|Tactics 105: Advanced Tactics II|
|by Jon Mayes|
Tactics 105 is a continuation of some of the more advanced tactics that began in the previous article (Tactics 104). Choke points and killing fields take advantage of terrain features. Defense in depth is a particular strategy, often involving a fighting withdrawal, which also makes frequent use of the terrain. Finally, contrary to the other more defensive tactics, the blitz is an extremely aggressive maneuver.
Using Choke Points
Choke points are areas on the battlefield where your opponent’s forces are forced to slow down because of the terrain. Streams, such as the one running across map Able-2, make for great natural choke points. A few obstacles around key areas can also be used to create them. Infantry and vehicles are forced to follow the road through the swamp, or take their chances going across the stream, either of which may leave them exposed. Channeling your opponent’s units like this can be extremely useful.
One of the main benefits of setting up your units to take advantage of a choke point is that you can tie up substantially more than their point’s worth of enemy units. Machine-Guns can be especially good at this, as they can potentially disrupt two infantry a turn. Any infantry behind can then become stuck in a traffic jam. On the Able-2 map a machine-gun team strategically placed on a hill overlooking the stream crossing can very easily pin down large numbers of infantry.
In this example, the Japanese Machine-Gun is in an excellent position to take advantage of the choke point formed by the stream. The British SMLE infantry are faced with a difficult decision. If the SMLEs go first then group A can at the very least make it over the first bridge and into the cover of the swamp. Group B is not so lucky; the first group is blocking their movement over the bridge, so they either have to hang back in the cover of the trees or go out into the open and hope that they succeed on their movement rolls over the stream. The odds of both SMLEs passing their movement roll is only one in four; not too good under the circumstances. However if group B doesn’t move forward, then the machine-gun will be able to focus its fire on group A; so if B doesn’t go A shouldn’t either. Finally Group C in the back doesn’t have much of a choice; if neither A nor B move forward it’s stuck. If either or both of them move forward, then C simply moves to where the other units were.
Initiative order may have an impact on movement across the choke point as well. Assuming the SMLEs won initiative and moved forward, but only one in group B made it across the stream, the machine-gun now has a couple of opportunities. The SMLE left in the open is a tempting target since it has no cover, but the one that did make it across is also a good choice. If it’s disrupted, which is likely with a 4+ cover roll, then next turn the SMLE will prevent one of those from group A from entering that hex, again slowing them down.
Vehicles pose a bit of a different problem when attempting to take advantage of a choke point. Many of them may seem to be able to simply speed through it and avoid it altogether. Even disrupting the lead unit can have little effect, as the rest can simply pass through it. However, using map Able-2 again, we can see in the example below that a well positioned antitank gun can cover even the relatively fast units. Using the road bonus, a Panther can move up to five hexes, but doing so on this map will only leave it exposed in the open. The slower Panzer IVs behind it will be stuck and exposed if they attempt it as well. They can attempt to creep forward into the cover of the trees and trade shots – which buys the 17-Pounder’s player some time and is using a mere 16 point unit to hold up several times its point worth. In fact even if it’s only holding up the Panther, it’s still well worth it. Alternatively the Panther’s player may simply attempt to blitz through, figuring that while the antitank gun may get one shot off he’ll still have the other tanks in good condition and not waste any time. This is where knowing your opponent, from Tactics 104, may come in handy to predict what he might do. If you predict a blitz you might be able to reinforce the choke point beforehand, or use more mobile units that can dance around it and delay him even more.
As with most tactics there are always weaknesses and drawbacks. In either example one soldier with Covering Fire would have quickly put an end to the threat caused by the unit using the choke point. Depending on the terrain of the adjacent maps, the choke point might only be a minor nuisance and avoidable. In fact choke points are only useful if your opponent has to go through them, such as if the objective is beyond it and already in your possession, otherwise he will just avoid it. Some units are fast enough that, if your opponent wins initiative, they can simply move on both the movement and assault phases to avoid being caught in the choke point completely.
While sometimes difficult to set up, choke points can be rewarding and extremely frustrating to your opponent. Machine-guns work well against infantry, but snipers can be just as effective and don’t have to fear retaliation as much.
Any section of the map where you can set up a unit to have a long and wide line of fire is a potential killing field. This tactic works best when your units have longer ranges than your opponents’ do, though even if they are the same it can still be effective. The goal is to force your opponent to expose his units in the open area around yours, allowing you to fire upon them from a position in cover. Obviously this is something your opponent will not like doing, so some baiting may be required to have it work.
The Tiger Heaven map is an excellent example of an area with killing fields; as many players have no doubt experienced, getting caught in the central area usually means death. There are multiple positions that can be set up to cover the objective and that will force your opponent to engage you. However, killing fields don’t always need to be quite as large as Tiger Heaven.
The sections of forest on map Charlie-1 can become quite deadly to infantry. Here the Arisakas will be pummeled by the Chinese machine-guns if they remain in the forest, but moving out into the open is suicidal.
Like a choke point, killing fields are largely defensive in nature. You use them to hold ground, protect key areas, or deny your opponent’s movement. Antitank guns work well for this tactic, as their lack of mobility is offset by the increased coverage they receive. The difficulty can be in placing them in areas your opponent can’t simply avoid.
Defense in Depth
A defense in depth consists of placing your units spread out on the map in such a way that as your opponent closes in; you can bring more firepower to bear on his units. This will often give you a better chance of hitting the more vulnerable rears of his vehicles if he moves in too quickly. It also helps to prevent faster units from flanking around your force and taking out vulnerable units such as support depots or commanders. This can greatly delay your opponent’s advanced, and buy you much needed time.
Unfortunately this strategy doesn’t always work too well in the standard game of Axis & Allies Miniatures. The nature of defense in depth means you need to already have control of the objective, which your opponent may be able to take first. Antitank guns, normally ideal for this type of defense, are poor choices since you need to rush them up in vulnerable transports. Even winning initiative may not allow you to set them up in ideal locations; but remaining on the thinly armored transports is not usually an option.
However, this strategy is perfect for the defender in an Assault Scenario where your primary goal is to simply delay a superior force long enough to win. If your units are bunched together they can be avoided, but spread out they can cause no end of trouble. Furthermore, units that have been bypassed can relocate while the rest are attacking – brining that additional firepower into play whereas otherwise they wouldn’t have had the time to engage.
The fighting withdrawal simply consists of attacking your opponent while slowly moving back, and by itself it’s simply a delaying action. However, it can also be extremely useful for setting up enemy units for your other tactics. As part of your defense in depth strategy, you might use a fighting withdrawal to lure your opponents’ units in, baiting them. Before he realizes it, your opponent may suddenly find himself in a very sticky situation. Alternatively if you don’t have an ambush set up, you can use it as part of a dance. The fighting withdrawal is simply used to get the attention of your opponent, and your unit then simply dances with the pursuers, causing them to waste time.
A blitz consists of aggressively attacking with all, or at least most, of your units. With your units focused on one area, your opponent has little choice but to withdraw or be overwhelmed. It can be done by any units, but works best with a combination of them all. This tactic is particularly favored by T-70s, which can use it to swarm and overpower units much more powerful than they are.
Having fast and mobile units is important when attempting to set up a blitz; you may need to rapidly relocate them to the enemy, or retreat if something goes wrong. When positioning your units in the blitz, the distance to the targets is also important, and depends on what your goal is. If you simply want to push your opponent back then you may not want to engage too closely, he may feel he can’t retreat. The relative firepower of your units compared to your opponents is also very important. You also need to have significant enough firepower from your positions that your opponent feels that exchanging fire will be futile. For example if a Tiger I and Brummbar are part of a blitz against my Sherman tank, I’m not likely to stick around since my odds of hurting them are poor while they may destroy my tank. But if I’m only up against two StuGs it’s not so bad for me.
It’s also important to make sure you don’t overextend your units and leave them vulnerable. Most infantry can’t keep up with blitzing tanks and will be left behind. This leaves the tanks vulnerable to infantry attacks if they’re not too careful. Even worse is that your opponent could simply be pulling back as part of a baiting attempt if you’re not too careful.
Perhaps the most potent aspect of the Blitz is its psychological effect. By forcing your opponent to react to what may be a sudden and unexpected maneuver, you can force him to react and hopefully make mistakes. The sudden aggression can catch a player off guard, even to the point of completely disrupting his strategy. From this you can exploit on any weaknesses or
Of course if you are constantly using a blitz, your opponent will learn to anticipate and counter it. Blitzes can be vulnerable to defense in depth strategies, especially if they begin to overextend themselves. Furthermore, if you’re not careful you may find them prone to being baited. Still the occasionally blitz can be useful, if only to imbalance a stalemate.
I haven’t forgotten about multiplayer tactics, but have since decided it deserves an article all on its own. There are still plenty more advanced tactics to cover, as well as map-specific ones. Until then, feel free to discuss this article on our message boards.