Real-world infantry tactics in the Arma2-based Iron Front: Liberation 1944
Hey, you! Get down off that effing skyline!
Section attacks - ask anyone who's had even basic infantry training, and they will tell you it's the point all the training comes together - the weapon handling and marksmanship, camouflage and concealment, tactical movement, formations, field signals, target indication, fire control orders and all the rest of it. Since at least the time of the Romans, whose legionaries were organised into squads of about eight men who trained, ate, slept and fought together, the infantry section ('squad' in US Army terms) has been the very building block of larger units. And by the end of World War 2, the section's tactics had evolved into the same basic form they still follow today. The foundation stone of those tactics is section attacks - the drills the infantry use to accomplish their mission in battle, which is to close with the enemy, day or night in any weather and in any terrain, and destroy him, or force his surrender.
Fire and movement, or fire and manoeuvre, is the foundation of modern infantry tactics. To get close enough to the enemy to destroy him, you must move. To move in the face of his fire, you must supress him, and win the fire-fight. So a section operates in two teams, called fire teams these days. When in contact with the enemy, or when advancing to contact, one team moves while the other fires - or covers, from a position from which it can fire. No movement without fire. No fire without movement.
In my day, infantry sections were organised into a 'gun group' and a 'rifle group'. The former was typically three men, the lance corporal section 2ic (second-in-command) and the number 1 and 2 on a GPMG (spoken as 'gimpy'). The rifle group, under the corporal who was section commander, was five or so men armed with the magnificent SLR, supplemented by smoke and fragmentation grenades and a couple of 'sixty-sixes', disposable AT rocket launchers. We trained and practiced section attacks using 'Section Battle Drills' - Preparation for Battle, Reaction to Effective Enemy Fire, Winning the Fire-fight, The Assault & Fight-through (sometimes taught as two distinct drills) and Re-organisation.
I was quite chuffed to find on Youtube a while back a Services Kinema Corporation training film that nicely illustrates all of this in action - and that I found I still remembered nearly by heart!
There were variations of course and one I was taught - and preferred when I was acting as a section or patrol commander - was, having numbered off my rifle group, to put odd numbers on the left in any formation, and even numbers on the right. When the rifle group needed to start skirmishing on its own (typically in the final assault), or just if we needed to move 'tactically' (US 'bounding overwatch') we could move in turns, as odds and evens, better spread out than if people were moving in an 'interleaved' fashion, which was normally the 'official' drill for skirmishing. 'Pairs fire and manoeuvre' is what skirmishing's commonly called in the days of two four-man fire teams.
So, you may be asking by now - if you have read this so far, rather than deciding 'TLDR' - where does the mission report come in? Patience, not long now!
Soldier sims as I see 'em
In my search for a decent simulation of infantry soldiering - the combat part of it, anyway, foot drill we can live without - I have bought and played a good many; single-player only, as I have no interest in multiplayer. I go airsofting, if I want that! After putzing about with Novalogic's Delta Force, Ghost Recon was one of my early purchases, and the first with really decent visuals. But I disliked the 'missions on rails' feeling, with impassable scenery objects regularly channelling my movement. Same with the likes of Call of Duty (1) and Brothers in Arms. I much preferred Hidden and Dangerous, whose 'channeling' seemed less obtrusive, while the ability to 'operate' each of your men in turn, in between the AI controlling them, made the game feel more tactical for me and reduced the impact of AI limitations. And I quite liked the fire-team based concept of Full Spectrum Warrior. But the best of them all for me was Operation Flashpoint - Cold War Crisis. Whole, vast islands to fight over, a real open environment 'sandbox' with driveable cars, AFVs and even helos and jets, all coming together in nicely-scripted campaigns, complete with cutscenes. I was hooked, my favourite campaign being the Red Hammer add-on, fighting as the disaffected ex-Speznaz soldier Dimitri Lukin.
Having found a while back my OFP Game of the Year edition would no longer work in Vista 64, I was delighted to find that developers Bohemia Interactive had released a free version, ARMA Cold War Crisis (the OFP label having moved on, in a different direction) - playable in Vista with my original software key.
in the meantime, I had bought ARMA2 and the Reinforcements add-on which included British forces - even though in desert rather than temperate DPM and with SA80s rather than SLRs. Somehow, I never warmed to ARMA2. It was a bit hot for my system at the time (not that it's much better now!). And I like to play in the 3rd person view except while shooting, but hated the replacement of the full-height OFP view by one from the backside up. One day, I will get the Operation Arrowhead version that works with most of the current mods, including one designed to enable you to adjust the 3rd person view.
Despite some mixed reviews, the one ARMA2 spin-off I did buy, from Gamersgate (also available on Steam), was X1 Software's World War 2 standalone derivative, Iron Front: Liberation 1944. I knew that an Operation Arrowhead-based WW2 mod, Invasion '44, was available, and that modding in Iron Front was limited (to comply with their licence for use of the BI game engine, apparently). Some reviewers really didn't like it, I could see. But it was available at a good price, with a D-Day DLC which added Normandy to the Eastern Front of the original game. Mainly, I was interested in the tanks, and though few are playable, they are great to look at, so I took the plunge...
That, despite the fact that I knew vehicles had never been OFP's strong point and that ARMA2 wasn't much better - stock, anyway. The vehicles don't slip and slide about like hovercraft anymore, but Iron Front's no tanksim. For one thing, the crew are either fully unbuttoned, sitting well out of hatches, or fully closed up - there's no tank commander 'heads out' view. See what I mean?
And closed up, the Tiger I commander has a rotating periscope view, not the ring of fixed episcopes he really had, although the gunner's sight is realistic and functional. Still, all the Iron Front AFVs are lovely renditions, and one day, I will make more of an effort to make the most of Iron Front's tanking. There is a lot to learn, both how best to manage your own tank and control your platoon or other attached forces, and the ARMA2-style keyboard control set-up is truly arcane, more cold-keys than hotkeys as it were.
Nowadays - again if you have ARMA2 OA, which I don't yet - you can install Iron Front as if it were an ARMA2 mod; also for ARMA3. Which sounds promising. One of these days...
But for now, I downloaded several user-made missions for Iron Front - it shares OFP's easy-to-use but powerful Mission Editor - and playing one of these, I found myself as a section commander in a fairly open-ended mission that gave me plenty of scope and time, rather than pitching me quickly into a scary contact. Which you'll appreciate is not an environment conducive to familiarising yourself with a complex system of keyboard commands. This mission report, such as it is, describes a play-through after several efforts to decide on a system and acquire an imperfect but just-about-adequate familiarity with the basic controls. Most of my gameplay in the original OFP was solo missions, so I really have been learning pretty well from scratch, how to play the role of an infantry sectrion commander in an ARMA2-type sim.
How did it work out? Let's find out - it's time to get moving!
...to be continued!