1940 Campaign - Preliminary Skirmishes: a Reflection

As the forces start to grow locally for the forthcoming campaign set in France and Belgium in 1940, a few of us have been able to meet up and test out some of our models and ideas. James cleverly suggested that playing a sample 500pt Bolt Action force each would encourage us all to make a start on the painting(!) and as there was an element of unfamiliarity for each of us, those of us who could do so did so. Rather than have everyone go into exhaustive details, we've all summated our experiences under some simple headings, collated and curated here for your convenience:
Game A - James Vs David F
1) A brief sketch of the force you fielded: Germans [you did say brief!]
2) Who you played: David F's Belgians
3) What worked well: The enemy's indirect fire weapons!
4) What lessons you learnt: (a) don't over-invest in armour - my selection of an armoured car and a Panzer 38t in a 500pt game was a little silly in hindsight. (b) always play as the defender in attacker/defender games. (c) play larger games: the Allies' ability to take "free" units is overwhelmingly powerful in very small games.
5) Unit-of-the-match / "MVP": The Belgian medium mortar taking out my armoured car with the first shot of the game!
1) A brief sketch of the force you fielded: 2 x 10 man squads (1 of rifles, the other of rifles plus 3 x light mortars, making them ‘Grenadiers’), 1 x Lt, 1 x FRC 76mm tank destroyer, 1 x medium mortar (with spotter) and 1 x medium artillery (plus spotter)
2) Who you played: James' Germans
3) What worked well: My mortar and artillery piece worked well simply because they achieved hits early on with about three 6s! (destroying a very threatening Sd.Kfz.221 and immobilising his Panzer 38(t). The three light mortars, on the other hand, consistently missed every time they fired!
4) What lessons you learnt:I felt very vulnerable to armour (tanks rushing up and hosing my almost defenceless infantry with MMGs) so am interested in deploying Chasseurs Ardennais in future because although they're expensive infantry (being veterans), I can equip them with anti-tank grenades. I was too dependent on ‘lucky’ rolls from indirect fire weapons to counter armour, as well as my tank destroyer. This was useful, but felt very vulnerable (open topped, 7+ armour) and was the only unit designed to counter armour. Uncomfortable having all my eggs in one basket.
5) Unit-of-the-match / "MVP": Either my mortar or my medium artillery - both achieved outstanding results by getting those 6s!
James' Germans advance
David F's Grenadiers rain down light HE
Game B - Sam Vs Chris
1) A brief sketch of the force you fielded: Lieutenant (with field car) 2 squads of Kraftradschützen on motorcycles and a Panzer II.
2) Who you played: Chris' French
3) What worked well: The motorbike troops were incredibly quick and took up advantageous positions quickly.
4) What lessons you learnt: A pure Kraftradschützen platoon contains very limited anti-tank options so on their own can struggle against armour.
5) Unit-of-the-match / "MVP": Honestly couldn't say: the infantry squads got swamped and seemed unable to kill anything. And the tank ran away all game after sustaining its first pin.
1) A brief sketch of the force you fielded: French - four inexperienced infantry squads with a medium howitzer and AT gun and a Somua tank
2) Who you played: Sam's Kraftradschützen
3) What worked well: My inexperienced troops were better at hitting things with rifle fire than I anticipated, and the AT gun pinning the Pz.II was luckily enough to affect it, even though I couldn't seem to penetrate its armour at long range.
4) What lessons you learnt: Of course I wounldn't ordinarily dream of taking two thonking great guns for so small a skirmish, but they were my only painted units, so what choice did I realistically have?! As it happens, the howitzer did nothing of use all game beyond looking pretty and briefly trying to run away (a classic case of 'New Model Syndrome').
5) Unit-of-the-match / "MVP": This has to be the footsloggers: they held their own and were able to bring the fight to les Boches surprisingly well! Reacting to German fire by going 'down' really helped.
Chris' inexperienced French troops pour onto the board to meet the German motorcyclists - foolishly almost blocking his AT gun's crew in the process!
New [hapless] Model Syndrome
Just a part of the German force about to head into the Low Countries - much of it Sam's! Terrifying.
Game C - Alex Vs Guy
1) A brief sketch of the force you fielded: German - two Heer squads with an Oberleutnant, a Hanomag and an Sd.Kfz.222.
2) Who you played: Guy's BEF
3) What worked well: The 222 worked well for pummelling infantry (when I was eventually able to do so!).
4) What lessons you learnt: Even though the 222 has an 'Armour Value' of only 7, I learnt that it can be pretty tanky in low-point games. I also learnt not to be so aggressive with my regular infantry [Alex is used to fielding veterans] - after trying to push the centre, I was horrendously pinned!
5) Unit-of-the-match / "MVP": My Oberleutnant! Darting out from a building and into a stricken Hanomag, he managed to save it from enemy infantry, who'd advanced right up next to it: in doing so, he turned their golden opportunity into a nasty trap!
1) A brief sketch of the force you fielded: BEF - 2Lt, 2" Mortar, 2 full squads, Vickers MMG, 2 pounder and Guy armoured car. I didn't take a free observer
2) Who you played: Alex's Heer. It was mostly a stand-off, except I took the risk of running out in the open with one squad who were promptly shot to pieces. Our armoured cars recce'd away from each other. There was only once dice in it at the end for VPs!
3) What worked well: My 2" mortar... and 'Five rounds rapid!'
4) What lessons you learnt: Only take risks when you have to. Also, the Vickers .50 is good at flattening against enemy armour! In Bolt Action a dice advantage is always useful, but it failed to pay off in the last turn.
5) Unit-of-the-match / "MVP": My 2" mortar for pinning a halftrack and the squad inside for three turns!
The BEF take cover against a wall. Buildings in foreground by Mad Bob
A Guy for Guy - through the haze.
Closing Thoughts
We seem to have realised or confirmed a few general patterns from these pre-campaign sparring matches:
  • Armoured cars are pretty useful in low-points games; tanks maybe less so;
  • 'Free units' (French artillery pieces; British forward observers) are definitely not okay for low-points games (and I was very knowingly at fault here - mea culpa). This is always likely to be problematic with Bolt Action's 'national rules', and in our 2020 'Desert Day' campaign, we disallowed freebies for any force under 1000pts. I suspect we're likely to rule similarly here;
  • Pinning your opponent's units remains a powerful tool in Bolty; and finally,
  • The Allies' indirect fire seems to have been surprisingly effective (or - at least - that of the Brits and Belgians!): apparently, artillery just might still be the God of War!
Let's see what happens next, shall we? - à bientôt! - Chris

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