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Breakout and Pursuit, or Quagmire and Despair? A Normandy AAR.

 
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Breakout and Pursuit, or Quagmire and Despair? A Norma... - 12/13/2014 3:42:39 AM   
Grotius


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I just finished playing "Breakout and Pursuit", a 12-turn scenario that begins in late July 1944, with the Allies still mired in the "hedgerow hell" of Normandy. I played on "Normal", vs the AI.

Actually, I've played the scenario more than once. A couple times I played the Germans, just to get a feel for things -- and to see how the AI manages the breakout. (Answer: pretty well.) I also tried once as the Allies on Challenging. After success in "Operation Husky" and a stalemate in the 5-turn Air Training scenario, I thought I knew what I was doing.

I thought wrong! This was how things looked on Turn 6 -- August 29, 1944, a full two and a half months after D-Day:






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RE: Breakout and Pursuit, or Quagmire and Despair? A N... - 12/13/2014 3:46:12 AM   
Grotius


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I had made the mistake of not committing my air force to big Air Interdiction missions at and behind German lines. Consequently, the enemy repeatedly committed reserves, foiling attacks that otherwise would have attained 2:1 odds or better. Lesson learned: high air interdiction is essential to break out.

So I tried again. This time on Normal. I know the devs recommend that experienced grognards play on Challenging, but I'd already had my keister tarnished once. So Normal it was. This time, from the get-go, I ordered a high density of Ground Attacks with emphasis on Interdiction. Here's the situation on Turn 2, August 1, 1944:




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RE: Breakout and Pursuit, or Quagmire and Despair? A N... - 12/13/2014 3:52:16 AM   
Grotius


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Pretty instructive! With my new air strategy, I made more progress in one week than I did in my previous effort in two months. The difference wasn't the difficulty level; it was the interdiction. This time around, no German units were committed to the defense of my attacks. The initial, estimated odds ratio ended up being close to the final odds ratio. Also, this time I gave the Americans the highest supply priority (4), leaving the Brits and Canadians with a measly priority of 2. The best opportunities for breakout seemed to be in the western sector, so I went that-a-way.

All that air-striking had a price, though. My air crews were tired and demoralized. I don't remember whether it was raining on turn 1, but it certainly was wet on turn 2. Accordingly, I used the Commander's Report (hotkey C) to sort by morale and fatigue and to manually set tired/demoralized squadrons to Rest (RS*). This would mean a slow down in air ops in the coming week. Here's a look at air groups:






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RE: Breakout and Pursuit, or Quagmire and Despair? A N... - 12/13/2014 3:57:12 AM   
Grotius


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Spoiler alert: if you plan to play this scenario as the Allies against the German AI, you might consider skipping to the very end so that you don't see what the AI does. It doesn't behave identically from one game to the next, as it makes generally sensible tactical decisions, but I imagine its broad strategy does not change radically. Anyway, if you don't mind spoilers, read on.

August 8, 1944 (Turn 3): I pushed forward, and the Germans smartly fell back, avoiding any Falaise Pocket. Great, but I was already running into the issue that confronted the Allies historically: it was hard for my supply trucks to keep up with my advancing forces. Still, I made progress.




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RE: Breakout and Pursuit, or Quagmire and Despair? A N... - 12/13/2014 4:03:01 AM   
Grotius


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August 15, 1944 (Turn 4): We see that supply issue here, as my guys really outrun their supply lines. In this screenshot, my soft factor was set either to supply or ammo, I forget which. I did grab a couple of ports along the western coast of Normandy and northern coast of Brittany, and those come with depots, but I hadn't repaired enough rail lines to make any depots closer to the front lines than the original beaches. We're still moving forward, but too slowly, I fear.






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RE: Breakout and Pursuit, or Quagmire and Despair? A N... - 12/13/2014 4:09:33 AM   
Grotius


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August 22, 1944 (Turn 5): At last I have some inland depots up and running, and I make my most spectacular gains yet, rushing through Brittany toward Brest, and pushing hard east toward the Seine. You can see my partially-repaired rail network here, and my new depots. I think I was too slow to get my Railroad Repair units across the Channel and onto the rail lines. In general, I had trouble figuring out the optimal way to ship stuff from Britain to France -- land at Cherbourg, land at the beaches? And once there, use precious rolling stock to rail forward, or march? I didn't rail my units much, which was probably a mistake.

Game question here: since the logistics phase takes place before the movement phase, can I safely use all the rail I want for units during the movement phase? Or will doing so impact logistics for the next turn? I assumed it would impact the coming logistics phase, so I made my units walk.

Anyway, I was happy at this point. The liberation of France is in full swing!




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RE: Breakout and Pursuit, or Quagmire and Despair? A N... - 12/13/2014 4:18:30 AM   
Grotius


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August 29, 1944 (Turn 6): Paris is liberated! I am hailed as I walk down the Champs-Elysees, waving to the cheering French crowds, smiling for the newsreels! My troops make it to the Seine in the east and Brest in the west. But the Germans have regrouped and formed a coherent line east of the Seine.

Incidentally, this was the only moment where I thought the AI made a significant mistake. It backed up to the Seine, which is a reasonable decision, but it backed up a hex too far -- it left the victory hex of Paris wide open! Admittedly, the Germans don't have many high-value infantry to garrison a city. (Armor is not suited to the task in WITW.) Still, even token resistance would've slowed me down enough to cost me one more turn, I think. So maybe a tactical error.

But the AI's broader strategy seems quite sound. Harasss me, slow me down, but avoid being pocketed, fall back to defensible positions (bocage, rivers, etc). I made gains this turn, but not nearly as impressive as last week's.

Also, while I'm on the subject of mistakes, notice my empty airfields in France. I got lazy about rebasing aircraft from Britain and Normandy. And then I wondered why I had no escorts for missions in south-central France! And I wondered why my pilots were getting so tired. Duh!




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RE: Breakout and Pursuit, or Quagmire and Despair? A N... - 12/13/2014 4:26:26 AM   
Grotius


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September 19, 1944 (Turn 9): I also got lazy about taking screenshots, possibly because my pace of advance slowed markedly. Once I got over the Seine, I thought I'd be home free. Instead, the German resistance stiffened considerably. I also suffered because of my failure to rebase aircraft; my interdiction was way too light, and German reserves kept committing to the defense of the front line. It took me a couple weeks to wake up and start rebasing my aircraft. In this shot, you can see that I finally have moved aircraft into airfields west of Paris.

You can see three lesser victory hexes in this shot, all too far away. The big prizes, like Antwerp, aren't even on the screen, they're so far east. I'm behind by about 2.2:1 in victory points. It's not just cities; I've also lost too many aircraft. Partly this was my failure to provide rebased escorts; partly it was flak. I didn't discover the Shift-O key until the end of the scenario!




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RE: Breakout and Pursuit, or Quagmire and Despair? A N... - 12/13/2014 4:36:44 AM   
Grotius


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October 3, 1944 (Turn 11, last full turn): And then the fall rains came. Check out the four droplets per hex, indicating heavy rain. Check out the slight muddy tinge to many hexes, indicating light or heavy mud. Check out my forces' soft factors, indicating critically low supply (or was it ammo?) levels. It's tough to get all that broken rail repaired fast enough to make new depots. I made depots on every available newly-repaired rail junction.

Game question here: is there such a thing as too many depots? Does it cost me something to make a depot?

Also, I wasn't sure how to prioritize my Normandy depots at this point. I downgraded them to 1-3, leaving my front lines at 4, but troops still kept drawing from the beaches as well as the front-line depots.

I've been airlifting supplies from Britain every turn, but this time I didn't bother; the rain means more operational losses. (My ops losses are almost as bad as my flak losses. I forgot to take screenshots, but tomorrow I'll post some numbers at the end of the AAR.) In fact, I stood down almost all of my air force this turn, setting the "weather" parameter to "Poor". The weather was "Very Poor" almost all week. :\ I figured I had no nope of getting to the victory hexes, and I didn't want more weather-related air losses.




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RE: Breakout and Pursuit, or Quagmire and Despair? A N... - 12/13/2014 4:41:50 AM   
Grotius


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Same date: I made a bit more progress in the south, but the AI defended Troyes well, and I fell one hex short. Supply lines were a problem here, as the map cuts off the rail network on the south edge, but the two rather distant depots did a decent job of resupplying. I had more trouble with ammo than with general supplies -- consistently, ammo was a problem, I'd say.

That's pretty much how the game ended -- with me mired in the mud just east of the Seine, far from the Belgian border. With the exception of Paris, I thought the AI did a commendable job of defending. This is really a great scenario for those of us still learning the game.




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RE: Breakout and Pursuit, or Quagmire and Despair? A N... - 12/13/2014 4:43:23 AM   
Grotius


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This screen speaks for itself.




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RE: Breakout and Pursuit, or Quagmire and Despair? A N... - 12/13/2014 4:46:32 AM   
Grotius


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If I'm not mistaken, I avoided a Major Axis Victory by just a handful of VPs! At 2:1 or more, it's a Major Axis Victory. Maybe standing down my aircraft in the rain saved me! Check out the VP graph:






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RE: Breakout and Pursuit, or Quagmire and Despair? A N... - 12/13/2014 4:48:01 AM   
Grotius


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That's it for now. As I mentioned, I'll post some more numbers tomorrow -- ops losses, flak, etc. I can post more graphs and such if people are interested, too. Thanks for reading. :)

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RE: Breakout and Pursuit, or Quagmire and Despair? A N... - 12/13/2014 4:59:30 AM   
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nice aar grotius

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RE: Breakout and Pursuit, or Quagmire and Despair? A N... - 12/13/2014 5:39:16 AM   
Grotius


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Thanks for reading, Baelfiin! Glad you enjoyed it.

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RE: Breakout and Pursuit, or Quagmire and Despair? A N... - 12/13/2014 6:54:41 AM   
Aurelian

 

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Reading this made this game make the buy list :)

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RE: Breakout and Pursuit, or Quagmire and Despair? A N... - 12/13/2014 7:14:09 AM   
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Good work sir! Interesting reading. I am struggling to make progress so this sort of AAR really helps.

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RE: Breakout and Pursuit, or Quagmire and Despair? A N... - 12/13/2014 7:56:14 AM   
SigUp

 

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quote:

ORIGINAL: Aurelian

Reading this made this game make the buy list :)

Hearing about logistical problems in France makes the WITE experienced player quite happy, right?

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RE: Breakout and Pursuit, or Quagmire and Despair? A N... - 12/13/2014 12:43:05 PM   
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The AI does a good job defending France in this scenario. One way to make them skittish is to, unhistorically, drop some airborne divisions in their rear.

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RE: Breakout and Pursuit, or Quagmire and Despair? A N... - 12/13/2014 1:56:27 PM   
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+1 very helpful seeing the decisions needed.

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RE: Breakout and Pursuit, or Quagmire and Despair? A N... - 12/13/2014 3:41:58 PM   
Grotius


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Glad you guys enjoyed it! Ramses, it didn't occur to me to try a second airborne operation. A pre-Market Garden; not a bad idea. I did have some airborne troops in Britain after D-Day, but I just shipped them over to Normandy.

Here are some numbers and graphs. First, the victory point count. I was about 30 points away from a Major defeat!




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RE: Breakout and Pursuit, or Quagmire and Despair? A N... - 12/13/2014 3:44:49 PM   
Grotius


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My highest casualty-point losses were for men. The air losses are interesting, too. In another thread, there's debate about whether flak is deadly enough. It was certainly deadly enough when shooting at me! But, as I mentioned earlier, I didn't learn how to display opponent flak until late in the scenario. (Actually, one of the tutorial videos did teach me that, but I forgot.)




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RE: Breakout and Pursuit, or Quagmire and Despair? A N... - 12/13/2014 3:47:47 PM   
Grotius


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Flak was the single biggest source of aircraft loss for me -- slight worse than operational losses, and twice as deadly as air-to-air. Interesting.

Flak losses peaked in week 9, when I made my last big push east, and right after I rebased aircraft west of Paris. I wonder whether they were flying over more unit-based flak than in prior turns, when they mostly had to contend with city-based flak. Or it may just have been that week 9 was my last all-out push in the air, before the weather turned bad.




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RE: Breakout and Pursuit, or Quagmire and Despair? A N... - 12/13/2014 3:54:24 PM   
Grotius


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And lastly, my ground losses. 60,000 men dead; too many. I don't play to win at all costs; I try to imagine that I'm commanding real human beings. Thankfully, the victory-point system reinforces this play style, by making casualty rates a significant factor. Axis casualty rates were higher than mine, but I'm guessing my rates are still too high.

Especially my AFV losses! I guess that's par for the course in this theater, what with my Shermans going up against their Tigers and Panthers. Still, I don't think I've been handling my armor optimally. Ideally, infantry punches through lines and fights in cities, while armor exploits; in my case, it was too often the other way around! Also, because the AI left Paris open, I seized it with armor while my infantry lagged behind. That was all well and good, but it meant my tanks had to endure infantry-based counterattacks.

Anyway, if anyone has further comments on this AAR, please feel free to chime in. I'm especially curious about the gameplay questions I raised earlier in the thread -- e.g., whether to walk or ride the rails, how to prioritize depots, and whether I built too many depots.




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RE: Breakout and Pursuit, or Quagmire and Despair? A N... - 12/13/2014 5:39:52 PM   
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Great AAR. Thanks for sharing.

What were altitudes you were operating with air forces?

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RE: Breakout and Pursuit, or Quagmire and Despair? A N... - 12/13/2014 6:20:20 PM   
Grotius


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The default altitudes for each Air Directive -- I never changed any. I'll double-check my last save to be sure.

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RE: Breakout and Pursuit, or Quagmire and Despair? A N... - 12/14/2014 10:01:24 AM   
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I found the secret to winning this scenario is your airborne divisions. The AI was really good at establishing defensive lines, and quite frankly any attack on such a line means running into German panzer divisions: pretty much bound to fail unless you spend a few turns amassing and preparing. So you need to bypass those defensive lines instead. And with high interdiction each time the Germans have to relocate to a new line they'll leave some stragglers to pocket. I think I ran about one airborne operation every two turns.

On turn 1 heavy aerial bombardment allowed the US divisions serious successes in their breakout at Alencon. The US 8th Airforce annihilates the Luftwaffe in a concentrated bombing campaign in the Paris region, destroying 625 airframes, half of them on the ground. This is half of all Luftwaffe planes present in the theatre. The Luftwaffe will fail to do pretty much anything but sporadic ineffective sorties for the rest of the campaign.

On turn 2 two US divisions and the Polish brigade dropped on rail hexes around Argentan and Alencon to try and pocket the German forces between them and the American armour breaking out. The Poles were surrounded and annihilated, but British armour linked up with the 2 American divisions. The Germans fell back to a line just east of Argentan and Le Mans, but left 2 infantry divisions, an infantry and a Fallschirmjager regiment, an airlanding division and most importantly the 116th Panzer and 2nd SS Panzer divisions pocketed near Avranches.

On turn 3 the Brits landed at Evreux and Rouen to secure Seine crossings. This once again forced the Germans to fall back to a line several hexes behind the Seine (the same line as on Grotius' turn 6 screenshot), leaving behind stragglers. Three German infantry divisions, a Fallschirmjager division, the 17th SS Panzergrenadiers and the 10th SS Panzer division nearly get pocketed around Alencon by the advancing troops.

On turn 4 the pocket at Alencon is sealed. The rest of the army advances on the Seine, pocketing another 3 German infantry divisions.

On turn 5 Paris is liberated, the pockets are cleared and the troops once again organize to break the German line.

On turn 6 the Brits drop at Amiens and Abbeville, while the 17th US Airborne drops at St-Quentin, securing 3 Somme crossings. German forces once again fall back, this time to a Ghent-Verdun line. The fort at Le Havre falls.

On turn 7: a wide advance over the entire front. British armour reaches Ostend. Fortifications at Dunkirk, Calais and Boulogne are isolated, also containing 3 German infantry regiments. Another 5 German infantry divisions and the 15th Panzergrenadiers fail to link up with the new defensive line and are isolated in several small pockets.

On turn 8 the pockets are cleared and the advance continues. Two US airborne divisions and the British air-portable land at Antwerp and Leuven. Supply lines are getting stretched on the northern spearhead.

On turn 9: attempts to relieve the airborne landings at Antwerp and Leuven fail. This time the German line does not budge (much). Allied infantry divisions finally catch up with the new frontline. A local offensive at Chaumont does pocket the 3rd Panzergrenadier division.

On turn 10 another US and British airborne division drop at Antwerp and Leuven to reinforce the previous landings. British armour manages to link up with the airborne troops at Brussels, threatening to pocket about 10 German divisions, including 2 SS panzer divisions, at Ghent.

On turn 11 Calais and Brest finally fall. The Ghent pocket is sealed, but only 4 infantry divisions remain in it. The front is mostly static due to foul weather.

Final overview:

- all Allied objectives achieved, except for Metz.
- German losses: 418.000 men, 7500 guns, 1710 tanks, 1033 planes. 19 German divisions and 10 regiments destroyed (excluding airbases and support units), including 3 Panzer, 3 Panzergrenadier and 2 Fallschirmjager divisions.
- Allied losses: 103.000 men, 900 guns, 2500 tanks, 2500 planes.
- Note: the scenario starts each side with 125.000 manpower losses, these have been subtracted from above totals.

The German defense seems a lot more organized and determined than historically, leading to a vastly slower Allied advance. No Market Garden in this war, it seems. On the other hand, the much higher German losses will also mean no Battle of the Bulge, so all in all the Allies will be better prepared than historically for the advance into Germany. Unfortunately, so will the Germans, though their frontline is getting stretched thin.

< Message edited by Nemo84 -- 12/14/2014 11:06:37 AM >

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RE: Breakout and Pursuit, or Quagmire and Despair? A N... - 12/14/2014 3:03:38 PM   
Erik Rutins

 

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In WITE against a decent player it was tough to replicate the German debacle at Stalingrad (you really need AI Hitler to do that) and similarly it's hard to replicate the Falaise-Argentan pocket when the German player is focused on withdrawing instead of counterattacking and trying to seal off the breakthrough. In testing, if the Germans play as the Germans historically did, the historical pocket is possible as is a faster Allied advance afterwards.

Using the airborne to speed up the advance and unhinge the German defenses against a decent German player who is focusing on a slow withdrawal makes sense. The Allies historically planned many airborne ops between D-Day and Market Garden, but for the most part the front lines moved forward fast enough until Market Garden that those operations proved unnecessary. Without Falaise-Argentan, I think we would have likely seen more drops as you did.

Regards,

- Erik


< Message edited by Erik Rutins -- 12/14/2014 4:04:22 PM >


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RE: Breakout and Pursuit, or Quagmire and Despair? A N... - 12/14/2014 3:17:40 PM   
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Very informative post Nemo84, will have to try that - the breakout part I'm doing fine, but the pursuit is a mess without paratroopers !

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RE: Breakout and Pursuit, or Quagmire and Despair? A N... - 12/14/2014 4:24:56 PM   
Nemo84

 

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My use of airborne forces was indeed inspired by the historical plans for the airborne units in the race for Antwerp, though I must say the performance of my plan far exceeded my initial expectations. I'm also not certain an airborne division at the time was doctrinally and logistically capable of performing a combat jump every 2-3 weeks.

I found the AI to be rather over-eager in abandoning strong defensive positions, and half of the units I pocketed was due to AI stupidity in ordering pointless counter-attacks instead of moving to a better position (an AI flaw that results in an historically accurate touch, so I wouldn't like to see it changed/fixed). A few scattered airborne divisions would seriously disrupt supply lines, but should not be a reason to have dozens of divisions abandon strong defensive positions. I also do honestly think that right now it's far too easy for a German division to break off combat, relocate several hundred kilometers despite heavy aerial interdiction and then securely and deeply entrench itself in a single week's time with seemingly little consequences on readiness, supplies and combat capability.

If I tried to pull the same move against a somewhat competent human opponent I would fully expect to see my airborne units annihilated the turn after they land, and by the end of the game the German defenses would probably still be on the banks of the Seine. AI counterattacks on the airborne landings were fouled by heavy aerial interdiction, but the AI never even used its airforce. I'm pretty certain the German AI in my game could still have achieved local aerial superiority for a turn or two, despite its battered airforce, had it made the attempt. Plenty of time to isolate and destroy those airborne units.

< Message edited by Nemo84 -- 12/14/2014 5:28:02 PM >

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