Operation Nighthawk – London Calling, London Calling

A joint action with Phil Wynne

A recollection of an excellent weekend of big battle gaming for the liberation of Picardy to celebrate Phils Stag Do (wargamers style)

The Saturday morning dawned bright and clear and outside the Moredon Community Centre in North Swindon a cluster of cars gathered stuffed with figures, food, and terrain. It was the start of Phil’s Stag Do.

Perhaps we were overly ambitious and certainly naive in our expectations but hopefully we can help others learn from our mistakes and successes.

The intention was to run a two-day Flames of War event for friends as part of Phil’s Stag Do. It was intended to be a somewhat light hearted affair involving a dozen or so friends and relatives of Phil for two days of wargaming. His choice of game was Flames of War, which was fortunate due to the high level of support it had within our club. This also drove the period as being Late War Western Europe to guarantee the largest number of figures being available.

Initially we played around with the idea of lots of smaller games on Saturday feeding into a larger game on the Sunday. This slowly evolved into a desire to run one large continuous game over the two days. The only issue now was just how large a table could we have? There were various models which we looked at from the linear types employed by facilities such as the Wargames Holiday Centre with it’s large twenty seven foot by fifteen foot tables split by walkways, to simply having a very long six foot wide table. Eventually we tried to maximise the table space to get the largest dimension table in both directions. Given that the longest realistic reach for most of us is around three foot we would be constrained to a widest table of six foot. Our other constraints were that we only had twelve six by four foot tables as well as the general constraints imposed by the dimensions of the community centre which we would be using. Our final solution was a cross-shaped ‘double H’ giving us a table eighteen foot by twenty foot at its extremes. This gave us four ‘cockpits’ that poked into the table space that addressed the three foot stretch for the most part. We did unfortunately have two zones where we weren’t quite successful, but for the most part players managed to cope.

Operation Nighthawk Map Base

The next step was to identify who would be coming as well as what troops were available. The participants were to be a mix of FOW ‘experts’ (people who had played the game previously at least once) as well as some complete wargaming novices. During the planning we had invited around twenty people, but what with summer holidays and other commitments we secured fifteen giving us seven and eight a side. Given the access constraints this ultimately proved to be the right number for the space.

To limit the breadth of units joining the fray we restricted unit selection to Infantry units from the Fortress Europe book. Some players were picked to provide specific units for the game scenario. Players were asked to provide unit lists and troops for each side such that most would not know which side they were playing for until the day. The scenario was kept secret until the morning, as was the final player split between the two sides. Whilst the location was based upon a real location the actual battle was completely made up (as will become apparent).

The premise for the game was to set the battle in the region of Picardy where a famous café was located in Nouvion. Liberties were taken to enable the introduction of scenario items such as locating a Prisoner of War camp nearby, as well as a V2 Missile launch site. None of these scenario elements were to be revealed until the game was underway.

The scenery had been amassed over the preceding months, with friends commissioned to construct the more elaborate structures, so the first time most of it was seen was on the morning of the event as we set up the game area. The multitude of towns and villages were identified by dragon clips holding their names aloft.

An hour later the players started to assemble and were soon separated into their two sides;

 

Germans Allies
Paul Nettle (Heer CiC) Graham Philpot (British CiC)
David Wynne (Heer) Peter David (British)
Glenn Foden (Heer) Manuel Boissiere (British)
Sean Walker (Heer) Derek Whittenbury (British)
Vince Prince (SS CiC) James Furnel (US CiC)
Mark Dodridge (SS) Simon Day (US)
Peter Becket (Heer) EJ Hanneman(US)

Special Rules

We introduced a few specific rules for the scenario

  1. All divisional support armour assets were aggregated into units
  2. Germans started the game dug in
  3. All immobile and heavy artillery had double range
  4. Blimps stopped air attacks within 12 inches of their locations but could be attacked themselves
  5. No-go and blocked lines of sight zones were defined to account for the board shape
  6. Air support and intercept rules were altered

Every German player was given a specific simple set of individual orders which identified their objectives, though these were sometimes at odds with those of their colleagues or their commanders.

The Allies were handled slightly different with two different sets of orders being given to the British and US commands.

The Germans primary orders were to hold the Somme lines, whilst the Allies gained points for capturing the towns and villages north of the river.

Deployment for the two sides was fairly relaxed which may have contributed to one of the problems encountered at the end of the first day (more of that later).

Operation Nighthawk Deployment

After a lengthy preamble with delays due to players arriving late and setting their forces out the first turn finally kicked off at 11.30am. The intention was to carry on until 6.30pm before heading off for an evening meal.

As the day unfolded the Allies initiated their attacks across the Somme. Large scale infantry assaults were made with massive artillery support and localised armour support over the different river crossings.

The British also initiated their first airborne assault with gliders to the North West, much to the surprise of the German forces in that sector. The airborne assault involved Graham throwing four glider models from a short distance away from the board to see where his troops would deploy. Any gliders landing on top of another, or hitting significant terrain features resulted in a potential crash with the consequential loss of the troops in that glider. Unfortunately as a result of some bad throws Graham lost most of his 6lbs and half of his 17lb anti-tank units.

The day progressed with the Allies slowly edging their way across the river. About half way through the day we implemented a 10 minute time limit for each side’s movement to curtail the lengthy discussions which were constantly taking place. If there is anything we should have taken into consideration it was this, wargamers like to talk (and then talk some more). We probably should have instituted this, a lot earlier in the game.

Through the day the first batch of game scenario events took place.

  • POW Breakouts
  • French Gendarme
  • Resistance
  • The Nouvion residents
  • Nuns
  • Refugees
  • Indiana Jones and Jones Senior
  • The Italian armoured cars (under a certain Captain Alberto Bertorelli)

By the end of the first day we had only seen four turns completed so the Allies hadn’t been able to progress as far as had been anticipated as we had originally planned for six turns to have been finished by this time. As I mentioned the first two turns took far too long.

Operation Nighthawk End Day 1

As the day closed the Allies front line was determined by the umpire (Phil). This then became the line behind which the Allies could re-organise their troops. The German command then chose where they wanted to re-establish their front line, and were able to re-organise their troops behind that line. Any Anti-aircraft or heavy artillery which was redeployed would not start the next day dug-in.

Once the players had departed the umpires then moved some of the troops around to represent miss-communication between commands, as well as to facilitate the introduction of new scenario events for the second day. These included;

  • Blown bridges
  • Kelly’s Heroes and the bank job
  • Zombies
  • V2 Missile site

And well as continuing events from day one which included

  • POW Breakouts
  • French Gendarme
  • Resistance
  • Nuns
  • Refugees
  • Indiana Jones

Fresh armoured forces for both sides were also deployed. These were to represent Allied forces sent to exploit the cleared river crossings, whilst the Germans represented forces quickly sent to patch the holes and hopefully launch a counterattack.

Everyone then retired for the dinner to discuss the events of the day.

The second day opened with a zombie attack in those towns which had been the scene of heavy fighting the day before. (I hope by now you’ve gathered that this wasn’t a completely serious event, though this event did cause some bemusement among some of the Allied players). The strict time limits from the first day were again applied. Whilst this did catch some players out initially as they attempted to dash to the various sectors of the board in the time limit by the second turn many of them were delegating troop movements to other players close by.

The second turn saw an attempted German glider rescue of one of their high command who had been caught behind Allied lines.

Subsequent turns saw further Allied glider assaults into the NW as well as the NE sectors, as well as a lot of confusion caused by the resident nuns.

Soon after 4pm we brought the game to a close with a brief synopsis of the game and commentary by the principal commanders.

Operation Nighthawk End Day 2

At the end of the weekend I was shattered, and I hadn’t even been playing. Some of the players looked knackered having been dashing backwards and forwards and any which way around the vast table throughout the day.

I’d like to give a big thanks to everyone who took part and subjected themselves to our somewhat perverse sense of humour. Most of the things worked as anticipated such as the Resistance, Indiana Jones, and the glider assaults, however some things didn’t really add what we had really hoped to the game such as the escaping POWs. Some of the scenario events didn’t even have the opportunity to be implemented such as the Italian Armoured Cars (destroyed by the Germans in the opening turn) or Steve McQueen being captured as he left the POW camp. Some were simply stymied by the initial slow pace of the game which meant that the German glider rescue found itself not behind the Allied lines as originally planned, but actually on the front line.

All in all I believe that the game went very well but there were some lessons learnt which hopefully you’ll be able to benefit from should you ever undertake something similar. (None of this is really rocket science)

  1. Plan for players not attending, sometimes events happen which will stop players attending, so make sure that there are contingencies in place so that their absence doesn’t kill sections of the game.
  2. Implement strict time constraints for movement and firing. We effectively lost two turns from day one.
  3. Pre-plan forces and special events but be prepared to re-plan and compromise.
  4. Umpires need to make rules decisions to keep the game flowing. It is important that this is explained to the more rules aware players so that they are aware that it is more important to keep the game moving than it is to get every rule interpretation absolutely correct.
  5. Players need to call for umpire decisions quickly where player discussions are delaying play.
  6. Players need to be made aware of the expectations on them to delegate responsibility of parts of their forces to other players to keep the game moving.
  7. Label troops so that other players can quickly determine troop types and support delegated play. In the main this was OK, but in those situations where troops were substitutes for others, or could cover a variety of troop qualities it became an issue.
  8. Stress that a 10am start is a 10am start…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *