Thursday, October 10, 2019

Rearguard at Cassinga: Wars of Insurgency at Advance the Colors 2019

A 3-D printed South African Blackburn Buccaneer launches a rocket attack on a column of Cuban/Angolan armor
 When I released Wars of Insurgency modern skirmish rules a few years back, I purposely did not include air power rules. I wanted it to be "low-intensity" insurgency warfare. The rules have received a good reception and players at conventions have enjoyed my games. There's even a group in Australia, the Nunawading Wargames Association, who are playing an "Imagi-nations" campaign using my rules. As more played them, I've received questions how to handle various things that were not included in the original rules.
Cuban and Angolan tanks & APCs race to rescue the SWAPO base at Cassinga under attack by SADF paratroopers
I have worked on helicopter rules first, and am pretty satisfied with how they perform in games. This summer, I decided I would add in fixed-wing air support - "fast-movers," as some folks like to call jet aircraft. As mentioned in previous posts, I had a friend use 3-D printing to create a handful of aircraft for me. Although they don't have the detail of die-cast metal or plastic kits, they look fine on the table as gaming models, and are considerably cheaper.
Waiting for them, concealed in the bush, are RPG teams of the South African rearguard
I kept procrastinating actually writing down the ideas that were bouncing around in my head until a couple weeks before my game at Advance the Colors 2019, Oct. 4-5. I had decided I would run the rearguard action of the anti-tank platoon against a Cuban/Angolan armored column that came to the rescue of the SWAPO camp the South African paratroopers were raiding at Cassinga. A pair of Mirage IIIs and a Blackburn Buccaneer had helped the raiders fight off the column, so I had a historical engagement I could model it after.
A pair of Mirage IIIs were also available to strafe the encroaching armor with their 30mm autocannons
The skirmish was a near-run thing with the Cubans and Angolans coming very close to breaking through and being able to attack the landing zone where the South African raiding force was trying to evacuate from. So, I chose my forces off of the historical Order of Battle, figuring it would give me an idea of prospective point costs for aircraft. As it turned out, I probably should have given the Cubans and Angolans more armor than I did (each of the players controlled one T-34/85 tank, 2 BTR-152 armored cars with mobile infantry, and one civilian truck loaded up with infantry).
Each Angolan player also had a truck with 10 infantry to dismount and drive off the South Africans
Each South African player controlled three teams of three Professional infantry (one armed with an RPG, one a LMG, and one hand weapon). They also each had control of either a Mirage III or Buccaneer, each of which had limited ammunition or passes it could make. The Mirage were historical armed with air-to-air missiles and their 30mm autocannon. The Buccaneer was armed with 68 SNEB rockets. The South African pilot had insisted his armorer load alternating rockets of HE and HEAT (anti-tank rockets). Thus, the Buccaneer would be their main platform against the tanks, while the Mirage IIIs could affect the armored cars.
My Friday night table was full with six players, so the full force for each side was used
I advertised the game as a playtest of the aerial support rules, which in my mind was supposed to justify the fact I had NOT play-tested these rules. Then again, I did the same last year and the year before with my helicopter rules and they worked out fine. I ran the game only on Friday afternoon and evening. My Friday players were ecstatic about how the scenario worked out, and said they had a blast. Still, I scaled back the attack ability of the Buccaneer for the second game, essentially cutting its ammo in half. For game effect, I let the Buccaneer player decide how many rockets he was firing each turn at which targets. I allowed jet aircraft to designate a strafing line or flight path and roll attacks against any target on that path.
A Buccaneer and Mirage III sweep over the battlefield looking for targets of opportunity
The Mirage IIIs were given a limited number of attacks. After that, they were "bingo" on fuel and had to return to base. The Buccaneer had actual ammunition boxes to check off as he fired rockets. In the first game, each box equaled one rocket fire and one dice rolled to place it on target. In the second game, the player checked off two boxes for each attack dice rolled to hit. Strafing hits scored on 4-6 on 1d6. Each rocket hit then rolled a further attack with 3 damage dice (doubling hits against armor, just like an RPG).
A firefight on the ground between a SADF RPG team and troops dismounted from an Angolan truck
The Buccaneer was Hell on Wheels, er...wings! It blasted tanks, APCs, and trucks with wild abandon. The Mirage IIIs had a more limited attack, that nevertheless could be deadly -- especially if they strafed an open vehicle carrying mobile infantry (like the open compartment of the BTR-152). The South African RPG gunners were fairly effective, too. Like historically, they blew up a number of armored vehicles. They got chewed up way worse than in the actual Battle of Cassinga, though, where the platoon took zero casualties. The raiding force itself did take casualties, but most of those were in the assault on the camp from AA guns.
A Mirage III dives to strafe the roadside being used by the Cuban/Angolan armor
I liked how the hidden deployment of the RPG teams went. The players put dummy markers and real markers on the table to mark potential locations for their infantry. They could be placed in any patch of trees on the table, which gave them a lot of tough decisions to make. Aircraft could not make attacks on consecutive turns to represent them vectoring around for another pass.
Each Cubans & Angolan player force was given four choices on arrival points
How did the games go? In each game, all of the tanks and APCs were eventually knocked out, including some of the reinforcement APCs I gave to the Cuban/Angolan players when they were down to few troops left. It was a much closer battle in the first game when I had only two aircraft in the sky (due to two of my six players mysteriously not showing up after registering for the game). In the night game, all three aircraft were hammering the Cuban and Angolan armor. Unlike in the first game, the players got a little glum and felt they had no chance of winning the game. What was VERY interesting was that one of the South African players in that game also felt they had basically lost and that the armor was about to fulfill its objectives by exiting on the far side of the table. So, both sides felt that they were losing!
Smoke marks the strafing runs and rocket attacks on the armored vehicles
Either way, I think I would limit jet aircraft to just one per scenario in future games. I was being historical, and wanted all three aircraft that appeared over the battlefield the be represented. I am not 100% sure I like the mechanism for the flight path, though. It seems too easy for the jets to line up multiple targets on the ground. Perhaps, I will add an element of randomness to the game and either have the controlling players roll to be "on target" with their hits, with a chance of deviating to the left or right, short or long. Players still needed to roll for their attacks, and targets still got to roll saves, though. So, perhaps not. Maybe I will simply limit how many targets they can strike on the ground, or allow them to hit multiple targets only when they are close together.
The South African pilots quickly pounced on the enemy armor as it arrived on the table
It was fun to see the jets on the tabletop, though. I think my camera tripod flight stands worked fine. I will probably paint them entirely matte black, though, just to make them less obtrusive on the tabletop (and in pictures). I think most players enjoyed the scenario, though. I think I am "go" for planning my next playtest using the Chad air war. Stay tuned for more!

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