Formation and coordination

In my previous post in this series of thinking aloud pieces on simulating command and control, I was stumbling towards a turn structure that might work with one-hour periods. Next phase in the design process is to take a step back and come at the problem from another angle. What does command and control mean for the various sub-units of the army: unit, division and corps?

An infantry unit in DTN represents a group of two to four battalions, which might be a brigade or regiment, or an ad-hoc combination. It sits on a base 50mm by 25mm, which directly covers a frontage of about 400p (p=pace=0.75m), potentially double that, and with the possibility of skirmishers probing out in front. This covers a whole variety of configurations and formations. Users of DTN have to get beyond the idea that they decide whether to array their men in column, line and so on. That is left to junior commanders and arises from context. Judging from the TMP forum, the whole battalion formation thing is so much part of the Napoleonic atmosphere to some wargamers, that this is too much, and they don’t attempt to play this sort of grand tactical game. But to get a bigger battle into a two player game (never mind the physical space of a dining table) you have to get through this.

But in DTN V2 I developed unit “modes” which say something about what the unit commander is trying to achieve, and which have implications for movement and combat. These are:

  • Reserve/attack. The default has the units in battle line but ready to move off and deploy to attack. Think of one or two lines of battalions in attack or manoeuvre columns. Since movement is an important part of their role, they do not make any particular use of the terrain.
  • Defend. This is not dissimilar, but the unit is not deployed to move, but to hold its ground. They may well be already deployed into line formation, and they will certainly make use of any terrain features they can.
  • Movement. In this case the units are formed to advance rapidly. They will not usually be in march columns, but they may be in a narrower column than the default. The battalions are likely to be arrayed one behind the other, so that one picks the quickest way through the terrain, and the others follow without worrying about alignment. This makes them vulnerable in combat.

I think this still works. I think the first two modes should be represented with the base front-on, and the movement mode with the base sideways-on in a sort of column. My bases are made of two stands of 25mm square on a sabot – so these can be arrayed in “line” or “column”, amking this visually easier. A further mode might be “square” – rather exposed and immobile, but able to fend off cavalry attacks. I’m not sure about this. A further issue is whether the units are deployed wide or deep – but I think this can be inferred from context – strength and distance from neighbours.

How movement and switching mode works in the one-hour period is yet to be resolved, but I can leave that for now. How about the division? A division is a group of units (two or three infantry units typically with some artillery or cavalry support perhaps), with an officer figure (DG = Divisional General) in command. In V2 this unit would be given a general purpose “Action” order, or “Move” or “Regroup”. These might or might not be fully activated, and it is quite likely that there would be no order, which restricted them to a limited menu of “free” moves. Moving to a one-hour turn this might give too much friction. So what might command and control situations be?

  • Fully controlled, with all unit commanders having orders and knowing what they are supposed to be doing. this takes time to prepare and no doubt authority from a higher level. But in this state the division can deliver a fully coordinated attack or other manoeuvre. The more complex the plan, the more difficult.
  • Quick action. Single move actions. The DG can direct one of these; others might act on initiative, but with quite low probability.
  • Response only. A limited menu of reaction moves.

If I move to an interchangeable initiative move, this would work more easily than one player moving all his units followed by the other. I hesitate as this might throw away all the time gains from the one-hour turn route! The fully controlled mode corresponds to a fully activated order in DTN. The critical insight is that it needs a certain amount of time to set up, as well as linking in to the army command system.

One further idea is to allow two (or more) units to be placed in base to base combat to signify close cooperation; this might include artillery; infantry cooperating with cavalry in this way may not work so well, though is worth a thought.

So let’s move on to corps. In V2 the corps commander acted as a postbox for the overall commander – who passed on CPs for him to distribute as orders to the divisions, which moved independently. Fully coordinated corps actions, with divisions attacking simultaneously, did happen though. Think of Soult’s counterattack at Austerlitz, or d’Erlon’s main attack at Waterloo. If I do interchanging initiative, this matters! Obviously such levels of coordination took time to prepare.

Another aspect is the strength of corps staff. At Wagram it appears that the Austrian corps staff did not add much value to plans drawn up by army command. Napoleon routinely delegated this level of planning. At Waterloo (and Salamanca) Wellington did not use the corps system at all – but at Vitoria it appears that he did entrust quite a bit of the detail to Hill and Graham – though his own staff was quite weak. The extent to which other nations ever developed the depth of corps level command that the French did I don’t know. The Prussians did in theory, but may have been hindered by lack of officers. The Russians were notoriously weak. Did the Austrians fare better in 1813 than in 1809? But Marmont in 1812 in Spain decided that the corps system was too cumbersome, and abolished it, operating much like Wellington. Personally I rate Marmont in this campaign highly – he outfoxed Wellington until he became overconfident and made that fatal mistake outside Salamanca. So corps level command does not always add value.

There’s something very important lurking in here. I tried using corps commanders as a sort of mini Commander in an early incarnation of V2, with their own CPs, but it overloaded the system, however theoretically correct. I think solutions to this conundrum will only emerge as I get into the detail of the orders system.


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