DEFENSIVE TACTICS

By David Garvin, ©2005: web-published at www.AdvancePhase.com, 2005.

As mentioned in my previous article, planning is key for most of life's endeavours. It even applies to Squad Leader! In this article, I will expand on the defensive planning process, using TTS Beta Zero as an example.

THE OBJECT

The defence should be creative, with every opportunity being taken to grasp the initiative and so disrupt the enemy's cohesion. The object of the defence is to force your opponent into action that narrows his options, reduces his combat power, and exposes him to a decisive offensive action. Initially the defender has to react to an unfavourable situation in order to gain the initiative and take it to his opponent. Whereas the attacker looks at the left, centre and right in order to plan his move forward, the defender will look at where and when he can best attrite his foe in order to set conditions for victory.

THE ESTIMATE

So, you're going to play Beta Zero and you're the Soviets. You have a totally predetermined set up, so no planning involved, right? WRONG! Sometimes in Squad Leader, as in real life, you're handed a basket of rotten eggs and are expected to make an omelette. So, don't just sit back and wait for the enemy to come into your sights, force him into your sights, and on your terms. In other words, take back the initiative by whatever means possible. It may seem as though your options are limited, but in shaping his attack to develop the way you want it to, you will get the upper hand and emerge victorious. It's time to make a plan. Look at the board from your point of view. Divide the game play area into three: left, centre and right. Using the “estimate” process described in the prior article, the defence can gain insights into what the enemy may do. Follow this link to a discussion of the Beta-0 estimate.

THE CONDUCT OF THE BATTLE

Even though the scenario designer completed your set up for you, it is up to you to fight the battle. For the German phase of turn one, your only decision will be when to fire and at whom. Since there is no Hidden Initial Placement (HIP) or concealment counters used in Beta one, and also since you have no support weapons, the only factor affecting your decision is at whom to shoot. If there is even a slightest chance of forcing a morale check on an enemy, take it, as there is no risk of malfunctioning machine guns or giving away your position: shoot whenever possible in the initial defensive fire phase.

SOVIET PHASE TURN ONE

This is where your conduct of the battle will actually begin. It is at this time that you should stop for a few moments, assess what you see and then come up with a plan. The avenue of enemy approach should be apparent by this time (left, centre, right, or a combination thereof). As you conduct your battle, it is imperative to never forget your aim: hold a minimum of one hex of one stone building at the end of game turn 5. A secondary aim is to eliminate, through KIA or double break, a minimum of four German squads. So, hold ground and eliminate the enemy.

SOVIET ADVANTAGES

You have a few advantages in this game, all of which you must maximise in order to win this scenario. Your big advantage is time. With only five game turns, the Germans must really be hasty in this game (hence its title!). This does not mean that you can afford to "do nothing" on any given game turn. It just means that the sense of urgency is on the German player, who is forced to take more risks than the Soviet player will have to do (at least initially). Another advantage is terrain. You are located in an area in which you have TEMs of +2 and better. Utilizing this terrain to your advantage is up to you. Sometimes a DRM of 2 or better will make the difference between a NE and a MC (or MC and a KIA).

SOVIET DISADVANTAGES

Your disadvantages are firepower and range. The Germans have 8 squads and four LMGs for a total nominal firepower of 40. You have 7 squads for a nominal firepower of 28. This gives the Germans a rough 1.4:1 advantage in raw firepower. Add to this that your normal range is 4 and the Germans range from 6 to 8 and you will quickly see that the Germans can outrange and outshoot the Germans. If the Germans are able to engage at a range of 5 hexes, the 1.4:1 advantage doubles to 2.8:1! At a range of 9 hexes, the German firepower is 20 and the Soviet is zero. And let's not forget that leadership hasn't even been factored in! Thankfully, there aren't too many places from which the Germans can use range to maximise their firepower. The deduction from this disadvantage is to use the terrain such that few hexes can engage your men (minimise exposure) and that the Germans must be no more than four hexes away when they can shoot at you. As an example, look at building R5/R6. This stone building offers a TEM of +3 in your favour. The disadvantage is that if the Germans were to form a fire group along hill 522, the most you could muster in terms of firepower would be 12 (assuming three squads in each hex). The Germans, on the other hand, with four squads and four LMGs to assist would have 24 on the IFT. Add a leader with a rating of -2 and your lads face a KIA on a roll of 4 or less (16.7%) and a MC of DRM -2 or worse on a roll of 8 or less (72.2%). The Germans, on the other hand, facing an attack of 12 IFT (0 DRM) face a MC of DRM -2 or worse on a roll of 6 or less (41.7%). And remember that forcing 12 on the IFT requires six of seven Soviet squads in those two hexes. It is more likely that the best you could probably muster would be 4 on the IFT. This would force the Germans to face a MC of -2 or worse on a roll of 3 or less (8.3%). The lesson is clear: don't allow the Germans to outrange you.

MINIMIZING EXPOSURE

Learn to skulk. If you don't know what this is, learn quickly how to master this skill. It simply means moving your men out of LOS of the enemy in the movement phase, and then reoccupying key terrain in the advance phase. The disadvantage is that you lose an opportunity to shoot Germans. The advantage is that the Germans lose an opportunity to shoot Soviets. If you feel you can risk it: stay in place and shoot ONLY IF you can recover from failing in your attempt to kill or break the Germans in your sights. Again, this comes to risking versus gambling. You must also, to the best of your abilities, have avenues for routing. A broken unit in the LOS of the Germans will probably never recover in this game, so they must fall back to survive. So, in order to do this, first have your leader in a safe place (as safe as possible, anyway) and get your men to him. Q4 is about the safest place on the playing area for the Soviets, but the risk here is that you lose a -2 DRM when shooting at Germans. So, a decision must be made where to put your "safe haven". This will depend on what the Germans throw at you.

A SPECIAL NOTE ON YOUR LEADER

Consider your 9-2 leader your God: he cannot be allowed to die. If he dies, you WILL lose. At the earliest opportunity, get him back, perhaps into R5. From the left, the Germans must take building R3 to get LOS on it. From the centre, they must crest hill 522, and as noted, there are initially only 2 squads on that side. Yes they will outrange you from up there, but even with long-range fire, you can possibly get a IFT 4 DRM-2 attack on him, all the while enjoying a TEM of +3. The best the Germans can do is get an IFT 16 net DRM of +1 on you, and that's only if they survive their move there. (Remember that if the Germans move there in an advance phase, you could get to shoot first in prep fire: advantage Soviets) On the right, the Germans won't be in your sights until at least turn two (if not later). R5 with the 9-2 leader and say 3 squads would give you a potential surprise 12 IFT DRM -2 attack! But then again, 3 of 7 squads in one hex is tempting fate, so, if you can afford to lose these squads in one fire attack, it will be a risk. If you cannot afford to lose these squads in one attack, it will be a gamble. Remember to never gamble, but take risks.

WINNING THE BATTLE

In simplest terms, the best way to win the game is to kill 4 squads. This alone won't win you the game, but it leaves the Germans with only four squads and no prospect of a victory. Don't try to kill four squads in one fire attack: it won't happen. You must pick and choose when you can inflict damage. Yes, fire whenever possible, but you must concentrate your fire in order to get a result. Breaking a German squad will help you buy time, which in turn may force the German to take bigger and bigger risks as the game goes on. How to pick and choose your killing attacks depends on what the German does. If he comes in on one axis, then you can fight a classic layered defensive battle, jabbing at him as you keep falling back (until you run out of room, of course!). If he comes at you from more than one direction, then even though you may at first feel overwhelmed, the best bet is to focus on one axis, cause as much damage as you can before switching focus on the other. Whatever you do, don't split your forces as you will find yourself quickly out of options.

BUYING TIME: AN ILLUSTRATED EXAMPLE

Suppose that the Germans in X3 decide to go round hill 522 with the help of Rosenberger and end their advance phase in hex W10. What to do? Your best bet may be to buy time and do something to throw off your opponent's timeline. One option would be to use your squad in hex T6. Suppose you took that squad to U8. So what? Well, it gives that one squad clear LOS to V6, V7, V8, V9 and V10, not to mention U10. That means that the force that moved around the hill will now have to move in the open in order to move on you. Your force may end up eliminated, but on your terms, and you may even force the Germans to gamble a 4IFT -2 DRM (moving in the open) in order to get to you (MC -2 or worse on a roll of 5 or less). The best part is that if the Germans are in hex W10, you are free to move to U8 out of LOS. What if the Germans end up in W8? Well, don't move into U8, advance into U8. Remember, this is only one example of how you can do something to try to upset the schedule that the German player may have in store for you.

A FINAL NOTE

Remember that your opponent will try to trick you. Still, you can minimise the effect of any tricks he has up his sleeve by forcing him to close in. If you do succeed in eliminating 4 of his squads, you are guaranteed not to lose. Also remember that you only have 7 squads, 3 of which are within LOS of the enemy at the start. You will not survive the game with all 7. If you lament their loss, fine; however, I like to lose squads for a purpose. The squad in R3 and a squad in either T3 or T4 may be "left behind" in order to slow the Germans for a turn, and if successful, that one turn represents 20% of the game length. If they do it for a turn each, that's 40% of the game! The squad in T6 could be used as a delay if the enemy chooses to go to your right; however, in the likely event that they go left, bringing him back close to the leader will make it more useful. In general, however, use up the clock as best you can. If you do this well, the Germans may end up having to gamble on turn 5. If they do and lose that gamble, you win.

CONCLUSION

The best way to fight this battle is to remember a few key deductions. They are:

(a)  Minimise exposure;

(b)  Take risks but never gamble; and

(c)  Always maintain your aim.

In the end, some games will not go your way in spite of your best plan. There is luck involved in this game, but in the long haul, everyone’s luck evens out.