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""Arc of Fire" allowance - how accuarte in linear warfare?" Topic

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FlyXwire31 Oct 2015 7:19 a.m. PST

I've had a question lingering on my mind between the accuracy of including oblique fire allowances in game rules, and whether this was commonly achieved on the battlefield, or able to be efficiently ordered during an exchange of volley fire between opposing battle lines……(not in reference to changes in aim from troops firing during skirmishing, but between formed/rapidly firing volley lines)…..

In many linear warfare rules, there's often an arc of fire allowance for aiming at enemy units off from the frontal aspect of a firing formed line is this accurate compared to 1) text book drill 2) if 1) is affirmative, to orders that could be efficiently commanded during the heat of battle (that is the re-directing of fire from front, to a different enemy unit left or right from what was the on-going volleying), and/or 3) the possibility to redirect a line's fire left or right once smoke from successive exchanges of fire might begin to obscure the battlefield?

The rub, might these allowances for oblique fire (by Regiments/Battalions) be a little too generous compared to the difficulty of actually executing such a command under battlefield conditions?

vtsaogames31 Oct 2015 7:47 a.m. PST

I believe well drilled troops in good order could do this. Remove either qualifier and all bets are off. Sword's "Bloody April ", about Shiloh, indicated that anything directly in front of a unit got shot at, friend or foe. But these were green troops.

steamingdave4731 Oct 2015 7:53 a.m. PST

Our little group has had this discussion recently. We haven't really come to any firm conclusions, of course. For ACW we use rules which only allow fire straight ahead, but we are currently working on a set of fast play, simple rules for 18th century and our current proposal is allow an effective extension of the line by one base width (3cms) at each end. A typical linear unit in these rules has a frontage of between. 12cms and 21cms. Any opposing unit straight in front of this extended line is considered to be a legitimate target. I have also played with a set for SYW (again home grown) where we allowed 22.5 degree arc to the left on the basis that it's easier for a line of men to incline muskets to the left than the right.
For what it's worth, I think linear units should probably only be allowed to engage a target directly in front, but life is full of compromises.

Timmo uk31 Oct 2015 9:00 a.m. PST

I agree it's a tricky one to definitely resolve especially since I think a lot of rules don't establish a plausible relationship between the frontage of a battalion and the effective musket range.

As an example, let's say our battalion of 24 model figures has a frontage of about 18 cm if based two deep on 15mm per figure and for arguments sake there's a command vignette of three more figures with this linear block. Let's also assume I figure equals 20 men and that each real man has an allowance of 24". So that gives us 480 in two ranks taking up a space of 480 feet or 160 yards. On that basis 1.125mm equals one yard, for simplicity let's say 1mm equals one yard. (if you get into periods like the AWI where the men often fought in loos files the whole issue becomes even more important as the unit frontage increase significantly for the same head count.

Therefore the extreme range of our miniature smooth bore muskets would be about 10cm or 4 inches. But that the unit might typically hold their fire until the unit was say 40 yards away or less, that's just 4cm on the table top. Most rules don't follow this and have chaps blazing away and scoring hits at a table top equivalent of 300 yards or more. Historically smooth bore armed units with good fire discipline would never burn off ammunition at those kind of ranges.

So to go back to the original question I'd say that unless a given rule set accurately reflects firing ranges to unit frontages the question of firing obliquely is not the real issue here. If our model units were firing at plausible ranges, then by the nature of things they would be firing at units pretty much directly to their frontage. It's because of the ambivalent fudges of many rule sets that the thorny issue of firing obliquely arrises in the first place.

If a rule set allows you to play at variable units sizes/figure ratios, say 1:10 up to 1:30 then as the figure ratio changes then so should the table top measured effective ranges.

Very many rules sets take the traditional view that having muskets firing about 12" looks about right relative to the size of the figures and at that point, unless the figure ratio and ground scale is reverse engineered back from that 12" (30cm) then the whole frame work is skewed into game territory rather than historically plausible wargame. There's nothing wrong with it being a game at all but by the same token it can't be said to be a really historically based game.

In short, use historical weapon ranges and the issue of oblique fire will probably resolve itself.

It's also worth considering that if the unit frontage is, say 160 yards, that a target to one side of our battalion is going to 80+ yards away from the other extreme flank of the firing unit and thus out of range. One way I've tackled this is exactly as noted above don't worry about angles but allow firing to match a base width on each flank as it's simple and easy.

This range/frontage issue has been addressed in some rules very effectively Le Feu Sacre for example. Critics of that game have sometimes said 'but there's no ranged combat,' having entirely missed the point that the units are firing at each other but at historical ranges not the war game regulation 12". ; )

The issue with artillery is different due to it's reach but easy enough to allow for with a traditional firing angle measurement.

A by product of this approach might see gamers adopting the historical tactic of trying to main the unit frontage even if that means thinning or extending the line. In our games that would ensure the best field of fire.

MajorB31 Oct 2015 10:26 a.m. PST

it's a tricky one to definitely resolve especially since I think a lot of rules don't establish a plausible relationship between the frontage of a battalion and the effective musket range.

The effectve musket range was roughly equivalent to the frontage of a battalion. In many sets of rules musket range is therefore far too long …

Jcfrog Supporting Member of TMP31 Oct 2015 11:01 a.m. PST

The length of a game turn might have a say: if anything like say 10-15 minutes at least, you unit can pivot a bit and unleash several volleys even if in line with others.
Always thought of 22.5-30 ok and easy to figure out.

FlyXwire31 Oct 2015 12:45 p.m. PST

Very insightful comments!

I experimented with this idea of requiring formed units (ACW company/multi-company stands in this instance), to fire directly forward, in a scenario based on some of the day-long skirmishing that occurred over the Bliss Farm at Gettysburg.

Here Union skirmish companies advance across the crop fields towards the Bliss Farm, supported by their formed reserve.

After the initial skirmishing died away, the opposing regimental troops from each side moved in to enforce final possession of the farm's buildings. I had occasional artillery fire from the opposite ridges intervene whenever enemy formed troops were deemed observed on the battlefield "below", from the [off-board] supporting batteries (units in skirmish order did not trigger this response).

I liked the tactical results. The skirmishing units, mounted as individual figures (as seen above), could fire up to 180 degrees with proper LOS (the combat results being computed from the total eligible figures firing per unit), whereas the castings on a formed unit's stands could only fire directly forward, but multiple company stands (if arrayed in line touching), could mass fire together (for the cost of the same single activation order that a skirmish unit would consume when firing). Within these results, the flexibility of the skirmish companies was demonstrated by their ability to use aimed fire in a wide area across their front, while formed companies (if arrayed together in line) could utilize their advantage of massed volley fire, but strictly ahead, however efficiently so (for the same activation cost of a skirmishing company firing). The prioritizing of what unit, or group of units to activate first, involved decisions around the flexibility of the skirmisher's firing ability (and rapid movement around/over obstacles), as opposed to getting formed lines arrayed to point forward towards an enemy unit(s) (requiring movement orders/cost to align), so to be able to utilize their efficient, massed, volley fire ability. This got the players involved in the "mechanics" of the evolving firefight, and about decisions of how best to bring a regiment into combat from the first skirmish contact, through the commitment of the supporting reserve, and finally with the remaining, arriving line.

vtsaogames31 Oct 2015 2:03 p.m. PST

What they said about unit frontage and musket range.

advocate31 Oct 2015 2:34 p.m. PST

Agreed about frontage and musket range. With respect to arc of fire, I generally prefer 'any part of target unit directly in front of unit'; bu an arc might include the unit wheeling before firing, as well as 'oblique firing', depending on the rules and level of micro-management you think appropriate in your rules.

Supercilius Maximus31 Oct 2015 3:37 p.m. PST

Another factor to throw into the mix here is that units – and certainly the larger ones – rarely fired battalion volleys, but mostly by platoon, (grand) division, or wing. During the AWI, it became quite common – both because of the terrain and the more fluid nature of the war – for junior officers to act in an independent fashion, so having smaller components of the battalion fire at units to their flank might be a junior officer's decision, rather than the unit CO as would have been the case in European wars where the battlefield was ore crowded.

A British AWI battalion averaged around 300-320 muskets and Continental units (post-Steuben) were fixed at 320 (160 files), so a platoon would be about 1/8 of that number – a German platoon would be about 60 files @ two-deep. With no threat to his front, a captain commanding a division of two companies, or a wing of four, could conceivably order his men to give supporting fire to a neighbour. Anything larger than that would require the battalion commander to consider leaving his entire unit "unloaded" – not to mention any manoeuvering required to bring all the men into range (I'm with the poster(s) who advocate a wheel first – the 52nd Foot firing on the Imperial Guard at Waterloo is my idea of what would most likely happen, rather than everyone firing to the side).

davbenbak Supporting Member of TMP01 Nov 2015 6:35 a.m. PST

I would be inclined to allow a very small arc, say 15 degrees on both sides. We forget that tactics were indeed linear and units generally did their best to line up directly against each other so as to maximize firepower. No unit would advance unsupported by either flanking units or a second line that could wheel and cover the flanks. It's only on the wargame table that we try to get two on one situations or try to sneak by on a flank.

FlyXwire01 Nov 2015 7:14 a.m. PST

Then perhaps a required wheel (for full-Battalion firepower), or a smallish arc off-line from the flank with an appropriate reduction in firepower might reflect these battlefield capabilities?

Wondering out loud, how common might it have been that any oblique fire capability was actually preceded by "refusing the flank" wheeling (by a platoon or company), in order to still "fire ahead" afterwards (but now off-angle from the rest of the line)?

spontoon05 Nov 2015 2:47 p.m. PST

Should only oblique fire to the left, or your ventflash will burn the bloke next to you on the right!

Supercilius Maximus05 Nov 2015 2:58 p.m. PST


Looking at your images posted above, something that struck me was whether it would be easier (and if so, how much easier) to get troops behind defences to fire off to one side, than troops lined up in the open. Would the lesser sense of vulnerability and the greater ease of resting the weapon, be factors?

Some rule sets suggest players agree which/how many bases can fire at a target not entirely facing the firing unit.

Returning to my earlier point about units not firing all as one very often, I agree with you that refusing/advancing the nearest flank should be incorporated in some way to fire in any direction but straight ahead ("straight ahead" being defined as a small angle say 10 deg either side of perpendicular, measured at the centre of the firing unit). Perhaps the unit then has to begin its next move disrupted (but not disordered I don't think it should be a morale thing unless it is a "vulnerable" unit eg militia) and re-order itself before it can move forward or engage another enemy to its immediate front, or move/fire with appropriate penalty.

FlyXwire05 Nov 2015 4:56 p.m. PST

SM, on your thinking of how terrain could be utilized (like walls and fences) by a formation, and how the rules would allow for an individual's "initiative" to take advantage of this, is one reason I started with the skirmish set Muskets & Tomahawks to work up this ACW mod-version that's pictured being played here. Expressly since that ruleset was free-form enough to allow for game tables with "skirmish-style" terrain fidelity (and of course because it's recommended to be played with individually mounted figures, which facilitates the conforming of miniatures to structures like walls, fences, and building interiors on the table).

From a rules design perspective, it was this idea of utilizing the physical difference between rigidly-mounted figures on a linear stand (which in this scenario I've played as either platoons or company units), as opposed to other figures individually mounted on single washers (a figure reflecting a 4 or 8 man "Comrades in Battle" skirmish element), that presented a mechanic to imply some of the tactical advantages of units able to deploy in looser order, versus those formed-up in close order (these later troops not necessarily trained to operate as skirmishers either, and thereby not able [or allowed] to exercise greater initiative for things like taking advantage of local terrain features/obstacles/cover if that would break up [as you say "disrupt"] their close-order formation).

Along this line (no pun intended), units (or sub-units) that were trained for skirmishing tactics (for the ACW they also used horns [bugles] to sound out orders when deployed and spread out along their frontages), I allow more actions to be performed by the skirmishing units per turn (akin to M&T's class-limits), but now specified by formation choice skirmish formation vs. rigid close-order formation, this granting more flexibility in the field & allowances for individual initiative and use of terrain by skirmishing stands [individual aiming too] vs. those maintaining a tight formation with the regiment's remaining formed-up troops and the loss of time that was inherently required redressing a line to keep this close order.

I'm sure along with this line of thought, similar game mechanics could be used for the AWI much depending on having the figures in ones collection mounted to do so (prime example Lt. Infantry mounted up on a formed line stand(s), and duplicate figures able to be deployed out as skirmishers, if the player tactically desires to do so).

Hey, not sure if I addressed your thoughts Supercilius Maximus, but I fired a load at it. ;)

FlyXwire05 Nov 2015 7:04 p.m. PST

SM, I also wanted to add that single formed stands can be individually ordered to fire by themselves, or to move on their own, so single units (companies) could for example be ordered to occupy some good ground away from the main body. The downside of this, is that it then requires individual orders to activate any separated unit these orders coming from a limited command pool available (this is a change away from M&T's unit-class-based card pull procedure). Since there's economy of effort built into a grouping of formed stands which are allowed to activate together for a single order action, there's a down-side to splitting off individual formed stands for independent action, but it can be done. Lastly, my mod version has Reaction Tests taken from where the casualties fall on inflicted unit stands, not collected up for a single line check, but by where the casualties were actually scored along the individual stands within a line. This way, a [regimental] line could break up in-game as a result of component units falling back due to their reactions to fire…….more command headaches occurring as a result of the once-efficient [united] battle line crumbling.

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