Let’s be honest about the questions we’re being answered here. Does Chain of Command, like another set of popular WWII wargames rules, Crossfire, require large amounts of terrain. My first statement must be that I have never played Crossfire so it is impossible for me to make that very specific comparison. I have heard good things about Crossfire and would love to have a game, but thus far that has never happened.
Terrain, however, is another matter. As mentioned in my post yesterday, terrain is generally considered a prerequisite for any wargame; not because the lack of it would mean that you couldn’t use real tactics, but because the lack of it would make for a somewhat two-dimensional experience. What is more, ALL standard military manuals make the assumption that any attack will be made in an area where there are at least some features to assist your attack; if there are not you are attacking in the wrong place! As we saw yesterday.the terrain we are going to be fighting over is not ENTIRELY flat, it does have some areas which provide minimal cover, such as shell holes, but to all intents and purposes it is as flat a table as any sane person would wish to fight across.
The game we are going to look at today is going to be conducted using the principles of a platoon attack found in the British Army 1944 manual Infantry Training, Path VIII, Fieldcraft, Fieldcraft, Battledrill, Section and Platoon Training supplemented by the 1938 manual Infantry Section Leading which is aimed at Corporals and which presents some slightly more granular ideas for the conduct of the infantry section.
In essence the manual tells us to form a base of fire. to use our 2″ mortar to lay down smoke, to use cover to manoeuvre the bulk of the platoon to a flanking position from which they may launch a decisive attack while being “shot in” by the base of fire and the mortar. The broad principles are solid. Of course this is an ideal world example of what to do. In reality achieving this model of the perfect attack is harder than it would seem when committed to paper, or conducted in training on a moor in Yorkshire when the enemy is not firing at you. To achieve effective fire and movement tactics should be a challenge which stretches the player, rather than an exercise in going through the motions.
It is probably worth pointing out here that this is one of the chief reasons why I feel IGO-UGO turn structures fail to replicate the realities of warfare. With such a system where I am certain of my troops moving mechanically according to my plan I CAN be certain that I can achieve the perfect combination of fire and movement that my real-life counterpart would have done on the training ground. This should not be the case in reality. Achieving that aspired for marriage of fire power and movement should be a challenge which is sufficiently arduous that when it does actually come together it is a thing of real beauty. In most situations applying the broad principle and then adapting yourself to the specific situation in order to keep as close to that goal of perfection as possible will generally have to be the best we can do. We are, after all, attempting to present the player of Chain of Command with the challenges which approximate that platoon commander in real war. Before the usual nay-sayers chip in, no real bullets will be flying, your best pal won’t have his brains shot out beside you, you won’t have soiled yourself with fear. But those are not the elements of warfare we are attempting to model. The command decisions to be made by the player SHOULD be be a good representation of the choices a real commander has to make, because that IS the element of warfare we ARE attempting to model. However, feel free to soil yourself before the game if you feel that would make your experience more real, but frankly you’ll be missing the point. And probably losing gaming friends…
One thing to be aware of with this game. Whilst I will be releasing photos and reports throughout the day today, much as Nick and I did the other day this is NOT a “live” game. It was played out last night. The speed with which I update it will depend largely on how quickly I can process the photos and type up my in-game notes. That said, the format will be pretty much the same as the lats game, with each phase being reported on. Where you will see a difference will be in how the game progresses. In a terrain-free environment our troops will behave in a more cautious manner, will spend more time advancing tactically – by which we mean creeping forward and making the best of what cover they can find. Then, when an opportunity presents itself, they will have to decide whether they grasp it with both hands and take a chance, or whether the risk is just too high. Indeed, the turn sequence mechanism in Chain of Command is specifically designed to replicate this aspect of warfare. Even on a flat desert battlefield drifting smoke or a momentary diversion can present fleeting opportunities which can be exploited by the brave leader who see the gap and take it.
So, first things first. Let us look at how the Patrol Phase went and the placing of the Jump Off Points. I am going to dwell briefly on this as the absence of cover has led to some questions being asked about how that affects this phase of the game. Here are the Patrol Markers at the end of the Patrol Phase of the game.
It’s a pretty bog standard picture; most markers are 12″ apart. The question is how to convert these into jump-off points for the subsequent game. Remember, they must be AT LEAST 6″ back from the Patrol Marker and either in cover or on the table edge.
In close terrain the use of points of cover to place the jump-off markers makes things relatively simple. Most jump-off points tend to be about 6 to 9 inches back from the Patrol Marker. In open terrain the effect tends to be that with less cover available the two sides will generally start further apart with jump-off points sometimes being located on table edges when no cover is available.
Using the Patrol Markers as shown above let’s look at the options for positioning the jump-off points.
Here we can see the position of the enemy Patrol Markers determines the areas of ground into which my British Jump-off points may be placed. This is also a good example of how a canny player can use this phase to his advantage. What is not immediately clear from the picture of the Patrol Markers is how the German player was rather clever when, in the last move of the Patrol Phase, he dragged his marker off on the extreme left as we look at the picture, into a more central position. By placing those two markers together he has really restricted my ability to place any jump-off point on the left hand half of the table, and has really left me with the bulk of my options on the right wing. However, that is not the end of the world as I am keen to place my Vickers off to one side to allow them to shoot in the infantry attack from an angle which keeps them firing up to the last minute. Here’s how I placed my Jump-Off Points.
On the right I have two jump-off points in shell holes from where I intend to launch my attack. On the left I have been forced into the open on the table edge, but it is just within 6″ of a shell hole, so it will do for my purposes of dropping the Vickers into cover and then putting down harassing fire.
The Game Begins
We began the game by setting both German and British morale at 9, an average rating for both sides so as to keep it as balanced as possible for this demonstration. No supermen against rabble which would make the whole exercise a bit pointless. I have attempted to keep the camera in the same place each time and not gone for the dramatic “action” shots so you can keep track of what is happening. I will use the same format to present the game as last time.
Phase 1. British. Command Dice 63211. I deploy the Vickers and the 2″ mortar on the 1 and the 1. I could deploy two sections on the 2 and the 3 but am not ready to do so yet, so I drop smoke with the mortar in front of one know German position and pass the play to the Germans.
Phase 2. German. Command Dice 65542. A good roll for the Germans as it gets their Chain of Command total moving up with a couple of 5’s but they really don’t need to do anything at this point so they pass.
Phase 3. British. Command Dice 66331. Mortar drops smoke and the double 6 means that the next phase will be British. Section 1 deploys with the Bren on Overwatch.
Phase 4. British. Command Dice 64311. Platoon Sergeant deploys to command the Vickers and puts it on overwatch to cover the German jump-off points (all are within his arc of overwatch fortunately). The mortar deploys more smoke and Section 1 leaves the Bren on overwatch while the rifle team moves tactically, making the most of what cover there is with folds in the ground and so on.
Phase 5. German. Command Dice 54422. The Germans do nothing, remaining hidden.
Phase 6. British. Command Dice 64421. More smoke deployed by the mortar whilst Rifle team 1 continue to move tactically.
Phase 9. British. Command Dice 44431. Rifle team 1 move tactically whilst the mortar lays more smoke.
Phase 7. German. Command Dice 65432. The Germans still do nothing. They are keen for the British to commit themselves before launching an “ambush”.
Phase 8. British. Command Dice 66422. They get the next phase but with no German targets there is nothing to fire on. They could bring on two more sections, but are keen to allow section 1 to probe forward on its own at present. Section 1 is now in two fire teams, so rolling 2’s doesn’t help it.
Phase 9. British. Command Dice 44431. Rifle team 1 continues to work its way forward while the mortar lays more of a smoke screen.
Phase 10. German. command Dice 65543. This gives them a complete Chain of Command dice but they elect not to deploy anything or use it.
Phase 11. British. Command Dice 64422. A bad roll for the British and they do nothing.
Phase 12. German. Command Dice 65422. The Germans keep their powder dry and do nothing.
Phase 13. British. Command Dice 44321. Rifle team 1 rush forward to cover while Section 2 deploys a scout team on the left.
Phase 14. German. Command Dice 55331. The British are now moving very close to the German positions. The Germans deploy Squad 1 and 2 and then use their Chain of Command Dice to end the Turn. All smoke, overwatch and tactical markers are removed.
Comment from British Player: Up to now I was quite pleased with myself. I was methodically working forward one section and using my mortar to shut down potential enemy positions. My Vickers was ready to provide support when I needed it. Obviously the moment was coming when Jerry was going to play his Chain of Command Dice and end my fun, so I took the chance to just rush the last twenty yards and seize some cover close to his positions. It seemed worthwhile to be in close range for the firefight which must ensue.
Phase 1. British. Command Dice 63222. The Platoon Sergeant fires the Vickers at German Squad 1 as do the British Rifle Team 1. The net result is 1 Shock and 1 dead.
Phase 2. German. Command Dice 42222. A strange roll, but it does mean that the Germans can activate both Squads on the table and bring on their third squad, which they do in order to maximise their firepower now that the fight has really started. British Rifle 1 is the target for German Squads 1 and 2 and the rifle element of Squad 3. They are in light cover and suffer two dead and two Shock. German squad 3 MG team fires on the Scout team from British Section 2 and kills them both. A really painful Phase for the British.
Phase 3. British. Command Dice 63221. Rifles 1 fire on German squad 1 while their Corporal rallies to reduce shock. They kill one German from the MG team. The Vickers fires on German squad 3 and causes one Shock while the mortar drops smoke to block off German squad 1.
Phase 4. German. Command Dice 65322. In German squad 3 the Corporal rallies Shock and fies his MG towards the Vickers causing three Shock. 2 Squad fires on Rifles 1 and kills another man.
Phase 5. British. Command Dice 42211. The Platoon Sergeant rallies the Vickers crew and fires on Squad 3 causing shock. Bren 1 fires on German Squad 1 and causes Shock. More smoke is really shutting down the German 1st squad.
Phase 6. German. Command Dice 66533. The next phase will be German. Squad 2 fires on Bren 1 and causes Shock. Squad 3 rifles fire on the same target and are close to pinning it with more Shock. Squad 3 MG team fires on the Vickers and kills a crew member.
Phase 7. German. Command Dice 63221. Squad 1 emerges from the smoke to assault British rifle 1. The British are weak but they are not pinned and the fight is tough. The Germans win it but lose 4 men and suffer significant Shock. British Force Morale falls to 7 as a result of losing a team and an NCO. German section 2 and 3 fire on the Bren team and (remarkably) have no effect. German MG 3 fires on the Vickers and kills another man.
Phase 8 British. Command Dice 44321. The Platoon Sergeant keeps rallying the Vickers team and fires on German Squad 1, killing 1 and adding 3 Shock which pins them. The mortar drops smoke and the Lieutenant deploys forward to join Bren team 1. Their morale is so low he feels it important to go forward himself to keep them rallied and in action (as the platoon Sergeant has done with the Vickers). Section 2 deploys tactically ready to advance forward. Note, Section 2 is just 8 men as their scouts were killed earlier.
Phase 9. German Command Dice 65211. Squad 1 is rallied by its NCO whilst Squad 2 fires their MG against British section 2 to no effect as they are moving very cautiously.
Phase 10. British Command Dice 66511. The Vickers fires on German squad 2 killing 2 men and wounding the NCO who is out for the rest of this turn. Bren 1 fires on German squad 1 until the last moment as Section 2 storm in against German squad 1. The Germans are already pinned so the British only lose one man as they scythe their way into the German position ans kill all that remains of the German squad. German Force Morale drops to 7 due to their losses here.
Phase 11. British. Command Dice. 63111. The mortar puts more smoke in front of German squad 3 but not very accurately. The Vickers and Bren 1 pour in fire against the German second squad who, without an active NCO, won’t be able to rally off any shock. They kill one man and cause some shock. Meanwhile the second section’s Bren team fires on the German third quad.
Phase 12. German. Command Dice 63211. The NCO with the German 3rd squad rallies them and fires his rifle team across against section 2, killing one man whilst the MG team repositions so it can get a clear shot. 2 squad fired against the Bren and adds shock.
Phase 13. British. Command Dice 66641. The Lieutenant rallies Bren team 1 and rushes forwards knowing that the next phase is his. With the three sixes the turn ends and the German NCO with squad 2 is back in the action.
Comment from British Player: Turn two was a roller coaster ride. At one point I thought the game was up, specifically when I thought that Bren team 1 might be pinned and then driven off. I had to deploy my Lieutenant forward to hold them steady in the same way as I had committed my platoon sergeant to the key role of keeping the Vickers in action. German squad 1 assaulting my firsts section was an interesting one. I can see why they did it but they certainly exposed themselves to risk when assaulting an unpinned unit. In chess terms I feel they swapped a Knight for a Pawn in losing a whole squad to take out one rifle team, and by making sure when had them pinned before section 2 assaulted them we limited our losses in regaining the ground. It just proves that whilst all “double six” moments provide an opportunity, not all of them are worth taking. By the end of the turn I am feeling much more confident than I was in the middle of it.
Phase 1. British. Command Dice 64411. The Lieutenant moves tactically with the Bren into cover. The Vickers fires on squad 3 shocking them whilst Bren 1 and the mortar fire on squad 2 (HE from the mortar for a change) and add minimal shock.
Phase 2. German. Command Dice 55531. Squad 2 corporal rallies his men while his MG fires on Bren 1.
Phase 3. British Command Dice 66421. The Vickers fires on squad 2 inflicting Shock. My second section rush forward but German squad interrupt with a Chain of Command dice. they roll abysmally and have no effect (just one hit and that turned out to be a miss).
Phase 4. British. Command Dice 53211. Second section reach the German jump-off marker while the Vickers and Bren 1 fire on the second squad, killing one man and wounding the NCO again and causing enough Shock to pin the squad. German force morale is now 6.
Phase 5. German. Command Dice 65222. The German platoon leader deploys forward to squad 2 and rallies them but their fire is ineffective as they are still pinned. The 3rd squad fire on Bren 1 again nearly pinning it, but not quite. Fortunately the Lieutenant had been keeping them pretty shock free.
Phase 6. British. Command Dice 65322. British section 2 keep up the fire on German squad 2. Meanwhile section 3 deploy. I had been hoping to secure a jump off point further forward, but rolling 5’s has been a problem for me today, so I will need to move up from the back.
Phase 7. German. Command Dice 55431. The platoon leader rallies squad 2. The squad leader does the same with squad 3. No firing is effective in this phase.
Phase 8. British. 65531. Platoon leader rallies section 2.
Phase 9. Germans. Command Dice 65532. What German fire there is is focussed on section 2 but is ineffective other than some shock.
Phase 10. British. Command Dice 65331. Section 2 rallies while the Vickers fires on squad 2 and kills two as well as wounding the platoon leader. German force morals drops to 4. The British now end the turn with a Chain of Command dice, removing the German jump off point they captured and obliging a morale test. However, the Germans avoid the test by playing one of their Chain of Command dice. German section 2 is also unpinned as they had been sufficiently rallied.
Phase 1. German. Command Dice. 6421. Just four command dice due to force morale. German fire results in a small amount of shock on the British but the Germans are really focussing on rallying their forces at this stage.
Phase 2. British. Command Dice 66421. The Bickers and Bren gun focus their fire on squad 2, pinning them again. The Corporal leading section two jumps to his feet and begins to run. His men follow him.
Phase 3. British. Command Dice 65111. The Vickers is still firing, shooting in the fresh assault. Section 2 go in with the bayonet, killing the German platoon leader and taking the position whilst losing two men of their own. German force morale is now at 1. They are on the verge of a complete morale collapse and a rout. Only squad 3 remains in action.
And that is where any sane person would end the game. However, as this was by way of a test we did play on for a further ten phases which was a commentary on the resilience of the Germans. In that time they caused a few casualties on the British – the Lieutenant and the Corporal commanding section 3 both were wounded (rather mirroring all those first hand accounts where the good blokes always kop one AFTER the battle has really been won!). The British, in control again, began deploying fire and movement tactics covered by smoke, but when the Corporal commanding section 3 got shot they simply combined their firepower to drive off the Germans.
In the end the Germans lost 23 other ranks, two NCOs and the Platoon Leader dead. The British lost 14 other ranks and one NCO dead with two NCOs and the Lieutenant wounded. I should have kept a log of how many kills were due to the Vickers, but I didn’t. From memory it was not a dominant weapon, it just kept chugging away and causing attritional losses. One round of particularly accurate fire killed two men and wounded an NCO but it was operating from a flank putting down fire rather than being assaulted at close quarters, which is when it would be deadly.
What did the game prove? It provide that it is possible to attempt real life tactics straight from the book. It proved that achieving that blissful marriage of fire and movement is never easy. You need to ensure that you focus your fire on the primary objective at any given moment and then take your chances when they are presented. This is precisely what I attempted to do. But even this is a high risk strategy. Most importantly it proved (to me at least) that games on entirely flat tables with almost no terrain are hard slogs and of limited re-playability value. If you take risks you can get absolutely slaughtered; far more so than in a Normandy bocage where the plentiful cover can save you when in trouble. One error, one risk too many taken, could have seen the British attack falter and not get started again. Fine for an exercise such as this, but of questionable value as a club game week in, week out.
So, even if you are in the desert, put in some sand dunes, the odd, oasis of Bedouin dwelling, a wadi or rocky outcrop. You will enjoy your game far more than standing on a bowling green getting shot to bits!
MM to the Corporal leading section 2.
Mentioned in Despatches for the Lieutenant who crawled out to rally his bren team under fire and then direct their fire from the centre of the battlefield. Had his wound been more serious they’d have given him the MC.
“Concealment.-An outstanding lesson of the present war is that, if their positions are accurately located, defending troops at the point of attack will be neutralized by an overwhelming air, artillery, or mortar bombardment…. Concealment must be obtained by the careful sighting and design of individual posts. Defended localities will be chosen primarily for their facilities