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"Effective Spotting Distance in WW2" Topic

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World War Two on the Land

996 hits since 1 Oct 2018
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Toy Soldier Green01 Oct 2018 7:00 p.m. PST

There is a set of rules I like that declares that certain ground units like recon, artillery and GHQ may sight enemy units at up to 9km away. Can someone please tell me if that seems realistic?

On further thought I should have titled this topic Effective Sighting Distance in WW2. Thanks to any who take the time to answer.

Thresher01 Supporting Member of TMP01 Oct 2018 7:29 p.m. PST

Spotting what, from what?

I can see they could view armored vehicles and transports from that far away, from a high vantage point, like a hill, or a church tower, assuming no intervening terrain or trees, from the dust they kick up as they move.

streetgang6 Supporting Member of TMP01 Oct 2018 9:21 p.m. PST

No, that's about double the distance that units can be reliably identified. This takes into account image magnification from vehicle gunsights and binoculars.

David Brown02 Oct 2018 1:31 a.m. PST


I agree; it's not the fact that you can spot "something" – it's the fact that you have to identify what it is and who they are, i.e. friend or foe.

I would have thought that requires formations to be much closer than 9kms!


Andy ONeill02 Oct 2018 1:48 a.m. PST

It seems way too far.
Maybe there is some abstraction at work though.
A recon unit whose HQ is at a given location could conceivably have an element 8km away which is then spotting the enemy formation at 1km.

As David Brown said.
Friendly fire was all too likely if they just blazed away at any movement.
They often wouldn't have known where friendlies were.

UshCha02 Oct 2018 4:25 a.m. PST

9km thats 5.6 miles! The intervisability for Europe is such that only 10% of lane is visibale from further than about 1500 yds. Assuming you are not on a hill that has shoot me on it typicaly the amount of ground you can see at that distance in much of Europe is minimal.
This is on top of what has already been said.

It also depends on how well camoflarged it is. Troops beyond about 400m and taking steps to not be visible may well not be seen. Out in the open or being careless is different. I have a couple of real world anecdotes and some experience as a Lazertag player tha indicates well hidded you may not be spotted at 6 ft!

Tired Mammal02 Oct 2018 4:44 a.m. PST

Just get a moderate (no cheating) pair of binoculars and try and identify types of cars at different distances. Then try it with stationary cars that are parked under trees should give a reasonable impression of ranges.But don't do it for too long as it will sound like a very weak defence in court.

deephorse02 Oct 2018 4:50 a.m. PST

I know from personal experience that you can be almost standing on top of a well camouflaged infantryman and still not see him. But this topic makes me want to raise this point.

I've never been happy with any WWII spotting rules that I've used, probably because when I'm attacking I can't see anyone, and when I'm defending I'm seen all too easily! I then started to think about data and evidence.

If you want to know about the max. speed, armour thickness, gun performance etc. of tank X' for the WWII rules you are about to write then all that information is out there somewhere. But when it comes to the observation/spotting rules where are the rules writers getting their information from to decide that you can, for example, auto-spot concealed infantry at 3", but need to score 4+ on a D10 when at 20" away? Are they just making this stuff up because it seems like it?

Martin Rapier02 Oct 2018 5:02 a.m. PST

What sort of "spotting" are you talking about here? If it is correcting artillery fire on enemy march columns and the observer is on a significant elevation (like Monte Cassino), then yes sure.

If it is trying to locate enemy units operating tactically at ground level, forget it.

Toy Soldier Green02 Oct 2018 5:09 a.m. PST

The rules in question are the Panzer8 WW2 Divisional Wargame rules.

Legion 402 Oct 2018 6:35 a.m. PST

From personal experience, with the naked eye, anything at about 200m + is pretty hard to discern based on terrain, weather, time of day, etc. Stats say most firefights take place at @ 250m or less. Depending on the factors I already mentioned, etc.

In the dark, thick jungle or forest many times you have to be very, very close to see … anything … if at all.
E.g. when 1 to 1 wargaming in [West]Germany in the late 80s. We ran a night patrol on a village. Thought I was moving between two buildings. But when I touched the other side of the alley we were moving thru. It turned out to be a Leopard tank ! Not another house !

Personal logo Extra Crispy Sponsoring Member of TMP02 Oct 2018 6:53 a.m. PST

If you are talking about the Panzer 8 rules where 1 stand = 1 battalion, and 1" = 1km, then I'd say the game is assuming the unit has elements spread out all over, and the rules represent this by allowing you to spot at that range.

Legion 402 Oct 2018 7:23 a.m. PST

Now that makes sense !

Mobius02 Oct 2018 7:30 a.m. PST

This pdf might be helpful. I'm sure there are others.
PDF link

UshCha02 Oct 2018 7:50 a.m. PST

To use a term not generated by me "low attention span Rules" tend not to make too much of spotting as it uses too many bounds.

I must admit we are a bit two faced. When the authors are playing all units of the defender are marked on a map instead of using markers (it makes it much more interesting). Nobody is spotted until basically you are on top of them (we call that 10m to make it easy) or they betray by moving or firing. .
To be honest we usually put attackers on table, but defenders are allowed to do nothing until one of the on table attackers is spotted. This is more to keep it simple, moving a company battle group in tactical formation on a map it too much for us and then its hard to get an adjudication of who can see who if nobody knows where the other one is.

However its much easier to track the odd unit of either side that breaks contact, so the trick there is the unit is removed and its route marked on the map and its progress tracked. Higher speeds in our rules are subject to a modest variation so when they arrive can vary by the odd bound. It is incumbent on the owning player to be honest, However we have not found this a problem. The odd oversight does happen but there are ways and means to make sure nobody gains unreasonably.

We generally make infantry moving and trying not to be spotted and not firing invisible at 400m. This is a bit arbitrary and occasionally we have to bend that rule.

Spotting is a strange issue the LUCHS I use is unusually quiet. In the real world on exercise in certain areas troops are forbidden to sleep on the ground as there had been accidents where the LUCHS had run over troops asleep. Tragically in that case spotting distance was nil for both parties. Of course with a silent electric drive there is no diesel smell or smoke to betray its movement.

Mark 102 Oct 2018 11:49 a.m. PST

I drive in to work over a hill most mornings. I get a nice panoramic view of the south end of the SF bay area, a basin which may have 30 or 40 miles of visibility on a normal day.

I can regularly spot traffic on bridges and highways at 15km. I can identify aircraft types (not individual models, but type, such as 4 engine prop vs. twin-engine high-tail jet), at 30km. That is from a moving vehicle with the un-aided eye (well OK, I wear eyeglasses when I drive). If I were stationary, with binocs, I expect I would easily be able to discern a tank company moving at 15km or more. No doubt in my mind.

Now, could I tell you what kind of tanks, or who was operating those tanks? I don't know. Maybe I could get some indications. But if I am 1Km from the known MLR, and can see a company of tanks moving 15Km away (and hence 14Km behind enemy lines), I might well be satisfied to know that there is a company of tanks out there, and might not be too fussed about knowing what type they are.

And yet, I also don't doubt that I could miss a camo'd soldier from 2m away, or a whole squad behind a rise 10m away.

So the very first response to the OP, "Spotting what, from what?" remains. Without specification of what we are spotting, and what we are using to spot it, I would put the answer to "effective spotting distance" as "somewhere between 1m and 40km".

(aka: Mk 1)

emckinney02 Oct 2018 1:21 p.m. PST

How many things are on fire?

mkenny02 Oct 2018 1:41 p.m. PST

The buildings in the middle distance are 3.10 km(c.2 miles) away.



Wolfhag Supporting Member of TMP02 Oct 2018 5:50 p.m. PST

Toy Soldier,
Effective Sighting Distance in WW2 = so many variables you could make it a game within a game.

You inquired about recon, artillery and HQ units so I'll keep my remarks to them.

I think it's a fair assumption that recon, artillery, and HQ units have some type of enhanced optics like scissors binoculars (Germans and Russians had them) or telescopes that are 6x-10x and that they'd normally be observing from higher elevations. If a 5x gunsight could fire on a tank sized target at 3000-4000m I'd expect a 10x to detect one a 9000m but a positive ID may be tough. But getting an ID on a vehicle that is 4,000m+ beyond your FEBA should be common sense as to whose side it is on.

You could also make the assumption that Recon, artillery and HQ units would normally be observing during mostly good conditions before a battle takes place to get that 9km distance. I've taken my grandfathers WWI Bushnell 5x binoculars on a hill and could easily detect cars and small buildings at 9km and people in the open at almost that far too. Yes, ideal conditions and they do sometimes exist. The challenge in designing a game is taking the ideal and restricting it based on variables of geography and battlefield conditions. Getting an "average" does not really address the problem in designing a game.

There is a difference in detecting a "bogie" (unidentified) and positive ID. You could detect moving mechanized units dust being raised at a greater range than you could positively ID them.

Try going to the top of a hill with binoculars and see for yourself. Try it under ideal conditions and on hazy days and poor lighting. Conditions will vary and will be an overriding factor for maximum sighting range. That's why it's hard to pin down an exact number and you get so many answers.

I've tried to do it under poor weather and hazy conditions but I live in Northern California and the weather is too perfect for that and I'm not near any forest fires.


Legion 402 Oct 2018 7:11 p.m. PST

The buildings in the middle distance are 3.10 km(c.2 miles) away.

As I said, based on terrain, weather, time of day, etc.

Toy Soldier Green02 Oct 2018 8:22 p.m. PST

Thank you all for the replies.

goragrad02 Oct 2018 10:44 p.m. PST

Here in SW Colorado, visibility can be much further than that 9 KM – depending on conditions. Might not be able to ID the make of a vehicle, but can tell what type it is by eye.

When surveying I have backsighted a 6 in board at a distance of ever 6 miles – now that is with a 28x optic. Crosshairs were as wide as the board, but the survey closed quite close.

Humidity is one of the biggest factors here and in this area that is very low.

Lion in the Stars02 Oct 2018 11:35 p.m. PST

Don't forget dust clouds, and dropping arty fire on them!

Wolfhag Supporting Member of TMP03 Oct 2018 1:25 a.m. PST

I'm pretty sure this is from the US M60 tank manual. It shows ranges to ID a target (not just detect it).


We used 10x Unertl sniper scopes and it was not unusual to detect a camouflaged weapons position in a tree line at over 1200m. Normally it was poor camo discipline and the crew moving around that caught your eye and gave them away. You had to know the right area to scan and be patient.


Blutarski03 Oct 2018 4:44 a.m. PST

This is a REALLY complicated topic.

1 He who has optical aid sees better and farther.

2 He who is moving (especially in a vehicle) usually cannot spot much at all except for the most prominent objects.

3 An astute, well trained observer will be able to DETECT signs of the presence of things that might not themselves be visible to the eye.

4 For an infantryman at close quarters, smell and hearing can be almost as important as vision in DETECTING the presence of an enemy.

A dug-in and well camouflaged enemy can be exceedingly difficult to spot, even at ridiculously close distances. A VC or NVA bunker in a woodline would often be invisible to an advancing opponent at 25 yards; NVA hiding in high razor grass could remain unseen at 10 feet; US marines in the Pacific often walked right over Japanese spider holes.

It's a very ticklish issue to transfer to a gaming environment.



Martin Rapier03 Oct 2018 7:14 a.m. PST

As the rules in question are Pz8 (in turn based on KISS Rommel), then the assumption is that Div recce etc is operating around the various battalion sized elements. The only ranged fire is artillery fire, so fair enough.

Legion 403 Oct 2018 7:40 a.m. PST

Again that makes sense … As sighting ranges for direct fire weapons would not generally come into play for Operational level games. I.e. Battalion, Regiment and probably Brigade Levels.

At smaller tactical level games, LOS ranges come into play and are pretty important …

Thresher01 Supporting Member of TMP03 Oct 2018 1:56 p.m. PST

Moving targets can be spotted much further away than stationary ones.

The eye is drawn to anything moving.

Wolfhag Supporting Member of TMP03 Oct 2018 4:12 p.m. PST

Thresher01: Yes, how much further than a stationary target?

Blutarski: Yes, how much does moving degrade picking up a target?

If you are moving and the target is moving does that cancel each other out?


donlowry03 Oct 2018 7:01 p.m. PST

Wolfhag: the U.S. Army used meters instead of yards?

Toy Soldier Green03 Oct 2018 7:40 p.m. PST

Hi Martin,

Pz8 has seperate Recon Battalions.

Wolfhag Supporting Member of TMP03 Oct 2018 10:15 p.m. PST

In the early 1970's the Marines used yards as the 1:50,000 scale maps the grid squares were in yards. I'm not sure what they use now. In my previous post, I used meters as my image example is in meters.


Lion in the Stars03 Oct 2018 10:34 p.m. PST

Moving targets can be spotted much further away than stationary ones.

The eye is drawn to anything moving.

Very much so.

The Sailor's trick is to use the corners of your eyes to find motion, and then put the binoculars on it to ID. This works really well at night.

@Wolfhag and Donlowry: By the late 1990s, everything was metric for the grunts, both Army and Marines. Military maps had 1km grid squares by then. Don't know when that changeover happened, though.

Us sailors still use yards today, though, since the easy mnemonic is 2000 yards to the nautical mile.

Legion 404 Oct 2018 7:55 a.m. PST

the U.S. Army used meters instead of yards?

Yes … it was a NATO standard, etc.

By the late 1990s, everything was metric for the grunts, both Army and Marines. Military maps had 1km grid squares by then. Don't know when that changeover happened, though.
Agreed, I served '75-'91. '75-'79 as an ROTC cadet, Active Duty '79-'90, and USAR '91 …

Metric was a standard during the Vietnam War as well. All our maps left over from Vietnam used for training were in meters. Very, very, rarely did anyone use yards for anything save for e.g. sports, etc., i.e. a US football field is 100 yds., etc.

UshCha04 Oct 2018 10:26 a.m. PST

The moving target may not make recognition actually easier. More likely it will make it quicker. As you eye detects movement well, it will highlight that rapidly. If you looked long enough in the right place you may identify it anyway even if it was stationary.

Wolfhag Supporting Member of TMP04 Oct 2018 2:23 p.m. PST

I still have a few 1:50,000 scale maps of I Corps. The grid squares are in yards but the Legend at the bottom has measurements in Statute Miles, Nautical Miles, Meters and Yards.

When I was in there was a large number of Mental Category 4's (IIRC basically an IQ of 70-75) many of who did not know what a meter was, especially in the Grunts. Quite a few were functionally illiterate too.

Ushcha: You bring up a good point about the amount of time of observation and scanning. Do you have to roll for spotting each turn or is it automatic within a certain range? Are crews/TC's designated to be scanning a certain area of the battlefield? These are some of the problems I ran into for a 1:1 level game.

My solution (for now) is to react to a threat within spotting range and the result could be noticing it right away or with a delay of a certain number of turns (basically a Situational Awareness, Spotting and Reaction check with a D20). Delays increase if moving, buttoned up, poor crew, suppressed, flanked/surprised. Delays can decrease if the target moved, target skylining, is shooting or very good crew. If engaged and shooting you are blind in your rear 270 degrees and cannot react to threats in that arc (turreted vehicles only).

Panzer War has a pretty accurate and detailed spotting rule. I did design a nomo for minimum spotting ranges depending on vehicle static/moving, buttoned up/unbuttoned and target size/area.


Steve Wilcox04 Oct 2018 3:27 p.m. PST

I'm pretty sure this is from the US M60 tank manual.
Field Manual No. 12-17, Tank Gunnery, 21 March 1977, page 7-2 has that same chart, so that's probably the M60 tank manual you were thinking of. The picture of it you posted is truncated so the title and page number isn't visible, but everything else is the same.

Wolfhag Supporting Member of TMP04 Oct 2018 4:01 p.m. PST

Steve Wilcox,
You are a real Treadhead aren't you?


Legion 404 Oct 2018 4:29 p.m. PST

I still have a few 1:50,000 scale maps of I Corps. The grid squares are in yards but the Legend at the bottom has measurements in Statute Miles, Nautical Miles, Meters and Yards.
I still have a few maps from back then too … Memories … evil grin

When I was in there was a large number of Mental Category 4's (IIRC basically an IQ of 70-75) many of who did not know what a meter was, especially in the Grunts. Quite a few were functionally illiterate too.
The Draft ended in '72 and the US Military across the board had to "reinvent" itself after the war in SE Asia. So that does not surprise me too much. As you know better than I, they needed bodies during the war and were not too picky, especially when it came to Grunts … sadly …

deephorse05 Oct 2018 5:56 a.m. PST

The Sailor's trick is to use the corners of your eyes?This works really well at night.

This was taught in the British Army during my time, so probably before and after too. Because of the distribution of rods & cones in the retina it is more difficult to see/identify an object at night if you look directly at it. Look slightly to one side and it becomes easier to see/ID.

Legion 405 Oct 2018 7:06 a.m. PST

Yes, we were taught the same night vision techniques as you outlined. And yes it works.

Steve Wilcox05 Oct 2018 9:48 a.m. PST

Steve Wilcox,
You are a real Treadhead aren't you?
I may have a certain fondness for armored vehicles! :)

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