Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Making Ford F30s for the LRDG – Part One: The Ford F30

Replica LRDG Ford F30

For some time now I’ve been playing some of the desert raiding scenarios, but as until now I have not owned an LRDG force - I’ve been the one defending with the Italians. Not of course that that is necessarily a bad thing. Although the Italians don’t exactly have a reputation as the Second World War’s finest fighting force and they don’t have the best list of toys they’re not as bad as you might think in Flames of War. You do get are a lot of them, and they are a good match for the LRDG, particularly if you’re using the mid-war Bersagliere list.

That said, at last I have been putting things right and starting to get my own LRDG force up and running. And just to be different, I’ve decided to equip part of that force with Ford F30 trucks to support the Chevrolets.

Unfortunately neither Battlefront nor anyone else that I am aware of makes a 15mm model of the LRDG Ford F30. And that means an excuse to do some scratch-building. I’ll describe all that in another post, but before I do, here’s a bit of background.

The LRDG Ford F30


Before the LRDG was equipped with Chevrolet trucks, it used a wide variety of equipment, and one of the early mainstays of the force was the Ford F30. Despite being eventually replaced by Chevrolets they were much liked by the LRDG for being more robust, less prone to getting flat tyres, and less prone to getting stuck in the sand because they had four-wheel drive (which, astonishingly, the Chevrolets didn’t). They often found themselves in use alongside the Chevrolet trucks and were used during both early and mid-war periods.

“F30” actually applies to pretty much any truck made by Ford (hence the “F”) which is 30 tons in weight (hence the 30). Almost all of these looked like the standard CMP (Canadian Military Pattern) trucks used by the Allies throughout the war. But the LRDG ones were different. Customised to better withstand the rigours of long treks across the desert, the LRDG F30s had a very distinct appearance. They were made lighter by the removal of unnecessary bodywork including the passenger doors, cab roof, windscreen and engine cowling. A new truck bed was added and the suspension was jacked up. Wider tyres were that were more appropriate to soft sand were fitted, and they were equipped with a radiator condenser, sand channels and matting. And of course they were armed to the teeth with machine guns and filled with everything that would be needed for long trips through the desert.

Armament


As with all LRDG vehicles, Ford F30s were equipped with an assortment of machine guns according to the preference of their crew. Alistair Timpson, commander of “G” (Guards) Patrol of the LRDG, September 1941-December 1942 describes the situation in early 1942, when the F30s of G Patrol were in the process of being replaced by the new Chevrolets:

“By now Lewis guns had gone right out of fashion. We liked something with more punch and fire power. A number of .303 Brownings, some Vickers gas-operated machine guns, as well as an odd Spandau, Bren and Breda had been acquired. We also had … water cooled Vickers guns both .303” and 0.5”.”
- extract taken from In Rommel’s Backyard (highly recommended reading).

All of this equipment was available when the Chevrolets were introduced to G Patrol, so your F30 trucks can be armed pretty much in any way you fancy according to what you have spare in your bit box. Battlefront’s LRDG Chevrolet model is supplied with a Bofors gun option, and if you don’t use this on one of the Chevrolets you can quite legitimately fit it to an F30. 


So that’s some background on the LRDG Ford F30. In Part 2 I will describe how you can build a model of it in 15mm for your raiding force.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Assault on Merville

This is a battle report I put together for a Flames of War game run in July as part of the Overlord Campaign run by WWPD.


THE SCENARIO

In the early hours of 6th June 1944, men of the 9th Parachute Battalion of the 6th Airborne Division assaulted a German gun battery near the town of Gonneville-sur-Merville in Normandy. Reconnaissance indicated that the gun battery, positioned about eight miles inland from the sea, mounted four guns of at least 15” size which were capable of firing on Sword Beach. The paras were sent in to silence the guns before the invasion began.

The defences of the Merville Battery were formidable. Four guns set in concrete casemates were installed in an open area surrounded by a ring of minefields and barbed wire. A substantial anti-tank ditch covered the perimeter facing towards the beaches and strategically placed machine-gun nests covered all approaches. The battery was provided with 20mm anti-aircraft guns and was manned by a unit of grenadiers from 352. Infanteriedivision whose force included numerous heavy machine guns. More grenadiers based a short distance away could provide further reinforcements if necessary.

Appreciating the strength of the defensive position, an attack was planned in force. Three platoons of paratroopers with supporting pioneers and heavy weapons were complemented by a unit of glider-borne engineers equipped wth the tools and explosives necessary to destroy the guns.

Colonel Otway’s paratroopers were to land at drop zone “V” in fields just over a mile to the east of the battery.  and rendezvous near the village of Gonneville-sur-Merville, from where they would lauch their assault. Heavy bombing of the battery by RAF Lancasters, to soften up the objective, would prepare the way. A reconnaissance team dropped with the paratroopers would identify the best route to attack. Under cover of darkess, the paratroopers would overwhelm the outlying machine-gun nests and then attack the battery. At the same time, more engineers would arrive by glider, performing a coup de main assault within the battery itself. With surprise on their side, the attackers would quickly overrun the defences and destroy the guns. The position would be held until 07:50 when the paratroopers would withdraw and heavy naval bomardment of the battery would commece immediately prior to the landings at Sword beach.

Allied: 9th Parachute battalion, 6th Airborne Division
HQ C-in-C Otway & 2-in-C
3 platoons Paratroopers (FV)
1 platoon assault paratroops (FV)
1 parachute recon platoon (FV)
1 platoon Para Mortars (FV)
1 platoon para HMGs (FV)

Coup de Main:
1 platoon Airborne RE wth Pioneer supply jeep
1 x Horsa Glider
(approx 1750 points)

Axis: 352. Infanteriedivision
HQ C-in-C & 2-in-C + 2 mortars
2 platoons Grenadiers (CT)
2 platoons HMGs (CT)

Delayed, Scattered Reserves
2 platoons Grenadiers in trucks (CT)
1 platoon 3 x StuG G

Defences
3 x HMG nests
1 x quad 20mm AA flak nest
6 x minefields
6 x barbed wire
6 x trenches
3 x tank traps
(approx 1800pts)

The terrain is shown on the hurriedly-sketched plan below:


The Scenario used the following special rules:

1.       Allies deploy within 16” of their short table edge; Germans muse deploy within the battery perimeter.
2.       There are four objectives – these are the gun casemates that the allies are trying to destroy. To take an objective, an allied stand must start its turn in contact with one of the casemates, and not move, shoot or assault that turn. At the end of the turn, that stand may make a skill test to place charges and destroy the casemate. If they are a pioneer stand, they may re-roll a failure. If they are a pioneer stand with a pioneer supply vehicle within command distance, they may re-roll a second time if necessary.

3.       German reserves are delayed and arrive by road at the end of one of the roads as shown in the terrain plan above.

4.       The allies attack, and the game begins at night. Roll for dawn at the beginning of the German turn 3 as normal.

5.       All defenders begin the game in prepared positions.

6.       There is a preliminary bombardment of the defenders by the RAF (5 to hit, 2+ firepower). Any stands lost do not count towards or against the strength of platoons affected.

7.       Barbed wire, but not minefield, extends across the road into the battery as a gate. Treat this exactly the same as barbed wire.

8.       The game ends at the end of the allied turn 8 (there is no need for a German turn 8!) At this point, determine victory points as follows:

German forces are destroyed before the start of allied turn 8 (and therefore casemates taken and battery suppressed), or all 4 objectives are destroyed - 6:1 Allied victory
3 objectives destroyed – effect of shooting on Sword Beach significantly reduced - 5:2 Allied victory
2 objectives destroyed – guns are able to shoot on Sword Beach but with reduced effect - 4:3 Allied victory
1 objective destroyed – most guns are still able to shoot on Sword Beach - 4:3 Axis victory
No objectives destroyed, but Germans have lost at least two platoons – 5:2 Axis victory
No objectives destroyed, and Germans have lost fewer than two platoons – 6:1 Axis victory

THE GAME

I played against my friend Al on 6th July 2013 (yes, one month late) on a table set up in the garden (it was a really nice day). We played two games, taking each side in turn to see how it went and to test the balance of the scenario.


(Just in case you didn't think we were outside. Note sausages on the barbecue in the background)

AND NOW THE BIT YOU'VE BEEN WAITING FOR: THE ACTUAL BATTLE REPORT

Hauptmann Knallkorper was a troubled man. His annoying subordinate Leutnant Zieselwurst had made an official complaint against him, because he had not recommended his promotion to battery commander yet again. What’s more, the war hadn’t been going very well recently, there was talk about invasion everywhere, even here in Normandy, and to top it all yesterday’s sauerkraut must have been off – even if there hadn’t been an air raid he could hardly have slept, he had spent most of the night in the bathroom.

It was strangely pleasant here, though. Dark and silent now the RAF had departed. He could make out one or two new craters around the battery, and there were some people moving around out there, but little had changed. The men were still manning the trenches, one platoon of HMGs deployed in slit trenches behind the main line covering the gate.  Quiet as usual. A peaceful, clear summer’s night, dry and clear in the moonlight, cooled by a light breeze from the north-east.

“Yes?” He looked up as one of the NCOs approached.

“Sir, it’s Leutnant Ziselwurst”,  the man announced. “Very unfortunate. He’s dead. A stray bomb on the toilet block. He appears to have been the only casualty of the air raid. A direct hit. He wouldn’t have felt anything.”

“Most regrettable”, he responded imprecisely, feigning distress as best he could. Good thing it was still the middle of the night. “Very bad, very bad indeed.”  Ziselwurst must have had the sauerkraut too. Given that, he would definitely have felt something. What a way to die. “But it could have been worse.” It could have been me.

Well, well, he thought, perhaps it isn’t so bad after all. I wonder what the rest of the day has in store?
At the edge of the woods, Colonel Otway, who would lead the main attack by two paratroop platoons through the minefield, checked his watch for the last time. “Right-ho,”, he whispered, signalling his men to advance in the darkness, “Let’s go”.  

Further north, opposite the main gate, at almost exactly the same time, Lieutenant Carruthers lowered his binoculars from his blackened face. “Can’t see a dashed thing,” he muttered beneath his moustache, “Too bally dark.”

The chap from the recce team was making very obvious signs at him. Mouthing something. Pointing at his wrist.  Finally he got the picture. “I say, chaps,” he announced in a low voice. “Chocks away, don’t you know”. And raising his arm, to the relief of almost all his men, who thought he might never give the order, he ushered his platoon and the assault paratroopers forward.

Above them all, at the same moment, silently coasting in the darkness, a Horsa glider loaded with engineers equipped with an excessive quantity of demolition equipment had found the landing zone. “Legs up!” the pilot called. “Brace!” The ground loomed closer, faster, and suddenly arrived as the glider settled perfectly between two of the casemates and scraped to a sudden halt just short of the flak nest. Engineers laden with explosives leaped from the cracked fuselage in preparation for the assault.


The two spearheads of infantry raced in darkness towards the outlying bunkers. Carruthers’ men were the first to reach their target, opening up with stens and grenades and silencing the defenders in moments. Otway’s men had further to go and for the moment found themselves in the open.

Inside the perimeter, the engineers assaulted the flak nest and the HMGs in foxholes beside it. With the nest destroyed, the remaining defenders refused to counterattack and fell back before their attackers. 
Consolidating, the engineers forced the Germans out of their foxholes and took up positions against the three closest casemates, at the same time advancing as far as possible towards the last.

Knallkorper may have been the first to see the glider. A huge shadow had passed over him and for a fraction of a moment he thought one of the bombers that took Ziselwurst had come back to claim him too. Suddenly realising the situation, and seeing the HMGs running for cover, he raised the alert. With remarkable alertness, all the remaining defenders unpinned. The HMGs repositioned themselves to improve their fields of fire, and as the moon came out from behind a cloud and extended visibility, the Germans let them have it. The engineers, concealed by night but otherwise in the open, took heavy casualties but morale was strong, and they remained in position to set charges on three of the casemates.

The paras pressed on with their attack Otway’s force, running through fire from the southern bunker, overwhelmed its defenders and moved towards a position at the perimeter less well defended than the closest point where enemy HMGs were positioned in strength. By this time Carruthers was at the gate, breaking down the barbed wire, but was delaying his assault so that his mortars and machine guns could move into position to give support.

Meanwhile, within the perimeter the engineers successfully set demolition charges on three casemates. As they exploded, the Germans counterattacked. In a hail of bullets, all the engineers died except for their platoon commander who, seeing a job well done and deciding the better part of valour, sensibly surrendered.
Although three of the guns had been destroyed, the Germans had no intention of giving up the last without a fight. Moving back to the trenches, and setting up HMGs to cover the gate, they put down a withering fire upon the paras, whose numbers were slowly but inexorably decreasing. As the heavy weapons dug themselves into position, and Otway’s paras approached the wire, the paras returned fire, though to little effect.


And then the sun rose.

Suddenly all of Knallkorper’s force could see the enemy, most of whom were now in the open. A hail of bullets descended. One of Otway’s platoons was destroyed by overwhelming HMG fire, and Carruthers’ assault troops suffered similarly. The tide seemed to have turned, and the chances of this small attacking force now breaking through the perimeter seemed slim. But it was worth a try. With mortars dropping a heavy smokescreen over the gate, and para HMGs giving the Germans their own back, the defenders were pinned and Carruthers’ force assaulted through the gate. Defensive fire was heavy, but although taking losses the paras were not forced back and for a moment they thought they might break through. But an effective counterattack by the defenders meant it was not to be, and they fell back in disarray.

As Otway saw his force retreating from the gate, he heard the sound of vehicles as two platoons of German reinforcements arrived from the north road. He then knew that the paras had achieved all that it might, and despite not taking all the casemates, the troops landing on Sword Beach would have less to fear thanks to this morning’s work. With a wry smile, he gave the signal for his scattered force to disperse into the countryside, their job done.

Despite what he had thought an optimistic start, the morning had not turned out so well for Knallkorper. His troops may have seen off the enemy, but three of his four guns were destroyed and his battery’s effectiveness significantly reduced. He wasn’t going to be stopping any invasions today. But someone was going to have to take the blame, and he really didn’t fancy spending Christmas 1944 on the Russian Front. I wonder. Perhaps he could give Ziselwurst that promotion after all …


Result: 5:2 Allied Victory