Making the mission
Oooh...that looks nasty. An incident on the way to relieve the recce boys at Dickie's Bridge.
As well as several mods, Panzer Elite Special Edition came with a variety of useful tools, including landscape, object and scenario editors, the latter naturally being what I’m using to construct new missions. In addition to the short guide included with PESE, mission making tutorials are still available via the 'Tools' page at Brit44.com. Here’s a typical view of the Scenario Editor in action. As you can see, by default it uses the stock 'cartoon' map, which is a good representation of what's in the 3d world but not very military. Fortunately, the real maps included with PESE show that the game world is actually a very good representation of the real locations in Normandy, at about the time of Overlord.
The light green markers on the left represent the player's squadron, with the platoons/troops expanded to show individual vehicles or squads. The big bright green rectangle just to their right is, as labelled, Hill 309, inside which are the markers for the Seaforth Highlanders (roughly a platoon, standing in for a larger force) and their ATk guns and carriers. The internal bright green rectangles mark the battle positions to which scripts order each troop and SHQ to move, each with a blue 'defensive position' marker in the middle (except for the player's 3 Troop, where the rectangle just acts as a marker for selected enemy forces to attack, to ensure the player sees a good share of the action!).
To the east of Hill 309, in dead ground at the foot of the hill, is an area marked 'En[emy] FAP' for Final Assault Position. This acts both as an area towards which enemy attackers can be scripted to move, and as a target for Defensive Fires for friendly artillery, arranged in advance to deal with exactly that situation.
Over towards the west are the grey unit markers denoting the attackers, placed mostly in the area marked as an enemy Assembly Area ('Forming Up Place' would have been a better description, but these labels don't appear in game unless you set them to) - this mainly acts as an area for broken enemy units to be scripted to withdraw towards.
The block on the right of the main window is what's used to create and modify units, assisted by drop down lists in windows. Click on a unit in the list, and you can add a script which describes what it is to do. There is also a 'Global Script' which you can uses to set triggers for messages and artillery barrages, for example - like, when an enemy unit drives into that FAP, let fly with the DF shoot!
PE scenarios are ‘projects’ which rely on several supporting files with different functions, the .scn file being only the main one, and it’s not as simple as starting with a single file for a new or existing mission. Once you’ve got past that, mission building is not particularly difficult, the tricky bit for me at any rate being to keep unit scripts simple enough to avoid them breaking down. This is especially important for me, as most of my missions attempt closer co-ordination in time and space between units than stock PE missions, and it’s not all about where the player’s unit goes or does.
S Squadron, 3 Scots Guards ascends the northern slopes of Hill 226 en route to a rendezvous with destiny...or sch.Pz.Jg.Abt.654, to be more precise. One of the nice features of Aldo's latest code is a lower minimum external viewpoint roughly at turret top level, so it doesn't look and feel like you're standing on a set of rather tall but very stable stepladders on wheels.
Listen in, chaps - orders!
Creating the mission orders (commonly but improperly called a 'briefing') is a little project in itself. one of PE's strong points is that it provides for visual and verbal, chunk-by-chunk briefings at an animated map, which nicely simulates the ‘oral orders’ typically used in real life at an ‘O’ (orders) Group, as the British Army calls these sessions. Unfortunately, the stock PE orders are not particularly well done, in practice. For example, in real life the orders are given by the boss (a company commander, generally a Major, at the level at which PE is pitched) to all the participating platoon leaders, but in PE it’s often a subordinate who's doing the talking - and he’s invariably talking to the player, alone. The sense of taking part in a company-level action suffers from this, not helped because stock PE missions tend to scatter units widely over the battlefield and give them names (like ‘Combat Group Connolly’) which often imply they are much bigger units than the platoons they generally represent. C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre.
Instead, the Britpack ’44-x missions will feature orders in a simplified/shortened but realistic and more systematic sequence - basically the British WW2 precursor to the NATO format - and (apart from a couple of ‘lone wolf’ missions) are given for a visibly company operation, delivered as if to all the company’s platoon leaders. Not all user made missions feature voice recordings for the orders, but mine will.
Once battle is joined, the company commanders didn’t retire to a chateau in the rear but led their company on the operation. So the Britpack ’44-x scenarios, again unlike stock PE, will have a ‘command element’ which as any wargamer or peruser of the associated 'Army lists' knows, represents the ‘old man’ and his '2ic'or second-in-command in the battle. and the boss will from time to time be heard ‘on the air’ as the battle progresses, exercising such command and control as can reasonably be simulated. Sadly, I haven’t yet seen the wargame or sim which provides an AI command and control function, capable as a battle progresses of making combat appreciations and new plans and then communicating these to the subunit commanders, including the player. In place of PE’s somewhat detached simulated radio traffic - at least it has some - we will have both interventions from the company commander and other messages such as contact reports, using something better resembling authentic Radio Voice Procedure, sounding out over the unit radio net.
Hopefully, the net effect (pun intended - geddit?) will be to provide a better representation of the experience of being a platoon leader in a late WW2 combined arms battle – or ‘troop leader’ I should say, as, for Britpack ’44-x, we will be dealing with tanks organised as troops and squadrons, not platoons and companies.
Here’s the intro for ‘Enter the Tigers’, a scenario representing a defence by 4 Coldstreams and 2 Seaforths of Hill 309 against the 21st Panzer counterattack on 2 August 1944. Each of the other missions will have a similar scene-setting intro, in place of the somewhat detached, higher-level ones typically provided.
"You are Lt Edward Cazenove, commanding the three Churchill infantry tanks of 3 Troop, 2 Squadron, 4 Coldstream Guards, 6th Guards Tank Brigade. The day before yesterday, Day 1 of Op Bluecoat, the Coldstreams captured Hill 309. Since early today, elements of 21st Panzer Division have been counter-attacking viciously from the east, with heavy mortar and artillery support. The Seaforth Highlanders, who relieved your tanks on Hill 309, have been hit hard. As you assemble with the other troop leaders for an O Group with the OC, Major Sir Mark Millbank, it's clear you're about to be pitched straight into the battle which you can hear raging just east of your Forming Up Position."
The missions, like this one, aremostly squadron (company) affairs and I like them to start with the whole unit arraigned in the formation ordered, and in plain sight of the player. This I find helps orientation and reinforces the sense you’re participating in a squadron operation.
To keep things manageable, I’m standardising on a squadron of three troops rather than four, with an HQ element. Infantry tanks units will, as in real life, have three Churchills per troop; other tank units will have three or four.
In the pic below of the player’s tank, the rest of his (No. 3) Troop is out of shot to the right, in echelon formation. Behind him can be seen the two Churchills of Squadron HQ, just to the rear of the OP Sherman of the assigned Forward Observation Officer (a standard Britpack Sherman V, with ammo removed in the Scenario Editor to simulate a dummy gun). Yes, the stock PE landscapes are still a bit angular in places, but PE old timers like me, and hopefully you young 'uns out there too, can surely forgive such little foibles from an Old Girl who's still got so much to offer :)
Behind SHQ is 1 Troop, providing the depth to the squadron’s formation. All three troops have an attached Achilles 17 Pounder SP gun (a British derivative of the US M10 tank destroyer) for this mission. 2 Troop is out of shot to the left. As described in the orders the player has just seen and heard, the squadron is deployed, and can be seen at once by the player to be deployed, ‘two [troops] up’ – 3 Troop left, 2 Troop right, and 1 Troop in depth, with SHQ (and the FOO) in the centre. From here, it will move at once the short distance to the crest of Hill 309, to reinforce the battered Seaforths. As the player sees the other tanks begin to move and fan out slightly, he will get his own troop moving too, to take up an unprepared position on the left of the defended locality, with arcs of view and fire to the east, from whence Jerry will come. As he moves, he can see and hear mortar fire flailing the Scottish infantry’s positions, up ahead.
To digress, Aldo is working on improved models for the British tanks, with more fully animated 3-d tracks and suspension, but the absence of this isn’t particularly notable on the Churchill. Apart from a 95mm Close Support MkV in SHQ, all these Churchills are the cast-turret Mk IV, which has a 6 Pounder gun with a better anti-tank performance than the US/British 75mm tank gun. In reality, most of the Guards’ Churchills had by this time been ‘upgraded’ to 75mm which give them a much better HE shell, and Aldo may deliver a 75mm version of this tank at some point, enabling us to have a more realistic mix. We already have the 75mm gunned and more heavily armoured Churchill VII in the game, and this is featured in ‘South of Hill 112’, but the Guards seem to have had earlier marks, so I’ve stuck with the Mk IV. The green OP Sherman has the original Britpack ’44 textures; the khaki vehicles have Geezer’s super replacement textures, which plaster the underlying olive green shade with a lot of earth or mud.
Moving up onto Hill 309 as the mortar fire eases off for a while, the player passes the little Carriers of the 6 Pounder towed ATk guns which are all the Seaforths would otherwise have to fend off the panzers.
A little further on, he passes one of the guns - which after seeing this, I moved back into the shrubbery, on the next edit of this WIP mission, to the position seen in the pic at the top of the first post in this thread.
Coming up to the crest, the player can see, prone and scattered about in cover, rifle and (Bren) gun groups from the Seaforths.
At some point I hope to be able to put them into simulated slit trenches, when these are ready, But apparently, you reduce your vulnerability to shellfire by about 2/3 by being prone (compared to about 1/100th by crouching at the bottom of a slit trench). To compensate, I have limited most of the repeated German bombardments to 81mm mortars and spread these out, across the whole hill – it’s more for immersive effect than a serious attempt to destroy anything.
The Seaforths and their organic ATk guns are back from the crest in a reverse slope position, ready to blast Jerry the moment he puts his head above the crest. A little further back would have been more realistic but after I moved them back from the original setup, they’re far enough back and in good enough cover to be out of sight to any enemies not caught in the killing ground to their front. To compensate, they have an OP (Observation Post) set up over on their right, in cover just on the forward slope. This will get 'eyes on' Jerry and enable us to get the Gunners onto him, while everyone else keeps out of sight.
At this point, the player faces an interesting tactical dilemma – where to set up. There’s no time for grand flanking moves, especially at (very slow) infantry tank speed - the enemy will be met more or less head on. The ground slopes away quickly towards the enemy’s positions, with a convex slope providing dead ground in the area around the foot of the hill. If you go hull down near the crest, you get a frontal arc of view and fire out to the next crest line maybe a mile away, but the dead ground begins at about 800 yards or more. Not a great field of fire, especially against armour and using a relatively small gun like the 6 Pounder. But move forward to reduce the depth of the dead ground and you lose cover, possibly skylining your tanks into the bargain.
In this playthrough, I moved my own Churchill into a turret down position from which I could see the enemy appear, while keeping the rest of the Troop and my attached Achilles echeloned back to my left and out of sight of the enemy.
I missed the approach of an enemy armoured car patrol and a group of Panzer IV medium tanks, but other friendly forces spotted both and I was able to call down some of my plentiful artillery fire onto the latter using the map view, whom I think were also engaged by other Churchills on my right.
The real fun began when I spotted in the binos a group of much bigger tanks advancing, a pair at a time, about 1200 yards off – enter the Tigers of the mission title, King Tigers in fact. I put the 5.5’ guns onto them, trying to anticipate their movements. Whie waiting for this shoot to arrive, I couldn’t resist rolling forward a bit and wasting some 6 Pounder AP on them, even some of my scarce APDS which I should have used for a tighter spot and a better target. I actually managed to land some hits, but sensibly pulled back before attracting return fire.
The 'floating' horizon objects on the distant skyline in this bino view are rare and Aldo reckons may be cured if I switch from vertex to table fog in the current version of the PE 3d setup proggie.
A further 5.5’ shoot seemed to immobilise and cripple the pair of King Tigers that I was concentrating on. So I rolled forward again to get ‘eyes on’ the other two and picked them up just as they moved closer in to the base of our hill. I got off a round at each before they slipped in underneath me somewhere - to no apparent effect - before pulling back again.
I knew that the infantry had set up some DF (Defensive Fire) tasks for the Gunners into the likely enemy final assault position at the eastern foot of 309, and sure enough, it duly went off with a series of bangs, just as the radio net came alive with warnings of enemy dangerously close to the objective.
We waited for the first panzers to appear on the crest up ahead, but they never did. Apart from the occasional enemy barrage on our positions, it went quiet. And stayed quiet.
There being no further sightings of the enemy to our front, I took a chance and, having ordered the others to stay put, circled my Churchill out to the left and then back around to the right, onto the exposed forward slop of Hill 309. The half-expected AP round into my left from the east never came, so on I motored. Suddenly, I saw him as the ground ahead came into view – a King Tiger, broadside on and halted, facing uphill. The shellbursts you can see are our Gunners firing another DF shoot, which I narrowly missed driving into.
I put several AP and my remaining APDS rounds into the side of his big turret, and was gratified when, instead of turning to blast me, it popped off in an internal explosion. Perhaps he’d already been damaged by one of the DF shoots, but no matter, a kill’s a kill.
Having seen a second King Tiger make it into this area, I now brought down my 17 Pounder SP to join the Churchill (by jumping to and taking over the former, as I wanted to conduct the coming shoot in person). However, distracted by checking my map as I drove the SP across the face of the hill, I managed to roll him, thus proving that the Achilles in Britpack is realistically more top heavy than the low-slung Churchill.
Feeling bolder despite this, I drove the Churchill forward and managed to locate, surprise and destroy the second King Tiger in similar fashion. I found out later that a scripting limitation, since fixed, had likely caused them to halt there, rather than pressing on up into our positions...though they might very well also have been damaged by our artillery fire. After that, my Churchill met and shot up several German half-tracks which unwisely pressed the issue, and soon afterwards, the mission was adjuged won, insamuch as we had, as ordered, held Hill 309.
I have already made some changes which will make the mission more of a challenge, including a ‘killer’ variation, but the player more desirous of a hard time can always decide not to call in the plentiful artillery support which swung the course of the real battle, and likely this one too. And rely purely on direct gunfire. In which case, good luck, you’ll need it with those King Tigers! Personally, I prefer relatively easy missions to playing ‘space invaders with tanks’. And I like to bring my boys home, rather than regarding their tanks as ‘lives’ I will need to go through in order to win the battle. I think a mission is sufficiently challenging if it will punish gross mistakes or otherwise go awry now and then, but in general, will be quite survivable.
The next steps
PE’s scenarios can be played individually or as a campaign, so I will have to work out how to chain the new scenarios together for the latter purpose. However, that will add little beyond crew management (with the player’s name not matching the historical one used in the intro). Supply is also a feature of PE campaigns but limited ammo or fuel supplies – or replacement tanks, which in stock campaigns can force the player to use non-historical or downright silly mixtures of vehicles – is particularly inappropriate for the Allied side in 1944, so has been largely made irrelevant by edits to the relevant files in Britpack ’44-x. As Charles Gunst once said of a mod for European Air War, did you 'sign up' to fight battles or be a supply clerk?
Another feature of stock PE missions is that they come in pairs, featuring Allied and German sides. I haven’t decided what to do about this yet, and may do nothing, leaving the German scenarios as they are – if you want to play as the Germans in Normandy, you might as well play the stock missions in the stock US/German campaign. What would be of more interest – to me, anyway! - is eventually expanding Britpack ’44-x by replacing the stock Tunisia and Italy scenarios, so we could have Hunt’s Gap, 48 RTR's capture of Tiger 131, the North Irish Horse shocking the Germans by climbing Longstop Hill, and all that sort of thing. But first things first - and that’s to get an up-to date, PE-x version of Britpack ’44 out, and that means Normandy.
I reckon it’ll take me up to two months to complete the missions, maybe less as I’m just completing number five out of about a dozen. I have allowed a backlog of voice recordings to build up, though now ably assisted in that department by fellow British PE player Murkz. That aside, the five so far pretty well built and playing now are:
19 July 1944 – South of Hill 112 – two-phase Squadron attack by 107 Regiment, Royal Armoured Corps (Churchill VII)
30 July 1944 – Showdown on Hill 226 – 3 Scots Guards vs the Jagdpanthers and friends (Churchill VII)
31 July 1944 – Dickie’s Bridge – a 2 Household Cavalry Regt patrol locates an undefended bridge (Humber Armoured Car)
31 July 1944 - BESAs Blazing – 2 Northants Yeomanry relieve 2HCR at Dickie’s Bridge (Cromwell IV)
2 Aug 1944 - Enter the Tigers - 4 Coldstream Guards defend Hill 309 (Churchill IV)
Among the scenarios planned is The Mace, which will feature the desperate battle of the Polish 1st Armoured to seal the Falaise Pocket.The Canadians will also get a mission, as fellow users of British kit.
Apart from this, the basic install will need to be assembled from the current beta, as a downloadable and pre-packaged mod. The new missions may be made available in the form of a separate mod, to save space and facilitate players who prefer the original scenarios (the US missions with British kit). Assuming it’s not just my own settings or hardware which it may well be, the current puny artillery sounds need replacement, and we’d like to be able to add the best 3d models that can be incorporated in a reasonable time (or if all else fails, finer textures for some of the original Britpack units, German as well as British). So I’d be reluctant to start bandying about release dates at this stage. But it shouldn’t be TOO far off. Considering I started work on the mission revamps about twenty years ago, it’ll be no time at all!
Where it all began - Churchill VII in 'South of Hill 112'