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The Armored Squad

Like many armchair strategists, I like thinking about questions of organization. And this includes examining some unconventional ideas from history. Today, we have a really neat one: The Armored Squad. For reasons that will become clear shortly, I have also dubbed it the “Super Squad” in conversations with Fishbreath.

This squad idea comes out of World War 2, and the question of tank-infantry cooperation. Tanks and infantry are better together, which leads to questions of how this should be organized in order to promote unit cohesion. Some American units organized into Armored squads, where an M4 Sherman tank was paired with an infantry squad in an M3 half track. This gave a tank, with all the armored firepower that entailed, plus ten dismounted infantry who had their own transport to keep up with the tank. On paper the Sherman had a crew of 5, and the M3 half track had a crew of two: one driver and one machine gunner, so this is a total of 17 men.

This wasn’t an ad-hoc formation; particular tanks and particular squads were paired together for training and were kept together. They ate together. They fought together. In the Hurtgen Forest, the tankers took turns in the foxholes with the infantry, and the dismounted infantry got turns in the vehicles to warm up. Training together meant that infantry and tanks were much more intimately familiar with their respective counterparts’ limitations.

Moving up the organization table, we have five armored squads per platoon, and three such platoons per company. There were three of these tank-infantry companies per “Combat Command”, which is another organizational curiosity of the US Army in the Second World War. In brief a Combat Command was basically a brigade sized unit comprised of companies and platoons. There was no battalion-level organizational structure, and this was thought to increase flexibility. So, in the combat commands in question, there would be three tank-infantry companies plus a host of supporting units.

The advantages are the obvious increase in firepower over a regular mechanized squad, and it provides a tank with much more effective close-in protection than it would have otherwise. The disadvantages are on the logistics side. There’s a much larger fuel burden, plus there are two dissimilar vehicles that need maintenance, which increases the burden for maintenance personnel. Where a normal tank or mechanized infantry company would only have one sort of vehicle to maintain, with one set of spare parts to stock, the tank-infantry company has two.

In combat, the armored squad and associated units built from it were very effective. The 5th Armored Division was organized along this model, and it suffered notably fewer casualties than either 6th or 7th Armored Divisions (which were more conventionally organized), all of which were deployed to the European Theater of Operations at about the same time. 6th Armored went in on July 27th, 5th Armored went in on August 2nd, and 7th Armored went in on August 14th. Each division was deployed for the duration. 6th Armored took 5,194 casualties and lost 196 tanks, 5th Armored took 3,043 casualties and lost 116 tanks, and 7th Armored took 4,781 casualties and lost 360 tanks. Combat situations are, of course, not identical, so we should be careful not to read too much into these numbers. But it might suggest some tactical improvements by putting tanks and infantry together for the duration.

We can also see a very similar organization almost 60 years later. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, aggressive divisions driving on and into Baghdad often organized their forces to combine a pair of Abrams tanks with a pair of Bradleys. The force could fit down most streets with the Abramses in the vanguard. The Bradleys and the dismounts provided effective cover for closer threats, or for higher threats the Abramses couldn’t tackle. The Abrams tanks could also use their guns and fronts to breach buildings, which would then be cleared by the dismounts. Plus, putting the Abrams tanks forward meant that they drew the ambushes, and they were much harder to kill with RPG-7s than Bradleys.

In 1944 and again in 2003, the concept has been proven in combat in a variety of environments. To be sure, there is an increased logistics, maintenance, and training burden. But we made it work in 1944 with a conscript army. So we can make it work now with a professional army from a training standpoint. And if the US Army’s long drives with Abrams tanks have taught us anything, it’s that the correct answer to logistics is more trucks. The TO&E should reflect how we fight. And we should train like we fight.

I really like this organizational setup. I’d probably go with three tank-infantry teams per platoon, and three tank-infantry platoons per company. I’m usually a triangular organization kind of guy.

The Opinionated Bastards: Gacrux Part II (May 1, 3050)

The month of April turns out to be an exciting one for the Opinionated Bastards. Read on below the fold.

Last Month’s Action Items

Hasek10 took the lead this time, so I went with his plans. The light lance remains on training duty. We’ll discuss procurement at the end of the month.

The Action of April 19, 3050

On April 14, the unit intelligence officer receives word of a pirate concentration near a grassland town some distance from our base of operations. Happily, the light lance is training locally rather than on an exercise elsewhere, so they join in the deployment.

We’ll probably need them, too. This is some battle. A full six lances of mixed enemy mechs and vehicles are facing our ten mechs (Private ‘Severe’ Pain’s Locust is currently in refit, adding some armor and two more medium lasers). Happily, when they catch wind of our approach, they flee. We’ll have to chase down and destroy half their force before we can declare victory.

Captain Halit has four levels in the Tactics skill, which means we get to reroll battlefield conditions up to four times. The end result is this: muddy grassland with a town in the center, in moderate rain, on a moonlit night.

Because this is a chase battle, units deploy in order of speed, fastest units in early rounds and slower units later on. Attached to our lance is a Lyran Phoenix Hawk. Since the contract stipulated House command rights, the Lyran pilot is not under our direct command.

Rounds 1-4

Nothing happens.

Round 5

The Lyran mech deploys, along with the rest of the enemy light mechs. In total, they have four Wasps, a Spider, and a Stinger.

The mud is proving tricky.

stuck

Round 6

Our two fastest mechs take the field: our Phoenix Hawk (piloted by Jose Ortega) and our Vulcan (piloted by Tedros Jamil). They both fire on a Stinger stuck in the mud a few hexes to the north, but do limited damage.

Round 7

The remainder of our ‘light’ lance arrives on the field. Our two Trebuchets come first; Private Frajtov is driving the short-range TBT-5S, while Woad has the LRM-equipped TBT-5N. Damayanti Ngo rounds out the deployment, piloting our Crab.

deploying

The pirates deploy a number of Vedette medium tanks in a flanking position. Fortunately, the weather will make it very hard for them to hit our mechs at any distance, and Vedettes are slow at the best of times. They may have trouble moving at all.

The light lance concentrates its firepower on a stuck Wasp, the Stinger having escaped the sucking mud and jumped further away. (Ortega pursues him in the Phoenix Hawk, but can’t line up a good shot.) They do a good job, hitting the Wasp for more than 20 damage. Its pilot fails to keep his balance under the barrage, and the Wasp tips over into the mud.

die, wasp

Round 8

Our heavy lance hits the field. Expert gunners with long-range weapons should begin to tell here. Three of them (Captain Halit’s Flashman, Double Dog‘s Rifleman, and Linebuster‘s Lancelot) deploy with the light lance, while two of them (Lieutenant Ishikawa’s Thunderbolt and Private Ec’s Lancelot) deploy further east, behind the enemy vehicle line.

heavies

The pirates deploy their lone heavy mech, an Orion, just to the southwest of our forces. Double Dog turns to face it, ready to engage.

In the Phoenix Hawk, Ortega has run up too much heat from weapons fire and jump jet use, and forgoes firing this turn. The western heavies engage the Wasp, and the eastern heavies focus on the enemy vehicles, including two PPC-equipped Manticore heavy tanks. The mediums (and the Rifleman) divide their fire between the Orion and the vehicle line.

Captain Halit proves his worth on his first turn in battle. Lighting up the stuck Wasp with his large lasers, he draws first blood, neatly coring the enemy mech.

The eastern heavies badly damage the pair of Manticores, knocking out the nearer tank’s engine and scything into the more distant tank’s armor.

The Orion, unfortunately, aims true and hits Woad‘s rear center torso with an AC/10. The Trebuchet’s engine and gyro both take hits, and Woad is unable to keep the mech’s legs beneath him. The Trebuchet bogs down in the mud, and rattling around the cockpit like a pinball does Woad no good, either. He’s alive and conscious, but it seems unlikely he’ll be able to get unstuck and stand back up, especially with an ailing gyro.

Round 9

Let’s talk about a particularly devilish foe: the SRM carrier. A simple tracked vehicle with an enormous box of SRM launchers on the back, the SRM carrier has one of the most devastating alpha strikes in the BattleTech universe. It mounts ten SRM-6 launchers, each of which fires six missiles, each of which does two damage. That’s a potential total of 120 damage; for comparison, the Flashman, the most heavily armored mech in our hangar, has 216 points of armor altogether. It’s altogether possible for a lucky SRM carrier to blow up a mech in a single turn.

Why do I bring this up? Well, our piratical friends have laid their hands on five of them, all of which are part of the rearguard with which we’re currently engaged. We’ll come back to the SRM carriers.

This rearguard, by my count, contains enough enemy force to fulfill our mission requirements, so rather than pursue the enemy across the map (and allow the rearguard to fire on us from behind), I decide to focus on beating down the enemy here. That means nobody moves very much, although the medium mechs move closer to the vehicle line to the east of our main body to secure better shots.

Woad is still prone and unable to stand up. His mech takes some light fire from the Orion, but weathers it without further drama. Double Dog, running hot, takes an ineffectual medium laser shot at the Orion, but successfully kicks an SRM carrier, stripping its armor. The Lyran Phoenix Hawk, standing next to him, finishes the job with a kick of its own.

Linebuster destroys a second SRM carrier with well-aimed laser fire from his Lancelot, while Lieutenant Ishikawa and Private Ec in the Thunderbolt and other Lancelot make short work of a Manticore heavy tank and the lone LRM carrier.

Then the SRM carriers shoot back.

Three shoot at Captain Halit’s Flashman, but he’s moving, and the range, darkness, and rain conspire to protect him. He takes a pounding, but his armor holds.

Two shoot at Private Ec’s Lancelot. She’s not moving, and she’s much closer. Missile after missile slams into her mech’s armor. Holes begin to open up, and the explosions move inward to the mech’s frame. The dust settles. In all, 61 missiles hit Private Ec’s mech, destroying weapons and heat sinks, and damaging leg actuators. Several missiles hit the cockpit. The armor holds, but the shock knocks Ec out cold. Her mech collapses into the mud.

SRM carriers remaining: 3.

Round 10

Well, we should probably do something about those. Captain Halit and Private Frajtov will continue shooting at the Orion, in the hopes of bringing it down. Frajtov places his mech directly in the Orion’s path.

Everyone else is going to set up to shoot at an SRM carrier.

Linebuster hits one, knocking out its engine but leaving it alive. Lieutenant Ishikawa destroys one outright. The others survive unmolested.

Surprisingly, it’s Private Frajtov who takes home the trophy for largest mech destroyed to date. A simple medium laser shot at point blank range penetrates the Orion’s armor and lights off its AC/10 ammunition. Fire blossoms within the pirate mech, then bursts forth in a tremendous fireball which leaves very little of the Orion left.

Then the SRM carriers shoot back.

Private Ec’s mech takes the brunt of the barrage. Happily—she was basically doomed anyway. In the end, there isn’t much left of her mech besides a frame and, surprisingly, a cockpit. (It survived with one internal structure point remaining; happily, she did not die in her first battle.)

Double Dog takes fire from the final SRM carrier, and it’s a doozy. It gets into his Rifleman’s internal structure, knocking out several weapons and damaging a leg actuator. He can’t keep his mech upright, and it topples, getting stuck in the mud.

That’s bad. Hitting an immobilized target is easier, and Lieutenant Dare’s mech is still in relatively good shape. It would be a shame to lose it.

SRM carriers remaining: 2.

srms, sadface
The mud-soaked battlefield as it stands now.

Round 11

We’re winning, per the objective; we only have to destroy half of the enemy’s starting force before it escapes, and we’re currently up to 45%. Mopping up here in the south should suffice to win.

As far as positioning goes, it’s pretty static. Now that the Orion is dead, Captain Halit can turn around to help with the vehicles. He hits a Manticore and kills it. Linebuster destroys another SRM carrier.

Unfortunately, Private Ortega, the only pilot with a clear shot at the last SRM carrier, misses altogether. Hopefully that won’t come back to haunt us next round.

One SRM carrier shoots at the Lyran Phoenix Hawk; the other shoots at the Rifleman. The Rifleman survives, somehow, amidst a bevy of internal structure damage. It’s alive, but I don’t know how much longer it can take this kind of beating.

SRM carriers remaining: 1.

Round 12

Captain Halit accounts for the final SRM carrier with a hail of laser fire. Just before it goes up in a towering explosion, it gets off a shot at the Rifleman.

The Rifleman eats it. Its engine is destroyed, its head is destroyed, and its AC/5 ammo explodes just to really clarify that yes, it’s gone. Happily, the autoeject system works, flinging Double Dog free of the flaming wreckage just before the ammo goes off. He’s badly wounded and unconscious, but he’s alive.

doubledog down

To add indignity to our vaguely Pyrrhic victory, Woad finally gets himself unstuck from the mud, but doesn’t risk standing with his damaged gyro. Wouldn’t want to set ourselves up for yet more repairs.

SRM carriers remaining: 0. Thank God.

Rounds 13-22

With the SRM carriers dead, there isn’t much else left in the south; a few damaged Vedettes, mostly. They go down much more easily, and don’t obliterate our mechs in the space of seconds.

Private Frajtov walks his Trebuchet past the still-burning Rifleman, pops out, and brings Double Dog up to the cockpit. At least he isn’t in the rain anymore. Private Ec, still unconscious in the cockpit of her very dead Lancelot, remains there for now.

An ad-hoc lance comprising Captain Halit, Lieutenant Ishikawa, Linebuster, and Private Ngo heads north to chase the pirates, now in full retreat, off of the map.

Further in that direction, the Lyran Phoenix Hawk beats up on an immobilized transport hovercraft.

wrapping up
At least someone’s having a good day.

Eventually, the pirates make it to the north end of the map, and I call it a day.

Damage Report

damage report

Man, it would have been nice to have some battle loss compensation in this contract.

There are some bright spots. Miraculously, Private Ec’s Lancelot is not a total write-off; it has enough internal structure left to rebuild. We are, therefore, only down one mech.

dead lancelot
It’s going to take a lot of work, though.

Four of our ten pilots are wounded, including Double Dog and Woad. Only Double Dog‘s wounds are serious enough to impact his piloting skills, but he should be fine in a few weeks.

injuries1
injuries2

Salvage Report

The Wasp Captain Halit nailed is a total loss, so I took as salvage an SRM carrier and a Manticore heavy tank. We’ll strip the weapons and armor and sell the chassis.

In doing so, we make nearly 800,000 C-bills, and add a spare PPC, some armor, a medium laser or two, and a ton of SRM-6 launchers (even after selling half of them).

The husk of Double Dog‘s Rifleman yields an arm and a leg, along with a few actuators and a heat sink or two.

The salvage we took comes to 35% against our total allowed of 30%. We’ll have to pay the employer back for the overage if we don’t get our salvage percentage down below the 30% mark; the payment required at present is about 185,000 C-bills.

Kill Board

Last Mission

kill log

All-Time Leaders

  1. Captain Halit (3, 1 mech)
  2. Lieutenant Ishikawa (3)
  3. Lieutenant ‘Linebuster’ Atkinson (3)
  4. Private Frajtov (1, 1 mech)
  5. Private Ec (1)

Repairs and Refits

The Rifleman is good for an arm and a leg, which simplifies getting the second Lancelot back in action.

Unfortunately, we need some expensive parts. The damaged Lancelot’s gyroscope is a total loss, and a new one sets us back 900,000 C-bills. Other parts come to about 200,000, eating into last month’s payout a bit.

By the end of the month, we’ve rebuilt the mech, which has earned the name Frankenstein from its tech teams.

frankenstein

Status

It is now May 1, 3050. I decided against advancing the game further because…

Mission Progress

deployment
After taking such heavy losses in equipment, morale among the pirates here on Gacrux has collapsed, and they’ve made overtures to the planetary authorities about surrendering. At the same time, the local government has located the pirates’ main base of operations and passed that information on to us. See the action items for more.

Personnel

organization

All pilots except for Double Dog are in good health. Lieutenant Dare’s concussion symptoms are lingering. The doctors estimate he’ll be back to 100% in a week’s time.

Captain Halit’s Negotiation has improved, which increases our company’s reputation.

Finances

We kick off May with 2.881 million C-bills in the bank, and two payments of 884,800 C-bills remaining in this contract. That leaves us with an expected balance of 4.6 million C-bills after this contract, and about 2.9 million C-bills after transit back home.

Supplies

Per Hasek10’s directions, I’ve obtained spare ammunition and armor suitable for a deployment of moderate length and intensity, and laid in stocks of common weapons and equipment.

Action Items

  • As far as this contract goes, we have two options. We can attack the pirate base, or accept the pirates’ surrender and head home. In both cases, we’ll be paid the remaining balance of the contract. In the former case, we have a chance at more salvage, although there are no heavy mechs among the enemy’s known forces. In the latter case, we don’t risk losing any further mechs in a costly battle, but we’ll have to pay 185,000 C-bills to the employer to cover our over-salvaging.
  • As far as the company goes, should we reorganize? We may be able to find more favorable engagements (read: MekHQ generates less difficult missions) if we go to a more traditional lance structure, heavy units supported by lighter units. On the other hand, that places a greater emphasis on pilot skill; we do have some skilled pilots, but they’re distributed mainly in the heavy mechs right now. If you think the answer is ‘yes’, you should describe a structure you think would be an improvement.
  • Mechwarriors are going fast, but there are some remaining. Give me a callsign and the pilot is yours; I’ll follow them more closely in subsequent updates, refer to them by their callsign in most cases, and bold their name so you can track them more readily.
    • Captain Halit
    • Lt. SG Ishikawa
    • Pvt. Jamil
    • Pvt. Ec
    • Pvt. Ortega
    • Pvt. Ngo
    • Pvt. Frajtov
  • For the record, the following mechwarriors have been claimed by members at the Bay12 Games forum.
    • Lt. SG George “Linebuster” Atkinson (Hasek10)
    • Lt. JG Sung-min “Double Dog” Dare (a1s)
    • Pvt. Ferdinand “Woad” Kohler (A Thing)
    • Pvt. Jan “Euchre” Kojic (EuchreJack)
    • Pvt. Cathrine “Severe” Payne (Burnt Pies)

Shotgun Build 2: No Limit Scattergun

For USPSA, I love Open because I think it’s cool. If I’m gonna shoot a racegun, I want the fastest, blastiest racegun. I don’t want a bunch of rules about what I can’t do. Plus, electro-optical sights are cool, and loud compensators are also cool.

In 3-Gun, Open Shotguns are even better. Not only do they get cool red dot sights and cool compensators to spit fire, but they have a whole bunch of nonstandard magazine designs open to them. One such idea is the X-Rail, which is a cluster of four magazine extensions in a rotary unit, kind of like a giant revolver. Each holds six shells, so you get 24 out on the front. It’s super heavy, but you won’t have to reload as much. Empty gun starts still suck.

On the one hand, the X-Rail lets you use highly reliable, proven shotguns, like Benelli M2s. On the other hand, that’s a lot of weight on the end, and I’m not a big fan of super heavy weapons. Especially when the weight is out on the end of the gun. So that’s out. Pretty arbitrarily, but I don’t care. This is my list.

I want a shotgun that feeds from detachable box magazines. Shotgun shells make these difficult to make, and for some stupid reason, no company in America makes any sort of base gun that we can work with. Which leaves us the choice of Russian Saiga 12s, Russian Vepr 12s, Turkish MKA-1919s, or Turkish XTR-12s.

And no, those aren’t staying stock. Once again, I’m going to order a tricked out one, mostly because I don’t have the expertise to do that myself. Plus, some of the things commonly done to a race shotgun aren’t things I can do myself.

The other complication is the bans on imports of Russian weapons, which could distort prices when I finally go to purchase. That said, there are a lot of imported guns. And, unlike my pump gun, this was never going to get done on the cheap. This shouldn’t disqualify the Russian-made guns out of the gate, especially because I can still get base models for a reasonable price on Gunbroker.

Right out of the gate, we can eliminate the Saiga 12s, because the Veprs do everything the Saigas do, except way better. The Vepr comes in a not-stupid configuration out of the box. The Vepr doesn’t need tuning to actually work out of the box. The Vepr has a much more consistent build quality.

We can also eliminate the XTR-12 pretty quick. At the time of writing (October 2017) there are issues with getting large-capacity magazines to work reliably. And that’s the whole freaking point of open shotguns. There’s also very poor aftermarket support for these.

Two down. Now, the MKA-1919 actually comes in a couple different versions. One is from Tooth and Nail, and comes heavily tricked out. The other is from Firebird precision, and they remake most of the components right here in America. So, better tolerances, and hopefully better reliability. However, they don’t offer a compensator option. The T&N MKA 1919 build is available with a mid-barrel compensator. So, at this point I’m inclined to only look at the T&N one, given the better configuration options.

Vepr-12s from Dissident Arms also come with nice big compensator options. They use compensators at the end of the barrel rather than midbarrel ones. On the one hand, the Vepr-12 will have some increased costs from requiring a charging handle conversion (i.e putting a charging handle on the left side of the receiver).1 On the other hand, the Vepr-12 is probably the most reliable. It’s certainly the most reliable out of the box. In fact, it’s one of the few detachable box fed magazine shotguns to function reasonably out of the box. Points in its favor.

The other item in the room is ‘classic Russian Ergonomics’. Which we can improve somewhat. We can get a safety that’s workable with the shooting hand thumb or trigger finger without removing our shooting hand from its place. As mentioned before, we can put the charging handle on the correct side of the gun with a simple modification. We can also get a modification to be able to drop the magazines with our trigger finger. On the other hand, the MKA 1919 has AR-style controls. Well, other than the charging handle placement. It is at least on the proper side out of the box.

Now, to my way of thinking, that’s about a wash. Competitively equipped models are about the same price. However, the Vepr-12 has one other edge over the MKA 1919: I live near, and have squadded with, a member of the Dissident Arms shooting team, and he’s pretty active on youtube as well. So there’s a nearby Vepr-12 expert that I know.

And there you have it. My pick is the Vepr-12, tricked out into awesomeness by Dissident Arms.


  1. Someone2 might chime in that the normal charging handle on the right side. This is true and completely irrelevant. Open guns are made to fit you not the other way around. Also, if you want competition guns on the cheap, you’ve got the wrong division. 
  2. Possibly Fishbreath. 

TO&Es for ’44!

Last time, we looked at the result of the German combat testing of the StG-44, and how they thought it compared to the MG-42. Their conclusions were that the StG-44 was very good, but could not completely replace the MG-42.

I’ve chosen to look at the relevant tables for 1944 because at that point (or at least when the tables were written) the situation wasn’t so desperate as to put economy uber alles. Lots of the ’45 tables do just that. Also, keep in mind this is what the planners envisioned, which wasn’t necessarily what was fielded in great numbers.

The difference we’re interested in happens in the infantry platoons. The previous table had squads of nine men: one leader and eight soldiers. It also had one MG-42, and there was a designated gunner and assistant gunner. The gunner and assistant gunner both also carried P-38 pistols for personal defense. The squad leader had an MP-40, and the other six men had Kar 98ks. Moving up the table, each platoon had three squads. It also had a command element consisting of a platoon leader, two message bearers, and a litter bearer.

For the standard rifle squad, total ammunition allotment (i.e ready and reserve rounds) was as follows:

Member9mm Parabellum Rounds8mm Mauser rounds
Squad Leader1,536
Gunner99
Assistant Gunner993,450
Rifleman 199
Rifleman 299
Rifleman 399
Rifleman 499
Rifleman 599
Rifleman 699

Of course, the assistant gunner’s ammunition was in 50 round belts, often carried in drums, and a good portion of his allotment might be distributed to the rest of the squad or left on any vehicle the platoon might have. The gunner was the one who got to carry the MG-42, of course.

The table of ammunition allotments for the new squad was quite a bit simpler:

Member9mm Parabellum Rounds8mm Mauser rounds8mm Kurz rounds
Squad Leader720
Gunner720
Assistant Gunner720
Rifleman 1720
Rifleman 2720
Rifleman 3720
Rifleman 4720
Rifleman 5720
Rifleman 6720

(I’ve left the titles as-is from the previous table for comparison’s sake, but they don’t quite fit when everyone has an StG-44.)

Readers who are interested in the soldier’s load will note that this is a savings of about 13 lbs over the previous one in terms of total load carried for the entire squad.

The new assault platoon had two such all-StG-44 squads. The third squad contained all of the long range support weapons, including two MG-42s and three rifle grenadiers. This support squad consisted of eight men altogether, including the squad leader. Snipers were concentrated in the company headquarters squad.

This new organization was pretty easy to command, a bonus for the Wehrmacht Heer as its supply of well-trained veteran squad leaders dwindled.

A few more things stand out to me, looking back seventy-odd years later. First is that we could replicate this platoon pretty readily with three IFVs that each have a six mount capacity, if we used the IFVs themselves as a “support squad”. While this would be a small, easily commanded platoon, it does tie the IFVs closely to their dismounts, and perhaps that is not desirable.

I would be remiss if I didn’t comment briefly on what the 1944 tables said about the Panzergrenadiers. Panzergrenadier platoons consisted of three identically-equipped squads. Each squad was made up of ten men, including vehicle driver and assistant/gunner. No StG-44s were assigned at this time. Instead, the eight dismounts had two MG-42s, with a third MG-42 remaining in the halftrack.

The Opinionated Bastards: Gacrux Part I (Apr. 7, 3050)

The Opinionated Bastards sign on the dotted line, and will be employed by the Federated Commonwealth hunting pirates until July 7, 3050 (or earlier, if we’re very successful). Read on below the fold for more.

En Route

To save on transit costs, I had the techs mothball the light lance. With only five mechs in mech bays, we fit into a smaller combat dropship; the mechs in mothballs go in a small cargo dropship. Mothballing takes two days, but a tech can unmothball a mech in a single working day, so we should be deployed as soon as we hit the ground on Gacrux.

Along the way, our human resources division makes a few paid recruitment rolls, spending 100,000 C-bills per week to load up on mech techs and administrators in the other categories. The Opinionated Bastards now have a fully-stocked tech division, as well as administrators and doctors fit for a unit of our size. In all, the Opinionated Bastards total 121 personnel, including the 72 local astechs and 12 local medics supporting our tech teams and medical staff.

Rick Papatamelis
Rick Papatamelis is one of our new administrators. Hi, Rick!

(Note that since this is my first campaign following the Campaign Operations payment and maintenance rules, I’m using Campaign Operations rules for administration and tech support too; I had to triple the administrator allowance to get a reasonable starting position.)

Finally, I ordered some parts for delivery at Gacrux: ammunition, armor, and heat sinks, all of which are consumables after a fashion. (Heat sinks don’t get used up, of course, but they’re the most common part in our force and therefore the most likely to take critical hits.) I also bought some hand and foot actuators before I realized that’s probably a good thing to vote on, so check the action items for more.

map
The seven-jump path from Piedmont to Gacrux. The top of the map, in blue, is the Clan invasion. Terra is the white dot just below Yorii.

Monthly Happenings

Gacrux, our destination, is a fascinating place. We arrive on March 7, 3050. I deploy the heavy lance to seek out action right away to fulfill the terms of the contract, and set about unpacking the light lance. The latter, hosting all of our rookies, goes on training duty, in the hopes of bringing some of them up to a slightly higher standard of performance.

Nothing much goes on in March. The pirates won’t come out to play, which is quite a shame.

We do pick up a local; an astech by the name of Kian-zhi Ewerlof signs on permanently. He’ll apprentice under one of our proper techs for a while, and perhaps someday he’ll grow into a proper tech himself.

Status

It is now April 7, 3050.

Personnel

As mentioned above, we’re fully manned as far as administrators, techs, and support personnel go. Since we have administrators with an HR specialty, we can make paid recruitment rolls to find candidates for specific positions at a cost of 100,000 C-bills per weekly recruitment cycle.

Mission Progress

deployment report

The heavy lance is searching out the enemy. The light lance (such as it is) is training. Enemy morale is now Low. If it reaches Rout, we win, and we can collect the remaining payment and hit the road.

The Locust LCT-1M is refitting to a variant which mounts three medium lasers, a solid punch for such a lightweight mech.

Finances

financial report

After transit to Gacrux and the first month’s payout, we have 2.378 million C-bills. Our net income before share payment is 1.106 million C-bills. After shares, the company nets 884,800 C-bills per month. The May, June, and July payouts remain, for a total of 2.654 million C-bills remaining to be paid. At the end of the contract, discounting salvage sales and battle damage repairs, we should have 5.032 million C-bills. Transit back to Piedmont should cost about 1.7 million C-bills. We should therefore have about 3.332 million C-bills after all is said and done for this contract.

Supplies

supply report

Armor, ammo, heat sinks, and cheapo actuators make up the majority of our supplies right now. (Note that LRM ammo and SRM ammo are interchangeable. 240 shots of LRM 5 ammo is 720 missiles, or 60 shots of LRM 20 ammo.)

Action Items

  • First up, deployment. Should the light lance remain in training, or deploy? Units actively seeking out combat have a much higher chance of finding it. On the other hand, Hasek10 is correct in saying that the game will generate roughly even forces. (Not quite BV-equivalence, but approximately weight-equivalent for sure.) That could make for a tough fight, given the light lance’s actual weight and inexperience in piloting.
  • Next, ongoing procurement. I want to have about four million C-bills in hand before we leave; that leaves room for transit back, transit to the next world, and some downtime if we roll a bunch of undesirable contracts. Should we save the money, or secure sufficient spares and ammunition for a long, independent operation? In either case, I’ll get spares for commonly-used weapons and so on. If we’re planning on taking a long, independent contract, I’ll also likely want to get more actuators and some spare arms and legs. The latter would set us up for a longer contract out of contact with friendlies. The former might yield a treasury which can absorb the price of a light or medium mech.
  • Mechwarriors are still available to claim; all you need to do is say so and give me a callsign. I’ll try to follow claimed mechwarriors more closely in future updates. Available mechwarriors:
    • Captain Halit
    • Lt. SG Ishikawa
    • Lt. JG Dare
    • Pvt. Jamil
    • Pvt. Ec
    • Pvt. Ortega
    • Pvt. Ngo
    • Pvt. Frajtov
    • Pvt. Kohler
    • Pvt. Kojic
    • Pvt. Payne

StG v. LMG

I got the awesome book Sturmgewehr! recently from Collector Grade Publications, and it contains tons of great stuff. It’s got a detailed history of the crazy internal politics and the various iterations of the prototypes that would eventually become the world’s first assault rifle.

All of that is awesome. And that alone would be worth the price of admission. Engineering prototypes are cool, and it’s great to track the evolution of an idea as it intersects with operational realities in testing. Plus, despite (or perhaps because of) being a dictatorship, the Third Reich had some crazy political struggles, with all kinds of subterfuge and pet projects and competing notions. Right there, I had my money’s worth.

But I was hoping for more, and happily Collector Grade (and the Waffenamt’s obsessive documentation) delivered. What I was really interested in was how the Germans figured they would be deploying this new weapon. Clearly, an assault rifle can replace bolt action rifles, semiautomatic-only rifles like the Gewehr 43, and submachine guns like the MP-40. That’s most of the weapons of the squad right there. But what about Hitler’s Buzzsaw? Can the StG-44 plausibly replace the MG-42? Did the Germans figure this was a net gain or a net loss?

Let’s look at the technical considerations for that very comparison, comparisons forged in the hellish engagements of the Eastern Front. I’ll have a follow up where I look at the 1944 organization tables built with the StG-44 in mind. Note that the Germans frequently deployed prototype StG-44s to combat units to gain feedback. One of the questions asked was “Can this weapon replace the MG-42 in an infantry squad?”

Anyway, let’s grab some relevant figures for comparison, so we have them all in one place. The MG-42 weighs 25.51 lbs, is chambered for 7.92x57mm Mauser, is belt fed, and fires at about 1,200 rounds per minute. We’re concerned primarily with the light machine gun use case, so not supported by the excellent tripod. While the MG-42 could be operated by one man, in practice a second man was designated to be the ammunition bearer, and would also help carry spare barrels.

The StG-44 weighs about 10 lbs unloaded, is chambered for 7.92x33mm Kurz, is detachable box magazine fed, and fires at about 500-600 rounds per minute (cyclic). A lot like a modern assault rifle.

When comparing the two options, it should be noted that this was not a one for one replacement. That is, the StG-44 would not be issued one per squad or fireteam in the fashion of the M1918 BAR. Rather, it was a shift to a ‘distributed firepower’ model, something like that of the Soviet submachine gun regiments. Clearly the StG-44 was a lot handier, and could be easily used in a trench or in built-up areas. A squad of StG-44s didn’t provide one obvious target for enemy suppression, and when relocating, did not have a significant drop in effective firepower as the machine gun was moved.

While the firepower of one MG-42 was significantly greater than that of one StG-44, given the different rates of fire and the relative capacities of a belt and a box magazine. Since the StG-44 was to be deployed en masse, this wasn’t a focus of comparison. It may interest the reader to know that Wehrmacht planners figured three StG-44s were roughly equivalent in close-in firepower to one MG-42.

The one big advantage the MG-42 held was at range. The MG-42 was still effective at ranges beyond 500 meters, but the StG-44 was never designed to be effective at these ranges. In the evaluations, units that were stationed in areas of Russia with long sightlines placed a high value on the MG-42 and keeping it available. Units that did not have many long sightlines available at the time of evaluation tended to value the handiness of the StG-44, and reckoned it could completely replace the MG-42.

Next time we’ll look at the units equipped with the StG-44, at least as they were drawn up on the organization tables.

(Snarky) Confessions of a Recovering Tactical Timmy

I’ve gone to a bunch of “defensive”/”tactical” training classes1. And I’ve enjoyed them, and I have a lot of good friends who teach such things. That said, I’ve noticed a few quirks, and there are a few little things that annoy me. Maybe this is just me becoming more of a “gamer”. Whatever. I don’t care. Since I’m snarky, I’m going to point some of them out here.

  1. “It’s not a stage!”
    Continue reading

The Crossbox Podcast: Episode 23 – Fall Ahead Edition

In our latest episode yet, we sneak in under the wire with a mere seven hours left in September. We revisit some old warfighting equipment, some old games, and some more recent guns.

Further reading
Collector Grade Publications
M60A2 Starship, which looks less like a starship than I might have hoped.
CZ P-09 proposal. You can find the review in the recommended posts.

Continue reading

The Opinionated Bastards: a MekHQ BattleTech Mercenaries Campaign

Introduction

Welcome to what I hope will be the start of a long-running Let’s Play: a mercenary campaign, more or less following the Against the Bot campaign rules, using MekHQ and MegaMek to handle the bookkeeping.

That’s a lot to unpack. We’ll start with MegaMek. This is MegaMek:

MegaMek

MegaMek is an open-source implementation of the BattleTech rules, which greatly simplifies playing out battles. It covers just about everything in the BattleTech rulebooks, but it’s also a little on the dense and questionably-documented side, as open source projects are wont to be. (See also: my very own OpenTafl.)

Next up, MekHQ. This is MekHQ:

MekHQ

MegaMek runs battles; MekHQ runs campaigns. It implements some of the many, many variations in BattleTech’s rules for maintenance costs, mercenary contract generation, and so on and so forth.

Finally, Against the Bot. No screenshot here. Against the Bot is simply a set of rules on top of those implemented in MekHQ, concerning the generation of a mercenary company and some of the mechanics of running one left untouched by BattleTech’s rulebooks.

I have a few house rules I plan to layer on top. First, a set of rules I cooked up for pre-existing enemy damage. Especially in the Third Succession War era, it’s hard to come by spares and time for maintenance, but the Against the Bot rules have no provision for setting up the enemy forces to be as battered as yours. The pre-existing damage rules present a mechanism for wearing down the enemy force over the length of a campaign, an important part of warfare.

Second, I have a litany of little tweaks to the Against the Bot rules.

  • I’ll be using the contract payments and maintenance costs from the Campaign Operations rulebook. I won’t be using maintenance rolls or the unofficial percentage-based maintenance costs in MekHQ; Campaign Ops costs neatly fix a lot of the issues with the old type-based maintenance costs.
  • I plan to turn the contract search radius down to about 200 light-years to start. This keeps transport costs limited. That’s important: the default contract radius of 800 light-years covers pretty much the entire Inner Sphere. Contracts 20 or 30 jumps and a year or two away require very favorable transport terms to have any chance of being profitable. Contracts five or ten jumps away can still be feasible to take even with poor transport terms if the other terms are sufficiently favorable.
  • Retirement rolls will be ignored for the first five years. After that, retirement rolls will always have a -2 Target Number modifier.
    • In any given year, every full month of downtime on the mercenary’s home world will add a -1 modifier to the retirement roll Target Number.
  • Mechs associated with the founding members of the company are company property. If/when founding members retire or die, they don’t get to take mechs with them. Pilots hired later on who bring their own mechs must get the same mech or a comparable one on retirement. Further, they may not be reassigned from their personal mech to a worse one.
  • I reserve the right to ignore Big Battles and Special Events; the Against the Bot generator in MekHQ seems not to get them right on some occasions. If they’re reasonable, I’ll play them.
  • Reinforcements.
    • Any or all lances can be deployed on missions where I’m the attacker.
    • Any lance with Defend duty can be deployed on missions where I’m the defender.
    • Any lance with Training duty can be deployed on missions where I’m the defender on 4+ on a D6.
  • If I have a DropShip, I can add mech bays to it at the cost of cargo space. Adding a mech bay costs 120 tons of cargo space and 7.5 million C-bills.

Process and Participation

I, as the company commander, will play roughly a month of game time per week of real time (my time permitting). I’ll be using a customized build of MekHQ which contains some brand-new features; you can download the source from this branch on Github.

You, as the readers (either at my website or at the Bay12 forums) have a few participation options. You can pick a mechwarrior, aerospace pilot, or vehicle crewman to follow, and give me guidance on how that person ought to develop his or her skills (and possibly input on mech refitting, if that happens). Whether or not you do that, you can also vote on the contract to take.

Company Generation

Now we come to the fun part. Given that my blog is the primary venue for this Let’s Play, I’ve decided we will be known as the Opinionated Bastards. We still have a few things to figure out, though. First off, time period.

  • 3025: at the tail end of the Third Succession War, there is very little advanced technology to be found. Mechs are more likely to be held together with spitballs and baling wire, just barely kept running by industrious techs. Classic BattleTech.
  • 3050: the Clan invasion is in full swing. Advanced technology is back on the menu! We may also have to fight the Clans. Classic BattleTech for me—I cut my teeth on MechWarrior 2, back in the day. If you vote for this item, specify whether you want to start on the same side of the Inner Sphere as the Clans, or elsewhere.
  • 3075: the Word of Blake Jihad is the crisis of the day. Modern-ish BattleTech.

Furthermore, we have to pick a flavor of company.

  • Adventurous Merchant: company commander and officers will have worse piloting and gunnery skills, but better mechs. Start with an extra 5 million C-bills. Chance to start with a DropShip. Start with one Logistics administrator only.
  • Mercenary Veteran: company commander and officers will have better piloting skills, but receive no bonus to mech generation rolls. Start with an HR administrator plus administrator of choice. Receive a 10% signing bonus on contracts owing to reputation. Also owing to reputation, it is no longer forbidden to assign mech pilots who bring their own hardware to worse mechs. (They still get to take them back when they leave.)
  • No Special Background: -2 Target Number on all retirement rolls. Start with two administrators, my choice.

Action Items

  • Your votes needed! Give me some preferences for time period and mercenary company type.