Last week I picked up a second hand copy of Parachute Infantry, a memoir from D-Day to the Fall of the Third Reich by David Kenyon Webster (Delta, New York 2002). I finished it in six days. Webster was a private in the 506th Airborne, part of the 101st Division. The book begins with preparations for the jump on 6 June and ends in 1945, when Kenyon returns to civilian life. The memoir was a key source for Stephen Ambrose's Band of Brothers and Webster is played in the HBO series by Eion Bailey.
The main engagements covered in the book are D Day, Market Garden and Haguenau. There is a fascinating section about the last months of the war in Germany, when the 506th occupies Berchtesgarten and enjoys the fruits of victory.
Get hold of a copy if you haven't already read it. The descriptions of combat are vivid, but the portrayal of general life in the front line is the real gem. The book brings out the close attachments between the men in the unit, their frustration with Army 'chickenshit' and the pettiness of some officers. There is a gripping chapter about a patrol to capture German prisoners at Haguenau, with tension building over days of preparation as the elements are put in place. Webster's reflections on the British army are interesting. He has respect for the bravery of the men, especially the British Airborne, and he praises the efficiency of British artillery. But he accuses British armour of inflexibility and lack of initiative during Market Garden, as well as a reluctance to throw everything at the enemy. He maintains that had Patton been in command, Arnhem would have been relieved. He has warm praise for British army tea.
The memoir doesn't flinch from the grim aspects of war. Throughout, Webster and his comrades come across as normal young men, doing their best in abnormal conditions. Despite the darker incidents they witness and the moral compromises involved in life on the front line, this is a thoroughly uplifting memoir.
I'm not sure the book is still in print, but there is an extract on this website, as well as some of his letters home: http://www.davidkenyonwebster.com/index.html.
I have finished a German machine gun team in camouflage, fleshing out the Waffen SS boxed set. I followed the steps on the Flames of War website. http://www.flamesofwar.com. Although the guide is for 15mm figures, it scaled up pretty well I think.
When I was painting the figures, I wondered if the colours were a bit bright. But looking at the finished models from 'wargaming' distance, I think they could have been brighter still.
I varnished the team with Windsor and Newton, using a brush. No hot weather frosting thus time, I'm glad to say.
Rats! I chose the hottest day of the year to spray Matt varnish on my British vehicles. Immediately it gave them a white bloom, obscuring much of the weathering that I'd applied so carefully with Forge World powders. What an idiot. Of course, my son Will explained, the biggest risk of this happening is on a hot day. Didn't I know? Well, obviously not. The solution, he suggested, was to apply more varnish by brush. This actually worked. I'll know what to do next time the white bloom appears but it'll save time and my patience if I remember in future not to spray varnish in the heat.
Meanwhile, I am trying different recipes for Oak leaf camouflage on my German MMG team. I'm probably most pleased with the advice on the Flames of War website. Next up is the newly delivered Cromwell.
Inspired by our first game of Bolt Action last week, I have completed a British 6pdr Anti Tank gun with Universal carrier tow. The carrier is a lovely little model that fits together easily, - for the most part. I did have problems with the tracks however. I planned to make a Mark II, but I couldn't make the track guards fit on the chassis. The Mark I track guards fitted much better so I went with the earlier model. I suspect I didn't glue the tracks close enough to the body of the carrier. Next time (because of course I will be making more carriers!) I will take more care with dry assembly.
The driver and riders are nicely posed. The three helmeted heads are identical which is a bit dull, so I swapped two of them for spare heads from the British infantry set. When I first got the British infantry I wondered if these faces were a bit too close to caricature but they paint up very nicely.
The 6pdr was straightforward to build and paint. I had fun using Forge World weathering powders on the gun and tow.
Ian, Matt and I had our first game of Bolt Action on 6 July, using our growing forces of new figures. Ian brought along his Fallschirmjagers, Matt his first squad of Yanks and I used my British. We played about 570 points a side, using scenario 1 in the rulebook. As this was our first time with the rules, we played it a bit by committee.
It was a great game. Ian chose to be the attacker, with the objective of getting units into our deployment zone or off the table. Matt and I deployed with a strong concentration on a hill at our right rear, from which our MMG had a good field of fire over the centre and along our baseline. We left the centre clear and placed two squads in woods and behind a wall on our left. Ian came on in the first turn, concentrating all his force opposite the Allied Right. To cut a long story short, Ian's frontal attack on our hill battered hard against a British section in woods. This section barely fired a shot as it spent most of the game ducked down to survive Ian's assault rifles. It ultimately lost seven men but held on grimly while our two left wing sections took Ian's force in the flank. As time ran out for Ian to get his troops forward, we managed to knock out his right hand squad, scoring 2 VPs that were enough to win us the scenario. We were helped by a lucky morale test and the only medic-induced save of the game, which allowed our officer to hang on and share his morale bonus when it mattered. We agreed that it was a tough scenario for an attacker without transports to win.
We picked up the rules pretty quickly. It's not an original comment but the 40K pedigree is very evident. The key difference for me is the downgrade in lethality compared to 40k, making pinning the enemy as important or even more so than killing figures. The activation system was really easy and created some tense moments. Although I suspect Chain of Command may produce a more realistic simulation of small unit tactics, I know I'm more likely to be playing Bolt Action for a clean and fast moving game system that supplies plenty of excitement.
We are about to place our next order. I am still tempted by a Carrier section, although I do like the boxy functionality of the Cromwell. But why have one tank when you can have three?
On 6 July we will have our first game of Bolt Action. In preparation,I have been painting my British to 499 points and finishing off some terrain pieces.
My only 28mm scenery to date has been either fantasy or Gothic Sci Fi, so I need the table to look more Normandy than Bretonnia. At least the hills and woods already fit the part, as long as nobody looks too closely at some of the debris stuck to bases (damn those old White Dwarf articles about theming terrain!).
The Charlie Foxtrot house is now table-ready. I had some problems fitting the windows because I stuck chinchilla dust on the inside of the openings, making them too small for the window frames to fit. Instead I had to glue them behind the openings. This was fiddly and I'll be careful where I put the dust in future but they do make the walls look more substantial. If anybody questions the look of the model I'll send them outside to look at the windows of our real house, which are recessed by the depth of a brick. And with one bound he was free.
The army list for Wednesday is as follows:
First Lieutenant. 75 points
1 Regular runner. 10 points
Medic. 30 points
1 supporting infantryman. 13 points.
1st Regular infantry section, 10 men, 1 Bren gun, 1 sten. 123 points
2nd Regular infantry section, 10 men, 1 Bren gun, 1 sten. 123 points
Regular PIAT team. 40 points
Regular Light mortar team. 35 points
Regular Machine gun team. 50 points
Total 499 points
If I put on a turn of speed I might complete the universal carrier and 6pdr anti tank gun by mid-week, although as I don't think anybody has painted armour yet, there's little point in including it in Wednesday's game. But the two pieces combined come to 145 points, taking me some way to the next target of 750 points. Next I'm thinking of a third section so I have a full strength platoon. Then I'll have to turn my attention back to the Germans so the two forces grow at the same rate.