In the last days of December, a group of questionable characters gathered in scenic West Lorne, in the heart of SW Ontario, for another Ricon, a seasonal gathering of wargamers. Our host was Rich (Rico) Brayton and his amazing and lovely wife, who turn the basement of their home into a day of snacking, beer drinking, joking and some cracking good games. After all, you need something to justify those New Years' resolutions. This Yulefest we saw another daring game of WW1 aerial mayhem as Keith Burnett hosted another game of Algernon from the Too Fat Lardies, our current gaming muses. Barry Holden offered another game of Pig Wars, a Dark Ages skirmish in which Vikings, villages, Saxon fyrd and of course the incredibly dangerous Bob the Boar all engaged in a violent brawl that hasn't been seen again in England until Coronation Street. It wouldn't be a RiCon without Rich's Charlie Company, a Vietnam game featuring ambushes, crashing helicopters, Mike Barratt's novel and suicidal method of discovering VC ammo caches. All good fun.
This report features a game put on by the incredible Dan Hutter, set in the French IndoChina war in 1952. The terrain pieces, especially the mouth-watering rice paddies, are a mix of store-bought and scratch built. Dan has a love for oddball kit and small-scale battles, and he's unashamed about stealing good ideas from other rules. This game featured his own rules with ideas such as blinds stolen from TFL systems like I Ain't Been Shot Mum.
Here's the game board from the French side:
From the Viet-Minh side:
The village and river at the centre of the table - the bridge was the French objective:
Here's the fictionalized account.
A few chickens scurried across the dusty square of Bin Phouc’t , where Peoples’ Captain Lo Truc was wrapping up his characteristically brief O Group. “As you know, General Giap’s offensive is driving the French before him like these chickens.” His officers laughed. “But even chickens will try and fight when cornered. The imperialists are trying to get across the Black River to open an escape route for their colleagues and one of the ways across is this bridge”. He pointed towards the modest span across the muddy brown river behind him, where a quartet of sappers were prying open several crates of dynamite. “The Frogs are pushing a spearhead up this valley and our objective is to stop them long enough for the comrade engineers to blow the bridge.”
“What is the composition of the spearhead, Comrade Captain?” Ho Nguyen, the senior platoon commander, asked.
“Scouts say a mixed force. Typical imperialist mongrels – Arab lackeys, mercenary running dogs and whatever armour they’ve cobbled together. So we use the hills on either side of the road to site our support weapons – the recoilless rifle to the right, the machine gun to the left. The mortar team will site here in the village, on that little rise there. We’ll make the Frogs regret letting their toys fall into our hands.” More laughter. “Crew commanders, use your ammo well, we don’t have much of it.” He looked at his platoon leaders. “Nguyen, site your platoon on the left to support the MG crew. Tran will support the recoilless on the right. Bo in reserve in the village. Quan, the hardest task falls to you. Your platoon will hold behind the closest of the paddies. You’ll be the first to engage, and you need to buy us as much time as we can – whatever the cost. That should be to your taste, you like your food hot.” The young subaltern grinned. “My flare will be the signal to fall back before we blow the bridge. If you can’t reach the bridge, exfiltrate through the trees and head for the fords – we’ll RV as planned. Place your troops, comrades. For the homeland and the revolution!”
Lt. Quan's platoon prepares to be the first defenders against the French push:
Caporal Gaspard L'Ennui scowled as his British-built Bren carrier rattled over the ruts in the jungle road. Typical rostbif piece of crap, he thought to himself, and a lousy tin tub is all they give to the scouting detail for yet another stupid adventure in the maudit jungle. Why they had to be here at all was beyond him. "Hey", he yelled, and slapped the helmet of Private Lesarge, who was dozing in the morning sun over the American .30 calibre machine gun he was manning. "Wake up and watch your arcs, or the little yello men will eat you for breakfast." The thought of breakfast put him back into a foul mood. It had been ages since he'd had a decent cup of coffee.
Caporal L'Ennui's Bren carrier advances beside a platoon of French Arab troops:
L'Ennui took some comfort from the fact that he had support behind and to his flanks. A platoon of Arabs loped along beside his carrier, while an American-built half-track followed behind him. It's .50 calibre gun gave him some comfort, as he'd seen it shred the jungle many times. To his left he could see a second platoon of paratoopers moving cautiously along the far bank of the rice paddy, while some Legionairies, cursed Germans to a man, were in the jungle to his right.
The French advance onto the table. L'Ennui's carrier in the centre, the halftrack behind, and a platoon of the Legion Etrangere L'Ennui's right. The chits represent French units that the Viet Minh have not yet spotted:
Closeup view of the French half-track - the crew are mysteriously hiding. Note the cool reflection in the resin of Dan's rice paddy:
French paratroops and their tres chic Lieutenant advance alongside the rice paddy:
A crackle of rifle fire to the front sent the Arabs beside L'Ennui's carrier diving for cover. Seconds later, above the clatter as Lesarge opened up with his .30cal, L'Ennui heard the unmistakable whistle of a mortar shell and closed his eyes as he heard a loud crump nearby. He had trouble opening his eyes because his face and most of the interior of the carrier was covered with foul-smelling mud. "Merde", he thought. He could actually hear the Arabs laughing as they opened fire on the VietMinh across the paddy. "Crazy fools", he thought.
Lt. Quan's men open fire on the French Arabs -they will shortly become the focus of every French gun on the table:
VM mortar works in support of Quan's platoon - it's firing would be accurate and would keep many French heads down during the game:
Wiping his face, L'Ennui watched in satisfaction as the edge of the paddy sheltering the VM erupted in muddy splashes as the French fire built up. The .50 from the halftrack was firing, as were the paras. If this was all, he thought. SPANG SPANG SPANG L'Ennui ducked again as the carrier was rocked by the impact of numerous bullets. MMG, he thought. Probably up there on that hill. Merde. He looked up at Lesarge, who was again slumped over his gun. "Hey, idiot! Keep firing". Again he slapped Lesarge, who this time tilted sideways, quite dead. Again a whistle crump, this time behind him where the HQ section were dismounting from the halftack. "Merde". L'Ennui wrestled Lesarge's corpse out of the way and told the driver, Desrochers, to take the gun position.
Meanwhile, Lt. Remarque stood in the turret of his antiquated Renault tank and compared the scene ahead to his map. His orders were to patrol as far as the river and see if it might be a breakout point for his comrades fleeing Giap's advance. The firing he could hear made him hopeful that a relief force was coming, and he wanted to make sure. He signalled to the infantry section behind him to be alert. Sgt. Crapaud rolled his eyes at this. "What does he think we're doing, going out to la patisserie to buy a baguette?"
A somewhat grainy view of Lt. Remarque's patrol turing up on the wrong (for the VM players) side of the river:
Unfortunately for Lt. Remarque, the jungle had eyes, and the eyes belonged to the village militia, whose bolt-action rifles were no match for the clanking Renault. The militia sergeant sent a runner across the bridge. Capt. Truc heard the news grimly. "Mow much time do you need?" he shouted to the sapper corporal under the bridge. "At least ten minutes, Comrade Captain". "Right, follow me" Truc said to his HQ section. He gestured to the boy with the satchel charge, hugging it like a bag of rice. "I think we'll need that."
Capt. Lo Truc leads his HQ section across the bridge to block the French patrol:
Lo Truc signalled to the militia for covering fire. This came as a rude shock to Remarque's detachment. The poilus plastered themselves against the rear of the tank, praying that its thin steel would block the bullets. Remarque hastily vanished into the turret, peering through a viewport to find the source of the fire. This was good for Truc, but the tank was too far away still and if it opened up. Suddenly he noticed a lone figure, running for the tank, a package clutched to his chest. "Huang, no!" Truc shouted, but it was too late. Whether the boy intended to throw it or wanted to make sure, he vanished in a black cloud of smoke and bright flame beneath the front hull of the Frog tank, which immediately halted.
The crew and tank disabled, and the accompanying infantry pinned down or worse by his militia, Truc knew that he would have the time he needed to prepare the bridge. "Comrade Hero Huang, when this bridge is rebuilt, it will be named for you".
Comrade Hero Huang charges the Renault with his satchel charge. As referee Dan allowed this move if the VM players made a successful morale check. We were lucky, as a rampaging tank in our rear area would have been a real pain. Thanks, Comrade Huang!
On the other side of the river, Caporal L'Ennui and his colleagues were not making much progress. The enemy machine gun had moved on from his carrier to pin down the Legionaires in a small copse to his right, with . The .50 cal on the half track appeared to have silenced the damn mortar, but it was now silent. Several Viet Minh AT rounds from a recoilless rifle had almost parted his hair before slamming into the halftrack, killing or wounding its crew. L'Ennui shrugged as the third AFV in the French column, a US-built Greyhound armoured car, came up and added its fire to the paras who were spraying the location of the recoiless. "Where has he been all this time?"
Lt. Nguyen's platoon engages the French on their right flank, firing in support of the VM Hotchkiss machine gun and keeping the Legion's heads down:
French Greyhound armoured car gets into the fight. The VM players were wondering why it took so long to come off its blind and start shooting. Can't remember if it was engaged by the VM recoilless or not. In the foreground, the last surviving VM from Quan's platoon surrenders to the Arabs:
"We're ready, Comrade Captain!" The engineers had emerged from the bridge and were wiring the detonator. Truc raised his flare gun and fired the signal to withdraw. Minutes later Bo's platoon double-timed out of the village and across the bridge, the last survivor of the mortar team with them. Truc knelt by the detonator, waiting for the last possible minute. He could hear the slow regular beat of the French .50 calibre starting up again, and the fire of his own men from the hills was slackening.
L'Ennui looked behind him in surprise as the .50cal in the halftrack started up again. Who was that. His eyes widened in surprise. It was Father Leblanc, the Legion padre who had insisted on accompanying him. The jungle was lashed and whole branches fell where the VM recoilless had been spotted. To his right the Legionaires were rising up again and moving forward. On the left the para subaltren was waving his own men forward as the VM fire slackened.
In something of a tradition at RiCons, and a very flattering one I might add, a chaplain figure winds up on the table and starts doing something heroic. Here the Legion's padre mans the .50 in the disabled halftrack and sends the VM on their way:
SPANG SPANG SPANG Another burst from the hills rocked L'Ennui's carrier as the Viet Minh machine gunners covered the withdrawal. When the Caporal looked up, Desrochers was slumped over his gun, quite dead. L'Ennui shrugged and started up the carrier. "En avant! Get that bridge!" the para officer waved his men forward. No sooner had L'Ennui started into gear then a loud BOOMMMM rocked the valley and a cloud of smoke obscured the bridge. The para lieutenant stopped shouting until the smoke cleared, revealing a shattered and broken span. No vebicle would cross that bridge any time soon.
Captain Truc and his comrades blow the bridge:
Caporal L'Ennui stopped his carrier, and accepted a Gauloise from a para standing beside him. "C'est la guerre".
The para lit his own Gauloise and shrugged eloquently. "La vie ... la vie est la merde".
That ended the game. The Viet Minh lost one platoon, plus the bulk of two heavy weapons crew (the recoilless gun and the mortar). The French had two AFVs knocked out or damanged but mostly were just suppressed by the VM fire. The VM (James Manto and myself) won the game by holding the bridge and then demoloshing it. The French (Rich Brayton and another chap) suffered a lot of grief from hits to their AFVs (Dan was very generous to us with support weapons) and saw their advance stall. In their shoes, with the benefit of hindsight, I would have put all three tanks (the carrier, the Greyhound, and the halftack) on the table and charged as fast as I could for the bridgeusing the three infantry platoons to engage whoever popped up to oppose the AFVs. A grand and entertaining game, thanks Dan for putting it on, and well done giving us an obscure period and some lovely kit to play with. And of course, it wouldn't be a game with the French in it if someone didn't shrug at the end and say in a Gaulois-raspy voice "Life is poop".
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