Sunday, 29 July 2012

Air Support...

Quick Reaction Force MiL 8 - not a particularly good model - the quality of the moulding wasn't high but I'm happy with how it's turned out. This represents the one of the first helicoptors supplied to the MPLA forces by the Soviets in late 1975 and maintained and crewed in our alternative timeline by Cubans and East Europeans

MiG 21 from the same manufacturer. Again, not a high quality model, but it'll do. I've not put numbers or national insignia on these aircraft because the suppliers are trying to rwmain incognito and er...because I don't have any Angolan MPLA decals...

Finally, and moving forward to the '80s, a Hind MiL 24 Gunship to take on the SADF Olifants should the South Africans try another invasion of Angola...

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Update 31 December 1975


The last couple of weeks have been busy on our alternative frontline.

The arrival of Soviet supplied aircraft has begun and East German and Cuban air and ground crew are being flown in to commission the MiGs and helicopters and to commence operations in support of the Cuban and MPLA ground froces.

Despite western propaganda to the contrary, the only foreign communist combat troops deployed are Cuban.

Luanda is secure for the time being and Cuban troops have spearheaded the advance north and north east against the FNLA and their mercenary led forces. Whilst the advancing troops have made steady gains, there have been unexpectedly high casualties. We played a couple of games pitting company strength Cuban forces against FNLA rearguards using the adapted Cold War 83 rules ('Fireteam Angola') and whilst the communists have won, they've been bloody encounters.

In central Angola South African instructors are training UNITA cadre, and supplies of Bulgarian manufactured small arms and ammunition is being flown in via Zambia in specially adapted cargo planes crewed by mercenary pilots.

In the South, an unexpected development has been the emergence of a Portuguese settler faction centred on Benguela. This group is lobbying Zambia and South Africa for support and it may have already secured covert aid from the CIA.

The SADF is in full retreat and heading for the southern border, although it is rumoured that arms and munitions are being handed over to the Portuguese in Benguela.

On the modelling front I've finished a MiG 21, a MiL 8, a MiL 24 and am half way through painting a Dakota (for those covert flights supplying UNITA).

Look out for games involving civilians and media soon - also a mini campaign based on a UNITA insurgency.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Work to Rule: Cold War 83

I've been trying out a variation of these rules for the lst three games in War for Slow Readers.

The variation has largely been prompted by the fact that my figures are not individually based, rather they are 3 or 2 figures to a base as I originally based them up for AK47 Reloaded. The few games I played with the latter rule set were good fun but I’ve not enjoyed them as much as the three games I’ve played using Cold War 83.

Why is this? I like the ‘Bottle’ mechanism that Cold War 83 uses to model training, experience and morale and how this is used to influence the chances of troops’ success or failure at just about anything they try and do. To my mind this far better than separating out factors like morale and subjecting troops to ‘morale checks’ as part of the turn sequence. The CW83 turn sequence is stripped down to alternating unit activation, after an initial die roll for initiative, within which individual stands of figures (in my games) or vehicles, attempt movement actions and/or combat actions. These can be attempted in any sequence, for example a fireteam may fire as a combat action and then move or vice versa, or all the fireteams in a unit may fire before they move or some may fire and some move in any order the player chooses.  You can keep things simple and confine movement actions to crawl, run and walk and combat actions to ranged firing and close combat or you can add as much complexity as you like – figures can attempt to jump, climb, hide, observe, set or defuse a demolition charge, radio for artillery or air support, or just about anything else you can think of.

I’ve adapted the rules to include command and control and to average out a fireteam’s weapons factor if the figures are armed with more than one type of weapon (e.g. two SLRs and an LMG per stand) then they still only perform one combat action.

One potential problem is the requirement to  keep track of Bottle as it changes, usually downwards, during the game. Also stands come suppressed as a result of mortar or artillery fire and er…suppressive fire from machine guns. With a couple of dozen bases per side this can still get complicated. I’ve resolved this by:

a)      Giving all stands in a unit the same Bottle with the exception of the leader’s stand which has the rear base edge painted to signify his exalted status.  This means that until contact you simply have to remember that  9 Platoon has a Bottle of 8

b)      Placing small dice next to the stand to show its Bottle once this changes from the value it begins the game with.

c)       Putting very small rubber band (I found these at Early War Miniatures) around the base of a suppressed stand.
I don't feel the need to make any cahnges to allow Crossfire' style reactive fire. I think the the alternating unit activation and the requirement that initiative passes to th eopposing player when a unit suffers Bottle failures to the tune of one third of the number of figures it has means there is scope for reaction and overwatch.
I played another game last weekend so look out for an AAR soon.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

London December 1975

'You wanted to see me sir?'

'Yes Callan, this is the chap I told you about, he's recruited 400 mercenaries in the past four weeks'

Do we have a name sir?'

'Fletcher, ex-Para as you can see. Extensive service in Northern Ireland, including Bloody Sunday. He's not like most of them, he can organise. He served with Watson, who is still in Angola, as far as we can tell'

'Watson? He was with Shannon?'

'Yes, and he's ours Callan'

'Ours? Since when?'

'The beginning, he's SIS'

'Oh great! So we have an SIS agent serving with a bunch of cut throats in Africa?'

'Never mind about that Callan. Contact Fletcher and investigate his operation. I want a report by Monday morning, to the same level of detail as the job you did on Shannon'

'Bang goes the weekend then sir?'

'Never mind about that Callan, just do it!'

'Cost you sir, that's overtime that is...and expenses'

'Callan, just get the job done, and get out!'

Friday, 6 July 2012

Langley, Virginia: December 1975

'Jesus, what a mess!'

'Stockwell did warn us sir..'

'Yeah well, fat lot of notice we all took'

'The South Africans have been cooking something up with Savimbi in Huambo province sir...'

'Where the hell's that Epstein? Christ, I couldn't find the goddamn shitty country on a map six months ago and now it's the biggest clusterfuck since Saigon...'

'Here sir. They've been training UNITA to operate as a stay behind guerilla army as the Cubans advance to the southern border. They've even managed to do a deal with the Bulgarians to get hardware for Savimbi.'

'The Bulgarians? I thought they played for the other team?'

'They do, seems they'll sell their grand daughters for greenbacks and apparently the President's son in law did a deal in Vienna through his mistress to sell a stack of small arms and ammunition to a dealer that was fronting for BOSS'

'Sounds like our kind of guy..'

'Yes sir, he's a Dutchman that has connections in Pretoria...'

'I meant the son in law Epstein'

'Er..quite sir..'

'Anyway, there's a freighter bound for South West Africa with the arms on board.

'Great, so what do they want from us?'

' sir'

Moscow December 1975: KGB Headquarters

'Comrade General, you'll recall that GRU is running a source close to the Chief of Staff in Pretoria?'

'Hmm...refresh my memory Comrade Colonel'

'The source is codenamed "Felix", and has been active for a over a decade. GRU has been receiving high grade product on the Royal Navy and SADF for all that time'


'Given the recent success of our Cuban comrades in assisting the MPLA to secure Luanda, Felix has provided information that may be crucial in the next phase of the struggle...'

'Bloody you realise how far I had to stick my neck out to get Gromyko and the air force to agree to support his little adventure? Never mind, go on...'

'Felix says that the South African secret service and their special forces have been operating in Huambo province for the last four months, training UNITA cadre. He believes that the South African strategy is to back UNITA so they establish a buffer zone in Southern Angola, thereby preventing the Cubans and the MPLA from backing SWAPO and escalating the insurgency in South West Africa.'

'So, Comrade Colonel, how is that the KGB's problem?'

'Comrade General, I believe that if Felix is correct, and his information is very detailed, then our Cuban and Angolan comrades are in for some very hard fighting. It may be that we need to provide targeted support in order to prevent them a setback in the south'

'What does 'targeted support' mean Colonel, I know we specialise in euphemisms here in the land of actual existing socialism, but now and then plain speaking is appreciated you know'

'MiGs, and the ground crew and pilots to service and fly them, we could enlist the fraternal assistance of our East German and Romanian comrades so the air force wouldn't kick up a fuss; and communications and logsistics specialists. The army isn't as difficult to persuade as the air force General...'

'Leave me the file Colonel. I'll think about it'

Thursday, 5 July 2012

December 1975 Enter UNITA

Up to now our alternative timeline has largely ignored UNITA's role in the events leading up to Angolan independence and beyond.

We suspect that the South African secret service and/or special forces are behind an arms deal in Vienna that may have been aimed at obtaining Bulgarian weapons for Savimbi's forces. With the failure of the FNLA to take Luanda, either from the north with the support of white mercenaries and Zaire, or from the south with the support of the SADF, the role of UNITA in the war is going to get bigger.

So, what do we know about UNITA? Blogger Jim Hale has written a very pithy account of the real history that we'll use to build our counter-factual

UNITA was both smaller and out-gunned by the other two factions and like the FNLA had fought the MPLA as much as it had fought the Portuguese. Although supported by China, the vast distance from Tanzania, where the Chinese mission was located and the hostility of Zambia, who relied on the Benguela railway line that UNITA kept attacking, made supply difficult. Zaire was very much behind the FNLA, so that route was out of the question too. During the Liberation War therefore, UNITA became self-reliant, built up an infrastructure within Angola and took what it needed from its enemies when it could.

Occupying the Central and Southern regions of Angola, UNITA were in a much better position to receive aid from South Africa. Portugal had previously secured Namibia's northern border, making insurgent (SWAPO) operations over it very difficult. Now that this security had gone, the South Africans wanted to create a new 'buffer zone' in its stead. By aiding UNITA against the MPLA and securing their aid against SWAPO forces in Southern Angola, they believed that this could be achieved. Despite ideological differences, UNITA and the South Africans shared a common enemy, the Soviet-backed MPLA....

South Africa's forces at this time were not the ultra-modern force it was later to become, at this time, but it was able to supply basic weapons and the men to undertake training UNITA troops with them (commencing 14th July 1975). UNITA had established its own diamond and other concerns within the areas it held and South Africa acted as its main trade route to get them out of the country.'

Jim also neatly sums up South Africa's stance in 1975

'The South African plan was to fortify the main UNITA stronghold Huamba, establish a formal training camp at Silva Porto 'flying columns' and assembled a strike force; 'Task Force Foxbat', which blunted the MPLA advance and was subsequently followed by 'Task Force Zulu' to take on the advancing MPLA, clear them from Southern Angola and then take Luanda, so as to install UNITA as the de facto government before independence in November.
So, in our counter-factual, there is room for shadowy elements in the South African security forces and military establishment to have quietly worked at supporting UNITA while their more visible colleagues embarked on the invasion of Angola that was foiled by Colonel Menendez and his comrades.

As Cuban personnel and Soviet equipment pour into Luanda, and as the Cuban led MPLA forces start to push north against the remnants of the FNLA, and south against the retreating SADF/FNLA, UNITA will become increasingly important.

Like the MPLA, UNITA is a client of more powerful intervening players, in this case South Africa and, indirectly, the USA. Again like the MPLA, UNITA has its own objectives, and whilst these are sometimes part of their common ground with the supporting power(s), they may just as often be entirely different. UNITA is based in central and southern Angola, and its support base is amongst the Ovimbundu peoples. It appears that once again ethnic divisions may be cloaked in 20th century ideological differences, a consequence of the fact that the Europeans who carved up Africa had scant regard demographic realiy on the ground and drew their borders along lines of latitude or convenient (to the cartographers) rivers.

So, it's December 1975. The Cubans and MPLA are advancing. European mercenaries are meeting in airport hotels in London and Paris. South African troops are heading south but BOSS and SADF Special Forces are organising supplies of weapons to UNITA cadre in Huamba and the surrounding area.

Peter de Jong, a Dutch arms dealer with family and commercial connections in South Africa has just purchased a former New Zealand Airways passenger aircraft through a Luxembourg registered shell company. The aircraft is refitted in Capetown to carry freight. A freighter registered in Greece has just picked up a shipment of 'machine tools' from Beloslav in Bulgaria. The machine tools are to be shipped to Robert Harbour near Luderitz in South West Africa. Then, who knows where they will be taken to?

I feel a game or two coming on...

Monday, 2 July 2012

AAR Triumphant March of Socialism?

A small village in NE Angola, mid November 1975

I used the above table for this battle. The rules were an adapted version of Cold War 83. Instead of individual figures I had three or two man fireteams per base. Vehicles were mounted invidually. This means I can use my 15 mm figures as they are based for the AK 47 Reloaded rules.
Cold War 83 uses an ingenious mechanism to represent training, morale and fatigue called 'Bottle'. Simply put, a figure (or base in this case) is assigned a Bottle value and all actions and attempted actions are influenced by this value. Unusually, the player as to throw a score on 2D6 below a base's current Bottle value to succeed in movement or combat actions. So, the higher a base's Bottle, the more chance it has of actually doing what the player wants it to; whether that's moving, spotting, firing and hitting a target, unjamming a weapon or just about anything else you can think of. Bottle changes during a game, usually downwards, as your men respond to the stress of combat, are wounded or, in some cases, are inspired to bravery etc.
When their Bottle falls to below 2, they're assumed to rout, curl up in a ball, surrender or othrwise find a way of no longer taking part in combat.They can also be killed outright, most often when the firing enemy scores a 'critical success' - that is a successful 2D6 score that is a double.
In my game I assigned the FNLA's two mercenary stands, armed with a total of 6 G3 Rifles a Bottle value of 8 to reflect their training in the Foreign Legion or the Paras etc, as well as their experience as hard bitten dogs of war. Their Angolan FNLA comrades were only rated at 6, indicating they are conscripts with little experience but who have gained some appreciation of the dangers of war. They're armed with a total of 7 x AK47 Assault Rifles, 2 x PK LMGs and a couple of RPG 7 Grenade Launchers, presumably courtesy of the Chinese before they lost faith in Holden Roberto. Crucially the FNLA have one vehicle that's a runner, a Toyota pick up truck armed with a .50 cal HMG, and crewed by two Angolans also rated at 6. One item there is no shortage of is hand grenades.
I decided that the village was deserted, the locals having made themselves scarce when the soldiers showed up. All the built up area, rough ground and woods templates were assigned a 'clutter value' of 3, meaning that once contact is made then a stand has to subtract that number from its Bottle value if it wants to move anywhere or hit anything in the template. There are three gentle hills to the NW, NE and SW of the village that don't impede movement but block line of sight. Most of the area is light bush with a clutter value of 1. The roads are rated 0.
The mercenary Jean Langarotti set up as all round a defence as he could manage with the resources to hand. I decided the FNLA would deploy first and then the road entrance tthat he MPLA would enter on would be chosen randomly. This simulates the 'frontless nature of the fighting' (see the previous post). The MPLA would move without dicing for success against Bottle until contact.
The MPLA were represented by a full platoon of motorised infantry, transported in three newly aquired URAL trucks, with an 8 men squad per truck split into 3 fireteams with a total of 6 x AK47s, 1x PK LMG and an RPG 7. Like their FNLA opponents they were rated at 6 for Bottle.
Six Cuban Special Forces soldiers provided the leadership and expertise. Two were in a GAZ jeep mounting an HMG on point, and another five, including the force commander, Leiutenant Alonso, in the follwing GAZ jeep, also equipped with an HMG. These were given a Bottle rating of 9.
The MPLA attempted to get on table on turn 1. The point jeep was hit by the HMG mounted in the Toyota technical, obviously the Cubans weren't anticipating an ambush! So much for their training and experience. Although they suffered some damage, neither the vehicle or the crew were incapacitated by this first burst of fire. As their comrades followed them into he kill zone however, an FNLA fireteam, emboldened by the noise and the obvious power of the technical's HMG, opened up with everything they had, namely an LMG and two AK 47s.
The leading Cuban jeep was destroyed and the following one accelterated into the cover of the buildings south of the FNLA technical. Two URAL trucks followed, taking rounds on the way in. The third URAL didn't make it on to the table, the sound of the firefight obviously leading the driver to stamp on the brakes.
One brewed up Cuban jeep in the background, the FNLA technical and fireteam that did the damage in the foreground. Note that the FNLA firteam's bottle rating is inicated by the two small green dice. It's at 7 because of the proximity of Langarotti who can be see in botom of the picture

From this point on things went rapidly downhill for our heroic revolutionaries. Of the two URALs that drove towards the village, one copped a burst from the Toyota's .50 cal and the resulting mayhem led the hapless Alonso and his comrades to go to ground and become suppressd as they were within 7.5 cm of the truck that was hit. The second URAL truck came under fire from another FNLA fireteam before it reached the cover of the buildings and the crew were killed and the troops on board all suppressed. The only postive thing the MPLA managed to do was get the third truck on the table and under cover in the woods to the north of their entry point.

By  the end of turn three more and more fire was being poured into the MPLA and Cubans either in, or just outside, the buildings and casualties were mounting. The squad in the third truck disembarked and moved forward to engage Langarotti and his men from the cover of the woods but by then it was all too little, too late. The rest of the MPLA's force was either suppressed and/or had a Bottle rating of 2, meaning there was nothing they could do about their predicament.

Here you can see the MPLA & the Cubans with their rapidly dwindling Bottle scores

At this point I decided to end my little experiment. What have I learned? Firstly, I really like the rules and especially the Bottle mechanism. At last I can see what others rave about. This is a fast play rule set that gives a flavour of how I imagine the chaos of a firefight to play out. As the player, you can see the danger your litte men are in, but getting them do do what you want to get out of it is another matter. With a little thought I think I can come up with plenty of scenarios involving all sorts of pressure on the protagonists - not shooting at civilians in the war zone, securing the merchandise from Mr Arms Dealer, avoiding being filmed by a news crew as your men go on the rampage/break and run/loot and pillage - are a few that have just come to mind. Secondly, get out off your trucks and spread out as soon as you hear incoming fire...