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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Cruising with the Crusader Swarm - An Advance the Colors (MW 80 points) AAR

By Tom Burgess

There has been a lot of speculation and conjecture about Crusader and Honey Swarms being overpowered in Version 4 of Flames of War. However, my previous experiences at tournaments which had players playing Crusader and/or Honey "swarms" were not showing that these list we at all overpowered. In four MW tournaments, including the 2017 US MW Nationals, I had not seen one of these forces even place in the top three. At the US MW Nationals none even made it into the top half of rankings. However, it seems that these formations still have been a bit of a bugbear to many players despite articles and AARs posted by myself and Chris Fretts showing that they are not that dominating. So the only thing left for me to do was try a "swarm" myself and see how much damage I could do with it.

I've been enjoying playing MW Desert FoW battles since the release of Version 4. I have both DAK and 8th Army forces now, but had not yet tried the dreaded "Crusader Swarm." I already had enough Crusaders models on hand to kit out two full squadrons, but only one was painted. Seeing how questions about the "Crusader Swarm" still lingered and with Advance the Colors, an 80 point MW Tournament, approaching this gave me great motivation to build and paint up my second Crusader squadron.

Why Crusaders over Honeys? For me it was most simply because I had picked up some of the V4 MW British starter boxes to support my LGSs and that's what they came with. However, I do think I like the Crusader more so than the Honey anyway with its option to upgrade some to a Crusader III with 6pdr guns and Crusader II CS with a bombardment capability. The only trouble being how to tell the Crusader IIs, II CSs, and IIIs apart! I also really like the look of the Crusader as a sleek low riding gun platform that I could easily visualize kicking up some serious dust storms while running around the flanks of Panzers.

Building the Force.
The easy part was that two full Crusader squadron of 16 tanks each would be the basis of the force. That would give me full two HQ troops and eight line troops. I already had the first squadron modeled with two 6pdr and one 2pdr gun in each troop. I wanted the experiment with some new mixes in second squadron. For the 2nd Squadron, I modeled two troops will all 2pdrs and two troops with two 6pdrs and one 2pdr.

Formation 1 "A Squadron, 3rd Queen's Dragoon Guards (Bays)"
HQ: 2 Crusader II, 2 Crusader CS (7)
2 Crusader II, 1 Crusader III (6)
2 Crusader II, 1 Crusader III (6)
2 Crusader II, 1 Crusader III (6)
2 Crusader II, 1 Crusader III (6)

Formation 2 "B Squadron, 3rd Queen's Dragoon Guards (Bays)"
HQ: 2 Crusader II, 2 Crusader CS (7)
3 Crusader II (5)
3 Crusader II (5)
1 Crusader II, 2 Crusader III (7)
1 Crusader II, 2 Crusader III (7)

For support I thought that I needed at least some option to use "Spearhead" moves so I added the minimum necessary to have that capacity. This came in the form of three Universal Carriers with no upgrades. The last unit for this force was a Hurricane flight. I have found these crucial in my past games for dealing with Marders and Schelppers in German forces. Being that Advance the Colors would have Blue on Blue matches possible as well, I thought Hurricanes might help against M10s in US forces that I was likely to face.

3 UC (2)
Hurricane (9)

That left me seven points for Command Cards. I normally don't take Command Cards as I don't find them really that necessary to do well, however for this test run of a Crusader Swarm I felt that I'd needed to take some. If I did not do well, I did not want people to say it was because I had not kitted out the Crusaders with any Command Cards.

So I first choose "Scout Tanks." Even though these make it harder for the Crusaders to flank Panzers and Shermans, it helps the Crusaders get hit less on the way in. To make up for the loss of speed incurred from the Scout tanks card, I next picked Pip Roberts. Though it's a bit of risk, successful Blitzes followed by a tactical move could get my Crusaders back on the flanks of Panzers and Shermans. That left just two points. I could have just taken another UC unit, but instead thought I'd experiment et with "Cavalry Commander," because it seemed cool and fluffy, and "Lucky" which I never used once for the whole event!

Command Cards
Scout Tanks (1)
Pip Roberts (4)
Cavalry Commander (1)
Lucky (1)

Game 1

My first game was Bridgehead attack Dick H's US Armored Rifles backed up by M10s.

U.S. Armored Infantry
HQ: 2 Carbine (2)
FU: Short AI (12)
FU: Short AI (12)
FU: 3 T30 HMC (3)
FU: 3 M3 81mm Mtr Carrier (2)
SU: 4 M10 (32)
SU: 3 M7 (11)
SU: 2 British 6pdr (6) 

I was the attacker and Dick deployed all of his forces save the four M10s on the board in reserves and a pair of British 6pdr guns in ambush. My plan was to swamp his right where one of the objectives was a bit further away from any buildings that infantry could use to occupy and contest an objective from and I could get some early direct fire shots on his M7 priest.

As my Crusaders advanced on Dick's right my Crusader CSs bombarded the buildings near his right objective. My Hurricanes arrived on turn 1 only to be shot down by .50 cal fire from his Assault Guns. That's the first time I've seen a whole flight taken out in one sweep in V4.

In Dick's turn one, he sprung his 6pdr ambush on the hill on his right. Those two veteran guns kept my Crusaders pinned down for four, if not five turns. Meanwhile I knocked out the Assault Guns and Priests and managed to chew through a good part of one of his right infantry platoon. Dick's M10s came out of reserve and proceeded to engage in some long range sniping.

I realized that time was running out and had to assault to clear off the last 6 pdr and destroy his HQ, but Dick still had infantry in the buildings contesting the objective which I could not assault. Fortunately there were a few teams from that platoon in foxholes outside the building which I could assault. Fortunately I was able to drive off the platoon in an assault which included forcing his teams in the building s away from my Crusaders near the objective.

So I won just as the time limit expired, but it was a bloody 6-3 win. Dick had actually managed to break one of my two Crusader formations. He in fact had destroyed well over 50% of my force. I learned that I need to be a bit more patient on bringing in my Hurricanes against US forces and that my "No-HE" tanks were not likely to shoot any infantry off of objectives.

Game 2

In game two I was matched against Richard N's US Rifle Co defending in No Retreat.

U.S. Infantry Rifle Co
HQ: 2 Carbine (1)
FU: Full Inf + LMG (9)
FU: Full Inf (8)
FU: 3 81mm Mtr (3)
FU: 3 81mm Mtr (3)
SU: Full AI (15)
SU: 4 M10 (32)
SU: 3 British 6pdr (9) 

The board had big town centered in his deployment area where he of course placed his objective. I placed my objective out in the open on Richard's right but he placed his Armored Rifles all over it and all of his minefields in front of it. He placed his four M10s in reserves and a unit of three British 6pdrs in ambush. I knew taking on two Rifle Platoons in a town was going to be hard, but I was hoping I could pull it off like I did in game one and I wanted no part of that Armored Rifle platoon with 5 bazookas backing up a minefield.

I initially advanced the Crusaders on broad front, but shifted all of my forces to my right as Richards M10s came out of reserve on his right. Richard popped his 6 pdr ambush on his left against my main effort but without causing major losses. So I dropped in a smoke screen and dashed what I could to get all of my tanks shielded by the smoke from his 6pdrs and by the town from his M10s.

I used my "Cavalry Commander" to get flank assault on the 6pdrs clearing them. I was then starting to circle the town from the rear and started knocking off the halftracks from the Armored rifles to reduce the AAA fire my Hurricanes would face when coming in on the M10s. Meanwhile my Crusader II CSs bombarded the town and most of one US Rifle platoon was destroyed. This forced Richard to shift over teams from his second platoon and Armored Rifles. The Hurricanes and some 6pdr Crusaders finished off the M10s and some Crusader II's overran a US mortar platoon but time had run out. The game ended as a draw 3-3 with us each losing three platoons.

In hind sight I should have just said "damn the minefield" and thrown all my weight against the more exposed, but heavily protected objective. It might have risked a loss more there, but there was a chance for a win maybe. I fear that instead I took a course of action that was "safer" but in hindsight, likely to only ever win in a draw.

Game 3
For the last round of the first day I was matched up against Chris N's German DAK Pioneers in Breakthrough with me attacking.

German Infantry
HQ: 2 SMG (2)
FU: Full Rifle + Mortar (9)
FU: Full Rifle + Mortar (9)
FU: Full Rifle + Mortar (9)
FU: 3 Captured 6pdr (9)
SU: 4 Marders (16)
SU: 4 Captured 25pdr (14)
SU: 2 Sd 231 (2)
SU: 2 Sd 231 (2)
Captured 6pdr
Captured 25pdr
Pure Luck: (1)
Pioneer Company (1)
Erwin Rommel (6)

Chris placed captured 25 pdrs  as a base of defense. He had captured 6 pdrs in ambush had one of his three Pioneer units on the board along with two SdKfz-223 8 Rad units. In reserve he had the rest of his Pioneers and a unit of Marders.

I decided to weight my advance on my left dashing up behind a smoke screen from all the Crusader CSs tanks. Chris popped his ambush on my right flanking some Crusaders, but I took minimal losses and would soon leave these captured 6 pdrs behind me.

After the smoke screen cleared I again found myself having great difficulty taking out veteran dug in guns with my "No HE" tanks. It took several turns to clear them and I lost a few troops to the fire of those captured 25pdrs and the Marders. The Marders actually were taken out quicker than the 25pdrs  once they came in from reserve. My Hurricanes were a big help here.

Again as the clock was winding down I found myself in a situation where  had to assault on the last turn of the game to push my opponent off the objective. It worked despite getting counter attack rerolls from his Formation Commander. So again I barely squeaked out a 6-3 win.

Game 4

In game four I was matched against Chris F's US Armored Rifles backed up by M3 Lees, P 40 Warhawks, and worst of all...more veteran British 6 pdrs! Our mission was Encounter. 

U.S. Armored Infantry
HQ 2 Carbine (2)
FU: Full AI (15)
FU: Short AI (12)
FU: 3 T30 HMC (3)
FU: 3 37mm AT (4)
FU: 3 81mm Mortar Carrier (2)
SU: Recon Patrol (3)
SU: 4 Lee L (24)
SU: 3 British 6pdr (9)
SU: Warhawks (6) 

Chis had deployed his 6pdrs his left which meant that I was going to push everything against his right.On Chris' right he had his big Armored Rifle platoon and 37mm Anti-Tank Guns on a hill.  Both of my Crusader CS HQs ranged in on the hill and rather than face rerolls of saves on following turns, Chris pulled most of these units to the reverse slope of the hill leaving some infantry forward as a screen.

I had massed all but one Crusader platoon against Chris' right.

He got his reserves exactly where he needed them and rolled in his M3 Lees.  I lost a few Crusaders but was able to use Blitz moves to get my 6pdr Crusaders into some concealing brush. His Lee's in the open being much easier for my Crusaders to hit than his Lees could hit back made this a losing battle for him. It would have been better if he brought his Lees up on the Hill to get Hull Down, but it was just way too contested there.

After knocking out the Lees and 37mm ATG I found myself again short on time so had to go into the assault to win the game.

Fortunately, I had four Crusader troops that were able to get into assault position. The first three assaults ended in disaster. All three were defeated by just a pair of Bazookas. Chris would kill or bail one Crusader on the way in, and then kill or bail one in melee and the troop would then fall back leaving it bailed tanks to get captured.

Only the fourth troop one it's assault, but it was too far the objective to push Chris back enough to secure the win.  So we ended up as a 3-3 draw.

Game 5

Going into my last round I had two 6-3 wins and two 3-3 draws (losses). This round was going to be Dust Up and I was matched against Joe M's US Rifles backed up with 105mm Howitzers, British Grants, and Sherman tanks (which were his reserve).

U.S. Infantry
HQ: 2 Carbine (1)
FU: Infantry S (6)
FU: Infantry S (6)
FU: Infantry S (6)
SU: M3 Stuart OP (1)
SU: 4 105mm Arty (10)
SU: 4 M4 Sherman (32)
SU: 3 M3 Grant (18) 

I finally got to use Spearhead in this round! I sent my UCs far to my right as I could and placed virtually everything there with them. My Hurricanes and Crusader and most of my A Squadron were in reserve. So basically I had all of B Squadron and the A Squadron HQ on the board.

In the first few moves I concentrated my Crusaders on Joe's British Grants while then HQ Crusaders CS tanks bombarded his 105mm artillery.  I lost my "Cavalry Commander" Crusader platoon,  but finally managed to knock out the Grants and whittle down the 105mm artillery to just two guns. 
I had also managed to kill off all of Joe's Bazookas after the Bazookas from his rear platoons moved forward to support his front but where caught out in the open.

I was able to get an initial assault against the front objective, but the single troop I was able to send it was repulsed fortunately with no loss.

In the next turn, with Joe's Shermans, came rolling out of reserve. I saw that I could concentrate a Crusader troop and a Crusader HQ to assault.  Joe managed to throw back one assault, but the second succeeded as I pushed Joe's lead Rifle platoon off of the front objective.

Unfortunately Joe's Rifle platoon leader was just out of range to allow a counter attack reroll from his Formation Commander. They were close enough when he deployed, but losses and counter attacks caused Rifle platoon leaders position to change. This game was a 7-2 win for me and was my quickest game.

If Joe had dashed his Shermans on instead of moving tactically and shooting when they arrived, then I think he could have got his Shermans in close enough to provide defensive fire that would have prevented my game winning assault.


So I ended up the tournament with 25 points and secured 4th overall. I tried my best to get in the top three but running a force with virtually all “No HE” tanks and then facing off against three infantry and two Mech infantry companies was going to be rough.  

My Crusader tanks did fine against any other tanks they faced but struggled against veteran anti-tank guns. The Crusader CS got to use smoke screens in at least three games, which was great, and they did well when they bombarded trained US units, but struggled to get a pair of 4+’s when bombarding veterans.  My Hurricanes died instantly in game one and never made an appearance in game four or five, but they were crucial in knocking out M10s in game two and Marders in game three.

The Command Cards were a big help. The “Scout Tanks” cards was crucial as I ended up in a lot of frontal gun duels. No doubt it was very useful, but I felt it automatically compelled use of the “Pip Roberts” card to help give back , through a blitz, some of speed that the “Scout Tank” cards caused.  “Cavalry Commander” was a neat card and I actually got to use it a couple times, most notably to flank a British 6pdr unit in game two. The “Lucky Card” was never used once as I always seemed to forget it. It might have made a difference in my game four if I could have remembered it on one of my key failed counter attack rolls. I’d have loved to have got the “John Currie” card in if I had the points, but I found with good placement of my two formation commanders that they allowed for enough remounts and re-rolled last stand checks to keep my 5+ morale units going. When a troop was down to a single tank, I was not worried about it sticking around that much.

I had a great time running this force, but found the “Crusader Swarm” far from an auto-win. I only ended up with three wins and two of those were very close wins. Another player also ran two British light tank formations, but he had much less tanks but had  more support. His force was more balanced than mine and he was able to take 2nd place. That player, by the way, was one of the top 10 ranked players in the US! He had:

British Armor / Armor
HQ: 1 Crusader II , 2 Crusader CS (5)
FU: 1 Crusader II, 2 Crusader III (7)
FU: 1 Crusader II, 2 Crusader III (7)
HQ: 4 M3 Honeys (7)
FU: 3 M3 Honeys (5)
FU: 3 M3 Honeys (5)
SU: 4 25 PDR (14)
SU: Hurricane (9)
SU: U.S. Armored Infantry(15)
LRDG Raid (2)
Artillery Expert (1)
Scout Tanks (1)
Roll Over Them (1) 

Final Observations

I think the best thing about the “Crusader Swarm” was that due to the attacker/defender selection system used at Advance the Colors, I was the attacker in every defensive and mobile mission. I liked that and also found that in the two fair fight missions, my opponents were basically constrained to a defensive posture.  So the initiative was always in my hands and I pretty much got to dictate where the main fights would occur, even if they did not always work out in my favor. I liked that a lot about this list.

The list does have its problems though. No serious bombardment capability and No HE on virtually all tanks meant that just a few veteran AT Guns could really cause me problems. Then there was the issue about not being able to assault into buildings at all. This really hurt me in game one and game two. Finally the list does bleed points with its 5+ last stand checks. I lost at least three units in every game except the last. In a couple of games I lost as many as five or six units, and in at least one game a whole formation.

In my assessment, the “Crusader Swarm” can be a lot of fun to run if you like to maintain the initiative, but by it’s very nature it is unbalanced and will have a hard time pressing the attack to take objectives. I’m pretty sure I’ll not run two full Crusader squadrons again at less than 80 points, but I’d like to try it again 100 points to see what it can do with some better support options added.

Tom has been playing wargames since the late 70’s, and Flames of War since 2007. He maintains a gaming website for the BattleVault Gamers of Kentuckiana and posts and moderates WWPD as Iron-Tom.

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