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John Kettler

Sd.Kfz 251s: Not just battle taxis

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Posted (edited)

The received wisdom in CM circles seems to be that 251s are battle taxis which unload hundreds of meters from the foe, but I would note that we also had plans to fight from our ARMORED INFANTRY halftracks, including firing bazookas. Here is how German war artist Hans Liska depicted the 251 in battle am Ost. This is very much like the "Welcome to Africa!" given by the DAK veterans to a newly arrived TORCH unit. The welcome consisted of an attack out of the setting sun, lots of shooting and grenade throwing, an about turn and disappearance into the darkness. That story is in the anthology of battle stories released by BFC in support of CMAK. https://www.amazon.com/Battery-Commande…

Liska053.jpg

Here is a brief description of Panzer Grenadier tactics, which included, depending on the situation, fighting from the halftracks. If we ever get Barbarossa this would be pretty common. Brother George, quite the student of German tactics and a retired Army Scout of 20 yrs. experience, gagged when I talked about 251s as mere battle taxis, pointing out they leapfrogged each other in what we would call bounding overwatch.

http://axisafvs.blogspot.com/2015/03/panzergrenadier-tactics.html

Mutual support (mostly from MGs) is clearly shown in this excellent Panzer Grenadier training film, as is the fact the 251s are rolling close to the the foe before debarking infantry. The shot up foe is then subsequently flamed by Flammpanzers driving smack into the enemy occupied area and making like dragons, with the multiple flame projectors providing tremendous arcs of fire. There are no CM battle taxis anywhere in this film. As noted in the article, tactics change considerably if facing a serious AT threat.
 

Regards,

John Kettler

Edited by John Kettler

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The reason why I often refrain from using the halftracks for more then battle taxi reasons in Combat Mission is that the shielded gunner seems very vulnerable even to longer range frontal infantry fire but to be honest I don´t know much about how halftracks performed in reality and also don´t know if this gunner vulnerability is realistic.

What do you think about it?   

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Thank you John.

From your link above:

Quote

Due to heavy losses suffered amongst half-tracks when accompanying Tanks into the heart of a battle, the Germans fairly quickly resorted to debussing at least 400m or so in front of enemy positions, when using the SD KFZ 251. Nonetheless, under certain tactical conditions, the half-track could provide a useful firing position.

This makes a lot of sense to me in CM terms - if the halftrack is going to be up against zero AT assets, and possibly if the enemies that were there could be reliably suppressed (even by the halftrack's own MG), then it should be possible to be very aggressive with them.

On the eastern front, if you were in a situation (locally or otherwise) with no Soviet armour, then I suspect this is a lot more plausible - AT rifles are not Bazookas, and whilst the soviets had plenty of AT guns, if their positions could be reliably scouted and suppressed with artillery then I'd expect the halftracks to operate more freely.

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The gunner (and tank commander) vulnerability seems to be a bug, or at least an unintended consequence of the way firing solutions are calculated.

Targeting in CM is always centre of mass, and presumably there's an accuracy offset based on this - this may well be based on a percentage.

Targeting the halftrack and the halftrack gunner has been shown to result in quite different spreads of fire - tracers fired at the gunner are far more concentrated.

I'd posit that the reason for this is that it might be calculating percentage offset from a smaller target, so the end result is a tighter cone of fire, resulting in more gunner death.


In reality, I'm not sure that changes things tactically all that much - ideally you want to be the only one shooting, with the MG's suppression keeping the other chap's head down. If that's not the case then you won't last long anyway.

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This site has first class English translations (with exacting attention to layout pics, etc.) of a bunch of Panzer Grenadier manuals, as part of a much larger program of manuals. Both of these manuals are from 1944, so fall directly into the CM time frame.

https://www.germanmanuals.com/REmanuals.html

Instruction for the Panzer Grenadier and Panzer Troops

Ausbildungsvorschrift für die Panzertruppe - HDv 298/3a - Instruction Manual for the Panzer Troops - Leadership and Fighting of the Panzergrenadiere.  Volume 1: The Panzergrenadier Battalion.
  This manual contains a surprising amount of basic tactical rules and how the panzer grenadiers and leadership are to behave in specific situations.  One of the 12 appendices explains radio secrecy, what must be encoded, and what can be disguised in radio, phone, and telegraph traffic.  
Dated August 5, 1944.  145 original pages, 115 in the new format, containing all text and illustrations of the original, including a few pages with color.  This manual covers subject material not found in any other manual I've translated.  This manual and the one below are must haves for those interested in the Panzer Grenadier troops.  Check the table of contents for a complete listing of subject matter.

Please reference "Panzer Troops" on your order.
$20 - 
includes U.S. first class postage.
Original Cover  Cover  Contents  Page 13  Page 36  Page 81       



German Army Infantry Instruction - Panzergrenadiere Squad Level Combat Training - WW2 Era

Gefechtsausbildung der Panzergrenadiere - Combat Instruction for the Panzergrenadiere {Motorized Rifleman}.  
A collection of tasks for the guidance of the recruit instructor in the combat instruction in the context of the squad with 2 light MGs, armored and unarmored.  196 pages, dated 1944, with 28 sketches.  
This book is filled with 21 lessons for the instructors to use as scenarios for training the recruits, and explains the how and why of combat operations with detailed practical examples, and the proper behavior of the squad members.
This is an exceptional manual for learning how the German Soldat was trained in realistic combat situations.  Training scenarios include the squad in attack (near, medium, and far distances, armored and unarmored),  the squad in defense, the squad as combat sentries, reconnaissance (armored and unarmored), night fighting, and lots more - you really need to see the table of contents below.
It has been a while since I enjoyed translating a book this much.  This one is a "
must have" if you want to know how the German soldier was trained to fight in the field.  Most of the sketches have the enemy represented in red, which has been reproduced in this book.  
This manual is written for the recruit instructors as a guideline for teaching the recruits, who are expected to already know the basics.  
Recommended prior reading is H.Dv. 130/2a (above), as it is an excellent basic training manual.  HDv. 130/11 (above) is also referenced in this book.  Now you can read about the WWII  German training as close to real thing as you'll ever get.

Please reference "Squad Training" on your order.
$32 - 
includes U.S. first class postage.
Original Cover  Cover  Contents  Page 28  Page 95  Page 169  

Regards,

John Kettler

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On the topic of gunner-vulnerability: In my latest battle, my halftracks were quite successfull in keeping up their fire despite accurate small arms return fire (range was ca. 400m). The key is that you really need to engage frontally. Any slight deviation from the perfect 0° front (e.g. because of a panic reaction by the crew) quickly resulted in gunner-deaths. Note that distance helps a lot to keep the angle. The closer you are, the easier it is for the enemy to get around the gunshield. Also note that it might be a good idea to interdict manual aiming (by setting up fire arcs or using area fire), as manual aiming allows the gunner to traverse the MG+gunshield, which might expose him.

This video (short starting scene) shows my halftrack in action (more to come in the proper AAR): 

http://www.thefewgoodmen.com/thefgmforum/threads/new-ladder-report-submitted.28286/#post-260041

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Distance will definitely help - that gun shield is pretty great from the right angle (another consequence of the different spread in weapons fire)

I do also wonder if the correct SOP with halftracks is to not "open up" at all, and primarily use them in situations where the infantry need to cross open areas under potential small arms fire. Actually firing the MG can be useful, but perhaps only as a contingency or as a way to protect the dismounts whilst they're dismounting, by area-firing for suppression.

The stereotypical panzergrenadier approach (rolling up to 200m-400m away, spraying fire everywhere, dumping infantry, assaulting forward) is clearly a roll of the dice - that kind of up-front violence is only going to work if the unit significantly out-firepowers the opposition, and given the nature of the attack, it's plausible that the scouting information might not be as complete as you'd like.
 

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Posted (edited)

I agree that the threat of AT weapons would have forced the halftracks into battle taxi roles. The video posted above shows a rather lucky outcome: At 21:04, the leader of the Panzergrenadiers, riding in the halftrack, spots an enemy AT-gun and indicates its position to the tank destroyers by firing a flare at it. The tank-destroyers (behind the ridge) then quickly take out the AT gun. But what if the AT gun had spotted the halftracks first? ("Hyena, this is Greyhound, attention, enemy AT-gun, supress/knock it out!, I give a direction shot" - "Hyena, copy, over")

The battle-taxi role is very important on the operational level, which is not present in Combat Mission. But if you play Command Ops 2 you will really start to appreciate mobilized or mechanized units. They can underrun your opponent's reaction cycle. 

I find halftracks very usefull on the defence in Combat Mission. I use them as artillery-proof (at least compared to the alternative - infantry in foxholes/trenches) and elevated (better spotting) heavy MGs. If you protect them well against heavy calibre weapons (use them in masked positions and locking down any approaches to them with AT weapons), they can be very usefull. They can also be used as a shelter against artillery by nearby infantry. On the offence, I find them much more limited, as moving against unknown positions gets them killed very, very fast. Ranges are often extremely short on Combat Mission maps, and players tend to give very high XP to most larger calibre weapons, so you get hit in a matter of 1-2 shots, even when moving fast. It's the same as with hulldown positions ("Oh, so you are a small target now! You think it's hard to hit you, huh? Take that!" BANG - pop!) Their main purpose on the attack for me is protection against artillery.

Edited by Kaunitz

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4 hours ago, domfluff said:

The gunner (and tank commander) vulnerability seems to be a bug, or at least an unintended consequence of the way firing solutions are calculated.

Targeting in CM is always centre of mass, and presumably there's an accuracy offset based on this - this may well be based on a percentage.

Targeting the halftrack and the halftrack gunner has been shown to result in quite different spreads of fire - tracers fired at the gunner are far more concentrated.

I'd posit that the reason for this is that it might be calculating percentage offset from a smaller target, so the end result is a tighter cone of fire, resulting in more gunner death.

Good summary of the last big investigation.

4 hours ago, domfluff said:

In reality, I'm not sure that changes things tactically all that much - ideally you want to be the only one shooting, with the MG's suppression keeping the other chap's head down. If that's not the case then you won't last long anyway.

I think this is a good summary too.

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3 hours ago, Kaunitz said:

On the topic of gunner-vulnerability: In my latest battle, my halftracks were quite successfull in keeping up their fire despite accurate small arms return fire (range was ca. 400m). The key is that you really need to engage frontally. Any slight deviation from the perfect 0° front (e.g. because of a panic reaction by the crew) quickly resulted in gunner-deaths. Note that distance helps a lot to keep the angle

+1 a good way to use them. I usually aim or even further back if possible.

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It seems to me that the classic mounted assault has a chance to succeed mainly if a number of preconditions exist: (1) The attackers achieve complete surprise and the defenders are jus kind of goofing around and relaxing, not alert and at their guns; (2) the defenders are lower quality troops with possibly lower morale and more likely to become confused and panic. Lacking those preconditions, the whole matter becomes far more risky for the attacker.

In CM, it is harder to count on having complete surprise as that is not explicitly modeled in the game, which is a pity.

Michael

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Doctrine is one thing, reality (or gameplay) is something else. If you attempt to execute an aggressive by-the-manual tactic with your halftracks and everyone dies that's an indication that doctrine was wrong.

The start of WWII came just 22 years after the end of WWI. Commanders still considered a high casualty count during a main assault on the enemy to be the price one pays.  Aggressive assault tactics might work division or army group level but on the level of individual units its just mayhem and slaughter.

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I don't think JK reads what he links to

...It was only at the time of Barbarossa in 1941 that ... the Germans could

experiment with fighting directly from their half-tracks..

As CM shows unless the enemy is sufficiently supressed / ill equipped then experimentation is likely to be a painful failure.

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Posted (edited)

Hanomags should be used only with tanks, behind tanks. That's why AT guns aren't so dangerous: gun will aim at tank, not at APC. In this case you don't have to dismount. Mounted panzergrenadiers don't slow down and move fast after tanks, they can support them. They can use mounted MG and rifles, they can quickly dismount (if attack slows down) and deploy 2 more MGs. As well as HMGs and mortars.

Light Sdfkz 250 are extremely dangerous, they are very fast and can quickly go through fire sector of AT gun before it makes 2nd shot. Imagine 30 vehicles, rushing forward... Just 1 company. Not represented in the game, but you can manually create it.

Problem is that in the game they are useless against flank threats! If men with AT grenades are running to them from the flank, hanomags will start to slowly turn... Mounted schutzen won't fire unless you press "unbutton"...

Edited by DMS

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11 hours ago, John Kettler said:

This site has first class English translations (with exacting attention to layout pics, etc.) of a bunch of Panzer Grenadier manuals, as part of a much larger program of manuals. Both of these manuals are from 1944, so fall directly into the CM time frame.

https://www.germanmanuals.com/REmanuals.html


German Army Infantry Instruction - Panzergrenadiere Squad Level Combat Training - WW2 Era

Gefechtsausbildung der Panzergrenadiere - Combat Instruction for the Panzergrenadiere {Motorized Rifleman}.  A collection of tasks for the guidance of the recruit instructor in the combat instruction in the context of the squad with 2 light MGs, armored and unarmored.  196 pages, dated 1944, with 28 sketches.  
This book is filled with 21 lessons for the instructors to use as scenarios for training the recruits, and explains the how and why of combat operations with detailed practical examples, and the proper behavior of the squad members.
This is an exceptional manual for learning how the German Soldat was trained in realistic combat situations.  Training scenarios include the squad in attack (near, medium, and far distances, armored and unarmored),  the squad in defense, the squad as combat sentries, reconnaissance (armored and unarmored), night fighting, and lots more - you really need to see the table of contents below.
It has been a while since I enjoyed translating a book this much.  This one is a "
must have" if you want to know how the German soldier was trained to fight in the field.  Most of the sketches have the enemy represented in red, which has been reproduced in this book.  
This manual is written for the recruit instructors as a guideline for teaching the recruits, who are expected to already know the basics.  
Recommended prior reading is H.Dv. 130/2a (above), as it is an excellent basic training manual.  HDv. 130/11 (above) is also referenced in this book.  Now you can read about the WWII  German training as close to real thing as you'll ever get.

Please reference "Squad Training" on your order.
$32 - 
includes U.S. first class postage.
Original Cover  Cover  Contents  Page 28  Page 95  Page 169  

Regards,

John Kettler

and here´s part of the original in my possession: 

 

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Inspired by this, I set up a near best-case scenario against the AI to play around with panzergrenadiers in detail. Using CMRT, a platoon of halftracks against a Soviet rifle platoon, with a couple of HMG's, on an Open map.

The halftracks, perhaps unsurprisingly, dominated. I did find that they were best used buttoned up, minimising gunner exposure time (I did lose two gunners, but one was due to wandering into SMG range, and the other from some sneaky enfilade fire, so I'd be happy claiming both as my fault). Keeping the halftrack's nose pointing towards the enemy made them pretty much invulnerable. The tighter cone of incoming fire was evident, alongside the immediate reaction times of the enemy, but it didn't make a huge amount of difference.

Mostly the engagement was from 300-500m away, and the three HMG and one sdkfz/17 - the 2cm variant. This has all-around armour protection for the gunner, and was extremely effective.

"Assault" orders from the back of the halftrack are interesting - they'll all jump out, and half of them will take up positions next to the vehicle, whilst the other half sprint forward. That's probably the best way to dismount in general.

Knowing that there were not AT weapons on the other side made bolder moves possible. Charging directly in spraying fire would still have been daft, but this is probably the best I've ever seen halftracks operate.
 

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13 hours ago, RockinHarry said:

and here´s part of the original in my possession: 

 

RockinHarry, where did you buy this manual and are they perhaps downloadable somewhere? Some archive or shop in Germany, I mean.

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If you've got halftrack, you've got tanks.
If you've got tanks, you've got smoke.
If you've got smoke, you have a close assault with halftracks.

It's meant to be a symbiotic relationship.

I see I really need to get around to making the 'Mechanized Infantry' video for the TTP project.

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4 hours ago, domfluff said:

"Assault" orders from the back of the halftrack are interesting - they'll all jump out, and half of them will take up positions next to the vehicle, whilst the other half sprint forward. That's probably the best way to dismount in general.  

Interesting.  I almost never use the Assault command.  I'll have to try this.  

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I use Assault quite a bit, but in the wrong situation it's risky - the problem is that it only represents bounding overwatch, so you're losing a degree of control. Often it's better to take things a lot slower and do the same thing manually.

The situations where it's most useful is when you absolutely need the security to fire+movement onto a target, *and* speed is paramount - manually adjusting orders and wait times can quickly get yourself into difficulties, since errors can accumulate.

From previous testing, I believe you can throw smoke grenades whilst mounted in halftracks as well, which is well worth doing (i.e., Smoke, let the smoke develop, then Assault)

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4 hours ago, Aragorn2002 said:

RockinHarry, where did you buy this manual and are they perhaps downloadable somewhere? Some archive or shop in Germany, I mean.

With regard to downloadable content and beside germanmanuals.com I don´t know of any other source, no matter of language, sorry. I think I purchased mine original from ebay a decade ago, but I can´t really remember. Other sources to dig through in the net could be either ZVAB, militaria321 or any german/non german site dealing with militaria. Local flea or military markets are sometimes another good source for original prints.

If you´re comfortable with german language I´d also highly recommend this german/russian site offering digitized german documents captured during WW2.  I find this a real treasure trove.

http://germandocsinrussia.org/de/nodes/1-rossiysko-germanskiy-proekt-po-otsifrovke-trofeynyh-kollektsiy

 

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7 minutes ago, RockinHarry said:

With regard to downloadable content and beside germanmanuals.com I don´t know of any other source, no matter of language, sorry. I think I purchased mine original from ebay a decade ago, but I can´t really remember. Other sources to dig through in the net could be either ZVAB, militaria321 or any german/non german site dealing with militaria. Local flea or military markets are sometimes another good source for original prints.

If you´re comfortable with german language I´d also highly recommend this german/russian site offering digitized german documents captured during WW2.  I find this a real treasure trove.

http://germandocsinrussia.org/de/nodes/1-rossiysko-germanskiy-proekt-po-otsifrovke-trofeynyh-kollektsiy

 

Der deutsche Sprache hat wenig Geheimnisse mehr für mich. ☺️ Thanks Harry.

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8 hours ago, domfluff said:

<snipped>
"Assault" orders from the back of the half-track are interesting - they'll all jump out, and half of them will take up positions next to the vehicle, whilst the other half sprint forward. That's probably the best way to dismount in general.
<snipped>
 

Great tip!  Good SOP.  Thank you.

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