Forgotten Heroes: Vietnam - The Reverse Slope Defense for "Serious Firepower"

Despite owning several of the titles in the Lock 'n Load system, I'm not very good at it.  As a result, I've been reading up on real squad tactics and trying to understand how they can be applied to the game and its varied scenarios.  I've been especially interested in defensive tactics since most of the scenarios I play end up with the defenders getting stomped after the attacker finds a weakness in their setup and rips right through it.  Of course, the way to prevent all this from happening with great regularity as the defender is to understand the pros and cons of setting forces up in consideration of the available terrain.  I'll use the scenario "Serious Firepower..." from Forgotten Heroes Vietnam to just discuss how real life tactics can be translated into game terms.

In "Serious Firepower", the NVA has set up in a small village of Dai Do, trying to defend it from US Marines and tanks.  The NVA has a recoilless rifle, a 12.7mm machine gun, a mortar, and a couple of light machine guns along with quite a few squads.

NVA Setup Positions - Board 2 full hexes (area bounded by yellow box)
This scenario takes place on Boards 4 and 2 with board 4 inverted and placed south of board 2.  The NVA can setup first on any full hex of Board 2.  The US Marines and tanks start off-map and will enter Board 4 from the south on turn 1.  First, let's consider the terrain and likely avenues of approach for the enemy US player.

The first obvious thing to note about the playing area is that there is a large hill sitting on Board 4, which is situated to the south of the village.  The US player could opt to use this hill as cover to approach the village and assault over the hill.   The US player might opt to keep to the east of the hill and use tanks and machine gun fire to dislodge NVA troops defending on the east side of the village or they might try a little of both, breaking up their forces and hoping to find some luck with either the over-the-hill assault or moving steadily up the eastern edge of the map.  My fear in playing this scenario is that the US player will simply opt to rush over the hill and hit the village all at once with the bulk of his forces.  I've played this tactic several times before and the Americans tend to wipe out the NVA fairly easily.  

There are plenty of incentives for the Americans to go straight for the over-the-hill assault in this scenario.  If they take the eastern route around the hill, they will probably have to engage in a dangerous and long range firefight with only light defensive cover while the NVA fire away from the protection of some light construction buildings in 2J8, 2L8, and 4F8.  How does the NVA prepare themselves for the real possibility of facing a huge American over-the-hill assault then?

Looking at US Army Field Manual 7-8 "Infantry Rifle and Platoon Squad", there are several chapters on tactics and a particularly apt section on "reverse slope defense" (page 12), and this gives us some ideas of the advantages and disadvantages of such a deployment tactic.  A reverse slope defense simply means sitting on one side of a hill and waiting for the enemy to charge over it.  

The advantages of adopting this kind of defensive tactic are- 

1 - Enemy ground observation of the defensive position is masked. Game translation - hill blocks LOS and your forces cannot be spotted or fired upon while beyond the hill from the enemy

2 - There is more freedom of movement in the position due to lack of ground observation. Game translation - You will have at least one turn to comfortably rearrange and adjust your forces behind the hill to meet the oncoming American threat accordingly.  If you have an opponent rushing the hill, move your infantry into foxholes and defensive positions to meet them.  If your enemy is ignoring the hill and going for the east side of the map, you can safely shift your squads from defensive positions behind the hill to meet the enemy infantry and tanks coming up the east side.  

3 - Enemy direct fire weapons cannot hit the position. Game translation -  Seems obvious but this also means that this position can be used to rally your shaken troops if they get into a firefight on the east edge of the map.

4 - Enemy indirect fire is less effective due to lack of ground observation Game translation - This is probably not a consideration in this scenario but you never quite know if the enemy is going to be granted an artillery fire mission from an event marker!

5 - The defender gains surprise.  Game translation - Even if the enemy charges over the hill, defenders sitting in blocking or degrading terrain will not be spotted until they fire on the enemy or an enemy unit moves adjacent to them.

6 - If the enemy attacks over the crest, he will isolate himself from supporting elements Game translation - This is huge.  An enemy that runs over the crest will have few supporting elements, such as a base of fire with a leader, able to help or support the charge.  Without supporting firepower, manoeuvre is fatal.  

The disadvantages of putting a bunch of your NVA on the north side of the hill and waiting, however, are:

1 - It is difficult to observe the enemy.  Game translation - You will have no LOS and you cannot fire on the approaching Americans on the south side of the hill.  

2 - Moving out of the position under pressure may be difficult.  Game translation - You have less room to move around and fall back/avoid bad melees if the US player gets enough forces over the hill and starts attacking at very close range with lots of firepower.

3 - Fields of fire are normally short.  Game translation - B6, D5, D7, and G6 are probably the only really good close defensive positions to set up squads with a good LOS that covers any charge over the hill.  You will probably need to stack some units in here or place some vital support weapons in these areas to get adequate firepower against a sudden rush of enemies over the hill. 

4 - Obstacles on the forward slope can only be covered with indirect fire.  Game translation - You might need to send an NVA leader forward to call mortar fire on the other side of the hill  if it looks like the US player is bunching up units for a big push over the hill.  Considering that the NVA has only two leaders, this is a major loss of resources if the leader is killed while being used as an FO.

5 - If the enemy gets to the crest, he can assault down the hill, giving him a psychological advantage.  Game translation - If the US player wants to assault over the hill, he will probably send a few units forward, hoping to soak up NVA firepower before sending in the bulk of his main force.  The NVA player would have to be willing to hold fire on those initial enemy units and let them come closer in order to get a shot at the main assaulting force.

6 - If enough OPs are not put out or not in the right position, the enemy may appear at close range without warning.  Game translation - Watch the other player for signs that he is sending the main bulk of his force over the hill.  The US player's forces are highly mobile so the NVA player may have to act quickly by shifting NVA forces around to deal with any oncoming rush over the hill. 

Suggestions for Setup and Play 

1 - The Forward Platoons are 200 to 500 meters from the crest of the hills where they have the best fields of fire.  Game translation - Again, B6, D5, D7, and G6 are probably a little too close to the hill crest but they will probably work okay here.  You may want to plant some guys in the kunai grass in E4 and F4 to cover the crest position too. 

2 - If it places them in supporting distance, a platoon should be positioned on the forward slope of the next high ground to the rear.  Game translation - It's probably a good idea to put some guys with RPDs in the building in the northwest of Board 2.  I believe this is a two-storey building so it would be very effective to have a squad or two up there covering both the hill's reverse slope and the NVA flanks.

9 - Platoon leaders plan indirect fire FPFs on or short of the crest hill to deny that area to the enemy and help breakup his assault as he crosses the crest.  Game translation - You may want to have a leader order mortar fire on a hex of the hill (or even place the mortar in line of sight of the crest) early in the turn to keep an FFE marker there and discourage enemy attacks over the hill.

10 - OPs withdraw before the become engaged by the enemy.   Game translation - The NVA will probably not win in melee versus the US Marines.  You may want to consider a collapsing withdrawal if the bulk of the enemy comes over the hill.  

11 - Against armor, motorized, or roadbound attack, anti-armor weapons and machine guns should be placed to the flank of the reversed slope.  Game translation - Your recoilless rifle and 12.7mm machine gun will probably be much more effective placed to the east of the hill, and perhaps moved south or put into a foxhole in a clear hex with good LOS to cover against any enemy armor and infantry grouping together on the forward slope of the hill, preparing for an assault.    

Conclusion 

The NVA have a particularly hard task in this scenario since the Americans can come at their objective several different ways.  By at least setting up a good defensive position to protect against the possibility of an oncoming over-the-hill rush by the Americans, this will force the US player to fight along the eastern flanks where the approach to the village is considerably more deadly.  If the US player is clearly not going to come over the hill, you can at least safely send your units to help support any combat along the east side of the map.  

Comments

  1. Hey Brad. Nice analysis. About kunai grass, it doesn't seem to grant any terrain benefit. Why do you suggest placing units there? I'm still trying to digest the terrain effects chart on some of these is why I ask. The only attributes I see to kunai grass is that it is blocking and negates movement penalty. Otherwise; is it treated as a clear hex for spotting purposes?

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    1. Good question, Jason! I think I was probably guessing that the kunai would basically conceal your guys and give them an advantage in terms of waiting until the enemy got close enough that you can just open up on them at a time of your choosing before pulling them back. It's definitely a gamble!

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  2. Would a unit have to be spotted in kunai grass before attacking them or are they automatically spotted as if in a clear hex?

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    Replies
    1. Hi Jason! Kunai Grass appears to be Blocking terrain so units in it would need to be spotted before they could be fired upon (unless the units in the grass fired first or moved into it). Hope that helps!

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  3. Yes it does thanks Brad. It's kind of a confusing terrain. It provides no concealment benefit correct? No bonus to rally correct?

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    1. That's right, Jason. It has no defensive terrain benefit so if your guys were shaken in kunai grass they would not get the morale bonus when attempting to rally. The only real benefit it offers for defenders is that your guys need to be spotted when in the terrain. It's one of those "concealment vs. cover" things.

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  4. Ok. That's what I figured but was not sure. Thanks again!

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