Tactics Article XI – July 2004
By Marc “Bayonet” Bellizzi

Artillery, colloquially known as the ‘King of Battle’, ‘God of War’ and the ‘great equalizer’, has always been responsible for casualties all out of proportion to its numbers. While inventions like the machine gun and tank have revolutionized warfare, it is the artillery that has been a real killer on the battlefield. A successful commander appreciates the significance of firepower and understands that the effective use of all available fire support will determine the outcome of a battle. It was Napoleon who said, “It is the artillery that decides most of my battles.”

Artillery has its roots in the Medieval years as a weapon of bombardment used to pound an enemy into submission. By WW2, artillery, just like the tank and plane, evolved into a weapon of incredible flexibility in employment.

In this article I will discuss what I call ‘Heavy Artillery’ (long range Howitzer & Cannon over 100mm) and how it is simulated and used in wargaming; the Mortar, an excellent indirect system of its own, is discussed in another article.


Most armies break their artillery down into batteries of 4 to 8 tubes a piece. An artillery battalion usually has anywhere from 3 to 4 batteries assigned. Each combat brigade or regiment has one artillery battalion assigned to it. This coincides with the 3 to 4 maneuver battalions (or troops) that each combat brigade/regiment consists of. This support is called ‘DS’(direct support) in the US, British and German Armies (in German- UU-Unmittelbare Unterstutzung), or ‘RAG’ (regimental artillery group) in the Soviet army, and represents the firepower that a brigade or regiment has dedicated directly to it. DS support typically consists of a battalion of 100mm to 122mm guns.

Additionally, divisions have another complete artillery battalion- and sometimes a brigade of three battalions- assigned to them. This force is at the division commander’s disposal, to provide additional heavy support for any combat brigade in a serious fight. This support is called ‘GS’(general support) by the US, British and Germans (in German- AU-Allgemeine Unterstutzung), or DAG (division artillery group) by the Soviets. These guns are typically 150mm to 203mm (8 inch) or larger in size. Divisions sometimes also had rocket artillery (Nebelwerfer or Katyusha) that were available in battalion strength as well.

Corps and Armies have artillery units assigned to them, to provide even more firepower on the battlefield. These are typically independent brigade sized units of three battalions. However the Russians have entire divisions of guns organized with the express purpose of providing pre-attack bombardment during an offensive. As an example, during the final offensive on Berlin, the Russians employed thousands of guns expending thousands of rounds a piece (packed 100 guns per kilometer). This equates to guns being practically lined up hub to hub for miles, with a round striking on average every 6 inches in the target area!


In theory, each battery is “assigned” to support a maneuver battalion. In practice, the artillery batteries are typically assigned to support the battalion or battalions that are involved in the most serious fighting. Thus, a reserve battalion may have no artillery support, while the battalion conducting an attack may have all the DS batteries in support, plus GS support from the division. If it were a critical battle, additional Corps and Army support may be forthcoming. Essentially, if the guns are available (i.e. deployed and within range), the unit in the thick of a fight can probably call on them.

Other factors that influence the amount of support available must be kept in mind. In a movement to contact, batteries will be ‘leap-frogged’ forward so that at any one time, only one battery is available for support for the brigade, one battery is moving, and the last battery is breaking down or setting up. Thus the amount of support available is considerably less than in a deliberate attack or deliberate defense, where Division and Corps support will be moved forward as far as possible to provide additional firepower to support the units in combat. The rounds available will also influence the amount of support forthcoming; German units in 1944/45 will not get nearly the amount of support they did in 1942 due to ammunition shortages.

In fact, as WWII progressed, the Germans placed less and less reliance on big tube artillery, and more on mobile assault guns, mortars and rocket delivered projectiles even though these weapons had less accuracy than conventional tube guns. This was because the mobile guns could ‘shoot and scoot’ before counterbattery artillery could locate and destroy the mobile guns. The Russians went the opposite direction since they were on the offensive in later war years, adding more towed tube guns into the line until they had tens of thousands of guns available by wars’ end.


Field artillery has three basic missions: to Destroy, Neutralize or Suppress the enemy.

11-3.1 Destroymeans exactly that – to completely kill the enemy. This is the least preferred method for artillery usage, as it requires a large amount of rounds to achieve this result. As an example, the US Army estimates it takes 72 rounds to kill one tank, and 50-60 rounds to destroy a platoon of infantry dug in. This equates to several turns worth of firing at the same target. This can quickly use up a battalion’s allotment of rounds for a battle.

11-3.2 Neutralize – entails inflicting 20%-40% damage to a target; thus rendering the target combat ineffective. In wargame terms neutralizing would be demoralizing an enemy squad.

11-3.3 Suppression – means to stop the enemy from doing what he is doing- attacking, etc. by making him go to ground. This can be achieved by making the enemy simply ‘go to ground’ with your fire or causing him to ‘pin’.

Realistically, most players can expect to receive a few turns of Suppressing and Neutralizing fires; battery commanders normally intervene and stop destruction missions so as not to use up all the rounds or give away the batteries’ location to counterbattery fires. A skillful player will synchronize his artillery fires with his direct fire units (tanks, infantry, AT guns, etc.) by pinning the enemy with arty while his ground units finish the killing.


There are three types of targets: Targets of Opportunity, Planned Targets and Final Protective Fires.

11-4.1 Targets of Opportunity – These are situations that appear during combat – the unplanned shots. These require skill on the part of the observer calling for fire as well as the guns that are firing. Targets of opportunity take the longest to call for and to get rounds onto the target; for the Germans in WWII it was around 15 minutes; the British took around 5 minutes but were wildly inaccurate; the Americans around 3 minutes with very good accuracy; and the Russians virtually could not conduct these impromptu fires at all (around 20-25 minutes – a smart target was gone by then).

11-4.2 Planned Targets are pre-arranged/pre-plotted targets that commanders place across the battlefield such as road junctions, prominent terrain features, etc. All nations’ artillery units can respond to calls for fire on these targets within 2-5 minutes since the target data is pre-determined. Many times artillery units use Planned Targets as a reference point to assist in firing Targets of Opportunity. For example, it is much easier to adjust guns “1000 meters at 90 degrees from the road junction” than to have to calculate, plot and fire a fresh Target of Opportunity each time.

11-4.3 Final Protective Fire (FPF) – are a special set of fires that are preplanned in the defense. The FPF is called for by the defending unit when the situation has become desperate; as a last act when the enemy is overrunning the position, the defender calls for the FPF to be fired, and every available gun in the sector swings over and fires on that FPF target. The result is that the enemy is hit with everything you’ve got, hopefully stopping the breakthrough or inflicting horrendous casualties, or both. Usually one FPF is allowed per platoon and in wargame terms it is one specific hex. Think carefully where you plot it! To simulate such a call for fire in wargaming, a designer could consider adding artillery tubes that are only to be used for the FPF; this mission should have a short response time, and a large volume of rounds involved all at one particular hex.


There are two strike patterns (how the rounds fall in the target area) that are typically used in artillery shots.

11-5.1 Open Sheath – is where a series of rounds falls pretty much in a line across the target. This is the way Steel Panthers and Squad Battles artillery is currently set up to play; a large 4 to 5+ hex line of rounds blankets the target area, typically laterally across the target. More rounds hit a larger area, but less rounds hit any one particular hex. The military uses this pattern to fire on spread out targets, such as a dispersed platoon of troops or vehicles in the open. In Squad Battles, the gun tube’s morale and radio operator’s morale play a significant part in how much scatter will occur during a call for artillery fire. Poorer morale results in more open sheaths.

11-5.2 Converging Sheath – this is the way that Squad Leader artillery tended to play. In this pattern, the rounds tend to blanket a smaller 6 hex cluster area and more rounds hit the same hexes repeatedly. The military uses this pattern to blast targets like bunkers, houses, dug in troops, etc. A way to achieve this pattern in Squad Battles is to have a high morale gun firing at the direction of a high morale radio operator.

A player wanting to truly be able to simulate the use of the two different patterns could have two separate batteries, one with Converging Sheath and the other Open Sheath, and use only one battery at a time to provide the various patterns on his targets.


Barrages, or first turn/pre-attack bombardments, are another option players have that represents the massed firepower of indirect artillery support. The purpose of barrages is to ‘soften up’ an enemy before the attacker begins his assault. Barrages are typically conducted by at least a whole artillery battalion if not more. However, these guns are not usually available again in these mass numbers for the coming battle. This can be simulated by taking the guns you want to have firing in this bombardment and cutting the number of missions per gun to one turn worth – available only at game start – but having a large number of rounds available for those first turn guns. When selecting targets during a barrage, one must be careful to ‘realistically’ select somewhat random impact areas for these guns; the rounds are typically unobserved, and so are inaccurate. They should be placed evenly across the playing area, and not clumped on to all the enemy units. Barrage missions should be separate from your fire support available during the game.


When adding those finishing touches to a scenario, do not forget to add a few ‘pre-planned’ targets to the map for each side. A good rule of thumb is one target for each Battery of artillery available, but you can vary it as needed.

“Whoa!” you say, “what if it is an ambush, or movement to contact where neither side is expecting the other?” Add them in, one per battery, except in the deliberate defense and offense, where you should add even more. Here’s why:

All armies have FSO’s (Fire Support Officers and a pretty big staff from the artillery battery) that travel with the infantry battalion headquarters, whose sole purpose is to plan artillery fires in conjunction with all operations; these guys sit around and drool over maps that current and future battles will or may be fought on, picking out targets and pre-planned fires. In fact, from experience I can tell you that the battalion operational battle map gets so cluttered, it is referred to as “the measle sheet” such is the density of red ink targets plotted across it.

This data is then transmitted to the companies and ultimately to the platoons and squads, so that anyone with a radio and a map with ‘measles’ pretty much can call for and adjust fire where they need it and have a reasonable response time.

Many times companies will have FISTs (fire support teams) or FOs (forward observers) that plan out at the company level a series of targets in their area of operations. This information is then transmitted up to battalion for inclusion on their maps. Additionally, platoon leaders and platoon sergeants have the knowledge and ability to call for fires. This way, if the battalion HQ was knocked out, units could go on with getting the support they need (this is experience talking too <DG> “desperate grin”).


So what does all this mean? If you are in the defense, a good rule of thumb is to have at least two preplanned ‘targets’ per battery; depending on how long you are sitting in the defense, you may want more or less (i.e. if your men are in hasty positions- less targets; if they are prepared in pillboxes, etc. add more preplanned targets to represent the additional ‘time’ spent plotting targets). An additional way to simulate this preplanning in the defense is to shorten the defender’s response time from the call for his artillery to when he receives that support. Also, consider adding an FPF mission that represents a massive artillery attack on one spot, to a defense. This FPF should have a pre-determined hex and be allowed to be used for that hex and FPF mission only.

Likewise, in the attack, add several targets that blanket the enemy’s suspected positions. Don’t forget to consider picking a few deep targets for if you successfully break through and get in to the rear of the enemy (or want to get his reserves). Don’t forget to plot flank targets, since the enemy may try to reposition units to aid a crumbling defense (these artillery fires are called “isolating the target”).

In the movement to contact, less targets should be planned, and they should usually be distinct terrain features (road junctions, church steeples, bridges, hilltops) things that you can see from just about anywhere on the battlefield. This represents the fact that no one has seen the terrain before and are only going off maps for targeting. Also, less firepower should be available for the reasons mentioned above (the guns are leap frogging). And response times should be longer.

In planning an SB scenario, the wargamer should keep in mind that the role of the unit in his battle will determine the amount of support at his disposal. Considering that most scenarios are set up to represent critical battles, not some backwater mop-up operation, dedicating a battery-or-two per battalion sized element is a reasonable expectation. Additional support should be considered, but play balance quickly becomes a factor. In WWII, many times batteries of American guns would pound a town to rubble, and the infantry would then move in and mop-up the few dazed stragglers. While realistic, this does not make for a very interesting game.

In summation, real battle tactics always consider artillery employment, no matter how few tubes are available; always pick at least one target, period, and preferably one target per battery to represent the work of those men whose sole purpose is to bring ‘the great equalizer’ into play.


SH 20-19 Artillery Employment and Capabilities, US Army, 1994

TM-E 30-451 The German Armed Forces, US Army, 1945

FM 71-1 The Tank & Mechanized Inf Cbt Tm, US Army, 1988

US Army Infantry School CATD training supplements, US Army, 1995

FM 7-90 Tactical Employment of the Mortar, US Army, 1992

Bibliography of Tactics Articles to date

Prior tactics articles have been converted to .doc format and are available on the Articles Archives of this site.

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