Tuesday, September 9, 2014

US 1st Armor in North Africa

I've always wanted to expand my US armor collection to include more of the tank models used in the early part of the American fight against the Axis.  I've played Mid-war Flames of War before and always used my late war kit but somehow it just didn't feel right.  After deciding to play in this years TactiCon in Denver I set about collecting and painting models that would scratch the itch I had for something "not a Sherman".

I decided on these 3 vehicles, believing they represented US Armor in North Africa.  I was thinking my force was going to be something that might have seen action during the Battle for Kasserine Pass.

M3A1 Stuart, M3 Lee, M8 Scott
After spending considerable time painting I discovered in the unit history phase of my project that my perception was off by a lot.  I had always assumed that the Lee was the main battle tank of North Africa but in reality the Sherman was more common.

1st Armored division "Old Ironsides" was composed of 2 Armored Regiments, the 1st Armored Regiment and the 13th Armored Regiment.

The armored Regiments possessed the standard 3 battalion arrangement used throughout the war with one Battalion made up of 3 companies of light tanks (Staurt's) and 2 Battalions of 3 companies each made up of medium tanks (Sherman's and Lee's).

My research consisted mainly of what I found online including Battlefront's host of articles about the US in North Africa.  I also decided to purchase a book to assist with the modelling efforts.  Under the Gun 2: First Blood US 1st Armored Division in Tunisia from Oliver Publishing Group was very helpful with unit organization and markings.  I really wanted to have tanks with the iconic yellow stars and stripes!  This book has many pictures of destroyed and captured US armor in Tunisia along with some full color renderings that were very helpful.  Much of the book material came from captured German photographs at the end of the war which were made by the Germans following the disaster at Kasserine.  Shown below is the famous Stuart, REBEL, which was captured intact.

After getting nearly done painting and having finished most of my research I was faced with the conclusion that the army list I made for the tournament was nothing at all like what was at Kasserine or perhaps at all!  The North Africa book is very generous for US Tankers allowing you to mix and match light and medium tanks.  In reality the TO&E's are like late war with companies that are comprised of 3 platoons of either light or medium tanks.  I also discovered that the Lee's I so desperately wanted to field were probably only in the 2nd Battalion of 13th Armored Regiment which was not present for the battles of Kasserine.

So what's a Flames of War list builder to do?  I decided to chalk it up to general quarkiness of open format tournaments and run with my list anyways.  I would be facing Panthers, Churchills, and Soviet Tankovy after all so who cares, right?

I settled on this list:

First up I needed some jeeps to make a security section for Tank Destroyers in North Africa.  I used M10's previously painted and featured here.  It's too bad that Tank Destroyers are pretty much compulsory if you want to have any hope of going up against heavy tanks with an armored company.

MG's on the right and left are magnetized for optional use.
I use the smallest star decal on bases to mark platoon commanders.  He's also the only guy holding binoculars.
Next up is the M8 Scott.  My research showed that this guy was not present until the late phase of the Tunisia campaign.  I painted him up anyways in more of a late war scheme thinking I might get some utility out of them there.

Platoon commander again with binoculars.  He is from a half-track crew.
I like to identify the commanders as much as possible so he also got a flag decal and some stowage on the turret.
This unit presented some interesting things in use and I do not think it is an optimum choice.  I intended for them to be a direct fire smoke platform to roll with the tanks.  They got destroyed in every game where my armored mortars did not.  Having only 3 teams makes them susceptible to cowardice and leaving the battlefield.  Being fast and tracked seems to represent a big threat because my opponents always keyed off on them.  They are better kept safe in the rear truly but in that case I think there are more efficient use of points for smoke.  The jury is out, I may have to do up 3 more and try running them as a unit of 6 in late war, though they lack smoke bombardment in that period.  The half-track assault gun platoon is the more historically accurate choice for Kasserine.  

When I decided to attend TactiCon I was not quite sure what the list would be so I bought a platoon of each tank type I wanted to use and an additional pair to use for my Company command teams.

First up we have the M3 Stuart HQ teams.  Hooray for yellow Stars and Stripes!  They are decals from I-94 Enterprises and they are wonderful.  I love the Battlefront decals and these are every bit as good.  They actually come off the backing easier than the Battlefront ones and had no silvering.  There are also a mixture of US flags I used from Battlefront and MustangGameSystems.  The blue vehicle identification numbers are I-94 as well.

Do I look dusty?

I don't feel dusty.

Do these gas cans make my tracks look big?

We're not talking!
 A full platoon of Stuarts to go with the HQ.  I really wanted to run 5.  I never have much luck with trained light tanks so I wanted as much durability as possible for casualties or maximum assault capability.

I took license to put the star on the front deck.  No photographic evidence known.

The platoon commander is the tank with the figure.
I did run into a good amount of other light tanks and in hindsight the M5 with 1 more point of front armor is a pretty good choice as well.  It didn't feel mid-war enough for me so I used these with stabilizers.  The M5 did see action in Tunisia as replacements for these M3's but it was late in the campaign like the Scott.

I really wanted Lee's.  They are goofy and I like them.  They have a main gun like the Sherman plus the turret mounted Stuart gun both with stabilizers!  The turret has rate of fire 3, I suppose due to an extra crew member (loader).  Here is the HQ I used.

Dang we are up high!

Long barrels here.
A platoon of Lee's shown with the long barrels.  All the barrels are magnetized so I can switch them into short barrels.  The short barrel with a muzzle brake was used later to correct some serious recoil and vibration issues.

Oh say can you see.....
...my super dusty...

...hull and running gear...

That wraps up my North African foray.  It ended up being 17 tanks and 3 jeeps, basically a new company of tanks.  I plan to revisit north Africa someday and add half-track assault guns and white scout cars that I already own.  I'll probably add another platoon of Stuarts or Lee's sometime in the future as well.  I can only imagine when Battlefront revisits mid-war the flexibility of mixing light and medium tanks will probably be removed as they update to more historically accurate force organization diagrams.

My apologies for the mediocre photography.  I still haven't got it mastered.  I like taking pictures of everything in action, on the game table but, my lighting and or lens aren't not up to the level as other hobby bloggers.  These photos were taken in an ad hoc lightbox arrangement.  The single color ground and backdrop mess with colors, lighting, and focus.  I haven't quite decided what to change, make, or purchase to improve my results.  I'm leaning toward a new lens and some additional lighting for the game table so I can return to taking pictures of my hobby results in the field.  The lighting will improve the game room generally and a new lens will improve my photographic options all around.

If you stopped by please shout out about the miniatures, the list building, photography, or whatever.  But whatever you do, be sure to follow me by clicking the Join this Site button and add me to your blog reader!  There is more content to come as I publish my backlog of summer projects!