Saturday, 21 October 2017

Eighty Years War Skirmish in the Low Countries - Donnybrook

Last club meeting I brought along my figures and terrain to play a scenario set during the Dutch Revolt. For those of you not in the know, the Low countries, as they were known, were part of the Spanish Empire due to a complicated mess of marriages and inheritances. During the mid 1560's however, the reformation, differences in the way the provinces were to be governed (and in particular the division of new bishoprics imposed from Spain) and desire for freedom of worship, caused a bubbling pot of resentment to boil over into open revolt. The resulting wars carried on for 80 years and the latter part being contemporaneous with the 30 years war. My figures concentrate on the earlier stages of the conflict, from about 1568 till roughly the mid 1580's.

Onto the fun bit. An advance force of Dutch rebels had managed to gain control of a small village with an important river crossing. The Spanish garrison had been forced off in surprise and had gone to alert the local commander, who was at the time overseeing the investment of nearby Leiden. The Spanish dispatched a force consisting of three companies of shot, two squadrons of Horse arquebusier and a group of volunteer gentlemen armed with swords and bucklers.

The Dutch on the other hand had sent for reinforcements and a company of pike and another of shot, escorted by two squadrons of Reiters were on their way to support the two companies of shot and the veteran halberdiers hiding in the town.

The rebels had built barricades on the bridge and at the ford next to the mill in order to try to slow the advance of the Spanish.

We used Donnybrook for rules which gives a nice bloody game. If you haven't seen these before they are form Clarence Harrison and Barry Hilton who are also responsible for Beneath the Lilly Banners and run the League of Augsburg blog and forum. They are a card driven set of skirmish rules with each of the troop quality types given a different dice (d6,d8,d10) to use for all their actions.

The Spanish made a general advance towards the river to try and to get into range, apart from the gentleman swordsmen who seemed to have forgotten to gain their order from their colonel. The rebels revealed a cannon and fired it ineffectively at one of the Spanish companies. The crew then promptly decided they had done enough for the day and marched off home. The Horse on the left wing shot at the rebel arquebusiers and caused a fair amount of injury.  The Spanish Musketeers used their longer range and their professional attitude to devastate the Rieter squadron that appeared and then destroyed a company of arquebus as they tried to move back into the town for cover. The other Reiter squadron waded across the deep river and charged the Spanish horse who had been thinned out by some of the rebel shot. The Spanish came off decidedly worse.

The rebel shot in the centre of town piled into the house nearest the bridge to try and gains some cover from the devastating fire of the Spanish shot but found the flimsy houses were no good at stopping Spanish lead. The Dutch reinforcements reached the edge of the town and one of the pike groups marched straight in to a sticky bog in-between two of the houses (Lord knows what caused that!) and spent a inordinate amount of time skulking out of range of the Spanish.

The Spanish musketeers climbed into the mill in order to give themselves an elevated firing position and the two groups of Dutch shot on the other side of the river felt the sting and their numbers quickly dwindled. Meanwhile a company of arqubusiers were attempting to dismantle the barricades at the bridge while the gentleman of the company were attempting to show the peasants how it was done by dismantling the one at the ford. Round about then the Spanish commander decided that, despite the successes across the battlefield, the Spanish couldn't possibly win and immediately ran for home, not even stopping to look back.

The right of the Spanish line was looking strong but the horse on the left had been destroyed and the centre was having a hard time crossing the bridge as they were charged again and gain by the remnants of the Rieters (one heroic officer) and the halberdiers and them finally the pikemen. Despite a unit of reinforcements coming onto the field to aid the rebels, things were looking bad for them.
The gentleman had come across the ford and were heading for the centre of the village to finish off any resistance and the few remnants of the rebel force were struggling to hold back the tide at the bridge.

The heroic rebels had given a good account of themselves but it there was little they could do in the face of the greatest army in the world and, despite giving the Spanish a bloody nose, they were destroyed without mercy by the might of the soldiers of the Tercios.

The game certainly gave me something to think about. The Dutch are in desperate need of some musketeers and the Spanish will require some pike (not that they needed them). I also want to try out the Sharply Buffed rules that were published in the Lardies summer special as they are designed exactly for this period. I hope Jason and his son had as much time playing the game as I did running it. Next time I hope to get more players at the table so we can have more arguing..sorry..strategic discussions.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Target for Tonight - "The Big City"

A No.57 Squadron Lancaster mid-upper gunner in his turret, February 1943. CH8795
Last month one of the games featured was a set of WWII Bomber Command rules entitled "Target for Tonight" (TfT) published by D.W Thomas back in 2000.

I was a little surprised at the interest generated in this, now somewhat old set of rules, and the inability of finding anyone in a position to supply them.

I am at the present reaching out to people I know in the hobby to see if anyone can shed any light on Mr Thomas and his rules and as part of the effort to create a bit of attention to them in that regard I got together with the chaps at the DWG to run a second game using them.

The new mission map

I should say that I haven't played these rules for a number of years prior to these two recent games and looking back through my files on previous run-throughs it strikes me that TfT are showing their age in that the basic concepts and structure are sound and provide a compelling narrative game with a lot of period detail that help set a game in a particular stage of Bomber Command's campaign .

That said the rules seem to me to be unfinished in many respects with a rather clunky mission planning process requiring plenty of flicking back and forth between pages and list of potential events that can affect aircraft as they progress from take-off to hopefully a safe landing via the route to and from the target, that are not intuitive from the first read through.

Slightly modified target maps as used in the previous game 

The game organiser really needs to do quite a bit of prep work for each mission that really needs setting up as part of the rules to allow a speedier process of mission organising that not only includes target plan as seen above but a quick plan for the route as seen below to allow a speedy set up of the tiles.

Thus I present my map based on the map used in Ian Dury's game "Enemy Coast Ahead", suitably adapted to show the various targets colour coded by zone but also nearby targets should aircraft be forced to divert to somewhere nearby.

In addition on re-reading, the rules reveal gaps that Dury's rules covered off quite well, with his use of cards to not only generate events similar to TfT but act as a record of fuel consumed during the flight adding another potential issue of concern to flight crews. Other gaps included ditching in the North Sea and bailing out over occupied Europe and Germany with the potential of escape and evasion for surviving crew members.

Route planner diagrams to speed up the game set up
I mention these aspects because on playing this game, recreating a deep raid to Berlin, and a follow up shorter, in and out raid on Kiel, the players involved discussed the idea of running a squadron campaign running missions across the period from late 1942 to the end of the war which would need to include that kind of added detail.

These aspects were just part of the improvements we felt needed to be considered. Others included moderating the somewhat over deadly aspects of the events and their likelihood of occurring with the events generating die roll changing from a D10 to a D20 which seemed to give a much more representative risk profile and seemed better to mimic Dury's card generated risks.

The D20 was played on our Berlin game but even then we considered the events occurrence better modified, the crew responses to them needed yet further modification with the use of a D8 rather than a D10 to give a better profile in that area.

In addition to these slight modifications we added the fuel element by using micro dice, placed by the models on the route to record fuel points used on the flight with hazards such as being chased by night-fighters, dodging flak, losing the route or having to go around again on the bomb drop adding to fuel consumption and possibly posing the issue of when to abort a mission to be able to get back.

Finally a few other modifications considered were
  • To run a squadron attack of say up to sixteen aircraft we needed multiple plane stat cards laminated for repeat use, with players able to manage up to eight aircraft on one card. 
  • The addition of the other bombers used by main force including Wellington and the Short Sterling with the added hazards using those types brought to any mission particularly in the latter stages of their deployment.
  • Addition of potential German intruders over Bomber Command airfields.
  • Mosquito and Beaufighter intercepts of German night fighters.

New plane data record cards

So on with a summary of our game, staging a raid during the Bomber Command Campaign against Berlin which got going on 23rd/24th August 1943 with the first attack by 727 aircraft and which saw a loss of 56 planes, the largest single loss in one night in the war to that date.

Our mission was shown to be taking place in February 1944, the month that saw the heaviest attack on the "Big City", as Berlin became known in RAF parlance, during the whole war with 561 Lancasters and 315 Halifaxes supported by 16 Mosquitos, 891 aircraft in all, delivering 2,643 tons of bombs and losing 43 aircraft (26 Lancasters and 17 Halifaxes) of 4.8% of the total force involved.

Our force of 4 Lancasters and two, novice crew, Halifaxes took off without incident and headed out over the North Sea as seen in the picture below.

The flight to Berlin and back was a true test of endurance for bomber crews and the number of sectors involved with the addition of three flak zones leading up to the target followed by the equally hazardous return journey hopping the channel with all those potential night-fighter intercepts lining the route give a vivid impression of the challenge facing our player-crews, now with the added concern of those little red micro dice recording fuel consumption.

The flight out to the coast and over the North Sea was relatively uneventful except one of the Lancasters flight engineers mis-managed their fuel flow causing engine failure from iced up carburettors and sending the aircraft into an uncontrolled descent until the pilot managed to rescue the situation only to leave the aircraft at a dangerously low altitude likely to draw the attention of the Nachtjagd.

In addition the icy conditions caused one of the Halifax crews to mismanage their anti-icing procedures which left one of the "Halibags" with ice covered wings and at low altitude in a similar situation, but with both crews pressing on with the mission.

As the six aircraft made their way successfully to the first flak zone it seemed the D20 modification was working well and the players were congratulating themselves on a job well done all be it with night-fighters drawn away by that spoof raid on Frankfurt and the fun of watching a couple of aircraft including a novice Halifax crew needlessly burn up fuel evading an unseen night-fighter with a false alarm on the MONICA beacon sounding in the pilots headset; all this while narrowly avoiding a mid-air colliding with another bomber in the stream whilst taking this avoiding action.

You see as game-meister you can have so much fun with players, watching the forehead sweat beads appear as they desperately try to put space between their bomber and that night-fighter model and make sure they offer the best deflection angle in the process.

Is this for real or just a false alarm! A Halibag in trouble

Even as the D10's roll to resolve damage from hits they don't know what's happened until the umpire acts as their tail gunner announcing the all clear and an sheepish call of "he must have broke off skip".

Perhaps black and white  is more appropriate for that period feel
 As I said everyone was congratulating themselves on making it unscathed into the flak zone with all the aircraft experiencing the buffeting flak when Bob decides to roll a 20, oh dear, how sad, never mind!

Lining up for a deflection shot or will the bomber turn before the fighter opens fire into empty night sky?

The resulting 20 meant that Q -Queenie was struck in the fuselage by a flak shell probably delivered from one of the mighty flak towers surrounding Berlin.

Oh well at least it was a fuselage hit, all the engines are intact, the bomb bay is untouched and so on we go, better just get the crew to sound off and check for casualties.

Wow we've all made it to the flak zone - at least we don't have to worry so much about night fighters here!
 " Rear gunner here skip, making my way forward, Jonny in the mid upper's had it, so has Dusty and Jim with Dennis severely wounded and his maps and stuff all over the place, plus we have a large hole amidships. I am getting forward to take over the bomb sight."

So Berlin was starting live up to its reputation and as the six aircraft lined up for the target in the third flak zone O-Orange took a flak hit right in the bomb-bay causing a massive explosion in the night sky with several crews reporting later that the Germans were using star-shells on the way in.

The bomb run was no less eventful with low cloud and searchlights creating the so called "Ground grass screen" known as Mattscheibe to the Germans, where the cloud masked the target causing in this case a misplacement of the Target Indicators two rows back on the target map and also allowed the search light batteries to shine their light onto the cloud base, silhouetting the bombers to Wild Sau night-fighters operating above it.

S-Sugar was subsequently strafed by a FW190 using the newly fitted radar for single seat fighters which took out the Lancaster's port inner engine and possibly causing the bomber to drop short of the TI's.

A Lancaster on the run in over Berlin

The three remaining aircraft unloaded on the TI's with the reports showing hits on the SS Reich Ministry buildings, an SS Barracks and the Flak Park, but with the city hospital also hit (note the Berlin industrial target map has a few additions peculiar to Berlin). The effects of the low cloud base meant that none of the industrial targets were touched in the attack.

The return flight saw the loss of a further two aircraft to night-fighters and C-Charlie on final approach, catching fire and exploding in mid-air as a hung up photo flash exploded pre-landing.

The D20 modification worked really well on this the hardest of missions and with the change as outlined to crew capability rolls it was felt that the risk profile would improve still further. In addition the fuel dice added yet more tension as players watched nervously the results from various manoeuvres carried out during the flight.

On the second quicker mission to Kiel, six aircraft set out with one lost to a night-fighter and five safely returned but with only one of the four managing to bomb the U-boat factory, with the others all bombing short due to jittery bomb aiming.

Still stuff to do with this game but one we all felt has great potential once the issues are ironed out.

Thank you to Bob, Ian, Jack and Charlie for a fun afternoon with lots of drama in the night skies over Germany.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Chain of Command 1940

One of two games ran at last months meeting of the DWG was this large Chain of Command 1940 set to which had lots of stuff out on the table. The scenario was a Operation Sealion "what-if" game. The Germans had seized a vital bridge with a sneaky Fallschirmjager landing, preventing reinforcements for the LDV force trying to stem the German breakout from the beaches.

I am not exactly sure how this game turned out as I was running the Target for Tonight bomber game, but I thought you might like to see some pictures from the this game. 
The Germans had 3 forces, a Fallschirmjager platoon at the bridge holding until relieved, with an infantry platoon and an ad-hoc Panzer platoon trying to break the British defensive line at the far end of the table. The British also had 3 platoons. An LDV force was dug in on the far table, attempting to slow the German advance. On the nearest table a regular infantry platoon with mixed armoured platoon in support were rushing to join them, only to find a bunch of sneaky Germans in their way.

The German advance from the landing zone, facing a lot of mines, barbed wire and roadblocks along the way. Initial forces were infantry only, using them to find the defenders before the armour arrived.

German's advancing bravely. They did this for a while, then some old fellas started shooting at them and they went to ground.

As you can see the chaps in the club have a nice collection of WWII kit in the larger scale which really helps bring the platoon level game alive with sections of men very much core to the system.  The German commander skulks behind his men leads from the rear! Brave chap that he is.

Meanwhile the Fallschirmjagers prepared themselves for combat. In the distance they could hear tank tracks and engines, but whose were they?

Its also nice to have a change to the early war period and no Tiger tanks anywhere to be seen. Nathan did want to use a Tiger tank, "It could be a prototype" he said. Instead the Germans had a StuGIII, Panzer II and Panzer 38t. The advancing infantry had revealed a couple of sections of LDV troops, so the Panzers arrived. Also visible here is an engineer team trying to clear the minefield. Dinner plates upside down you say? What a sneaky trick.

With a platoon commander in a "State of the art" Panzer III! His advance was stalled by the roadblock and some suspicious looking milk churns.

That said the equivalent of a Tiger for this period did put in an appearance with a Matilda II rumbling around the French lanes. The Matilda is awesome, unless you need to shoot some infantry, then it's lack of HE and single MG make it less so. Above are some of the LDV types doing their best to stop the German advance.

The German armour was very pedestrian, sitting on top of a hill and laying in fire. They got a bit of a shock when a Smith gun starting taking shots at them, even more so when a Boys anti-tank rifle joined in too. Meanwhile the infantry were taking a hammering from 2 sections of old men and boys, one did have a Vickers MG with it though.

Alongside the German and British armour we had armoured cars and Fallschirmjager on the prowl with anti-tank guns at the ready.  The Fallschirmjagers support was very limited as elite troops don't get much for their money. They did have a nice little Pak36 though. Would it be enough to stop the British armour?

A Morris CS9 armoured car lead the way, with the mighty Matilda behind it.  The British forces had to roll a dice to see where they came on from as they rushed to the sound of battle.

On another road a Vickers VIc light tank arrived, joined by an armoured car. No real heavy armour this side of the table.

Regular British infantry move up with the Matilda, but lots of German MG34s were waiting for them.

Not sure about the allied star but the useful bren carrier served throughout the period
Also available was a small carrier section, 2 vehicles with 3 men in each. We had to make do with late war Universal Carriers as we  don't have any Bren or Scout Carriers......not yet anyway.

Lots more to come this weekend at the the DWG with a new bunch of games to present.  Fallschirmjagers defend the garden. The end result was a bit of a draw. The LDV got broken, but not before decimating the German infantry. The Panzers were largely untouched, a few minor damages. At the other end the British regulars had been slapped about a bit but they had, with the help of the armour, broken the Fallschirmjagers and were able to seize control of the bridge.

It was a fun game, a bit of a mish-mash of troops and a mixed scenario but it worked well enough and played well with 6 people taking part.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Battle of Wijnendale 1708 - Postscript

The hobby of historical wargaming is very much based on an interest in the history that underpins the games we play, and occasionally the history and the hobby come together in really interesting ways.

Such an occasion happened in the last few weeks when Erwin Louagie got in touch with the blog after reading the post on our game recreating the Battle of Wijnendale in 1708.

His comments about the battle and being from Wijnendale were very interesting and can be followed on the post covering our game back in February. In addition he offered to show some pictures of items he has found whilst exploring the area.

The period horseshoe is immediately obvious but I'm not sure what the other items might be, with possibly the mangled item top right of the picture above being the back of a regimental button and as to the other ring like object might be a brass fitting on a pistol or edged weapon.

If you think you know what Erwin has discovered then drop a comment.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Target for Tonight

LM326 EM-Z of 207 Squadron pictured over Barkston Heath airfield Lincolnshire in 1943

It was during last month's trip to Holland, whilst visiting the Museumpark Bevrijdende Vleugels in Best which houses among its very interesting collection of WWII vehicles, aircraft and other associated exhibits an array of various WWII aircraft pieces from the many crash sites to be found in the Netherlands.

Museumpark Bevrijdende Vleugels

As you would imagine there were several Lancaster crash sites included in this exhibition and I was reminded by Tom about a game we used to play with him and his brother Will, called 'Target for Tonight' after the famous Academy Award winning WWII film/documentary of a particular raid in 1941.

Target for Tonight

I picked these rules up a few years ago now after watching the game being played in Plymouth and written by D.W.Thomas in 2000, I do not know if they are still available with a quick Google search revealing nothing.

As you can see these rules don't come in glossy colour with lots of pictures of models and painting guides, just a straight forward set of black and white rules, just how they used to be! These rules are simple but not simplistic and give a very good sense of the process of a night bomber raid from take-off to landing and might be described as a "beer & pretzels" approach to the subject. I have always found them fun to play and so was happy to dig them out and get the toys together to take to club.

The game is described best suited for play solo or with a large number of players, say six or so, and I have found it quite straight forward for a player to handle multiple aircraft, in fact in our first game when I umpired, Ian, flew five aircraft using the different record sheets to note information on each plane as we went.

The idea is to play a raid from the bomber crew's perspective and it plays through a series of events:
  • Take off
  • The initial climb to the coast
  • A sustained climb over the North Sea
  • Enemy Coast Ahead
  • The Kammhuber Line
  • A number of legs over occupied Europe and Germany
  • Flak zones before the target - three for the Ruhr and Berlin with others having one or two zones
  • Over the target
  • Homeward bound
  • Descent over the North Sea
  • Return to base
  • Landing
Each of these stages is represented by the tiles you can see in the picture below and the bombers progress from one to another until they are lost or are safely home. Of course each part of this progression into the mission carried risk for the planes and crews involved and thus on moving from one stage to the next a series of D10 die rolls are made by the player and umpire to assess whether a risk to the plane occurs and the result of damage picked up through the flight.

The target for tonight gentlemen is Derben - RAF bombers and Luftwaffe night fighters set up to do battle over occupied Europe.

The general idea is that any time a '0' is rolled is when everyone starts getting nervous, and shouts of 'night-fighter!' and 'look out skip!' are the rule, with usually a roll of about 5, 6 or less being good enough to progress without any issues.

As well as the risks involved the die rolling also takes care of the occasional 'cock ups' that would occur with flying long distance at night and the issues for navigation and maintaining the aircraft, not to mention a comrade flying in the bomber stream colliding with, or dropping a bomb on, you.

The D10 also controls night-fighter activity in appropriate zones together with accrued damage causing the affected aircraft to roll single or multiple D10's from zone to zone from when it occurred to see if the damage has caused a fatal problem for the aircraft requiring the skill of the pilot to overcome. This again is only a concern when a '0' occurs but multiple damage is always a constant threat during a flight.

Surrounding the raid is the planning and preparation leading up to the crew briefing with players encouraged to get into character and the parlance of the day with references to "home in time for eggs and bacon" and the occasional "wizard prang".

Thus the map for our mission shows a raid planned on Derben, deep into Germany where the city was a target for oil refining and other associated production. The legs of the flight are shown with the approach over the North Sea before the turn to target.

The course seeks to avoid other key targets and their associated flak concentrations and two secondary targets, Kassel and Giessen are indicated should the crew miss the intended target and need to dump their bombs productively.

Aspects such as spoof raids and pathfinders are modelled in the rules with the chance of night-fighters being drawn away from a particular leg and TI's (target indicators) being laid on the target.

Whilst the crews are briefed the aircraft of B Flight go through final preparation in dispersal

The Night Bomber campaign was very much a war of science as both sides vied to get an edge over the other using technology to give the advantage.

This race for an advantage was a 'moving feast' and starts from the historical stand point of when certain technologies became available.

Once the date of your raid is decided you then select the appropriate period on the table below ignoring developments after your raid date and work back from the RAF development to assess if the Germans have come up with a countermeasure and any likely response.

The effect of these technological advances is modelled in the game with die factors based on the latest advance giving the advantage to one side or the other, hence with our raid taking place in July 1943, many of our Lancaster crews were thankful to have H2S ground mapping radar to help with their navigational errors.

And then there are the stars of our game, the models, because we are not playing a board game here, and with each tiny model comes a record sheet that describes the crew characteristics of S-Sugar or P-Popsey.

Each crew member is rated on capability which usually requires being rolled less than when their skill is needed to rescue a dicey situation.

As well as that the crews will have differing levels of experience based on the number of missions they have already survived, ranging from 6 or less rating 'Novice', more than 12, 'Veteran and with the first tour of 30 ops completed, any other ops over that moves the crew rating to 'Elite'.

Of course these ratings are not as obvious as you might think, as yes, Novice crews have a greater chance of crashing through error, dropping their bombs to early or being attacked by night-fighters, but Veteran and Elite crews have a greater chance of displaying some of the characteristics that enabled them to survive such as dumping their 'cookie' 4,000 lb bomb over the North Sea to help them gain altitude, or dumping their bombs if forced off the bomb run and thus avoiding going round again.

That said experience, skill and altitude mixed with a chunk of good fortune are the secret to a successful and survived mission.

As the rules go on to explain, two events during a raid were so frightening for a crew that they are modelled as games within the game moving up a scale or two with 1:300th models.

These were an attack by a night-fighter and the bomb run. When these situations occur then play temporarily transfers to the 6 x 8 square gridded board, with one side black and modelling the night sky during a night-fighter interception and the other-side with a similar grid over a flaming city scape modelling the final run into the target culminating with the exclamation 'bombs gone!'

B-Beer, F-Freddie, P-Popsey and S-Sugar climb out towards the North Sea coast, just as P-Popsey develops engine problems

When these high intensity actions occur the model planes are moved using playing cards to determine when they can move with bombers moving and firing on black cards at one square forwards or diagonal with one pivot, in the fighter game, simulating the corkscrew evasive manoeuvring and the fighter capable of moving up to two squares and firing on red cards.

With the bomb run the bomber is moving more sedately at one square forwards or diagonally, on the player successfully calling whether the next card drawn will be higher or lower. A failure to guess the next card results in the bomber drifting left or right determined by the colour of the last card drawn. Any plane drifting off the board before reaching the end of it and bombing is forced to go around again starting back in the flak zone.

To add yet more period flavour I insisted that the players in the role of bomb-aimer give their directions for their plane to move, to me their pilot, in RAF parlance, hence 'left left' to move diagonally left, 'steady' for straight ahead and 'right a bit' for diagonally right; very silly but great fun when a player forgets the right term and I as the pilot drift off course because I didn't get the right instruction.

Like wise the fighter game requires the bomber pilot to gain a series of black cards to put enough space between it and the fighter whilst always trying to present a deflection shot to minimise the chances of being hit. All this whilst trying to get off the opposite board end and escaping into the night.

Alongside the Me110 the Ju88 became the mainstay of the Nachtjagd

In the first game Ian played with five aircraft consisting of two novice crews (P-Popsey & H-How), two veteran crews (S-Sugar & F-Freddie) with the latter on 29 ops only requiring this mission to complete their first tour and an elite crew (B-Beer) with 47 ops completed, looking to just get through another long night.

In our second game we were joined by Stephen and put together a quick shorter mission to attack U-Boat depots in Bremen with a shorter flight to the target but with a longer return over the North Sea in October with inherent bad weather risks. 

B-Beer has an early unpleasant encounter south west of Bremen on the first leg

This report will cover the first game with the target map for Derben laid out below showing the target sites as three specific squares on the top left focusing the attack on the oil and refining plants, whilst avoiding the force labour camps and hospital.

One of the most hazardous parts of any bombing mission was the take-off requiring great skill to manoeuvre the sometime 60,000 lb loaded up Lancaster along a night-time runway with 14,000 lbs of bombs on board plus the fuel for the flight.

This was not a time for pilot error and the pilots most likely to make those errors were the novice crews, getting use to their aircraft and night time operations, hence novice aircraft roll two D10 for risks rather than just one for all other crews.

H-How was the first casualty of the night rolling a dreaded '0' and suffering a tyre blow out on take-off was unable to rescue the situation losing control and crashing at the end of the runway with a terrible explosion killing all those aboard.

Meanwhile the other four Lancasters of B Flight climbed off into the night sky over Lincolnshire and headed east towards the coast.

As the coast line rapidly hove into sight suddenly P-Popsey had a problem with the cooling of the port inner engine requiring the flight engineer to attempt to feather the engine without it erupting into flames.

A huge sigh of relief could be heard over Cleethorpes as the planes passed overhead with one merlin engine successfully feathered leaving just three to complete the mission.

Having survived night fighter encounters, flak ships and navigational errors the flight runs the gauntlet of flak as they approach the bomb run.

The North Sea crossing went off without any further mishaps, the main factor here being icing up on wings and engines, which was not such a hazard in July.

The next scare came on reaching the enemy coast as B-Beer and F-Freddie both had Monica alarms sound. I as umpire knew that F-Freddie was a false alarm, but had Ian set up the night-fighter attack board and watch him desperately throw the Lancaster around the board until he clocked that the fighter wasn't taking its shots and I declared it a false alarm - great fun.

The alarm on B-Beer however was the real thing, but the cool experienced pilot weaved around the night sky leaving his adversary wondering if there ever had been a bomber to vector in on.

The last two legs to the target were fairly uneventful with spoof raids in the vicinity doing their job and drawing off the night-fighter cover, however that didn't stop three of the aircraft making navigational errors and going off track at least once, and with F-Freddie managing to fly into a searchlight zone and getting coned.

Searchlights awaited the unwary and off-course Lancaster crew

The subsequent fuselage hit from the flak that followed seriously wounded the wireless operator and killed the pilot with the flight engineer taking control of the aircraft.

All the aircraft were back on course and unscathed clearing the flak zone in preparation for lining up for the bomb run.

The novices P-Popsey were up first on this, only their sixth, op and just entered the target zone when their bomb-aimer suddenly announced 'bombs gone' and off went their photo flash showing that they had hit the outer residential areas of Derben with nothing else to do but to break off for home.

First up was the novice crew P-Popsey

Bomb-aimers as well as having a skill factor are rated as either 'jumpy', 'steady' or 'determined' which causes them to be more or less likely to drop their bombs early, on certain picture cards of varying suits.

With novices off on their way home, the two veteran crews, F-Freddie and S-Sugar lined up with both making pin-point deliveries over the refining and finishing plants just leaving the job to be finished by the experts, B-Beer.

The Lancaster came on steady and was perfectly lined up on the yellow TI's when suddenly the plane was strafed by an unseen free-jagd, single seater night fighter that only managed to cause superficial fuselage damage as it passed, but must have been sufficient to cause their bomb-aimer to drop slightly prematurely, hitting the nearby rail depot to the works, or was that a wrong picture card coming out straight after the attack?

P-Popsey's, bomb-aimer get a bad case of the jitters and releases far too early

With all the planes through and over the target B Flight could afford to congratulate themselves on a job fairly well done and focus on setting a course for home.

Last to arrive over the target were the veteran crew B-Beer who get attacked on the final run in by a Wild-Sau night fighter and the bomb-aimer releases slightly early.

Perhaps the homeward leg is the worst for keeping crews focused on the job with the tension of the bomb run over.

That might explain the losses of both S-Sugar and P-Popsey over Giessen as night-fighters, no longer conned by the earlier spoof attacks, circled in wait for bombers clearing the target.

The night-fighter was by far away the most effective cause of bomber losses in the night battles over Germany with the majority of kills going to a select group of 'experten'; and try as they might to get into deflection attitudes both aircraft succumbed to multiple engine strikes with just the bomb-aimer from P-Popsey able to bail out and survive to be taken as a prisoner of war. 

With the early drop of P-Popsey, the rest of the flight make a good attack with S-Sugar and F-Freddie bang on the yellow TI's (Target Indicators), whilst B-Beer has hit the local rail yard.

After the losses of the Giessen leg the only scares on the other return legs were navigational rather than life threatening and structural and the two survivors of B flight were soon across the channel and calling in on the approach to join the circuit in preparation to land.

Lowering 10' of flap and throttling back, the flight engineer on F-Freddie, having brought the Lancaster all the way back from a successful bomb run following the pilot being killed and the wireless operator left severely wounded after being hit by flak, prepared the aircraft on final approach.

As the big bomber descended towards the runway the final checks were being made including that D10 damage die roll; remember what I said, don't throw a '0' especially as we are on the last op of our 30 op tour and leave awaits after a good 'sesh' down the at the Old Bull and Bush.

With all bombs gone, the throttles are opened up to get clear of the target and on course for home

Hang on was that a '0' you just rolled, and was that a tyre burst I just heard? - 'look out Skip !!!'

Suddenly F-Freddie took a lurch to the left and careened along on the port wing as the undercarriage collapsed causing sparks as the plane made contact with the concrete runway. The plane slid along for several hundred yards away from the runway and, coming to a halt, caused a collective intake of breath from observers on the tower.

Then, almost within a second of the plane stopping, an enormous yellow ball of flame vomited from the centre of the fuselage as the aircraft exploded into flames lighting up the main runway.

As the realisation sunk in that there were no survivors from F-Freddie, the distant throb of four Merlin engines throttling back on finals announced the arrival of B-Beer over the threshold of runway 270 as the veteran plane gently dropped in on the runway with full flap helping to slow the great aircraft down as without further mishap the only survivor of B flight taxied back to the dispersal pens and a ride for her crew to the debrief.

A chance for a check on the damage status in preparation for the home leg with still a long way to go

The game played just as I remembered it with moments of great drama and narrative that moves this up several notches from a simple "Beer & Pretzels" affair.

The second quicker game with a four plane raid to Bremen produced equal drama with one bomber dodging a night-fighter attack and two searchlight conings to complete an in out mission successfully while others fell unluckily to single but deadly flak hits and with one bomber exploding after being hit in the bomb bay by a night-fighter using the deadly up firing guns or "Schrage Musik".

Suddenly the 'Monica' alarm sounds as S-Sugar attempts to corkscrew out of trouble

Whilst we all walked away from a very fun game unscathed and ready for a beer or two we all felt the game really captured something of the terrible stress and constant state of alarm flying these missions must have had on the crews, not to mention the near impossibility of bailing out when the big Lancaster started to drop out of the sky, with the best bail out result we achieved being three out of the seven crew and no pilots.

Thanks to Ian and Stephen for joining in what was a really entertaining afternoon's game and with ideas to get more players in on future plays to see if we can put a squadron in the air.