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"Artillery in WWII Low Level Skirmish Games." Topic


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947 hits since 16 Apr 2017
©1994-2017 Bill Armintrout
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Rod I Robertson Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member16 Apr 2017 3:01 p.m. PST

This morning I was pondering my gaming table while painting some WWII Soviet BT-7a tanks and my eyes fell upon an artillery template lying there. It got me to thinking about how artillery is handled in low level, skirmish wargames. In larger scale games you're dealing with a procession of in-coming shells effecting a large beaten zone over a discrete period of time. But in a skirmish level game it is usually just one bomb or shell coming in at any one time during the short intervals of action. Battery fire might happen before the game commences as preparatory fire or near the game's completion as a final protective fire, but if it happened during the short period covered by a skirmish level game wouldn't that just shut down nearly all action in the small area represented by a game board? I can see a ranging shell or some such event landing during the skirmish or perhaps direct fire from a gun or vehicle happening during a skirmish game but wouldn't a concentration of indirect artillery fire just shut down most of the action during a skirmish?

What should be the effects of artillery on the game mechanics of a squad or platoon level skirmish game given the space and time constraints? Should the shell's impact carry over into other phases of a turn or even other turns? How long does a shell impact effect those who haven't been killed or wounded by it? How long would infantry hunker down after a shell impacted near them and how hard would it be for leaders to get them up and in action again notwithstanding training and morale levels? Did infantry have an aversion to advancing closer to an area where a shell had recently landed because they expected more to follow? How long would infantry stay hunkered down after going to ground due to a single shell strike? In the short intervals of time which characterise skirmish game turns what should be the proper effects and affects of artillery on exposed troops and crews?

I'm looking forward to the informed opinions of others on this issue!
Thank you in advance.

Cheers and good gaming.
Rod Robertson.

mwindsorfw Supporting Member of TMP16 Apr 2017 3:41 p.m. PST

My guess is that training is a huge part of it. Unless they are in a dug-in position, trained soldiers would be more likely to move under fire. Less trained soldiers may be more likely to take cover in place.

Personal logo Weasel Supporting Member of TMP16 Apr 2017 4:09 p.m. PST

How much artillery are we talking about?

A single 75mm gun? A battery? A mortar battery?

For how long?

The morale effect would no doubt linger, it takes a while to reorient yourself and get ready.
To handle this without tracking anything, might be as simple as a combat bonus to attack units that were already mortared this turn, or an increase in morale check penalties, that sort of thing.

Personal logo Extra Crispy Sponsoring Member of TMP16 Apr 2017 4:55 p.m. PST

A lot will depend on how long a turn is. If a turn is supposed to be 5 minutes then I imagine one shell's effect would last one turn. But if a turn is 30 seconds, it might suppress a squad for a few minutes – until they are sure another shell isn't due immediately.

Gaz004516 Apr 2017 10:01 p.m. PST

In some games I've had a random artillery shell being fired….using dice to work out the location……a 'cinematic' effect but a hoot when it hits the building the player has just moved into.
At low level skirmish I allow medium mortars to be called on but anything bigger is beyond reach……they do appear on table tho' as objectives or clutter!

Personal logo Weasel Supporting Member of TMP16 Apr 2017 11:25 p.m. PST

If its a Hollywood game, you pretty much have to do what Gaz suggests :-)

martin goddard Sponsoring Member of TMP16 Apr 2017 11:34 p.m. PST

It is usually there to please the players. It is not usually historical (there are extreme exceptions) to have artillery support on call for a single platoon in Europe. it is bit like games wherein you can have 1 armoured car, 1 tank,1 At gun all mixed in with a platoon. Gaz is right, Hollywood and good fun for those who want the Hollywood approach..

Fred Cartwright17 Apr 2017 2:03 a.m. PST

Individual heavy artillery pieces could be seen firing over open sights during a Skirmish type scenario. Examples would be British 5.5" guns firing on Japanese bunkers or Russian 203mm howitzers used in street fighting. Not sure how much fun it would be. "Ok my turn. I'm firing my 203mm howitzer at your guys in the building there!"

christot17 Apr 2017 2:07 a.m. PST

As above, for a platoon game there shouldn't really be any proper arty, if you do have it, and treat it with any sort of accuracy, then it will be a game-breaker.
Or, you bung it in for "flavour" – allowing attacks by a single or maybe a section of guns (didn't really happen much) with some sort of scatter effect for laughs.
All depends what floats your boat.

UshCha Supporting Member of TMP17 Apr 2017 4:17 a.m. PST

The minimum damger zone is assumed to be 200 yds or so. Skirmish "Games" somtimes seem a bit odd on ground scale" if yout board is less than 300m across then if you want credible, only accidental fire is typical. Some troops were trained to follow as close as 100 yds but you would get a few casualtiies. If you start the game at maybe 800 yds (Bren gun range) then yes you could have some. In desparation the enemy in figting positions could call fire on their own position sufficent that it would suppress infantry in the open but with an "acceptable" risk to the folk in the trencehes. The odds of a shell being very close to a trench being "small".

surdu2005 Sponsoring Member of TMP17 Apr 2017 4:47 a.m. PST

I argue this point with gamers all the time. The likelihood of a platoon getting off-board indict fire in the ground and times scales of a skirmish game are quite small. You don't want to be that platoon that has priority of fires, because that means you are going to be in a bad place. A platoon may expect company or battalion mortar support, but artillery is unlikely. The availability of artillery should be driven by the scenario, not the rules.

What is even more unlikely -- and another source of disagreement with gamers -- is the availability of close air support. This is generally allocated to battalions by brigade staffs, and the battalion fire support officers bring close air support in on key points of the battlefield to facilitate the battalion and brigade commanders' maneuver plans. Close air support is not something that a platoon leader is going to call when he needs a little help breaching an enemy position. Again, if the scenario says that you are the lead platoon of the brigade attack, you might see some close air support, but that would be pre-planned, and it would arrive before the platoon entered the table in most cases. In the VAST majority of cases it is not something ad hoc that a platoon leader would call on a target of opportunity.

christot17 Apr 2017 5:46 a.m. PST

"Close air support is not something that a platoon leader is going to call when he needs a little help breaching an enemy position."

Outside of the US Marines (and I'm not 100% whether even they had the capability) NO platoon commander, in ANY Army in WWII could personally call in close air support.

UshCha Supporting Member of TMP17 Apr 2017 6:00 a.m. PST

It should be remeberd that even Mortars from the company have a significant hazard area. For example an 81mm mortar needs only 8 rounds to "Nutralise" i.e suppress and poaaibl casualties in an area around 300m by 200m. That is just the srandard rate. It will be very unpleasant just outside this. 200m is proably a good safe zone infront and behind such an area. PS that area (300m by 200m) is about what a platoon would physicaly occupy.

christot17 Apr 2017 6:23 a.m. PST

DELETED

Personal logo 28mm Fanatik Supporting Member of TMP17 Apr 2017 7:22 a.m. PST

Low level skirmish games allow for artillery and air support because they strive for a cinematic feel, even at the expense of realism.

Arguing over such matters is pointless since the goal is to have fun. Squad or platoon level engagements are still microcosms of larger battles so air and artillery may very well affect them.

surdu2005 Sponsoring Member of TMP17 Apr 2017 7:47 a.m. PST

Lots of sweeping generalizations in your comment.

Personal logo 28mm Fanatik Supporting Member of TMP17 Apr 2017 7:55 a.m. PST

How so? Ever seen 'Saving Private Ryan' or 'Band of Brothers'? These invariably show the effects of artillery and air assets on a small number of people. When you're going for a "cinematic" feel (like many low-level skirmish games such as Bolt Action does), considerations of real world asset availability pretty much go out the window because you're no longer looking at the "big picture." You're playing in a microcosm.

Come to think of it, it's the same reason why people bring Tiger tanks in skirmish games.

christot17 Apr 2017 8:11 a.m. PST

Why bother then?
If the overall aim is "to have fun", its not a lot of fun for the side getting wiped out in a turn by a ToT attack.
Want to have fun and still have some indirect fire in a game with 30 figures a side?
Stick to mortars and the odd infantry gun -

Personal logo 28mm Fanatik Supporting Member of TMP17 Apr 2017 8:18 a.m. PST

In skirmish games artillery and air support typically are not game changers. If anything, they're not worth the points you have to pay for them.

christot17 Apr 2017 8:45 a.m. PST

"Points"…sigh
ok…..
Thats the op's point:
If you are going to reflect them with any degree of accuracy then they should be gamechangers. As should even 81mm mortars to be honest.
If you want Hollywood, fine, but accept that its nonsense.

Personal logo 28mm Fanatik Supporting Member of TMP17 Apr 2017 10:20 a.m. PST

Simulation aspects like accuracy and realism are often sacrificed for the sake of gaming imperatives and balance (i.e. "playability") at the skirmish level.

This isn't strictly limited to historical gaming. Take 40K for instance. Given the size of the Basilisk artillery gun and Deathstrike missile, it is hard to imagine their lack of range and small template size even if you hold an entirely different and lower set of standards for sci-fi games.

But people use them and have fun anyway.

Murvihill17 Apr 2017 10:30 a.m. PST

The Soviets had 'Fortified Areas'. These had a combination of cannon, machine guns and infantry all dug in. There wasn't enough transport to move everything and there wasn't enough comm gear to use the guns in indirect fire mode. The guns were on the front line.
Also, I've read about the US using an M12 (155mm howitzer on a Sherman hull) to clear fortifications on the Seigfried line with direct fire.
Both plausible, real world examples where heavy artillery would be on board in a skirmish or low-level platoon game.

christot17 Apr 2017 10:35 a.m. PST

Indeed, but we aren't talking about direct fire, the OP was asking about the effect of indirect fire by a battery of artillery and its effect on a low level game, which is a bit different.
Can't comment on "Basilsks" or "deathstrikes"

Andy ONeill17 Apr 2017 11:00 a.m. PST

Pre game or turn zero effects can work.
You need to be careful though.
Reducing morale a couple of steps for defenders in an area etc.

deephorse17 Apr 2017 11:05 a.m. PST

Come on Murvihill, no-one is going to be 'skirmishing' against the Seigfried Line or a Soviet Fortified Area. Attacks against such positions are going to be well planned and prepared deliberate assaults.

SGT Yuengling Supporting Member of TMP17 Apr 2017 11:21 a.m. PST

I have run large skirmish games of a reinforced platoon, or even a company.

Large artillery or aircraft interdiction can change a game drastically unless played into the game with some balance…. I tend to stay away from them for the most part.

Personal logo 28mm Fanatik Supporting Member of TMP17 Apr 2017 11:42 a.m. PST

Basilisks and Deathstrikes are not off-board actually. A better example is the 40K orbital strike.

Once per game, if your army has a forward observer, you can call in a lance strike from an orbital platform. The coverage uses a 5" template but is subject to 2D6" scatter.

Bolt Action utilizes forward observers for calling in off-board artillery too, but you can only designate one squad to target against. This may limit its effectiveness and make it "unrealistic" but, as some have pointed out, low level skirmish games aim more for Hollywood flavor than simulation mechanics.

christot17 Apr 2017 12:39 p.m. PST

Sounds perfectly reasonable. Just call them 60 mm mortars, and don't pretend they are 150 mm howitzers

RudyNelson17 Apr 2017 3:52 p.m. PST

Roll for damage infliction for every casting on the board for a serious direct support and a general support bombardment. The same could be done for a bomber run. Roll for them all, both Allied and German/Italian.
The affects on a small unit operating in the area would be that significant.

Fred Cartwright17 Apr 2017 4:05 p.m. PST

Come on Murvihill, no-one is going to be 'skirmishing' against the Seigfried Line or a Soviet Fortified Area. Attacks against such positions are going to be well planned and prepared deliberate assaults.

I think you are confusing Skirmish gaming with skirmishing. You can Skirmish game a deliberate assault. It would represent perhaps one of the lead platoons of the assault plus supports against a short section of the enemy line.

Legion 417 Apr 2017 4:19 p.m. PST

Even in WWII a Plt Ldr could probably call back to the Co Cdr. To at least get mortar support.

However, I'd think if the Company and/or Bn had some direct support of some sort of Indirect Assets. And I'd think other than mortar support from Co or Bn assets. Which would be generally 3-5 tubes. FA units could be used in 2-3 Gun Sections. Or a whole Battery, etc., …

If a Plt is about to be attacked by a force much larger element than itself, etc., etc. I'd think based on situation. A Plt Ldr thru his Co Cdr could request as many assets that may be available.

The minimum damger zone is assumed to be 200 yds or so.
I know in the '80s, Danger Close was 300m for FA and 600mm for CAS.

Not sure about WWII. Even though I'd studied and gamed WWII for decades. old fart I can't remember what the standard was back then. However, with less "High-tech" in WWII than in the 80's. Or even now, I'd think 200 yds. maybe too close/wishful thinking.

Personal logo 28mm Fanatik Supporting Member of TMP17 Apr 2017 4:27 p.m. PST

Just call them 60 mm mortars

The distinction may be strictly academic but there are subtle differences. Mortars are highly portable, attached to squads and can be eliminated whereas off-board artillery are not. Some rules (like Bolt Action) also allow on-board artillery crew to be replaced as casualties occur.

Simo Hayha17 Apr 2017 5:58 p.m. PST

If you have an entrenched defense that has been well established (there for a while) I think they would have some artillery assets available, especially the battalion mortars. I think it would be much more likely that the company commander would have access to these assets than the platoon commander. Also as far as I know the US were the only ones with enough radios for the platoon leaders to have them. Skirmish games should probably represent a reinforced patrol. Remember ground scale though as most skirmish games would have a barrage radius that would take up a large section of the table. Think about it as far as I know they only ranged in increments of 50 meters. Thats 25 inches at 1 to 1 ground scale in 1/72 scale!

Rod I Robertson Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member17 Apr 2017 8:28 p.m. PST

My usual gaming table represents an area of 300 meters by 400 meters at a ground scale of 20 inches equal to 100 meters. The rules I skirmish with have imprecise turn lengths which could range from 5-12 seconds per turn. If a battery of six light guns or medium mortars fires a mission of let's say five rounds, that's going to last for about five turns of fire and directly effect half of the playing board. The templates for these guns/tubes are very small, about 100 mm (4 inches) across for light guns and medium mortars, but they often scatter in any of 8 directions. Each template can scatter up to 40 meters (8 inches) from its intended point of impact that means each gun/tube can land a shell/bomb in a 100 meter circle (20 inches). Six such guns or mortars could therefore plaster an area 300 meters by 200 meters with fire at its widest dispersal for about five turns. That would shut down the game for about 6-7 turns on half the board!

Given the size and duration of the effect of such a concentration of fire on the game I ask myself does it help or hinder the game? Let's say you have an under strength Pz. Gren. Company (about forty to fifty infantry) attacking an under strength infantry platoon (25 men) in hasty defences (shell scrapes and shallow foxholes). No matter how well the attacker plays the game he's going to get hammered by such an artillery concentration if it's brought down by the defender as it covers half the board. The attacker cannot really do anything to avoid it if his troops have approached the enemy troops. The game becomes an exercise in artillery attrition (as WWII was) and is no longer about tactics, manoeuvre and fire. So what's the point of playing a 10-12 turn game where both sides will be all but paralysed by a five to seven turn bombardment and recovery which will most likely determine the outcome of the game despite the choices of the players?

Cheers and good gaming.
Rod Robertson.

Personal logo Weasel Supporting Member of TMP17 Apr 2017 8:52 p.m. PST

I would be sorely tempted to factor the fire into the pre-game dispositions.

Each squad starts with 1-2 casualties and a morale reduction.

christot17 Apr 2017 11:40 p.m. PST

I think you've answered your original question fairly well there, Rod

Martin Rapier18 Apr 2017 11:43 a.m. PST

As above, an artillery battery is perfectly capable of landing final protective fires on a 200 to 300m frontage.

Good luck advancing through that.

So no, artillery doesn't really have a place in Skirmish games.

Legion 418 Apr 2017 3:03 p.m. PST

As Plt Ldrs we all were taught to call-in supporting fires. But if the game is on too small a board, you may be too close to call it in. For many of the reasons already mentioned. You might be calling it in on yourself … huh?

Wolfhag Supporting Member of TMP19 Apr 2017 9:36 p.m. PST

Rob,

Q: What should be the effects of artillery on the game mechanics of a squad or platoon level skirmish game given the space and time constraints?

A: One direct hit from a 155mm+ could make the entire platoon ineffective. Air bursts against troops in the open could be devastating. Dirt, dust and debris would block LOS. Everyone within 50-100 meters would probably hit the deck not knowing where the next round would land.

Being underground with good overhead cover (3+ feet logs and earth) will mostly elimnate KIA for anything less than a 155mm round. Being in a trench will need the round to have a direct hit or hit the parapet to be effective.

Arty is most effective when the first rounds land. After that everyone takes cover.

Q: Should the shell's impact carry over into other phases of a turn or even other turns?

A: Yes. Look at artillery videos on Youtube.

Q: How long does a shell impact effect those who haven't been killed or wounded by it?

A: A concussion or blown out ear drums would be the same as a KIA. The big question would be when is it safe to get up and move out? When and where will the next round impact?

Q: How long would infantry hunker down after a shell impacted near them and how hard would it be for leaders to get them up and in action again notwithstanding training and morale levels?

A: See above. I did read the US troops in Europe were ineffective after being suppressed three times in an attack. Leadership motivation counts.

Q: Did infantry have an aversion to advancing closer to an area where a shell had recently landed because they expected more to follow?

A: Everyone except the Russians. Again, is it just one shell, interdiction fire, ranging round, etc? Will a multi-gun barrage follow? Are we under observation by an FO? When dealing with the unknown humans normally choose inaction and caution.

Q: How long would infantry stay hunkered down after going to ground due to a single shell strike?

A: See above

Q: In the short intervals of time which characterise skirmish game turns what should be the proper effects and affects of artillery on exposed troops and crews?

A: Good chance for KIA/WIA on the initial rounds. After that, I'd say suppression for anyone within the blast radius but then I've never been in an arty barrage. I did get caught in the burst radius of WP but was able to evade.

Advice: Light mortars are your Platoon Leaders best friend. If they follow close enough they can set up a direct fire barrage that would be extremely accurate. Two 60mm tubes can get 10 rounds into the air in 10 seconds with your troops as close as 50 meters away.

Opinion: Most players like the effects of calling in the round and then the "suspense" of where the dispersion die roll makes it end up. Indirect artillery fire would most likely not be used. Direct fire could, that's what assault guns were for. The Russian's would make a firing position for towed artillery to be brought up at night and then direct fire with the prep barrage in the morning.

Wolfhag

Rod I Robertson Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member20 Apr 2017 5:31 a.m. PST

Wolfhag:

Thanks for your very thorough and well thought-out answers to my questions. They are much appreciated. I'm a little bit surprised at the rate of fire for the 60mm light mortars which you described as effectively one round per mortar every two seconds but it certainly seems in the ball park.

Cheers and good gaming.
Rod Robertson.

Wolfhag Supporting Member of TMP20 Apr 2017 2:05 p.m. PST

Rob,
You're welcome.

One other important factor is the timing of the barrage and the attackers advance and defenders recovery. Attacking infantry following a barrage from 200 meters allows them to close on the enemy position in about 60 seconds if not interfered with. I "abstract" the prep barrage itself (no plotting individual rounds or checking for casualties). When the barrage lifts the attackers move forward and each defending team/weapon that was in the barrage is checked to see if they can take their defensive positions and how many KIA/WIA there were.

If the barrage was effective (like heavy artillery, MRL's) the defenders may be delayed to the point the attackers are engaging in HTH combat or the tanks are collapsing their defensive position with them still inside. Poor timing or ineffective barrage can result in the defenders being deployed to fully
defend.

That's how I like to play artillery barrages without having to play "Artillery Commander".

Wolfhag

Windy Miller20 Apr 2017 3:27 p.m. PST

Rod, sustained rates of fire for medium mortars (3", 81mm etc.) are generally up to 12 rounds per minute. However, for short periods, i.e. when given fire for effect, rates of 20 rounds per minute or more are quite possible. A well trained crew can happily manage 30. That's one 10lb bomb every 2-3 seconds, and each one has a lethal blast radius of 30 to 40 metres.

It's small wonder that mortars are so feared, a section of three barrels can bring down a truly devastating amount of fire in an incredibly short amount of time. The only disadvantage is the relatively short range.

By the by, in the British Army at least, an infantry company in the attack would normally be allocated a section of mortars as fire support, with the MFC attached to the lead platoon. So yes, in a platoon level game you should be allowed to have fire support on call, at least from mortars.

Legion 421 Apr 2017 2:33 p.m. PST

Good points Wolf ! I agree ! thumbs up

And something else., Mortars generally belong to the Infantry. They are trained Infantrymen crews. Not FA. Lgt. and Med. mortars are usually employed at Company level. It is the Cdr's Light Artillery. As Windy mentioned, a Plt should be able to call-in the mortars that are organic to their Company.

E.g. when I was a Rifle Plt Ldr in the 101 '80-'82. The Rifle Company consisted of :

3 Rifle Plts

1 81mm Mortar Plt.

Those Mortars were part of our Company[Tribe]. They were just Grunts trained to use mortars. And generally did everything the Rifle Plts did. Save for when in came time to provide indirect fire support for their Company.

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