Tuesday, 21 October 2014

More AK 47 in Angola

Cuban Intervention Halts South African Invasion

The Guardian 26 July 1985

Sources in Luanda claim an invasion of Angola's southern Cuando Cubango province by South African forces has been halted after fierce fighting.

'For several weeks the apartheid regime has been sending tanks and mechanised troops over the border in support of CIA backed UNITA terrorists who are challenging the authority of the legitimate MPLA led Government of Angola,' said a spokesman in Havana.

'Cuban soldiers have assisted their Angolan comrades to fight off this assault, and after a series of battles have successfully expelled the South Africans from Angolan territory' he said.

'The South Africans have suffered heavy losses, particularly in their armoured formations, whilst Cuban and Angolan casualties have been minimal,' he said.

Sources closer to the front line in Angola's southern town of Menongue report heavy military traffic, all heading south, over the past week. 

If Havana has committed combat troops this could represent a major escalation of the so called 'border war' that has dragged on in this region for the best part of a decade since Angolan independence in 1975. Since the mid seventies, Cuban forces have largely been confined to garrison duties as well as providing training and logistical support for the MPLA Government forces. Most of the actual fighting in Angola has been between the western and South African backed UNITA rebels and the MPLA forces. Additionally, Pretoria has been fighting a low intensity war along the Namibian - Angolan border with SWAPO guerrillas who use bases in Angola for their efforts to destabilise South African occupied Namibia.

Washington alleges that East German and Soviet pilots and aviation technicians have recently been deployed in Angola. If true, this is further evidence that that Moscow is escalating a proxy war in southern Africa.

Cuban tanks take the objective - a destroyed MPLA T-34 marks the crest of the hill

 Cuban Motor Rifle troops seize the railhead - UNITA militia take cover in the background

A murderous little battle for a territorial objective - SADF mechanised infantry fight off  enemy T-34s, BTR 60s and infantry

In other words we've played three more games using the original AK 47 Rules. This has really given us fresh enthusiasm. Whether this will manifest itself in renewed interest sufficient to breath more life into these blog posts we'll see. When I started this blog the narrative was a much bigger part of things - we'll see...

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Tank Battles on Namibian - Angolan Border

The Guardian 19/8/1985: 

Reports of heavy fighting between South African forces and Angolan troops on the Namibian border indicate that the South African army is under pressure and taking heavy casualties.

Correspondents in Luanda and Havana allege that South African mechanised columns crossed the border a month ago as Pretoria launched a major offensive against SWAPO guerrillas operating in northern Namibia.

'There are a number of refugee camps in southern Angola and the South Africans have bombed these as they've retaliated against several successful operations by SWAPO in occupied Namibia,' said sources in Havana.

'Cuban soldiers, carrying out their international duty in support of our Angolan and Namibian comrades, have provided assistance to the anti-fascist fighters and have been victorious every battle. We have also provided air defence forces to strike back at the aggressive bombing of unarmed refugees and civilians'

Sources in Warsaw released this aerial photograph of South African armour operating in Southern Angola

Cuban armour and infantry fighting in a built up area, In the centre of the picture there are several destroyed South African armoured fighting vehicles.

We're having lots of fun with the classic AK47 ruleset. Three games in and some of the subtleties are becoming apparent, particularly around where to concentrate one's efforts given the fog of war factor regarding objectives i.e. the defender knows what features the attacker is aiming for but he doesn't know their relative worth (to the attacker). Allied with alternate unit activation, randomly determined movement distances and simultaneous exchanges of fire this is providing us with some very enjoyable weekend afternoons.

Monday, 15 September 2014

AK-47 Original

Yesterday we tried out the original AK47 Rules for the first time. Peter Pig have released these as a pdf and I bought a set for the princely sum of GBP10.00. 

After a quick read through I found myself asking why they ever bothered writing a second edition? The rules are really good - simple, and fun to play - definitely a game rather than a simulation, but who cares?

One nice touch is the pdf is personalised with a neat little cross reference to Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket: 'this copy of AK47 belongs to John, there are many like it but this one is his'.

There are enough web accessible modifications for anyone who wants more complexity or chrome to add as they see fit, even extending the rules to other periods like the Russian and Spanish Civil Wars and World War II. There is even a Cold War Central Front variant that looks very intriguing.

Our game pitched the Cubans and SWAPO against the South African and Namibians in northern Namibia in the mid '80s. The background was a major SWAPO incursion had attracted a lot of attention from local forces and their South African backers and the Angolans and Cubans had got  in involved in a fit of internationalist solidarity.

 As a result of the political flowchart being played out in the pre-game sequence, the SADF/Namibian forces benefited from increased determination, resulting in their one militia graded unit being regraded to regular, . For their part the two big SWAPO militia graded guerrilla units acquired an HMG apiece. The flowcharts worked well, gave a few laughs and resulted in the SADF/Namibians being on the offensive. Much better than the clunky pre-game in second edition.

Above: the table after The Cuban/SWAPO deployment. Comrade Jeff was terribly unlucky and only started with one - three BTR 60s and six stands of infantry- of his five units on the table. This meant he could only secure one of three objectives. He elected to deploy on the reverse slope of the hill in the top right of the photo; leaving the road junction in the village unsecured and the hill in the top left corner exposed to the South African advance which would begin from the board edge on the left,

Uncharacteristically, SADF Colonel Chris was very cautious, advancing slowly down the centre with three armoured cars and even more slowly towards the village with three Buffels full of troopies. 

In the photos above the South African armour is grinding its way across the board whilst a small unit of Special Forces walk up the hill top left, thereby securing the objective, and lie down in the grass to watch the fun. Comrade Jeff was frantically throwing dice to try and bring on his troops but the commander of those T55s must have failed his map reading course. We know that this part of the word is big and easy to get lost in but this was beyond a joke.

The South African Buffels finally make it to the village about the same time as a unit of friendly Land Rovers and a bunch of local forces infantry arrived from off table. The infantry were short of a truck and were presumably late because half their number (probably the native troops...) had to walk. I'm unsure what excuse the guys in the Land Rovers had...

About the same time a large group of SWAPO guerrillas chose to appear, took one look at the dust cloud heralding the advance of the SADF armoured cars, and promptly ran for the nearest area of thick bush to hide in. Three GaZ jeeps toting heavy machine guns drove on the table at high speed and promptly got stuck into the Land Rovers and the territorials. Clearly their commander had been schooled in the Che Guevara heroic style of leadership. Sadly he and his brave men came to the same sort of sticky end, despite inflicting some casualties on the enemy infantry, for once Chris found his mojo and started using the recoiless rifle on one of the Landies it was all over very quickly

The clock was ticking down rapidly and it was only after the Commissar riding with the Cuban tankies demoted the Lieutenant in charge and grabbed the map and compass that the T55s made an appearance. They were all set to shell the living daylights out of the SADF Kommandos sunning themselves on the hill when darkness fell and hostilities ceased.

By the time we'd totted up the victory points, even after penalising Chris for all sorts of trumped up transgressions (chief among which was him playing cautiously for once), the South Africans could claim a decisive victory. In fact, as the rules put it 'the victor will be writing the history book on this'.

I'm sure we'll be doing this again soon.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Somewhere North of the Border...

Chris and I had a game of DBR on Sunday. It was a 300 pointer on a 3 x 4 foot table - a bit of a practise for the forthcoming Harquebusiers & Hussars gathering that the indefatigable Keith McNelly organises.

Chris played Montrose, leading an army of Scots Royalists against my Covenanters in 1645. The terrain was pre-set but as Chris was the defender he got to choose which side of the table he would deploy on. He wisely chose the table edge with two closed flanks, a wood and a steep hill, leaving me to deploy with an open flank. 

This meant he could do what Montrose and McColla do best - a head on frontal attack (in DBR the fact you're the 'defender' doesn't stop you taking the offensive tactically). I anticipated this and opted to greet his massed warband and fast shot with a line of frame guns and then massed ranks of shot deployed in depth.

In the picture above the Covenant are in the foreground with the frame guns on the left enfilading the McColla's Irish foot as they charge in. A couple of hundred Irish have swung away from the main body to get to close quarters with their tormentors- the attackers they are about to die gloriously in the face of grape shot. To the right the massed Highlanders are advancing on the Covenanter position.

Whilst the Covenant eventually fought Montrose's Highlanders to a standstill,l the Irish Brigade hit the defenders at the boundary between their two commands - McColla himself, accompanied by 200 of his best men led the charge through the Covenanter ranks and fell upon the baggage train. The screams of Covenanter merchants and their wives rent the air and led to a thundering collective nervous breakdown in the ranks of Hodden Grey. 

It was a close run thing - Montrose was only an element from breaking - but victory went to the Scots Royalists....

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Review of 'The Red Effect' Trilogy by Harvey Black

Over the last couple of weeks I've read all three of Harvey Black's books about a Soviet led invasion of West Germany in 1984, titled in sequence: 'The Red Effect; 'The Black Effect' and 'The Blue Effect'.

Readers will remember that back in the late seventies and early eighties there was a number of novels and so called 'future histories' that purported to cover this very subject: Hackett's 'Third World War' books; Coyles's 'Team Yankee'; and Ralph Peters's Red Army, to name but three. None of these works have entered the canon of great literature, but then I doubt that was ever their authors' ambition. Some were written as military-techo thrillers and at least one, Hackett's, with the aim of influencing public opinion.

What they all had in common though was that they were writing about the future, a future that has since passed, mercifully without the war they described breaking out. Of course, one of the protagonists in that war collapsed at the end of the 1980s, an event that was entirely unpredicted by the western intelligence and foreign policy community. This is a nice irony given the narrative that most of these books spell out.

Harvey Black's novels are an altogether different proposition in that he is writing about a past that never happened from the perspective of today. As such, Black has the benefit of his experience as a former British Army intelligence officer, serving in the British military mission in West Berlin, and also that of hindsight.

His books are self published, probably because such an esoteric subject (in 2014) won't find a ready mass market. This is no shame, after all, one of the advantages of e-books is that works that perhaps wouldn't see the light of day for purely commercial reasons do get published, and Black as gone a step further and published his books in hard copy. 

The disadvantages of this approach, even when done through a company that specialises in so called 'vanity publishing' , are however painfully evident. The books are riddled with errors that are simply screaming out for a professional editor and proof reader to correct. For example, characters and institutions are introduced more than once in consecutive chapters using virtually the same phrasing. There are many more, too many to list.

Secondly, this is not great literature. It barely even qualifies as airport lounge bestseller literature. Characterisation is week and one dimensional, the plot is thin and the descriptions of events repetitive and cliched.

The underlying fault with these books, one that they share with their cousins in  the 'future history' canon, is that they are not about World War Three - rather they are  about World War Two, or even the early days of World War One, fought with 1980's weapons. The future historians had a excuse in this regard, although not much of one, as the events they purported to describe lay ahead of the time they were writing in. The tendency for military bureaucracies to prepare for the last war and why they do so is well known. Black however, has no such excuse.

We now know that if fighting had to broken out in central Europe in the period in question it was much more likely to have been politically and militarily far messier than these books, and their 'future history' predecessors, describe. 

That said, there is much in Black's work that is useful to the wargamer, and that was the reason that I kept reading. Read together with Google Maps, it's possible to follow the action on the ground right down to platoon level. The reader can work out the order of battle in various encounters and zoom in and examine the ground over which these are fought. The books are replete with battalion and company level engagements involving mainly British and Soviet forces, together with a few more that feature the U.S. and West Germans.

So, if you're bent on playing out 'Cold War Gone Hot' scenarios featuring what was arguably least likely to happen in the event of direct NATO-Warsaw Pact hostilities in the 1980s, you could do worse than get hold of Black's books.

Otherwise I wouldn't bother. You won't be missing anything.

Monday, 14 July 2014

A Hill West of Stanley/Puerto Argentina

The battlefield looking east. This represents a gentle upwards slope from this angle with the Argentines dug in around the rocky peaks in the background
This weekend we played a Force on Force scenario I'd written up.

A platoon of British Paras assaults an Argentine hilltop position. The Argentines were a platoon HQ, a squad of conscripts (TQ: D6 Morale: D6 supported by a couple of sustained fire machine gun teams, and a recoiless rifle team with another squad off-table in reserve. They had night vision goggles, and weapons pits and slit trenches that provided + 3 Defence Dice.

The Paras had a Platoon HQ, including a D12 morale platoon sergeant, and two sections with the option to take a third section in reserve or start with either two sustained fire GPMGs or two MILAN teams on table. No night vision goggles but TQ was D8 and morale D10. There was also three salvos of light artillery and two of medium mortars zeroed in on the Argentine positions for a pre-assault stonk just before zero (which was at 0200 local time, 2300 ZULU).
Paras hook left and go straight up the middle

This is only the second game we've played with these rules and whilst the concepts and basic mechanics are excellent we're finding the layout of the rules terrible. No wonder there are all those questions and player aids on the various forums. We'll persist but I think many must be giving up - it speaks volumes that there is a wiki index on line. Given the resources of the publisher this really isn't good enough.

Anyway the Argies lost badly: six KIA, seven wounded and seven POW. The Paras had three guys lightly wounded.

The artillery did the damage, as well as my misreading the rules - which severely downgraded the protection the defenders received from their field works.

I'll tweak the scenario for a re-run before posting. Perhaps give the Argies the option of mines or write up some Fog of War cards for the Falklands - we didn't use the ones in the book for this game.

Thanks to Chris and Jeff (especially Jeff, who was commanding the defenders) for their patience and good natured sportsmanship.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Fight at St Johns Parva September 1643

For this little battle I decided to do something slightly different. Readers who play English Civil War games will be aware that the Royalist armies often had a greater proportion of cavalry than their opponents. Phil Barker goes as far as to say that in some cases their forces were often cavalry supported by commanded shot. Parliamentary armies, at least until the formation of the New Model, tended to have a better balance of horse and foot but, with certain notable exceptions (Haselrig's 'Lobsters' and the Eastern Association horse being two),  their cavalry was often of an inferior quality.

Our campaign has arrived at a point in late 1643 where the main field armies of both sides are engaged in the manoeuvrings that culminated in the First Battle of Newbury. Much of the Royalist cavalry and the best of the infantry from Borsetshire are serving with the King. Felpersham, the Royalist stronghold and county town is looking vulnerable - there aren't enough troops to man its extensive fortifications and earthworks.

Parliamentarians in the county have mounted a scratch offensive to try and seize Felpersham by coup de main, and their little army marched on the town from the north west, moving quickly without baggage or heavy artillery. Sir Charles Moncrief, acting Royalist commander, sensed the danger and responded quickly. He marched out of Felpersham, also without baggage and heavy guns, with a force comprising local militia and what mounted troops he could muster.

The Royalist Army was therefore an unusual one - a mere 400 horse and 200 dragoons but supported by nearly 3000 foot - in other words a reversal of the usual proportions of foot and horse. The foot suffered from a shortage of muskets. such that the ratio of shot to pike was 1:1.

Parliament by contrast fielded 1100 horse, mainly 'trotters' trained to caracole, and fewer infantry than their opponents but with twice as many shot as pike. 

The battle that followed was remarkable for the Royalists' lack of ability to force a decision - their usual offensive arm was weak and accordingly what followed was, to paraphrase a later general of the horse and musket era a 'long hard pounding'.

Full AAR to follow