‘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…

This entry was posted in 15mm Figures, Battlefront: First Echelon, Battlefront: WW2, Cold War, Cold War - NATO Armies, Painted Units. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to ‘Active Edge’: Building a Cold War BAOR Battlegroup

  1. DB says:

    Excellent work as usual!
    Our LI sections had two GPMGs in 1985-87.

    • jemima_fawr says:

      Cheers Dave!

      Two GPMGs is interesting. Was that still with SLR? Or was that after the switch to L85 and in addition to a pair of L86? TO&Es also went out of the window in wartime. MM was telling me that 41 RM Cdo went to the Falklands with at least double the usual number of GPMGs, PLUS LMGs. Then, before the yomp across the Falklands, they ditched CG 84 altogether and carried more MILAN firing-posts instead.

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