Home Forums Modern Soldier Load in Wargames Reply To: Soldier Load in Wargames

John D Salt

Just Jack wrote:

I agree with that conceptually, but my experience is that fear/fatigue doesn’t hit men in the middle of a firefight, but afterwards, and affects their willingness/ability to move on the next objective. Just bringing that up from the standpoint of the limited duration firefight concept of a skirmish wargame.

I’ve certainly known lots of situations where people didn’t panic until the pressure was off, because they had something important to do, and a lot of adrenalin to help them do it, while the pressure was on. This probably highlights a weakness of almost all morale rules in wargames — soldiers should perhaps more often become combat ineffective with releases, rather than applications, of stress. This would give yet another mechanism to explain why an element that has conducted a successful assault is very vulnerable to a quick counter-attack.

The idea behind the “Footslogger situation” rules was not that people would exhaust their “well of courage” or “pluck bucket” in the course of a single firefight. Rather, the game was intended to be played — as one would an RPG like D&D — as a series of encounters. This does three things. First, it means you have to carry the things in the “sustainement load” — blankets, food, water — or accept addition fatigue markers. Second, it reflects the view of combat as “long periods of boredom interspersed with short periods of sheer terror”, passing through the boring bits, we hope, nore rapidly. Third, it shows how I think the process of psychological attrition works. Players will have to husband their stamina and courage, becoming ever more miserly as the stock dwindles, and so becoming “sticky” in action — things they would have cheerfully risked the expenditure of a courage point when fresh they might think twice about. Eventually they will wear out and either crack or become useless; and one sees one of the uses of the British Army’s “Left Out of Battle” procedure.

Everyone has different expectation, desires, and experiences, so I’m not here to tell anyone they should or should not have variable movement (to be clear, I’m thinking in terms of skirmish games where individual men are activated and tracked, during the short duration of an actual firefight, not a ‘battle’ consisting of various, sequential firefights), and I think it has a place for extraordinary circumstances (let’s say a man tried to pick up an M2 HMG, the whole damn thing, call it 130 lbs, and move it by himself in a fight), but for an infantrymen moving and fighting with his T/O weapon, in the (assumed) short duration of a firefight, for whatever it may be worth to the readership, I disagree.

Quite right, in my opinion. I find it disappointing that the only representation of infantry load in those few games that bother with it is the unimaginitive one of making heavier-loaded troops move slower. On the one hand, this misses the intertwinglement of fatigue with morale that I think is critically important; on the other, as you say, adrenalin does a lot to help you move as fast as you need to. I recall being extremely annoyed with one set of infantry skirmish-level rules that had a German MG-34 team moving slower than the riflemen, or a US BAR team. In my experience, doing things the old-fashioned (WW2 style) way, the gun group usually moves faster than the rifle group, partly because it doesn’t move very often, and partly because, whereas the rifle group pepper-pots everywhere, the gun group just legs it for all it’s worth.

The “Footslogger Situation” rules didn’t bother with different movement rates by load.

The statement that infantry carry a lot is true, but situational. There is a tremendous difference between an administrative movement, carrying your bodyweight or more in gear, and dropping everything but ammo and grenades and moving into the assault, which is where I think we’d be in a skirmish game. Even in an ambush scenario, it’s probable that the guys being ambushed are in a movement to contact posture with (significantly smaller and lighter) patrol packs, rather than carrying everything they own on their backs. So this statement seems a little ‘apples vs oranges,’ to me.

I don’t get the fruit reference. You have to carry all the crap you have to carry. All the crap weighs weight; you can carry more crap, or less crap, and you can leave crap on the platoon truck, or in cached packs, or be bloody bold and resolute and do without altogether (do I really need a steel helmet?). Yes, what crap you need varies by situation — which is the point of presenting the players with different situations, although in the COW outing we only managed a night standing patrol and a daytime section attack. For each situation, the players need to decide what to carry, and what to leave. It’s a decision that makes for part of the fun of the game in Tom Mouat’s “A Footfall Situaution”, and in the recent and splendid “Brigands and Browncoats”; I don’t see why historical gamers shouldn’t be able to do the dame sort of thing.

There’s also the problem of what you can actually leave behindfor the assault — I doubt people would approve of leaving body armour, personal role radios, or ammunition.

“The failure to master this problem meant that Western infantry in Afghanistan practically lost the ability to do fire and movement…”
That is patently ridiculous, in my humble opinion, and if I’m overreacting to the ‘practically’ piece of that, if I’m missing context, or if that was simply misspoken, I apologize.

We could get into a discussion about all the times (and about who did/does, and didn’t/does not, exactly) fire and maneuver has been used, and I don’t disagree that with some Western elements fire and maneuver has fallen out of favor, but in my opinion that has more to do with rules of engagement and a doctrinal change to rely more upon supporting fires then traditional infantry tactics in order to lessen the likelihood of Western casualties, which we (or I, at least) first saw creep into Western lexicon in terms of “Force Protection.” Things such as, “we won’t fly Apaches against Yugoslavia because they are more likely to get shot down than fast movers,” which has now turned into “if you’re caught in a far ambush, don’t establish a base of fire and maneuver an unengaged element onto the enemy’s position, instead, return fire with remote weapons, go firm until air arrives, then go conduct a BDA.”

There’s a difference between not having a capability, and having a capability but not exercising it. And that has nothing to do with the amount of gear your average rifleman carries.

I cannot conceive of any set of circumstances in which infantry are in a non-defensive infantry fight and can sanely choose not to conduct fire and movement. The basic job of the infantry is controlling ground. In a defensive battle, you already control the ground, maybe you can do fire with no movement. Any other time, you need to take ground off the other bloke (or in withdrawal limit the rate at which he takes it off you), so you are going to have to move, which you are not going to be ablle to do without fire. Relying exclusively on outside sources of fire is one of the hallmarks of poor infantry — they really should be doing something more than escorting fire controllers. And I cannot really believe that an infantry company that gets pinned down and spends four or five hours in a firefight at a few tens of metres range has really got the ability to maneouvre, but chooses not to exercise it.

Of course there are lots of distorting factors — you mention the crippling degree of casualty aversion, there is also the question of avoiding collateral damage, but I think the big embranglement is the IED threat, which both limits tactical freedom of maneouvre and, in the British case at least, adds to the combat load by making people carry mine detecting and ECM gear (I think the USMC’s “Combat Hunter” programme was a much better idea here, not only because I think fieldcraft trumps technology, but also because expertise in fieldcraft doesn’t weigh a single gramme). I also reckon that there are not sufficient boots on the ground, that there have been some spectacularly stupid decisions in the procurement of platoon-level weapons for the British Army, that more ought to have been made of night operations, and that a lot of units have been using way more ammunition that they need to suppress the enemy.

Still, no need to pay any attention to my opinion. The British Army seem to be sufficiently worried about the soldier’s load problem to have kicked off not one, but three, initiatives to deal with it; Project Payne, Project Atlas, and one I can’t rmember that I think begins with a V. The discussion in the British Army Review has seldom been as pungent as the points made in the linked article (full disclosure — I know one of the authors), but I don’t recall anyone disagreeing with it: “Donkeys Led by Lions”, it attracted a little attention in the national press at the time.


“…which would have been a real worry against a first-class enemy.”
It could be argued that you have it backwards: perhaps Western infantry are overloaded in Afghanistan because they were trained and equipped to deal with a first-class enemy, not an insurgent enemy. And I would probably change “first class enemy” to “first world enemy,” as there are plenty of infantrymen that would rather go up against a conscript, inexperienced, mechanized army, unencumbered by the restrictions that naturally come with low intensity conflict in stage 4 and 5 operations, rather than an enemy that has decades of (collective) combat experience and knows to melt into the local populace then stand toe to toe.

The great advantage of fighting a mechanized war, of course, is that you have wagons to carry all your crap on. I wish I could find the reference, but I read a piece quite recently when someone suggested, in all apparent seriousness, that offensive action was not a job for light (i.e. not armoured or mechanized) infantry, it can only be done by armour (which I consider to be a statement of howling lunacy).

Lots of the gear carried in Afghanistan — ECM, Vallon, probably CBA — would not be carried in “big people’s war”, although carrying Javelin and NBC kit would probably make up for a bit of that. But for any kind of war it’s still too much crap, and infantrymen need to be carrying a lot less of it — like they did in the days when we used to win our counter-insurgency campaigns.

John D Salt wrote:
🙂 I’ve always disliked this word. 🙂

Well I needed it for the alliteration. I suppose it is interchangeable with “interchangeable”.

All the best,