Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Out of the Blue – mortar attacks on infantry (Neil Smith guest blog)

[This guest post by WI regular contributor Neil Smith is in response to some recent posts on combined arms in skirmish wargaming: here and here.]

WI 259
As Paul was kind enough to mention my Skirmish Envelope article in WI259, I thought I would respond with some thoughts of my own and jump into what I think is a fascinating thread, how to replicate skirmish combat in miniature. For the most part I agree with Paul’s assessment and as always I bow to his superior knowledge on rules and rules mechanisms, what I want to do though is get into the weeds on how to frame a mortar attack. So, without further ado...

I’ve never been under mortar fire, nor would I want to be. My reading of such an event tells me that to do so would be worse in some ways than coming under long-range artillery fire for a couple of reasons. First, a mortar attack comes with no warning, unless the target is close enough to hear the tell-tale “puff” of the round being expelled from the mortar tube. Otherwise, the first the target knows about a mortar attack is the detonation. The second reason is the sensation of being specifically targeted: the enemy firing the mortars must be close to know the location of the target if only approximately. Both of those add an element of terror to coming under mortar fire that doesn’t exist with the equally terrifying but more random lightning-strike quality of artillery fire. At least that is the assumption I operate under when considering how to replicate mortar fire on the table-top.

Mortar fire, depending on circumstances, creates two levels of reaction, voluntary and involuntary – the dominant circumstance is whether or not the mortar fire begins an attack, or is part of a broader enemy response to the presence of hostile troops. Assume it is the former event; your infantry are moving forward into enemy territory and a mortar round lands, what do they do? I suspect the normal reaction, around which most rules should be written, is to instinctively duck or seek some sort of safety. Hearing the round land would be enough to prompt that reaction; therefore, in the scale of a skirmish game, I suggest that every soldier on the receiving end takes some sort of instant evasive action and should be moved or repositioned accordingly, say within 50mm of their current position if cover is that close.

The conscious reaction follows on from the initial movement – will your soldier under mortar fire take an action or stay put? If the mortar round detonates within sight or is close enough for the soldier to reason that another round is on the way and has a good chance of landing close by, then the odds of staying put are quite high. I think it is quite reasonable, therefore, to demand that a figure within a 125mm radius of the detonation, or any figure with line of sight to the detonation to a distance of 250mm, requires a 6 on a d6 to take any action for the rest of that turn – figures in front of the detonation would probably be less consumed by fear, I think, so only those closer than 125mm would be affected beyond their instinctive reaction.

I would ignore the psychological reaction to mortar fire if the target infantry comes under fire as part of a larger assault on the grounds they probably already have bigger problems to deal with from direct fire.

As for the physical effect of a mortar round detonation, I think there is no way past using a template or a quick spin of the tape-measure from the point of explosion. For the sake of argument, I assume the round lands where the firer intends, although that does not necessarily result in any casualties within the blast radius. I would also halve the effects of mortars both psychological and physical in built-up areas or jungles/forests.

I think also because skirmish games are generally one-to-one for figure scale, the mortar should be on table and each model fires only one round/turn like any other single shot weapon. Mortar ammunition should also be severely restricted, maybe three rounds/scenario/mortar. Finally, in keeping with my Skirmish Envelope idea, once a mortar (or mortars in the case of more than one being present and allowed to fire in salvo) is fired, the initiative immediately transfers to the receiving side. Those measures would hopefully prevent the rules lawyers for laying down continuous mortar fire and operating unopposed for the rest of the turn.

Thank you Paul for letting me squeeze into the driving seat for a while. I’m already looking forward to your thoughts on the big guns.

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