Monday, June 9, 2014

Turning the "Time Flank" - An Spoiling Attack in Conquest of the Aegean - The Theory, The Plan

No war game in my hard drive is out of reach for some degree of experimentation about real warfare. Some war games just fit better than others.

When it comes to land maneuver warfare, a few of these war games fit like a glove. Flashpoint Campaigns Red Storm, Scourge of War and all the games made by Panther Games are outstanding examples.

The vision and theories about land maneuver warfare compiled in Robert Leonhard's Fighting by Minutes are one of the most profound and exciting products of recent military thought. According to Leonhard, time is the primary dimension of warfare and the dynamics of the battlefield can be viewed and better appreciated under the lens of time.

Following such a bold premise, it is not surprising that Leonhard describes the existence of a "time flank" in addition to the two dimensional ones which are very familiar to everybody (i.e. left or right flank). In his own words (page 6):

An Army's lines extend only so far to the right and left. It has a certain finite depth as well. But an Army also has temporal limits that define its influence: an army is not always strong. There is a period of time before the army is ready to fight, and there is a period of time after it is no longer ready to fight. These boundaries in time represent the army's "time flank". The commander who learns to "turn the time flank", so to speak, will consistently overturn enemy defenses.

To learn and practice the concept of "turning the time flank" I went to this great old historical scenario in Conquest of the Aegean (CotA from here). The scenario is named "First Clean Break" and when played from the Allied side presents the player with a though delaying action. A brigade-sized force of British and Australian infantry and armor must delay a German panzer division. The scenario starts on 13Apr1941 at 0600 and ends on D+3 at 2300.

A bit on purpose, I chose an scenario where spatial flanking options are limited. As shown in the screenshot above, the area of operations is narrow and deep. The green (Australian) and brown (British) icons show the start position of my forces. My forces are dangerously forward and I would have preferred a bit more depth for this delay action.

In chapter 9 of Fighting by Minutes, Leonhard explains how to turn the time flank of an enemy force. For the time before the enemy force is ready to fight, a spoiling attack is needed. For the CotA scenario which I'm about to play, I chose to spoil the enemy's offensive by a narrow and shallow attack along its likely axis of advance.

Initial orders. See main text for a detailed description.
My force's deployment could have greatly benefited from a few outposts very well forward. Alas, this hastily assembled delay action offers no such luxuries. So I'm left to guess the enemy's course of action. Because the enemy is in a rush to break south, the highway (red line) is an option that the enemy at least will consider.

My objective for day one is to delay the enemy force at or near the river crossings shown in the map above. My brigade is highly depleted and my armor is not enough to confront a panzer division or to assemble a solid defensive line. A spoiling attack is almost a necessity and not an option. My most powerful formation is the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment and with this unit I will launch a spoiling attack across the river (white lines on my left errm ... flank). My expectation is to disrupt the enemy forces while they prepare to cross the river across the main highway. On my right, an assortment of infantry and support weapons are to assemble a hasty defense at the buildings and forts in Amyntaion. My center will be noticeably open. I hope that the effects of the spoiling attack by the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment will reach beyond the range of their weapons and that it will slow enemy attempts to cross the river at the center.

With all orders issued (not all of them mentioned here, like marching orders for a couple of battalions located 10 and 15 km back to the rear area), I hit the go button. Glued to the screen, I see friends and foes come to life and start moving across the battlefield. The battle has just started. For a few minutes I watch the enemy forces but can't discern what they are up to. Does my plan needs to be revised? I'm not ready to decide that. But I'm hoping the enemy finds all of his plans in need for drastic and time-consuming adjustments.

To be continued.


Johan said...

Very interresting, provided that the game/sim is modelling different levels of combat readiness during different times.

If you launch a spoiling attack, will the enemy be weaker than if you wait and let them attack, because they were not ready for an immediate fight?

Or will you have an advantage because you are attacking a single unit, and the enemy has not yet had the time to mass several units into a coordinated attack?

JC said...

Hi Johan and thanks for your comment.

The answer to your question is option number 2 in this scenario. Maybe both if you consider a battalion as the minimum unit able to do anything important.


Chris said...

Hi JC this is a really good scenario to try this out on. I've played it a few times and I have also attacked up the highway and across the river to break up the enemy advance. My goal though has always been to do that to prevent a concentration of German forces AND to extricate the Australian forces who are deployed N and NW of Amyntaion. Deployed them in the fortifications there is interesting (I always move them south to the higher ground south of Amyntaion).

JC said...

Hi Chris,

The forts work great if defending units can support each other. Otherwise is just too easy for the Germans to rout them.