Talking Tactics Part Three

Header 3Observation is paramount in offence; concealment is paramount in defence. – This is a war of concealed posts, of camouflage. You cannot kill the enemy unless you can find him. You cannot even start to attack him if you do not know where he is.
The above quote, taken from a platoon leaders manual from 1944 best sums up the tactical problem both players are faced with at the start of each game. The Patrol Phase has told them where the enemy have recently been identified, but not what their strength is, nor precisely what their position is. As the game begins it is important to remember the following quote:
“Your determination to attack and kill the enemy can never be put into effect unless you learn to find him first.”
Not a line which always appeals to the gamer, but one which is core to game design principles in Chain of Command. If your historical counterpart faced this situation, and he did, then we should be modelling it in our game.
A starting point here is to consider the way that a platoon advances into action. This varies slightly from nation to nation, depending on their tactical doctrines, but in all cases a sub-unit will be sent forward to scout out the ground ahead. For some nations this involved specially trained scouts, for the British it was a lead section. In fact, a look at how the British platoon advanced will illustrate precisely the situation the attacking player in Chain of Command is in.
AdvanceAs we can see, the lead section, No.1 Section in this case, has its rifle team advancing forward with its Bren team ready to provide covering fire. The manual suggests that the gap between the two is around 25 yards, so on the tabletop the Bren is about 6” behind the rifles. Behind that lead, or scout, section is the ‘O’ Group, or Orders Group, with the Platoon commander, his runner, the section leaders from No.2 and No. 3 sections, a runner from No.1 section and the radio operator. This is one tactical bound behind the scouts (we’ll look at tactical bounds in a moment) but close enough to be in visual contact and able to provide support rapidly. This group is well names, as it allows the officer to rapidly issue orders to the two section leaders and deploy them into action once the enemy is located.
Behind the ‘O’ Group the platoon HQ, with the Platoon Sergeant and the 2” mortar is ready to provide supporting fire or smoke. No.2 and No.3 sections are 25 yards behind that, waiting to be deployed into action.
This mirrors exactly, or should do, the situation in the first phase of the game. The following image illustrates that, with No.1 Section probing onto the table; the Bren team on Overwatch and the rifle team moving forward. Just off-table is the platoon commander, ready to deploy his men onto the table, but only when the scout section has advanced the first tactical bound and secured that objective.
On Off TableTactical Bounds?
Just what is a tactical bound? This is a term which essentially means the distance between one point of cover and the next. There is no set distance, as can be seen on the diagram below, with the amount of time the unit is exposed being determined by the density of terrain. However, routes which present more abundant cover, and therefore involve more tactical bounds, will be the safer option.
Tactical BoundOnce the lead section reaches cover, the supporting units should move up to that position before the advance continues. In game terms this allows the second unit to cover the first as they advance through the next tactical bound.
Keeping a Reserve
In all warfare, the side who is able to commit their reserves to battle last holds a major advantage. With all of the enemy’s cards played, they may then intervene at the point where their effect is greatest. This is also a key part of game play in Chain of Command. Our platoon leader’s manual tells us (in VERY LARGE LETTERS):
A danger that must be guarded against…is the desire for speed in getting the sub-unit into action. This must not be allowed to develop in such haste that all sound military principles are discarded. FOR EXAMPLE, THE PLATOON COMMANDER MUST ALLOW TIME TO FIND OUT WHERE THE ENEMY IS, TO APPRECIATE THE PROBLEM AND THE GROUND, AND THEN TO ISSUE CLEAR ORDERS.
Let us look at an example of that on our terrain.
Game 11Here we see that the Allies, shown in blue, have deployed Squad A advancing forward covered by the hedgerow whilst Squad B covers them. Red here counters by deploying a Squad 1 to put down fire. By not committing Squad C they are keeping their options open. Below we can see that with Squad A having completed its tactical bound, we could bring forward a jump-off point (using a Chain of Command dice), with that being used to then deploy Squad C and advance that the next tactical bound into the far orchards. Similarly we can bring up Squad B in the centre.
Map 12However, if Squad A’s advance was me with a violent reaction from the enemy, Squad B could be rapidly move up to support. This then leaves the uncommitted Squad C to exploit the situation by driving in areas of undefended perimeter and moving to flank the German defenders.
Game 13The example here used full squad (or section) sized units. If smaller scouting teams are deployed the opportunity to ascertain the enemy’s positions whilst still retaining an even greater part of your force off the table multiplies the effectiveness of this approach. If the Allied player sent out two man scouting teams towards the Germans’ most exposed Jump-off Points he will oblige his opponent to either deploy two units or lose the positions. With two thirds of his opponent’s core force deployed he may then decide where to attack with the bulk of his force.
Game 14The Lesson
By retaining a reserve and not simply deploying our force onto the table, we allow ourselves a greater degree of tactical flexibility and the opportunity to strike at the enemy’s weak spots once we have ascertained his full deployment.
In the next piece we will look at deploying onto the table as the defender.


9 thoughts on “Talking Tactics Part Three”

  1. This is great stuff. I’m really enjoying the read. Have not read much about the subject have only being playing games using my common sense and now to compare my moves to what is considered real tactics is great. Thanks for this.

  2. Your reference to ‘tactical bounds’ of varying length is reminiscent of the ‘variable bound’ principle pioneered by George W Jeffrey in the late 70’s and 80’s. The principle was that a ‘bound’ would last as long as it took until the situation changed. This ‘Change of Situation’ (CoS) was a very difficult concept for other wargamers to grasp and its development petered out after the authors death.

    1. Hi Jim
      That’s right. I played quite a few games in the early 80’s using rules with that concept. Essentially all role playing games are based on that model – “You continue down the corridor for three hours, and then…” moving from one “nodal decision making point” to the next and simply glossing over the dull stuff in between. In fact kriegsspiel games and many map based exercises take the same approach. I like the concept, but it did use to breakdown on a large figure based wargame as there was no single narrative around which to focus.

  3. Excellent series of articles ! You have sold me 🙂
    One question , You reference Tactical Bounds … is that how movement is actually handled , similar to Arty’s CrossFire game ?
    How is firing handled ? Are there “ranges” or is the game more close and intimate , if one can see it , one can shoot at it ?
    Thanks again !

    1. Ranges are largely unlimited, but with a close range band, the rest of the table being effective. So, yes, if you can see it, you can shoot at it. Tactical bounds are not handled like Crossfire. Movement is done by rolling dice to see how far your men move in a phase of play. You can roll up to 3D6 and move that far in inches. The further you move the less other stuff, like firing or taking advantage of cover, you can do.

  4. Pingback: Too Fat Lardies – Talking Tactics | Meeples & Miniatures

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