By David Garvin, ©2005: web-published at www.AdvancePhase.com, 2005.
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 Alan Yngve's Beta (Zero): Hasty Attack as an example.
PRINCIPLES OF WAR APPLICABLE TO THE DEFENCE
In Canadian Army Doctrine, there are ten principles of war. Three of these are especially useful in defensive actions. They are:
Concentration of Force;
Offensive Action; and
Concentration of Force
"The commander must be able to concentrate his force at the enemy point of main effort. Concentration not only implies the massing of forces but also the massing of firepower. It includes such elements as movement, flexibility, and communications." In Beta (zero), you have no options as to setup. That's fine for the first turn, but what you do in the subsequent turns should aim to concentrate your squads such that any key hex can be fired upon from multiple stacks, as much as possible.
"Commanders must maintain an offensive spirit in the defence. This implies manoeuvre, speed, and aggressiveness, which are particular characteristics of armour. Patrolling and counter-attacking are also elements of offensive action." In this scenario, this means that you can't just sit back and "take it". You must attack the enemy, keep moving, shift your forces as much as possible and try to regain the initiative. If you force the Germans to react rather than act, you are one step closer to winning.
"Security is the ability to meet an attack from any direction. It is achieved by the employment of covering forces, coordination, mutual support at all levels, maintenance of surveillance, and the ability to concentrate forces." This is explained below in several of the fundamentals. The key here is the ability to meet an attack from any direction: don't discount the fact that the Germans may try to get around you to one side or the other, or even both.
FUNDAMENTALS OF DEFENCE
So, you're going to play and you're the Soviets. You're outnumbered heavily, and your setup options are non-existent, 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. In order to do so, you must apply what I call the fundamentals of defence. They are as follows:
1. Use of Terrain;
2. All-round defence;
3. Mutual Support;
6. Fire power; and
USE OF TERRAIN
This is more than making sure that your troops are in positive TEMs whenever possible. Remember that open ground is also terrain, and when you are on the defence stone buildings are better than entrenchments in terms of TEMs in your favour. Just pick your ground such that you have good kill zones, have possible approach routes covered with fire and be prepared to face an enemy who will try to use TEMs in his favour as well.
ALL ROUND DEFENCE
Just because the other fellow is facing you from a certain direction, remember that if skilful, he will try to come at you from the side or even behind. Make sure you have all directions covered. Certain areas may warrant more coverage than others, but don't put on blinders and focus on one direction only.
This is just a fancy way of saying that every position should have at least one other position covering it. Suppose you have two squads in a certain area. They should be set up such that if one is under attack or about to be rushed by the other fellow, the other squad should be able to assist in the defensive fire.
No matter how well you plan, you will lose ground and the enemy will make inroads. Even at Kursk the Germans were able to not only break in to the defences on the southern wing, but actually broke through. So, even the best of SL players will find bad guys where they don't want them. And in Hasty Assault/Beta, the Germans get to shoot and move before you even touch the dice. If played well, the Germans will be attrited, but that is beside the point. If you don't effectively use those squads further back from the front line, then the Germans will have total freedom of action and will win every time.
Don't just sit there. Avoid getting stuck in one position. If at all possible, keep your defence mobile (out of LOS of the enemy, of course) and make him change his plan of attack. There are only so many turns in this scenario, and if you force the Germans to waste a turn or two just to adapt to your moves, then time truly is on your side.
This is fairly self-explanatory. Dole out your defensive fire in such a way as to maximise damage to the enemy while keeping your fellows alive. Given that squads suffer no ill effects if they roll a 12 on attacks, you should fire as often as possible, no matter the chance of success. If you have machine guns, that is a different story and you must make a calculated risk.
Have back up. No matter what, always have back up. Also remember that reserves are, by definition, uncommitted troops. So, if you use them as depth, they are not reserves. They can be so useful in so many different ways. They can counter-attack, provide depth, and plug holes in the line and so forth. So, try to keep squads out of the line of fire as long as possible, to be used "just in case".
CONDUCT OF THE BATTLE
Once the game begins, the German will get to fire and then move before you have any decisions to make. After this initial phase, however, you will have to start implementing a plan. It may be hastily devised, but have a plan: don't just react by firing defensively. Have a reason why you shoot at this stack, and not that one. If you have a choice between firing on a stack with a 9-2 leader and a stack with no leader, consider the fact that on a equal attacks of say IFT 8 DRM +1, you will have a better chance of breaking units in the stack without the leader: and it forces a leader to "go back" and attempt to rally the troops. Focus on the Germans' weakness: their squads. Their leaders are numerous and powerful, but they don't have very many troops (relatively speaking). Once it's over to you for your phase, consider "skulking": moving out of LOS so that the Germans cannot fire on you in the Def Fire Phase, and then advancing back into the line, forcing the German to decide which units will fire, and which will move. You just may get to delay him a turn or two. And with only five turns, a delay of one turn equates into 20% of the entire game!
As with any game involving dice, there is a certain amount of luck involved. If all it took were luck to win this game, however, it just wouldn't be fun at all. You know that and so does your opponent. So, make the odds work for you, expect to be disappointed sometimes, and remember that with any plan, it never survives contact with the enemy, so be ready to change your plan on the fly. But most of all have fun! After all, it's only a game, right?
Note: As of 18 October 2005, the reported record for this scenario is 48 wins (37%) for the Germans, 74 wins (57%) for the Russians, and 8 draws (6%); 130 reported game completions.