My blog about my wargaming activities. I collect a lot of 15mm miniatures for the American War of Independence and so collect a lot of rules for this period. I started miniatures with Napoleonics, so I have a number of armies in 6mm and 15mm figures for skirmishing. I have15mm WW II figures that I use for Flames of War, Memoir '44, and someday, Poor Bloody Infantry. Finally there is my on-again, off-again relationship with paper soldiers that I sometimes write about.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Sending Them to the Rear

One of the local gamers here (Ira) always keeps his artillery's transports around in games of Flames of War. He would never send his transports to the rear for safety as he would always use them to soak up hits made against his battery. He tended to do it with halftracks, trucks, any transports really, because he felt that a hit taken by a truck was worth the morale loss than a hit taken to an infantry, artillery, or tank team.

It was while I was working through a tactical exercise using Soviet Strelkovy versus everything German that I finally understood why he came to that conclusion. I am not sure his math supported his rationale, but I thought I would pose the issue here, because I think it might answer a few questions people might have about casualties, and their effect on morale.

Platoon Morale Check

So, let's start with the basics: the platoon morale check. Let's say you have eight teams in a platoon; the platoon first checks morale when it has only three stands left, right? Maybe, maybe not. Let's review the rule. It says that when more than half the platoon is destroyed, the platoon checks morale. However, it provides a definition of "more than half" that you really need to examine.

Teams are rated as combat effective or not. Some of what does not count makes sense – bailed and bogged vehicles, for example, are not allowed to move and fire, so don't count as combat effective – but some are less intuitive, such as combat attached teams and transport vehicles that are armed. The basic rule is count the number of combat effective teams remaining versus those destroyed (not simply removed from the table). If the combat effectives equal or exceed the teams destroyed, you are safe from a platoon morale check. So, one can imagine that a unit is divided into four boxes.

Combat effectives are those teams on the board that count in the positive, non-combat are those on the board and count as neither negative or positive, sent to the rear are those off of the board and count as neither negative or positive, and finally destroyed, which are those teams off of the board that count in the negative. In the picture above, the count is 4-0, four combat effectives on the board and no destroyed.

If a combat effective is destroyed, the count changes to 3-1, and would look like the following.

Something peculiar occurs when a combat effective is destroyed: the count changes by two. If you look at the combat effectives as a positive number and the destroyed as a negative, a 4-0 count yields a sum of 4 (4 - 0). However, when a combat effective is lost, the count changes to 3-1, with a sum of 2. That change of a single combat team, from 4 to 2, shows the count change of 2. However, the loss of a non-combat effective results in a change of only one.

Here the count has gone from 4-0 to 4-1. That is because the half-track never counts in the positive (as a combat effective), but counts in the negative when destroyed. So, one could say that Ira was right. The loss of a transport yields an effective loss of 1, while the loss of a combat team yields an effective loss of 2. Losing three transports for example, does not yield a platoon morale check; the score is still 4-3.

But the same three losses, applied to the combat effective teams, makes the score 1-3, resulting in a platoon morale check.

So, Ira is correct, right? Keep your transports around to soak up hits. The loss of each transport yields a net change of 1, while the loss of the combat effective yields a net change of 2.


There are some exceptions, of course, and being aware of what those are, and why they are exceptions, will help you make the right decision on whether to keep the transports around, or send them to the rear.

The first exception to note is that transports and attached gun teams typically do not survive as well as infantry. With both having a 5+ save, and the infantry having a 3+ save, you will lose transports at twice the rate infantry, so there is no real net gain.

The original example, however, was keeping the transports around to save the artillery battery. Again, if the battery has Gun Shields, they still have an additional save that the transports do not, so your losses in transports will usually be twice or more than that of the guns, so from a morale viewpoint you are not saving anything. If the guns do not have Gun Shields, German Nebelwerfers or any of the smaller pieces such as mortars, then the losses amongst the gun and the transports would be the same, so it makes sense to take the losses in the latter.

Loss of Combat Power

Of course, Ira's argument was always about the trade-off of the loss of combat power versus how long before a morale check was required. The loss of transports might mean the battery checks sooner, but while it stays on the board its combat power is undiminished. A loss of a single gun, when it drops the battery strength from 6 to 5 or from 3 to 2, is significant.

Priority Target

All of this, of course, is mitigated by using the Priority Target rule and stating that the priority are guns, infantry, or whatever. Many people forget that rule until it is too late, and they see their shots being soaked up by transports, or worse, into infantry rather than the artillery battery.

However, all of this came up when I was using the Priority Target rule in order to pick off some combat attached, man-packed gun teams from a horde of infantry (yes, they had a Firepower rating of 4 or better) when I was wondering whether that was the most effective use of my hits, and this whole line of thought came about. (Yes, it was better to go after the guns, in this case PTRD anti-tank rifles and Maxsim HMGs, as they had lower saves than the infantry, and thus inflicted casualties faster. But that is when I noticed that I needed to inflict twice the casualties...)


Personally, I stick with my original assessment of sending artillery battery transports to the rear, especially when they are unarmored. It is too easy for my opponent to remember to call Priority Target and hit the battery with the good firepower, then have weaker fire go after the trucks.

The choice is a little harder when it is US Armored Rifles or German Gepanzertepanzergrenadiers that dismount from their half-tracks. The US Armored Rifles can usually always afford to keep a team in the half-track and man the machine guns, as can the Germans, so sending transports to the rear means sending weapons to the rear, in addition to permanently losing your mobility for the remainder of the scenario. Only if I am in a situation where the enemy is anti-tank heavy will I absolutely send them to the rear, once the infantry has dismounted.

Tell me what your criteria for sending transports to the rear. Are you in the Ira camp?

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Huachuca City, Arizona, United States
I am 50 yrs old now. I bought a house in Huachuca City, AZ (although I have a townhouse in Houston, TX and a small home in Tucson, AZ) working on a contract for "the next two years" that is going on five years now. To while away the hours I like to wargame -- with wooden, lead, and sometimes paper miniatures -- usually solo. Although I am a 'rules junkie', I almost always use rules of my own (I like to build upon others' ideas, but it seems like there is always something "missing" or "wrong").