Aside from rather poorly abusing probably one of the most famous lines from a Carry On film, today I want to discuss infantry. With the Bulge completed it seems to me an appropriate time to look back and reflect on where we stand with regard to building Infantry Formations as the heart of our Flames of War armies. For me looking at the social media feeds and attending events over the past couple of years I’ve seen the tank and mechanised armies with minimal infantry elements being chosen time and time again with the odd infantry platoon just included incase they of a need to hold an objective or because they enable players to manipulate the Reserves rules advantageously. This has got me thinking about why is this. After all, infantry comprised the vast bulk of all armies in World War II so why don’t we see them more?
Why don’t we see more Infantry?
Probably the first reason is cost – put simply a tank army can be financially very cheap. You can put a Tank orientated Force onto the tabletop for £80 or even fewer thanks to Battlefronts’ superb value starter armies which aside from the two new Mid-War starter sets for Eastern Front are all tank themed, with some containing an odd supporting infantry platoon. To build a 100 points infantry force from scratch is going to cost you more than a tank army or is it?
This brings me to a second point the average war gamer is by nature lazy. If you’ve got to assemble and paint models it’s a lot easier to buy 1 big box which contains 90% of what you want than to have to try and source a lot of individual packs which with the Covid pandemic and ongoing supply chain disruption still are pretty hard to actually get hold of.
Next up on this theme is time – this links to the above point, many gamers simply do not have the time to assemble and paint infantry platoons, using myself as an example; I can build and paint a 40-point heavy tank platoon in about a weeks worth of my hobby time, to do a 10 point (7-9 team) infantry platoon takes me twice as long and I need to paint a lot more teams to fill up my points. If you follow us on social media you will know I’ve done more than a few infantry armies over the past 4 years (Soviet Hero Motor Rifles, Soviet Naval Rifles, Soviet Sapper-Engineers, Finnish Rifles, an American ARP as well as 3 lots of German Grenadiers) but each has taken me 3 or more months to complete. In comparison, I painted up over 200 points of later variant Mid-War Panzers in under a month! So tank armies are much quicker to get on the tabletop.
The last factor is playability – generally, tank armies are pretty easy and quick to play with compared to infantry forces where you need to prepare carefully using several turns to denude the enemy before committing your troops to a final victory bringing assault. This makes them somewhat less popular in a time-constrained environment like a tournament or when utilising a gaming table in a store. So you have what I believe stops everyone playing infantry:
- Ease of play
What I want to do here is encourage you to consider the benefits of taking the time to build and learn to play with an infantry-dominated force. So let’s review the statements I made.
So is any of that really True?
Let’s start with cost, the switch to plastic whilst we may have seen a reduction in the variety of models from Battlefront there are plenty of other manufacturers of WW2 models you can look at. But sticking with BF what does an infantry Formation actually cost to buy? I’m going to use my recently completed Mid-War Eastern Front Grenadier Formation as the example for this, as it contains no models from starter boxes it provides a fair baseline cost for comparison. The Formation is a base of 98 points (with the HMGs added to the Grenadier platoons) and aside from a Spearhead unit fulfills all other criteria add in a Command Card or two or Armoured Cars and I easily have a 100-point Force containing a near unbreakable 8 or 9 Formation Units.
- HQ – Free included in grenadier platoon packs
- 1 Sniper – Free built from 2 spare infantry models
- 2x mid-sized Grenadier Platoons with 2.8cm AT Rifles – 2@ 12.00
- 1x Assault Grenadier Platoon 1@ 12.00
- 1x HMG Platoon 1@ 7.00
- 1x 81mm Mortar Platoon 1@ 10.50
- 4x 7.5cm Infantry Guns 2@ 13.50
- 2x 15cm Infantry Guns 1@ 13.50
- 4x 5cm Antitank guns 1@ 24.00
- Total Spend: £104.50 (current UK listed retail price)
So what I see here is actually infantry are pretty close cost-wise with Tank armies to collect. So the assumption that infantry armies are expensive is just a myth. Also as we are now seeing Battlefront expand their plastics range Infantry starter armies are appearing and they are making this even cheaper!
Now availability I can’t do anything about it, all I can say is make sure you shop around some of the online retailers have some really good deals and availability from older stock, I brought this entire army in the recent Battlefront sale so only spent £70 with the rather high P&P added in. Another point to be aware of is sometimes the LW and MW boxes are the same just rebadged so check the actual parts carefully as you may be able to pick up an LW or MW box containing what you want more easily, SdKfz 221 & 222 scout cars are a great example of this where there are multiple boxes of exactly the same content.
Time well here on the blog we have a whole pile of articles on ways to speed up your overall painting productivity through speedier painting strategies such as batch painting, pre-shading, using coloured primers, pre-colouring your basing material, using GW Contrast or Army Painter Speed paints or all of them to get infantry forces on to the tabletop. The key here is to remember you are painting a gaming model not a Golden demon entry, you see it from 3+ feet away so adding in all the uniform insignia and facial details can be a wasted effort. To supplement this we have been running a bit of a challenge on the Shoot and Scoot podcast Patreon discord channel and I managed to paint all the above Force in under 4 weeks of regular hobby time with a few basic shortcuts. So it’s not always slower to paint an infantry force even if like me you are relatively time-poor.
So this brings me to the final point Ease of Play and here I am back on more familiar territory because, at heart, I am an infantry-orientated player. Sure I have loads of tanks who doesn’t? I just don’t seem to enjoy the game as much as when I can construct and execute a well-planned infantry-led victory, interestingly all of my FOW tournament wins have been with Forces built from Infantry Formations.
I’ve written before about force construction and how I assess my in-game needs and pick my Forces. Today I am writing about the next step in executing a plan for the game. I’ll stick to my MW Grenadier Force to expand on this and have a look at how I’ll set them up on the tabletop for attacking and defending against Infantry and Tank led Forces.
The first step is with a force like mine I really need to try and minimise the risk of getting reserves now you can’t completely avoid this but picking the Defend stance isn’t going to help a lot. One thing nearly all Infantry armies have in common is you often have 3 or even 4 units that have to go into Reserve. So you need to learn to play with just 60% or your army and understand what order to bring the rest of it into play.
After having a look at the enemy list. The first thing I look at when selecting my reserve platoons is to ask myself the question “What is each platoon actually doing for me?” Where I have multiple units covering similar roles such as the light 7.5cm artillery guns and mortars I have an option that one of these units could be sacrificed to the Reserve. Typically mortars are great when you are attacking but aren’t the best platoon choice when you are defending as they only offer 1 option of how to affect the enemy and that has added drawbacks against a moving enemy compared to a gun team.
I have an Attacking Infantry unit in the Assault Grenadiers equipped with SMG’s these again are great when you are moving forward but less effective at stopping the enemy from closing with your position in the first place so they are another easy choice to send to the Reserve. Now I’ve got to the hard choices and this will be very much driven by what my opponent actually got. If they have hordes of Soviet Infantry then I probably have less use for my expensive 5cm AT guns whilst against a Tank Formation they are going to be essential but my soft rather squishy Grenadiers are going to be less helpful as they lack the integrated weaponry to stop the tanks. With either of these with this collection of units, I will need to pick a fourth unit given that my 15cm guns are just 2 strong I am going to sacrifice them, this decision is driven by the fact they are only 2 teams so reroll any hits, are easy to force to Last Stand tests and they have a low AT capability and are slow firing. I am probably going to be bringing them into play in this sort of order Assault Grenadiers, Grenadiers, 15cm guns, and lastly the mortar platoon. This leaves me with:
- Grenadier Platoon with AT Rifle and 2x HMG
- 7.5cm Infantry Guns
- 5cm AT guns
- 2x Grenadier Platoon with AT Rifle and 2x HMG
- 7.5cm Infantry Guns
Now that’s not a lot in either case but if I have picked my battle stance well enough I should be getting to roll for my reserves from turn 1 so now I need to deploy keeping in mind I need to adopt a setup that will enable me to have a chance to hold out until turn 3 when I will hopefully start to get my missing units into the battle. This means I need to look at getting my Grenadiers formed across a broad front covered by my 7.5cm guns for the first list. The sniper who always gets to ambush will probably give me the option of a second ambushing platoon If I can be close enough to maneuver to cover both objectives for little risk with just the grenadier units I will deploy my HQ and keep my AT guns safe in Ambush ready to pounce destroying the enemies armoured thrust, alternatively I could elect to Ambush with the HQ to put an additional unit near either objective if threatened too quickly for me to get my Reserves into play. With the second list, my ambush will be my HQ ensuring I can get them where they are needed to bolster my grenadiers’ morale.
If I am the attacker then the key unit I have is the Assault Grenadiers and it is them I want to be doing most of my assaulting with, I will focus all my artillery against the target objective and use my Grenadier platoons to weaken my opponents’ defensive fire – I’ll be prepared to expose them to incoming fire to enable me to get my Assault Grenadiers into a position to make 1 significant game winning assault. My pre-ranged markers will be placed to pepper the objective and both my 7.5cm guns and Mortars can deliver a Smoke Bombardment, 1 for screening my advance and 1 for screening my assault so I need to protect these from any marauding enemy light armour and scouts which my 2nd Grenadier platoon will be doing so I can keep up a steady barrage against the enemy artillery and defensive position. I will use my sniper to target enemy HMG teams with their high volume of anti-infantry fire.
There thats me done for now hopefully this has given you something to think about and will encourage more of you to take the time to collect and play with your infantry and not leave it languishing as the also-ran of the FOW Formation choice. Martin