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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Fortress Italy: Axis on the Boot in Late War Review

In our last installment, we gave our general impressions of the Italy compilation and did a thorough review of the British, Polish, French and American forces contained in the Flames of War late war Italy briefing book Road to Rome. Today, we're turning to the bad guys; the Germans and their Fascist remnant Italian friends in Fortress Italy: The Axis Defense of Italy January 1944 - May 1945. 

Below you will find an exhaustive look at the forces represented on the axis side of the line during the slog up the Italian boot, or "One tough gut." as General Mark Clark commander of the 5th Army called it"  Along with our look at the German and Italian forces we'll all give our final thoughts on the compilation and how we think it stacks up for late war play.

The German army in Italy had the daunting task of holding back all the might of the Commonwealth and US forces.  Given good ground to defend  but very little resources they often created some ingenious methods for holding the Allies. Under the excellent command of Albert "Smiling Albert" Kesselring,  the defense of Italy was made both nimble and viscous. In fact, it was not uncommon for the Germans to pull a Battalion or Company out from their parent division to help other units in trouble.  The book represents this very well with all kinds of unit choices from other divisions.  Another amazing thing about the German army in Italy is the abundant number of the tank choices, especially for a land with bad terrain for tanks and you can get some pretty good Armor Companies out of this book.

German Lists
In general, the lists have more choices than usual for both regular artillery and armored artillery.  Pioneer infantry saw a drop of about 10 points per squad and 88s dropped 15 points per gun.  The Hornisse dropped by about 5 points per model.  Grilles shaved about 10 points per model. All in all some great discounts that could make the difference in your calculations on which units to take. 

Hermann Goering Panzerkompanie(Confident Veteran)
Ah, my favorite.  We see a 5 point drop in the price of Pz III Ms, which is nice.  The Anti-Tank Guns (PaK40 and PaK36(r)) both dropped in price slightly.  The list added some artillery options with both Armored Artillery and some Heavy Artillery now making an appearance, which should make for some interesting combinations.  There is also a welcome change that removed the restrictions on the number of Recce Patrols.

Hermann Goering Heavy Reconnaissance Squadron (Confident Veteran)
This weirdo list that I could never make work before has some promise now.  The Wespe dropped about 6 points each in cost, which was very sorely needed.  There is also an additional HG Assault Gun Platoon option.  This can add some significant punch to the list and I plan to take a look at some silliness, for sure!

716 & 362 Infanterie Divisions

(Confident Trained or Veteran)
Removed the mandatory 3rd Combat Platoon and
reduced the number of armored platoons available to 2, but provided many more options with an
explosion of available artillery options.

Schwere Panzerjaegerkompanie
(Confident Veteran)
Simplified the HQ and general cleanup.  Elephants remain at 300 points each.  AAA options have been slightly curtailed, but artillery options have been expanded.  Nothing drastic.

508 Schewere Panzerabteilung (Confident Veteran)
The new Tiger I E list.  Lots of interesting options to build up basically any support you want.  Recce, lots of artillery, air, infantry.  Neat list.  I think that this list will do best in theatre-specific tournaments.

1st/4th Fallschrimjaegerdivision (Fearless Veteran)
The hero Jamrowski was changed to line up with version 3 of the rules.  He now has a 5+ Warrior Save and auto-unpins platoons if he is joined to in the Starting Step.  There is a slight increase in points for the FJs, but it is just a little.  
Italian Paracadutisti can now be one of your two mandatory Combat Platoons, which is an interesting option.  Support options are vastly expanded, with two armoured units now available, including Schwere Panzerjaegers and Brumbars.  The fortifications available have been simplified and streamlined.  If you want to take a real-deal fortified company, the lists have been split out as a Stutzpunkt.

Stutzpunkt (Confident trained or Fearless Vet)
This list can be either the trained 44th Infantry or the veteran 1st Fallschirmjager.  It comes with the standard mines and wire for each choice plus pillbox options that range from Panther turret to Panzer II turret with all kinds of gun options in between.  Surprisingly its not a lot of infantry stands but you do get a tank slot with all kinds of choices.  Decent artillery options are with the list as well

Reichsgrenadierkompaine (Confident trained Infantry company)  
Destroyed in Stalingrad, the 44th infantry company was reconstituted and sent to Italy, hence they are new and just trained. With tons of support options and two Marder or Tanks slots its a pretty salty bunch.  They even get an option for field fortifications.

Gebirgsjagerkompanie (Confident Vet mountain infantry)  
Depicts the 5th Gebirgsjager Division in Italy.  They changed the Pack Mule rules to make them more inline with new styles but its pretty much the same list.  Lots of man-packed gun teams and good infantry.  Two tank slots for Assault Guns which are Stugs of various types, or you can also get Tigers.  Fallschirmjagers are also available to them.

Panzerkompanie (Confident Vet) 
Oh baby! 26th Panzer is one of my favorite units.  For the most part, they are your basic German Tank list with the standard Panther or PzIV tanks issued to the Panzer Divisions. What is unique to them is the Flammpanzer III tanks available at the Regimental level. You can buy up to six of these babies and attach them out to the Panzer platoons or keep them together for big bundle of flaming love.  Look out stores these are going to be out of stock soon.

Gepanzerte Panzergrenadierkompanie (Confident Vet) 
Comprising the 26th Panzer's mech infantry outfit.  It's the same organization as most German Mech Infantry but with the additional option to upgrade all the MG teams to Panzerfaust. With two tank slots that can be just about anything in the German inventory and plenty of Artillery these guys are tough.  A weird unit, unique to the 26th Panzer, is Self-Propelled Heavy Anti-aircraft Gun Platoon. Its like 3 BunkerFlaks in a platoon.

Panzergrenadierkompaine (Confident Vet)  
This is the truck Infantry of 26th and the 90th Panzergrenadier units mixed together in one list.  The 90th gets some Marders which is about the only good thing about them.  The 26th gets far more options with just about everything under the sun.

Luftwaffe Jagerkompanie (Reluctant Trained) 
Wow, these guys are cheap, it's the 19th and 20th Luftwaffe Fielddivision making a reluctant appearance on the table. With combat platoons that cost 90 points you will have plenty of room for support. The only problem is that they do not get much in the way of choices. In fact, with just one tank slot and very few AT guns these guys will have problems dealing with tanks. You will probably need to fill every box to get 1750 points.

Italian Lists
The Italian army after the armistice had a little civil war with itself as some went to Allies and some prefered to stay with the Axis.  The Germans captured a bunch and killed quite a few Italian soldiers but out of that came the RSI Forces. These units were raised in and trained in Germany but never really trusted by the Germans and used mainly for anti-partisan work.  The special rules the RSI gets are German Mission Tactics, Pack Mules which make them Mountaineer teams, and a rule called Heroism which is the old unknown hero rule you know from mid-war. The odd side to this combo is there is no downside to assigning hits to your leaders since they have mission tactics anyway!

Compagnia Di Fanteria (Confident Trained) represents the 4 divisions of infantry in the RSI. This list is very much like a German Infantry Division but with Italian equipment.  It has a 7 stand combat platoon of Italian Rifle/Mg with the HMG platoon of 4 MGs able to attach just like the Germans. They are able to get several German allied platoons including infantry and tanks. They only have one tank slot but do get some armored cars.  The Italian Arty is still there in good numbers.

Gruppo Esplorante (Confident Trained) This is a interesting unit since it is reconnaissance infantry.  The same basic combat platoon structure as the infantry but all the teams are rated as recce teams.  The drawback is these guys get no tanks support at all, only a few weaksauce AB41 Armored cars.  They do get good artillery and a few German infantry choices.

Compagnia Paracadutisti (Fearless Veteran) Trained under old Italian system the Para's get an Avanti move.  This is a seven stand combat platoon that can have German or Italian MGs with them.  They also get field fortifications and a lot German Fallaschirmjager choices.  They have one tank slot with all kinds German tanks plus one choice for German anti-tank guns.  The artillery and AAA choices are all German and there are plenty of them.  These guys are salty.

WWPD's Final Thoughts

Eric As a Tournament Organizer I am really glad to see a matched set of books, the armies have good variation with lots excellent Infantry and tank choices.  This makes for a good theme tournament, which I can see happening in the very near future around the globe.  I am also glad to see more good choices for the Commonwealth since in the last few tournaments British Infantry has been lacking. The only downside I have seen to the compilation is a few graphics errors that are easily overlooked.  Overall the books are very well done with some great historical background and maps.  If you don't have them go out and get them!

I'm excited. You couldn't possibly be surprised by that though. As a German and American player I get so many options and toys out of these books that I'm positively drooling over the possibilities. Hell, I even like the Ferdinand list. Not, like, as a competitive thing mind you, but because that thing that let's me put 3 Ferds on the table as combat platoons. Over all I think the books are great and there are good toys in there for everyone. On a down note, I was really excited about the changes coming to the FSSF until I saw them. It seems incongruous to me that, unlike Para's, Commando's and Fallschirmjagers, this highly trained force of killers isn't given fearless vet. I bought 3 platoons of the guys in anticipation that they would get a better rating here, even if it meant more points. But alas, despite their cool rules and toys, they may stay unopened on my shelf for a little while. In all honesty, I think the best list in the Allied book at the moment, at least for the Yanks, is the dismounted cavalry. CV recon troops with a butt load of options. It's cost effective and ass kicking and who doesn't like that?

On the German side I'm not convinced by the split between the Fallschirms and the Stutzpunkt (though, it's great to get that back in the vocabulary) as a fully kitted out Stutz platoon can reach more than 500 points. Of course, the base Fallschirm list is great and will likely see table time. But most of the changes in the compilation are distinctively for the better. With costs drops, added support options and the lot there are certainly viable lists out of the book for you to choose from. For me, I'll likely be buying stock in some PZ III's.

For me, this is all about options.  The trends for the last few books seems to be increasing options for the player, while maintaining historical options.  I like this trend for both tournament and non-tournament play.  I am also happy that some points were brought in to line with Version 3 of the rules.  Like Eric, the matched sets with tons of options is a great thing for the tournament scene.  I think this helps with balancing the lists against each other, while also being inclusive.

As far as lists go, I am going to give the Hermann Goering Panzerkompanie a go again.  I really like that list with the - now even cheaper - Panzer IIIs.  With the reduction in cost of the Wespe, I might actually be able to get those guys on the board as well.  For the Brits, I find the inclusion of Sherman 76s to be very interesting.  I will likely re-use my American ones for now, and see what trouble I can get in to.  Overall, very interesting books!

I have to admit I have spent most of my time looking at the Allies and the Americans in particular.  The American lists are extremely strong.  They give some of the best benefits of late war lists that were sorely lacking in Dogs and Devils and Cassino such as AT 13 for Tank Destroyers and 76mm guns as well as Naval Bombardment, Easy Eights and all of the American special rules options for tanks.  I was a little disappointed the First Special Service Force is rated as Fearless Trained, but as I was reminded they took 77% casualties and constantly had replacements.  I still find them fascinating and look forward to putting them on the table soon.  The trained or veteran options for the Nisei are sure to be found gaining in popularity in the near future.  I am intrigued by the Dismounted Cavalry Troop.  Confident Veteran infantry that are recon?  Holy cow that seems good,  Concealed and gone to ground when they move in cover is going to be a valuable asset for keeping them alive as they move across the table and they have a ton of options "At the start of the game, before deployment" to switch out teams to match your opponents force.  Tank support is not very solid for this force, but it seems fun.

Overall both books are well put together and as I stated in the introduction, have fantastic visual layouts that make for great reads for the history of the Italian campaign.  This is a solid piece of production from the Battlefront studios.  Their production quality of books seems to continually be at the top of field, while simultaneously improving with every new release. 

The WWPD crew can be heard putting more boots into Italy on the "WWPD News from the Front Podcast" where Flames of War goes to dig-in. 

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