Why We Do What We Do in LHY: Armor Operations

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This is the fourth part of the series regarding “Why we do what we do in The Last Hundred Yards.” This article deals with Armor operations. 

As one former tank commander pointed out, a tank has to be able to do three things: move, communicate and shoot.  If it can move and shoot but not communicate, all you have is a loose cannon. If it can shoot and communicate, but not move, it is just a big pillbox. And if it can move and communicate but not shoot, all you have is a great big portable radio.

Based on my research, a veteran tanker understands that the one firing first usually wins, that if you’re not firing you should be moving, and it is always the one you didn’t see that kills you.

It’s the tank commanders and their crews, more than their vehicles that determine success in armored combat. In my view, from a design perspective, armor is the single most difficult aspect of tactical combat to model. In most tactical games, designers tend to model the capability of the vehicle itself i.e., armor penetration of the main gun, armor thickness, speed, etc. While all these factors are important, they do not address the important aspects of the training, tactics and experience of the tank commander and crew. The veteran tank commander and crew will almost always win out over the green, inexperienced crew even with inferior equipment. This has been proven time and time again on the Eastern Front and even against the US 1st Armored Division at Kasserine Pass. To reflect this, we model not only the technical capability of a tank, but also the quality of the tank commander and crew. We do this by varying the fire and defensive values for each model of tank. For example, a Sherman M4A3’s fire value varies from 2 to 3 while its defensive value varies from 9 to 10. Although, this may seem a modest gesture, it gives the veteran tank commander and crew, in an inferior tank the ability to take on and defeat an inexperienced tank commander and crew in a superior vehicle.

In The Last Hundred Yards, we are attempting to model not only the capabilities but also the limitations of armor and their ability to react. Situational awareness in the chaos of combat situations, especially near or around a tank, was incredibly poor, leaving tanks extremely vulnerable to flanking fire or infantry assaults.  In the following accounts, I find it is difficult to believe, in the chaos surrounding combat, the crews of Wolfgang Faust’s Tiger or Valsilly Bryukhov’s T-34 would notice an enemy vehicle maneuvering into a position to their side or rear. Also, one can really appreciate the fear and caution of Lt. Danby as he maneuvers his Sherman through the streets of an enemy occupied village in France even with infantry support.

“The enemy was maintaining their onslaught and pressing forwards regardless of losses. Returning fire, my company was retreating deeper into the forest. A tank duel ensued under conditions of extremely limited visibility and maneuverability. Sometimes we were shooting at each other from point-blank range. Solid shells whizzed past, with shrapnel shells and aerial bombs exploding all around. Tanks, vehicles, the forest – everything was on fire. Control of the whole company became impossible, and combat took place in separate independent actions. Finding cover behind the trees, using glades, cuttings and clearings, the company held the enemy off with great effort. Lieutenant Shinkarev’s tank was shot up and Junior Lieutenant Dosuzhev’s tank was also damaged. While retreating through the forest over a distance of 2 kilometers, our company gradually wore the enemy down. Having finally merged with the other units of the battalion, we consolidated our position.” Valsilly Bryukhov. Red Army Tank Commander: At War in a T-34 on the Eastern Front.

Wilf, our gunner up in our turret, fired three times in ten seconds, with Stang our breech-man grunting as he reloaded with amazing speed each time. Our rounds deflected off the Stalin’s huge turret twice – and the third actually stuck in the armor plate, a slug of German steel jammed into a slab of Russian steel, its tracer still glowing red. Beyond the Stalin, I saw a Tiger roll into a depression in the ground, burning from the engine deck; and then another of our panzers standing still, with its hatches open and the crew climbing out with their uniforms on fire. Suddenly, my glass vision block shattered as we were hit on our front plate by the Stalin facing us. I heard another impact striking our turret, and a long groan from somebody up there, followed by a series of shouted commands from Helmann. Yet another impact came, low on our front hull, and the blow threw me back in my seat. My ears were ringing, and I could see nothing through the wrecked glass except the red sunset sky. I felt Helmann kick me in the back, and the tip of his polished boot brought me to my senses. In the seat alongside me, Kurt was yelling, ‘Push out the glass, Faust’ while Helmann was screaming, ‘Faust, ram that Stalin. Ram it!’ In a daze, I unclamped the vision block from inside, raised the armored bracket and pushed the broken glass out onto the hull front. A blast of freezing air came in, bringing smoke and sprays of ice – and then a blast of metal fragments as another shell hit us, blowing scabs of armor plate off our front. With bits of metal in my face, I drove the Tiger straight at the Stalin, aiming hull-to-hull across the rolling ground. I could not understand why our gun was not firing – but that terrible groan which erupted when the Stalin’s shell hit us told me someone in the turret was badly wounded. With no gun, we could only use our sixty tons and our Maybach as a battering ram – it was either that, or sit obediently and be shot to pieces. We covered the hundred meters between us and the Russian in seconds, moving so fast that the Stalin gunner could not calibrate on us and shot right past us twice, his orange tracer lighting up the dark, frozen earth. I eased off the throttle as we approached the prow of the Stalin, and our Tiger tracks bit into the tundra; the running gear began howling and the belly of the panzer started slamming up and down as we slid – effectively out of control now – directly into the Ivan machine. I heard Kurt curse, and I saw him brace with his hands over his skull – and at the last moment I did the same, with the steel glacis of the Stalin filling my entire vision. The impact was like a kick in the belly, and after that, it took me a few seconds to realize what was happening. We were stationary, wedged up against the Stalin; the Russian panzer seemed to have stalled in the concussion too, because there was no engine noise from outside at all.” Wolfgang Faust. Tiger Tracks – The Classic Panzer Memoir

“Lt. Danby’s tank crept forward along the narrow main street, negotiating through the tricky sunlight patterns filtering through the gently rustling leaves of the trees overhead. Every ghostly flicker off a stone wall or glint behind a half shuttered window mocked mortal danger. Danby’s tank idled frequently in order to not outpace the doughboys jockeying in fits and starts among the nearby buildings, and the M4A1’s motor growled as if annoyed. From the turret hatch, Danby watched and listened for any other Marders attempting escape through the crossroads. Inside, Cpl. Vargo kept the main gun ready with his hands resting on the traverse controls and his foot hovering near the fire switch. Pvt. Dishner sat cramped and sweating on the opposite side of the main gun, ready to recharge the barrel with a new round of AP or HE. The tank and infantry team progressed without incident past the Mourier blacksmith shop, the post office and Martel’s home. As they drew near the crossroads, however, a bitter chorus of German small arms fire crackled with sudden vitality, the bullets hissing and popping through the hot air. Some shots pinged off the tank hull while others screamed as they ricocheted in wild directions off the stone and asphalt. The Germans were not going to relinquish the crossroads without a fight. Concerned about being hit by a panzerfaust, Danby ordered Tikkanen to halt the tank until the infantry could clear the immediate area. While sergeants barked orders and encouragement, the men shot forward, leapfrogging along the walls and doorways and returning fire with their M-1 Garands and BARs. The advance fell far short of dislodging the determined German defenders, and a static firefight ensued..” Day of the Panzer: A Story of American Heroism and Sacrifice in Southern France.

So you ask, how does The Last Hundred Yards address these issues? It depends on the situation. Say, an enemy vehicle passes through an opening 100 meters wide at a distance of 400 meters and disappears behind a building and in reaction you rush a shot off. In The Last Hundred Yards, you would not get a shot because the last hex entered by the maneuvering enemy vehicle was not in your LOS, although you could maneuver in response to the enemy vehicles maneuver. Even if you did happen to see the enemy vehicle, your response and the effectiveness of any fire would be significantly reduced.

In another case, your stationary AFV is facing an enemy AFV to your front when a second enemy AFV discretely maneuvers from behind a building 300 meters to your rear. Assuming you saw the second AFV maneuver, which is unlikely, in The Last Hundred Yards you would have several options. You could a) conduct reaction fire against the enemy AFV to your front, b) pivot and conduct reaction fire against the second enemy AFV maneuvering into position in your rear, but in doing so would expose yourself to a rear and probable fatal shot from the first AFV to your front, c) conduct a maneuver reaction to a better position possibly out of LOS of either or both the enemy AFVs or d) conduct a Shoot and Scoot against either of the enemy AFVs, but would still suffer a potential rear shot from the first AFV if you fired at the second although it would be reduced as you would now be in motion.

And yet in another case, an enemy AFV conducts an action on the other side of the map board 600 meters away and clearly out of LOS of your stationary AFV. Most likely you would not even know the enemy unit existed unless a friendly AFV had LOS to the enemy AFV and notified you by radio. But, in most tactical games you would be able to react anyway, with complete knowledge of the enemy units maneuver, responding accordingly. In The Last Hundred Yards, because the enemy unit did not conduct the action in you LOS, you reaction for the game turn would be limited to going into motion in the hex you currently occupy. In a subsequent game turn, provided you were still in motion and after the first Call for Reaction from the enemy player you could then conduct a maneuver reaction but your maneuver allowance is reduced when reacting.

As noted in our previous article regarding Fire and Maneuver, the maneuver allowance in The Last Hundred Yards is considerably less than other tactical games in order to better model simultaneous actions. This allows for shorter more compact action and corresponding reaction cycle providing a more realistic feel in that a player may react after the enemy vehicle maneuver of 4 or 5 hexes verses 15 to 18 hexes. In The Last Hundred Yards, all units are limited to a single action or reaction per game turn, but vehicles have several fire and maneuver actions they can use in different tactical situations in addition to their normal fire and maneuver actions. An AFV may conduct a Shoot and Scoot action allowing a stationary AFV to fire and go into motion in the same action. If already in motion, an AFV may conduct a Halt and Fire action allowing the AFV to stop and fire in the same action. These are especially handy when in LOS of a superior enemy AFV. When an AFV is at risk of enfilade (flank Shot), it may conduct a reverse maneuver action and therefore possibly deny the enemy a flank of rear shot. AFVs can overrun enemy non-vehicular units in open terrain, which is particularly effective against withdrawing or retreating non-vehicular units. An AFV may also conduct a Combined Assault. This allows an AFV and a friendly squad to maneuver and assault an enemy occupied hex denying enemy fire against the supporting infantry squad. In addition, vehicles may conduct transport actions transporting non-vehicular units and towed guns.

These are just some of the ways of how The Last Hundred Yards attempts to address the omniscience of players regarding actions of enemy units.

The next article we will discuss the roll of the Platoon Leader in The Last Hundred Yards.

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