Tactics

 

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 same issues:

  • 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.

ATTACK TACTICS

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 spearhead.

- 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


Infiltration

- 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 partisans


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.


Frontal

- 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 defense.

- Note: you need to have armored units


Hasty

- 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.


DEFENSE STRATEGIES

Prepared 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.


Mobile defense

- 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.


Hedgehog 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.


Hasty defense

- 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 defenders here.


TERRAIN:

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 go there.

Forest - Terrain covered by dense vegetation. Can be traversed fairly easily by foot. Mobile forces limited to roads and paths. Infantry terrain.

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 designed for.


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This historical conflict simulation is dedicated to Chanel Stevens

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© 1999-2005 M.C. Veldman, Expansion Games

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