November 13, 2015

Battle Planning

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Battle Planning is the most important aspect of battle command.  Battle planning is not the same thing as having a plan however… in fact I rarely have a firm plan in mind when entering into a new scenario.  My philosophy is to rarely plan, but at all times to be planning.  Confusing?  I’ll attempt to explain.

Entering into a battle with a firm plan in mind before you have made any contact with the enemy can make you inflexible, less able to adapt to changing circumstances, can find you attacking into the enemy's strength, and it can leave you open to a counter-move by a more flexible and fluid opponent. This type of battle command can best be related to the Command Push style of reconnaissance.

Command Push has been discussed previously on my blog:
Command Push:  With this technique you have your routes of advance firmed up and the role of reconnaissance is to clear the routes of hostile forces or gather information for the follow on forces to use as they advance down these predetermined avenues of advance.
The German style of battle command Befehlstaktik, is similar to Command Push as it also uses previously determined orders and plans. This approach to Battle Planning can include phase lines, set objectives, strict timelines, and inflexible movement orders. It can be effective when operating in an area that does not allow for flexible movement due to extremely tight terrain, or with dangerous open flanks. For an example of this type of battle (at least in the opening stages) see my AAR – Wittmann’s Demise.

In this game I advanced down fixed routes against objectives arrayed in a linear fashion in front of me. This scenario had restricted terrain on the left of the map and a wide open area to the right that contained an urban center and very thick woods... I expected a counter-attack to come across that open ground and my whole scheme of maneuver was towards being prepared for that when it finally hit.
Another successful example of this type of battle planning was Combatintman’s Planning Tutorial on the Battlefront forum. If you have not read that tutorial then I highly recommend you go to the link and read it, then come back and finish reading this post.

Here is the detailed sync matrix from his tutorial:

In his tutorial Combatintman breaks down in terrific detail a real world professional approach to battle planning and in this case it was very effective. However for this type of thorough planning to be most effective you really need the following:
  • Good information on the enemy dispositions 
  • Good information on the enemy intentions 
  • Good information on the enemy force composition
Rarely is that information provided in any detail for you so in my opinion to embark on that type of approach to planning will not normally be effective and could get you into trouble against a competent opponent.
The time to take counsel of your fears is before you make an important battle decision. That's the time to listen to every fear you can imagine! When you have collected all the facts and fears and made your decision, turn off all your fears and go ahead!
George S. Patton
I go into most battles without a plan in mind; I let the unfolding circumstances guide my movements.  However I will normally have a reconnaissance plan in place.  I will usually advance across a wide front with widely scattered teams in order to try to get a picture of the enemy positions.  If I am on defense I will try to have a wide picket line of isolated teams well in front of my defensive positions with the intent of uncovering the enemy main avenue of approach.  My goal in the early stages of a battle is to gather information.  This includes:

A full OCOKA Analysis
  • O = Observation and Fields of Fire - basically how well can you spot from key positions. 
  • C = Cover and Concealment - identifying where the best cover and concealment is in your area of operation can help dictate how best to maneuver 
  • O = Obstacles - obviously this process will continue throughout a scenario... as you uncover any enemy obstacles they will be rolled into your planning map. This also includes any terrain obstacles that can block, hinder, or channel movement 
  • K = Key Terrain - these pieces of terrain are what you think might be important for one side or the other (or both) in the upcoming battle 
  • A = Avenues of Approach - ideally this will include both friendly and potential enemy avenues of approach
Of course I also start a thorough reconnaissance.

This is the Estimate the Situation and Reconnaissance sections of the following chart (my Decision Process):
Estimating the Situation never ends, the battle and the field of battle will evolve and information will be updated throughout a scenario and you need to be constantly on the lookout for these changes and account for them in your planning.  In the above chart this is illustrated by the looping arrows, as your recon uncovers enemy information it needs to feed back into your situation estimate.

The Tentative Plan is really a series of potential ideas for plans that could be enacted depending on the information you receive; many times I don’t even have these in hand and let the situation dictate my approach.  From the beginning you should orient your force to be ready to act on whichever of these tentative plans appears to be best suited to the information gathered. 

The rule of thumb is to attack where the enemy is weakest… that is not a determination you can make without a complete Situation Estimate.

Even when I decide on a plan I am still never married to it and will change it at the drop of a hat if I determine that the plan is either, not going to be successful, or another juicier approach becomes obvious. 

In my first CMFI Gustav Line AAR I had made a determination that my opponent had a weaker force on my right so I planned to conduct my main assault on that side of the field…

However, as the situation developed my reconnaissance discovered that my opponent had two tanks approaching in this sector.  This changed the force balance back to his favor and forced me to reconsider my assault and I stopped most forward movement until I gathered more information and could make a plan to deal with the enemy armor.  I then implemented a severe withdrawal of troops on this sector and moved my main combat power to the center while my tanks dealt with the panzers.  In the end this turned out to be a winning move. 

Flexibility allowed me to quickly shift focus and react to events.

The bottom line: My battle planning philosophy relies on:
  • Maintaining flexibility 
  • Identifying the enemy formation (order of battle) 
  • Identifying the enemy defenses and/or movements 
  • Identifying the enemy intent 
  • Then applying that information to enable me to hit him where he is weakest with my main combat power

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