The Big Four Of Late War – A Flames Of War Journey

with The Big Four, NZ Studio

On June 6, 1944, thousands of men were nervously waiting in landing craft, transport aircraft and bunkers as the fate of the world rested on their shoulders. The liberation of Europe was about to begin.

Collectively we (the “Big Four”) have been playing Flames Of War for around 50 years and we think that the Late War Journey is the one of the most exciting things to happen to the game since its original release back in 2001. Now, with people all around the world taking their first look at Late War and building new armies, we wanted to come on the journey with you and take a fresh look at our favourite period of Flames Of War.

Starting with the release of Fortress Europe we will be creating armies using our new Army Deals as the basis, building and painting from scratch, and then getting them on the tabletop to play some games…

Follow the Big Four on their own blog here…

Phil’s Move to Late War

with Phil Yates

I’m looking forward to the new late war books and trying out my various armies to see how they perform. I have nine mid and late-war forces that I could use, so let’s see how they go.

Late War British
Let’s start with my biggest collection, the Desert Rats in Normandy. I have a Motor Company and a Cromwell Armoured Squadron.

The Motor Company is fairly straightforward and can easily be built from Fortress Europe, although I’ll have to wait for the D-Day: British book next year for the specifically Desert Rats version with slightly different ratings and the command cards for their transport vehicles. My company has:

  • Motor Company HQ
  • 3-inch Mortar Section
  • 3x Motor Platoons
  • 3x Carrier Patrols
  • Vickers MG Platoon
  • 2x 6 pdr Anti-tank Platoon
  • 2x M10C 17 pdr SP Platoon

In Fortress Europe that comes to 94 points, so there’s room to add my Typhoons (using the Kittyhawk card for the moment) to take it to a round 100 points. For comparison, the same force from the old Overlord book comes to 1610 points* without the Typhoons.

With my Cromwell Armoured Squadron, I have two choices: field them as Shermans in the meantime, or wait for the D-Day: British book. I’d rather get them onto the table and have a few games, even if my Cromwells won’t be as fast as I’d like (but then again, the extra speed will be an exciting bonus when the Cromwell arrives!).

  • Sherman Armoured Squadron
  • 4x Sherman Armoured Troop
  • Stuart Recce Patrol
  • Motor Platoon

That comes to 97 points, so I might take the opportunity to throw in a Daimler armoured car troop as well.

Late War German
My German forces are a bit smaller with a very small Tiger SS Tank Company and a FHH Panzergrenadier Company.

My Tiger SS Tank Company is normally commanded by Michael Wittmann for a tiny, but elite force. Using Fortress Europe, I can field this six-tank company without Wittmann (I’ll have to wait for D-Day: Waffen-SS to add him). The company has:

  • Tiger Tank Company HQ
  • 2x Tiger Tank Platoons

Six tanks for 72 points, so that’s a better deal than before (it would have been 1300 points previously*). To bring the force up to 100 points, I could add a Panzergrenadier Platoon from my FHH Panzergrenadier Company and finally get around to adding some Sd Kfz 7/1 quad 20mm AA to my collection (although I could use some of my single 2cm AA from FHH in the meanwhile..

It will be a while before we get to the Lorraine battles where the Feldherrnhalle (FHH) panzer brigade fought, so meanwhile I’ll just field them as a normal Panzergrenadier Company. It would have:

  • Panzergrenadier Company HQ
  • 2x Panzergrenadier Platoon
  • Light AA Platoon (using my Sd Kfz 251/21 AA half-tracks)
  • Armoured 8cm Mortar Platoon (using my 12cm mortar platoon)
  • Armoured 7.5cm Gun Platoon
  • Armoured Flame-thrower Platoon
  • 2x StuG Assault Gun Platoons (using my Panzer IV/70)

That comes out at 96 points in Fortress Europe, so that’s pretty good. I’ll have to ponder what I might add to use those last four points.

So far then, it’s looking good for a conversion across from the old books to the new. I’ll have to wait a little for a perfect translation for a couple of my forces, but they’ll be fun to play in the meanwhile.

Mid War Forces
So what about my Mid-War forces? How will they fare? I have a Grant Armoured Squadron, a Panzer III Tank Company, and two variants of Soviet Tank Battalions.

My Enemy At the Gates Soviet mixed tank battalion isn’t really a good fit for Late War as both the KV-1 and T-60 are pretty much long gone by then (there were apparently a handful of KV-1 still fighting around Leningrad though!), although if I used the T-60s as T-70s and ignored the odd organisation, I could probably make a small 60-point force.

On the other hand, the Red Banner version transfers over nicely (especially if I get that SMG Company painted!).

  • T-34 Tank Battalion HQ
  • T-34 Tank Company
  • Valentine Tank Company
  • T-70 Tank Company

That all comes in at 51 points under Fortress Europe, so I might need to invest in another T-34 company to replace the T-70s, and possibly model some of the new tanks as up-gunned T-34/85. That would give me 28 tanks for 100 points!

My Grant Armoured Squadron really doesn’t cross over to Late War. The Grant was already on its way out at the Battle of El Alamein where my force fought, so it would be optimistic to expect to see it in battles nearly two years later. On the other hand, if I didn’t already have a late war armoured squadron and I wanted to give a mate a game, I’d probably consider fielding them as Shermans while I worked on a new Late-War force.

My Panzer III Tank Company would translate across a bit better as Fortress Europe has a Mixed Panzer III & IV Tank Company. My models are much earlier marks than you’d find in early 1944, and are painted in desert sand camouflage, but they’d do at a pinch, but it would have to be a small game as my whole force wouldn’t be much over 60 points – even proxying them as later model Panzers!

All-in-all though, if I didn’t have any Late-War forces and wanted to give it a go, I could certainly try out a few games using my Mid-War forces while I built up my Late-War collection.

What About the Romanians?
I also have a Late-War Romanian Panzer IV Tank Company. If I field it using the German Panzer IV Tank Company formation, it gets a bit of a skill and reliability upgrade, but works fine. Just focussing on the tanks, I’d have:

  • Panzer IV Tank Company HQ
  • 5x Panzer IV Tank Platoon (3 tanks each)
  • Grenadier Platoon

Since they are relatively better, and hence more expensive, I’d need to drop some tanks to get my 100mm howitzers in there, and even more to field a small infantry company. Or, looking at it from the bright side, I can field nearly 150 points for a really big game!

And the Score is…
Well, out of nine forces, five transfer over almost without a hitch, although I would need another ten T-34s to get to 100 points with my Soviets. Of the other four, I’ll need to proxy my Cromwells as Shermans to make that one work, and the other three Mid-War forces could be transferred across in some form, even though they are 1942 forces, but since I already have Late-War forces, I don’t think I’ll bother.

All-in-all, transferring over to Late War using the new books looks like it will be fairly straightforward for me..   

*The old books used a different points scale with typical forces being 1500 to 1750 points rather than 100 points.

Fortress Europe: British Spotlight

with Phil Yates

After defeating the Germans and Italians in North Africa, the British took the fight to the enemy, invading Italy. At this point, the British Army was in transition from the Desert Rats of Africa to the much larger army that invaded France on D-Day. This book covers that transition. You can either build a mid-war style force to fight in Italy, or get a head start on a British force for the battles in Normandy.

The workhorse of the British armoured forces is the venerable 75mm-armed Sherman tank. After encountering the new generation of German heavy tanks, the British developed the Sherman Firefly, replacing the 75mm gun with a 17pdr gun. Typical platoons mix Shermans and Fireflies together to make cheap, versatile platoons that are capable of handling most situations, especially when backed by their motor infantry platoons.

Some situations require a bit more armour. The Churchill maybe slower than the Sherman, but its heavier armour means it can take heavier hits. Churchills are ideally paired with infantry, where their lack of speed is not a problem.

British infantry are assault experts, hitting hard and then staying put. On top of this, in the right situation, rifle companies can launch night attacks—giving them much needed cover as they rush towards their objectives.

A British force is like a golf bag, it has a club for every stroke. The key is picking the tool for the job at hand.

Sherman Armoured Squadron

  • Uses same Sherman tanks as Mid War. The organisation is almost identical, so easy to transfer across.
  • Upgrade with Firefly (17 pdr) for extra anti-tank capability, and add Stuart recce patrols for extra sneakiness.
  • Solid, cost effective medium tanks with the option of a nasty surprise for enemy heavy tanks.

Churchill Italy Armoured Squadron

  • Same organisation and equipment as Mid War, so easy to transfer across.
  • Flexibility to mix Churchill and Sherman units, and to add Stuart recce patrols for extra sneakiness.
  • Tough, slow, infantry tanks to grind their way through the enemy.

Rifle Company

  • Same organisation and equipment as Mid War, so easy to transfer across.
  • Tough, assault-oriented infantry.
  • Formation has integrated heavy machine-guns, mortars, anti-tank guns, and reconnaissance.
  • 6 pdr anti-tank guns have better anti-tank with the latest ammunition.
  • Lots of carriers as armoured elements for scouting, flank protection, and raiding.
  • Use night attacks to overrun the enemy before they see you clearly.

Motor Company

  • Similar organisation and equipment to Mid War, with more infantry platoons available, so easy to transfer across.
  • Small infantry units with lots of firepower, backed up with integrated heavy machine-guns, mortars, anti-tank guns, and reconnaissance.
  • 6 pdr anti-tank guns have better anti-tank with the latest ammunition.
  • Lots of carriers as armoured elements for scouting, flank protection, and raiding.
  • Great for holding ground while the armour takes the fight to the enemy.

Support

  • Similar organisation and equipment to Mid War, so easy to transfer across, although obsolete equipment like Humber armoured cars and Hurricane tank-busters are no longer available.
  • New M10 self-propelled anti-tank gives the British excellent anti-tank, particularly with the upgunned 17 pdr version.
  • Three batteries of 25 pdr or self-propelled M7 Priest artillery give British forces powerful artillery support.
  • Mike Target rule allows multiple artillery batteries to range in quickly for rapid and effective artillery support.

How Do the British Play?
The Germans in Fortress Europe are among the last of the old guard, trained before the tide turned, in the days when Germany was winning the war. They are rated as Confident, Veteran, and Careful, so are some of the best trained and most experienced troops available. Their faith in the thousand-year ‘Third Reich’ gives them a better Last Stand rating, so you can trust them to hang in there, even when things look bad.

This training follows in the footsteps of their legendary forebears, the stormtroopers of the First World War. Their Stormtroopers ability allows German troops to attempt two movement orders in each turn. Combined with their high skill rating, this allows them to fight with a finesse that no other army can match.

To go with this superb level of tactical prowess, German engineering provides you with the best tanks, such as the Panther and Tiger, and the most powerful guns, like the long 8.8cm which can penetrate any tank with ease. Even older tanks like the Panzer III have been brought up to the latest standards with bazooka skirts and HEAT ammunition.

In summary, a successful German force will use their superiority in equipment, training, skill, and cleverness, combined with a good dose of aggression, to keep the initiative, hit the enemy in their weak spots, while minimising the enemy’s opportunities to hit them back.

What to Expect in D-Day: British
Fortress Europe forces will transfer easily to D-Day: British and form the basis of solid Late War forces, ready to add on all the new kit that will appear. D-Day will bring new tanks like the speedy Cromwell and unarmoured and upgunned late-model Churchills — including the savage Churchill Crocodile flame-thrower, the most powerful flame-tank in existence. For air support, they’ll have the frighteningly-effective rocket-firing Typhoon fighter-bombers.

To reflect the harsh fighting in Normandy, D-Day: British will have two flavours. The fresh divisions are a little less eager to walk into the meat grinder than the troops in Italy, demanding heavy fire support to suppress the enemy, while the old hands of the Desert Rats are wondering why they are still leading the charge with untried troops sitting in Britain, so are reluctant to take unnecessary risks.

There will be lots of totally new options for a whole new D-Day force as well.

This isn’t to say that a force from Fortress Europe will be superseded. The troops in Italy can still hold their own against any comers, the ‘D-Day Dodgers’ just don’t have as many flash new toys as the troops in Normandy. Whether you stay in Italy, or are preparing to land in Normandy, Fortress Europe is the place for any British player to start their journey.

Fortress Europe: Soviet Spotlight

with Phil Yates

Through 1943, the Soviet Union has gone from victory to victory, throwing the Germans back almost to the borders of Russia in a non-stop series offensives, never giving them time to recover before the next blow falls. These successes have bought time for the Red Army to sharpen their tactics, and despite high casualties, keep formations intact long enough to retain these new skills.

The unrelenting pace of these offensives has led to a dichotomy between formations freshly rebuilt with new conscripts ready for the next offensive, and the heroic survivors that remain after each bloody battle, pushing on as they have time after time. So desperate is the need for troops that even obsolete equipment like the M3 Lee and the KV-1 are still found fighting on the flanks of the latest equipment like the T-34/85 that form the spearheads. The question is simply which of the many options will you field?

T-34 Tank Battalion

  • Same organisation and equipment as Mid War, so easy to transfer across.
  • Big formations with up to 25 tanks for less than 50 points.
  • Extremely fast medium tanks.
  • Upgrade with 85mm guns for extra anti-tank capability.
  • Big units of up to ten T-34 tanks for maximum staying power.
  • T-70 and Valentine light tank companies add numbers cheaply.
  • Integrated SMG and mortar companies for combined arms attacks.
  • Outnumber, outmanoeuvre, and outfight the enemy.
    • Field twice as many tanks as the enemy.
    • Use speed to unbalance the enemy and get flank shots on their tanks.
    • Greater numbers give greater firepower to overwhelm the enemy.

Hero T-34 Tank Battalion

  • Same organisation and equipment as Mid War, so easy to transfer across.
  • Smaller units – the survivors of many battles. More skilled. A rapier rather than a sledgehammer.
  • Still using the same doctrine, so still Aggressive.
  • Extremely fast medium tanks..
  • Upgrade with 85mm guns for extra anti-tank capability.
  • T-70 and Valentine light tank companies give flexibility.
  • Integrated SMG and mortar companies for combined arms attacks.
  • Give the Germans a taste of their own medicine using movement orders and speed to keep them off balance.

KV-1s Guards Heavy Tank Regiment

  • Same organisation and equipment as Mid War, so easy to transfer across.
  • Fast tanks with heavy armour and excellent assault capabilities.
  • Ideal for infantry support, clearing out enemy defensive positions and driving off enemy tanks.

Churchill Guards Heavy Tank Regiment

  • Same organisation and equipment as Mid War, so easy to transfer across.
  • Slow, heavily-armoured assault tanks.
  • Cost effective infantry support.

M3 Lee Tank Battalion

  • Same organisation and equipment as Mid War, so easy to transfer across.
  • Obsolete medium tanks with thin armour and limited mobility.
  • Hull and turret gun can shoot at different targets.
  • Cheap and cheerful fire support for infantry attacks.

Rifle Battalion

  • Similar organisation and equipment to Mid War, so easy to transfer across.
  • Huge formations with up to 29 teams in a single unit.
  • Unstoppable assaults with big, hard-to-pin down, easy to rally units that charge 6”/15cm to get masses of troops into combat.
  • Komissars improve motivation.
  • Submachine-gun units for assault firepower.
  • Integrated weapons at all levels.
    • Machine-guns, anti-tank rifles, mortars, and flame-throwers in each unit.
    • Massed machine-guns, anti-tank rifles, heavy mortars, and anti-tank guns to soften up the enemy as you charge.
  • Expect high casualties with only a 4+ save – you can’t make omelettes without breaking eggs!
  • Quantity has a quality all of its own!

Hero Rifle Battalion

  • Same organisation and equipment as Mid War, so easy to transfer across.
  • Smaller units – the survivors of many battles. More skilled and deadly.
  • Komissars still improve motivation.
  • Better rate of fire as higher proportion of automatic weapons amongst survivors.
  • Still using the same doctrine, so still Aggressive, but fighting smarter so 3+ save.
  • Still have integrated weapons – high ratio of heavy weapons to riflemen. These are duplicated from the Rifle Battalion for ease of reference.
  • Tough, aggressive troops.

Motor Rifle Battalion

  • Sameorganisation and equipment as Mid War, so easy to transfer across.
  • Huge formations with up to 35 teams in a single unit.
  • Unstoppable assaults with big, hard-to-pin down, easy to rally units that charge 6”/15cm to get masses of troops into combat, then hit really hard with excellent assault ratings.
  • Komissars improve motivation.
  • Submachine-gun units for even more assault firepower.
  • Integrated T-34 or light tank company for speed and firepower.
  • Integrated weapons at all levels.
  • Expect high casualties with only a 4+ save – you can’t make omelettes without breaking eggs!
  • Quantity has a quality all of its own!

Hero Motor Rifle Battalion

  • Same organisation and equipment as Mid War, so easy to transfer across.
  • Smaller units – the survivors of many battles. Extremely skilled and deadly.
  • Komissars still improve motivation.
  • Better rate of fire as higher proportion of automatic weapons amongst survivors.
  • Extremely deadly in assaults.
  • Still using the same doctrine, so still Aggressive, but fighting smarter so 3+ save.
  • Still have integrated tanks and weapons – high ratio of heavy weapons to riflemen.
  • Really hard-bitten troops. Deadly up close and clever tactics.

Reconnaissance Company

  • Same organisation and equipment as Mid War, so easy to transfer across.
  • Elite infantry mounted in armoured transports.
  • Integrated light tanks or armoured cars, anti-tank guns, and mortars for combined arms.
  • Deadly highly-mobile shock troops.

Support

  • Same organisation and equipment as Mid War, so easy to transfer across.
  • SU self-propelled guns for any purpose from light to heavy. Dual-purpose weapons – ideal for blasting the enemy at point-blank range, back-up role as artillery.
  • Elite, highly-skilled, tank-killers earn their triple pay – a long gun, a large salary, a short life!
  • Lots of cheap artillery, light 76mm guns, powerful 122mm howitzers, and Katyusha rocket launchers for saturation fire.
  • Deadly Il-2 Shturmovik armoured ground-attack aircraft armed with cannon and anti-tank bomblets!

How Do the Soviets Play?
The victories won by the Soviet Union in 1943 — Stalingrad, Kursk, Donbass, Dneiper, Smolensk, and Kiev amongst them — showed the increasing skill and power of the Red Army and threw the Germans onto the strategic defensive. As 1944 begins these hammer blows continue without respite.

A Wide Variety of Styles
However, by 1944, the Red Army was running out of people to replace casualties, so they created several tiers of formations. At the bottom of the pile were the rifle divisions who were usually desperately short of riflemen. To solve this problem, they’d conscript any adult males from the areas they liberated straight into the ranks. The result was renewed strength, but very limited skill, so they are rated Confident, Green, and Aggressive with a save of just 4+. These massive formations were quickly attrited down to the same old band of heroes who had fought their way back westward since Stalingrad. These heroes are rated Confident, Veteran, and Aggressive, reflecting their crafty tactics and brutal hand-to-hand combat skills, while retaining their aggressive tactics that put defeating the Germans above personal survival.

The tank battalions follow a similar pattern, with the tough heroes of a dozen battles rated as Confident, Trained, and Aggressive with their ‘Crafty’ tricks reflected in a better Tactics rating. When rebuilt with conscripts fresh from training, of necessity their tactics become simpler and their skill rating drops to Green, although their determination to take ‘Not One Step Back’ gives them a better Last Stand rating.

The motor rifle brigades that supported the tanks were given priority for the available manpower as they were seen to be the key to ultimate victory. With almost as many officers and NCOs as soldiers, even freshly-raised units fought with skill, so are rated as Confident, Trained, and Aggressive, although still have the speed and lowered save associated with massed tactics. Once they get battle-hardened, the heroic survivors are rated as Veteran. Like most Soviet infantry, their aggressiveness and high proportion of automatic weapons give them an improved Assault rating as they fight ‘For the Motherland’.

The Sledgehammer or the Rapier?
As you can see, there are two distinct sides to the Red Army, the units brought back up to strength or the next offensive with raw recruits doomed to a very bloody and usually very brief introduction to combat, and the battle-hardened survivors, the heroes of many battles who had seen recruits come and go many times.

These two play very differently on the table. The huge units of new recruits are a sledgehammer, swung with maximum force at the key point in the enemy line, smashing through with devastating speed and crushing strength. They will take huge casualties, so you need to be bloody minded and focus on victory above all else. You must win quickly while you have the strength to shatter your foe, or watch your forces bleed away to nothing.

The heroes of many battles still need to fight aggressively, as their strength will also bleed away quickly, but they need to use finesse rather than massed numbers. They must use their superior speed and skill to gain local superiority in numbers, firepower, and position, then cut the enemy apart.

No matter what their level of skill, Soviet troops have lots of firepower, often from larger calibre guns than their opponents, and are deadly up close. The key to victory is using speed and aggression to overwhelm a section of the opponent’s force at close range, before exploiting their success to win victory.

What to Expect in Bagration
As you’d expect, when the Bagration book arrives, it will expand on the forces in Fortress Europe with bring new equipment like the powerful IS-2 heavy tank with its 122mm gun, thick armour, and the speed of a medium tank, the ISU self-propelled versions mounting guns as big as 152mm, and the deadly SU-100 tank killer that can easily make short work of a German Tiger or Panther! The book will introduce new formations such as specialist assault troops, ideal for breaking through German defences and clearing out fortified towns and cities.

However, we won’t get to Operation Bagration and the Eastern Front for a while, so to keep Soviet players going until then, the Soviet component of Fortress Europe is pretty beefy (easily the biggest in the whole book). It’s got lots of stuff to help you build the core of your collection and start playing.