Wednesday, January 7, 2015

BATREP: "Live to fight another day..."


To kick off the new year, we are playing out a mini-campaign, using the Fistful of TOWs "Battle Generator Campaign" system. For those who don't have the FFT rulebook, a quick summary follows:

Players pick a "core" force, based around an Infantry "formation", to a pre-determined points value (a formation is a Battalion for western-style forces, a Brigade / Regiment for soviet-style). They must start by taking the units from this formation, up to the full formation, before choosing units from second and then subsequent formations. Each game, the players choose a force from their core to fight the scenario generated. The initiative player in each scenario (the attacker) takes up to a maximum points value for the game, which is set at campaign start as a percentage of the core force (recommended is between 50-75%). The defender gets a percentage of the attacker's maximum, as set by the individual scenarios.

On top of troops from the core list for each game, each player can choose one "unit" from their army's available "attachments" (usually Brigade or Divisional troops), up to 25% of their maximum points available for the scenario. They can also take off-table Artillery, also up to a pre-set points maximum, plus airstrikes if allowed by the scenario.

The rulebook outlines how to generate the next scenario to be played (influenced by the previous battle type and winner). The blurb says that the campaign system generally results in between 3-8 battles and can be won through one of three methods: (1) distance advanced; or (2) 'exhaustion' level of the opposing formations; or (3) the level of casualties making the formation(s) combat-ineffective. It also outlines how to do campaign casualty recovery between battles, plus provides a simple resource allocation mechanism of "campaign points". These are limited, but can be allocated after each battle to influence the die roll to determine the next scenario type, to replace lost casualties, or to reduce 'exhaustion'.

For our mini-campaign, we decided to stick with troops chosen from my larger campaign setting.

I chose to base my Red core troops for the campaign around a Red Motorised Brigade (the 21st Motorised Brigade, from the 2nd Division). For my points I got the full Brigade (complete with all Brigade units), plus the fighting units of a second (the 22nd) Motorised Brigade (3x Mot. Inf. battalions, and a Tank battalion). All rated "Fair" quality. This gave me a mammoth force to pick and choose from each game, with a total of 6x Mot. Inf. battalions and 2x Tank battalions, plus the specialist companies from the first Brigade (AT, AA, Engr, Recon, EW, UAV).  Attachments for each battle would be available from the Divisional units.

Blue's campaign force is based around a Battalion from a US Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT). Blue also ended up getting a second full Stryker battalion, plus extra MGS platoons from the third battalion. This is a very small force to counter the Red horde! The reason for their limited numbers is explained by the higher individual points costs of the US equipment (Strykers are much better than BTRs, plus the option was taken to arm them all with AGLs - more effective than the HMG option, but also 50% more expensive in points!). Also, importantly, their troop quality of 'Good' drives the price of *every* stand up by 21%. Blue attachments would be available from the SBCT - notably M1A2 tanks, Stryker AT, and AH-64 Gunship helicopters.

The system allows you to customise your force to a limited extent (but realisitic, I think) for each battle. This provides a lot of the fun and variety in the system, by trying to anticipate how your opponent will approach the scenario, and what forces he will bring to the fight.

We went with the following limits:
  • Overall Core list: 10,000 points maximum
  • Scenario limit: 7,500 points maximum
  • Artillery limit: 300 points maximum
The starting scenario in the system is always a "Hasty Attack". The starting initiative was randomised for the first game, resulting in a Red attack.

The battlefield was much more open than the last game we played, and is shown below. A suitable objective was nominated in the centre in the defender's deployment zone - the end of a ridgeline dominating the road network:

Blue got 5,000 points from which to select their defending force. For this John got two Stryker Infantry companies plus the Stryker battalion AA and Recon. His attachment unit was an under-strength Tank Company of two M1A2 platoons. He was also allowed to use up to 20% of his points in 'hasty' engineering works, and bought some hasty entrenchments for a portion of his infantry and tanks. With his artillery points, he got the SBCT's Artillery Battalion (Towed M-777 155mm, firing ICM ), plus some FASCAM missions. The defence was looking very thin on the ground and the Blue plan looked like this:

The defence comprised two company-sized defensive positions to the NW and SW of the objective. The tanks would be held in reserve, ready to react to two pre-designated attack-by-fire positions. One of these (on the objective) had pre-prepared tank-entrenchments for the M1A2s to occupy.

As the attacker, I got the maximum 7,500 points to choose from. I decided to go with a sledge-hammer approach. I took the majority of my Brigade (less the SAM and Engineer companies), plus an additional Motorised battalion from the second Brigade. So four infantry battalions and a tank battalion. My attachment unit was the Divisional Recon battalion (comprising three companies, each with a platoon of T-90s and two platoons of BTR-80As). Off table artillery consisted of my Brigade Artillery battalion, plus a second battalion from the Divisional Artillery Brigade (both SP 152mm, firing standard HE to conserve points). I also purchased a single Su-25 Airstrike with "Medium GP bombs". The scenario allowed the attacker to use pre-planned artillery, and airstrikes. The Red Plan looked like this:

Once again, I took the opportunity to improve the effectiveness of my artillery by using an extensive pre-planned artillery fire-plan. For the first six turns of the game, my two artillery battalions would provide HE fire onto what I thought would be likely enemy positions and observation locations. Additionally, the battalion-mortars from all four battalions would fire WP smoke-screens to obsure my advance (to make up for their lack of firepower otherwise, each Red infantry battalion has an over-size Company of 2S23 120mm SP Mortars). For the last two turns of the game, the mortars would fire HE on the rear of the objective (to discourage counter-attacks), and the SP Artillery battalions would be on-call to engage opportunity targets.

During the initial three turns, I would move my Brigade and Divisional Recon companies forward across a wide frontage, to occupy observation positions. These would provide early notification of any gross errors in the rest of my plan, allowing me to attempt orders changes early enough to adapt the plan if necessary. Also to keep the defender guessing as to what would be the main attack axis. This uncertainty was to be supplemented by a flank-march conducted by the 221 Motorised Battalion (from the 22nd Brigade), infiltrating through the wooded terrain to the south of the objective (the scenario allowed a 'flank deployment' of up to 25% of my force). If possible, this battalion would conduct a supporting attack up onto the objective. On the third turn, my Brigade AT Company (BTR-90s) would occupy an overwatch position, to support the imminent main assault. Although all of this pre-positioning cost me three valuable turns (out of eight), I considered it important to set suitable the conditions for my main effort, the subsequent assault.

On turns four and five, the entire 21st Brigade would advance at full speed on-road, which would provide the fastest approach-route to the objective. The Battalions would advance in column (on-road) then, behind the covering smoke-screen, would adopt a line-abreast assault formation. On turns six to eight, the Brigade would assault and capture the objective, with infantry leading and supported by the Tank battalion (PT-91s). With three (maybe four) battalions of Infantry and a battalion of tanks facing what I anticipated would be a reinforced company on the objective, I was confident I could carry the day...

Below are the two plans super-imposed. This indicates where the clashes would be likely to occur, and where there are issues requiring changes to the plans:

 Here's how the game played out:

The Stryker company defensive position in the N.
The MGS platoon is nicely concealed in a good position on the hill.
The company further to the S.
The M1A2 MBTs are in their reserve position, in reverse-slope, ready to react where needed.
The Stryker Battalion Recon Platoon observes the northern route
An overview of the defensive layout.
The Red Mortars lay the smoke screen.
Again, artillery problems see several screens laid in the wrong spot...
The southern Stryker Company digs in its final platoon.
First blood - US artillery hits a Recon company,
pinning a T-90 platoon and destroying a BTR-80A platoon.
Turn two - the Recon units continue to move forward - in the north (left)...

 ...centre left...
...centre right...

...and south (right). The smoke screens shift.
Again, there are some issues with getting some of them where they were planned to land.
This one landed off target too far west, forcing the recon company to slow its advance.
The flank-marching battalion passes its roll to enter on the first attempt!
They enter from the south, rapidly marching through the light woods.
Pre-planned Artillery fell on the empty hill to their W,
wrongly assessed pre-game as a probable enemy location.
Hearing the rumble of vehicles in their rear,
the southern Stryker Company abandons its prepared positions...
...falling back to a tree-line to the east.
Alerted to their presence by the (bypassed) Stryker Battalion recon platoon in the north,
the M1A2s move to a hull-down position on the objective to await targets.
Their laser range finders indicate that the leading T-90 platoon (top of picture) is still at long range.
Wanting to ensure the kill, the M1A2s  wait for the range to close...
Turn three - 221 Battalion forms up in the woods,
ready for the dash across the gap to assault the defending Stryker Company.
The northern Red Divisional Recon Company moves into range,
 exposing itself between a hill and forest.
The M1A2s destroy the lead T-90 and BTR-80A platoons,
 but the remaining BTR-80A makes it into cover.

The US Infantry dismount their Strykers and wait for the assault in the S.
Turn four - The pre-planned artillery falls on the forward positions of the
defending southern Stryker Company, suppressing the defenders.
221 Battalion then assaults, suffering casualties but also destroying several US platoons. 
A good view of the overall action on turn four.
The battalion assault goes in on the right of picture (E),
and the 21st Brigade advances in column from the W.
WP Smoke continues to fall on the northern Stryker Infantry Company.
One platoon fails a terrain save, and a quality check, and is destroyed.
21st Brigade rapidly advances along the road in column,
halting to form up behind the smoke-screen.
211 Battalion leads, followed by the 214 Tank Battalion.
A view from the rear of the column.
You can also see the Brigade AT Company in its overwatch position
to the right of the column (occupied in turn three).
The hill is quite exposed, but offers good observation (once the smoke clears!).
The lead elements are engaged by the Blue artillery and mortars,
then direct fire from the flank by the northern Stryker company position.
Javelin ATGMs and 40mm AGL dispatch several platoons of infantry in their BTRs.
By turn five John, as the US commander, could see the writing on the wall and decided to withdraw in order to conserve his force to "live to fight another day". Even the firing of his FASCAM would only delay the inevitable (it was AP mines only, so would not have slowed a mounted advance). Additionally, although the tanks could have inflicted some casualties, it is likely they would have been overwhelmed in close-combat by the LAWs and MAWs of the assaulting infantry, plus close-range shots by supporting Red MBTs.

With the Blue withdrawal on turn five, my troops advanced to secure their objective and both scenario victory points (one VP for securing the objective by the end of the game, and an additional one for securing it by turn seven). This meant a major victory for the Reds in Game 1.

After all that, permanent casualties were relatively light. John's withdrawal did indeed limit his casualties, and after casualty returns, he only suffered an infantry platoon and a Stryker ICV permanently lost. He promptly restored these in the after-battle procedure using some of his campaign points. Red suffered heavier casualties, losing two platoons of infantry, plus their BTR-80s permanently from the core force. Additionally, a number or BTR-80As and T-90s were destroyed from the Div recon, but these don't affect the core force.

Lessons learned:
  1. Quantity (even low quality troops) can overcome quality. But they need some careful planning on how to approach the objective to minimise their disadvantages, and maximise the advantage of their numbers.
  2. Incendiary Smoke (ie. WP) is quite effective at cutting down the effectiveness of the US Thermal Imager advantage. The troops with TI can still see you, but their firing effectiveness is significantly degraded (a -2 modifier to shooting in game terms). It also has the advantage of attacking any soft targets caught under the smoke screen...
  3. EW was effective at reducing the effectiveness of the US artillery by reducing its availability
  4. Blue learned the need for flank-security. They had a plan to provide this to the north (through observation by Recon, plus using MBTs re-deployed to pre-planned positions). But on their southern flank, they neglected to provide any. Unfortunately this led to their company on that flank needing to withdraw when threatened with being cut off and/or destroyed. Even a single suitably concealed infantry platoon would have been able to spot for artillery (with FASCAM if necessary) and inflict reasonable delay with their Javelin ATGM.
  5. With a lot of troops massing for an attack, 'traffic-jams' and management of 'real-estate' is a significant issue. Rapid movement and deployment into an effective fighting formation requires forward planning. I'm starting to better understand the old Soviet era battle drills, where troops advanced in regimental, then battalion, then company, then platoon columns before adopting their assault line-abreast formations. This is a great way of transitioning from movement to attack.
  6. In my opinion, the US troops abandoned their initial (pre-prepared) positions too early. It's a tough call though, since it is clear they were being cut off and probably would have suffered very heavy casualties. But they would have been much harder to destroy in these entrenchments, and would likely have been able to delay for a crucial extra couple of turns, possibly forcing a draw for the game. This would have switched the campaign initiative to the Blue side (in the case of a draw, initiative for the following game goes to the defender...).
  7. I think the key to this scenario is its length (very short). An interesting option for Blue to consider could have been a more active defence. This would involve saving the points spent on entrenchments and spending them on additional troops. The initial blue deployment is limited by the scenario to their third of the table, however from this starting position, they would move forward to delaying positions in the first turn and then fight a delaying defence. The (far superior) US tanks would be key to this, making the most of overwatch and the "shoot-and-scoot" rules to attrit the advancing Red forces and force them to deploy for successive assaults (or face even heavier casualties). Anything that forces the attackers to dismount and assault significantly delays their advance to their ultimate objective.
Campaign running tally:

  • Exhaustion Points: 4 / 24
  • KM's gained: 0 / 32
  • Campaign Points Remaining: 9 / 12
  • Permanent Casualties: Nil
  • Exhaustion Points: 4 / 24
  • KM's gained: 12 / 32
  • Campaign Points Remaining: 10 / 12
  • Permanent Casualties: 2x Infantry Platoons, 2x BTR-80s


  1. I assume that you used the Oddzial Osmy 3mm figures and vehicles for this battle. I have tried some of these (for WW2) but I had real trouble with the infantry because of the very hard, fragile metal. About a quarter of my figures snapped at the ankles just from the vibrations when I cut them apart - and I had to do it inside a cloth bag, or the separated figures flew all over the room. While I quite like the O8 vehicles, this made the figures a huge pain and I think I will probably stick to 6mm (GHQ mostly) unless someone can suggest a fix. I can see you have deployed quite a few O8 infantry in this battle - did you have the same problems?

    1. All my infantry are Oddzial Osmy. I can't say I've ever had any problem with the infantry.

      I only cut the strips at the divide lines already cast on, and use a set of cutters like GW or GF9 sell.

      I'd give them another try if I were you, as their 3mm stuff is just awesome IMHO. Cheers.

    2. I've found that a pair of wire cutters works fine. Even when not done along one of the seams. I've given a couple double ankle amputations, but nothing that I couldn't use as some one kneeling down or standing in some higher grass. This scale is pretty forgiving.

    3. Are the INF the USA VN era INF? My modern INF seem to be all prone....

      I don't have problems cutting them, I just use some heavy wire cutters I had in my tool box.

      They do fly all over, though....

    4. Sorry for not responding sooner - somehow I missed this!

      The Red infantry are the O8 Modern Soviet infantry. The US Infantry are actually the O8 "Cold War NATO Infantry", as I like their poses, and it's hard to tell that they aren't US infantry at this scale. Paint them appropriate colours and they look the part : )

  2. Nice AAR, what's lead you to use FFT rather than the MSH rules for combat and movement?

  3. i like many aspects of MSH, but FFT has a bit more detail in the resolution of combat. Variable range bands, variable rate of fire, more variety in infantry, that sort of thing. A lot more movement too, and I always prefer games with a bit of movement.

    I'd happily play either, but at the moment FFT gets the nod.

  4. Awesome battle report! I really like the format and look forward to reading the next report ;)