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Artillery Barrages

The impact of Artillery in 20th century and later wargames is often limited. Depending on the scale of a game, both sides might get a mortar or two, or perhaps so many rounds of off-table artillery support. Yet the first phase of many battles was, and still is, the artillery. ‘Softening up’ the defenders, or ‘preparing the battlefield’.

“Like most things unwanted, the end of the artillery barrage came without consideration or introduction; the seconds after its cessation were like hours. The silence was debilitating for the men, as it signalled the beginning of the real battle—the fight with enemy soldiers.”

― Michael J Murphy

Stephen Westmann was a German army officer who lived through the barrage the started the battle of the Somme

“We were under incessant bombardment. Day and night, the shells, heavy and light ones, came upon us. Our dugouts crumbled. They fell upon us and we had to dig ourselves and our comrades out. Sometimes we found them suffocated, sometimes smashed to pulp. Soldiers in the bunkers became hysterical. They wanted to run out and fights developed to keep them in the comparative safety of our deep bunkers. Even the rats became hysterical. They came into our flimsy shelters to seek refuge from this terrific artillery fire. We had nothing to eat, nothing to drink, but constantly, shell after shell burst upon us.”

The problem for the wargamer is that playing out such a bombardment is tedious for both players. In reality the bombardment could take as long as the rest of the game.

What I want to suggest is a short cut. Whilst most rule sets covering 20th century games don’t provide points values for figures, it’s easy enough, when you know the rules, to come up with something.

For example

Green infantry 1pt

Regular infantry 2pts

Veteran infantry 3pts

Heavy weapons, tot up the number of crew and triple it (so a MMG manned by three veterans would be worth 27).

Artillery (Anti-tank or normal) tot up the value of the crew and multiply by four.

Tanks are more complicated, something simple like ‘tot up the number of crew and multiply by four’ gives you a good starting point. The problem is that a T34/76 with four crew is cheaper than a Panzer IV with five crew. Depending on whether your rules allow for the poor crew conditions within the T34, and the greater mechanical reliability of the Panzer IV, that might be a reasonable assessment, but it depends on your rules.
Similarly it means that a Panzer IV with five crew costs the same as a Panzer VI with five crew, which is not easy to justify. So I would take the figure as a base line, pick the standard tank on the table, work out the cost, and adjust others relative to that. After all, you know the rules you are using and the way they work.

For some rules and scales, where you have bases of figures, not individual figures, you just do points per base rather than per figure.

Still at some point you’ll have a points system which doesn’t offend you too much. The time has come to deploy it.

When you build your forces, give the attacker (purely as an example for the purpose of illustration) 200 points plus a 100 point barrage. Give the defenders 200 points as well.
This means that the attacker has, at best, a 3:2 advantage which is not sparkling.

Then let the defender mark his positions on a map of the table. The attacker then divides the defenders position into three areas, say left, right, and centre; and allocates so many barrage points to each of these areas. The attacker might, for example, allocate 40 points to the left, 40 points to the right, and 20 points to the centre.

In a solo game you could roll a ‘d5’ to allocate the barrage. The d5 is what I would call an average dice, it’s a six sided dice but the sides are numbered

The defender then looks at his units defending the right, he has to lose 40 points.

This can be done in several ways. For example a squad of 10 veteran infantry plus a three man MMG could drop to 10 regular infantry plus a three man MMG. So whereas the infantry cost 30 and the MMG costs 27; now the infantry are worth 20 and the MMG costs 18. So he’s saved 19 of the 40 points.

He could drop them down to Green, so 10 infantry now are worth 10 points and the gun is worth 9, which means he’s saved 38 points. If he was to remove 2 green infantry as dead, this would make the 40 points he needs. Obviously the veterans dug in on that flank have been severely shaken by the barrage so that they emerge shaken and shocked.

At this point when the attack starts, the attacker now deploys 200 points and the defender is down to 100, meaning the odds are 2:1 which is far better for the defender.

Defender’s Barrage.

The attacker’s barrage, meaning that an attack was coming, could be the signal for the defenders to launch their own barrage. This tended to be less daunting, if only because the attacker’s attempted to hit defending artillery gun positions as part of the barrage.

For the purposes of the game the defender could set aside points for this barrage, I wouldn’t recommend much more than twenty to be honest. This barrage would be marked on the defender’s map, with a note that this hits on move 1. Then, when the attacker deploys, the defender drops the barrage and the attacker has to adjust units caught in it, just as the defender did.

There is an art to this for the defender. If you target a small area, you could do serious damage to the attacker, disrupting their plans and perhaps crippling a key unit. But it’s entirely possible that there is nobody in that area. Or you could just say that the entire attacker’s deployment area is your target. In which case you’ll do twenty points of damage but the attacker could minimise the effect by taking off a figure here and a figure there.

Anyway, have fun


And of course, a set of rules that don’t have a point system

Available from Wargame Vault in pdf for £4

Or from Amazon on kindle for £4 or in paperback for £9.50

2 thoughts on “Artillery Barrages

  1. All sounds quite sensible to me Jim! 🙂 Decades ago a group of us worked out points for WW2 tanks based their performance against an opposing reference vehicle and it worked well, but working out subsequent points for infantry and artillery ended up being fairly arbitrary!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. yes a lot of these things are. It isn’t just the way the vehicles operated in ‘real life’ but also the way they perform under a particular set of rules.
      Because different rules tend to give emphasis to different things, points values would have to vary

      Liked by 1 person

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