Monday, May 31, 2010

Israel biting off more than it can shew?

From a dairy entry on Daily Kos:

While the Israeli Defense forces clearly outclass their immediate neighbors in miltary strength by an order of magnitude or more, their ability to cope with Turkey in an armed confrontation is far less certain.

Since Israel's war for independence its armed forces have been hardened in the crucible of combat and achieved such dominance over its immediate neighbors that none of them have been willing to challenge the IDF in conventional combat for a generation. Instead Israel's opponents have engaged in a protracted struggle using unconventional means including terrorism. This long war may have dulled the Israelis competence in conventional warfare and it definitely seems to have blinded them to the potential consequences of taking on a major military power like Turkey.

Israel's first line of defense is its air force, which reportedly has around 368 first-line combat aircraft, mostly F-16s and F-15s. Turkey, however, has a similar force of more than 400 combat aircraft, including more than 200 F-16s of its own. Northern Israel is well within the combat radius of the F-16s and with a fleet of 7 tanker aircraft the Turks could easily reach all of Israel if they wanted. The Turks also have four airborne early warning and control aircraft, implying a level of sophistication in air warfare Israel has never had to face before.

At sea the balance of power is much more one-sided. Isreal's navy, while professional and experienced, is tiny. It has just three submarines and three corvettes as well as some missile boats. The Turkish navy has 19 frigates , all of which are larger than any ship in Israel's Navy as well as some corvettes and missile boats of its own. The Turks also have 14 submarines.

Any skirmish between the two countries would likely only involve naval and air forces, but it's worth noting that Turkey's army is far larger than anything Isreal could field and is professional and capable.

All this leaves aside the possible NATO consequences of Israel's act. It's unlikely Turkey would ask for direct aid from its NATO allies in this case, but it could clearly expect that no NATO country, including the USA, would provide any help to Israel.

Lastly, Israel cannot threaten to use its nuclear weapons against Turkey because of the NATO nuclear umbrella, so this confrontation will turn on conventional capabilities alone.

It would be wise for the Israeli government to consider the risks of its current confrontation with Turkey and whether or not it might be prudent to beat a hasty retreat making any and all apologies required.

Turkey seems to be hugely PO'd over this and unlike the Arab countries it has the military wherewithall to make its displeasure known.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Goose Green, May 28, 1982

The memorial for fallen Lt. Col. Herbert H Jones.

The English are the best people in the world for colorful place names. I'm not sure why a place would be called Goose Green, but it's not the sort of name you forget.

This little spot on the globe became famous on May 28, 1982 as the site of the first major ground clash in the unusual Falklands War between Argentina and the United Kingdom.

Action had been fiecre up to this point, but it had mostly involved naval and air forces. At Goose Green and Darwin the British and Argentines came to grips in a sharp action between a battalion of British paratroopers and a 1,200-man Argentine garrison made up of air force troops and a battalion-sized force of infantry.

Both sides were remarkably evenly matched and the the fighting was long and difficult. After about 30 hours of combat the Argentine force surrendered. The British lost 17 killed, including the commander of the 2 Para, Lt. Col. Herbert "H" Jones, who was awarded the Victoria Cross. The Argentine lost around 40 soldiers killed and the entire garrison as prisoners of war.

The battle is depcited in some detail as Scenario 18 in South Atlantic War, a Harpoon 4 campaign book published by Clash of Arms Games. It's also a scenario in the Test of Arms from GDW. Still, this would seem to be fertile ground for scenario designers for modern tactical wargames and I'm surprised it hasn't been tapped more often.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

End of the Bismarck

Interestingly there appears to be no accepted name for the last engagement of the Bismarck on May 27, 1941 when it was sunk in a battle with the HMS Rodney and HMS King George V and some cruisers.

The fragile nature of the surface raider was well illustrated by the Bismarck's fate. A single torpedo hit on May 26th ensured the ship would not escape. The German battleship's effectiveness was also degraded by a night-long destroyer attack that resulted in no hits but meant that the German crew was exhausted by the time the British battleships arrived.

The two British warships quickly gained an ascendancy over the Bismarck with multiple damaging hits on it within the first half hour or so. The Germans in turn were ineffective in their fire, a complete turnaround from the Denmark Straits battle.

The Bismarck was nothing if not tough, however, and the British battleships had to withdraw after a couple of hours pounding away at short range without bringing the Bismarck even close to sinking. Torpedo attacks by the cruisers followed, but apparently it took the scuttling efforts of the German crew itself to finally send it below the waves. Unfortunately fear of U-boats prompted the British to leave before rescuing most of the crew, so over 2,200 German sailors perished.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

They can do that?

I saw this odd notice at a miniatures online retailer's web site:

"Games Workshop does not allow re-sellers to show pictures or add GW items to an online shopping cart, but you can still place an order with us! "

The fact that GW prohibits resellers from posting pictures of their product is well-known (if legally questionable) but I've never seen the prohibition for adding their products to an online shopping cart before. How does that even work? I mean, they at least have an arguable case of a copyright interest in images of their products but what legal right do they have to stop a re-seller from including their products in an online shopping cart?

Does anybody know?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Argentina's Independence Day

Today Argentina is celebrating its bicentennial with parades and fireworks, but back in 1982 they marked that occasion with bombs and bravery as Argentine pilots flew into the teeth of fierce British air defenses during the Falklands War.

Probably the most notable attack on that day was the successful Exocet strike that left the Atlantic Conveyor burning. Among the stores being carried on that large container ship was a cargo of Chinook heavy lift helicopters. Only one Chinook survived. The lack of these helicopters was felt immediately and slowed the British advance on Stanley.

Other attacks sunk a British warship and damaged several others. The Argentines were plagued with bombs that failed to explode because they were dropped at too low an altitude to arm, although even unexploded bombs could do serious damage and even cause a ship to be lost.

While only three Argentine aircraft were lost on May 25th, the cumulative losses since May 21 added up to 22 high performance jets and the Argentine air campaign was running out of steam. Losses would decrease as air attacks tapered off and the campaign moved into the ground phase that would bring the war to a close.

One interesting point to consider is the intersection between military technology and political decision-making. There's little evidence in accounts of the war that either the Argentine junta or Thatcher's government were aware of how much the success of their war efforts might turn on technical details. More than a dozen Argentine bombs that hit British ships failed to explode. Suppose they had gone off? Would the British task force have been able to stay on station if it lost 8 frigates and destroyers instead of 4? The five Argentine Exocets between them sunk two British warships for no losses among the attacking aircraft. The Argentines had ordered 10 of the missiles, though. With another five they might have sunk 2-3 more British ships and of one of those had been the Hermes or Invincible the entire operation would have been endangered.

It all seems so inevitable now, in hindsight, as these things usually do. But British failure was certainly an option and defeat in the Falklands would have inevitably brought Thatcher's premiership to an abrupt, inglorious end. There would have been no "Iron Lady" to stand alongside Reagan. For the want of a nail, the poem goes ... .

Monday, May 24, 2010

Flukes at sea

Bismarck as depicted in Axis & Allies War at Sea

A fluke can be a fish, the fin on a whale or a part of an anchor in a nautical context, but it's also a recurring feature of naval warfare in the sense of a stroke of unusual luck.

Land and aerial warfare involves innumerable interactions between actors, weapons, environment and the laws of chance so there's a tendency for things to average out. Fluke events tend to be of local impact, although there are exceptions, of course.

HMS Hood from War at Sea

But naval combats are much rarer than land and sea engagements and comprise many fewer moving parts as well, so each battle is full of unique events. The famous Battle of the Denmark Straits which was fought on this date in 1941 perfectly illustrates this.

While a very popular topic for naval games, indeed, nearly every naval wargame seems to include this fight among the scenarios, it's a hard battle to replicate.

From a strategic point of view, the engagement represented a major British success. Their cruiser patrol meant to detect a German breakout attempt succeeded in finding and following the German raid force. The British countermeasure of deploying a powerful surface action force of battleships also succeeded, with the interception of the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen by the battleship HMS Hood and the new battleship HMS Prince of Wales.

It's true that the two British ships, individually, had flaws that put them at a disadvantage compared to the Bismarck, but together they should have been more than a match for the German ship. Especially when considering that the British had to merely achieve some damage the German raider to force it to abort its raid.

So it was truly an amazing fluke when the Bismarck landed that fatal blow on the Hood that exploded the ship within the first few salvos. While the venerable British battlecruiser had a design flaw, it's also true that that design flaw only represented a vulnerability for a limited amount of time and for a limited set of circumstances of range and geometry. The Prince of Wales problems were less of a matter of luck, being mostly self-inflicted breakdowns caused by the ship's incomplete state. Still, under most circumstances the Hood and POW could be expected to score some damaging hits on the Bismarck before being KO'd and in many cases they will outright defeat the German ship.

Despite the disastrous turn of events for the British on May 24th, the essential soundness of their strategy was borne out by subsequent events. Before being forced to withdraw, the Prince of Wales did manage to land a hit on the Bismarck. While not a particularly damaging hit by battleship standards, it was sufficient to end the Bismarck's raiding voyage and send her heading for France. (The undamaged Prinz Eugen departed to begin a raiding cruise).

A few days later, after being harassed by carrier aircraft and destroyers, the Bismarck was intercepted by another 2-battlewagon British task force that wasn't much stronger than the Hood/POW combo. The HMS Rodney and the HMS King George V had no difficulty pounding the Bismarck into ineffectiveness in a relatively short time, which makes one wonder how things might have been if fate had given the Hood a little more time.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Condition Zebra countdown

We're starting to get previews of the next expansion set for the Axis & Allies Naval Miniatures game, Condition Zebra, although there's less suspense this time than there has been in the past, because we already have a set checklist, courtsey of the new starter set.

Together with the 8 ships included in the starter, we have a total of 212 models in the complete set, although it's not that many different scuplts because there are some reprints and sister ships.

Series designer Rich Baker has made some interesting choices so far, providing an eclectic mix of the famous and the obscure, the powerful and the puny and the useful and the useless amid the constraints of historical plausibility. There's been a numerical bias towards the Allies, of course, who outnumbered the Axis substantially, but at this point in the evolution of the line it has grown to the point where it compares favorably to the offereings of long-established ship modelers such as Superior or GHQ. For example, Superior's 1:2400 scale line of pewter ships is 61 models, while GHQ's 1:2400 scale offering for World War II is 251 models. With at least two more expansions planned, there's a liklihood War at Sea will even surpass GHQs extensive offerings.

One interesting thing about the War at Sea line compared to the traditional companies is how many different nations are represented. Greece and Finland are not represented at all by those companies, who concentrate on the big fleets.

So far the War at Sea lineup is comprised of the following navies:


Australia has a heavy cruiser, a light cruiser and two destroyers.
Canada has a light cruiser, a destroyer and a corvette.
France has four battleships, a carrier, a heavy cruiser, two light cruisers, two destroyers, a sub and two aircraft.
Greece has an old cruiser, a destroyer and a sub.
Netherlands has a cruiser, two destroyers and a sub.
New Zealand has a light cruiser.
United Kingdom has seven battleships/battlecruisers, four aircraft carriers, two heavy cruisers, three light cruisers, three destroyers, a sub and seven aircraft.
United States has 10 battleships/battlecruisers, seven aircraft carriers, four heavy cruisers, six light cruisers, nine destroyers/escorts, three subs, 1 PT boat, two auxiliary and 11 aircraft!
Soviet Union has two battleships, a cruiser and a destroyer.


Finland has a coast defense ship
Germany has four battleships, one carrier, one old battleship, two pocket battleships, two heavy cruisers, three light cruisers, four destroyers, three subs, an auxiliary, a patrol craft and five aircraft.
Italy has four battleships, an aircraft carrier, four heavy cruisers, three light cruisers, four destroyers, two subs, a motor torpedo boat and five aircraft.
Japan has seven battleships, six aircraft carriers, seven heavy cruisers, four light cruisers, seven destroyers, three subs, a sub chaser, two auxiliary and 11 aircraft.

Friday, May 21, 2010

San Carlos waters, 1982

HMS Ardent burns after being bombed

The Falklands War is definitely fading away it seems. I haven't seen anything in the general media about the war that was big news back in 1982.

On this day 28 years ago the long-awaited British landings began at San Carlos in the straight between West and East Falkland islands. At the time I remember that this had caught observers by surprise. Most seemed to believe that the British would land closer to Stanley because of the nearly non-existent overland transportation infrastructure. Instead the British elected to land far enough away from the main Argentine units to have an essentially unopposed landing. There were a couple of platoon-sized Argentine forces in the area, but these withdrew, although not before downing two British helicopters.

The Argentine reaction was swift and forceful, as they sent no fewer than three waves of attacking aircraft from the mainland as well as many sorties from local aircraft. At least 10 Argentine A-4s and Daggers were shot down, but they did considerable damage, sinking the HMS Ardent and damaging four more warships. One of those, the Argonaut, was disabled and knocked out of the war. Three Argentine Pucaras were also shot down, as well as a British Harrier.

As damaging as the Argentine air raids were, they did not seriously threaten the landings. No troop ships were sunk or badly damaged. More ominously for the Argentine war effort, losing 10 of the 57 mainland aircraft that sortied represented a loss rate of nearly 18 percent -- clearly unsustainable.

Got my fingers slammed in the door at Sedan

Game Shop Tony continued schooling me in the Power of Beginner's Luck by taking me to school in the scenario Driving to Sedan from the Campaign Book Vol. I.
I'm tempted to blame the dice, but then one always is tempted to do that with a Borg game. And if you can't blame the dice, there's always the cards!

Be that as it may, the fact is that my Germans were not able to get much going as they tried crossing the river. Every bridgehead was aggressively charged by French cavalry troops and while it was costly for the horsemen, they were able to do even more damage to the Germans on their way to a 5-3 victory. Once again the air units proved unhelpful, possibly making the Germans waste valuable actions that would have been better spent elsewhere.

I do think I should have devoted more effort to dominating the river crossing by fire. There were too many cases where there were one-on-one fights between French horsemen and German units that ended killing off both units. No Germans got close enough to test the fortified houses.

On the plus side, Game Store Tony is enjoying the game a lot, and his string of victories with the Belgians, Dutch and now French has provided gist for some conversation among the store denizens.

It's on the Hannut-Merdop and Breakthrough to Gembloux next. I expect Game Store Tony will continue his preference for the "underdog" Allies, so I'll have a chance to break the string and stitch up a little bit of the rent in the fabric of the universe caused by our alternative history version of the France 1940 campaign.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Interesting development in Korea

The New York Times is reporting that the South Koreans are going to blame a North Korean torpedo for sinking a South Korean corvette on March 26, killing 46 sailors.

There's no firm evidence about where the torpedo came from, but it seems probable it was from a submarine. If so, this will be just the third sinking of a warship by a sub since World War II. (The others were the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano sunk in the Falklands War on May 2, 1982 and an Indian frigate sunk by a Pakistani sub on December 8, 1971.

Should be interesting to see how this develops.

Grant surrounds Vicksburg

On this date in 1863 Union Major Gen. Ulysses Grant surrounded Vicksburg in the culmination of his brilliant campaign to capture that key city.
Honored and popular with contemporaries, Grant's reputation suffered for a long time among historians and the public. He was often portrayed as a butcher, unconcerned with casualties and as an inept president whose administration was rife with corruption. I've heard it suggested that Grant's reputation was tarnished by advocates of the "Lost Cause" mythos, who hated him as the victorious conqueror of the South and an energetic defender of the recently freed blacks.

His repuation has recovered somewhat recently, first as a general and more recently his administration. He was never the "butcher" portrayed by his critics. His campaign against Lee was so bloody because Lee was an exceptionally skilled foe. Both were brilliant and it's little surprise that a contest between two such evenly matched leaders would be long and difficult. Grant's administartion was indeed corrupt, but it was an era of corruption throughout American politics and his administration had major challenges.

M3 Grant tank

Grant was a hero, and for nearly 100 years his portrait has been on the $50 US currency (since 1913). A GOP congressman has twice (2005 and 2010) introduced legislation to substitute Ronald Reagan for Grant. Polls show that something like 70% of people polled oppse the idea, while only 10% support it. That's about as lopside as it gets in polling (more than 10% of people believe they ahe seen a ghost!).

I, for one, am glad this idea isn't getting any traction. Grant doesn't have enough recognition as it is, so let's keep him on the $50 bill.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Worthington Games Napoleonic title reportedly nears shipping

It's looking like a banner year for mass-market low complexity Napoleonic games, with titles planned by GMT, FFG and Worthington Games, but it looks like Worthington is determined to be first out the gate. The buzz is that copies of the game will be seen at conventions this month, so there is some hope of seeing it before mid-June, which would be nice for obvious reasons.

I pre-ordered it months ago so I hope I'll get one of the early copies. With luck perhaps the redoubtable Mark K. and I can get in a special gaming session.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Updating Stonne

While schedule conflicts prevented me from playing on the precise anniversary, I did get in a near anniversary game of the Axis & Allies historical miniatures historical scenario BK-1, published on the official A&A minis site. This depicts some of the fighting for Stonne, France, on May 15, 1940.

Since that scenario was first published in 2006 a lot of new figures have become available, so I decided that there was little sense in playing the scenario as published when there were many more accurate figures in the mix now.

The French side actually required relatively few changes. The Bold Captain, MAS 7.5mm Inf and Lebel Grenadiers that set up are unchanged. (Note that the scenario lists SMLE rifles in stead of the Lebels, but this must be a typo as it would make no sense for SMLE rifles to be present and the picture shows the Lebels.

For the Reinforcements from the 45 BCC (a battalion, not the brigade listed by the scenario card) the R-35s are replaced by H-39s because that was the type of tank present. The R-35 was obviously used originally because it was a similar tank that was already in the game.

For the Reinforcement group from the 49th BCC (also a battalion) the Char Bis are unchanged, but accompanying ATG is replaced. I'm not sure why the 6 PDR was used in the scenario, as it's not really close to anything actually fielded by the French during the battle. What ATGs they had tended to be 25mm guns. There's nothing really suitable yet in AAM, but the French di also have some of their famous 75s in the area, so I subbed one of those. In 2006 there weren't any gun transports available but now there are, so the 75 gets a P107 half-track prime mover.

All-in-all, few changes are needed for the French OB and the subs add a few points to the French total.

In contrast the German order of battle should undergo a drastic overhaul.

First, we replace the JU-87G tank buster with the more accurate JU-87B from the Early War set.

The Wehrmacht Oberleutnant remains, depsite his 1942 date, because the Germans need the anti-tank capability and I assume that he ismeant to represent some tank-killer teams, similar to the "panzerfauist" tank killers teams given to the Finns in another scenario. The Panzergreandiers are replaced by Motorized Shuetzen, which is more appropriate to 1940. True True Panzergrenadiers came a little later. The MG-42 is likewise replaced by the Sandbagged Machine-Gun Team which is armed with the MG-34. In game terms it's the same with the revised card. The sIG 33 is replaced with the StuG III D, which is what the GrossDeutchland actaully used. As a matter of fact, this was the combat debut of the STG III.

The Panzer III F, Panzer IIC and SdKfz 222 are all unchanged, although I proxied the Pz IIF models for the Pz IIC for appearances because most of the models are V2. Only the 222s were the older scale because that vehicile hasn't been updated yet. While the French changes tended to add a few points, all the German changes subtracted some, so in order to keep the point values similar but without changing the character of the scenario I added a SdKfz 231 and a Panzer IB, both of which were also present on the battlefield that day. The Germans were still a couple of points shy of the French, but they did start with all troops present while the French had variable reinforcement so I thought I'd see how it played out before making more changes.

The actual session against an opponent was inconclusive due to his inexperience with the game, but it seemed to suggest that the French tanks were too tough for this order of battle to handle. I solitaired it afterward and while the Germans did a tad better , it still wasn't really close. The Germans simply didn't have enough anti-tank capability to deal with those tough French tanks, especially if they showed up early, which they did both times.

So I modified the German OB a little more. The SdkFz 231 went away, as it added nothing to the German side. In its place I added another Panzer III F and another Schuetzen. This brought both armies to exactly 132 points. This gave the Germans a little more capability to handle French tanks and one more soldier to try to capture the objective with while not changing the scenario in any fundamental way.

So we will see how that works out later this week.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Pebble Island Raid 1982

In the evening of May 14, 1982 an SAS raiding party landed on Pebble Island in the Falklands.

There target was an grass airfield on the north side of the island that was the base for a squadron of Argentine turboprop attack planes. But the real objective of the raid was to knock out the radar at the air base because it might detect the British invasion force that was due to move into Falkland Sound in a few days.

The raid was a complete success, with all 10 aircraft and the radar station destroyed with no fatalities for the British side. Argentine casualties are not reported in the sources I have, but at least one Argentine officer was killed trying to lead a counterattack against the raiders.

If there's one form of warfare that the British seem to always excel at it's the special forces raid. They pretty much invented the modern commando, but British raiding goes back way before that to the famous "cutting out" expeditions by Royal Navy landing parties.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

In 1940 things went down hill fast

A French Somua tank at the museum at Aberdeen

By following along on the anniversary events of major episode such as the 1940 campaign, I think it helps capture some aspects of it that reading a history can obscure. A historian naturally attempts to create a narrative about an event, selecting which stories to tell and sometimes, for the sake of keeping the narrative clear, the time element can be lost. It's easy, for example, to skip over long periods where nothing that turned out to be important happened, but of course the participants experienced those days as being just as long as the important ones.

A little less common, but still occurring on occasion is a narrative that is so dense with detail that it can obscure that the event it describes happened over a short period of time and was therefore even more shocking to those who lived through it than a history might easily convey.

The campaign in France is that sort of event. From September 1939 until the first week of May, 1940, a period of more than eight months, very little happened on the western front between Germany and the Allies. There was some action at sea, and towards the end of the period things heated up in Norway, but compared to what followed, the Phony War period was really remarkable for its lack of action. By way of comparison, in 1944, eight months of campaigning in the West brought the Allies from Normandy to the Rhine.

But in the second week of May, 1940, the situation in the West was transformed in a week of fighting. Within days the Allied position was already facing disaster. There's some debate over the term Blitzkrieg and whether it represents an actual German military doctrine, but the term originated as newspaper shorthand to describe the shocking speed at which warfare occurred in 1939 and in 1940. There was, of course, some foreshadowing of the Blitzkrieg in Poland, where another large army was destroyed in mere days, but it was easy for the Western powers to discount that as an anomaly. The French and British armies were far better equipped than the Poles and had a much better defensive configuration than Poland as well. Poland was, essentially, indefensible from a military standpoint.

On today's date, 70 years ago, just a few days after the opening of hostilities, the German armored spearheads were already poised to burst through the French defenses. Before another week was out the Allies were facing a crisis.

Whether or not Blitzkrieg formed a formal doctrine of any sort, the German campaign definitely had the psychological effect of a "bolt form the blue" that shocked observers worldwide. It spurred the U.S., for example, to start a huge military buildup unprecedented in "peacetime" that included mobilizing a large part of the National Guard for a year's worth of training. Would a more conventionally paced campaign in 1940 have prompted the same, even if it had ended up in a French defeat? If the Germans had taken six or seven months to finish off France it would have been a much more sobering experience for them as well and Hitler might have been slower to turn on the Soviets. His ideology demanded an eventual showdown with the Communists, but there was no reason why it had to be in 1941 and there were very good reasons to think that waiting a couple of more years would have increased German strength relative to the Soviets.

I think the 1940 campaign's speed of decision is it's most important aspect. It's not that France lost, but that it lost so quickly, that it reverberated. Following along day-by-day helps drive home that speed.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Games Workshop is at it again

The world's worst game company provides more evidence of its total stink-hole status with yet another lawsuit against a major fan site that has evidently operated for more than five years with their knowledge.


Germans salvage their military reputation at Valkenburg Airfield

The week's commemorative refights of 1940 campaign battles from Memoir '44 finally saw a turn in favor of the Germans in the Valkenburg Airfield scenario from the Campaign Book.

This was aided in no small part by the absence of Game Shop Tony from the Allied High Command this day, being substituted by Game Shop Denizen Noob, who had a grand total of one previous game under his belt, the Unternehmen Niwi scenario mentioned yesterday.

Noob is quickly grasping the rules, but naturally is still climbing the learning curve tactically. I took the Germans largely to spare Noob the task of trying to master the Air Rules as well, but it didn't matter in the ended as the Germans never drew enough cards to make taking flight seem worthwhile.

The Germans opened the action with a quick strike against the Dutch armor unit and the nearby infantry, scoring kills and leaping out to a 2-0 lead. The larger part of the rest of the battle was the usual minor back-and-forth maneuvering often seen in Borg games as both sides made the most of their individual card draws but failed to create a coherent battle plan. Generally the Dutch closed the distance, but losses were fairly even, with the Germans scoring three more kills to bring the Dutch to the danger zone while the Dutch scored two kills in return.

Things were looking pretty peachy for the Germans until a late-game scare when the Dutch had a good turn that killed two more Germans and suddenly they were within striking range with a 1-figure German unit in the open and a vacant airfield withing striking distance.

It was just a scare however, as the Dutch advance also left a 1-figure unit within range and the Germans were able to scoop up their 6th medal with a close-range blast.

While not playing a formal campaign or Grand campaign at this time, by campaign game standards the Airborne Operation portion played so far would have ranked as a minor Allied victory. The Allies won three battles to one German win, but the medal scores were pretty close, with the total Allied count at 19 medals. They also scored two objectives in Operation Niwi which would have been a "0" on the "Objectives Points" track for a total of 19 Victory Points. The Germans scored 17 medals in their four games, plus three objectives (at Fort Eben-Emael) which are worth 1 point on the Objectives Points track, for a total of 18 Victory Points. Thus the Allies eked out a Minor Victory by Campaign Game Standards.

With their earlier victory at Bodange considered, the Allies have a small edge so far in the Pseudo-campaign, but there's plenty of opportunity for the Germans to make it up.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Brought low by the Low Countries

Circumstances allowed me to head back to the store for some more Memoir '44 action and suffice it to say, if the Belgians and Dutch had done half as well 70 years ago as they did today at Arkham Asylum in Norwich then the 1940 campaign might have turned out rather differently.

Game Store Tony edged out Yours Truly twice more, successfully defending Fort Eben-Emael with a 5-5 win as the Belgians (my German attackers needed 6 flags) and again at the Moerdijk Bridges with a 5-4 win as the Dutch.) Both games came down to the wire, possibly just one attack roll away from victory by my side.

In between another Game Store Denizen who was intrigued by the game tried hi hand at it, taking the German side in the Unternehmen Niwi scenario against my attacking Franco-Belgian force. He didn't have Game Store Tony's magic touch, however, and while playing credibly well as a first timer, he wasn't able to inflict enough losses on the Allies to trigger the entry of his armor before the Allies seized Nives and Witry for a 5-3 win.

While the Air Rules were in effect, none of the German players found it worthwhile to put up any planes this time around.

Despite the one-sided record, all three scenarios appear winnable for either side and manage to do a credible job of evoking their respective battles. I particularly liked the Fort Eben-Emael scenario, which is a change of pace.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Bodange it!

70 years ago today the Germans opened their campaign against France and the Low Countries that shocked the world.
It was a violent campaign that opened with many simultaneous operations. The Memoir '44 campaign book has no less than 5 scenarios dealing with battles on May 10.

Unfortunately I don't have the luxury of unlimited game time, so I wasn't able to play all five, but I did go down to the old game shop and played the first one, Bodange, which depicts the border battles between the Belgian Chasseurs Ardennais and the German 1st and 2nd Panzer Divisions.
Game Shop Tony is an enthusiastic player and while not a wargamer he is a pretty good player and it showed once again. He took the Belgians and ended up eking out a narrow win.

It was really quite dramatic. The well-dug-in Belgians were able to destroy 4 units among the German horde of 12 units supported by an aircraft while being pummeled in turn by the Germans, who likewise killed 4 units -- and the three surviving Belgians mustered a mere 4 figures between them! But it was Their Finest Hour (or so the card said, and a 1 figure and a 2-figure Belgian unit charged out of their foxholes and counterattacked, felling a 3-figure German infantry unit with a single bow and winning the battle. Bodange it!

It was a good game and I hope to commemorate the 1940 campaign with a at least a couple more Memoir '44 fights before the week is out.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mothers Day and a Star of Gold

Today is Mothers Day, a day celebrating motherhood and the sacrifices women who are mothers make every day. Many mothers spent today working, for example. If you took your mother out to dinner there's good chance some of the women you saw in that restaurant were mothers themselves, working hard on Mothers Day to support their families. So being a mother always means sacrifice.

Sadly, though, there's a singular sacrifice so many mothers have been called to make in history, and that is sacrificing a child in war. Even though we are fighting two wars at this very moment, the consciousness of those wars isn't very high in society.

But every lost soldier is some mother's son or daughter and I think it's good this Mothers Day to remember that fact of war. There's a lot of frivolity about decisions of war among our "elite" classes of office holders and pundits, especially among those who never served themselves, for some reason or other.

War is sometimes necessary in an imperfect world, despite its horror. And its easy to get carried away with the drama, the heroism and the glory. Gen. Robert E. Lee, who saw quite a bit of war, remarked that "It is well that war is so terrible - otherwise we would grow too fond of it," after a particularly terrible and heroic battle at Fredericksburg.

We should even remember that each of our slain enemies is a mother's son and no matter how necessary, it is also tragic and delivers an unspeakable anguish into their lives.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Things that are very difficult to simulate

USS Neosho under attack

Today is the anniversary of the opening day of the Battle of the Coral Sea, which is notable for being the first naval battle where the opposing fleets enver came within sight of each other.

One interesting aspect of the battle was the Japanese strike against the oiler USS Neosho and an accompanying destroyer. the USS Sims. Japanese scout planes had erroneously reported the small task force as comprising a carrier and a cruiser, so the Japanese task force sent a full-strength air strike that included more than three dozen dive bombers. This powerful attack smothered the US ships. The USS Sims took at least three direct bomb hits and blew up. The Neosho in the meantime took 7 direct hits and 8 near misses. Amazingly the ship stayed afloat for another four days before sinking.

From a wargaming point of view this sort of event is hard to simulate. Even double blind systems such as Midway don't allow for that sort of extreme misidentification. Only an umpired game could hold that potential and yet one wonders how well the players would accept being misled by the GM that much. For a regular 2-player game it's virtually impossible, which is why even a pretty detailed naval wargame such as SOPAC has trouble really capturing the essence of the battle.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Interesting site on the Battle of Puebla, 1862

The holiday of Cinco de Mayo may be somewhat like Christmas or Memorial Day in that for many celebrants it's lost its connection to the original event, but as wargamers it's good for us to note that May 5, 1862 does represent a really remarkable victory for a force of militia against regular forces.

This site has a lot of details but I think the most remarkable fact noted by the author is not the numbers engaged (about 6,000 French against 4,000 Mexicans) but the fact that the French were armed with rifle-muskets while the Mexicans had regular smoothbore muskets. These rifle-muskets were the same weapons that supposedly made American Civil War combat so deadly, yet here was the French who suffered the higher toll. More than 400 French were killed, compared to just 83 Mexicans. While it's true that the Mexicans had the benefit of a trench and forts, one wonders why the French didn't take advantage of the superior range of their weapons. (they also had rifled artillery, where it appears the Mexican guns were smoothbores.

About the only explanation that comes to mind is that it was sort of like Bunker Hill -- the French might have thought they needed to demonstrate that the rag-tag militia opposing them could not stand against their high-quality troops. And like at Bunker Hill, or New Orleans, this turned not to be true. The militia was sterner stuff than expected. In this case it appears that much of the Mexican militia was made up of combat veterans. In any case they won that day decisively.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

HMS Sheffield Day

HMS Sheffield burns after being hit by an Exocet missile

Just two days after the sinking of the cruiser Belgrano, any thoughts that the war would be a one-sided affair came to an abrupt end on May 4, 1982 when the HMS Sheffield was hit by an Exocet missile fire by an Argentine Super Etendard.

While it took a few days for the ship to actually sink, it was immediately clear that the HMS Sheffield was essentially destroyed as far as taking any further part in the war. In the event the abandoned ship foundered in heavy seas while under tow. While not as bloody as the Belgrano incident, as only 20 British sailors lost their lives, the Sheffield loss was perhaps even more shocking.

While the Belgrano case was of a World War II era vessel being sunk by essentially World War II era technology (an unguided torpedo) the HMS Sheffield was a first-line modern warship. And the Exocet missile was likewise an expensive first-line weapon.

One wonders how different the war might have been if the Argentines had the full complement of Super Etenard (12) and Exocet missiles (10) they had ordered from France, instead of the 5 and 5 they actually had on hand. As it was, between them, those five missiles were able to sink two British ships while suffering no losses. In comparison it cost the Argentines more than three dozen attack aircraft to sink three more British ships (although the score would have been higher had more Argentine bombs exploded). At a ratio of 12 to 1 the Argentines simply ran out of aircraft before the British ran out of ships.

On the other hand, with 10 Exocets instead of 5 the British could easily have lost a couple of more ships, with a reasonable chance that one of those ships might have been an aircraft carrier. It's possible that losing a carrier would have forced the British to withdraw the task force. At the very least it would have reduced the already scanty level of British air cover substantially and made the situation much riskier for the invasion force. Harriers were responsible for shooting down about 22 or 23 Argentine attack aircraft. Ship defenses only downed about 15, so removing the Harriers from the defensive scheme might have changed the balance of power.

Fortunately for the British, the Argentines had only taken deliver on five missiles and five panes and the embargo prevented them from getting any more. This was another example of how the junta's hasty decision to move up the invasion date cost them.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Lee has his way with Hooker, again!

Commemorating the anniversary of the Battle of Chancellorsville, fought on this date in 1863, I hauled a copy of Battle Cry down to the local game store where one of the behind the counter guys can usually be counted on to try out some new (to them) game.

This scenario does a pretty good job of replicating the historical situation despite the limited detail of the game's tools. In this case the numerical edge of the Union force is illustrated with 12 units to the Rebels 8.

But the Confederate superiority in Command gets a three-fold expression, resulting in a significant advantage for that army. First off, they have 2 generals, to just 1 for the USA. Secondly, and more importantly, the CSA player has a 5-card hand of Command cards while the USA player has a mere 3! Thirdly, and perhaps most important of all, except for one unit, the entire Federal force is set up in the center zone, resulting in the majority of sector cards being useless to them. The CSA is set up on both flanks and has every incentive and opportunity to move into the center zone, so nearly all sector cards are usable to them.

I took the USA side because I felt that the Command problems would probably overwhelm a new player.

The course of the battle was not unexpected. As it turned out the CSA drew a well-balanced set of initial cards and their subsequent draws were useful as well, resulting in a strong and sustained pincer attack on the Federal position. The USA cards, on the other hand, were not great. About the only bright spot was that the US drew the All Out Assault card at the start, which came in useful once the CSA forces closed into contact and helped keep the game closer than it might have been.

Nevertheless it wasn't really a close affair, as attested to by the 6-2 ratio in victory flags. It only took about 45 minutes to play the game, so the battle took brely more time than the set up!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

General Belgrano day

ARA General Belgrano sinking on May 2, 1982

Outside of Argentina, I'm sure few will note that the ARA General Belgrano was sunk on this day in 1982 as the first major casualty of the Falklands War.

As a younger and much skinner wargamer back in 1982 I followed the course of the Falklands War intently. One of the things that sticks in my mind after all these years was the utter lack of seriousness there seemed to be in the American media about the potential for combat. The conventional wisdom was strong that somehow these two U.S. allies would work things out without there being much more than posturing. The sinking of the Belgrano shocked people into realizing that this was a deadly serious affair after all. A few of the ignorant criticized the attack because it was outside the Exclusion Zone declared by the British, although the Argentine authorities admitted it was a legitimate act of war and not the slightest bit irregular.

As I said, the conventional wisdom was that there wouldn't be an actual war, although I don't think many wargamers believed that. As a matter of fact, whenever it came up, I told everyone that there would undoubtedly be a war. This wasn't because I was clairvoyant, it was simple common sense about human nature and power politics.

In the first place, it was clear to me that the Argentine junta could never meekly withdraw from the captured islands under British threat. Whatever internal politics drove their decision to invade would make it impossible to leave, period. It was literally unthinkable.

The British had a tiny bit more choice open to them. It was at least theoretically possible that they could have accepted the fait accompli or tried to negotiate a settlement. Some governments might have tried to do this, although it would necessarily come at enormous political cost -- probably fatal to that party for a generation. The Thatcher government was not that sort of government and if there was even a moment's consideration for anything other than a liberation then it was clearly dispensed with quickly. Within hours the first elements of the task force were on their way and once the very first ship sailed I believed war was inevitable.

The simple fact is that no government, anywhere, ever, could dispatch a fleet to liberate some territory and then not use it. It was unthinkable.

So within hours it should have been clear to anyone who looked at it that the dispute would result in fighting and all the drama in April of diplomacy and Alexander Haig shuttle flights and other garbage was pointless.

The sinking of the General Belgrano, which cost 323 lives, settled that the war would be a "real" one, with serious fighting, major losses and at least one loser.

There were a number of interesting aspects to the Belgrano sinking. One is that the ship, itself, was a former U.S. Navy cruiser, the USS Phoenix, one of the powerful pre-war Brooklyn class light cruisers and a survivor of Pearl Harbor and other battles. The Belgrano had been slightly updated and modernized in the decades since it's WWII service but it was definitely not first-line equipment by international standards. Few similar vessels were still in service anywhere.

Escorting the Belgrano were a couple of other World War II veterans, the Hipolito Bouchard and Piedra Buena, former U.S. Navy Sumner destroyers that had undergone the FRAM II upgrade. While all three ships had dangerous capability against surface targets, their anti-submarine capability was low and definitely not up to coping with a modern fast-attack nuclear submarine.

And yet this was exactly what they had the misfortune to encounter. The HMS Conqueror was a large and modern ship. It the actual attack on the Belgrano the sub used the venerable unguided Mark 8 straight-running torpedo, similar to weapons used in World War II and at first glance not a complete mismatch for the Argentine targets.

The Conqueror itself, however, was a hugely more capable opponent than any German U-boat or Japanese I-boat. The fact that the British submarine was able to stalk the Argentine task for for the better part of a day illustrates that. No World War II boat could stalk warships, although slow-moving convoys could be shadowed. Attacks on warships were a matter of luck and fortunate positioning.

In this case, however, the submarine was able to shadow warship traveling at a decent clip under wartime conditions, make contact with home authorities and finally get the clearance to attack. The torpedoes were launched at just 1400 yards, a stunningly short distance that reveals how inadequate the Argentine ASW capability. In the Harpoon 4 game system the two Argentine DDs are rated with sonars with a maximum detection range for passive use of under a mile. The Actual Argentine formation appears to have been loose enough that the two DDs didn't even see the General Belgrano being torpedoed!

Still, even a tight formation would have been futile for defending against the attack, although it might have saved some lives by putting rescue vessels closer.

The sinking of the General Belgrano is noteworthy as the only occasion in the more than half-century of nuclear submarine service that one of them sunk an opposing warship.

How they might fare in a larger conflict against more modern foes is still very much an open question. But at least in this one case the type scored not just a tactical success, but a strategic victory. In the wake of the Belgrano sinking the rest of the Argentine surface navy returned to port for good, ceding sea control to the Royal Navy. After this only a solitary Argentine conventional submarine and Argentine aircraft would attempt to contest the British at sea.