Welcome to Cold War Gamer, a blog I am using to record my Cold War wargaming projects. These range from fictitious Cold War hot projects to historical conflicts that took place around the globe throughout the Cold War era, all modelled and gamed in 20mm. The blog includes links to various resources useful to the Cold War Gamer.

My current projects include: Central Front; British & Soviet. South African Border War; Angolans and South Africans. Soviet Afghan War; Soviets and Afghans

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Terrain - The African Bush of the Angolan Border

The sparsely populated African bush was both the backdrop for the South African Border War and the geography that shaped the development of the SADF war fighting doctrine and the design of the vehicles that they used to execute it.  Their wheeled vehicles that formed the flying column of operation Savannah and many of the later cross border operations of the war had a profound effect on modern doctrine, force structues and vehicle design that now underpins the operating concepts of a variety of wheeled formations fielded by a number of the worlds major powers including the US and China.

Represening both the visual and military impact of the African bush is a key component to gaming this Cold War conflict effectivly.  In many respects it is the impact of terrain and environment on the conflict that marks it apart from the Central Front in Europe.   With that in mind I set out to generate a view of what terrain components I would need to represent and recreate this unforgiving environment effectively on the table top.

The key elements seem to be:
  • A lack of roads and tracks
  • The flatness of the terrain
  • The impact on both visibility and manoeuvre of the shrubs and trees that comprised the  bush
  • The seasonality which drove both the operational cycle and the look of the terrain from dry arid to wet green, lush and boggy. 
  • The limited settlement and impact of man
The ground overwhich the conflict was fought sits within the tropics and the environment can broadly be categorised as tropical savanna.  When you use that word it tends to conjour up a view of rolling grass land but it actual covers a variety of eco systems ranging from open grass land to dense woodland and just about everything in between.  Unlike central europe the dominant driver in Africas sparsley populated open spaces is less likely to be man and more likly to be fire, the local geology the season and the grazing population.

Wikipedias entry on tropical and sub tropical grasslands provides links through to a range of eco systems that sit within this area and searching against a range of the terms will lead to an appropriate set of picuters being delivered.  Equally study of the terrain in the background to the images of the war is also useful as well as looking at what the modern tourist uploads to google earth.

I believe their are a number of features worth including for the table top representation of these environments both for their impact on the game and to set the context for conflict in Namibia and Angola these are:
  • Low bush
  • High bush
  • Shonnas
  • Roads
  • Waterholes
  • Rivers
  • Bridges
  • Termite Mounds
  • Krals 
  • Koppie
low Bush - Within the immages and the deffininitions of tropical savannah you end up with a variety of vegitation patterns that will affect game play.  The grasses seen in the picture above  and in the bottom of the two below may provide concealment in the prone position.  Whilst the low bush which contains a variety of scruby and often thorny 4" to 6" plants will affect visibility and can conceal both standing figures and smaller vehicles such as Elands and T-54/55. Higher vehicles, Ratels Buffels and Caspirs would be less affected.

High Bush - For my terrain definitions high bush starts to introduce trees these can be sparsly scattered amoungs low bush where the imact is marginal other than astheic. As the density increases they should affect visibility and manoeuvre, at the upper end they become woodland.  Prior to becoming a wood their impact could be to impose a maximum engagement range and speed, which would reflect the fact that you need to work your way through them even in armoured vehicles.  Regaurdless of season their always seems to be quite a high degree of dead material which would also need representation.

Shonnas - I could find no formal definition of Shonnas they are described in a number of texts as open areas, which I have assumed were free of Bush cover, the two pictures below illustrate what this might look like.  They also seemed to be associated with soft sand and boggy ground around rivers and streams so could come with game effects around probability of bogging in.

Roads - what passes as a road in the African bush can cover a variety of options from vehicle trafficed unmade tracks through to more familiar tarmaced roads.  from a review of maps and immages they do seem to have a tendancy to run straight probably due to limited obsticles to dodge.

Waterholes - these dont really affect the action but can break up an otherwise  uniform terrain and provide some African context.  Having said that you'd rather expect the grazing population to "do one" as soon as the shooting started.

Rivers and Streams Were generally few and far between in the operational area, but dominated manoeuvre in the battles fought in the clossing stages of the War around Cuito Cuineval around which the action of Operations Modular and Hooper played out.   They could play a significant role in shaping both manouver and the contact points between the forces due to the limited crossing points and this is born out in a number of texts on the war.  Significant areas of reduced mobility including boggy and flooded ground could extend the crossing problems particularly in the wet season. 

Bridges - Bridges are bridges the world over but for my African games I think I am looking for a couple of types.  The Ex military Baily bridge and the simple concrete or wooden bridge are both fairly evocative of the third world.

Termite Mounds - One of the few tactical significant insects is the termite, the mounds are large, can provide cover and in a broadly flat terrain offer a vantage point for dismounted troops, they are mentioned in a number of texts and seem worthy of representation. Not sure whether the ocupants object to people standing on their homes or indeed shooting them up.

krals - are traditional small scale settlements scattered around the area.  They incorperated a degree of protection for a family group or indeed small group of families.  As with all things in the modern age these could be of all traditional construction or mixing traditional building methods with more modern materials.  Equally the lifestyles of the occupants could be traditonal or mixed.  In gameing terms these can represent an activity focus for patrols or just form part of the more general terrain.

Koppie - an isolated rock outcrop or small hill common on the affrican veldt less common in the Southern Angolan operational area from most of the literature I have consumed to date.  They always struck me as an interesting idea for a terrain feature. 

Clearly a variety of terrain types were fought over and a range of terain components are needed to  create a representation on the table top to represent the environments and ground that was fought over.

Topographic Maps, oddly enough as the Border war was fought at the back end of the Cold War both the US and the Soviets developed fairly extensive mapping of the area. The maps are available to download free or at low cost on line.  Mapstore one of the pay to download services offers an excellent preview capability which might be good enough and is very easy to navigate to specific locations if you have a rough idea of where they are.  Examination of this data can give you a good general feel for the topography either generally or for specific battle sites.

The Soviet Maps take a little more effort to work out where you are but once you have cracked that their 1:200,000 Maps have quite a reasonable level of detail, a quick purusal is enough to understand, its flat, the road/track network is sparce and major rivers are a potential problem.

The US Maps are a little easier to use however at 1:250,000 the coverage is less good and they are a 1973 survey as opposed to a 1980 survey, not that I suspect a lot changed in the bush in 7 years. Both the US and Soviet Map sets can be found and downloaded I find the pay to use sites are slightly better organised and easier to find and use.  The charges are relativly low with individual sheets for $1, whole sets tend to come in at $10-$15.  Soviet Map coverage of the central front from the same source is also very good.

I must add that I have never been to any of these place and that my experience of them has been derived from reading, reviewing immages and looking at maps.  If any with more physical experience of environment have views on what aspects of the bush impacted the fighting and should be represented in a gameing context please feel free to contribute. The next couple of posts in this series will focus on towns and villages with a look at building styles as well as examening how to build the terrain to acheive the requiered table top effect.


On Line:
Mapstore Topographic Maps of Angola
Blueplanet Biomes
BBC Savvana Grasslands
Wikkipedia Sub Tropical Savvana
Angolan Moepane Woodland

The SADF Border War 1966-1989, L Scholtz

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Review Model - ACE 1/72, AML 90 Armoured Car

The AML -245 Armoured Car was developed in the late 50's as a private venture, over 6,000 were produced and it has been fielded by over 50 Nations participating along the way in a range of Cold War conflicts including;
It was employed by a number of NATO nations noteably the French, Spanish and Portuguese as well as being widely employed in Africa.  Initially armed with a 60mm breach loading mortar driven by French experience in the Algerian war, the SADF requested an upgrade to a more effective Anti Amour and direct fire support weapon and the AML90 was born, it was produced under licence in South Africa.  In SADF service it was known as the Eland and as a result of operational experience received a number of upgrades primarily to automotive components. The vehicles were operated both by 1 Special Service Battalion and 61 Mech Battalion Group and Squadrons could find themselves attached to a variety of organisations for both internal and external operations.  

The model comes packaged with both etched brass components and rubber wheels, truly a multi medi event.  Whilst it suffers from the usual fit and flash issues associated with ACE kits it seemed less of an issue than other models I have built such as the orignal production runs of the BMP 1 and 2. To some extent this is due to its small size, and the fact it is a wheeled vehicle both of which dramaticaly reduce the number of parts and mean that assembling two in one day was not a major challenge, something of a revelation with ACE Kits.

Assembly was generally straight forward with the usual caveats around preping components and testing fit before assembly, which will always bite you with ACE kits.  The principal challenge was assembling the wheels and getting them to sit correctly with relation to the models wheel arches.  For the assembly of the wheels I found that Fitting the Tyre to half the wheel hub then adding glue and inserting the other half was a lot easier than assembling the hub and then trying to fit the tyre.  Getting the wheel to sit in an acceptable position just requiers a degree of experimentaion in getting the wheel arm in the right place, painful but not a killer. The rest cetainly in terms of ACE was a breeze.

There are a number of stowage and equipment ideas that popped out of a review of the available photos.  The Eland in the later Mks had an external stowage box added and the engine decks redesigned and this can be seen in detail in a very useful net maquetts walk round. The Mk 7 also seemed to use a larger cupola.  As the turret for the AML 90 is a common component with their ERC-90 Lynx model ACE include parts for this cupola.

On operations Elands are shown with a fairly consistant set of stowage this included packs and tarpaulins around the turret rear and sides and a tarpaulin in the sand chanels, most pictures also show a .30 fitted between the commander and the driver.

I added the following features to my models;
  • The turret stowage box using plasticard strips. 
  • The cuppola seen on the Mk 7 using the ERC -90 Lynx cupola supplied in the kit
  • The pintle mount .30 using a .30 from the spares box, although Elhiem and S&S produce .30s that would fit the bill.

  • The tarpaulins seen in the sand channels using green stuff.
  • 58 pattern webbing large packs and Sleeping bags externally stowed on the turret using cut down Goffy US WW2 packs and some of their modern stowage items.  
Photographs of SADF AFV crews show them wearing a helmet very similar to the UK crew guard helmet so I used a number of Wee Friends Modern British AFV crews to crew the vehicle.

Whilst few pictures show any form of markings on the AMLs, I have found one or two which show call signs painted on the turret sides, these follow the usual pattern of:
  • Number (Squadron) 
  • Number (Troop) 
  • Letter (Vehicle) 
I now have picture sources with vehicles showing markings on the turret side either towards the front or the rear of the turret.  I have managed to source a few decal sets with white letters and numbers one from Pendraken Miniatures and the other from eBay.  I added call signs to the turret sides forward of the commanders/gunners hatch for all my vehicles.

I airbrushed the vehicles using Tamiya paints starting with a heavy black pre shade on the lower hull followed by Flat Brown over the whole vehicle, the panels are picked out in desert yellow before overspraying the whole hull in Flat Earth which is a good colour match.   The tyres, periscopes and .30 Cal MGs have been painted with Vallejo Black Grey and headlights with Skygrey

The detail was picked out with a pin wash of humbrols enamel dark brown wash.   The Tyres were washed on the sides with buff and dry brushed on the tops by a mix of Vallejo Khaki and Buff following Mig Jemez's rather handy tyre painting guide.  They were then washed with a dilute mix of brown and black grey and the whole process repeated until the desired effect was achieved. The vehicles were lightly weathered using chipping to intimate the beating they took from the Bush, once basing was complete the whole was given a light dusting of a lightened mixture of Tamya Khaki and white.

The Vehicle is based on a pre cut MDF base from East Riding miniatures which has been covered in sand and white glue and painted in a yellow ocher colour before drybrushing with a range of Vallejo Buff and Mid Stone.  With the Elands I added additional rocks painted Vallejo mid stone. I washed parts of the base in Games workshop sepia wash to provide a little more variety.  As we'll as the normal range of basing materials, static grass  and tufts of various sizes from 2mm to 6mm, I also added a representation of the low thorn brush plants using Horse Hair which has been threaded into holes drilled in the base glued trimmed and then dry brushed with Vajello light Flesh.

The critical bit with the base is to create a different colour to the wagon, the challenge being with the all brown palette is to get sufficient tonal variation to make it all look interesting. 

All up a very good little model, sadly both this and the AML 60 are increasingly difficult to find about the only place left being eBay as far as I can see, so something thats probably more difficult to buy than build.


Eland 90 in action video
Eland 90 Walk around
Eland Vehicle History and Upgrades
AML 90 Walk Around Prime Portal
AML 90 Walk Around Armourama
AML 90 on Scalemates
Eland Mk 7 Wikipedia

Jane's Armour and Artillery 2002/2003
The SADF Border War 1966-1989, L Scholtz


Saturday, 6 June 2015

Review - Book, Soviet/Russian Armour and Artillery Design practice, 1945 to present

This is frankly an outstanding reference work if you are interested in post war soviet military vehicles and artillery systems, sadly this is reflected in its price and availability.  Written by two of the worlds leading experts and drawing on a wide range of sources that became available at the end of the Cold War as the Russians sought to export their technology and needed to more widely publish its capabilities to the world.

The book covers;
  • Evolution of Soviet/Russian Tanks
  • Anti Armour Developments
  • Armoured Infantry Fighting Vehicles
  • Armoured Airborne Vehicles
  • Self Propelled Artillery
  • Towed Artillery

The principal component of the book is the evolution of Soviet/Russian Tanks which covers its subject in significant detail looking at both the major production models and the main prototypes it includes their evolution through the various marks and provides good coverage of the enhancements introduced. Through it all runs the broad thread of the design strategy and vision.  The focus is very much on post war tanks and includes:
  • post war production of the T-34/85
  • early post war medium tank production T-54/55/62
  • Soviet Post War Heavy Tank Design
  • Soviet Post War Light Tanks
  • Second Generation Tank Development T-64/72/80

The sections on Anti Armour developments, Armoured Infantry Vehicles and Airborne vehicles traces a similar story through these sets of vehicles. Whilst the level of detail presented is extremly useful the breadth of Armoured vehicle types covered inevitably mean this is less than that provided within the tank story.

The section on artillery is both comprehensive and provides good coverage and technical detail on all the systems covered again tracing the evolution of the design concepts through the systems that were developed, the focus is delivered against system type looking at SPGs, Gun Mortars, MRLs, free flight rockets and ballistic missiles. Of note its not just about the delivery system.  The Soviets designed for end to end engagement concepts in artillery; target acquisition, delivery and supply so the book includes a range of specilist logistic and support vehicles as well as command and observation post vehicles.  The one noteable ommision under the artillery title to my mind is Air Defence systems although this may be more a reflection of the organisation of the the Soviet Armed forces, sadly this misses the oppourtunity to explore an area where the Soviets may well have outperformed the west.

At the end the authors provide an overview of the design philosophy which really highlights the technology push component of the Soviet approach and enables one to contrast this with the more requirements lead approaches of the western world. In Summary a superb book, that can be read cover to cover or dipped into as required, it contains a wealth of data that I have not come across elsewhere particularly in relation to the performance of armour. The sting in the tale is the price, at £130 on Amazon its not a cheap.  If you can afford it, its worth buying if you see it for less than £50 don't even think about it, just buy it, great book.

Soviet/Russian Armour and Artillery Design practice, 1945 to present @ Amazon

Other Book Reviews: