Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Steel Beasts ProPE 3.0 - Mortar Section Supporting a US Cavalry Troop

Back in July, I posted this:

Thanks to the magic of desktop simulation, it is possible to experience or just try out stuff your read in your military books. This weekend, after going half way through Warrior's Rage by Douglas McGregor, I wanted to go to the desert and command a US Cavalry troop. 

The particular topic that interested me is the use of a mortar section (two tubes mounted in M113 vehicles) in support of the troop. In page 26 of the printed version of Warrior's Rage, there is a mention of the use of this mortars to mark the enemy's position for the other platoons and to suppress the enemy while the troop maneuvers into a firing position.
This mission is in the desert, against the Iraqi Army. The original map is El Alamein (by manteuffel at the downloads section of slightly modified with some shrubs. Kilometers of open terrain, ideal for an armor battle.

I was about to play this custom-made, solo play mission in Steel Beasts ProPE version 2.654, but was reminded by blogger reader Koen about the imminent release of version 3.0. This newer version of Steel Beasts ProPE has proper M113s with functional mortars, and now is prime time to try this mortar support thing.

A Troop (blue icons) has to secure the crossroads at objective "Alamein". The crossroads are defended by mechanized infantry supported by tanks. The strength of the enemy forces is unknown, but no less than a company was reported at the crossroads.

Own forces:

  • 2 platoons of four M1 Abrams tanks each
  •  two platoons of six M3 Bradley CFV each. The platoon size is six instead of the traditional four, please see page 32 of Warrior's Rage.
  •  a section of two M113s equipped with mortars
  • support vehicles (ammo and repair)
A more detailed briefing is in the original post. I will not post it here to avoid duplication. I played this scenario and jumping from one platoon to other, as demanded by the situation, the shortcomings of the AI and just curiosity. Not the most realistic thing to do with a simulator, but fun nonetheless.

The starting position, from 5th Plt.

The view from a 5th Plt. gunner's TIS. The sensitivity of this thermal imaging systems is astonishing. In this case, those tiny little red specs in the horizon were so far that I could not get a laser range.

The first enemy contacts are quickly dispatched with TOWs fired from the M3 CFVs, but the two M1 tank platoons quickly join the fight. The tanks advance on our right flank, finishing up enemy scout vehicles and OPs.
The advance of our tank platoons continues unopposed, but a couple of kilometers ahead our armor spots the first enemy tank. The mortar section (vehicles above is called for fire support).

The flat desert terrain offers some modest opportunities for a semi-decent battle position. In this picture, M1 tanks trying to find one of those without interrupting the safety offered by speed.
The tactical map and our call for mortar fire on the first enemy T-72 (red icon).
The M113 mortar carrier, lashing out shells.
The mortar shells exploding in the horizon. At least two smoke billows suggest some degree of success, but it is difficult to figure out if the enemy casualties were inflicted by the mortar fire or just our M1 tanks.
To the east of objective Alamein, the terrain is dominated by a moderate hill. This hill is high enough to mask some enemy defenders from distant observation. Once the M1 tanks get up to that hill, they find themselves in a very close fight against enemy tanks.

This type of close fight is exactly what an M1 tank should avoid at all costs. But it is too late now, and the main guns spit sabot rounds with alacrity. No less than 8 enemy tanks are destroyed. Two M1 tanks are  lost on our side.

Unable to concentrate our armor or to coordinate a suppression mission with the mortars, we reposition under the protection of smoke. The brief respite allowed us to re-embark, more carefully this time, into the complete destruction of the enemy directly at our front.
We were in the process of making sure that no threats were around some of our M1 tank mobility losses when we got under fire from the west (our left flank).
An enemy armored counter-attack was in progress. No less than a company of T-72s were moving swiftly towards the south, using the main road. We engage these tanks from the distance, making liberal use of smoke to re-position for the best battle positions. With the T-72s moving across our field of fire, the good gunnery of the US crews paid high dividends. 
The other complication to our fire was the enemy targets sinking into small depressions of the terrain, negating us from using our previous firing solutions. We try to slow down the enemy advance towards the south with the use of indirect fire. In the image above, our mortars hard at work.

This is how it looks from the enemy's point of view. These tanks are advancing from left to right (note the main road), but have stopped to engage us. Mortar shells, US sabot rounds and the smoke of the T-72's own main guns all mixed together.
In the end, we could not stop the enemy tanks. They were just too many and continued their advance south, where a nimble line of M3 CFVs was anxiously monitoring our radio traffic. The mortar section proved to be insufficient to suppress an enemy formation of this size (an Iraqi tank battalion counter-attacking south, 12 T-72 tanks and mechanized infantry protecting the objective Alamein). I was left with the unscratched itch of using the mortars to deliver smoke. I wonder if that could have changed our tactical fate at the top-of-the-hill close fight.

If there is enough interest in this post, I have some extra screenshots on the action that took place after the Iraqi tanks broke contact with us near objective Alamein.



Anonymous said...

Excellent read and screenshots. Yes, please post those extra screenshots.

Doug Miller said...

JC - it seems two tubes weren't enough to suppress such a large force, but when considering individual enemy units, how successful was a mortar vs. a T-72? Normally I'd think an MBT would be fairly proof against most mortar attacks, assuming the tank is modern enough to shield the optics and is buttoned up. Of course, that might count as being suppressed...

I was playing a CMBN scenario a couple of months ago where a small group of US Airborne were being attacked by elements of a Panzer Grenadier regiment. I had bad luck with my 57mm AT guns, and was down to having nothing but a 60mm mortar to use against an advancing PzKw IV. I didn't expect much - but that 60mm dropped enough rounds on top of that tank that he reversed right out of range and into cover.

Worked great until I ran out of mortar rounds.

badanov said...

Mortars in a tank unit are considered general , not direct support weapons. US armor/mobile doctrine is that if your tank unit must deal with infantry, you call in your rifles, overwatch or bypass and let your infantry do their job.