Sunday, 15 September 2013

Normandy numbers (1)

Pass the ammunition

One of the subjects I continually return to is Normandy. Not just D-Day but the campaign through to the liberation of Paris. It seems to me that the battle for the history of the campaign is as bitter as the actual fighting. If we leave aside the French and Germans (which we really shouldn't), we have an on going three way battle between the Americans, British and Canadians about who did what, how good they were (or not) and how bad Monty was.

My motto is "when the going gets tough the tough get the numbers and do the hard yards". There is a lot of good data about Normandy and our understanding of the campaign will be enhanced (even if the arguments are not resolved) by its full and sensible use.

I have recently been re-reading Max Hastings' book "Overlord" (Pan 1984). Appendix 5 contains "Some British Administrative Statistics" which I assume are from 21 Army Group. The data is familiar to me but I can't pin down the precise source. Probably not the best place to start a crusade for fact based history but certainly it is a first step. If anyone knows where this data originally came from, please let me know.

The data is for the period 12 June 1944 onwards. It gives rounds per month by gun type and rounds per gun per day. I have analysed this data and drawn up some graphs.

This first graph shows the rounds used per month. June numbers are smaller because the data is from 12th only. However, what started my interest is the large amount of mortar ammunition used in June. I assume because the artillery build-up, over the beaches, took time.

To take a closer look at the numbers I analysed the percentage contributions from each gun type. Mortar rounds are nearly 30% of total ammo use in June.

I then developed some "effective fire" values using some very helpful data I found at:
The effective fire values are based on the square root of the weight (in kgs) of the HE content of the shells. This shows, for a given weapon type, the relative effectiveness of its fire. Example values are 0.7 for a 3" mortar, 0.9 for a 25-pdr, 2.3 for a 5.5" gun and 3.6 for a 7.2" gun.

What I find really interesting about this data is the weight of fire contributed throughout the campaign by a fairly small number of medium and heavy guns (~450 guns out of some 2,500 total including mortars) but also the contribution made by divisional 3" and 4.2" mortars.

Time to find some data on American ammunition usage.....

Serious wargame planning

that looks like playing with toys....

At least that's what my wife says. Anyway, work being very tough at the moment I have had little time to think, let alone progress any of my projects. So I took a little time out yesterday to ponder the battle board.

This is not yet complete but I have managed to do some more painting and its coming along nicely. Another couple of goes and all of the basic colours will be complete. I then need to think about whether I outline the hexes and whether I spay with varnish. Both could quite easily send me back to the drawing board.

First, I used some of my A&A miniatures (the older style 12-15mm size). They fit quite nicely into the hexes and overall I think look quite good. The board with two Panthers about to hold off a couple of Shermans and an M24 but with an airstrike coming in.

Here comes the Tempest, I believe the term is dakka dakka dakka...woosh bang might be a bit childish!

Close-up of a surprisingly nice Panther.

I'm seriously considering whether I can use Norm Smith's Into Battle rules using the minis and this hex grid.

Next up is to deploy the 6mm ACW armies. With a river/sea board edge this might be Shiloh. Rebs converging on the Yankees.

I quite like the visuals, it looks rather neat but a couple of things occur to me. First, the base colours are darker than the board (i.e. the darker green which will be the colour for all full land hexes). Second, its hard to tell the sides apart from a normal distance from the board. I may need to colour code the bases. I'm still planning to use Neil Thomas' 19th century rules for this in a heavily modified format.

I thoroughly enjoyed playing around, sorry, seriously planning. I was therefore delighted to see Mr P Aspic has also been blogging about his battle board. I was interested to learn that his hexes are 7" across. Mine are just short of 54mm side to side. Whilst I would love to have a bigger battle board this size has been scientifically selected. It will allow me to play any of the Command and Colours games, the hex grid sizes for which vary slightly. I therefore have a gully between each hex to allow for size differences. I also have a very SECRET plan for the board which will make use of the gaps between the hexes, although this is on the back of an envelope for now.

Saturday, 7 September 2013


A trip down memory lane...

Instead of doing something more important, this morning I spent some time reading through Don's War Games. Neither of my two copies are originals, both were picked up years later second hand, my first copy being long lost. One is a 1972 reprint and the other a reprint from 1976 which looks like this. 

On reading it again I was really impressed with the book. In addition to the usual introductory material (like how to make your own lead soldiers!) the book has four sets of rules:
  • Ancients by Tony Bath
  • Horse and Musket (ACW) by Don
  • Modern Warfare by Lionel Tarr
  • Simplified Modern Warfare by Don
Each set of rules is accompanied by a description of a battle using the rules and a set of photographs showing how the games work. Quite frankly, these rules look quite good. They are straightforward, don't require a big table (two of the three games described are on 6' by 3' tables) and still look fun. The Tarr rules are a lot more complex and really need a bit more description about how to use them (number of men in a unit?) but they have a really interesting "strike point" mechanism for all fire other than small arms.

As well as being typically 1970s in style the dust jacket carries some great quotes from reviews:

"Unusual, interesting and entertaining" Yorkshire Evening Post
"Excellent layouts for historic battles" Daily Telegraph

It also carries an advert for Advanced War Games:

"A fascinating book for the war-games experts who can now regard their hobby almost as science" Manchester Evening News

Ironic given that Don's view of wargaming is that it is a pastime not a pseudo science!

My copy of Advanced War Games is a 1970 reprint picked up second hand and it looks like this:

It has some great content ranging from firing sticks and paper computers to something called the "Bulgin melee system" which sounds like a Common Agricultural Policy arrangement for peas, beans and lupins. Inevitably, complexity creeps in along with a lot of simply mad ideas. At this stage I was old enough to go off on my own adolescent complexity kick. I invested in the London Wargames Section Napoleonic rules (pink paper in a curly plastic binder with a picture of a gun on the front?) and had to learn about "impetus" whatever that was!

One last stop in memory lane is Solo Wargaming:

Mine used to look like this, a very nice hardback with great illustrations and suggestions about using matchboxes for hidden movement. Unfortunately I sold mine (for not much) to a second hand book shop in the early 1980s. I immediately regretted it but I haven't yet found the heart to buy one of John Curry's recent reprints. Well, one day maybe.

Time to get on with real life but perhaps a nice cup of tea first and some reminiscences about Airfix Combat Group soldiers and Napoleonic French Artillery.......and maybe Advanced Wargaming for bedtime reading!


Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The Don

The end of an era.....

Donald Featherstone (left) with Peter Gilder in the days before the invention of colour
I learn today that Donald Featherstone has passed away. Although I have never meet him, spoken with him or corresponded with him, he has been ever present in my life through his books. I am genuinely saddened by his death and also by the feeling that this really is the end of an era. Will we have another 100 years of wargaming? Who knows but I hope we do and also that Don will live on wherever games are played with toy soldiers.


Monday, 2 September 2013

More computer wargames

Oh yes, there are more.....

After my last rather self congratulatory post, Small General whipped me again. And that was only the Average Joe AI. Hey ho.

Following my adventures with Android I have now started looking at iOS games. This is because we now have an iPad in the family and if I am lucky I will get half a chance to use it, no doubt strictly limited to special occasions. In anticipation of this I have done a quick and very partial survey of available historical games and those upcoming (or at least promised) that appeal to me.

Available now

Battle of the Bulge: Shenandoah Studios launched this last year via Kickstarter. It looks good!

This was designed by John Butterfield and is a real turn-based traditional wargame. The "lite" version (one scenario) is free and the full version if £6.99. Its on my list!


Wars and Battles: This looks great. A multiplatform game system produced by a French company with plenty of French academic and military involvement in the design. This series will cover a range of operational battles including Normandy, Kharkov, Gettysburg etc. Although their Kickstarter project  recently failed, this still looks set to go ahead. At $10 a pop for each "game" and one battle being issued every two months starting in December 2013, this looks really promising. Also, if you check out the Press Area on the website you will find a free card model of a 1/72 Cromwell to build.

Tank on Tank: This is the Lock n Load game being converted to iOS by Playdek. Its in the works for this year so lets see what happens. LnL were recently bought out so I'm not sure what their plans will be.

Manoeuvre: The GMT introductory Napoleonic game which uses cards and squares. One of my favourite games. Even better as an iOS app. This is somewhere in the works with no timescale.

Commands and Colours: Another of my favourite game series. This is GMT in collaboration with Playdek so may cover one or both of Ancients and/or Napoleonics. Possibly not far off but no dates specified.

Games not yet on my list (but I remain to be converted)

I have been tempted by Slitherine's Battle Academy and also by Victory Point Games' Levee en Masse.

Looking over Slitherine's site, Battle Academy is 3D WWII, turn-based and has lots of combat noises. There are also lots of scenarios and campaigns. I may have been confusing this with a real time strategy game so I need to give this some further thought.. The full version is £13.99 but there is a "lite" version for free. Aaargh! I may have just convinced myself.

Levee en Masse is the French Revolution instalment in the VPG States of Siege system. I think SoS is quite interesting. However, one reviewer described this as a history game rather than a wargame so on that basis I may leave this one on the back burner for a while.

Human v AI update

I can't believe it, I've just lost again in 5 rounds to the AI....

Android wargames?

Yes Captain, they do have Android wargames and they are good!

Over the summer I have been playing a couple of games on my phone.

Barbarossa Android is an adaptation of a paper game, Barbarossa Solitaire, addressing the whole of the eastern front. You play as the Germans on a point to point map. This is published by DK Simulations, along with a number of other paper and Android games.

The reason I like this game is that I can play the whole Great Patriotic War (GPW), as the Germans, in a few minutes. The Android version is not as rich as the paper game but provides an enjoyable gaming experience. The learning points are interesting, the Germans must make hay in 1941. If not they will run out of steam and be punished by Soviet counterattacks. Also, as soon as the Germans move into the Soviet hinterland their forces attenuate and they are open to dangerous attacks by the Soviets. Some of the play is not historical but, all in all, a nice little game.

Where I really have been spending my time though is Small General by VR Designs. A demo version is available for free but the full version is only a few pounds.

As you can see from the pictures, this is a hex and counter game with units being rated for attack and defence. There is good unit differentiation (artillery for example have a high attack value but reduced effectiveness against mechanised units and a zero defence value). Stacking is allowed but units attack and defend individually. Units can have their strength reduced by combat, can be shocked, panicked or disrupted and can suffer from being out of supply. All of these states are factored into a very simple combat engine as shown above.

There are no zones of control so the fighting is fluid but there are restrictions on how far you can penetrate the opposition's front line.

There are small scenarios, large ones and a campaign game. Victory depends on occupying towns. These can be tough nuts to crack so putting them out of supply can help.

I have to admit that when I first got this game I found it very hard to get used to. I was continually whipped by the AI even on the simplest game (Mano a Mano, a symmetrical force game on a very small map 4 by six hexes). Eventually I read the manual, understood the combat engine and turned off the fog of war. I can now win the introductory game 75% of the time (phew!).

This is a really good game and is even better on the odd occasion when I am allowed to use a tablet to play it on. The combat engine is great and I have even considered applying it to a paper game but eventually decided that I would have to simplify it too much to do so.

So, I have now bought the full version of the game, like Barbarossa Solitaire, a very cheap purchase and, even better, have also bought Small General Eastern Front, a corps level game of the GPW.

What I find remarkable is that having spent my life using paper games or miniatures and having resisted real time games as well as arcade type games I have now found a real wargaming alternative. Fantastic.