Mark N, a British Infantry player at heart, gives the initial take on the upcoming US forces book for V4; Fighting First.
The Fighting First Arrives to join the Allied Offensive
It’s here, the V4 Mid-War book that has been the most widely anticipated ever since V4 was announced to be going back to its Mid-War roots. This anticipation built to excitement as a paper copy was displayed at Historicon last month. With players either content or mildly disappointed with the first two offerings from Battlefront; being Desert Rats and Afrika Korps, does Fighting First live up to the expected hype or does it meet tough resistance, just like its namesake did during those first skirmishes with the battle hardened Afrika Korps in 1943?
I will be honest here, this review has fallen on me due to other members currently waylaid by ETC duties or family commitments, and I have to admit that I have never played Americans in my 14-year FoW career. However, I will do my best to satisfy all you eager doughboys (doughgirls too), waiting for this one.
The book itself
Weighing in at a slightly heavier 52 pages (Afrika Korps had a measly 40, and Desert Rats had a slightly better, but still slim 44), there’s a little more in Fighting First.
Firstly, there’s the usual pages of historical background at the front; describing the actions of the US Army, from their landings in Morocco during Operation Torch, through their baptism of fire at Kasserine Pass, right up to the battle at El Guatar and the final push to Tunis and the surrender of the Deutsches Afrika Korps. I always find these pages fascinating to read as they allow lazy historians like myself to get the gist of the action, without wading through piles of historical documentation.
Following this is the specs of the tanks used in the US Army, including some of the half-track variants.
Finally, we get to the meat and bones of the book, the lists which we’ll look at afterwards.
The book is finished up as the other two were, by a nicely laid out panting guide as started in the Colours of War guide.
Giving the Yanks character
Preceding the historical information, and in my opinion a little mis-placed in the book, is the US Special Rules. One would think that these would be placed immediately prior to the Forces Lists, allowing a player to quickly flip back to them for reference. Instead, these are placed immediately after the force description. This isn’t a big deal though, a bookmark or a useful thumb would keep this page handy. So, what makes a return for the Americans in terms of special rules? Let’s cover the one that have appeared in the Main Rulebook and Desert Rats first:
- Secondary Weapon: As per the rule in Desert Rats, the M3 Lee (Grant for us tea-sippers), may fire its turret 37mm at ROF 1, with a +1 to hit in addition to the hull 75mm.
What’s new? What rules have slipped back in for the US that players loved in previous editions?
- Stabilisers: This rule remains largely unchanged from V3, still allowing a tank to fire its main weapon at halted ROF, with a +1 to hit. The rules were cleared up before the jump to V4 that tanks may not choose to ignore this rule, and this remains in V4.
- Seek, Strike, Destroy: As per the rules for US Tank Destroyers in the 1940-41/44-45 conversion book, this rule allows US TDs to attempt a Shoot & Scoot after succeeding in a Blitz earlier in the turn. Sadly for the US, no ‘ghostly’ M10s creeping around in the back seat of M3A1s anymore.
- Determined: US infantry work on grit and guts with chewing tobacco and a ‘can-do’ attitude. This rule improves their Rally rating.
- MG Transport: HMG and LMG teams may mount their guns on Half-Tracks to serve as a vehicle MG, and may dismount it back into a gun-team, as per the old rules.
- Observer: Every man, woman, child and dog in the US Army carries a radio it seems, as Unit Leaders may spot for Artillery Bombardments. (But not all, as we’ll see later on)
- Time on Target: The old favourite for US artillery. ToT returns, forcing enemy troops to re-roll successful saves if the bombardment ranged in on the first attempt.
The thing you’re all here to see
The lists, of course, are the part of the book that everyone wants to see and discuss. So, let’s have at it, and see if your own predictions made it into the book, or if there’s still a little hole in your heart where your favourite unit or weapon used to be.
Straight out of the gates we get what people were howling for in the British Book: The Sherman company. The M4 finally makes an appearance in all its glory, and what a tank it is. The 1st Armored Regiment (I feel uneasy spelling it like that, but it is an American force) was equipped with two battalions of M4A1 Shermans.
Boasting a front armour of six (equalling the uparmoured Panzers), and even a respectable side-armour of 4 (enough to stave off pesky PzIIs and even Crusaders), the Sherman returns as easily the best medium tank in the game to date. There’s no alternative marks or models for this one yet, just your bog-standard M4A1 [Sherman II in ‘proper’ British nomenclature – Ed] with the cast hull.
Starting at the top of the card, you’ll see that the Sherman comes in at ‘Confident Trained’ in old money, with a bit of a twist, and one that may or may not upset some die-hard US players. It seems that Battlefront want to represent the American forces Pre-Kasserine Pass, and therefore have given them the rather unfortunate Skill Rating of ‘Green – 5+’. This rating on the Tank Company isn’t too much of a problem, it makes players gamble with Blitzing and Shoot & Scooting, but Follow Me and Cross Here remain unaffected.
The Sherman’s mobility is pretty standard for a medium tank, and follows the Panzer in terms of mobility, and crosses better than the overloaded M3 Lee (Which I apologise if I accidentally call a ‘Grant’ at any point in this review, I am a British Player after all).
Finally the weapons, and we see the first appearance of the proper, long-barrelled M3 75mm gun. A boost in AT to 10, and a little boost in range to 28″/70cm, matching the 6pdr. This gives the Sherman, and as we’ll see later the Grant, a good answer to those pesky Panzers.
So, what else can you field in the same Formation as the Shermans? For starters, the second ‘Mandatory’ choice may be replaced with an M3 Stuart platoon, or an M3 Lee platoon which we’ll cover in just a moment. But field support comes in the shape of: An 81mm Armoured Mortar Platoon, a 75mm Assault Gun platoon (T30), and an Armoured Recon Patrol, to give you that much needed deployment zone expansion with Spearhead.
Next up: The 13th Armored Regiment, fielding the M3 Lee in a similar way to the British forces, with the addition of the improved 75mm gun and the stabiliser.
The Lee is identical to the Grant (Of course), in terms of armour and mobility, but the ratings and the weapons are a little different.
The troops are still ‘Green’ meaning less Blitzing and Scooting around the table, but the US may improve the Hull-Mounted 75mm gun, for a cost, to put it on par with the 75mm mounted on the Sherman, as above. You’ll probably start noticing too that the US forces have continued their doctrine of nailing AA MGs to their tanks, as every tank and half-track in the US force sports a ‘Self Defence AA’ line somewhere on their card.
In terms of Formation Support, this is identical to the Sherman Formation, above, with the Armoured Mortars, Assault Guns, and Recon Patrol.
Rounding off the Armoured portion of the book, we can’t dismiss the M3 Stuart. Again, this tank is cheap as chips and is largely unchanged from the British Lend-Lease version.
The more Eagle-Eyed of you out there will notice the large, and alarming, change for the Stuart. This poor little tank has a ‘Hit On’ value of 2+! The reckless rating making its first appearance in V4. Coupled with the ‘Green’ rating for Skill, these little tanks will be fodder for the Panzers. However, this is reflected in the points, which are really, really cheap.
The other thing to note is that you MUST take two units of M3s, and may not take Lees or Shermans as your second Mandatory unit, this option is only available on the third, optional, choice.
Formation Support for the 1st Battalion, 1st Armored Regiment remains the same as the above.
Tanks, but no tanks, I prefer infantry!
The Queen of the Battlefield, as they are sometimes called. I, myself, like to think I’m an infantry commander. The dug-in static positions waiting for the first assault, before charging forward in a counter attack… anyway, enough waffling, what are the infantry choices in the new book?
6th Armored Infantry heralds another first for V4 MW: Half-Track mounted infantry! Yes, the big complaint about Afrika Korps was the lack of Hannomags (half-tracks), and finally they make an appearance in American hands. The structure of an armoured rifle company remains largely unchanged with the ‘few men, many weapons’ idea being taken to the fore.
As we can see, the armoured infantry retain the general ratings that the rest of the army does. A Confident Motivation, an Aggressive ‘Hit-on’, and a Green Skill. These will probably make American Armoured Infantry a tricky little force to use. Let’s take a closer look at the stat lines.
No Truscott Trot for the infantry yet, the Armoured boys don’t get this one, but stay tuned! The Garand is the same as it’s always been, without the need for clarifying the ‘No +1 to hit whilst moving or pinned down’, though it does lose the ability to re-roll misses during defensive fire. The big loser here is the Bazooka, with an Assault rating of 6+. For clarification, that means to score a hit in Close Combat a bazooka team must roll 6+. Additionally, unlike the German Afrika Rifles, the Mortar and LMG are not optional extras and are included in the points for the Unit.
Not much else to say about the Half-tracks, barring the drop in motivation to stick around when shot up. But, I suppose the biggest change is the passenger limit on the Half-Track being reduced to 3. In the past players would sometimes refer to US Armored Rifles as ‘Clown Car’ armies, as when they dismounted from their half-tracks, there’d be a dozen bases on the field from only a couple of tracks. This lessens the effect a little more, and if you start losing tracks, it’ll be on foot for your boys.
Formation Support for the Armored Infantry comes in the form of the Armoured Mortars, and Assault Guns as mentioned in the Tank Formations, lacking the Recon Patrol (But this may be taken as Support) as well as; an M1917 HMG unit, mounted in half-tracks. The ratings for this unit mirrors the infantry, and the stat-line for the HMG is identical to the British, without the Artillery line.
Next up in support of the Armored Infantry is the 37mm ATG. In previous editions this weapon could be added to your Armored Infantry to bolster the unit. For some reason that option has been removed, and doesn’t even appear as an ‘attachment’ choice. Regardless, the 37mm is a nice little gun to cover your infantry from tank assaults, but won’t do much to worry a Panzer at range, as the stat-line is similar to the British 2pdr mounted on the Crusader II.
The Big Red One
Being a British Infantry player, I was heartily disappointed by the meagre offering of the Motor Company in Desert Rats. And even the Afrika Rifles in Afrika Korps felt a bit scant, even bolstered by HMGs and Mortars. The US lucks out though with a fully fledged Infantry Company making it to their book.
The Big Red One, The Fighting First, are the mainstay of the American Infantry in the book.
As you can see, they retain the ratings of the rest of the army, with a few additions: Truscott Trot returns, giving your GIs a Cross-Country and Road Dash of 14″, allowing you to steam your boys 18″ across the table if you get lucky with your Blitz. They retain the bazooka (though only one team per unit, rather than 1 team per half-track like the Armored Rifles), to give you some tank scaring power, and have the option to drop an M1919 into the unit to keep those infantry at bay.
What we’re not showing you though is the size of the infantry units for the US. So, I’ll tell, not show: A basic infantry unit boasts SEVEN bases of riflemen (including command), plus your bazooka team and optional LMG. Should you want to, you can boost this up to TEN rifle bases, plus bazooka and LMG. Making the US infantry lists a tough cookie to crack if they dig in, stay low and hold out.
So, how do you protect such a mass of basic boys? With tons of Formation Support. The Rifle Company can add in to their number: two full heavy machine gun units, two full mortar batteries (sporting 6 guns each), which makes me envious, sitting here with my rather weak two 3″ mortars! Slap on two full units of Four 37mm ATGs each, and round the entire thing off with an Assault Gun unit and you have the makings for a very tough, flexible formation. Needless to say, I’m jealous.
We’re not done yet!
Thought we were done because the German and British book were by this point? No no, the US has one more trick up their dusty, khaki sleeve: The Tank Destroyers. To be honest, Battlefront could have been lazy and uninspired, leaving the Tank Destroyers as merely a support option, but no, they made (finally) them a formation of their own and they are a very pretty one at that.
Note firstly that this is the only Formation in the book that does not sport the ‘Green’ skill rating. This makes perfect sense as the TD crews were some of the best, receiving training above and beyond the Armor and the Infantry (Not to mention it helps you actually pass those Blitz and Shoot & Scoot rolls). In all other areas, the TDs remain ‘Confident Trained’ in old money, but they have gotten a little boost in other places.
First thing to note is the increase in Front Armour to 5. Something players have been shouting about for ages. The M10 was a Sherman chassis and did have a large mass of armour round the gun mounting, so Battlefront have upped the Armour to reflect this, but kept the Side Armour down as the large sides of the turret made a good target.
The 3″ gun makes an appearance in American service, offering an answer (kind of) to the Tiger. Losing the ‘Slow Traverse’ rule, and getting a bump in range to 36″ gives the gun better odds, though is still out-ranged by the 40″ monster 88. It’s also important to note that the 3″ doesn’t seem to pack much in the way of HE, as it gains the ‘No HE’ rule, making it more likely you’ll just pepper infantry with your 20″ .50cal.
And what can you take to buoy up your Tank Destroyers? The old Recon Platoons that these cat-hunters used to spring magically out from. The jeeps and half-tracks serving as the eyes and ears of the force, pinning infantry and allowing the Tank Destroyers to deploy a little closer to their armoured targets.
What I’ve not noted, which is remiss of me, is that the Tank-Destroyer HQ unit is a pair of Stuarts, not recce jeeps or half tracks, so something to watch for.
And finally, we get to the support options of the book. Aside from the ones I’ve already touched on above for each formation, there is the usual pool of Divisional support that can be called upon for tough cases. (remember too that mandatory choices may be taken as support for other lists, have you not taken them already as a core formation)
The stockist leak a few weeks ago got a lot of people excited because it showed off plastic Priests, so best we touch on them now.
The Priest returns in the same shape as it did in the past. A decent armour rating keeping light tanks and infantry from knocking them out, while the 105mm gun retains the ‘Brutal’ rule (old Breakthrough Gun rule) for direct fire, and benefits from the Firepower buff of V4 increasing the bombardment Firepower to 3+, but slipping in Anti-tank from 4 to 3.
The field gun version of the 105mm has an identical stat-line to the Priest, but benefits from a 4+ gun save, Gun Shield and being almost half the points.
Both batteries can spot from the single M3 Observer Post that can be purchased, and two instances of each can be fielded.
Next up, we get some Air Support in the form of the P40 Warhawk. Sadly, my British can’t take these for the moment (as I look sadly at my one painted with RAF roundels). Though, no sign of the P-38 Lightning yet, but as mentioned earlier the stats seem to indicate that this book is Pre-Kasserine Pass, and the Lightning appeared to mainly be a bomber escort prior to Tunis.
The first thing to note is that the Warhawk suffers the same fate as the rest of the Army and gets a ‘Green’ skill rating, making the use of bombs a difficult endeavour. Conversion from Imperial to Metric has also struck as the 500lb bombs don’t pack as much punch as the (twice as big) 500kg bombs of the Stuka, and thus only gets an Anti-Tank rating of 3. Most likely the .50cals will be used to knock out infantry, guns and light tanks.
So, how do you stop a pesky Stuka turning your new shiny Shermans into a scrap-heap? The T28E1 37mm AA… what a mouthful.
Similar in many aspects to the German SdKfz 10/4 AA half-track, but with a few changes. The T28 is not as well trained, so keeping them out of sight of enemy fire will help them immensely. The T28 gains a boosted RoF at the halt, and a slightly improved Firepower, meaning it’s more likely to down the Stuka should it score a hit. Both can be turned to anti-infantry and anti-light-tank roles in a pinch with their semi-decent anti-tank.
Lastly, the force can take two instances of the Recon Patrol as discussed in the Tank Destroyer formation, to give you some much needed recce.
Still with me at the back there? Excellent. It’s been a long ramble, touching on most things in the book without giving too much away, but personally, and as a non-US player? I am extremely jealous of this book. This is what I wanted the British book to be on launch, with the options and support, but sadly I will have to wait for the book teased at us by Phil during Historicon.
What can I say about the book? It’s impressive, the appearance of the Sherman has restored one of the most iconic tanks of the war back into the game (for MW), and brought infantry back into the limelight, instead of being considered a bolt-on for a tank formation. I wish this book had hit the shelves in time for the Tournaments being run in my area and beyond, as no doubt the US players would have made a strong return with some impressive lists, maybe next time. Keep your eyes on the release date for this one, as even non-US players will want a read of this, if only to find out what’s coming to the table soon.