The story so far:- Communist agitators have raided the Tower of London. Whilst the attack was easily beaten off, it was enough to rattle the King, who, without consulting Prime Minister Mosley, has ordered that the Crown Jewels be split up and sent by diverse routes to his residence in Madresfield. Alas many of these packages have become lost on the way, causing factions throughout the country to seek, locate and squabble over the contents.
Within spitting distance of Madresfield, a portion of the Crown Jewels has been discovered near the Malverns in Herefordshire. Their location has been narrowed down to three farms (see earlier post) and the Malvern Hills Conservators, eager to show their loyalty to the King, have decided to retrieve them. However the local chapter of Blackshorts, keen to enhance their prestige, are also searching for the jewels. Thus these hypothetical allies renew their rivalry and clash once more…
|Bottom to top: Brookfield Farm, Grange Farm, Bridge Farm|
We set the table up in a rough approximation of the map given in the ’38 Fest briefing, and were initially to field a platoon each (the standard force size in the ‘Went The Day Well?’rules). However considering the size of the table we decided to add an extra section each.
|A portion of the Blackshort platoon|
My Blackshorts (‘red’ force) consisted of the HQ (including a medic and standard bearer), three infantry sections (the regular Marches section, the less well-trained Metropolitan section and the elite Sidcup Highlanders), two cavalry sections (‘Iron Hoof’ BUF cavalry and a squad of local militia), and HMG team, two tank hunters and two improvised armoured vans (‘Eulalie’, with a small calibre gun, and ‘Madeline’, with an anti-tank rifle).
|Some of the Malvern Hills Conservators|
Giles fielded a force of Malvern Hills Conservators (‘blue’ force), including infantry, a mortar team, armoured cars and shotgun-toting farmers. Both platoons deployed along the long side of the table, and began to advance…
|The Blackshort line|
We had three objectives – the three farms. Deciding that I couldn’t fight for and/or hold all three, I decided to concentrate on the nearest two, trusting to luck that the jewels would be found within one of them.
|Brookfield Farm occupied|
The bulk of my force therefore headed for Grange Farm, in the middle of the board, possession of which I predicted the bulk of the fighting would take place. The Iron Hooves, with their greater mobility, raced for Brookfield Farm on my right, followed by the Irregular Metropolitan Blackshorts, who were to occupy the farm and hold the flank, while the Iron Hooves moved forward to support the fighting in the middle.
|Irregular cavalry demonstrating|
On my left, the irregular militia cavalry were ordered to demonstrate in front of the stone walled Bridge Farm, keeping out of harm’s way but hopefully distracting the MHC sections who were sure to occupy the farm (the track leading to it being near their deployment zone).
|Advance into Grange Farm|
With the armoured vans, followed by the tank hunters, keeping to the road, the rest of my force duly clambered through the hedges to reach Grange Farm. The Sidcup Highlanders quickly occupied the barn, while the Marches Blackshorts made short work of the rough terrain along the side. The HMG team slowly dragged their Vickers machinegun towards the nearest farm building.
|When vans attack!|
Crump! The retort of a light cannon shot out! Facing my armoured vans was a similar vehicle in the green livery of the MHC, which fired at ‘Eulalie’ and scored a direct hit, taking out her own cannon, damaging her drive and rattling the crew. ‘Madeline’ duly returned fire with her anti-tank rifle, but failed to make an impression.
|MHC advance into Grange Farm...|
Meanwhile the remaining MHC moved, with a section of militia rushing into Grange Farm from the opposite side, skirting the windowless rear wall of the main building and racing up the side stairs before the Highlanders in the barn across the courtyard could draw a bead on them. Grange Farm was thus in 50/50 possession.
|...and also Bridge Farm|
Stone walled Bridge Farm was quickly occupied by another MHC militia section, supported by a Lanchester armoured car and a veteran section who lined the hedgerow-lined track to the farm.
|Mortar fire causes havoc|
Boom! Another loud bang! Plumes of smoke and splinters of wood erupted from the trees by Grange Farm. An MHC spotter team had zeroed in on my advancing Marches section, signalling for their mortar to drop a round on them. One direct hit later and a handful of men, including the Lewis gunner and platoon standard bearer, lay dead. My CO, advancing alongside, was lucky not to be killed too…
|Iron Hooves trot out|
This mortar would have to be dealt with, so, leaving Brookfield Farm, the Iron Hooves, supported by the Metropolitan section, cantered out into the open on the MHC’s left flank. With any luck their infantry would be busy fighting for Grange Farm, leaving the BUF cavalry relatively free to swoop in on their rear, sabre the pesky mortar team and hopefully pounce on their HQ.
|Keep 'em guessing!|
In order to succeed in this, I needed the MHC on the other flank to stay put, so the militia cavalry trotted on, keeping the MHC at Bridge Farm guessing.
With ‘Madeline’ duelling with the MHC armoured van, and neither doing much damage, the tank hunters moved forward under cover of the otherwise useless ‘Eulalie’. Meanwhile my HMG team had reached Grange Farm in the centre and set up in the cottage alongside the Sidcup Highlanders in the barn, who had been exchanging fire across the courtyard with the MHC militia in the larger building.
|Farmers leap forward|
I admit to being surprised at the MHC’s next move, for they rushed their section of shotgun-toting farmers into the courtyard and along the windowless flank of the barn, hoping to take the Highlanders from the rear. Knowing full well how devastating a short-range volley of double-barrel shotgun fire would be, the Highlanders broke off their firefight and rushed out of the barn to meet them, their automatic weaponry stopping this audacious move in it’s tracks and sending the devastated survivors racing back to their lines.
|Lurking around Bridge Farm|
A random event card forced the MHC mortar to fire every other turn. This encouraged the Marches and Metropolitan sections cautiously moved forward, whittling down a militia section and forcing the MHC spotters to pull back. At Bridge Farm the MHC were reaching the stone walls facing my militia cavalry. Desultory fire was exchanged but the horsemen withdrew slightly before the MHC’s automatic weapons could be brought up – no charges into the valley of death on this flank!
|Attempting to turn the flank|
On my left, all that stood between the Iron Hooves and the MHC’s rear was a lone Lewis gunner, defending a fallen tree. Before he could set up the black-clad horsemen charged and the threat was neutralised. Realising the seriousness of the situation, the MHC pulled their veteran section from the track leading to Bridge Farm and raced them along to plug the gap.
Having suffered casualties in their advance, it was the Metropolitan section’s turn to suffer mortar fire, which again landed a round into their number with uncanny accuracy. These inexperienced Londoners, fed up with traipsing through smelly and muddy Herefordshire farmland, turned and fled back to Brookfield Farm, followed by a loudly cursing NCO.
|MHC whittled down|
Despite this setback, the situation was looking grim for the MHC. Their flank had been turned by the Iron Hooves, and their militia in Grange Farm was close to breaking point after being raked by HMG fire, in addition to the machinegun fire and grenades courtesy of the Sidcup Highlanders. (At this point it’s worth pointing out that we had tweaked the morale rules a little, so that sections could only benefit from any HQ morale modifier if they were within line of sight, which these guys were not!)
By now ‘Madeline’ had finally scored a hit on her opposite number, disabling it’s weapon. Emboldened, she trundled forward to engage the MHC Lanchester which, after floundering in the mud at Bridge Farm for most of the game, was coming back to support the MHC’s defence. Turning a corner on Bridge Farm lane, ‘Madeline’s’ crew were surprised to see the Lanchester bearing straight at them!
In an audacious move on Giles’ part, both MHC armoured cars had been ordered to ram their counterparts in order to gain vehicular superiority. ‘Madeline’s’ crew failed a morale test and opted to hurriedly reverse, backing across the road and straight into a gate, becoming well and truly bogged down.
This, in my opinion, was the turning point where my almost-certain victory began to change into probable defeat, for the dice gods suddenly abandoned me and I began to roll some terrible results.
|"Attention, this vehicle is reversing..."|
After some head-scratching on how to resolve a head-on ram, The Lanchester smashed into ‘Madeline’, driving her home-made front plate into the engine and forcing the crew to leg it. The MHC’s armoured van performed a similar move on ‘Eulalie’, which also opted to get the hell out of the way, reversing through the militia cavalry which had galloped back to support my waning attack.
Sensing my chance, the remaining tank buster (his mate being felled my MG fire from the advancing Lanchester) was ordered to run up and pop a grenade up the enemy’s exhaust, only for him to fail a morale test too! He paid for his cowardice (or good sense) by being run over by the MHC’s van.
|HMGs final moments|
At Grange Farm, combined fire from the HMG and the Highlanders was as hot as ever, but my to-hit rolls were suddenly becoming dreadful, allowing the rattled militiamen in the opposite building to concentrate on the HMG and wipe out the crew.
My bold flanking move was also running out of steam. While the Blackshorts had managed to shoot up the mortar crew and put pay to that nuisance, their mounted allies suddenly found themselves on the receiving end of an infantry charge from the newly-arrived MHC veterans. Again I rolled abysmally and the Iron Hooves fell back.
Barely stopping for breath, the MHC veterans then charged the remainder of the Marches Blackshorts, who also fell back! At least by now the Metropolitan section had rallied, but with the end of the game in sight (cue increasingly chilly texts from Her Indoors) opted to stay at Brookfield Farm and search for jewels.
With the MHC veterans cutting a swathe through the Marches section, the Iron Hooves settled their nerves and counter charged into their rear, only for their target to turn around and, thanks to some more bloody awful dice rolling, force them back again!
|Cementing my position|
The initiative had well and truly passed to the MHC, who had weathered the Blackshort storm and, thanks to some admirable audacity, struck back to gain the upper hand. All I could do was consolidate my half of Grange Farm by sending in the militia cavalry and, with Brookfield Farm in my possession, hope that the Crown Jewels would be discovered in my half of the battlefield.
Giles, having being declared the victor, rolled a D6, revealing the Crown Jewels to be in…
…Bridge Farm – the farm that throughout the entire game had been in MHC hands!
A very disappointing end to the game for me, made worse by my sudden reversal in fortunes. On the plus side I was very happy with my tactics. I had managed to tie down two sections of enemy infantry and an armoured car by simply trotting the poorly-trained militia cavalry back-and-forth. I also came within a deuce of forcing the MHC out of Grange Farm, after practically wiping out two other militia sections. In addition my flanking move had come within an inch of succeeding, but hats off to Giles for pulling off some brave and ultimately successful counter-attacks – bravo!
We had a fantastic game in which the advantage really see-sawed between us. It’s all too easy to blame the dice (a bad workman and all that), but this time around I really think that, had I rolled a little better, I might have weathered Giles’ applaudable charges a little more, and perhaps that final die would have landed the jewels into Blackshort hands.
Giles' side of the story can be found here, here, here, here and here.
Oh, this weekend I also played the Songs of Blades and Heroes fantasy skirmish rules for the first time, with my six year old daughter. She really enjoyed her first wargame - happy days lie ahead.