Chapter Five: The Use of Obstacles
One of the most confusing combat multipliers available to the wargamer is obstacles.
The military defines two kinds of obstacles- existing or reinforcing; existing obstacles are ditches, gullies, cliffs as well as man made civilian obstacles (houses, berms, etc.). Reinforcing obstacles are mines, wire, abatis, craters, anti tank ditches, etc.
In the defense, reinforcing obstacles are used to enhance existing terrain features; obstacles are not meant to be a barrier of their own, instead, they are meant to canalize, turn, fix and disrupt an enemy attack so that ground fire can destroy the enemy wholesale. Properly used, obstacles will increase engagement time, create stationary or slow moving targets and cause the enemy to expose vulnerable areas to fire (like the flank, rear or belly). Obstacles also allow you time to disengage from a hopeless situation, and prevent the enemy from rapidly pursuing your retreating forces.
In the offense, the attacker must be skilled at bypassing, breaching and reducing obstacles in a minimal time with minimal forces.
Types of Obstacles
Minefields, represented by the mine symbol, are the most common and most deadly of obstacles an attacker will encounter. Mines delay and canalize an attacker, cause fear of casualties and weaken the attackers will to fight. To be really effective, though, a minefield must be covered by direct fires that will destroy the enemy unit trapped at (or in) the minefield. Mines should not be laid in long belts running from map edge to map edge. Instead, they should be scattered along the enemys likely avenue of approach to disrupt and break up his attack so that your ground units can destroy him as he presents himself piecemeal to you. A small belt, right at your front lines is acceptable, as a last ditch barrier to halt the enemy so your forces can destroy him, or escape overrun.
Wire, represented by rough terrain in SP1, SP2 & SP2WW2, is a good anti-personnel obstacle. The best use of wire is to channel an enemy force into a heavy weapon or kill zone. For example, lay a belt of wire at a 45 degree angle across the front of your position that has a machine gun at the wire start point. As the wire slows up and disrupts the enemy assault, the MG will cut the men down as they try to breach the wire obstacle. Coupled with mines, wire makes a very formidable obstacle.
Craters are a rudimentary obstacle that slow and disrupt movement. They are quick and easy to emplace (artillery or demo), but must be tied in to existing obstacles like woods, ditches, etc., to be really effective, otherwise they will be bypassed.
Anti tank ditches are meant to delay or canalize armored movement. These can be represented by a ditch with rough terrain along the sides and base. When coupled with mines, these obstacles become quite formidable. AT ditches take a long time to build and so are usually only found in prepared defenses (with many days prep time). Run them across the map or at least tie them in to existing obstacles; they work best that way and are hell to breach.
Anti Tank Teeth are represented by the Dragons Teeth found in Steel Panthers. These represent anything from the West Wall-Siegfried Line to the tetrahedrons found on D-Day beaches. These obstacles are extremely effective against armor at delaying and disrupting an attack. These also take a long time to emplace, with many days or more prep time required. Employ them just like AT Ditches.
Tying it all together
In the offense, the attacker must determine the best way to avoid or maneuver through enemy obstacles without losing momentum in the advance, or losing too many forces or time to the obstacles.
Of course the best option is to bypass the enemy obstacle belt and strike the enemy forces in the flank or rear. Sometimes this is not practicable and so the obstacle must be crossed (breached).
Organize your force into three elements: A support element, a breach element, and an assault element. Each should be roughly equal in size (the support element will have additional firepower from artillery, CAS and other support).
Within the US Army, the catch-acronym for overcoming obstacles is SOSR- Suppress, Obscure, Secure and Reduce.
Suppress the enemy forces that are in sight of the obstacle with massive direct and indirect fires from your support element. This will allow the breach force to move up to the obstacle. This is critical; if you cannot gain fire superiority at the breach point, your breach is doomed to failure. Employ everything you have against all enemy forces over-watching the obstacle, and dont start the breach until you are certain the enemy is suppressed or neutralized.
Obscure the breach site from enemy observation with smoke. Completely seal the area from enemy eyes. This gives your breach force a fighting chance at its mission and provides concealment to do the job.
Secure the breach site. Execute the breach and secure the far side of the obstacle. The Support element should continue to pound the enemy with everything they have to keep the enemy from re-sealing the breach.
Reduce the obstacle for follow on forces to pass through unmolested. Your assault and breach forces should charge through the obstacle to the suppressed enemy in the immediate area and root them out with the bayonet. In reality those men who just made the breach would be so full of vinegar and ready for fight (wouldnt you after being shot at for 10 minutes trying to cut wire or gingerly remove mines?) that few enemy would survive their onslaught. The next force at the breach site may want to widen it so that follow on units (tanks, trucks, etc.) can pass through with ease.
Limit yourself to as few breach points as necessary- in a company sized attack, one breach, one hex wide is a good rule of thumb; spreading yourself thin at several points will dilute your fires and let more enemy survive to smash your breach attempts. You can always widen your breach later. Conversely, dont log jam all your forces behind your breach element waiting for the breach to be conducted- inevitably the enemy will home in and blast that helpless mass of forces just when you need them!
Once through, momentum is the key. The defender will be trying to reposition forces to re-seal the breach. The attacker must cram everything he has through the breach and push to get deep into the defenders position in order to keep the defender off balance. Success can be measured when the defender has surrendered the field to the attacker, or been destroyed completely.