Sunday, 5 July 2015

Caribbean Crisis

Back when I first started this blog off, it was focused on providing a 'universal setting' for all of my gaming, both Spanish Civil War and Post-WWII. At its heart was an Imagi-Nation - Hispañola, a small island state which had a history based very much on 1930s Spain, Post-WWII Cuba and several other Central and South American states. Having based the idea on real histories, I eventually came to the conclusion that just gaming the real thing would be equally as satisfying and dropped the project.

What it did leave me with was an interest in the region Post-WWII, not least that of the Cuban Revolution, the Trujillo Regime in the Dominican Republic, the Bay of Pigs Invasion and of course the Cuban Missile Crisis. These also rang bells with my own youth, where I was an avid collector of '60s models and of course grew up in the Cold War Era in any case. While the Vietnam War overshadows much of what went on in the Caribbean in the '60s, there was considerable activity in the Caribbean.

Cuban Contras captured during the ill-fated Bay of Pigs Invasion 1961.
The Cuban Revolution was one of the first revolutions to capture the public's attention and also launched the face of Che Guevara onto millions of t-shirts and posters. From a wargaming perspective it offers it offers a guerrilla war, largely with U.S. equipment from WWII. Batista's army were actually far more reminiscent of the Pre-WWII U.S. Army to begin with and only towards the end did his troops get issued with Garands instead of Springfields. Moving towards the end of the conflict, it resembled a civil war more than it did a guerrilla war. Government troops are hampered by poor motivation and a lack of air support, while the Guerrillas lack the logistics back-up the Vietcong was to enjoy.

The Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961 was little more than a postscript to the revolution itself, with a badly supported force of counter-revolutionaries being denied the support it had initially been promised. While the Cuban forces were in the process of re-organising themselves and absorbing the aid the Soviets were beginning to supply, they were still a more powerful force than the 'Contras' were able to face alone. The 'popular support' for the Contras seems to have been a pipe-dream and the reality of what was a U.S.-backed invasion, which had very little U.S. backing cemented support for Castro's regime.

U.S. Marines on exercise in Puerto Rico 1962.
The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 was the closest it came to an actual U.S. Invasion of the island. The Cubans had incorporated more Soviet-supplied equipment, but were still very much a 'Third-World' military. The U.S. intelligence was faulty however and failed to assess correctly the numbers of Soviet troops on the island. These consisted of five Motor-Rifle Regiments with the latest Soviet equipment, which was later to equip the Cuban military after the Soviet withdrawal. 

The U.S. plan was to prosecute seven days of air strikes before invading with a large force of Army units and Marines. While the air strikes would have dealt with air defences, the missiles all the fuss was over and those Soviet formations that would have been located, enough would survive to put up a fight. The scenario offers conventional actions in the first instance and a more aggressive guerilla war than was the case in Vietnam, along with the deployment of armoured vehicles on both sides.

In 1965 the U.S. was forced to intervene in the Dominican Republic's Civil War, so as to prevent 'Another Cuba'. Operation Power Pack saw the deployment of Marine and U.S. Army Airborne units in essentially a peace-keeping role. They were eventually replaced by units provided by an Inter-American Peace Force, but not before there had been several fire-fights and minor actions. Cuba was believed to have been supporting rebel forces.

U.S. Army Airborne on patrol in the Dominican Republic. The only time M16s make an appearance at this period of time.
While it falls just outside my period of interest, there is also the Invasion of Grenada in 1983 to consider. It was perhaps the closing of the book on armed conflict arising from the rivalry between Cuba and the U.S.A. and saw U.S. Marine, Army Airborne and Special Forces taking on a Cuban-supported army. Its value to me is that it shows what could have been done on previous occasions when the balance of power in the Caribbean was shifted against American interests.

Besides the real conflicts I still harbour a desire to resurrect my Caribbean Imagi-Nation, not least to include items that were not used in the real or 'alternate history' conflicts otherwise covered. I am a fan of the PC game Tropico in its various editions and with little additional cost can create just such a place to field all the toys gathered for the historical conflicts and a few more besides. While the island will be hosted in its own section of the blog, there is so much crossover between it and this section, that it seemed pertinent to mention it here.

Wargaming The Caribbean Crisis

As is pretty much the case with everything I do, we are talking small actions at platoon level. It is what I like and supports my preferred scale of 28mm pretty well. My preferred rules are Chain of Command, with the Post-WWII mods I have mentioned in another post. I am also looking at Two Hour Wargames' FNG rules, which are also a platoon level set (for Vietnam), but which take a more granular approach to platoon warfare and with a more characterised approach to your role in the game.

By and large all the vehicles fielded in reality are out there with few notable exceptions. It is however quite possible that these will appear in the not too distant future. As most of the vehicles in use are American types, Company B are almost a one stop shop. What few Soviet vehicles are needed are almost all WWII types, or otherwise covered in ranges out there.

Figures are also a problem, with the exception of those forces (e.g. Batista's) who wore early WWII-style U.S. uniforms. WWII Soviets in 'Summer' uniform, with AKs, RPDS and RPGs, along with new pouches should cover the few appearances by the Soviets.

The Cubans are particularly problematic in their various guises, but with some cherry-picking of figures from other ranges, the use of bits from the various the plastic figure sets out there and some green stuff I hope to overcome that issue. Earlier figures might work with 'scruffy' PTO figures. For later ones I have some Mongrel Miniatures 'Congo Mercenaries' that might do the job.

Brigade Games 'Atomic Cafe: Federal Defence Force', almost perfect for U.S. Infantry
While the U.S. still used Garands and BARs in 1962, the M14 and M60 were increasingly present. OD107 Fatigues and combat boots had replaced older types too, but figures in the M1943 combat uniform will pass... or they would if there were any good ones in tropical type kit. Vietnam figures are almost invariably armed with M16s, but there may be some usable figures out there.