Norman Conquest: A Combat Mission AAR

By Tim Stone on March 25th, 2011 at 12:00 pm.

This way to victory

Hampshire – well, my little corner of it – is all fire and brimstones at present. A Spring-enthused Mother Nature is providing the Brimstones. A preview build of Battlefront’s Combat Mission: Battle For Normandy is supplying the fire. Beyond the html hedgerow below, you’ll find a first-hand account of my second brush with this realism-rammed game-o’-war. Fingers-crossed, you’ll also find numerous pictures of kaput Panzers and surrendering Stormtruppen.

As there are no campaign or historical scenarios available in this build, skirmishing starts with a waltz round the Quick Battle customisation screen.

Right. I’ve just committed myself to a small 45-minute village attack against a mixed German force. The Jerries will be selecting their own troops and vehicles. The Yanks will be cherrypicked by Yours Truly. Actually, for historicism’s sake, let’s let the software have a say too. Clicking ‘Suggestions’ the CPU spends my precious points allotment on:

1 x dismounted Armoured Infantry Platoon (HQ, 3 x Infantry Squad, 1 x HMG, 1 x MMG, 1 x  Light Mortar)
1 x dismounted Armoured Infantry Platoon (HQ, 3 x Infantry Squad, 1 x MMG, 1 x  Light Mortar, 1 x  Forward Observer, + 1 x M4(105) Sherman tank)
1 x dismounted Motorized Engineer Platoon (HQ, 3 x Engineer Squad, 2 x HMG, 1x MMG)   
1 x Mortar Platoon (3 x 81mm Mortar)

Hmm. Plausible, but with just that lone Sherman, a little light on AT and mobile infantry support for my taste. I think I’ll trade-in the first of those infantry platoons and use the 500 points received to buy:

1 x Air Support Element (light rockets)
1 x Sniper Team (crack)
1 x M10 Tank Destroyer
1 x M8 Armoured Car

All of the above are purchased without offending the sensibilities of the QB’s clever, optional rarity watchdog. If the events of the next 45 turns culminate in an Allied victory, I’ll know I won using a force that wouldn’t have raised too many sweat-soaked eyebrows in August ’44 France. If I lose I’ll be able to console myself by grumbling authentically about the pressing need for more Sherman Calliopes and pack howitzers in the Cotentin.

TURN 1.  My first look at the venue (I gamely refused the offer of sneak-peak during unit purchasing). My eager/nervous soldiery are crammed into the NW corner of a flat tract of French farmland. To the south, several fields away, is the edge of a village no doubt crawling with determined Deutschlanders. Besides a narrow hedge-shielded corridor up the western side of the map, there are no obvious opportunities for flanking or sly advances. Something tells me this could get bloody.

TURN 2. Concerned about the throng of men and materiel in the deployment zone, I begin to move squads out into nearby hedgerows. The M8 Greyhound armoured car is sent scurrying along the highway that runs like a leaf midrib down the centre of the map. Such a bold scouting manoeuvre is a little out of character, but as Greyhounds were built to reconnoitre, it seems a shame not to let mine fulfil its destiny.

TURN 3. Nuts. That Greyhound’s destiny turned out to be cylindrical and made from steel alloy. A couple of hundred metres down the road, the little canine rounds a corner, spots and – a split-second later- is slain by a stationary Pz IV sitting surprisingly close to my end of the battlefield. The hit text tells me that the fatal shell entered through the turret front. One shot, one kill. Not an encouraging start.

TURN 4. Worming their way into the thick strips of Gallic undergrowth that hem many of the map’s fields, my men begin to spot and engage other threats. Close to that smug Panzer, a Pak 40 AT gun lurks behind a low wall. From a hedgeline beyond the cornfield that dominates the NW corner of the arena, knots of feldgrau-coloured defenders send rifle and MG 34(?) rounds whipping towards twitching foliage.

TURN 5. Time to get some payback on that Pz IV. With no high ground or lofty structures for my FO team to eerie in, I’ve inched them into a hedegrow with line-of-sight to the Greyhound assassin. Now all I’ve got to do is call-in a winged rocket-slinger. An action that turns out to be easier said than done. For some reason – doubtless explained in the pdf manual I’ve foolishly failed to read – all my off-map assets appear to be ‘DENIED’. Did my FO team forget to bring a radio? Did I fail to complete a K7/J682 requisition form before the battle? No idea. All I know is that a sticky task just got stickier.

TURN 6. With aerial salvation looking unlikely (I’m relocating my FO team in the hope of activating their powers) I decide there’s no option but to attempt to remove the Panzer-shaped roadblock with the help of my own armour. The M10 with its 76mm HVAP dispenser, is the natural candidate for this dangerous duty. I reposition it with some hasty move commands (Sadly, it’s going to have to be a frontal shot)  then order it to ‘hunt’ up to a promising hedgerow. A ‘cover arc’ spread over the as-yet-out-of-LOS target means the TD shouldn’t get distracted as it advances.

TURN 7. Got ‘im. Textbook tankicide. The M10 creeps forward until the gunner has the Pz IV in his telescope. A second or two later the US trundler is rocking on its suspension as the faraway Panzer disappears behind a pall of terminal smoke.

TURN 8. Still nervous about that Pak 40 and the achingly open cornfield on the closest and most direct attack route, I waypoint two squads of infantry and the M4(105) Sherman down the narrow hedge-screened strip of pasture on the western edge of the map. With luck I may be able to sidestep the lion’s share of the village’s defences, even inveigle troops directly into the enemy’s rear. Towards the east the terrain is less propitious, but a large, seemingly unoccupied farm complex looks like it might offer a decent jumping-off point for attacks into the village. Assuming, that is, my men can cross the open ground in front of it without too many losses. I send two squads and an HMG team scampering eastward with this in mind.

TURN 9. Incoming HE! Phew, no, just ammo cooking-off inside that blazing Panzer.

TURN 10. My sniper team is finally in a position to engage the Pak 40 behind the wall. A couple of enemy gunners discover this the hard way. The remaining crew (both unexpectedly eagle-eyed) decide to deter further sharpshooting with a few rounds of 75mm HE. The shells are wayward, but do the trick.

TURN 12. In the east, engineers steel themselves for the dash to the farm complex. For the first hundred yards Lady Luck is all grins and giggles, then a sergeant crumples into the herbage. Are his men going to stop? Go to ground? Ah, splendid, they keep moving, reaching the sheltering bosom of the farmhouse exhausted but battle-fit.

TURN 14. In the west, my attempt to obscure a crucial enemy fire-lane with smoke, continues to fail in comical fashion. The force awaiting the veil remain huddled metres away from enemy MG-34s. In reality wouldn’t some curious Fritz with a Panzerfaust have investigated the throb of a 9-cylinder Continental engine by now?

     
 
TURN 16. Choking on their own ineptly laid smoke screen, West Force pile across the lane into the edge of the village. German muzzles swing to engage them. Several GIs are cut down but the majority of the flankers, and the vital Sherman support tank that accompanies them, make it into the protective lee of a Normandy house. At last, we’re dans le village!

TURN 18. Having recovered from the exertions of their cross-field sprint, East Force are now ready to assault the Pak 40 positioned on the other side of the barns. The assault isn’t nearly as decisive as I’d have liked. Grenades are hurled, a gunner appears to perish, but, raked with supporting fire from other German positions, the engies ultimately decide to abandon the action and fall back to the rear of the farmhouse. Maybe if they’d had an HQ nearby they’d have stuck to their guns. I really should be trying to keep my platoons together.

TURN 20. With a scattering of houses and hedges between it and the two Pak 40s (a second gun has now been sighted 500 metres or so south of the first) West Force are free to hook round towards the objective – a sturdy two-storey structure in the centre of the village. With the invaluble help of the Sherman’s 105mm problem solver, several enemy infantry squads are put to flight. For the first time I scent the faint whiff of victory.

TURN 22. Blimey. A shell just whistled past the turret of my hellraising Sherman. I’d assumed there was nothing hostile between West Force and the southern end of the map. I was wrong. It seems there’s a shy German shell slinger sat at the back of the battlefield. My tank has its arse to this as-yet-unidentified AT threat and is some way from potential cover. I’m going to order it to turn its tougher frontal armour towards the foe, but, honestly, don’t expect it to survive long enough to complete the manoeuvre.

TURN 23. An improbable escape. The gunners crewing what turned out to be another Pak 40 fired several more shots at my hopelessly exposed Sherman. All of them slammed into an intervening wall. Good fortune? A ballistics or AI quirk? Not sure. All I know is that this woeful gunnery gave my tank time to turn, and one of my infantry squads opportunity to bundle forward and pour fire onto the artillery piece. At roughly the moment the lifesaving section of wall finally disintegrates, a 105mm shell and shots from my infantry ensure the gun won’t speak again.

TURN 25. Having proven the viability of both the western and eastern infiltration routes, I’m now pushing infantry and support teams up both sides of the map. The stubborn Pak 40 that resisted the first engineer assault finally succumbs to a second rush from a fresh squad. In the moments before it falls, a crewman can be seen gamely defending his weapon with a levelled Luger.

TURN 28. Battered from front and sides, broken German squads drift back towards the objective only to find themselves caught in vicious crossfire delivered by the Sherman and soldiers of a  bolstered West Force. In the far south of the map some of these remnants give a good account of themselves, repelling a house assault mounted by one of my engineer squads. There’s still fight in the foe.

TURN 30. Though my 81mm mortar battery still isn’t answering the phone, and the air support I’d paid 179 good points for remains ‘DENIED’, my on-map light mortar has finally made a small contribution to the carnage. A few seconds ago it dropped some death pears on the last surviving Pak 40. Barring panzerfausts, panzerschrecks, AT grenades, mines(?), and any undetected AT guns and AFVs, the village is now perfectly safe for my M10.

TURN 31. The objective zone is dominated by a two-storey building. Having slammed a few tank shells into this structure, I figure it’s now ripe for occupation. Seven men dart across the road and pile in through the frontdoor. Thirty seconds later six emerge looking worried. They’ve just had their fillings rattled by a panzerschreck rocket fired from the garden on the other side. Once again I realise the vulnerability of my cocky battle-changing Sherman, and resolve to reverse it back to a more sensible distance.

TURN 32. A second, less nervy infantry squad advances on the objective building. This time the Panzerschreck team can’t stop them.


 
TURN 33. Crikey. Rather than fight to the bitter end, those sensible Germans have surrendered. Using Battlefront’s criteria I’ve won a ‘Total Victory’. Using unofficial Grim Reaper Rules, it’s 37 – 20 to the Allies. Not bad considering two of my key assets were AWOL and my ‘battle plan’ had more holes in it than an MG 34 barrel shroud.

Feelings towards CM:BfN based on this brief beta taste? Some of my AI and infantry misgivings remain, but I’m more certain than ever that this is a game I’m going to be playing regularly over the coming year.

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39 Comments »

  1. President Weasel says:

    Thanks, Tim Stone. Tell us more.

  2. Mavvvy says:

    Quality, do they have a pre-order and get beta access thing going on. Played the first combat mission to death, what to get my power burned mandibles in to this one. Naowh I say.

  3. ReV_VAdAUL says:

    I wish I was more strategically minded, I love reading these AARs but whenever I try to play games like this my strategies make it seem like I’m secretly working for the enemy.

    • sasayan says:

      Exactly how I feel. Thankfully WoT has given me the ability to feel like the commander I always wish I was without the hours of grognard research.

  4. ross_angus says:

    Kill the robot!

    • Sarlix says:

      Just so ross_angus doesn’t come off as a complete nutter, I should just point out he was replying to some spam by our old friend shoesforking. There are NO robots in Combat Mission – Battle for Normandy, sadly.

  5. Alethron says:

    Great article, makes me want to check this out when it’s released.

  6. dartt says:

    Thanks Tim, great write-up.

  7. battles_atlas says:

    I miss Close Combat. Never played this series though. Can it fill the (fox)hole?

    • Apocalypse 31 says:

      Combat Mission is basically a 3d version of Close Combat, but it really ends there.

      The Campaigns from Combat Mission:Shock Force were really weird; Weird in the sense that you didnt really get the feeling that you were playing a ‘campaign’. It just felt like a bunch of missions, one after each other. There was no force pool, or strategic layer at all.

      I dont know if that has been worked on for this new release, but if its not, it wont last long on my hard drive, no matter how pretty those Sherman roadwheels are.

    • Apocalypse 31 says:

      also – another thing that upsets me alot is seeing AAR’s and Mission Briefs like this.

      These are player made (obviously) and are nothing like what you have in game. Most of the in-game briefs just tell you to ‘capture x, y, and z’

      The mission briefs dont give you any idea of what units you have on hand, or an enemy SITEMP.

    • Phillip Culliton says:

      The mission briefings in Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy are fantastic. Great consistent artwork, well-written – they’re a vast improvement over the briefings in Shock Force. Mission briefings are in general done by scenario authors, though – if you’re downloading scenarios created by users we don’t have any control over what kinds of briefings they write. :-)

  8. Oak says:

    Good read. I’d love to see these happen more often.

    No pressure.

  9. IIntrude says:

    How well did the game play. The last few Combat Missions I have bought have played rather sluggishly on very good machines. I am hoping that they have used a new engine that will provide better performance.

  10. Joseph-Sulphur says:

    Thanks, great article.

    You should do a Men of War AAR, that would be excellent.

  11. RadioactiveMan says:

    This looks like loads of fun! Thanks for the AAR. You mentioned Infantry misgivings- does this game have pretty much the same infantry design as Combat Mission Shock Force? Looks like you still command whole squads… is there the opportunity to divide the squads into components, at least? Is there still the grid of possible movement waypoints, that is way too coarse for proper infantry control?

    Looking forward to the game anyway. Textures look a little flat- I’m keen to see what the Battlefront community modders can turn out. They have produced excellent textures in the past!

    • Tim Stone says:

      Yes, squads can be divided. You can split-off AT teams, scout teams, and assault teams, or break down a squad into three general purpose 3-4 man elements.

      The grid movement system remains but automatic troop adjustments within squares seems more intelligent. Phillip would be able to give you more details on this.

    • Phillip Culliton says:

      There have been a lot of improvements to the way infantry handle themselves. Combat Mission’s capabilities in general have come a long, long way from the 1.0 release of CMSF.

      As for splitting, yep, squads can be split off into logical fire teams. Also, special-purpose teams can be split off for scouting, AT, or assault duties.

      The grid system is still in place but infantry are much better about protecting themselves, finding good spots to hunker down, and getting from place to place. I’ve been playing a ton and the amount of “infantry frustration” that I felt while playing CMSF is gone. In the early versions of CMSF I often lost more men to stupid things my soldiers were doing than to actual tactical mistakes. That’s not the case any more. I still make tactical mistakes, of course. :-)

    • RadioactiveMan says:

      Thank you both for the replies. I am very glad to hear positive thoughts from both of you. Also glad to hear that infantry deaths are more attributable to my mistakes, rather than engine woes. Looking forward to the release!

  12. Jim9137 says:

    So what about that air support, eh? Lazy buggers, sipping their tea up in their jims. Buggers.

    *sip*

  13. oatish says:

    The original Combat Mission was a damn fine wargame.

    The only problem I see here is what can this do that Men of War can’t? I understand the vast differences in control and the Morale modeled in Combat Mission certainly ain’t reflected in MoW but they are both Platoon / Company level battlefield simulators.

    I will keep some eyes on this one.

    • Phillip Culliton says:

      Edit: realized I wasn’t really answering your question.

      Men of War is an RTS. Units have hit points. You can control them individually and steal (to much amusement) individual soldiers’ hats. Snipers have super powers. Units keep attacking even when normal men would have broken several times over.

      Combat Mission is a simulation. In Combat Mission penetration, ballistics, everything (down to the location of equipment inside the vehicles) is modeled.

      Units don’t have hit points – if you hit a Sherman in a location where the slope is just right the shot will bounce. It may even hit another unit. You can put a round right through a halftrack – as long as it doesn’t hit something vital you’re okay apart from the spalling. On the other hand if you hit the vehicle’s radio – they lose radio contact with higher command.

      You can control entire battalions of troops and vehicles if you want. I just played a battle where I was assaulting a German defensive line with two battalions of infantry, an armored battalion, and artillery support. Morale can drive an enemy off the objective before you get there.

      I think they’re on opposite ends of the wargame spectrum. Certainly both have their place. I’ve enjoyed both – but if you’re comparing the simulation aspects it’s Combat Mission, hands down.

  14. BooleanBob says:

    As someone who has just spent the day picking digital sand aus meiner Kaffee in Steel Panthers only for the campaign to stubbornly insist that, historically speaking, no I can’t take Tobruk and put my feet up in June ’41, that I must instead stumble back westwards to Tripoli with no further air cover for my precious Panzer IIIs because of interference from the Allies (how’s that for timely analogy?), allow me just to say – argh, what the hell happened to my day?

    Er, so anyway, this is definitely relevant to my interests. Thanks Tim.

  15. Michael Dorosh says:

    Battlefront desperately needs you to do their PR for them; the screenshots that illustrated this AAR are stunning, and I mean that sincerely. You have a real eye for what works and what doesn’t. There are a few dozen “official” screenshots for CM:BN now, and a few dozen unofficial ones from the AAR threads there, and none of them compare to the framing and careful selection that (apparently) went into these. I was amazed at the official screenshots showing such things as BAR gunners grasping weapons as if they were M16s, etc. Nothing I particularly care about, but stuff you wonder why anyone would showcase with so few “production stills” extant. These images are truly remarkable – love the PaK crewman with the pistol felling the GI. And the Sherman with the infantryman could be a Tamiya kit boxtop.

  16. Owen says:

    Superb read Tim, really love your stuff. Something that RPS do just so damn well, is getting across the feel of a game. So much more important in many ways, than a review. Jim’s Men of War articles way back inspired and excited me into buying that. This is another such article.

    Cheers

  17. sasayan says:

    This sounds like something I want to love, but its Friday and I’ve been to the pub already. The AAR is top notch. Remind me to nit pick tomorrow.

  18. Mattressi says:

    Wow, looks great! Never heard of it before, but I’m really looking forward to it now.

  19. thebigJ_A says:

    How are the controls? This seems like just the game to get me into the simulation style, but other games of the type that I’ve tried (Achtung Panzer: Kharkov) were incomprehensible. I mean, I probably could have figured it out, but I just played the demo and it wasn’t worth all the effort.

    I hope it’s intuitive, or at least has a tutorial geared towards newbies.

    Also, I love realistic ballistics!

  20. Tim Stone says:

    @Alethron, dartt, President Weasel, Oak, Owen, RadioActiveMan, Joseph-Sulphur.
    Appreciation appreciated. Thanks chaps.
    @Michael.
    Thanks. Ignore the odd clipping issue, some unnaturally thick walls and barren ‘gardens’, and CMBfN really is rather pretty. The AFVs are especially attractive. They can certainly look better than they appear in my shots. I suspect I may have inadvertently lowered the detail settings while playing (CMBfN’s detail adjustment keys = CMx1′s zoom/unzoom keys!)
    @thebigJ_A
    For a newcomer, the controls are probably going to seem as quirky and difficult as Achtung Panzer’s.
    Ordering troops about is reasonably straightforward, but RTS staples like posture selectors and a ‘hold-fire’ toggle aren’t available. I’d like to see more tooltips and fewer order types. No game should ever offer ‘fast’ and ‘quick’ movement options.

    • thebigJ_A says:

      Hmm. Well, if the tutorial mentioned by ChrisN above is even decent, I think I’ll have the will to bull through on this one. I’m more interested in this than I was in kharkov 1943. And then, who knows, maybe it’ll inspire me to go back and try that one again.

      And what on Earth is the difference between “fast” and “quick”?? Didn’t they realize the words are synonyms?

  21. Tim Stone says:

    ***Arty/Air Support Clarification***
    Having examined one of my savegames, I realise the USAAF and mortar men weren’t actually to blame for my absent assets. The reason my Forward Observer team kept getting a ‘DENIED’ message was because it was – umm – lacking a Forward Observer.
    Unbeknown to me, during the early moments of the engagement, the chap with the fieldglasses and the map-reading skills was wounded and left behind. The 2-man ‘FO’ team I was attempting to use to call in assets, had a radio, and eyes on the prize, but, apparently, no-one with the skills to send a support request. I wonder – were FO teams really so fragile/rigidly demarcated?

    • BooleanBob says:

      There’s a vaguely sexist joke about multitasking to be made in there.

    • Alex Bakke says:

      First of all, this was a great AAR and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, as ever – I look forward to reading your future posts on RPS :)

      Second, from my understanding, the FO/JTAC has certain codes that only he has possession of – This means if he’s killed and the bosch takes his radio (And they speak good enough English), then they can’t call in any ordnance on allied lines. So if your FO was wounded, and the remaining squaddies kept running, then I suppose it makes sense. However, I have no idea whether the squaddies would have those codes.

    • SiliRat says:

      Yes, FO teams were very fragile and dependant on the FOO. Generally speaking, he would be the only person on the team with the necessary skill set to call in artillery. The rest of the team would fill roles as drivers and radiomen and wouldn’t have been trained in the fine art of gunnery.

  22. Iskariot says:

    I have played the WW2 Combat Mission games to death. Sadly they did not cope to well with wide screen monitors. I hope this will reignite my enthusiasm for these games.

  23. El Mariachi says:

    Oh, that smoke… I too played the hell out of CM:BO and the one thing that was perpetually frustrating was attempting to lay smoke. I’d order a unit to drop smoke in front of an enemy MG position to cover an infantry rush; once the turn started the unit would almost inevitably immediately countermand the order and take potshots at some utterly harmless TOO — a broken fleeing vehicle crew or somesuch. Of course the infantry would go ahead with its charge, with predictable results.

    Hopefully there’s a way to chain orders, so you can tell your men to “do x whenever y has finished doing z, and not before.”

    (Oooh, and there’s a Mac version…)

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