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"Tactics Discussion: Recon by Fire" Topic

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Wolfhag01 Nov 2019 7:34 a.m. PST

There has been some discussion about TMP not being as active and fewer posts being put up. I tend to agree. Over the years I've been taking screenshots from manuals on nuggets of information, obscure tactics, and weapons usage I've come across. I'll start posting some of these and my take on using them in a game and I welcome additional comments.

The first one is Recon by Fire:

I guess the first question is how can you represent this and make it playable? Do you use hidden deployment? Do you limit the number of turns of recon by fire and track ammo usage? What other limitations should you put on it?

This tactic by tanks would explain why Shermans overloaded their tank with HE rounds. Also, HE rounds fired into a treeline will create an air burst making it even more effective.

Concealed tanks can be detected by ricochets the same way pillboxes and bunkers can. So if a tank is firing a coax MG and gets ricochets he can fire his main gun with good accuracy using the MG fire for ranging.


Choctaw01 Nov 2019 7:39 a.m. PST

Nice. Thank you!

RudyNelson01 Nov 2019 7:55 a.m. PST

One thing about using .50 cal for recon by fire, it was one way to avoid the legal prohibition against using them to shoot people. In reality, a seldom followed rule. Lol though you would lose points on the tank gunnery range if you engage troops with a .50. Lol. I suspect the range is ideal to limit effective return fire. Few places in Europe or Pacific could you see 2,000 yards unobstructed. That is 29 football fields in length. Getting return fire is the only sure way of detection. Visual movement may be missed.

RudyNelson01 Nov 2019 7:56 a.m. PST

Thanks for the post. A good one.

Dragon Gunner01 Nov 2019 7:59 a.m. PST

1. You need a referee and hidden movement / set up.

2. It needs to be scenario specific and reasonable. Example if we are advancing 1 kilometer we probably could spare some ammunition for recon by fire. If we are advancing 60 kilometers we cannot afford to fire at every clump of vegetation.

3. A simple morale check is a possibility. Low quality troops more prone to returning fire and revealing themselves. Higher quality troops maintain discipline, do not return fire and reveal themselves.

Thresher01 Supporting Member of TMP01 Nov 2019 10:19 a.m. PST

Yep, hidden deployment is a must.

Recon by fire is permitted, but turns of that is limited, OR, you need to track ammo expenditures. Do the units start off with full ammo, or limited to begin the scenarios?

Will the unit fired on, assuming there is one, hold their fire and hunker down, or assume they are spotted and fire back? Discipline test is required to answer this.

You can do without a referee, if you use labeled chits, or other similar markers – must have lots of dummies to real units though, say like a 3:1+ ratio of dummies to real units. 5:1 would be better.

Real units may suffer pins, suppression, morale checks, and casualties. They may also fail discipline checks and fire back, even if their leader doesn't want them to. Light foliage may be blown away, eliminating or reducing visual cover.

Mark 101 Nov 2019 10:50 a.m. PST

You can do without a referee, if you use labeled chits, or other similar markers …

Exactly. No need for a referee if you have an appropriate hidden unit mechanism.

I use labeled chits for all the games I set up. To quote a key source: "Yep, hidden deployment is a must." I follow that philosophy across the board, not just with regard to recon-by-fire.

I use a chit for each playing piece. They are moved and played just like the miniatures until they are spotted under the rules (whatever rules you use), at which point the chit is replaced by the miniature.

Players are allowed to react to chits just as they would react to miniatures. You can move and shoot in response to the chits however you might like. The problem for the gamer is that they don't know what they are moving and shooting in response to -- until you can spot something all you have are your suspicions.

Since most rules don't allow you to conduct direct fire at units you haven't spotted, you are pretty much stuck with area fire at the chits. Most rules provide for direct area fire (area fire when you can see your beaten zone). That's about the only necessary issue in the rules for recon-by-fire to work.

I assure you, once your un-spotted units start taking fire from the enemy, you, as a gamer, will be mightily tempted to return fire. Of course, if you do, your units will be easily spotted. You could just hunker down and suck it up. More experienced gamers might do that, but those who have less (tabletop) battlefield experience will almost always return fire.

… must have lots of dummies to real units though, say like a 3:1+ ratio of dummies to real units. 5:1 would be better.

I have not found this to be the case. I usually provide about a 25 – 33% "bonus" of blank chits to each player. It doesn't take much more than 20% to inject doubt, and that's all you really need to do.

It's not a perfect mechanism. But it is simple, highly playable, and gives you most of what you want from hidden units, including the incentives and mechanisms for recon-by-fire.

Or at least that's what I find. Your tankage may vary.

(aka: Mk 1)

Personal logo Extra Crispy Sponsoring Member of TMP01 Nov 2019 11:50 a.m. PST

Crossfire has rules for spotting and recon by fire.

Any game that tracks ammo is a non-starter in my club.

Wolfhag01 Nov 2019 12:02 p.m. PST

I'm not into the ammo tracking thing either. If a unit was going to be performing some type of extended fire mission, suppression or recon by fire I'd assume they'd start out with enough ammo or have someone hauling it close behind.

Yes, hidden deployment is a must. However, you can't put all of your pretty toys on the table right away. That's not a problem for me. I put chits under terrain pieces and buildings.

Wouldn't Walking Fire qualify as Recon by Fire? From my reading when it worked it worked pretty well. When it didn't work you'd have people pinned down. However, it did force the defenders to shoot and give away their positions. If you had direct fire assets with the infantry or mortars ready to drop a barrage it may not be a bad idea.

I do have some Walking Fire material from manuals and AAR's I can post later that describe some successes.


Jcfrog Supporting Member of TMP01 Nov 2019 12:27 p.m. PST

Hidden chits and not using your toys do not necessarily have to go together. I (more in shows than at home-slows a bit) put "something on the hidden chit" that can be in the game. Works fine in ww2, you can put those tigers that seldom go out etc. If you are afraid of forgetting your important stuff, you can easily put the real one, the enemy does not know. You can even put most real ones, as long as there are, a,d there should be, dummies around.

In mostly ww2 but not just, for static troops (and a must for mines, registred barrage, hidden ditches…)we can write down under the chit san arrow in a direction way say 20cm, not too far, which would actually be the real position of the stuff.
Recon by fire is not easy as it would need a bit more of ammunition checks so they just don't shoot everything everywhere. usually we do not do for SA/mG. Mostly should consider it in the recon ability/ distances, the simplest way.

Munin Ilor01 Nov 2019 2:14 p.m. PST

I play a lot of Chain of Command, which does not use blinds. Instead it uses "Jump Off Points," meaning that units can deploy in certain areas, and until they actually deploy, they are not placed on the table. It captures the "empty battlefield" extremely well, because usually the first inclination you have that enemy troops are present is when they start shooting at you.

I think you could use a system like this in CoC by allowing recon-by-fire to eliminate certain terrain features from "surprise" deployment. So for instance, if I conduct recon-by-fire against a farmhouse that you could theoretically deploy into, you are faced with a choice: either deploy a unit there in response to my recon-by-fire, or suffer some penalty to being able to deploy a unit in that farmhouse in a later phase.

UshCha01 Nov 2019 2:52 p.m. PST

OK so Maneouvre Group has always had recon by fire.

We deal with it in a number of ways. For most folk we use Dummy and real markers. While beginners love lots of markers and are terrified in turn by being faced with lots of such markers, you soon get to realize which markers are obviously dummies, or are so poorly placed that they are an acceptable threat. So about 1/3 extra markers is all that is needed as the terrain even in the real world does not have that many good places to hide. We have tried moving dummies but argue the gains do not outweigh the advantages. Dummies chasing dummies add little to the game.

There are other interesting effects. The Brits often did not dig in in a hedge/wood line but 200yds in front. Camouflage is Shape, Shadow and Silhouette. You can dig in in front of a wood. That means suppressive fire on a wood line will not be very productive as that is not where the enemy is. This makes it harder to guess where to fire.

Recon by fire is best against poor troops or where the position is obvious, in the latter case its probably not sensible to be there. I recall reading that the best place to be is the second best place to be.

Simply mathematics make really effective recon by fire very slow. Take an MG firing at say 150 RPM. Assuming you want to land a bullet within 3 ft of the enemy so space the bullets out (impossible to be that clever) at say 4 ft along one line. That gives a length of about 200 yds per min/150 rounds. Assume the troops are not exactly in that line and you need to put down 3 lines (the guys are in trenches so not easy to hit. That gives 450 rounds to suppress enemy in a 200 yd front IN THEORY ONLY. Now in reality it will probably take at least twice that many as the bullets will; not all go where you want them too. So nearer 1000 round to guarantee a suppression and not much chance of a kill. So now get your tanks moving towards a slope. Now at 2000m away (a bit far in my opinion) you could expect about 3 hedgerows in the UK to be visible. Now a good 600m of hedge is a potential target at each hedge line so so that's of the order of 10,000 rounds and that is not a constant fire as its going to take some time to cover that distance. So are you going to be that effective? Probably not, unless they are poor troops that panic at a near miss. Plus this will potentially slow the advance down as unless you have really good stabilization, your accuracy will go down if you move. If you know where a position is you can suppress it with MG's or Artillery but that has been the case since at least WW1.

So a good commander who can spot the most worrying spots and at the most worrying range will find it useful. Wide range spray and pray is pointless. Particularly with good troops who will keep there head down while the enemy wastes their ammunition.

So on that basis we do allow suppressive fire, its not that good, is restricted to 60m front by 20m depth and is poor at doing much to dug in troops. It does stop troops moving into that section under fire if you keep it under fire.

In fact under our rules, to reliably hit a 60m front you need 2 or 3 MG's shooting to keep it definitively harmless from troops in trenches. This seems to us plausible and admits a reasonable use of ammunition.

Now we don't cover screams, How far away do you have to be to hear a scream under the deafening chatter of a Mar Browing? Spotting ricochets may not be easy if it occoures behind the cammo. net. You are not going to blow a cammo net by 1 hit every 3 ft. The odds of it hitting a critical bit is remote.

So my take is its a great way to neutralise small areas of high threat. Provided the enemy is picking these places like Haystacks to hide in. They train troops at least now days not to hide in obvious spots. However there will be spots that you have to shoot, as the consequences of not shooting are higher than the excessive use of ammunition. A clever opponent will know this and take advantage of it.

Its a rule you don't defend an isolated house its too obvious. Near it maybe, in it is the height of stupidity. War gamers often forget this an pay the price.

PS thanks a good post. However some manuals are there for the morale benefit not the practical.

There is the famous US trait in some quarters of the merits of Marching fire. One ex-servicemans opinion was its was great for keeping troops on their feet but would be of minimal to no value except against exceedingly poor troops. However late war the Troops quality of Germans was reducing in some cases due to the lack of good quality manpower.

Munster01 Nov 2019 3:16 p.m. PST

I suspect most rules in their spotting etc most likely assume that 'recon by fire' occurs and account for it in their chance of success. Having a special mechanism would just add 'flavour' that slows down the game.

Like any rule proposed, I always ask 'What do you want to achieve' before considering it, and then look at complexity versus outcome.

thomalley01 Nov 2019 3:17 p.m. PST

Not Quite Mechanised has rules that cover this. They use 3 dice and the training level of the troops involve to detremine 1) did the attacker see anything 20 did the defender fire or not and 3) if the defender fired, at what range.

Simo Hayha01 Nov 2019 9:13 p.m. PST

recon by fire looks good on paper but doesnt work in practice is my personal opinion. a waste of ammo and gives away ones own position and intention.

Skarper01 Nov 2019 10:31 p.m. PST

I think it's worth including in rules somehow. The how is the tricky bit.

I kind of have it my rules which do track ammo. If you do a lot of rbf versus good troops you are going to run low on ammo before you get any meaningful results. Versus average and green troops it will be more effective.

Most troops facing an enemy that is using concealment well will resort to rbf unless they are highly disciplined. This was a way to deal with the Normandy Bocage problem run tanks up to one hedgerow and brass up the next one before advancing to it then rinse and repeat. It's slow but safer.

Post WW2 and I think it is even more the 'done thing' regardless of what it says in the manual.

Hornswoggler02 Nov 2019 5:17 a.m. PST

One thing about using .50 cal for recon by fire, it was one way to avoid the legal prohibition against using them to shoot people.

Isn't that a myth?

Geneva Convention prohibition a misconception

It is often stated, sometimes even by military trainers, that it is illegal under the Geneva Convention to use the M2 against enemy personnel since it would cause "unnecessary suffering". However, there is no provision of the Geneva Convention that has ever been interpreted to forbid the use of the M2 on personnel. The misconception may have arisen during the Korean or Vietnam Wars when U.S. troops were told to use their M2s only on enemy equipment due to shortages of ammunition. It is also possible that a restriction during the latter period limiting the use of the M40 recoilless rifle's .50-caliber spotting gun to equipment only, since the M40 was meant to be used against armor and firing the spotting gun at personnel would have given away the M40's position before it could be used as intended, was mistakenly believed to apply to all weapons of that caliber and given legal justification.

source: link

Legion 402 Nov 2019 8:51 a.m. PST

Hidden Movement and dummy counters are good. But since Recon by Fire is basically firing blind. So the "target(s)" should get a "big cover bonus" of some sort. With a low probability of being hit.

a waste of ammo and gives away ones own position and intention.
Again, it primarily depends on … again … terrain & situation.

The "beauty" of the .50cal is it can chew thru bricks of all types. Like peanut brittle. Especially the mud, etc. bricks in many of the locations we find ourselves currently deployed.

Geneva Convention prohibition a misconception
Yes we had heard that. But even if just being tongue in cheek, if you could only shoot at enemy equipment with .50s. Well belt buckles, helmets, boots/sandals, rifles, etc., are equipment … So … Open fire boys ! evil grin

I can't imagine any combat Ldr, if in fact the GC said you can't fire at people with .50s. Would give the order not to fire. Your primary reason for being there is to kill the enemy and hopefully in large numbers very frequently.

Wolfhag02 Nov 2019 2:26 p.m. PST

I'd expect each tank advancing while using recon by fire would have a frontage of fire he'd be responsible for or assigned to keep specific targets like buildings under fire. The frontage would probably not be more than 100m but I could not find any definite information.

If there were no specific targets I'd think the tank would spread it's MG bursts back and force across the lateral frontage he's assigned to. That would give a % chance for each burst to hit a target each time fired.

So if you had a frontage of 100m and a target like an MG emplacement that took up 5m you'd have a 1 in 20 chance each burst of hitting the right area and a 2 in 20 of hitting next to it. So rolling a D20 on a 1 you'd have a hit and determine causalities. On a 2 or 3, you'd get suppression or maybe trigger a response like pulling back, morale check or firing. On a 4+ no effect.

That seems to be playable without the need for hidden units or umpires. You could also use a 100m template in 20x 5m segments to lay across the frontage and determine where the rounds went which would make it easier engaging multiple units in the frontage.


Walking Sailor Supporting Member of TMP02 Nov 2019 2:32 p.m. PST

At 100 yards, 2000 yards is 20 football fields. Including end zones (120 yards) it's 16 and 2/3s football fields. On the 1000 yard battlefield that's 10 and 8 1/3 respectively.

Wasn't walking fire used in the assault? By which time the recon phase is over and targets are known?

I don't think RBF gives away one's own position and attention. I think an advancing tank does that.

Is RBF allowed under today's restrictive Rules of Engagement?

Skarper02 Nov 2019 11:46 p.m. PST

The main benefit of rbf is the morale effect on the side doing the rbf. Troops are naturally reluctant to advance if there may be hidden enemy.

If they see potential enemy positions heavily engaged they have no excuse not to advance when ordered to.

In the modern empty battlefield, troops seldom see a live enemy soldier but use area fire at suspected enemy positions.

As such I see rbf as an extension of normal fire.

UshCha03 Nov 2019 1:36 a.m. PST

To be honest I suspect your probability of a Kill are way to high over such an area. I could imagine high proabilitiy in Bocarge but the frontages were probably a lot less than 100m. Again at a single house there may be some possibility but 2 or more floors and it takes a lot of 7.72 minimum ammunition.

Personally I lean towards Legion 4 except for very small targets. To be honest we only allow suppression, other things did happen but I suspect were rare events so not worth modelling. Obvious hiding places of small size would be better done with artillery.

In Normandy church towers were obvious targets and were engaged as a matter of course. Those classifying as unacceptable consequences if not engaged.

Legion 403 Nov 2019 10:34 a.m. PST

Wasn't walking fire used in the assault?
Generally yes … but it would be used at closer ranges just before overrunning enemy positions, etc. Along with prep support fires from mortars, etc., in many cases.

By which time the recon phase is over and targets are known?
Again generally yes in some situations. E.g. maybe not with Movement to Contact, etc.

Is RBF allowed under today's restrictive Rules of Engagement?
With todays ROE it would probably be a no go. Possibly cause more friendly losses. Which I find very upsetting.

The main benefit of rbf is the morale effect on the side doing the rbf. Troops are naturally reluctant to advance if there may be hidden enemy.
Not really in many cases. RBF is to suppress/destroy likely enemy positions.

If they see potential enemy positions heavily engaged they have no excuse not to advance when ordered to.
Yes, as the enemy is taking fire, being suppressed and killed or wounded.

In the modern empty battlefield, troops seldom see a live enemy soldier but use area fire at suspected enemy positions.
That is generally the standard/SOP as I mentioned. The only time you'd see the enemy is generally in the assault at close range. And in closed terrain, e.g. MOUT.

UshCha04 Nov 2019 2:31 a.m. PST

I suspect that the difference is when you are taking fire you have a much better idea where the fire is coming from. On a 500m hedge I would assume you could narrow down where along the hedge the enemy fire is coming from. On that basis it is probably area fire but in a quite localized area where your chances of hitting something rise significantly.

Recon by fire is where you have minimal knowledge of whether the enemy is even present at all.

Hornswoggler04 Nov 2019 5:19 a.m. PST

Just thought I'd mention that the ruleset G.I. Commander (1984, ENOLA GAMES / NAVWAR) contains rules for reconnaissance by fire in the Advanced section.

Analsim04 Nov 2019 11:34 a.m. PST


I rode a Tank (i.e. both M60s & M1s) for years in the US Army.

So, here's a couple of factors you can consider based upon my DAT's perspective on Tank 'Recon by Fire' (RbF).

1. Wasting Ammo is always a pertinent factor. Because depending on the weapon, you only have so much .50 Cal, Coax MG and Main gun rounds you can waste on RbF.

2. Range is a very important consideration in ROF. Not necessarily related to YOUR weapons, but the weapons & capabilities of the Enemy you are maneuvering against. Example. Enemy AT guns will almost always SEE or HEAR YOU FIRST. Thus, you would like to ROF them before you get closer than 1600 meters to them. Because that's where YOU start to become a potential 'One Shot, One Kill Victim'.
Problem is, your .50 Cal Max Effective fire range, based upon 'tracer burn out' is only about 1,600m. Which is important, because to be effective, it really helps you, to be able to see where your ROF rounds are going! ;^)

3. Related to BOTH #1 & #2 above, is that you don't want to run out of MG Ammo when you get within 1,000m of the suspected enemy locations. This is a bigger factor for the .50 Cal MG because you only have 100-250 rounds (depending on the Tank) that you can shoot. The Coax MG has a couple thousand rounds to shoot but, is restricted by an 800m tracer burn out range.

4. I have found that when you get within 1,200m of a suspected enemy location, RbF is actually a lot more effective, BUT not for the reason you'd suspect. Nor do You have to even hit or know where the enemy is located. A paradox right?

The reason is that when you get that close the NOISE coming from your .50 Cal MG and Main Gun fire has the additional effect of causing any enemy who can hear it, start thinking that YOU are possibly shooting at them! And they will often open up (return fire) and betray their position because they often can't tell what you are aimed at and are getting worried that you are too close to take any chances.

5. We usually only would have one or two tanks (wingman) out of a Platoon of 4-5 tanks engage in RbF. The other Tanks would be looking for an enemy signature, so that they could return fire immediately.

Andy ONeill04 Nov 2019 11:39 a.m. PST

Marching fire was not intended for just the final assault. One might assume so – because blazing away from the hip as you stride forward, a hundred yards away is pretty obviously pointless vs dug in men. But that was the idea. You supplied your own covering fire and the enemy cowered. Awed by the occasional leaf or twig dropping down near them.

Patton thought marching fire was a good idea.
From what I've read, few agreed.
My understanding is his men tried and ditched the idea as only working against very low quality low morale enemy where pretty much any alternative worked anyhow.

Wolfhag04 Nov 2019 12:12 p.m. PST

In the early 1970's we used the Walking Fire for just the final assault of about 25m and F&M to get within that range. In VN it sometimes worked but when it didn't it was bad. Having a squad on line and being hit by flanking automatic weapons fire will bring the assault to a halt.

I think it does have a positive morale effect on the "Walkers" and if you have good heavy weapons overwatch it will work even better. Then there is the noise factor that Analsim mentioned.


Legion 404 Nov 2019 3:34 p.m. PST

In the early 1970's we used the Walking Fire for just the final assault of about 25m and F&M to get within that range.
Yes, Wolf that is the way it was, '79-'90 too.

Analsim +1

As far as ranges, when figures of 500m, 1000m, 2000m, etc. are mentioned. From an Infantryman's POV those are very long ranges to move unless to are in cover/concealment, or even an APC/IFV moving in cover/concealment. Even using suppressive fire support, Overwatch, Bounding Overwatch, F&M etc.

As I said on another thread here TMP link : "When the Infantry dismounts, it is very near to the OBJ. And uses suppressive fires from all available sources, fire & maneuver, moving from cover to cover. Exposing themselves to as little as enemy fires as possible. " …

" Basically again, terrain & situation dictates many things. And where and when you dismount is based on those factors. No absolute answer, that is one reason Warfare is described as both an Art & Science.
What the ground Cdr does can decide victory or defeat, obviously.
E.g. Having been a Plt Ldr in the 101 where we didn't have APCs or MBTs. Save for the very rare times we were attached to a unit that did. We were "expert" at dismounted Infantry ops. Moving stealthfully, using terrain, cover and concealment and even doing night attacks to obtain our OBJ(s).
Don't want to confuse, but even as a Mech Cdr I'd sometimes do dismounted night movements to get close to an OPFOR location. Then attack using surprise and deception. My tracks were back in a concealed location then come up to meet us later. When I called them forward.
This worked out well in West Germany for me during a REFORGER. They were expecting a Tank/Mech Assault. The Tanks were there in cover to provide support as needed. Or even advance along with our M113s up to our location once we secured the area, etc.,.
Other times it was a full on Deliberate Attack or Movement to Contact, etc., with calling in FA, CAS, etc., as required. The M60 MBTs advancing with our M113s right behind them. Each providing support for the other. With my M113s dismounting to clear out enemy locations as required, etc. Remounting and moving on if need be, etc.,.
If you want me to give you a 100% solid answer to guarantee when to dismount and when to not … there is none. It depends on the factors I mentioned. And the Cdr's & his troops capabilities …
If you want a 100% guarantee … go to Walmart … Generally it won't happen in warfare. " …

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