Sunday, November 17, 2013

Steel Beasts ProPE 3.0 - Bounding Overwatch: Why, When and Where?

I played a very nice Steel Beasts ProPE 3.0 scenario ("Platoon Recon"), in which I commanded a platoon of 3 Leopard 2A4s in an armed reconnaissance mission.

This scenario is small but packs a lot of good punches against the player. It is small and allows the player to focus in its tactics. The enemy forces are randomized, so the replay value is above average.

The mission briefing follows.
Right click and open in a new window/tab for a better view. This is the mission briefing. In a nutshell, your parent unit is still shaking itself from a road march. Go and find what's up with the enemy.

The area of operations is a narrow (1.5 km) corridor of hills and woods.  The fight is expected to at close range. 
As stated before, in this scenario the blue forces are a 3 tank platoon of Leopard 2A4s. When it comes to tactical movement techniques, bounding overwatch  is a bit problematic because it requires dividing your force into two teams. In this case, one "team" would have just one tank.

I can't claim that I thought too much about it when I started my movement to contact without dividing my team and attempting a bounding overwatch. It was much the result of too much confidence, I guess.

Heading towards phase line Oder. I stuck my platoon to roads for the most part of the scenario, which is a dangerous premise in enemy controlled territory.
Engaging the first enemy victors. Just some BTR-80s, engaged from short stops. Note our formation type (column, in the lower panel info), we didn't even deploy into a battle position.
A custom I grew fond of is to put the tank in a turret down position and peek out from the turret as the commander. No thermal imaging, though. But at least the whole tank is out of the enemy's line of sight.
Scanning the terrain ahead with the thermal sights. 
Engaging some additional BTR-80s, which were retreating by that time. 
By this time, some BMP-2s have crossed our sights. The enemy gets stronger as we advance towards the objective.
We are leaning on the woods at the south flank of our sector. The are enemy IFVs we just destroyed have left a few infantry around so we steer out towards the center of our sector.
Contact! A Russian T-80U as seen from the gunner's position.  We lost a tank while deploying into a battle position.
We engaged a few enemy tanks and we succeeded. By now we are deployed and engaging from cover. This is another T-80U, concealed among the trees.
Right click and open in a new tab/window for a better view. We expected more enemy tanks to counter attack us, but they never showed up. We moved towards the objective and the mission was over.
After playing this scenario, I remembered this forum discussion thread at the official forums. This thread is about the usefulness of bounding overwatch when there is a threat at either flanks of the axis of advance, which is pretty much what happened in this scenario. You are welcome to endure reading it (it is quite a long thread) and weed out some entries with a high emotional load (people can be passionate about bounding overwatch, apparently). Many interesting things are said in that thread. One take home lesson is that terrain and enemy intent is a premium factor in deciding when and where to use bounding overwatch. In the discussion thread, there are many who argue about if using bounding overwatch at all. About this particular point of view of not using bounding overwatch at all, one fellow virtual tanker questions what's the point of using bounding overwatch at all if the tanks can fire while on the move.

I don't recall any of my tanks shooting while moving during this scenario. I recall stopping to fire each round because I didn't want to keep moving in one direction and having my main gun pointed into another. Maybe I should have kept moving and looking forward while my number 2 took care of the flank's threat/s. But in general, I have had very bad experiences with firing from the move in this type of terrain. The so-called "battle space" changes too fast while on the move and doesn't allow me to scan the terrain properly.

Note: FM 17-15 (Tank Platoon) defines "battle spaces" as:
... battle space is the three-dimensional area in which the platoon can acquire enemy forces and influence them with effective fires.

The one and costly casualty we suffered was due to lack of proper forethought and scanning before moving through open terrain rather than lack of bounding overwatch, I think. We were continuously engaging targets on our flanks. Bounding overwatch may not have cut it. But I make no excuses for my loss of one tank: I should have visualized the terrain better and envisioned what the enemy could do with it.

As seen in this debrief screenshot, our fellow tank fell to a flank shot.
Another flank engagement. This time against a BTR-80 on our left.

The same situation as above seen from the target's point of view. Note the close range of this fire exchange (we are in the background).
On the bright side, we had no issues hitting and destroying the enemy tanks.
Another great shot. Despite the precise gunnery, this turret didn't blew up to the sky.
I recall shooting this round. The trees were concealing most of the enemy tank and that right chin was all I could make out of this target.
As a parting comment, please take a look at a very old post I made back in 2010 about this very issue of bounding overwatch.

TacNuggets #1: Overwatching and Overlooking Battle Spaces



Johan said...

Hi JC,

very interresting that you brought this up. I took part in that thread on the SB forums (my username there is Razor), so it's very nice getting your thoughts on the subject. I'm going to have to re-read that old post you linked to too.

JC said...

Hi Johan,

Glad to see you here, thanks for your comment. I didn't know you were Razor there. :)

Saw your post back then and it was a great point you made. Indeed, I am playing something in ArmA 3 that goes great with your point.

And kudos about being a reader of that 2/5th Marines site ... :)

See you around,



Johan said...

Thanks! That Arma 3 thing sounds very interresting, I hope to read more about it in a future blog post.

NW said...

Good post. The T-80's turret wouldn't have punched the clouds because the round wouldn't have gone into the automatic loader's carousel and I guess this time you didn't get incidental secondary penetration into the magazine either. Nobody in that turret is having a good time; instant conversion to burnt raspberry jam I should think.

Is this a default scenario or a user made one? I'd like to have a shot at it.

I tend to be quite cautious on recces like this, using the "[blasphemous expletive] [my callsign] hurry the [expletive] up" method where we go turret down, scan the bound, then come hull down and have two vehicles cover the third as it makes a high speed sprint to the next position, then joined by the second vehicle, then the third, and rinse and repeat. As they fill in on the new position they take up flank security, based on "what's the most dangerous thing the enemy can do?"

Snorri recently released a gorgeous Leopard 2A4 skin you may want to have a look at.

JC said...

Hi NW,

I love your line:
"Nobody in that turret is having a good time; instant conversion to burnt raspberry jam I should think."

That's a default scenario ("Platoon Recon", in the single player directory).


Julio Cabrera

NW said...


Thanks! I play a lot of custom scenarios so I haven't gone into the default missions too carefully yet. I will, it's not that I think they're low quality or anything, I just get excited about other missions I read about and download.

In terms of custom missions in line with this mission (limited recce), I suggest "Boyevoy Razvedtel'niy Dozor", a Soviet combat recce patrol involving a T-72M1 platoon and a BRDM-2 against an H-series US ACR squadron.