The French in ASL

Pitman

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As some of you know, for some years I was one of the more vocal ASLers promoting the inclusion of Free French forces in French colors in ASL, strongly urging MMP to do something along that line.

Today I came across an old e-mail from 2016 laying out some ideas for a revised French OB for the second edition of CdG, after being solicited for my thoughts from MMP. I thought some people might find it interesting--particularly in terms of what ideas MMP adopted, what they did not adopt, and what they came up with on their own--so I share the e-mail here. I am not sharing subsequent communications on this issue, just the original e-mail.

----- Forwarded Message -----
From: Mark Pitcavage
To: Chas Argent
Sent: Saturday, September 3, 2016 9:37 PM
Subject: Free French, Croix de Guerre and joi de vivre


Hi, Chas. As promised, here are my thoughts on the new CdG, after having had some time to reflect on things. Feel free to share them with Brian and Perry and anybody else.

The opinions offered below are mostly related to the portrayal of the Free French, but a few others things also occurred to me and thought I would put them in.

One thing I do not know is the degree to which MMP would be willing to entertain changes or additions to the traditional CdG or whether MMP would desire to be as conservative as possible. Thus I have tried to frame major issues from several different vantage points, while making clear the vantage that I personally would see as preferable/most advantageous, if other issues were not taken into consideration.

The reasons for these suggestions are as follows: 1) to bring the Free French, the bastard stepchildren of ASL, into more continuity with the French in ASL, and thus at the same time treating the French like other ASL nationalities rather than in the odd way that it is treated, with a significant portion of its order of battle (representing more than a million troops) not even appearing in its national colors; and 2) to provide even more added value to a new French module, so that people would be more interested in and less grumbly about purchasing CdGMk2 if they already owned a copy.

The Free French

The Free French in ASL are one of the few areas in the game where research (and the subsequent modeling/simulation) were more or less passed over. This resulted in the decision to represent the Free French not in French but in British colors, apparently under the presumption that the Free French fought under, and were armed by, the British. Unfortunately, only a tiny minority of Free French troops were ever armed by the British: about two divisions' worth at most, and one of those was soon reequipped by the U.S., who in fact armed the majority of all Free French troops (the Free French themselves armed the rest; see below).

It is thus awkward and offputting for players to reach for their British counters instead of their French counters to play a Free French scenario. It doesn't "feel" right to some players. It may also have played a role in the Free French being largely forgotten by the ASL world, as there are few Free French scenarios available.

The issue is portraying French troops accurately and completely, as well as their small arms and their guns/vehicles. So, to varying degrees, we are talking about French troops/sw/guns/vehicles, British sw/guns/vehicles, U.S. sw/guns/vehicles, and a smattering of French and Italian sw and guns. This is complicated by the fact that the Vichy French and the Free French both existed at the same time and also on several occasions fought each other. So one color for everything will not do. Some portion of the French forces would need to be represented in a second way, presumably with a two-toned counter that was either French, British, or American colored on the outside and some other color on the inside (French blue for the latter two, of course).

This gets rather complicated. But the saving grace is that, so far as I can tell, Free French forces with French guns/vehicles never fought Vichy French forces with French guns/vehicles. What this means is that to have both Free French and Vichy French counters, one need not have two sets of French guns/vehicles. The Free French who fought in Syria were armed by the British; the few African clashes between Free French and Vichy French seem to have had either no vehicles or vehicles on only one side (and probably the same for guns, too, although guns are much easier to deal with because they have visible crews).

The easiest way to portray the 1939-1940 French, the Vichy French, and the Free French, it seems to me would be the following:

1. 39-40 and Free French use French blue counters for all of their forces, 1939-1945. This also creates a continuity for the French who fought against the Axis.

2. Vichy French (who were much smaller in number than either of the above two) would have troops and sw represented by two-toned counters. I would suggest German Blue on the outside, French Blue on the inside (due to the need to distinguish concealed stacks of Vichy and Free). However, they can use the same vehicles and guns that the other French use. There is no need for a separate set of counters for Vichy French guns/vehicles. This limits the additional counters that might be needed to the bare minimum and elegantly deals with the situation with little awkwardness.

One could decide to have two-toned counters for the Free French, which is what I originally thought of, but you would need to duplicate many of the guns and vehicles of the 39-40 French in two-toned form (because Free French fought with such weapons in North Africa and to a limited degree elsewhere). It just doesn't seem as good a solution as what I have proposed above.

Let me address specific concerns and issues, as well as possibilities, for 1) the 39-40 French, 2) the Vichy French, and 3) the Free French.

1. The 39-40 French. I see no need for any major changes to the existing rendition of the 39-40 French in ASL. However, I do see an opportunity, should MMP wish it, to add some flamethrowers to the French OB. The original Croix de Guerre did not come with any French flamethrowers. I assumed at first that this was an error on AH's part, as all other major combatants used flamethrowers, and the French had used them in World War I. However, when I tried to find accounts of French flamethrowers in the war, I failed--although I realized that, given the French situation in 1940, they would have had little occasion to use them. Within the past couple of weeks, however, I found that there were 70 flamethrowers among the equipment inventories that the French did at the end of the Tunisian campaign, which suggests that the French (and then the Vichy French) did have flamethrowers, at least in North Africa, and probably elsewhere. Thus, if MMP wanted to, they could add a few flamethrower counters to the CdG mix with legitimate justification. That, of course, is a very minor change.

2. The Vichy French. As mentioned above, the Vichy French would be represented by 1/2" counters only for SMC, MMC, and SW. They can use 39-40 French guns and vehicles. The Vichy French were small in size. In France they were authorized for 100,000 but probably never got past 75,000 (which never saw any fighting). In the colonies, they had a greater, but still relatively small amount.

If you wanted a bit of flavor for the Vichy French, you could add this nationality rule,designed to reflect Vichy French anger at Britain after the British tried to sink the French fleet: In scenarios featuring Vichy French troops in which their opponents are solely British/Commonwealth, the back-side morale of Vichy French squads is increased by one.

There is one additional possibility for revising the Vichy French which is overlooked in the original CdG: the Milice française (usually just referred to as the milice), which was a paramilitary force established in January 1943 to fight the French resistance. The size of the milice eventually reached about 25k-35k. Their armed forces were known as the Franc-Garde and numbered about a third of the total. In early 1944, they were armed by the Waffen SS with light weapons--I assume from captured French stocks. The milice could fight partisans--not always effectively--and is just too bad to be represented by a 4-3-7 Green french squad. Should MMP be interested in adding a Milice/Franc-Garde squad, it should be a 3-3-6 conscript squad. I think this would be an interesting way to distinguish the Vichy French, and would also make simulating partisan battles in France in 1944 a bit easier, but MMP may decide it is not worth it.

3. The Free French. As mentioned above, I propose that the Free French be represented by traditional French counter color. This allows them to use all French sw, leaders, vehicles, and guns quite easily. However, this would mandate adding in French colors new counters to represent the British, American, German, and Italian sw, guns, and vehicles used by the Free French. I take these in turn:

British. The British armed most of the early Free French (except some in French sub-saharan Africa early on), when the Free French were very small (they only got to around two divisions in size under the British). These units were primarily infantry, with a small number of AFVs (for example, the 1st Free French Division had a tank company consisting of Crusader tanks, before that unit was eventually moved to the 2nd French Armored Division and reequipped with U.S. vehicles). Several types of mid-war British SW should be included in British colors such as MGs and light MTRs (50", 76"), as well as standard divisional artillery pieces (including AT, AA as well as ART), and AFVs--Crusaders, carriers, and possibly armored cars (that would have to be confirmed; I discuss research below). All in all, a small number of additional counters. Many of the British-armed units were later converted to US-armed, but the 1st Division retained much of its British equipment.

American. The Americans armed the majority of the Free French during the war through several negotiated Lend-Lease rearmament programs. Thus the French had all of the standard US SW (leaving out exotic things such as RCL, LMG, etc.), as well the common guns and AFVs. To my knowledge, the French (unlike the British) did not make major modifications of their own to US-built AFVs, etc. See research section below for more on this. This would be the substantial new addition to the French countermix.

German/Italian: The French seized a variety of German and Italian light weapons, and a few heavy weapons, in Tunisia, then seized more in France. They used these weapons to supplement their OB-given weapons, to substitute or stand in for weapons that were supposed to have been provided by the US but which were late/missing, to help arm the FFI units (i.e., partisans) converted to infantry (see below), and to help arm the additional military units raised by the French outside of the rearmament agreements with the U.S. These would be basically MG and lt MTRs, although I believe that the French may have had a few artillery batteries using German 75 or 105mm artillery pieces as well. These can be left out, if space is really short, but they actually do provide flavor for the Free French that shows their propensity for ad hoc action.

This leaves the troop counters. In ASL as is, Free French are represented by British troops: 6-4-8, 4-5-8, 4-5-7, 4-4-7, 4-3-6.

I am proposing using French colors, which allow us to use, if applicable, existing French counters, many of which coincide with British counters: 4-5-8, 4-5-7, 4-3-7.

I believe that in many respects the existing French counters more accurately represent the historical Free French than do the British. I think the two can in essence be melded with minimal issues and no real impact on existing Free French scenarios (such as they are).

I believe that we can use French-colored 4-5-8 and 4-5-7 squads (and corresponding half squads, of course) to represent both 1939-1940 French and the Free French. The only change that would be needed would be for the reverse sides of these counters to have morale factors that read 7/8 and 6/7 instead of 7 and 6, with the appropriate Chapter A rule indicating that the lower morale is used for 39-40 French, the higher for Free French. Similarly, I think we can use 4-3-7 French squads in lieu of 4-3-6 British squad type. The latter would only come into play with unit substitution, anyway, and this is not going to affect any scenarios. Again, the back would have a 5/6 dual morale, and explanation in chapter A.

That leaves 6-4-8 squads and 4-4-7 squads. On my own, I would probably not have the 6-4-8 squad. I'd just leave it out. However, there are already some scenarios designed that use those squads, and arguably the French did have some commando and parachute units with enough SMG to warrant them. So I would include a 6-4-8 squad in French colors.

In lieu of a generic 4-4-7 squad, I would suggest something else entirely. I would not import the equivalent of a British 4-4-7; i would keep the progression at 4-5-8 > 4-5-7 > 4-3-7.

What I would do is add a second-line 4-4-7 FFI squad.I propose this as a significant new addition to the French OB which reflects a major part of the Free French nature and makes them unlike their allies in arms. In 1944, when the Free French landed in France, they were joined immediately by units of the FFI (French Forces of Interior, i.e., partisans/maquis), who assisted the Free French as the Free French liberated their city or locality (just as they helped the Americans in Brittany). Some French units even "adopted" FFI units that were willing to leave their local area and join with the French.

However, during the course of 1944, a major change occurred, as the Free French began to organize FFI units into conventional military units--typically battalion in size--and attaching them to larger French formations to supplement their strength. Eventually more FFI units were raised and actually replaced some of the existing battalions in the 1st French Army (typically composed of subsaharan African troops who were deemed not suited for winter fighting; this was called the "whitening" of the French Army). Later still, entire divisions were created out of FFI units.

These FFI units of partisans-turned-soldiers never lost their unique character, remaining wild and relatively poor-disciplined. While brave, they were not regular army, or even conscript army, and did not have the staying power of regular French units. Moreover, many of the FFI were communists and were resentful of the "regular" French Army (especially those parts of it which had formerly been Vichy). So they always had a sort of wild west quality to them.

I propose a new 4-4-7 squad type to represent this significant type of unit in the Free French army. It would be a 4-4-7 squad (without assault fire, because they were often less well armed; see below re assault fire) with a reduced backside morale of 6. However, if one of these squads/halfsquads suffers Unit Replacement, the unit is replaced not with a 4-3-7 squad but with a 3-3-7 partisan squad and would now have all the limitations of such a squad, such as no multi-hex firegrouping (but would not be stealthy unless French Forces were designated stealthy by SSR). Such a squad that battle-hardened would not return to 4-4-7 status but merely become Fanatic.

This French partisan squad could be represented by the standard Soviet-colored partisan units, but this also gives us an opportunity to actually introduce a French-colored partisan squad that could be used for any of the scenarios featuring French partisans. The French partisans were armed with a mishmash of French, British, American, German and (largely in Corsica) Italian weapons. All of these will already be available in French colors with the above additions (although a few PIATS should be thrown in), and so can easily be used with French partisans.

This may be thought a major departure, but I urge MMP to consider it. It actually integrates well with the other ideas expressed here.

Other Chapter A rules: I believe that, as per A25.53 the Free French should have assault fire (exception, the 4-4-7 FFI and 3-3-7 partisan squads). We would no longer need to specify that they are not immune to cowering. Free French OBA should be treated as British for 1940-1943 and U.S. for 1944-45. I would treat their OBA as 1939-1940 French in scenarios set in Tunisia, but that may be too fiddly for you. I would re-write A25.54 and A25.55, perhaps into one rule, to say that Free French may use British equipment without captured use penalties and from 12/43 onwards may do the same with US equipment. This is so that they can pick up British-colored or US-colored weapons and use them.



Research/Chapter H. A question related to all of this is whether or not Chapter H should/could be expanded to include detailed information on the guns and vehicles in Free French service. This would probably be desired, if possible. However, were there to be an expanded Chapter H, I believe we would need the help of some of our French friends, because I believe that some of that information is available only in French sources, not English sources, and I do not read French. However, there is an active French community and I think we could get what we needed with their help. The alternative would be not to have an expanded chapter H and simply have an explanation similar to what exists now, instead.


Scenarios

Brian Youse indicated that he thought that, if the Free French were to get an expanded treatment in a new Croix de Guerre, there should be some new Free French scenarios. If MMP is willing to go with this new French treatment, I would be more than willing to design the additional scenarios needed. I can design 8 scenarios or however many needed. Because of the lack of reliable ASL players in my area, I could not handle all of the playtesting and development chores for these scenarios, but would participate as much as I could.
Boards
If we are designing new scenarios, we also have an option for new boards. I would propose considering adding 2 new geoboards that together will form a double-wide wooded hill board (because of all the fighting the Free French did in hills and mountains in southern France in 1944-45). If we do that, I can incorporate it into some of the scenarios. That adds increased desirability to the product for old hands.

Provence Pack
The last thing to consider is the Provence Pack and whether some or all of those scenarios might be included in the new CdG. I have not played any of those scenarios and only know the general impression I have heard that the French are overpowered in a number of them. I leave this to your consideration. These are largely forgotten scenarios that the newer ASL players mostly don't even know about. I have no opinion on this but thought it worth bringing up.

I would strongly urge you to consider the suggestions I have made. I would be happy to answer any questions you might have. As you can tell from what I have written, this is something I would be very willing to participate in, if you are interested in having me on board.

Thanks very much for taking the time to read and consider all of this.

best regards,

Mark
 

Yuri0352

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There is one additional possibility for revising the Vichy French which is overlooked in the original CdG: the Milice française (usually just referred to as the milice), which was a paramilitary force established in January 1943 to fight the French resistance. The size of the milice eventually reached about 25k-35k. Their armed forces were known as the Franc-Garde and numbered about a third of the total. In early 1944, they were armed by the Waffen SS with light weapons--I assume from captured French stocks. The milice could fight partisans--not always effectively--and is just too bad to be represented by a 4-3-7 Green french squad. Should MMP be interested in adding a Milice/Franc-Garde squad, it should be a 3-3-6 conscript squad. I think this would be an interesting way to distinguish the Vichy French, and would also make simulating partisan battles in France in 1944 a bit easier, but MMP may decide it is not worth it.
Excellent points throughout, I especially like this proposal.
 

Sparafucil3

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I would have gladly paid a little more for Croix De Guerre if it included Lend Lease vehicles in French blue. This was the most disappointing part of waiting so long for the French reprint. They shoulda listened to the Pitman.
Sadly, I still don't know what's in the box. I don't have mine yet. Stupid mail system to Germany. -- jim
 

Robin Reeve

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Retailers (in my case secondchancegames) haven't received CdG2 yet.
Patience is a virtue to be cultivated. 😎
 

Houlie

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Makes me wonder if we'll see any scenarios with the Vichy? I had half an idea to not even clip them to save storage space.
 

Pitman

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Makes me wonder if we'll see any scenarios with the Vichy? I had half an idea to not even clip them to save storage space.
There have already been numerous scenarios featuring Vichy troops.
 

jrv

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Makes me wonder if we'll see any scenarios with the Vichy? I had half an idea to not even clip them to save storage space.
We have had a scenario with the Vichy French (vs. the Free French) for twenty-eight years: 81 Fratricidal Fighting, Vichy vs Free French/British. Now we have the counters to play the French as French on both sides. Currently 18 Vichy wins to 19 Free French/British in the old version on ROAR. No playings of the new version have been reported yet.

JR
 
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Michael Dorosh

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We have had a scenario with the Vichy French (vs. the Free French) for twenty-eight years: 81 Fratricidal Fighting, Vichy vs Free French/British. Now we have the counters to play the French as French on both sides. Currently 18 Vichy wins to 19 Free French/British in the old version on ROAR. No playings of the new version have been reported yet.

JR
GIs Dozen also reprinted THE FRENCH DECIDE TO FIGHT, an oldie from GI:AoV.


The archive notes the Illuminating Round guys played it in 2008. Maybe we'll see them do it again sometime?
 

jrv

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GIs Dozen also reprinted THE FRENCH DECIDE TO FIGHT, an oldie from GI:AoV.
In cases where Vichy forces are fighting anyone but the Free French, you can use the regular French counters for them. In that scenario Vichy fights Americans. The only cases where you need to use the special Vichy counters is when playing Vichy vs Free French. But of course you can use the special Vichy counters in other cases.

JR
 

jrv

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GIs Dozen also reprinted THE FRENCH DECIDE TO FIGHT, an oldie from GI:AoV.
In cases where Vichy forces are fighting anyone but the Free French, you can use the regular French counters for them. In that scenario Vichy fights Americans. I believe the only cases where you need to use the special Vichy counters is when playing Vichy vs Free French. But of course you can use the special Vichy counters in other cases, and I have not checked carefully to see if there are any differences between the standard and Vichy French.

JR
 

benj

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FT161 - French Civil War in Gabon also portrays Vichy vs Free French. However, due to the meager amount of scenarios pitting Vichy vs Free French (and above all, the very few fratricidal Vichy/Free French actions during WW2), I am still doubting whether Vichy French forces really worth specific counters.
 

jrv

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However, due to the meager amount of scenarios pitting Vichy vs Free French (and above all, the very few fratricidal Vichy/Free French actions during WW2), I am still doubting whether Vichy French forces really worth specific counters.
Wait until "The Road to Damascus" is released. Then all will become clear.

JR
 
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