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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
or on Mastodon @balkandave@mastodon.scot, or Threads @davewatson1683

Sunday 24 February 2013

German reinforcements

After my last game in the Flames of War, Seelowe Nord campaign, it became obvious that the Germans would need some heavier firepower as they advanced into Yorkshire. The Matildas in particular are difficult to stop with German army's 'doorknocker'.

So this week I have painted up a platoon of Pkw38t and an 88mm flak, poised for the ground role. The Pkw38's are from Forged in Battle and the 88 is from Battlefront.

The Pkw 38 started as the Czechoslovak army LT vz.38 built by Skoda and was taken over by the Germans after the occupation. Around 1400 Pkw 38's were produced in 8 different variants with various modifications, improved armour protection and armed with Czech made 37mm Skoda A7 vz.38 guns, designated by the Germans as 37mm KwK 38(t) L/48 (L/47.8). They were used by the 6th, 7th and 8th Panzer Divisions during the invasion of France and by the 8th Panzer Division in the Balkans. So it is entirely likely they would have been present has Sealion gone ahead.

The chassis was used for the later Hetzer and Marder SPGs. The tank was also also exported to German allies including Romania (50), Slovakia (90), Bulgaria (10) and Hungary (102). As well as neutrals in South America and Sweden.

I didn't get a chance to deploy them at the club today. We played FoW but I was using an 8th Army rifle company in Sicily against a German panzer company. My anti-tank guns failed badly on the left flank leaving both objectives exposed. However, my opponent pushed his command tanks forward to plug a gap my infantry were creating in the centre and they were both destroyed. So Monty rolls on to Messina! Good game and I learnt a bit more about the rules. 

Sunday 17 February 2013

Seelowe Nord scenario

Today I fought another stage in the Seelowe Nord campaign. For those not familiar with the concept, this is a 15mm Flames of War campaign based on Andy Johnson's book Seelowe Nord that postulates a German invasion of Britain via the Yorkshire coast.

Today's scenario had a regular British platoon holding a bridge over a large river. They were tasked with holding the bridge until an engineer unit came to blow it up. Of course the engineers never arrived. A German armoured car and a scout platoon arrives and decides on a quick assault. They lost one armoured car to an ATR shot, but otherwise forced the bridge sending the Brits packing. Just as well as a Fallschirmjager platoon landed on their side of the bridge ready to attack their flank.

The bridge taken, a tank platoon trundled over with a Gebirgsjager platoon in support. Together with the paras they assaulted the village held by a Home Guard unit and the retreating regulars. The Home Guard were bundled out of the village quickly and the regulars did only slightly better.

British reserves were slow to arrive but a tank platoon led by two Matilda's brought the German armour to a halt after knocking out the Stug and PkwIV. The light PkwII's dived for cover. With the German's holding the village the late arriving British infantry and artillery had little prospect of launching a successful attack, so they withdrew to the next position. Victory to the invaders.

The initial set up

Sdkfz 221's storm the bridge
Tank platoons and supports cross the river

Fallschirmjager force the village

Nomonhan 1939

Keeping up the Far East World War Two theme my reading for this week has been Nomonhan 1939 by Stuart Goldman.

As obscure WW2 battles go this might take the biscuit, but it was actually very significant. Justifying, in my view, the book's sub-title The Red Army's Victory that Shaped World War II.

It took place on the border between Soviet controlled Mongolia and Japanese controlled Manchuria. This was an area of frequent border skirmishes between the two armies including large scale actions at the Amur River and Changkufeng. The primary cause of the clash was the very aggressive leadership of the Japanese Kwantung Army. Or more accurately middle ranking elements of the leadership. What was astonishing is the way they ignored, what would be in any other army a direct order from the General Staff in Tokoyo, to break off the action. To the extent that even after being pushed back they counter attacked again. This is put down to the spirit of gekokujo (the low overcomes the high) that pervaded the Japanese military, especially the Kwantung army. The concept was used as justification for junior and mid-level military officers engaging in principled disobedience if they were motivated by moral principles.
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The Nomonhan affair was based on a disputed border area. After what the Japanese regarded as an incursion by a small Mongolian force, the Kwantung army launched air attacks deep into Mongolia followed by a ground attack by a reinforced division that later expanded to become the 6th Army. The Soviets responded with what became the First Army Group commanded by none other than Zhukov. Soviet armour and artillery was vastly superior and despite fighting to almost the last man, the reinforced Japanese forces were destroyed. It was the worst Japanese defeat in modern times with some 23,000 casualties. The Soviets lost slightly more men at around 25,000.

The wider significance of the action was that Stalin felt able to focus on the West and the pact with Germany to divide Poland. It also meant he didn't have to fight a two front war unlike most other nations in WW2. Remember, it was Zukov's experienced Far Eastern army that saved Moscow and probably the Soviet Union from defeat in 1941/42. For the Japanese it encouraged a southern strategy that led to the Pacific conquests and war with the USA. Astonishingly, it was the same middle ranking officers that drove that failed strategy as well.

Overall this is an excellent study of an unusual and little covered conflict. Highly recommended.

Saturday 9 February 2013

Singapore: Britain's greatest defeat

One of my projects for this year is the Far East in WW2, probably starting with the Malayan campaign that culminated in the fall of the Singapore 'fortress'. As always a new project starts with some background reading and so I dusted down Alan Warren's 'Singapore: Britain's Greatest Defeat' that has been in my reading pile for some time.

This is a very good narrative of the campaign starting with preparations for war and then every stage of the allied retreat down the Malayan peninsula to the last stand on Singapore Island. Very readable with reasonable maps and a good selection of photographs.

I suppose what shocked me the most was the absence of good military intelligence on the Japanese army. After all they had recently fought the Russians and the Chinese. In lectures troops were told that the Japanese were small, myopic and technically backward. An Australian battalion commander opined that his men deserved a better enemy and the British military attache in Tokyo complained that "our chaps place the Japs somewhere between the Italians and the Afghans".

At a strategic level, successive British governments failed to adequately prepare for a conflict in the Far East and there was little chance of rectifying the position after war broke out in Europe. There was no real fleet and air cover was minimal. There were arguably sufficient land forces, indeed the Japanese were outnumbered for most of the campaign. Rearguard operations were poorly handled with heavy losses in manpower and equipment caused by disorderly withdrawals.

General Percival gets much of the blame and he undoubtedly made many mistakes. He clearly should have replaced units in Malaya rather than letting them be degraded in continuous operations. British, Indian and Australian troops were in the main better equipped than the Japanese, particularly in terms of artillery and vehicles. They were also regulars, volunteers or reservists - not conscripts. They may not have had tanks, but they had enough anti-guns guns had they been used better. The speed of operations in Malaya was an obvious problem for senior commanders operating in a WW1 manner.

I haven't finally decided if I am going to do this campaign in 15mm for FoW or 28mm Bolt Action, or both. I am also attracted to the pre-war actions in China and against the Russians. More reading to follow.