At long last Bulge Americans is with us (or a review PDF at least) and its fair to say that it’s the book that gives the Sherman, the tank that arguably won the war*, a chance to shine.
Duncan is going to be looking at the infantry lists in the book whilst this article will look at the lists centred around the tanks and tank destroyers and boy do we have more than a few to look at!
M4 Sherman (Late) Tank Company
The M4 (Late) in question is the M4A3 wet hull Sherman. Taking all the lessons from the fighting in North Africa, the USA redesigned the front of the hull to make the drivers hatches larger and smoothed out the glacis plate (removing the odd protrusions of the driver positions), replaced the open ammo racks with wet stowage to give the crews vital time to escape, added a hatch for the loader (still sucked to be the gunner – no hatch for you!) and replaced the second-hand radial Wright R-975 aircraft engine (or several lorry engines tied to a common crankshaft) with a dedicated tank powerplant, the Ford V8. The net result was a Sherman that fixed many of its earlier faults and breathed new life into the tank. The M4A3 late was built as 75mm (retained mainly for its superior HE round compared to the 76mm), 76mm and 105mm variants, all sharing a common hull. Whilst not comparable to a Panther or Tiger on a tank basis (in terms of armour and firepower at least, it arguably outstripped both in some other factors)
In game terms those changes manifest as follows:
The new hull gives a front armour of 7 and the wet stowage grants a remount of 3+, always nice! The Ford V8 gives a small boost to the terrain dash up from 12″ to 14″ which I quite like as it has a positive in game effect without invalidating the Chaffee, something that the old v3 “Detroit Finest” had a tendency to do as an M4A3 moved just as fast as a Chaffee but was better armoured! All Shermans in the HQ and core Sherman platoons start as M4 Sherman Late by default.
It doesn’t stop there though. The US was not one to rest on its laurels and so further improved the Sherman family by changing the suspension from the Vertical Volute Spring Suspension (VVSS) inherited from the M3 Lee (and, in turn, the M2 medium tank of the interwar era!) to the Horizonal Volute Spring Suspension (HVSS). This simplified wheel changes and also gave a better ride and manifested itself in the M4A3E8 or “Easy Eight”.
The M4A3E8 is basically an M4 (76 Late) with a better cross (2+) and the Smooth Ride rule that states that an Easy Eight that tactical moves 4″ or less counts as static for firing its gun. This gives the tank an easier time hitting veteran German tanks whilst still covering ground; its basically a free Blitz you can’t fail.
The final new member of the Sherman family (as a gun tanks at least) is the M4 Jumbo; a Sherman wearing another Sherman.
With both 75mm and 76mm options and a impressive boost in armour ( at the cost of speed and cross), the Jumbo can be included in a platoon. The v4 rule of “mistaken target” allows the defender to try and shift a hit (or more) onto the Jumbo so there are no special rules in this version. Just make sure you roll your 3+!
Sherman Platoons, including the HQ, are M4 Sherman (Late 75mm) by default but every Sherman in the platoon can be upgrade to Late 76mm and Easy Eight variants and one in each platoon (including HQ) can be upgraded to a Jumbo, again with 75mm and 76mm options.
There’s going to be some debate on the best composition of a platoon, a mix of 75 and 76s, pure Easy Eights, Jumbo 75 or 76? Honestly, I’m all for it. Anything which drives some interesting discussion whilst allowing players to tailor historical lists is no bad thing.
Speaking of which, the command cards add further customization options with “76mm Hyper-Velopcity AP” (HVAP) rounds increasing AT to 13, “Uparmoured M4 Sherman (late)” boosting front and side armour by a pip at the cost of cross, “Sandbag Armour” adding a 5+ save against FP5+ weapons at the cost of dash speed and “Tank Telephones” allowing Infantry and Armour to co-operate in pounding the enemy with fire. You can also downgrade the Sherman (Late 75) to an M4A1 Sherman (early), saving a point a tank but dropping the front armour and terrain dash.
The only real issue is that you can’t stack “upgrade” Command Cards so no HVAP with Uparmoured tanks with Telephones combo!
Looking back at the formation here are two flavours of Sherman company, a veteran unit and the standard unit. As with D-Day American, the veteran unit is Careful Confident Trained and has a 3+ tactics roll. The rookie unit is Aggressive Confident Trained with a last stand of 3+ and generally cheaper points.
Additionally, the two units have differences on their organisational charts.
Both Sherman units have an Armoured Mortars box and a 105mm Sherman/Calliope box. They also both have three Armour boxes, two compulsory, but the composition of these three boxes is the main difference. The Veteran unit has an option on its first compulsory box to take M26 Pershings in place of Shermans and the second box can take Stuart or Chaffee (more on those later) in place of Shermans. The rookie unit can only take Shermans in its compulsory boxes and the third, optional box, can be Shermans or light tanks. The Pershing was only issued to the veteran 3rd and 9th Armored Divisions so that is a reasonable limitation.
The M26 Pershing represents the next stage of US tank evolution. In some ways it represented an improvement, combing the powerful 90mm gun with increased front armour compared to the Sherman, but in other ways represented a backwards step as features such as stabilisers and ammo protection were not carried over.
In game terms we basically get an American Panther or IS2 with FA9 and AT14 but with the bonus of better side and top armour. That top armour and cross 2+ makes for a useful assault tank, albeit limited by hitting on 4s in an assault due to being trained. Combined it with the “Sandbag armour” command card to give a 5+ save versus FP5+ weapons and you have something that can wade into a German infantry platoon with a decent chance of making contact. A squad of four (plus an upgrade card) also provides a useful one dice reserve in a 100pt game.
The Veteran unit also adds a fourth armoured box for the T26 Super Pershing. This one off sported an extended 90mm and was issued to 3rd Armored who further modified by basically welding a Panther to the front.
The beast can only be fielded in a platoon of one but is the ultimate tank sniper with a 48″ RoF 2 AT18 main gun. Its armour of 13 to the front will stop most return fire dead but don’t expect to get anywhere fast, especially if there is rough terrain.
In terms of artillery support, the nortars and Sherman 105mm are now joined by the Calliope which provides a Salvo template battery. Its only FP5+ but provides the US some area suppression. Its on a late chassis so its surprisingly sturdy but you can save a point by downgrading to an earlier Sherman chassis via a command card. This is handy as its only marginally cheaper than a M4 (105), of which it shares a box. I lean slightly to sticking with the M4(105) but points are tight and marginally cheaper is still cheaper!
M24 Chaffee Tank Company
Another old favourite getting a new plastic model, the Chaffee also comes in veteran (with tactics 3+ and careful) and non-veteran (with aggressive and a 3+ last stand) flavours, though the squad and formation composition remains unchanged between the two.
The Chaffee was introduced to fix one of the main deficiencies with the M5 Stuart, namely its lack of firepower. The Chaffee made use of a new 75mm, originally developed for use on anti-shipping aircraft, that gave the light tank the same firepower as a M4 Sherman. The hull is no better armoured than the M5 it replaces, but its just as fast, with a 12″ tactical and 20″ cross country dash, meaning it can put its stabilized 75mm on a big cat’s flank in no time at all.
The formation brings two to three Chaffee platoons to the table, with the third slot also allowing a choice for a platoon of M4 Sherman (Late ) to be fielded providing some in-formation high-end AT with some HVAP equipped Easy Eights if you so wish!
The formation also has two artillery slots, one with the Armoured M4 81mm mortars and one with a choice of M8 Scotts or M4 Sherman 105s.
I like the idea of pairing this formation with a battle-worn rifle company and a Pershing platoon (as a one dice reserve) to give lots of light tanks to get in the enemies face, backed up by the heavy boys for a breakthrough or high end anti-tank unit. Could be fun!
Its worth noting that there is a M24 Chaffee Cavalry Tank Company in the command cards that drops out the mortar box and the Sherman options in the other boxes and adds in Cavalry Recon Platoons if you want to get some in-formation recce.
M18 Tank Destroyer Company
The Hellcat is finally here! The epitome of US Tank Destroyer doctrine**, the Hellcat forgoes all but the barest armour to pack a 76mm anti-tank gun onto a light, fast (12″ tactical and 28″ cross-country dash), hull able to put itself in the right place to do the most damage. Speed and “Careful” are their armour!
The actual formation is no different to most US tank destroyers, pairing HQ M20 with 2-3 Hellcat platoons and 0-3 M20 security sections.
I like the idea of pairing these up with the Chaffee for a fast, mobile defence, army. Liberal application of the HVAP card helps boost high end anti-tank!
Its worth noting that there is a card for doing “Fresh M18 Tank Destroyers” in Brittany with “Trained” stats for a point less per unit. Sadly no actual Task Force Alpha card to combine M18 with Greyhounds and Engineers though! Bit of a shame, that.
M36 Tank Destroyer Company
The other end of the scale from the Hellcat is the M36. Taking the tried and tested M10 hull and combining it with a new turret containing the same 90mm gun as the Pershing. The 90mm provides an AT14 round out to 36″ and also doesn’t have to worry about “No HE”. The M36 continues to rely on “Cautious” and FA5 for its armour. Because, believe it or nor, sometimes the beast armour is actual armour.
The formation itself follows the standard pattern of HQ M20, 0-3 M20 patrols and 2-3 Tank Destroyer platoons. However, due to a shortage of M36, only the first compulsory platoon has to be M36 equipped. The other two can be M10 units, helping keep costs under control. Of course you can give the M10 some HVAP rounds to close the gap!
Another command card option, along with the mandatory “stick some sheet metal over this hole” card, is the M36B1. This combined the M36 turret with newly built M4A3 late hulls. Its pricey but you may feel FA7 and a hull MG is worth the cost! Annoyingly the “only one upgrade card” rule in LFTF does prohibit the M36B1 from adding a roof!
So, that’s the new armour being added by Bulge: American. Having faced Eddie’s US force the night before I wrote this article, I can attest the difference it makes facing nearly a whole army of 76mm armed Shermans who enjoy a much better save versus the German 75mm. Hopefully Bulge: Germans will give us some cheap FA10 Panthers to face off against them!
Over the coming weeks we’ll take a look at list building with the new armoured formations as we adapt our D-Day forces to the new book.
*claims can also be maid for the T-34 (though if its so good why did the USSR need 4000 Shermans?), the Bob Semple tanks and the German obsession with super-heavy tanks.
Of ciourse a Universal Carrier with a PIAT is the true Apex Predator of WW2.
**we’ll just brush aside how much of a success US Tank Destroyer doctrine was as a concept…