TOAWIV – The Battle of Cambrai 1917 – Turn 1

A reflection on what I’ve played so far of this scenario. This battle is so compact in the TOAWIV engine, and every hex is usually stacked full of 9 units.  I’m struggling to maintain any sense of knowing “what is where” and what I have at my disposal. There is a wall of almost impenetrable fortified defense. So just making the first decision and move has been quite difficult, given my unfamiliarity of the deeper mechanics at play.  I’d probably say skip Cambrai as a tutorial scenario to learn the intricacies of the game, because the battle is a crowded slugfest with very little manoeuvre. So in that respect, it is quite well designed to simulate the situation of the time.

Anyway, my boots are sodden, my feet plagued with trench foot, so lets just do the British thing and “Carry on chaps!”

Right on to it.

Here is the scenario briefing at turn 1 (you can opt for a fuller brief if you want)

 

From the start, I’m a bit confused by the Max Rounds Per Battle: 5 – but I choose to ignore it and get going.

And now, here’s the news…

Brace yourselves, because there may be a lot of screenshots setting the starting scene in the game. Here I show the current state of territory control, depicting the front line and the key supply sources. The white and red circles are the British, and the blues the German supplies. Key locations around Havrincourt Wood, just behind the British line seem to suggest a full 100 points of supply is possible.

Another map status toggle is to show the victory points for the important locations. This immediately starts to point towards your goals. In particular Flesquires (10), Bourlon Wood (5), BOURLON (10), along with Masnieres (10) and Rumilly (10) and Cambrai (20) itself and its surrounding areas (10).

BOURLON was tactically important, because it was the high ground with a covering woods.

Before you make any decisions its often wise to familiarise yourself with the full Scenario Briefing, I posted this in the setup entry, because it makes for interesting reading and is quite long.

I’m now going to give you a quick run through of the key tools to understanding your stacked hex groups, your formations and your units. If you want any more detail, I strongly urge you to check out Bob Cross’ UI post over at Matrix Forums.

Selecting a unit and pressing ‘F’ will bring up the formation report, listing your units in the current formation. The unit highlighted in white is the currently selected one.

You can see the British H Battalion, with its tank troops/companies (denoted by symbol ‘I’ on chit). You have a summary of their location, strength and movement capabilities – along with their level of proficiency, support, orders and emphasis. You can see a, b and c troops/companies along with c/H+ taking part in an “Event:?” which I presume is some sort of reinforcement happening at hex location 2,6 at some point in the future.

There is a whole host of orders available but from the outside this offensive is set to Attack, however the Order Emphasis has a significance on the losses taken and the chance of a number of time slice/rounds that can be burned. There are three settings minimal losses, limit losses, ignore losses, the latter being going out full pelt, regardless of casualties.

This Battalion is about 80% proficient, and have about 35% supply available to them.

Another important point is to note that their support scope is Army Support. As I understand it, there are four levels of support( Internal – Army – Force – Free), that map to a “level of co-operation” between formations.   

Internal is limited to just units in the current formation.

Army covers all unit formations that have the same 2d icon colours at the army level. So co-operation between formations, but within the army.

Force covers all unit formations that have the same 2d background colours. So a wider level of co-operation.

Free support basically means will co-operate fully with all friendly units.

In this case for H Battalion, Army Support refers to the co-operation between any units that have 2d icons of dark blue and red NATO symbols. In this scenario I don’t think the level of support scope matters that much, but where there are disparate and different nationality friendly forces, then you must pay close attention. I think it affects not only support in terms of supply, but also adding to an offensive or defensive action.

Right, to see the group composition of the units in the current hex, press “C”, you’ll see a box denoting the stacked units. You can toggle the chit information between attack/defense values and movement points remaining.

Whilst this info window can be useful for quick look-see’s it can be cumbersome to keep selecting a hex, opening the composition box, closing it, and selecting another hex.. there is an option where you can show the group composition in the Unit information box top right of the screen instead of the current unit details. I find this method much easier to use, because I just select a hex, and then can toggle the info to composition without opening another box.

As you can see, we have quite a stacked hex, with the max of 9 units, 7 tank troops/companies and two fortified infantry brigades (denoted by ‘X’ on chit).

If you want to get at the Unit report, pressing ‘U’ will bring up a box with the necessary information. I look c/H troop/company, consisting of 9 female Mk IV tanks, and 3 male Mk IV’s. The female tanks where often in a support role, with their sponsons housing 5 Lewis .303 machine guns rather than the male tanks loadout of 3 Lewis MG’s and 2 Hotchkiss 6 Pounders.

You can see this unit is untried but ready for action. I think after a unit is “blooded” in battle, they gain some sort of bonus to subsequent attacks.

There is a full Order of Battle (OOB) available for perusing.

You can also check on the Air Briefing, with details of Air Superiority and Interdiction displayed. We seem to have a slight air advantage over the enemy at the moment.

Looking towards the off-map airfields housing our air capability, you can see we have 16 Bristol F.2’s, along with other aircraft (in the other hexes) of De-havilland’s, S.E.5’s and Sopwith Camel’s. I use them mostly to support ground combat, with a few of them providing interdiction.

 

Considering my first surprise attacks, I look along the line of fortified German defenses, scanning the second number on the bottom of the attack-defense chits and it is clear where the weak points in the defense lie. The area just south of Flesquires is currently protected by the 1st Regiment of the 54th German Infantry with a defensive rating of 8. If I could hit them hard enough, I could force a corridor with which to get my tanks rolling up and into Flesquires. With a view to pushing on to BOURLON.

Time to plan an attack.

I open the combat planner. There is a lot going on in this box both visually and numerically. Key to understanding it, is that it is presenting the hex under attack at the center (coloured in red), and displaying all the forces surrounding it on the 6 adjacent sides. Plus in support it lists the Artillery and Air support available to use and in range of the attack.

You click on the units you want to support in the attack, and they are tagged with a red arrow on their chit, pointing in the direction of their participation in the attack. The yellow flags by the side of the units indicates that they are in co-operative support with one another (I think).

As you add units into the attack, pay careful attention to the Time Expended pips displayed. If any participating units have already performed actions or have moved a fair distance to get there, they may already have time slice/round penalties to including them in the contact. Luckily this first attack, everyone is rested and ready to launch the surprise attack, so there is only a single round pip displayed. In the scheme of time passage this combat will only burn one round.

My attacking units flood the south and south-western hexes, whereas the other surrounding hexes are lightly supporting the defender. I say lightly, but these positions are heavily fortified. At this stage I don’t pretend to understand the numbers behind the reckoning. But the status bar at the bottom hints at how the Net Odds are calculated, with Attack Power, soft and hard attack and defensive calculations being made.

The prediction panel bottom middle reckons our losses will probably be heavy (Attack Rating = 479), but the probability of success is fair.

I’m up for that.

I should mention the coloured circles to the left of the chits on the map, these are unit density indicators that affect the combat based on unit saturation of the area, I think. Again I’m a little unsure about the specifics but red is oversaturated, yellow presents some effect and green is ok. This is WWI, and this is the first en masse tank offensive, so I would expect unit saturation, with all hexes on the front line containing a max of 9 units.

There is another weakness in the German line to the west of Masnieres. This area is defended by the 2nd Regiment of the German 9th Reserve Division, again their defensive capability has a factor of 8. So I figure with so much of the line presenting a brick wall of sorts, I’ll try and poke another hole in this weak spot. This could open up a route through Masnieres and Rumilly and a bridged road into Cambrai itself.

So once again I open up the Combat Planner, to plan another attack.

Making the attack with less on all fronts. Mixed tank and infantry Battalions to the west, with a single Infantry Division to the South and very limited artillery support. I’ve only got three arty, probably because of the positioning of my main battery being just out of range or I’ve used a lot of the artillery that could have participated in the Flesquires offensive. I’m not sure.

Once again the Time Expended shows only a single pip. This isn’t ANOTHER pip, this is the same round/time frame. So both attacks currently planned will only burn 1 round. That’s an important point to grasp, that isn’t always obvious.

Again the losses predicted are heavy, but our chance of success is fair.

Let’s do this thing.

A quick overview of the planned combats. The two ground assaults I made at the bottom of the list, and a supporting air bombardment in the hope of softening the support in the area.

When resolving any planned combats, you’re effecting telling the game to burn any rounds within this current turn. After resolution, the game then reports the amount of your turn you have left. I have 90% left, because I burned one round.

Here are the Combat Results:

The Air bombardments weren’t that successful, however our push towards Flesquires was 100% effective! Our other attack towards Masnieres wasn’t exceptional, but we made some progress.

I’m going to post full details of these first two combats, just so you can see the information on offer, if you want to dig deeper – but most combats later on I’ll just post the relevant outcomes (I have a tendency to screenshot every detail and then overfill my AAR’s with way too many step by step screenshots that can bog the whole thing down in minutiae).

Lets take a look at the less successful Masnieres attack first:

In the combat results table you can click on the hex location to get a full report of the attack made. With options  (via the buttons at the bottom) to look at Defenders Losses, Attackers Losses or the Combat Chart (a new and useful feature in TOAWIV).

The loss reports give you more information about what unit types were engaged, disabled and destroyed . We took a mortar out and a few rifle squads, not brilliant.

Looking at what we lost in the attack. Hells Bobbins! We lost around 100 Rifle squads and a fair smattering of MG’s and Mortars.. but the worst of all we lost 8 tanks! Was this attack worth it? It doesn’t feel like it at the moment.. pouring over the losses..

Now we come to open up the Combat Chart. This is a coded visualisation of the entire Turn, in Rounds, by Unit. It’s a visual matrix that lets you see what happens across the course of the 10 round / time slices. I pulled up the Combat Chart Legend so you could reference all the codes – but after a short while playing the game you become familiar with these codes.

You can instantly see in R1, the units that Assaulted (A) and those that Supported Full Strength (S) and those that Supported Half Strength (S/2).

You can see 4 Tank troops/companies pushed on through (Adv = Assaulter advanced into the battlefield hex).  Whereas c/C troop/company of C Batallion had to Break Off (BO = Broke Off – didn’t continue combat into the next round). 

Shifting to our more successful attack south of Flesquires.

Here is the Full Report. Whilst it is interesting to pour through the textual events, I found it a bit too dense, when there were better means by which to assess efficacy of the attack.

The German losses were catastrophic, we destroyed or disabled everything! Suck it up Bosh!

With a flush of pride, comes a heavy heart when we see the losses incurred for this 100% victory. Another 17 tanks down, not to mention the 150+ rifle squads, MG and Mortars.

Unfortunately I didn’t get a good enough screenshot of the Combat Chart for this attack, I took one, but it mainly said Artillery supported the attack. I obviously didn’t realise the Chart scrolled up and down so I missed the actual (Adv) states on some of the units.  But trust me, we pushed forward into the hex, and the German line was broken.

I start moving in whatever infantry I can spare to hold this break in the neck of the German line. Here you can see me frantically setting the 17/6 Brigade of the British 6th Division to Dig In. I don’t want to lose the gap I’ve just hammered through their line.

If you look over to the bottom of the Unit Panel on the right, you’ll see the Round 1 pip greyed out or as we now call it “Burned”. After resolving the actions made in this round, all of my units on the battlefield are now adjusted to the state they would be given a round of actions has taken place.

Since I managed to make two major attacks in 1 pip, I am eager to get some more followup attacks in. I throw up the Combat Planner to make good around the Masnieres break. You should be able to see the grey crossed swords icon over the hexes where combat has already taken place.

With a much more limited force selected I try to establish my presence, with more Arty available this time. Losses VERY heavy, but chance of success is EXCELLENT! How can I not run this?

This followup combat is going to take up 4 rounds of time. I think the time costs of subsequent actions start to incur heavy penalties on followup actions, but I’m willing to pay the price at the moment. This is me driving a rhomboid shaped wedge into the German line, we have to push on.

Then I try planning another combat into the Burlon Woods extending North (I haven’t got a screenshot of this in the Combat Planner sadly), and wow! The Time Expended of that combat is almost the full monty of 8 pips! I figured as desperate as I was to make progress in this area, I’d go with it, and pay the price to get to Turn 2. With most of my key offensive units near the weak points having expended all their movement points, I was almost out of options anyway – so throw all in and get some fresh turn movement points for the main combatants!

The combat at hex 9,8 has a success prediction of Very Poor… possibly not my finest hour in operational planning.

The combat doesn’t go that badly according to the resolution. The Combat Results table shows all combats within the Turn, so combats 1,2 and 3 were from the previous round.

The offensive towards Masnieres in hex 10,11 goes pretty smoothly with C and F Battalion making an advance by Round 5, so there’s a second break in the German line now.

Looking at the chart for the OTT attack (with VERY poor chances of success) towards the Woods in the North, we get A, B and E Batallions to Advance in the assault, although b/A of A Battalion has to Break Off.

Right, so here is the status in R10, we’ve pushed hard from Flesquires towards Burlon Woods, expending all our remaining rounds. But we made it! We also managed to roll our landships into Masnieres.

At the end of Turn 1, I feel I’ve made progress. Cutting the lines, taking Flesquires and with Bourlon Woods and BOURLON itself in sight. We’re also on the outskirts of Masnieres. Here is the territory gained and victory points view.

I’m feeling the tension in the North, and really want to reinforce the area.. so I use the opportunity to push some of my Cavalry brigades through the gap and as up as high as I can.

The defending force holding the chink in the German armour open.

I end the turn. The German turn plays out and it seems to spend all of its rounds bombarding my airfield, inflicting quite severe casualties onto my Bristol F.2’s.

Well, there was a lot to digest there in Turn 1.

I hope I have piqued your interest in the game, and that you are now looking forward to see how we can capitalise on our early gains behind enemy lines.

Join me again for Turn 2.

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