Monday, June 30, 2014

Hunting for Bears - The First Hour

This is a continuation of a series of posts using Flashpoint Campaigns: Red Storm to illustrate the use of the Military Decision Making Process in planning and conducting a battle in a wargame. At no time should anyone be under the illusion that I claim to have sufficient grasp of this that I could lead actual troops in so much as a barbecue. This is how I use these tools for gaming. The first post in this series is here.

At the end of my last post things were just about to kick off in the battle for Buccholz. Before we crank the track engines though, let's take a quick look at a couple more concepts useful for planning: Engagement Areas and Future Ops.

Planning map with Engagement Areas and future plans marked.

If you recall, I've place the three mech infantry companies of the 3-41 Infantry in positions to overwatch the gap west of Buchholz from three directions. Likewise, I've placed two companies of 4-41 Infantry on high ground in Holm-Seppensen in a position to observe and fire on the stream valley to the southeast. What I have in mind is that these are both areas that I anticipate the enemy entering and where I'll have a good field of fire where I can concentrate force - and ideally they'll be at something of a disadvantage. These two areas are where I intend to engage the enemy,  or Engagement Areas. In the map above I've marked them "EA Buffalo" and "EA Toledo."

When planning, it can be helpful to mark these on the map so you have a good idea where you want units to open fire and concentrate their firepower. Knowing where your engagement area is can be important so you don't open fire too early with one unit, causing the enemy to deploy before he's in range of or observation from the rest of your units. In all honesty this concept isn't quite as useful in FPC:RS, because you can't tell your units to hold and open fire, but you can arrange them (as I did here) to make use of the concept.

Its's also important to realize that your planning doesn't stop when you have your initial positions and strategy picked out. The battlefield is a chaotic, fluid environment and "no plan survives contact with the enemy." Even if things are going well, you're likely to be getting reinforcements, and you need to know what you're going to do with those before they show up on the battlefield. Deciding on a whim when they arrive will probably have them headed to a hot spot - and that might not actually be where you need them to do the most good.

This is known as "Future Operations" and is actually the domain of a staff officer, the S5. The S5's job is to develop contingency plans, to survey the action and anticipate how current plans will need to change in a few hours to stay relevant, and to make plans for the arrival of reinforcements. Here I've planned for the arrival of several reinforcements: first, D Company of the 3-31 Infantry, which will move down the A1 and take up positions to overwatch the autobahn as it crosses a wooded ridge, and two artillery batteries of the 4-41. The artillery batteries will stay in place and provide fire support.

The battlefield in the pre-dawn darkness. As we start the scenario we find a substantial Soviet force nearly in our faces to the southeast of Holm-Seppensen. These guys are already sitting right on the edge of EA Toledo. 

The center and north of the map are clear. Note that due to setup zone restrictions, A, B, and C Companies of the 3-41 are positioned in Buchholz. I'll have to order them to move to their battle positions. I also intend to use the company HQ units to blow the bridges in Buchholz to slow down any Soviet movement through the town. FPC:RS doesn't have dedicated Engineer units (yet) and this seems the most realistic way of representing them.

In the dark, the Soviets can't spot my units in Holm-Seppensen but thanks to thermal imagers I can see them. Immediately 4-41 starts to claim kills in EA Toledo.

At the end of the first US order cycle, just under 30 minutes, it looks like my plan is working well so far. Strong tank forces, at least three battalions and about a Motorized Rifle Battalion (MRB) tried to push across the Seeve and attack Holm-Seppensen. In the dark it was a shooting gallery for the soldiers of C and D Companies of the 4-41. At the cost of one Bradley and one M1A1, they rendered what looks to be a Tank Regiment combat ineffective. Red crosses denote Soviet unit kills.

The Scout section positioned to the north of the town was also able to observe what looks like another MRB headed north toward Buchholz. The attack at Holm-Seppensen displayed signs of it being a major effort by the Soviets. The MRB moving north may indicate that the Soviets intend on attacking using both COA-2 and COA-3. If that's the case the attack at COA-3 has been dealt a serious setback.

Claimed kills at the end of about 30 minutes. 4-41 killed 166 enemy units in EA Toledo, 90 of which were tanks and 25 of which were APCs. Even more damaging are the 14 HQ vehicles destroyed. That's most of a tank regiment.

Moving into the next order cycle. The Mech Infantry platoons of 3-41 are in position. The HQs have blown the bridges and are ordered to perform hasty moves to join their companies. None of the recce units can see the enemy yet here in the center, but smoke columns on the horizon make it obvious that the Soviets have hit the line of mines to the east of Buchholz. They're on the way.

There's no indication that the Soviets are trying to use the A1 to advance westward yet, which is lucky since I have nothing positioned to stop them. My scouts on the forest road are trading fire with Soviet recce units, though.

End of the first hour in the Holm-Seppensen sector. Another tank battalion tried to get across the Seeve, supported by elements of a MRB. I think these were remnants of the attack by the reinforced regiment earlier. A few tanks made it as close as 500 meters from the positions of the 4-41, mostly because my soldiers are tired and some of the tanks are out of ammunition. The Soviet artillery has come online too. Between that and the improved visibility letting the T-80s shoot back, the 4-41 took more casualties than they did in the first order cycle. In the end the attack went nowhere though.

In the Buchholz sector, things are heating up. A Soviet Combat Reconnaissance Patrol (CRP) reached the position of the southern bridge, destroying the section of the 522nd MI placed there to observe movement and taking out part of the HQ of C/3-41. At least a battalion of T-80s is pushing south along the N75, where they wrecked the HQ platoon of the 522nd and killed all the vehicles of the HQ of A/3-41, which is now in danger of being trapped and destroyed. Only the HQ for B/3-41 manages to move out of Buchholz without casualties.

3/A/3-41 is positioned on the high ground north of the gap such that it can fire on the advancing tanks, and it kills several. Return fire wrecks over half the platoon's vehicles and infantry, unfortunately. Meanwhile, C/3-41 takes revenge for the HQ casualties and kills the entire CRP at the south bridge.

In the north sector the recon/counter-recon fight goes on. More ominously, a second CRP speedbumps the last section of the 522nd MI and captures the eastern objective along the A1. Usually where there's a CRP there are more Soviet units following...

Overview at the end of the first hour
I've stopped the Soviets at Holm-Seppensen for the moment. That part of the plan worked well. Around Buchholz my infantry are in position, HQ's racing to get to shelter before the Soviets throw bridges across the streams. I'm prepared to hit them in EA Buffalo - but how strong a force am I looking at? Will the 3-41 be enough without tanks?

D/3-41 has arrived. I'll need to move them quickly to get them into position to stop, or at least delay whatever is coming along the A-1. Fortunately my two artillery batteries have shown up and can support my thin lines.

I have had strong tanks and infantry in the south, supported by artillery. I see tanks and infantry at Buchholz; not as much as I saw south so far, but this may be the tip of the iceberg. Both COA-2 and COA-3 seem to be in effect. I don't know enough about COA-1 yet. The presence of a CRP may just be a probe to see if the path is open, or it may be the precursor to a full attack. I may be dealing with all three COAs being in effect. Time for the S2 (Intelligence) and the S5 to put their heads together and work out some contingencies.

Part three is here.