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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Bolt Action - Tactics for German halftrack mounted platoons

The Panzer scouts have finally hit the table and even played through their first two day Bolt Action event, taking the 'Best Axis General' award of the weekend and 2nd place overall. In this instalment I'll give you the theory on the army list construction as well as the tactics I employed on the table. These tactics will be useful for anyone running an army with a few armoured transports for their infantry.
For those who aren't aware, this is the 4th part in this series, where I have documented building a 1944 German recon platoon for Bolt Action. You can read part 3 here and go back from there. These first three parts cover the painting and modelling of the miniatures. Now it's time to cover tactics and the army list. Boot up Easy Army, and let the dice roll!

The army list

The goal for this army project was to take a new army to Australia's largest ever Bolt Action event, Cancon 2017 - which featured 56 players in attendance. It's the high point of our local communities calender here, and I always want to bring a completely new army to previous years. The basic parameters around the lists for the event were 1000pts max, no tank platoons and a max of 1 Forward Observer (artillery or air), and that's about it.

The missions to be played over the 5 games were, No mans land, Surrounded, Demolition, Sectors and Meeting Engagement. Awards would be given out to the best Axis, Allied and Minor Power Generals as well as many more covering painting and army list theme. 

Although this army was built for a competitive event, the main parameters for me with any army project are that it is historically feasible and most of all fun for me to play and my opponent to face. So to this end the units I chose obviously look like a German Panzer recon infantry force, and there was no units taken purely for game advantage that did not fit this theme. My army featured no Tiger Fear unit, almost no HE (only the one light howitzer on the armoured car) and no flame throwers.

My final army list ended up being 11 order dice, here is the Easy army roster for the individual units and equipment:

The 2nd edition rules changes

As mentioned before, this army did surprisingly well. I think this is in large part due to the many subtle rules changes in 2nd edition as well as the new German army book making a "mechansied" army now a more viable concept.

The benefits from the changes in the main rulebook are that the transports can still fire one weapon even if no unit is on board. So the 250/10 Hanomags can lay down mobile supporting fire for my infantry after they have disembarked. Shaped Charge weapons are no longer at -1 to hit. This gives me the option to run mobile, infantry based AT in the form of Panzerfausts and Panzershreks instead of static AT guns or an expensive tank. The Rally order can now be used whilst being transported, so any pins my Panzergrenadiers take while being transported forward in their halftrack can usually be dropped before they deploy. Down is now a -2 to hit. This makes my small veteran infantry squads able to survive a turn or two if they find themselves out on a limb. Light Machine guns are now really good, given an extra dice and 36" inch range means my infantry squads can reach out and pin enemy units that my halftracks are closing in on.

The 2nd edition of the Armies of Germany also bestows some new benefits. Namely Hitler's Buzzsaw, which gives all my vehicles machine guns and my infantry's light machine guns and extra dice in shooting. The Blitzkrieg rule is also very handy if I have managed to get my 2nd Lieutenant in place to activate 2 nearby units instead of one. 

The tactics

The army is made up of many small units, and each isn't powerful on it's own, but when they use their mobility to combine their efforts on one section of the enemy army, it can be deadly. The advantage of this style of force is not only is it fast, meaning you can usually choose where the battle happens on the table, but it is also not reliant on any one unit to succeed. If I lose my tank for example, it's not game over.

I'll explain how the army works using three mission situations that a Bolt Action commander will commonly find themselves in. First up is missions that require you to take out enemy units for victory points. In this sort of game the Panzergrenadiers cannot simply sit back, they need to take the fight to the enemy, so essentially you will be attacking.

Fig1: Attacking enemy units

Missions examples: No mans land, Meeting engagement
Basic battle plan: Chose one flank of the enemy army to concentrate your forces on and destroy. The army must use it's speed to take on only part of the opponents force at a time. Refuse the other flank by using minimal units of your own to hold the rest of the army off until your initial attack can swing around and engage the rest.


1. Both Assault rifle armed squads move forward mounted in their halftracks, the Panzer II Luchs is sent in support, as is the HQ with their assault rifles. These units all concentrate their firepower on 1 or two key enemy units in front of them each turn. Get into as close a range as possible, with the main aim to get under 18" range. That is close range for the vehicle mounted MMGs and in range for the assault rifles. If the enemy starts using the Down order a lot, be prepared to get into Point Blank range at 6".

2. If the opponent deploys a tank to oppose your advance, the Schwimmwagen is used to deploy the Panzershrek team into the right place to deal with it. Failing that, the sqauds will have to take the gamble to move within 6" to use their Panzerfausts on it! You can shoot from 12" but it's even more of a gamble.

3. The two squads of Panzergrenadiers with rifles and LMGs set up in cover near the centre and either support the attacking halftrack units or hold off the other half of the enemy army, depending on what line of sight the terrain allows. 36" range for the LMGs means they can really do both as needed. If in trouble, don't hesitate to go Down and keep them alive. With 2 panzerfausts and an LMG each, they are better alive and a threat to keep the enemy army from easily flanking your main attack.

4. The SDFKZ 234/3 armoured car performs a spoiler role out on the far flank, using it's wheeled movement and firepower to attack isolated enemy units that present themselves or to simply distract the opponent and hopefully pull away some of his units to deal with it. Use Recce to keep it alive, even if you have to lose a turn of firing at something. This armoured car should hang in there and stay a threat.

Fig2: Taking an objective

Missions examples: Demolition, Point Defence
Basic battle plan: An outflanking force consisting of both the halftrack mounted assault squads and Panzer II Luchs is formed to arrive from turn 3, all on the same flank.  The rest of the army actually sets up on this same side of the table in support of the main attack to pin the enemy units guarding the objective as well as defend your own. If the enemy attacks your objective in strength your own flanking forces are in a good position to come to the rescue.

1. The main attack is a large gamble, but that's how this army needs to be played, you have to take chances and be confident. Sometimes it doesn't work, but when it does it's even more satisfying, it's all part of the fun of this style of force. The main teeth of the platoon is held off table for the first two turns, and ideally the halftracks full of troops and the Panzer arrive all at once. These units move up into close range and use the high firepower of their assault rifles and vehicle MG42s to clear enemy squads guarding their objective. Each assault squad also has 2 panzerfausts to deal with any tanks they come up against. These are great as you can split fire and not waste the shots of the other three assault rifles. If there are enemy units on Ambush, send the Panzer in first as a shield to take the fire, or at least provide hard cover for the panzergrenadiers arriving afterwards. 

2. The HQ is transported up to the point of the flanking attack using the schwimmwagon. His extra activations using the Blitzkrieg rule will be vital in turns 4-6 for the flanking units to overcome the forces guarding their objective. 

3. The two squads of Panzergrenadiers armed with rifles and LMGs take up positions with good line of sight to where the flanking force will need to arrive, they can shoot up enemy infantry who take up position there. They should also be defending your own objective. If things go well they can even Advance and fire their LMGs as they do so, again supporting your flanking attack.

4. The armoured car takes position by itself out wide and hidden by area terrain if possible. Again, it's job is to be a threat to any enemy units that flank your force and to even bait some units away from where your flanking attack will arrive. Because the armoured car is armoured and very mobile, the opponent usually needs to dedicate one of his own vehicles to deal with it. Use it's Recce escape move to stay in the fight as long as possible. If things are going well, use it's light howitzer to put HE into infantry defending their objective.

Fig3: Defending

Missions examples: Surrounded, Point Defence
Basic battle plan: At some point you will find your army on the defensive, a good example is loosing the roll off and defending in Surrounded. Here the idea is to put minimal forces onto the table at the start, keep them in cover and Hidden until you have a good opportunity to fire. Then, use your mobile reserves to react to the enemy and arrive where you want to counter them.


1. The initial defending units should be your dismounted Panzergrenadiers with rifles and LMGs, the HQ and the Panzershrek, set up in the centre of the battlefield. These are veteran infantry and by using the Hidden Setup rules and the Down order they should be able to survive on their own for a few turns until help arrives.

2. The speed of the reserve units means that they can deal serious damage from as soon as they arrive. In the example of Surrounded, it is even worth waiting an extra turn before they come on, that way you can see where all the enemy units are, and can then concentrate your forces on a some of them to guarantee taking them out on the turn you arrive. Your mobility will then let you redeploy these units to deal with the rest in later turns. The enemy units should be all focusing on destroying the only targets they have, which are the initial defending infantry units, so they will be right up close to where the reserves will arrive.

3. If the enemy army has a large tank that is good at destroying infantry, the Panzershrek can be held in reserve inside the schwimmwagon, to arrive exactly where you need to to be within 24" of it to get a shot. The armoured car can run alongside as escort to pin the enemy tank with it's light howitzer (D3 pins now in 2nd edition) if you fail to take it out.

Tactical note!

I'll leave you with one last important tactical note for German Panzergrenadiers in their halftracks. It's a trap I fell into and is to do with the Down order and the tricky nature of getting your units activated in the correct order during close range firefights. 

Often when faced with such high firepower your opponent will put his infantry units Down, to weather the storm of your dice. Now, the small 5 man Panzergrenadier squads are not at all ideal to assault these squads with, so your only option is to move into point blank range (6") and fire. Obviously this is risky, and with the unit often in cover you'll need 5s or even 6's to hit them even at this range. So it makes sense you'll want your halftracks moving up close to give supporting fire with their MMGs in order to cripple the enemy unit and make sure your 5 man squad isn't assaulted by any survivors. 

Now, to do this, the order you activate these units is crucial...the assault rifle armed infantry can fire past a halftrack but not the other way around, so you'll need to Advance your halftrack first, to within 6" of the enemy. Then, follow up when you get your next order dice with the squad to Advance up and lend their fire. Here is where things come undone. If your infantry has any pins, and they fail their orders test and don't move, that will leave your halftrack out front and often closer to the enemy than your own units. This means you loose the halftrack, it's gone at the end of the turn. Transports like this are removed from play as soon as they are closer to the enemy than friends. So Panzergrenadier commanders need to be careful with this maneuver, or an overwhelming attack can flip into a complete disaster all from having a single pin on your infantry squad.  

I hope this tactical primer helps those Panzergrenadier commanders out there. This is the type of force that requires practice, skill and a gamblers attitude to play, but is more fun than any other Bolt Action force I have ever used on the table tops. In future I would like to add even more halftracks so my entire force is mounted. See you at 1250pts for the next installment of this army project!

If you have any questions or feedback just comment below.

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