After the D-Day landings, in the winter of 1944, Allied forces continued to push German forces back further and further towards Germany. There was even optimistic talk of the war ending in a matter of months if not weeks. These thoughts turned out to be a tad premature as Allied troops were in for a rude surprise. Hitler had planned a secret counter offensive that later became known as the Battle of the Bulge. As part of this push, one of Hitler’s favourite SS commanders, the infamous and flamboyant Otto Skorzeny, concocted an audacious and illegal plan to put the enemies of the Reich on the back foot. Hitler green lit the plan and Operation Greif was born.
Skorzeny’s plan involved elite German troops dressing up in Allied uniforms wrecking havoc behind enemy lines through surprise attacks, sabotage and disseminating misinformation. This, Otto argued, could give Axis forces the extra edge they might need to succeed in their objective of reaching and capturing the port of Antwerp.
Operation Greif, or Operation Griffin in English, was the name of the plan hatched for the Panzer Brigade 150, Skorzeny’s unit. Their objective was to push through Allied lines to capture one or more of the valuable bridges crossing the Meuse River that would be needed for the drive to Antwerp. Hitler ordered that captured US gear and vehicles be collected and given to the 150. What arrived was no where near what Skorzeny had hoped for. He received a handful of armoured cars, a pair of broken down Sherman tanks (that later broke down and were not used in the operation), some half-tracks and a mismatch of uniforms and equipment. Deciding this was nowhere near enough Otto pulled 5 Panthers and 5 StuG assault guns and had them “modified” with sheets of thin metal to roughly resemble their US counterparts (more on these in a future article).
Like with the equipment and hardware, what he got was desperately short of his expectation. Out of necessity he actually started English lessons for his troops but even he had to admit behind closed doors that this mix of ability and looted gear was unlikely to fool any but the most rookie Allied troops. In the actual battle many of his troops took the field wearing their normal uniforms, hidden in US halftracks and trucks.
During the Battle of the Bulge however, the mere rumour of German infiltration troops was enough to spread widespread paranoia through the Allied ranks. Verbal passwords were checked and rechecked. At one point, US General Clarke was held at gunpoint by one of his own guards because he mistakenly said the Chicago Cubs played in the wrong baseball league.
Thinking this is a fascinating footnote to a historic battle, I decided I wanted to create a Bolt Action army to represent Skorzeny’s forces. I already own a beautifully painted US greatcoat Artisan army that I have been slowly adding vehicles to over the years. With Warlord’s release of their “newish” US winter range, I thought it was the perfect time to add some more infantry (and tanks) to the mix AND create a whole new, historically themed army.
First of all, can I say how impressive I think the new Warlord metal, winter American models are? The casting is clean and the details on the models are appropriately sharp. I timed myself (keeping in mind that I am slow and meticulous) and it took me less than ten minutes to clean and prepare the ten models in the basic box, even with the heads separate. Given the casting quality of some WW2 infantry models, these guys are really impressive. I really recommend these miniatures if you are at all on the fence!
Now, I need more US riflemen like I need a hole in my head (given that most of my large army is riflemen already) and this box comes with 7 of them. I used this as an opportunity to have some fun. I pulled out my clippers, hobby knife and files and got to work. I plan on using at least one unit of Brandenburgers in my force to represent the paranoia Skorzeny’s forces caused and I thought adding some assault rifles (the Battle of the Bulge is the first time the assault rifle was used en masse by German troops) would be a good way of having those troops stand out on the table top. I have taken 4 of the riflemen from the box and replaced their rifles with assault rifles.
I found that the easiest way of doing this was by cutting the farthest away hand and replacing it with a plastic one from various Warlord kits. I then cut the ARs at the butt and glued them into place. You might say that soldiers wouldn’t hold their rifles like this. Well, it was the only way to get the rifles to fit AND it clearly shows that each guy is carrying a different weapon.
I also took this opportunity to add some submachine guns to the mix. Automatic weapons were used to great effect by German troops during this period and I felt like the 4 SMGs that my existing army already has was just not enough. The Warlord box comes with one Thompson carrier but I wanted more, so I cut apart one rifleman to carry an MP40 and a panzerfaust (using bits from the German Plastic Grenadiers sprue).
I also bought a blister of the SMG winter soldiers (but not in greatcoats) from Artisan designs to bulk out my forces.
As you can see the Artisan figures are slightly larger than their Warlord counterparts but I don’t mind. On the table top, once the models are based and painted, you will not be able to tell the difference.
The box also contains 2 BAR gunners. Since my existing American army only has 5 BAR gunners (1 per squad). I am taking the opportunity to add these guys to the army, even though I will not be able to use them in my German infiltration force.
I really like how the barrels of the BAR’s are thicker than I would have otherwise expected. It will give them added durability on the table top and as I move them in and out of my figure case.
This is the first article in a series that I will be writing about forces involved in Operation Griffin. In the upcoming weeks I will be writing up a review of Warlord’s Ersatz Panther, a painting guide for these greatcoated troops, an explanation of how I built my army, and I will be writing up an after action report from the Battle of the Bulge, when my army is done and ready for the tabletop. I hope you will tune in to check these articles out.
If you would like to more closely follow my progress, please look for the LRDG Podcast on Facebook. I will be posting regular pictures and questions there.
Until next time,
Old Man Morin