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"'Winning the fire fight' " Topic

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GreenLeader19 Apr 2017 6:40 a.m. PST

At the risk of generalising, I think it is fair to say that most wargames rules pretty much split combat into 'firing' and 'melee' (or whatever terms they choose to use).

I am tinkering with the idea of adding a third factor: 'winning the fire-fight' and wondered if anyone has done this, or if anyone has any thoughts on it.

Working from British army training manuals in what might be termed 'the Age of Rifles', the basic idea was for the first of three echelons in a battalion attack to close with the enemy until they were either forced to go-to-ground or did so voluntarily. This first echelon, reinforced as required from the 2nd, would then endeavour to suppress the enemy with rifle fire. If this succeeded, then the 2nd echelon would advance and take the enemy positions with the bayonet.

That was the theory at any rate.

So I have been thinking of using the 'traditional' notion of 'ranged combat' to simulated the period where battalions are moving forward.

At the point that the lead echelon goes to ground (voluntarily or not, and typically at about 300-1000 yards), any non-pinned companies will then be considered to be 'in a fire fight' with any non-pinned defending troops to their front (who will also be locked in a fire fight).
I am thinking to handle this similarly to how many rules handle melee: basically, it is a test of strength with the odds heavily stacked in favour of the defending troops obviously.

The fire-fight could continue for several turns, with companies of the attacking / defending forces being pinned (and thus taken out of the equation) or, on a very good roll, the attacking forces might manage to press forwards 200 yards or whatever.

Anyway, when the units of one side have all been pinned, that side is ruled to have lost the fire-fight and it is over. If the attacking side wins, then non-pinned attacking companies from the 1st or 2nd echelons can rush forwards with the bayonet. If the defending side wins, the attacker will have to pull back / rout whatever.

Reinforcements can be 'fed' into the firing line if the fire-fight goes on: this would seem to simulate military theory of the time.

I am not trying to convince anyone here that this is the best idea ever, but only that (so far) I kinda like the way it 'feels' and I like the way that defending troops are 'locked' in as well: they cannot just skip off elsewhere on a whim and, locked into an ongoing fire-fight to their front, they can be taken in the flank.

My concern is primarily whether or not adding a third 'type of combat' is overly complex / unnecessary so would be grateful to hear from anyone who might have experimented with this before.

Personal logo Condotta Supporting Member of TMP19 Apr 2017 7:26 a.m. PST

Napoleonic era rules set Empire has Firefight rules allowing units to engage in firefights. Depending upon the outcome, units may remain locked in the firefight, may be pushed back but remain in good morale, or may suffer to the point they retreat in bad morale, or even break.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP19 Apr 2017 7:59 a.m. PST

Do you have some examples of units 'winning' firefights?

advocate19 Apr 2017 9:20 a.m. PST

I believe this was Prussian doctrine too. Might be worth looking at 1866 and the Franco-Prussian war for examples.
I look forward to hearing more of this…

Just Jack Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member19 Apr 2017 9:54 a.m. PST

Green Leader,

I think your concept is great, and I agree with the premise. Hell, I think the concept holds true from the time muskets became commonplace to present. I think that, in a less linear manner the same thing can be accomplished by lessening the killing effects of ranged combat, so that in the end it is largely a morale issue, with morale being affected by the slow dwindling of the ranks, and perhaps running out of water and ammunition.


I sense a trap, but I have to ask ;)

Why do you need examples of units winning firefights for the period ~1800 to 1920?


GreenLeader19 Apr 2017 11:49 a.m. PST

Thanks for the useful posts.

I would like to be able compare and contrast an action like (eg) Belmont (where the Guards basically advanced using fire-and-maneuver and were not 'stopped' thus, using my rules, there would be no fire-fight as such) to one such as (eg) Modder River where the advance of the Guards was halted and they (together with their supporting guns) were forced to engage in a fire-fight for the rest of the battle, unable to make any progress, but nevertheless pinning half the Boer line in place.

On their left at Modder River, the 9th Infantry were also stopped but (again, with their supporting guns) were then able to suppress the defending troops sufficiently to re-start their advance and carry the day.

It seems to me that traditional 'ranged' combat rules won't quite replicate this (in my opinion), as the units were almost engaged in a 'melee' of sorts: at least in that those involved were locked in to it, couldn't really do anything else for as long as it went on, but reinforcements could be fed in. Thus my 'fire-fight' rules are taking elements of both the traditional combat types found in most wargames.

Just Jack

I think you are right that the idea is potentially applicable up to the present day: one of the battle drills we were taught in the 1990s was 'winning the fire fight', which was done after the advance to contact was brought to a halt and before the assault could begin.

Personal logo Weasel Supporting Member of TMP19 Apr 2017 2:40 p.m. PST

For large-scale games, this is arguably a lot closer to reality than the typical "roll for shooting" that we tend to do in games.

I always feel bit silly "rolling to hit" for a battalion or whatever.

foxweasel19 Apr 2017 2:58 p.m. PST

Green Leader, it's still one of the 6 section battle drills taught. Changed its name about 10 years ago though, from "win the fire fight" to "suppress the enemy", no one knows why as the drills didn't change, some senior officer will have been promoted because of it no doubt. Everyone I know still calls it winning the fire fight.

Mick the Metalsmith19 Apr 2017 3:45 p.m. PST

Sounds like skirmish fighting or stalled advances in the bapoleonic period. Plenty of rules out there that lock units once under fire, that will still prevent a close to cross bayonets. Often even the term melee relies represents firefights since actual hand to hand was so rare on the field. Built up positions are another matter.

GreenLeader20 Apr 2017 4:23 a.m. PST


Yes: good point. I have never been comfortable with the idea of saying "OK, this battalion will shoot at this enemy unit now"… it seems rather unrealistic.

foxweasel (are you two related?)

I was recently told by one of the security lads in Iraq that FIBUA / DIBUA has been re-named too… again, the chap who came up with the new name probably got an MBE.

Mick the Metalsmith

Yes: one could perhaps think of it as 'long range melee' in a way: two units locked together. I think it needs to be distinct from the actual assault, however, as fire-fights often seem to have been fairly indecisive with units stuck there, swapping fire until sundown. However, if and when units were able to get toe-to-toe with one another, it was usually all over in a flash indeed, and as you say, often it was over even before they got toe-to-toe.
I suppose that, in many cases, as soon as the defenders lose the fire-fight, they will gap it – I plan to make such units take a pretty serious morale test.

GreenLeader20 Apr 2017 4:23 a.m. PST


advocate20 Apr 2017 7:51 a.m. PST

I think the losers only run if the winners either have fresh supports to close with the enemy, or the winners have sufficient cohesion to get up and close.

Personal logo Weasel Supporting Member of TMP20 Apr 2017 10:16 a.m. PST

Maybe we're distant cousins or something? :D

foxweasel20 Apr 2017 11:58 a.m. PST

2nd cousins probably.

FIBUA is now OBUA, Operations in Built Up Areas, though as before everyone still calls it FIBUA.

Just Jack Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member20 Apr 2017 12:33 p.m. PST

It's MOUT!!!

GreenLeader21 Apr 2017 2:23 a.m. PST


Yes, good point maybe a unit which has lost the fire-fight would face a serious morale test only if / when the enemy make a move toward it.
That was pretty much what happened to the Highland Brigade at Magersfontein: they were OK after being pinned in place for a long time, but a threat to their flank caused a rout.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP21 Apr 2017 8:03 a.m. PST


I sense a trap, but I have to ask ;)

Why do you need examples of units winning firefights for the period ~1800 to 1920?


No trap. If we are going to represent how troops win firefights, I am interested in examples of how winning is perceived--what is being simulated.

Yes, good point maybe a unit which has lost the fire-fight would face a serious morale test only if / when the enemy make a move toward it.
That was pretty much what happened to the Highland Brigade at Magersfontein: they were OK after being pinned in place for a long time, but a threat to their flank caused a rout.

That is what I've seen during the Napoleonic and ACW. Units in a stand-up firefight don't leave, regardless of the casualties until they are charged, outflanked or the enemy reinforced in some fashion. Suppressed units aren't defeated.

Suppression is simply one condition necessary to create a winning advantage which usually requires some movement to outflank or charge the suppressed unit to 'win.'

monk2002uk21 Apr 2017 9:56 p.m. PST

This reinforces the point that, in order to fully understand why certain battles or firefights played out the way they did, it is necessary to have as complete an understanding of the enemy's perspective as possible. This is especially true for rear guard actions, where it may seem as if a firefight was 'won' but the reality is that the defender fought the attacker to a standstill and then fell back as planned. By their very nature, advance guards are often limited in fire power and the ability to manoeuvre onto the flanks of a significant rear guard position.

The enormous fire power that had to be developed in WW1 is testament to the difficulty of 'winning the firefight' when defenders are occupying a continuous line of fixed defences. Musketry, which was the application of coordinated rifle fire onto a beaten zone, was not enough to gain suppression or ascendency over entrenched enemy.


monk2002uk21 Apr 2017 10:27 p.m. PST

There is a thread about the Battle of Longlier in 1914. I have pushed it back to the fore again but the key page is here:

TMP link

which should be read in conjunction with the translation here too:


The wider context is that the German 88th Infantry Regiment claimed to have destroyed a French infantry force that was attached to a French cavalry corps. When a wider range of German sources was reviewed, including those relating to the German regiments on both flanks, then it is clear that the defeat of the French infantry battalion was achieved as a result of the combined efforts of three regiments. Enfilade fire played a major role as the southern-most regiment got around the flank of the French infantry. The impact of this manoeuvre is indirectly evident in the IR88's regimental history but is not referenced directly. If only IR88's account is used then your interpretation of infantry tactics could be skewed.


Gamesman622 Apr 2017 3:43 p.m. PST

THere used to be an ACW rule set, firefight or similar that had something with an ongoing fire fight,it was many years ago since I last looked though I liked the idea at the time

FlyXwire23 Apr 2017 5:57 a.m. PST

How effective were 2nd echelon supports in moving through "stalled" attacks generally (my characterizations here), and didn't these wave assault tactics tend to become disorganize with the "passage of lines" and flounder instead?

thomalley23 Apr 2017 8:17 a.m. PST

"Not Quit Mechanized" uses a fire-fight as part of his WWII rules. He does not allow you to initiate close combat without first winning the fire fight. Rules are 1 stand = one company, but would scale to other levels.

monk2002uk23 Apr 2017 1:04 p.m. PST

FlyXwire, you can phrase this another way (as I suspect you know already ;-)

Don't reinforce failure…

A more effective approach was to seek the flanks of the defenders who had brought the 1st echelon to a halt.


rjones69 Inactive Member23 Apr 2017 4:21 p.m. PST

Yes: one could perhaps think of it as 'long range melee' in a way:

I completely agree. This kind of long-range melee/close-range firefight was common in the colonial war fought between the Germans and the Hereros in 1904 in what is now Namibia (but was then the colony of German South-West Africa). The phrase I used in an essay I wrote a few years ago on the German-Herero War is "Melee by Gunfire".

Here's an example of a German Marine Infantry Company winning the firefight against the Hereros (from the German General Staff official history):

"The company had scarcely begun the commanded movement, when suddenly they received heavy fire from the rear [delivered] by numerous Herero sections, fire that apparently had been meant for the wagon column. The company had to immediately deploy all [three] platoons against this, and they succeeded not only in repulsing the enemy assault in a furious, hour-and-a-half firefight, but in fact soon took the offensive on their own part and inflicted such significant losses on the enemy, that he no longer dared new attempts to capture the vehicles." (Translation by Roy Jones)

And here's an example of German sailors winning the firefight against the Hereros (from the official history of the Landungskorp SMS "Habicht", i.e., Naval Landing Party from His Majesty's Ship "Hawk"):

"After a firefight of approximately half-an-hour, the height was stormed by the two platoons. Steeply uphill, without any cover worth mentioning to an [attacker] advancing against an opponent who was [himself] well concealed behind boulders (only his head showed as a target when he took a shot), that the enemy was not capable of holding this superior position can only be attributed to the extraordinarily superior morale of the heedless assaulters." (Translation by Roy Jones)

I modified Sword and the Flame's melee rules to model this "Melee by Gunfire". But I realized it was an intermediate third 'type of combat' (as you aptly describe it) and always wanted to model it as such. Which is why I am so excited about your ideas. I love your pinning concept and winning the firefight over several turns.

I'd like to throw out an idea: in addition to pinning you might want to add an additional casualty producing option (wounds or kills), in cases where the firefight is decisive at very short ranges.

I suggest this idea because the "Melee by Gunfire" effect could at close range produce high casualties in addition to the morale effects. The Germans described it as "heavy, point-blank-range approaching fire" and "murderous fire delivered at the closest ranges (70 m or less)". In the battle from which the latter quote is taken the casualty rates were 60 % overall KIA, 70% overall KIA & wounded, 91% officer KIA & wounded. The Hereros won this firefight decisively!

GreenLeader24 Apr 2017 1:22 a.m. PST

Some great posts and ideas – thanks to all and I very much enjoyed the references to the fighting in Namibia, a country I have spent a lot of time in.

I fully agree that casualties at closer ranges should be significantly higher (for the troops in the open). I plan to define fire-fights as taking place at close range (less than 500 yards) and longer range (up to 1000 yards), with troops at the latter being able to pull back out of range with relative ease.

A big factor seems to have been to hold fire until troops were at fairly close range – something which the nervous / ill-disciplined Boers were very poor at, instead opening up as soon as they could. When attacking troops were caught at these longer ranges, it seems that causalities sustained (even in a fire-fight which went on for several hours) were very light and it was relatively easy to pull them out again.

thomalley24 Apr 2017 5:31 a.m. PST

Just because a gun can shoot 1000 ( or even 500) yards, doesn't mean you can aim it. I would expect anything you might call a fire fight to be at under 200 yards. What was the doctrine at the time?

GreenLeader24 Apr 2017 5:53 a.m. PST


Many fire-fights of the Boer War took place out to 1000 yards or so. The Devons at Elandslaagte, for example, came under effective fire at about 1000 yards and their advance was brought to a halt at 800 yards. They then engaged in a lengthy fire-fight with the Boers.

Similarly, the Guards came under effective fire at Modder River at 1000 yards, halting their advance pretty much immediately and the fire-fight commenced at that range.

Though one might say that the sort of long distance shooting seen in South Africa was fairly unusual, even pre-Boer War British army doctrine called on the 1st echelon of the battalion to try to push forwards to 500 yards of the enemy before beginning the fire-fight.

I think calling a limit at 200 yards is pretty extreme what are you basing this on?

FlyXwire24 Apr 2017 7:41 a.m. PST

Enjoyed the above post by R Jones very much!
Perhaps "Melee by Gunfire" has been termed the "mad minute" by others.
As an alternative perspective, and instead of [perhaps] introducing game mechanics that might appear overly-involved, maybe winning the firefight depended more on the timely supply of ammunition (or the timely resupply by porters or ammo carriers to replenish expenditure during extended firefight engagements)?
This is the approach I'm taking with my own rules, where successful hits during a turn meets a threshold when the firing unit is out of ammo (successful expenditure of ammo can have a downside). Then the player must physically replenish the depleted unit with an ammo case, brought to the front.
This approach requires players to manage their supply trains in direct relation to the unfolding firefight, to move them, and protect them.
Again, perhaps firefights were more often decided by good logistics (or maybe units reverted to cold steel when their ammo neared exhaustion too), rather than typically as in rulesets based on judging "superior" firepower and/or elan.

GreenLeader24 Apr 2017 8:13 a.m. PST


Good point on the importance of logistics, but I do not think one should conflate the 'Mad minute' with a fire-fight in this sense: to me, the 'Mad minute' was designed to stop / shatter a charging / advancing enemy, whereas the fire-fight (at least, in the way I am thinking of it in the rules) occurs after an advancing unit has been forced to halt and represents the (sometimes protracted) exchange of fire between this stalled attacking unit, and the defending units.

The factors which seemed to end many fire-fights was either nightfall or something taking place elsewhere on the battlefield: once attacking units got caught up in a fire-fight (especially at slightly longer ranges) they struggled to suppress the enemy, but equally, they were not blown to pieces as happens in most wargames rules. Instead, they locked a chunk of the defending forces in place for many hours / until sundown, with neither side suffering too heavily.

thomalley24 Apr 2017 8:59 a.m. PST

Average modern firefights are usually much closer and the fact that over 200 yds your target is pretty much invisible behind the iron sight. Of course modern units are fare more dispersed and don't offer a real target. Every been on a golf course and look at the foursome on the green 450 yds away?
Was the fire you mention was from the main line of resistance or forward outpost.
Based on your last post, i read this as maybe some sort of suppression, not massive killing. Logistics in a major issue, and is another reason not to start a fight too far out.

GreenLeader24 Apr 2017 9:22 a.m. PST

Yes, modern fire-fights tend to take place much closer, but that is a rather different animal and is also heavily influenced by terrain: from chatting to numerous veterans, the average fire-fight in Rhodesia was probably fought at about 50 yards, whereas British troops in Afghanistan found they were taking fire from much further than their SA80s were good for, meaning the L129A1 was rushed into service for section marksmen. But that is a topic for another time.

The reality is that in the Boer War, fire-fights took place at up to 1000 yards as I have demonstrated by providing examples. As mentioned earlier, 'massive killing' did not tend to occur once troops had gone to ground, and the fire-fight (rather than the advance to contact) began. Interestingly, introduced just after the war, the SMLE was sighted up to 1300 yards though this was perhaps rather optimistic for the average soldier.

monk2002uk25 Apr 2017 3:05 a.m. PST

Coordinated rifle fire, which the British referred to as Musketry, was designed to apply beaten zones out to 1000 yards. The goal of each rifleman was not to aim at a single enemy soldier to hit him but to aim in the direction and ensure that the sights were set to the appropriate yardage, as called out by the range finder or the NCO. The rate of fire was controlled as well, usually well below the 15 rounds per minute standard for marksmanship. Two hundred odd rifles firing 5 rounds per minute could land sufficient projectiles on a significant area such than an enemy advance would be halted.


Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP25 Apr 2017 1:54 p.m. PST

Coordinated rifle fire, which the British referred to as Musketry, was designed to apply beaten zones out to 1000 yards. The goal of each rifleman was not to aim at a single enemy soldier to hit him but to aim in the direction and ensure that the sights were set to the appropriate yardage, as called out by the range finder or the NCO. The rate of fire was controlled as well, usually well below the 15 rounds per minute standard for marksmanship. Two hundred odd rifles firing 5 rounds per minute could land sufficient projectiles on a significant area such than an enemy advance would be halted.

In the first months of the war, the professional British Army inflicted 'machine gun' like casualties on the Prussians in the open using that method.

Gamesman627 Apr 2017 10:55 a.m. PST

It would seem factors are.
Engagement ranges is to with line of sight before it become about the Ra he of the weapon being shot.
Troops will take cover upon receiving 'effective' fire and a fire fight ensues.. which continues until
One side withdraws due to ammo loss. Morale… or the intervention of troops attacking from the flanks etc.
Well disciplined troops may keep on advancing under fire while their morale holds out but will suffer significantly higher casualties as a result.

Lion in the Stars02 May 2017 5:54 a.m. PST

Wouldn't any ruleset that has suppression or pinning effects for shooting incorporate this idea?

Or am I not understanding what you're describing?

GreenLeader02 May 2017 8:35 a.m. PST

No, not really. I think you are indeed not understanding what I am (trying!) to describe.

bgbboogie Inactive Member13 May 2017 12:29 p.m. PST

I tend to till use the old SPI rules P/R Pinned but modified if you roll below morale may return fire on a roll of 456 on a 123 Pinned no return fire possible. If you roll above the morale it is an R result, a reroll and a 456 retire firing to cover, a 123 retire to cover at best speed a double move.

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