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!!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The 'Nam Battle Report: Hill 124

Vietnam 1968, Somewhere North of Cu Chi:

It was a relatively quiet morning in the Division TOC (tactical operations center) when suddenly the radio on the Operations Net burst to life:

The Specialist sitting at the table looked over at the Division G-3 Battle Major with a ghost-white face.  "Sir?  I think we should wake the G3....Dealer Two Zero sounds like they're in trouble."  Indeed they were.  

I was finally able to take my newly painted US Vietnam, VietCong, and North Vietnamese Troops out for a "spin."  The scenario was a "downed pilot" scenario however instead of an aircrew, I used troops from the Division LRRP Company and put them in some trouble.  Terrain is unsuitable for a Helo pickup so Dealer 20 must be walked out of the combat zone.  Enter a platoon or two from the US Army's "Wolfhounds"

Between the Wolfhound elements and the pinned LRRPs are a large cadre of heavily armed VC with NVA Troops who were conducting training missions with the VC Cadres.

"Dealer Two-Zero" SITREP Follows: Ammo is Amber, Four Whiskey India Alpha, holding right now  

Dealer Two Zero's Patrol - stands are roughly fireteams.

The plan was to advance into the bush with elements of first platoon on the left and second platoon, led by the Company Commander on the right.  Unbeknownst to the Americans, they would have to advance through the VC security element and cut through them to get to Hill 124.  Meanwhile, the NVA Cadre were at the base of Hill 124, pouring automatic weapons fire from the RPD, RPG-2, and numerous AK's and SKS into Dealer's position.  Dealer took heavy casualties immediately on turn 1 and lost 1 fireteam.

Rules used were Pete Jones' excellent Cold War Commander rules although I think they were unsuitable for the scale I was playing and next time I will try the same rules with "CrossFire" before playing the Dealer Two Zero Mission in Force on Force.

Infantry don't get save throws but since Dealer are elite, I gave them a save of 6 to make the game last longer LOL.  The NVA RPD and RPGs really were cutting them  to pieces, and the US Company Commander on the right rolled a command blunder (on his first move!) and couldn't get himself unstuck at the Landing Zone to get moving.  Meanwhile, the US Platoon on the left advanced almost haphazardly into a linear danger area (large clearing) and were chopped up brutally by a well-coordinated VC Ambush from hidden units.
Base of Hill 124. NVA preparing to assault the LRRPs at the top.  Note the VC RPD gunner to your left.  He was responsible for many US casualties in the first platoon at the clearing.
Finally, after the almost annihilation of the first platoon the US Second platoon with the CO got its rear in gear and rolled a Command bonus and moved up to the other side of the clearing.  Finally the M60s from the weapons squad got to do its work and the Second Platoon almost single-handedly opened the way for their movement.

Meanwhile, the LRRP team mowed down 3 NVA fireteams in the open as they attempted to close-assault their position.  It was getting down to the wire at this point as the US forces closed in on their breakpoint, however the VC/NVA reached their breakpoint first and bugged out.  The US forces reached the time limit and were still attempting to reach the LRRP team.  The battle was a draw.  I would imagine the Company Commander would have pressed on and reached the LRRP team within another few turns.
The NVA units start their assault up Hill 124
Second Platoon moves out!

Second Platoon engages the enemy.

Gratuitous Hollywood Violence!  Rules of Engagement