“Everyone was talking and chatting, when slowly came into sight the first tank I ever saw. Not a monster but a very graceful machine with beautiful lines…. Here was the missing tool of penetration, the answer to the dominance on the battlefield of small-arms fire.”— J.F.C. Fuller
DESERT WAR: SHOCK EXPLAINED
Matrix Games/Slitherine’s upcoming release of Brian Kelly’s Desert War 1940-42 uses a simple game mechanic often found in WWII board games. It gives tank units a “special place” in the player’s toolbox—a positive shift to the combat force ratio if attacking, and the opposite when defending. Coming up short of attack factors? No problem! Throw in some tanks. A 1 to 1 attack can become a 2 to 1, 3 to 1, 4 to 1, etc. In Desert War 1940-42, we call this mechanic—Shock.
So…how did armored forces create this “shock” effect during the early stages of WWII? Simply put, they employed speed, unexpected directions of attack (especially from the flank and rear), and overwhelming firepower at the decisive point to destroy (kill, capture, or cause to cower) units within the enemy’s command--which in turn reduced, eliminated, or frustrated the options available to the enemy commander.
How did we model it in Desert War 1940-42? In three ways. Successful mechanized force commanders employ three key ingredients to achieve victory on the battlefield—rapid mobility, overwhelming firepower, and shock/surprise. Desert War strives to replicate these ingredients and their interactions in game play.
“The primary mission of armored units is the attacking of infantry and artillery. The enemy’s rear is the happy hunting ground for armor; use every means to get it there.”—General George S. Patton
The movement factor assigned to each unit type depends on whether the unit is mechanized or not. What defines a mechanized unit? If it moves using gasoline or diesel—it’s mechanized. From the perspective of North Africa in WWII, we are talking about combat units like reconnaissance, mechanized infantry, motorized infantry, armor, and the combat support units (artillery, anti-tank, anti-aircraft, etc.) assigned to armored and motorized infantry divisions/brigades. Table 1 below shows the mobility type of the units found in the game. How fast can they go? When supplied with fuel points, all units within a mechanized organization are assigned a movement factor of 12 or 15.
On the other hand, if it moves by foot, hoof or slithers on its belly like a reptile—it is non-mechanized. In this category, Desert War has two participants—leg infantry and parachute infantry. There are no cavalry units, and nothing is horse-drawn. When supplied, leg infantry divisions and parachute infantry brigades, plus their combat support units have a movement factor of 8.
There are a few exceptions to the rule based on unit functionality. Reconnaissance units have a movement factor of 18. This enhances their ability to perform their primary role—which is to observe and report the location, size, and activity of enemy forces—while avoiding contact. Army and Theater HQs will generally have a movement factor of 4 or less. This represents the difficulty of changing a line of operations while combat operations are in progress.
Thus, the movement factor of mechanized forces provides them superior mobility—nearly one and a half to twice as much as leg infantry. They can get in fast—and get out faster. In addition, mechanized forces can use their large movement advantage to move through weak zones of control to penetrate the enemy’s defenses. This provides the opportunity to outflank (+1 shift to the combat odds) or surround (+2 shift to the combat odds) the enemy’s infantry defenses or drive deep and attack his artillery and HQ units.
Table 1: Unit Mobility and Shock Value
“As we approached the coast we saw before us a mass of men, lorries, guns, and a few tanks, and we were on them before they knew what had hit them. There were so many targets I hardly knew which to engage first. Milligan [the tank’s gunner] was having the time of his life, and even the young sub-turret gunners with their machine guns were getting rid of belts of ammunition at an alarming rate. For a while the Italians fought back, but then white handkerchiefs and scarves began to appear in all directions. We stopped firing and closed in on them.”— Major Rea Leakey, 1st Royal Tank Regiment, describing the Battle of Sidi Barrani
It’s not just mobility; you need to “get there first with the most” firepower—the more the better. Within the game, this translates to obtaining a favorable combat ratio—up to 10 to1 on the ground combat result table. This ratio is obtained by comparing the combined attack factors with the combined defense factors of the enemy units found in the hex under attack. In the tables below, we can get an idea of what to expect from a tank battalion attacking an enemy infantry battalion.
Table 2: Comparison of Tank Battalions by Country
In the examples above in Table 2, we see that in 1941, the range of attack factors assigned to tank battalions is between 10 and 18 attack points; the Italians having the lowest and the Germans having the highest. Table 3 shows that the defense strength of infantry battalions ranges between 13 and 22; again, the lowest is the Italians and the highest is the Germans.
Table 3: Comparison of Infantry Battalions by Country
Now let’s compare the information from Table 2 and 3 to see how things will be during actual game play. The following table pairs the various armor battalions against the infantry battalions they might face on the battlefield. We can see that the German Panzer Battalion and the British Crusader Battalion can attack at 1 to 1 combat odds, while the rest can do no better than 1 to 2. In any case, these odds are a bit tenuous to say the least. So…I think it’s time to throw in a little Shock action to spice things up a bit.
Table 4: Basic Odds for 1941 Armor Bn vs Infantry Bn
“The capture of Mechili was a coup; the enemy had probably not reckoned on our using the route through Ben Gania or on our appearing as early as we did in front of Mechili. Thus their troops were taken completely by surprise….”— Field Marshal Irwin Rommel
Shock – General Rules
Ground units with a Shock Value (see Table 1) can shift combat odds of an attack in favor of the owning side. Shock Values are displayed in the Unit Details Panel. Armor, mechanized infantry, and anti-tank units have a Shock Value of 2 or 4. Units with a Shock Value of 0 are considered “shock neutral”; their stacking points don’t count when calculating the Shock Percentage—that’s a good thing. Foot-mobile infantry have no Shock Value; their stacking points DO count when calculating the Shock Percentage—that’s a bad thing.
Shock only applies to attacks against an enemy in open terrain (i.e. the hex itself has no defensive bonus—like desert). Likewise, units that are attacking over a non-clear terrain hexside (e.g. a gully) have no Shock Value.
The Shock Percentage is calculated for the Attacker and Defender. To determine a side’s Shock Percentage, find the friendly unit of those engaged with the highest Shock Value. Reduce this value by the percentage of stacking points that have no Shock Value (i.e. non-mechanized, foot mobile infantry).
Shock Values are halved if the unit has:
• Readiness less than 30%
• Strength less than 30%
• Line of Communication State is Encircled or Isolated
Shock Values are 0 if the unit has:
• Readiness less than 10%
• Strength less than 10%
The Final Shock is the Attacker Shock Value minus the Defender Shock Value. If the result is positive, then the attack odds are increased by that number of shifts. If the result is negative, then the attack odds are reduced by that number of shifts.
An attack consists of:
• an armored (Shock 4) unit of stacking size 4
• a motorized (Shock 0) unit of stacking size 2
• an infantry (No Shock) unit of stacking size 2
The maximum shock value of any unit in this attack = 4 (from the armored unit).
The stacking size of shock units (the armored and Motorized unit) = 6
The total stacking size of all units = 8
The percentage of shock units = 75% (6 as a percentage of 8).
75% of the maximum shock value (4) = 3
If the defender has no shock value, the Final Attacker Shock = +3 combat odds shifts.
An attack consists of:
• an armored (Shock 4) unit of stacking size 1
• an infantry (No Shock) unit of stacking size 3
Then the final Shock = 1 (25% of attacking stack has Shock, 25% of the max shock 4 = 1).
An attack consists of:
• 2 armored (Shock 4) units of Stacking size 1
• 1 of the 2 units is attacking over a gully hexside.
Then the final Shock = 2 (50% of attacking stack has Shock – the unit attacking over the gully is considered to have No Shock. 50% of the max shock 4 = 2).
How do you counter Shock effects in the game? Avoid sitting in clear terrain if you can…in the desert. Dig-in and hold on to your helmet. Try to keep non-clear terrain hex sides (gullies, rivers, minefields, etc.) between you and the enemy’s tanks. Tank and antitank (AT) units are good—“counter shock”—weapons. They can reduce or neutralize an attacker’s Shock, so stack with your own tanks or AT guns to help take some of the steam out of the roller. It should be noted that AT do not have an attack Shock greater than 0. However, to reflect the long range of the 88mm AA/AT guns, German Heavy AT units can “attack” with a Shock Value of 2.
Now that we have the Shock capability tucked away in our kit bag, let’s take another look at those “tenuous”, low-odds situations involving armor battalions vs infantry battalions. As we’ve now learned, every one of the attacking tank battalions listed in Table 4 gets a +4 shift to the initial combat odds—the enemy infantry battalions have either 0 Shock Value or No Shock at all. Table 5 shows how those attack odds look with Shock shifts applied. Four and five to one sounds a lot better. Now—if you reinforce these tank battalion attacks with some motorized infantry, a brass-up by the artillery (all 0 shock value units so they don’t count against you), some air assets and a flanking attack—that’s a devastating attack! Or dare I say—shocking!
If all this sounds interesting to you, then check out Desert War 1940-42 when it hits the digital store shelves on a computer near you.