War Plan Orange: Introduction to 1920's tactics

War Plan Orange: Dreadnoughts in the Pacific 1922-1930, from the team that brought you War in the Pacific.

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War Plan Orange: Introduction to 1920's tactics

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This "tutorial" will serve as a guide on simulating various 1920s tactics within War Plan Orange.

Air Tactics and Strategies

As all of us well know, many ships are immune to small bombs in War in the Pacific. This is also true in War Plan Orange. Most bomber aircraft in the game are equipped with small bombs, usually no larger than 230lbs. These bombs are effective against smaller ships, but cannot defeat even the deck armor of battleships. Of all the aircraft in War Plan Orange, only the Martin NBS-1 has a chance of damaging a dreadnought. The Martin carries 2 1000lb GP bombs (though only 1 at extreme range). However, groups with a high experience have a chance of using a single 2,000lb GP bomb. These large weapons are the ones Jimmy Doolittle proposed using against the Ostfriesland.

What does this mean? Torpedo aircraft are the only reasonable method to attack and sink battleships. Bombs can damage the superstructure, but torpedoes are the only means for all nations to open a ships hull to the sea.

USMC Aircraft. In the 1920's, Marines flew both Army and Navy planes, though Army planes were generally limited to the DH-4. So, while most VF-Ms (as they were called, not VMFs) fly Navy planes, a few arrive in DH-4s. And as such, using PDU (which I promote), players have the option of upgrading any Marine Squadron to Army, or to Navy planes.

US Navy Fighter Units. Many times, carrier groups (particularly on the Langley) would two or three different types at once. Usually one type (such as the F6C) would be the standard type and equip most of the unit, while experimental or low production planes (such as the FB-5) would also be used.

All carriers in WPO have 2 Groups assigned. All navy bomber squadrons are designated as squadrons, but all navy FIGHTER units are designated as groups. So, to simulate using many types (and not to mention confusing a PBEM opponent as to how many carriers you do have), a group can be split, and then each section fly a different plane. Now granted, you can't recombine them until all fly the same plane, but for carriers, that isn't a problem.

The Vought FU-1 Battleship Fighter. There are two variants. The FU-1 which is wheeled (and hence not the battleship fighter) and the FU-1 Float. VF-2 flies this fighter, and arrives in 6 3 plane sections. However, there is a proceedure you must follow to board these on ships:

1. Make sure the section's HQ is not restricted. It must be an open HQ or independent.

2. The ship you wish to assign it to must not have an aircraft squadron on board. In addition, it must have at least a 3 plane capacity.

3. The ship you wish to assign it to must be in a task force. You cannot assign these planes to docked ships.

While they can perform naval attack or escort missions, their primary function is of escort. The project historically was dropped because by the time it was available Lady Lex and Sara had been completed. But since in WPO they have 16" guns, The FU-1 can see the light of day. Originally, the FU-1 was a UO-1 scouting plane fitted with a forward firing gun and a single seat. Its original designation was UO-3.

Air Combat.

Generally, pilot experience is poor across the board in War Plan Orange. Training is the key. Usually, it would be months anyway before they would have a chance to fight the enemy, so use that time wisely. Train them up. Operational losses may be high, but experience matters. For flying boats, ASW patrol is a good method of training aswell.

Bombers, particularly torpedo bombers, have horrible accuracy if they have low experience. If they are to score hits, they need to be trained. 6 months would be an ideal training program, but 3 would suffice.

There are two main types of bombers in War Plan Orange, Level Bombers and Torpedo Bombers. Against Naval targets, torpedo bombers will be the most important of your arsenal. At higher altitudes the planes will act as level bombers, while at long range or at lower altitudes they will drop torpedoes. Hitting a ship from a level bomber is difficult when the target is stationary, and moreso if it is moving. However, they high the experience of the unit, the more likely the ship is to be hit.

Bombs of the era, by and large, were small. Early fighters carry 20lb bombs, all but useless against ships. Most bombers carry bombs as large as 100kg for Japan, or 230lb for the Allies. These bombs are sufficient to sink a destroyer or scout cruiser, but not quite powerful enough to sink anything heavier. However, this does not mean they are useless. Bomb hits can easily damage or destroy guns, particularly anti aircraft guns.

The Martin NBS-1 is an allied aircraft that will be their dream plane. It is rickety and short legged. But it carries either 1 or 2 1,000lb bomb. This gives it a punch sufficient to damage or sink all but a dreadnought. And if the unit has a high enough experience (again, train, train, train), it can, over short distances, drop a single 2,000lb bomb. One or two hits from those could wreck a dreadnought.

Torpedo bombing, a fairly new invention to an already new invention, had yet to be fully proven. Torpedoes are slow, not very reliable, and must be dropped close to the target to hit it. However, inexperienced pilots tend to release their torpedoes too early. However, trained units (training….must train pilots) tend to score far more hits than untrained pilots.

In the early 1920’s, AA armament was usually limited to machineguns or light antiaircraft weapons. However, these could prove deadly to lumbering bombers. To combat this, it was doctrine for fighters to go down and strafe enemy ships prior to or while the bombers attacked. While deadly by the latter half of the decade, doing this early on could allow more hits to be scored by the bombers, or at the very list kill some crew and disable some anti aircraft guns.

General rules of thumb for aircombat:

1. Altitude is key! Bombers that are two high can’t hit anything, but too low makes them vulnerable. For fighters, the higher they are gives them a better success rate, but two high makes them worthless. In his attack on the Ostfriesland, General Mitchell's Martin NBS-1s dropped their bombs from 2,000-2,500 feet. Unless your pilots are untried, your planes should attack from no higher than this to score a hit.

2. Training. Your plots have bad aircraft and low training. Untrained they are worthless, trained they are an invaluable resource. Train all of your groups, without exceptions. From Navy to Army to Marine, train them.

3. Torpedoes sink ships! If you want your carriers to attack enemy shipping, use VT or Torpedo Squadrons. If you want them to support ground troops, use VB or bombing squadrons.

4. Pay attention to the technology. As new anti aircraft guns come into service, you must adjust your tactics accordingly. 1922 tactics won’t work in 1930.

5. Training. Even if you are standing down a squadron for a few days, put some on training. Watch the movie 12 O’Clock High to get the point. Every day you don’t fly a mission, train. If nothing else, split your fighter units. Have to sections fly combat while one trains. Then put it in on combat and train another element.

Land Combat

Land combat in the 1920’s varied by country. European armies still embraced the lessons of trench warfare, but wanted also to somehow avoid it. The tank, which had first arrived on the scene in 1916, had been condemned ot an infantry support weapon, parceled out to the infantry. The cavalry was still the swiftest arm of any army. But these were horse troops, mounted, with little or no mechanized support.

Amphibious invasions were also problematic. Small landing craft were not existent. The only ways to land troops were in small sloops, whale boats, or let the men wade ashore. Or, a port could be forcible taken, and the men disembark right into the battle. As such, invasion in the Pacific would be very costly, in both men and equipment.

The first land tactic we will cover is that of a large land campaign, such as in New Guinea, Luzon, or mainland China. Infantry divisions of the period were “square” divisions, so named because they sported four infantry regiments in two Brigades. Each had incumbent artillery, and in the case of the United States a tank company. Each were equipped with machinegunes, and the infantry used bolt action rifles of varying calibers. The square formation allowed a mass concentration of firepower, perfect for breaching trenches or other heavily entrenched positions. However, the larger divisions, complete with more equipment, moved slower than a triangular division of only three regiments, and as such couldn’t exploit breakthroughs. Thus, combat often became a slugfest, pounding away until the enemy retreated, and then forming up and assaulting the next position.

Tanks, designed to aid in breakthroughs, were slow and mechanically unreliable, and like the infantry couldn’t exploit a breakthrough. This left the cavalry.

In assaulting a position with the intent on driving through, players should use a combined arms technique. Let us assume the enemy has a Division and a Brigade holding a position. Ideally, you should assault with two divisions (giving you more men), supported by tanks (at least two companies) and artillery batteries. When the enemy retires, order your troops to advance. Do not use the follow all command. Use set all units to march. We don’t want to arrive all at once, we want to maintain contact with the enemy, and prevent him from rebuilding. Now, slow, deliberate, methodical commanders may squirm at this, but we can either hold what we have captured or we can push on and force a breakthrough. To exploit this, ideally, you should have horse cavalry. At least a brigade worth (two regiments), though a Cavalry division would be better. They move faster than infantry, and as they pour through and remain on the enemies heel’s. Your larger, slower formations can advance. If you can wear down the enemy, or at least keep his fatigue and disruption high, then when the infantry and tanks come up, they can further push him back.

How far should you advance? Try for one hex. A 60 mile gain in a week is extraordinary. If you can get two, that is incredible. However, if you advance two hexes into his territory, pause for reorganization, and bring up reinforcements. Nothing would be worse than for the enemy to cut off your attack, or to counterattack when you aren’t ready.

General rules of thumb for land warfare in WPO:

1. Tank support! You can’t blitzkrieg with them, but they are invaluable in the assault.

2. Outnumber the enemy. Try and have twice his numbers. If he has a reinforced division hit him with a Corps.

3. Artillery support. 2 Regiments of 155’s can mean all the difference.

4. Cavalry. When on the assault, have fresh, mobile units that can exploit breakthroughs, and at the very least delay a counterattack.

5. Air support. Where possible, harass the enemy. If the odds are against you, every fatigue and disruption point helps.

6. Combined Arms. No single element can win a battle. But a combination can. Infantry, tanks, and artillery are the key.

7. River Crossings. Avoid them! Make the enemy cross a river, but never cross them yourself and go into a fight.

8. If or when you execute an amphibious landing, even if it means you have to fight a conventional land battle, land at the weakest spot. Slugging it out for a month as you advance on an island or inland from an invasion can often mean fewer casualties than an assault directly on the target

Naval Combat

First off let us cover some special cases applying to ships in War Plan Orange.

Simulating a scouting force. In the 1920’s and in World War I, scouting forces were used or find the enemy, or to harass them. To simulate such a force, create a small two or three ship task force. Then, as the TF commander, appoint a commander with a VERY low aggression rating. Usually, if the force becomes involved in a surface combat, there will be a few shells traded, and then the force will break contact. This can lead to a quick engagement to determine enemy strength, but not the sacrifice of smaller ships at the hands of larger ships.

Submarines and Q ships.

Q ships (and Commerce Raiders/Auxiliary Cruisers) can be converted from large AKs. Commerce raiders are designated as CLs and on the conversion screen are listed as Q ship (ML). They retain their outline, but are equipped with large guns (usually 6 or 5.9inch), depth charges, and mines. They can be used to hunt submarines, lay minefields, or prey on merchant shipping. In a pinch, they can be used as naval combatants, but this is not recommended.

Q Ships retain their AK designation and they are fitted with depth charges and medium caliber guns. Unlike Commerce Raiders, they retain a small cargo capacity (1000). To differentiate various AKs, those with 5,000 capacity are Large, 2500 small, and 1000 are Q ships. To use a Q ship, create a transport Task Force of one or two ships, and then sail them in to submarine infested waters. Submarines of the time like to make surface attacks on transports, and when they do are subject to come under fire from the Q ships guns (usually of 4 to 6 inches in caliber). In addition, if a submarine initiates a surface attack, the Q ship can drop depth charges. Note, however, Q ships are inefficient for attacking other ships, their primary use is as a submarine deterrent. Similarly, commerce raiders are cheap means of hunting down Q ships, rather than wasting destroyers or other ships on them. Due note, as a Q ship is listed as an AK, the only way to know if any enemy transport is a Q ship is if it opens fire on you, or drops depth charges.

Shipborne scouting aircraft.

This is more for 1922 scenarios. In 1922, the only warship that routinely had an “airgroup” was the battleship Yamashiro, which operated four Sopwith Pups and Gloster Sparrowhawks off a flying off platform. Flying off platforms had been used in World War I, but were all removed by 1919. In the Pacific, the idea was impractical, as the plane would have to land on land, or crashland in the water and be fished out. However, in 1923, the US Navy began fitting its dreadnoughts with catapults. By 1925, all US dreadnoughts (except the South Carolinas) either had them, or would have had them. In 1924, Japanese dreadnoughts began to receive catapults of their own. These are represented in WPO in refits or upgrades. At start, they have no aircraft carrying capacity. Then, after the refit, they receive one based on their historical capacity. Each class has a particular refit month, and in that month enough scouting groups arrive to fill out the unit. For instance, the Nevada class (comprising the Nevada and Oklahoma) undergo a refit in March of 1923 to receive their catapults. On the 15th of that month, Sections 1 and 2 of VO-3 arrive, for use on these ships. The next month, the Pennsylvanias receive their catapults, and on the 15th of that month sections 3 and 4 of VO-3 arrive for use. This is true for all classes that receive catapults in theater. Those that arrive either built with one, or after it would have been installed, already have their scouting section assigned. In the 1926 campaigns, all ships that had catapults are already fitted with them, and as such carry their airgroups. The only British ship to field a catapult in the 1920’s was HMS Vindictive, after she was reconverted from a carrier.

Submarine mines.

In the early 1920’s, the only mines carried by submarines were those designed for specialized minelaying submarines. These submarines were equipped with special minelaying tubes, and carried in addition to their torpedo armament. However, in 1925, the US invented the Mark 10 Mine, which could be dropped by any submarine with a 21 inch Torpedo Tube. Not unlike the battleships undergoing refits for catapults, in 1925 each month a class of US submarine (with 21inch torpedo tubes) undergoes a refit, after which when placed in a minelaying TF its torpedo reloads are substituded by an equivalent mine loadout. Prior to this refit, if a submarine is placed in a Sub Minelaying TF, it will have no effect. The submarine will act normally, but will not load mines and thus cannot lay any.

Minelaying Cruisers.

Java class cruisers carry mines (these were removed in the 1930’s), and early Omaha class cruisers carry a compliment of mines. However, in their first refits the Omaha’s lose the mine capability, and even then only Omaha and Cincinnati arrive with mines. In the 1926 scenario, none of the Omaha’s are equipped with mines.


This next section will explain various tactics that can be used in the game engine. While biased from a 1920’s point, they should give new players a fighting chance against the vets.

To achieve best results in Naval Combat, instead of forming large TFs of squadrons. Instead of say a 16 ship TF of 8 Battleships and 8 destroyers, form 2 TFs of 4 each. If a single TF usually fights two battles (let us assume there is one enemy TF), a single TF means two battles. And with all the ships in one, they can become uncoordinated. However, if there are two TFs, that can mean four battles, with more ships firing in each.

Leaders are key. For better results, appoint a TF commander with a high aggressiveness rating. Leaders with low ratings trade one or two salvos and withdraw. They are better for scouting formations, but for the actual Jutlandesque battle, try and have all of your TFs led by very aggressive leaders. It may mean more damage to your fleet, but it also means more damage to the enemy fleet.

General Rules of Thumb for Naval Combat.

1. Scout! If you have scouting aircraft use them. If you don't, use your scout cruisers and scout ahead. Better to have a cruiser damaged then run your dreadnoughts into a trap.

2. Divide your task forces. Two smaller task forces will generally perform better than one task force.

3. Use Q ships! Without sonar, dropping a depth charge is about as accurate as sniping with a smoothbore musket. Use Q ships, lure submarines to the surface, and blast them with cruiser caliber guns.

4. Use your submarines. Submarines are invaluable as scouts, and torpedoes can be very deadly, even to a dreadnought.

5. If you have air cover, use it! While aircraft will unlikely be the deciding factor in a naval engagement, they can even the odds. Don't put too much reliance on aircraft, but don't ignore them either.

6. Use convoys! Large convoys can help defend against submarine attacks, and in a surface action an enemy ship can bring all ships under fire.

7. Use your cruisers! Raiding the convoy line, scouting, a battle line, and gunfire support. Cruisers can certainly be the workhorse of the fleet. Use them wisely.

8. Use battlecruisers! Be wary of using them in the battle line. However, hunt down enemy cruisers with them. They also make great commerce raiders.

9. Use your predreadnoughts. They are old, they are slow, and in a naval battle they can be a nuissance. But they are perfect convoy escorts, and are expendable (as compared to a dreadnought) in the gunfire support role of an invasion.
Designer of War Plan Orange
Allied Naval OOBer of Admiral's Edition
Naval Team Lead for War in the Med

Author of Million-Dollar Barrage: American Field Artillery in the Great War coming soon from OU Press.
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RE: War Plan Orange: Introduction to 1920's tactics

Post by Venividivici10044 »

Thank You
I play and post for fun...nothing stated ever carries with it the thought to irritate. If something does...privately PM and I will review.
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RE: War Plan Orange: Introduction to 1920's tactics

Post by AlphonseZukor »

Very interesting. Thank you.
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