Why We Do What We Do in LHY: Platoon Leaders

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Why we do what we do in The Last Hundred Yards – In these articles we discuss why we do what we do regarding the various systems and mechanics used in the LHY. On this occasion, the fifth article, we will discuss the impact of combat leadership, which is represented in LHY by the Platoon Leader units. To see the other four articles in this series, check out The Last Hundred Designer Notes on InsideGMT. 


Combat Leadership

Combat leadership at the tactical level, such as in LHY, is a distinctly important and honorable responsibility. This is what General George C. Marshall wrote about it: “When you are commanding, leading [soldiers] under conditions where physical exhaustion and privations must be ignored, where the lives of [soldiers] may be sacrificed, then, the efficiency of your leadership will depend only to a minor degree of your tactical ability. It will primarily be determined by your character, your reputation, not much for courage—which will be accepted as a matter of course—but by the previous reputation you have established for fairness, for that high-minded patriotic purpose, that quality of unswerving determination to carry through any military task assigned to you.”

However, it is also an inherently risky endeavor as the military historian S. L. A. Marshall informs us that the life expectancy of a new platoon leader under fire in WWII was about fifteen minutes (based on a monumental and depressing study by the Human Resources Research Office (HumRRO)). A platoon leader leads from the front, and the enemy can usually spot a leader by his actions and finds it hard to resist the temptation to pop him before he does much damage. The natural result of this gloomy situation was  a high turnover in junior officers in the infantry. Therefore, the dogfaces in the platoon usually didn’t bother to inquire much about their lieutenant until he had been around for long enough to demonstrate high skill and good luck. The sad fact is that most PL’s didn’t have enough luck to find time to develop skills.

In the LHY, a Platoon Leader counter represents the officer, usually a second lieutenant, a platoon sergeant, a radioman (RTO) and a couple of runners to assist a Platoon Leader in directing the actions of his platoon. In the LHY the combat leadership functions of the Platoon Leader unit is expressed in rules relating to Initiative, Reaction, Spotting for Mortar Fire, Small Arms and Mortar Fire Resolution, Assault, and Recovery.

Maintaining the Initiative

The first article in this series contains a thorough explanation of initiative as the enabler and sustainer of momentum for combat actions in real life and in LHY. When things start to fall apart in combat, due to occurrences such as heavier than expected enemy resistance and/or casualties, the grunts will tend to halt in place and look to their leader for direction on what to do next. If the platoon leadership is incapacitated for any reason, even temporarily, this results in a halt in actions and the ceding of initiative to the enemy until leadership is restored. In LHY a Platoon Leader unit must be in play (not removed from play due to casualty reduction) for a player to be able to roll the die to gain or maintain the initiative. Otherwise, the player’s platoons can only react to the enemy’s actions until a platoon leader unit returns to play and establishes the ability to gain and maintain the initiative.

Reaction

In a combat situation it’s difficult for a Platoon Leader to control his squads when they are dispersed. This is also true in the LHY, especially for the player without the Initiative because his units are generally limited to reactions against enemy units conducting actions in their view. In fact, those units without visibility to enemy unit actions cannot react at all. If you are the player with the burden of attack, losing the initiative and having your units frozen in place can be debilitating. Your ability to conduct an assault is diminished and any effective defense can be compromised as defensive positions can become vulnerable to flanking or enfilade tactics that occur beyond visual range.

Platoon leaders can help mitigate losing the initiative, or even simply help units that have become disconnected from the battle, that cannot react themselves. Units stacked with a platoon leader may always react even if no enemy unit conducted an action in their view. When on the offensive and not in view of enemy units, it is recommended that the all units of a platoon, including its platoon leader, stack and maneuver together. With his platoon concentrated, the platoon leader can more effectively react – issuing orders (actions) to his squad leaders as needed. However, once his platoon comes into visual contact with the enemy it is critical that a platoon leader disperse his squads otherwise they risk inviting mortar fire. When on the defensive, units with no visibility to the enemy should be stacked with their platoon leader allowing them to react by either reinforcing friendly units under assault or an enemy flanking maneuver.

Directing Mortar Fire Support

Infantry Battalions had inherent mortar platoons, consisting of medium and heavy mortars. The Forward Observers (FO) of these units worked closely with the company commanders to coordinate indirect fire support for their operations. In addition, American companies had intrinsic 60 mm mortar sections. These sections also had FOs providing indirect support for platoon leaders. Most Platoon Leaders were trained to spot for indirect fire as well should an FO not be available or become incapacitated. To spot for Mortar fire in LHY, the FO marker is placed in the hex of a requesting Platoon Leader or one of his subordinate combat units. If placed with a combat unit, the FO must be within communication range of the corresponding Platoon Leader (4 hexes if attacking, 6 hexes if defending).  For the Mortar fire request to be successful, neither the requesting combat unit nor the Platoon Leader can be disrupted, regrouping, under a mortar fire attack or in an assault. However, in the tradition of a “broken arrow” type spotting call, a Platoon Leader in LHY may call for mortar fire into a hex containing friendly units if, and only if, it is an assault hex he occupies! 

Leading Men Under Fire

When the shooting starts, good Platoon Leaders aren’t going to hunker down and blast away, they’ll be running around, giving orders, organizing the fight and inspiring their men to continue to fight. Although these actions make them vulnerable to fire, their presence increases the cohesion of their men even when under heavy fire. In the LHY, to represent this, during the Fire Resolution Phase the Small Arms or Mortar fire die roll result is reduced by one if a Platoon Leader is present provided the leader’s cohesion is better than the cohesion of the best combat unit in the hex.

Assault – Leading from the Front

In times of great chaos someone must steady the men and drive them to engage or resist an enemy at close range. It’s the Platoon Leader’s role in an assault to plan, coordinate supporting fire and direct his men, making good use of terrain to close with the enemy. Generally, for the last hundred yards, it is the NCO who assumes the burden of the fight and will push the men forward. That being said, Platoon Leaders have an influence disproportionate to their number in regards to the outcome of a battle. At times the momentum of an assault will stall under heavy fire, especially if it is conducted over open or difficult terrain. It’s in times like these that the Platoon Leaders move to the front, usually at great risk to themselves, and lead their men into the breach. To reflect their impact in the LHY, an undisrupted Platoon Leader in an Assault hex gives his force a positive die roll modifier when attacking or defending.

Recovery – Rallying his Men

A unit under the pressure of combat will act according to what they perceive is occurring as well as to what is actually occurring. Should they perceive a setback or a significant unanticipated occurrence they will likely either hold position until things clear up or work back to their perceived last stable position to reform and await further orders. The presence of a respected Platoon Leader can help stabilize the situation. Paraphrasing an anonymous veteran commenting on his unit’s leader after the post Market Garden battle in 1944 Holland: “I sensed that he saw us rather than looked at us . . . that mutual respect was the core ingredient of our discipline and morale”. In LHY an undisrupted Platoon Leader provides a favorable die roll when assisting in the recovery of subordinate units in his hex.

Platoon Leader Casualties

While a leader can become a casualty at any time, it is more likely to occur in close range combat situations such as when attacking or defending during an assault. At close range a leader is an easily recognized target, he’s usually the guy standing while directing his men. The impact of this momentary leadership gap and changeover will result in many, if not all, of the circumstances explained under the previous sections in this article. That is, the grunts will react to their leader’s casualty and in accordance with their perception of the new leader and the current combat situation. In LHY a Platoon Leader unit is a one step unit and can be lost due to a sniper event, a casualty reduction, or when both sides must conduct a Leader Loss Check as the result of an Assault. A Platoon Leader casualty lasts for 7 minutes of game lapsed time representing the momentary leadership gap and changeover period. The leader’s return represents either the return of the original leader (slight wound) or the taking over of leadership by the platoon sergeant or ranking squad leader.

In summary, while the actual fighting is done by the grunts, effective combat leadership is essential in gaining and maintaining the initiative while inspiring the grunts to continue their pursuit of the objective despite the great personal danger they face in close combat. The mutual respect between soldiers and their leader is the key ingredient in maintaining the discipline and morale necessary to accomplish the task at hand. In LHY, the Platoon Leader units are the counters that can make the difference in a tight situation; some are better than others, use them wisely!


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