Saturday, November 5, 2011

North German Plain 85 / Steel Beasts ProPE - The Futility of Battle Position 1

Good commanders lay out their plans from maps pinned to walls, great commanders lay out their plans from the saddles of their horses.

To everybody's relief, the Soviets had planned to move near Coppenbrugge, just where battle position 1 (BP1) was waiting for them. But the cost of the first engagement was to be high ...

0814. Tanks spotted moving near Coppenbrugge. The men at observation post 1 (OP1) watched the first Soviet tanks skirting the outer edges of the city and moving northbound rapidly.

The view from OP1. An enemy tank (right) and following platoon (left) are circled in yellow.
The orientation of battle position was not optimal for this enemy axis of advance (see map below), but nonetheless 1st Platoon, A Company (3 Leopard A4s) was ready to counter a threat from the flank.

Situation at 0815. Soviet tanks near Coppenbrugge.
The first exchange of tank fire was at 0817. 1st Plt, A Company in the northern edge of BP1 engaged a lone T-72 tank north of Coppenbrugge. What it should have been a quick disposal of the Soviet tank, the poor gunnery of the German crews f@#$ed it up into the first casualty of too many.

Composite illustration of the Soviet T-72 that fired an AT-11b Sniper (top) that sliced the turret's upper hull of a Leopard 2A4 (bottom). The green line shows the trajectory of the round (from an in-game AAR feature of Steel Beasts ProPE). The missile likely ignited the contents of the ammo compartment.

A short time later, the Soviet T-72 was finally destroyed. The red line is the round trajectory. A platoon of T-72 can be seen in the background.
The Soviet T-72s that followed the first one were engaged promptly. At first, two T-72 platoons, then an additional one. The fire exchange was bound to be swift, loud and decisive. By the time the two T-72 platoons were occupying hull down positions in front of 1st Platoon, A Company, Soviet artillery rounds started falling on the latter. This caused a huge firepower setback as 1st Platoon withdrew some 300 meters to avoid the indirect fire. 2nd Platoon advanced to acquire the Soviet tanks and did destroy 5 enemy tanks. Unfortunately, an additional Leopard tank was destroyed in exchange. By this time, the first German indirect fire missions were hitting the Soviet positions. No enemy casualties, but the few surviving T-72s had to halt and pull back for a short while. With the respite gained by the German artillery fire, 1st Platoon moved back to the front and destroyed an additional enemy tank. The price for that single enemy casualty was another Leopard tank ...

In the center and in the southern edge of BP1, the events were also disheartening. This portion of BP1 had tanks with their guns aimed directly west of Coppenbrugge. Much to the crews' dismay, the first rounds fired at Soviet tanks moving west through Coppenbrugge had found their targets but with no effect. It turned out to be that the rounds were hitting in the wrong spots. A sustained volume of fire from the German tanks didn't make too much of a difference (just one T-72 destroyed after a total of 3 hits). Modern tank warfare is merciless: you fail with your first two shots and then you are certainly killed. The enemy tanks responded in kind and one additional Leopard was destroyed in the center of BP1.

0824. The norther edge of BP1 has fallen silent, as if the surviving Soviet tanks were re-grouping. In the center of BP1, the things kept getting hotter by the minute. A sustained fire exchange between opposing tanks was a side show to a German indirect fire mission that destroyed 1 T-72s and 1 BRDM and damaged 2 T-72s within Coppenbrugge. The Soviets fired at the center of BP1 with fanatical contempt. Then, at 0825, Soviet indirect fire in the center of BP1 forces the German tanks to fall a hundred meters back.
Leopard tanks from the center of BP1 firing at ranges up to 3 km.
A close call to a Leopard tank in BP1 (green arrow is an enemy ground missile hit).
The whole BP1 was rendered obsolete. The Germans had lost fire superiority and the order to withdraw towards PL Mohawk didn't surprise anybody. What was surprising is that the individual platoons disengaged and withdrew simultaneously. It was a mess ... At certain points it looked like a rout. What was left of Company A moving west in column with their rears facing towards BP1. No single platoon took the role of covering the withdrawal of their fellow platoons. It could have ended with the loss of the whole company but fortunately just a single Soviet tank showed up to watch this.

The rear tanks of Company A withdrawing towards PL Mohawk. The Leopard in the right has just destroyed a single T-72 tank in the background.
The balance of this first engagement was truly disappointing. A battle position that neither netted enough enemy tanks nor delayed the Soviet tide long enough, an attrition rate that can't be held for longer than 20 minutes and a poorly executed withdrawal that could have ended in disaster.

It was 0827 and the Germans have lost 4 out of their 13 tanks. In comparison, the Soviets have lost just  spare change (9 tanks).



gibsonm said...

So did you not manage the withdrawl (or did the AI just displace the whole Coy)?

JC said...

I had conditional ("retreat if") orders on pre-plotted waypoints for each platoon. Of course the guy who fucked up the entire withdrawal was me giving the "proceed" order to every single platoon at the same time.

gibsonm said...

Ah well better to learn here than in a shooting war. :)

JC said...

hindsight is always 20/20

James said...

Other than the messy withdraw do you think the defensive line was effective? I thought you might employ small counterattacks rather than straight up displacement and repositioning.
Either way this has been very entertaining!!! :)

JC said...

Hi James,
The thing in this scenario that limits a lot of your freedom of action is that you have only 13 tanks. :)

More is coming stay tuned.


Anonymous said...

An intersting idea, I'm really intrigued how the battle will unfold further.
I am not very familiar with Steel Beasts inner workings, so I'll ask a couple of questions.

First of all I'm very surprised with your choice of BP.
Putting up a head-on fight against at least a battalion without even dug-in positions? Leopards are great tanks but everything has it's limits as this short skirmish had shown.

"Liddell Hart once compared a successful offensive to the flow of a stream of water in a hilly landscape, avoiding points of high resistance and eventually succeeding finding a way through low ground."
He is surely right about real life, but in game, I suppose, it's not about crushing the enemy will to advance in a select direction, it's about killing all the tanks he have already sent along pre-computed path, right? 9 burning tanks would make even a Soviet commander nervous and willing to try other routes. But not a computer, I think. Or is AI so good that it can alter an axis of advance?

From my point of view Bessing seems to be an excellent BP1 candidate. From there Leopards could have made flanking shots and attrit enemy faster than he could concentrate enough firepower to deal with panzers. And somewhat short range provides security against AT-11 missiles which outclass even 120mm L\44 in range. Retreat would be tricky, but nothing impossible with preplanned smoke missions. So, why not Bessing?

And what is the reason behind leaving L425 uncovered? The terrain is no doubt rough, but as the saying goes "The best tank terrain is that without anti-tank weapons". Slowly but steadliy whole regiment could have made it through and attack along K16.
It seems like a perfect place to use short-ranged Milans to their best effect against vehicles and soldiers crossing the ridgeline. Trees would also provide a variety of ambush positions for dismounts. That's a classic reverse-slope defence - the enemy would have to come up piecemeal, unable to put his whole firepower on your units.

Anonymous said...

Hello Anonymous,

1) About: "... but in game, I suppose, it's not about crushing the enemy will to advance in a select direction, it's about killing all the tanks he have already sent along pre-computed path, right? 9 burning tanks would make even a Soviet commander nervous and willing to try other routes. But not a computer, I think. Or is AI so good that it can alter an axis of advance"

I created the routes for the Soviets in this scenario.
You are totally right: losing tanks would make any attacker doubt whether his plan is the right one or not.
It is possible to simulate this in SB to a certain degree - but I did it only partially:
* Some Soviet units will go for a plan B, and alter their routes, if key terrain (in their opinion) is held by NATO.
* What I did not implement, was the possibility that the Soviets decide to halt or even retreat, after X % of losses (that can be a fixed or random %).
Why not implemented: not enough free time to do so - maybe later.

2) About your other comments: over to JC for that for now.

Best rgds, Koen

JC said...


What most people are not appreciating here is that I am in command of just 12 or 13 tanks ... Not a pretty prospect to face 72 tanks with such a tiny force. Compromises had to be made.

For BP1, you are totally incorrect in saying that BP1 would force me to face a Soviet tank regiment at once. Coppenbrugge itself is not the best terrain for the Soviets to deploy. Indeed, the first contact was against just a Co. (+). My error was not counting on such a strong Soviet probing north of Coppenbrugge. The tanks that I had to counter that were just flank protection, and I payed dearly for that miss-assesment.

In any case, BP1 was part of a delaying mission (see tactical plan). I had no plans to engage decisively from BP1, neither I was forced to stay there for 15+ minutes. Poor decision making on my part on when to withdraw ... And how I withdrew too!

Bessing is a very poor choice for a battle position. You can surely bag some tanks from there, but any Soviet tanks moving west from north of Coppenbrugge (as they did in the last blog entry) would get a great covered approach to fire positions aiming at Bessing. A battle position at Bessing would also make it trickier to withdraw: fire from the north and who knows what is in store from south (route L425).

The L425-K16 approach is only observed for the time being. Your "classic" reverse slope defense at L425 is a no go. You must not forget that you have to bring your troops up there from 4+ kilometers away, maneuver them in restrictive terrain (surprise! terrain restrictions also apply to your troops) and deploy in something less than 10 minutes.