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Graviteam Tactics - Ostfront!

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#1 33LIMA

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Posted 22 November 2016 - 01:44:17 PM

A first campaign in Graviteam's classic wargame

 

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Picture it for yourself. It's late winter 1942-43, just after the German disaster at Stalingrad. You've been recalled to the Eastern Front from your cosy staff job in Berlin, and assigned to the command of a battalion-sized battlegroup in your former division, 2nd SS Panzer Grenadier Das Reich. No sooner have you arrived, than you're pitched into the deep end, as your kampfgruppe is already fully committed. Your first mission is to throw the Reds out of a small riverside town and sieze some crossings. So get a grip of your command, study your maps, and make a plan with your staff. And make it fast - there's a war on out here, you know!

 

That's about how I felt, taking on my first campaign in GT:OS. In fact, my first mission, apart from a couple of quick battles, mainly to try out the modern AFVs in the WW2 battlefields. True, playing Steel Armor - Blaze of War (SABOW) has taught me some basics, but that just scratched the surface of the sophisticated command interface of Graviteam's magnum opus. So it was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that I approached my first campaign battle.

 

I confess that I am rather more interested in western front action, preferably including Normandy, or North Africa at a pinch; though I've read my Guderian and my von Mellenthin, Craig's Enemy at the Gates, even Plevier's novel Moscow. And I know well enough my BTs from my KVs. But GT:OS's WW2 experience has remained firmly rooted on the Ostfront. So having picked up the base game and no less than 8 DLCs in an epic BundleStars sale, I knew the time would come when I went east. And this is that time.

 

 

The campaign and the mission

I know enough about the Eastern Front to be well aware that T-26s and BT-5s or 7s aren't too much of a problem for 1941-era German tanks and A/T guns. But if the Red Army of Peasants and Workers brings along some T-34s or KV-1s, it's not quite so much fun, playing Wehrmacht. So I decided to run with a later campaign, settling on what's described as the 'Kharkov Defence Operation, 2-15 March 1943'. I think this one comes with the base game. The missions ('operations') in this campaign swap between playing for each side, and I opted to start, not at the Soviet beginning, but at the third one - Pavlovka. Its entry featured a picture of Tiger tank, which I took to indicate that I might actually get to play with some of these beasts.

 

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I know that 8.Kompanie, SS Panzer Regiment 2 had some Tigers as early as February, some months before the formation was elevated from a Panzer Grenadier to a Panzer Division. One of 8.Kompanie's Tigers is quite well known from photographs - 812, delivered in 'panzer grey', given a temporary white winter paint job on arrival, and later treated to what's interpreted as dark yellow stripes over the grey. And at some point christned 'Tiki', as seen below.


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According to the excellent Mig Jimenez colour profile book Waffen SS Colors, 'Tiki' is a contraction of 'Tiger kind'  (tiger child) and was inspired when the Kompaniefuhrer said to the new Tiger's crew, 'That is now your child, take care of it!'

 

As usual, a GT:OS (or SABOW) mission kicks off with the sort of 'operational' level screen shown below. I've chosen to use NATO unit symbols and to colour-code friendlies as blue, enemies as red (the latter all shown as question marks at this stage, as the enemy strengths and dispositions are so far unknown). While at this map, you can, within limits, elect to move any deployable friendly forces  - which excludes those in the grey margins of the map, which are 'arriving' but not yet deployable. the screenshot was actually taken after I had made my moves (indicated by the blue arrows).

 

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The 'briefing' is top left. In armies, commanders are given orders, not briefings, and these typically contain a lot more information than you get in any GT:OS (or SABOW) briefing I've ever seen. It's more of a general directive, which may be adequate in some situations but lacks much of the info I should have as a commander in this situation, like who I am, what forces I have, what artillery and air support is available, what's known about the enemy and so on - Ground, Situation, Mission, Execution, Service/Support, Command & Signals in NATO format. You are left to glean as much as you can of this by studying the map. Which is quite a lot, and thus ok up to a point. And it may be hard to script more formal orders for the dynamic GT:OS campaign. But this rather lacks the sense of person and place which you get from a more role-playing approach to a commander's...well, role.

 

That being as it may, I was about to discover how, from this so-so start, GT:OS grabs you by the proverbial short and curlies and immerses you neck-deep in an authentic-feeling and beautifully-rendered battlefield, in the role of a company-to-battalion-level commander in a desperate fight against a determined, unpredictable and at time invisible enemy. They told me GT:OS was this good, and I was about to find out that they did not lie.

 

My mission is to kick the retreating Soviet 104 Rifle Brigade out of Pavlovka and grab some river crossings, which is clear enough. For this task, while the greyed-out oval-in-blue-rectangle symbols to the left in the map above indicate that tanks may be available to me later, for now, my forces are limited. And rather un-concentrated, to boot. On the left, I have five Grenadier platoons (unarmoured), roughly a reinforced company. In my centre, to the south east, I have have three Panzer Grenadier platoons (I have already moved them north-east, and the Grenadiers west, in the pic below, which I'll explain in a moment) . Actually these troops are Panzer Pioneers, assault engineers. If I'd not been in my customary rush, I could have checked out their detailed organisation, but I decided to see for myself, at the deployment phase. Suffice to say that they were, as expected, equipped with SdKfz 251 half-tracked SPWs (Schutzenpanzerwagen=APC), though not of the specialised 251/7 variety usually issued to engineer units, with their little side-mounted bridging sections.

 

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So, to a plan. Sensing that Division is unlikely to be happy if I wait out this turn till the tanks and other forces come up, I decide to launch concentric attacks from east and west, with the forces I do have. On the west, the Grenadiers will advance directly into the Soviet salient south of Pavlovka, with their left flank protected by the river Mzha, while the Panzer Pioneere, starting in my centre, will move north-east then north, from where they can either catch the Soviet salient in a pincer, or drive north towards the nearest Mzha crossings. Yes I know - I'm opening up the gap in my forces, but not by a lot, and I think this is preferable to butting up everything directly against the salient, where the main enemy strength might well lie.

 

The player having made his initial moves, GT:OS then determines if a battle has taken place, which the player then fights. That is what has happened here - the large, unfriendly red arrow spearing into my freshly-positioned Panzer Pioneere from the Soviet salient indicates a counterattack is expected, and the flame symbol calls me to fight the resulting battle.

 

Here we go!

 

...to be continued!


For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of his country!" when the guns begin to shoot!

'Tommy', Rudyard Kipling, 1892

#2 33LIMA

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Posted 23 November 2016 - 01:53:22 PM

Deployment and orders!

 

Right, so the Reds have responded to my moves with an attack of some description, launched from their little salient against the Panzer Pioneer Kompanie which has moved up towards the river crossings, east of the aforementioned salient. I now need to fight the resulting battle. So I click on the site of the clash and this takes me to a screen where I can place my forces in detail. A further click will activate the menu options which enable me to give orders to the deployed units. It's actually straightforward, once you get the hang of it; the trick being to master it, so that it becomes as second nature as grabing a map, doing a combat appreciation, making a plan and then giving orders over a radio would be, in real life

This is how the Unit Deployment screen looks, initially. My units are scattered fairly randomly, so I've a bit of work to do. This will include changing the unit markers from the default coloured circles to geometric symbols which better identify the circle is actually a tank, an APC or whatever. The flags indicate key points, ours and theirs, which incidentally will contribute to the assessment of victory or defeat, depending on who dominates them after the fighting.

 

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I know the enemy in this sector is a motor rifle brigade, but have no information on the forces they’re attacking me with. Such a unit doesn’t have ‘organic’ tanks, for example, but that’s not to say they mightn’t have scraped some together to welcome us to Pavlovka. At the very least, I might face waves of great-coated infantry, bayonets fixed and shouting ‘Urrah!’  - perhaps with mortar or artillery support.

I know that I could chose to ignore this prospect, and instead, drive for the river crossings – after all, persevering with the mission objective in the face of distractions is generally considered the done thing. But the advance of my infantry from the west has evidently not totally succeeded in tying down or pre-occupying the enemy, and I can always return to my objective when I have dealt with this threat to the rear of my forces in the east.

The best way of doing this is not to run headlong into the enemy, out in the open, in a meeting engagement. So I decide to pass temporarily onto the defensive. That way, I can do the attacking Reds maximum damage with minimum losses. So I place my three platoons in the oblong wooded area east of the salient, where the map shows cover (from view, anyway – ‘concealment’ as the US Army calls it) is good.

I find that two of my three platoons have an SP AT gun attached – one a Panzer II-based Marder II, the other a Panzer 38(t)-based Marder III. As I was trained to do against the descendants of my opponents today, I place my AT weapons to cover my chosen killing ground and my infantry sections to cover my A/T weapons.

My killing ground is the open area south of the woods, over which the enemy attack is expected. Being self-propelled, my Marders will, I hope, l be able to redeploy quickly enough if I have guessed badly - or our intelligence is defective. As they say, the enemy usually has three options, of which they will choose the fourth.

I set the Marders’ arcs of fire to overlap. I position the SPWs individually around them and adjust their facings, so that they provide some depth to my position within the limits of the cover I occupy, and some all-round defence. I keep my troops back from the northern edge of the wood, as I don’t want to attract attention, or get sucked needlessly into fighting, from that direction.

I end up with three platoons more or less in line, the easternmost one without the SP gun, which will act as a mobile reserve eg for local counterattacks or to deal with anything unexpected. Not an ideal disposition, but we’ll see how it works out. Unhappily, I don’t seem to have any indirect fire support - I don’t have a company HQ or a spotter element, which may be why.

I hesitate, but then decide to order my Pioneere to dismount from their SPWs. This makes them more vulnerable to artillery or mortar fire, but I accept that risk in return for more eyes, and weapons, on the ground. These are the dispositions I end up with - same map as the previous one, but zoomed in, and the unit markers are now the geometric symbols. The 'pointy rectangles' are my SPWs (APCs)...except that a few are command versions with old 3.7cm AT guns mounted instead of the forward MG, so they appear as SP guns (diamonds with a gun symbol in the middle), like the two real SP guns I have. The dots are dismounted troops - I mustn't have finished ordering them to de-bus, as not all have done so. The SPW left of top centre is orange because I've currently got this individual vehicle selected (shown green in the read-out at the bottom sentre of the screen, which has expanded the selected platoon to show the platoon's five vehicles individually, with the command vehicle on the left of the row and the attached Marder SP gun on the right).

 

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I do all this, having switched to the map from the alternative 3-d view. When I move from ‘unit deployment’ to ‘initial orders’, I have little left to do, but confirm target priorities are set and that everyone is ordered to stay in cover and defend.

I take a deep breath, held just long enough to realise that I should have spent more time familiarising and preparing. But the die is cast. Time to go to war! And to discover my first mistake…


…to be continued!


For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of his country!" when the guns begin to shoot!

'Tommy', Rudyard Kipling, 1892

#3 33LIMA

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Posted 24 November 2016 - 05:39:46 AM

Contact!

 

So I’ve ended the deployment and orders phases, and the battle-fighting phase begins. It’s at this point that I realise it’s pitch dark and snowing, and that I have placed my units without that knowledge.

 

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This, despite having read of this very pitfall, on the Failteam Tactics blog. I should have checked the time, but GT:OS rather misleads you by starting the deployment in the 3d mode with the conditions artificially brightened – so you think it’s clear and daylight, even if it isn’t. Helpful, but a trap for the unwary. Like me.

As it happens, it’s no big deal. I reckon that from our present positions, we can see and shoot anything that comes close enough to be a threat. In fact the darkness - in particular, the deep shadow amongst the trees - will help conceal our force, in the not-particularly-dense wood. I do wish, though, that I had at least some mortars which could fire illuminating rounds when needed, but I’ll manage without.
 

in the pics below, you can just about make out an MG34 gunner, and an SPW, with some of my other white-washed vehicles behind. What you can’t do, is hear the sounds of idling engines and German voices. If there’s a way of stopping this low-level racket (or getting that Marder II to turn off his tail lights) I don’t know what it is. At night, you can often hear the enemy before you see them, but not tonight.

 

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But there’s no enemy to see or hear. Nothing happens, and the minutes tick by. I begin to think that I should have pressed on for the bridges rather than sitting here waiting for an attack which may never come. Division will be not best pleased, if I blame faulty intelligence for my failure to get on and seize those crossings. I can hear them muttering already, about lazy, useless officers posted straight to a combat command after a spell on the staff in Berlin…

Setting such thoughts aside, I’m playing with all labels turned off, switching to the map view to check the position of my own troops and any spotted enemies. Of which latter there being done, I take the 3d camera for a little wander around my position at or near ground level, the equivalent of sending out a clearing patrol to check the perimeter and the camouflage of my own positions. This reveals some nice touches, like a knocked out and abandoned panzer hulk nearby.

 

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I don’t know if I could have put an OP into this, but it offers little extra observation beyond what I have from the woods. I do wish that I could order my troops to cut some branches and use them to break up the silhouettes of my winter-camouflaged vehicles, but in the darkness amongst the trees, they appear reasonably well hidden, regardless.

I return the camera to my own positions, and we settle down in the cold, to wait.

 

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Suddenly, there is a loud bang. I think maybe one of my Marders has let fly, though I don’t notice the muzzle flash. There’s some shouting. A beep indicates a message and as expected, when I call up the map, I see it’s a contact report, from my westernmost platoon. Enemy infantry, entering our killing ground and moving south, where two tracks run close together!

 

This is it!

 

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…to be continued!


For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of his country!" when the guns begin to shoot!

'Tommy', Rudyard Kipling, 1892

#4 33LIMA

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Posted 24 November 2016 - 06:07:12 AM

The Russians are coming!

 

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The battle has begun. I can see almost nothing of it. Small arms fire breaks out. Short chains of pinkish tracers zip out into the darkness from our positions. Their targets remain invisible but I see no need to spoil the delicious effect of being in the middle of a developing firefight in darkness by turning on labels or moving the camera to ‘God mode’.

 

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I’ve made my dispositions, now it’s my job to monitor the development of the battle and give fresh orders if and when necessary. Ok, the enemy’s attacking. Let them come. They’re expected, and the plan is to shoot them down in the open. Let’s see how this plays out.

The small-arms fire continues. Nearly all of it seems to be ours. The Marders don’t shoot and there are no reports of enemy vehicles; nor is there any indirect enemy fire. All I can see are the outgoing tracers, from the SPWs and dismounted MGs. Shouts and commands in German continue to be heard.

 

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The next development is another contact – enemy infantry heading directly towards our position, from the west! Both located enemy units appear to be attacking to the south-east.

 

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I had positioned a couple of SPWs near the western end of the woods specifically to protect against such a move, like a cut-off party protecting the flank of a linear ambush. With the camera acting like a CO going over to check the situation first-hand, I find my troops are holding their own, engaging targets I can’t see on the open snowfields to the west. I afford myself the small luxury of moving the camera a short distance out in front of our positions to get a better view of the firefight, and see the Reds for the first time – just a few scattered riflemen, working their bolt-action rifles, shouting occasionally, rising and falling as they try to work their way forward. Their casualties mount steadily.

 

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I see one pinned down, apparently wounded, another falling for good. Occasionally, somebody fires a red or green flare.

 

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So far, so good. The first unwelcome change to all this is another contact report to the north -  more Red infantry, towards the rear of my positions. I now have enemies on three sides, which is a little uncomfortable. I let the situation develop a little longer, the only result being that the enemy to the north is starting to penetrate our woods. It’s time to act.

 

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From the map, I order my nearest platoon, in the centre of my line, to counterattack to the rear. The SPWs begin to rumble out, accompanied by the dismounted pioneere.

 

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This seems to have the desired effect. The small-arms fire increases in volume, then slackens off again. There are still some reports of possibly stray enemy infantry near the river, but our northern perimeter has evidently been stabilised.

It’s at this point that I notice that my Marder III, in my centre, has moved out from the woods into the snowfields to the south and turned right, towards the west. Some of his platoon are beginning to follow. It looks like there’s been some confusion. The Marder is out in the open, with no infantry in close support. There are, or were, enemy infantry out there somewhere, and I’m worried that a Red A/T gun or Molotov cocktail is suddenly going to make short work of one of my two AT weapons.

 

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But the fire to the south and to the west seems to have died down, and my Marder isn’t immediately flamed. So rather than pull back the errant platoon, I decide the time is right for us to go over onto the offensive. We seem to have blunted the Red attack, which has turned out to be a bit of a damp squib. It’s time to pay him back with some German steel!

…to be continued!


For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of his country!" when the guns begin to shoot!

'Tommy', Rudyard Kipling, 1892

#5 33LIMA

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Posted 24 November 2016 - 07:00:12 AM

Go! Go! Go!

 

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I quickly make my plan. The company will attack due west into the enemy salient, two up – a platoon on the left, another platoon on the right, and the third behind, in depth. While you can issue orders to individual units to squad/section level in GT:OS, sensibly the default is platoon. So all it takes is a click to go to the map, at which point the orders panel (bottom right, in the pic below) becomes available (I turn this off in the 3d world). Another click selects a platoon; a third selects the ‘attack’ order (one more will select formation, if needed); and a last click designates the objective on the map. Repeat, for each of the other two platoons. Soon, all three are moving out as ordered. Distances are relatively short, so I have kept everybody dismounted. A report comes in of a contact with some kind of enemy towed weapon to the west, but by this time the attack is in full swing, the fine blue lines on the map below indicating the move directions of my three platoons.

 

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I switch back and forth between map and 3-d worlds as my force advances. We’re leaving behind some scattered Soviets to the north by the river, but they won’t distract us now. Snow falls as SPWs grind over the white fields and the troops advance at a walking pace.

 

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My right-flank platoon is soon fighting its way into the eastern outskirts of Pavlovka. There, they pass by a knocked-out 76.2mm field gun. This was the enemy artillery reported a short time before, and I remember from my earlier 'clearing patrol' seeing it there in the same condition. Had it not been battlefield junk, it could have made a bit of a mess of my attack. It's clever that it was reported as a threat in the dark, even though it was knocked out!

 

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The first serious problem comes when the left-hand platoon comes under heavy small arms fire from a little crossroads to our south, on the left flank of my attacking force. Incoming green tracers indicate that at least one enemy MG is involved. I contemplate by-passing the Soviets but decide to divert my reserve platoon to deal with them. The necessary orders are soon issued and the troops and SPWs swing from west to south and make a dismounted attack.

 

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Meanwhile, the right-flank platoon of the assaulting force pushes into the eastern outskirts of Pavlovka. Enemy infantry fire from amongst the hovels, but are soon shot down; the combination of SPWs and dismounts working closely together (without the need for any fancy player interventions) seems to be effective, though it helps that the opposition is scanty. The platoon reaches the base of the salient and goes firm. This area is now firmly under my control.

 

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Further south, I divert the left-hand platoon more to the left, to drive into another possible enemy defended locality at the southern tip of the salient. They meet no opposition, and also go firm.

While all this has been going on, the depth platoon's attack against the enemy threat to our southern flank has been going in.

 

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Who's firing the illuminating rounds down here, I have no idea...

 

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...but it's my troops that mostly seem to get illuminated...

 

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...though as the round drifts on its 'chute, it also picks out the terrain into which we are assaulting, revealing not very much...

 

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All seems to go well, until one of the SPWs is hit hard and flares up briefly, clearly knocked out. I’m suddenly alarmed that the Reds seem to have an anti-armour weapon of some sort up there, possibly one of their big A/T rifles.

 

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But just as I’m considering pulling the platoon back, or at least halting its attack, the enemy fire dies back. We reach the crossroads, and I order the platoon to defend from there, to cover the assault on the salient, which is going in a couple of hundred yards behind them. The illuminating round finally falls away to the west.

 

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The enemy attack has been met and defeated. We have gone onto the offensive and cleared the Soviet salient. The way is now clear for us to make a move to the north, and grab some of those river crossings. Which is what I want to be able to report to Division, and the sooner, the better.
 
A quick look at the map shows me that there are crossings just to the north. I decide to assault them immediately. The nearest platoon, in Pavlovka, will stand fast, acting as a base of fire for the platoon to the south, at the tip of the salient. That platoon will attack north, past the left flank of the covering platoon, towards the nearest bridges. At the same time, the rear platoon, which has been covering the crossroads to the south, will close up again, ready to provide depth to the attack, or to act as a mobile reserve against anything untoward or unexpected. Orders are quickly given, and my trusty pioneere begin to advance again.

 

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At this point, I notice that the clock is in the final stages of counting down towards the end of the operation. This is somewhat artificial, but I know that with GT:OS’s dynamic campaign, the battle will continue from pretty well where I left off, in terms of ground gained and damage done or suffered.

 

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Sure enough, the curtain comes down before my attack is able to make any significant progress. It’s time to find out how well, or how badly, I did.

 And the answer is ‘quite well’. Based mainly on SABOW experience, I’m conscious (and others have reported) that Graviteam’s battle result assessments can be rather at odds with the statistics presented, which cover territorial conditions as well as losses for each side. It seems that if you win with much superior forces, you might only get a draw. So I’m quite pleased to find that I’m awarded not merely a victory, but a ‘total’ one. I’m not so sure, but hope Division will agree, and will therefore not be too cross that I haven’t yet grabbed those river crossings.

 

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 At this point, I was a bit pressed for time, so I didn’t spend long on the ‘Statistics’ phase, wandering the virtual battlefield to check out the damage in person. At this point, the game lightens the skies again so you can see what you maybe wouldn’t, if it was still dark. I did take the time to check out what got my knocked-out SPW, and was a bit shocked to see that it was basically small-arms hits which seem to have got into the engine compartment via the steering gear, starting a fire. Losses are cumulative and it’s a bit disappointing to have lost a valuable SPW, and some personnel, in this fashion.

 

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I’d have preferred not to fight any battle until some more forces had come up and I could deploy tanks, infantry and artillery together. But the opposition was weak, so I got away with it – this time.

 

Returning to the 'operational phase' map where this all started, GT:OS calculated the impact of our battle and summarised its impact. We are said to have defeated two Soviet infantry squads and routed a platoon. We have also begun to reveal more of the enemy's dispositions. Not a bad night's work for a force such as ours in such conditions.

 

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Despite a feeling of being still handicapped by considerable unfamiliarity with some of the features I’m sure I’ll need to do well against more serious opposition, I thoroughly enjoyed the battle. I heartily dislike the ‘space invaders’ approach to PC wargames – evident in the otherwise excellent Wargame: European Escalation, which as the campaign progresses, throws increasing numbers of enemies against you at a rate which means to survive, never mind win, you need to forget about trying to fight a more realistic, ground level, close up or map-based battle, but zoom out, turn on the labels and prepare for a click fest. By contrast, so far, GT:OS is very much more like my idea of an attempt to provide the player with an ‘all arms platoon-to-battalion level combat simulator’, such as professional armies might use for training, a bit like Steel Beasts without the tanksim – and indeed, exactly like SABOW without the tank sim.

I expect the many future battles I’ll fight in Graviteam Tactics: Operation Star could be considerably more challenging, but I hope will still lack (or at least, not over-do) the ‘space invaders’ factor. And by that time, I hope I’ll have a better idea of what I’m doing…and maybe some Tigers, if Division thinks that my return to the front has been sufficiently successful to trust me with them. Already, there’s talk of a big attack somewhere along the Ostfront, in the better weather, big enough to restore our fortunes after Stalingrad. But first, I’ll have to grab those bridges!


  • Silberpfeil likes this
For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of his country!" when the guns begin to shoot!

'Tommy', Rudyard Kipling, 1892





Also tagged with one or more of these keywords: gtos, graviteam, graviteam tactics

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