The scenario: Buron - The Main Event
The question: Infantry Tank? What for?
Continued from the previous entry. Spoiler alert: you may want to skip this entry if you are going to play this scenario.
The infantry tank, a concept of the UK and French during the interwar years, was intended to be a dedicated force multiplier for infantry formations. As such, it was to be heavily armored (at the expense of speed) to survive the hazards of close combat and armed with enough punch to effectively support the infantry. In the UK, such line of thought gave birth to the Matilda, the Valentine and the Churchill.
Unabated doctrinal sways on the employment of tanks (with or without infantry) was the trademark of the Commonwealth high command during the year that preceded the landings in Normandy. More or less, the common theme among all the field manuals, pamphlets and notes were:
- Infantry tanks formations (so called "army tanks") had different training and doctrine than other all-tank formations
- An almost obsessive emphasis on narrow sector widths and tank to infantry ratios (one battalion of tanks per battalion of infantry)
- The use of three echelons during the offensive: assault, support and reserve
- Tanks have to support the infantry in close combat if needed (i.e. tanks should not bypass an enemy-occupied village if the the latter is holding up friendly infantry). Sorta, please see below.
- An enemy with a lot of skill and resources for anti-tank warfare (mines, obstacles and AT guns)
- A massive switch to the venerable Sherman tank, with far less thick armor than the so-called infantry tanks
Yeah, the Commonwealth forces were not in Kansas anymore during the summer of 1944. The Germans had backed up a bit from their defensive tactical tradition of extensive and deep defensive belts (outposts and main lines of resistance) and bunkered themselves into a thin layer of tank-proof villages with tank trenches, minefields, AT guns ... The works! The Germans kept true to their doctrine in destroying the enemy by fire from their positions shallow but well concealed positions and in counterattacking with armor that was held back as a reserve.
Boy, what a nasty tactical sludge to throw your infantry and thinly armored Sherman tanks into! Accordingly, the last pamphlet before the Canadian forces were ordered to start Operation Charnwood suggested that the tanks should stay back and support the infantry by fire.
And so we go into Buron in Combat Mission ...
I already explained the plan: punch a tiny hole in the perimeter of Buron, gain a foothold, expand it towards the depth of the town and roll in fresh troops for clearing the objective. The first encounter of my troops was a German tank destroyer that the Sherman Vs couldn't take out. It was only after my only Sherman Firefly rolled into a hull down position that the German armor was destroyed.
|A German soldier in the edge of the town (own troops in the background). The outer edge of Buron offered almost no resistance.|
|The fight thickens. This screenshot is taken from the German side. A Canadian section just reached the edge of the town and got under fire from a MG hidden in a house. The tanks in the background offered immediate fire support.|
|Clearing houses is off course an infantry task.|
|Narrow streets, treacherous terrain for both the dismounts and the armor.|
|Where the town was a bit more open, the infantry and the tanks moved at the same pace.|
|The amount of suppressive fire a single tank can offer is staggering. These soldiers are moving thanks to the fire of the|
|This other German tank destroyer, spotted by my infantry and promptly dispatched by my armor.|
- I thought one company of infantry was enough to make a deep dent into victory. Not so. The right side of the town remained controlled by the enemy. Clearing built up areas sucks up a lot of troops.
- A tad more planning is needed to move through a town if armor is involved. Even when my tanks were just four, I had some backups which could have ended in a disaster.
As for the original topic of this two entries (infantry tanks and tank-infantry cooperation):
- This scenario didn't feature a German opponent with enough AT assets to repel my forces. A couple of tank destroyers but no AT guns, no ditches, no minefields (at least in the sector I attacked).As for infantry-borne AT weapons, maybe I just destroyed them by fire with the tanks (I made liberal use of suppressive fire all over the town).
- Once my forces gained a foothold in Buron, the tactical pace of attack was entirely determined by the infantry
- Despite some miscarriages of route-planning, the Shermans provided a mobile and overwhelming source of suppressive fire. By the time the tanks were halfway through the town, my heave MG crews were still chugging their butts towards the town.
Unfortunately, it looks like this topic of the infantry tank role will take other scenario to play ...