Monday, October 17, 2011

Amateur Hour: A Lesson in Task Organization

Played an game with Frank Chadwick's excellent Volley & Bayonet rules once again pitting my hardened British 6mm Peninsular troops against Napoleon's finest troops in Spain.

Once again I have to commend Mr Chadwich and Mr Novak on their work.  Volley and Bayonet is a Solid rules set and great for novices up through hardended, seasoned veterans.  While I "tweaked" one or two aspects of the rules, this is in no way because of a shortfall with the rules, but rather because of shortcomings in my play area, terrain, and forces.  (I used Regimental stands and values instead of Brigade stands/values and measured in centimeters instead of inches due to my small tabletop).

I diced for startup and for the scenario.  both sides attempted to control a road junction, dominated by a small hill in the center of the board.  This hill affected line of sight on both sides as you will see.

While I dont have time to give a play by play, I will give an executive summary of what happened along with a review of the lessons I learned this time.

This week's lesson centers around your Task Organization.  Task Organization is the assignment of units to specific objectives and what resources those units have at their disposal.  In modern armies, Task Orgs are very dynamic and change with the temporary addition or subtraction of resources.

When  you assign an objective to a force, ask yourself, "does the unit [company, regiment, brigade, division, etc] have what it needs to accomplish the task I have given them?"  In a historical miniatures tabletop wargame, you dont have the benefit of a staff coming back to you and telling you their unit isn't up to the task without resources.  I learned that lesson the hard way today.

This game pitted roughly 2 French Divisions against 2 British Divisions of very  equal size.  Both sides had a Cavalry Division, 3 Batteries of Field guns, and about 8 Infantry "Brigades" grouped into 2 units of 4.  (remember on the table they were Regimental stands).

Both sides had an offensive mission; to seize the hill and control the road in 10 turns.  It turned into a British Rout, and with that route, a few lessons I picked up myself.  I will let the pictures tell some of the story:
British on the Right, French on the Left, all are in March Columns.  The British Heavy Cavalry Brigades are both seen with their small yellow "disorganized" dots for moving through rough terrain.  The olive grove and grapevines are visible in the center.

British Heavy Cavalry Division

French Brigades move out

British Cavalry charge the French in an attempted spoiling attack

And are beaten!

British plan morphs into a defensive scheme and the left units take up positions behind the Olive Grove

French gunners supporting the advance on  the Right.
From the pictures you can see how the battle immediately progressed.  The British launched their Cavalry Division out to spoil the French advance, and give the British time to take the hill, and transition to the defense.  That didn't happen.

The British Cavalry Division advanced into a kill-sack and were assailed on all sides by French guns, and murderous volleys of musketry.  Not an auspicious beginning...

By not checking the French advance, the British were forced to modify their plan.  Instead of racing to take the hill, they would now have to defend on mediocre ground, completely split up and not properly task organized to accomplish their mission.  In a 1:1 ratio, the defender "should" have a complete advantage but in this game, tactical errors are not looked kindly upon...
British force suddenly realized it wasn't properly organized to attack - and so they adopt a defensive posture

Then a French Cavalry Division strikes their flank!

View from the line - FORM SQUARE!

In the midst of the French Cavalry Attack, the troops can see French Infantry start to crest the hill.

on the British Right, the French get serious about taking the hill and begin a coordinated, combined arms attack along the entire line.
The pictures don't do the situation justice either.  Aside from some small acts of heroism by a highland unit, the   British force was beaten and routed.  I'm not sure the French were in good shape to exploit but they certainly carried the field.  The British Cavalry brigade that was still standing was used to protect the British right from further attacks and pushed the French Cavalry back at high cost.

The French brought in their guns at close range and made short work of the defenders, constantly pushing them back until they broke as well.

Lessons Learned:
Use of Cavalry: In Volley and Bayonet, Cavalry receive 4 attack dice in melee and if their prey is disorganized, they hit on a 5 or better.  deadly!  They are a juggernaut but have their vulnerabilities as well and need to be used properly.
Cavalry are best suited to rolling up an enemy's flanks.  Even just the threat of a large Cavalry attack are enough to slow down an opponent's foot advance.  He will have to use his vital artillery to protect his flanks while the assault grinds forward.  In the case of the British, the assaulting force was so small that the entire assault up the hill slowed and eventually stopped to redeploy to meet the French Cavalry attack.  Meanwhile the French were able to straighten out their own lines and make better use of space to accommodate more infantry regiments.  Not good for the British.  Instead of facing a Division attack on 2 fronts, they faced a Corps-wide assault on 1 front.  Bad news in Melee (supported flanks and all the firepower that their field batteries could bring to bear)
At the very least, your Cavalry pins down his Cavalry, freeing the flanks up.
"If there isn't enough artillery, quit!"  Can't remember which US General said that and when, but sure knew his stuff and gamers are forced to relearn these vital principles again and again.  Take the case of the British in this Napoleonic's game.  All of the British batteries were wiped out whether by counterbattery, or direct assault.  The French grouped their batteries together and managed the lanes of fire by which they could contend.
The British assigned a Battery per brigade and used their artillery more as infantry support than as a decisive arm.  The game turned into a contest between ideologies.  I have to say, if the year is 1809, you should be massing your artillery for best effect at the decisive spot, unless you are absolutely positive you will be on the defensive.
My French "grand battery" was able to hunker down in Stationary, protect anything the British threw their way, and provide wonderful fire support for a grand assault.  Napoleon would have been proud.
Task Organization:  Your Task Org should reflect the mission at hand.  Scenario-dependent, for pick up games, Mr Chief of Staff, it is YOUR job to organize your forces with what you will think you'll need for the task.

 As the Commander, you would, at the very least, approve your Chief's recommendations.  IN this case, both sides were wholly unequipped to handle either task they were given and halfway through the game, morphed into a Corps Frontage for the assault.  Should have been done that way from the start.  Napoleon said it best about attacking swiftly with everything you have instead of shoveling men and material into the fire.  In this case, the British were not tied-in flankwise and not suited for a defensive operation.  There was 1 crucial Artillery Battery and Infantry Regiment attached to the Army HQs in a reserve role (why?  I just thought it would have been a good idea!)
The British could have used more infantry units at the Olive Grove and occupied it from the start.  Artillery Batteries should have been allocated to the advancing unit up the hill early on and in a massed fashion.  Additionally, the Cavalry division should never have had infantry and artillery units under it.  They should have focused on reconnoitering the hilltop, French positions, and harrassing attacks, not charging wastefully without infantry support onto the battlefield.  Troops would have been better served as being organized into "wings" or a very large infantry division with the artillery, and an independent Cavalry Division.

Planning: There should be a solid plan, not just an advance and an "audible"!  How seemingly obvious but rarely put into practice!!

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