Category Archives: Reviews

Reviews of kits, books, rules, etc.

Haig's Enemy book cover

Review: Haig’s Enemy by Jonathan Boff

ISBN 9780199670468
OUP
Hardback 373 pages

This is a biography of Crown Prince Rupprecht, the principal German commander facing Haig for much of the war, and a discussion of Germany’s war on the Western Front in World War I. The book is divided into five parts: To War 1914, The Anvil 1915-16, Holding the Line 1916-17, Year of Defeats 1918, Conclusions. Each section has a series of chapters covering the main events during the period. The author has made extensive use of his subject’s diaries but has also sought to interleave this with material from other sources as well as paying some attention to what was happening in the Allied camp. During the war Rupprecht rose to ultimately command an army group.

The book is very instructive and a useful correction to the English language preoccupation with their own armies. French troops are consistently rated as better than British troops, who seldom seem to have impressed the Germans. Within each section is a review of the attack and defence developments in the period. In the German army this process was well done early in the war but as the war lengthened there developed a habit of ‘shooting messengers’ (= sacking) those carrying unwanted news and ideas so, somewhat like the Japanese in WWII, there developed something of a dissonance between Supreme Headquarters and the reality on the ground. The light touch German command system was not, in reality, so light after all and could vary greatly according to commander, unit or latest doctrine.

One is well used to the stories of increasing political and military interference during WWII but less aware of how intrusive it was in WWI. Ludendorff was seen at first as the most professional of the Chiefs of Staff appointments but in time he became increasingly preoccupied with issuing orders further and further down the hierarchy, much to the irritation of higher formations who began to wonder what they were there for. The Kaiser would interfere with appointments and it was not acceptable to promote the Crown Prince of Bavaria over the Crown Prince of Prussia, irrespective of merit. The complexities of having Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony, Baden and other German states are touched on but not plumbed in depth.

Undoubtedly hard working, Rupprecht was in the habit of starting each morning with a ride to get exercise before the noon briefing from the latest reports from the front. Chateau generalship was the inevitable norm on all sides due to the nature of communications and logistics. Many books have been written analyzing the development and performance of Allied armies, generalship, and political relationships between generals and politicians and between different nations. This is a very useful look at the other side of the hill to disprove any idea that the other side was so much more efficient and better; they were not and the failures, which the book highlights, are indicative of the causes of German defeat. Highly recommended.

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The Bear's Claws cover

Review: The Bear’s Claws by Andrew Knighton and Russell Phillips

Team Yankee/Red Army Redux and better than both.

The Bear’s Claws is clear and well written. Like Harold Coyle’s Team Yankee the reader is given a deliberately restricted view of events, no high politics, no grand overview beyond the snippets that filter through.

It’s akin to Ralph Peters’ Red Army, but with unusual emphasis on the home front as well as the front line material.

Recommended as a work of fiction, with attention to detail that doesn’t clog up the narrative.

The paperback is available from Amazon, Waterstones, Barnes & Noble, DriveThruFiction, and Wargame Vault. The ebook is available from Amazon, Kobo, Apple Books, Nook, DriveThruFiction, and Wargame Vault.

The Second Kharkov Campaign — A Pair of Pint Sized Campaigns for Chain of Command. A Campaign for What a Tanker by Chris Stoesen

Published by the author, June 2019. 107 A4 or American Letter-sized pages. Several colour photos of terrain, figures and table layouts. Two one page advertisements. No Appendices. ISBN 978-1075419058. Available as a paperback from Amazon or as a PDF from PayHip or Wargame Vault The paperback currently retails for $11.25 plus p&p. The PDF is $9.25 from the first location or $10.50 from Wargame Vault.

This is a pair of campaigns designed for Too Fat Lardies’ rules Chain of Command (CoC). Additionally there is a skeleton outline of a campaign for the same company’s What a Tanker! rules (WAT). The campaigns are set during the Second Battle for Kharkov during May 1942, when the Red Army attempted to jump off from salients over the Donets River with the aim of encircling the major city of Kharkov, captured during the autumn of the previous year (and around which Chris has written another similar campaign book). CoC is a set of rules for platoon-sized actions where models represent individual soldiers, weapons and vehicles. A copy of the rules is essential to gain full benefit from this supplement. Furthermore a copy of Too Fat Lardies’ At the Sharp End and Blitzkrieg 1940 supplements would be useful. The content of Chris’ book could be adapted relatively easily to other rulesets — most obviously Bolt Action but also any other sets at the same level of representation, including those written by wargamers themselves. To offer some context to the review, I have played several dozen Chain of Command games and enjoy the rules. I have not played any campaigns with the rules and have not seen any other campaign supplements.

The structure of the book is straightforward, consisting of an introduction to the historical campaign followed by the two campaigns themselves. Necessarily, given the disjunct between the historical campaign (one involving several corps/divisions on each side) and the level of representation of the rules, the two campaigns are very much snapshots of a very small part of the overall action, namely the advance on 12 May of the Red Army’s 226th Rifle Division and 36th Tank Brigade and the counterattack by 3rd Panzer Division against those Red Army units over 13-16 May.

The historical introduction is a fairly brief outline of the situation facing the German and Red Armies in the Kharkov area at the time. There is a run down of the strength and equipment of the opposing forces and their respective plans. This is high level material and serves as background, informing the nature of the men and equipment which will be available to the opposing players in the wargaming campaigns. The introduction finishes with some very brief (but handy) terrain notes and a bibliography.

The campaigns themselves are each structured as seven, platoon-sized actions across tables which are taken from contemporary maps and which represent the ground fought over, or something quite close to that. Each game may be played up to three times and campaign victory points awarded according to how quickly the attacker (Soviets in the first campaign, Germans in the second) can achieve a win – three points for achieving a victory in the first game, two for needing two bites at a scenario, one for three. So a campaign could provide material for up to 21 games if each scenario is played three times. The rules covering each scenario are largely unmodified from the standard CoC rules and each scenario is (generally) one of the types contained at the back of the rules themselves (Probe, Attack/Defence etc.) The campaign’s victor is determined by the number of campaign victory points accrued.

The troops to be used in each scenario are drawn from a list provided for each campaign. Those lists are fairly standard for the types of platoon to be represented. Support lists are tailored to the likely support available during the historical campaign, with its location within the TO&E determining whether it is available. So, assets from within the company are more likely to be available than those only available within the regiment or brigade or division. Each scenario has a colour map associated with it and a photograph of the table, as created using the author’s terrain. Chris has done a fine job of recreating the terrain from maps available online and provided embedded links to those maps. There are also a few ‘eye-candy’ shots of figures and terrain.

In short there is sufficient information to play the games under the proposed rules immediately and under other rules with a little work. Few of the scenarios are very unusual or stray from the standard Chain of Command missions but the inclusion of some which use a Tank platoon, rather than an infantry platoon, as the base force is interesting. Furthermore, for the Soviets, those tanks will often be Lend-Lease Matildas or Valentines or Soviet T60s, which makes a nice change from the more usual T34s and KVs. As far as equipment goes it all appears to be fairly accurate although I did baulk at the proposed early model Panzer IVs armed with 50mm guns. BT2s making an appearance seemed a little odd too. Certainly there were a few around but their inclusion whilst the BT5 is absent (and the BT7 present) seemed to be the wrong way around.

I did find it disappointing that the interplay between the scenarios within each campaign was limited. For me the attraction of a campaign centres on managing a limited force over a period longer than a single battle and, particularly in the first campaign, that is little in evidence here. For each game, even the second and third time playing of the same scenario, it is frequently the case that each side starts afresh with a new platoon. Furthermore it seems at least possible that a poor early showing by one side will make the campaign unwinnable before all the scenarios are completed (because of an excessive number of victory points accrued).

Personally I feel that this could have been addressed by allowing the attacker a number of ‘games’ to achieve a victory in the last scenario (otherwise he loses) rather than the earning of victory points. Once the attacker has won a scenario he would move on to the next and would be permitted ten or twelve games in total to reach (and win) the seventh scenario. Furthermore, I feel this could be enhanced by allowing the attacker a company of troops (possibly a battalion for the Soviets in the first campaign) from which he selects a single platoon to fight each battle, rather than permitting the selection of another new platoon. This would introduce a force management aspect to the campaign. However, this is a personal opinion and it may be that the near constant refresh of available troops is a feature of other published Chain of Command campaigns.

I’ll comment only briefly on the WAT campaign as its presentation feels very much to be a bonus ‘add on’. As presented, it requires an umpire and is very much an outline of how a campaign might be run. It pits a German tank company against two Soviet ones with hidden movement moderated by the use of PowerPoint over one of the contemporary maps available online. It looks interesting enough but is nowhere near as detailed as the other campaigns in the book.

In terms of presentation I feel the book is under par. The transliteration of Cyrillic is inconsistent, there are several spelling mistakes and typos and the writing is sometimes ‘clunky’ — in particular plural verbs follow their singular subjects. There is no ‘house-style’ for numerals or unit designations and there are one or two incorrect names (Kliest for Kleist, Glanz for Glantz). The book is a little repetitive and, in particular, sections in the introductions for the two campaigns are reproduced verbatim. There appears to be a ‘fossil’ from Chris’ earlier Kharkov campaign book in the description of the arsenal table as listing equipment available during 1941 (the campaigns in this book taking place in 1942). None of this is critical or completely prevents understanding. For me, however, it was distracting and did detract from my enjoyment of the book.

Overall, I am not convinced there’s anything particularly innovative about the game or campaign mechanisms and feel that the latter, in particular, could be improved. A significant let down for me was the book’s presentation (e.g. the centre of much of the action is a town called Nepokrytaya – its spelling changes at least four times over the course of the book) – such might not be others’ experience. Tighter editing, spell checking and a thorough proofreading would have significantly improved the book’s impact. However, this remains a sound product presenting two playable campaigns (the second being more of a campaign to my eyes) for a popular ruleset, with enough information to make it adaptable to other sets of rules. The embedded links are useful and much work has gone into associating the action with the relevant geography (a tiresome task in my own experience) resulting in some very attractive table layouts which are nicely reproduced here. Chris’ research is evident, and welcome, in framing the matériel available in the campaigns and I thank him for the opportunity to review the book.

Review by Andrew Rolph, SOTCW Editor.

Book cover - WWII Vichy French Security Troops

Vichy — a forgotten force in WWII?

The complexities of the Second World War in France and its territories ‘outre mer’ can’t have escaped most interested historians, and wargamers for that matter. From the summer of 1940, besides de Gaulle’s Free French, until the virtual civil war after the Normandy and southern France landings, and beyond into a half-life as exiles in the Reich itself, the major French military structure was the pro-Nazi Vichy regime of Pétain. In Osprey ‘Men-at-Arms’ 516, Stephen Cullen examines ‘WWII Vichy French Security Troops‘. This long overdue title covers the structure and role of a multitude of uniformed organisations which propped up Pétain and his government and which fought almost on a daily basis with the Resistance, latterly finding themselves opposing SOE and even regular Allied forces in the fight for French soil. This is a well-written book and brings for the ‘D-Day and beyond’ wargamer an opportunity to bring to the wargames table a further army.

Cullen doesn’t need a time-line for the short life of Vichy, but provides a detailed map of the division of Metropolitan France after June 1940. The new state acquired the police forces of the fallen Republic, the Gendarmerie and Police Nationale, but regarded them with mistrust. So, a host of new security organisations came into being. The most military of them was the Groupes Mobile de Reserve (GMR), motorised and formed into almost 90 Groupes with French weapons from surrendered military stocks, including 60mm mortars and light and heavy machine guns. He describes the GMR’s role in fighting the Resistance, including what must be regarded as the only battle fought by Frenchmen against Frenchmen on French territory, at Glières in 1944. Vichy were losing until German heavy reinforcements forced the Maquis to retreat.

There were other uniformed organisations under arms for Vichy. Some lasted a short time, others like Pétain’s 600 man personal bodyguard and the Gardes des Communications lasted the life of the puppet state. The latter, some 7,000 strong, were responsible for the protection of the vulnerable railway network – their problems and casualties in this task can be easily imagined. The RAF and the Maquis ensured that. Paris, though outside the Vichy zone, is dealt with as a part of the overall pro-Nazi picture. The city produced a complex and competing range of groups and small arms units supporting the Germans and fighting the Maquis. The author describes four in some detail – all new to me.

The legendary and detested Milice Francaise, the backbone of Vichy’s military role on the war, is considered thoroughly. It was made up of two elements, a full time force and a large number of what are best termed reservists. By the summer of 1943 they were 30,500 strong, uniformed, and well-armed, many with captured Sten guns from unsuccessful RAF supply drops to the Maquis.

The role of what was to become the most detested of French collaborationist forces the Waffen SS ‘Charlemagne’ Division expanded rapidly (many of the Milices who survived the early summer of 1944 were drafted). They were active in fighting the Maquis, often in substantial encounters. They were predominant in the Glières Plateau fighting. The volume provides significant information about the uniforms, emblems and armament of all of the major groups, including women’s organisations. There are some surprising snippets, like the existence of Milice squads of eleven men armed with Stens, Lee-Enfields and two Bren guns.

This is, in my opinion, a valuable addition to the published works on WWII in the west, on the resistance war and, indeed, on the vast upsurge of fighting behind the German front lines after D-Day. It gives wargamers the opportunity to involve another force in their table-top battles. The selected bibliography is short and includes only one English language title – Littlejohn’s now rather elderly ‘The Patriotic Traitors’ (1972). The other French language titles remind me of how much quality French language material is available in magazines published across the Channel. The monthly Militaria is a magnificently illustrated gem.

The plates are not by any means of the Angus McBride quality and style. They hark back to the earliest of theOspreys but are very useful nevertheless. Plates C3 and D2 provide examples of older French kit in Vichy use, while several others, Fl, F3 and H3, give sound examples of the kit of the Milices towards the war’s end. The plates are backed by many excellent photographs and line drawings on markings, emblems and badges. Most useful for the late WWII wargamer. 10 out of 10.

On the table top, the multitude of French armed pro-Nazi groups are not easy to replicate in 20mm and 25mm. I can’t find a Vichy-specific’or Vichy- convertible range anywhere. So, if you know one, do share the information. This is, I suspect a hole needing to be filled and hopefully soon. It seems the kind of set which HäT or Caesar might produce eventually.

In 15mm the problem doesn’t exist. Turn to the Peter Pig ranges…The WWII French figures have several packs which fit the bill. Bear in mind that the Vichy security forces had little in the way of heavy weapons, captured Stens, rifles, elderly French issue weapons and a few LMGs and mortars would be all that any opposition would encounter in their hands. No armour or artillery either – this is a lightly armed infantry force with limited mobility. Let’s begin with French Command pack 40 and French SMGs pack 583. The greatcoated officer with pistol and Adrian helmet is ideal (plate F3) and the three SMG figures also fit the bill but you’ll need to run a thin file over the puttees to make them boots or long gaiters (plate H3). The SMGs can have a horizontal side magazine fitted to make a Sten. The officer in pack 226 of Alpine troops will make a decent Milice figure and pack 569, the prone French Resistance, will, with very little effort, make a Milice Bren team. For the rather different headgear seen in plates A2, D2 and D3, turn to the set of packs of French Motorised Troops, pack 227, running, pack 415 with rifles, pack 416 officers, and pack 417 LMGs are all useful. The puttees need the file treatment, but nothing else.

I did take a look at packs 419, a 60mm mortar, and , 421, Hotchkiss HMGs but these would be very rare beasts in Vichy Milices or GMR units. Any of these figures, incidentally, would be easy to alter by using the pack 91 Carlist beret heads, with tassel trimmed off, to replace the Adrian or kepi. There’s some value in a glance at the Spanish Civil War ranges too, SCW2, Republicans in a beret, might suit or pack 6, command and pack 17, Assault Guard Command. Each has one or two poses of use. The Carlist Packs from SCW 48 to 51 are also worth a glance, again though the puttees and tassel trimming is necessary. For completeness look at the WWI French Officers, pack 182 – at least one figure there of use. Finally, if you want transport, then in WWI Belgian Cyclists, pack 224, with a different head and trimmed equipment will be of use. Many of the GMR, and Garde du Marechal (see plate D3) were motorbike mounted and the WWII German pack 193, with a French motorised helmet, would do nicely for a speedier patrol or response unit.

That really is about it. There’s some additional transport in other ranges of course, but these figures will provide all you need to take on the Resistance or the Allied pan-dropped teams.

Review by Rob Morgan.

Panzer Kids Basic cover

Panzer Kids: WWII Rules

As implied by the name, this is a simple set of rules, primarily designed for playing with children. There are two versions, the free “Panzer Kids Basic”, and the paid-for “Panzer Kids Deluxe”.

The emphasis is on tank warfare, and the basic version only has rules for tanks. A nice touch for a game aimed at children is the “Mind Your Manners” section. Mostly common sense, it explains why the game is more fun for everyone if people don’t try to bend rules and take advantage.

The rules are very simple. When firing, the firer rolls a D6 and adds the result to the firing tank’s attack value. If the total is greater than the target’s defence value, the target suffers a hit. Once a tank has taken three hits, it is destroyed.

The deluxe version adds optional rules for wrecks, flank shots, damage, close range, hull-down, hull guns, anti-tank guns, elite units, roads, mine fields, objectives, and micro scale miniatures. The basic version includes stats for eight tank types. The deluxe version adds many more tank types, plus anti-tank guns. It also has instructions for working out the stats for any tanks not already covered.

Four scenarios are included in the deluxe version, along with a brief WWII timeline.

I’ve played a game using the basic rules with my two kids, aged six and eleven. They had three tanks each, and the game lasted about forty-five minutes, despite them spending much of their time hiding behind terrain. Both kids said that they had fun, so in that respect at least, the rules are a success.

Both Panzer Kids Basic and Panzer Kids Deluxe are available as PDFs from Wargame Vault.

Review by Russell Phillips

PSC T-55 box

Plastic Soldier Company 1:72 T-55

The box includes parts to make three tanks, each of which can be built as an original T-55, T-55A, or T-55AM. Since there are enough parts to make all three in any version, there will always be spare parts left over for the bits box.

The kits are quick and easy to build. The tracks, for instance, are a single casting on each side, with wheels and track all in one piece.

They lack some details. The coaxial machine gun and sight are missing from the turret, for instance. Still the finished model is unmistakably a T-55. They are sturdy, so should handle being played with on a regular basis.

Given the number of armies that the T-55 have seen service with, this is a very useful kit for any post-war 20mm gamer. I believe S&S Models have plans for conversions, which will make these kits even more useful.

Review by Russell Phillips

Memoir '44 map

Memoir ’44 Online

Memoir ’44 Online is available as a free download from Days of Wonder. Playing a game requires payment of in-game currency (called gold ingots). A few scenarios are free, but most cost between two and four ingots. You get fifty ingots when you first register, which is plenty to try the game. At the time of writing, ingots cost €8 for 200, €30 for 1,000 or €60 for 4,000. The €30 and €60 packs also include access to the scenario editor, which allows you to design and publish your own scenarios.

In play, the computer version is very similar to the board game, so if you like the board game, it’s worth a try.

Memoir '44 Online

You can play against a human opponent over the internet, or against one of two computer opponents. I’ve found that I enjoy playing against the computer. It’s good enough to give me a challenge without being unbeatable. The graphics look a lot like the pieces in the board game. There is in-game music and effects, both of which can be turned off if you prefer.

There are lots of scenarios to choose from, with options to filter by year, front, etc. The listing gives the percentage of times each side wins, to give an idea of how balanced the scenario is. You can choose to play as the Allies or the Axis. The “Service Record” section shows the scenarios that you have played and the result.

Personally, I’m fond of the board game as a quick, simple wargame. I find the computer version to be a good alternative, even quicker to play since there is no setting up or putting away.

Review by Russell Phillips

Book cover: England's Last War Against France

England’s Last War Against France by Colin Smith

England’s Last War Against France charts the story of the undeclared war between Britain and Vichy France, between 1940 and 1942.

The book is divided into four parts, each of several chapters.

Part one starts before the Second World War, covering the background and Anglo-French relations during the First World War and inter-war years.

Smith describes how relations between the two countries soured as the Germans advanced into France. It covers the diplomatic efforts to keep France in the war, and how and why France felt they had been abandoned by their ally.

This part also covers the fate of the French fleet, including the infamous action at Mers-el-Kébir.

Part two covers the campaigns in Africa and the Middle East. This includes actions to take over French Imperial colonies in Africa, Syria, and Iraq.

Part three describes the campaign to conquer the island of Madagascar, and part four covers Operation Torch.

Overall, it’s an interesting book, written in an easy to read style.

Review by Russell Phillips.

Britannia Miniatures KH-ITA02 Three Italian paratroopers

All wear paratrooper bone sack and Italian paratrooper helmet. Advance at a crouch with Beretta SMG, his chest and back has several SMG magazine pouches plus there is a water-bottle and poncho on his belt. Standing firing Beretta SMG, standing upright firing from the shoulder, as above has chest and back are laden with magazine pouches, he also has cartridge pouches on his belt, but no other kit visible. The last figure is the classic grenade thrower, left arm raised about to hurl a stick-grenade with his right, he has a rifle slung across his back; his belt carries a water-bottle, cartridge pouches and a bayonet. Nice interesting figures could be used as Marines with careful pruning – some quite bad flash however.

Review by Richard B.

Britannia Miniatures KH-ITAP01 Italian Paratrooper command

Two figures both wearing paratrooper bone sacks. The officer wears a soft peaked fatigue cap, he holds binoculars in his right and a map in his left, he has a map case and pistol holster on his belt. The kneeling radio OP is bear-headed, he holds his earphones in place with his left hand. His only visible kit is a water-bottle on his belt. Nice interesting figures with good details, lots of flash however.

Review by Richard B.