Normandy Trip- Sword Beach.

After a late night drive from Oiustreham ferry port through Normandy to our holiday home on the Sunday evening, Dad and I had a relatively lazy morning before heading back to the coast to see Sword Beach and Ouistreham in daylight. Staying as we were a good drive south of the coast I had a long drive to look at the scenery as we headed north on Monday morning passing so many familiar place names.

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Looking west down the invasion beach.

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A memorial built upon an Atlantic Wall cloche.

After a short walk on the beach we headed into the No. 4 Commando museum: it celebrates the French Commando unit that landed on D Day and the part its Frenchmen played in liberating their own country.

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The museum entrance.

I didn’t take any pictures of the inside- it was rather dark and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t allowed. It is a nice little museum featuring plenty of information on the French Commandos and their role in the invasion. It was full of the usual artifacts and mannequins dressed in uniforms as well as a pleasing array of models and dioramas.

After spending a pleasant hour in the museum we then headed across the town to the Atlantic Wall Museum: The bunker which is located in the distinctive German HQ bunker that housed a large rangefinder in its upper levels.

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The entrance: flanked by a British 25pdr and German Flak 18.

Outside were a few larger items: a pair of guns, a landing craft, a M5 tank, an M7 Priest and an M3 halftrack.

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I made you think looking down the ramp of the landing craft to the time when they approached the French coast in 1944.

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The trackless M7 Priest.

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The M3 halftrack, actually it is the M16 Antiaircraft version with out a gun. The giveaway is the presence of the fold down sides, check your old Matchbox model kit and you’ll see what I mean.

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The M5 is a pretty small tank- I certainly wouldn’t want to cram my 6 foot 19 stone frame into it.

The inside of the museum is fantastic, I really enjoy exploring old bits of concrete and bunkers in general so this was right up my street. The displays inside give a great impression of what it would be like to did your time in a bunker such as this. The close confines and tiers of bunks brought to mind submarines in the way that the manaquins were jammed in. Information displays gave a potted history of the bunker and the Atlantic Wall in general as well as the capture of the bunker itself on D+3. Right at the top a rangefinder (not the original) has been installed which you can look out to sea through.

To finish off our visit to Sword beach we drove westwards looking for what the majority of the guide books said was a Churchill AVRE, however when we got there it was clearly a Centaur (Cromwell with 95mm gun) even the plaque said it was a Churchill, when and why it was swapped of mislabeled I’m not sure.

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The Cromwell is set back from the coast facing the road that runs parallel to the beach.

Whilst I’m mentioning guide books I took along as many as I could, both my own and some which were borrowed. I found the Battleground Europe range the best for describing the history and narrative of each place but the Battle Zone Normandy range far better as tourist guides. I also picked up the free visitor guide in the first museum that we went to- invaluable for up to date information on the museums (opening times, costs, etc).

Cheers,

 

Pete.

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Normandy Trip- Bletchley Park.

As I posted earlier to break up the drive down from Yorkshire to the New Forest we called in at Bletchley Park.

It is a nicely presented modern museum, telling the story of the site as you move round the complex. To make the most of the visit we used the free audio guide and followed the suggested route.

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The modest scale of the code-breaking work at Bletchley was such that at the start of the war the country house and its various outbuildings were all that was required. Very quickly this was insufficient and the sprawl of huts was built up.

As I’m pretty sure that you are all aware of the stories of Bletchley Park I won’t go into too much detail of what happened there. The thing that really surprised me however was the absolutely massive scale of the operation that was there. Round the clock large scale breaking of German and other Axis codes. It required thousands of mostly women working very hard with no recognition for decades afterwards to produce a quality of signal intelligence that shortened the war by several years.

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The audio-guide led me to this memorial to the work that the Poles did before the war that enabled so much to be done during the conflict years. In general I feel that the Polish contribution and sacrifices to WW2 has been undervalued for many years and it was nice to see this tribute to that nation.

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The majority of the museum is made up of the huts with little displays set up in them  to given an idea of the spartan conditions people worked in there.

The audio-guide leads you through the huts and you can listen to the development of the site and the functions of each hut. It is a good use of the buildings and in someways reminiscent of Eden Camp. However they do get a little same-y with the 1940s style set dressing, but that is a small price to pay for the preservation of the site. The majority of the artifacts are held in a separate building. The centrepiece of this is a magnificent rebuilt bombe that was used to decode the engima intercepts.

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This wonderful machine (not a computer) is demonstrated by the staff there- the gent who did our presentation did a great job and was very knowledgeable, especially passing this on to the younger people there.

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These two example in different conditions were what it was all about: The Enigma Machine. Used by The Germans in their thousands, the encrypted messages were transmitted in Morse and picked up by listening stations, transcribed and then sent to Bletchley. So fast was the process , that by the end of the war, Allied commanders were getting decrypt translations at about the same time as the intended Nazi recipient had got it.

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The bombe didn’t produce a definitive answer: machines such as this were needed, as well as plenty of brain power to test possibilities that the machine threw up.

Sadly our visit was cut short by the closing of the museum. Fortunately the entry tickets are valid for a year so I plan to go back down there to have a decent  look at what I missed sooner, rather than later. I also might visit the National Musuem of Computing that shares a site with Bletchley Park.

Next- on to France….

Cheers,

 

Pete.

 

 

A small Cold War game.

I recently played a quick game of 5core: Brigade Commander with Bill. He had recently finished some late 80s Brits that he hadn’t had on the games table yet so it was a good excuse to have a game.

Bill brought a British tank Brigade consisting of 8 companies/ squadrons of Challenger I tanks and 4 companies of mechanised infantry in Warrior IFVs plus a HQ company and a flight of Lynx helicopters, these were backed up with supporting platoons of Scimitar and Scorpion recce tanks, Blowpipe MANPADs and Swingfire ATGMS.

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I fielded a Soviet armoured regiment with the divisional recce battalion. This amounted to 7 companies of T64s with 5 companies of mechanised infantry in BMPs and a flight of Hinds. These were backed up with 4 recce platoons, 2 AA platoons and 3 Engineer platoons.

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I figured given that our forces were roughly equal we should have a simple encounter game, we set up the table with plenty of woods and a big urban area in the middle. I lost the set up roll and deployed over the full 4 foot frontage I had. Bill favoured his right flank.

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To add doctrinal differences to armies 5core uses tactics cards that can be played to give a slight advantage or to hinder the enemy. To counter Bill’s strength on my left flank it was to one of these cards I turned: ‘Commandos’. I placed they at the end of my first turn in the woods in the front of Bill’s units hindering their movement in the early turns. This gave me enough time to rush plenty of units forwards to the urban areas at the middle of the table. Losses were fairly equal for most of the game. Bill made good use of his ‘Scoot and Shoot’ tactics card and his Lynx helicopter- I was lucky not to lose both units to the ATGMs it carried. My artillery was slightly more effective than his; it didn’t kill anything but was good at pinning units in place. On the Soviet right flank Bill launched a devastating close assault by a mechanised infantry on a damaged T64 company stuck in the open and wiped it out, my Commandos too fell to a determined close assault by infantry and Warriors in the woods. I only managed to pull things round when I had 2 consecutive good turns, taking advantage of some re-positioning moves, my tanks opened up and with 4 shots killed 4 units. At this point Bill called the game as I’d taken out over 2/3s of his armour and his left flank had folded. Unusually for our games both helicopters survived to the end; I only moved mine once and never fired it.

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All in all it was a great way to while away a couple of hours, Bill only lost due to my luck being so good. He has been busy painting up FV432s and Chieftains so hopefully we’ll have a rematch soon.

 

Cheers,

 

Pete.

Normandy trip- The Mulberry harbour.

As request by Chris here are the photos of the remains of the Mulberry Harbour at Arromanches; Dad and I visited on the Tuesday of our holiday.

When we arrived the tide was fairly high up the beach but the remains of both the breakwater and the pontoons were still visible.

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We took a quick look on the beach to get a bit closer.

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We then took a wander around the other outside exhibits before going into the museum whilst the tide receded.

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A 5.5 inch gun- there are quite a lot of these preserved around Normandy.

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A section of the roadway that linked the pontoons with a little bulldozer on top.

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There is a gun emplacement up the hill from the port with a Sherman on top of it which gives a nice view of the bay so we took a walk up there.

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We then went into the nice little museum at Arromanches.

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Inside was the usual combination of models and artifacts; the former were difficult to photograph as they were under glass.

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By the time we had gone round the museum and watched the short video presentation in there the tide had gone out further revealing more of the Mulberry harbour.

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The heart wasn’t my work btw.

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Next Dad and I popped a couple of miles up the coast to see the gun battery at Longues Sur Mer but I’ll save that for another post.

 

Cheers,

 

Pete.

A busy few days: Recon show, Necromunda, The Great War and Wargames magazines.

Last weekend I, with Paul, flew the flag for Pennine Megagames by taking the demo version of ‘Harrying of the North’; it is a simple map movement and battle board participation game.

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The Normans have to hoover up supplies whilst Saxons under Edgar the Etheling try to stop them. It is mainly to show off the combat mechanisms I plan to use in the future megagame. Be honest about it, whilst the game works, it take too long for what would be available in a megagame turn so it needs streamlining more. However, with Fall Blau on the horizon I am devoting my energies into that. I plan to take a demo version of it to the Hammerhead show at Newark and possibly Chillcon in Sheffield. Pleasingly the paper figures that I cut out seemed to be very popular with the punters at Pudsey. Given how little time they took to construct I’m really pleased with how they turned out.

A couple of posts ago I mentioned that my sense of nostalgia had been tweaked by Games Workshop’s reissue of Necromunda. Well my friend Jonathon has a copy so I popped round to have a game.

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Having got such fond memories of the original and gaming in my teenage years I was hoping that it lived up to the hype.

I quickly came up with a Goliath gang and got on with it, I’m pretty sure a few of the subtleties of the rules were missed but it was good to get a feel of the new version.

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The production quality is outstanding, as it should be for such a company, and the new figures are miniature works of art. My choices for the gang weren’t ideal and as the Escher were so very good at ranged combat I took heavy casualties until I got into close combat. Still it was a learning experience and I know what I’d do differently next time.

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I’m really tempted to get the game- sadly running out of space means I may not. I’d love to make a detailed vertical board for it but the question is where to put it… I guess I really should sort out my shed. It may be the impetus I need. Either way I may start with a Goliath gang of my own for a starter; it shouldn’t be too hard to find space for ten figures.

I also played a quick game of PSC’s The Great War with Evan. Given the kickstarter I mentioned has been funded it was good to get it on the table again. The scenario we chose to play was based on the famous action of a tank named ‘Fray Bentos’ at Passchendaele:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-one/10358335/WW1-The-siege-of-Fray-Bentos-at-the-Battle-of-Passchendaele.html

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My Germans, despite getting off to a good start, failed to achieve much. Aggressive infantry backed up by the immobile but still shooting tank completely outclassed me. Another game I’ll do better at next time….

I also picked up two of the three big wargaming magazines, it is not something I often do but they both had articles that looked interesting, the differences between the two are quite marked though.

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Wargames Illustrated has by far the better production but the depth of the articles left something to be desired: the Russo-Japanese one, whilst featuring some lovely photos was a bit shallow so to speak. The campaign on the fighting in Prussia in WW2 was interesting but could have done with some better editing. Great eye candy though but little in I’d refer back to later beyond the campaign.

Miniature Wargames has undergone a few changed from when I used to buy it; it looks far more professional now. It always had the best articles in but was often let down by poor photos. Under new owners and editorship that has changed. The reason I bought the magazine was that it featured an article on the Warsaw battle 1944 by Jim Webster, he is much under rated as a games writer in my opinion. I’ve always found his writing to be worth the price of admission alone. His ideas on gaming urban warfare are no exception and something I’ll try out on my own table top soon hopefully.

 

Cheers,

 

Pete.

 

 

 

The Last Romans: the megagame.

Last weekend saw the final game in the Pennine Megagame calendar: the Last Romans, designed by Paul Howarth. Set around the Mediterranean during the reconquest of the west by the Byzantium general Bellasarius. My role for the day was the control for the Sassanid empire, I was lucky to have a great team of players to watch over. Other teams covered the various outposts of governors of Justinian’s empire, Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Franks as well as a separate  court and Constantinople game; making  for a 50 player game.

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Play started with the eternal peace between Justinian and the Sassanids in force, for which the Byzantiums were paying gold every year to keep. This meant for quite initial turns for the Sassanids which allowed them to build up their army. Some combat experience was gained by attacking the Arabs to the south and the barbarians to the north. One general went incognito to lead a barbarian army to gain some experience in the rules system.

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Most of my day was spent checking the administration of the portion of the Sassanid empire that was in the game, using a  simple control panel and a worker placement system and also deal with any public works that were being built, competition to out do other teams in both quantity  and gaudiness (much glitter was used) was very much in evidence. Other than that is was the usual round of adjudicating on rules queries and making sure battles ran smoothly once the fighting between the Sassanids and Romans started. It was the Romans that broke the eternal peace first and then the counter attack by the Sassanids proved quite strong. Their ambassador player, was so silver tongued that he managed to exact heavy reparations from the new emperor for breaking the treaty even in the face of ongoing counterattacks.   A plague event, that even killed Justinian, did mean that the Roman provinces at the eastern end of the Med suffered badly, so much so that by the end of the game they were looking to be subsumed in the Sassanid empire as vassal states, such was their neglect by Constantinople.

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My duties to the Sassanids meant that I was pretty ignorant as to what was happening in the rest of the game, I couldn’t tell you anything, for example, about the very popular Chariot races and entertainments that were a big part of the Constantinople game. However, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves so it was a good way to round off a very good year of Pennine Megagames.

Cheers,

 

Pete.

 

http://www.penninemegagames.co.uk/