Sunday, January 18, 2015

Assaulting Jenin

After an extended excursion into 16th through 19th century warfare over the past couple of months, nearly all of which I played PBEM, I woke up one morning last week with a burning desire to return to the world of armored warfare. It might have been triggered by the extended Decisive Campaigns: Case Blue PBEM game I'm engaged in, but whatever the cause, I needed tanks.

Not just any tanks would do, however. I coerced my frequent PBEM opponent Jim into playing Flashpoint Campaigns: Red Storm and that's a ton of fun, but what I really wanted was to learn more about the greatest armored clashes of the post-WWII era: the Arab-Israeli Wars.

My armored task force at the Line of Departure near Jenin in 1967. The triangles mark the path half the force will take during the initial advance on the town. 


While I remember the Yom Kippur War in '73 and the '82 Lebanon War, I'm a bit young for the Six Day War to have made much impression on me, and I wasn't even born yet for Operation Kadesh in '56. To me these have always been "things that happened" but that I wasn't very knowledgeable about. As often happens with me, suddenly I wanted to understand them, in detail. Also, tanks. Lots and lots of tanks!

And the route of the southern half of the tasks force. The northern group is made up of three tank companies, mounted in IDF M51 "Super Shermans." The southern half has two tank companies and an armored infantry company, mounted in M3 halftracks.
 My tools of choice are the John Tiller Software game Middle East '67 and Prosim's The Star and the Crescent. The JTS game is part of the Modern Campaigns series, derived from the esteemed Panzer Campaigns Series. The game is on a slightly larger scale, however, and feels "more operational" than the PzC games, if that makes any sense. I'm having a good time with it but craved something a little more tactical; hence the Prosim title.

About 25 minutes after crossing the LOD. Already my advance is out-of-sync. The northern force is moving much faster than the southern one. A hidden vehicle on a hilltop south of my northern line of advance has picked off three tanks while Jordanian artillery has accounted for a fourth (blue X's).
Pat Proctor's Prosim games are diamonds in the rough. They are fantastically realistic simulations of modern armored warfare. They are not particularly polished as games, though, and because they are so realistic, they  will kick your ass. You are mostly going to lose playing these. I know I do.

Unfortunately updates and new games seem to have stopped coming from Prosim. Pat himself is an active duty military officer, and the last time I interacted with him he was actually in Afghanistan. Since then he's had another tour in Iraq fighting ISIS and he's finished a PhD. Not much time for wargame development in there!

Forty minutes in and the northern force is at the Objective Rally Point for the assault on Jenin, while the southern force just pokes along.  Courtesy of artillery I've eliminated some of the Jordanians, but in turn have lost another three tanks. I can't hold the northern force much longer; I need to get it out from under the artillery.
These simulations are more or less the planning and force management parts of Steel Beasts Pro PE without the tank driving part. Somewhat like Command Ops the player doesn't micromanage individual vehicles or small units very much, but rather plots lines of advance and issues orders for missions to formations. Very specific instructions as to formations, SOP behavior, timing, and loss tolerance can be provided to your units.

An hour in and I've launched the northern half of the assault. The lead tank company is beginning to take a toll on the defenders. Resistance is significant, though. I try and suppress them with artillery.
If you are a map geek like me, the maps are to die for. The maps in The Star and the Crescent  are actual Soviet era military maps. You can shown either the contour map or a colored map with visible relief. In some games you can lay the color map over the contour map for the best of both worlds, though this isn't the case in TSATC.

A close up of the assault. The grey markers are IDF casualties while the black represent Jordanian losses. My lead company took sufficient losses that I've consolidated the survivors with the next company in line. I've breached th obstacles and neutralized the defenders, however. The door to Jenin is open.
The games also come with extensive scenario editing tools. I haven't played with these but there are a number of additional scenarios that can be downloaded from the Prosim forums at game publisher Shrapnel Games. Sadly, the forums are mostly silent these days as most players have left due to the lack of activity.

An hour and ten minutes in. The northern force has entered Jenin after destroying all of the Jordanian forces to the northeast of the town. The southern force still has yet to consolidate on their ORP! My route planning down there clearly sucked. Meanwhile I'm beginning to see evidence of another IDF task force advancing from the southwest into Jenin.
While not for everyone the games are quite serviceable with the most recent patches. If you decide to pay the hefty price Shrapnel continues to ask for these you're going to get a very sophisticated and challenging armored warfare simulation. Be ready to be frustrated though. As evidenced by the battle depicted in this post, it is very difficult to do even simple things in war, and these simulations reflect that.

The southern force is finally moving. They should have a pretty easy time of it, since it looks like that other TF cleared out a lot of the resistance south of town (green markers).
The other reason I picked up TSATC  is that is focuses on the events of the book I'm reading: Duel for the Golan: The 100-Hour Battle that Saved Israel. While the game does cover some pre- and post-1973 battles, the emphasis is on the actions during the Yom Kippur War. This tragic conflict is absolutely fascinating for the student of modern armored conflict.

Zoomed in view of the southern assault. the tanks meet initial resistance outside of the village of Umm-et-Tut. For some reason the M3s have not been able to keep up during the entire attack.
I'm eager to try some of the Golan Heights scenarios in the hopes they will help me better understand the actions described in the book. The scenario depicted in this post is actually the tutorial scenario for the game. That's almost certainly why I'm not getting destroyed.

Jordanian resistance has been overcome at the cost of a tank and five M3s. In all cases it was Jordanian infantry that did the deed. The M48s were no match for the modernized Shermans with IDF crews.
I quite like how the map views in this game can go from a very high level overview to a very close low-level detailed view. I suspect in future scenarios I will need to provide more detailed tactical direction at this detailed level. The detailed map views are excellent for this. It's also possible to task organize your force by dragging and dropping platoons between companies. In certain situations this can be a critical factor in winning the scenario.

Thirty minutes later it's all over. The Jordanians have been swept from the town and I've preserved enough of my force to hold it.
Next up, I'll cover JTS Middle East '67. This too is a fine game and an excellent tool for understanding these wars in the Middle East.