Wednesday, March 17, 2010

TacNuggets #2: My (AT) Gun is Bigger than Yours

It was about time for a second tactical snack!
(or for a new post, for that matter. I've been quite busy with other unhealthy distractions, like my day job)

Today, the sad story of how my borzois got trapped in a badly deployed defense line.

The game: Achtung Panzer Kharkov 1943
Topic: The use of AT guns in the defense.

Please click "read more" to see the full entry. Plenty of screen shots inside.

This is a quick battle scenario. I play as the Russians (1 infantry platoon, 4 AT guns) defending the village of Timchenki. The Germans have a PzGren platoon and one medium tank platoon.

You may need to click the image above to see it expanded and read the names of my units. The Germans are advancing from the far background (around the two German flags). The Mzha river runs between the Germans and our position. The main bridge across the Mzha is marked with a "*" sign in the image above. Unfortunately, the Mzha is fordable at many points near this bridge. This means the Germans may appear anywhere. I've chosen points A, B and C as the main ones from where Germans may appear. "A" is a small bridge. The Germans could also avoid using this bridge and approach the village with a flanking maneuver ("C" mark in the image). "B" denotes an approach the Germans could take by fording the Mzha river at one of the points in the background.

So, I will play (and die) by the book today: "Combat Instructions for the Infantry of the Red Army, Part I/Soldier, Platoon and Company" (November 1942). This publication has a short section about the use of AT guns.

Paragraph 225: The principle duty of the 45 mm antitank gun in battle: Combat against armored vehicles and tanks ...

Paragraph 227: The separate guns are always attached to the infantry. The gun commander must always know the combat mission and objective of the infantry and coordinate with them [...]. Before selecting a firing position the gun commander studies the terrain and selects a primary firing position and three to four alternate positions.

Paragraph 230: The infantry should not block the field of fire and impede the firing of the gun [...] The infantry commander must always help (cover by fire) the gun when it is changing position

Paragraph 240: To combat tanks the gun takes up a firing position in the main battle line or in the depth of the defense position in tank proof terrain and works together with the neighboring guns.

Paragraph 244: In the defense of a village the gun is positioned in houses, basements, or barns; firing ports are made in the walls, and the walls are reinforced with sandbags or other means.

In APK43, I cannot do something like the thing described in paragraph 244. Although getting my guns within the houses may have helped my troops to survive, I think our defeat was due to a fundamental flaw in my planning.

So, getting back to the birds eye view above (make sure to click it so you can read the names of my units) I positioned my AT guns in a semicircle, more or less within the village.

Sheiko's sector of fire covers any German forces approaching through "B"

Loginov's sector of fire covers any German forces approaching through "A". Since this gun is close to Sheiko's, Loginov is expected to move to a secondary firing position to deal with Germans advancing through "B". That little barn in the right flank of the gun provides some cover and concealment.

Goncharov's, hopeless in terms of cover and concealment, is located in the main road of Timchenki. It's sector of fire covers any German forces approaching through "A"

Chernyshev's sector of fire covers any German forces approaching through "C". I liked the initial position of this gun. Located between two houses, it was almost in a keyhole position. Almost ...

The anticipation of waiting for contact almost killed me. The Germans were spotted and heard moving on the far side of the Mzha river. For a time, I couldn't figure out what they were doing. Anxiety levels soar. Finally, two tanks appeared through "C". Sure enough, the worst place they could appear ...

Chernyshev redeploys his gun for an ambush in the main road. The blue icons are two German tanks. An infantry squad is positioned in a house down the road.

And this is one important thing I want to emphasize: AT guns are meant to be moved around if not under fire. That thing of primary and secondary firing positions is really true. 

Given the lack of threats advancing through "B" Sheiko and crew moves his gun towards the other end of the village. I should have deteailed an infantry squad to protect this gun, but given that we are already in deep caca with enemy tanks at the gate, it would have been difficult to figure out who protects who.

Regarding the mobility of AT guns, the physical strength of the Russian soldier is not to be ignored. :)

Back to the battle: Chernyshev has positioned his gun to deal with the two tanks. He and his crew get a chance of a good shot, but it doesn't get through the tank's armor. The German tank, probably damaged, pulls back into the cover of the houses, not without firing his machine gun onto the AT crew.

The enemy tank ("Ott" icon) gets hit and pulls back into cover. Its return fire was deadly.

The second tank ("Altrichter" icon) tries to flank what is left of Chernyshev's crew and gun. Underserved, the AT gun doesn't get a chance to fire a shot.

They never had a chance.

The German tank passes through Chernyshev's destroyed gun.

Because blowing it up was not enough, the German tank smashes the AT gun. Damn you Altrichter, I hope you throw a track!

After this, all went south. My defenses were penetrated, 3 out of 4 guns were already destroyed.

Goncharov's gun is no more.


I quited the battle before the shame of a defeat screen.

Some quick bullet points about what I think did wrong:
  • These separate AT guns I had at my command should have been used in support of the infantry. I used them the other way around. Defending this village with a platoon of infantry was impossible, at least in the way I planned.
  • I positioned the AT guns in the main battle line, but my main battle line was too thin and easy to flank.
  • Failed to work out a fire plan where the AT guns support each other.
  • Failed to position my AT guns in tank-proof terrain. AT guns are no close-combat assets. Take a look at the ranges that were used during Chernysev's actions. 
A better way to defend this village would have been positioning my troops in the neighboring woods. Destroy the tanks and IFVs and then mop up the remaining German dismounts.



stephen said...

I find AT guns are best deployed in mutually supporting positions. Combine the AT guns and infantry. Never take armour on from the front. Position the AT guns and even tanks to flank the likely routes.

Dont forget to rearm/repair units between phases.

Dont get encircled as you dont get repair or reinforcements.

Great game, really enjoying it - roll on operation star. See the Russian demo is already out.

JC said...

Hi Stephen,

Thanks for your comment.

Spot on!

Anonymous said...

Excellent writing. I am yet to master the art of using the russians in a sane tactical way. I have postponed playing the campaigns for now and instead concentrate on playing customized quick battles to sharped my abilities on different tactical challenges. The AI in this game keeps on surprising me in a good way.

Olav said...

Keeping an eye on these articles...

Just got the game.

Bas said...

Here the same observations: AI is more than competent and I have to learn, to master, the art of concentrating my forces to achieve one objective at a time and not disperse them ;-(

Like your articles!

JC said...

Thanks for your comments.

@Coredump: playing quick battles is a great idea. I'm doing the same for a quick fix. But I already had a taste of the campaign and let me tell you, the campaign gives the tactical battles a new flavor.

@Olav: are you liking your new game? Dude, I just got CMSF to work again. Weird.

@Bas: I hear you. So much terrain, so little troops to cover it.


Alexander said...

Somehow i like reading about loosing battles. :)

JC said...


LOL. So stick around, then. You won't be disappointed. :)


stephen said...

Playing the Soviets is great fun but difficult. Remember:


use these

surprise - them not yourself

concentration of force - kick dont splatter

unity of command - maintain morale and unit cohesion

offensive action - attack, ambush

economy of effort - use the minimum of forces to achieve objective

logistics - if their surrounded they are out of supply. Did you rearm and resupply between phases?

Deception - lure them in the direction you want them to go then strike from behind

Dominate and control the battlefield

Olav said...

JC, so far Ive discovered that you can do what I call "blobfight" your way to victory. At least as the germans.

Simply group all your mech units together and click where you think the enemy is :P

(I think some call it Schwerpunkt just to be fancy...)

It works too well. Im worried if its too gamey or

Olav said...

Oh and feel free to send a CMSF pbem... I miss you out there... :)

mikko said...

Nice little AAR! :) Enjoyed it.

What comes first to my mind is that your ATGs were too far apart from each other, especially Chernyshev. This nugget of tactical wisdom brought to you by me. :D But this particular setup seems like a good challenge, a good, open map, and only 4 ATGs to cover the expanse.

I might be interested in buying this game, after all.

JC said...

Ey guys,

Thank you so much for your comments!

@ stephen,
Very good tips. I've taken note on those.

@ Olav,
Meh! One thing I like about this game is that you can select multiple units, give them a single waypoint and they don't loose formation. Very useful. I will send you a turn sometime this week.

@ mikko,
Absolutely right. My deployment was attrocious. The game is cheap by today's standards, you won't be disappointed.