Thursday, January 30, 2014

Marder III H Platoon

These were my tank hunters.  They came out pretty good but I'm not super happy with the camo.  Still want to do some more work on the running gear too.  They performed very well for me since I went up against so many Tankovy lists.

I love the 38t chassis in all of it's incarnations.  I also needed to find some new crew figs for variety and used some dudes from other tank hunter types, a halftrack commander and a bailed out tank crewman.
I used some heavy tissue paper and folded it over a few spots that got airbrush ovespray.  They also broke up the 'sameness' of the three since there are no appropriate spare track links available.
I like how the 'canvas tarp' hugged the platform on this one.  My favorite of the three.

Shifting Sands Army Build- Part Three

I decide upon Marders as my fouth platoon so that I'd be able to kill KV-1s and also to give me enough shots vs. Tankovy.  They really proved their worth in every round.  I tried a camouflage sceme on these but it didn't come out as fine as I would have liked.  I contemplated repainting them, but with time running out before the event I stuck with the larger style.

Raw out of the blister.  Went with Marder III Hs since that's what was historically at Kursk.
I made sure to sand the flat surfaces but had to be careful with all the rivets.  Left the top cover off for airbrushing so I didn't miss any parts of the gun.
Stowage and crew layout.  I used some different crew than came with the models to add some variety.
After airbrushing.  Tamiya Olive Green XF-58 for the camo.  Gotta buy a finer point nozzle for the airbrush before I try anything more detailed.
Final product.  

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

HQ and StuH Platoon

The StuHs were supposed to be my major hitter against infantry and guns.  I reality, I faced three Tankovy lists without any of these...  In the one game vs. Strelk I had they performed brilliantly.  The earliest models of StuH were based on the F chassis so I wasable to use the models I already had collecting dust on my painting table.  The HQ tank was also modified from an F back to an E model.

StuG E Company Commander.  I used the Gosewich hero figure as my CiC because I wanted some kind of focal point.
StuH platoon came out pretty nice, I have to admit they were a little hurried.  I finished them the day I left for the event.  
I still want to add tie-down ropes on the stowage and do some more to dirty up the running gear.
Modded figs on the Command StuH, a chopped Begliet gunner and head swapped commander.
Re-used StuG G platoon from my Cassino Fallschirmjäger.

Shifting Sands Army Build- Part Two

StuGs!  I decided to run one of the custom lists that the organizers designed just for this event.  In Mid War the StuG is a nasty piece of equipment with Front Armor 7 and either an AT of 11 or 10 with Breakthrough Gun.  Having spent most of my points on these guys, I had to use an earlier model of StuG for my HQ.

This started as a reclamation project for the StuH platoon.  I had three old StuG F/8 models that were supposed to go with a Luftwaffe Felddivison army but it's been on my back burner for about three years now.  Figured I should put these guys to use.  Research showed that some of the earliest StuH 42s built were assembled on the F/8 chassis and since Kursk was one of the first battles that the StuH saw action it was very possible that these early models were there.
Assembly: make sure to remove any mold lines on the metal parts while also checking the resin for defects.  I like to sand smooth the flat panels to make sure any particles from the molding process get eliminated.  Test fit the parts before gluing to prevent angrily throwing your tanks against the wall.
Decide now if you want to have any crew hanging out of the hatches and position them either open or closed.  Plan which crew figs you want to use, along with what kind of stowage to hang, if any.  I like to drill my gun barrels and mantlets out to add some depth.  Remember you can disguise any bad spots or blemishes by covering it with stowage bits.
Modification work is a pain but can really make your models stand out.  The company diagram called for a StuG D but all of these tanks were out of front-line service by Kursk.  Needing to conserve points in my list I thought it reasonable that some ausf. E StuGs would still be in service with the Fs and decided to back-date an F back to an E.  The ausf. E StuG had the short 7.5cm gun and no roof mounted ventilator so I had to remove the latter and raid my bits box for an appropriate gun barrel.  I also wanted to open both hatches up since this will be my Company Commander.
I forgot to glue my stowage on before I primed but I took a series of planning shots so I knew where I wanted to mount it for later.  I also check my crew figures for positioning.  I do a quick sand of the primer where it needs it before busting out the airbrush.
After airbrushing the base color (Tamiya Dark Yellow XF-60) I hit the upper surfaces with a lighter color (Wooden Deck Tan XF-78).  This will give an impression of surface fading.  After drying for a day or two I use MIGs enamel filters for Dark Yellow.  A filter is basically a thin wash that will cover the entire model and blend the lighter shade with the darker one.  After a coate of Gloss Varnish I use AK Interactive's Wash for German Dunkelgelb along the panel lines.  Once dry, I clean up any overspill with thinner and a flat brush.  

Next, it's time for decal work!  The gloss surface is best for making them sit right, and Micro Scale's Set and Sol are great products to help this happen without silvering or bubbles.  I used a mix of decals from I-94 (crosses) and Battlefront (numbers).  Once dry, I spray a matte coat before using a fine brush to do any chipping.  It's really easy to overdo this and I'm guilty of that.  I use a dark hull red color from Vallejo and hit edges and surfaces that would get heavy use in service.  I also use it to cover up any additional blemishes in the surface (damage).  

I absolutely love AK Interactive's Streaking Rust.  I like to use it on the spots where I put the chipping and along surfaces where rain would flow down.  Once done with that I paint the stowage, add any chain and then do a black wash on these items.  I then paint the tracks in a dark red/black color before using AK's Track Wash, another amazing product.  Once that's all dry I glue in my crew figures (painted separately), do another spray of matte varnish and do any dry pigment work, usually along the tracks and running gear.  I still want to go back and add tie-down ropes on the stowage.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Grenadier Scout Platoon

Final shots of my scouts.  Nice thing is they can be used for either Mid or Late War.  This is my first 'generic' army and maybe that'll make it easier to share units down the road across multiple lists.  These were built for my Shifting Sands army, but with an eye towards a Kampfgruppe Chill list from Bridge by Bridge.

Very happy with how the ground work came out.  It was my first time using the Brown Earth pre-colored basing material from Vallejo and I was very pleased.  After a wash and some highlights, it's a very good match for European soil.  Silfor tufts and static grass also came out nice.  I used a mix of several colors and lengths.
A mix of Sperrverband figures and a few others from assorted places.  All figs Battlefront.

Shifting Sands Army Build- Part One

OK, so I was going to write these up as I built them before the event, but my move + procrastination meant I needed every moment for actual assembly and painting.  Though late, I'll be going over the process I used to construct my army.  Here's a link to the promising (but unfulfilled) first post.

The first platoon I put together and painted was my Grenadier Scout platoon.  These troops were to give my Stugbatterie the recon that is so neccessary in todays tournament environment.  They would also work in tandem with the StuH platoon vs. Gone to Ground infantry and gun teams.

Here are the dudes I selected for my platoon.  Many of them are from the awesome Sperrverband box and several others are from the LW Panzergrenadier set.  I wanted an assortment of poses but wanted to use the smaller Sperr models if possible.  Any duplicates were modified.  I also did a few head swaps.  The place the guys are in matters! Try to tell a story with the way the guys are positioned.  If an NCO is looking back, make sure someone behind him is lookingat him!  Don't try to crowd a bunch of guys onto a base, four is the most I use these days. Five is just way too squished looking.  
After making sure all of the mold lines are cleaned up, I prime with Tamiya light grey spray primer.  It's super fine and wont make your figs look too dark.  I then block paint all of the uniform, kit, etc.  I don't do any camouflage or super-detail stuff yet like collar piping, waffenfarbe, cap badges yet.
Next I use a somewhat thin black wash and, after dry, some light colored pigments.  After a dullcote spray I go back in and do a drybrush of the main colors for the uniforms, hands and faces, and any kit that needs it.  This builds a third layer of color on the models.  
Basing- This was the first time I used Vallejo's Brown Earth Paste and I was thuroughly impressed.  I use a small artists knife to spread it around the bases then add a few small rocks I picked up from a railroading store when I was in Osaka.
After it's dry I used a brown enamel wash from AK Interactive.  Once that's dry I trim up the edges and paint any camouflage and super-detail stuff.  Also I highlight the ground with a few different colors and paint the rocks.
I like to paint my base edges in an appropriate color.  For Heer troops I use Panzer Grey.  The small stuff like waffenfarbe and collar piping really can make your infantry stand out.  Also, Splinter Camouflage, once practiced, can look brilliant.
Grass work can be frustrating (and messy!).  I discovered Silfor tufts awile back and they're super nice.  I also had several types of static grass that I mixed to give me some different color and lengths throughout.  After the glue dries I use a pair of tweezers to pick out any stray bits of grass that don't sit naturally and trim the tufts if necessary.  A quick matte varnish spray and then some dry pigments on the patches of ground that still show around the grass and the Scouts are done.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Shifting Sands Armies on Display

Snapped a few pics of some of the SS14 armies that were on display.  There were some really great looking units.  The guys who painted up a pile of Strelk are my heroes.  Wish I could have gotten some more pics but my phone was constantly dead.

Jacob DeMenna's massive Strelkovy.
Sam Mijal also built some Strelkovy.
Mark Francis' Soviets.
Matt McCarthy's Light Artillery Battalion
Charles McCall's Das Reich T-34s.
Mike Henshaw's Pantherkompanie.
More nice looking Soviets.
Ziv Lang's Soviet LL Churchills.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Shifting Sands 2014

Shifting Sands 2014 was held last weekend in Mesa, AZ.  This was my first year at the now long-running event and several of my old NorCal gaming friends flew or drove down as well.  All told I think there were ten of us out of the forty that registered.  The event was a Kursk-themed 1500 point Mid War firestorm campaign that added air support to four of the five rounds plus most (but unfortunately not all) players received an exrta platoon of support that varied each round.  I brought a custom designed StuG Batterie with a platoon of StuG III F/8s, a platoon of StuH 42s, some
Marder III Hs and a platoon of foot scouts.

Round One was versus John Halter and a Lend Lease Tankovy force in No Retreat with Germans on the offensive on all tables, no matter the Infantry/Armor matchup.  Additionally, the Soviet players all replaced both of their Objectives with T-34 turret bunkers.  Both sides had Air Support and had to roll to see how effective.  My Firestorm bonus was an upgrade to my Air to Henschel Hs-129B tank destroyers from the standard Junkers Ju-87D bombers.  John received a company of mounted cossacks.
Deployment:  StuH platoon on the far side, StuGs and Scouts on the near side and HQ and Marders up the middle.  John had a company of M3 Lees spread across the middle and another company of M3s with long 75mm guns in Ambush.  M3 Stuarts, BA-64s and Cossacks in Reserve.
My Turn One: I get several hits against the Conscript tanks.
The Germans move out, wary of the danger from Sturmoviks...
Turn Two: StuHs and Marders score a few more kills.
The Ambush is sprung, but line of sight from my forward StuG forces them behind the far hedge.  Stuarts also arrive.
John's Turn Five:  Stuarts charge to getflank shots, killing a StuG.  Cossacks arrive, but don't have a role to fill.
My Turn Seven: StuHs make it accross the board and kill two armored cars that were hiding there.  They fail morale and John's Battalion does as well on his next turn.  6-1 victory for the StuGs.
That game was kinda strange.  Both of us basically forgot about the bunker turrets.  My Scouts were useless but so were John's.  Our Air Support never got a single strike in, but were intercepted more than once.  My Hs-129 upgrade was worthless.  So were the Cossacks.  I'm beginning to see the random nature of the Firestormers...  Ultimately, forcing that ambush so far back really limited their effectiveness and gave me local superiority vs. the remaining tanks.

Round Two would be Breakthrough with the side having the most wins the previous round attacking.  Unfortunately for me, the Soviets and their vast infantry reserves held their ground over all in Round One.  My tanks would now be forced to defend in one of the most difficult situations I could possibly find.  The only recon available to my Batterie were Grenadier Scouts that couldn't buy any vehicles.  Knowing my dire situation, I asked my Firestorm commander (who decided which FS units would be issued to each player) for one of the infantry platoons.  These, I felt would give me a fighting chance.  Without them I was inevitably doomed.  Instead, I got a polish armored train vs. Jeff Plaine and his Tankovy...  Both players would again receive Air Support.
Forced to only deploy my Scouts and one platoon of tanks, I fought a fighting withdrawal back towards the Objectives.  The open terrain easily could have spelled disaster, but Jeff's IL-2s were shooting blanks.
Unfortunately, so were my dice!  Lots of ones for a 2+ firepower.  Jeff's Stuarts arrived from the flank atttack on Turn Four and easily steamrolled my poor scouts.  My Air got one attempt in on my next turn, but failed to any of the seven tanks they had under the template.  1-6 loss for ze Germans, but it could have been different.
My Reich for a platoon of Grenadiers!!  The lack of the requested infantry support pretty much sealed my fate before dice ever dropped.  The near total abandonment from the Luftwaffe didn't help either.  To add insult to very serious injury, neither of us realized that we had only played five turns (of the mandatory six) until we were at the scoring table.  Though my opponent graciously conceded to a modified score of 2-5 ( he had a single bailed T-34 sitting within 4 inches of three StuHs at the end of out fifth turn which he admitted would have been dead meat had we played one more) but the TO refused.  I had a bad feeling that would come back to haunt me...

Round Three saw the only Fair Fight of the event, a modified version of I-95's Blind Domination.  I had played this once before at Historicon but the AZ crew changed it by repositioning the points markers and adding the necessity of touching the markers rather than just coming within four inches.  Also, a Thunderstorm rule set was in effect ( night rules without fire revealing position) so no Air Support.  Art Mehler, the Soviet Marshal, would be my opponent with his Tankovy.  Neither of us would have any Firestorm support.
Art's Turn Three:  He has already ruthlessly gunned down my Scouts, who were the first platoon to arrive, near the bridge. I should have just reversed them once I saw the T-34s, but the river, due to Flooded rules, was extremely deadly to cross.  My StuGs and StuHs march slowly across the fields, but Stormtrooper was a huge advantage in this mission. 
Once I reached the high-value markers first, Art's Soviets were forced to move every turn to contest.  Hen and Chicks wasn't kind, forcing sixes on every shot.  Art also rolled for short distances for firing whenever he needed medium.
This was going to be very difficult for the Conscripts from the beginning.  He could only hit my Veterans on sixes if he moved or was at long range while I hit him on fours or fives.  He was also forced to go through the woods ( re-rolling successful bog checks).  Once my tanks got to the key center marker first I could sit and fire full ROF while Art's tanks were forced to move every turn.  End result was a 5-2 win for me.  After three rounds my Breakthrough Guns haven't had a single gun or infantry team to shoot at, while my Scouts haven't had a chance to do recon things either.

Day two would dawn with my Batterie holding a very respectable 2-1 record with 12 VCs, good for the top third or so.  The Germans had dominated the Blind Domination and we would be attacking again, this time in Surrounded.  My opponent would be Dan Wilson, a fellow Californian whom I have had the pleasure of playing in previous SoCal events.  He was running Strelkovy with KV-1s and a God of War battery, supported by scouts and light anti-tank guns.  I would receive a battery of Wespe SP artillery, while Dan had an upgrade to his IL-2s.  Both sides would have Air Support.
My diversionary StuGs would tie down the larger of the two Strelk mobs while scoring kills on the defending artillery guns from behind.  
My Stukas finally kill something! They bag a KV-1 on the first turn.  StuHs work their way forward to fire on first the artillery, then the Strelk.  HQ following behind with Scouts lifting GtG.  Marders put fire on the KV's, who appeared from Immediate Ambush.  Wespes kept the God of War pinned for several turns.  
Dan finally was forced to charge the StuHs, hoping to chase them off, but defensive fire from them and a few supporting scouts force the assault back.  Once the final KV is killed by Marders, the StuHs are able to claim the Objective.  6-1 for the StuGs.
Finally, the type of opposing force I designed my list to fight.  StuHs and Scouts working as a team while the Marders provided long-range fire support.  I love it when a plan comes together.

With things looking up after four rounds I knew I still had a shot at one of the ranking spots.  My final match would be against one of my NorCal guys, Brad Feliz, and his Rota force.  Brad learned early the ways of negotiating Firestorm troops and had consistantly had the pick of the Soviet crop.  This final round he bargained for a battery of dug in 85mm AA guns, while I secured a battery of Panzerwerfers (smoke!).  The Soviets had lost the previous round and now would be defending in Fighting Withdrawl.
Unfortunatley I only got a single shot of the end of the game.  This objective held all of my attention but the Red Air Force absolutely cleaned my clock.  Brad had IL-2s coming in every turn, usually with three planes.  My Stukas were chased off every single time they were supposed to arrive.  That was pretty much the whole story right there... 
Brad quite handily secured a 6-1 victory and needed only his Air Support to do it.  The Sturmoviks killed seven of my ten tanks and most of my Scout platoon while breaking three of my five platoons with only minimal support from ambushing Su-122s.  They killed two tanks.  

Final thoughts:  I thoroughly enjoyed the event and all of my opponents were great to play against.  I met lots of new people and I think the organizers did a fantastic job putting everything together.  That said, the randomness of the Air Support (both sides roll on a table to see which level they would receive) was frustrating.  Additionally, IL-2s are significantly better than Ju-87Ds.  Had I known that four of my rounds would be played under threat from above, I would have found the points for AA.  The normal thinking of 'even platoon count' was proven incorrect, as the Firestorm platoon counted for all purposes.  Five was much preferable to four, as it would usually be increased to six.  Additionally, there just wasn't a fair system to distribute the Firestorm troops.  Some of the options included Ace Tiger Is or Ferdinands, while others amounted to a re-roll or replacement of Ju-87s with Hs-129s.  Theorhetically, one player could have a 500+ point advantage on his opponent, as many players played without any additional troops or even the re-roll.  There just weren't enough FS troops for every player.  Soviet players also had a disadvantage with these troops, as their best unit was arguably a KV-1 hero worth an estimated 150-180 points.  Players could bargain for FS support.  The players who finished near the top consistantly had the best and most expensive (points wise) FS options.  The top scoring players were the ones who had the better FS support in every round.  That point that my opponent was willing to concede, but the organizer denied?  I ended up one point shy of Best Axis General...  Next year!

Some of my NorCal friends want me to come run a similar event for them later this year.  If I can find the time and money, and secure spousal approval, I will totally do this.  The only things I think I would change are thus:

1. Eliminate the over-all General for both sides.
  Players can determine which sectors to attack and with which types of troops themselves.  I guess there was an overall strategy going throughout the event, but no one really knew what was going on.

2. Tie the strategic map to the tables.
  If there is a sector on the map that is urban, it should be tied to an urban table.  That way, the type of army sent into that area matters.

3. Tie Firestorm Troops to the tables.
  This will keep them balanced.  Keep the points for the units close (within 50 points) so no one feels like they played disadvantaged.  Make sure there are enough FOR ALL PLAYERS.  If they are tied to particualr tables they can be evenly matched.  City board?  One player gets a platoon of pioneers, the other some flame tanks, etc.

4. Make Air Support a Firestorm unit.
  The ever present threat of air attack was pervasive.  If air is a FS option, tied to a table, it won't dominate some games, while never showing in others.