Thursday, July 28, 2011

In the shadow of Chernobyl

And now for something completely different. Me and my wife just came back from our trip to Ukraine. We visited Kiev, Lviv and the exclusion zone of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, in which you can take a tour in. There has been trouble with the tours recently, with the government banning visits to the zone, but we managed to squeeze in a visit after a month of visits being banned.

The town of Chernobyl, situated inside the 30 kilometer zone is home to thousands of people under special permit from the ukrainian government, but the inside of the 10 kilometre zone is deemed too contaminated for permanent habitation. We spend about 4 hours in the exclusion zone, visited the abandoned, decaying town of Pripyat and stood close outside the destroyed reactor building. I went camera happy on the trip, the results of which you can see in the link below. Probably nothing you haven't seen before, as we were restricted to entering some public buildings only, which have been exhaustively photographed and portrayed in video games already. Still, it was a beautiful summer day and as they say, "pics or didn't happen".

Enter picture gallery

Also, I rented a radioactivity dosimeter for the trip. The distinctive rattle really gave a new level of atmosphere to the visit and this techno gadget geek was quite interested in measuring the values in the area. In this video, you can see the meter getting a hotter than normal signal close to the ground in the town of Pripyat.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Battle of Bull Run 1861 - 2011

Warning: This article contains lots of images! Click on the images to view the field in it's full glory.

This week marks the 150th anniversary of the first large battle of the American civil war, the battle of Bull Run. On the area surrounding Bull Run and Henry House Hill, two inexperienced armies fought a battle, both believing that the war would be fast won. They were wrong.

To mark the anniversary, I decided to play out the battle in 6mm miniature with the popular ACW ruleset, Fire & Fury. This was the first large scale historical battle I've made, and I chose Bull Run as I could make the entire OOB's for the battle instead of doing a small portion of the battle on as big a table as I could make. It took me months of designing, modelling and painting but I made it. The scenario itself is based on the "official" Bull Run scenario from the Fire & Fury eastern battles scenario book, but I've increased the size of the map and changed the scenario from 1 stand equals 150 men / 1"=45 yards to 1 stand equals 200 men / 1" = 60 yards.

The battle was fought on a 160 cm * 240 cm table, for which the map is shown above. The main objective of the scenario is Henry House Hill in the center, which the confederates hold at the start of the game. Conferedates have deployed on the small hill overlooking the stone house between Henry House Hill and Mathews Hill to the upper left on the map. The Union forces have a whole division against the three brigades of the confederates to start with, deployed in the treeline behind Mathews Hill. Union reinforcements start coming in via the roads on the top left and right corners of the map. The Confederates get their reinforcements by the roads on the bottom of the map. The game starts at 10:00 in the morning and advances in half-hour turns until 17:00 when the forces start checking for victory.

We had five players for the most of the game, one commanding each union division and confederate corps. Janne controlled the overall union commander McDowell and Tyler's division, which mostly came through the top right road on the other side of Bull Run. Arto controlled Hunter's division, which was the first deployed against the confederates and Simo controlled Heinzelman's division, which came to support Hunter through the top left road. On the confederate side, Mikke controlled Joseph Johnston, the overall commander and a large division worth of units from the army of the Shenandoah. Mikke's troops were mostly responsible for the first line of defence against the union. The army of the Potomac units under Beauregard were controlled by yours truly, and they arrived on the scene mostly after Johnston's units.

Here you can see the battlefield from the bottom left corner of the map. The red Stone House makes a good reference point throughout the scenario.

A view from the top edge. Mathews Hill on the foreground. Units have not yet been placed.
The Stone Bridge is one of three possible crossing points on Bull Run. There is a ford north of here that most of Tyler's division will use.

 We started the scenario from the opening guns of the battle. Hunter's division was met by a volley of rebel musketry across Mathews Hill. The exchange left the union forces disordered, and oddly enough, low on ammunition, much to the delight of the confederates. The union line had to retreat back to the treeline to replenish ammunition and wait for reinforcements.

As the union reinforcements marched along the road to join the fight, the confederate Louisiana Tigers extended the confederate left flank to protect the forces near Stone House from being flanked. The hardy dockworkers of New Orleans gravely underestimated their opponent though, and the union attack decimated them utterly.

The confederate troops at stone house were now facing vastly superior forces with just two brigades. They were getting flanked and to make things worse, Union artillery had deployed and now added to the amount of fire the rebels had to bear. The confederates had to pull back, but as the position was flanked, what was supposed to be an orderly retreat turned to a full rout. Scores of confederates were shot down by the jubilant union soldiers getting their first taste of battle.

Meanwhile, Sherman's brigade of Tyler's division marches cautiously towards the ford north of stone bridge. McDowell looks on contentedly.

The victorious Hunter moves his forces to occupy the Stone House area.

The Stone House was now in Union hands and Union batteries were being deployed on the small hill between Mathews hill and Henry House Hill. From here they had a clear line of sight for the whole area. Meanwhile, Thomas Jackson's brigade, having first marched towards stone bridge, reversed course and went to Henry House, as it was in imminent danger of being overrun.

With Stuart's cavalry and a battery of guns, Jackson reinforced the hill. They were however, outnumbered as the confederate forces routing from Stone House couldn't be of help in stopping the Union. Meanwhile, elements of Tyler's division started pouring over the river ford, joining the forces of Heinzelman, who had marched in the same direction instead of reinforcing the Stone House area.

The union troops were busy pushing aside the remnants of Johnston's troops.
 Together, Tyler, Heinzelman and Hunter could exploit their early success by starting to encircle the forces on Henry Hill. Their superiority in numbers meant they could attack the hill from three directions. Beauregard and Johnston were in big trouble.
The union team plots their movements.
 A union cavalry force slammed into the left flank of the last of the original confederate forces, sending them running. In their impetus, they pursued the fleeing troops too far and ended up behind Jackson's brigade. Right in front of a confederate artillery battery and a brigade of troops. The results were bloody.

The union cavalry strays into the canister range of a confederate battery with deadly results.
Union forces under Heizelman attempted to further the envelopment of confederate forces by making a quick march along the road to the confederate left. The confederates quickly countered by moving onto the exposed Union column and unleashing a devastating volley on the vulnerable soldiers. The Union column sprang to the safety of the nearby woods to get out of the fire, only to encounter a confederate reinforcement brigade marcing to the field. The union brigade routed in defeat.
 The confederate reinforcements started to arrive to the left, but too late. Jackson's brigade was falling back under repeated volleys and charges from two directions. A hastily assembled line was formed along the road south of Henry House for a last stand.

 On the right, the superior Union artillery destoyed a confederate battery in front of the 69th new york. The irish had to contend with more confederate reinforcements coming to the right however.
 Meanwhile, an infantry column led by Tyler himself was marching quickly across the stone bridge. It was unlikely they were going to be needed.

The weary Beauregard watches in despair as the confederate troops put on an effective but ultimately futile defence.
 On the confederate right, the Union forces meet with a charge by two confederate brigades. Their charge is successful, but on the same time, the forces on Henry Hill are battered by superior forces and are falling back. This ends the scenario to the favor of the Union.

Jackson's brigade becomes spent as the last confederate brigade on Henry House Hill, ending the game in favor of the Union at 17:30.

A major victory for the Union! The early success of the union troops fed itself and even though the confederate side upped their game from midgame onwards, the damage was largely done. The rebels put up a surprisingly stiff resistance though, and at one point, it looked like the game could still tilt towards a confederate victory. The union musketry saved the day in the end, and sent the rebels running for Richmond! As a tabletop game, it was very entertaining and an even challenge for both sides. The confederates should have started their retreat a bit earlier from Stone House, but the defeat of the Louisiana Tigers suprised both rebel commanders. A lot of troops were lost unnecessarily, but it went in a quite realistic fashion, although the end result was far from historical. That's part of the appeal of a historical scenario after all, to see if the players' decisions can change the historical outcome. Good fun was had by all and we even got some non-wargamer spectators who seemed to be glued to the side of the table for hours even though the weather was nice outside.

Now, the cautious McClellan gives me a good, long rest until I'll start working on the next larger scenario. Will it be Shiloh? I don't know yet. I know I will be doing a small battle like Port Republic for a wargames convention this autumn, so I do have something on my hands.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The final stretch

Only two evenings worth of working time left until we play the Bull Run scenario on saturday. I'm happy to report that I have only one regiment of zouaves and some mounted officers left to paint, totaling to about 40 figures, which is manageable. For terrain, I'll have to assemble to or three of buildings and stick the chinaman's trees to their completed bases, which is not a big job as my wife has graciously agreed to help me. For the scenario, I'll just have to tweak the arrival times so that brigades which marched to a certain point on the field at some hour can reach that point in the game also, but that I'll do once I assemble the table on friday. I have a total of four players at the moment with a chance of hangarounds, so looks like everything is set.

I painted two regiments of union zouaves yesterday. At first I had thought to paint the fire zouaves close to what they looked like on the field that day, but since their participation in the war was very limited, I opted to paint all the zouaves in a more "generic" fashion with red pants, blue jacket and red fez. That way they won't be collecting that much dust. The last zouave unit I have left, the louisiana tigers, I'll definitely paint according to their color scheme though, as they were pretty much the only major confederate zouave unit and fought in great many battles.

Final day of painting. Tired, suffering of stomach aches and running low on whisky.

I'll be going trigger happy with my camera during the game and hopefully I'll be able to dump a nice load of pictures of the game in time for the anniversary next week. Then, I'll go on holiday for a few weeks.

Update: I had to change the location of the game at the last minute as the place I was going to use was unavailable. Also, I had to contsruct a new table from out of nowhere. Here's the result after a visit to the hardware store and after putting the hills on the table.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Some printable flags for Bull Run

I've made some flags for my 6mm figures to print out and glue onto the miniatures, and I'd like to share them. The files are in .bmp format, I'm not sure whether PDF would be a better choice for distribution. Give them a try and see if the colors reproduce ok on you printer and so forth. I think the final tone of the flag colors depend on your printer, but these work fine with mine. And remember to turn off any scaling.

Union flags
Confederate flags

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A friendly game of Fire & Fury

Finally I have some pictures of my 6mm Fire and Fury to show you! I went to my friends' place yesterday to show off my newly painted stuff and we played a game with roughly equal forces on a field made just by slapping a few pieces of terrain on. The scenario we thought of called for the winner to hold the crossroads and to jump up and down on the opposition. We played with roughly division sized forces. Four brigades of infantry, one brigade of cavalry and some artillery each. The union side, played by my friend Janne, had more artillery and cavalry but less infantry and the confederates controlled by me had more infantry and one small "exceptional" brigade.
 In the beginning of the game one green confederate infantry brigade marched towards the union lines with all haste, but to their surprise, were not followed by the rest of the division. Two other brigades close by had rolled "tardy" for activation and moved at half pace. This left the overeager rookie brigade tackling with two union brigades alone. The confederate brigade was soon disordered and suffered light casualties.

 The other brigades soon caught up, but another problem was facing the rebs. A Union brigade had snuck up on the confederate left flank (I though they would take longer to cross the woods) and on the right flank, the superior union cavalry was flanking the line. The small confederate cavalry brigade dismounted in the woods and tried to hold the flank but was cut down by the union horsemen.

In the center, the confederates made better progress. They charged into  melee and forced two union brigades to retreat, but were disordered themselves and the reb line was in a scattered state.

 Closing in on the union baseline had another ill effect to the men in grey. The union artillery became more efficient and started to pound the rebs, partially enfilading the poor souls.

 The confererate left was locked in a stalemate of musketry but on the confederate right, the flank caved in. The union cavalry broke through the reb cavalry and slammed into the flank of the elite brigade, sending it running and killing their leader. The confederate line was cut in two.

The situation being what it was, the confederate general quit the field, leaving the union soldiers gloating.

And here is the victorious union general pondering his next move in his greatcoat. The poor man hasn't been issued a summer uniform even as the day was very hot at about +30 celsius!