As Covid 19 starts to peak, the release schedule is, in turn, starting to slowly move again. Red Devil has dropped to bring the British Paras and Commandos into mid war. Lee takes a look at how they drop into the existing British force structure and what they bring to the Mediterranean party.
British Elite Forces in 1942 and 1943
The Commandos were formed to take the fight to the German held mainland and fight they did! Initial raids were conducted in Norway and the Channel Islands and by “mid-war” the Commandos would see successful action against the St Nazaire Drydocks and, less successfully, in Dieppe.
Layforce was established to conduct missions in the Mediterranean theatre, but lost most its fighting strength in Crete fighting as the rearguard and then suffered from a lack of imagination on the part of High Command in the theatre. The Commandos would see more success supporting first army in Algeria and Tunisia, then the Royal Marine Commandos supported the Sicily and mainland Italy campaigns.
Meanwhile, off the back of the Fallschirmjäger success in France, No.2 Commando was re-roled as a parachute unit, receiving the title 11th Special Air Service Battalion, with dedicated Parachute and Glider elements. The unit made its operational debut eight months later with a raid on an Italian aqueduct. Whilst this saw all but one proto-para captured, the aqueduct was destroyed. The new unit was re-dubbed the parachute regiment and expanded to four battalions. It would conduct one more successful raid, on the French coast to capture a radar (see our upcoming article on Operation Biting), before being used to support the first army in Tunisia. The Paras were used to capture objectives ahead of the advancing land forces with varying degrees of success, before being used as ground infantry, often against their German counterparts.
The Paras would see further action in Sicily. Tasked to seize the Primsole Bridge ahead of the advancing eight army, the Paras would be shot up in their gliders by friendly fire, land on drop zones held by the, themselves recently arrived, Fallschirmjäger, but eventually took the bridge, holding it until forced to withdraw as ammo ran out. Whilst the assault was considered succesful, it did hint at issues that would manifest over a year later in the Netherlands.
Following on from the example set by All American and Death from Above, Red Devils brings the “elite” forces into the mid war game; adding new formations and units into the existing force structure via a booklet format with command cards. In Red Devil’s case, it drops two formations, the paratroops and Commandos into the Armoured Fist force structure. Let’s take a look at them.
From the Air – Paratroop Formations and Support
The Paratroops mirror their late war version by being Fearless (3+), Cautious (hit on 4s), Trained troops, but deadly ones, hitting on 3s in assaults. From experience with the D-Day ones, this makes for a good compromise on performance versus cost as there is seldom much use for being a full veteran when running head first at the enemy! The para platoon has seven Rifle/MG stands, one of which can optionally fire as a 2” mortar which gives a good boost of firepower and a handy smoke shot, whilst not having a weak two man stand. They can also add a Boys AT rifle team (for Tunisia) or a PIAT (for Sicily).
The formation brings two to three infantry platoons, a 6pdr platoon, then a choice between either a mortar platoon or a Vickers MMG platoon. The latter reflects the organisation of the time, where the support platoon would choose what weapons to drop with depending on the mission. Sadly, unlike previous versions, this must be done in list selection, making them slightly less flexible than previously. In practice, the MMG seem the more versatile choice as they can do a weak bombardment and still direct fire.
The result is a more compact formation than a standard rifle formation, with better morale in most situations, but lacking bulk and many of the toys of the regular flavour.
In addition, the Paras also add three support options to the “Armoured Fist” force chart, two of the artillery boxes gain pack howitzer options, the 6pdr AT box gains an Airlanding 6per version, and one recce box gains a Para recce platoon.
The pack howitzers are cheaper than the 25pdr, but lose skill, range and direct firepower in the trade off. The Airlanding recce platoon is interesting, being a 3-7MG stand platoon, with an optional PIAT, that gains Scout and Spearhead, though with a reduced last stand of 4+. Given most games only give a small opportunity to move in Spearhead, being on foot isn’t a huge hindrance for most scenarios, whilst gaining the resilience of an infantry save combined with Scout. I do miss the AA MG armed Jeeps that used to carry them around in previous versions.
The Para formation is great for completeness and historical scenarios. As a choice for competitive play it’s certainly not bad, especially if backed up by Italy era kit like Sherman’s and 25pdr, it just lacks the options and bulk of a rifle formation for a small gain in close in fighting ability. Whilst you can field a pure Paratroop force that features all the important elements (although there is no dismounted OP, unlike the Fallschirmjaeger books), it’s probably less optimal than its peers.
From the Land and Sea – Commando Formations
Much like the D-Day D-Day equivalent, the Commandos are Fearless Cautious Veterans that hit on 2s in an assault. They have the option of adding a 2” mortar and the option of either a Boys AT rifle or a PIAT for anti-tank work.
The formation isn’t bad, having two to four infantry platoons and separate MMG and 3” mortar boxes, though both are restricted to just three-gun platoons, but does lack organic anti-tank compared to the paratroop and existing rifle formations.
However, I think the commandos really shine as a support platoon for a force, giving a punchy yet durable Assault unit to help clear out buildings alongside a cheaper unit for holding ground, plus a core tank formation to provides forge numbers and firepower. The Commandos are, arguably, the best assault troops in the game (US Rangers come close with their 2+ rally but let down by “aggressive”) and certainly merit the inclusion.
The hand you are dealt with – command(o) cards.
The Red Devil book includes nine command cards that feature some old favourites along with debut performances. Lt Col John Frost makes his debut in the v4 era, granting a 2+ motivation to unit leaders within 6” of him, as well as the normal re-roll. Clearly just what you need when you need to hold a bridge against all comers!
Geoffrey Pine Coffin also makes an appearance and performs exactly as he does in D-Day, boosting counter-attack rolls to 2+ and also making the formation commander hit on 2s too.
The Commando heroes likewise make an appearance, Brigadier Peter Young brings his Garand and the ability for nearby teams to re-roll their “hearts and minds” test to cross obstacles as well as boosting formation motivation to 2+. He’s also hard to kill off! Lord Lovat meanwhile boosts rally ratings and also allows an additional dice to be rolled for reserves, getting his forces into play quicker.
Its not all big names, we also have an additional formation card for “No.6 commando at Bône”. This useful formation build card lets a commando troop swap out one commando section for a para platoon or lets a para formation swap out one para platoon for a commando section. I’d say the latter is more useful as it puts a hard hitting commando section into the equipment rick para formation. An additional build card “salvaged naval AA guns” allows the formations to field a two-gun 20mm anti-aircraft platoon to bolster anti-aircraft defence and ground firepower.
The cards are rounded out by two “use and discard” cards. Gammon Bombs needs no introduction, allowing paratroop infantry to boost their assault anti-tank to AT3 (take that tigers!). “Cornfields Stop Bullets” meanwhile, can be discarded to allow Commando platoons to retain gone to ground even if they shoot.
In terms of release support, the books lists Paratroop and Commando Boys AT Rifles and 20mm AA guns as Special Order releases. The remainder of both forces is already supported by the existing LW range.
So there we have it. Red Devil’s presents an additional pair of arrows to go into the Armoured Fist quiver. The Commandos are especially useful as a support platoon whilst the paratroops make for a hardy defensive unit that won’t give ground. Both also open more opportunities to break away from the routine of open book play and instead do some historical scenarios such as the battle for Primsole Bridge or the raid on Dieppe. Richard has taken a look at using the Paras to refight Operation Biting and that article will be coming shortly.