Home Forums WWII Benefits of Combat Experience

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    Avatar photoWhirlwind

    In a recent thread, Just Jack wrote:

    It seems to me that early the war the US Army was more proficient with basic things like this (fieldcraft), with skills eroding in the meatgrinder/appalling replacement system post-D-Day, where the sort of professionalism I discuss above (in terms of doctrinal command/systems of orders) was largely absent due to units that hadn’t trained together and refreshed skills (a lot of folks don’t seem to understand the need for continued training for troops in combat; I can tell you the pressures of combat and the occurrence of casualties leads to certain issues of ‘field expediency’ that improves professionalism in some areas and creates deficiencies in others, so it’s important to pull troops out of the line, not only for their mental well being, but to survey gear, re-train, and integrate/indoctrinate replacements).

    This entirely chimes with my own view.  In the light of this, what do you think constitutes a “veteran” in a WW2 context and what advantages (or disdavantages) should be given for this status in tactical rules?

    Avatar photogrizzlymc

    It’s a curve.  Being in action takes you up a learning curve.  No matter how hard you train people, you can’t teach them to do it under stress.  Battle school helped teach how to handle stress, but one common thread in every battle description I have ever read is that NOTHING in training really prepares you for people trying to kill you.

    At a certain point you’ve absorbed a harsh but comprehensive education programme.  You have also drawn on a large portion of your reserves of courage.

    Another common thread is that you can recover some of those reserves, but not all.  Take the unit out of the line, sharpen their skills, and they will be technically better and better, but their elan will get lower, drop by drop.

    The allies seem to have been better at the rotation business than the Germans.

    Avatar photoMike

    In the light of this, what do you think constitutes a “veteran” in a WW2 context and what advantages (or disdavantages) should be given for this status in tactical rules?

    Not sure about it being WWII only, but I gave my better grade troops (which was based around combat experience) a greater chance of obeying orders.
    This was a combination of being less scared/startled, understanding the bigger picture, being more confident in their own abilities and trusting their officers and buddies to know what they are doing etc.

    Raw troops were more prone to panic and not quite getting what it was they need to do, being hesitant and so on.

    In a nut shell, the troops with more experience are a teeny bit better in terms of accuracy and so on, but the key difference was their reliability.
    This was in my sci-fi rules, but it seems to me a sensible function of experienced or veteran troops no matter the setting.

    Avatar photoMartinR

    It depends what level of command you are talking about. At battalion level and above, essentially they have better unit cohesion (so stick around much longer before disintegrating), waste less ammo, respond faster, move faster (better road discipline) etc

    Below battalion level, you are into the wild and woolly area of human psychology and decision making under stress, and I would refer you to David Rowlands ‘The Stress of Battle’  and Leo Murrays ‘Brains and Bullets’.

    There is a considerable statistical evidence to show that at unit ie battalion, level veteran units are considerably more combat effective, but no-one is really sure why. Find out why, put it in a bottle and armies around the world will pay you billions. Even if you can demonstrate why, large beaurocractic organisations will subvert the result. e.g. Rowlands demonstrated that AT units with identical weapons to tanks are twice as combat effective at killing armour. In NATO this suddenly became the doctrine that ‘the best tank killer is another tank’. This shiny new doctrine was very popular with tank generals and arms manufacturers.

    Marshall was clearly onto something, with his fire ratios etc, and Murrays book is quite informative, particularly the hilarious accounts of the super elite dead hard paras diving for cover in the Falklands in the face in the face of ‘a couple of very wafty 7.62 rounds’. Perhaps the main difference with veterans is just that more of them shoot at stuff for longer then their regular or conscript opponents, and don’t just blaze away aimlessly into the sky or hide.

    It is different with crew served weapons systems, veteran fighter crews, tanks crews etc will tear enormous great holes in less experienced opponents as the team works so much better with practice. Move faster, see better, hide better, shoot better, run away when needed. These can all be reflected in tactical rules with various bonuses.

    Interestingly Rowlands noted that in NATO armies at least, only 10% of AFV crews fell into the ‘killer’ category, the rest just rolled around the battlefield engaging the enemy somewhat ineffectively and mainly acting as targets to divert fire from the experten.







    "Mistakes in the initial deployment cannot be rectified" - Helmuth von Moltke

    Avatar photoGuy Farrish

    I think defining a ‘veteran’ unit is quite difficult in the circumstances given.

    How many members of ‘veteran’ units were actually ‘veteran’? Are we assuming that all combat casualties after the initial blooding are FNGs and that the ‘veterans’ are less likely to be casualties? Or on the contrary are we assuming that casualties occur pro rata amongst the new and the old members? And if the former – why? Better fieldcraft from experience of actual combat conditions? Or battle wary, cunning buggers who avoid doing the dangerous closing on the enemy bit and leave that to the newbies who know no better? If so – does a truly veteran unit lose combat effectiveness dramatically after a certain point? It may survive better but does it do the job required?

    Withdrawal from the front line to integrate personnel and lessons learned is great idea – but how much of a luxury and how long is needed/available? Especially in circumstances such as post D-Day to the fall of Germany?


    Avatar photogrizzlymc

    “Perhaps the main difference with veterans is just that more of them shoot at stuff for longer then their regular or conscript opponents, and don’t just blaze away aimlessly into the sky or hide.”

    This, and more.  People who are doing something for the first time tend to be very cack handed and this gives them tunnel vision.  On the two occasions that I have had bullets flying in my general direction, I have hurled myself into the nearest cover and tried to make myself as small as possible.  On one of these, my escort, who was a veteran, found himself a good firing position, killed one of the attackers and the rest ran away.  Clearly, my combat value with any sort of weapon is zero; he outshot a dozen well armed but poorly trained men.


    I suspect that this applies to all parts of the process of waging war.  Just moving across terrain, newbies will be over slow and hesitant, except when they are vulnerable, when they will get mown down by an enfilading machine gun.  Veterans know when they can move quickly and they will know that that position is an ideal one for an MG and won’t even cross the paddock in front of it.

    A colleague of mine, who was a lieutenant in the PNG defence Force on Bougainville, told me how on his first day on patrol he lost four men running down to a creek to fill their water bottles.  After that they did what they were trained to do, each section took up firing positions and one man collected all the bottles and went down to fill them all up.  It wasn’t that they didn’t know what to do, but that it was at the back of their mind when they were distracted by thirst.  After burying four of their mates it was uppermost in their minds for a time.

    Also, veterans tend to know that sometimes all it takes is aggression to win the fight and make the danger go away but they know how to apply that aggression without exposing themselves unduly.

    I think there must be an awful lot to think about in battle and getting all the mechanical stuff into the background so you can focus on what is important takes practice.

    As to Guy’s issue of how replacements and veterans mix, I have long pondered a mechanism for this.  I suspect it’s like making booze in a solera; if the new arrivals remain a small percentage they will not reduce the effectiveness much, but beyond a certain point the vets become a cadre not the main body.  New arrivals will always suffer higher losses, not because the vets are putting them out there but because they are still disorientated.  However, surrounded by examples of how to do things properly, you would expect them to come up to speed faster than in a raw unit.  You might also expect that where the new guys are identified as “us” (eg the British Regimental system) they will get more help than if they are identified as “them” (eg the US repple depple).


    Avatar photoShahbahraz

    There is also good evidence that veteran units, (as opposed to ‘elite’ units), will take fewer casualties but may be seen by commanders as over-cautious. Veteran British Divisions after D-Day were criticised for having insufficient ‘elan’. I tend to have a lot of sympathy for blokes who may have been pulled off the beaches at Dunkirk, or escaped going into the bag at St Valery, fought their way across the Western Desert, then back, then back across the desert again, into Tunisia, then Sicily, then Italy, and then told, ok, jump off the landing craft and take the fight to the enemy. Personally, if it had been me, I would have sat back a bit, after 5 years, it’s someone else’s turn, and I’ve used up a lot of my luck getting this far.  You could also point to very different combat conditions and environment for blokes who had made their reputation in the desert. Very unlike Normandy.

    --An occasional wargames blog: http://aleadodyssey.blogspot.co.uk/ --

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