On Artillery Part 2:
A further examination by Igor Pavlovski
In the present article I would like to continue the discussion of the role of artillery in Flames of War. In my previous post I pointed to the fact that killing enemy models is not a single possible role for an artillery piece in a list. Here, I would like to prove the point with a limited number crunching focused on the use of artillery against tanks. Disclaimer: I focus on artillery with AT4. Access to AT5 artillery and its quality noticeably varies between different nations and requires separate investigation.
It is a common knowledge in the community that newly-released Soviet 160 mm mortars are an ultimate anti-tank weapon. Re-rolling first attempt to range-in is invaluable against moving targets, while AT 4 Fp 2+ bombardment can really scare a lot of tanks. But how effective they exactly are? The plot below shows probabilities of destroying or bailing out a tank caught under template with 160 mm mortars hitting as veterans.
As one can see, even against trained tanks in the open probabilities remain quite low. But the nature of the template weapons means that one can essentially multiply computed values by the number of tanks covered by template. Coupled with the high dispersion of the result it means that the bombardment of tanks recklessly bundled together can have devastating effect. Simultaneously, careful opponent can minimize the impact by using anti-template formation.
Since the most players learn to use anti-template formation quite fast, it means that the kill-count for the batteries is quite low. I have intentionally chosen 160 mm mortars for my example since there are the most effective AT4 artillery around for tank-hunting purposes (yes, killing TA1 tanks with American 105 mm veteran guns with ToT is harder). So, other guns are even less effective in this role.
This does not mean that artillery bombardment is not effective against tanks. The question is whether the list can benefit from altering opponent behavior. I.e. whether one has enough direct fire AT capacity and/or infantry to attack spread-out enemy.
This brings us to the topic of direct firing with artillery. Many players perceive direct fire AT capacity on artillery pieces as a drawback. It costs a lot points, while not contributing to the the primary function (i.e. bombardment). Such view contributes to the popularity of mortars and guns with low direct-fire AT rating. However, simple calculations shows that direct fire AT capacity on artillery can still play a role alongside the bombardment.
Here are the results of a simple scenario comparing the damage output of 4 veteran German 105 mm lefH18 guns against average trained medium tank (front armour 6, top armour 1) at the long range (so, armour becomes 7). No concealment was assumed (ranging-in on 3+; hitting direct fire on 4+).
Number of tanks damaged with direct fire is independent of number targets (effects of assigning more than one hit to a single tank are ignored). In contrast, number of tanks under template has decisive effect on the outcome of bombardment. In this case, bombardment is clearly dramatically less effective in destroying tanks matching direct fire output only when hitting tightly packed cluster. If opposing tanks are veterans the relative advantage of direct fire decreases, but the bombardment remains way less effective in actually destroying tanks.
This does not mean that artillery batteries should be placed in front ranks. They still remain less effective than special AT guns. Also, one can fire bombardment, while being in the safety of the rear. But in the missions, when one has very limited amount of turns to defend against tanks, it is important in very least to consider the possibility of using artillery in a direct fire mode and place it accordingly. One can view ability to direct fire as a way to hedge bets. When opponent is moving his tanks bundled together one can bombard. If the same tanks are spread out, then it is time to direct fire.
Interestingly, pinning artillery down is not as effective in reducing its AT capacity as with dedicated AT guns. In most scenarios, reducing RoF from 2 to 1 is worse than adding +1 to hit for originally RoF 1 artillery.
Take home message and Conclusion:
1) Bombarding with AT4 artillery inflicts sufficient damage against tanks only if they are bundled together or when one can fire for many turns
=> Look into the ways to use the fact that enemy has to spread out
=> When defending do not place much hopes in your artillery stopping tanks with bombardment in a couple of turns. Sometimes it is better to leave in reserve in order to open slot for something else.
2) Direct-firing with artillery pieces often has better probability of inflicting damage than bombarding
=> When choosing artillery do not consider only its bombardment capability
=> Consider possibility of direct fire during deployment
As always discuss things in our tactics forum here.