I would like to make a counterpoint regarding the idea of playing tabletop games echeloned at the squad level; it’s been mentioned several times that playing squad-level games is not fun or not accurate as squads would only act independently in order to carry out ‘patrols.’ On the one hand, that is doctrinally not true because squads also are called on to detach for other missions, such as to man outposts (the old ‘babysit a bridge’ or man an OP), to carry out security tasks (convoy/VIP escort, sensitive site security, such as a radio relay station), and they can be called on to carry out ambushes, particularly night ambushes.
Even this gets tricky as often that mission will be referred to as an ‘ambush patrol,’ in which case we’d have to break down the various types of patrols to decide which ones are, and which ones are not, suitable to be carried out by a single squad. For example a squad will regularly carry out reconnaissance, counter-reconnaissance, and economy of force patrols, but I’ve never heard of a single squad carrying out a combat patrol, those are typically done at platoon level, and sometimes even company-level, being multi-day operations.
On the other hand, and this is the point I really came to make: in my opinion it is not inaccurate at all to play squad vs squad, attack/defend games on the tabletop. If you understand how a company level attack works (in standard terms, a rifle platoon in the assault, a rifle platoon in support, and a rifle platoon in reserve), only one platoon actually has the job of maneuvering onto the objective, and once the assault platoon begins taking fire it devolves to squad/section fire and maneuver, then team fire and maneuver, and then individual fire and maneuver.
Obviously how all this goes down is dependent upon the strength and will of the defender; if the defender is relatively weak (in terms of strength and/or will to hold the objective), it’s quite possible they quietly endure the attacker’s preparatory and supporting fires, watch the enemy assault platoon advance into effective range, then open fire, forcing the assault platoon to react, then pull back. In that case, the assault platoon goes to ground/finds cover, returns fire, and the platoon commander either waits until the enemy fire stops and then gets his platoon moving again, or he commences squad fire and maneuver (one squad moves while two lay down fire). Seeing as how the enemy left, you end up with troops happily walking onto the now undefended objective, whistling as they go.
But if the defender decides to hold and fight for the objective, they continue to fire on the assault platoon, the platoon moves to squad/section fire and maneuver, and now the attacking squad begins team, and possibly even individual, fire and maneuver. So with the enemy being attrited by supporting fires and the ‘company attack’ taking fire and devolving into a low-level fire and maneuver, you can absolutely end up with the enemy having five or six guys holding onto the last vestige/key point of their defense (the rest having become casualties or having withdrawn of their own accord) being attacked by eight or nine guys that are the pointy end of that so-called ‘company attack.’
That is how company assaults are generally planned, and how they can go from “200 men in the attack” to only having a handful actually reach and take the objective. This assumes an assault is actually planned, not that some dumbass at higher headquarters decided that prep/supporting fires will take care of the enemy so just get your company on line and prance onto the objective, which time and again saw rifle companies in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam gutted as soon as they crossed the Line of Departure.
To play games like this you have to be willing to provide the appropriate backdrop to the fight; it’s not “1st Squad was detailed to launch an attack on Hill 181,” it’s “A Company was detailed to launch an attack on Hill 181. The CO designated 1st Platoon in the assault, 2nd and Wpns Platoons in support, and 3rd Platoon in reserve. 2nd and Wpns got into position and took Hill 181 under fire as 1st Platoon crossed the Line of Departure on line. 200 yards from the military crest 1st Platoon was taken under enemy machine gun and small arms fire; 1st Platoon’s Commander built up his base of fire with 1st and 2nd squads and ordered 3rd Squad to envelop; 3rd Squad advanced to within 50 yards of the objective before coming under fire. The Squad Leader established a base of fire with 1st Fireteam and led 2nd Fireteam into close combat. With 1st Fireteam laying down fire, Sgt Snuffy fired off a flare to order 2nd and Wpns Platoons to shift fire, then lead 2nd Fireteam (let’s call that a total of six men) forward, where they reached the left flank of the enemy’s defensive line;* in brutal, point-blank range combat Sgt Snuffy and 2nd Fireteam took the enemy’s far left bunker and began an enfilading fire on the rest of the enemy’s defensive line that compelled the remainder of the defenders to fall back, conceding the military crest. 2nd and Wpns Platoons shifted fire prior to 1st Platoon’s troops getting onto the objective, and once the objective was taken 2nd and Wpns re-positioned in order to provide fire to isolate the objective, 1st Platoon began consolidating on the objective, and 3rd Platoon began moving up to reinforce 1st Platoon on the objective (or even carry the assault on past 1st Platoon).
*Please note, the asterisk is where the tabletop action for the squad-level game would pick up. I finished out the narrative just to show how we would hope the company-attack concluded.
Thus we have shown how the company attack devolved into a squad-level game with six dudes per side 😉 On a side note, we could also talk about infiltration attacks, in which a company crosses the Line of Departure as a series of ‘cells’ (which are largely going to be squad-sized anyway) that work, typically in the dark to flow through the enemy’s defensive zone (the area they expect to occupy by fire) and into their defenses (the area they physically occupy) in order to flow into enemy rear areas and close assault defensive strongpoints without having been exposed to supporting fires and the defensive fire plan. But ultimately that would still allow you to play out squad-level attack/defend games as one of the squad-level infiltration cells are reached the enemy headquarters or a particular strongpoint needing reducing; even if the strongpoint was a large fortification (such as a blockhouse) housing a platoon-sized element, I would just play it that the infiltration squad has worked around to the rear of the blockhouse (that was the point of the infiltration) and is up against the rearguard element of the platoon occupying the blockhouse, with a further assumption that the defenders are now aware they are under attack and so the rest of the platoon in the blockhouse is busy firing on attackers to their front and are thus unable to reinforce their rearguard element.
One of my wargaming dreams goes something like this: I play out a division-sized action with bases that represent a company/battery (probably using Blitzkrieg Commander); when opposing units come into base contact, rather than use the rules mechanism for melee/close combat, I set up and play a company-sized game where one base represents a squad, weapons team, or single vehicle. As I play that game, if opposing units come into base contact I set up and play another game, this time at a squad vs squad level. Someday…
I hope this was useful for anyone considering playing squad-level games.