Conducting a Hasty Attack

There seems to be some interest in a recent post I made on Twitter regarding a Modern Spearhead game played on a very small table. I thought it worthwhile expanding briefly on the game here.

As regular readers will know we normally play reinforced brigade level actions. However, for this game my I wanted an introductory game for a player who wasn’t familiar with Modern Spearhead, though he was familiar with the Spearhead rules in general. Now, we use the ground scale of 1” to 125m which in the alternate scale in Modern Spearhead means movement and ranges are reduced. For example a main battle tank is visible moving in the open at 12” and something like BMP or T-64B moves around 8” per turn, or less if moving and firing. This provides plenty of manoeuvre room on a 1.8m x 1.2m table.

This time I wanted to reduce the forces involved so we could focus on the process of combat. After some thought I decided on a small Soviet Hasty Attack, from march column, against a single NATO battalion deployed in defence. With just one defending battalion I opted for a table just 24” wide and 36” deep. That equates to an area 3km wide by 5km in depth. With such a small table we must assume that all the normal manoeuvre, so critical in a typical game has occurred off-table and now the clash occurs.

While I initially considered using West Germans I eventually opted for a French infantry battalion, some three VAB companies, supported by the battalion’s mortar company. This was bolstered by a two additional support companies to introduce different weapon systems. In particular a company of AMX-10RC and two VAB ATGW platoons. Off table was a Roland SAM system and a weak artillery battalion of just two batteries of F3 self-propelled guns with a handful of fire missions. The French commander deployed in three areas. In the centre an infantry company with an AMX-10RC platoon on a hill. On the left the remaining two AMX-10RC platoons with two infantry platoons deployed in a wood. On his right, withdrawn somewhat, another infantry company was deployed around a farm complex. Further back two VAB ATGW platoons armed with HOT provided additional anti-tank support.

Below, a view of the French centre showing an infantry company supported by a platoon of AMX-10RC armoured cars.

The Soviets comprised two BTR-60PB battalions, each with an attached tank company, though without AA as I was trying to restrict the multitude of Soviet weapons systems the Soviet commander needed to contend with. The frontage was such that only one battalion could attack at a time, which meant of course the second would likely be the follow on force. This aligned to my original concept of the advanced elements of a Motor Rifle Regiment deploying for a hasty attack.

These battalions were screened by the remainder of the Divisional Reconnaissance company, now understrength. They were supported by the off table the Soviet Regimental artillery battalion (122mm D-30) and very limited support from an understrength 2S3 152mm Battalion. Finally, there were two sorties of two Su-7 Fitters available. I felt these elderly aircraft were not going to unbalance the scenario too much.

The Soviet commander focussed his advance down the left flank where much of his initial battalion was screened by a stream from the French centre. Clearly he expected the enemy to be astride the more central road, which they were!

As you would expect the advance was led by reconnaissance elements. However, despite his best efforts some Soviet platoons, advancing more centrally, were engaged by the French centre with Milan and AMX-10RCs with predictable results causing some initial consternation. This provided a good example of the strengths and weaknesses of ATGWs. With some BTRs burning, but with the Milan firing posts detected, Soviet divisional artillery assets were tasked with a bombardment of the French centre. However, this artillery was limited as the same guns were needed for the suppression of French SAM systems (off table).

On the Soviet left the advance made good progress with the outnumbered French company initially holding its fire, with the exception of the battalion 120mm mortar, until the advancing Soviets entered the dedicated ATGW platoon kill zone, this being held back behind the infantry on high ground. Once engaged by the combination of small arms and HOT missiles the Soviets began their expected artillery fires, though these were however limited by French artillery targeting command and control assets. Below, the French right in the foreground is under some pressure.

However, the farm position on the French right was compromised and under with it under heavy attack likely to succeed the Soviet second battalion was released. It was soon apparent that this battalion would follow the first battalion before likely breaking out and outflanking the French centre. As this second battalion moved forward it crossed a portion of the French centre and in so doing suffered casualties.

Yet, with the French right collapsing the French commander was forced to relocate his uncommitted company on the left. Below, it can be seen advancing.

Moving from its concealed position the company commander was expected to flank the Soviets. Unfortunately, as the company moved forward it was attacked by three Su-7 Fitters (one model) using conventional bombs.

Unfortunately, with our gaming window at an end we had to call time. However, the tactical exercise had provided an excellent game. It involved several of the rules I had hoped to introduce. These included electronic warfare, counter battery fires, ATGWs, air support. An ideal combination for the new player. Despite all these extras the complexity didn’t distract the Soviet commander from his focus on delivering a reinforced battalion level attack. As such it provided an excellent introductory game. I think the scenario warrants further refinement after which I will place it on line, including some suggestions for playing it as a solo game.

Advance to Speilhofen

Igor Korabelnikov, commander of the 242nd Guards Motorized Rifle Regiment, sat on the side of his BTR-60 command vehicle surveying the scene before him. The 1st battalion of the regiment was now moving passed his headquarters. In all the regiment contained over 100 BTR-60PB combat vehicles, which of course were divided amongst the three motor rifle battalions. The regiment also contained a tank battalion of T-64B tanks. As was the doctrine these were allocated by company to each of his three motor rifle battalions. Some 100m away there was a roar, Igor glanced slightly to the side as several T-64s accelerated and in the process produced a puff of engine smoke as their drivers pushed the 40 ton monsters forward. For a moment Igor pondered how many of these machines would be burning on the battlefield by nightfall.

The position to the division’s front, his regiment’s area of operations, was believed to be held by a single enemy battalion in a generally central position, though it was expected to be reinforced. His orders were clear, the regiment was to advance and seize two areas of high ground and a town, all ideal blocking positions should the enemy counterattack. It seemed a difficult task, knowing how determined British resolve had been in the area recently. However, he hoped the support assets allocated by division would assist. Yet the afternoon was disappearing quickly. Time was critical, especially if reconnaissance reports were to be believed.

The 1st Battalion (1/242nd) was to advance in the centre to seize a wooded ridge some 1000 metres in length where it would deploy in a blocking positions opposite reported enemy positions. The 3/242nd was to advance on the right, it’s final position was more open but if the reconnaissance was to be believed the enemy was not yet in the area. Therefore the battalion should be able to seize several defensive positions before the slow moving enemy could reach the area. Finally, 2/242nd would conduct a flanking movement on the left, thus avoiding a large wood. They would then advance gaining a low ridge running from the southwest to the northeast, known as Speilhofen ridge. Again enemy forces were likely to be delayed and then further slowed by a stream, but here speed was critical.

As noted earlier Korabelnikov had been allocated several fixed wing and rotary support assets and it was with the 2/242nd he placed the air ground controller. To enable the interdiction of the MiGs he was assured that artillery fires on enemy air defence radar would be prioritised.

It wasn’t however until 6pm that the various elements of the regiment crossed their start lines and pressed forward. In all cases the battalion commanders were soon reporting delays. To the north 3/242nd was reporting that a stream was slowing the advance, while in the centre the BTRs were slowed by the undulating ground.

Above, a portion of 1/242nd advances in the centre while below in the north 3/242nd is delayed by a stream.

Even in the south the advance of 2/242nd was behind schedule with cornfields and rutted farmland slowing the BTRs.

Below, the general situation clearly showing the advance of 2/242nd, visible in the foreground. Speilhofen ridge can be seen ahead of the battalion, while the town of Speilhofen is on the right. In the distant right centre elements of 1/242nd can be seen advancing on their objective, a wooded ridge.

Despite the delays the centre the advance by 1/242 Battalion would successfully achieved its objective, and without enemy interference. Though the battalion commander reported enemy artillery fires on open ground to their south of the ridge. This was latter found to be an artillery delivered minefield dropped in an area that the British believed would be a Soviet route of advance.

Above, the battalion advancing from the right. An area of minefields is visible near the slopes of the wooded ridge. A British battalion is deployed on the left.

1/242 Battalion would eventually secure its objective and successfully deploy along the wooded ridge line. From here enemy infantry in a wood 400 yards were observed and FV432s in the open some 1700m distance, as is illustrated below. The latter was successfully engaged by self-propelled 2S3 artillery fires. Reports later identified the target as the British Brigade Headquarters!

Around the same time enemy air defence radar was detected operating near the battlefield. Soon after divisional 152mm artillery fires were authorised, silencing the enemy radar. It was later confirmed the radar was part of a forward deployed Rapier SAM system.

From reports compiled after the action both combatants were active in attempting to shape the battlefield using electronic warfare. Clearly the Soviets were focussed on locating air defence radar. After this threat was neutralised Soviet efforts focussed on disrupting radio communications. British efforts meanwhile more focussed on jamming Soviet air defence radar.

In the north the advance by 3/242nd was however poorly executed. The ground here was more open and the battalion commander failed to consider this when making his dispositions. His headquarters and the allocated Regimental ATGW Company, secured one area of high ground. Other assets deployed in nearby woods. However, his third company and supporting tanks were pushed too far forward.

While securing this dominating spot height the company was engaged by a Chieftain company causing heavy casualties and the loss of the high ground. Some enemy mechanised infantry were detected supporting their armour. This was engaged by the regiments D-30 artillery, but in the process the D-30 battalion was itself silenced by British counter battery fires.

Above, 3/242nd advances, while below the now over extended battalion is engaged by enemy.

Meanwhile, in the south, the regiment’s main effort was being made, the seizing of Speilhofen ridge, which was also the focus of a British mechanised battalion. Below, the British battalion advances on Speilhofen ridge from the northeast.

Normally two Soviet battalions would have been allocated to the task of securing such an important feature, but only one was of course available. Acknowledging this division allocated additional resources. The attached air ground controller was authorised to request fixed wing air support and, should the situation require, rotary wing attack helicopters in the form of Hind Mi-24s. As will be recalled the battalion, the 2/242nd conducted a flanking movement and arrived in the area of operations as planned. The battalion moved in a generally northwesterly direction approach the ridge line from the southeast. Some minor elements were detached to secure the town of Speilhofen which sat due east of the ridge and provided views of a portion of the area north and west of the ridge.

It was this detachment that was first to identify enemy elements advancing on Speilhofen ridge from the opposite side. Alerted to the threat the Soviet battalion halted its advanced and deployed for action.

Advanced elements of the British battalion, having failed to detect the Soviets, advanced on to the ridge. One squadron of Chieftains, some 12 in number, crested the ridge supported by just a platoon of infantry in FV432 armoured personal carriers. Before them an entire Soviet battalion awaited.

The Soviet artillery observer was prompt and the full force of a 152mm artillery battalion fell on the enemy infantry with predictable results. Then several MiG-23s began their attack runs on the ridge line. The MIGs were armed with cluster bombs and with no enemy air defences present, the enemy Blowpipe teams to far back, the air attack seemed certain of success. Below, the MIGs begin their attack run against British tanks on Speilhofen ridge. The model represents three actual aircraft.

However as the jets climbed the Chieftains remained operational, a result of all attack rolls being a one!

Now it was the turn of the Soviet infantry and armour. The Chieftains were engulfed in ATGW and tank fire. Several vehicles were destroyed but certainly not all, actually just one model!

For the next 20 minutes the ground forces engaged in a deadly exchange until around 10pm with light fading enemy aircraft were detected. The first attack was by Harriers armed with anti-radiation missiles. Fortunately the aircraft allocated to this task were forced to break off, yet the battalions problems were far from over. Attacking low and at speed a further group of Harriers, this time armed with unguided rockets. The pilots came in with great skill but the air was too thick with missiles. As a result the enemy rockets failed to find targets.

Meanwhile the ground battle continued. The Chieftains now in hull down positions continued to ply their deadly business and with darkness intervening a company of T-64Bs were burning.

While firing spasmodically continued both commanders at this point determined to break-off the action. The British were reluctant to press their advantage on the Soviet right. While on the bloody Soviet left the burning T-64s provided a reminder of the deadly efficiency of British gunnery. Yet the British commander, or at least the deputy brigade commander as the Brigade HQ had been previously destroyed, determined to retire while a new air defence umbrella was established.

This ended our engagement which was a clear draw. The scenario was generated using the Scenario Generation System, with both players conducting an encounter scenario using their Defend Lists. The complete failure of the Soviet air strike, as well as that of the British Harriers, was clearly frustrating to both players, though for different reasons. The use of artillery to deliver mines was intriguing, though in this case unsuccessful. Yet, luck aside it was clear that both commanders needed to look carefully at refining their basic tactics. Both had failed in several areas. Fortunately the only casualties were those of miniature models.

The miniatures illustrated are all 6mm models from Heroics & Ros range. The Soviets from my collection the British from Robin’s.

Pudkin’s Legacy

It was 48 hours since the division crossed the border and, like some other divisions, Major General Yuri Snesarev‘s 94th Guards Motor Rifle Division had encountered strong opposition. However, a gap in the enemy frontline had been located. Indeed, if the reports from the Divisional Reconnaissance Battalion were to be believed the battles of the previous day had been so successful that a rupture of the BAOR line had been secured. Now ahead of the 94th Guards was a British infantry formation and likely poorly supported by tanks.

Snesarev let his deputy divisional commander Tikhon Sergeev complete his briefing, pondering the situation in his mind. The enemy positions have been detected in the centre around the town of Lutterhausen and stretched north. The advanced elements of the division would advance from the south of Lutterhausen swinging elements from two regiments in a generally northwesterly direction, behind the town, to secure the long ridge that stretched several kilometres from the northwest of Lutterhausen. The primary formations were two tank battalions from the 74th Tank Regiment. These were to be supported by two BTR Battalions from the 288th Motor Rifle Regiment. One BTR Battalion, the 1/288th, would secure a holding position in the south west on the left of the 74th Tank Regiment. The second, the 2/288th, would be held in reserve directly east of Lutterhausen for flank protection. Yes, it made sense.

Above, the town of Lutterhausen, before the Soviet advance. The town itself was of no military significance, unlike the ridge to the rear.

But was the position a trap, or had the British commander by positioning forward really left his position vulnerable to a flanking attack? How would he reinforce his flank? Surely the British ability to move reserves forward would surely be restricted by such a forward defence?

His thoughts however were interrupted by the movement of the divisional political officer. Damn him, Snesarev thought, his anger rising. If it wasn’t for weasels like Boris Pudkin he could take more time for further reconnaissance. Pudkin was relishing his role and today it was Pudkin, and the unstated threat that his presence provided, that was driving the new push despite Snesarev‘s misgivings. Regaining his composure Snesarev focussed on the briefing. Sergeev was now all but completed and within minutes the orders group had broken up, commanders returning to their respective units.

It was late in the afternoon when the T-64Bs, BMPs and BTRs crossed the start line there advance made good time, despite the terrain that now funnelled the advancing units into narrow defiles. This was most noticeable on the left where the BTRs and T-64s of the 1/288th we’re particular restricted by woods and rising ground. It was of course not long before reports were filtering in to Divisional Headquarters.

Above, the 1/288th Motor Rifle Battalion are visible on the left and 1/74th Tank Battalion on the right.

Below, 2/74th Battalion advances. The battalion comprised some 30 T-64B tanks and was supported by a BMP company as well as Regimental AA assets.

The first enemy report was from the centre, near Lutterhausen, two platoons of Chieftain heavy tanks were detected advancing, some eight in number. One was advancing from the northwest and the other platoon on the potentially exposed right flank of the 74th Tank Regiment.

Above, a British Chieftain platoon advances from concealed positions on the Soviet right flank. Deployed in penny packets the Soviet commanders did not fully appreciate the threat, at least at first.

Yet, the 2/74th commander was quick to react. The British tanks, increasing in number and now supported by Milan teams deployed in a wood to the battalion front, plied their deadly trade with skill.

The enemy tanks were particularly effective, while the Soviets reply was not. Fortunately the enemy ATGW teams were less effective. Despite this several T-64s were soon destroyed. It was not long before several BMPs were hit by advanced artillery rounds fired from off table FH-70 towed guns. The situation was quickly deteriorating.

About 8pm, in an effort to stabilise the Soviet right flank, the reserve battalion, the 2/288th was committed. The BTRs pushed directly west towards Lutterhausen, their attached T-64B company adding significantly to their offensive capability. This attack focused on a British localised counterattack on the 2/74th Tank Battalion’s right flank. The British here were quickly overcome.

Above, the general situation in the centre. The two tank battalions of the 74th Tank Regiment are in the centre and left. The BTR reserve can be seen advancing in the right foreground.

On the Soviet left the advancing BTRs of the 1/288th Battalion were, as noted previously, delayed. When finally released from the confines of the advance they spilled out on to a plain dominated by rising forested ground to the southwest and the village of Stendorf to the north. As the battalion deployed more T-64s erupted in fireballs, curtesy of yet more Chieftains moving east towards Stendorf. The battalion deployed as best it could, yet again the enemy had gained the initiative.

Below, the village of Stendorf in the centre foreground. The 1/288th Battalion comprising BTR-60PBs and T-64Bs are on the left, while on the right elements of the 74th Tank Regiment are visible. In the distance an understrength British battalion prepares to engage the 1/288th Battalion.

Meanwhile to the right the 1/74th Battalion was heavily engaged. The advancing battalion, squarely in the centre and the Soviet main effort, had been restricted by the a large wood and the small village of Stendorf. As the battalion emerged on to the British right flank of the defenders around Lutterhausen the battalion was engaged by a further Chieftain platoon held in ambush on a spot height some 1500 metres distant. Unable to locate the enemy and partly obscured by a hasty British smoke screen Soviet casualties quickly increased. The battalion commander was clearly panicked, Snesarev made a mental note. The commander would clearly need to be replaced.

To add to the debacle around 8pm British Lynx helicopters added their weight to the battalion’s discomfort. Their TOW anti-tank missiles being deadly in their execution.

Above, the situation in the centre where the 74th Tank Regiment is heavily engaged.

Soviet ZSUs were moved forward, having been delayed by the chaos of the constrained advance. However, the situation continuing to worsen. Finally around 9pm two massive Soviet smoke screens engulfed the area. The aim being to prevent further Soviet casualties.

No fewer than two Soviet 152mm artillery battalions smothered the area in smoke. Yet if this wasn’t sufficient this was supplemented by direct fire by the 122mm guns of the 2S1 battalion attached to the 1/74th Battalion.

Above, the Soviet advance by the 74th Tank Regiment stalls. Both smoke screens are visible.

As darknesses’ veil enveloped the battlefield Snesarev’s attack had clearly failed. However, Snesarev concerns were not simply the burning vehicles and stalled advance. Clearly the fault rested with the divisions political Officer, Comrade Pudkin. His interference was intolerable and the result would be his legacy. How could Snesarev free himself from the interference of this amateur, without himself ending up in Siberia?

The scenario was of course developed with the Scenario Generation System, with the Soviets conducting a Hasty Attack. Unfortunately the game was not complete when time was called. However the outcome was clearly a bloody Soviet defeat with Soviet forces falling in to a well considered trap. Miniatures were from my own and my opponent’s collection with all miniatures from Heroics & Ros.

Spots on your Leopards

In years gone by I’ve tended to find myself using Soviets and typically found myself facing my regular opponent’s British. However, of late I’ve managed several games where I’ve used West Germans. It’s been an enjoyable change and as we have had the games in sequence it has allowed some evaluation of what’s worked and what hasn’t. Indeed, across the last three games the West Germans have found themselves conducting a hasty attack, advancing in an encounter, and last night facing a massive Soviet deliberate attack. This mix has offered plenty of variety in itself.

Further, both my opponent and I have been experimenting with very different force combinations. When conducting the hasty attack I opted for Leopard 2 as the armoured component, the first time in many years where I’ve used Leopard 2s. In the past I have found the Leopard II too restrictive in a three battalion list. This was especially so when facing enemy infantry where the the low anti-infantry factor of the Leopard 2 was particularly frustrating.

In the second game, above and below, I switched from my normal three battalions to just two battalions to face massed T-80s in a fascinating encounter game. Again using Leopard 2s both my opponent and I were struck by the power of these tanks, though possibly him more than I, which was pleasing.

In last night’s encounter I dropped back to Leopard 1s and effectively just two manoeuvre battalions. I was supported by a weak dismounted security battalion but they clung to the confines of a town desperately calling in artillery fires and dodging incoming artillery shells.

Anyway, this time the West Germans faced a massed Soviet deliberate attack, where my opponent selected an reinforcements (an Option B) and what seemed like half the Soviet armies heavy artillery assets. Thank goodness I had some Gepards to drive away of his Hinds and some Phantoms to give Ivan something to think about!

My opponent has likewise has used plenty of variety. First Naval Infantry without any armour. This was then followed by a T-80 Tank Regiment and more recently elements drawn from two understrength Motor Rifle Regiments.

All this has reminds me of how important changing you force structure is. If you have the opportunity, and some additional models, give it a try. Your games will have plenty of variety which has to be a good thing. In the meantime I’m going to continue to count spots on my Leopards, be they one or two, and perhaps seeing how many Jaguars I can use, among other things…

Air Defence Suppression

A fascinating aspect of Modern Spearhead is the integration of both land an air elements within the same battlefield space. Much of the detail of these air operations is of course subsumed into the mechanics of the rules. As a result only a portion of the technicalities are considered and then these only when they directly impact ground operations. This short article looks at the basics of air defence suppression in Modern Spearhead.

I am a particularly convinced of the value of fixed wing air support. A successful strike even by a small number of aircraft can result in significant enemy casualties, ideally of high value targets. For a defender this can be critical as aircraft can target anywhere in the battlefield area, potentially delivering a critical blow to the attacker. For the attacker swift support by fixed wing aircraft can quickly overwhelm a difficult defensive position or disrupt a counterattack.

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Of course your enemy will likely have invested in air defence systems and will include either all, or at least part, of the following:

  • Battalion level assets which typically include light man-portable surface to air missiles or gun based AA systems. These provide localised protection and are often of limited capability. Examples include Gepard, Vulcan, Blowpipe, ZSU-23-4 and SA-7.
  • The medium range surface to air systems with improved capability and that are allocated for point defence and are sometimes allocated for specific operations. Examples include Gaskin, Gecko, Rapier and Roland.
  • Higher level systems which provide a wider umbrella for the divisional or corps. Typical examples include Hawk and SA-6 Gainful.

An ideal air defence incorporates elements from all three. This will decrease the impact of airstrikes, either by reducing the effectiveness or in causing the aircraft attack to be broken off. Some systems will be mobile.

Countering such an air defence can be difficult. It can be countered completely, or simply degrade for a portion of time. Typically the mechanisms to achieve this include:

  • Location through detection using radar location during the electronic warfare phase, followed by air defence suppression, or elimination, by long range divisional artillery fires in the artillery phase.
  • Degradation of capability by radar jamming in the electronic warfare phase, immediately followed by airstrike. This is more difficult for WARPAC nations.
  • Air defence suppression by the employment of fixed wing aircraft using smart bombs or anti-radiation missiles.
  • Suppression of on-table air defence by attack helicopters.
  • A combination of a number of these.

Now let’s look at an example of air defence suppression.

In our most recent game the Soviet defender, using a Naval Infantry Brigade, was subjected to a hasty attack by a West German Brigade. The German main effort comprised two battalions, including a Panzer Battalion equipped with Leopard 2s tanks. This battalion was further supported by Roland platoon and two Gepard platoons. No West German off table SAM could assist the advancing battalions.

With much of the Soviet land based weapon systems challenged by the Leopard capabilities the reduction of these was critical. Therefore the Soviet commander attempted to suppress the West German air defences before launching an air attack on the Leopards. The attacks played out in the following order.

First was an attack by SU-17 Fitters armed with smart bombs. Smart bombs are a stand-off weapon meaning the Gepards were unable to engage. The target was a Roland and Leopard and the aircraft was engaged with Roland at a -2. The artillery suppression were ineffective due to the German vehicle types. With the Roland operational the SU-17 Fitter attack was aborted by effective, or more accurately lucky, missile fire.

Next the Soviets attempted suppression of the massed AA assets of the battalion by BM-21 rocket launchers. The SU-17 smart bomb attack, below, was repeated. This time the aircraft did not abort, however the smart bomb attack was unsuccessful in its attack.

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The Soviet commander then committed his naval Helix attack helicopters, grouped into two flights, to suppress the AA systems. They can be seen below attacking at long range and were therefore outside Gepard range. One Helix flight was effectively eliminated by Roland platoon, the other failed to successfully attack.

Below, another view of the squadron of Helix helicopters comprising two flights, each model represents 2 to 4 actual aircraft.

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With the BM-21s reloaded a second rocket strike fell on the West Germans, this time suppressing a Gepard. The remaining Helix conducted another attack, now destroying a second Gepard which had moved into range but was unsuccessful in its own attack. Simultaneously, a Yak-38 Forger attacked Leopard tanks using improved conventional weapons. Below, the Yak-38s attempt an attack run on a West German Panzer Battalion.

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Fortunately, for the Leopards the Yak was shot down prior to completing its attack run by Roland.

In each attack the West Germans were generally fortunate. They suffered few suppressions from artillery fires and their systems performed well when engaging attacking aircraft or helicopters. The German decision not to support the attack with off-table SAM was flawed, and of course was a result of limited resources. The Soviet failure to jam German radar reduced the effectiveness of the fixed wing aircraft and I am sure will not be repeated. The Soviets are also known to be evaluating their use of improved conventional munitions, aircraft squadrons and smart bombs. A fascinating example of air support and air defence suppression on the table.

Baudenbach Ridge

Last night the Soviet Bear was on the offensive once more. Now, the Soviets were supposed to be facing elements of BAOR but unfortunately the British player had to cancel. While Mrs Thatcher has ordered an investigation on why British forces were not ready to take their place in the line, the glorious French were called on for duty once again. The scenario, developed using the Scenario Generation System, found the Soviets launching a deliberate attack – the French player having forgone the option of a spoiling attack.

As General Pierre Sancelme waited for inevitable Soviet attack he pondered his deployments, and as is often the case, had second thoughts. Then, his mind wandered. Just five days ago he had been with his family at Landau. How quickly times had changed. Now his division were starting to consider themselves veterans. If the Germans and Americans could not stop the Soviet advance, perhaps the French could delay the Soviets while additional French forces moved forward. Certainly casualties over the the past days had been mounting. It was true since the previous action the battered 5th Armoured Division and while some reinforcements had arrived the various regiments remained understrength.

Below, the area of operations. The Soviet forces will enter from the right.

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Again Sancelme opted for three regiments forward. But this time he was determined to fight a more mobile battle with at least one of the regiments repositioning early. With again a considerable divisional room to hold the three forward fighting regiments (battalions) were stretched. Sancelme placed the 153 Regiment d’Infanterie, a VAB equipped infantry regiment, in the centre around the town of Anselfingen, with a further company forward in the village of Pressat. Below, elements of 153 RI deployed around Anselfingen. The village of Pressat in just over the river, and not shown.

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On the right was 2nd Groupement de Chasseurs, while on the left was 24th Groupement de Chasseurs. Both were mechanised regiments each with two mechanised companies and elements from two tank companies, though understrength and each fielding around 12 AMX-30s each. Divisional artillery assets were limited. Just 12 tubes from 12th Regiment d’Artillerie would be available. Instead, the various regiments would need to rely on their intrinsic 120mm mortars, carefully dispersed to lesson the impact of counter-battery fires.

With a pause in the Soviet advance Sancelme had thrown out small covering forces on the centre and left. Both these sectors were subjected to aggressive reconnaissance. It was likely both areas would be the focus of the initial Soviet assault, though he wondered about his right and how weakly it was held…

At 2pm reports came in of a massed advance against the French left. Two Soviet Motor Rifle Battalions were tasked with securing the ridge and woods northeast of the town of Baudenbach. A Tank Battalion and Divisional Reconnaissance Battalion moved forward further to the right in a turning movement against the French left. Two of the Motor Rifle battalions were directly supported by 2S1s while the advancing regiments had additional fires from divisional 2S3 assets on call. In all the Soviets were advancing on a width of just 2kms and elements of seven artillery battalions in various levels of support.

As expected a series of massed artillery strikes began to hit various French positions. On the left the high ground The ridge running east to west near Baudenbach was hit by concentrated fires by three artillery battalions. This included BM-27 rocket launchers firing improved conventional munitions as well as two army level 240mm mortar battalions. Advanced mechanised platoons were also subjected to concentrated 2S3 fires, a mix of ICM and conventional HE. Despite these horrific fires all advanced elements emerged combat effective from these initial bombardments – though all shaken! Sancelme had reiterated to his regimental commanders the importance of deployment in reverse slope or secondary positions. As a result many positions which were later targets of equally hit by artillery fires were unoccupied.

By 2.30pm and with French positions still subjected to artillery fire Soviet armour moved into range of advanced French positions. 1st Company, 24th Groupement de Chasseurs would engage the Soviet T-80s that advanced by short halts on the ground below for around three hours. Constrained by terrain and harassed by French tank fire and occasional French 155mm artillery fire, the Soviet T-80s milled around in some disorder unable to adequately gain the upper hand while casualties slowly mounted.

Above, 1st Company 24th Groupement de Chasseurs engages Soviet armour. To their left a covering force of French mechanised infantry is deployed in the woods where it was subjected to pre-planned artillery fires.

When 1st Company was initially engaged, and expecting a movement by motorised rifle infantry to support stalled Soviet armour, Sancelme ordered 153rd Regiment d’Infanterie to conduct a spoiling attack. It was to pin the Soviets and support the advanced elements of 24th GC.

Below, 153 RI can be seen conducting its spoiling attack. In the left rear elements of 24th Groupement de Chasseurs can be seen in a reverse slope position behind the first Soviet objective, denoted by the red marker.

Shortly after 2nd Groupement de Chasseurs was ordered to conduct a rapid movement from the right flank to the left deploying to 24th Groupement de Chasseurs’ rear and therefore bolstering the French left rear.

The VAB equipped infantry regiment moved quickly to draw off Soviet infantry. Confused fighting took place along the eastern outskirts of Baudenbach and stretching to within 400m of the positions 1st Company, 24th Groupement de Chasseurs on Baudenbach Ridge.

Unfortunately, the attack by 153 Regiment d’Infanterie was broken up with little gain by Soviet infantry fire, well supported by 152mm artillery fires and in some cases 2S1s firing in direct support. A subsequent order to retire was issued too late and as a result the regiment broke – a result of further casualties during its withdrawal. Survivors would however reform around a kilometre from their original position.

Meanwhile, while one Soviet battalion was held up in the valley two others had pressed forward and were soon engaged against the French second line. Here additional AMX-30s and mechanised infantry exchanged fires with advancing T-80s supported by BMPs.

Above and below, the battle around the French left. Below, the 1st Company of 24th Groupement de Chasseurs has finally been overwhelmed has been overcome and Soviet forces press forward, despite further ATGW fires from other French companies.

Simultaneously, elements of 2nd Groupement de Chasseurs are by now deploying to bolster the French left. Below, AMX-30s and AMX-10s move under the cover of 24th GC’s attached AMX-13 DCA, a self-propelled 30mm AA system.

Despite the arrival of 2nd GC casualties are now mounting for the French. With 153 Regiment d’Infanterie heavily weakened and the 24th Groupement de Chasseurs finally taking significant casualties, a result of four hours of relentless fighting, it was time to break off. As 2nd Groupement de Chasseur was deployed to cover the retirement 24th Groupement de Chasseurs was ordered to disengage after a heroic defence around Baudenbach Ridge. Now the division’s reserve regiments, comprising the three Regiments Cuirassier, would be engaged against the Soviet juggernaut…

Contemplating Defence

Last night’s Modern Spearhead game, a hasty attack by Andrew’s new Soviet Tank Regiment has me pondering yet again how to create an effective defence. Andrew has this wonderful ability to conjure up very different armies. I never really no if I will be fighting T-55s using second line equipment, Naval Infantry supported by PT-76s, helicopters and aircraft, or some new monster such as the T-80s I encountered last night.

I tend to think I can operate a flexible defence, especially with NATO, so that a specific battalion plays can change its role in the defence. An ability to react, reposition battalions and counterattack, are all key requirements. But yesterday’s massed armoured thrust caused me serious problems.

My French defend list comprised three battalions, or regiments in French organisation. Two mechanised, with AMX-30 tanks and AMX-10P mechanised infantry, while the the third was comprised infantry in VABs. Deployment required two battalions forward with a third in reserve and guarding the flank. I expected a pinning attack in the centre and a flanking action against my left flank. Other options, and there were several, could have had seen alternate avenues of advance. In my plan the most likely counterattacks would have been with my reserve or the VAB battalion against an exposed centre.

Above, part of the the French 1st Regiment (Battalion) in defensive positions. The town on the left was taken by Soviet Divisional Reconnaissance Battalion as stage one of a move against the French left. Below, the same position from a different angle showing more of the French centre and forward left, as well as the advancing Soviets.

Unfortunately my defence was almost immediately paralysed. I just didn’t feel I could effectively manoeuvre against a bristling armoured formation which would have seen the outnumbered and advancing AMX-30s stripped out by T-80s and the AMX-10Ps quickly overcome. Manoeuvring the VAB equipped battalion was even worse. Lacking any armour and with fewer Milans their ability to counter armour is much reduced in defence, never mind on the offensive.

Despite what must read like a degree despondency, the game was fascinating. The engagement opened with Soviet shaping of the area of operations with electronic warfare locating French air defences quickly followed by fires by BM-27 rocket launches and 2S5 artillery assets. Their was no Soviet aircraft though so this at least had limited impact. As the divisional reconnaissance moved towards its initial objective three tank battalions each allocated a BMP infantry company and some 2S1 artillery for direct fire support moved forward.

French artillery attempted to suppress the BMPs while the French infantry engaged with Milan. The terribly outnumbered AMX-30s gave a reasonable account of themselves but were silenced by return fire. Then, as the T-80s advanced they were engaged with Milan. Here at least there was some hope as the Soviets, despite heavy artillery fire had considerable difficulties dislodging the French infantry. French artillery continued to fire but their fires were interrupted by relocation – to avoid the expected devastating counter battery fires.

Above, a view from the Soviet lines. The BMPs are suppressed by artillery fires. A 2S1 can be seen behind the advancing T-80s. Below, the advanced French positions have been neutralised and Soviet armour continues forward. French artillery fires now target the T-80s in a desperate attempt to disrupt the attack.

So where does this leave me, or more accurately my French? Reasonably capable against Motor Rifle formations the defend list’s inability to be more than a speed bump to massed armour will certainly see me reevaluating it’s composition and, more importantly perhaps, it’s use…

Scenario Generation System

Due to some ISP changes, as well as an error on my part, the Scenario Generation System has been off-line recently. This has now been resolved and players wishing to download the Spearhead & Modern Spearhead Scenario Generation System can now do so again. I apologise for any inconvenience while the system was unavailable.

The Scenario Generation System, as well as supporting documentation for Modern Spearhead, can be found here.

Forming a Panzer Grenadier Brigade

I’ve always been somewhat surprised that the West Germans are infrequently seen in these parts. Especially as the West German formations formed the backbone of NATO armies by the 1980s. Continuing with my occasional posts on forming armies this article looks at forming a Panzer Grenadier Brigade for use in the Scenario Generation System.

Now, I suspect the use of West Germans formations under the Scenario Generation System is reduced by the points system. In particular West German formations are relatively expensive due to the use of IFVs. A contrast to the American M113 or British FV432 combat team which is relatively inexpensive. My West Germans were my first NATO army under Modern Spearhead and they remain an interesting, and I feel, capable army. As is the norm here I based my West Germans around 1982. The two lists I will present here are based around Panzer Grenadier Brigades and I feel provide a reasonably balanced force structure. However, rather than provide a list I hope a few of you find a little inspiration.

A Panzer Grenadier Brigade has four basic battalions. A Panzer Battalion, two Panzer Grenadier Battalions and a Mixed Battalion. The last having no HQ under peace conditions. Each battalion comprises three companies. These three companies can be cross-attached or operate without cross-attachment.

Let’s begin by looking at the armoured options. The Panzer Battalion comprises three companies and excludes an infantry component unless through cross-attachment. At the moment I have Leopard 1A2, Leopard 1A1A1 and Leopard IIs in my collection which allows me to model several different formations. For now I will focus on the Leopard 1s and will look at the Leopard 2 in another article.

The Leopard 1 went through several upgrades and for my purposes the Leopard 1A1A1 is the most common in 1982. It has many of the physical characteristics of the Leopard 1A5 allowing me to use the excellent Heroics & Ros Leopard 1A5 casting to represent the Leopard 1A1A1. Above, Leopard 1A1A1s supported by a company of Marder equipped panzer grenadiers. A Brigade HQ, represented by an M577 command stand, can be seen in the rear.

The Leopard 1A2 was produced as part of the 5th batch of Leopards. It was not upgraded during the main upgrade program. As a result, and most notably, it didn’t receive the add on turret armour. The model I have are, I believe, from Skytrex. These models were gifted to me several years ago by Steve Weiss a SH/MSH gamer in New York as part of an “moderns aid package”. Historically the Leopard 1A2 were mainly deployed in the 6th Panzer Grenadier Division. As such they often exercised with Danish forces. Below Leopard 1A2s, supported by a panzer grenadier company in M113 APCs, cross a small stream.

Each Panzer Grenadier Battalion comprised two companies mounted in Marders while the third is in M113s. Cross attachment, by company, is particularly important to achieve combined arms and I almost always base my battalions on a mix of companies. That said, as each platoon contains Milan a degree of independence can be maintained and a Panzer Grenadier Battalion could operate without panzers. One particular strength these battalions is the Marders. The Marder IFV, being a true mechanised infantry combat vehicle, provides considerable protection for the infantry from enemy artillery fires. This is especially so when under Soviet 122mm fires. In addition the combat factors, a result of the infantry, vehicle and ATGW systems, provide a capable system weapons system in 1982. In contrast the M113 mounted companies provide less offensive and defensive power but have a lower points cost.

In my view a critical part, and sometimes overlooked part of these Panzer Grenadier battalions, is the M113 mounted with a 120mm mortar. These indirect fire weapons provide each battalion with a degree of organic fire support. Useful, and almost always available, the are useful in suppressing enemy infantry. However, being self-propelled they are less prone to counter-battery fires, though do remember to move them frequently!

The fourth battalion is the Mixed Battalion. It comprises a panzer company and two panzer grenadier companies in Marders. Unlike the Panzer Grenadier battalions it lacks a mortar section and unless mobilised an HQ platoon. I believe that elements from the Brigade HQ form the headquarters, though details are conflicting. I have decided to represent this HQ by a Marder element.

Specialised anti-tank systems were a critical part of the West German force structure. Each brigade had one company. Some Brigades fielded the Jaguar 1 armed with the HOT ATGW system, which had mostly replaced the earlier Jaguar armed with ATGW SS11. Other brigades fielded a company of Jagdpanzer Kannone. I must admit my personal favourite is the old and increasingly ineffective Jagdpanzer Kannone which retained a 90mm gun. The 90mm guns were sourced from decommissioned M47 tanks and the vehicle has a number of similarities to the excellent, in WWII terms, Jagdpanzer IV.

Above, Jaguar 1s deployed along a woods edge, while below a company of Jagdpanzer Kannones deployed in ambush in field and woods. Many Kannones would be upgraded to Jaguar 2, armed with TOW, while others would soldier on in reserve formations until 1990.

Other core components of the brigade include the brigade’s own artillery battalion. Equipped with the excellent M109G with its improved howitzer with a range of 18,000m is effectively an M109A1. Self-propelled and held in brigade support it can be called in reasonably easily by fighting stands and recon elements. Divisional assets include additional artillery systems in the form of FH-70 towed guns and 110mm rocket battalions. Both are able to support with fires into the battle area. However, the FH-70 is useful for deep fire missions against enemy artillery or air defence systems. Very useful if your opponent plans to deploy towed artillery systems.

West German formations, unlike some NATO allies, had a solid anti-aircraft arsenal. Each division comprises specialist man portable SAM as well as Gepard self-propelled gun systems. This is further supplemented by Roland SAM at Corps level. Below, Gepards provide support for elements of a Panzer Grenadier Battalion.

Fixed wing air support has an ability to quickly overcome an enemy concentration. As importantly it can strike at any part of the brigade battle area. I usually ensure a Forward Air Controller is present, but when points are restricted a reconnaissance stand, an HQ and even fighting stands can request support.

Below, relatively inexpensive Alpha Jets overfly Luchs reconnaissance elements. These light attack aircraft can be armed with rockets, bombs or Improved Conventional Munitions (ICM). Consideration should be given to the weapon load. For example if the enemy is likely to be on the offensive ICM can be more useful than rockets.

However, to achieve success the enemy air defences must be reduced. The obvious way to do this is via artillery strikes on located radar SAM systems. However, Phantom fighter bombers can also be used. Their avionics and countermeasures are useful and potentially allow the use of weapons such as smart bombs to suppress enemy missile systems. Subsequent attacks can then be made by other aircraft armed with more traditional weapon loads.

The PAH-1 helicopter, armed with HOT, can be a useful weapons platform to countering enemy armour and for targeting AA systems allowing fixed wing support to be more effective. Like the fixed wing aircraft I tend to operate these as options in the list. This forces my opponent to consider his air defences in both attack or defensive postures, without me having to always commit to using a specific system each game.

Having described a few of the elements available I will now provide some sample lists which I hope provide some inspiration. You will note some companies are under strength, representing casualties. There are a couple of variations from the official TO&E, I will cover these off in future posts.

The Attack List is the most self explanatory. I see it being used hasty attack scenarios and for encounter situations, when the Scenario System selects this list. I don’t believe it is useful for or the West Germans in general should attempt a deliberate attack. It contains three manoeuvre battalions with reasonable indirect fire support. The Panzer Battalion could be used massed but more typically one or two companies are allocated out combined arms battalions. An under strength Jaguar company provides heavy ATGW support while a range of artillery is available. A range of options include fixed wing air support, additional artillery for counter-battery fires or air defence suppression. Care should be made when allocating resources to battalions so as the overall attachment limits are not exceeded. Of course the brigade is not well suited to frontal engagement, so try and use manoeuvre to gain advantage, forcing your enemy to redeploy. The sample Attack List can be found here.

The Defend List is more complicated and with fewer points more difficult to achieve meaningful combined arms. In defence the three battalions are thin on the ground and each is limited in armour. Unlike the previous list armour is already attached with one battalion of the brigade presumed to have been deployed elsewhere. The Mixed Battalion is small and should act as a mobile reserve reinforcing the other battalions. This not withstanding careful deployment of the fighting stands and support weapons will be required. Often a brigade commander will be tasked with a difficult situation or be on the offensive. In these situations the options can be selected to bolster the defence, disrupt the enemy or add teeth to the fighting battalions. Options include air support designed to attack advancing enemy vehicles, additional AA systems and additional artillery. The Option B is specifically design for the spoiling attack scenario where a commander conducts a preemptive attack before an opponent can launch a deliberate attack. This provides reinforcements, additional artillery and most importantly additional mechanised AA systems. The sample Defend List can be found here.

Hopefully this short primer will have been of use and just perhaps you will be tempted to deploy some West Germans to stop the WARPAC invasion…

Cold War French

French forces of the Cold War 1980s have an interesting selection of vehicles which have, for many years, had a certain appeal to me. As a result a few years ago, when I was looking for a Cold War project, the French were an obvious candidate.

I use the Scenario Generation System to generate most of my scenarios so it’s no surprise I used this as the basis for my forces. I then selected to build forces drawn from an armoured division. Interestingly, a French armoured division isn’t particularly large and can have a variable number of regiments. These divisions are larger than most NATO brigades but smaller than NATO divisions. Further, depending on which division is selected, a considerable range of equipment can be found. I found “Armies of NATO’s Central Front” by Isby & Camps particularly useful in determining the equipment make up of my initial force. However, have a look at my Cold War TO&E section for the basic organisations available.

When determining my force structure I felt that one armoured regiment, two mechanised regiments and an infantry regiment would provide the basics formations. To these basic regiments I would then add in various support units for variety.

Above, elements of an armoured regiment, AMX-30 tanks and AMX-10Ps, on the advance. Below, several platoons of a mechanised regiment deployed in defensive positions. The one in front of the town is considered to be deployed in the outskirts and receives a cover bonus.

Below, another view of elements of the mechanised regiment. This photo shows deployed Milan with the AMX-10P IFVs in support. All miniatures are from Heroics & Ros.

My Attack and Encounter List was built around three regiments, remember these are battalions. First, there is an under strength armoured regiment with a mechanised infantry company. The armour is not outstanding, but ideal for manoeuvre and can put down reasonable firepower. Secondly, there is a mechanised regiment, with elements from the two tank companies and the two mechanised infantry companies where the infantry have a Milan within each platoon. Both these regiments have the excellent AMX-10P which has proven useful as it provides a degree of protection for the infantry from artillery fire. Finally, an infantry regiment mounted in VABs, and without armour and fewer Milan per regiment, provides a reasonable covering battalion.

Support formations include a range of gun and AA systems, a useful divisional recon company and artillery. Options to reinforce the regiments depending on the scenario include Mirage fighter bombers, counter battery artillery and additional ATGM systems.

You can find a sample Attack List here. Several items have been included but the quantity set to zero. One obvious item not included is a Brigade HQ, as all regiments are under command of a Divisional HQ which is off table and therefore free.

Above, AA systems in the form of AMX-13 DCA armed with 30mm guns and AMX-30 Roland deployed on high ground. Where the French are lacking however is man portable SAM, a fact not lost on the French deployments to Chad which were bolstered by Stinger purchases.

I am a strong believer in fixed wing air support and initially the Mirage III is providing that role. The Mirage, when armed with Improved Conventional Munitions can be effective against counter attacking Soviet forces, so it’s ideal as an option in an encounter battle where it can quickly neutralise a threat.

The defend list was more problematic. Eventually I opted for three regiments but selected two mechanised regiments and an infantry regiment. As always hard choices need to be made when resources (points) are limited. The defend list is in some ways a misnomer. It is often used in encounter scenarios and it’s commander short on resources can find himself conducting limited advances or spoiling attacks.

A Defend list therefore needs to be self contained but, with additional support, capable of offensive action. Some specific consideration needs to be given to the options that the Scenario Generation System uses to convert a Defend List into a list in a Spoiling Attack Scenario. For this I have opted for additional support from Mirage fighter bombers and additional artillery systems. You can find a sample Defend List here.

One variation of the above, and one I particularly like, is the use of various armoured cars. By 1984 the AMX-10RC, as shown above, was in service. Armed with a 105mm gun it provides excellent firepower if weak on defensive capabilities. 

Above and below views of AMX-10RC armoured cars advancing with a divisional recon company in jeeps.

I see the AMX-10RC being most useful in defence, where they provide ambush fire on advancing enemy formations. I also need to try a couple of other armoured car types, some of which look particularly unusual! Perhaps this last point is important and something I like about my Cold War French – they make a change from the normal Americans and British.