Another Year, Another Crisis
As November looms large on the horizon, thoughts on Lard Island turn once again to our annual pilgrimage to Crisis in Antwerp; the best wargaming show on the calendar. This year we will be running two games in the Lard Zone, Fat Nicholas will be amusing the locals with What a Tanker, as he runs the now legendary (or infamous?) Barkmann Corner Overdrive scenario. Meanwhile, I will be running a 1940 game of Chain of Command pitting the invading Boche against valiant Dutch defenders along the Peel-Raam Line.
Researching for the Blitzkrieg 1940 Handbook for Chain of Command, I was particularly struck by heroic, but ultimately doomed, efforts of the Dutch forces as they attempted to halt the German onslaught. This valiant ‘David and Goliath’ conflict may not have ended well for the Dutch defenders, but being British I am well aware that the only thing better than a victory is heroic failure and the six day war in the Netherlands had that in spades.
The first criteria for a Crisis game is that we want it to be a totally new game. This is the best show of the year so rehashing something old is not on the cards. Secondly, we want it to look pretty. I am always convinced that an attractive gaming table allows us to immerse ourselves in the narrative of the game more successfully, so trying to get this one looking good is always a challenge. Especially as my modelling skills are rudimentary. For this game I wanted terrain which reflected the theatre. A Canal with some potential crossing points, a bit of a village or town, some fixed defences suitable for that sector and some flat, open ground to represent the polders of Holland. Finally, I wanted a platoon of Dutch infantry plus a few support options to face off a suitable German force of infantry and assault pioneers.
The Peel-Raam Line, or Peel-Raamstelling if one prefer the Dutch, was constructed on 1939 around nine miles behind the Maas river, stretching from Grave, just South of Nijmegen to the Belgian border. It took advantage of the Raam river and the Zuid-Willemsvaart Canal as natural defensive lines and joined the two with the Defensiekanaal, effectively a flooded anti-tank ditch. This entire position was covered by kasemaat bunkers approximately every 200m on the western bank and barbed wire on the opposite bank.to delay the attackers. I decided to model a sector along a broader section of canal for the simple reason that I fancied some canal side merchants houses which look typically Dutch.
My first step was to approach that well known terrain wizard, Andy at Last Valley, and get him to do some slightly wider canal sections. His rivers are usually 12″ apart but he very kindly made me some 18″ wide and only partially completed so that I could do some conversion work on them. I wanted a pretty wide frontage which would put pressure on the Dutch defenders. I also wanted to have several “feature” along the waterline, specifically two bunkers, a bridge and a weir or lock.
Turning first to the bridge, I realised that going for an 18″ wide canal meant that no bridge made for wargamers would be suitable. I considered turning to a model railway bridge, but this felt a bit generic. A while ago I built a smashing bridge made by Sarissa Precision and based on the bridge at Bruegel in the Netherlands. It looks like this.
On the plus side, it looks typically Dutch. On the negative side, it is nowhere near wide enough. However, if I combined two in a double bridge it might just work. I chopped a section of the bank away and added a central pier. This allowed the two bridges to fit nicely, after one end had been removed, and also allowed shipping to pass.
Next I “paved” the central pier with conflake packaging and added a couple of mapping pins as bollards. Here you can see I have covered this in PVA glue which then sets nice and hard.
On three sides, I removed the banks completely and replaced them with areas of wharf, again using blue polystyrene, cornflake packet and more mapping pins.
While I was doing some serious damage to the river sections, I decided to create a larger wharf section combined with a lock gate. Now, I know and you know that locks need two gates to work properly, but this is a wargame model so I was happy to live with just one. It creates a potential crossing point, albeit a less than ideal one, but if I link this with the bridge section we get a basin ideal for a small town. Same materials as above but more of them.
I built the lock gates from a core of foamboard and clad this in coffee stirers. It gives a pretty good representation of a robust set of gates. As can be seen, I undercoat the wharf in black before painting it.
With the detail now all planned, I completed the canal sections with some added cobbled sections along the tow-path, some areas of rocky ground and then paint and static grass.
That’s the canal at least all planned out. I need to paint the second half of the bridge and I have some odds and sods to add, such as drainage pipes and ducks, but at leat that is now well on the way. Tomorrow we will look at building some bunkers to defend our canal line.