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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Lists We Play - The Airborne

By Mitch Reed

Since earning my “jump wings” back in the 1980’s I have had a fond interest in the use of airborne forces in combat and the Second World War was both the genesis and high point of the use of paratroopers.  Flames of War contains many lists that feature these soldiers who have a very unique way of getting to work. In the latest installment of “lists we play” I will feature the airborne forces found in FoW. Airborne forces appear in all periods in Flames of War and most of the major nationalities can either field   complete paratrooper list or include a platoon of them in other lists.

The thought of employing ones troops behind the enemy by the means of the air is very old and can be traced back to the visionary thoughts of people such as Benjamin Franklin and Leonardo Da Vinci, it is the period in-between the two world wars where technology caught up to ideas and many nations developed airborne forces. Many of the key players in this period would be; Germany and the Soviet Union, with the United States and Great Britain close behind. One development that was made prior to the war was that airborne forces would consist of paratroops that deployed by parachute and airlanding troops that would deploy via gliders.

 German Fallschirmjäger in jump gear

Paratroops in Combat
The first operational use of airborne forces was during Germany’s blitz in the west, where Fallschirmjäger deployed via parachute and glider during the invasions of Holland, Belgium, Denmark, and Norway.  The Germans used these troops to capture key locations such as bridges that their ground forces would need to quickly advance into the Low Countries as well as to capture key airfields, or to quickly seize and neutralize defensive forts that stood in the Wehrmacht’s line of advance. The height of German airborne operations was the invasion of the island of Crete, in which the Germans dropped or air landed the bulk of their airborne forces on to the island held by a collection of British Commonwealth and Greek forces.  While a 10 day battle was seen by the Allies as another major defeat; the German leadership saw it as a waste of troops and forbade the use of the paratroops in a massive operation for the remainder of the war.

The next nation to conduct a massive drop of airborne troops was the nation of Japan, who used paratroops to a great extent in the Dutch East Indies Campaign of 1941-1942. 
Britsh Glider Artillery in the Battle for Arnhem Bridge

The Allies took notice and started forming airborne divisions of their own and formed 5 divisions (2 British and 5 US) in order to use what they thought was a battle winning capability.  The first Allied use of paratroops was in the Mediterranean theater, and consisted of raids conducted by the British, and the Anglo-American use of airborne troops to support a seaborne invasion.  Since the Allies had no way of knowing the problems the Germans had in Crete, they took a trial and error approach to airborne operations.  This led to the operations becoming larger and more complex as the war went on.  Thanks to popular movies and shows such as A Bridge Too Far and Band of Brothers, the airborne tale of Normandy and Market Garden are well told however the largest one day drop/landing of airborne forces occurred in March of 1945 with Operation Varsity.
German Fallschirmjäger defends the ruins of Monte Cassino in Italy.  Note the FG-42 Assault Rifle, which was created for Fallschirmjäger use.

While the Germans never conducted another large scale airborne operation after Crete, they did still recruit and train airborne forces and the Fallschirmjäger were called upon to defend the toughest sections of the front for the remainder of the war.

The Airborne in Flames of War
Airborne forces are well represented in Flames of War and appear in all three time periods with forces from Germany, Britain, the US and one list featuring Canadians. 

For the most part parachute forces are rated as Fearless Veteran in most periods.  This rating was most likely given due to the elite nature of these units and how tough their training regimen was. You do find some German parachute forces by the end of the war rated lower which is due to the fact that while these troops wore distinctive airborne uniforms and were in airborne units, they lacked any jump training and the specialized training that defined the Fallschirmjäger earlier in the war.

 US troops drop on Holland in 1944

US glider infantry inspect a wrecked glider

Another exception to the rating of airborne troops are the US glider units found in the Overlord book.  They are rated as Confident Trained due to how they were viewed as a regular unit who rode into battle by glider.  While glider forces of Germany and Britain wore the same uniforms as the parachute troops, the US glider troops in Normandy wore the same uniforms as the rest of the army and did not wear the distinctive “jump suit” of the parachutists. This changes by the time of Operation Market Garden and because the US Army changed its entire basic uniform for all forces by this time.  It is interesting to note that by Market Garden, the US glider troops were given a distinctive badge and received the same jump pay as the parachute troops.

In early war a player is limited in what airborne forces they can choose since the only lists available are the German parachute and glider infantry from the Burning Empires book. This expands quite a bit in mid-war where nine lists appear and you can have German, British, Italian, and US airborne forces. These infantry lists are all rifle units with the exception of two German airborne pioneer lists that appear in the eastern and North African theaters.

If you like very diverse airborne lists I would recommend looking at late war, where the US and the British have a ton of lists in the Overlord and Market-Garden books. These lists cover some of the largest airborne operations of the war and they give players a lot of great options in both parachute based lists and in adding airborne platoons to a list.



 John Sulek, a veteran of the 82nd Airborne Division has one of the best painted US Airborne collections you will ever see.  He also does a display with the units history. 

I do think the lists found in Market Garden book deserve some special attention. In this book you can take British, US and Polish parachute and glider forces and some lists like the mechanized Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron, a Glider Pilot Squadron, and the only British Royal Engineer list in the game.  Add to this the ability to take airborne troops in a lot of tank lists; you are looking at the best book featuring airborne forces in the game!

I used an urban theme for my paras, Polish Paras on the right with the dove-grey beret

While the two above books have a lot of great airborne lists they are not the only place they appear in late war.  The Germans get some good airborne lists Atlantik Wall, Grey Wolf, Bridge by Bridge and of course in Fortress Italy.  In this last book the Hermann Goring division is included and while it’s not a true “airborne” division it was designated as the “1st Paratroop-Panzer Division” and like all of the German airborne forces, it fell under the Luftwaffe, not the German Army.  The lack of diverse late war airborne lists featured in the game is directly due to how the German leadership really curtailed the use of these forces in their designed role.

Above: Paras, Polsten, HMG & Mortar teams, and guns 

Airborne Special Rules
Airborne units retain all of the national rules that would normally apply to a force of that nation with only a few notable exceptions.  British and US airborne forces are equipped with Gammon Bombs in late war and have a Tank Assault rating of 3 and British parachute infantry can smoke as if they had a light mortar. 

Some lists do have very unique special rules and the one that sticks out in my mind the most is the Glider Pilot Regiment list found in Market Garden.  These well rounded soldiers benefit from the German Mission Tactics rule as well as the ability to combat attach to support platoons.  Furthermore they wear Body Armor which gives them an extra save in bombardments and they can form a patrol that can benefit from the Eyes and Ears special rule.
Another interesting set of rules is how the early war German glider list can make a Glider Assault in any mission and come into the playing area via glider.  Of course this choice with the obvious pitfalls faced by the real glider troops and I have never met anyone who used this rule thinking it was a good idea afterwards. 
What stands out the most is amount of Warriors that are available on airborne lists. These warriors come with some outstanding special rules that really set apart airborne lists from the pack.  I have played with LtCol John Frost on my British paratrooper list and it is my opinion that he is one of the best Warriors in the game (sorry Otto).
One US Parachute Infantry list in the book Nuts! features the “Toccoa Sergeants” made famous in the book Band of Brothers, these guys are all Warriors that gives your company some really neat capabilities. 

John Sulek's Waco Glider

Collecting an Airborne List
Playing an airborne force requires collecting and painting all of the unique models that belong to those forces.  This is because airborne soldiers wore a very distinct uniform; some of this is due to the issues of parachuting (like British and German paratrooper helmets) or because of the elite status of these troops (camo smocks).  One feature that sets the British airborne apart is the maroon beret, whose colors were chosen by the famous author Daphne Du Maurier, the wife of airborne general Frederick Browning.
 General Browning with the hat picked out by his wife
The British Denison Smock, the cloth was painted with mops and then cut to make the uniform.
Not only are the sculpts different for airborne forces, they also have very unique equipment not found on other non-airborne lists or use modified equipment like the airborne version of the British 6-pdr gun which was cut down to fit in a glider.  So the creation of an airborne list will require a dedicated set of figures that may see little use unless you only want to play with paratroopers.
The smocks worn by the German and British paratroopers are the toughest part of painting these figures.  I found them tougher to paint than painting SS camo since the colors that used in the airborne smocks tend to blend in with each other and sometimes the colors are hard to spot on dark primer.  Battlefront does give some excellent advice on how to paint airborne camo, however I would recommend in doing a google search for other tips that may be useful.  Another piece of advice is to experiment with colors that are a shade or two off from the recommended colors, at times this made the effect I was looking for really stick out.   I also make the decision to paint or dry brush uniform details on my Fallschirmjäger with a blue Luftwaffe shade, which really makes them stand out from the other German troops in my collection.

German Fallschirmjäger in the early part of the war

One warning I will give anyone who is thinking of starting an airborne list is to scourer their local gaming stores or the internet for the platoons you will need for your collection.  Some of the blisters and especially the box sets for the support platoons I needed were not available and I had to really search for them.  

Glider pilot team and two RE teams

Jeeps, you can never have enough 

Playing Airborne Lists
Let me start off by saying that while I have the forces to play almost any British airborne and most Fallschirmjäger lists, that I do not use these guys very often. In the past I have taken a British all airborne list to a tournament, and I found that while I had a very good force, I was lacking a lot of mobility that is required to play the more mobile missions or missions in which I had to attack (Fair Fights, or losing the roll vs another infantry list). While I like infantry lists, and I am good at defensive missions, my airborne lists do not have the all-around balance required to be competitive at tournaments. You are also paying premium points for every platoon since they are Fearless Veterans who do benefit from some special rules. 

The C-47, the workhorse of the Allies

I have seen many new players jump into the game with the desire of playing airborne lists. Whether this is due to the mystique of these forces or the “cool” factor I would recommend playing the game a bit before collecting and airborne list.  The learning curve is tough with airborne lists, especially for beginning players. When taken as a supporting platoon, airborne forces are sometimes an excellent choice which gives you some of the best infantry in the game.
I would also like to mention the distant cousin of the British airborne in the game, the Commandos.  Once again these are elite troops who benefit from some great special rules.  Commandos appear in both the mid and late war time periods; however they lack a really great list that can showcase their special skills.  The Commandos (Orne) list in Overlord is one of the few well rounded Commando lists found in the game. In spite of owning a full company of these guys I only take them as a supporting platoon, for which they are excellent.
If being competitive in tournaments and open games is not your thing and you prefer historical gaming, then having an airborne army can be a fun thing.  I play with a group of players who prefers historical match-ups and my paras have seen the table a few times when playing D-Day, Arnhem, or Monte Cassino scenarios.

Recommend Airborne Lists
While I can admit that there airborne lists I would love to play one day (British Abn Recce, Glider Pilot Regiment, and Royal Engineers) in a non-competitive environment, I will only recommend a few that I feel are both fun and somewhat competitive. One big draw back in many airborne lists is the lack of great support choices and I wanted to select some lists that are better balanced.
  • British Parachute Company (Market Garden):  Take Frost, Medium Assist for your artillery, load up on anti-tank guns and pray you do not have to attack.  I have taken this list with a large jeep mounted recce platoon to at least press my opponent when I have to attack.  Taking a RE or GPR platoon is also a good idea to take on this list.
  • 1st or 4th Fallschirmjäger Division (Fortress Italy): What has 10 stands and falls from the sky?  Your average Fallschirmjäger infantry platoon does.  These lists feature the defenders of Italy and since many of the supporting forces are from the HG division, the Reich Divided rule affects you less. 
  • Fallschirmjägerkompanie:(Grey Wolf) Other than lacking any recce this list has great support options.
  • Airlanding Company (Overlord): British Airlanding lists are full of support options; in the Normandy lists you can get tanks, tons of artillery (including Naval Gunfire) and some Commandos.
I know, I only listed German and British lists.  Since I do not play any US lists I felt that I shouldn't reccomend something I have yet to use in a game. Please feel free to reccomend some good US lists in the forum for our readers. However, I did ask John Sulek to reccomend a list and this is what he picked;

The Future
I have heard a lot of talk about a book coming up in 2015 that may feature Operation Varsity, which would certainly have more airborne lists.  What I am hoping for are lists that show the final push into Germany on the heels of Varsity, it would be great to have paras riding on Comets and Churchill’s as they did in 1945. What a great way to wrap up these special soldiers in the game.

Note: In order to use uniform terms I picked the terms "airborne" or "glider" for this entire article in order to avoid confusion. These are terms used mainly by the Americans, the British glider-borne units were always called airlanding troops and the Airlanding Battalions retained their unit names (i.e the Royal Ulster Rifles of the 6th Airlanding Brigade) while the men of the Parachute Regiment were typically called "Paras" and battalions were identified by number. So, John Frost’s unit would be known as 2Para. In US divisions, the units were called Parachute Infantry Company, Battalion, or Regiment, however the term airborne was the common term.  At division level both nations used the term airborne for continuity.

The symbol of all the British airborne divisions.

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