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Pillboxes and bunkers


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I started a British defense game in Crete with my PBEM buddy.

Skip to the bottom to get to my point here.

The points were set to about 2000 and I was the defender. So I spent my points on the small squads of rifle troops. 3 Matilda MKII, 2 howitzers and some extra flamethrower units and a few AT rifle inf units. Oh, and 2 hurricanes to make life awful for him if he wanted to hide from me.

The rest I spent on bunkers. I put a few AT gun bunkers in plain view on a ridge (this was arid terrain so LOS was pretty much all the way out. I set up a second line of bunkers mixed with MG and AT.

Well we fire the game up and he has NO luck even getting off the edge of the map. He is using some pretty early german armor, Mostly PzIV and AT guns. Also bought a stuka and off map artillary

The 2 pounder at guns are waxing his units. His AT guns on the hill firing back keep getting hits on the "Slit/slot" but it doesn't phase my pillbox crews. ANY tank that came into view was knocked out. I was not using a TRP. The single AT pillbox on my right single handedly kept his army at bay.

The map to my left was dominated by a large hill with houses that I filled with a bunch of Flamethrower teams AT rifle squads and rifle squads supported by a very small mortar crew.

It was a 40 turn game.

By the end of it I have lost 5 units. All infantry from a Stuka bomb that landed on the house they were in. Other than that he was completely held at bay or knocked out/routed. &0% of my pill boxes or units never had to fire a shot because they were set back in case the first line failed.

There are 2 turns left in the game.

How the heck do you kill a pillbox or bunker at long range? DO you use a HE or AP? If so what size do you need to at least rattle the crew inside or can they even get panicked or routed? Most of all how to get the kill?

I played a single player game and any PBs or bunkers I had exposed were gone pretty quick. Either he bought badly or these UK pillboxes were made out of tungsten.

So for future reference. What takes out a pill box in the different periods of the war? For this conversation lets say early war.

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Pillboxes generally die to firing slit penetrations (FSPs) from direct fire guns. Against log bunkers, AP is better because it can penetrate the actual structure, without needing a firing slit penetration. The concrete ones, you pretty much wait for the firing slit penetration and that kills them.

An MG bunker is therefore readily countered by any kind of tank, which just parks in the MG bunker's covered arc and fires away until it gets FSPs and the pillbox crew bails. It helps to be closer - under 400m they get more common than at long range.

But AT gun bunkers are harder because they can shoot back at the tanks. Two things typically limit their effectiveness. One, many of them are relatively low caliber guns with poor penetration. And two, an attacker who knows their capability can choose the range and what to expose to them. So, for these lighter types, the formula is to park a tank that it can't penetrate from the front in LOS, and run up the hits until you get FSPs again.

The heaviest bunkers - German 88mm or 75mm e.g. - are harder, because what they hit they can kill, pretty much. This can also happen early war if the attacking side has no well armored vehicles to overmatch the gun type in the pillbox - which was apparently your situation. Late war, the heaviest ones are expensive.

There are other tricks to killing them. AA guns have very high inherent accuracy and find the firing slit much more rapidly than other gun types. A 37mm or 40mm AA is best. 20mm can also work, including the varieties on lighter German vehicles like the Panzer II - though ammo limits can be a problem, since behind armor effect with each hit is quite limited with the lightest AA. (ATRs firing hundreds of rounds can get a log bunker to bail sometimes, but a 45mm ATG can do it in two minutes).

If you can get past their covered arc, or take out one to get beyond the covered arc of another, obviously another method of killing them arises. Which is to get infantry to their rear door. Demo charges work, but so do plain grenades (close assault really). Tends to be hard to get there, though. Other infantry AT like bazookas and PIATs can work from the front arc but need good cover and have a limited number of shots, so they aren't individually good at it. It is the sort of thing 3 of them might occasionally do for you.

Another highly useful tactic against them is masking smoke, particularly on maps with reasonable amounts of cover. You just aim 30m in front of them with 75mm smoke from a tank or towed gun, or an 81mm mortar. You can also use half a minute of fire from an FO, though the cover tends to be spottier. Very large caliber smoke also works well, lasting etc.

You can also duel them with your own towed guns provided those are in decent cover, you have more of them etc. The cheap types are best, things under 50 points or preferably under 30. The edge comes from being able to afford more plus being able to rally, when the bunker can't be remanned once the crew bails. Defending mortars can hurt you though.

As for killing after getting an FSP, that is a behind armor effect question and gets easier as the caliber rises. The early war tanks with dinky guns aren't as good at it. 75mm will do the job reliably with 2-3 FSPs at the most. 37mm AA, already mentioned, might need 1-2 more but gets them very rapidly.

Bunkers are rarely decisive when all the above tactics are understood and used. But there can be specific situations or side choices where they cannot be dealt with e.g. only thin armor available for the enemy side, not prepared with numerous light guns or medium AA, etc.

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Bunkers with that sort of LOS, particularly against early war armor, are devistating. The only real options for the attacker are smoking the bunkers and massed firepower on one at a time.

Smoke allows maneuver to the side of the bunker where they cannot return fire. Massed firepower has a half dozen or more tanks firing at one target. The tanks will take losses, but generally get the bunker by sheer volume of fire.

When the bunkers have LOS to most of the setup zone, neither tend to apply and a bloodbath is the usual result. I might suggest that a bunker embargo on desert scenarios might help things be more enjoyable in the future.

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An additional point to keep in mind is that pillboxes fire more accurately than other weapons because they are considered to have their line of sight "ranged." A 75mm pillbox at long range will score hits within 2 or 3 shots where it might take a 75mm AT gun 5 or 6.

PBs are similar to other units in CM. The way they behave is dependant on their experience level. A “veteran” PB will stick to the fight longer and fire more accurately than a “green” PB. The more fire you can throw on any CM unit, the better the chance of suppressing the unit or getting it to quit the fight. Infantry gets pinned and panics. Gun crews will abandon their weapon. Tanks will abandon their vehicle. Same with pillboxes.

In general, some tactics for taking out pillboxes:

Increase the odds. One-on-one fights will almost always go to the PB. One tank against an AT pillbox will almost certainly lose. Two tanks stand an almost even chance; three tanks and the fight will go to the tanks. You increase your chance of hitting the PB. The more hits the more chance of a direct KO or forcing the crew to abandon the PB. As an earlier poster mentioned, weapons with a rapid rate of fire work best, no matter the caliber.

Artillery. Wooden PBs can be KO'ed with artillery. 81mm batteries can KO a PB in about 3 rounds. You need an actual hit and top penetration. Larger caliber can KO with close hits. No guarantees in any case. Concrete PBs are nearly impossible to take out with artillery, but it can be done. In a recent game, I pounded a cluster of three PBs with 150mm artillery – one concrete and two wooden. I was surprised to see the concrete PB KO’ed, but the wooden ones where still in business.

Smoke. As mentioned, very effective to give you time and space to maneuver. In CMAK, a dust cloud from an artillery barrage will also give your units a similar effect if it does not KO the PB itself.

Maneuver. Flank and attack from the rear. Get outside the cover arc of the PB. Get “underneath” the PB – PBs cannot fire when the target is in the PB’s “hull down” zone. Similar to the bow MG of tanks. A PB on a hill may be able to sweep the valley with fire but cannot shoot at units at the base of the hill itself. Depends on how it is sited. In this situation you may be able to safely walk straight up the hill toward the PB – but be careful because the hull down zone will change as the terrain changes.

More targets. Adding on the above, move more units simultaneously. The PB can only target one. Spread out infantry to avoid a group getting suppressed by the same burst of fire.

Support weapons. ATRs are effective (too effective in my opinion). A couple of ATRs firing over a few turns can force a green or regular crew to abandon the PB. Range makes a difference to increase accuracy. One of my favorite tactics with flamethrowers is to fire on the terrain in front of or to the front side of a PB. Hopefully you can do this from a safe position with the goal of catching the terrain on fire causing a lasting smoke screen. Light mortars (50mm/60mm, etc.) are ineffective. 81mm/82mm, etc. on map mortars can do it, but with the ammo load they carry, it will be a rare hit. You are better off using these against other targets.

Air support. A close hit will work… but again, no guarantees and no control of timing.

Shameless Plug – tongue.gif

Here are two scenarios I designed where the object is to take out pillboxes or fortified locations. These are smaller battles that have some “training” value to newer players and are challenging for experienced players. Both are CMBB with primarily infantry.

Steppe Pillbox

Object is to knock out one wooden pillbox and supporting troops.

Relic of the Last War

June 1941, Germany infantry and with support attack an earthen fort along the original Russia/Poland border.

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u think with an accurate shot, that that would be quite a pinball machine of death inside there. But the tacAI decides the shot used.

The only strategy I can be sure of right now when the map is flat is to have either concentrated fire with you units or have all your guns fire smoke at each exposed pillbox.

Problem is you are always going to lose a third of your units right off the start and sometimes the AI just starts retreating instead of firing. But if you can hit then with the smoke they will allow you some time to flak or get in some more smoke for cover and then haul yer butt forward.

I am trying to put all my infantry units in halftracks and on tanks (with the CO in a kublewagon or jeep to make them execute the move orders faster and keep morale up) so they don't get tired getting to the pillboxes. I keep the halftracks and trucks hidden behind terrain or even try to use the HIDE command for them at the start with the CO in a kublewagon or jeep.

Once the smoke is fired you just start going all out. The pillboxes will probably have 56 or 6 truck/HTs to aim at or the multiple armored units firing at them. SO you just overwhelm them.

Hopefully the smoke goes off well and you don't have to get waxed to bad.

I need to try buying more low cost arty spotters at the start that have quick firing times (with radio). Maybe using a good smoke barrage before exposing anything would do the trick, but........ ya gotta spot the bunkers first or its all guess work with the smoke wall.

But for the cost of a few artillery units you could save a lot of units from pillbox abuse.

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Rightio - did some testing with Cannister, and whilst at close range it clears out bunkers and pillboxes with no problem, this would never, ever happen in a proper environment, unless one somehow snuck a Russian 45mm gun with nothing but cannister left (somehow being the key word here) in front of a pillbox or bunker with no ammunition left and it hit right in the slit.

The alternative is to wonder up to an MG pillbox with a T34/76 when it only has cannister ammo left, but the main problem with this method is that :

a) the MGs in the T34 would do just as fine a job

and

B) The T34 fires off one shot a turn and you have to manually target the pillbox, hope the T34 is interested on that turn and also hope that the T34 doesn't miss somehow - it happens, since it doesn't simply correct its aim from last turn, it has to start from square one again, vexingly.

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