Maneuver Warfare in the TCS:
Learning the Tools of the Trade
This is the second article in a series on Maneuver Warfare and the Tactical
Combat Series. Previously, we looked at overall theoretical considerations in
making a plan for a TCS game, which involves studying the situation to ascertain
the critical weaknesses, or Center of Gravity, both of your own force and of
your opponent's. Now let's say you have found these weaknesses and have a general
plan. Does Maneuver Warfare offer any practical tools in executing a battle
plan? The answer of course is yes!. The pillars upon which
MW rests are three: preemption, dislocation and disruption. While these concepts
are certainly not new, MW draws them together in a powerful theory of war which
has a great number of direct applications to TCS games. Note that these three
'pillars' are not completely separate: it is better to see them as nodes on
a continuum, and effective tactics will often combine various aspects of the
three. Since disruption is simply the principle of attacking your opponent's
center of gravity, I will not treat it any further here and simply refer the
reader to the Center of Gravity article.
To get started, let me quote from Robert Leonhard's important book The
Art of Maneuver (1991) where he gives an overall definition of these
three key terms: (p.19)
Maneuver theory...attempts to defeat the enemy through means other
than simple distruction of his mass. Indeed, the highest and
purest application of maneuver theory is to preempt the enemy,
that is, to disarm or neutralize him before the fight. If such is
not possible, the maneuver warrior seeks to dislocate the enemy
forces, i.e. removing the enemy from the decisive point, or vice
versa, thus rendering them useless and irrelevant to the fight.
If the enemy cannot be preempted or dislocated, then the maneuver-
warfare practitioner will attempt to disrupt the enemy, i.e.
destroy or neutralize his center of gravity, preferably by
attacking with friendly strengths through enemy weaknesses.
I have quoted here at length because I could not have said it any
better. The best application of MW is preemption. Leonhard continues
by remarking that virtually all cases of successful preemption in
warfare were unpopular, because they were 'unsporting.' The war or
battle was over before it began. Unfortunately (or perhaps
fortunately), this most pristine form of MW is difficult to achieve in
TCS games, as they cover actual battles, which by definition are
failures at preemption. One way you can use preemption in the TCS is to
occupy a position that your opponent was sending forces to on either on
a move opsheet or preliminary instructions. His forces will need to
break contact without a fight, and without an implemented Opsheet they
will be vulnerable. This is great when you can pull it off, but it is
difficult to orchestrate. Attacking a force without an implemented
opsheet can also be considered a type of preemption, though it also
shares features with functional dislocation (discussed below). Again,
this is a great tactic and should be striven for, but often good
planning on your opponent's part will make it difficult to achieve.
In my opinion, there is much greater potential in the TCS games for
dislocation, making your opponent's strength irrelevant. Leonhard
distinguishes between two basic types of dislocation: positional
dislocation, where your opponent's strength is removed from the critical
point, and functional dislocation, where your opponent's strength is
present, but rendered irrelevant. Because of the system of Opsheets,
you will probably have an easier time practicing positional dislocation
in this game system than in any other. Your goal should be to always
fight with local superiority. This means catching your opponent flat-
footed, bringing your strength against his weakness while his strength
is off somewhere else being irrelevant. And the various unit and weapon
types available in TCS games give ample opportunity for functional
dislocation through the practice of combined arms and what I call
Without further philosophizing, here are a few ideas on how to achieve
I find it is often best to interdict indirectly. Place your forces at
an angle to the routes you expect your opponent to take. It may be that
your defensive positions are not considered in your opponent's opsheet,
so he may not be able to attack you directly. If he stops to engage
you, you have achieved your purpose. I also recommend that you plan for
blocking forces to change positions often. If your opponent commits
reserves to handle your blocking forces, he must specify the operation
on the implemented opsheet they are a part of. If you change positions,
his operation may become invalid, and you have successfully neutralized
the reserve force for a while, simply through superior play.
- Speed. One straightforward way to concentrate your forces rapidly is
to use a group of tanks and mechanized infantry. Movement rates for
such units are high, and they can usually traverse a typical TCS map in
a few turns. If you are facing an infantry force (such as the Germans
in GD '40), or a force with very limited ability to react (such as the
Russians in Black Wednesday), you should be able to hit your opponent
hard with local superiority for a few turns, and then withdraw when he
reinforces, ready to head to another area on the map. The idea is to
never allow his reinforcements to arrive while you are still there, thus
assuring you continued superiority. It may mean being disciplined and
not going for a knock-out blow right away (use frequent jabs before you
deliver your haymaker). When using this method, don't allow yourself to
get drawn into a slugfest. Be disciplined about inflicting casualties
on your opponent while you have an advantage, and pulling out when your
advantage has diminished or is gone. And remember that these troops are
highly mobile, so it is usually very possible to hit your opponent
somewhere away from his focus. Don't be afraid to infiltrate and or
cause the situation to become 'non-linear'.
- Misdirection. There are many opportunities for feints in the TCS.
If your opponent is playing smart and has reserves, try to draw them out
by using a feint. Plan to attack a given enemy force for a few turns
and then withdraw the units and send them to the real point of attack
after your opponent has committed his reserves. Perhaps you can have
your reserves spearpoint the actual attack, and your feinting units can
then come to their support or act as the new reserve. Reinforcements are
often great for feints, since they can arrive with implemented opsheets
(if you have devised your plan at the beginning of the game), or
alternately they have plenty of time to write up new opsheets while
waiting to arrive. The TCS is one of the very few systems that allows
for this sort of misdirection, and I encourage all TCS players to add
this tactic to their repetoire. Naturally, it is only useful against a
force that has a reaction capability (so there is no use trying to
misdirect the Russians in Black Wednesday, since they couldn't react to
a feint even if they wanted to).
As an addendum to misdirection, it is usually a good idea to move
towards your objective in such a way that your opponent is not sure what
you are up to. If you can threaten a number of areas with one force,
that's great because it can freeze up your opponent. It is also
possible to misdirect an inattentive opponent even with a slow infantry
force in slow terrain, such as in Matanikau or Hunters from the Sky. If
you can inobtrusively get close to your objective (perhaps by seeming to
be up to something else), then even when your opponent figures out
what's up, the terrain may slow him down so much that you will still get
there first (in Hunters, even without the use of opsheets). The general
rule is to keep your opponent in as much doubt as possible as to your
- Mobility. Make sure that important road nets are in your possession,
while limiting your opponent in the use of his road net. Establish
positions that will give you good overwatch along roads, so that, even
if you opponent has reserves, he will not be able to get them to the
battle in time. Preparing road blocks beforehand may also be to your
advantage. If you have good artillery support, consider setting up good
fire missions to interdict roads once his reserves move out.
Now it is time to turn from ways to avoid fighting to actual fighting.
Functional dislocation means making your opponents strength irrelevant.
One important way to do this is through combined arms tactics (see
Dean's article in Operations #7 on combined arms for a longer
discussion). Combined arms begins with the thesis that in a force with
mixed capabilities, some units can protect the weaknesses of others.
Tanks are great in open country, especially with rolling hills, because
it allows them full mobility and field of fire for their high velocity
weapons. It is terrible country for dismounted infantry though, because
they are slow and typically do not have long range high-velocity
weapons. On the other hand, tanks are weak in closed terrain, which is
where infantry are best. So a mixed force has the capability of
protecting itself in both types of terrain. This Leonhard terms the
The antithesis to this principle is the dilemma principle, and is what
you want to do to your opponent. You want to arrange a combat such
that, in order for your opponent to defend himself against one arm, he
becomes vulnerable to another. An example: a minefield covered by
weapons. In order to safely traverse a minefield, you need to breach
it. Yet moving through a breach makes you vulnerable to any covering
weapons. It's a dilemma. Likewise an armored force defending a wooded
hilly area can easily be defeated by a combined armor/infantry force.
If the tanks go hull-down (combat mode) in the woods, they can defend
well against attacking armor, but they are vulnerable to the infantry.
If the tanks move out into the open to get an advantage against the
infantry, they become vulnerable to the attacking armor. The synthesis
of these two principles Leonhard calls the Alcyoneus principle, named
after the giant, Alcyoneus, that Hercules fought. As long as Alcyoneus
was standing on the soil of his home country, he could not be defeated.
So Hercules picked him up, carried him out of the country, and killed
him. For combined arms, this means that you want to strive to force the
enemy to move into or through terrain that is disadvantageous for him,
and defeat him there.
A correlary to this systhesis is that it is usually wrong to attack an
enemy system with a like system, since you will not have any terrain
advantage. It has been said that the best tank-killer is another tank,
but Leonhard disagrees. For him, the best tank-killer is infantry in
close terrain, because the tank is easy prey and can't defend itself,
while in a tank-on-tank confrontation in the open, both units are in
terrain that makes them strong, and the fight is a 'fair fight' of
strength on strength. Knowing this, commanders will strive to maintain
a mixed complementary force. And knowing this, your mission is to
deprive your opponent of one of his arms so that the remaining forces
become vulnerable to your arms. This is why in my last article I saw
the lack of French infantry in GD '40 as a center of gravity. If the
German player can eliminate all the French infantry, the French tanks
become vulnerable to German infantry (though not nearly so much so if
the Germans had reasonable short-ranged AT weapons!)
With the theory of combined arms before us, I would like now to examine
the various strengths and weaknesses of units it the TCS games according
to their strengths and weaknesses, followed with some thoughts on how to
fight both with and against these units.
Strengths: Fairly durable (5 steps), often with reasonable firepower.
Can conduct assaults and AT rolls. Protect friendly units from AT rolls.
Protect AT and Inf. guns from easy elimination when stacked (by taking a
step instead of the gun). Can spot for artillery and mortars. Defend
well in close terrain. Can dig in and both lay and breach minefields.
Weaknesses: Slow (unless motorized). No ranged AT strength. Easily
overrun by armor in open. Vulnerable to morale effects. Suffer
defensively when stacked.
Strengths: Good range (usually 8).Can augment platoon fires well. Minor
protection for AT and Inf. guns. Can spot. Defend well in closed
terrain. Can dig in.
Weaknesses: Morale usually poor. Cannot lay or breach mines. Somewhat
fragile (2 steps). Cannot kill P-targets.
Strengths: Can support friendly SFAs at long range with no ill effects.
Can fire smoke and illumination rounds (if 80mm or larger). Often very
Weaknesses: Slow. Fragile (2 steps). Cannot affect P-targets. Easily
killed in assault combat. Can only fire once per phase (so not good at
Strengths: P-type weapon. Can dig in well.
Weaknesses: Slow. Fragile (1 step). B-target class, so vulnerable to
point weapons and AT rolls. Lost in SYR.
Strengths: Good firepower. Good range. Can dig in well. Guns 100mm and
larger can fire smoke. Guns 150mm and larger can kill P-targets (note:
combined with a long range, this can make for devastating overwatch vs.
Weaknesses: As AT Gun, & cannot kill armored units (unless 150mm).
Strengths: Good mobility. Cannot be killed by area fires. Good fire
power. Usually have point-fire weapon. Virtually immune to morale
effects. Can carry friendly infantry. Can spot for artillery. Not very
vulnerable to artillery. Improve defense of friedly infantry when
stacked. Cannot traverse steep hills.
Weaknesses: Vulnerable to point weapons and AT rolls. Can be buttoned-up
by area fires. Vulnerable to air sorties with AT rolls, especially in
open. Easily spotted. Very vulnerable when moving on roads.
Strengths: Great firepower. Often has AT capability. Unlimited range.
Weaknesses: Never enough. Not reliable because of sortie success roll.
Weaker against targets in protective terrain. Must be used at start of
And now for some conclusions based on the information above:
- Remember the synergy of armor and infantry operating together. When
stacked, P-targets are protected from AT rolls, and A-targets receive a
defensive bonus (if the P-target has a strength >1). Units also
receive a favorable morale shift. BUT remember not to move these stacks
together under fire, as the tanks can draw area fire overwatch at any
range, and even if the tanks aren't affected, accompanying A-targets
are. It is usually best to advance them separately (tanks first to
provide overwatch, then infantry perhaps, depending on the situation).
Also, keep in mind that if a stack suffers a surrender result, any tanks
in the hex also surrender. This is the one time tanks suffer morale
results, so it is sometimes not a good idea to stack armor with units
that suffer poor morale.
- Against infantry alone in the open, attack with a tank-only force.
This can be even more effective with artillery support. If you can
suppress infantry in open or billiard terrain, they are 'dead meat' for
attacking tanks. If you bring infantry, it will simply become
vulnerable. Don't forget to overrun whenever possible.
- In mixed terrain, strive to keep infantry and tanks together. In
this context, memorize an often over-looked rule: 25.1e Vehicles as
Carriers. Tanks and armored cars can carry two steps or one towed unit.
Always use this capacity, as it protects both the tanks and the infantry
through synergy, and inhances the movement of the otherwise slow
infantry force. Study 24.0 Consolidated Assault, and remember that
Infantry units don't have to be mounted in order to participate in a CA.
CAs are GREAT against suppressed targets.
- Strive to stack AT-guns and Infantry Guns with infantry platoons to
protect them from AT-rolls and to absorb area fire damage. This is
particularly true of Infantry Guns, which usually have no anti-armor
capability, and are thus very vulnerable to overruns, even in close
- Mortars are wonder-weapons. Protect them and use them. One great
tactic is to suppress a unit, move a spotter adjacent to it, then
plaster it with mortars (which get the column shift for the adjacent
spotting unit). This can happen in one phase, since units spotting for
mortars are not required to be in fire mode. You may want to stack them
with unneeded MG-sections to make them more durable.
- Use your air against mortars and other supporting weapons, as their
unlimited range, good spotting, good firepower and morale effects make
them ideal for this job. If your planes are effective tank busters,
consider using them against armor. I usually prefer to target all my
planes against ONE type of opposing unit, so as to eliminate that arm
and reap the benefits of combined arms.
- Don't forget that B-Targets are vulnerable to AT rolls. This
includes AT Guns and Infantry Guns.
- Because AT Guns and Infantry Guns are vulnerable to loss from SYAs,
don't stack too many of them in one hex, or you are asking for trouble.
It is a good idea to keep these units in partly protected or protected
terrain, dug-in if possible, and with a supporting tank.
Another form of functional dislocation is what I call tactical
dislocation. This means neutralizing an opposing force through tactics
and position, not just weapon and target mix. The first method is
suppression, either by direct fires or supporting arms such as artillery
or air power. When assaulting a position, it is almost always best to
suppress (and supporting positions) first, in order to reduce or
eliminate overwatch fires and allow you to advance with reduced
casualties. I generally will attempt with air first, then artillery if
that fails. Artillery is best used against supporting positions, since
you cannot advance to the target if it is protected by a good fire
mission. When suppressing a hex by direct fires, I usually prefer to
use a large number of smaller fires, which usually has a greater chance
of getting a suppression result (this may not be the case against a hex
with a large number of defensive shifts). Remember that not all direct
fires need to be kills. It may be better to use direct fires to
suppress, so that you can maneuver to kill more effectively.
A second important tool in tactical dislocation is smoke. Use artillery
smoke to isolate part of a defending line, so that you can gain local
fire superiority over another part. This is often easier than
suppression by fire. Mortar smoke can also be quite useful, so do not
automatically fire all your mortars as area fires. A combination of
suppression by fire and judiciously placed smoke missions can allow you
to advance with impugnity. Smoke is also a combat multiplier against
armor in close terrain (if you are assaulting with infantry) because it
eliminates overwatch except at a range of 1, and reduces the
effectiveness area fires while enhancing AT rolls. Proper use of smoke
is a KEY tactic in fighting, so study the possibilities. Note that it
can work very well on defense too, and can be used to mask enemy units
spotting for artillery, making that arm temporarily useless.
A third tool is surrounding your opponent (at least his non-armor
elements). This results in cross-fire modifiers, greatly increasing the
effectiveness of your SFAs (mainly through the morale effects). Study
rules 16.5d and 16.5e, which stipulate that a unit must end up further
away from enemy units when it SYAs than when it starts, otherwise it is
destroyed. If you surround an enemy force at a range of 3 hexes, you
may be able to destroy them in this fashion. Also a units undergoing an
SYA cannot retreat adjacent to an enemy unit (16.5l). A good tactic is
to suppress a unit, move surrounding units adjacent to it, then 'light
up' on it, looking for an SYA result which would destroy the entire
force. Note that supporting armor can also be destroyed in this way.
Surrounding a force is thus a very effective tactic, and multiplies the
effect of your fires. Don't forget the usefulness of tanks, artillery
and air strikes in this context.
Fourthly, make terrain work for you. Players generally like to place
their defending units is close terrain, so take this into consideration
in your planning. While helpful in terms of defensive shifts vs. area
fires and a good morale shift, these bonuses can be negated through
cross-fires. Do not allow terrain to DICTATE what you do. Sometimes it
is better to be in the open in an unexpected position than in defensive
terrain that is an obvious place to be. Remember to use cover to screen
your movements. Consider the effects that close terrain has on air
An especially important example in the use of terrain is in Matanikau.
Since Japanese units are vulnerable to air strikes only in the open, the
tendency is to keep them in the jungle. So the Marine player should
strive to use this by attacking jungle patches at the narrow ends (since
the jungle areas tend to be long and narrow). This way they can achieve
both local fire superiority (since the jungle is often only 1-hex wide
at the ends), possible cross-fire modifiers, defending units are blocked
from supporting because of intervening jungle hexes, and if the Japanese
deploy horizontally against the flanking force, they have to move out
into the open and become vulnerable to air strikes. This is a classic
example of the Dilemma Principle of combined arms.
The conclusions drawn above through the framework of Maneuver Warfare,
while certainly useful at any stage of a TCS game, point to one
overriding principle: in the TCS, it is better to attack than to defend.
Defending in one position allows the attacker to gain positional
advantage, concentrate firepower and achieve local superiority, not to
mention neutralizing the defending force by avoiding it entirely. A
mobile defense is generally better than a static one (assuming there is
any room to maneuver, of course). Aggressiveness is a valued quality in
a small unit commander, and this holds for the TCS as well. Use the
principle of preemption, dislocation and disruption to your advantage,
fight aggressively, and do unto your opponent before he can do unto you.
That is the Golden Rule of the TCS.
Next topic -- Opsheets: Down and Dirty