Wednesday 24 February 2016

Coastal Forces of WW2

This has to be one of my favourite periods/genres of warfare.  The German surface fleet didn't do much of note, with a few fairly futile sorties in all the war years, compared to their E-boats which patrolled the channel and clashed with their British opposites almost nightly.

They packed so much firepower into a flimsy hull - powerboats festooned with torpedoes, machine guns, automatic cannon from 20 to 40mm and (later) 6pdr cannons. And they're so fast!  Some of them were capable of 40kts+ and they operated at night, where ranges could quickly close to a matter of a few hundred yards. (And in many cases, small arms range - many crew fitted extra Lewis guns on homemade mounts and wheelhouse crew often carried Tommy guns and even grenades.)

The rather bipolar mix of cautious stalking at low speeds for torpedo ambush and blazing gunfights at 40kts zig-zagging  through escorts spraying cannon fire makes for some interesting battles.

With most fights including only a handful to a dozen ships/MTBs per side, fights are a good size for wargaming.  And with the sheer amount of actions to choose from, you need never repeat yourself - don't need to repeatedly replay lame and unoriginal Bismark or Graf Spee fights.  In addition, the Mediterranean was another fascinating theatre with a whole new range of auxiliary vessels and tactics - to say nothing of the Pacific.

 Peter Scott's Narrow Seas book is probably my favourite on the topic...

There are quite a few acceptable rules - I prefer the simpler free Schnell Rules for Schnellboote over the commercial products - if interested, you can find thumbnail reviews of the main rules sets are available here.

Recommended Reading
I'm recently re-reading Peter Dickens' Night Action.  My favourite is The Battle for the Narrow Seas  though Flag 4 by Dudley Pope has a fascinating account of the vigorous coastal forces skirmishing in the Med.  Now I'm re-reading through the topic, I'll try to snag a copy of Hitchens' They Fought Them with Gunboats.

Osprey as usual has a few useful titles - looking across I see I have British MTBs 1939-45, E-Boat ns MTB, Kriegsmarine Coastal Forces and British MGBs 1939-45 among others. 

Modern Coastal Forces
Even modern coastal forces are interesting - when reviewing the rather good Bulldogs Away rules I discovered pretty much every naval action - and there's quite a few - since WW2 involved small strike craft like Osas (with guns usually still very relevant despite the plethora of anti-ship missiles)

So if the topic is so awesome, why isn't my blog full of Coastal forces references?

Lack of Miniatures, Lack of Value
You've got pretty much two choices - resin 1:700/1:600 from PT Dockyard or Skytrex - or the wonderfully detailed metal 1/1250 Figurehead - which is more affordable but honestly, too tiny to be appealing.   Both are pricey - with the AUD plummeting from once-parity to the USD E-boats at $4.25 are $6 ea.   An armed trawler could be around $12AUD.  Given I'd have to buy both forces, that's 100s of dollars from my gaming budget in resin (a modelling medium I dislike). I already have a few 1:1250 which are detailed but simply too tiny to be appealing, and though more affordable (~$12 for 4) I don't feel like I am getting much "bang" for my buck.  They're just too tiny to be fun, and it feels a bit lame when $150 of ships fit in a soap holder. 

As usual, anime like Blue Submarine No.6 has too much weirdness and navel-gazing philosophy, but the hardware is cool...
Sci Fi Alternatives?
As usual, this inevitably drives me to tinker with my Supercav homebrew undersea submarine-fighter rules - which pretty much deliberately approximates MTB warfare: small 5-man fighter subs 50tons who stalk at 20-30kts before accelerating to engage at 120kts+ using solid-fuel rocket engines and supercavitation tech including underwater cannon.   It's not WW2, but it does add in a 3D element and can be played for a fraction of the cost - EM4 starfighters stand in as subs and are both larger and more detailed than 1:600 craft: at 50c each they are a fraction of the cost.    Also, it gives me an excuse to mix in weapons from my other favourite era - 1950s jet combat - which has plenty of miniature options but is shamefully under-represented in the rules stakes (yes, I know about CY6: Jet Age but I don't like the order-writing mechanics nor the fact I'm limited to 2-3 fighters per side, and C:21 criminally neglects ANY altitude rules).  I mean, who doesn't find the idea of firing unguided nuclear rockets fun?
(Note to self: I should repost the revised rules on the DV google group)

Interestingly enough, it was pointed out to me that the RPG Blue Planet has similar high-speed fighter subs and I recently saw a clip from Blue Submarine No.6 - but my original inspiration was a subfighter from 2300AD fan site and an article on the Shkval torpedo.


  1. "Speed of Heat" covers 50's era fighters. It's complicated at first, but once you get the hang of it, it flows nicely.


    1. I have a feeling they are a GDW set like Air Superiority and Whistling Death? Think I've played it (or one of the other two)"back in the day" - was a hex game that was rather complicated?

    2. The Speed of Heat is published by Clash of Arms Games, but is an improved version of GDW's Air Superiority, which I played a bit long ago. I doubt that I played with all of the options, but am sure my games never had more than two aircraft per side. I don't recall it being excessively complex, as my opponent and I at least managed to complete our dogfights in the course of a single session, but whether it's feasible to play larger engagements is another matter. Whistling Death, as well as the Europe-based Achtung Spitfire!, are by the same designer, and of a similar level of detail and complexity. I keep meaning to get around to trying one of them, but haven't yet done so.

      There was, incidentally, what appeared to be an ideal entry into the system in a game featuring a simplified version of the rules published in Against the Odds magazine (issue 29, from memory). It was set in the Russo-Finnish War, which may have slightly limited its popularity, but nevertheless it sold out, and can now only be found at an astronomical price from Noble Knight. (I know, because I received an alert that a copy had become available, only to immediately unsubscribe).

  2. I too have an extensive and unappealing 1/1200 collection of coastal force goodies and targets

    1. It's just like 6mm infantry, or 1:600 WW1/WW2 aircraft - just too small to be cool.

      A step up in scale (to 15mm infantry and 1:300 aircraft) for example, makes all the difference.

      I'm tempted to find a Revell model of a Fairmile D (my favourite)

      Look at this one for instance (1:350)

      Sadly the 1:75 ones are ~$200 from memory...

  3. Now you've got me thinking about another project to start. I joined the Narrow Seas group and downloaded some of the rules you mentioned. I have Schnellboote and a couple of MTB's already but never played it.
    Dare I suggest Heroics and Ros do a range of Coastal Forces models at 1/600th scale? I can't comment on their quality as I don't have any but their micro tanks used to be decent for the scale. Not as sharp as GHQ but recognisable for what they modelled. These should go with some of the 1/600 plastic warship kits from Airfix etc. The Airfix kit destroyers are probably more use than the battleships!
    One other option is to make your own boats from card and balsa if you can find plans or photos of the boats you want to model.

    1. Whaaaa?! Heroics and Ros now have a webstore? Man, I thought ordering would still be a handwritten self addressed envelope with an enclosed bank cheque? Welcome to the 90s, H&R!

      I wonder if they have reconsidered their flat rate 40% postage.... (admittedly still better than anything from the states, I bet - I recently saw it was 60$ P&P for $100 worth of 15mm from one manufacturer....)

      Now I'm tempted to try their 1:300 WW1 stuff... for yet another project....

  4. I'd recommend looking up the author on wikipedia or the like.
    A true renaissance man, and a life lived well.