Theatre of War Walkthrough 2
This is the second article in a series of tactical guides based on the Training Missions included in the game Theatre of War by 1C Company and Battlefront.com.
While the first training mission focussed mainly on the basic game mechanics, this second training mission covers some of the more detailed tactics required to win a battle, explains how to execute them in the game, and why a simple groupselect-point-and-click approach which works in many other RTS games will most likely fail in Theatre of War.
The focus in this tutorial mission is on assaulting fortified defensive positions, one of the most frequent - and most deadly - tasks the player and his virtual soldiers will have to face in the main campaign missions later on.
Needless to say, these tutorials can only scratch the surface in terms of tactics. Military tactics have been taught for thousands of years, and there is no one simple formula which will always lead to victory. Even during WW2, tactics employed by all sides have evolved alongside with technological and doctrinal advances. The goal of these training missions is to provide some of the raw basics - with increasing complexity from mission to mission - but in the end, each player will still have to write his ownpersonal tactics book when playing the full version of the game later.
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This second training mission requires the player to complete three objectives. Each objective includes breaching a different fortified enemy trench line, and each one is more difficult to tackle than the previous one. The player will learn how to adapt some military principles and how to use some of them on the virtual battlefield of Theatre of War. While TOW is not intended to be (and couldn't be, even if we wanted it to) a 100% realistic representation of World War Two combat, many of the same principlesapply which work in the real world and the player will have to master them to successfully complete the game's combat missions and campaigns.
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The first line
The player starts off with two infantry squads and three light tanks, set up behind the cover of a small grassy mound, providing cover from the first line of enemy defenses. The terrain to reach the first line consists of largely open grass fields, and a simple all out frontal attack would be suicidal against a serious opponent.
However, to make things a bit easier on the player for the first assault, the enemy is only equipped with rifles and machineguns, and has no heavy weapons, particularly no anti-tank guns. This will change for lines two and three, but for now there is little that can go wrong.
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The main idea for assaulting the fortified line is to use tanks to provide suppressive fire so that the enemy infantry soldiers are more busy with staying in cover than firing back. This principle is called "fire superiority", and one of the core tactics in TOW as well as in the real world is trying to establish such superiority at the key terrain locations you're going to attack (nobody can be strong everywhere at the same time).
The infantry will advance alongside the tanks by a technique called "leapfrogging" or also "moving by bounds" - one squad will lie prone and fire at the enemy while the other squad will run forward for a short stretch, then go prone and open fire; at that time, the other squad gets up and advances, and so forth. This repeats until the final assault on the trench itself. The fire support from the tanks should make this a fairly easy task for the first trench despite the open terrain.
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First we order tanks and infantry to simply move up to the crest of the hill lying between them and the enemy line. Here we pause for some time and wait for our guys to open fire from the relative safety of a rear slope position, i.e. lying prone just behind the crest line, using the slope of the terrain as cover against enemy fire.
One fundamental principle the player will need to master in TOW is how to use formations correctly. Any two and more units can be ordered to adapt a specific formation with one mouse click - the options include line, wedge, double column, tight formation, loose formation, and what is called a "free formation" which basically means that everyone is keeping their current relative position towards other members of the formation.
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The formation menu apears active as soon as more than one unit is selected, and is visible at the lower right edge of the user interface. Each formation has its distinct advantages, and learning when to use which formation will be one of the essential tasks a player will have to master.
A loose formation is useful against enemy artillery strikes. The soldiers or units in the formation spread out and move away from each other to minimize the chance that a lucky artillery round is able to wipe out more than one of them at a time.
A tight formation is useful for assaults against key points. The soldiers or vehicles move close to each other to be able to support each other and add "punch" to the assault.
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A free formation allows the player to basically design his own formation by placing units in a specific way. They will keep their distances from each other while moving to other waypoints.
A line formation is a basic combat formation in situations when you know where the enemy is and expect contact from the front. The line formation provides the best firepower to the front of the unit, but makes it somewhat vulnerable to attacks from the sides (flanks).
A Wedge sacrifices some firepower to the front for better protection of the flanks. It's the best formation to use for advancing units when the enemy location is not known and is a good defense against flanking attacks.
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A double-column formation is a standard travel formation. It allows units to travel quickly down narrow passageways or example roads. It sacrifices firepower to the front and rear, but it protects the flanks fairly well.
Since today's tutorial mission centers on assaulting fortified enemy positions, we will be using the line formation almost exclusively, as we know where the enemy comes from.
So much for the theory.
Just in time before the shooting starts :)
Theatre of War Walkthrough 2
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After all units advanced in line to the crest, we give them opportunity to acquire targets and open fire. You can assign each individual soldier and unit to hold fire if you want, and you can assign individual targets, too, but there is no need to do either - by default, enemy units will automatically open fire when an enemy is in sight and within effective combat range (depends of course on the weapon of the firing unit).
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The enemy, obviously, is shooting back.
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We start off by sending forward a couple of tanks. They will draw some fire away from the infantry which will be following shortly, and will be able to improve the aim of their own guns when firing from a shorter distance. At the same time, they are largely invulnerable to enemy fire at this point, since the enemy has no heavy weapons available.
Of course this tactic would be suicidal during the later stages of World War two, when infantry anti-tank weapons such as the Panzerfaust or Panzerschreck become available.
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Behind the tanks, we order the first squad to get up and advance. We're going to order them down the hill and to form a line down by the road. Only advancing one squad at a time while the other squad remains in firing position increases our suppressive firepower, making the enemy less likely to shoot back. It's essential to keep a good balance between "firers" and "movers" when applying this tactic - usually at least a 2 to 1 ratio is considered good, where two units provide fire while1 is advancing, buteven 3 to 1 is used frequently.
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As soon as the first squad reaches their positions, squad two ceases fire and is ordered to move alongside squad one. You could also order them to pass squad one and advance further, but this might exhaust the soldiers and make them slower at the end of their movement.
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Besides setting the formation, you have also several other options to choose from which have an additional effect on how your troops will get from A to B. For example, you have the choice of three "stances" (only available for infantry units) - namely "double-time", "dash", and "crawl". These are set by clicking one of the three buttons at the bottom of the interface to the left of the formation buttons, showing a standing, kneeling and prone figure.
Double-time means that the unit will move from A to B as fast as possible, without stopping and firing at spotted enemy soldiers only on the move (if at all). Dash means that the soldiers will move in short sprints, stopping occasionally to fire off a few rounds.
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And "crawl" means that the unit will move stealthily and cautiously, usually in prone position and crawling... like the first squad above which now arrived at its first waypoint and is now covering the advance of squad two.
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The two squads and two of the light BT-7 tanks provide a strong wall of suppressive fire. We're keeping one tank back on top of the hill in overwatch as well however. Keeping a reserve is a good idea in any military operation in case something unforeseen happens (even though the chances of that are low in the tutorial mission).
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After letting the guys from squad one catch their breath for a minute, we set the next waypoint, ordering one squad of infantry and two tanks to move forward.
The above screenshots nicely shows a line formation set for the squad. You might notice a little arrow in the middle of the formation - this indicates the direction in which the formation will be facing. You can change this by holding your right mouse-button and moving the mouse while setting the waypoint - this will rotate the formation around the center, so that it's possible to order it to move forward and, e.g., face to the right or left side.
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Since we're getting closer to the enemy, we set the infantry to "dash": moving in short bursts, going prone (or kneeling) and firing off a few rounds occasionally.
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The tank conducting overwatch from the rear is spraying the enemy trenchline with accurate MG fire (tanks fire more accurately when not moving), and when the first line of infantry arrives near the first trench, the tank is ordered forward as well, in for the close kill.
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Squad two scrambles now as well, and dash forward, stopping a litle in front of the trench line to throw grenades and allow the tanks to move in for close support.
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Besides formations and stances, a third option for the player is to select an "Assault" order instead of the regular "Move" order. Unlike Move, the Assault order instructs the formation to use maximum force during their advance, firing on the move, targetting any enemy soldiers in sight, tossing hand grenades and the like. This is the perfect option for storming the last meters into the enemy trench. Normally it's a good idea to also select a "tight" formation for the assault,closing the gaps between theassaulting soldiers, thus maximizing the available firepower at the point of assault. But since the enemy resistance has already been broken by the tanks, we leave the line formation. As can be seen from the screenshot, it is automatically adapted to the layout of the trench. A special "trench" cursor indicates that soldiers are ordered into the trench, appearing always when you issue a movement command at or near a trench line.
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With squad one already assaulting, squad two is ordered to do the same. There is no time for second thoughts now, the enemy will be overwhelmed with the combined assault.
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Tanks move into close combat range as well. Normally a rather dangerous thing to do because even during the early war years a well placed anti-tank grenade can take out the best tank or at least immobilize it, but with enemy resistance broken, it's a low risk, and enables the tanks to either spray the trench with MG fire or even overrun cowering enemy soldiers.
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In the trenches! Squad one completes its goal!
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Squad two still meets a little more resistance...
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But with the help of tanks and...
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...a little extra persuasion, it finally clears the right trench. Objective completed!
Theatre of War Walkthrough 2
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The second line
One down, two more to go, and the second trench line already will prove a much more formidable task. This time there is not only more open ground to cover, the German defenders additionally have a couple of anti-tank guns at their disposal.
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They need to be dealt with first before the tanks can gain freedom to maneuver, which will be needed because the ground to cover is simply too wide and too open for the same frontal approach that worked with the first trench.
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Simply advancing infantry and tanks side by side and duelling with the anti-tank guns on the move does not yield the amount of suppressive fire needed for this approach, and rifles are not effective at this distance against an entrenched enemy.
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Therefore we order the infantry squads to cautiously and slowly advance in line, moving in short bursts, and firing back, while the tanks target the anti-tank guns from a fairly safe distance.
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With success! The three tanks with experienced crews take out the two German light anti-tank guns one by one. Keeping their front armor towards the enemy guns and usng the distance to their advantage as the guns were not able to more than scratch the armor at this range (this changes dramatically later in the war as heavy anti-tank guns such as the dreaded 88mm enter the scene on more frequently), the tanks win this brief duel. This teaches an important lesson - knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the
opposing armies for a given battle allows to make sound tactical decisions about the proper course of action. (Which is why TOW comes with an exhaustive interactive in-game encyclopedia, containing countless historical and technical facts about the equipment you will find in the game!)
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Resistance remains - although without the support of their guns, it will be much simpler to crush. The secret to clearing out a fortified position like this is to not fall into the trap of thinking of one's own tanks as immobile pillboxes only. Tanks have tracks - use them for maneuver!
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Using their newly gained freedom to maneuver after the two German guns are silenced, we order two of the tanks forward and keep one back for infantry support and overwatch.
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The attacking tanks will attempt to close the distance and flank the trench line from the left, while the infantry and one remaining tank will keep up the pressure from the front.
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Flanking is only useful when you continue applying frontal pressure, otherwise the enemy can easily shift his defenses and morph his flank into a new front.
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The infantry alone would not have the firepower at this distance to keep up enough frontal pressure, which is why the remaining tank plays an important role in this concept.
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With its MG and main gun it can keep up an accurate stream of fire, forcing the defenders to keep their heads down, thereby protecting the accompanying infantry.
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A pre-arranged artillery strike on the enemy positions supports the advance of the infantry, and gives the signal to start "leapfrogging" or "bounding overwatch" to advance towards the trenches.
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Despite the loss of its AT guns, the enemy is far from broken this time, and incoming fire from the intact machineguns and well aimed rifles causes the first wounded and casualties on the advancing infantry.
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Some of the soldiers seek cover close to the advancing tanks.
Theatre of War Walkthrough 2
You can in fact manually order units to seek for cover by issuing the "Defend" command. Units will stop what they're doing and seek and move to nearest cover while keeping up fire on the enemy. But you do not have to order units to do this, as heavy incoming fire might cause them to do it on their own and without player input.
Theatre of War also features a unique order where you can assign a soldier to take cover behind a tank. This is done simply by selecting a soldier and clicking on the tank. A little "shield" replaces the mouse cursor, indicating that the soldier(s) will use the tank for cover. They will even follow the tank if you order it to advance slowly.
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Meanwhile, the two forward tanks are climbing up the hill towards the trench line.
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Firing on the move or from short halts, they draw a lot of fire on themselves, distracting the enemy and preventing him from focussing on the advancing unprotected infantry.
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Approaching from the enemy's right flank, the tanks open fire at close distance. Flanking reduces exposure to returning fire since only a small number of enemy soldiers can react or even see the flanking units, and also allows the tanks to fire down the entire length of the trench.
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Ligning up for the perfect shot.
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Meanwhile the infantry continues to advance in short bursts, taking cover, keeping up their own suppressive fire from the front, and trying not to get shot.
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Finally, after several casualties, the first squad reaches the foot of the hill.
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The supporting tank always close by.
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The forward tanks systematically clear out the trench, one by one.
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In TOW, you can order a unit, soldier or tank, to either directly target an enemy unit or soldier (and even to specify a target point such as top, middle or low - more about that later), or to use "area fire" by specifying a piece of ground. This is useful when you want to use high-explosive main gun rounds because by default (and according to doctrine, not to mention the Geneva convention) tanks will only fire their machineguns at enemy soldiers. Area Fire is therefore mainly useful for clusters
soldiers, which somteimes can be taken out with a single round in this way.
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At this close distance, however, the enemy infantry stands no chance.
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And except for the odd hand grenade bouncing harmlessly off the tanks, it is only a matter of time before the trench is cleared.
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And the last resistance is crushed...
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In TOW you can run over and crush enemy soldiers (although they will naturally try to escape) as well as e.g. enemy guns.
Two down, one more to go!
Theatre of War Walkthrough 2
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The third line
The third and last trench will be the most difficult to crack in this tutorial. While the distance to be covered is manageable and there is more cover available than for the first two trenches, this time the enemy is more aggressive, and has more firepower available - both anti-tank guns as well as tanks.
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Luckily, the player forces are stronger, as well. Two infantry squads and one light tank are supported by two medium T-34, mod. 1941 tanks, during its time a formidable enemy against the enemy forces. The T-34 are superior to the enemy anti-tank guns and tanks in the tutorial, but a well aimed shot can still immobilize or otherwise damage them. Therefore, a clever approach using the tanks' speed and maneuverability rather than its armor will be again essential in mastering the last objective.
In TOW, as in real life, it is more difficult to hit moving targets than to hit stationary targets (speaking in game terms: the hit chance increases with each subsequent shot on a stationary target).
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The enemy forces consist of two infantry squads manning two trench lines, supported by a couple of anti-tank guns and two light tanks in reserve. The two trenches support each other by fire, and - should one trench be occupied - the enemy will even counterattack.
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This time, the anti-tank guns are also more dangerous opponents. Firing at shorter distance, and manned by more experienced crews, swift action will be required by the player as the attacking infantry and tanks will not be able to hold out too long in the face of such strong enemy firepower.
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First casualties and wounded accumulate quickly, and even the light tank is suffering light damage and a demoralized crew soon.
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Since a static shootout is not going to lead anywhere, the core plan is to use the mobility of the tanks to gain the initiative in the attack. We order the two medium tanks T-34 forward and over to the left flank. This will hopefully reduce exposure to the two anti-tank guns (by moving on one flank it is more difficult for the other gun to engage) while allowing the tanks to use some of the available cover plus their own speed to spoil the enemy aim and at the same time to close with the enemy and open fire
at the guns.
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At the same time, this move also draws fire away from the infantry towards the enemy right flank.
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Just in time, really, as the infantry lines already begin wavering from the incoming enemy firepower. The flanking maneuver allows to stabilize the infantry, and together with the support of the remaining light tank, to keep up frontal pressure on the enemy.
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Which is more than needed, because if the anti-tank guns would be able to focus entirely on the flanking tanks, their maneuver would quickly be stopped by a hail of anti-tank fire. Due to the combined pressure from the front and the flanks, the enemy has to decide which targets to engage, thereby splitting its fire.
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And still, the advancing T-34s have a hard time, and have to take several hits and a number of near misses. Even the misses can have a demoralizing effect on the crew.
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But the infantry has a harder time yet. Trying to advance in short bursts, the casualties are mounting anyway, and the only hope is to silence the enemy guns quickly.
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More dead comrades on the ground!
But it gets worse...
Theatre of War Walkthrough 2
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As soon as the flanking T-34s finally manage to suppress and take out the first anti-tank guns, enemy reinforcements appear on the map - tanks! Luckily, it's none of the formidable German heavy tanks like the Tiger or Panther, but some older pre-war models, lightly armed and no real threat for the T-34s.
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Nevertheless, the T-34s lose no time and engage the enemy armored units. Since TOW is using a full blown physics engine to track hits and effects of nearly every shell and bullet, anything with a gun on it can become dangerous - and even a lucky MG round can damage a tank system or even immobilize it, which can be just as effective as destroying a tank.
It is especially in tank duels (and even more so if the tank duels are not as uneven as this one) when the ability to set a high, medium or low aim point can become very useful. With this feature in TOW you can instruct your own tanks and guns to target specific weak points of the enemy armor. Some units might have strong turrets and hulls but be vulnerable to hits on their tracks (sometimes the only way to at least immobilize a tank; but an immobile tank is often almost as good as a dead tank), for example.
Of course this feature is more useful for short engagement ranges.
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But the biggest danger still comes from the remaining anti-tank guns.
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Luckily my tank crews shrug off several close hits which fail to penetrate or cause bigger damage (except for a short panic attack on my part), and one by one the anti-tank guns are silenced by the T-34 supporting each other with fire.
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When you order a unit to Target an enemy, that unit will not only begin firing, but will also enter into "Attack" mode. This includes moving into a better firing position, getting a better line of sight or otherwise moving into a better position to destroy the enemy - all done automatically by the unit you have ordered into attack. For tanks and other types of units, this can be a useful command to order it to fire from short halts while closing with the enemy.
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Another nice feature is the "first person view" available in TOW. By clicking on a unit and pressing the ENTER key, the camera jumps to the eye level of the selected unit and allows you to explore the battlefield from this unique perspective. In the case of a tank, you see the battlefield from the perspective of the tank commander.
The above shot is taken just after an anti-tank shell left the barrel and the enemy tank burst into flames in the background.
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The burning German tank. Its crew is fleeing in the background.
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It doesn't take long until the second tank is history, and its crew bails out, too.
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With the two enemy tanks disabled and the anti-tank guns silenced, we order the supporting light tank and remaining infantry forward...
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...and also order the T-34 medium tanks forward to close-assault the trenches.
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And I mean this literally!
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The enemy soldiers from the second trench storm forward to counterattack, but are cut down by aimed MG fire from the T-34s.
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Ordering Area Fire while selecting high-explosive rounds to be loaded (a simple left-click on the corresponding ammo icon achieves this after a short delay which the loader needs to load the appropriate round into the chamber) provides lethal.
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Only a small handful of survivors manages to esape the fray.
With this, we complete the second training mission. We have learned how to close assault enemy fortified positions using combined arms of infantry and armor, using a flanking maneuver while keeping up frontal pressure, using speed and mobility of a tank and not treating it just like an immobile pillbox. We have learned how to execute a "bounding overwatch" maneuver using two squads with tank support, and how to combine movement types, stances and formations to achieve the best results. All of these
basics merely scratching the surface of proper military combat tactics, but they will provide a solid framework to build upon during your own campaigns in the game.
In the next article of this series, we will explore defensive tactics, and how to prevent an enemy from overrunning your own fortified positions.
Martin van Balkom
Last updated: Apr 7, 2020 at 12:28 pm CDT
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