read the book!

Thinking about a different project – a topic for another day – I was looking in one of the older Bolt Action campaign books, Ostfront: Barbarossa to Berlin. In the pages I found another take on the Belski Brothers.

The Warlord Games version is for a partisan squad. The key twist is gaining the fanatic rule when opposed by SS units. Officially for the Soviet lists, I see no reason why these squads could not be included in a partisan force. Combined with my special character rules for the Belski brothers it could make a fun eastern front themed Partisan force.

So, there you go. Read those books, you never know what you might find.

lessons were learned

In the summer of 1944, German and fascist forces conducted many operations across Northern Italy. The sweeps and armed security-patrols into the rugged mountains were designed to break up the growing partisan companies and restrict their ability to operate.

Many of the rule book missions could be used to re-fight aspects of a security operation. But I want to create a mission where partisans are making a desperate bid to break through a security cordon to escape. With this in mind I played a couple of solo games to get a feel for how squads might interact on wooded table, with one side attempting to exit and the other to stop them.

I went with infantry heavy forces with around 450 to 500 points. A bit smaller than even a small game, but large enough to try out some ideas. For the partisans I tried one game with a small number of squads and another with the same number of fighters, but split into groups of 3 to 5.

I opposed the partisans with a more structured German force: several 5 man squads with rifles, a medium mortar, a 3 man LMG squad, and an officer. Thematically, I think matching the partisans against an inexperienced or green security force could be a lot of fun, but for this experiment I went with regular squads.

In the first game I deployed the partisans randomly, using the paratroop drop rules from Market Garden. Then the Germans entered the board from random board edges. The double randomness was too much and would likely lead to very swingy games- even more swingy than BA is usually!

For the second game I dialed back the random deployment. The Germans deployed up to half of their units on the board, but their reserves came on randomly in from turn 2. The partisans started off board, with at least half coming on as first wave.

The dynamic of using squads of 3 to 5 was interesting. It gave the partisans plenty of dice, but limited fire power, and forced moral checks more frequently. Another idea might be forcing the fleeing partisans to start with 0 to 2 pins on each squad.

I need to sort out scoring yet, and I think the points need to be balanced a bit. A higher number of points for the partisans, perhaps 50% more might even the sides up a bit, given the partisans need to advance into the Axis deployment zone and move off the board in order to win.

Also victory points need to be worked out. I think something like 2 victory points per exited unit for the partisans and 1 victory point per partisan squad eliminated by the Axis force.

More experiments are clearly required.

Rise Up

Members of the resistance faced many dangers: discovery, betrayal, and the direct danger of violence while carrying out their duty. Many resistance fighters were not even armed. For most it was a significant risk to just obtain weapons and ammunition, even before other acts of resistance could be contemplated.

As the Allied army approached Paris in August 1944 the population of Paris, led by the French Forces of the Interior, rose up in rebellion. One of them was Georges Loiseleur, an ex-soldier and active member of the army of the interior. Like many, he went out onto the streets to find a weapon.

A German truck was attacked with a grenade as it drove along Quai des Grands-Augustins, which runs along the left bank of the Seine. Scrambling through the wreckage to salvage a weapon, not all the Germans were dead. Instead of finding a rifle to join the liberation, George was shot dead by a German armed with a pistol.

Georges Loiseleur died August 1944, age 28, and is commemorated by a small plaque near the spot where it happened.

To capture some of this in Bolt Action I propose being able to add unarmed fighters to late war partisan squads. The unarmed fighters have the special rule Rise Up! that provides a chance to obtain a rifle during the game. This rule reflects the risks taken by people like George during those frantic days of liberation in the final months of the war.

Special Rule: Rise Up!
A regular Partisan Squad (Late War) or an inexperienced Partisan Squad can add 0 to 3 unarmed fighters for +5 points (inexperienced) or +8 points (regular) per unarmed fighter. The quality of the unarmed fighters must be the same as the rest of the squad.

If an enemy infantry or artillery unit takes at least one casualty within 12” of a unit with an unarmed fighter, roll a d6 for each unarmed model up to the number of casualties:

4-6: weapon acquired. Replace the unarmed model with a model armed with a rifle.
2-3: no weapon found. The unarmed fighter may try again if the opportunity arises.
 1: tragedy strikes. The unarmed model is killed or wounded attempting to find a weapon and is removed from play (this doesn’t cause a pin).

While unarmed, models cannot shoot or attack in close combat, but can be removed as casualties.

The sort of early war actions of obtaining war material is a story outside the scope of Bolt Action.

These unarmed fighters cost on point more than unarmed fighters in Soviet penal squads. This reflects the chance that some will survive long enough to obtain a weapon.

The Belski Brothers

Tuvia Belski was a Polish Army veteran and a charismatic leader who led a group of men, women and children, which grew to over 1,200 people by the end of the war.

Belski and his brothers led their partisan band through the terrors of the nazi occupation, often hiding deep in the forests of Belarus. Check them out, the story is amazing.

The base Partisan list has access to first and second lieutenants, who can be either inexperienced or regular quality, but not veteran. This makes sense for the core list and reflects the lack of organisation and structure of most partisan organisations.

However, every partisan movement included extraordinary people, men and women, of outstanding courage, skills and charisma. It would be nice to be able to bring some of these elite personalities into Bolt Action, expanding selection choice and range of Partisan armies that can be deployed.

The Warsaw Uprising theatre list in the Road to Berlin campaign book includes officers of higher ranks and the option for taking veteran offices. This makes sense for the AK. This same entry could be used for a late war Yugoslav National Liberation force, or even a Soviet Partisan force.

Special characters are another way of rounding out some of the holes in the Partisan list. Assigning points for new or additional rules without distortion is a delicate thing. However, re-skinning existing rules, or tweaking so modestly it may as well be re-skinning, is a safer route.

The home brew special character mashes together four things: history, and the existing rules for captains, intelligence officers, and Hungarian officers.

Tuvia Belski, partisan hero, is a regular captain (110 points).
You may add up to two additional partisans from the following list:
Asael Belski (+10 points); Zus Belski (+30 points); Partisan fighter (+10 points).
Named characters may only be selected once per force.
Weapons: pistol, SMG, or rifle as depicted on the model.
Special rules:
Asael: as long as Asael is alive, Tuvia and his unit gain the fanatic special rule
Zus: has the intelligence officer special rule (see Italy: Soft Underbelly).
Once per game Zus may act on intelligence he has gathered; before the first die is drawn, on a 4+ he may choose a die from the bag for the first activation.

Clearly, these rules are not official and will need your opponents permission to try out. The fanatic rule for Asael has no additional cost. It is based on the national rule for Hungary. Just as in Hungarian list, it appears for some flavour that will have little effect on the game. Unless some crazy cinematic moment occurs. Very Bolt Action.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. On Tuvia, special characters in Bolt Action. or other ideas to extend the partisan list.

Garibaldi Brigade

As winter set in on the chaos of Northern Italy in the later part of 1944 Partisan morale collapsed. Many partisans returned home or took advantage of fascist amnesties to lay down arms.

However, a dedicated core held on and continued to fight to throw out the nazi occupiers and smash the fascist rump-state.

My list is inspired by one such group, the 28th Garibaldi brigade, who in December 1944 joined with the singular Popski’s Private Army to liberate Ravenna.

Most accounts focus on Popski’s British Special Forces troop, but the brave members of the Garibaldi brigade were essential as both a blocking force and as part of the assault.

The army has 13 order dice (units):

Like nearly all wargames, Bolt Action requires a force leader. While Partisans don’t have a structured officer corps (despite the many self-appointed titles and ranks!), I have selected the equivalent of a second lieutenant with regular morale to lead my Partisans. He is accompanied by additional one man, and both are armed with SMG.

Yes, the remaining photos are all ones I have posted already!

I also have a liaison officer. While some liaison officers wore civilian clothes, most wore uniforms, especially out of the towns. My OSS officer wears a US uniform. Once per game he can attempt to call in air support.

The core of the army are four squads of rifle armed Partisans (of either 9 or 10 fighters). Two of the squads have squad LMG to provide a little extra reach and fire power. One is also armed with Molotov cocktails, which will give some defense against tanks.

Partisans can take a squad of veteran Guerrilla Fighters. I’m taking a squad of 6, armed with SMG.

There are 3 teams with support weapons: an MMG, sniper, and PIAT. Of these the sniper is probably the most useful, but don’t underestimate the other two teams.

Actually, the PIAT team is inexperienced. They will supply an order die for the bag and otherwise likely spend most games hiding.

The last two units, a light howitzer and a captured tank, are both somewhat of a stretch historically. In games terms both will be useful. Both will play the important role of being able to throw out pins on enemy units. Both will also most likely die horribly. This is sad for the crews involved but will at least mean my core units are not being shot at.

To represent the lack of support and training, both the tank and artillery are rated as inexperienced. In addition, the Renault R35 has the captured rule, which means it is also unreliable.

Easter Front is a 1005 point Bolt Action tournament being run over two days as part of Conquest 2022 in Melbourne.

les gros canons

You are not going to believe what mon oncle found in this shed. Hid it in his shed at the armistice thinking it might be useful one day. Well the time has come, because it might only be a light artillery gun, but my Partisans are going to find it very useful.

This is a 75mm light artillery piece from the Warlord Games French Resistance range, but it will fit right in with my late war Italian Partisans.

One advantage is under the rules it doesn’t require a tow to come on the board, the poor crew can push it. Not something that actually happened, I suspect.

I have also made a PIAT team.

To reflect the lack of training in the weapon I will make them inexperienced.

I’m sure it will be fine.

Partisans in Bolt Action

Bolt Action sometimes get described as Hollywood WW2, capturing dramatic moments of heroism and action that on closer inspection defy physics, history, and occasionally logic. But as a game it delivers with popcorn-munching glory.

Its focus is actions involving what the writers call reinforced platoons, which seems to be as good a name as any. Most armies are built around 4 to 6 infantry squads plus supporting elements from light-mortars and machineguns all the way up to tanks, off-board artillery, and air support. This is an elastic form, set in the moment when the big bombardment is over. Manoeuvre of battalions and companies is on a scale abstracted from the immediate game, and – most importantly- contact is made with the enemy. The game simulates those frantic minutes, up to a couple of hours tops, where troops must close and destroy or displace their opponents to achieve their part in the wider battle.

Being a game, a key design decision is to match balanced forces in the contest. Both sides have (more or less) equal chance of winning. This is not an absolute restriction, but most games will meet this broad outline.

The big 4: Germans, Soviets, British, and US, have all the toys they need to get the job done against most opponents. The largest of the less common army lists: French, Italians, Hungarians (especially with the additional units available in the Budapest campaign book) and even Finnish can build solid, balanced lists without too much extra effort. I’m not sure where Japanese sit, as a part of a big 5, or with the Italians, but they can also meet most table-top challenges.

Then come the minor powers. Not only can suitable miniatures be harder to find, building a good list can be harder too. Greece, Holland, Norway, Belgium. Bulgaria. Not impossible, just harder. All these lists face a central dilemma of fewer choices around armoured vehicles. In fact, pretty much all vehicles. Artillery and some of the other specialist slots can also be limited. These more limited choices are compounded by national rules that are mostly a bit underwhelming compared to the larger powers. Not fatal by any means. Just a larger challenge.

And then there are the Partisans.

You can have a looted tank, inexperienced, of course. Not much artillery. The national rules can be fun- booby traps and a movement bonus. Better than the Italians, anyway.

Partisan actions were desperate, brave and fierce. Fighting with limited resources, with little help or hope of relief or reinforcement, is its own special brand of courage.

They are also mostly a long way from the reinforced platoon level of all the other armies in the game. The Partisan army list in the French and Allies book acknowledges this dilemma. The official list focusses on late war Soviets and Yugoslav forces. The early war selector would require being matched to a suitable early war opponent- the Security Force from the German selectors or Bulgaria. This is not so different to many of the selectors that focus on particular periods or battles. The Warsaw Uprising also fits, being a prolonged city-fight.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying I like Partisans, but to bring them to life on a Bolt Action table they need a bit more than just the ordinary matched play.

Renault F17

Partisans can take a single, stolen armoured vehicle (up to a medium armour). Without the usual logistical support, Partisan tanks must take the unreliable rule, which means it might be immobilised when it attempts to move.

The model is resin, I think from Blitzkrieg miniatures, bought on sale a couple of years ago. It is nice to finally have a project for it, although it has been painted for a while now.

Partially because it looks so funky and a little bit because it will be funny, I’m going to take an FT17. These were a terrible design and obsolete before the war even started. Nothing can go wrong with taking this unreliable, slow, under-gunned tank for my Partisans.

Easter Front

Live Bolt Action is returning to Melbourne with a two day event as part of Conquest Games Convention. OK, live BA probably never left lounge rooms and garages, but it is returning to the streets. I think the last time I played was Conquest last year, so I’m looking forward to rolling a few dice again.

Triangulating a desire to take something new with least amount of effort, I have decided to take Partisans. A chance to field a somewhat unusual and fun list that only requires me to paint 6 models.

My list is motivated by the turbulent and confusing warfare in the north of Italy in late 1944. Following the surrender of the fascists in September 1943 the situation became more and more chaotic until the final armistice in May 1945. In fact, it continued to be chaotic but that is another story. Many dozens of partisan groups, made up of thousands of individuals took up arms against the occupying Germans and puppet fascist regime. Being Italians, there were multiple political camps, from Soviet-aligned communists to right-leaning groups hoping to restore a monarchy.

Most of the force will be rifles, which is not that different to most Bolt Action armies. The largest potential weakness of Partisans is not the lack of armour, as the lack of anti-armour with real grunt. Part of the solution will be some crazy-brave souls armed with Molotov cocktails.

A Partisan force can include veteran, SMG-armed guerrilla units. My desperadoes will be represented by this mix of girl-power and an on-the-run tank crew.

The models are a mix of Black Tree Design, Warlord Games, and Eureka Miniatures.

Painting them was both fun and a bit of a challenge. The main challenge was creating a coherent looking force without making their clothes look too uniform. By restricting the pallet I used and basing all the models in a similar way I think I have managed to create a force that will look OK on the table. By varying armband and scarf colours I can differentiate squads on the table.

In a straight up fight against a trained army they would be hideously outgunned and out maneuvered. But in the heroic Bolt Action world I think they will stand up OK.

Or at least not loose too quickly.

Death to fascism

I found a squad of partisans lurking at the back of the cupboard. With a regular painting session on Zoom with friends, they became a pleasant little project one evening.

The photo is a bit dark and basing is yet to do, but I’m happy with how they came up.

The squad is 28mm Warlord Games. Scale-wise I think they will fit in OK with my existing Partisans from Black Tree Design.

I have been enjoying the Zoom painting sessions. A nice way to catch up, and something I hope survives the lock-down period of our current lives.

See you across a table sometime soon,