Translating a WW2 Tank Manual into Video Games
Video Games have shown, time and time again, that lessons learned from History or “Real Life” can be used on the virtual battlefield. Although very often the realism of a game does not permit the perfect use of all these lessons some of them can be applied. In this article I would wish to analyze an excerpt from a Tank Manual issued to Tank forces of the German Army during World War 2. I will take each of the points stated there, and suggest how they could be used in different games or situations. This won’t only apply to “Action” games, like World of Tanks or Red Orchestra, but also strategy games like Company of Heroes and some “Modern” wargame video games.
1. Before any attack acquaint yourself with the ground. Use the information provided by other units or by the map. Share this information with your subordinate commanders. Exact information and correct estimation of the terrain will be the decisive difference between victory and defeat.
This is a “point” I talked about in a number of my previous articles. Knowing what is ahead of you allows you to decide on the best direction of attack, possible difficulties ahead of you, etc. This knowledge is not only crucial in Strategy games, but also in a number FPS games, such as the Battlefield series and Red Orchestra. Driving your tank into a bog, or driving into a perfect ambush area is not something you want to do… unless it’s intentional.
2. No armored attack is so fast, even under the most pressing situation, that you do not have time to put subordinate leaders into the picture about the tactical situation, mission, and anything else which may impact on the coming action. Losses due to over-hasty action are your responsibility and place the success of the mission in jeopardy.
This does not apply to most games. In essence, if you are in a Clan, or having to organise an attack with more than one person, make it clear what you are about to do. In World of Tanks I have had moments when I looked at the map, and could not understand why did a Heavy Tank move alone, to some distant spot.
3. Only careful combat reconnaissance can protect you from surprise. Protect to your flanks as well as the front. Observation to all sides is the duty of every commander. ALWAYS KEEP YOUR EYE OUT FOR THE ENEMY!
Self explanatory really. Always keep an eye out for the enemy. In most Video Games there is no such thing as safety. At any moment some enemy could appear and you have to react straight away.
4. Your entire ability in combat must be used to make a constant appreciation of the situation. Only in this manner can you make the correct decision during the decisive seconds and issue short, clear orders without delay. This is the kind of leadership for which you are responsible.
Be observant in order to make quick and important decisions. During a battle in any RTS game you might fail to see an opening to exploit, or your own weakness to counter. Sometimes when you focus on an attack you forget about the rest of the map, and when you finish you “skirmish” you come to realise that the rest of the field is in a tragic situation.
5. Iron radio discipline is a prerequisite of good leadership, particularly when your only method of command is radio. In the point company for instance, the trail platoons should not use the radio at all except in emergency, leaving the net clear for the point platoon leader.
This does not apply to a lot of games, although there is one exception. Players constantly using in-game voice messages, or causing unnecessary noise will alert a possible enemy in the immediate surroundings. This could turn a well planned attack into a disaster.
6. You must lead with strength. At least two tanks must be forward, and the trail platoons must be held far enough forward to support the lead platoon. The more guns that fire in the first minute, the quicker the enemy will be defeated and the fewer losses you will suffer.
In other words, keep your force focused, ready to attack in strength. The logic is that you destroy the enemy quicker than they can do the same to you. Keep the skirmishes short to minimalise losses.
7. When breaking cover, do it quickly and together. The more targets the enemy is shown simultaneously, the harder his fire control and distribution will be, and the more guns you will have in effect on the enemy.
A lesson which many have to learn in World of Tanks. If you are a well hidden TD, a force of five enemy tanks appearing out of cover at the same time will not allow you to counter all of them. Most likely, you will fire once and then hide, before the counter-fire begins. In a lot of maps players prefer hiding in groups, causing total stagnation of the battle, and allowing the enemy to outflank them. In some situations moving en-mass out of cover is indeed a bad idea, but most of the time it is irrational “camping”.
8. In the attack drive as fast as you can. At slow speed you can see and shoot only a little better than at high, and are much more likely to be hit. For a tank there should be only two speeds: the half (for firing!) and all out forward. This is the basic principle of tank combat!
Another World of Tanks lesson, which I promote. If you are attacking, do not stop to fire. Drive at half-throttle when you want to fire on the move. In any other case, move at full speed.
9. When antitank weapons are encountered at long or medium ranges, you must first return fire and then maneuver against them. First make a firing halt in order to bring effective fire to bear – then commit the bulk of the company to maneuver on the enemy with the continued support of one platoon.
This could apply to some Strategy games, but a lot depends on the number of anti-tank weapons, and your own strength. I would say that this is highly situational.
10. When antitank weapons are encountered at close range, stopping is suicide. Only immediate attack at the highest speed with every weapon firing will have success and reduce losses.
A sensible and logical thing to do. Keep driving, force the enemy Anti-Tank weapon to turn and lose focus, then destroy it. Not always possible, but if the situation is that dangerous you might as well go for it.
11. In combat against the antitank guns you may never – even under the protection of strong fire support – allow a single platoon to attack alone. Antitank weapons are not employed singly. Remember – lone tanks in Russia are lost!
See point 9, but also a valid lesson. In some games there might not be enough resources/space to use more than one tank. On the other hand, it is not ever sensible to use single units alone.
12. You must continually keep a broad interval between vehicles. This splits the enemy’s defensive fire and complicates his fire control. Narrow intervals must be avoided at all costs, especially in critical situations, or it will cost you losses.
In other words, spread out. If your units/tanks stand in a line it will be easier for the enemy to fire at them. In turn, if your force is spread out the enemy will have a harder time focusing fire on an area.
13. When an impassable obstacle, for instance a minefield or antitank ditch, is encountered you must immediately and without hesitation give the order to withdraw into the nearest cover. Standing still, in open sight, trying to carry on the attack, has in such circumstances no sense and will only cost you losses. Your consideration on how to make a new start will be best made in the safety of cover.
Sensible, wouldn’t you think? In strategy terms, hiding your forces which encounter such obstacles will safe-keep them, when you eventually decide what to do next. Logicaly speaking, if there are obstacles in front of you, somebody must had placed them, and somebody must be watching you.
14. When your attack must pass potential enemy tank positions, for instance a woodline, you should either pass by them so closely that you are inside their minimum range, or remain so far away that you are outside their maximum effective range.
You either engage a potential position at close range, or you make sure you are out of their range. Surprise the ambusher, so to speak.
15. Enemy tanks should not be attacked directly, because then they see you and know your strength before you can kill them. More often, you should avoid them until you can move into favorable firing positions, and surprise them from the flank or rear. Repelled enemy tank assaults must be aggressively pursued.
Depending on the game, and circumstances, it is not always possible to outflank an enemy, nor is it sensible to chase after them. On the other hand, when possible, this should be exploited.
16. A strongpoint, for instance a small village or artillery battery position, whenever possible should be attacked from different directions simultaneously in order to split enemy defensive fire and deceive him about the true location and direction of the attack. In this manner your breakthrough will be easier and your losses fewer.
If you played Empire Total war, and faced a fortress, you would attack the walls which are unmanned, in order to get your men over the defences without losses. Threatening the enemy from multiple directions does put the defenders at a huge disadvantage, unless they have more men than you.
17. Always prepare dug in positions and camouflage against the possibility of air or artillery attack. Being sorry afterwards is no excuse for losses taken by these causes.
Most games do not offer such possibilities. On the other hand, in games like World of Tanks, Red Orchestra or Company of Heroes you have options of hiding somewhere, to minimalise losses, if you expect a barrage.
18. Ammunition should not always be conserved; in the decisive moment, if you want to save casualties, you may expend ammunition at exceptionally high rates (for instance, an emergency attack.)
Most games do not use “Ammunition”, but some games offer abilities which cost a resource. If it could mean the difference between victory and defeat, do not hold back.
19. Never split your combat power; that is to say, do not employ parts of the company in such a manner that they cannot support each other. When your attack has two objectives you should attack first one and then the other with all weapons. In this way you will more certainly end up with both objectives in hand and fewer casualties.
Focusing your forces to complete an objective, or take out an enemy concentration does save your casualties. On the other hand, this expects you to be on the attack, which might not always be the case. Overall, another “Situational” lesson.
20. Support from artillery fire or dive bombers must be used immediately, that is to say, while the fire is still hitting the objective. Afterward, when the fire has stopped it is too late. You must know that mostly such fires only produce a suppressing effect, not a destroying one. It is better to risk a friendly shell or bomb than to charge into an active antitank defense.
You bombed an enemy position? That means that it could be disorganised, or fleeing. If you do not attack during the bombing, later on the enemy could take back their lost position. An attack during a bombing guarantees that you will gain some ground, with the option of causing heavier casualities on the enemy.
21. Other weapons and arms, cross-attached to you, should not be misused. Do not use them for purposes for which they were not intended, for example, do not use tank destroyers as assault guns, or armored infantry as tanks, or recon or engineer troops as infantry.
Self explanatory. Do not use units for things that they are not designed to do. Using Engineers as assault troops, de-miners as assault vehicles, etc.
22. Unarmored or lightly armored units attached to you must be protected from any unnecessary losses until they are needed for their own operational tasks, for which reason they were attached to you.
In some games, lighter vehicles are better suited against infantry. Due to their light armour and weak weapon they are unable to assist during tank battles, but later on they could become useful. As such, do not sacrifice them, and keep a small number of them safe, for when they are needed.
23. Cross-attached units placed under your command are not your servants, but your guests. You are answerable to supply them and share everything they need. Don’t just use them on guard duty! In this way they will work better and more loyally for you when you need them. And that will be often!
This does not apply to most games, although in Hearts of Iron you could send Expeditionary Forces to another nation. In such cases, throwing away your friend’s army or misusing it might be seen poorly.
24. In combined operations with infantry or armored infantry, you must make certain that the arms stick close together; only so can they help each other and achieve success. Which of the two is leading is a secondary matter; what must be known is that it is the intention of the enemy to separate them and that you must prevent this in all circumstances. Your battlecry must be “Protect the Infantry!” and the infantry’s battlecry is “Protect the Tanks!”
I talked about this in a previous article. In essence, infantry supports the tank, so that the tank can support the infantry.
25. You and your soldiers must always concentrate on your combat mission, i.e. “the bridge,” and you may not turn aside, for example, to an enemy on your flank, unless he is actually dangerous to the accomplishment of your mission. Then you must attack and destroy him.
Focus on your objectives, unless the need arises to stray from it. It is easy to lose sight of the “Big Thing” when a lot of “little things” pop-up.
26. After a victorious battle; i.e. the seizure of a bridge or the occupation of a village, keep your helmets on. That is to say, prepare for a counterattack which will certainly come, perhaps in a different place than you expect. Later you can collect the spoils of victory.
What I refer to as the “Basic Battle-Cycle”, always expect a counter-attack if you ran out of initiative. While you were attacking, and beating back the enemy, he or she might had been building a fresh force.
27. In a defense or security mission place your tanks so that not only their firepower, but also their shock action can be brought into play. Also, leave only a few tanks in stationery firing positions. Keep most as mobile reserves under cover. Tanks defend aggressively!
Tanks do not normally have a shock value in Video Games. They could have one on the player. A sudden flanking counter-attack at the attacking foes, with the use panzers, could make the enemy commander panic.
28. Against strong enemy resistance, there is no point in continuing to attack. Every failed attack only costs more casualties. Your effort must always be to hold the enemy with only weak forces, in order to use mass of your strength at another, weaker place, breakthrough, and destroy the enemy by surprise attack in the rear or flank.
Just like in point 26, if you do not want to lose the initiative entirely, organise a different attack plan. If you keep on sacrificing your units your loss could be final.
29. Never forget that your soldiers do not belong to you, but to Germany. Personal glory hunting and senseless dare-deviltry lead only to exceptional cases to success, but always cost blood. In battle against the Soviet- Russians you must temper your courage with your judgement, your cunning, your instincts and your tactical ability. Only then will you have the prerequisites to be victorious in battle and only then will your soldiers look on you with loyalty and respect and always stand by you in untiring combat readiness.
This does not really connect to any specific game that I know of, but I kept it in for yourselves to read.
30. The panzer division in modern warfare today holds the former place of cavalry as the decisive arm of combat. Tank officers must carry on in the tradition of the cavalry, take up its aggressive spirit on behalf of the Panzer arm. Therefore take note, as a basic combat principle, of Marshall Blucher’s motto, “FORWARD AND THROUGH!” (but with intelligence).
In essence, the final word of the “manual”, but it is point which one should take to heart when using tanks. “Forward and Through”, smashing aside the enemy and encircling them, but with intelligence.
There you have it, thirty points from a German World War 2 Manual, with short explanations to each point. Although these points cannot be applied to every single game, one could learn a lot simply by reading them. If you enjoyed this, why not check out Feldgrau? It is an excellent source for all manner of World War 2 related materials.
Alex “WriterX” Bielski