing craft that has just landed those leading waves. Here’s to you, Harry (sorry I don’t have any rum in, so it’s gin. Hope that’s ok?)!

Posted in 15mm Figures, Battlefront: WW2, Painted Units, World War 2, World War 2 - British Commonwealth Armies | 6 Comments

And Now For Something Completely Different: 1809 Chess-Set

A blast from the past appeared on my Facebook feed this week, when an old friend posted some photos of the chess-set I made for him about 21 years ago, based on the French and Austrian armies of the 1809 Campaign. I’d totally forgotten about this! I’m amazed how well-preserved it is, so he presumably found it too baffling to play as a chess set…

The figures are all AB Figures 15mm Napoleonics, which then were made by my mate Mike just up the road, here in West Wales. For the pawns, I used a selection of line infantry regiments. The rooks were bearskinned grenadiers and Imperial Guardsmen. The knights are sword-waving cavalry officers for the Austrians and Generals Nansouty and Lasalle for the French (waving a cane and a briar pipe, respectively). For the bishops I used standard-bearers. The queens were represented by the top Marshals on each side – Archduke Charles for the Austrians and Marshal Lannes for the French. Lastly, the kings were represented by Kaiser Franz & the Emperor Napoleon.

In retrospect I think a small cannon with a gunner or two would have been a better choice for the rooks. The bearskinned grenadiers look too much like the pawns, despite their larger bases.

The bases were made by stacking pennies for the pawns and 2 pence coins for the ‘rear rank’ and supergluing them together. The bases were then painted with several thick layers of varnish, then painted blue or white, labelled and varnished again. After supergluing the figures on to the bases, they were then ‘terraformed’ in my usual manner – painted with PVA glue, sanded, painted earth-brown, dry-brushed sand and then garnished with a few patches of Woodland Scenics flock.

Thanks for the pictures, Pete! And thanks for looking after them! 🙂

Posted in 15mm Figures, Boardgames, Napoleonic Austrian Army, Napoleonic French Army, Napoleonic Wars, Painted Units | Leave a comment

The Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro 1811 (A Scenario for Napoleon’s Battles)

In the first few months of 1811, Wellington had turned back yet another French invasion of Portugal at the Lines of Torres Vedras and had gone onto the offensive, pushing Marshal Masséna‘s army all the way back into Spain.  However, Masséna arrived back in Spain to find full supply depots waiting for him, enabling him to quickly rebuild his exhausted army. 

Inadvertently taking advantage of Wellington’s temporary absence and General Erskine’s incompetence, Massena then managed to force a supply convoy through Allied lines to resupply the French garrison of Ciudad Rodrigo fortress.  He also had a supply convoy ready to push through to Almeida fortress, but Wellington had returned and was now blocking the road to Almeida.

Where the road from Ciudad Rodrigo to Almeida crosses the Spanish-Portuguese border, the border is defined by a long, narrow and easily-defensible ridge, dominated by the ruins of the Spanish Fort Concepcion. The fort had changed hands a number of times since 1808, but had finally been blown up by Robert Crauford’s Light Division during the retreat of the previous year.  It was along this long ridge that Wellington deployed his army; his left flank resting upon the ruins of Fort Concepcion and the right flank upon the village of Fuentes de Oñoro at the head of the valley of the Dos Casas.  A large and well-organised Spanish Partisan Corps under Julian Sanchez held outposts further south, at Poço Velho and Nave del Haver.

On 3rd May 1811, Masséna made a direct assault on Fuentes de Oñoro, which seemed an easier prospect than launching a direct assault across the deep, steeply-sided and wooded valley to the north (and repeating his drubbing at Bussaco the previous year).  However, the densely-packed streets and maze of stone walls around the village proved to be a nightmare for the French infantry and they were eventually beaten back with heavy losses.

Massena spent 4th May demonstrating in front of Wellington, pinning the Anglo-Portuguese Army in place while scouting out a better point to attack.  The terrain north of Nave del Haver, although boggy, wooded and crossed by several streams, seemed a better bet; particularly as it seemed to be thinly-held only by Spanish partisans.  Ordering Reynier’s II Corps to continue demonstrating across the valley in front of Fort Concepçion, Masséna ordered Drouet’s IX Corps to renew the assault on 5th May, while Loison’s VI Corps and Junot’s VIII Corps (reduced to only one division), together with the bulk of the army’s cavalry under Montbrun, moved south to hook around Wellington’s right flank at Nave del Haver.

Suspecting that something was afoot, Wellington moved Houston’s 7th Division and Cotton’s Cavalry Reserve south to extend his right flank, to occupy Poço Velho and to support Sanchez.  However, as dawn rose on the 5th, the seriousness of the situation quickly became apparent!  Ordering the 7th Division to retreat immediately across the River Turones, Crauford’s Light Division was sent to cover the withdrawal

It’s here that our scenario starts on the morning of 5th May 1811; Houston’s 7th Division and Cotton’s cavalry are out on a limb, though Wellington can’t afford to send too much to support them, or he’ll risk fatally weakening the position at Fuentes de Oñoro.

This scenario is designed for Napoleon’s Battles rules, which is a ‘grand-tactical’ ruleset where each tactical unit represents a brigade (roughly 1:100 figure ratio).  It would also be easily convertible to a similarly-scaled set of rules, such as Age of Eagles.  I have also run this scenario at a much larger scale, at 1:20 ratio using General de Brigade rules, during the third and final AB Figures Wargames Weekend in 2001, though the large map made it difficult!  Even with 16-foot tables, I still had to compress the frontage by a few feet to fit the entire battle in!  The battle also lends itself well to breaking up into smaller scenarios; e.g. the retreat of 7th Division, with the Light Division marching to the rescue and the assault on Fuentes de Oñoro village.  

71st (Highland) Light Infantry

Briefing – Lieutenant General Viscount Wellington
Strategic Situation, April to May 1811


Once again, you have managed to eject a French army from Portugal.  This time it was a combination of delaying actions, ‘scorched earth’ tactics and of course your fortified defence lines at Torres Vedras that decided the issue.  That notwithstanding, Marshal Masséna, the Prince of Essling somehow managed to stay camped before your lines for many weeks before being compelled to retire.  How he managed to find forage in that devastated land, you will never know.  Indeed, it would seem that French soldiers can even eat grass when necessary!

With the shattered French ‘Army of Portugal’ sent scurrying back to Ciudad Rodrigo and Salamanca you had anticipated that Marshal Masséna would not be able to put another army into the field again until at late Summer at the earliest.  Indeed, there could surely be hardly a single horse left alive in Masséna’s army, as they all seemed to be lying dead along the Salamanca road (or in the soldiers’ bellies).  Therefore, having seen the last Frenchman stagger back into Spain, you felt secure enough to leave your army under Spencer’s command, with instructions to blockade Almeida and Ciudad Rodrigo, but to avoid contact with any French field army until you returned (full investment of these fortresses being impossible, as you have no heavy artillery train).  With these instructions issued you departed for Extremadura, there to hold conference with Beresford, Blake and Castaños (to discuss operations in that province against Marshal Soult and the fortress of Badajoz).

Upon your return to the army two weeks later, it came as something of a surprise to learn that the idiot Erskine had allowed not only a French supply train to pass into Ciudad Rodrigo unmolested, but had stood idly by while Marchand’s division had also marched into the city!  Erskine (a confirmed lunatic) was foisted upon you by Horse Guards to command the Light Division during Crauford’s absence.  Thankfully, Crauford has just returned to the army, allowing you to quietly shift Erskine into a line division – blockading Almeida ought to keep him out of harm’s (and your) way.

However, Erskine’s blunder has had further ramifications.  Using Ciudad Rodrigo as a base, Marchand is patrolling aggressively and is actively preventing further attempts at blockade.  Incredibly, it would seem that Masséna has already managed to refit his army and is once again on the march.  According to the spy Mirador in Salamanca, the depots in Salamanca were stuffed full when Masséna’s army staggered in, thus enabling him to quickly get his men back on their feet.  He has since been joined by additional troops from the Duke of Istria’s ‘Army of the North’, and has been able to assemble a supply convoy which he now plans to force through your lines to relieve General Brennier’s beleaguered garrison at Almeida.

With a blockade of Ciudad Rodrigo now impossible, all that can be done is to frustrate Masséna’s relief attempts long enough for Brennier to be starved out of Almeida.  The line you have selected to defend lies just to the south of the ruined Fort Concepçion and lies roughly north-south along the Spanish-Portuguese border, straddling the main road between Ciudad Rodrigo and Almeida.  This position is reasonable as to the front of the left wing runs the deep ravine of the River Dos Casas, while the right wing is protected by the defensible village of Fuentes de Oñoro.  The line is rather long; about seven miles in all, though it will be difficult for Masséna to turn a flank, as to the left (north) lie mountains and deep ravines, while to the right (south) there is a tangle of streams, bogs and woods.  A frontal assault across the Dos Casas would surely result in another Bussaco.  The main disadvantage to the position is the gorge of the River Coa, which lies directly to your rear.  Any retreat would entail either the passage of the single narrow bridge at Castello Bom (too frightful to contemplate) or the larger bridge just to the south of Almeida, which would run the risk of serious casualties from Brennier’s fortress guns.

Portuguese 1st (Lippe) Infantry Regiment

Tactical Situation, 3rd to 5th May 1811

At last on the 3rd, the alarm is raised; the Light Division and cavalry have encountered Masséna’s advance guard and are falling back to your main line.  It is not long before the French columns begin to appear on the crest of the ridge opposite.  The main enemy strength (of approximately one infantry corps, plus cavalry in divisional strength) seems to be opposite Fuentes de Oñoro, though there are two or three divisions opposite Campbell’s 6th Division and Erskine’s 5th Division, to the north.

Toward late afternoon on the 3rd, the French begin to develop an attack; two divisions of infantry advance into Fuentes de Oñoro, where the high stone walls and barricades are bitterly contested by the massed light companies of 1st & 3rd Divisions, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Williams of the 60th Rifles.  However, Williams is soon wounded in the fierce and confused street fighting and the light companies are forced to concede ground.  With the light companies now only managing to hold on to the top of the village, centred on the church, Cadogan’s 71st Highland Light Infantry charge into the town and sweep the French back across the Dos Casas.

There are no more French attacks that evening, though the Light Division is moved into reserve behind Fuentes de Oñoro as a preventative measure, alongside 1st, 3rd and 7th Divisions who are already concentrated there with Ashworth’s Portuguese, the cavalry and the bulk of the artillery.

Apart from a little desultory skirmishing across the river, very little happens on the 4th. However, there are ominous movements beyond the main French line, which suggest that the French are shifting their strength to their left in preparation for a renewed assault.  To guard against any surprises on your right, Sanchez is ordered to extend his scouts out beyond the village of Nave del Haver.  Meanwhile, Houston’s 7th Division (consisting largely of light infantry) and Cotton’s Cavalry Division, with Bull’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery under command, are sent to guard the Poço Velho sector.  The garrison of Fuentes de Oñoro is stiffened with two veteran regiments, the 71st and the 79th.

It is now dawn on the 5th; a courier has just arrived with disturbing news; the Spanish have encountered French cavalry in divisional strength near Nave del Haver and have been put to flight having hardly fire a shot, damn them!  You now realise your error, which could well prove fatal for Houston’s 7th Division; they are isolated, inexperienced, in the open and are faced by a large enemy force of all arms, many times their number.  Slade’s and Arendschildt’s cavalry ought to be able to the delay the French somewhat, but it will take more than that to rescue Houston!  Summoning Crauford to your headquarters, you give him your orders…

14th Light Dragoons

Centre & Right of the The Anglo-Portuguese Army

Lieutenant General, Viscount Wellington
(7 Free Rolls)

Cavalry Division – Lieutenant General Stapleton Cotton 5”E(7)+2 [1F]
Slade’s Brigade                                                                                 12 BrHC [4D]
Arendschildt’s Brigade                                                                   12 BrLC [5D]
Bull’s Troop RHA                                                                             Br6#
Ross’ Troop RHA                                                                              Br6#

1st Division – Major General Sir Brent Spencer                   4”A(5)+0 [3F]
Stopford’s Guards Brigade                                                             16 BrGD [5D]
Nightingales’ Brigade (Highlanders)                                            16 BrLN [6D]
Howard’s Brigade (inc. 71st)                                                          16 BrLT [6D]
Von Löwe’s KGL Brigade                                                                 16 BrLN [6D]

3rd Division – Major General Sir Thomas Picton                 5”E(8)+2 [2F]
MacKinnon’s Brigade                                                                      16 BrLN [6D]
Colville’s Brigade                                                                              16 BrLN [6D]
Power’s Portuguese Brigade                                                          16 PtLN [8D]
Williams’ Massed Light Companies                                             16 BrLT [6D]

7th Division – Major General William Houston                    4”A(6)+0 [1F]
Sontag’s Brigade (inc. Brunswickers & Chass. Britanniques)  20 BwLT [10D]
Doyle’s Portuguese Brigade                                                            16 PtLN [8D]

Light Division – Brigadier General Robert Crauford          5”E(8)+2 [1F]
Beckwith’s Brigade                                                                          16 BrLT [6D]
Drummond’s Brigade                                                                      20 BrLT [8D]

Independent Brigade – Brigadier General Charles Ashworth 3”A(5)+0 [1F]
Ashworth’s Portuguese Brigade                                                    20 PtLN [10D]

Spanish Partisan Corps – General Julian Sanchez                3”G(6)+0 [1F]
Partisan Cavalry                                                                                12 SpIRC [8D]
Partisan Infantry                                                                               16 SpGRL [11D]


1. Bull’s & Ross’ Troops RHA may start the game attached to Cotton, Houston or Crauford, at Wellington’s discretion.

2. The British cavalry numbers incorporate Barbacena’s very weak Portuguese cavalry brigade.

3. Sontag’s Brigade of Houston’s 7th Division had around 900 British Light Infantry (51st & 85th Regiments) and around 1,400 men from the Chasseurs-Britanniques and Brunswick-Oels Regiments.  These latter regiments allegedly suffered from rather serious discipline problems and as they represent the majority of the brigade, I’ve classed the unit was Brunswick Light Infantry (BwLT), as they have slightly lower stats than British Light Infantry (BrLT) in Napoleon’s Battles.

4.  The Spanish Guerrillas do not count toward overall army strength or against army morale.

5.  Wellington may use the optional rule that allows him to be given a ‘React’ marker, as for cavalry, in lieu of a normal move.  Wellington may then spend his React marker to move in one of the Reacting Cavalry phases.

Le Légion du Midi

Briefing – Maréchal André Masséna, Prince d’Essling
Strategic Situation, April to May 1811

Masséna at Wagram, 1809

In the past few months, you have seen your army dashed against the ‘Stone Wall’ of the English army at Bussaco, you have seen your army starve before the walls of Lisbon and you have seen your army bled white by the long march back to Salamanca.  The Army of Portugal has never before been in such a terrible state of repair; regiments down to merely weak battalion strength, cavalry regiments with only enough horses to mount a single squadron and batteries fully equipped with guns, limbers and caissons full of ammunition, but no horses to pull them.  Worse still, you have now been pushed well back into Spain, leaving isolated garrisons in the fortresses of Almeida and Ciudad Rodrigo.

Having arrived back at Salamanca, you have found replacements to make good your losses and the lads have been issued the last six months’ back pay, which has raised their spirits more than any victory.  You have also had two weeks respite in which the men subsequently spent their back pay and are therefore ‘rested’ and eager to get back into the fight (at least that’s what they say to your face).  However, the Duke of Istria has so far only delivered one-tenth of the supplies he had promised and has sent only two cavalry brigades and a handful of draught horses out of his entire ‘Army of the North’ (which he says he needs to maintain control of Castile and Léon).  Worst of all; the bastard poseur has come along in person to ‘assist’ you in your campaign.  He will undoubtedly attempt to lead his Guard Cavalry Brigade in a glorious charge (after the moment of victory, of course!) and thereby attempt to steal your laurels.  That preening, hair-powdering fool has never forgiven you for gaining your principality at Essling!

Back to the campaign: thanks to the uncharacteristically slow response of the British Light Division ‘Grasshoppers’, you have already managed to get a convoy of supplies, plus Marchand’s division, into the fortress of Ciudad Rodrigo, thereby saving that garrison.  You now have a second convoy ready to push through to Brennier’s besieged garrison at Almeida.

Your army is once again on the march and is in pretty good shape, having been further reinforced by Fournier’s excellent (though painfully weak) cavalry brigade.  However, Junot’s VIII Corps is down to just one division and Drouet’s IX Corps (consisting of a mixture of raw 4th battalions) has been screening Wellington’s army since your retreat.  They have not had a chance to rest and are not in good shape at all.

As you advance toward Almeida, the British Light Division and cavalry steadily fall back, skirmishing all the way and inflicting a steady trickle of casualties on your voltigeurs and light cavalry.  At last Marchand, leading your vanguard, reports that he has discovered the main English position, stretched over five miles along the ridge between the ruined Fort Concepçion and the village of Fuentes de Oñoro.  The English position is protected along its front by the River Dos Casas, which carves out a deep ravine as it flows north from Fuentes de Oñoro and forms a significant obstacle.  However, to Wellington’s rear is the almost-impassable gorge of the River Coa.  If Wellington is compelled to retreat, he will be forced to cross either the bridge at Almeida (under Brennier’s fortress guns) or at Castello Bom, where the bridge is extremely narrow and forms a significant choke-point.  A British withdrawal will therefore at the very least, inflict a significant loss in baggage and artillery upon Wellington, thus crippling his attempts at offence for the remainder of the year.

However, risking a frontal assault across the ravine of the Dos Casas carries with it the risk of another Bussaco, while the depth of the ravine to the north of Fort Concepçion makes an envelopment of the English left impossible.  The only options left open to you are; to assault Wellington’s right flank strongpoint of Fuentes de Oñoro where the valley is much more shallow, or alternatively to attempt an even wider flanking movement using your superior numbers of cavalry and roll up Wellington’s right flank from the south (though the boggy and wooded terrain in this area will make co-ordination extremely difficult).

5th Hussars

5ème Hussards

Tactical Situation, 3rd to 5th May 1811

Having spread your army widely across your front to keep the English guessing, you launched your first assault against Fuentes de Oñoro on the 3rd.  Ferey’s and Marchand’s divisions were heavily engaged against Wellington’s élite ‘Grasshoppers’ and ‘Amazons’ for most of the evening in bitter house-to-house fighting, but were eventually pushed back across the Dos Casas with significant losses.  However, Ferey has managed to retain possession of the houses on the eastern side of the stream, which will serve as a useful launching-point for a future assault.

It has now become clear that Wellington has moved his main strength into position behind Fuentes de Oñoro, though significant forces still remain to the north, thus preventing Reynier’s II Corps and Junot’s VIII Corps from exploiting this shift of position by the enemy.  It is time to enact the contingency plan; Montbrun has discovered the right flank of the English line, which is placed at the village of Nave del Haver, some four miles to the south of Fuentes de Oñoro.  This outpost consists of little more than a few Spanish irregulars (probably of Don Sanchez’s guerrilla band), while there is a small garrison of English and Portuguese infantry in Poço Velho, approximately two miles to the south of Fuentes de Oñoro.  There is little else in this area, other than the occasional cavalry picquet.

Marshal Bessières

You have spent the whole of the 4th shifting your divisions quietly to the south.  While Reynier’s II Corps and Drouet’s IX Corps have remained demonstrating before the enemy, Junot’s VIII Corps has been pulled out of the right wing, to form the reserve for your flanking movement.  Loison’s VI Corps (less Ferey’s division) is also on the march; its mission being to overcome opposition at Poço Velho and outflank the English position at Fuentes.  Montbrun, with all cavalry under command (except Reynier’s and the Guard) is to widely outflank the English position, cover Loison’s left flank, and threaten Wellington’s lines of communication.  Once the English right wing is fully engaged, Drouet will strike the killing blow through Fuentes de Oñoro.

It is now dawn on 5th May.  The Duke of Istria has disappeared.  He’s probably off somewhere trying to get himself some glory!  At least he is no longer standing on your shoulder offering ‘advice’ and questioning your every decision.  In the distance, the crackle of gunfire announces that Montbrun has made contact with the enemy…

1er Chevauxléger-Lanciers de la Garde

Centre & Left Of The French Army Of Portugal

Maréchal André Masséna, Prince d’Essling
(8 Free Rolls)

VI Corps – Général de Division Louis Henri Loison           8”G(6)+1 [3F]

Division of Général de Division Jean Gabriel Marchand 4”E(7)+1
Maucune’s Brigade                                                                         16 FrLT [8D]
Chemineau’s Brigade                                                                     16 FrLN [8D]

Division of Général de Division Julien Mermet                   4”A(6)+0
Menard’s Brigade                                                                            28 FrLN [14D]
Taupin’s Brigade                                                                              28 FrLN [14D]

Division of Général de Division Claude François Ferey    4”G(8)+1
1st Brigade (inc. Légions du Midi & Hanovrienne)                  16 FrLT [8D]
2nd Brigade                                                                                      16 FrLN [8D]

VIII Corps – Général de Division André Junot, Duc d’Abrantes 9”G(6)+0 [1F]

Division of Général de Division Jean-Baptiste Solignac    3”A(6)+1
1st Brigade                                                                                        24 FrLN [12D]
Thomières’ Brigade (inc. Régiment Irlandais)                           20 FrLN [10D]

IX Corps – Général de Division Jean Baptiste Drouet d’Erlon 9”G(5)+1 [3F]

Division of Général de Division Michel Claparède              3”G(7)+1
1st Brigade                                                                                         16 FrPLT [10D]
2nd Brigade                                                                                       16 FrPLN [10D]
Massed Grenadiers & Carabiniers of IX Corps                           16 FrGN [6D]

Division of Général de Division Nicolas Conroux de Pepinville 3”A(5)+0
1st Brigade                                                                                         16 FrPLT [10D]
2nd Brigade                                                                                       24 FrPLN [14D]

Army Reserve

Reserve Cavalry Division – Général de Division Louis Pierre Montbrun 4”E(8)+2 [2F]
Cavrois’ Brigade (Dragoons)                                                          8 FrLC [4D]
D’Ornano’s Brigade (Dragoons)                                                    8 FrLC [4D]
Fournier’s & Lamotte’s Brigades (Chasseurs, Hussars & Dragoons) 12 FrLC [6D]
Wathier’s Cavalry Brigade (Chasseurs & Hussars)                    12 FrLC [6D]

Reserve Artillery
Foot Battery                                                                                       Fr12#
Horse Battery                                                                                    Fr4#

The Army of The North (-) – Maréchal Jean-Baptiste Bessières, Duc d’Istrie 4”E(6)+1 [1F]
Lepic’s Imperial Guard Cavalry Brigade                                     12 FrGLC [4D]
Garde Volante-Batterie                                                                    FrG6#


1. Montbrun’s Reserve Cavalry Division may be commanded by Masséna, Loison or Junot.

2. Fournier’s IX Corps Cavalry Brigade and Lamotte’s VI Corps Cavalry Brigade were both very weak and have therefore been combined as a single unit. They were placed under Montbrun’s command, along with Wathier’s Brigade from the Army of the North.

3. The Reserve Artillery Batteries must be assigned to divisions at the start of the game.

4. Bessières had absented himself from the battlefield to look at some entrenchments (!). In his absence, Lepic (to Masséna’s fury) absolutely refused to move the Guard Cavalry without explicit orders from his Marshal. Bessières’ Division (Lepic’s Guard Cavalry and the Guard Horse Battery) may not therefore be moved until Bessières arrives (on French Turn 10 Bessières is simply placed on the table within 4 inches of his units). Bessières may only activate using his own initiative rating of 6 and may not be activated by the C-in-C in the normal manner. Bessières’ units may not be led by attaching the C-in-C. From Turn 10 onward, these units may however, conduct half-moves in the normal manner if Bessières fails to activate.

5. Wathier’s Cavalry Brigade belongs to Bessières’ Army of the North, though has thankfully been placed under Montbrun’s command and does not suffer the restrictions placed on the rest of Bessières’ command. As Bessières largely absented himself from this battle, he may not re-take command of Wathier during this scenario.

6. Ferey’s Division is temporarily detached from Loison’s VI Corps and starts the scenario under Masséna’s direct control.

Le Légion Hanovrienne

Terrain Notes

Above:  Terrain Map (each grid-square is 1km and in Napoleon’s Battles represents 12 inches square).

Above:  Deployment Map.

Each orange square on the map is a built-up sector and may be occupied by one infantry unit and has a defensive modifier of +3.

The River Turones, running south from Villar Formoso, is only passable to artillery at the river crossings marked where tracks cross the river (a mix of fords and bridges).  It is fordable to infantry and cavalry along its entire length as Rough Ground.  All other streams are fordable to all troops as Rough Ground.

The woodland shown on the map comprises boggy cork-oak thickets and is impassable to artillery, except on roads.  Other troop types may pass through woodland as Rough Ground.

42nd (Royal) Highlanders (Black Watch)


Troops must be deployed within their deployment areas shown above, but may be shifted up to six inches from their starting positions, though no closer to enemy units.  Units may be deployed in any formation or facing. 

Commanders and artillery units may be deployed anywhere within their army’s deployment zone, but no closer to the enemy than the closest formed unit in that formation.

Game Length & Sequence

The game starts with the French 0700hrs turn.

The game ends with the Allied 1630hrs turn (Turn 20).

The only reinforcement for either side is Marshal Bessières, who may be placed on table within 4 inches of his units (Lepic’s Guard Cavalry Brigade and the Guard Horse Battery) at the start of the French 1130hrs turn (Turn 10).

Victory Conditions

There is only one victory condition: The French must force Wellington to retreat by breaking Allied Army Morale.  Any other result will be classed as an Allied victory.

Unit Labels for Napoleon’s Battles

Posted in 15mm Figures, Napoleon's Battles (Rules), Napoleonic Wars, Scenarios | 8 Comments

‘Active Edge’: Building a Cold War BAOR Battlegroup

My good mate, lapsed wargamer and former Best Man, Gary P was recently browsing this blog.  As a long-serving senior officer of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, a veteran of numerous wars and operations, a Staff College graduate and having undertaken staff-rides and battlefield tours with worthies as illustrious as Brigadier Richard Holmes, I awaited his professional military assessment of my writings…

“Like the tanks.  Not so keen on the queer-arsiers, drag-goons and stuff.”

High praise indeed.

I was going to post more queer-arsiers today, but instead, here are more tanks for Gary…

As per the title, here are some bits of my British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) wargames army in 15mm.  All the models are by QRF Models and a lot of them are the same master models as the old Miltra range of 1/100th military recognition models.  They’re perhaps not the best models in the world by modern standards, but up until only three or four years ago they were the ONLY models in this scale and I like ’em! 🙂

Chieftain Mk 5

I picked 1984-1985 as my chosen period for ‘The War That Never Was’ primarily because it’s the period depicted in General Sir John Hackett’s book The Third World War, which then became the background setting for Harold Coyle’s Team Yankee and Kenneth Macksey’s First Clash.  It’s a period of great flux in both Soviet and NATO armies, when huge leaps forward in NATO technology, such as Challenger, M1 Abrams, Bradley, Warrior, Apache, etc, were just starting to appear, but the older kit was still very much soldiering on.  It therefore gives the wargamer a wide range of options.  The huge NATO exercise Lionheart ’84 (which included the largest peacetime British military deployment of all time) also provides a huge amount of photographic and film source-material for modelling, as well as a wealth of scenario ideas.

Listing exactly who had what and when in BAOR at the time is a truly gigantic subject that I’ve tried to cover in my orbats and TO&Es (linked), though trying to research this topic isn’t helped by some huge organisational changes right across the British Army and especially in BAOR that took place at the end of 1982.  I’m slowly building up enough troops to put an Armoured Regiment battlegroup or Mech Infantry Battalion battlegroup on the table.  I may eventually expand this to include a Para Battalion (primarily for the Falklands War of 1982).  I use my own Cold War mod of Battlefront: WWII rules (very much a work in progress and titled Battlefront: First Echelon).  These rules work at a ratio of 1 model tank representing 2 or 3 actual items and a stand of infantry representing a single rifle section.  The basic unit of manoeuvre is the company/squadron and in most scenarios an ‘army’ will represent a full battalion-sized battlegroup.

Above:  An Armoured Squadron, equipped with Chieftain Mk 5 MBTs (they could alternatively be Mks 6 to 8, which were earlier marks upgraded to the same standard or Mk 9, which was a refurbished Mk 5).  From January 1983 onward, an Armoured squadron had four Troops, each with 3x Chieftain and a Squadron HQ with 2x Chieftain, which in game terms boils down to five models.  The only exception to this was the Berlin Squadron, which persisted with the old organisation of 4x Chieftains per Troop and a Squadron HQ with 2x Chieftain (nine models).  Most Armoured Regiments had four Squadrons (Called Type 57 Regiments, as they had 57 tanks including the RHQ tank), though a few had three Squadrons (Type 43 Regiments).

Following their debut during Exercise Lionheart ’84, some brigades replaced their Chieftains with the Challenger MBT.  This replacement programme began with 7th Armoured Brigade in 1985, followed by 4th Armoured Brigade in 1986 and 6th & 33rd Armoured Brigades in 1988.  22nd Armoured Brigade also partly-re-equipped with Challenger by the end of 1989.  The remaining brigades soldiered on with Chieftain into the 1990s, when they were either disbanded or were re-equipped with Challenger 2.  All remaining Chieftains were upgraded from 1986 with the rubber/steel sandwich composite Stillbrew armour-package, thus creating the Chieftain Mk 10 & 11 with its distinctive thick turret-mask.

Above:  A Mechanised Infantry Company equipped with FV432 armoured personnel carriers.  There were three such Companies in a Mechanised Infantry Battalion, plus a Support Company.

British infantry companies followed the familiar ‘triangular’ pattern of three Platoons, each with 3x Sections.  Each Section consisted of 8-10 men, plus the FV432 APC and its crew of two and was led by a Corporal.  The core of the Section was the belt-fed L7A2 7.62mm General Purpose Machine Gun (‘GPMG’ – British designation for the FN MAG), with the remaining men being equipped with L1A1 7.62mm Self-Loading Rifles (‘SLR’ – British designation for the FN FAL).  The Section also included an 84mm Carl Gustav Recoilless Rifle, the gunner of which could occasionally be armed with an L2A3 Sub Machine Gun (‘SMG’ – or Sterling Mk 4) in lieu of SLR.  The Section would also be issued with numerous M72 66mm Light Anti-Tank Weapons (‘LAW’) for short-range defence against armour.  It was also quite common for Sections to beef up their firepower with one or two L4 Light Machine Guns (‘LMG’ – 7.62mm version of the Bren).

The Section was usually organised along WW2 lines, with a ‘Gun Group’ of three men (one of whom was the Section 2IC, a Lance-Corporal) and the remainder grouped under the Corporal as the ‘Rifle’ or ‘Assault’ Group.  Some units had started to experiment with equal ‘fireteam’ groupings (often called ‘Bricks’) of 4 men apiece, using the GPMG as the core of one fireteam and an L4 LMG for the other.  This all changed from 1986, when the new ‘SA80 Family’ of the L85 5.56mm Individual Weapon and L86 Light Support Weapon were introduced, replacing all the SLRs, SMGs and LMGs, as well as all the Section-level GPMGs.  Sections were now permanently organised into two equal fireteams, each containing an L86 LSW and 3x L85.  However, it has to be said that some units managed to hang on to Section-level GPMGs on an unofficial basis (and even LMGs on occasion, until those were finally withdrawn from service in the 1990s).

Platoon HQs usually included an L9A1 51mm Light Mortar, as well as another GPMG, though with a sustained-fire tripod and an optical sight to enable indirect fire (indirect MG fire being a traditional speciality of the British Army since WW1).  Sustained-Fire GPMGs were sometimes massed at company or even battalion level, depending on the type of battalion.  The platoon would be transported by four FV432 APCs; these normally had a pintle-mounted GPMG on the commander’s hatch (the circular hatch at the front-left of the vehicle), though many were modified with the Peak Engineering turret, which enabled a GPMG gunner to operate under armour.  This turret was placed centrally on the vehicle, with a small hatch to the rear (replacing the large circular ‘mortar hatch’ of the original design).

In game terms, this all boils down to 1x Company Commander stand, 9x Infantry stands (three of them with Carl Gustav), a GPMG (Sustained Fire) stand and a 51mm Mortar stand.  I must admit to having economised on APC models (one model per platoon instead of two), to save on table-clutter.  In any case, attached MILAN teams, artillery observers and the like will add yet more FV432s and it starts to become something of a traffic jam…

Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicle

Following a successful trial of the Warrior Mechanised Infantry Combat Vehicle (MICV) during Exercise Lionheart ’84 and again in ’86, Mech Infantry Battalions were slowly converted to Warrior, being re-designated as Armoured Infantry Battalions.  Battalion organisation remained largely the same, though the FV432s of the three Infantry Companies and some of the Battalion Tactical HQ replaced their FV-432s with Warrior.  Support Company elements such as the Mortar and MILAN Platoons retained FV432.  The dismountable Rifle Section strength was reduced to seven men in Warrior-equipped units.  Only three battalions had converted to Warrior by the end of 1989; one battalion of 4th Armoured Brigade converted in January 1988, followed by a battalion of 6th Armoured Brigade later that same year and a battalion of 7th Armoured Brigade in October 1988.

Above:  An Armoured Squadron Group, comprising an Armoured Squadron HQ, with three Armoured Troops and a Mech Infantry Platoon.

While Armour and Mech Infantry could act as ‘pure’ units, companies/squadrons were frequently cross-attached on a mission basis to create combined-arms battalion/regimental Battlegroups.  For example, an Armoured Regiment might swap one of its squadrons with a company from a Mech Infantry Battalion.  Platoons/troops could then be further swapped within the Battlegroup to create combined-arms company/squadron groups.

Above:  A Mech Infantry Company Group, consisting of a Mech Infantry Company HQ, two Mech Infantry Platoons and an Armoured Troop.

A pair of Royal Marine Commandos wearing DPM uniforms, with one wearing OG Lightweight trousers.

In terms of kit, British troops of the period wore Disruptive Pattern Material (‘DPM’) uniforms which although manufactured to a theoretically common pattern, could vary rather wildly in quality and colour!  I use Humbrol 83 Ochre as the base colour (this is the same colour I use for WW2 German ‘Dunkelgelbe’).  Then curving ‘swooshes’ of Humbrol 70 Brick Red, Humbrol 80 Grass Green and Humbrol 33 Black.  It’s worth noting that the brown and green elements could be surprisingly bright in shade – a lot brighter than the somewhat similar US Woodland Pattern.  Trousers could alternatively be replaced with denim olive-green ‘Lightweights’, for which I use Humbrol 86 Olive Green.

The DPM uniform was topped off with a Mk 4 steel helmet (essentially unchanged from the 1944-vintage Mk 3), which was invariably covered with a layer of ochre hessian sacking, then an olive-green scrim net, which was in turn woven with enormous quantities of hessian strips (in brown, green and ochre shades), dark green/reversible brown plastic ‘foliage’ and/or natural foliage and grass.  Webbing equipment was 58 Pattern in olive green.  However, this all changed during the late 1980s ‘SA80 Period’ to the Mk 6 kevlar helmet, with a standard DPM fabric cover, incorporating olive-green elastic strips to hold camouflage material and foliage.  The webbing also changed at this time to Personal Load-Carrying Equipment (PLCE) which was printed in DPM camouflage.

Above:  An Armoured Regiment’s Close Recce Troop.  From the mid-1970s until December 1982, all close recce tasks were handled by the Medium Recce Regiments, who in wartime would attach a Troop to each Armoured Regiment and Mech Infantry Battalion.  However, this proved unworkable in practice, so the Close Recce elements were handed back and the Medium Recce Regiments in Germany then concentrated on the ‘Covering Force Battle’.

Each Armoured Regiment HQ Recce Troop, consisted of eight CVR(T) Scorpion recce vehicles, armed with a 76mm gun.  In game terms this boils down to four models.  Mech Infantry Battalion Support Companies had a very similar Close Recce Platoon, equipped with eight CVR(T) Scimitar recce vehicles, armed with a 30mm Rarden Cannon.  It’s a complete mystery to me as to why they used two different (yet very similar) vehicles in an identical role.  After the end of the Cold War they eventually converted all such units to Scimitar or Sabre (Sabre was a Scorpion converted to 30mm Rarden Cannon armament by swapping the turret with the turret taken from a redundant CVR(W) Fox armoured car).

Above:  A Guided Weapons (‘Swingfire’) Troop.  Another element of Armoured Regiment Squadron HQs during this period was the Guided Weapons Troop, which consisted of nine FV438 Swingfire Anti-Tank Guided Weapon Vehicles and a Troop HQ consisting of a pair of Ferret Scout Cars.  In game terms, this becomes three FV438 models and a command Ferret.

FV438s had actually been taken away from Armoured Regiments during the extensive reorganisations of the late 1970s and massed along with the Swingfire-armed CVR(T) Striker vehicles of the Recce Regiments, in large Guided Weapons Batteries, operated by the Royal Horse Artillery.  This reorganisation was reversed in January 1983 and the Guided Weapons Troops were handed back to the Royal Armoured Corps.  However, the Guided Weapons Troops of Armoured Regiments only lasted until 1986, when they were finally disbanded.  However, FV438s remained in war reserve storage until the 1990s and CVR(T) Striker saw successful action against Iraqi armour in 1991 and again 2003.

Above:  A MILAN Detachment.  Mech Infantry Battalion’s primary anti-tank element was the support Company’s MILAN Platoon, which consisted of 16 MILAN anti-tank guided weapon detachments (i.e. a MILAN firing-post and crew).  These were broken down into four Sections, each of four MILAN.  Three Sections were transported by six FV432 APCs with two MILAN per vehicle.  The fourth Section was designated as the Mobile Section and was equipped with four CVR(T) Spartan APCs, each carrying a single MILAN.  In game terms this becomes eight MILAN, three FV432 and two Spartan.

CVR(T) Spartan MCT

In the late 1980s the Spartans of the Mobile Section were upgraded to Spartan MCT (‘MILAN Compact Turret’) standard.  These each had a pair of ready-to-fire MILAN missiles on a fully-traversable turret that could be fired from under armour.

An FV180 CET. Note that the bucket was actually at the rear of the vehicle, though it had two drivers seated back-to-back, so could drive in either direction with ease. This superb vehicle was also fully-amphibious and was equipped with a rocket-propelled land-anchor.

Above:  A Royal Engineers Field Troop.  Each Armoured Division in Germany had one or two tracked Engineer Regiments, each consisting of three Field Squadrons.  Each Squadron had three Field Troops and an FV180 Combat Engineer Tractor (CET) Troop, consisting of four CETs.

An Armoured Regiment or  Mech Infantry Battlegroup would normally have a Field Troop attached in order to handle its immediate Sapper needs, though further Sapper assets could be assigned, depending on the task.  The Troop was carried by FV-432 APCs, plus a pair of CVR(T) Spartan APCs for recce tasks.  In game term this becomes 1x Command Sapper stand, 1x Recce Sapper stand, 2x Sapper stands, 1x FV432 and 1x Spartan.  The Ferret Scout Car is an interloper and is probably be a liaison officer from a Regimental HQ.  The berets look a bit grey in the photo above, but they’re meant to be a very dark blue.

Above:  An Armoured Engineer Troop.  For heavier Sapper needs, 32 Armoured Engineer Regiment would provide the goods!  The regiment had three Squadrons, each initially of three Troops and an FV180 CET Troop.  Each Troop had an AVRE Section with three Centurion AVRE (Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers) armed with a 165mm Demolition Gun and fitted with dozer blades and a cradle for carrying fascines (i.e. large bundles of plastic pipes, used to fill ditches or form a ramp), a Bridging Section with three Chieftain AVLB (Armoured Vehicle-Launched Bridge) and a command/recce element in Ferret Scout Cars.  In game terms this becomes one model of each type.  The CET Troop had four FV180 CETs (two models) and I’ve attached one to this Troop.

During the mid-1980s a fourth such Troop was added to each Armoured Engineer Squadron.  In the late 1980s two of the Squadrons each received a Troop of three Centurion AVRE 105, which were converted former Royal Artillery Centurion Mk 12 OP tanks.  They retained their 105mm L7 guns, but were only equipped with HESH ammunition for the purposes of obstacle-demolition.  They were also fitted with mine-ploughs instead of the dozer blade normally seen on Centurion AVRE.  The third Squadron received a batch of twelve locally-converted Chieftain AVRE (known as ‘ChAVRE’ or ‘Willich AVRE’), which lacked any armament heavier than GPMG, but still enabled Sappers to carry out engineering tasks while under armour.  The old Centurion AVRE were now designated ‘AVRE 165’ to differentiate them from thr AVRE 105 and ChAVRE.

Above:  A Royal Artillery Light Air Defence Section.  To provide some local, short-range air defence for the Battlegroup, I’ve got a Royal Artillery Light Air Defence Section, consisting of a pair of Blowpipe SAMs and a CVR(T) Spartan.  Each Armoured Division in Germany could normally call on the services of a single Light Air Defence Battery, consisting of 36x Blowpipe SAMs to defend its front-line units.  The Battery was divided into three Troops, each of 12x SAMs and each Troop would normally be allocated to an Armoured Brigade.  The Troop would then be further broken down into Sections and Detachments, which would be allocated to Battlegroups.  Each pair of SAMs would be transported by a Spartan.  Contrary to what you might read in ‘Team Yankee’ rules, SAMs WERE DISMOUNTED TO FIRE!  They absolutely were not fired from the vehicle!

1 (Br) Corps also had two Royal Artillery Air Defence Regiments equipped with Rapier SAMs to provide defence-in-depth.  Each Regiment had three towed Rapier Batteries and one Tracked Rapier Battery, with twelve launchers per Battery.  From 1985 one towed Battery per Regiment was also converted to Tracked Rapier.  The Corps would also be further reinforced by four TA Light Air Defence Regiments, with around twelve Batteries in total.  These batteries only had 16x Blowpipe SAMs per Battery, divided into two Troops of eight.  They were transported by Land Rover, rather than Spartan.

From 1984 the Blowpipe SAM began to be replaced with the far more effective Javelin SAM (not to be confused with the later anti-tank missile of the same name).  TA Air Defence Regiments began receiving Javelin from 1988.  Happily, Javelin was visually identical to Blowpipe, so we can use the same models. 🙂

Above:  A Royal Artillery Forward Observation Officer (FOO).  Every Infantry Company or Armoured Squadron Group in 1 (Br) Corps would have a FOO Team attached; either from the divisional Field Artillery Regiments or from supplementary Forward Observation Batteries (many of these would be provided by the TA).  The normal OP vehicle was the FV432, often fitted with a dismountable thermal-imaging sight on the commander’s hatch, in lieu of a GPMG.  A ground-surveillance radar set was also carried (which seems to have been used dismounted – I’ve never seen a photo or heard of one mounted on a vehicle).

Divisional guns were a 50/50 split of Abbott self-propelled 105mm guns and M109 self-propelled 155mm guns.  1st Armoured Division had two Regiments of M109 and one of Abbott.  That ratio was reversed in 4th Armoured Division.  3rd Armoured Division had one Regiment of each.  Each Regiment had four batteries, each of six guns (theoretically increased to eight guns in wartime).

Above:  An RAF Forward Air Controller.  This chap, wearing RAF beret and glasses, mopping his brow and looking completely out of his depth, reminds me of someone…

[Edited to add]: Painting Vehicles

I paint my Cold War British vehicles in much the same way as my WW2 British.  Colour purists will shout that it’s not the right shade of green, but it looks right to me.  To my eye (and having seen them parked next to each other on occasion), British vehicles looked distinctly greener and less brown in hue than their German, Dutch, French and Belgian cousins of the period.  Brighter than the Americans, but not as eye-wateringly bright as the Danes.  Staring with a black undercoat, I paint them a basecoat of Humbrol 75 Bronze Green and then more Humbrol 33 Black for the camouflage.  The green bits are then given a top-coat of Humbrol 159 Khaki Drab and the black bits are highlighted Humbrol 67 Tank Grey.

I’ll then do the tracks, exhausts, stowage and markings in appropriate colours before giving the whole lot a dry-brush in Humbrol 72 Khaki Drill.  I also had mud-splashes up the sides in the same colour.  Lastly, I then pick out the vision-blocks and IR lamps in black and other lights in silver, red or orange, as appropriate, followed by crewmen and pintle-mounted MGs (I tend to find that these get lost in the muck if dry-brushed, so prefer to keep them clean.

British vehicles were meant to be camouflaged at a rough ratio of 2:1 green to black, unlike the very similar Danes, who stipulated a ratio of 1:1.  Like the Danes, the corners were meant to be painted black, though judging from photographs, this was routinely ignored.

Back to the queer-arsiers…

Posted in 15mm Figures, Battlefront: First Echelon, Battlefront: WW2, Cold War, Cold War - NATO Armies, Painted Units | 2 Comments

My ‘Partizan in the Cloud’: The Cassinga Raid, Angola 1978

This weekend should have been spent schlepping up to Newark for my annual pilgrimage to the Partizan 2020 show, but as with so many events at the moment, Partizan has been forced to cancel.  However, they are running the show online as ‘Partizan in the Cloud’, so here’s my contribution – a refight of the Cassinga Raid, Angola 1978.

Following an anti-personnel bombing strike on central Cassinga by SAAF Canberra bombers, a SAAF Buccaneer strikes a SWAPO-PLAN air defence site on the edge of the town.

The game is played in 15mm, using modified Battlefront: WWII rules.  The table is a 6-foot square, representing a 3km square in scale.  All models built and painted by me.  The infantry models, along with a lot of the vehicles and buildings are by Peter Pig, with some by QRF and Skytrex.  The aircraft are various plastic kits and one 3D-printed model (the links below have all the details).  Trees and scenic materials are by Woodland Scenics.

I know a lot of fellow-contributors will be setting up their games at home, but I don’t have the room for that, so here are some previously unposted photos of the game at Crusade 2020 in Penarth and links to my previous blog-posts on the terrain-building, modelling, scenario, play-testing and the game as played at Warfare 2019 in Reading.

Oh did I mention that we won Best Demo Game at Warfare 2019…? 🙂

Here are the links to my previous posts on my Cassinga Raid game:

Some Angola Air Support

Some More Angola Air Support

Building Cassinga

Play-Testing The Game

The Game (as played at Warfare 2019)

The Cassinga Raid Scenario

Following very closely behind the air-strikes continue on the town, SAAF C-160 Transall and C-130 Hercules transport aircraft drop SADF paratroops all around the town.

So what’s next?  Well it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to make it to The Other Partizan in October, so if I’m spared I’ll be at Partizan 2021 with The Cassinga Raid… It’s a shame to waste it… 🙂

Here are some more photos of the game.  Have a great weekend and stay safe.  See you at Partizan 2021! 🙂

SWAPO-PLAN’s morning parade at Cassinga is rudely interrupted by a formation of Canberra bombers and hundreds of anti-personnel bombs.

An overview of the battlefield from the eastern side of Cassinga.

An SAAF Cessna 185A Air Observation Post directs air strikes and keeps an eye out for Cuban reinforcements.

Captain Tommy Smitt’s sorely-understrength ‘D’ Company, along with Lieutenant Pierre Peters’ Anti-Tank Platoon, assault the SWAPO-PLAN Engineer Company HQ at the southern end of Cassinga. Their mission is then to establish a road-block to prevent any Cuban armour from interfering in the operation.

Lieutenant Johann Witt’s 9 (Independent) Platoon assaults some fortified villas at the northern end of Cassinga.

Commandant Jan Breytenbach lands by parachute right in front of the SWAPO-PLAN trenches and launches an immediate (and successful) close-assault on the position!

Elements of ‘C’ Company assault outlying trenches on the eastern side of Cassinga, but come under fire from a bunker on the edge of town.

Survivors of the devastating opening air-strikes claw their way off the parade square and into cover.

Posted in 15mm Figures, Battlefront: First Echelon, Battlefront: WW2, Cold War, Cold War - Angolan Border War, Crusade (Show), Games, Partizan (Show), Scenarios, Warfare (Show) | Leave a comment

The Royal Marines Armoured Support Group in Normandy 1944

Centaur Mk IV ‘Hunter’ of ‘H’ Troop, 2 Battery, 1 Royal Marine Armoured Support Regiment

As it’s VE Day (or at least it was when I started writing this), I thought I’d better do a WW2 post… 🙂

The Royal Marines Armoured Support Group was a short-lived organisation created for the Normandy Landings of 1944 and disbanded two weeks after D-Day (being resurrected in Afghanistan in 2007).  The initial plan was for a number of Landing Craft Tank (LCT) to be armoured (thus creating the LCT(A) variant) and armed with redundant and de-engined Centaur Mk IV Close Support Tanks, which would simply act as gun-turrets from the deck of the LCT(A).  These would provide close gunfire support with their 95mm Close Support Howitzers for the landing craft flotilla during the run-in to the beach and would then continue to provide support from the beach after grounding.  The Centaurs would be crewed by Royal Marines, whose traditional role included manning the gun turrets of Royal Navy warships.

However, during a demonstration of this concept during a landing exercise, Field Marshal Montgomery demanded to know why these tanks were not advancing from their beached landing craft.  Incensed by the reply, he demanded that the Centaurs be re-engined with immediate effect.  This order was successfully carried out, although the Centaur’s underpowered and unreliable Liberty engine arguably didn’t provide them with much more mobility…

Centaur Mk IV ‘Achilles’ of ‘A’ Troop, 1 Battery, 1 Royal Marines Armoured Support Regiment. This is an original coloured photo – not colourised.

Having been given the ability to fight on dry land, strict orders were now put in place for the RMASG to advance no further than one mile inland from the beaches.  However, as an illustration of how rigorously this order was applied, on 11th June RMASG Centaurs were to be found fighting at Cristot and Rots; some eight or nine miles south of the coast!

Five RM Armoured Support Batteries were created, each consisting of four Troops.  A Troop consisted of four Centaur Mk IV 95mm Close Support Tanks and a single Sherman Mk V (M4A4) Medium Tank for the Troop Commander.  Battery HQs had at least one Sherman Mk V (I’ve got no exact figures, but the history of 1 RMASR mentions a Battery Commander’s tank.  The Regt CO and 2IC had Jeeps).  Although officially classed as ‘OP Tanks’ the Troop Commanders’ Shermans had 75mm guns and would join in with shoots.  The Battery Commanders’ tanks may have had dummy guns in the same manner as Royal Artillery Battery Commanders, but I’ve no exact information.

The Batteries were numbered 1 to 5, with each Battery having a sequentially-lettered Troop.  No.1 Battery had A-D Troops, No.2 Battery had E-H, No.3 Battery had J-M, No.4 Battery had N-Q and No.5 Battery had R-V Troops.  The letter I was skipped, which was common practice at the time, to avoid it being confused with the number 1.  Nos. 1 & 2 Batteries were grouped into 1 RM Armoured Support Regiment, which would support 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division on GOLD Beach.  Nos. 3 & 4 Batteries were grouped into 2 RM Armoured Support Regiment and would support 3rd Canadian Infantry Division on JUNO Beach.  No.5 (Independent) Battery was assigned to 3rd Infantry Division on SWORD Beach.

Sherman Mk V ‘Fox’ belonging to the Troop Commander of ‘F’ Troop, 2 Battery, 1 RM Armoured Support Regt.

All tanks were distinctively marked with compass-graduations around the turret, with the front of the tank being 180 degrees.  This was to enable the Troop Commander to ‘easily’ calculate the bearing from gun to target by calculating the difference between the landing craft’s heading and the bearing that the gun was laid on to…  You probably had to be there to understand it…  The only other significant marking was the Battery tactical marking, which in all cases was the colours of the Royal Marines: namely a royal blue square, with a horizontal stripe of yellow, green and red.  This was then superimposed with the battery number in white.

A Centaur of 4 Battery, 2 RM Armoured Support Regiment on JUNO Beach

The majority of tanks also seem to have had an individual name painted in white across the circular blanking-plate where the MG port would normally be situated (or on the transmission-housing in the case of Shermans).  The tank’s name always started with the Troop letter.  For some reason I didn’t paint mine with names and I also missed the red/white/red national recognition flash.  This was a marking that pre-dated the Allied Star as a recognition marking and was still carried by a few vehicles on the lower hull front (and hull sides in the case of Shermans).  In black and white photos, the red part tends to become invisible, but the central white square of the marking is very clear.  There may also have been the standard Allied Star on the turret roof or engine deck, but no photos show it.

Vehicles were mostly painted SCC 15 Olive Drab, though a few were still painted in SCC 2 Service Drab (i.e. brown), which was the standard colour for all vehicles in the UK from 1941-1944, when it was replaced by SCC 15.  The short timeframe between the switch to SCC 15 and the Normandy Landings meant that a lot of British and Canadian vehicles were still painted SCC 2 in Normandy.  I must confess that I painted mine about 30 years ago, and foolishly believed someone when he told me that ‘all British tanks were painted Bronze Green’, hence the slightly dark and bluish shade of green used here (which is Humbrol 75 (Bronze Green)… 🙁  I’m absolutely not going to repaint these in the correct shade of green…  Nowadays I use Humbrol 75 as the base colour, with Humbrol 159 Khaki Drab to represent SCC 15.  For SCC 2 I used Humbrol 29 Dark Earth.

The RMASG crews wore the badge of the Combined Forces on their Battledress sleeves, with the red-on-blue ROYAL MARINES shoulder-title above.  In most cases they were not Commando-trained, so wore a navy-blue beret, with Royal Marines badge on a red ‘tombstone’ cloth backing.  Commando-trained personnel would wear a green beret.

A US Navy LCT(A) off Omaha Beach, loaded with Shermans instead of Centaurs. Note the raised firing platform and shockingly low freeboard.

Severe problems were caused by the RMASG’s LCT(A) transports, which apparently caused more casualties to the RMASG than enemy action. The armour-plating and raised fighting-platform for the tanks had added a considerable amount of weight and had offset the vessel’s centre of gravity to a dangerous degree. The low freeboard and top-heavy nature of loaded LCT(A)s resulted in the capsizing of several vessels during exercises and further losses were suffered in heavy seas during the actual landings (though I’ve been unable to determine exactly how many were lost).

Each LCT(A) could carry three tanks – two tanks on the fighting platform and a third (command) tank to the rear.  Each Troop was carried by two LCT(A)s – two Centaurs in one and two Centaurs with the Troop Commander’s Sherman in the other.  The Battery Commanders’ Shermans would occupy spare command tank slots.

I play Battlefront: WWII, which represents tanks at a ratio of 1:2 or 1:3.  So in game terms a full battery would have 2x or 3x Sherman and 8x Centaur.  My battery is therefore understrength, with 2x Sherman and 6x Centaur (in any case I’m not aware of any batteries fighting unified and at full strength).

As mentioned above, the RMASG was disbanded just two weeks into the campaign.  However, twelve of the Centaurs and some of the Shermans were passed to 53rd (Worcestershire Yeomanry) Airborne Light Regiment RA, 6th Airborne Division, which until that point was equipped with 75mm Pack Howitzers.  The Centaurs were initially split between two of the regiment’s existing batteries but were eventually grouped as a new battery, designated ‘X’ Battery.

In August 1944 the Centaurs were taken over by Royal Canadian Artillery personnel, being now designated 1st Canadian Composite (Centaur) Battery RCA.  This unit continued in the same vein as ‘X’ Battery, beefing up the strength of 53rd Airborne Light Regiment, 6th Airborne Division.  During Operation PADDLE (the breakout to the River Seine), the battery was attached directly to 6th Airborne Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment.  The Centaurs were finally retired at the end of the Normandy Campaign, though some remained as training vehicles for Free French forces.

The models are all rather ancient pre-Flames of War 15mm resin and metal models by Battlefront Miniatures, painted by me about 20 years ago.  The Centaur models actually had hull MGs, so those had to be cut off and the plate filed flat before painting.  I never want to have to paint these again…



Posted in 15mm Figures, Battlefront: WW2, Painted Units, World War 2, World War 2 - British Commonwealth Armies, World War 2 - Normandy 1944 | Leave a comment

Napoleonic Reinforcements

I’m in trouble with Mrs Fawr… The lockdown means that I’ve been painting AB Figures Napoleonics at an unprecedented rate and have been buying bare metal at an even greater rate, primarily due to hoovering up the remaining stock of (discounted) Spaniards and 1806 Prussians at Fighting 15s before anyone else nabbed them (I’m now admitting this in public, because I’ve now bought them all)!  Appeals for clemency based on the monetary savings due to staying at home have been rejected, based on fabricated evidence…  Someone else has clearly been adding empty beer, wine, whisky, cider and gin bottles to our glass-recycling bin!

Anyway, in anticipation of the end of lockdown (ever the optimist…), I’m planning a couple of big Napoleonic games, starting with the Battle of Liebertwolkwitz, 14th October 1813, which was a large cavalry clash and preliminary to the Battle of Leipzig.  This was primarily to give me the incentive to paint my Duchy of Warsaw Army, which is now finished and will be the subject of another article.  My extremely shabby Russian army also needs reinforcement and sprucing up, so I’ve re-flagged all my Russian regiments, rebased a load of units that were still based for WRG rules (which I stopped playing nearly 30 years ago) and have made a start on some new Russian units, starting with Cossacks and Cuirassiers.  In the meantime, I’ve also been painting other Napoleonic bits and pieces, such as these Brunswick staff officers:

Above:  I painted the Duke of Brunswick for my 1815 collection a few years ago, when AB brought him out for the 1815 Bicentennial.  However, as he was killed at the Battle of Quatre-Bras, command of the Brunswick Corps passed to Oberst von Olfermann and so you need another Brunswick command figure for Waterloo.  I had been using a spare Brunswick Hussar officer figure for Olfermann, but AB Figures brought out a set of three new Brunswick staff officers last year, so I had to buy them…

Above:  The ‘Black Duke’ of Brunswick is the one wearing the kaftan and floppy hat.  The uniform of the Duke and his staff was very similar to that of the Brunswick Hussar Regiment; namely a plain black hussar uniform, with black braid, black buttons, sky-blue collar and trouser-stripes and silver death’s-head motifs (the whole ensemble was chosen to symbolise mourning for the death of the Duke’s father at the Battle of Auerstädt in 1806 and for the occupation of his country by the French).  Brunswick staff officers apparently had gold lace edging to the collar and cuffs; that of the Hussar Regiment was black.

Above:  Oberst Olfermann here wears an undress cap that was worn as a more comfortable alternative to the shako (or cocked hat, in the case of senior officers).  As a senior field officer, his collar and cuffs are edged with silver lace.  I’ve also given his shabraque silver lace edging, though this is conjectural.  The green leather gloves were apparently a fashionable affectation adopted by some Brunswick officers.

Above:  As I play Napoleon’s Battles, which is a high command-level set of rules, divisional commanders are normally based as single figures on a 25mm-square base and my Brunswick commanders were previously based in that manner.  However, these staff officer figures are too good to waste… And they called it the Brunswick CORPS, after all… And they’re my toys, so I’ll base them as corps commanders if I want to… 🙂

Above:  I’ve shown Prince Eugène, Viceroy of Italy here before.  However, while painting the Mamelukes of the Imperial Guard recently, I decided to add a Mameluke servant to Eugène’s staff.  The Mameluke servant comes from AB Figures’s Napoleon & Staff set, as indeed does the figure I used for Eugène, as well as two of his staff.  While touring the Chateau de Fontainebleau a few years ago, I noticed a portrait of Eugène with his own  Mameluke manservant, no doubt imitating his step-father Napoleon, so thought it would be a good use of this figure, which I had in my spares box.

Above:  As mentioned a few weeks ago, it suddenly occurred to me that the Prussian Hussar ADC figure, with its falling feather plume, would make an excellent Hungarian general in campaign dress, so I painted him up as such.

Above:  I then got a little bit carried away and decided to get all my Austrian hussars out of the box…

Above:  While we’re at it, here’s the other Hungarian general, which was done with a standard Austrian Hussar officer figure.

Above:  And so to the Cossacks…  These are absolutely magnificent figures!  I’ve lost count of how many pose and dress variations there are within the range; there are eleven different figures here (plus officer) and that’s by no means all of the variants!  However, the posing (and the softer metal used by Eureka compared to the harder metal formerly used when production was here in Wales) means that the cast lances wouldn’t last five minutes in my clumsy hands.  So for the first time ever, I decided to replace all the lances in the unit with steel spears.  These are 50mm spears from North Star, cut down to 35mm (however, North Star have now stopped selling these).

Above:  After much drilling, gluing and swearing, I finally re-speared the Cossacks.  Only another 48 to do… 🙁

Above:  The Cossacks mounted on their ponies and awaiting paint.

Above:  The finished Cossack Pulk, plus Hetman Platov (on the white horse, waving a mace).

Above:  I decided to do these as Don Cossacks; like most Cossack hosts, the Don Cossacks wore a fairly bright blue uniform (with varying degrees of uniformity).

Above:  I could also have painted them in various shades of ‘civvy’, but decided to go with a fairly uniform look.

Above:  The distinguishing facing colour of the Don Cossacks was red (with red lances), though period prints and paintings show this to be worn fairly sporadically.  Trouser-stripes seem to have been fairly universal and busby-bags and cap-bands were generally in the facing colour.  I’ve given the tunics of this mob a random selection of red collars and/or cuffs, or just piping or nothing at all.

Above:  Some figures have full shabraques, so I’ve given those a red edging – silver for the officer (Cossack shabraques also had red diagonal stripes across the corners).  There is a very nice selection of random headgear on these chaps; from full-dress busbies with cords and bags (plumed in the case of the officer), plain busbies, tall floppy cloth caps and a sort of ‘false busby’ (i.e. a stovepipe shako with cords and ‘bag’ – seen on the left-hand figure above).

Above:  I found some Don Cossack flags on line and printed them off (I’m lucky enough to have my own laser-printer).  However, I’m not really happy with the quality of this one, so I’ll have a search for some higher-resolution flags and replace this at some stage.

I should add that in Napoleon’s Battles game terms there should be four cavalry figures per base, but the posing of these figures makes that absolutely impossible.  In any case, I like the ‘ragged swarm’ look for Cossacks.  So I put three figures on each base, but in game terms count them as four figures.  It also saves me cash! 🙂

Anyway, that’s it for now!

Posted in 15mm Figures, Napoleon's Battles (Rules), Napoleonic Austrian Army, Napoleonic French Army, Napoleonic Minor States, Napoleonic Russian Army, Napoleonic Wars, Painted Units | 11 Comments

Churchill Tanks in NW Europe 1944-45 (Part 2)

‘C’ Squadron, 9 RTR, 31st Tank Brigade, Normandy 1944

As if the lockdown weren’t already tedious enough, here I am again with the second part of my Churchill tank waffle!  And there was much rejoicing.  Yay.  If you’re still here, this time I’m looking in a bit more detail at organisations and vehicle markings.

As discussed in Part 1, there were three Tank Brigades in 21st Army Group (i.e. NW Europe from 1944-1945 – Normandy to Germany); the 31st Tank Brigade, 34th Tank Brigade and 6th Guards Tank Brigade.  Theoretically distinct from Armoured Brigades, the Tank Brigades were equipped with ‘Infantry Tanks‘, which were thickly-armoured and designed to provide close support to infantry in the assault over difficult terrain.  By 1944 this role was filled exclusively by the Churchill series (a.k.a. Infantry Tank Mk IV).  Armoured Brigades by contrast, were meant to be massed in Armoured Divisions and filled with ‘Cruiser Tanks‘ (which by 1944 meant the Cromwell series), designed to exploit the gaps in enemy lines and flow through en masse to exploit the enemy’s vulnerable rear.

In reality, the production of both Churchill and Cromwell tanks fell far short of the numbers required.  Only two Armoured Brigades were equipped with Cromwell (22nd Armoured Brigade & 1st Czechoslovak Armoured Brigade) and only five Tank Brigades (the 6th Guards, 31st & 34th in NW Europe and the 21st and 25th in Italy) were equipped with Churchill.  The 1st Armoured Engineer Brigade were also equipped with a Churchill variant, the AVRE.

The remaining 25 (or thereabouts) Tank & Armoured Brigades under Commonwealth command worldwide were equipped with American Sherman Medium Tanks (except for two Tank Brigades in Burma, still equipped with Lee/Grant Medium Tanks).  The Sherman had much the same firepower as the Cromwell and Churchill, though had the potential to be upgraded to ‘Firefly‘ standard with the superb 17pdr gun.  However, like the Cromwell, it had mediocre armour-protection.  In terms of mobility the Sherman had superb mechanical reliability, though was slower than Cromwell and a lot faster than Churchill.  Nevertheless, the stoic Churchill could go places that other types simply could not (as amply demonstrated in the Battle of the Reichswald).

A pair of Churchill Mk VIIs belonging to 107 RAC push through the Reichswald mud, 1945

Five independent Brigades in 21st Army Group (2nd Canadian, 4th, 8th, 27th and 33rd Armoured Brigades) were equipped with Sherman and were therefore designated as Armoured Brigades, even though they were there to provide close infantry support and do the exact same job as the Tank Brigades…  The Armoured Brigades assigned to Armoured Divisions also often found themselves employed in the infantry support role…  It’s therefore safe to say that the doctrinal lines between ‘Tank’ and ‘Armoured’ Brigades became extremely blurred in the later half of the war.

Here’s a basic organisational diagram for a Tank Brigade (though I’ve only included the ‘teeth’).  Note that they would never fight as a unified brigade, but instead existed as a ‘holding formation’, allocating individual Regiments and Squadrons (sometimes as little as a Half-Squadron) to support infantry formations.  There was therefore no organic Motor Infantry, Field Artillery, etc.:

Notes on Tank Brigade Organisation

(a)  The 31st Tank Brigade differed slightly from this organisation, in that it had only two ‘normal’ Tank Regiments.  The third regiment was equipped with Crocodiles and operated on a semi-independent basis.  In September 1944 the brigade was reorganized as two Crocodile Regiments and in November 1944 was brought back up to full strength with a third Crocodile Regiment.

(b)  Command Tanks could be Churchills of any 6pdr or 75mm-armed type, but were increasingly upgraded to Mk VII. 34th Tank Brigade arrived in Normandy with 24x Mk VIIs, all of which were allocated to Regt, Sqn and (some) Troop Commanders.  In Crocodile-equipped Squadrons, Sqn HQ tanks tended to be Mk IV (75mm) or Mk VI.

(c)  OP Tanks were mainly Churchill Mk III or Mk IV.  They were armed with a 6pdr or 75mm gun and had an extra radio for the use of an attached FOO.

(d)  The Intercom Troop (sometimes known as the Liaison Troop) was equipped with Humber Scout Cars.  These would be embedded with neighbouring unit HQs, in order to provide a direct radio link and liaison officer.

(e)  Recce Troops were very large – 11x Stuart Light Tanks and almost the size of a Squadron in their own right and often referred to as the ‘Recce Squadron’ in many accounts.  The Recce Troops of 31st & 34th Tank Brigades were equipped with Stuart Mk III Light Tanks (M3A1), while 6th Guards Tank Brigade had Stuart Mk V (M3A3) and Mk VI (M5).  Some of these were ‘jalopied’ as the campaign went on. Details are difficult to obtain, but a typical pattern was to retain one turreted Stuart in each ‘Patrol’ of three (this was the system used by 7th Armoured Division).

(f)  Regimental Anti-Aircraft (AA) Troops were equipped with Crusader AA Mk II Tanks, armed with twin 20mm Polsten Guns.  However, the AA Troops were disbanded during the Normandy Campaign.  Nevertheless, some regiments retained one or two Crusader AA Tanks as part of the HQ Troop.

(g)  Close Support (CS) Tanks were all Churchill Mk V.

(h)  Two tanks in each Troop were typically armed with 75mm guns (Churchill Mk III*, Mk IV (75mm) or Mk VI, with possibly a Mk VII for some lucky Troop Commanders).  The third tank was armed with a 6pdr (Mk III or Mk IV).  There is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that some units of 34th Tank Brigade managed to retain enough 6pdr tanks to deploy to Normandy with the ratio reversed – 1x 75mm to 2x 6pdr.  However, heavy combat losses during Operation GREENLINE and the Battle of Grimbosq meant that the ratio soon settled out to the normal ratio and this is reflected in their 1st December 1944 strength return.

A Churchill Mk IV OP of 9 RTR’s HQ Sqn, together with a Humber Scout Car of the Intercom Troop.

31st Tank Brigade

The badge of the 31st Tank Brigade was a green ‘diablo’ (i.e. the up-ended bow-tie symbol shown above). Some units (such as 33rd Armoured Brigade, which had a green and black diablo sign) would paint a thin white line around the diablo to make it stand out against the olive drab, but 31st Tank Brigade do not appear to have done this. With their transfer to 79th Armoured Division in September 1944 they adopted the triangular Bull’s Head badge of that division (above), though some crews appear to have painted the green diablo on their tanks in addition to the Bull.

A Churchill Mk IV (75mm) or Mk VI of 7 RTR in Normandy (note the ‘991’ serial)

A Crocodile of 7 RTR after their incorporation into 79th Armoured Division.

The white diagonal slash through the Arm-of-Service sign, going from top-left to bottom-right indicates Army Group Troops (i.e. units and formations reporting directly to an Army Group Headquarters, in this case 21st Army Group).  The observant will have noticed that I painted mine wrong – from top-right to bottom-left, which actually indicates Lines-of-Communication Troops.  That SHOULD have taught me to stop relying on my faulty memory, but articles on this blog clearly demonstrate that I have not learned my lesson…

* In September 1944, 9 RTR transferred to 34th Tank Brigade and was replaced in November 1944 by 1st Battalion, Fife & Forfar Yeomanry (1 F&FY), who adopted the markings formerly carried by 9 RTR.  Thankfully, they slotted into the same seniority slot, so 7 RTR and 141 RAC did not have to repaint their markings to make way for 1 F&FY.

A Crocodile of 141 RAC supporting US troops at Brest, September 1944.  This photo gives an excellent indication of the remarkable range of the Crocodile’s flame-projector (roughly 200 yards).

34th Tank Brigade

The white bar beneath the Arm-of-Service sign indicates Army Troops (i.e. units reporting directly to an Army HQ, in this case British 2nd Army.  A white bar above the AoS sign would indicate Corps Troops.

The vehicles of 34th Tank Brigade were painted with both the ‘mailed fist and mace’ badge of the brigade and with the shield of 2nd Army.

* In September 1944, 9 RTR transferred from 31st Tank Brigade to 34th Tank Brigade, replacing 153 RAC.  9 RTR now became the senior regiment in the brigade and therefore took the markings previously carried by 107 RAC (156 serial with red squadron signs).  107 RAC and 147 RAC were bumped down the pecking-order and similarly had to repaint their markings.

To explain the concept of ‘seniority’, regiments on parade line up in order of seniority and the same applies to brigade markings, as shown on this list (senior at the top, junior at the bottom):

1. Dragoon Guards (seniority by number)
2. Cavalry of the Line (Hussars, Dragoons and Lancers – seniority by number)
3. Regular RTR Regiments (1-12 RTR – seniority by number)
4. Yeomanry Regiments (i.e. Territorial Cavalry Regiments – seniority by date of formation)
5. Territorial RTR Regiments (40-51 RTR – seniority by number)
6. RAC Regiments (infantry battalions converted to armour – seniority by number)
7. Indian Cavalry Regiments (seniority by number)

Where the Foot Guards Battalions converted to armour fitted into all this is anyone’s guess, but thankfully they were never brigaded with anyone else, so seniority was as per the Foot Guards:

1. Grenadier Guards
2. Coldstream Guards
3. Scots Guards
4. Irish Guards
5. Welsh Guards

A column of Churchills of various marks in Normandy, being led by the No.7 Troop Leader’s Mk VII of ‘B’ Sqn, 147 RAC. Note the ‘157’ serial on the lower hull and the Troop number helpfully painted within the ‘B’ Sqn square on the canvas muzzle-cover.

6th Guards Tank Brigade

The Foot Guards had various unique, quirky and non-standard designations for companies and squadrons.  The 4th Grenadiers and 4th Coldstreamers each numbered their squadrons 1, 2 & 3, while the 3rd Scots opted for the rather bizarre ‘Right Flank’, ‘Left Flank’ and ‘S’ Squadrons.  This led to some strange conversations with officers from other regiments, who were easily (and understandably) baffled by statements such as “Right Flank Squadron is over there, on the left flank.”

A Churchill Mk IV of 3rd Scots Guards in Normandy (note the ‘154’ serial).

A Churchill Mk IV (75mm) or Mk VI of 4th Grenadier Guards (‘152’ serial) during the Winter of 1944/45.

A Churchill Mk III, IV, V or VI of 6th Guards Tank Brigade carrying US Paratroops of the 17th Airborne Division after crossing the Rhine in 1945.

Sometime shortly after the end of the Normandy Campaign, all independent Armoured Brigades and Tank Brigades were ordered to adopt the standard marking scheme shown here, which was already in use by the Armoured Brigades of Armoured Divisions.  However, this order was only sporadically obeyed.  There is photographic evidence to show that 6th Guards Tank Brigade obeyed the order, though kept the white ‘Army Troops’ bar beneath the sign.  I don’t know if 34th Tank Brigade ever obeyed the order.

31st Tank Brigade by that stage belonged to 79th Armoured Division and were no longer independent.  In any case, the 1st Armoured Brigade (Sherman Crabs) was already using this scheme within 79th Armoured Division.  31st Tank Brigade therefore kept their old markings, even though the diagonal stripe indicated Army Group Troops, which they had ceased to be since joining an Armoured Division.

A Churchill Mk IV of 3rd Scots Guards in 1945, displaying the new ’53’ serial (with white ‘Army Troops’ bar).

The Troop number was commonly painted inside the geometric squadron sign and was usually painted in the same colour.  White was also sometimes used.  Troop numbers were sequential through the regiment, so ‘A’ Sqn had 1-5, ‘B’ Sqn had 6-10 and ‘C’ Sqn had 11-15.  Sqn HQs typically used ‘HQ’.  Regt HQ tanks did not normally have anything within their diamond symbol, though there were unit exceptions (I’ve not seen anything specific for Churchill units).

Tanks within each troop were further differentiated by a callsign.  The Troop Commander would simply be identified by the troop number, while his two subordinate tanks would add the suffixes ‘A’ and ‘B’.  These suffixes were sometimes painted alongside the troop number within the squadron sign, but this was not common.  Callsigns were sometimes painted on the turret rear or on a removable plate attached to the turret rear.

Squadron signs were commonly in-filled with black while training in the UK, but this was rarely seen in NW Europe.

* This example was seen on a Churchill Mk III* of ‘B’ Sqn, 153 RAC in Normandy.

Wargaming Representation

In game terms, as a player of Battlefront: WWII, all my armies are organised at a ratio of 1:2 or 1:3.  A Churchill Squadron of 19 tanks therefore boils down to 7 models – five models each represent a Troop of three tanks and two models each represent a pair of tanks in the SHQ, like so:

1x Churchill Mk III*/IV/VI 75mm Command Tank
1x Churchill Mk V 95mm Close Support Tank
3x Churchill Mk III*/IV/VI 75mm Tanks*
2x Churchill Mk III/IV 6pdr Tanks*

* Alternatively, for 34th Tank Brigade in Normandy, the ratio of 75mm to 6pdr tanks could be reversed.

‘C’ Sqn 9 RTR, 31st Tank Brigade, before the arrival of Mk VII on 12th July 1944.

Following the introduction of Mk VII tanks, the squadron looks like this:

1x Churchill Mk VII Command Tank
1x Churchill Mk V 95mm Close Support Tank
1x Churchill Mk VII Tank
2x Churchill Mk III*/IV/VI 75mm Tanks
2x Churchill Mk III/IV 6pdr Tanks

‘C’ Sqn 9 RTR, 31st Tank Brigade, with Churchill Mk VII included

If you prefer to use a blanket 1:2 ratio, you could add another two tanks.

Models & Painting

All the Churchill models shown above are Flames of War/Battlefront Miniatures models, painted by me.  The Humber Scout Car is by Peter Pig.

All Churchills of the period were painted all-over in Standard Camouflage Colour (SCC) 15 Olive Drab.  You can find recipes for EXACT matches of this shade online and some paint-manufacturers are now producing perfectly-hued paint, but I’m a wargamer, not a modeller (I’m also a lover, not a fighter; which is ironic, as she doesn’t ‘alf put up a struggle…), so I find standard Humbrols to be a good enough match for me.

I start with a thin black undercoat, then paint the tank all over in Humbrol 75 Bronze Green.  I then do a second coat with Humbrol 159 Khaki Drab, leaving some Bronze Green in the deeper shadows.  I tend to find that the Bronze Green base deepens the final colour.  I then paint on the markings and do a final dry-brush with Humbrol 72 Khaki Drill.

Anyway, that’s it for now.  I mentioned AVREs earlier, so I might talk about those next time…

Posted in 15mm Figures, Battlefront: WW2, Painted Units, World War 2, World War 2 - British Commonwealth Armies, World War 2 - Netherlands & Germany Campaign 1944-45, World War 2 - Normandy 1944 | 3 Comments