March 14, 2015

Rifle Platoon Leader - Platoon Scouts

[Scouts] act as a screen to investigate possible danger areas, seek out the enemy, and prevent surprise hostile fire. The distance the scouts precede the platoon is governed by orders of the platoon leader and varies with the ground and with the probable position of the enemy.
                                                                                                           FM 7-10 – 18 March 1944


Leading the platoon on the approach march should be one or more scout teams.  I will put as many eyes forward as possible when advancing to contact, and if necessary also to the flank or flanks.  The more scout teams you have leading your main formation the better chance you have in uncovering the enemy dispositions and preventing surprise encounters.  I will often use up to a third of my force in the scout role, for a platoon that would be either one complete squad broken down into teams, or three two man scout teams, one from each squad.

NOTE:  In CM the US Squad can break down into three teams, so if a two man scout team is pulled out of it, the ability to split is still there.  German squads on the other hand can only break down into two teams so if you split off a two man scout team the rest of the squad will have to operate as one element.  That is normally less than ideal and impacts the flexibility of your formation.

There are three distinct ways to use your scouts when advancing ahead of a platoon:

Platoon Bounding Overwatch:

(1)    The platoon leader may hold the platoon under cover and await reconnaissance of the assigned march objective by the platoon scouts. When the scouts signal "forward," the platoon leader advances the platoon to the line of scouts and again sends the scouts forward to the next objective. This method affords the best security but is the slowest and ordinarily the least desirable of the three methods.
                                                 FM 7-10 – 18 March 1944 

In this type of movement, your entire platoon is operating in a bounding type fashion, with the scouts moving forward to a terrain feature or other specified area (movement objective), ensuring it is clear, then halting on that position.  The rest of the platoon then joins them before moving the scouts forward to the next line. 

The platoon should be able to provide overwatch, meaning cover fire if necessary to the scouts throughout their move forward. This type of movement is slow and should be used when enemy contact is highly probable. Also good when advancing through close terrain like woods or built up areas. It ensures close cooperation between the scouts and the platoon main body.

Platoon Traveling Overwatch:

(2)    The platoon may be held under cover while the scouts are sent forward to the next objective with the platoon leader following close behind. When the scouts have reconnoitered the objective, the platoon leader by signal sends them forward to the next objective and signals the platoon to come forward. This method insures the security of the platoon by having it under cover until the next objective has been reconnoitered, but requires long and careful training to attain the desired speed and proficiency.
FM 7-10 – 18 March 1944

In this type of movement the scouts are always one movement objective ahead of the rest of the platoon.  The scouts will continue to their next movement objective as soon as the platoon reaches the previous one.  This keeps them always one movement objective ahead of the platoon. 

This type of movement does not allow for close cooperation and support of the scouts by the platoon, it is faster yet less secure.  This type of platoon movement should be used when enemy contact is possible, but not highly probable.

Platoon Traveling:

(1)    The platoon leader may direct the platoon scouts to precede the platoon at midrange (400 to 600 yards) while he follows behind the scouts. This method permits the platoon to advance rapidly without being exposed to enemy small-arms fire within midrange, and is appropriate for an advance over terrain lacking suitable march objectives, for example, over level, open terrain.
                                                                                     FM 7-10 – 18 March 1944

Ensure you have a lot of distance between the scouts and the platoon main body when using this platoon movement.  The movement should be steady and at a relatively quick pace (though don’t rush everybody through this movement, the word is “relative”, actual pace will be set by the movement of the scout teams.
The scouts should be using good scouting techniques to attempt to uncover any enemy activity.  This should give the following platoon main body plenty of warning of any enemy activity before they have to commit to an action.  In other words they could decide to either bypass or withdraw from the enemy contact often without the enemy knowing of their presence..

Use this movement technique when you need to cross a terrain feature at a quick pace, or when you feel relatively secure and that there is small chance of enemy contact.

Scouting Techniques:

I try to always have scout teams operate in pairs, this allows them to mutually support each other.  The best method is to only have one team moving at a time, with the other sitting still to best “hear” and perhaps spot any enemy activity.  The moving team should move in either a rush (Fast) from one close terrain feature to the next, or slow (Hunt) from one to the next.  The rate of movement for your scouts depends on:
  • how quickly you want your platoon to advance 
  • how secure you feel with regards to enemy contact
  • the type of terrain your platoon is moving through

Close Terrain:
When moving through woods or other very close terrain (like built up areas) I will often have many more than two scout teams in front of the platoon and the platoon will follow the scouts at a close distance (three or four action spots).  The rule of thumb is to try to maintain visual contact between your scouts and the leading elements of the platoon formation.

Use Hunt almost exclusively when scouting through close terrain.

The goal is to be able to scout the entire width of your movement zone and uncover any enemy presence well before the main body encounters it.  That will allow you time to determine a course of action with regards to that contact and keep you from blundering into an enemy ambush.

Open Terrain:
When moving through open terrain your scout teams can be fewer and more widely separated and the platoon main body will follow the scouts at a farther distance (ten action spots or more).  The same rule of thumb applies: to try to maintain visual contact between your scouts and the leading elements of the platoon formation, but in this case do not crowd them, allow the scouts to move far ahead to give your platoon main body more room to react to enemy contact.

Maintain proper movement procedures, complete with listening halts as you advance your scouts.  Movement can be at a faster pace than through close terrain, use short rushes (Fast) rather than Hunt, unless you suspect enemy contact is imminent.

Scout Movement:
I usually move my scouts in a zig-zag pattern in order to cover more ground and ensure that my movement is not too predictable.  All movement is successive, that is one team should always be stationary while the other moves forward.  This is not necessary for the follow-on platoon main body, but for the scouts it will allow your scouts:
  • to keep from being seen
  • to be able to spot (or hear) enemy positions and activity better
  • to cover the entire width of the platoon movement zone
Use terrain masking to mask your movement as much as possible, move behind ridge-lines, folds in the ground, gullies, through tree lines, behind buildings, etc. to maximize your movement security and unit protection. 

Cresting a Rise:
If you have to come over the top of a hill, move as close to the reverse side of the crest as you can, to the point, no farther or closer, where you cannot target any area beyond the crest.  Then crawl (Slow) to the crest, but only to the point where you can target beyond the crest.  Do this movement in steps so you can halt, listen for 10-15 seconds, then crawl forward to the next action spot to enable you to spot a little further.  You can do this with Hunt as well, movement speed will depend on the terrain and how open the ground beyond the hill is.

If you suspect the enemy could be just over the crest in a reverse slope posture, stop on your side of the crest and target as far as you can (but within 30 meters) towards the crest, or better slightly on the other side.  Your scouts will then toss grenades over the crest and you will be able to move to the crest with your second team to assault through the position.

Flank Scouts:

If you are using flank scouts, ensure they stay parallel with the platoon main body and move at its pace.  Their job is to be a trip wire and early warning for enemy activity that might be operating on the platoon flank.  One scout team is usually sufficient for this task and they should use frequent halts to listen and watch for enemy movement or activity.  Moving through masked terrain is of course paramount to their success.

My Reconnaissance post talks about how to determine the size of enemy contacts (i.e. is the enemy contact a team, a squad, portions of a platoon, or even portions of a company?).  This analysis is crucial to making a determination on how to deal with any enemy contact(s).  Keep track of any enemy activity as you see it so you will have a record of all contacts and can thus be better prepared to make educated guesses as to the enemy force composition and intent.

Take as much time as you need to be thorough with your scouting.  In my opinion this is the most important and least understood aspect of being successful in Combat Mission battles, especially against a human opponent.  I tend to stay away from scenarios that have very limited time frames, as this will not allow a thorough and methodical recon of the path ahead of your advancing main body.
See my posts on Reconnaissance, especially Recon Pull and Command Push for more information and detail from a higher level.

Additional reading:  Read my Eye of the Elefant BETA AAR in the CMFI forum for what I think is a good demonstration of scouting techniques.  All of the in-game images in this post are from that AAR.

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