‘Vernon’ at ‘Fisticuffs’ and fisticuffs at Vernon!

May 1st saw Rapid Fire (Southern Branch) on the road and heading for Weymouth. ‘Fisticuffs’ is a friendly, well organized show on the south west coast, less than a two hour drive from Plymouth and the ideal place to air ‘Vernon’, a demo version of the battle featured on the cover of the new N.W. Europe scenario book.

This was doubly appropriate because two of the other scenarios in the book – ‘Venray’ and ‘Le Hamel’ – were also demonstrated at this show during their development stages. In fact, this year we found ourselves on exactly the same table we used for Le Hamel in 2002. Only the weather (misty, rather than sunny) was different.

Owners of the book will notice slight differences in some of these photos from the scenario map. For the demo I decided to construct some special Vernon ‘town’ boards to better represent the British end of the table and, of course, with all that pave road space I had to show off a few extra town buildings.

The pave was represented by Wilkinson’s hardware store anaglypta wallpaper (a Col Rumford tip from the Market Garden Campaign Guide), suitably dark washed and dry brushed grey and magnolia, with an over wash of my reddish ‘soil’ colour to reduce the brightness.

John (Durston) opted to play the defending Germans and I had the challenge of trying to establish a bridgehead and build a bridge before his reinforcements arrived. The British force is able to move onto the table swiftly thanks to the roads and the special rules allow the storm boats to be pre-deployed by the river bank, but you can still find yourself trying to construct a bridge under fire, which is far from ideal. I opted to get the bridging trucks into position early, supported by tanks to give covering fire.

On the British left I got the bulldozer starting on a ramp for the DUKWs, but urgently marched infantry to the storm boats and started ferrying troops across to establish that bridgehead. (Extra rule tip: Storm boats can carry half a company).

The stormboats were constructed from the pontoons in the Airfix Bailey Bridge set. I cut off the ‘false’ stern, sliced off the bow deck and the bottom and then spent ages carving and sanding until I got the profile I was after. The prepared shells were then stuck down onto planked card and some inner ribbing added from plastic strip. The outboard motors were scratch-built using photos from the Seagull UK outboard motor web site! Crew men are 6 pdr gunners from the the old Esci hard plastic ‘Eighth Army’ figure set. Perhaps Italeria will re-release it some day!

While all this was going on John was pasting my bridging efforts with artillery fire from his observer on the higher far bank. On move 3 he was able to bring an infantry battalion in captured US trucks on table and, supported by light flak, they occupied Vernonnet village opposite one of my possible crossing points: the semi-destroyed road bridge.

This shot shows my modified Sentry Models church and 2 of the versatile hill boards that I mention in the scenario book. The dead tree is made from dead gorse ‘trunk’ collected during a walk on Dartmoor.

After Colin and I aired our ugly mugs a few weeks ago here’s John, gleefully sizing up how much damage his flak gun can do to my infantry. Notice his cunning re-use of those captured trucks to collect infantry due to enter on move 8.

By now the Auster spotter was airborne – helping me target the German infantry in Vernonnet – and bridge construction was well underway, despite heavy engineer casualties. Note that my first attempt to rush the bridge was met by MG fire from the pillbox and only a few infantry survived. However, on the other side of the bridge the first DUKW had landed infantry and the tank ferry was in action.

The DUKW can carry a full company of infantry. I decided to deploy them towards Vernonnet to combat the German occupation. Notice that by now the bridge pillbox had been knocked out by tank HE fire aimed at the slit.

This close-up of the bridge building work shows ‘Ready to Roll’ pontoons with a decking piece from the well known Airfix bridge.

Several people at Fisticuffs were surprised the Retriever pontoon lorry has separate pontoons. Yes, it’s true, they are removable and you can use them to build a bridge! As I state in the book, the first Vernon crossing was an FBE Mk III floating boat affair for infantry and light vehicles only, but this is pretty specialist kit and the pontoons and Airfix bits make a passable Bailey bridge that can also be used for a tank-capable crossing in other games.

The Airfix bridge and a scratch-built ‘clump’ of pontoons form the tank ferry. These ferrys look particularly low in the water in photographs, so plastic card can be used to make up simple pontoons in one piece.

While I was chatting to some of the many friendly gamers we met at Fisticuffs John sneakily brought on his second wave of reinforcements, including the Tiger, armoured flak wagon and some speedy Fusiliers on bikes.

I normally only add a few cyclists to a cycle capable unit. They show that it has bikes, but you don’t end up with too many figures occupying trenches, or charging the enemy whilst sitting behind handlebars.

‘And just how fast do cyclists travel?’ A very good question that I have only just realized we’ve never answered. Pre RF 2 I’d say 15″ on roads, with no advantage cross-country (mountain bikes weren’t around in the ’40s).

To cut a long story short I finished the pontoon bridge (and here’s the proof), allowing light vehicles to cross and support the infantry who had finally crossed the ruined bridge and started to win back Vernonnet. I chose the Recce Squadron as a useful strike force with plenty of fire power and vehicles light enough to get over the less substantial FBE equipment.

Unfortunately, the Challenger I had ferried across downstream had been heavily damaged and was now at the mercy of the Tiger, causing the rest of its squadron to pull back from the tank crossing, leaving my infantry bridgehead in great peril…

So, what did you expect – a happy ending?

We’d like to thank Martin and all the organizers of Fisticuffs, plus the many gamers (and would-be gamers) who stopped to talk, take photos and swop ideas. Special thanks to good mate Alan McCoubry for spotting a big box of old Esci kits on the bring and buy – and sharing the information – and Andy Grubb of Grubby Tanks for providing a great backdrop for some of these shots and a tireless presence at innumerable shows (and his figures are bloomin’ good too).