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Monday, August 17, 2015

Bolt Action - Wintercon 2015 part 1: The French

Ever heard of a French force winning a Bolt Action event? It's not often you'll see the French up there, rubbing shoulders with the major powers like the US and Soviets. But here in Australia we recently had a two day double event, Wintercon 2015. Day 1 was 'Early War' themed, which allowed the French to really shine, eventually taking out the top spot with 'best minor power' and 'best general'. It wasn't an easy victory one I faced off against the Blitzkrieg master himself, Patch, with his lovely Germans.  To throw in front of the advancing Germans I took the disposable heroes of the French Foreign Legion.

I had only just recently completed 1250pts of French, but for this event I wanted to try out some very different units and a different way of playing.  I wanted a mobile force and one with a very distinct and exotic 'early war' feel, to help celebrate the theme of the event.  I decided to base my platoon around a Compagnie Saharienne (Saharan company) of the French forces, more specifically a mobile cavalry group.

Foreign Legion mechanised Cavalry pose with their Berleit Carriers

The miniatures

I've been planning on mounting a platoon in the really unique French colonial vehicle, the Berleit VUDB armoured carrier.  I have recently painted up 4 of them.  It's debatable if many of these vehicles were in battle ready condition during the Second World War, but I am going with it. In Bolt Action, they are one of the only armoured transports in the game that is not open topped. 3 squads of veteran Legionnaires mounted in the Berleit carriers will form the core of the platoon.

The VUDB Berleit Armoured Carrier will hopefully bring something a little different to the table in the 'Early War' event

The Legionnares deploy from the Berleit carriers in their first game

Supporting them I have a collection of units that fit the theme of a mobile reconnaissance force.

French Mehariste cavalry 

There is a unit of veteran cavalry, native colonial camel riding cavalry troops known as "Mehariste". I love the look of these models.  They really stand out on their camel mounts.  At the time I painted them, I couldn't find much info on the correct uniform colours, and so painted them up as Tuaregs in their distinctive blue robes. I have since found out that the French camel cavalry wore white, with red sashes.  But hopefully the gods of historical gaming will forgive me.  The miniatures are from Black Hat miniatures UK, and they have 3 different packs of the Tuareg camel cavalry.  A bit pricey, but fantastic models.

This Cavalry officer is so bad-ass, he can ride with only one arm

The Camel cavalry have some great poses with a real sense of movement 

The other really exotic unit is the Moroccan Goumiers.  These guys are tough fighting (literally) light infantry from the wild mountain regions of Morocco. They were famed for their ability to infiltrate enemy positions even in extremely difficult terrain, and bring their wicked knives to bear on any enemy unfortunate to still be there. These are miniatures from the Artizan Designs range and they are fantastic.  A decent amount of different poses and very characterful sculpts. I've written up a guide on painting them here.

Moroccan Goumiers squad 

There are also some Foreign Legion support units in the form of a Sniper team, Anti-tank rifle and Medium howitzer.

The Laffly 50AM from Mad Bob Miniatures

Leading the way was another new addition, the Laffly 50AM armoured car.  This is a new release from Mad Bob Miniatures and I'll have a full review of this soon.  The French colonies had a few different exotic older armoured cars in service.  This Laffly and the 3 Berleit carriers will all be crewed by one of the Chasseurs d'Afrique Regiments (thanks to Lou on the forums for the history info). These vehicles are not super powerful or well armoured, but being wheeled means they can get deep into the enemies rear areas and shoot up the support teams. The light anti-tank gun is only low velocity (so +3 pen) but it was very much needed, as the AT options are limited in a French force.

I converted Artizan Designs Italians with SMG's into Legionnaires using head swaps and some green stuff

The core of the platoon is the 3 squads of Legionnaires.  I already had about 20 painted, but I used the tournament deadline to motivate me into painting the rest of what I had bought!  I batch painted the remaining 25 all at once and it took several weeks, a hard slog, but worth it.  I also decided to use a different unit entry to field them in my list.  I am running them as 'Group Franc' squads so I can take a few SMG's. I found it very difficult in early games using small rifle armed squads inside these carriers. I figure 3 SMG's in a squad isn't stretching it too far. Plus I have converted the models to have Italian SMG's which I am sure they have looted in border clashes with Italian Tunisia.

WIP, half way through the grueling batch painting process

The list

This is the 1000 point list for day one of Wintercon 2015 (Early War theme):

Veteran 2nd Lt
7 Veterans (Groupe Franc), 3 with Rifle, 3 with SMG and 1 LMG
Regular VUDB Armoured Carrier, LMG
7 Veterans (Groupe Franc), 3 with Rifle, 3 with SMG
Regular VUDB Armoured Carrier, LMG
6 Veterans (Groupe Franc), 3 with Rifle, 3 with SMG and 1 LMG
Regular VUDB Armoured Carrier, LMG
8 Moroccan Goumiers, 7 rifles and 1 LMG (Tough Fighters)
6 Veteran Cavalry, 6 carbines
Veteran Ant-tank Rifle team
Veteran Sniper team
Regular Medium Howitzer (Free)
Regular Laffly heavy tractor
Regular Laffly 50AM (Recce)

14 order dice

Using the event as a deadline to finish all my French, I also converted and painted Legion MMG and Mortar teams in case I could include them in my list.

I think the platoon is pretty unique in both the way it plays, and of course how it looks. You don't see many French armies from the desert campaigns, so this really brought something different and fun that other players haven't seen before for the Early War themed day.

The games

I had three great games against Axis armies at the event.  First up was Patch's Blitzkrieg Germans, the mission, Maximum Attrition. We both agreed after the game that the terrain on this table was a real challenge for both our armies as we both had a mobile force with lots of wheeled vehicles, and the terrain was very unfriendly to these units. A river cut the table in two with only one bridge across it, there where lot's of buildings and stone walls as well. Because of the nature of the terrain there focus of the battle really did come to rest on who could control the bridge, and get their forces across it.

The Recce troops of both sides fighting it out to control the bridge
This was a tough game for my chosen army, with little to no maneuvering possible with my armoured carriers, my Legionnaires dismounted after one turn, using a road to get up to the middle of the table. Patch's troops and vehicles were in a similar position, stuck across the river form mine, trading pins but not much else at this point.

The Cavalry and Laffly armoured car forced their away across the bridge and into the midst of Patch's army. Things did not end well for the cavalry!

In an effort to break the stalemate, I pushed hard for control of the bridge using my armoured car and Cavalry section, which eventually made it across. The Cavalry was deadly and started to take out Patch's smaller support units like the ATR, before over extending themselves and being gunned down in the middle of the German army. It was my second ever game using Cavalry so I was still learning how to use them best.

Goumiers pinned down!

My Goumiers also made an effort to get to grips with Patch's infantry but got pinned down just in front of them by the many MMG's on his light vehicles. The result was a draw but we both had fun.

The French deploy up against the outer wall and proceed to 'spray and pray'
Game two was with Mal, and it was one of my favorite games of Bolt Action so far. Mal always brings unique and impeccably historically modeled armies to events. Wintercon was no different, Mal had both an Axis force, an Italian Eritrean Askari platoon from East Africa, and a matching Allied force of South Africans from the same campaign. Seeing as I had French, Mal took his Italian colonial platoon. The mission was hold until relieved, with Mal winning the roll off and wisely choosing to defend. The way the terrain was set up was part of what made this game such an interesting challenge. With two large buildings right on the central objective, surrounded by a rock wall, and with little to no terrain on the rest of the table, it was perfect for defence! The terrain also gave us a great narrative of an Italian outpost being raided by my French cavalry patrol.

Buildings full of tough fighting defenders
Mal's initial Italian garrison was only made up of an MMG and a Forward Air Observer (he even had a beautiful bi-plane model ready to deploy), which was a gamble as most of his army consisted of inexperienced infantry, who would really benefit massively from being in those buildings. Both our forces spent the first two turns literally in a race with each other to occupy the buildings first. Mal's colonials won that race. This is where the game got really interesting. You see the Italian infantry may be inexperienced...but they also had the Tough Fighters rule. There was no way even my Veteran troops could hope to survive assaulting 11 man Tough Fighter units dishing out 22 attacks each!

You can see the situation in the picture above. I basically had to deploy my entire force on a narrow front, hugging the wall and concentrating every units fire on one of the two buildings at a time. I couldn't hope to kill the troops due to the extra protection they receive from the buildings, I couldn't assault without being wiped out myself, so I had to literally pin them out. Each turn I was hoping to stack on the pins to reach the magical number of 8 to make them abandon the position. All the while Mal's supporting units of machine guns, mortars, light howitzers, armoured car and a tank where hitting my troops or outflanking them.

Cavalry assault the Italian colonial troops on their way to reinforce their platoon
Again it was a race between me dishing out pins before I was shot up to much. Mal's air observer even successfully strafed and destroyed my main heavy weapon, the medium howitzer. In the end I was very lucky in about turn 4 when I managed to pin out the buildings occupants and my cavalry got off a sneaky charge amongst the buildings and wiped out the next Italian colonial squad about to re-occupy the building. This sort of brock the lock on the box so to speak and my army all 'heroically' leapt the wall and made for the central objective.

The final French push into the compound
Mal played really well and the nature of the mission and terrain plus our armies really made for a suspenseful game, if some order dice had come out of the bag differently some key moments would have turned the other way.

Legionnaires take and hold the objectives early then hunker down
Game three was the Tank War mission and I played Richard 'Doc' and his DAK. This was another desert force and on a desert table, so I was very happy to just see it all playing out. It's not often at an open event that you get to play a historical match AND on the appropriate terrain.  Doc is a good general, and this game showed up the true strengths and weaknesses of my list. The major strength of my list is mobility. And in the Tank Wars mission that is key to grabbing the objectives early. it's vital to do this in this mission as unlike others, the objectives in this game, once claimed, cannot be contested. Only removing the enemy from the objective will help you take it. So first turn my wheeled carriers, armoured car and forward deploying sniper reached out and grabbed 3 of the 5 Objectives we had placed around the table. Turn two saw me claim a fourth one. My plan was then to grab cover and hunker down, hoping my Veteran infantry could survive the German counter assault and fire from the many support units.

The mighty Panzer III bullied the French around most of the game

My lists biggest weakness is enemy tanks, and Doc's DAK had a beast in early war terms, a mighty armour 9 Panzer III with a medium AT gun. This tank rolled right up on my Legionnaires and aided by various infantry support weapons, proceeded to pin them into oblivion. Again it was a race against time to hold the objectives long enough without being removed from pins alone. The DAK's main assault unit of Pioneers was rumbling up in a truck but held off a few more turns, not wanting to take a lucky small arms shot and blow them up. In the end I just held on long enough to claim 3 objectives to two and won the battle through true grit. Another great game!

The generous prize support from the event sponsors and trophies by

Wintercon 2015 was a great event thanks to the efforts of Peter West, the TO and of course the players themselves who brought a great attitude and cool armies. Above you can see the generous support of the various sponsors for the event, a big thanks from all of us for supporting the Bolt Action Community here in Australia. I'll be back with part 2 of my report, covering the second day as my Hungarians took to the field at 1250pts.

Drop me a line on the forum if you want to discuss anything I've covered in this report:


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