I got asked a lot of questions at the recent Warfare 2021 tournament about my list construction so today I am going to talk about way I construct and evaluate a Force that I have chosen to play with.
There are lots of posts on social media and other forums bemoaning this unit or that formation and this got me thinking about why players think this is so. Yes, there are some units where the points vs usefulness balance isn’t quite right (i.e Marders in MW) but these are exceptions rather than the rule in my view.
Before proceeding I am going to outline my basic ground rules.
1. A Force is not necessarily intended to be representation in miniature of a real world historical force
2. It should be able to play all the basic scenarios.
3. It should be able to play choosing all three Battle Stances – Attack, Manoeuvre, Defend
So, knowing the above, I am not looking to min/max or points optimise a list for a hyper competitive open blue on blue tournament, making something that can only Defend or can’t be played in a scenario with Deep, Delayed Scattered, Reserves [also known as “how to find out how badly do your reserve dice hate you – Lee”]. This isn’t just the type of Force I take to play any time I go along to my local games club or round a friends without pre arranging how we are going to play. It is the sort of Force I choose to take to tournaments as well.
So what does a Force need? The basics are pretty simple, just like in the real world you need some infantry to hold ground, some mobile units to manouver to attack with and some support to aid your advance or break up the enemies advance. Where many players go wrong is they fixate on just one of these aspects which can be a successful tactic if you are a very experienced player but, for most of us, that approach simply leads down the path of defeat and can make for a very dull in-game experience.
So we have three basic building blocks we need to incorporate. This is joined by the two basic Force types we have to choose from, Tank (e.g. A T-34 Tank Battalion) or Infantry (e.g. A British Rifle Company). Part 1 of this discussion will cover Tank Formations.
Tank formations come in three generic varieties, Light, Medium and Heavy.
Depending on national doctrine some armoured formations contain purely tanks like the British Companies or a more combined arms approach like the Soviet Tank Battalions which is a structure adopted later in the war by several other nations.
Light Tank Companies are the fast and mobile element of the armoured world. These meet the need for mobility, often have a mix of AT and artillery options integrated into them and some even have an integrated infantry element. They have speed, medium hitting power but are fragile often having small platoons coupled with low armour ratings. The Allied powers have several options for this type of tank with the M3 Stuart and Crusader tanks in Mid War and the M5 and Chaffee in Late War. Structurally these are no different to the Medium Tank Companies they just tend to have more platoons which is handy as these tanks are cheap for a reason!
Next we have the Medium Tank Companies these are the work horses of the armoured formations for all nations, here we have the Panzer III & IV, Panther (by German classification), Grant, Crusader, Sherman and T-34 to name a few of the common tanks in this class. These are the most common tanks of the Second World War. These tanks combine mobility, a decent amount of Firepower and Armour they form the workhorse of offensive / counter offensive warfare in this period.
Finally we have the Heavy tank companies with their Tiger, Churchill and IS-2 tanks. These tanks are well armed and armoured though due to national doctrine speed can be very variable, the IS-2 and Tiger are as quick as many medium tanks whilst the Churchill was intended for close cooperation with the infantry and was thus deliberately designed to be mobile without being fast. Unsurprisingly these Formations again structurally are not significantly different to the light and medium tank formations of their respective nations.
Looking across the various books we see that not all tank companies are structured the same. This presents both strengths and weaknesses.
If you only have tanks in your tank company you will need to allow points to add the missing support elements into your list, the effect of this is that you either have several small platoons or just a few larger ones leaving you with a more fragile Formation which, if handled poorly, can be broken by the enemy.
So lets compare two examples of Tanks formation and see how this works in practice. I will stick with the British and Soviets for my examples here so lets take a Mid War British Grant Formation from Armoured Fist and Late War Soviet T-34 Formations from Bagration Soviets.
The Grant formation only has four platoons, each of three tanks, so we will need to take the maximum number of platoons to have any core strength to our Force. Now we could just take all Grants at 72pts but, one of these can be the light Honey; a faster if less well armed and armoured, tank. By taking this option we add some additional mobility to either set up flanking positions or to redeploy to counter an enemy breakthroughs. By combining my three tank HQ with another platoon I can muster a six-tank assault which is pretty good. This brings me to 59 points.
Now none of my tanks has an artillery or indirect smoke bombardment capability and I have no ground holding infantry or spearhead capable platoons to help me attack. I am going to make my next choice some support artillery and, for the British, this is provided by the Royal Artillery in the form of the 25pdr.
Probably the most useful platoon in any army in Mid War, the 25pdr provides some more good AT capability and, thanks to being ROF2 and having turntables (so can fire 360°), can defend themselves from tanks and armoured cars. They have reasonable bombardment capability to dig out enemy infantry and their massive range is ideal for counter battery fire.
As I have a tank company and don’t want my valuable tank commander ranging in artillery I will take a Honey Observation Post as well, this adds another 16 points so now I am at 75 points. Next up I need some infantry to hold ground or assault positions my tanks can’t attack. The obvious option is to add in a Rifle platoon but, whilst meeting my need, doesn’t really make my Force any stronger so I am going to add an entire Formation using the four black box options from the Motor Company
This option gives me the same eight infantry teams overall but with a little more FP and now with an extra HQ and the added resilience of having two Formations on the table making me harder to break. These are protected from enemy tanks by four 6pdr anti-tank guns making my base position even harder to attack or they can provide a nasty ambush. Finally the Motor Rifles provide a universal carrier patrol, these handy little AFV’s come with the added benefit of the Spearhead rule so if attacking I can get my tanks into a better position to threaten the enemy quickly. This brings me to 99 points so I can upgrade 1 of my Universal carriers with a Boys Anti-tank Rifle giving me a bit more capability in the unit vs other scout vehicles.
Overall I have met the desire to cover all aspects of the game. I can start with my Motor Rifle formation, artillery and a platoon of my tanks if I end up needing to have Deep Reserves, the infantry formation has all the tools to defend itself from the enemy and then provide the support needed to allow my Tank formation to launch a counter attack.
Overall I can play any scenario and adapt my list to all the Battle Stances without overly weakening it thanks to mitigating my seemingly weak starting position of just a four platoon formation to break my force. Now you need to kill six formation platoons!
Here I will take a Late War T-34 Battalion and I will use the standard Red Army list for this example. It’s strength is numbers; you can get a lot of tanks for 100 points. But, these are skill Green making them a poor choice to assault with. The next problem is they are hit on a 3+ so expect to suffer losses getting to the enemy. Finally, large platoons are hard to conceal a lot of the time, exasperating the second problem.
The bonus is we have infantry, AA, anti-tank guns and artillery all in our core formation.
The final decision is which type of T34 Battalions to choose between, all 76mm, all 85mm or a mix? All 76’s is the cheapest option but is poor in every aspect with a weak gun as well as poor skill, the mixed option is the more expensive but does offer some in game tactical flexibility over the pure 85mm armed platoons; knowing you will loose tanks then why not try and make it cheaper ones!
In the interests of objectivity I have included all three lists here so you can assess the differences yourself. All three of my formations in this example are based on an HQ, two T-34 Tank Companies, an SMG company and an 82mm mortars.
With five common core platoons we have a good basic strength to the formation but they all lack that much needed Spearhead unit to make them truly effective on the attack so I will add a unit of BA64s as a support option in all the lists. So let’s look at the three builds.
The 76mm armed tanks lack for AT capability so we will need to add a support option to round out this build so it can cope against Heavy Tanks. The cheapest option is the 57mm AT guns which is also another formation platoon, adding resilience, but only give us AT 11 and we really want an AT12 or better unit.
As such I am going to support this formation with a unit of IS-2 tanks. These give me some much needed AT capability and are an excellent assault tank thus strengthening both the shooting and assault phases of the turn. Should I have reserves, it is my units of fast moving T-34’s that will be held back unless my opponent only has medium armour.
With the mixed option and the pure 85mm option we don’t really need to add any more AT options so some ZSU-17 AA half trucks are going into my formation for added capability versus armoured cars and infantry. Where these two lists are weaker is in the assault phase with only a single reliable assault platoon in the form of the SMG platoon. As such I am going to try and boost this phase with a second infantry choice as a Support option and add an Armoured Reconnaissance Platoon in place of the BA-64’s. These give me both Spearhead and the extra infantry support as well as adding some more heavy machine guns.
I can cover all the bases starting with either my T34’s or IS-2’s on table in a game with Deep Reserves and still have a fairly solid formation to hold out with. I picked the Hero SMG unit as they are a lot harder to shift if dug in, the 4+ save on the regulars and the additional points usage for the extra teams just don’t balance up well enough for me.
In this list I simply have a big reserve unit. In a game with Deep reserves I would have to sacrifice my HQ as well but this still leaves a fairly solid force on the table at the start of the game with a broad mix of assets. I would be looking to use the mistaken target rule as much as possible to keep my T-34/85’s working until help arrives An observer BA-64 could be added for the flamethrower in the Hero SMG unit plus a 1 point Command Card.
This list is similar to the mixed list but I have slightly fewer tanks (17 vs 19) and I will end up wasting my higher quality AT assets to early game losses with this build. Again as my Battalion commander may need to double up as my observer he will potentially not get to shoot that much either – I could again get round this by sacrificing the Flame thrower team in the Hero SMG unit and having a point spare for a Command Card – Make Your Own Luck is the best option for that with the Soviets.
Well hopefully this has given you some food for thought about structuring you Tank Forces, it is a long read but hopefully a useful one – Martin