Welcome to Cold War Gamer, a blog I am using to record my Cold War wargaming projects. These range from fictitious Cold War hot projects to historical conflicts that took place around the globe throughout the Cold War era, all modelled and gamed in 20mm. The blog includes links to various resources useful to the Cold War Gamer.

My current projects include: Central Front; British & Soviet. South African Border War; Angolans and South Africans. Soviet Afghan War; Soviets and Afghans

Friday, 3 February 2012

ORBAT - 1980s British BG, Part 4 Recce Group

The first armoured Battle Group I am creating is based on an Infantry battalion in a Mechanised Brigade and has been allocated the following assets;

1 Squadron of Cheiftain
2 Rifle Companies in FV 432
1 Recce Troop with Scimitar
1 Milan Platoon,  3 Sections and Milan Mobile only, the other section was detached with the third Rifle company
1 Morter Platoon with 81mm Mortars in FV432
1 Artillery Tac Party
1 Air Op of two Gazelles for limited periods of time
1 Sniper section ( not all mechanised battalions would deploy snipers)
1 SF GPMG Section ( not all mechanised battalions would deploy SF GPMG teams)
1 Field Troop RE
1 Armoured Engineer Detachment, 1 AVRE, 2 AVLB
1 Battery of Guns in direct support, Up to 2 more batteries of guns occasionally

Within the battle group further grouping occurred at the direction of the commanding officer.  These ranged from very specific groupings for a particular phase of the battle or a particular mission to more enduring ones that tended to reflect a particular CO's preferences or a fashionable trend at a particular point in time. In this post I am looking at how Recce assets might have been grouped within the battle group outlined above.

I served in a Mechanised Infantry Battalion in BAOR from 1986 - 1988 and recall seeing Milan mobile equipped with the then new Milan Compact Turret task organised with the Recce Platoon quite frequently. In 1991 - 1992 I was at the British Army Training Unit Suffield in Canada and witnessed a number of interesting configurations of Recce either in the advance, in withdrawal or as a covering force in defence.  In the latter two cases the intent was to confuse the enemy about what they had encountered and in the advance to improve the ability of the Recce group to identify obstacles, engage the enemy with direct or indirect fire or deal with enemy armour.  The use of Recce groups is also documented in a number of books about Gulf War 1 which was heavily influenced by what was going on in the late 1980's but of it's own right created a level of innovation.

I am trying to chase down the dates for the introduction of Milan Mobile, which was probably around 1985 with spartans for transport this was probably one of the main drivers behind the creation of these more complex Recce groupings.  In the early 1980's I assume the groupings were probably simpler but interestingly more complex for other sub units, more of that in the next post.

The elements of the Battlegroup most likely to contribute to the Recce Group were as follows:

Recce Platoon. The Recce platoon consisted of 8 CVRT Scimeters organised into two sections each of two detachments of two Recce cars. The cars nearly always operated in pairs and tended to advance using one vehicle or pair of vehicles in over watch whilst the other advanced. They were equipped with dismount able thermal imagers OTIS and spyglass and laser binoculars, at least one of the thermal immagers could be deployed hand held from the turret. The limited armour protection of the vehicles together with the fact that the role required them to look and listen, meant that they tended to operate head out of the turret.

Milan Mobile. The Milan Mobile section was part of the Milan platoon and initially operated from Spartan, but in 1987 were issued with the Milan Compact Turret which saw service in Gulf war 1 but was eventually replaced by Warrior.  The Milan Compact Turret allowed the missiles to be fired from under armour but equally importantly provided a vehicle mounted thermal immager. The section comprised 4 CVRT MCT.  They tended to be available to infantry battle groups only.

Engineer Field Troop. The engineer field troop consisting of 3 sections each equipped with a 432, and a troop HQ consisting of Troop Commander, Troop Staff Seargent and Troop Recce Seargent each with a CVRT. The Recce Seargent routinely deployed with the Recce platoon in order to identify and report obstacles and could be reinforced by either the staff Seargent or the Troop Commander who might other wise provide advice, plan, control or sheppard engineer assets to tasks.

Forward Observation Officers.  Each battery in an Artillery regiment would provide a Tac party to a Battlegroup, these tended to be fairly static groupings in order to build relationships and foster understanding between commanders and their supporting Fire Controllers.  Each Tac party comprised a Battery Commander and three forward observation officers all mounted in FV 432 and equipped with enhanced Night Viewing devices and ground surveillance radars.  Their principal roles were advice, fire planning and fire control.  They would be grouped as required for the mission.

Mortar Fire Controllers. In addition to its 8 mortar tubes the mortar platoon deployed 3 MFCs and the Platoon commander in CVRTs again equipped with a range of hand held thermal viewing devices and laser binoculars.  In outline they provided similar functions to the Artillery Tac parties and would work in close cooperation with BCs and FOOs. They tended to be available to Infantry battle groups only.

 From these assets the battle group would constitute a  Recce Group which routinely could include:

8 Scimeter
1 or 2 Engineer Recce
1 Sampson
Giving us 16 or 17 Vehicles, so at 1:3 at least 5 models, for my units I am currently intending to use:

2 Scimeter, 1 MCT, 1 Engr Recce, 1 FOO or MFC

This then was a fairly routine grouping of assets to form a Recce group, it would be unusual not to see some combination of these assets operating under the command of Recce platoon.  More immaginative commanders would consider other options to problems however such groupings were less frequent. The list of additional assets to be considered could include:

Milan Sections. There were 4 Milan sections in Milan Platoon each consting of a section commander, and two two post detachments the complete section being mounted in 3 FV 432s. In the Early 80's the section was mounted in 1 Ferrit Scout Car and 2 FV432.  It was reasonably common to Group SF Guns with Milan and as they had no dedicated transport gave them some ability to cut about the battlefield. The combination of the two allowed more effective engagement of enemy vehicles, with the milan destroying the vehicle and the SF GPMG the crews or dismounted infantry.  It was routine to group one Milan section with each rifle company allowing one to be held in reserve as a flank guard, or deployed with Recce to deceive the enemy as to our strengths and dispositions.

SF Sections, an SF section at this time consisted of 3 detachments of two guns and routinely could be allocated to the rifle companies or grouped with Milan or indeed some combination of both.  The receiving unit would provide transport, usually in platoon command wagons in the rifle companies or section command wagons in the Milan Sections as both carried less men routinely than other vehicles. 

Armoured Troops/Squadrons. Mixing Armour with Recce could be acheived in a number of ways.  The simplest was to detach a troop of tanks from one or more of the units squadrons, the second was to create a larger grouping of a squadron with Recce Group under the command of the squadron or some third party or indeed not to formalise the arrangement but merely to make the support of recce part of the squadrons mission.  

Snipers. Snipers if available, might be mixed in withn recce they were quite difficult to employ in armoured warfare, if there is significant mobility in the battle.  They have to be transported, deployed and extracted but can be very effective both as an observation and an engagement asset. They could also be grouped with Milan sections or rifle companies.

Air Observation Posts. For limited periods of time air observation posts of gazel helicopters could be tasked with Recce.  Air Ops could provide both observation and indirect fire control and there speed and ease of redeployment conferred a significant advantage. They were of course vulnerable to ground fire, but this was lessoned in the early nighties with the introduction of the roof mounted sight which meant that more of the helicopter was cancelled when observing.  Movement would be conducted making best use if available cover with the aircraft flying and hovering within meters of the ground. You don't need big flight stands for Recce choppers.

Creating mixed forces of heavy armour and Recce would be done in order to allow Recce to operate within the footprint of the direct fire envelope of MBTs, this might be done in order to counter a specific threat or to create a force mix that when encountered might look electronically and physically like the main force.

From the wargames perspective it should be apparent that the British Army of this period was extremely flexible in its ability to task organise forces to the mission. Some examples might serve to illustrate what was done and when.

For units preparing defences, it was usual to deploy some form of covering force. This might be layered such that the brigade might be sat behind a screen provided by Divisional Recce, but would deploy its own screen of armour this could be a single squadron, an armour heavy battle group or an infantry heavy battle group dependent on the nature of the terrain.

Within the battle groups preparing defences behind the screening forces, they could deploy there own forward screen. This might include a strong Recce group and a squadron, or a Recce group that included a mix of armour, the intent would be to buy time and confuse the enemy as to what had been found. The easiest way to impose delay being to force the enemy to deploy an attack against what he thought was a main force position.  The Soviet echelon system was designed to deal with this and maintain the momentum of an advance,

So if our battle group was to deploy such a screen, what might it look like? Clearly there was significant flexibility but an example might be as follows:

Recce Platoon 8 Scimeter
Milan Mobile 4 MCT
1 MFC, 1 Spartan
1 FOO, 1 FV432
1 Sampson

Given the mission the Engineer Recce would be of less use but there removal still leaves us with a group of 15 vehicles, so 5 models at 1:3.  In addition because of the mission additional force elements might be added to the mix including:

1 or more Snipers Pairs, 
1 Milan section with SF GPMG, 3 FV 432, 5 Milan , 2 SF GPMG
1 Troop of tanks, 3 MBTS
1 Air Op, 2 Gazells
Some obstacles: Minefields, dummy minefields, route cratering, 

So with my 1:3 representation, 2 Scimeter, 1 MCT, 1 MFC Spartan, 1 FV432 Foo, 1 FV 432 with 2 Milan and 1 SF, 1 MBT, 1 Gazell

In the advance the grouping might bring back the engineers, loose the Milan and snipers, add an extra troop or loose the troop of tanks. It could operate in close cooperation with tanks or if the country was close, woods or urban terrain be replaced by a company of infantry.

All this depended on the composition of the battle group or the mission in hand, screens could be deployed forward or to a flank and both the Milan platoon and Recce Platoon could be employed in these roles, dRecce forward with Milan on a Flank. 

The British Armoured Battle Group in the late 1980s early 1990s was a very flexible beast offering a wide range of options to those with the imagination to conceive them and boldness to try them.  I was on the staff at BATUS or supported training evaluation there for 4 years between 1991 and 1996 and witnessed over twenty Medicine man exercises, for the imaginative and the bold, rule 1 applied..............there were no rules! But it had better work especially if it flew in the face of conventional wisdom.


ORBAT 1980s British Battle Group, Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 5Part 6Part 7
Rats' Tales: Staffordshire Regiment at War in the Gulf

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