Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Simulating War and Fire Move with the Seven Question Appraisal

The British Army applies a "Seven Question Appraisal" format to planning military operations. Would it help me to understand the underlying game principles if I tried to describe the FireMove game in such a manner? (See below, my attempt after half a dozen battles under my belt): 

  1. What is the adversary doing and why and/or what situation do I face and why, and what effect do they have on me? 
    • The Germans are adopting an uncharacteristic passive posture in this sector while they seek to regroup and consolidate from their recent losses in the Normandy battles. Their higher formations and command structure have been noticeably dislocated by the Allied advance and renewed constant aerial attacks. This is evident in their lack of combined arms operations larger than company battle groups (kampfgruppen). The defending German Infantry is now believed to be strung out very thinly, typically two companies to the usual three to a battalion frontage of approximately a kilometre length. The Germans are trying to hold back various probing attacks in this sector with very limited resources, primarily by adopting battalion blocking formations covering key areas of terrain. The Germans are therefore very much on the defensive but have been known to launch small localised counterattacks. The Germans possess only limited artillery assets, those encountered so far have been predominately their attached battalion mortars which they have used to good effect, albeit with limited ammunition. These Germans mortars will be most probably used to try and suppress the deadly Vickers HMG platoon (so early phases of the battle may see the Vickers HMG suppressed and unable to give covering fire). Each German rifle platoon's fire and battalion mortar defensive barrage can cover a 300 metre by 150 metre rectangle. It is therefore important not to bunch and unduly concentrate infantry together when exposed to German fire. There will be evolving opportunities to exploit local weaknesses in the German line particularly if the terrain suits infiltration and the ability to overwhelm local pockets of isolated Germans. Given the fact that this is "an advance to contact probing attack" the British infantry will be subjected to "defensive first fire" by any German infantry platoons not suppressed in the opening British artillery barrage. Careful consideration will have to be given on the "company orientated" avenues of approach to the German front line as to avoid too wide an advance that would serve to activate too many German platoons. While the German platoons are static and dug-in they remain invulnerable to taking casualties from direct fire (bar those taken in the opening barrage) and require a "close assault" by British infantry. If the German player moves out of the dug-in positions then they are as vulnerable as the British platoons. The German Commander will remain static for as long as possible and only move out of those prepared positions in dire emergencies. By the nature of the operation the British infantry will be at a disadvantage moving up (out of cover unlike the static Germans) so suppression on a "moving" platoon will also cause physical casualties; an "hour [six hits]" of sustained fire from a German platoon will remove a British Platoon for play (every six hits, which counts as a VP for the German player). Multiple German platoons firing will increase the casualties. Excluding the mortar, the two German rifle companies could remove a British platoon per turn by rifle fire alone. A broad front approach against active German infantry would be murderous. In the initial opening phase of the battle the British player may have to endure up to two/three turns where the German player is dominant, but will slowly achieve a local area of success (particularly as the German mortar ammunition becomes scare) to exploit. [A good artillery 'stonk' is the best tonic for the attackers!]
  2. What have I been told to do and why? 
    • The current operational situation gives the British a great opportunity to exploit weaknesses in the German lines and to pursue limited offensive actions to keep the Germans unbalanced, possibly turning a flank or breaking through weakened isolated positions. Your Battalion has been ordered to undertake such a limited offensive against one such weakened German battalion and push them out of their current positions. Intelligence believe ours is one of many weak German sectors that can exploited. Taken together we can crumble their line. Little or no German armour is in the area so it will be an infantry affair.Tactically this means an advance to contact operation with the full battalion after a preliminary barrage from the attached regimental mortars on known enemy positions. The force ratio  is believed to be 2:1 in our favour. The Germans are in hasty dug-in defensive positions without the means to consolidate their positions with more permanent works such as minefields so speed is of the essence. The objective is to penetrate the enemy lines to capture German baseline hexes (1 VP each) as secure jump-off positions for the next phase of continuing operations. By eliminating German rifle platoons (1 VP each) we will  make the current German front yet more untenable. It is also important to avoid unnecessary British casualties (-1 VP each British Platoon KIA) The British manpower reserve is limited. Likewise German platoons (-1 VP for each German Platoon) remaining in play at the end of the attack will slip away and therefore will have to be "fought again" on another day. 
  3. What effects do I need to have on the adversary or situation and what direction must I give to develop the plan? 
    • The battlefield is rural. There will be areas of open ground with limited cover. This will have to be crossed before the main enemy defensive line is encountered. Low Hills, Woods and isolated Farm Buildings will offer opportunities to provide limited cover. The key to success is to identify avenues of approach that conceal and protect from German defensive fire. It is critical to suppress the known enemy positions first by effective "fire" so that this forward "movement" is not punished (aka taking casualties) and that "reserves" pushed forward at the appropriate time to keep the offensive moving. The battalion mortar platoon and an attached Vickers HMG platoon are the critical weapon systems that need to be used to their full effect for the attack to be successful; they do this by suppressing the most dangerous German rifle platoons. (Note: At least these supports have their ammunition is stock-plied and can be utilised over the whole two hour attack period.) The Mortar and Vickers HMG have statistically the best chance of suppressing German platoons. Rifle fire is most effective from 450 metres and below (3 hexes), but note that sustained fire will reduce a platoons fighting potential as all ammunition has to be carried (for every nine [Note: In this scenario] phases of rifle fire, a British platoon will have to retire to re-stock [outside the scenario time frame to return the assault]). As the German platoons are dug-in even a successful suppression will not serve to inflict a casualty. Dug-in troops need to be "close assaulted" by infantry to be affected and removed from play. It is highly dangerous to move next to an active German platoon as they are likely to close assault fist or suppress the British infantry platoon with very effective rifle fire.  The goal if for the British to advance on an isolated German platoons, keeping them suppressed by British mortar or Vickers HMG fire. There will be eleven opportunities to perform movement actions (in game terms on turns 1 to 11), requiring a minimum of six actions to get to a German Baseline hex. Any unit therefor committed after turn six cannot gain the German Baseline VPs. 
  4. Where and how can I best accomplish each action or effect? 
    • The organic British infantry platoon comprises of three platoons. This allows in principle the company to perform a "fire" action with one platoon and move with another platoon, while holding a third platoon in reserve in case of KIA elimination or withdrawal through ammunition expenditure. A company corridor/avenue of advance needs to be a width of 450 meters to allow sufficient spacing to avoid the adjacent fire (300 metre width German rifle platoon fire) to possibly suppress both British platoons which would disastrously pin the advance. If a compressed avenue is chosen (300 meters or less [150 meters]) then complete suppression of German defensive fire is required. The critical weapon systems to suppress German fire are the British battalions organic 3" mortar platoon and the attached Vickers HMG platoon from regimental asset pool. Given the fact that this is "an advance to contact" the British starting point crucially depends upon maximising any German disruption caused by the opening artillery barrage (Note: The "heavier" the barrage the better). Any disrupted German platoons from this barrage are obviously a 'high priority' to advance against as they can be kept silent with effective use of the mortar and Vickers HMG. Forward momentum must be maintained with at least one platoon in a company advancing per game turn, otherwise the German Baseline hexes will become unobtainable. The British platoons will have to "close assault" the German platoons to remove them (gaining 1 VP) and in the final run up to the assault (i.e. moving adjacent to the German platoon) either the Vickers HMG or another British infantry platoon [ideally from the same company] should be in position to suppress the German platoon (otherwise the moving British platoon could be on the receiving end of a vicious German close assault instead). The Vickers HMG must be carefully placed to have clear lines of supportive fire, however as noted earlier the Germans will actively seek to neutralise the Vickers with effective use of the German 81mm mortar barrages (likely to be called 4-5 times during the course of the attack). Likewise the British mortar platoon must have at least one active British infantry or HMG platoon that it can use as a spotter to bring fire down on German targets. It is noted that if the British player seeks to advance down both flanks then less fire will typically drawn than an advance down a central corridor and could potentially draw 3:1 (or more) localised odds (three British platoons against one German platoon), noting the "width of the avenue of advance" caveats mentioned earlier. Effective use of terrain (particularly blocking line of sight and dead ground so that the German platoons cannot fire) needs to be skillfully navigated and can provide sate "massing points" for British infantry to safely 'stack' without fear of excessive casualties. Farmhouses do provide effective cover but could inadvertently cause the troops to hunker down, however a British Baseline farmhouse would be a seductive place for the Vickers HMG platoon if it afforded an acceptable field of fire.     
  5. What resources are needed to accomplish each action or effect?
    • Free movement of British infantry platoons down their avenue of advance requires the suppression of German infantry platoons so that they cannot deliver defensive fire on the advancing British infantry platoons. This can be achieved through the indirect artillery barrage on the first turn, followed by the indirect mortar fire on subsequent turns, supported by direct fire from the Vickers HMG (when it has not been suppressed by the German mortar). When the British infantry get to within effective range (three hexes or less) they too can support with rifle fire and retain a high chance of success (fire at ranges of four hexes and over [450 metres plus] typically waste ammunition and stop platoons from a more worthwhile advance). 
    • Removal of German Platoon requires British infantry platoons to move adjacent to the enemy position (see the above "free movement" point). The supportive fire can not longer be mortar (danger close) and is best delivered by a "close by" [2 or 3 hex from target] British infantry platoon (ideally from the same company to avoid a -1 to hit DRM) or the Vickers HMG (which while suffering a -1 to hit DRM still has a high chance of success). Two successful assaults will be required to remove the German platoon, ideally hitting on the same turn to remove the German platoon immediately from play. As stated earlier any German platoons not removed from play will have to be "fought again" at some point in the campaign. So all effort should be made to engage disadvantaged German platoons as it is far easier generally to kill the platoons than reach the German baseline Hexes.   
    • Attaining German Baseline Hex requires at least six actions moving forward. Given that there will be probably two turns spent in combat plus the likelihood of two to three turns either "spent" unable to move or waiting for the ground to clear ahead this is a tight schedule. Movement down one flank, associated with a successful attack is likely to obtain three German baseline hexes (3 VPs) [potentially at 3:1 odds]. To attain the whole baseline requires two successful flank attacks [dropping to 2:1 odds on each flank]. There is little margin of error for the British Commander as he has to keep moving the attack forwards. A wise commander may probe the flanks before with a British company and committing the remainder to the flank most likely to success (reinforce success).The risk of losing men has to be weighed against the opportunity to rupture the German front.
    • The imperative of not taking excessive British casualties means restricting the frontage to as small an avenue as needed to restrict the number of active German platoons in play at any one time and likewise maximise the number of British offensive actions against them.  
    • For a successful attack the whole battalion will need to be committed in company groupings. The expectation is that four companies will be committed, a between 2-3 platoons will be removed from ammunition depletion and between 3-5 platoons removed from play by German action. The two remaining companies would be needed to cover the German Baseline Hexes.  
  6. When and where do the actions take place in relation to each other?
    • "Fire" comes before "Movement" then infantry platoons are subsequently "Refreshed" at the end of the player's turn.
    • Attaining the suppression of German platoons before movement is therefore a key tactical element in the plan otherwise the British attack would get pinned down with suppressed infantry.
    • Mortar fire comes in first from a designated "spotter" stand, which itself cannot move but can fire. Note: The Vickers HMG platoon (if situated correctly) could be an ideal choice for this role - although any stand in the battalion can equally "call fire".
    • The Vickers HMG should them deliver its fire next
    • Non-moving rifle platoons fire next if they are within effective range (3 hexes or less range)
    • Perform close assaults 
    • Note: All the above must be part of a "designated fire plan" before any results are rolled for; ;the British Commander has to commit to where he wants his fire to go for maximum effect. This may well mean that multiple suppresses are achieved. This is not necessarily "wasted effort" but rather viewed as pragmatic  "insurance" on winning where he needs to. 
    • German casualties are removed after the British "fire phase" is complete. A German platoon is removed for every six hits attained. 
  7. What control measures to I need to impose? 
    • British Infantry platoons should be positioned as not block Line of Sight (LoS) to the British Vickers HMG platoon unless a "dire necessity" (closing into a close assault position). 
    • Always keep an "active" British platoon to be on hand to call the British Mortar Platoon in, as it is arguably the most effective British weapon available and should "fire each turn". Ideally on a fixed position which means reducing the "jump around" for new targets as there is a -1 DRM for this re-targeting exercise.
    • British infantry should be committed in Company avenues of advance so that platoons of the same company can provide mutual assistance (not be affected by the -1 DRM) in supporting fire when shooting at a German platoon with a friendly platoon from the same company adjacent to it. Platoons from the same company can also shoot or close assault the same German platoon. 
    • Restrict the assault to the minimum frontage needed otherwise you increase the risk of drawing in additional German fire unnecessarily.
    • Sanction British infantry platoons only to fire at German platoons when within effective range as a general principal (there may well be circumstances when long range shots are worth while, but the norm is that they are generally not worth it). 
    • The British player should hold at least a reserve of one infantry company back to see how the battle develops, committing the last platoon by turn six, as this is the latest if their is a chance to get it to the German baseline.

    Note: Alternatively you could just "Get their firstest with the mostest." [Nathan Bedford Forrest]


Geordie an Exiled FoG said...

Now that was one hell of a brain dump post, possible too much information!

Prufrock said...

Not at all! Most interesting, and I'll come back to it later.


Geordie an Exiled FoG said...

Cheers Prufrock :)