Chapter Three: The Platoon in the Defense
If there is one thing that can be said runs true for all armies of all nations, it is that the offensive is the means to achieve the strategic goal- the only way to attain success. The defense is purely a tactic that allows a side to hold the enemy at bay and prepare to retake the offensive.
The purpose of the defense is to disrupt, disorganize, delay and defeat the enemy, deny him an area, or protect a flank. The challenge to the defender is to retain the initiative, so that he can go over to the offensive at his own time of choosing.
A text book defense takes into consideration several points- preparation, disruption, concentration and flexibility.
A defense must be
Disruption means breaking the enemies attack up, so that he hits your defense piecemeal, not organized. Consider Outposts (OPs) with AT weapons, or a MG. As the enemy deploys to fight this OP, pound him with artillery (Arty) and close air support (CAS). Put a few mines and wire out forward too.
What enemy finally reaches the main defensive positions will be atritted indeed. Another technique is to keep the OP hidden, try to spot the enemy HQ unit, and kill it. This is a surefire way to hurt a deliberately organized attack.
Concentrate your defense. Make your squads and heavy weapons fires crisscross and overlap. Establish a zone, a "Kill Zone", where you want to draw the enemy and have all your guns fire at once. In conjunction with concentration, conside flexibility. Plan to shift men around the defensive position- if a flank is completely free of attack, flex a squad over to help the hard fought center. The additional fire of fresh, un-suppressed men may just be enough to win the battle.
Finally, keep in mind that at the end of the enemies attack, when he is spent and falling back, you may want to maintain the initiative and counterattack. Keep a reserve if possible and pre-plan arty targets along your pursuit route. Make Destruction complete!
Techniques of the Defense
Normal defensive sector size for a platoon is 8-10 hexes; for a company 25-40 hexes. This will vary greatly. For example, in a city, unit density will be much higher; on the steppes of Russia, units will be more spread out.
There are several techniques for defending a position or area that each of the belligerents in WWII used. While all sides set out OPs, the Germans and Russians preferred to put an additional screening force forward of their positions to ensure the enemy had to deploy early and start to fight.
At the company level, this may mean two squads (possibly taken from a reserve platoon) set forward up to 10 hexes from the main battle position. This is not really a viable option at the platoon level; OPs and/or snipers are more realistic. As stated earlier, the purpose of the OP/Screen is to detect the enemy and call for Arty and CAS. Ensure that your OP/Screen has a retreat route; no reason to completely lose a unit when it can survive to fight again!
All sides conducted the Linear defense. This is done by merely placing your units along a basic defense line (known as the MLR- main line of resistance) such as a ridgeline, wood-line, river, etc. This is a quick easy way to set in a defense, and covers a lot of area. It is not good, however, at holding ground on its own and must be reinforced by obstacles, arty and reserves, in case the enemy breaks through.
The Germans preferred the Reverse Slope defense. This technique is conducted by taking your units and placing them behind a hill mass along the base of the hill. The theory is that as the enemy comes over the hilltop, silhouetted by light, the defenders pick them off. This method prevents the enemy from accurately finding the MLR and calling mass arty fires on it. It is also good to prevent enemy tanks from blasting infantry at long range. As the tanks come over the hill they are met by a fusillade of Panzerfausts and AT Mines. For the defender, this method is harder to concentrate fires and establish a true "kill zone".
The Americans practiced a technique known as the "Lazy W". This is achieved by having depth in your position. Flank squads forward and center squads back allow the enemy to be drawn into a cul-de-sac of fire. This technique is hard pressed against a flanking or envelopment attack, however. The lone squad out on the flank may well get overwhelmed, and this could result in the enemy rolling up your defense.
Another defensive technique is the Point defense. When a critical piece of terrain must be held, there is no choice but to set up a point defense. This allows the defender less flexibility and fewer margins for error. It can, however, be valuable if the attacker is more mobile or in superior numbers than the defender.
Trying to defend everywhere along your perimeter is a surefire way to lose the whole battle. A point defense draws the enemy to you, where you can concentrate fires and dictate his approach. The catch is that the enemy will be concentrating all his fires and heavy weapons on you, too.
A good option is to have a large point defense force, with a screening force of anywhere from 10 to 25% (a half squad to full squad if a platoon defense) forward, breaking the enemys concentration. This element also may be a convenient counterattack force if needed.
Of course, there are many other forms that the defense can take. I have pointed out four primary ones that the SP player can experiment with. Variations are limitless.
In the Game
A typical 4 squad platoon defense versus an enemy attack might go like this. The platoon is organized into a defensive technique; in my example I use a "Lazy W; (follow along in the picture). A supporting MG is placed on the left flank, with a good field of fire clear across the front of the position.
The open area directly to the front of the MG (across the front of the platoons position) becomes extremely important; this line will become the Final Protective Line (FPL). If the enemy is about to break through, the MG and all guns will fire along the FPL in a last desperate mad minute to thwart the enemy. Any light mortar support will be located to the rear of the position and will be targeted for the FPL.
Big gun support, too, will be targeted for this line. Mines and wire obstacles (represented by rough terrain) would also be laid along this line. The rest of the squads and weapons will be set up in positions that provide cover for them (woods, buildings, foxholes, etc.). These units must ensure that they have clear fields of fire to the front, and that those fires interlock with adjacent units.
Use the View button to ensure that your units have interlocking fires and that no dead space exists that the enemy can take refuge and rally in. If you absolutely cannot cover an area of dead space, target it with an Artillery marker. Next, comes the hard part.
In the SP series, all units initiate fire at the maximum seen distance. These fires at long range tend to be inaccurate, and wasteful of precious ammo. Consider that since you have viewed all your units fields of fire, where do you want to start killing the enemy to get the most bang per buck? With small arms, five hexes (100 yards) is a good rule of thumb.
Set all your units to fire so that they open up on the same hex against the enemy at once. The effects will be devastating. This open area where we now plan to kill the enemy is our "kill zone". Once the battle is joined, you can reset your units to fire max range, or whatever you choose. A variation of this technique is to set your units to very short range (one hex), and pick for yourself who fires at what and when during your own turn. Experiment with each method.
Your Platoon Leader unit (the"*0" squad) should be positioned so that he has a view of the entire battle area. He also should be within command distance to all elements (5 hexes without radios), if possible, so he can help rally his units. Remember also to have a small reserve (maybe a half squad?), to move to support a weak flank, or counterattack to take a fallen position.
Finally, place a sniper out front, along a flank, to alert you to the enemy and later move in and harass the enemy from behind, disrupting his attack.
Tanks, Artillery, Smoke, Planes, etc. are all "Combat Multipliers" which we will cover in later articles. Keep in mind that most belligerents agree, a unit in a good defensive position requires at least 3 to 1 odds to have a chance of success. The Russians considered 5 to 1 odds or better necessary to achieve victory. Regardless, the attacker can expect horrendous casualties trying to take the hill!
The German Infantry Handbook, A. Buchner, Schiffer Publishing 1987