By Rick Cox, Sergeant (res.)
Adapted by Marco Veldman for use on the Exp:WW2 website
For the players of Expansion: World War II the items listed
below should be of paramount importance when deciding where and
when to fight. In any battle the winning side is often determined
by what appear to be minor issues. For example a small river
could make it impossible to successfully attack an enemy force.
Or the enemy force may attack you, disrupting your plans and
taking away the initiative.
When a battle takes place, both the defender and the attacker
have a say in choosing the site of the battle: the battlefield.
The attacker chooses where to attack and the defender chooses
whether or not to defend that location. Attacking typically takes
more effort than defending, but the attacker chooses the time of
the battle, while the defender typically builds up his defenses
until the enemy is in sight. Therefore every commander faces the
- when, where and how to attack
- where and how to defend
- whether attacking or defending is the better choice in
any given situation.
Presented below are the various options available to
commanders in Expansion: World War II. Each will have its common
applications. Terrain and its effects on the different options
will also be discussed.
Penetration (AKA Blitzkrieg)
- This is the classic combined arms attack strategy. The basic
idea is for the attacking forces to use air power to pin the
enemy forces down while crippling their ability to supply and
reinforce their front-line units. Infantry is used to make
multiple feints or minor attacks so the enemy cannot tell where
the main attack will fall. Concentrated mechanized and armored
forces attack a relatively small portion of the enemy defenses
with overwhelming power causing a breakthrough. The mobile
spearhead penetrates the enemy rear areas pursuing fleeing units
and destroying command and support assets. Follow up infantry and
mechanized units pour through the opening in the enemy defenses
and flank remaining defenders. This causes the entire enemy
position to become untenable, while insuring the enemy cannot
launch an effective counterattack from the flanks of the
- This strategy will work against a wide variety of defenses
but requires relatively open terrain to be really effective.
Anything that inhibits the mobility of the spearhead and follow
up units limits the effectiveness of the penetration attack. The
best available defense is therefore the defense in depth, but the
mobile defense is the best counter-measure against a penetration
on flat or desert ground. As the spearhead hits each subsequent
line of defenders it loses some of its shock power and ability to
cause the breakthrough that this strategy depends upon. The
attack may still have some success but it is unlikely to cause
the enemy positions to become untenable. The defenders will be
moved, but not broken. A hasty attack might be a desperate means
to disturb the enemy forces before they can attack.
- Note: you need armored units and tactical bombers
- Tactically this is not a very effective option. The idea is
to sneak small forces through the enemy defenses and then have
them create havoc in the enemy rear areas prior to a general
attack. It can be very difficult to make this happen, but if you
can pull it off this can be effective. Terrain that is considered
difficult (primarily forests and swamps) offer the best chances
to infiltrating units because they also limit the enemies'
ability to see wide stretches of area.
- Defense in depth also offers the most protection against
this form of attack because the infiltrating units have to bypass
layers of defenders: a difficult undertaking.
- Note: can only be performed by special forces, guerillas or
Envelopment (AKA Pincer, single or double)
- Most recently seen in Operation Desert Storm (Gulf War,
1991) this tactic can be very effective as long as the enemy
doesn't see it coming. Desert Storm was a single envelopment
by the US VII and XVIII Corps. The Iraqi forces never saw the
attack coming due to other coalition forces' activities to their
front. Thus the Iraqi's were flanked and at the same time
their avenue of escape was cut off. Open terrain is also
desirable for this kind of attack, but an envelopment has a fair
chance of success in most types of terrain. It just takes longer
to function in limiting terrain which gives the enemy time to
take the initiative if they so desire.
- The mobile defense is usually the most effective against
this attack because it guarantees enough reserves to at least try
to defend both flanks. Of course having screening units,
traditionally cavalry or armored cavalry, along one's flanks will
usually provide the warning and time to prevent the enemy from
achieving the surprise they need for this tactic to work.
Turning movement (AKA flanking)
- Very similar to the envelopment described above. The turning
movement is used in areas that prohibit the attack on a grand
scale, or where the enemy is solidly anchored by terrain. The
idea is to overload the enemy flank causing the defending forces
to bend back along their own line or to break and expose the rest
of the line. This has been an effective tactic for many generals,
including Napoleon, but is largely supplanted by the envelopment
in mobile warfare.
- The best defense against a turning movement is a defense in
difficult terrain such as mountains or forests.
- This is the traditional all or nothing attack. The majority
of friendly forces attacking all along the enemy line of defense.
The idea is that at some place the enemy line will break and the
attackers will rush forces held in reserve to exploit that break.
Soviet forces have long favored this type of attack with their
two up one back style of attack. This is usually the most
expensive form of attack for the attacking forces, costing troops
and equipment at a horrendous rate. But in some situations it may
be the only realistic option. When to use this is usually
dictated by terrain. If the enemy is situated in an area that
provides no options for envelopment and appears equally strong in
all areas limiting the effectiveness of a turning movement then
the frontal attack is one of the few remaining options. In fact
if the penetration attack is not practicable or available it may
be the only option.
- The frontal attack can be used in virtually any terrain and
if the attacker has enough forces it can beat virtually any
defense. Keep in mind that the cost will be very high. The best
defense against the frontal attack is a combination of a prepared
defense and easily defensible terrain.
Movement to contact
- Another form of attack that has truly come of age with
mobile warfare. The movement to contact is ordered when a
commander knows the enemy forces are out there somewhere. But he
doesn't know where. Once again cavalry assets are used to
lead the friendly forces in a search for the enemy. It is the job
of the cavalry to find and fix the enemy. Holding their attention
and allowing the rest of the friendly forces to concentrate and
strike the enemy a decisive blow. As this form of attack is only
used when you don't know where the enemy is, you have little
control over what terrain you traverse. Hopefully your cavalry
screen runs into an unprepared enemy and allows your main force
to move into place before the enemy can organize a serious
defense. If not you end up with either a hasty attack or defense
depending on the situation you find yourself in. The trick with
the movement to contact is surviving the initial discovery of the
enemy and keeping the initiative for the battle as it develops.
- The best defense against a movement to contact is a prepared
- Note: you need to have armored units
- The hasty attack is usually the result of two forces bumping
into one another. It can also be possible when a nation suddenly
find itself in a war it had not prepared for. It is a gamble that
the commander takes in the hope of catching the enemy unprepared
and scoring an easy victory. It can also take place as a spoiling
attack where a force that is about to be attacked instead attacks
the enemy as they are in the midst of their preparations. Once in
a great while the spoiling attack can so confuse and dishearten
an enemy force that they may be defeated in detail.
- As a commander never knows when such an opportunity may
arise, terrain is not a major factor in the decision to order a
hasty attack. Likewise the only defense that such an attack
should be considered against is a hasty defense.
- This is what one thinks of when one hears the word defense.
Trenches, bunkers, cleared and interlocking fields of fire,
pre-plotted artillery targets, etc. This form of defense can be
used in any terrain provided the defender has enough time to
really set things up. Hills and forests lend themselves to such a
defense, but the cunning commander can use swampy areas to his
advantage as well. A great deal depends on the type of forces
doing the attacking. The prepared defense works well against the
frontal attack and can be devastating to the hasty attack.
Defense in depth
- This form of defense is an attacker's worst nightmare if
they are attempting the penetration or infiltration attacks. It
can also seriously deplete the threat of the flanking or
envelopment attacks. However it is a really bad choice against
the frontal attack. The basic idea is that the defender prepares
several belts of defense with a portion of their troops in each
belt. Or at least the first few closest to the attackers. When an
attacker penetrates a belt the surviving defenders retreat to the
next belt to defend once again. Mobile forces in a penetration or
infiltration attack often become strung out and confused by the
multiple lines of defense and run out of forward momentum.
Enveloping or flanking attacks often are surprised by the
supplementary lines of defenders who can, with a little local
coordination, catch the attackers in a crossfire and decimate
them. However, if the attacker uses a frontal attack the defender
has no solid line of defense and can have each of the individual
lines broken in succession.
- The best choice for a defender in open terrain if they
don't have enough time to implement the prepared or defense
in depth. Basically the defender uses up to two thirds of his
forces on a single defensive line. The remaining forces are held
in reserve either in groups of local reserves or as a composite
reserve. These reserve forces are used to stop enemy breakthrough
forces by catching them before they can fully exploit a hole they
have made. If the defending commander is lucky his reserve forces
can isolate and eliminate the breakthrough spearhead and deny the
penetration attack to his opponent until they can replace the
mobile forces lost. Few attackers can afford two such spearheads
in a single area.
- Note: you need armored units for a mobile defense.
- The hedgehog defense was the French answer to
the German penetration tactic during the invasion of the Low Lands
and France in May 1940.
An answer was sought in the use of static defenses, which suited
French military thinking at the time as a result of the experience
of World War I. The idea was that an artillery base ould be formed,
wich was to be protected by infantry and anti-tank guns, just like
a hedgehog wich is under attack. The hedgehog tactic could
pose a formidable defense if an attacker choses to attack it.
However, mobile forces could also choose to bypass the defenses
and move on to other objectives. The hedgehog tactic must therefore
be viewed as a last resort against a fast-moving attacker.
- Note: you need anti-tank guns and artillery.
- Most often the only option for a commander on the receiving
end of a surprise attack or one whose movement to contact
left him on the sharp end. This form of defense is more an
attempt to buy time for either reinforcements to arrive or to
stop an enemy attack long enough to disengage. Basically in a
hasty defense the friendly forces find the best ground in their
immediate area and hunker down. A little prayer at this point is
not a bad idea. If the enemy is using a hasty attack the
defenders might have a prayer. Most any other form of attack
(other than an infiltration) will likely blow right through the
Open - No significant terrain. Ground is flat, easily
traversed, and poses no limitation to movement. An
attacker's dream and a defender's nightmare. The
opposite of urban terrain. Without a great deal of preparation
time this form of terrain is virtually impossible to defend.
Mobile forces are especially suited to this type of terrain,
since their velocity will on open terrain gives them an edge
over slower moving units.
Urban - Terrain dominated by human habitation. Urban areas are
a defender's dream and an attacker's nightmare. Given
enough time, defending forces can turn an urban area into a booby
trapped maze that will cost an attacker a great deal of time and
troops to clear. Often times an attacker has no choice but to try
to take an urban area as these are where the vital parts of the
defender's territory lay: the road and rail junctions, the
industrial centers and of course the government itself are all
found in urban areas.
Hills - Rolling terrain. May be covered by forests or urban
terrain. Good for a defender, can pose a problem for the
attacker. Little preparation is needed for a successful defense.
Mountain - By their very nature mountains limit mobility. May
be covered by forests as well. Very easy to defend, virtually
impossible to attack. Only mountain trained infantry is well
trained and equipped to fight in mountain areas; armor should not
Forest - Terrain covered by dense vegetation. Can be traversed
fairly easily by foot. Mobile forces limited to roads and paths.
Swamp - Unpleasant for both the defender and the attacker,
swamps are a natural obstacle for nearly everyone. In most cases
the only forces that readily adapt to swamps are partisans,
guerilla's or special forces.
Jungle - Terrain covered by extremely dense vegetation.
Nothing moves easily in these areas. While infantry forces do
better than mobile forces in these areas, only partisans,
guerillas and special forces really do well.
Desert - Mainly open terrain, but some of the toughest
conditions for war known to man. Sand and rock wear down
equipment at an incredible rate. Heat and lack of water can kill
or incapacitate troops. These areas are not conducive to anyone,
but mobile forces can find the room here to do what they were