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"Rifle Fire - difference between defence and assault " Topic

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GreenLeader12 Mar 2017 11:27 p.m. PST

Something which I have not seen a set of wargames rules tackle (at least, not that I can think of) are the inherent differences between the effectiveness of rifle fire from troops firing from prepared, defensive positions, and that of troops trying to storm such defences. I think that, by overlooking this or not giving it sufficient importance we wargamers risk ignoring one of the most fundamental changes in warfare during the 'age of rifles'.

Many rules will make troops who are occupying prepared defences somewhat harder to kill, but this is only one side of the equation: I feel their firepower should be much, much more devastating that troops who are not holding such defences. The reasons (in comparison to troops advancing in the open) being:

They will be firing at known distances (range pegs placed / rocks white-washed)
They will be firing from prone / braced positions
They will not be winded / jostling about
They will most likely have plentiful ammunition stocks close to hand
They will be firing at targets in the open

It is my feeling that it should be nigh on impossible for assaulting troops to blast defending troops out of prepared positions with ranged fire (one of my pet hates in wargaming) and rather the best they can hope for is to suppress the defenders enough to permit the trenches to be cleared with the bayonet.

So how much more effective should defensive rifle / machine fire be than that of the troops assaulting? Though it will vary from situation to situation, I would be tempted to make it somewhere between 3-5 times as destructive: so if troops who are moving in the open fire with one dice (for example), the same number of troops holding prepared and well sited positions should roll 3, 4 or even 5 dice.

This might seem a little extreme, but there are numerous examples from history to justify it.

Do any rules do this already? What are the thoughts on it? Does just giving a '-2 to hit in trench' really cover this reality sufficiently?

Mako11 Supporting Member of TMP13 Mar 2017 12:00 a.m. PST

I agree with a number of your points, though some may not apply:

- firing distances – depends upon how long they've held the position; and

- ammo may or may not be plentiful (depends upon the nation, unit, battle, etc.). What's their logistics system like, assuming they even have one?

I suspect this is part of the reason why a 3:1 attacker to defender ratio is normally considered to be effective against a defender, and 5:1 in a city.

In Mosul, currently, the attackers supposedly have a roughly 20:1 advantage, and total air superiority/dominance, and yet the battle is still progressing very slowly, after more than 3 months of conflict.

Personal logo Martin Rapier Supporting Member of TMP13 Mar 2017 12:04 a.m. PST

Yes, 3 to 5 is about right.

In Great War Spearhead, once you take the various modifiers into effect (counting suppression as half a kill), the relative loss rate of a dug in rifle company to rifle fire is 8% whereas advancing in the open it is 50%. The dug in troops can only ever be suppressed.

In earlier periods the differential is less marked, but in my grand Tactical late Nineteenth Century rules, the firepower differential between entrenched defenders and assaulted is 2:1, but the defenders also have half the loss rate, so the actual differential is 4:1.

In both cases, you need artillery support and/or lots and lots of suppressive rifle fire.

Once you are into the twentieth century, light machine guns and mortars provide effective suppression.

GreenLeader13 Mar 2017 1:40 a.m. PST


Of course not all the points will apply in all cases. I think we all pretty much agree on the 3:1/5:1 'rule of thumb', but I am wondering how many wargames rules really take it into account in terms of defensive firepower, not just in things like '-2 when shooting at troops in hard cover'.

Martin Rapier

So if I understand this correctly your entrenched defenders roll 'double the number of dice' when shooting, compared the number of dice thrown by troops advancing in the open?
I would very much like to see your rules are they available, or just for home use?
As you rightly say, later in time when LMGs, mortars, smoke and / or night attacks become commonplace and yet 3:1 was the rule of thumb I was taught in the army in the 1990s… so perhaps it should be closer to 5:1 during the 'age of rifles'?

KTravlos Supporting Member of TMP13 Mar 2017 2:33 a.m. PST

what level of analysis are we talking here? Are your units platoons? comapnies? battalions? Regiments? Brigades?Divisions?

goragrad13 Mar 2017 2:58 a.m. PST

I just websearched and got back the 3:1 discussion I started on TMP back in 2012.

Back to the point attributed by Shaara in "Killer Angels" to Longstreet that with the advent of the rifled musket a defender could kill one attacker and wound another before the attackers could reach the defender's position in a close assault.

Deja vu all over again.

You posted a fair number of words on that one Martin.

Never did determine whether Shaara made up the quote either. But it was an interesting.

Sorry to tangentalize this thread.

Vimy Ridge13 Mar 2017 5:01 a.m. PST

Mako11 if you meant the Rules that Martin mention – Great War Spearhead – they are available here –


ChrisBBB13 Mar 2017 5:28 a.m. PST

Interesting discussion, thanks, GreenLeader.

Certainly there are the cases like Plevna, where 400 Russian guns firing for four days achieved little more than to give the Turks plenty of warning.

However I will raise one counter-argument, namely that the mobile attacker does have some advantage over the static defender, particularly if there is any flaw in the defensive scheme that he can exploit. I'm thinking of the enfiladed 'Bloody Lane' at Antietam; or how the Prussians managed to infiltrate against entrenched French mitrailleuses on the Plateau d'Auvours at the battle of Le Mans.

But broadly I agree that fire from prepared defences should be several times more effective than attacking fire.

BBB is guilty of your 'pet hate' in that it is technically possible to destroy dug-in defenders purely with ranged fire. However, the attacker will need roughly 2-3 times as much firepower to achieve the same effect against a dug-in opponent as against one in the open. And it will usually take a long time to actually destroy a unit, as opposed to just causing some casualties and softening it up. The Russians still have to assault the Grivitza redoubts with the bayonet!


Bloody Big BATTLES!

KTravlos Supporting Member of TMP13 Mar 2017 6:01 a.m. PST

The only time I have seen forts or dug up positions destoryed in BBB is when the defender(me) foolishly let the attacker (Onur) amass the equivelant of 72 or 100 guns against one point. I do not think much would surivive historically either.

Usually attacking in BBB requires at least 3 units against one defending unit, and a prayer.

I have seen the 3 to 1 and 5 to 1 points beingmade in a french sketch from WW1 about how many men it takes to overcome a defensieve position.

Dynaman878913 Mar 2017 6:39 a.m. PST

Most of the rules I remember take this into account since moving troops either can't fire or fire with a penalty, and they have defensive fire during the opponents move so in effect defenders that do not move fire twice and fire more accurately. There are rules sets where this is not done but for the most part I don't play them. Sort of exception is Fireball Forward but since the defender can fire at moving units the get an extra shot (or more) each turn.

WillieB Supporting Member of TMP13 Mar 2017 8:46 a.m. PST

While I agree to most of you statements the defenders may actually be handicapped somewhat if lying prone and having to load a muzzle-loading musket or rifle. It would certainly slow down their rate of fire.
Also, assuming they duck down to reload every time they 'pop up' again they have to acquire a new, rapidly changing sight picture whereas the attacker has a 'clear' defined target.

Personal logo Martin Rapier Supporting Member of TMP13 Mar 2017 9:22 a.m. PST

I'm mainly thinking of breechloaders. Rifled muskets are essentially just more reliable muskets.

Breechloaders were what transformed warfare, and then they got magazines and smokeless powder. Oh dear.

Rather than lining up six times a many men to be fruitlessly mown down in frontal assaults, finding a flank works much better.

Of course when the line is dug in from the Channel to the Alps and manned at a greater troop density than Waterloo, this becomes problematic.

sloophmsstarling13 Mar 2017 9:31 a.m. PST

Piquet-Barrage for WWI era (1905-1935) company-level (four stands per company) combat provides for UP1 die size for opportunity fire against a moving target and for machine gun fire from the first line of trenches where target reference points are assumed.

For example, a Trained Infantry Company of Ready Quality would normally roll a 10-sided firing die against a 6-sided defender die with a difference of three pips in favor of the firing unit causing one stand loss on the target unit. If using opportunity fire against a moving unit, the Trained Infantry Company would roll a 12-sided die against the defender 6-sided, up one die size from 10-sided (firing die sizes are 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12).

There is no bonus when it's the entrenched player's initiative so it is regular fire against the "stationary" assaulting units, not opportunity fire against the moving assaulting units as during the assaulting player's initiative. However, depending on the fall of the cards in the sequence deck, if an Infantry Target Acquisition Card is turned during the entrenched player's initiative, the entrenched player's infantry units can fire, then "reload" on the Target Acquisition Card, and then fire again. The British in 1914 have 5 such cards in a 30 card sequence deck, but the more typical count for later British and other powers is 3 or 4 depending on the year. Taking two D10 vs D6 shots against a target in the open can be pretty devastating, but as often happens to me when firing, I can roll a 1 on a D10 for no effect just as easily as I can on any other die size!

And don't even remind of the times that I have a D12 firing die lined up against a D6, and I'm hoping to roll a 12 against a 1 for 11 pips difference, for three stands lost and a big D12 against probably a D4 for the morale check on the stand that remains, and the D12 fire die does goes down, rolls out, and it turns up … snake eye ……. gasp ….. and double gasp …..

Personal logo Weasel Supporting Member of TMP13 Mar 2017 2:59 p.m. PST

I've seen one or two games give a small bonus for entrenched troops firing, typically WW1 games.

It's not common though and with the very high casualty rates games tend to feature, maybe it's for the better?

Queen Catherine13 Mar 2017 6:01 p.m. PST

To the OP:
I've seen it in a few rules – if properly prepared on the defensive, troops get a fire bonus.

The question is actually a rules question mechanic. So, for example, what does an unmodified shot represent? IF it represents a shot from a still, properly braced and supported defender in the prone position or firing across some sort of sandbag barrier, etc, then the modifiers will all be penalties – for shooting on the move, for shooting while standing up or kneeling in the open, etc.

Let's say that the rules assume a shot that is at least braced, so from the prone position, using a sling, and no movement. Certainly a penalty for an unbraced shot, standing or kneeling without a solid support. Also a penalty for firing on the move. I know I don't hit well if I shoot after running around.

So the question is, what additional bonus does this prepared defender need to get? Perhaps a small bonus for feeling secure and taking time to aim, since he's firing from a loophole or something? I like the assumption that there's more stocks of ammo handy, it should usually be true and therefore a baseline for the rules.

So overall, I think I can say that the answer to the question is "yes" but it has a lot to do with what the rules assume is the basic, unmodified "Fire!" in the game.

In fact, I think it is observant enough to note it for future reference!

As for some specific rules…
"Give'em the Cold Steel" has a specific fire bonus of +3 for "Self Hard Cover", which combined with "Self Standing" is a total of +5. vs. a moving attacker of equal size, it is an advantage of about 3-2 casualties, with a Civil War rifle musket.

My favorite WWII rules give dug-in infantry who are prepared and awaiting an attacker an initial 2-1 shooting advantage, and 50% casualties for being dug-in. This flattens on following turns as the defenders are now shooting at about the same rate, so they'd just get the 50% casualties.
This is not intended for serious trenches, pillboxes, MG nests, etc, which I agree, would demand significant firepower advantages that are continuous, taking into account plentiful ammo, pre-sighted lanes of fire etc.

Generally speaking, I agree that the concept of "shooting bonus" is either lacking in rules or not enough. However, most rules are not intended for serious siege and other fortified scenarios, as players tend to prefer open warfare.

I bet a lot of the WWI rules have this down quite well!

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP13 Mar 2017 6:44 p.m. PST

It is interesting to how veteran soldiers
answered your question--in the form of a wargame.

Two experienced American Officers created wargames in the late 1800s that dealt with those questions. One signifcant point is that both training platforms/wargames were vetted by teams of combat veteran officers.

Lt. Charles A. L. Totten's is the most tactically detailed. A good review and explanation of the rules can be found here. The rules are available on google.

Strategos 1880 Corps Level: Map scale: 5-10" to a mile/ 50 foot contours, one minute sequential turns/variable, movement, then fire.

He does some interesting things in modeling the effects of entrenchments and slopes.

Captain William R. Livermore's design was revised after the Spanish-American War. A review can be found on the same Blog:

American Kriegsspiel 1882,1898. Division-Level, Maps 1:5000, 10 Foot contours. One minute turns, Sequential turns/fire then movement.

Blutarski14 Mar 2017 6:55 a.m. PST

du Picq's comments on the behavior of attackers and defenders is worthy of a close read – some interesting insights. Balck, also.


GreenLeader14 Mar 2017 10:22 a.m. PST

Thanks for the very interesting replies so far: really good discussion with lots of food for thought.

My main interest is the Boer War, and it is how best to represent that conflict that got me thinking about this. If played as written, many rule sets will permit the attacking troops (usually, though not always, the British) to engage in rifle fire with the dug-in defenders which, despite the various modifiers we use, can still be fairly effective if you have enough units firing. This has always struck me as ahistorical and also does not encourage the assaulting player to, well, actually assault – the only real way to take and clear enemy trenches was with the bayonet. Something which remained true, by and large, for an awfully long time.

monk2002uk14 Mar 2017 1:36 p.m. PST

I can't speak to the Boer War particularly but I have studied the opening weeks of WW1 quite extensively. It was a period of the war in which there were few weapons systems – basically musketry, machine guns, field guns, and bayonets. In some circumstances it is possible to isolate these, more or less. The defence of Mons is a good example, where the nature of the terrain made it hard for field guns to come into action. Much of the terrain is quite close, with numerous hedge rows, copses, etc. This limited line of sight in many cases. Near St Symphorium, on the British right flank, the BEF infantry were in light entrenchments with relatively good fields of fire. As the German infantry advanced towards the British positions, heavy musketry was opened. Subsequently various British soldiers and officers wrote accounts in regimental histories and the likes. They described inflicting heavy casualties. The German accounts (and detailed analysis of German casualty lists by Ralph Whitehead) do not support this. This new (to English-speakers) information points to the fact that musketry was very effective at suppressing but not killing at relatively long ranges. The German troops went to ground and, in the absence of MG and artillery support, virtually no progress could be made.

Bloem's account shows that, when the range was very short, then defensive musketry was lethal. Heavy casualties were inflicted by the BEF infantry defending the canal, though Bloem's account also notes that these casualties did not stop his company from functioning again the next day.

In addition to the factors that promoted defensive fire over attackers noted in the first post, you should also include the reason that NCOs and rangefinders could do their jobs very effectively when defending. They were responsible for coordinating fire control and direction.


Queen Catherine14 Mar 2017 5:00 p.m. PST

Actually, I think some of Weasel's games emphasize the suppressing effect of shooting, which is probably more what you're after in the long run. At least one set – No End in Sight I think – differentiates actual kills v. suppressing.

So what you'd want is a scenario rule for fortifications that gives the trench defender the usual mix of kills and pins, while the attacker gets fewer of everything perhaps but a lower ratio of Kill results to pins. The net effect is that fire superiority by the attacker could result in a suppressed trench and successful attack with the bayonet. However, even a superior force would end up with a lot more killed in the firefight with the entrenched defender.

One thing that you also need to take account of – trenches and other fortifications were often used to give a defender an opportunity to spread out and cover a larger frontage. So the net advantage of their situation is not as large as one would think because the frontage ratio is low.

That was how the Union eventually carried the Confederate entrenchments at teh end of the war.

Another book to check out, which does have a bunch about rifle shooting in it – "Infantry Attacks" by Rommel. Plus its just a good read.

Battlegroup Kursk [and the series] also differentiates btw suppressing / pinning fire and fire that is actually meant to be aimed, hit and "kill" a target.

I also have to admit that I'm not very familiar with the Boer war, but to get the right feel for what you're talking about I think you'll want to at the least diffentiate kills and pins.

Rallynow Supporting Member of TMP14 Mar 2017 5:38 p.m. PST

Mr. Lincoln's War gives a bonus for muskets at rest as in along a fence or low stone wall. I think Johnny Reb 2 does the same.

GreenLeader14 Mar 2017 8:37 p.m. PST


An excellent point about the ability of NCOs to be able to control defensive fire. I had thought of adding that to the list, but wasn't entirely sure how to phrase it. When we trained in DIBUA ops, the impact of a good NCO on fire control was remarkable, whereas such control would be nigh-on impossible to replicate during an assault.

Queen Catherine

Absolutely: I tend to not worry about 'kills' as such, as I struggle to think of an example where a unit was destroyed by ranged fire. I prefer to think in terms of states such as 'pinned' / 'light casualties' / 'mauled', and the impact these states have on the morale of the unit: eg. a 'mauled' unit will not advance and will take a morale check every turn it remains under effective enemy fire – meaning the player better withdraw it pretty quickly before it routs from the field.

Supercilius Maximus15 Mar 2017 12:04 a.m. PST

So what you'd want is a scenario rule for fortifications that gives the trench defender the usual mix of kills and pins, while the attacker gets fewer of everything perhaps but a lower ratio of Kill results to pins.

I would question the second part of this sentence. Given the lack of exposure to incoming fire, wouldn't defenders be less likely to be pinned and (given that a disproportionate number of injuries would be to the head) more likely to be killed?

Queen Catherine15 Mar 2017 10:55 a.m. PST

Pinning is usually express in games as suppressing fire that keeps people's head's down. Then attacker's are then able to close in and assault them.

Ergo, the math should be:
*fewer "hits/ effects" upon entrenched soldiers
*proportionately more of this reduced number of "hits" would be suppressing rather than kills [out of the fight]

The net effect is that one does want reduced firepower effects upon soldiers defending fortifications, and such effects as DO happen should be less serious.

This would take it all into account. It also assumes that one's rules has two different types of effects from shooting.

monk2002uk17 Mar 2017 1:34 a.m. PST

Continuing with a focus on WW1, all major nationalities drilled their infantry in the principles of what the British called musketry. At anything other than very close range, the goal was lay a beaten zone on the enemy. This is very different from aiming a rifle at an individual enemy soldier. The problem for the attacker was to assemble enough riflemen, in the absence of MG or artillery support, to lay a dense enough beaten zone to keep the defenders down. As the distance to the target increased, so the beaten zone became more spread out (i.e. fewer bullets landed on target) and the bullets fell at a steeper angle onto the beaten zone.

Given the major problems assembling sufficient firepower to suppress defenders, the supporting role of MGs and artillery was widely recognised. Both weapon systems could apply greater firepower at distance. Coordination was difficult however. The other principle was to manoeuvre other units to outflank the defender. 'Fire' was applied by the attacking force directly in front; 'manoeuvre' sought out opportunities to apply the more effective enfilade fire.

Too often you see game reports where attacking infantry successfully overcome defenders in cover, running across open ground to contact. I can understand why gamers appreciate this type of mechanic but it is not historical. Enjoyment is a key element of games, so no problem whatsoever with that. FWIIW, and this is just a personal thing, my preference is to try and understand what actually happened. It is not a better approach, just a different one given that wargaming of any description is a gross abstraction.


Gaz004517 Mar 2017 7:02 a.m. PST

The idea of beaten zone/area fire/section fire continued into the '90's, we were training in section fire at least until the SA80 replaced the SLR.
Certainly suppression/suppressive fire is still a process in winning the firefight…..

The Last Conformist26 Mar 2017 11:46 p.m. PST

Does just giving a '-2 to hit in trench' really cover this reality sufficiently?
We-ell, if you roll a D6 to hit, and the score needed to hit a target in the open is 4+ while men in trenches are only hit on 6's, then fire by entrenched defenders is already 3 times more effective.

This'd give an attacker with a 3:1 superiority an even chance of beating an entrenched defender simply by standing in the open and shooting, which doesn't seem reasonable, so I'm guess what I'm saying is that 3x effectiveness is insufficiently extreme.

The Last Conformist27 Mar 2017 3:08 a.m. PST

Er, insufficient caffeine when I wrote the above. Thanks to Lanchester's equations, a 3:1 numerical advantage would be a practically guaranteed win for the attackers if the defenders' fire is 3x more effective. So the required difference in fire effectiveness is greater still.

(Very simple example:
10 entrenched defenders shoot at 30 attackers in the open.
Half hit, so five attackers are down.
25 attackers return fire, hitting on sixes: four defenders down.
Six defenders shoot: inflicting three hits.
22 attackers shoot: three defenders down.
Three defenders shoot: two attackers down.
20 attackers shoot: all three remaining defenders are eliminated.
Despite rounding consistently in the defenders' favour and giving them the first shot, they're wiped out for the loss of 10 attackers – the same losses they've suffered themselves.)

Lion in the Stars27 Mar 2017 4:34 a.m. PST

the only real way to take and clear enemy trenches was with the bayonet. Something which remained true, by and large, for an awfully long time.

Still is true that the only way to take and clear enemy fortifications is to get in there with grenades and bayonets.

monk2002uk27 Mar 2017 10:24 p.m. PST

The simple example provides a very useful discussion point, thank you. In practice, 30 attackers would not usually be available in turn 1. At least not from a WW1 perspective. Normally smaller units would bound forward when able. The initial bound, depending on range, might be 5 or 10 men in the example. Once established in a firing position, the remnants would be joined by progressively more smaller units over time.

This is a second issue. Assuming that 30 attackers did attempt an approach in the open then 10 entrenched defenders could suppress all 30 at once, likely with fewer attackers going 'down' (which I assume means hors de combat, so apologies if I have misinterpreted this). Firefights of this nature, where the attacker had superior numbers, tended to be long protracted affairs unless the attacker could use the numbers to attempt to pin from the front and manoeuvre a small group to the flank.


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