Rattenkrieg: Stalingrad Part 2, The German 6th Army!

The humble Landsers in the ruins of a dead city…

File:Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R1222-501, Stalingrad, deutscher Soldat mit  Zigarette.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
A German soldier enjoys a cigarette, but the tension on his face never leaves-From the German Federal Archive

“The army’s exact losses are still uncertain, but there was no doubt that the Stalingrad campaign represented the most catastrophic defeat hitherto experienced in German history.” -Antony Beevor, Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-1943

When the 6th Army and 4th Panzer Division marched into the bombed out city of Stalingrad, they hoped that the fight would be a quick one. The Luftwaffe, in its wisdom, chose to bomb the city into the stone age. This instead made for a labyrinth of ruined buildings, sewers, and streets that instead become the grave for over 300,000 German soldiers. Fewer then 5000-6000 would return home.

For wargaming, the German Army is often depicted as the pinnacle of excellence, an elite force that defeats any foe with ruthless efficiency. Part of the alluring truths of Stalingrad was its utter rebuttal of this notion, and when I recieved my Winter German starter, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t make an unstoppable force at its prime when they entered the city. Instead, I wanted to depict the period from November to December when the encirclement of the would-be besiegers happened, and trapped them.

In all honesty, the Winter German kit is excellent, but perhaps a tougher choice to make work then the Blitzkrieg German kit. A few anachronisms sneak in by the fact the kit was obviously stretched to fit the Late War period so popular in Bolt Action. I had to make some allowances.

I had two major rules; no Panzerfausts or Stg-44s could be used. This was annoying since the kit had so many of these two choices. This was still easy enough to work with on the plastic models…but the metal ones were a tougher nut to crack. As well, I wanted no MG42s. While there were prototypes being fielded there in small numbers, I wanted to stick with the MG34 as that was far more common. This ruled out the included MMG team, which will have to be sorted out later.

Lets see how I cracked on!

I built 40 plastic landsers, with one MG34 and one MP40 or PPsh-41 per squad. This was interesting test to see just how far I could stretch the included bits to make it appear as if there were 4 distinct poses. The PPsh-41s came from my Soviet Winter starter, which had them in ample supply.

This NCO has got his hands in mittens to keep them from freezing off. He is moving from cover to cover, not expecting to shoot. This was an absolute pig of a model to put together. I took the extra step of removing the Mauser pouches in favour of the SMG pouches. That wasn’t so bad. The arms on the other hand didn’t seat right, and took some fancy glue work.
Ah the accursed mold lines that you only notice when you take a photo! I quickly fixed that up after I was done taking the photo. This Landser has acquired a Soviet PPSh-41, a popular weapon in Stalingrad on both sides. The Germans even rechambered a few for 9mm Parabellum, but many more were used as is. At this late stage in the battle, it might even be easier to find ammunition for!
Another NCO, another PPsh, this time with a stick magazine. This landser also has taken mittens off a dead Russian, but has taken them off to fire his weapon. They are attached to his sleeves, as his mittens are probably more dear to him then his weapon in the cold.

The NCOs were fun, if a little fiddly to put together. That was almost entirely my fault; I wasn’t happy with just slapping the MP40 pouches on top of the Mauser pouches, and so for the two NCOs(one is not pictured because honestly he just isn’t worthy of being photographed, being rather boring) armed with MP40s I shaved off the Mauser Pouches. No green stuff was needed luckily, and I was able to put the SMG pouches right over where the old pouches were.

The PPSH was very popular in German hands, so I made two NCOs with them instead. I didn’t file off the pouches on those models, but I might find some Russian pouches for them later.

Lets see some more, this time the squaddies.

The MG34 was a fantastic weapon for its time, and I’m glad that it was included on the sprue. I have given one to each squad, with one man acting as a loader and carrying ammunition drums. These were fun models to make, and a fun tiny challenge to make the no variety in arms work with different poses for a degree of diversity.
It is a little hard to see here unpainted, but this Landser has a grenade in his right hand, ready to be lobbed at Ivan.
This infantryman is armed with a Teller Mine; while I am using them as simply ‘Anti-Tank Grenades’ these mines were considerably more powerful in real life. Still, as visual shorthand it should remind me that I can blow up tanks with my squads.

Next up were the metal models. I love metal models…most of the time. These were not bad, but unfortunately they are more geared toward the late war period and I had to make do for now. Still, lets have a look!

A German Captain, complete with a fancy fur-lined coat. This might make him a tempting target for Soviet snipers…
A senior German NCO, which I will be fielding as a First Lieutenant(Oberleutnant). Lots of nice detail here, but no greatcoat, being lucky enough to have a shorter more practical jacket. This I believe was available to a lucky few at Stalingrad, but was by no means common and is one of my many minor anachronisms that I hope to resolve later.
Another great model that appears to be a little anachronistic is this Medic carrying a wounded soldier. They are both wearing the shorter winter jacker favoured in the Late War, and is a field expedient until I can find a suitable replacement.
Finally, some metal models wearing greatcoats! This mortar squad will keep enemies heads down.
Wearing a combination of short jacket and greatcoat, this Artillery observer won’t look too out of place and can remain as is.
This model was almost perfect, wearing the combination short jacket and greatcoat. I could almost forgive the helmet cover which is distinctly later in make….but what I could not forgive was it having a stonking huge STG-44 on his back! I cut it away…
….and added a much more accurate MP40! I got a bit clever here, as my greenstuff skills lie mostly in filling gaps.
So instead I used a bit of metal flashing from his base to make a sling, and attached it to where the plastic MP40 had its original sling.
Short of gluing my fingers together, this was actually pretty easy! While this model is actually from the included MG42, I at least found a new home for him as the Mortar Squad’s spotter!

Now let’s talk anachronisms and gaming. I would, if had been able, supplied all the models in this force with period accurate weapons. However, as the sleeves must remain distinctly greatcoat in appearance, I had to make some allowances. I firstly had to use the included Gewehr 43s, which are standing in for the slightly less anachronistic(if only just!) Gewehr 41. I was not entirely happy with this, but it was a decision to get these guys into the painting queue faster then I would have waited for replacement arms. It also, tellingly, still counts as just a rifle in-game. This to me is a forgivable anachronism, as these are at the end of the day wargaming models. My goal is historical accuracy, but at the end of the day I really just want to play some games too!

Secondly and more egregiously is the metal models…they are definitely meant for Late War, and only a few pass muster. I will be ordering some replacements for them once I get a chance, probably from Great Escape Games. I still made some effort to ‘back-date’ them a smidge, but they still aren’t perfect. However, they will still pass muster for the average layman, and being that I am one myself I will content myself with that for now.

Anyways, with this done I can move on from the irresistible force of the Wehrmacht to the immovable object that is the Red Army. Chuikov’s men are significantly more work to put together, being that their arms and weapons are separate, but Comrade Stalin is a harsh task-master and the city must be held.

I hope you enjoyed today’s ramblings, and I’ll catch you tomorrow! Happy War-Gaming wherever you are, and Auf Wiedersehen Kameraden!

Rattenkrieg: Stalingrad Part One!

The fate of the world hangs in the balance…

The mighty but slow KV tank vs a practical and lethal Panzer IV

“Do not count the days, do not count the miles. Count only the Germans you have killed. Kill the German – this is your old mother’s prayer. Kill the German – this is what your children beseech you to do. Kill the German – this is the cry of your Russian earth. Do not waver. Do not let up. Kill.”-IIya Ehrenburg, Soviet Poet.

Stalingrad. It is a name that resonates with many who have even a passing knowledge of history. The battle that took place there was one of no mercy, no pity, and appalling violence. It was a personal grudge match between two merciless dictators, but its importance in turning the tide of WW2 is without argument.

For many years I have wanted to refight the epic duel between Communism and Fascism on the Volga, but such a proposition was expensive. I knew two things; I wanted to do it in 28mm, probably Bolt Action. And that I wanted to do it right. Flames of War is an excellent system, but Stalingrad was a battle of inches, close in, barbaric fighting. Flames of War would be excellent for the later battles on the Russian Steppe, but Bolt Action with its focus on infantry combat would portray the ‘Rattenkrieg’ much better.

I got my chance a week ago. I was able to find both the German Winter Starter Army and Winter Soviet Starter Army for a great price in Canada. While both sets have some issues in respect to portraying the battle, they offer an amazing start; and for the price I paid, a relatively inexpensive one. The Soviet one in particular comes with so many infantry models that you cannot fit them all into one generic reinforced platoon! Both sets come with metal command and support options, allowing you to focus on building the infantry as fighting squads. While for the Germans I’ll need to find an MG34 team, I’m practically set for now.

Minus the anachronistic MG42, I will be able to make use of all the contents!
And the Soviets; never has ‘Quantity has Quality all its own” been so affordable!

There is a lot of stuff to build here. So I’ve broken it into manageable chunks. Yesterday and today I got the armour completed.

It was an interesting ‘compare and contrast’ moment. The KV-1/2 is an Italeri/Warlord joint kit, and has much more in common with traditional model kits then a wargaming kit. On the other hand, the Panzer IV is a Warlord ‘In House’ model, and is much more akin to putting together a wargaming kit.

I have to be honest with you; I prefer the Warlord kit. The Panzer IV went together rather well, and feels like it can take some tabletop abuse. The KV by Italeri feels delicate, almost as if it would shatter if handled poorly. Both however were easy builds, under an hour. Lets take a look at them!

The KV-1/2 is a beast, but the brittle plastic and fragile feel ruins that a little. Still, it cuts an imposing figure!
I lost the rear turret machinegun; it was such a small part that when I dropped it I could not find it again. Still, look at that turret! What an absolute unit!
I will hand one thing to Italeri here; having the option for both the KV-1 and KV-2 and being able to build both turrets was really, really nice. The KV-1 is a far more practical tank for actual Bolt Action, at least I think it will be!

Now the Panzer IV! I originally was going to build a short-barrel one, but a lot of the tanks I found pictures of from the battle had the longer F model barrel. So that is what I went with! The instructions were…vague. I had very little idea where exactly to put some of the stowage, so I winged it a little.

The Panzer IV is iconic. Few can argue its effectiveness in battle, especially in the Early-Mid war period.
This kit went together smoothly. I was particularly impressed by the tracks, which went together with almost no gaps.
While there is still some gaps to fill, there are fewer then I expected. This tank will be fun to use!

Now lets compare the two! The size difference is pretty amazing. The KV-1 really looks like the beast it was!

Whoa, now that is a tank! While I preferred building the Panzer IV, the KV is simply massive, and looks like it will be an absolute blast to use.
The length of the tanks isn’t as much of a difference as the width and height, but it is still obvious just how much bigger the KV is. I can see how the KV would shock the German Wehrmacht when they first encountered it!

Now, Stalingrad was at its heart an infantryman’s battle, not one of armoured might. So I won’t be adding too many tanks to this roster. Tomorrow, I will start on the Soviet 62nd Army. I will be running them closer to the history then just copying ‘Enemy at the Gates’, so hopefully I can keep the force ‘authentic’.

The Germans are a harder nut to crack. The sprue is filled with STG-44s, which I cannot use at all. I will have to really make the rifles work! The Early-Mid War selectors will keep both armies mostly armed with rifles, although I will field some Soviet and German squads with more SMGs.

I will be using the Stalingrad campaign book to refight this struggle, and as an added treat, it came with the famous Vasily Zaitsev! As far as snipers go, he is pretty crazy for Bolt Action. I will field him occasionally with his actual rules, but more often he will be just a generic sniper. However, the book does have rules for the fictional Major Konig from Enemy At the Gates, which despite my wish to fight this mostly historically, is too much of a tease to not attempt to kitbash him.

Hero of the Soviet Union, Zaitsev has an interesting career that Enemy at the Gates almost completely ignored. When I paint him, I’ll be sure to point that out when I write that article!

Now the good news; I have all the blown up city terrain I could possibly ever need to do most of the scenarios. I will get the Tractor Factory at some point, but fighting that battle I will need some factory workers and factory fresh T-34s, so that will be some ways off.

Anyways, that is all I have for today. I have written a lot of ‘Part Ones’ recently, and I will be chipping away to make those have ‘Part Twos’. What can I say, I like to have a lot of projects on the go! I have been laid off from work temporarily during Ontario’s third lockdown, so I have nothing but time…

Happy War-gaming wherever you are, and remember; Not one step back Comrades!

Home in Time for Tea and Medals: D-Day British for Flames of War!

Taking it to the Hun in 15mm!

Juno and Sword Beaches Finest!

In my last hobby post, I featured some Flames of War Sherman V tanks, the start of the British starter force I was working my way through.

Well, just in time for the New Year, and mug of Earl Grey in hand, I have finished the lot!

This starter box is a great deal, and was a lot of fun to work through, even if it did seem like a slog near the end. My friends in the city have all the other major Late War factions covered, so my addition of some stiff upper-lipped Brits to the party will make for some fun battles! I may even have some competition locally, once Lockdown is over and it is safe to do so!

It was a decision between the Soviets and the British for me to play, but really, the choice wasn’t hard. I have always been an Anglophile and my love of the Sherman tank, especially the vaunted Firefly, meant I went for the older, Fortress Europe released box set. There is a newer box, for the D-Day landings specifically and featuring the Desert Rats, however I wanted a force with Shermans, not Cromwells.

Without any further delay, lets have a peek at what came in the box!

Churchills! They may be slow but they have a charm all their own.

First up was the Churchills. You get three in the box, with the Late War sprue variation. I could have built them as later Mark VIII or Crocodile Flame Tanks, but instead I went with 75mm armed earlier pattern Churchills, which from my research were fairly common in Normandy.

A very distinct, and I must say, lovely, profile.

I intend to use these tanks to support my Motor Platoon, and take objectives, not to hunt my opponents tanks. But if pressed, the 75mm is no slouch!

The kit comes with several door options. Make sure you pick the right ones!

The Churchills proved to be my favourite of the bunch; A lovely kit to build with a stupid amount of options. I’ve picked up the D-Day British unit cards so while the box comes with the Italy version, I can field them as the proper Normandy configuration.

Next up we have the M5 Stuarts! Not my favourite variant of the Stuart chassis but a great kit nonetheless!

Ready to recce!

This was another easy, fun kit to build. I had no trouble with it, and they went together in an evening. These tanks will serve as my spearhead and flanking choice, to get the rest of my armour to places it’ll hurt!

Drat, I see a couple mould lines I forgot to clean up! Always catch them late…

My favourite Stuart is the M3 ‘Honey’ fielded by the British in the desert, but those are long in the tooth by now and these newer, M5 Stuarts replaced them by this point in the war. It’s a better design, and the extra point of armour might save them from the odd anti-tank shot.

Next up we have the 17pdr SP ‘Achilles’, a kit I thought would be a bear to build but turned out surprisingly well.

Open topped? Better hope it doesn’t rain!

I actually enjoyed building these a lot more than I thought I would. With three options for the kit, the hardest part was making sure I picked the correct options. The crew took some creativity to fit using the tank commander sprues included in the box.

The crew look serviceable, and at this scale look fine enough!

The crew I’m strictly just okay with. They could be better, but they give enough of the appearance of a crewed tank destroyer that I’ll give them a pass. I can’t see anyway of making this better without losing the Battlefront Miniatures characteristic turret peg. A minor criticism to be sure, and I’m still more then happy to field them.

I’m not sure tactically how to use these yet, but seeing as I only have two Fireflies they might be a crucial unit against my friends Panther’s, Tigers, and the odd IS-2.

The crew look absolutely fine from this angle!

Rounding out the armoured contingent, if only technically, are some Universal Carriers!

Easy to build, but I’m not sure as to their utility….

These were an easy and fun kit to build (One can sense a pattern here!), but having not played Flames of War yet I can’t seem to find a use for them. They are an additional scout unit, but with just Brens they are strictly anti-infantry. Not a bad thing by any means, but both my opponents field mostly armoured formations!

Without a Piat, these little Universal Carriers lack the needed punch.

While the option exists to field them with PIATs, this option was not in the box. I have a lot of anti-tank as it is, so perhaps they can find a use solely harassing enemy infantry. I may go back and replace the Bren gun on the top with a Vickers, drastically increasing their firepower.

The box has not yet given up all of its goodies. I also got a Motor Platoon of infantry to accompany my tanks!

Surprisingly good looking infantry!

I was expecting soft sculpts, but in all honesty these are great! The detail is mostly sharp, and at this scale they are particularly good, and durable! The kit comes with only five stands, but the sheer amount of spares has me wondering if I should get a few more!

These will be either a joy or a pain to paint, depending on how much detail I choose to add!

I assembled them glued to the stands; my limited experience with Team Yankee infantry has shown me that it is fairly easy to paint them on the stands if you aren’t overly picky about detail. Still, they should have enough detail to take a wash well.

The officer has quite a bit of character for being this small!

I intend to use my infantry to hold my own objectives on the defense, or to aid my Churchills on the attack. With a PIAT team of their own, they can defend themselves against armour in a pinch.

Finally, we have four 25pdr Field Guns! I was expecting these to be rather fiddly, and they were a little. But they still went together rather quickly!

Ready to receive coordinates!

While small and rather fiddly to put together, the limited parts count meant they went together really fast. The majority of the time was spent laying out the crew on the bases. They are almost miniature dioramas!

I wasn’t sure about the limber until I saw it on the base. They add just that little bit extra.

For a unit I wasn’t too jazzed about, they were a lot of fun to build, and a good way to end off building the box. While these are already replaced with reinforcements in the way of Sextons, they are still really pretty little field guns, and might see some play on occassion!

This ended off the British Armoured Battlegroup Starter set. With the addition of a Sherman Armoured Troop, I’m now well placed to start playing Flames of War in earnest. Of course, that is when Covid-19 cooperates with us! I have already supplemented this existing force with some additional reinforcements, in the way of Sextons, Typhoons, and a Daimler recce patrol. I have also managed to snag a copy of the Command Cards, although that was from a foreign source and will be a while before they arrive!

I have yet to give some thoughts on what I will be painting these gents up as. I have an urge to either do a Canadian force, but that might be a bit on the nose given I am Canadian! Alternatively I am tempted by the Guards Armoured Division, and the decals I have will make that particular force doable right from the outset. Either way, I want to at least make a token effort on some historical authenticity.

This will be my last post of this year, and with that I wish you a happy New Year, no matter where you are, and may 2021 bring you happy wargaming! And until next year, God Save the King!

Lest we Forget: A small tribute to a man I never knew.

I’ll keep this brief, as this is not supposed to be a post solely to get views. Remembrance Day is very important to me, but I also just started a new job today, and had to mark my moment of silence while working. I don’t have a lot of pictures; My grandfather burned them after the war to spite the British.

In 1939, Austin Turner went to war. A youth, from middle upper-class gentry, and schooled in the British fashion, the reason he went to volunteer is unknown to us. As an Anglo-Indian, considered to be a “Non-Warrior” race, he wasn’t actively sought out. A sort of reverse racism. But nonetheless, as the Empire went to war against Nazi Germany, he found himself in military service.

Eventually, he found himself in the Western Desert, fighting against Rommel and his Afrika Korps as part of the 8th Army, the famous ‘Desert Rats’. In fact, he was an Engineer, helping clear the minefields of El Alamein.

Now this is where the story gets weird. He ended up as a navigator on an LRDG truck, (and in actual fact, this is where I got the name for this blog; Their unit motto was “Non Vi Sed Arte“, Latin for “Not by Strength, By Guile), and this is where the trail goes cold, and difficult to follow. He was in one of the English/South African patrols, according to family folklore.

He recalled serving in Yugoslavia, and was wounded in action in 1943. Returning to Egypt, he helped open a Singer sewing machine factory(which, if I recall correctly, is still there today!) and was quite a character in the Egyptian yacht community. Finally coming back to India in 1945, and in 1947 was bitterly disappointed with how Britain handled Partition, burned his passport and British citizenship, and became an avid Pakistani patriot. Running a salvage operation, breaking down ships, he finally died sometime in the 70’s from complications due to smoking. (My dad, who knows the exact date, is always broken up when asked, and for the sake of an internet article, I won’t ask).

A replica set of medals, given to each of the grandchilden. The full set is in Australia with my family there.

This man, who I never met, was apparently a gruff, stern, built like a truck individual. The polar opposite of myself. Yet his influence on my upbringing was staggering. I spent much of my formative years tracking his progress across the Western Desert campaign, and told tales of his exploits to my schoolyard friends. His bayonet, ground down into a fighting knife during his posting to the LRDG, is a unique heirloom exclusive to my family.

My interest in history, the Second World War, and the Western Desert campaign all comes from a man who in 1939, went to war, and was never the same again. He was not alone in my family; A great uncle went to Burma, and was captured and worked in prison camps not far different then the Bridge on the River Kwai, and if I’m not mistaken, WAS actually where he ended up. My Grandfather on my mothers side didn’t serve, but worked in the news, editing articles and getting them up for the evening news.

My family now finds itself in two Commonwealth nations, remembering our veterans quietly, as to not take away from the fact we are honouring Canadian and Australian veterans in our respective nations. But we remember our contribution to the Commonwealth and Britain in general. While my Grandfather may have been bitter about Partition, he was still an outstanding soldier, and that is how I choose to remember him. As I do all my family’s veterans.

Lest we Forget.