Megagame Report: Czech mate ’38.

Czechmate ’38 was an operational megagame put on by Paul Howarth in October.  As can be guess from the name it is a what if? Exploration of what could of happened had the Czechoslovaks militarily resisted the attended annexation of the Sudetenland.  It was designed to test out some mechanics before they were used in other, bigger, games; as such this game was run as a small affair through Paul’s Story Living Games.

I got the chance to be the overall commander of the Czechoslovak forces. I came up with a simple plan. A crust of defences that would be held doggedly and the reserves held centrally to respond to the inevitable breakthrough. With only one good mobile division I kept it near the capital as I figured that this would be the main target for the Germans on the day to try and force the Czechs out of the game. I did know that the Germans only had about a fortnight’s worth of supplies, so it was a question of just holding on and trying to not give up any more real estate than I could.

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The plan forms.

On the day because of the small numbers of players I would also be running the air forces for my side. I had helped Paul with playtesting this part of the game quite a bit, so I was confident that I could do both jobs easily.

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A close up view of the air game board.

What really made my day go so well was the sterling work gone by Nick who was my aide de camp who kept me up to date with what was happening on the map, relaying messages and generally keeping things going along.

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My reserves looked impressive stacked up until I saw all the German cubes….

The previous playtesting of the air game had given me a slight advantage even though the Czechoslovak Air Force was greatly outnumbered by the Luftwaffe: I knew I could go toe to toe so put very little up in the early turns conceding air superiority on the basis that I’d never be in a position to seriously contest it anyway. I fully expected a massive German offensive, so my plan was to only fly 50% of my force at any one time, keep stuff cycled through quickly and concentrate on targeting the command and control links of the Wehrmacht.

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General shot of the room: the two smaller tables are for the air game.

The main game was played on an open map with 5cm polystyrene blocks. Each block represented a regiment with the face uppermost indicating that regiment’s current status. The blocks also showed the combat value in each state. Players were given and then had to spend command points to activate their units. It was my responsibility to assign from my pool of points allocations to each player.

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See what I mean about all the red German cubes…? Good job they took so long to clear the border fortifications.

In the plenary briefing of the game I got a little worried when Paul said that if the Czechoslovaks got wiped out and defeated by half past 12 would could just reset, swap sides and go again… it got me expecting a whitewashing. Fortunately, the bunkers that most of my troops started in were pretty tough and the fact that the German Heer was trying to advance whole Corps along a single mountainous road in October meant that they struggled to get the command points to activate.

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Fall back positions were organised.

When the Germans made their first breakthrough I called a tea break to sort out the allocation of reserves and to speak to each commander to see how likely they were to hold out and for how long. At this point I assigned some fall-back positions trying to make the best use of natural obstacles. I was prepared to give up some areas rather than risk having any forces encircled.

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An army marches on its stomach so I brought tea lof to sustain my Czech team.

In the end the reserves, at least those that were rifle divisions, were parcelled out quite early. Hindsight has made me consider if a bolder strategy would have been to have released them to players at the start to make the initial crust of defences very strong indeed. It would have left me with only the Fast Division to act as a reserve which wouldn’t have been very much at all…

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Towards the end of the game the Germans did start breaking through.

I got the chance to do a little roleplaying/ politicking to try and appeal to the French to apply diplomatic pressure. I knew a full-scale invasion of Germany wouldn’t be possible (and outside the scope of the game) but when it was announced that the Poles were mobilizing to take advantage of our misfortunes I appealed to the French to call them off. I knew that this would be easier if we managed to put in a decent counter attack. I knew that I couldn’t turn back the German tide, but I could definitely put a dint into the main thrust. It is worth remembering that the German tanks at this stage were quite poor, mostly Panzer I and Panzer IIs with the better Panzer IIIs and IVs being quite rare. Easy prey for the LT 35 and LT 38 tanks with their 37mm guns I could field. The attack went in as I planned and managed to stall the main German thrust to Prague. It wasn’t a game winning manoeuvre, but it should that will still had fight left in us and saved the capital for a few more days. In the end the game ended after ten days/ turns; certainly, much of the country was occupied but we still had units in the field and a functional government. The Germans had paid a heavy cost to get this far, especially in materiel. So much that a further invasion of Poland the following year would have been doubtful.

The game system seemed pretty solid and I’m looking forward to it being used in next year’s Poland game. The only thing that needs to be added would be a better fog of war mechanism so the location of my reserves would of have to have been discovered in the game by the Germans but that is a minor thing. The only down side of the day is that I now want to raise a 20mm collection to fight out some of the battles the game generated with toy soldiers.

 

Cheers,

 

Pete.

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A ruined Italian house.

I picked up one of the Airfix resin buildings cheap a while back. It was one of their Italian/ mediterranean styled building. I thought the basic building ( as seen here ) was a bit plain so I jazzed it up a bit. I added the remains of a ceiling/ attic and based it with some rubble. I remembered to paint the underside black before I stuck it down too.

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I painted it with some cheap acrylics and then added some static grass and tufts. I’m quite pleased with how it has turned out. It should be a nice addition to my scenery collection for that part of the world. Just need to get it into a game next, now where did I put my 20mm partisans….

 

Cheers,

 

Pete.

Assorted games from recent weeks.

As much as I’ve been busy beavering away in the shed making kits and painting I have been getting quite a few games in too. I’ve not done a battle report in a while for the simple reason that trying to take photos at meaningful points in the game comes third to a) playing the game and b) having a laugh with my mates, the latter is the best reason for gaming imo.

Nonetheless I have taken some ‘happy snaps’ as it were of a few recents evening’s gaming so thought I’d put them up here:

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First up we have the old Milton Bradley game Battlemasters from 1992. Done in conjunction with Games Workshop as an entry level game it comes with a rather nice printed plastic mat.

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Paul had found a cheap copy in a charity shop so he took it up to the games club and gave it a run through that evening. It plays quick so we managed to get two full games in. The above photo gives you some idea of how the random card cannon mechanisms works.

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The second scenario saw the ‘evil/ chaos’ army attempting to force a river crossing to take out a fortified tower. It seemed to be a quite a tall order for them to do that given that the ‘Empire’ army was at full strength.

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I ran a nice little 6mm 5core: Brigade Commander game for Evan and Bill that saw Bill’s 1980s British defend a section of the German countryside from Evan attacking Soviets. You can’t beat a bit of 1980s Cold War what if? gaming to stir nostalgic memories of the 1980s. I really should get a CD of 80s music to go with these games.

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The twist in the scenario was that the Soviets faced a large flanking counter attack that they weren’t ecpecting. Here Evan tries to reposition his troops in the face of approaching British armour.

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Here a MIG 23 from the VVS tries to halt the encroaching Chieftans threatening to overrun the Soviet HQ. The game ended in a bloody draw.

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I have managed to get a couple of games of the French expansion of The Great War board game. The op[ening games are based around the battles for Verdun. The first game seemed a tough ask for the defending French. I played the game twice in an evening with Paul swopping side: on both occasions the French were decisively beaten.

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I played the second of the new scenarios with Evan. Again we played it twice, again the French were beaten both times. Evan played as the Germans the first time. Veteran gamer that he is he quickly indentified the the weakpoint in my defences and went for it winning comfortably. After we swopped sides I looked at the board and couldn’t come up with a better plan so copied his shamelessly for much the same result.

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I dug out my modest fleets of Russo- Japanese War ships for a naval battle with Paul. We could have probably done with a bigger table as this turned out to be the naval equivalent of a knife fight in a telephone box.

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Here Paul’s Russian battleship is trying to ram my battleship squadron, having crossed his ‘T’ I gave him little option. Fortunately he bounced off my side armour and a lucky critical hit roll sunk him. A fun game, I need to add to my collection though before I can play the war as a campaign as I intend to do at some point.

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Finally with have the recent Too Fat Lardies’ tank skirmish ruleset What a Tanker. Evan ran the game for Bill and I, I had three BT7s and a T28 facing off against a STUGIII, Pz38t and a PzII. After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing around the table Bill whittled me down for the win. I’ve mixed views on the game (I think the games set in the early war don’t work, for boring mathematical reason, due to the game design) but that aside it was one of the most enjoyable evening gaming I had had in a long time.

 

Cheers,

 

Pete.

British vehicles: Old and New

The old and new bit referring to the age of the models not their places in history….

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First up with have the venerable Matchbox Sherman Firefly (although this is a more recent Revell reissue. The commander is from Battlefield/ Blitz and stowage from various sources.

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Next we have some recent (i.e. last decade) Airfix trucks made with modern CAD.

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I had a few technical problems painting these: the oil wash that I put over a gloss varnish to define the recessed details took and age to dry and even then remained tacky until I hit it with a matt spray. For future models I’m going to remix all my washes with higher quality turps and use a better gloos spray and hopefully that should solve the problem.

Cheers,

 

Pete.

Future plans… ideas brewing.

Now that a couple of weeks has past since my Case Blue ’42 megagame I have recovered and can start looking to future projects.

I’ve hada chance to look at the feedback from the game and, with one exception, it is all positive. That is really gratifying that so many people enjoyed the game. As for the less than glowing feedback I know what went wrong and how to fix it in the future. Either way it hasn’t put me off running more games. I’m not sure if I’ll do another big game next year by myself or as co-designer but I’d like to help in a supporting role to someone else; a few ideas have been mentioned that I’m looking forward to helping out with… watch this space. The year after I’m looking at developing a 1919 post WW1 German Freikorp  game with the nascent Wiemar republic struggling with both internal and external threats. I was rooting through a pile of books today looking for something else and found a few that will be useful for research purposes so have left them somewhere accesible (OK there are currently a trip hazard).

I was thinking that given all the resources that I have made up for Case Blue it would be a shame just to have them sat in a box for ages so I put my mind to thining what I could use them for. The feedback on the game said that the core mechanics are solid but just need a few rough edges rounding off, a second or third large scale run should do that. The obvious thing would be to use the maps to game Operation Uranus (the Soviet winter attack that encircled Stalingrad) and possibly let the Germans attempt to relieve Paulus and his troops stuck in Stalingrad.

The decision to be made would be should the game start with a roughly historical set- up or one extrapolated from the end of the megagame? Given that players on both sides were arguing over who exactly won it could be a controversial choice… Doing it has a half sized game with 20 or so players would be an easy enough proposition.

Another option for using the components could be do stage something of a prequel: Karkhov in May 1942. Most of the units could do duty there but I would need a new map. It has a lot to offer in that it saw a large and argueably overambitious Soviet attack that caught the Germans unaware that resulted in some very large tank battles. The Germans did rally and inflict a heavy defeat on the Soviets but would it go that way in a re- run. I should dig out the excellent David Glantz book I’ve got on the battle and have a think.

Given that none of the players or units got onto the Stalingrad map in Case Blue ’42 I thought of a nice way to use the map. I’ll develop a Stalingrad urban combat game to take round the local wargames shows to drum up some interest in Pennine Megagames and what we do.

Moving away from megagaming I’ve some other plans too: a VBCW game set within Huddersfield with all the players nominally on the same side but with hidden agenda; this will probably end up being  a RPG/ commitee/ map game mash up. I’ve written up a scenario for a multiplayer game of 5core: Brigade Commander that I’d like to try, nothing too big- probably 7 players or so. We’ve all collected so much stuff in a short period of time it would be nice to see it all being used at once. I’d like to run a Vietnam campaign at a skirmish level based on actions against the Ho Chi Minh trail, be nice if I could integrate low level air and ground gaming in that one.

I cat sat for friends of mine last weekend (seven rescue cats, some with health issues, and a snake) and they very generously got me some Necromunda figures as a thank you so that will be a project for the next few weeks. I hope that I enjoy the new version as much as I did the original. I bought some GW Chaos Cultists to have a practice with so I can get back into the swing of painting that stule of figures again. I’ve had a hankering for doing some sci fi gaming recently so the Van Saar figures scratch that itch nicely. I’ll mix them in with some of the nice Copplestone sculpts that are still available from Moonbase and North Star that I’ve long coveted.

Well, that turned out to be a longer post than expected guess I had more ideas than I thought. Best get cracking.

 

Cheers,

 

Pete.

 

Case Blue ’42: the megagame. The Aftermath.

This past Saturday saw the first run of the Case Blue ’42: The Drive to Stalingrad megagame that Matt and I have been working on for so long. I’ve decided to write down my thought on the game before I’ve looked at much of the feedback so it won’t influence me.

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The game was a multi-layered exploration of the first few months of the German offensive in 1942 to try to take the oil fields of Southern Russia that ended in bloody failure in the streets of Stalingrad. Attendees took on a variety of roles: operational players gamed at the map- either moving counters around (representing divisions/ corps) of battling out the air war on four 6 foot by 9 foot maps of the area. Above them in the command hierarchy were the senior generals who they reported too, they were ensconced in a separate room and had to rely mainly of their Chief of Staffs for reports. The high command team had to deal with the whims and vagaries of the two dictatorial leaders that were ran Germany and the USSR, they were to buy the supplies and units they felt they needed to prosecute their campaign. Additionally, there was a propaganda officer on each side that was reporting on what was going on within the game to give their side certain bonuses.

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The game started with a very busy north-western map as the Germans attack was launched into the Soviet defensive lines, the Germans mad slow progress on this map especially in the most northerly portion, some Soviet units held out right until the end of the game. In the south the drive towards Rostov progressed a little better with less Soviet defenders to contend with. Given how busy the map was I stood back for a lot of the day and let the more than capable map control players deal with things as too many voices would just have confused matter. As such I just answered the few queries that came up and kept on top of the rest of the game.

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The Germans managed to break out onto the north- eastern map and push towards Stalingrad, often this drive saw the various Axis Allied nations in the van (I even heard of one player being surprised at how well their Italians were doing- a country that has always suffered in the historiography of WW2). At one stage there was nothing but a solitary Soviet mechanised corps in Stalingrad whilst it was being menaced by a Panzer division; this didn’t last as reinforcements were rushed up to hold the line. As a result, the Germans never got into Stalingrad* but they didn’t really try as their plan was to use it as a diversion and to keep the Soviet’s attention there whilst they pushed south.

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In the south Maikop fell to a Panzer Division unsabotaged, sadly bereft of air cover it was badly mauled by Soviet air power and forced out by a brave counterattacking Soviet division.  Grozny too fell intact to the Germans, and in one of those wonderful examples of megagames generating the kind of Clauswitzian friction that you read about, reinforcements in the form of 6 rifle divisions were tasked with ousting them they were deployed on the wrong part of the map due to miscommunication. As a result, the southerly railway line to Baku was cut. Some games might resort to using dice rolls of other mechanics to simulate the chance of orders going awry it can often be easily replicated by just adding more players into the equation. Like everygood megagame the players wanted a few extra turns to eithe cement their gains or really get the counter attack moving. The Germans had caputured the oil but their position was very precarious: who won you ask? Well I’ll let that question get settled in the FB discussions. Players seemed to really engage with the game by the end and were getting quite invested in it. The awarding of medals was a popular addition and being called upstairs to explain your lack of progress or other failings was taken in good humour. All in all what could have been a difficult game was approached in the right spirit by all concerned.

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Overall the game went well I think but there were a lot of little bits that didn’t go that great that I were my responsibility that I felt added together and impacted on the day. As such this self- criticism is not so much a call for sympathy but rather an aide- memoire for the future so I know what mistakes not to make (I know I’m a hard taskmaster on myself at times).

Firstly, the good: it was an absolute pleasure to work with Matt to develop the game. The bits that he brought to the game worked really well. The air game was simple enough to be resolved quickly but gave plenty of game for the player to enjoy. His idea for the high command game worked a treat too. The high command players had to negotiate with the ‘plumpired’ supreme leaders (Hitler and Stalin) and buy resources for future turns based upon how well they had followed their leaders’ orders in that turn, it was a great idea to quantify the abstract idea of political goodwill and support into a shopping list style system, due to the roleplaying skills of the plumpires this was not as artificial as it could have been. Also, if you want a rulebook writing that is easy for the beginner to follow Matt is your man.

Also, I can’t say enough good things about the control team, they handled the difficulties of the day really well and kept things moving, in what was at the start of the game, some sub-optimal conditions.

Matt’s Mum was along for the day with a selection of delicious homemade cakes that were for the players to eat as accompaniment with their cups of tea for a donation to charity: I’m please to say that together everyone raised £140 for McMillan Cancer support which is fantastic.

As for the not so good… there were a few errors in the game that were either conceptual failures in which I had not thought through the ideas behind and ramifications of the various components of the game. Given my only previous megagame that I had run was a closed map game for 25 players moving to a multi-layered 50 player game with my rule mechanics out in the open and as such not easily able to be changed or improvised like I was previously able to do with the previous game; a game which was essentially an old fashioned kriegsspiel, I mismanaged my time. The game was finished and ran OK but a few things were left vaguer than they should have been. For example, the rules for Partisans existed in my head but should have been available for players and control in paper form. Even if they weren’t given to the players in advance in the rulebook I should have still written them down. Other parts of the rulebook should have been proofread by myself better, fortunately the only potentially major typo was handled very well by improvisation by the map control team.

The counters could do with more work- specially to differentiate the two sides at a distance I feel. The map game was too slow or more accurately I severely underestimated how long it would take to play through the turns. The first turn ran twice as long as I had anticipated, in the future I could do more things to mitigate this: a pregame walk though, better examples to be made available before the game, better labelling of counters so players could identify those they were responsible for quicker. The cards that I added to the game to add flavour were too numerous, too many options can mean that turns take too long. I should have narrowed it down to a handful of key cards for each side. Also the integration of the air game, in terms of close air support and bombing might have been a little too powerful, something that should of come through with more playtesting.

What I was concerned with was that if the operational ground commanders to 4 hours to play 3 turns or 4 hours to play 2 turns they still got 4 hours of gaming in; the other parts of the game whose player’s activities were over quicker would be hanging around a fair bit. Again, the part that was my responsibility being something that impacted the high command negatively. As a result my errors the game fell behind my intended schedule as such Matt and I had to bring a few events forward so that they happened in the time left in the day. However by half past three when all four main maps were being played on and I saw all the players enagaged and having fun I did relax a bit and felt good about our creation.

Whilst the maps Simon designed were fantastic I think I could have made a better decision as to where to split them. As you saw in my earlier post all maps were of the same size; had I done it differently I could have started the two German Army groups on different maps, something that would have greatly eased the congestion round the table.

The logistic game ran well, the players who were in charge of getting the supplies to the HQs did sterling work, however, given how busy the operational players were fighting battles the last part of getting supplies from HQs on the map to subordinate units did not go as smoothly.

The preplanning game needed more work too, I should have made more information available earlier to the high command team so that they could plan better, also more clearly stated intentions of what they could and couldn’t do as well as their role and what was expected of them would have improved their game immeasurably. Facebook isn’t a perfect platform to run a preplanning session on but it is the best of the available options I think.

Given that this was the first time that the game ran I should really be easier on myself; I had wanted to do a half/ quarter sized run through, but realised that would have taken nearly as much effort as running the full game, as I knew certain things regarding the integration of all the game elements would not become apparent until it was scaled up like that.

 

Still… there is plenty to think about for my next game and I’m sure it I’ll make it better than this one, I’ve learnt a lot from this experience.

 

I’ve a few medium sized gaming projects that I want to work on for myself over the coming months but I’ll be back to pondering my next megagame soon… I guess it is a case of watch this space,

 

Cheers,

 

Pete.

*Although the wonderful smaller Stalingrad map wasn’t used on the day I intend to develop a participation game based upon it to take round a few of the northern Game shows, again watch this space.

NormandyTrip: Back to England and Bovington Tank Museum.

The overnight ferry from La Harve to Portsmouth was uneventful, I spent it either reading or watch films on my tablet, also it was the longest I’ve ever spent on a ship. As we arrived early on Friday morning I went on deck as the boat docked to see what was moored up in Portsmouth Harbour. The two historic ships HMS Victory and HMS Warrior were visible along with a fair few contemporary RN vessels including the new HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier.

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HMS Warrior, undergoing some restortation.

 

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HMS Victory.

 

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HMS Queen Elizabeth, Britain’s biggest ever warship, I have to admit feeling a little underwhelmed by it.

 

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A Type 45 Destroyer HMS Dragon.There were at least 4 Type 45s berthed when I was there.

After docking we drove a hour and a half westwards to visit Bovington Tank Museum, a place that has been on my must visit list for a long time. The number of vehicles on display is mind boggling. Divided up into different sections it takes you through the development of the tank then we went through the Trench Experience covering WW1 and from War Horse to Horse Power and much more including the Tiger exhibit bring together a Tiger and Elefant, two Tiger IIs and a Jagdtiger. I took so many photos I can’t upload them all but I’ll put up a representative sample. If anyone has anything in particular they want to see let me know and I’ll post it.

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A view of the first hall we went in, Centurion front and centre.

 

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WW1 Mk IV ‘female’ tank.

 

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British Crusier tank from 1940.

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A Panzer III painted up in Africa Korp colours.

 

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A Sherman Firefly with Cromwell in the background.

 

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Moving on to modern stuff we have a T72 with a Patton in the background.

 

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A Saladin Armoured Car

 

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British Challenger.

 

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Another shot of the Firefly and Cromewll with the front ofa Chruchill peeking in.

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In the WW1 section we have a MkII tank.

 

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A Mk IV male with fascine.

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Austin Armoured Car of the type used in Ireland during the Anglo-Irish war.

 

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Tiger II with Porsche turret and Jagdtiger.

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Tiger II with Henschel turret.

 

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Elefant (all the way from the US) and Tiger 131.

 

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Hetzer SPG in front of a Jagdpanther.

 

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Protype of the Tortoise SPG- a British proposal to attack the Siegfried line.

 

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A T34/76 in Finnish colours.

 

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The ridiculous TOG II- a British failure from WW2, very cool all the same though.

 

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British heavy metal.

 

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The Sherman used in the recent Brad Pitt film ‘Fury’ still with its sfx weathering.

 

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Not all of the vehicles that are in the Bovington Collection are on public display- this is a view of part of the storage shed.

Going round Bovington took all day; all that was left was a long drag on a journey North back to Yorkshire to end Dad and I’s holiday.

 

Cheers,

 

Pete.