Armor Team Movement and Formations: Part I
by Maurice Fitzgerald
By itself, any tank can be vulnerable in the face of diverse battlefield hazards (such as enemy forces or unfavorable terrain) and situations; these vulnerabilities are significantly reduced when tanks are employed as units.
The tank platoon is the smallest maneuver element within a tank company. Organized to fight as a unified element, the platoon consists of four main battle tanks organized into two sections, with two tanks in each section. The platoon leader (Tank 1) and platoon sergeant (Tank 4) are the section leaders. Tank 2 is the wingman in the platoon leader's section, and Tank 3 is the wingman in the platoon sergeant's section.
The tank platoon is organic to tank companies and armored cavalry troops. The platoon may be cross-attached to a number of organizations, commonly a mechanized infantry company, to create company teams. It may also be placed under operational control (OPCON) of a light infantry battalion.
In modern armored warfare speed is essential, in other words speed is life. Gone are the days of the clunky, slow moving behemoths of past years. Todays armored monsters are more versatile and they have greater range, speed and lower silhouettes. Even with all these improvements and modifications there are many dangers the modern platoon leader must face. These are the same challenges that you as the platoon leader in Microprose’ M1 Tank Platoon II must face and overcome to be successful.
But when it comes to battle action there is an old saying that has rung true throughout history and hasn’t changed today: "No plan, however well thought out, survives contact with the enemy." In other words you must be prepared to improvise and adapt to the rapid fluidity of armored combat.
In Microprose’s M1 Tank Platoon II we are faced with the same decisions armor team leaders would face in real conflict. Although M1TP2 is a simulation, we have all been discovering that it models the real world with extreme accuracy. Of course there is still one way to find more realism: enlist! Since accuracy is so high, a good study of real world doctrine is in order.
There have been posts in the armor forum and I have received e-mails asking about several points related to team movement and how to move successfully. Through the effective use of speed and terrain and employing proper formations you can increase your teams’ survival significantly. There is no "one way" to do this, you must be ready to adapt your strategy according to specific situations but there are some guidelines that can help you accomplish your goals.
Formation and Movement
Formation and movement are the basis for gaining ground and bringing as much firepower to bear on your enemy in the quickest fashion. The goal? You want the enemy to "die for his country while you live for yours". Here are the formations you will find in the game and and how you can best use them.
Column: This is the most basic of formations that is used in road marches when speed is critical or when moving through restrictive terrain (i.e. choke points) when enemy contact is not expected. In this formation your platoon leaders vehicle is behind his wingman (tank 2) and all other vehicles key their place in formation from him, so as his tank moves they will adjust their placement to complement his in the respective formation.
Your platoon leaders tank is usually in the forefront of all formations but in this case he is in the #2 spot so he can have better command and control over the whole element. Tank 2 (lead vehicle in formation) covers the fire sector to his direct front, Tank 1 (#2 spot) and Tank 4 (Platoon Sgt.) cover alternate sectors to the platoons flanks while Tank 3 brings up the rear and covers the rear fire sector.
This is the best way to move your platoon around terrain features without creating a silhouette. Once back in open ground you can switch to one of these formations based again on the terrain ahead as well as the mission objectives you are assigned.
Wedge: Best used while in movement through open or rolling terrain and when overwatch is provided by another element of the Company Team. (as is stated in the game manual from the US Army –15) There is another aspect of this that is not mentioned in the manual which I wish to go into more detail about here. The Wedge can also be used as the lead element of a complete team movement. You can build a Team Wedge with your tank element in the front in Wedge formation and support units trailing in Echelon formations on the respective flanks of the lead tank unit. To explain here’s an example:
You have found, fixed, and applied air and artillery assets to an enemy unit who is in a static position several kilometers to your front. You have a kilometer or so of "dead space" between your position and the next terrain feature to your front, and that is the place to which you want to advance. However, you are not certain whether the enemy may have units to your flanks, so you order your tank platoon to move to the reverse slope of the aforementioned terrain feature (a hill).
Before giving the order to move out you also order your LAV and AAV platoons to follow in the wake of the lead element the tank platoon, in echelon formations. (i.e. LAV’s on left of tanks will travel in echelon left, AAV’s on right will travel in echelon right.) This will create a giant wedge, refusing both flanks while keeping speed up. You can traverse the open ground rapidly and in a good security mode.
Echelon: As explained in the previous example, this formation can be used as part of a greater team formation as well as for the individual unit. This formation brings most of your firepower to bear on the flank which you are facing. (Echelon right brings fire to bear mainly to the right.) This is best used as part of a larger formation or when using terrain to screen your opposite flank. If you are say for example moving around a terrain feature that is on your left, with open ground to your right you will move in echelon right.
Vee: This is one formation that provides excellent protection and control, but limits fire to the front. In the game I have yet to see a need for this formation, as from experimenting with it I have found your own tanks mask your fire on enemy units you will face to your front.
Line: Brings devastating firepower to bear on enemies to your front. Best used when being overwatched by another element or when assaulting an enemy position. Another great use for the line as with the wedge is as part of a larger force. Explanation is below.
The Line and Wedge can both be used to screen your force as well in the following fashion. Using the example from above, where you wish to move through a kilometer of dead space to a key terrain feature to your front, but not wanting the enemy to know the size and disposition of your force you can do the following.
Move your tank platoon forward to the terrain feature you need to reach by setting the waypoint but keep them at a halt until you are ready to move. Bring your other armor units behind the lead element in column formation to keep them behind the lead, stack them behind each other. Once you are set and ready to move from behind your position, turn on your smoke generators and let your engine smoke build a bit. Do the same to all trailing elements as well and once all smoke generators are on give the order to move out and move at maximum speed to your next position. Doing this will create a large smoke screen that will move as your team moves. Once in position turn off your smoke and again send out the trail elements for flank security.
I recommend trying these movement tactics out at the NTC before using them in a campaign, so as to get the mechanics of movement down solid. Once you feel confident and comfortable with them use them in the campaigns and you should feel a lot more confident that you can provide a better chance for your teams survival. Stay tuned for part Two where we will explore team movement further. Til then keep moving and keep your heads down and guns downrange!
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