Saturday, May 28, 2011

Military Terms Part I

This entry is inspired by a good friend of mine after he left a comment on one of the facebook entries: "Hull down!  Defilade! Enfilade! Flank!  Grazing fire?  Why don't we just shoot right at them?"  Well, Brian, this ones for you!  And a warning, although this is inspired by his entry, he knows his stuff and is a heck of an opponent (who I don't get to play often enough.  When you going to make it to Co, Buddy?).

There are many words or phrases used to describe the types of fire available.  There are many terms used to describe various common military positions.  Knowing these terms allows a quick description of a complex situation.

Enfilade is the French word meaning "to skewer".  In military parlance, enfilade is when a unit receives fire along its longest axis.  Another way to visualize it is to imagine a line of troops standing shoulder to shoulder and the firer is firing along the line of solders so one bullet could travel in a straight line and hit multiple soldiers.
Blue is in Enfilade from the Green Tank

So, Enfilade Fire is simply 'Flanking Fire'?  No, flanking fire means attacking just from the side of a unit.  In Napoleonic times, soldiers would marching in long columns.  If, while marching in column, they suddenly came under fire from the front the unit is in enfilade, but they are not flanked.

Proper grammatical use of Enfilade is almost backwards thinking for English speakers, but critical to understand.  Enfilade is used to describe the position the enemy is in, not the firing unit.  Adding to the confusion of the use of the word is a position is only in enfilade when it is fired on, thus, some unit must be providing the 'enfilading fire'. Thus, in the diagram above, the blue troops are in enfilade by the green tank which is providing enfilading fire.

Defilade is another French term meaning "to scroll".  A unit is 'in defilade' if it uses natural terrain to shield or conceal its location.  

In modern terms, defilade is also used to describe a position where a unit uses a natural depression, or the reverse slope of a hill, to reduce its exposure.  For tanks, this is the same as 'hull down' or 'turret down'.  Unlike enfilade, a unit does not have to be under fire to be 'in defilade'.  Units may move along the backside of a ridge to remain in defilade.

Three tank positions: Upper is "Exposed".
Middle is "Hull down" and the tank's main body is 'in defilade'.
Lowest position has the entire tank 'in defilade'.
Suppressive Fire
Suppressive fire is the concept of reducing the enemy units ability to return fire by shooting in their general direction.  NATO has a more definite term, including creating distractions, which reduce the enemies ability to complete its fire objectives.  Simply put, this means creating enough distractions to keep the enemy busy.  Typically, a unit only remains suppressed for as long as the suppressive fire is maintained.

British forces used the term 'neutralized' with the same meaning as 'suppressed'. NATO defines neutralized as the unit being reduced to ineffectiveness over a longer time period. 

Suppressive fire is a critical piece of modern military doctrine.  For me, suppressive fire differs from 'pinning fire', in that it limits the ability of the unit to return fire, but the unit may retain the ability to move.

Pinning Fire
Pinning fire is bringing enough firepower to an area to limit the units ability to move from its current position.  Usually, a pinned unit is also suppressed, unable to return fire.  Pinning units is critical for holding the unit in place while other units move into position to finish the unit off.  A unit unable to move because of enemy fire is said to be 'pinned'.

Overwatch is related to the above to items.  Basically, it describes when some unit supports another unit by being available to provide suppressive fire or pinning fire while the supported unit moves into position.  This is similar to the artillery "leapfrog" tactic, except that artillery provides supporting fire to other units, not to each other. 

Bounding Overwatch 
Bounding overwatch is the official name for 'leapfrogging'.  Part of the unit stops and fires while the rest of the unit moves.  Bounding Overwatch is used mostly in infantry and close terrain (forests, cities, etc.) in modern warfare.  In WWII, tanks often used bounding overwatch since the ability to fire on the move was unlikely to produce any results.  Prior to WWII, the concept was known, but not practical to implement since communications and coordination of units was difficult prior to the introduction of radio.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Hex War Games - Strategy Part XVI - Taking a City

Some lessons one must continually learn.  For me, it is 'how to take a city'.  For some reason, I continually apply defensive tactics when I'm on the offensive, and my poor beaten units reflect that mindset.  In an attempt to ingrain this lesson into my mind, I'm going to shed some light on taking a city.  (Screenshots and images are from

Bad Approach - Blue Unsecured City Capture
Step 1: Approach
Do not conquer if the city is on the "Front lines".  Conquering units do not occupy a city, they spend their time quelling the populace.  In this sense, units conquering a city suffer disadvantages during the conquering process.  In game terms, this manifests itself as a reduction in defense values and an inability to attack.

If the conquering units is one of the initial units on the front lines, it can be expected the conquering unit will be easily defeated.  If enemy artillery lies within range of the city, the conquering unit's destruction is almost certain.

In our example, the blue infantry has moved in without supporting units and attempted a capture.  Red will easily overwhelm and destroy the blue infantry.

Step 2: Red Occupies the City
Step 2: Occupy

Instead of conquering, front line units should occupy the city instead.  The advantage of occupying a city is the unit maintains it's full strength and defensive capabilities.  While occupied, the city remains under the original owner's control, but the city cannot produce units if it is a production game.  This should continue until Step 3 occurs.

In our example, Red has moved into the city, but not set the unit to capture the city.  If attacked by Blue, red will have full defense available to it.

Step 3 & 4: Secured City and Capturing Infantry Unit
Step 3: Secure
Secure the area beyond the city limits with other friendly units.  Use the ZOC of the units to prevent enemy units from attacking the conquering unit.

By moving the Red infantry in the hexes facing the enemy units, the city is now secured.  This red line must first be breached before the blue units may assault the city.

Step 4: Conquer

Move the conquering unit into the city.  This will increase the likelihood of successfully conquering a city and minimize the overall casualty rate.

Failed Blue counter attack.
Red's gambit pays off.  Concentrating their firepower, the blue units eliminated a Red infantry and was able to penetrate the Red line.  However, this single attack was unable to destroy the Red infantry unit in the city.  Next turn the city will revert to Red's control, another victory in Red's plan to dominate the map.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Hex War Games - Strategy Part XV - Protecting Artillery

Alluded to in the earlier article was the necessity of protecting artillery, particularly through 'pairing'.  I received some emails asking for examples of what I mean, so this article will explore the concept further.

For this article we will make the following assumptions:
  • It is desirable to protect Artillery from attacks on the front and frontal-flank positions.
  • Artillery has a minimum range of 3 hexes and maximum of 4 hexes
Unpaired Artillery
In the diagram below, the artillery is unpaired. each artillery unit has its own guard of 3 tanks each to prevent the enemy from attacking the artillery units.

Unpaired Artillery
An advantage for this configuration is each artillery unit and its guarding units are autonomous.  They may move around the board as needed.  The major drawback is the number of units required to protect the artillery.  In limited unit games, it is nice to have as many units assaulting as possible.  This configuration requires 6 units be used to protect the 2 artillery.

Loosely Paired
Moving the artillery units just two spaces closer together, the artillery becomes 'paired'.  Paired artillery share the same guarding units.  In this case, the center tank is a shared defensive unit.

Loosely Paired Artillery
Although it seems like the center unit would be a weak point, for if it were to fall than both units are exposed.  However, it is actually a strong point.  Both artillery units can call down fire onto that hex directly in front of it, subjecting the enemy to a withering fire.  Lastly, this defense requires only 5 units rather than the initial 6, freeing up an additional unit.

Tightly Paired 
Moving the artillery units closer by a single hex reduces the number of guard units by one yet again.  The artillery units are now tightly paired, but now the number of guarding units is 4, freeing up yet another unit for other duties.  If the enemy were to assault the two frontal units, both artillery could be used to protect either unit.
Tightly Paired
Compact Paired 
A final configuration for protecting artillery units exists, the compact paired.  in this case, the artillery units use only three guardians.  The artillery units must be in adjacent hexes for this configuration to work, as shown in the diagram below.

Compact Paired
Although the guarding units are shown in a non-symmetrical configuration, they can be arranged with overlapping ZOCs if desired.  However, the shown configuration above does allow for 'leapfrogging' artillery (by one space) and still maintaining the defensive arrangement.  To perform the maneuver, the center tank would "shift" one hex to the upper right while the rearmost artillery and its flank covering tank move up one hex.
Compact Paired Artillery - Leapfrog Moving 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Hex War Games - Strategy Part XIV - Artillery Use

Artillery suffers from unique weaknesses and strengths.  Artillery requires time to setup, map its exact location, measure wind speed, etc.  The advantage of artillery is it can bombard at a great distance and bring incredible firepower to bear.

In game terms, for most modern games, artillery cannot move and fire at the same time.  Unlike infantry and armor, where it is simply 'commit and go', artillery requires some forethought to use properly.  Additionally, artillery is also expensive compared to other units.  This article will review the use and tactics of artillery.

Artillery Screen
First and foremost, artillery is not capable of surviving without units protecting it.  Infantry or armor can provide adequate screening units.  The idea is to keep the enemy from being able to engage the artillery in close combat.  Use of ZOC to limit movement of enemy units can provide this protection.
Effective and Ineffective Screening of Artillery Unit's by Using ZOC
In some games, artillery has a minimum range at which the unit cannot fire on units.  In this case, the ideal screen forces the enemy units to be kept within the artillery unit's minimum and maximum range.  With artillery support, units can form a more spread out defensive position as the artillery will bring firepower to points of critical contact with the enemy.

Unlike other units, which may retreat and advance at will, artillery requires knowledge of when an enemy assault will succeed and when it will peter out.  If an enemy unit or two advances within the artillery unit's minimum range and friendly forces cannot repel them, it is too late.  If the enemy attack would fail or be driven back, or if forces can be diverted to make it so, moving the artillery will waste at least two turns moving if it retreats too early.  This is situational, and requires experience in both the game system and the tactics employed, but the player must decide the right time to move.

Pair Artillery
One artillery piece is powerful, two is devastating.  Unlike other units, with the exception of air units, artillery should always be paired with another artillery piece, preferably two of the same type.  Pairing artillery provides many benefits including:
  • Simplified Logistics,
  • Leapfrogging Movement.
Simplified Logistics
Complex Logistics
In games with logistics, different artillery pieces may require different supply chains.  In these games, units with the same types of artillery may utilize the same logistics chain.  This means rather than protecting two independent logistics, a single chain may be protected.  In game terms, this means if a player has X units available to defend the logistics chain, all X may be used to protect the chain.  Alternately, if needed, some of the X units may be moved to the front line, replacing damaged or destroyed units and maintaining momentum at minimum loss to effectiveness.
Simplified Logistics
A major disadvantage of artillery is the inability to move and fire in most games.  Using paired artillery, it is possible to maintain constant fire on enemy units.  This is done by using one unit to attack while the other moves, thus the term 'Leapfrogging'.  
Leapfrogging Artillery

Leapfrogging can be used during an attack or a retreat.  When used in attack, artillery helps to maintain momentum of the attack.  Many times an attack will eventually lose steam, usually as the attacking units become damaged or destroyed.  At the beginning of an assault, artillery is within range and bombards the enemy units, minimizing casualties.  As the units advance, they outrun their artillery support, and the front line units become less effective faster, and become damaged/disabled.

Soon the assault pauses as the player must move weakened units out of line, reinforcements must move into their place, and the artillery moves forward to support position.  All of this gives the opponent time to reorganize and launch a counter attack against these weakened units which now lack artillery support.  Leapfrogging artillery helps maintain a constant stream of firepower to assist where needed.

In retreat, leapfrogging artillery assures the attacking units receive constant damage.  The concept here is to force the opponent to lose important units at critical junctures.  The loss of a single enemy unit can swing the tide of battle by shrinking the line of attack, exposing a flank, or breaking the attack in two.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Passing of the Great War

Today Claude Choules passed away at the age of 110 years.  Claude was the last known combatant soldier of The Great War.  To me, an event enters 'history' when the last person who can recall such an event first hand what the event happened.  Often times the person doesn't realize the significance of what was going on, or necessarily aware of all the details of the event.  However, having someone around who can recall firsthand 'what it was like' adds a bit of 'concreteness' to the event.

With the passing of Claude the world enters a stage where The Great War enters the history books from a combatant standpoint.  There are still those throughout the world that lived during the time of The Great War, but with the passing of Claude comes a good time to introspectively review the lessons of The Great War, examine how their efforts shaped the world as it is today, and offer respect to those who fought what (at the time) was the greatest conflict of all time.

To all the veterans of WWI, Claude included, I sincerely mourn your passing.