Thursday, March 20, 2014

Steel Beasts ProPE 3 - Just Drive Down That Road Until You Get Blown Up

Reconnaissance. The redheaded stepchild of war gaming and combat simulations. Misunderstood, unappreciated and just plainly ignored sometimes ... Real war may have less fog than in many scenarios we play here and there. Thanks to the efforts of the scouts.

I understand the lack of gaming enthusiasm about the topic. If you are playing as the Soviets and shooting during a pure reconnaissance mission, most of the times is because you screwed up. And on top of that you are moving at a snail pace ... Unless you are in a particular part of the reconnaissance mission!

Take a look at this scenario. I am in command of a Soviet scout cars company and we are performing reconnaissance for a tank regiment which intends to quickly advance west via the main road depicted in the map below.

My company has just secured enough real estate to start the mission. Note how the patrols on the north (2nd platoon) and the south (3rd platoon) have moved west from the line of departure. The main road remains undone yet.
The terrain gained by the 2nd and 3rd platoon is very important for the whole company, because it provides some security/friendly territory from where to start the mission. Seizing and securing this territory may involve some fighting, but not in this case.

The next step is to determine where the enemy line is located, where the enemy is concentrated and (very important in this case for the tank regiment that follows) how far the enemy weapons can reach armored targets moving through the road.

So here is the fun part: I drive my scout car at top speed through the main road, which is off course a danger zone, looking to draw maximum range fire from the enemy.

The key to doing this is to be quick and to break contact as soon as you are shot at.

An enemy M1 tank platoon in the far background does not lend itself to chances and opens fire. A couple of rounds at first, then what it feels like a full four-guns volley. The long range and my speed protects my car and all the rounds fall around my vehicle without reaching it.

It is best to be on the lookout for the enemy gun's giveaways (smoke puffs) so you can break contact as soon as possible by moving into cover. In this case a modest fall provides just enough of it.

The enemy tank platoon's position is the red icon. I just marked their position in the virtual map with a black marker in case we loose contact. 
I immediately dismounted a scout from my vehicle. Never underestimate the ability of the "crunchies" to spot enemy vehicles. Note the US tanks in the crest of that hill.
The information we gained is good enough as a start, but off course we want to know the complete line of the enemy forces. I can't stomach to send another scout car down there to a certain and useless death. All the following recon efforts will have to be made from the north and south of the main road.

Dismounted patrols are great means to approach and infiltrate the enemy lines.
One fantastic thing that I can't recommend enough is to turn off the scout cars' engines and listen for the engines of the enemy vehicles. It works fantastic and you feel like a wild dog catching the scent of a prey.

As the reconnaissance continues, the enemy's tactical disposition should become more clear. It is a deliberate and slow process full of second guessing. There is a one kilometer wide gap of unknowns between the enemy's northmost and the units near the road ... The open terrain in front of them got one of our dismounted patrols killed.

The Soviet reconnaissance doctrine during most of the cold war envisioned reconnaissance units not doing too much fighting. The scout cars here have very modest means to engage the enemy. In this picture, we had issues even with enemy infantry in the open.



Doug Miller said...

I suspect I'm abnormal, but this is just the sort of thing I find fascinating. Recon really is under appreciated in wargaming.

Did you set up a timer on this scenario? Proper recon like this takes time, which most scenarios in games don't allow for. I'm curious as to what victory conditions you set.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunatelly like in real conditions gamers do not have the jack of all trades perk. I do love the idea but to be honest I do not know a gunnie who flies an Apache just after he finished foot recon. That is a human limitation factor. I'm always buffled by the balanc factor as it is against the nature of things but maybe it is some sort of solution for games.
To be honest this kind of plays are the sort of farming simulator. There are folks that love it. But the majority of players just don't have the time, knowledge or the skill. I love the ai recons. Serves the purpose.
I really enjoy your blog. Keep up the good work!

LL said...

It wasn't clear from your post, but you can also assign your scouts (or any unit) a "Scout" tactic on a route. With this tactic, if they see an ENY unit or take fire, they will assume a turret-down position, and if they take fire they will retreat back to their prior waypoint. You can also create more complex behavior and coordinate behavior across multiple units using the conditional-logic editor.

LL said...

Editing error in prior post: with Scout tactic, they will go turret down if they see an enemy, and will retreat to prior WP if they take fire. If you're interested in Soviet recce tactics, have a look at the relevant portions of FM 100-2-1 and TRADOC Pamphlet 350-16 (just Google them), which give a fair amount of detail.

Gibsonm said...

Good stuff.

Am tempted to launch about NATO (non US) recce techniques but we flogged that horse a few posts/blogs(?) ago.

Gibsonm said...

I must say though, having re-read it, that charging down the road has knobs on it.

Check the positions that dominate the road first, then you can send someone along the road to prove it (no obvious minefield or other obstacles.

Charging down the road is just "recon by burning call sign". Vehicle X got to there and died so something could overwatch that part of the road when he charged down it.

badanov said...

Soviet/Russian doctrine or not, you're not gonna drive your kiddie car down a road you know may be under observation by armor or artillery. Recce doesn't mean driving down a road with zero idea about what's around the bend.

I have played many miniatures games in which that was de riguer, and as a Soviet commander I did it without questioning its efficacy or effectiveness.

Recon doesn't mean DIP unless you're the rear guard.

JC said...

Thanks for your comments, gents.

LL, thanks for that. I was personally driving that scout car, but I will definitively try that out with a modified speed (scout's speed is low).

Mark and badanov: I've never been in neither a Soviet recon unit nor have access to their field manuals. However, I'm taking the word from (back then) Maj. David Ozolek, who was an OPFOR commander at the NTC.

In an article published in the 80s (Infantry, Mar-Apr 1986) he literally dissects the reconnaissance effort from what appears to be the Soviet perspective. In page 28 he writes:

"First, high speed patrols are sent forward to try to draw enemy fire at its maximum range. As soon as they see direct fire signatures, these patrols break contact and usually return with one very important bit of information -the limit of the enemy's forward ability to detect and engage armored vehicles. To do this, the patrols report their location at least every 500 meters until they make contact, so that if they are destroyed the reconnaissance company commander will know how far they got."


badanov said...

Sux to be Soviet recon.