I’ve been taking a break from painting Winter Soviets as I burnt myself out getting my army ready for the Panzerschreck tournament earlier this year.
With Bulge: American hitting the shelves shortly Victor started making comments suggesting that I’d taken a long enough break and that if I wasn’t going to paint any more Soviets in the short term, that I had to start a new Winter themed American army.
I wasn’t convinced that I wanted to jump into a new winter army… but Victor surprised me the other day by posting on Instagram to ask the community if I should do it… and the next thing you know is I’ve been convinced to start a new army.
Introduced to counter the heavy armour of German tanks like the Tiger and Panther, the American M36 tank destroyer hit the field in 1944. Boasting a powerful 90mm cannon, the M36 was more than capable of ruining the day of any German tanker unlucky enough to enter its field of fire.
Just like the American M10 Tank Destroyer, the M36 was built using the same chassis and drivetrain as the M4 Sherman, but with a new, larger turret capable of supporting its gun as well as the more powerful Ford GAA V-8 engine. The amount of front armour was reduced on the vehicle to reduce weight. In addition, the turret was left open-topped to allow for better peripheral observation; though after the war some were equipped with folding roofs to protect the crew from falling debris and shell fragments. The reduced weight allowed the tank destroyer to quickly move through the battlefield to ambush enemy tanks wherever they appeared.
Officially labelled as the “90mm Gun Motor Carriage, M36” it would unofficially be called the “Jackson” or “Slugger” after the second world war. More than 2300 of these vehicles would be produced in the US, with more than 1400 built during WWII. By the end of the war the M36 had mostly replaced the M10 as the primary tank destroyer of the US. They would see post war service by Americans in the Korean War, and by other nations such as Iran, Bosnia, Croatia, Pakistan, and others throughout the 20th century.
The M36 Tank Destroyer in Flames of War
The M36 is a powerful defensive tool. With an Anti-Tank rating of 14 on its main gun and a 36” range, enemy tanks will want to steer clear of these vehicles when possible. With a front armour of 5, the armour of the M36 isn’t reliable enough to protect it during a brawl. Consider leaving your units in concealed terrain to avoid enemy fire rather than relying on their armour.
When the opportunity presents itself, you may want to place your M36 Tank Destroyers in Ambush as it allows them to retain their Halted ROF for a devastating blow to an unsuspecting enemy armorer unit. Don’t forget to take advantage of their Veteran 3+ Skill rating to Blitz into line of sight of the enemy while maintaining your Halted ROF, or Shoot and Scoot to retreat to the safety of cover after firing.
On the offense, the M36 can make use of its 36″ range to snipe enemy units without worrying about return fire. As an added bonus the tank destroyer does not have the No HE rule like its cousin, the M10, and suffers no extra penalties when firing its cannon at infantry and gun teams.
The M36 Tank Destroyer is a high risk, high reward unit. Its potential for destruction is only matched by its own relative fragility. At a pricey 6 points per vehicle you’ll want to do everything you can to keep your glass cannon out of harm’s way while it brings the pain to your opponent. If you’re able to distract your foe with other, cheaper units like Shermans, Chafees, or Stuarts you can potentially win a game off the back of the kill tally your M36 units collect.
On the frosty morning of December 16, 1944, the Axis powers launched a surprise attack intended to rout the Allies and allow German forces to encircle their enemy. The Battle of the bulge marked the end of Germany’s ability to launch offensive campaigns and for Flames Of War this campaign marks the largest jump in American armour since the US entered the war.
The following article is not a history lesson but a preliminary analysis of the M4 Sherman Platoons available in Battlefronts highly anticipated Bulge America. This book is the third American instalment of V4 late war and brings a HUGE breath of life to the American armour scene. Pershings, Super Pershings, M36 Tank Destroyers, and M24 Chaffees are all making their V4 debut. Again Shermans, we’re covering Shermans here. Don’t be disappointed, there is a lot to be happy about!
Bulge America brings US players a much-needed boost in firepower. American lists have faced a huge bottle neck thus far. Only the single black box unit of Sherman 76mms and the M10 formation have a gun capable of defeating the bevy of front armour 9-11 that has entered the game. American armour has felt lack lustre with no main battle tank boasting high front armour or a larger gun. Aside from the front armour creep, US players are also seeing themselves swarmed by up gunned T-34 85s and outperformed by the British 17pndr’s AT14.
“Americans have an entire M-10 formation with a sweet 36” AT 12 gun, what’s there to complain about?” you may say. Well M-10’s are a nice and scary unit, especially in ambush, but aside from losing stabilizers they’re a perfect candidate to fold to assault.
Enough about that. Battlefront’s Bulge America is exciting and brings entire Companies of Shermans up gunned with the capable 76mm cannon all with the stabilizer special rule.
A late M4 Sherman 76mm company (non-veteran) is starting at about 5 points a piece with a unit of three for 15 points and goes up to 25 points for the five. You do of course have the option to drop any or all of the 76mm guns for one point each, but I think there is impressive value here. For a point of comparison, a non-hero unit of T-34 85s (soviet Bagration) starts with five tanks at 22 points a green skill rating, 6 front armour and their only special rule being “Not One Step Back” (last stand on 3+). Despite the T-34 85 being approx. half a point less per tank, its still suffers from 8” shorter range and equally poor front armour.
Don’t like getting hit on 3’s? Would you rather play less aggressively and trade shots from afar? Bulge America also offers a Veteran M4 Sherman (late) company. For an extra point a tank your platoon can go from getting hit on 3’s trained and confident (same 3+ remount) to careful hit on 4+, trained, and special rule Yankee ingenuity (3+ tactics). What this leads to is an elite unit with 3-5 tanks averaging 5-7 points per tank (jumbo and easy 8’s is an option, more on that later). When you compare this to other careful units (panzers, su-85s, Cromwell’s) I think these sit well, despite being at the high end of the point spectrum.
The Shermans claim to fame has always been its ability to move and maintain its rate of fire. Against aggressive foes hit on three the Sherman can move at tactical speed fire both its shots and only be facing a base modifier 4+ to hit. The T-34 85 unit of 5 mentioned above can be absolutely decimated in a single round of shooting. As a primarily soviet player who favours medium tanks over the IL-2, KVs, and even Churchills, I have felt the sting of a 5-tank unit of 76mm Shermans running rampant on the wrong side of my armour line. Stopping this unit when I see it, has been instrumental in assuring victory over American armour lists. Not because a 75mm Sherman isn’t dangerous to a T34 but because players are typically desperate to shoehorn all the AT 12, they can into a list. A 5-tank company can stick out like a sore thumb and sending shots into this unit can take a lot of points off the board in a hurry.
Now I Know what you’re thinking, a decent round of shooting can wipe any unit off the board, especially medium tanks like the T34 and the Sherman, but the distinction being that for every T34 you shoot there is another one like it. If you’re going to run aggressive units with low armour you need to be able to push up the board without the fear of loosing a linchpin unit.
The ability to spread out larger AT 12 guns across a force, as well as the ability to take a min of 3 units but not be forced to take five is a big deal. Flames of War is a game about board control, and the more angles you can threaten the better. Having the option to tailor a single unit’s size and point value is an even bigger advantage when building a list.
The new M4 Sherman (Late) Company allows American players a tremendous amount of flexibility. So far, we have only covered the upgraded 76mm gun that is now available to all Shermans in the book, but the fun doesn’t stop there. Bulge America brings back the Jumbo and the Easy 8.
For two points you can add a Jumbo to any platoon, for three points that Jumbo gets the 76mm gun. Veterans to previous versions of flames of war will remember “Jumbos lead the way”. While that rule no longer exists because hit allocation has changed, a mere 3+ will allow a mistaken target to divert an attack to front armour 11. While this rule is no longer as on the head as the pervious editions, the effect remains the same. Low volume of fire enemies such as Soviet and German heavies will have to pay a heavy tax to put fire into these units. Veteran platoons boasting the careful rating will have even more protection.
Jumbos feel like an easy add, points allowing. Easy 8’s intrigue me, but at 2 points a tank tend to feel like a points trap. Don’t get me wrong, the advantage is obvious. Being able to move up to 4” and still be able to have your full rate of fire with no penalty is nice. If you can pass a skill-check you can blitz. Moving 8” and shooting at halted rate of fire with no penalty is fantastic, but you have to not fail a skill-check. In the end this feature feels highly situational outside of obvious hide-shoot next round situations. Normal trained units only have a 4+ to pass skill checks, Veterans get a 3+ via Yankee Ingenuity. I would lean towards taking Veteran companies to utilize the 3+ skill check, but these tanks are coming in at 7-8 points a pop. I’m not saying these are a bad option, I’m just saying that with my play style the usage is not jumping off the page immediately.
On the other hand, a unit of non-veteran M4’s full of easy 8’s with the normal 75mm gun might be the play here. I could easily see them sneak their way around a flank drawing minimal attention, taking opportunistic shots as they go, after all AT 10 is far from useless.
Overall, this book is exciting for American players and those on the fence about starting an American list in late war. We just scratched the surface, only covering the Sherman component to what is a really great book with a lot of options. The addition of a more readily available 76mm gun is a big game changer. The addition of Pershings, Super Pershings, and M36 Tank Destroyers will take a lot of heat off everyone’s favourite medium tank, or at least everyone who bought three American half’s of hit the beach.
For those who have read any of my previous articles, you will know that I have an affinity for reconnaissance formations and with the release of Bulge American, players now have a choice of three recon formations instead of just the one that released with the D-Day American command cards. They are the Cavalry Recon Troop, M5 Stuart Cavalry Tank Company, and the M24 Chaffee Cavalry Tank Company.
Starting with the Cavalry Recon Troop, this formation comprises the following units:
1 Cavalry Recon Troop HQ
3-9 M8 Greyhound Cavalry Recon Patrol
0-1 Veteran M5 Stuart Tank Platoon or Veteran M24 Chaffee Tank Platoon
0-1 Veteran M8 Scott Assault Gun Platoon
This is the same as the D-Day formation except you can now take an optional M24 Chaffee Tank Platoon instead of an M5 Stuart Tank Platoon. The core unit here is still the M8 Greyhound Recon Patrol made up of either one or two M8 Greyhound (37mm) armoured cars and two jeeps (one equipped with a mortar and one with an MG). For me, I will almost always take two armoured cars to have four vehicles for stayability. These units have the observer, scout, and spearhead attributes. Being Confident Careful Veteran, they can move under cover without firing being hit on 6s. They can also get your force into strike position or observe for your artillery. Having a mortar jeep in each patrol gives you a template (granted rerolling hits) that can be useful for pinning enemy units. Imagine taking nine patrols plus the M8 Scotts for TEN templates! Taking this formation gives you a minimum of four units and maximum of twelve units for the formation break. This unit can hang around for a while, especially if you try to max it out. For me, I would probably take at least four patrols and no more than six with either the M5 Stuarts or M24 Chaffee’s and the M8 Scotts. Two other reasons I like this formation is that I can have a lot of units for smaller point games, or for larger games, be able to use points elsewhere to either pair with another formation or have some bigger point units on the table. Pershing’s anyone?
The M8 Scott Assault Gun Platoon allows you to take a minimum of two tanks and a maximum of six tanks for 2pts per tank. I would a minimum of three and a maximum of five. Taking five allows you to reroll misses.
With that in mind, lets look at a few list options, one for 105pts, 80pts and 50pts.
Seven platoons for the formation break. Lots of AT7 supported by fast AT10s in the form of Chaffee’s with the Pershing’s providing AT14 support. Para Infantry to hold ground or assault. Five units to spearhead and SIX artillery templates to boot! This list suits my playstyle, it has a bit of everything and can create some headaches for your opponent. It does require a bit of finesse using it though but will be fun to play.
At 80pts we will change it up a bit:
Still keeping the core formation (only dropped one M8 Scot), we still have infantry in the form of Armoured Rifles giving you a big infantry platoon with lots of bazookas and MGs (another template!) supported by AT13 (with command card upgrade) fast moving M18 Hellcats.
For the small point game of 50pts (I have seen and played in these), this is where this type of formation really shines:
Had to remove the Chaffee’s, one Recon Patrol, HVAP for Hellcats, and change out the Armoured Rifles for a Rifle Platoon. Still five units for the formation break plus four artillery templates, infantry and AT12, which at 50pt games is damn good.
Next up is the M5 Stuart Cavalry Tank Company, this formation comprises the following units:
1 M5 Stuart Cavalry Tank Company HQ
2-3 Veteran M5 Stuart Tank Platoon
0-2 M8 Greyhound Cavalry Recon Patrol
0-1 Veteran M8 Scott Assault Gun Platoon
The core of this formation are the Stuart tanks and so this would suit a player who likes to build their list around light tanks with recon as part of the formation. I would max out this formation if I can, depending on points. Let’s look at 105pt and 80pt options.
Six platoons for the formation break. You have two artillery templates. Pershing’s to provide the heavy firepower and para infantry to hold or assault. Lots of fast AT 7 stabiliser goodness with fourteen Stuarts zipping around spearheaded by the Cavalry Recon Patrol.
Looking at the 80pt option we change it up a bit:
Keeping the core formation (had to drop one M8 Greyhound), we changed out the Paras and Pershing’s for Armoured Rifles and Hellcats. Still has similar hitting power for less points but the Hellcats move at similar speed to Stuarts allowing them to keep up.
Finally, we have the M24 Chaffee Cavalry Tank Company, and this formation comprises the following units:
1 M24 Chaffee Cavalry Tank Company HQ
2-3 Veteran M24 Chaffee Tank Platoon
0-2 M8 Greyhound Cavalry Recon Patrol or M5 Stuart Cavalry Recon Patrol
0-1 Veteran M8 Scott Assault Gun Platoon
The core of this formation are the Chaffee tanks and so again this would suit a player who likes to build their list around light tanks with recon as part of the formation. You also now have the option to take M5 Stuart Cavalry Patrol which is made up of one M5 Stuart (37mm) and the two jeeps. I would max out this formation if I can, depending on points. Let’s look at 105pt and 80pt options.
We have maxed out the formation with seven units for the formation break. The Chaffee’s bring fast moving AT10 stabilised goodness supported by Pershing’s, rifle platoon plus two units for spearhead and three artillery templates.
Looking at an 80pt option now and this is what we could have:
Removed one Chaffee Platoon but bolstered the other two from four tanks to five. Replace the Stuart Recon Patrol with Greyhound and removed one Scott. Replaced the Pershing’s with Hellcats. You still have five units for the formation break and twelve Chaffee’s along with the Hellcats upgraded AT13 to provide overwatch.
The addition of the new recon formations and having the ability to take Chaffee’s is exciting and I am looking forward to adding Chaffee’s to my Cavalry Recon Troop. I hope this has given you some food for thought around what these formations could do to provide some different interesting options to field on the table. Happy list building!
The 761st Tank Battalion was the first African-American armoured unit to see combat in the US Army. The courage of the men of this unit – facing not only the German war machine but doing so while facing prejudice and bigotry both at home and from many members of the Army’s higher command – is nothing short of inspiring. Because of their heroism and outstanding service record, the 761st Tank Battalion offered an opportunity to create a unique American armoured list for the new The Battle of the Bulge compilation.
When creating a new list, I always start with the unit history itself and try to make not only the organization but any special rules characteristics of how the formation actually performed in the field. Fortunately, the 761st has been the subject of several books which have focused on the unit’s history on both military and sociological levels.
Unit veteran Trezzvant Anderson published the first full work on the Battalion in 1945 entitled Come Out Fighting: The Epic Tale of the 761st Tank Battalion, 1942-1945, and several other works have followed, including The 761st Black Panther Tank Battalion in World War II by Joe Wilson, Jr. and Brothers in Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anthony Walton.
While compiling the list, I was also able to consult some extant primary sources detailing the unit’s inventory of tanks at key points in the war.
Initially formed in March 1942 as a part of the African-American 5th Tank group, the 761st began with basic infantry training before transitioning to their tanks. Because the Army never actually intended to use the formation in combat (as many senior commanders had no faith in the ability of African-American soldiers in combat roles) the unit would spend the next two years in training and serving as the opposing force for tank destroyer units during their own training. The Battalion therefore had far more experience with their vehicles than any other U.S. armored unit before their baptism by fire in combat.
Despite official misgivings about the use of African-American soldiers in combat roles, the 761st distinguished itself during its years of training with many commanders commenting on the quality of the unit. While at Fort Hood, Texas, the 105mm assault gun section gained a reputation for extreme accuracy, often ranging in with one shot and destroying a target with the second. The commanders were so delighted with their performance, that the section received additional training with the full gamut of ammunition types available for the 105mm.
The tankers would advance under fire that had caused other veteran armoured units to withdraw. They would leave the relative safety of their tanks and clear obstacles. They would continue to fight even after pieces of their tanks had been blown off by enemy fire.
Severe losses during the Normandy breakout created an acute need for combat-ready armoured units to continue the advance in France. It was at this point that military need finally trumped racial prejudice, and the 761st was given a chance to prove itself. Arriving in France at Omaha Beach on 10 October, 1944, the unit would not actually see combat until 7 November as a part of Patton’s Third Army.
The 761st had more actual training time than any other formation in the U.S. armoured corps. For much of this time, the battalion was exceptionally well-led as well. Lt. Colonel Paul L. Bates was a strong officer unencumbered by the racial prejudices so common among his contemporaries. He believed in his men and their ability. Unfortunately he was injured at the outset of the 761st’s first battle in November 1944, and immediate leadership fell to Major Charles Wingo, a staunch racist who fled the battle once he realized he was in command.
Over the next several months the 761st would find itself often commanded by senior officers of questionable quality who would time and again needlessly put the Battalion in harm’s way, leading to many unnecessary casualties. This unusual combination of high skill coupled with high losses is analogous to other Flames Of War armies like the First Special Service Brigade and the Hero Tankovy lists. Therefore during the period when the 761st was poorly led by senior command, the list is Fearless Trained, but in recognition of the skill of the individual members of the unit, they pass skill tests as if they are Veterans using the Well Drilled special rule
Upon arrival in the ETO, the 761st Tank Battalion was arguably the best-trained tank unit in the American military (Lord knows they’d had enough time to train!). Their ability to out-manoeuvre and out-fight other tank units and even tank destroyer units in manoeuvres is well-documented. Their 105mm battery simply didn’t miss and ranged-in on a target in one round. The members of the unit were expert drivers and could not only cross terrain other tankers feared to tread, if they did bog down, they generally extracted themselves quickly. Unfortunately higher command frequently put the 761st in harm’s way (often unreasonably so), and their casualties were high.
In February 1945, Lt. Colonel Bates returned to the unit and would lead it for the rest of the war. During this time the battalion therefore enjoyed superior leadership and greater success in the field. No longer was the unit put in harm’s way heedlessly and needless casualties were reduced. Although the unit received several replacements at this time as well, the overall skill of the unit didn’t appear to drop based on their battlefield performance. The unit is therefore rated Fearless Veteran from February 1945 until the end of the war.
In addition to their dedication, the men of the 761st Tank Battalion were also versatile and adaptable. During training, each crew member of the 761st was cross-trained on all of the different crew positions in the tank so they could cover any combat role if the need arose.
This versatility extended to the platoon level as well, where lower-ranking tank commanders would on occasion commandeer more senior NCO’s tanks if they had better tactical knowledge of the battle situation. In recognition of this level of tactical flexibility.
Not only was every member of the 761st cross-trained in all tank crew positions, but the initial lack of strong senior leadership led to each member of the 761st being able to take over in a pinch. On numerous occasions even junior NCO’s who lost their tank would commandeer the tank of a senior NCO if they believed they had superior tactical knowledge of the situation. Even after being severely wounded in the leg when his tank was destroyed by enemy fire, Ruben Rivers commandeered a new tank, saying “I see ‘em. We’ll fight ‘em.” He continued to fight on for several days before being killed in action.
Perhaps no one exemplified this spirit better than Staff Sergeant Ruben Rivers. Despite losing a tank to a mine, seriously wounding his knee, Rivers simply took command of another tank and continued to fight on despite his injury developing a serious infection. When his unit came under fire on 19 November 1944, he covered his platoon’s withdrawal identifying the anti-tank gun firing on them stating, “I see them, we’ll fight them.” The Germans ultimately zeroed in on his vehicle destroying his tank and killing him. For his heroism, Rivers was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honour.
The men of the 761st Tank Battalion served with distinction, yet returned to a country that far too often greeted them with discrimination and marginalization. However, their sterling combat record planted the seed that would soon result in the integration of America’s armed forces.
In honour of these men, I have tried to compile a list that is different enough from the normal U.S. Armoured lists to have its own flavour while staying true to the unit’s history. Hopefully you, the players, will enjoy fielding this fascinating unit on the tabletop as much as I enjoyed researching and writing the list!