Monday, September 7, 2009

Advancing Through Hilly Terrain (Tank Tactics)

This entry is a continuation from a previous one that dealt with some of the problems of cresting hills while moving to contact or conducting reconnaissance. In that previous blog entry, an M3 Bradley CFV/M1 Abrams MBT hunter/killer team was moving north and had a hill between them and enemy-held terrain. I'm using Steel Beasts ProPE for this write up.

If cresting hills is not a good idea, what is one to do then?

As one of the faithful readers of this blog (thank you Alan for visiting!) commented in the previous entry, the key is moving like the flow of water. Move around hills, not through them. There are many variations of how to do this and I'm going to write only about the one I'm most familiar with.

Please see a graphical representation in the next figure.
  • Of all the members of the hunter/killer team, I've chosen the main battle tank to move and watch ahead. It's always better to make contact with the enemy with the most survivable platform. You may be wondering where all the buzz about the M3 CFVs acting as hunters went, but remember that this situation the hunter/killer team has a moderately small area to cover and is moving ahead as a team instead of separating themselves into different roles
  • Below the hill, the tank moves following a contour line of the hill, preferably the lowest one. In the figure below the movement path of the tank is represented by the big blue arrow. The small blue arrows fanning out the big blue arrow represent the orientation of the turret.
  • The two M3 CFVs provide over watch while the tank moves. They cover the terrain in front of the tank's axis of movement and the right flank. At this stage of the drill, the two M3 CFVs are represented in the figure by big blue arrowheads. The small blue arrows fanning out from the blue arrowheads represent turrets orientations
  • As the tank moves across the countour line, successive sections of enemy-held terrain can be scanned with the tank's TIS. The first terrain sections to be visible will be the ones around the "C" label in the figure, then the ones the "B" label
  • If enemy units were located at "A", "B" and "C", the tank would make contact with each, one at a time. Compare this to cresting the hill and making contact with all enemy units simultaneously
  • Once the contour line around the hill changes direction, so does the the direction of movement of the tank. The tank re-orients along new direction of the contour line, stops at the tip of the big blue arrow and waits for the M3 CFVs to occupy new overwatch positions (red arrowheads in the figure)
  • The tank now moves again along the contour line (big red arrow in the figure), scanning the western side of the terrain labelled "B" and eventually the terrain labelled "A"
"Tank Rush", the US Cavalry version. Click the image for an expanded view.

There is catch to this. If contact with the enemy is made the tank will be showing not its front but its left hull side to the enemy. Always keep in mind that the tank's best armor is located in its front. So be ready to quickly pull back into cover when contact is made (see figure below). This will allow you to re-orient behind the cover of the hill and then engage the enemy from a hull-down position.

It's better to be nagged about a damaged gearbox than to be awarded a posthumous Purple Heart. Click the image for an expanded view.



Alan Giasson said...

Great write-up, it illustrates coming around a hill very well, Thanks for the article

Gary Owen said...

I was taught that movement techniques, mounted or dismounted, can be placed on a spectrum with one pole being speed, the other security. Dug-in with 360-degree security or a coil formation on one end, balls-to-wall motor-marching on the other. You choose whichever technique (travelling, travelling overwatch, bounding overwatch) based on how the tactical situation requires you to compromise between speed and security.

That teaching sounds well and good. But it does require an understanding of what security means. These many years hence from when I was taught this stuff as a young cav scout, I reckon a good enough definition of 'security' is 'not letting anything surprise you.'

In your example, your bounding element (that tank section) is moving like water through the low ground. That's good, but your supporting element (the scout section) is wasting an opportunity to provide good security.

The terrain feature you've identified as 'hill' has a saddle along the spine of it western spur. The supporting element could orient in a turret down position on the south side of that saddle, dismount observers and have them move up to the saddle. From that OP they could observe your areas of interest 'A', 'B', & 'C'. If contact were to be made, the Bradleys could move to engage from the defilade. From that position the bounding element is covered up to vicinity the spur at 'C'.

Using this technique is a compromise. It will take more time to dismount the observers. But it will provide security and help to avoid a surprise contact from the flank.

JC said...

@ Alan,

Thanks for your comment and for reading the thing. Great to have you around!


Man, that saddle over there ... I saw it like two days after I posted this thing but I thought I could get away with the entry as it is. :) It doesn't surprise me that a real Trooper pointed that terrain feature and its proper use.

Thanks for reading this, it's an honor to have professionals like you shining a light on how it's done in real life.


Gary Owen said...

Thanks Chelco.

Here's something else I noticed: your comment that "its always better to make contact with the most survivable platform." That might be thinking about things the wrong way. It's like you're psyching yourself up to take rather than hand out an ass-kicking.

When you expect contact, it's always better to make the initial contact with the smallest possible element. See, for example, FM 3-90 paragraph 4-1. That way you've got time and space to manuever your main body in response to the contact. This is the principle behind having a pointman on a dismounted patrol or having a cavalry unit screen a main force.

In your example, it may be possible to make initial contact visually with your crunchies. Using ordinary care, they may be able to stealthily (without themselves being seen) observe the danger area and identify any bad guys. If you do that, you needn't worry about your tanks facing the wrong way. You can position them so that they can fire as soon as they have clear line-of-sight.

JC said...


Thanks for your comments. I really appreciate having a pro reading this stuff.

As for "making contact with the most survivable platform", you got it. I am always in the receiving end of the first rounds fired when contact happens. It's statistical! :)

On a serious note, I've been a bit too spooked about MTCs after some time commanding light British forces in Combat Mission Shock Force.

Your point of dismounting and observing is excellent. How do you deal with the limited observation the dismounts have (no TIS, etc)?


Gary Owen said...

CM:SF may be a great game. But it's certainly not an armor simulator. I wouldn't draw too many conclusions from it.

As far as handling dismounts, the amount of effort you put into using them in this context depends on the speed/security balance required by the situation.

In this particular situation, at the very least, you'd want the Bradleys overwatching the danger area before the tanks transit to the next position. Bradleys can fire TOWs from turret down positions. If you are careful, you should be able to sneak them into a position from which they can observe and engage the danger area. If you've got enouhg time, you should stop the Bradleys short of the crest and dismount troops. Have the troops sneak up to the crest and do a quick look. If you've got time, kill your enginges and use the troops to listen. One thing that SB has always done well is sound. You can determine distance and direction from sound cues in SB. Move the troops around a little bit and observe using the bino view from different locations. If the troops don't have contact, then bring the Brads to turret down and scan with thermals. Depending on the terrain and situation, you might want to leave the troops out as local security for the Brads or mount them back up. In either case, you've visually cleared the danger area and are positioned to provide support fire for the tank section's move. That amount of security cost you a couple minutes.

JC said...

Hi GO!

Oh, don't worry about CMSF. I figured out its lack of fidelity for armored combat since day one. :) Gamey as it is, I'm still spooked when it comes to moving around IFVs/AFVs.

I've never had thought SB had such good audible clues. Thanks million for the tip. I'll check it out.

If you don't mind another question: how spread is the use of that trick of the CFV commander standing on top of the turret/hull, high enough to observe ahead with the binos and with the vehicle in a complete hull down position?


Gary Owen said...

I was always taught to keep at least 'three points of contact' while on an AFV; either both hands and one foot or both feet and one hand. That habit got fairly well ingrained during normal work in the motorpool and when on the range.

I once had a platoon sergeant, who while sitting in the turret basket pass-thru between the turret and cargo compartment of a Bradley, was injured when his gunner quick-slewed the turret think that he had spotted something. The platoon sergeant had shunted the safety sensor for the turret basket door.

No matter how well I trusted my gunner, I'd be reluctant to get up on my tippie-toes on top of the turret to get a look around. It would be much easier to just have the driver inch forward until I could either see what I wanted or felt that I was too exposed. If I felt that I was exposed, I'd just do a quick dismount and crouch up to the crest.

Of course, though, I was a 19D. I never got freaked out by getting a little mud on my boots. I've seen 19K's, however, go for weeks without dismounting. (There were always some crews where you could easily ID which of them was the loader -- he was the only one with mud on his boots.) So maybe there are some tankers that would pull that trick.

JC said...

Hi GO,

Thanks for your comment and sorry for the late response.

What you say makes sense. It wouldn't be safe. I just can't recall in which FM I saw a figure about the thing. Let me search a bit better.

So, you were a 19D? That explains a lot of your comments. Kidding :)

Another question: is your website? I read a lot from that site. Would you mind if I make a blog entry on it?


Gary Owen said...

Yeah, that site is my little SB fanboy/vanity project. I'd be flattered by any criticism or comment on it.