By Silk and By Horsa – British Airborne forces in v4

The British Airlanding Battalion was my first late way army, dating back all the way to the days of v2 and the first late war books for Flames of War.  Inspired by stories of the exploits of the Ox and Bucks in taking Pegasus Bridge, the force was initially very infantry heavy, but quickly expanded to add support assests such as the 6pdr, Pack Howitzer and the fearsome (in theory, anyway) 17pdr, especially when the Market Garden books arrived.

With the British Airborne finally coming to v4 its time to take the figures out the display cabinet and get them back on the table.  In this article, I will look at the formations, the changes since v3 and discuss some list building ideas.

Let’s take a look at the formations:

Airborne Formations

As we can see, both formations have the same basic components, its just the airlanding one gets more of it!  Both formations require at least two infantry platoons to be taken and both offer integral artillery and anti-tank support, including the heavy AT punch of the 17pdr!  The Airlanding benefit from an extra infantry and 6pdr anti-tank slot, but uses all the same kit.

The two infantry units are very similar too.  The principle difference is that the Airlanding infantry have one less Rifle/MG team, but gain a 2” mortar.  This makes the slightly more shooty (using the 2” mortar’s higher FP to take out HMG is always fun) but slightly less punchy in the assault.  Both also get access to an optional second PIAT, much like attaching the HQ PIATS of old.
Of note is that the Paras and Airlanding forces, like almost all the British units in the book, are now trained, albeit deadly (so hitting in combat like veterans on 3+).  They still remain cautious so the only real hit on this is their ability to follow orders.  Its not often that you need to ‘blitz’ or ‘shoot and scoot’ assault infantry, but the hit on ‘digging in’ may be felt more strongly.

The support assets offer a lot of capability.  The Vickers MG provides weight of fire directly over a surprisingly long range, but can also fire indirectly to suppress infantry or guns over a wider area.

The in-formation artillery comes in two forms, the massed tubes of the 3″ mortar provide short ranged volume of fire (six tubes costing the same as four pack howitzers) whilst the Pack Howitzers provide a longer ranged bombardment as well as a handy (if a little desperate) direct fire capability, as well as benefiting from Mike Target.  Both units are veterans too, so their fire can be relied upon to range in!

In terms of anti-tank assets, both formations have access to both the 6pdr and the 17pdr.  The 6pdr, whilst not as shooty as it was in v3 (like most mid-calibre AT guns, it is RoF 2 now), still remains an excellent choice.  Compared to mid-war, not only has it gained a HE round, increasing its versatility, but its also got its APDS round, boosting its AT to 11. Whilst not enough to worry the heavy tanks from the front, its makes it an even more reliable popper of medium tanks and an even more fiendish ambush guns against the weaker sides of the big boys!

The 17pdr has also received a boost with the move to late war.  It still lacks a HE round, but its AT has gone up to an 88 matching 14, presumably as it gained the APBC ammo.  It’ll be interesting to see if the late late war book in the future boosts it further when APDS arrives.  The 17pdr gives the paras a gun that can take on Tigers and Panthers (and KVs and Churchills if that’s your poison) frontally and at range. 

I’m interested to see how the 17pdr fares in v4. I never had much luck with them in v3 as they always became a priority target and always seemed to suffer the worse dice of my games.  I think this is why I favour the Airlanding formation – double 6pdr batteries work a treat for me!

There are a few casualties in the transfer to a new edition. 6th AARR and its Tetrarchs didn’t make it into the new book so they’ll stay on the cabinet for now (maybe I should submit a card). The later Cromwell platoons can be represented by a Cromwell Recce troop, but they won’t be fearless. Similarly, Royal Engineer platoons, or even battalion pioneers, don’t make an appearance. There is a card for assault pioneers, but it only applies to conventional rifle formations, which seems a missed opportunity.

The cards also cover two related formations.  Firstly, we have the SAS Parachute Squadron. 

On the face of it, it just appears to cut the options available to a para formation to just one small 6pdr platoon and a two-tube mortar platoon and swaps out one para platoon for two to three less capable but cheap French resistance platoons (including the reluctant trained FTP variety).  However, the real magic is on the back of the card.  At a not insignificant cost to each platoon, the paras become true veterans, gain a 2+ hit in assaults courtesy of “deadly” and swaps out their rifle/mg status for SMG.  This gives a small and very angry assault core backed up by some bulk in the form of the French.

The other option is the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion.  This is a title card that is applied to a parachute formation to give all HQ and Parachute platoons a 2+ rally, at a small cost per parachute platoon.  Given a 3+ rally is normally sufficient, its probably more one for historically theming a force but I’m always happy to see that.

Continuing on cards, there’s a few others of note:

Richard Pine-Coffin – This warrior upgrade increases the sticking power of a parachute platoon in an assault whilst also increasing the hitting power of the CO stand too.  Its good for players who don’t mind the HQ teams getting stuck in, though its somewhat pricey.

Gammon Bombs – As with the US book, this provides a one assault round boost in the platoons Anti-Tank punch.  It makes the enemy very nervous about hitting the Airborne forces in an assault and, whilst a little pricey for a situational one use card, its pretty much a mandatory upgrade in my mind.

So, the choice of formation will really come down to some slight preferences in playstyle, a desire to maximize the number of excellent 6pdr AT guns in the force, or a desire to theme the force to reflect part of the airborne invasion.  The latter is my main driver.

Support

In theory, every compulsory platoon choice and divisional support asset  in the book is at your disposal, but having Desert Rats fighting along side the paras is a bit weird!  So I’m going to focus on what choices work for the forces around the Ranville Bridgehead:

Recce

With no 6th AARR to draw upon, we need to look elsewhere for a Spearhead unit!  Step in the Belgian Piron Brigade.  Late in August their recce squadron was attached to the 6th AARR to support during the drive to the Seine in Operation Paddle.  Whilst there is no Belgian command card, it does give us an excuse to pick up the new Daimler plastic kit.  The Daimler unit itself has just enough firepower to get itself out of trouble and enough mobility to get itself into it!  Its relatively cheap so we don’t have to sacrifice much to get a spearhead unit which also helps.

Armour

There’s a few  options we can look to whilst sticking with our theme:

DD Armoured Troop

Representing the Independent Armoured Brigades, the DD Armoured Troop provides a trio of 75mm Sherman tanks, fresh from Sword Beach, to assist the airborne force (13th/18th Hussars of 27th Armoured Brigade providing a Squadron in reality).  The tanks are only confident trained, but cautious which provides an armour all of its own.  For the same points as four Airborne 6pdr or Pack Howitzer, it provides some useful mobile firepower and a counter to medium armour without burning an excess of points.  The only real downside is no Firefly!

Cromwell Armoured Recce Troop

We may not have the Tetrarchs of the 6th AARR but we can at least get the replacements!  By the end of August, most of the light tanks had been lost so the AARR were issued Cromwells to replace them in the drive to the Seine.  The Cromwell Armoured Recce Troop isn’t a bad facsimile for these; its still Cautious, has “Scout”, and a remount of 3+ is almost Fearless, thanks to protected ammo.  They only come in troops of three, rather than the four’s that the AARR operated them in, but we can write that off as combat attrition.  The only real downer is that they are, like most the British, still only”trained” and that the speed and scout ability combined make them pricey; three cost the same as three Sherman V and a Firefly!  They also, in keeping with their role, lack a Firefly.  Still, I’ll take that to get the AARR back in some form!

Centaur Support Tank Platoon

The Centaur was a Cromwell chassis fitted with the Crusader’s WW1 era Liberty engine instead of the Merlin derived Meteor.  Quickly superseded by its more powerful stable mate, the Centaur was used for training mostly but a few CS (Close Support) versions with 95mm tank howitzers were pressed into use as improvised turrets on the landing craft to provide fire support.  They retained their engines so that they could be landed and used to provide direct support if required, and this they did around the Ranville bridgehead, being crewed by various owners.

The Centaur provides a “Brutal” main gun that can also provide direct and indirect HE and Smoke.  It only has a relatively short range indirectly and a low AT but it can dig infantry and guns out with its FP2+ brutal shot, albeit with a RoF of only 1.

Its not a bad close support tank, but it seems vastly overpointed; it weighs in at the same cost as four Fearless Veteran StuH which has also has better armour and a better gun!  It’s not a bad tank at all, I’ve had good fun with them in my tests games since getting the PDF, but it does struggle to justify its points in a force that already eats them up!

Infantry

For the most part, the Airborne formations are not lacking in infantry!  But there are still a few options worth considering for theme and effectiveness: 

Commandos

The first troops to reach the 6th Airborne, the Commandos are hard hitting assault troops perfect for clearing an objective.  Being true veterans, they can exploit the movement orders better and hit on a trench clearing 2+ in assaults.  They pay for that with a pricier platoon!  But, if you need to really punch a hole, then you can’t go too far wrong with Commandos.

Rifle Platoon

The troops of the 3rd Division landed at Sword Beach and were able to lend a hand.  They are a slightly cheaper platoon, the morale only being “Confident” with a 5+ “last stand” , compensating for their slightly bigger platoon.  They are still “cautious”, counter attack on a 3+ and hit on 3’s in an assault, making them ideal for holding ground.  If you feel you need an objective sitter and need to save some points, then these may be an option.

Artillery

The airborne forces bring their own artillery but there’s plenty more to draw on!

25pdr Battery

The ubiquitous 25pdr isn’t that much harder hitting than the Pack Howitzer or the 3″ mortar, but it does have the range to reach out anywhere on even an 8×4 table, plus a much harder hitting indirect shot that’s cable of making a Mk IV think twice about getting in sight.

Typhoons

The Rocket firing Panzerbane is back!  Packing a quartet of 20mm cannons and a pair of rocket racks, the Typhoon can rip through any target that is presented to them.  The only worry is that they are “trained” so the rockets are now now the default “go-to” they were; if terrain is nearby then soft targets may benefit from a direct application of 20mm Hispano!  That said, the rockets are still AT5 and FP3+ so wil open up even the big cats; something that will make the Paras below cheer!

Summary

In isolation, the 6th Airborne are much as they ever were. They remain hard hitting, hard wearing infantry capable of both taking and holding ground, supported by a diverse range of in-formation support assets that only bolsters their ability to hi-hard and stick around. The loss of the Royal Engineer Assault pioneers and 6th AARR are blows, but not knock-out ones and probably won’t impact the majority of players making the switch and certainly not the new players, though it does continue v4’s trend of deleting interesting units in favour of the bottom line.
What does hurt is the comparison to US paratroops who, in the case of the 101st, also entered the theatre un-bloodied but still get a full veteran capability making them better at, amongst other things, digging a hole. I’d have probably gone along with the airlanding troops being “not quite” veterans, given they were press-ganged into being glider troops, but the paratroops were formed around a cadre of commando trained veterans from the 1st Airborne and also an all volunteer force.
Putting the blinkers back on and I’ll argue the paratroops are the hardiest of the infantry forces in the book – beating out the Commandos by dint of having a hardier, self supporting formation, plus the option of extra PIATS! Even self-limiting ones self to historically accurate support option, makes for a well rounded, capable force but, if you go full open book and combine the with M10C (17pdr) tanks destroyers and AVRE breaching groups, then that only makes the force stronger.
All in all, I look forward to getting the figures out the cabinet, even if there’s going to be a few figures that get left behind.

So long, sweet price.

Category: BattlefrontBritishD-DayFlames of WarLate WarNormandyPara

7 comments

  1. 🙁 Just finished my 6th AARR Army; well off you go! Thx for the stimulating and thorough article. We’ll all mis the pioneers and Engineers in destroying the Bubnkers and nest around the Pegasus and Orne bridges,

    1. I plan to use the Assault Pioneers Card with my opponents permission for scenario games such as “Secure and Hold”.

      Effectively makes one platoon a RE platoon.

    1. As noted “The Cromwell Armoured Recce Troop isn’t a bad facsimile for these”. They are not meant to be 6th AARR, it just works for them at a push.

  2. So I hit the link button in the bf email and who should I find wrote the piece, here’s to more angel delight. 😉

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Article by: Lee

Wargaming since Rogue Trader in 1990; I made the move to Flames in 2006 and have been with it ever since! I play at the Brighton Warlords most weeks.