Amongst the varied delights of the 2003 Triples show at Sheffield was the exceptional Monte Cassino display presented by The Sherwood Wargames Group, that quite rightly won the trophy as best display game of the show. The terrain was simply stunning, a mammoth exercise carried out in a masterful manner, from a club whose previous offering, such as the Kursk display from last year and remarked on in the Forum report, have really set the standard for other clubs to follow. I invited Phil Vernon of Sherwood Wargamers to produce a description of the game and the preparation that went into it, he agreed but seemed reluctant at first, obviously feeling his literary skills may not match the standard of his modelling expertise. I don't agreed, and would like to thank him very much for his exciting contribution, as well as compliment him and his colleagues for their superb efforts.
The Third Battle of Monte Cassino
15th March 1944
Following the successful campaign to liberate North Africa & Sicily, the 8th Army crossed the straits of Messina on the 3rd of September 1943 to begin the battle for Italy. Italy proved to be excellent defensive ground with the Germans having a series of good defensive positions to fall back onto. In time, the Allied advance stalled on the bastion of the Gustav Line, the old Monastery of Monte Cassino.
This key position dominated the main road to Rome and the high ground had to be taken. Following two costly attempts to capture the high ground, it was then
decided to make an amphibious landing north of the Gustav line at Anzio, to force the Germans to abandon Monte Cassino. This would make a third assault on the Monastery and the town beneath unnecessary. However the landings were badly handled. They met no opposition having caught the Germans totally off guard, yet they dug in instead of advancing on Rome. In days, the Germans surrounded the small bridgehead of troops and began pounding them from the high ground which overlooked their positions.
Our game shows the third Allied attempt to take the Cassino position, which in part became an attempt to take pressure off of the Anzio beachhead. Hopefully our game will show that this attack against the crack German 1st Airborne divn. was poorly conceived, and should never have happened.
The attack launched on a narrow frontage, followed an intense aerial bombardment by over 1000 bombers, many of which flew from England. However the devastation left by the bombers created a prefect environment for the defending paratroops
This attack launched on the ‘ides of march’ was to be beaten off like the two previous ones with heavy loss of life in both the 2nd New Zealand and the 4th Indian Divns.
Sherwood Wargames Group
A small group of 7 members based primarily in Nottinghamshire we enjoy our terrain building and gaming sessions equally. We have been involved in display games for many years but this game is our most ambitious game yet and has taken a year from conception to complete. We are pleased to show off the excellent range of tanks & figures available in 20mm from Dave Howitt at…..
Britannia Miniatures. www.wargame.com/britannia/ Tel. 01928 564906
Following on from our Kursk game seen at Sheffield Triples 2002, and later the same year at Colours, our group of 6 wanted Triples 2003, our first game as Sherwood Wargames, to be memorable. When asked why we had chosen to do Monte Cassino, our answer is simple, because no one else has ever done it before. Half way through the project we realised no had been stupid enough to do it before!
We are lucky that we have a good relationship with Dave at Britannia Miniatures and he was able to meet all the requirements we had for troops, with his Indian Commonwealth figures being absolutely beautiful. So Dave Wilson and Neil Kenneally agreed to buy and paint all of them in time for the game. Whilst Dave was done well in advance, Neil left his a little late. In fact we based some of his units after we had set up the battlefield at Sheffield. Another late night!
Scenery was to prove more difficult, with maps and reference material requiring many hours on the Internet to find. Luckily a map in Advanced Squad Leader helped us to lay out a rough map to transfer to boards, and it even showed the contours and heights. With careful planning we were able between us to design a map which would include all the important features.
Having a map, it soon became obvious the scenery would have to be built from scratch, and it proved to be to an eight-month project from start to finish. We decided on MDF boards with beaded edges, filled with extruded polystyrene to allow us to properly sculpt the rivers. Hills would be built of the same material. The boards are built in a standard manner with all roads, rivers and streams exiting board edges at the mid points so that they are multi purpose. This does mean that every battle is a close simulation with some liberties being taken over exact board layout, but it does allow the terrain to be multi-functional. The hills are linked to each other by edging the boards in a standardised edge profile and this creates almost seamless joints.
Ruined buildings were available commercially, but we had to scratch build the Monastery. It had to be suitably ruined, and we wanted it to be as accurate as possible, even including the collapsed cellars. We were able to get Monastery floorplans from its own web site and this helped us to position the internal walls, whilst wartime photographs and film footage enabled us to get the shape of the external walls and the degree of damage correct.
The monastery alone was to take two months to build but luckily Lee Sharpe can do anything with wood, whilst Dave's skills as a scratch builder enabled them to come up with a decent representation which matches the photographs quite well. The Monastery was hand built from MDF, cut to shape on a band saw and finished in filler to simulate stuco. In order to simulate the collapsed cellars we put a 2" layer of insulation inside the walls which would allow us to cut down. Stone and tiled floors were created from plasticard placed sparingly and then buried in a rubble mix, concocted by Dave Wilson from filler, gravel, coal and PVA glue. Once dry the rubble is extremely hard and resilient to gaming, and looks very effective with the angular coal giving it the look of masonry.
Castle Hill, came out of a bit of thought and a Pringle tube, whilst other buildings were scratch built as needed.
The really awkward part of the boards for this particular battle was
the construction of the hill on which we sit the Monastery. A great deal of planning went into getting a
height which allowed spectators to look into the ruin, whilst also giving the effect of a towering hill. Planning
was my department so I decided on building a 12" high box on which the Monastery would sit, which would be totally hidden by hill and cliff boards with high backs. Once the concept was in place Lee worked to create slopes and special profiles to allow the terrain to flow around the hill.
The Monastery sits on a standard board edged in 25mm beading and when placed on the box the effect is complete. A 15" high hill which occupies an area 6 feet by 4 feet.
Our scenery for this game was a totally new concept for us, as we have never beaded the board edges before. The extra weight this adds to each board is off set by several significant advantages. The boards now have no tendency to bow. They stand on their edges for storage without resting on each other and this reduces rubbing and damage from knocks. They allow us to carve down and create undulating ground, marshes, rivers etc which actually look like the features they are meant to represent.
The disadvantages are few but significant. Each board weighs about 1/2 a kilo, with the 12" high hills and cliffs nearly 10 kilos each, so we
know when we have moved them all. Most significant is probably the cost, with materials alone for this project coming to around £800. About £22 a board.
So basically all you need to put a game like this together is a small group of committed individuals with a mix of skills, two nights each week for a year, access to tools, and the ability to use them. Oh and you need a big van!
There are no really novel new ways to do things in wargaming, we have just repeated techniques used so expertly in the past by such notables as the Redcar Rebels, Derby Wargames Club, Colin Rumford and Bill Gaskin. It just seems that we gamers need to be reminded from time to time what is possible, and hopefully we have done just that.
I am pleased to say our game was very well received at Sheffield Triples, especially by the Italian traders! In fact a game which was only to be seen the once, will be at Leeds Armouries at the end of the year by invitation, but we hadn't planned on showing the game any more than once. We build each project for one show only normally, and we are already planning for next Triples. Possibilities at the moment seem to be another WW2, or something Samuraii, we have even thought about doing Verdun, the Muleshoe, or ....well you will have to wait.
The one thing all our games will, we hope have in common, will be demanding and unusual scenery. We enjoy the scenery building as much as the figure painting so hopefully we will do something different each time, which will be of interest. If you want to know how we build it then come along to either Newark show, Leeds or Colours and ask us. We don't have any secrets, and if it helps to create good scenery for clubs and home gamers, that's great.
Our group of 6 consists of myself (planning and finish painting on figures), Lee Sharpe (the wood wizard, and undercoating and soldering of
figures), Andy Carter (scenery building and transport, good ideas man and figure collectormaniac), Dave Wilson (scenery builder and master of all scratch build projects, rough painter), Neil Kenneally (Brighton based figure collector, good on a night out), Andy Pickering (Southern based ancients collector, organiser of Colours game, the karaoke king). A good mix of individuals who are happy to boast we are a drinking club which plays with toy soldiers.
I will be pleased to give details of scenery to anyone who is interested if they email me on firstname.lastname@example.org oh and if anyone out there wants a model of Monte Cassino get in touch.
More pics of the game will shortly be posted in The Gallery
remember to mention Wargames Forum when contacting traders!
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