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…

16 thoughts on “Contemplating Defence

  1. One reason Keith hadn’t considered the option, I suspect, is that under his scenario system minefields are ridiculously (IMNHSO!) expensive, and thus seldom used. A minefield covering two element’s width of infantry costs as many points as a base of infantry itself! Under his system, engineering assets can’t actually do any tasks (other than clearing mines by hand, and a very few other not very useful functions) without paying “points”, which is clearly a attempt to simplify things, but the points costs are way out of whack, which is why engineering assets never get used under his system. Another example: a single bridgelayer costs as much as two infantry platoons!

    1. Luke is correct in this particular scenario the defender doesn’t have time to deploy minefileds or surface lay mines. However, I was researching the use of artillery delivered mines after Pete made his post. I have seen one player use this some years ago, but never tried it myself. Strangely I didn’t want to say too much as my regular opponents will be tuning in.

      I have used ICM a couple of times but for this game hadn’t equipped any artillery with ICMs. A mistake as they would have been ideal to increase the chance of knocking out some of the BMPs. The French fire was erratic on the day.

      Luke, I have never suggested the points values are perfect. They are, to me at least, an approximate means to in some general way to balance a game. I’m sorry you are so disappointed in them. Polite suggestions always appreciated, strongly worded comments, not so much…

  2. Just throwing a idea in, how about having engineering assets leading to discounts for engineering activities for defenders (ie minefields), or the possibility of pre-game activities (ie a bridge overa river) for attackers.

    1. Thanks Rhys. I haven’t seen any sizeable rivers go down for a while, or indeed water crossed by amphibious vehicles.

      Perhaps our terrain choices could be driving some of these decisions. I tried to build some of the challenges into the terrain generation while preventing full blown crossings of the Rhine, which are best handled by dedicated scenarios I feel. Appreciate the feedback and will think more on this.

  3. As a general rule I find this system excellent. But I use it like Jack Sparrow and Barbossa use the Pirate Code…..”More of ye guidelines than law”.
    As someone who served in the Brit Military during the 80’s the cornerstones of defence at that time were mobile/infantry portable ATGM, minefields and artillery. Now the rules and points system need to allow all three of these to be deployed by NATO or you may as well forget it, the game becomes “he with the most die rolls wins”…….not particularly fun or accurate.
    I’ve found using this system NATO doesn’t have enough points to field the assets that were readily available and part of each Battalions TO&E. No commander would deploy a Mech Btn in front of a Soviet combined arms attack minus its Milan posts and expect it to do anything other than die.

    The simple expedient of upping points values by 100 has seemed to rectify this. So for example the defend list is now 750 instead of 650 and attack/encounter lists are 950 instead of 850. This allows NATO units to deploy most of their support (ATGM) weapons.

    I’ve also made Minefields more readily available no matter what list is chosen. Most NATO nations by the early 80’s had the ability to quickly lay Minefields once the main line of attack had been identified. Systems such as Skorpian and Ranger could lay a Minefield of approx. 500m well within the timeframe of one Spearhead game turn.
    I think the system allows three sections of minefields for a cost of 4 points. I’ve upped that to four sections (which cover 500m) for 5 points.
    These can be laid in-game (max of two 500m sections) by a CEV, taking one complete turn to lay each 500m section. I charge 10 points for the Minelaying CEV.
    You can either deploy one of those sexy rarely used vehicles or note a stand to which the CEV is attached in secret pre-game (I use the second method as it keeps the enemy guessing). You can then either mark the minefield on your map or deploy on-board (using a couple of dummy fields for each real minefield deployed to keep the enemy guessing).
    Quite simple, quite effective and quite realistic.

    I’m not gonna get into a protracted moan about the rules as its beyond the scope of this discussion but I’ve increased effectiveness of ICM/DPICM which was readily available to US/Brit forces in the early 80’s and probably available to the Germans and French. This stuff was lethal against ALL targets and was a huge game changer for NATO. Your system allows for its use by consuming two Fire Missions instead of one which is ideal.

    1. Thanks Mark. At some point I reduced the points budgets as some forces were getting too large. I have been contemplating an increase so your suggestion is timely. I also like your suggestions on minefields. Very much appreciated.

      As an aside do you find many WARPAC players conduct a prepared attack. We don’t see them here which is partly I suspect a time element as our games are typically played in an evening time slot.

      1. Thank you
        The minefields seem to play very well, we deliberately kept it simple. We’ve always opted for the “hidden marked on the map option” it keeps the Ruskies guessing and adds some excitement especially when you see a nice shiny T80 Btn roll into one.

        Funnily enough the two recent games I played were prepared in advance. We did a Sibbessa Gap Scn pitting 47 Gds Tank Div, 3 Combined Arms Army vs elements of Brit 4th Armoured Div. Sovs had 2850 points Brits 2250 points.

        The Sibbessa Gap was an area earmarked by BAOR in which they would hopefully cream 3rd Shock (3rd Combined Arms Army as it was in reality). An area in which they trained regularly.

      2. I think that most NATO players if offered the option of facing a prepared attack or making a spoiling attack against a WARPAC army with the associated C&C problems would pick option B. Or maybe its just the kiwi players I know.
        Just to toss more complexity into the system, maybe if the attacker greater than X higher than the defender then the spoiling attack is taken out of the options?

        1. When testing the Spoiling Attack Scenario I tried a few games, by player agreement. I’ve not had any success, which suggests it is a hard situation. I think it looks more appealing than it actually is. But the sample is admittedly small.

  4. I wouldn’t consign your Frenchies to the rubbish bin just yet. A bit of simple tweaking can make them more useful.
    The VAB Btn had 8 Milan posts, I would deploy these as two separate stands then you get two stands that can engage armour with a value of 3-18 instead of using them broken down attached to each infantry stand. This wouldn’t be unrealistic as all Nato doctrine of the time would have AT assets grouped to engage the main Soviet point of attack.
    Note that Milan 2 was in service with the French/Brits and Germans from 84 onwards so you could field some of those increasing your ATGM stand firepower to 5-24.
    Also each VAB Btn had an AT Platoon of 4-6 jeeps armed with Milan. If it is a 6 strength stand under the Spearhead master ATGW guide their firepower would be increased to 6-24.

    1. The French are a unusual army, with some strengths. They weren’t about to go on the scrap heap. I admit I’ve been looking more at armoured cars – I really like the concept of the AMX-10RC. There are indeed some dedicated ATGMs I could deploy. The game showed the VAB Battalion weakness in this area.

      1. Yeah I’ve always fancied using those armoured cars potentially mixing elements from the 6th Light Armoured along with the 11th Parachute Div (both elements of the French Rapid Reaction Force formed in 84). The Airborne had a large allocation of Milan which when combined with the A/C’s could make for an interesting Scenario.
        The Infantry Regt with the 4th Airmobile also part of the Rapid Reaction Force had an allocation of 64 Milan, expensive using your points system but boy they could do some damage!

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