Chapter One: Movement
The very nature of war is defined as "a violent, destructive and unstructured struggle between two antagonists". In short, chaos. However, war is also described as "an art, activity, profession or science of military operations." Within this context lies the necessity of tactics; "The Art of War".
World War II was the greatest single application of Strategy & Tactics the world may ever see. The Germans practically invented them; the British refined them; the Americans copied them; and the Russians basically ignored them. Each of these nations had its own method of conducting the same combat operation; each achieved a similar solution and goal.
Through a series of small articles, I intend to teach the SP wargamer the basics of tactics as I learned them, initially at the Platoon level, progressing to the Company & beyond. What I want to provide the SP gamer is not just the how to; I want to show the why.
The omniscient wargamer may split his Platoons/Companies and race pell-mell toward his objectives with no regard for formations or unit cohesion, and be relatively successful; afterall, it is a game, and winning is important. The reality of tactics is quite different. "Take the hill, but bring all the boys home", we used to say. Wargaming should be no different. I intend to give the wargamer a primer on tactics, with explanations, so that he can implement tactics onto the SP battlefield.
Over the next several installments, we will study some basic concepts: Movement, the Attack, the Defense, Reconnaissance, the Delay, the use of Reserves, etc.
"Men, intel reports that there is a enemy squad dug in on that hill with small arms for weapons. Our platoons mission is to attack to seize that hill, destroying the squad on it. A five minute prep of 105mm HE will hit the hill, followed by smoke. I want Sgt Drewniak with 2 LMGs on the right flank providing suppressive fire into the OBJ.
"Sergeants Smith, Cook and Robisons squads will move in a wedge along the woodline to the right with me and attack the hilltop. Smith, you are the main effort. Consolidate and Reorganize on the objective as per SOP. We will move in formation to the attack position at the LD in Traveling O/watch.
"Squad Leaders, do your pre combat checks as per SOP. Sergeant First Class Woodley, let me know when the men are ready for inspection. We need to be ready to move in an hour."
As an infantry platoon leader, I remember these training exercises I conducted with my men time and time again. Attack. Defend. Attack. Defend. Day, night, rain, fog. It all became "SOP" (Standard Operating Procedure), each man knowing exactly how to move, what formation to be in, or how to improvise if there was a change. But for the wargamer, what is SOP? What are standard tactics?
We will start with the most important building block of every army and the most basic of tactics: Infantry in Combat - the Queen of Battle.
Movement of the Rifle Platoon: Formations
Foremost in every leaders mind is Command & Control. Officers & Sergeants place themselves where they can best control their units movement and fires. In a four squad SP platoon, the _0 unit represents the officer or Platoon Leader (PL), and the last squad (_3), the senior sergeant or Platoon Sergeant (PSG). The radius of command without a radio is 5 hexes, and most WWII units below platoon & sometimes even company had no radio. With this in mind, typical movement formations are the Wedge, Vee, Column (File), and Line.
The wedge is used when enemy contact is possible; the Vee and Line when contact is imminent; and the file when little contact is expected. Heavy weapons (MGs, etc.) typically move right behind or to the side of the PL but this is at your own discretion; remember expensive weapons should be protected. Multiple weapons get split up between the PL and PSG.
_1 Sqd_0 Sqd_3 Sqd_2 Sqd
Distance between Sqds in open terrain is one hex; in heavy terrain close in to adjacent hexes.
Movement of the Rifle Platoon: Techniques
There are three movement techniques used. The principal is to engage the enemy with the least amount of force, so the rest of the force can maneuver to destroy him. These are Traveling, Traveling Overwatch and Bounding Overwatch. (Traveling and Traveling O/watch are very similar, the only difference being an increase in distance between the first and second squad in movement to 4 hexes from 2).
If you make contact during traveling overwatch, the first squad tries to gain fire superiority and pin the enemy; the following squads will then maneuver to the left or right and attack the enemy in the flank. The two types of bounding are successive bounds and alternating. Just as the name implies successive is one unit always leads out every bound, alternating is units leap frog past each other taking turns.
Heavy weapons always stay with the overwatching element. During bounding, the moving unit should never move further forward than the maximum range of the covering units weapons. Also, the moving unit must take care not to mask (move in front of) the covering unit.
Fundamentals to consider during movement are dispersion to prevent massed air & artillery attack, movement on covered and concealed routes to avoid being seen or shot at, avoid ambush sites and open field kill zones, and move quickly, to close with the enemy rapidly and violently.
German and British movement formations & techniques in WWII were very similar to the US ones described above. Soviet tactical operations consisted of moving in an extended file until within about 300 yds (15 hexes) of the front. Units then got on line and moved forward into battle attacking on a broad front in hopes that sheer mass and odds would overwhelm the enemy somewhere in his line.
*The German Infantry Handbook, A. Buchner, Schiffer Publishing 1987