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Flavius Belisarius

Suppression is mainly a “product” of doctrine and training.

Think about formation warfare (Napoleonics etc.) with musket fire at short distance (100-200 paces):

Only the killed or wounded soldiers went to ground – nobody was suppressed! Fear was great among the men but group pressure and training worked against it.

If a unit got to much (of losses or shocks) it run away, some surrendered or simply the whole formation desintegrated. Control was lost and the unit ceased to exist (for the rest of the battle) as a functional fighting power.

The natural reactions to a personal thread are “freaze” or “run away” – not go to ground. This is in my opinion largely a developement of the 19th century with its growing fire power from (then) rifles and later from the artillery.  Now it was necessary to disperse the large formations and later to train the soldiers to go to ground. But if this was the case the officers feared that they lost momentum and control. They thought it was nearly impossible to regain the initiative and to rally all these dispersed soldiers lying in cover. That was probably true with the contempory types of control.  Only the encouragement of initiative in lower ranks and the developement of squad tactics could overcome this costly stalement in tactics. During the war of 1870/71 the Prussians were able to overcome the greater firepower of the Chasepot rifle with the initiative of the enlisted men and NCOs – many officers were killed before. This developement culminated in the First World War. There the tremendous losses were largely caused by the tactics of the time – the men were trained to leave the trenches and run forward in long lines. But there was some learning about suppression, from experience, not from the book. The soldiers learned that it was dangerous to expose themselves when they heard the bullets pass nearby.

Later this was transformed in new tactics with short leaps forward – their duration shorter then the possible reaction time of the enemy. And taking cover as a reaction to enemy fire was incorporated in the basic training of each soldier. So it became a question of training and doctrine.

Experience remains a factor. There was the example of the green troops – there have no experience of being shot at – they do not know how it sounds when a bullet comes too close! The survivors of the first encounter know better.

And sound is very important – you don’t see the bullets – only hear them (according to a veteran). So the experience of real battle situations come in. And experienced troops knew that sometimes it is less dangerous to pass a beaten zone (e.g.of mortars) as quickly as possible as to go to ground there. A veteran of the east front told me that he was severely wounded in the legs by a mortar bomb, because he was standing. His comrad was killed because he was lying.

Conclusio: Different reactions to the same volume of fire. Different doctrine, training and experience. And in all cases also different perception of the same sound from different persons. So it is (in part) the choice of the target and with its conscious reaction it is able to mitigate or increase the consequences of enemy fire.

And there are differences between flat firing weapons (go to ground is good) and shrapnells from overhead (go to ground is perhaps bad).