Home Forums WWII Thoughts on tactical level game rules (Squad Leader scale) Reply To: Thoughts on tactical level game rules (Squad Leader scale)

John D Salt

1. Command and control which requires the player to deal with an inability to do everything with perfect knowledge of the situation and your own sides performance and the enemy’s disposition and to a lesser degree their capabilities.
2. Real world unit organizations and command structure.
3. An easy to deal with sequence of play. (my words based on his points)
I would rather find or slightly modify an existing game but like many of you I am sure I have very specific aspects I am willing to compromise on and ones I want.

Arriving late into this thread, let me annoy everyone straight away by suggesting that the three points listed are all aspects of the same big point: Modelling command and control, henceforward C2. The real world organization and command structure exist only to support the ability of the commander to get their forces to do what they want them to do, and confirm that they have done it. The sequence of play exists only to limit the ability of the player to get their toy soldiers to do what they want them to do, which is then usually confirmed instantly, apparently by lossless telepathy.

So the question boils down to “how do we wargame C2”?, which is not a question with a short or simple answer. However it might be helpful to keep that question in mind when looking at different sequences of play — is the turn sequence/activation scheme/set of command radii intended to model C2, or provide a game mechanism for the fun of mechanism?

As Phil Barker points out, the function of a C2 system in a wargame is to limit the players’ freedom of action, whereas the real life one is supposed to enhance the commanders’, so they are doing approximately opposite things.

The guy I played it with said, when I asked him why not play CoC instead, “this way everybody gets a turn right away, no waiting”.

A lot of wargamers, as above, really hate having their freedom of action limited. Quite a lot really hate planning, or at least being compelled to stick to the plans they have made. This is rather unfortunate for the modelling of C2, as an awful lot of command work is planning, and a lot of low-level battlefield leadership is sorting out the car crash when the plan meets reality.

I heard Richard Clarke talking about how he approaches rules writing and his starting point is to set up a table and have units from the period and then asks the question, ‘so what happens now?’. I like this approach as my interest in military history stems much from trying to understand how anything actually happens on the battlefield. How do leaders lead units? What makes men stay on the battlefield and fight when every human impulse is to look for safety?

The starting point is the training manuals of the period. This is what commanders wanted their men to do. All well and good but that’s the theory. The next step is to look at first hand accounts, unit diaries etc to see what actually happened.

Excellent advice: but notice what’s missing from the table-top setup. The terrain is represented, the soldiers are represented. The toy soldiers may be arranged in a way that acknowledges the existence of some kind of command hierarchy, and leader figures may be exercising the prerogative of their toy soldier rank by waving their pistol in the air, looking over their shoulder, and using their other hand to motion their soldiers forward; and they may be accompanied by a radio operator, or perhaps a bugler. But apart from that, there is not skerrick of representation anywhere of command, control, or communications. What should there be?

Real military C2 arrangements depend principally on the existence of a plan. Any commissioned officer in any army is expected to be able to make a plan, based on what they know of the situation and normally to achieve some aim set in their commander’s plan; to give orders based on the plan; and to see that the orders are carried out. What are the elements of a plan? I find it helpful to think in terms of control measures similar to (but much simpler than) those currently in use with the British Army.

There will pretty much always be an objective. This is the place on the ground that the plan requires to be captured, held, protected, cleared, searched, denied, reconnoitred, demolished, or whatever it is the mission is about. Each level of command may have its own objective as part of a larger one, but it is a pretty good way to banjax things utterly to tell a single element to do two things at once, so each should only have one objective in force at a time.

There may also be targets. These are places that need to be looked at or shot at, and they may well be part of a formal fire plan as target reference points for artillery or mortars. I include here areas that would be known in current jargon as NAIs (named areas of interest, where to look) and TAIs (targeted areas of interest, where to shoot), although TAI doesn’t sound as warry as “fire sack”, “killing zone”, or “engagement area”.

There may well be control lines. These describe some limitation such as not crossing them (boundaries or limits of exploitation), not dropping air weapons one side of them (bomb line), crossing them at a specified time (start line, phase lines) or performing some action when you cross them (reporting line) or when the enemy does (open fire line).

Some of the above concepts are reflected in the “German infantry in the West” translation I posted recently in the WW2 forum, and, it has to be said, there is a certain appeal to the Germanic-sounding “Angriffsziel” instead of “objective” and “Hauptkampflinie” instead of “main line of resistance”. A particularly Germanic C2 idea is that of a Schwerpunkt, or in English “Main Effort”, which serves to concentrate the attention of subordinate commanders on what really matters. The Russians also used the concept (“Glavniy Udar'”), and at the operational level liked to switch these about both to make best use of their limited logistic infrastructure and to baffle the enemy. Democratic and egalitarian western nations seem less keen on the idea, preferring to treat everyone equally, which is a lovely way of sharing out sweets, but not such a great idea for fighting a war.

The plan may be arranged in phases, which means essentially having a number of planlets that succeed each other in time order. This is a way to give a single element a series of objectives (“Seize and clear Home Farm, then advance to Gravelly Hill, then cover 18 Platoon as they cross the Little Ouse at Fiddlers’ Ford”) without making its brain explode. Obviously the plan would need to include some signal, trigger or condition to indicate to subordinates when to move from one phase to another. In some armies (not typically the British Army in WW2) things may be more complicated than a simple linear sequence of phases, and there may be decision points which conditionally decide which of a series of contingency plans is supposed to be executed.

The plan will have a number of tasks, which are the things that need doing in different places or to different people at different times. “Attack”, “Advance”, “Hold”, “Retire”, “Demolish”, “Cover by fire”, “Infiltrate”, “Probe”, one can think of dozens, and the trick is to find a small enough set of possibilities not to drive the commander/player mad and allow most militarily sensible actions to be described. I observe that “Find”, “Fix”, “Strike” and “Exploit” are a good current top-level bunch of military tasks that should get you a long way. Typically planning decides, first, what tasks need to be achieved and where, and then assigns troops to tasks and worries about when. Assigning troops to task is a big part of establishing one of the main products of modern military planning, the Synchro Matrix, which essentially shows who is doing what when. Even a brigade synchro matrix can be quite a small graphic.

Advanced wargamers might like the idea of giving different arms, or different armies with different levels of training, a different repertoire of tactical tasks — only engineers or assault pioneers can “demolish”, only recce troops can “probe”, these tanks are too poorly-trained to “jockey”, things like that. The current WRG WW2 rules and the computer game “Combat Mission” have both attempted something along those lines.

Even such a simple order as “Two section, take out that trench” has an objective and a specified task, has assigned troops to task, and probably has a bunch of implied phases and tasks arising out of a trained battle drill. A drill is really a kind of pickled and preserved skeleton plan, that can be hoiked out of the jar at a moment’s notice and the odd missing bits filled in. A British section trained in battle drill will automatically advance until it comes under effective fire, then win the firefight, then advance by fire and movement, then assault the objective, then reorganise a safe distance past it. There is no need for a commander to tell his subordinates what to do if everyone knows the drill; and one of the great benefits of this, apart from getting people to automatically do something militarily sensible under fire, is that it reduces the communications load drastically if you know what everyone else is doing because it’s the drill (and in a well-trained unit, this can look suspiciously like telepathy).

Which brings us to communications. I like the RN definition that “communications are the means by which command exercises control”. I also like my old pal Delwyn Morgan’s reminder that “all communications channels are selective erasure channels”. It is very difficult for people accustomed to the twitterspherical interwebular networld to understand just how slow, painful and unreliable military tactical radio communications were in the days of Larkspur, never mind WW2 vintage radios. To quote WO 232/77, “Communications within the Infantry Battalion”, quoting a jaundiced Staffs Yeomanry officer in 1944:

“Bad Infantry Communications. These are without exception deplorable. There is the general defeatist attitude amongst infantry that their communications are bound to fail once the battle starts. The attitude is justified as they always do.”

A lot of signals (as distinct from messages, which need richer media) can be sent by rocket, Very light, whistle, or bugle. Messages might be send by K-Blink or flag. In a night ambush, it is traditional for the signal to open fire being the ambush commander’s most powerful weapon opening fire. Often, such limited means as these may be the only levers of control a commander has of incluencing the battle once it has started. The other possibility, under the doctrine of “forward command”, is for the commander to influence affairs at the decisive point by their own personal presence there. This is great in wargaming terms, as it justifies the use of a “personal” figure representing the commander, who can influence their local bit of the battle, at considerable personal risk. It also gives players the possibility of killing each other, and raises the question of whether a win on points should count as a victory if the player’s figure becomes a casualty (DBA suggests not).

I always used to say that miniatures wargamers will not take any of these matters seriously until there are little metal castings available representing tasks, boundaries, objectives and engagement areas. With the rise in popularity of neat plastic markers and game accessories such as those made by Litko, maybe the time is not so far off.

Ever since Don Featherstone mocked the “Command and Staff boys” whose approach to wargaming he thought too serious, miniature wargamers have been very little interested in the sort of stuff I bang on about above. Any attempts along these lines are certain to infuriate the “fun fascists”, who will object in vituperative terms to the horrid idea of being made to think or plan ahead in a recreational game. And, it must be said, professional simulationists have over the years made a pretty miserable job of modelling military C2, which in my experience often collapses into simple-minded models of shovelling sh^H^Hinformation from one place to another in the vague hope it will do some good, and results in an ever-growing shopping-list of IERs and no greater clue than we started with.

I’ll do a short posting one day, promise.

All the best,