Sunday, June 29, 2014

Planning for Hunting Bears

It's been a very busy few weeks this month! Today is the first day since returning from Origins that have had the time and energy to blog. When I can, I'll blog some about the fantastic time I had at Origins. Today, though, I want to apply some of what I learned at Origins, specifically from the wonderful Staff Wargaming sessions run by Dr. James Sterrett and Mark Graves (USA Retired).

Specifically, I'm going to apply the planning approach we used during these sessions to the first US campaign scenario from Flashpoint Campaigns: Red Storm. I'm partial to doing this with Flashpoint Campaigns because it's really perfect for this sort of planning. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Jim Snyder and Rob Crandall of On Target Simulations at Origins and discussing the game with them as well as using it during the Staff Wargaming sessions. I'm going to run through the process of terrain analysis using OCOKA, develop several potential enemy Courses of Action (COAs) and then plan my defense based on those COAs. To begin with, lets get an overview of the battlefield.

An overview of the battlefield in Google Earth. The Soviets will be advancing from east of Buchholz toward the western edge of the map on the route to Bremen. Note that the game map stops on an east-west line just south of Schierhorn-Tostedt.

 It's time to do some terrain analysis. I'm going to use the OCOKA method, which stands for:

  1. Observation and fields of fire
  2. Cover and concealment
  3. Obstacles (and mines)
  4. Key Terrain
  5. Avenues of approach
Looking at the map above, the features that dominate the map are the town of Buchholz and the gap to the west through the line of hills running north and south. In considering Observation and Fields of Fire, observation east-west is pretty much constrained by that line of hills. There looks to be another line of hills to the west. Between the hill ranges is an open area. That area is most easily accessible (and can probably be somewhat observed) via Buchholz and the gap behind it.

View east from Trelde through the gap toward Buchholz. It seems that Buchholz slopes down to the east. The gap, as expected, is bounded by high ground north and south. That ground should have excellent observation of and fields of fire into the western side of the town and the gap itself.

The high ground to the north of the gap looking south. Buchholz is to the left. As expected, excellent observation and fields of fire!

Looking from Buchholz west through the gap. Forces in the town can observe the gap, the high ground, and almost back to the far range of hills. The plain behind the hills is very accessible.

View from Schierhorn toward Holm-Seppensen. A likely view of the next largest town on the map from the perspective of a Soviet recce unit.
To the south of Buchholz lies the town of Holm-Seppensen, the second largest habitation on the map and also directly in the path of a potential Soviet advance. Like the area around Buchholz, there are some locations with excellent potential for observation.

Looking roughly southeast from high ground in Holm-Seppensen. This height provides excellent observation of most of the approaches to the town from the east.
While we can't walk the ground, some careful analysis of the game map, Google Earth, and using Google Earth to get some views of the terrain similar to what we'd get from a scout helicopter has revealed a number of good positions for observing large areas of the map. We'll need to keep those in mind as we continue our analysis.

Planning map with OCOKA graphics. You might want to open this in another browser window or tab to view it full size.
I've marked up a planning map of the battlefield with some graphics to complete the terrain analysis. In terms of Cover and Concealment, there are large areas of wooded terrain, particularly on the hills that offer good concealment and some cover. The towns and villages on the map will provide excellent cover and concealment, particularly to infantry.

To the east of Buccholz and north NATO has emplaced a line of mines and obstacles (red chevrons). Its important to note that no such line of man-made obstacles extends south from Buchholz toward Holm-Seppensen. The town of Buchholz itself, with its three bridges and water course is also an obstacle to movement east-west, particularly if defended. There are a few large roads/highways through the urban area, however.

The wooded hills and streams shown on the map are the obvious natural obstacles. I've used red "X's" to note areas that seem to me to be the primary obstacles on the battlefield.

Many of the obstacles are also Key Terrain (green checks). Buchholz, the bridges, and particularly the wooded hills are all key terrain. Key terrain is terrain that can give the side that holds it an advantage in the battle. Remember of survey of Observation and Fields of Fire? Note how many of the areas we looked at are also Key Terrain.

After analyzing all of the above, some fairly obvious Avenues of Advance become clear. From the north to the south they are: 
  1. The forest road from Sieversen to Eversen-Heide, and on toward the bridges at Moisburg,
  2. Along the A1 from Nenndorf to the critical bridges at Hollenstedt
  3. Through Buchholz to the N75 and southwest to Tostedt
  4. Through Holm-Seppensen and then north to Sprotze, and then southwest along the N75 from Kakenstorf to Tostedt.
There's also possibly a route from the Holm-Seppensen road west along the K75 to Todtglusingen and then through Tostedt but I think it unlikely to be used, since part of the route involves going cross-country. If no other path exists it's a possibility, but Soviet formations speeding west will want to stay on roads as much as possible.

The green stars on the map are the games Victory Locations. Virtually all of them are positioned on one or more of the Avenues of Approach described above.

Three possible Soviet COAs
Our next job is to try and think like the enemy commander, and determine, first, at least three likely Courses of Action he might take, and second, what key indicators will help us identify which COA (if any!) is actually in use. In this scenario the Soviet mission is to transit the map from east to west, taking the majority of victory locations (er, capturing tactically valuable ground) and exit forces off of the west map edge (continuing the drive on Bremen, the ultimate objective).

Based on my terrain analysis and keeping in mind the Avenues of Approach I identified along with my understanding of the enemy mission, I've come up with the following three COAs:

  1. COA-1: North - Soviet main effort follows the A1 autobahn through the woods and aims to capture the bridges at Hollenstedt. Forces to exit the map along the west edge along the A1.
  2. COA-2: Center - Soviet main effort to push through Buchholz and the gap to the west, and then along the N75 southwest to Tostedt. Forces to exit the map at the western terminus of the N75.
  3. COA-3: South - Soviet main effort to seize Holm-Seppensen and move northwest to Sprotze. From Sprotze they will move west to Kakenstorf and then southwest along the N75 as in "Center."

I don't think the route along the northernmost forest road at all likely. It's a smaller road through forested terrain and while it does provide a route to the western map edge, there aren't many Victory Locations along that route. It would be easy for a small force to tie up the Soviet advance in those woods. Even if they punched through, they'd be leaving NATO in control of the much more valuable real estate south.

I believe the most likely COA is COA-2: Center. This COA provides the Soviets with the most open path to the west and touches the largest number of tactically significant locations (VLs). The most dangerous COA is probably a simultaneous advance along COA-2 and either COA-1 or COA-3. I suspect, based on the size of my force (a brigade combat team, coming in over the course of the scenario) that I'm facing a Soviet battlegroup of around Division size. As such, trying all three routes probably spreads their combat power too thin (one regiment per route). An attack by a pair of Tank Regiments, each along one route with the most successful attack backed up by a Motor Rifle Regiment (MRR) is very possible.

It's unlikely that COA-1 and COA-3 will be the paired attacks. This approach leaves the two Soviet forces too far apart to easily support each other. Doing this would be like fighting two separate battles at the same time, an unlikely approach for a Soviet commander.

Some key indicators of where the actual COA is are:

  • Concentrated artillery targeting NATO units along the route of the COA,
  • Strong tank forces in contact
  • Infantry following the tank forces
  • Airstrikes along the route of the COA
A combination of these any one of these along with the presence of the tanks is a strong confirmation that the attack in question is the Soviet main effort. On discovering the main effort my plan will need to be adjusted to bring forces to bear to disrupt it.

Plan based on terrain analysis and COAs

Therefore, my plan needs to account for the following:

  1. COA-2 will almost certainly be part of the attack. It will either be the main effort or will support either COA-1 or COA-3 as the main attack. I need to position forces to deal with this COA.
  2. COA-1 and COA-3 has to covered by sufficient forces to slow the Soviet advance if they turn out to be the main effort. Once the advance is slowed I can reposition forces from around Buchholz to defend against the advance along COA-1 or COA-3.
  3. Even though the northern forest route is unlikely, I need to screen it with some recce troops in the event that Ivan gets clever.
My plan then is as follows:
  1. Companies A, B, and C of the 3-41 Infantry will position on the high ground north and south of the Buchholz gap and in the village of Trelde. These companies will be tasked with stopping any Soviet advance west from Buchholz.
  2. Companies C (mech infantry) and D (armor) of the 4-41 will position in the high ground in Holm-Seppensen to stop any Soviet advance along COA-3. 
  3. Company D 3-41 Infantry (armor) will arrive after an hour or so and position along the N3 south of the A1. Artillery will emplace FASCAM mines along the A1. D Company will cover the minefield with fire to slow or stop any advance along COA-1.
  4. TF Scout Section 1 will position in the covered high ground north of Holm-Seppensen. This allows them to cover the road and bridge leading from Buchholz to Holm-Seppensen. Scout helicopters will provide observation for forces in Holm-Seppensen and the Scout Section.
  5. TF Scout Section 2 will locate in Eversen-Heide and Sieversen to screen the northern flank of the TF and conduct counter-recon along the northern forest road. The section's scout helicopters will conduct observation of the A1 and areas east of the hills north of Buchholz.
  6. Reinforcements will be assigned to support forces in contact as the situation develops.
The above is essentially a Warning Order for elements of the 3-41 and 4-41 Infantry battalions, the primary US forces under my command at the start of the battle. With that done, let's go see how well my plan works...