An Artillery Alternative
By Mark Merritt
Since its introduction in 2010, Infantry Attacks has been of keen interest to myself and my gaming buddies as we are all aficionados of World War I fighting. It seems like more gamers are coming to realize that there is more to World War I than trenches and mud; and that is good! Infantry Attacks has moved the bar fairly high in regards to tactical gaming of the early war period, specifically in the East between Germany and Russia. We all are eager to see new additions to this series.
Avalanche Press did a great job creating the rules that fits into the Panzer Grenadier framework but still contains much of the unique flavor of World War I. However, after playing several of the scenarios we came to realize that some aspects of the rules may need tweaking to better reflect the realities of 1914. I realize (or suspect) that these rules were an attempt to have one standard rule book for the entire World War I period, like Panzer Grenadier. That is a daunting task indeed.
World War I changed the way war was fought at so many levels. Before World War I airplanes, tanks, flamethrowers, gas attacks, etc. were just not seen as weapons of war. Machine guns were a novelty and fairly rare in most armies. Artillery was either of the field variety and expected to fire from the firing line or the more heavy siege variety and meant to reduce fortresses over time.
During World War I all these and other weapons (effective hand grenades, light machine guns, etc.) were further developed or created and tactics found (usually the hard way) to use them. All this started in 1914 and the true revolution in warfare wasn’t complete until 1939-40.
There was tremendous learning going on between 1914 and 1918. And that is why I’m writing this article. I feel, from much research on my part and that of others, that the artillery rules as written in Infantry Attacks do not reflect the state of the art as practiced by either side in those early opening stages of the campaign in the east.
In almost all cases the scenarios depicted were meeting engagements by large forces maneuvering in the open; not set-piece assaults across crater-strewn ground. And that is where my thesis comes into play. The artillery rules in the game specify that artillery either engages in direct fire (open sights) or pre-planned off board fire missions. I propose the following alternate rules for on-board as well as off-board artillery that better show the skill and flexibility that these gunners possessed in 1914 as well as their limitations.
Much discussion of these and other variants occured, many theories were presented and tried; what is listed here is what our group here in Jacksonville, Florida came up with.
• Rule section 5.61 and 5.62 discuss the limbering/unlimbering of artillery, machine guns and mortars. I propose that unlimbered artillery only be allowed to limber on a roll of 1 - 3 on a single dice. This better reflects that the batteries horses etc. may have moved some distance from the firing line. By definition we are already talking about artillery on the field of battle, so, no doubt the area is under fire and most battery commanders would want those horses and limbers pretty far removed from flying metal. It also restricts the total control aspect we as players wish to exert on our cardboard counters.
• Section 6 discusses Leaders. Add a new leader type: Battery Forward Observer (FO). This leader (s) comes into play when one side has off-board artillery capability. For every three batteries a given side may have, (3 x 6, 3 x 8), select a single leader of the lowest rank available (I use extra Panzer Grenadier leaders) to be the FO of those batteries. Make a notation on the artillery log as to which FO can spot for which batteries. The FO observes all rules pertaining to spotting, stacking, movement etc. His sole function is to spot the fall of shot for the batteries he is assigned. He cannot lead assaults, direct the fire of other units or assist in any morale checks except his own. He cannot activate other units to move either. Ignore his combat modifier.
RATIONALE Artillery control in August and September of 1914 was very rudimentary; all the complicated staff planning and plotting that occurred from 1915 on were way in the future. Batteries were parceled out to individual brigades and even regiments. All batteries had the ability to fire indirect fire; but, to be able to do so they used a forward observer (usually the battery CO or his underling) to actually see the fall of shot and call in corrections by field phone, flags or signal flairs. Having one per battery would be way to cumbersome; in most cases you will have no more than 2 in a given scenario. But, they represent the real folks that had to run around and find worthwhile targets for their guns.
• Rules section 7.25 and 7.3 discuss the types of fire that occur on each table. Change this to state “For artillery firing using Open Sights, apply all fires on the Direct Fire Table vice the Bombardment Table. This is an exception to the color coding of fire types.” This reflects the combat reports that consistently show that artillery firing over open sights was in fact highly effective. Overall, the artillery bombardment table seems to way under value the damage that artillery caused. Even in the early days artillery was a substantial killer of men.
• Section 9 speaks to the Bombardment and Artillery Missions assignments. I propose to basically scrap this entire section and replace it with a much abbreviated and I think a much more realistic set of rules for 1914 actions.
Planned Fire: Replace with the following.
1. All off-board fires are controlled by the FO assigned to that battery or group of batteries (up to three batteries per FO). The FO must be able to spot the hex to fire at it. It may or may not contain an enemy unit in order for a fire mission to occur. If no enemy unit is being targeted then the hex must contain a road junction, town/village or woods hex. Targeting an empty clear hex is not allowed. Designate the hex(s) the FO wishes to fire at, noting the hex number by battery on the bombardment log.
2. Roll a single die for battery access; a result of 1 - 4 allows the mission to occur, a 5 - 6 indicates that the communication link was blocked, unclear or the battery was incapable of executing the mission. In either case the FO has burned his activation for that turn and if his batteries were unable to fire then they cannot fire or attempt to fire again in this turn. Add a -1 modifier if this FO had access last turn.
3. Assuming a successful battery access roll, roll one die to determine accuracy as follows:
Hex being fired at for first time; 1-3 hit, 4-6 miss.
Hex being fired at more than one turn in a row 1-5 hit, 6 miss.
If a hit, resolve on Bombardment table.
If a miss, roll one die for direction (1-6 from compass rose) and another for placement. Move that number of hexes out in the direction of the first roll; this is the new targeted hex. If the hex is off the map, ignore the fire; the battery(s) are still considered to have fired. Resolve the attack on the bombardment table regardless of hex occupants.
4. If the FO were to become a casualty, on each turn after his removal, roll a single die in the initiative phase for his replacement. A 1-2 allows a replacement leader (use the same counter again) to enter on that sides reinforcement edge and represent his batteries. A 3-6 means no replacement available yet. The assigned batteries cannot fire until this replacement leader is in play and can spot a target.
5. Ammunition rules as discussed in section 11 fully apply.
NOTE: There was a technique that basically fired at a map coordinate; usually it designated a significant landmark, like a church steeple or woods lot, or a cross roads as the aiming point. This was highly inaccurate fire at this time as no one was able to call in corrections for the fall of shot. It was useful as harassment fire and kept troops up at night as one might expect. Since the effect of artillery fire on the Bombardment Table is so minimal I leave this type of fire out altogether. If you think this was a major factor designate one or two batteries as engaging in this type of fire and pre-plot using Section 9 entirely. But no combing batteries; one hex per battery.
1. Batteries that are represented on the map must use direct fire to be effective. They cannot be assigned to a FO and cannot fire indirectly. They must have a leader activate them should they wish to move closer to an enemy unit that can harm them like any other unit.
2. There is no pre-plotting direct for missions. The owning player can move his limbered batteries where he sees fit and unlimber as necessary to conduct fire combat.
3. Once unlimbered, a given battery can fire on any target it can spot observing all spotting and LOS rules.
4. Ammunition rules as discussed in section 11 fully apply.
5. To limber an un-limbered battery, roll a single die. A 1-3 allows the battery to limber this turn; a 4-6 means that that battery cannot limber BUT has spent an activation and needs to marked with a moved/fire counter. Apply any applicable leaders combat modifier to this roll. This modifier will SUBTRACT from the unlimber roll.
6. Once a battery limbers it may move and unlimber again as the player sees fit, observing all applicable leadership and movement rules in the process.
• Drumfire Markers. Place a Drumfire marker and observe all the stated effects for each hex hit by Indirect fire. This applies no matter how many times it is hit in a given game. In other words, every hex hit by indirect fire has a Drumfire marker placed on it for the duration of that turn. Remove ALL Drumfire markers at the end of a turn. SMOKE missions cause no Drumfire markers to be placed.
These changes do add more flexibility to the artillery rules but in my opinion they show the capability of the artillery arm better than the current rules do. By 1915 and especially 1916 detailed planning and pre-plotting will be necessary to show the various complicated pre-assault bombardments and creeping barrages developed by both sides. Add to that box barrages, gas, and the declining use of registration firing as practiced by the Allies and especially the Germans in late war and you will then come into the modern era as far as artillery is concerned.
What we give up in this proposed optional rules set is all the pre-plotting that in reality did not occur in these meeting engagements. You still don’t know if your battery will respond, and, if it does, will it hit where desired?
Try it out and let me know!
Try them out in Infantry Attacks: August 1914. Order it today!