Dan Becker's Flames of War Early War French Infantry Company
|Overview of the French Infantry Company|
(Update 2004/07/11: More photos were added in this article.) In March of 2004, I visited my local game storeGreat Hall Gamesin Austin, Texas,and saw some members of theLone Star Historical Miniatures groupplaying a World War II miniatures game.From my familiarity with Avalon Hill's Squad Leader board gameand Atomic's Close Combat computer games, I enjoyed seeing the 15mm miniature tanks andguns and platoons on the table.With their rulers and dice and loads of miniature scenery, the players all lookedlike they were having a fun timepunctuated with good-natured, somewhat intense historical debates over which were thebest tanks (T-34 or Panzer V?), machine guns (MG42 or BAR?), and tactics.They were using the BattlefrontFlames of War rules.
|Close shot of French Infantry Company|
Later I watched a game in its entirety. Then I purchased my own copy of the rules.Then I was buying the Battlefront miniatures and painting them.Before long I was hooked.
As you may have guessed from the photos, I have finished painting my first miniature army -a French Infantry Company (Compagnie d'Infanterie) from 1940.The company consists of 4 platoons of foot soldiers (about 40 soldiers each), associatedheavy machine gun and mortar platoons, anti tank guns, field artillery, a small cadre of Renault R-35tanks, and various figures and supply vehicles.All told, there are over 300 soldiers,9 vehicles, 6 wagons and 20 horses.This article discusses the company and provide photos showing the many bits and pieces.
Flames of War rules concerning the French are published by Battlefront inan Intelligence Briefing on the Early War French Army (1939-41).(Note for 2006/05/28): It seems the Battlefront team has removed the article. Hmm, perhapsan upcoming new ruleset? In case of more deletions, here is a copy of theMid War Free-French for 1942-43.)This is available at the Battlefront site for anyone to download (in Adobe PDF format).In addition to the French order of battle and attributes for all the French weapons,there are special rules for any Frenchcompany including offboard artillery, Metropolitan and Colonial troops, specialtank attributes, etc.
|Overview of company command|
Of course, every company needs a commander which in this case is a captain.The Battlefront French command model package comes with 6 rifle/command figures,a light mortar team (an option which I do not use), a Universal tractor carrier, and two dead infantrymarkers.Here I have augmented the dead with 8 more miniatures from Battle Honors.They are useful for marking battles and keeping track of dead platoons.
I think the enemy is over there, the second in command seems to be saying as he points.The captain better figure it out fast or the pile of bodies will grow.
|Close up of company command|
The figures are painted with Vallejo Acrylic paint.The uniforms are khaki green. The canvas bags are middle stone. The webbing and leather isa medium red brown. The helmets are medium dark green.Then the figures are dipped in MinWax Polyshades Tudor to give the shading in the recessesand sprayed with Testor's Dullcote matte varnish to protect the finish.The bases are flocked with Games Workshop and Woodland scenics grasses and bushes.
Here are infantry platoons 1 and 2 of my company.A French foot platoon of 1940 (Section d'Infanterie) had a commander,3 ten men squads (Groupes d'Combat), and two sections of grenade launchers(Escouade de Voltigeurs).The grenade launchers are old Lebel Mle 1886/93 rifles or new MAS 36 rifles converted to fire grenades.The grenade launchers (shown at the back of the picture, mostly kneeling,near the commander), are like mini-mortars with a range of 8" (20cm).They are useful for blasting and pinning nearby enemies.
|Infantry platoons 1 and 2|
Each section of the squad has a machine gunner (Escouade de Fusiliers):one section has a walking gunner, the other section has a pronegunner and loader.These machine gunners make these "Rifle/MG" squads whichroll 2 attack dice when stationary and 1 attack die when moving.
Each of my platoons has a different color scheme for the base. Somehave dark mud, some light, some have light grass, some dark.I do this to distinguish the platoons on the game table.In the Flames of War game, a platoon that takesover 50% losses must take a motivation test.The French are confident veterans, so they need to roll a 4 or more on a six sided die.If they fail the test, the platoon disbands and runs for the safety of therear lines.So the different bases help identify the various platoons scattered over thetable.
|Rifle and MG advance close up|
Here are platoons 3 and 4. They look like the previousfoot sloggers, but with slightly different bases.A full strength infantry platoon costs 140 pointswhich is inexpensive compared to other nationalitiesand the typical 1500 point game.
|Infantry platoons 3 and 4|
Notice the bits of twigs and coarse sand on the base.These bases are really easy to do.First smear textured spackle such as DAP brand or sanded tile grout.Then glue the figures to the wet spackle with Zap-A-Gap (cyano acrylate) super glue.Let dry.Paint the base with your favorite mud or earth tone.Then smear with white glue and put various bits of miniature grass, bushes,and twigs.Let dry and then paint everything with spray matte varnish to lock scenery into placeand take off any shine.
|Infantry advance close up|
Now we come to the heavy machine gun platoons.Each platoon has a commander and two sections of two machine guns.Each gun is manned by a gunner, a loader, and a fancy-pants corporalpumping his fist in the airand screaming, Die Enemy, Die!Since I have two machine gun platoons, we have a totalof 8 machine gun nests and their commanders.In Flames of War, machine gunners attack with 4 dice.
|Heavy machine gun overview|
The French can use the Trench Warfare ruleto swap two machine gunners with an ordinary rifle/MG squad.This rule is awesome.It beefs up the firepower of therifle platoon, and it makes the MG platoon turn into a mini-squad.In game terms it means that your machine gun nests are nicelyscattered over the table.The interlocking fire is deadly to foot soldiersand trucks.
Here is a close up of two machine gunners.I add plenty of bushes and twigs because I alwaysenvision machine gunners setting up in the bushesor behind a log or in some sort of cover.
|Heavy machine gun overview|
Here is a mortar platoon.There is a commander, four 81mm Brandt mortar teamsand two observer teams who spotfor the platoon and call in the mortar barrage.
|Mortars and supply wagons|
Mortar platoons are good for pinning enemy platoons.One hit and the sissies are cowering in the mud and crying Mommy.Always pin an enemy before assaulting or maneuvering nearby.
Each mortar team should have a supply wagon.I bought four, but my models were missing a few wagon wheels, so Ihaveto wait while Battlefront fixes the omission.The supply wagons have no game value.They should trot off the board as quickly as possibleto prevent the platoon from taking losses and possibly failinga motivation test.
|Mortars close up|
Thus far I have discussed Company troops consisting of headquarters, combat,and weapons platoons.Now I move on to discuss Divisional troops, the kind of troops that are availableat the next higher operational level.These are the troops that the Company commander requests for days of battle.
|Divisional anti tank guns with Laffly trucks|
Hello Major sir, the Germans are attacking. May I have some of your anti tank and artillery guns?
According to the Battlefront there are two types of Divisional anti tank platoons.I have chose the BDAC(Batterie Divisionaire Anti-Chars or divisional anti-tank battery)optionwith four 47mm SA37 APX anti-tank gunsand one Laffly W15T truck per gun.
To save money, rather than use the Battlefront AT guns and pay the list price of $7.95 per gun and crew, I boughta Battle Honors pack of 4 guns ($10) and one Battlefront artillery crew set ($7.95).
These 47mm have great specs with an AT rating of 9 and a rate of fire of 3.Most German guns with an armor rating of 4 or 5 must roll a pretty high D6to beat the 9 rating.
|Here come the Panzers|
Unfortunately in my 2 battles so far, I have not had great luck with my AT guns.In the first battle, the German tankers simply avoided my guns.I left them near the objectives, which my guns guarded well, but I should have manhandled them 2" (5cm) per turninto view to kick some butt.The second battle, the guns were all blown to bits as I drove them into view of theenemy.Again, I should have unloaded them out of view and manhandled them into view.At least with moving the gun, you get one shot at anything in view.
Another Divisional element that I have purchased for battle are the artillery batteries.To save money again, rather than buy the Battlefront guns and crews at $7.95 per model,these figures are modeled with Battle Honors guns and crews at $10 for all 6 guns and$10 for entire crew and observers (if I remember correctly).The 4 horse limbers are also Battle Honors and go for $6.95 each.The Battle Honors figures are slightly smaller than Battlefront and theBattle Honors French figures appear to have WWI uniformswith the double breasted great coat.However, I like that look. It appears that these are a bunch of WWI old-timerswho have been pressed into service with their ancient 75mm Mle 1897 guns.The observers are particularly nice with their radios, maps, binoculars, and other spotting tools.
The guns are mounted on the large Battlefront bases.I used extra spackle to create a sort of gun pit.The sandbags are air dry clay.Roll a pencil thick cylinder of clay, cut it intostandard lengths, and then flatten and square it with your hands.
Initially I had trouble with my artillery guns.In my first battle, my observers had lousy observation points.Additionally once they spotted, the 4 guns did not cause much damage.However, in my second battle, I add 3 additional offboard batteries, pushed myobservers way forward, and had more deadly effect with my guns.I also started the game with the French Rolling Barrage rulewhich automatically sites the target, and I was able to cause much more damage.
Here are the French Renault R-35 tanks. Seemingly, they have decent specs.Their armor is good at a value of 3 (which is added to a D6 to roll more than the typicalGerman AT gun rating of 6).Their guns are good 37 mm guns with an AT rating of 4 or 5 (which a German with armorratings of 1 2 or 3 must beat with D6).However, their one man turret requires that these tanks cannotmove and fire in the same turn.Additionally they are slow tanks, moving 8" (20cm) per turn, whichdoes not have a lot of shock value.In other words, these tanks are nothing but armored AT gun placements.They do have an MG, so I guess when you move, you fire that.
|Renault R35 tanks|
In my second game, I gave up my tanks for additional artillery batteries.The batteries did a lot of damage and were worth the price.OK, I guess I lost the French lightning war capability without these tanks.At least I am fat an happy behind my artillery barrage.
Despite the game shortcomings, I like the look of these tanks, especiallythe way the commander sits his butt out the back of the turret.I painted them with the typical French camouflage of the time.I do not know whether the card suit markings are correct.Do French tank platoons have similar suits within a platoon or dissimilar?
|Renault tanks up close|
In case you are wondering, this is how I transport my army.I bought a soft-sided Shimano fishing tackle box at my local sports,hunting, fish, and game shop.Into the tackle box go 6 or 8 of these Plano divided trays.Each tray is about 12x9 inches by 1 inch deep (30cm x 22cm by 2.5cm deep).The tray has many moveable dividers.So far no damage. Just don't turn your box upside down.In that case, get fully foam padded trays like thespecial trays they sell for miniature armies.
And there you have it.So far I have had two battles: in the first I was annihilated.In the second I pinned the enemy, advanced forward, and won.I think this force is week against pure tank forces.Against those types, I will sit and wait and let them come to me.On the other hand, against infantry, this army does well andcan go toe-to-toe with the best of them.
Some of my battle reports are at the Yahoo LSHM-Austin forumor at the Lone Star Historical Miniatures website.Or, if you are in Austin, stop by atGreat Hall Games,and we can meet in combat.
Thanks for stopping by and reading about my French Infantry Company.Go to Dan Becker's Flames of War info page