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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Half-Track Love

My other car is a Sd. Kfz. 251 Ausf. D.

This is a follow up to my article on HMGs and defensive fire.  Someone asked about half-tracked Transports and their battlefield-role.  And, indeed, well-armed Mechanized forces like Panzer Lehr and US Armored Rifles can really throw out the MG dice from their vehicles.

Nationality
 
Half-Tracked transports fulfill quite different battlefield roles, depending on the nationality.  For example, German half-tracks are all-around monsters:  Filled with troops, they can assault like tanks.  Empty, they can stay on the board and fire their MGs even when the troops have dismounted.  US half-tracks are more middle of the road, with copious MGs when mounted and little purpose once the troops have disembarked.  No special tricks here; only solid utility.  British half-tracked transports are no more than a bullet shield, lacking the vehicle MG that makes other nations' transports so desirable.

I'm most familiar with the German and US forces, so that's what I'll discuss here. There are three major viable (but situational) roles for these armed half-tracks and their machine-guns.  They can move a platoon across the battlefield in relative safety.  They can make a fast strike with vehicle weapons (or for Germans, Assault).  Or they can hang back and provide defensive fire.

Casualties and Half-Tracks


Casualty-control remains the greatest impediment to using half-tracks on a battlefield filled with tanks and AT guns.

Under version two, destroyed Transports counted against your platoon for morale checks. So losing too many half-tracks could easily break the main platoon.  In version two, most of the art of using half-tracks consisted of knowing when to send them to the rear, thereby reducing your liability.  I know many players who simply didn't deploy their half-tracks at all.  Ever.  A mistake, in my view. 

Version three has made some important changes to the rules for half-tracks.  Causalities to the Transports no longer count against the Platoon for break tests.  So even if the enemy blows up every last half-track, your infantry won't have to test.  But what New Zealand gives with one kindly Hobbit hand, it takes away with a nasty, tricksy Orc hand.  Under v3, armored Transports that take a casualty must test Morale.  If they fail, every half-track in the Platoon goes *poof* and vanishes to the rear.

Honestly, I'm not sure that v3 benefits half-tracks as much as people think. Yeah, you don't have to worry about losing the platoon if you keep your half-tracks around.  But if you are counting on having at least some tracks on board next turn to execute your chosen tactic, they might just flee and leave the infantry standing about with their pants around their knees.

Rapid Movement

The first, simplest, and most often overlooked use for half-tracked Transports is as transports.  In many games, you may have transported Platoons in Reserve -- either real Reserves, or hanging about in a secondary position.  In either case, they are likely to be hidden by terrain and able to move without the enemy shooting them much.  In these cases, the extra movement is worth the risk of staying mounted.  There are even times when you can double-time along the back-board without fear of retribution.

You can also use the extra movement more aggressively.  If the enemy has few AT guns, it may be worthwhile to drive a platoon (especially a large platoon like US Armored Rifles) straight at an enemy position.  Do the math your head.  Quite often, you will lose fewer stands to destroyed transports than you would walking them slowly.  I've even used this technique with double-time -- sometimes double hits with a weak gun are less deadly than a slow march forward.

The Slashing Strike

A fully-mounted Gepanzerte Panzergrenadier platoon or US Armored Rifle Platoon contains a lot of vehicle MGs.  If you can bring one or more platoons into a Schwere-punkt, all those MG dice can eviscerate infantry in the open.  They can even do a good job taking out a few guns like isolated 88s or PaK 40s.  Shoot them before they shoot you, and seize the ground!  (Nothing says fun like 3 platoons of Panzer Lehr MGing up an infantry platoon in the open.) Just beware the return fire.

Some variant tricks:

Don't forget that US Armored Rifles have lots of .50 cals.  Against most targets, the difference between a regular MG and .50 is negligible.  So players often get into the habit of forgetting who has the heavier guns.  But against dug-in targets and light armor, a .50 cal's higher FP of 5+ can be quite useful.

German Half-Tracks can use Mounted-Assault.  In my experience, it's hard to pull off such an assault, but when you can, it's devastating.  (Under V3, they get Tank Escorts too! Yi!)  The trick is to reduce Defensive Fire -- since half-tracks are open-topped, they can be pinned with a measly 5 hits, just like any infantry platoon.  They may be mostly invulnerable to the gun fire, but they won't wade into it either.

Defensive Fire

Half-tracks (especially German half-tracks) are great at bolstering a Platoon's Defensive Fire.  In much the same way that each HMG in 8" grants 6/3 dice, so too will each half-track grant 3 dice.  In order to take advantage of these extra dice, most nations must leave a stand in the Transport to work the gun.  But the Germans can deploy everybody and still keep the track around to bolster fire. The half-tracks can be pretty survivable too.  A veteran half-track, in Concealment and GtG, requires 6+ to hit at short range and is invisible at 16" or more. 

Here's where version 3 really hurts, though.  A single good AT shot on the half-tracks can potentially make them all run away.  Let's say you have 4 Transports carefully deployed to provide Defensive Fire.  An enemy Sherman pops one, and the others fail their morale.  That's 12 dice gone!  So, expect the enemy to soften up a Lehr or GpPzG platoon before assault by trying to snipe a track or two.  (US ARs might seriously consider trading in a few stands for extra LMGs -- they don't have to worry about being sent to the rear!)





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