Steel Panthers Illustrated Strategy and Tactics Primer

Summary: The Steel Panthers Illustrated Strategy & Tactics Primer: A Player's Guide to Winning Tactics.
(Final Release version 1.0) 12/25/96
Copyright © 1996 Todd David Brady

Version History :


Steel Panthers, by Strategic Simulations Incorporated, is a computer wargame simulating the kind of tactical engagements fought between various forces in World War II. It seems a rather bland statement to describe the game in these terms since, to wargamers, Steel Panthers is one of the best games of its type to come along in many years. It features awesome graphics and sound capabilities, as well as a very detailed tactical model. Even more important, it is also quite fun. Even (or especially) grown-ups, have been known to get more than a little excited when their troops succeed in killing an enemy tank or stopping an enemy attack in its tracks. Steel Panthers provides a unique blend of playability, detail, and graphics, and compromises almost nothing with its truly first-class simulation engine.

This text, and its accompanying graphics, are intended to both entertain and instruct players of the game in battlefield tactics as they work in Steel Panthers, so that you can win more often, suffer fewer casualties in so doing, and become a first class battlefield commander yourself. We will take an initial pass over battlefield tactics; just some general things to remember before attempting to duke it out with the blue meanies on the other side. Then we will move to how the game is actually organized, what kinds of forces to select, and how to deploy them. Then we will get into some really nitty-gritty aspects of combat such as how to destroy enemy squads with flamethrowers, morale considerations, and so forth. Finally, we will put it all together in a comprehensive look at several games (a day in the life, if you will). Best of all, unlike other text files or unofficial manuals which may be available, this one is accompanied a set of GIF files so you can actually see examples of what we are talking about.

So, just think of this as your Steel Panthers Handbook, not unlike the handbooks that many armies of the day handed out to their junior officers just starting out on their first command . . .

Using the Primer & *Legal Stuff* (notice!)

This Primer was originally written when Steel Panthers was at version 1.1 with other beta versions leading up to version 1.2 in release. During the course of writing the Primer, the various betas went through several significant changes involving AI and important tactical aspects (such as the lethality of artillery fire and so forth). This version of the Primer is intended to be a finished product addressing primarily the latest and greatest version of SP : 1.2. However, rather than revamp the entire Primer, I have included relevant comments where the latest official version demonstrated both significant difference with the original release as well as the need for comments about gameplay here in the Primer. SSI people tell me that 1.2 is for all intents and purposes the last and final version of SP. And it looks to be that way since, after this version, there really aren't any bugs or other things which need to be worked out. Some of the AI holes, moreover, which I have pointed out here in several places, have been plugged by the game development team. So, as with the version of SP, so goes the Primer. This will be the last official version. Look forward to my upcoming Steel Panthers II Primer - Modern Battles and Tactics. I'm hoping I can publish that in Adobe Acrobat format, so everyone can see it the way I see it. Unfortunately, I might have to charge for it. Around 6 bucks.

This Primer (unlike the upcoming SPII Primer) is not intended to be a commercial product. The author assumes no liability whatever for this text or any use of this text. The author requests that the text be left unmodified if it is redistributed. This Primer is not sponsored by any corporation or entity and the author is not compensated or reimbursed in any way by SSI, Novastar, or any other entity, for this text. This text and the associated graphics are copyright Todd David Brady, 1996, except where a previous copyright exists on text or graphics. In particular, the associated graphics may be copyright SSI, Incorporated, though I have modified the screenshots to illustrate the points in the text. No part of this manual may be reproduced in any way except for viewing and reading the text and graphics for entertainment purposes only, with the exception that the material may be transmitted and placed on an electronic service public download facility. No part of the text or other material contained herein which is the copyright of Todd David Brady may be altered, edited, abridged, enhanced, added-to, or in any way modified without the express written permission of the author. No part of the screen shots included or associated with this Primer may be reproduced, copied, edited, manipulated, or distributed in any way without the express permission of Strategic Simulations, Incorporated. Text copyright 1996 by Todd David Brady, except where otherwise noted. Screen shots copyright Strategic Simulations, Incorporated, except as noted.

Shameless Plug : I am in the process of writing Steel Panthers II - Primer on Modern Battles. If this is something which might interest you, even at the cost of around $6.00, please let me know. In any case it has been a pleasure writing this Primer, and I've gained tremendous respect for Steel Panthers players throughout the world as they have responded to and added to the substance of the Primer. If you have comments about the new version of Steel Panthers, please drop me a line. Also, it wouldn't hurt to write SSI and/or Prima Publishing to tell them that they ought to hire new game manual/strategy guide writers. I wouldn't be offended if you mentioned me as a suitable candidate.

Getting to the Battlefield

There are a number of ways to get to the battlefield. Steel Panthers features a number of pre-made scenarios which all purport to represent actual historical battles (there are also a couple of might-have-beens). There is also a Battle Builder which allows you to rapidly set up different kinds of battles from meeting engagements, to an assault of one side against another's attempt to defend. Different from the Battle Builder, there is also a Scenario Editor which allows you to custom-design scenarios and add your own description of them. Many more scenarios than the ones that come with the game box you bought are available for download, and there is a company called Novastar Game Company which specializes in producing high quality scenario disks and accompanying scenario pamphlets for Steel Panthers, as well as many other wargames. If you are interested in more complete and well-researched scenarios with accompanying documentation, contact :
Novastar Game Co., P.O. Box 1813, Rocklin, CA 95677, tel 916-624-7113, fax 916-630-1009. Their Web address is : Their scenario disks start at around $5 or $10 and up, depending on the number and complexity of the scenarios included on each disk.
[Robert's note: Novastar is no longer in business!]

It takes a little longer to set up battles using the Editor, but in the Editor you can also define each hex on the map with terrain of your choosing, and customize many aspects of the forces -- right down to the names of the individual squad leaders! The Editor is ideal for recreating an historical battle, or for setting up particular engagements that you just can't find anywhere else. The last way to start a battle is by starting a Campaign game. In a Campaign game, you organize a group of units which stay with you throughout the campaign (and gain valuable combat experience along the way -- if they survive) and fight several separate battles against one or more foes. The Long Campaign allows you to have a core force throughout the course of the war, and you can determine your own time period to start from. A Long Campaign might involve as many as 30 or 40 separate engagements throughout the course of World War II!

This Primer will spread a lot of ink talking about the Long Campaign. This is because for many wargamers, and real soldiers, the opportunity to organize a force of your own choosing and guide it through many battles, becoming more experienced and efficient along the way, is a very appealing aspect of the game, and it also involves a number of special considerations which set it apart from ordinary scenario play, such as the fact that you cannot simply throw away your force to eke out a marginal victory; you'll need those experienced troops in the next battle, and the next, and so on. And, there is a greater sense of accomplishment at having successfully guided your force through the course of the war, no matter how well (or not so well) you did.

A General Overview of Tactics

In any given battle, you first need to assess what you are supposed to accomplish with your force. Second, you need to assess what possible enemy forces could be present to deny you those goals. Third, you must then make a general determination of what it is possible to accomplish based on what your forces can do versus the relative capability of the enemy. Fourth, once you have made these basic assessments, you need to evaluate all of these factors and come up with a general plan to achieve your objectives in the most efficient way possible.

Whew! That was a very broad statement. Naturally, making the above calculations will require some thought on your part, and some basic knowledge of how the game works. This Primer assumes you have read the manual and played a few games already (perhaps, quite a few games) so we leave the scoop on the game interface and mechanics to those sources.

Unless you are playing one of the ready-made scenarios, your force will have one of four basic missions to accomplish: Defend, Delay, Advance, and Assault. The type of mission you are given will have a lot to do with what type of tactics you decide to employ and where you decide to deploy your forces. Just as important, however, is the nature of the terrain you'll be fighting on and the nature of the enemy you will fight. In Steel Panthers, the tactics the enemy uses can be as varied as the terrain, and the computer player typically adopts tactics that are well suited to the nationality and mix of forces. Besides the missions mentioned above, two other kinds of missions can also occur in a campaign scenario: River Crossing and Amphibious Assault. These missions are relatively rare and involve some very special considerations, so we discuss them later.

When you are given a certain mission, the enemy will have a mission and a ratio of force which corresponds to the opposite of yours according to the following table:

Table 1.0 Force Ratios by Mission Type
Player's Mission Enemy Mission Player/Enemy Ratio of Force
Defend Assault 40:100
Delay Advance 50:100
Advance Delay 100:50
Assault Defend 100:40

Thus, on defend missions, you will be at a greater disadvantage in terms of the amount of points available to purchase support points versus what the number of points the enemy has to purchase units. Following sections will discuss in detail many aspects of battlefield tactics, but remembering the above statements, you should use the mission type as a general guide to selecting your support units and deploying all your forces. Though your overall mission may be of one type or another, you should be prepared for any eventuality: Sometimes it will be necessary to attack while your mission is defensive in nature, and vice versa. We will go into this in more detail in later sections. Watch out, though, because sometimes when you get an Advance mission, the enemy will receive counterattack status (before the battle starts) and wind up having more total points to spend than you! (Remember, we said that you have to be prepared for any eventuality!).

Whether you are on attack or defense, you should remember a few basic rules. First, never expose your troops to fire without a good reason. If you must expose them to fire, then make sure that you have at least as much or, preferably, more than the enemy can bring to bear at the given points of attack or defense, at least during the initial exchanges of fire. Remember also that infantry units (comprising a large part of your force in almost every battle) which are moving are much more vulnerable to fire than positioned units. This means that when your infantry are exposed to fire, you should move only if you need to to meet a legitimate tactical need. Vehicles, on the other hand, are harder to hit if moving, but their accuracy when firing is also greatly reduced. Finally, when you do expend copious amount of firepower, don't waste it firing at targets which are of little or no consequence to the overall course of the battle. Don't waste 88s firing at Jeeps.

Second, pay attention to the amount of time the scenario will last. On attack or defense, players frequently get caught up in the action and shed a lot of blood unnecessarily to take or hold objectives when a little patience (and a well placed artillery barrage) could do a big part of the job. If its almost the end of the scenario in a Long Campaign and you have very little chance of taking the last objective, don't rush toward it, sending in your troops like lambs to the slaughter.

Finally, be aware of something called Force Morale. This concept can result in all or most of enemy force retreating at high speed. This happens when you've caused so many casualties to the enemy force that even undamaged enemy units will begin retreating. It may be that no matter how bad things seem for you, destroying just a couple more enemy tanks or squads will break their Force Morale, and stop their attack or clear out the last objective without a fight. This has won more than a few games for many other daring commanders like yourself. Be wary, however, since you as a Human player are not immune from these same effects, and you could lose control of the battle if you ask your force to do too much with too little.

VERSION 1.2 : In the newer version, you will sometimes get a report at the bottom of the screen which says INFANTRY MORALE FAILS. This has nothing to do with Force Morale. This refers to a situation in which an infantry squad was eligible to assault an enemy tank (i.e. enemy tank adjacent, infantry unit in good morale status and less than 6 suppression), but failed a morale check and, hence, did not assault the tank. The message is just SSI's way of letting you know what is happening, although in all the confusion of a wild battle you may not be able to immediately associate this message with the actual event. The message will pop up if your tank caused the event, or if an enemy tank moved next to one of your squads which failed the morale check.

Now that you are schooled up on some basic battle tactics, lets start the process of becoming an expert Campaign commander by figuring out how to gather together that band of brothers known in Steel Panthers as the Core Force.

Preparing for War : Choosing a Core Force

The first step of the a campaign game is choosing a core force. Before you can do that, however, you have to decide which nationality you want to be. This is important, because each nation has different capabilities which actually change during the course of the war. Several major aspects of the differences between the nationalities are discussed in later sections. If you are not playing a Long Campaign, and instead playing one of the shorter, battle-specific scenarios such as Normandy, your capabilities during such a campaign of should remain about the same -- in the Long Campaign you will notice things like morale tend to change as the years go by. Finally, the nationality you select will have a major impact on the force mix that will be ideal or optimal for winning battles.

The first thing you should do, after picking a nationality and starting time, is decide what type of campaign you will be fighting. Will you spend most of your time as the Germans on the Eastern Front against Russia, or will you be a strong company of US Marines fighting your way across the Pacific? You have some idea of this now, because the type and composition of your core force should be affected by your idea of when and where you will be spending most of the war.

After you have chosen your nationality and starting time, and have some idea of the theatre you'll be going to, the next thing you must decide is whether your core force units will be Foot Infantry, Motorized Infantry or Mechanized Infantry. Be aware that Motorized and Mechanized infantry are more expensive than the plain-old ground pounders, with Mechanized troops being the most expensive. Aside from their expense, Foot Infantry may be preferable to Mech Inf if you are going to be spending a lot of time in mosquito-infested jungles with no roads and lots of swamps. Infantry on foot is much better at detecting the presence of enemy troops. Conversely, if your campaign plan involves tromping around the wide expanses of the Western Desert, you might want to consider spending the extra money for mechanized or halftrack transport.

One of the big advantages of Motorized or Mechanized infantry is that all of your core force infantry units will come automatically equipped with the appropriate transport. Mechanized troops especially have a big advantage this way because each squad's transport unit is an affiliated halftrack which is invariably mounted with a machine-gun. This effectively doubles the firepower of your troops, and adds a whole lot of extra units on the map. The game doesn't count the halftrack as part of the 24-unit limit, so when you total the infantry squads and the halftracks together, you can actually come out with more than 24 units in your core force! The only downside to this is that while you spend the extra points for the halftracks, the transport element of each squad cannot be upgraded later in the game, so far as I know (though the Germans and British came out with 'improved versions of their halftrack transport during the war). I recommend selecting either Foot infantry or Mechanized infantry and skipping over the Motorized option: If you're going to pay extra for the vehicles, you may as well get vehicles that can actually do some damage to the enemy. Furthermore, motorized infantry typically get only trucks, which have only a marginal cross-country capability. A typical truck's movement rate gives the riding squad only one additional hex of movement across regular (clear) terrain, and are actually slower in rougher areas or during bad weather. Only in areas with lots of roads will Motorized troops be worth their slightly greater expense over foot infantry, and perhaps more cost-effective than Mechanized (halftrack-equipped) infantry. If you do choose Motorized troops, you'll find that in many battles its better to leave the trucks behind. If your trucks get hit, even if the associated squads are undamaged, your units could suffer morale losses (and you'll have to pay the points to rebuild them -- what a waste!).

VERSION 1.2 : On some defensive missions, your mechanized and motorized troops will NOT have their transport available. I have noticed this particularly during the defense of a River Crossing scenario. The temporary loss of the halftrack for mechanized infantry presents a distinct lessening of your combat power, and should be taken into account when deploying. This fact is mentioned here because it is also relevant for core force selection -- your own calculations may cause you to decide you don't want to spend the extra points for mechanized troops if their halftrack will be missing for 10% of the battles they will fight!

Your next choice is whether to begin at Green, Average or Veteran experience levels. The level of experience your troops have will affect a lot of things that are going on in the game, such as the effectiveness of your unit's fire and their ability to sight enemy units, so the importance of experience cannot be underestimated. However, like many choices in the game, there are some costs associated with selecting a higher experience level. The higher the experience level you choose, the less points will be available for the purchase of your core units. However, higher experience units are more efficient and have a better chance of surviving longer than the newbies, so you won't have to replace or rebuild them as often. If you're efficient on the battlefield and in the refit area, this will leave with with more more points to spend on upgrades than you would if you were just spending refit points to keep a shattered rookie force in one piece. The main thing is that if you decide you want a green force so that you can get the equipment types you want, don't use them like they are a veteran force. Build your experience up first.

The first thing to know about your core force is that it can only contain a total of 24 individual squads, tanks, or other kinds of units, not counting intrinsic infantry transport vehicles. There is, however, nothing to prevent you from selecting 24 tanks or 24 anti-tank guns and so forth (not counting intrinsic transport), but most military experts agree that combined arms is the best choice. Your force may be fighting its way through Europe or the Pacific in dozens of different situations, so your force should be prepared to meet different challenges along the way.

There are basically two schools of thought with respect to choosing a core force. On one hand, there are those who like to fashion a core force which more or less corresponds to what a company commander would have had available in a World War II battlefield situation. This historical school tends to organize infantry companies with some extra punch like a tank platoon, a mortar section, or an anti-tank section. The other school dumps any sentimentality and tries to select units which will give them the best chance of winning the most battles. This school typically has a higher ratio of tanks, anti-tank guns and engineers. Neither school is 'correct', it is really a matter of personal choice. I like to have about 3-4 infantry platoons, 1 tank platoon, and one section of either heavy infantry guns or heavy anti-tank guns. The win-at-all-costs school would probably have just 1 or 2 infantry platoons, usually engineers, and instead have 2 tank platoons and 2 sections of anti-tanks guns along with some other units like heavy mortars or guns.

Players tend to ask the question : Why buy infantry if I have enough points to equip half or more of my force with the most expensive units? The answer is that the more expensive your units are, the more expensive it will be to replace them if they are lost. If your force consists of many high value units, and, say, you lose a battle or two, you probably won't have enough points to rebuild everyone. You could get sucked into a black hole where you can't rebuild your whole force, fight the next battle at a disadvantage and lose again, still don't have enough points to rebuild, etcetera. I call this the Black Hole of Force Replacement (BHoFoR). Infantry, being cheap and having generally good overall tactical qualities, gives you enough men and weaponry to do the job, without the risk of falling into the Black Hole.

Another thing players tend to overlook is the campaign aspect of choosing a core force. In addition to BHoFoR, the type of force you pick (Foot, Motorized, or Mechanized) will determine the type of all support infantry units you receive throughout the course of the war. This means that if you choose expensive Mechanized Infantry, you will not be able to buy as many infantry units for support in each battle for the rest of the game, since the support infantry will be correspondingly more expensive as well. Players who choose higher-cost infantry at the start should be prepared to have generally smaller total forces available in each battle. However, the Mechanized infantry does have their associated halftracks, which is essentially a mobile, armored machinegun nest, so you may on balance have just about as many forces available no matter which type you choose.

Player experience shows that it takes about 10 battles before a Green force has the equivalent experience of a Veteran force, assuming they win every battle, don't get blown away themselves, and each unit gets a few kills. And these are pretty big assumptions for a Green force. Also, just like the type of force (Foot, Motorized or Mechanized), the selection of experience levels will also have an impact on the quality and experience of support forces throughout the course of the war.

One thing you should NOT do is pick non-essential forces for your core force, such as that category of militaria known as prime movers or gun transports. It's true that certain types of guns require motorized transport if they are to move at all. If you have some of these guns in your core force, however, you don't need to add prime movers to your core force also. Each slot in your core force is valuable, and should be filled up with units that are capable of killing the enemy, not just providing an easy target for them. Besides, most transport of this type was drawn from a divisional or regimental motor pool, and was rarely associated with particular weapons and crews. If you are worried about lack of gun transport in your core force, just remember to buy prime movers as support units before each battle (they're cheap!).

One thing you definitely should do is fill every slot in your core forces with something. You won't get a second chance to add core forces later, so you have to fill those slots now. If you find you don't have enough points to get what you want, you may want to select a unit type which is cheaper, such as taking a Panzer I instead of that Panzer III. If you still don't have enough points and simply must have a certain mix of forces, then you may need to start over and ratchet down the experience levels to average or green. This will give you more points to purchase the units you think you need, but they will start the campaign with less experience.

Preparing for Battle: The Mission Screens

After you have selected a core force, you will be carried to another screen which is identical to the screen in which you chose your core forces, with one little exception: The Mission Button. You are now about to begin your first battle, and this is the Mission Screen. The Mission button tells you what kind of mission your force now has for its first battle (or your next battle, if you have already done this and been there). Each type of Mission will affect how many points will be available to purchase support forces (see table 1.0), the placement of the objectives (on your side or on their side), and the number and type of certain support units which might be available.

One thing about which players frequently complain when preparing for a battle is that they do not know enough about the terrain layout or the enemy forces. About the only things you will know about the upcoming battle is who you are fighting, where (in a general sense) you are going to fight, and the time of year. This may not seem like much, but actually quite a lot of relevant tactical decisions can be made on this basis alone! One really critical fact that is unfortunately left out, and which can have a huge impact on the battle, is the battlefield visibility. Choosing support units consisting of several sections of long-range anti-tank guns, for example, will be cause for regret if and when you discover the visibility is only 14 hexes!

While the player complaints are understandable, it is equally true that in many real battles which the game is capable of simulating, real commanders probably had the same problem. (And they probably complained, too!) Visibility could change before the ink was dry on the warning orders, and the location of the upcoming battle could change rapidly, making the neat maps with arrows and notes pretty irrelevant. In the Steel Panthers arena, actually, there is much that can be gleaned from the mission and support force selection screen that will be critical to your selection of support forces and your overall deployment. So let's focus on what we do know.

First, you know what you have as a core force, that's listed in the right hand column. If your forces have taken damage from previous battles which has not been repaired, there will be small text indicators next to each unit reporting amount of damage or gasp KO status. If you've had tanks or other vehicles knocked out and the crew survived, but you didn't have the points to replace the vehicle during the refit phase, you may notice these crews listed at the bottom of this part of the screen.

Next, you should determine what your mission actually is by simply clicking on the Mission button. The mission button tells you a little, and hints at much more. Not only does it tell you your mission, but it also tells you where, when and who you are fighting. But if you think of this information in context, you can actually gain a lot more intelligence on the nature of the battle you are about to fight.

Who you are fighting is probably the single most important fact. The nationalities vary a great deal in capability. If you are British about to engage Italians rather than Germans, you can heave a huge sigh of relief, and, ahem, alter your support force composition accordingly. This will be covered in a separate section on The Nationalities.

Next up is when. The time of year that you are fighting has more to do with visibility and mobility than anything else, and this can be important for support force selection. If it is in the Fall or Winter months, visibility will tend to be lower than 45, while summer months typically have visibility factors much higher, sometimes in the 80s. At the higher visibility ranges, tree or forest hexes can actually be seen through, and smoke is less effective. The lower the visibility, the less effective will be long-range guns such as anti-tank guns and infantry guns, not to mention the guns mounted in your tanks (and those of the enemy). When is also very important to determine the capabilities of the enemy. Nationalities can have better or worse experience levels and equipment availability depending on which year the battle is taking place (the game manual has more information about this).

Finally, there is the where factor. You already know that you are in some Theatre of War, like Eastern Europe, where the terrain can alternate between flat steppe and hilly knolls. Clicking on the mission button gives you much more specific information on location by giving you an actual geographic reference, such as Minsk, or Liege. However, if you see that the location is at a big city such as Warsaw, Paris, Kharkov, Stalingrad or Manila, then there is a chance that you will fighting your way through city streets, rather than peaceful meadows. This is no guarantee that you will have an urban combat situation, but you might want to think about adding a section or platoon of Engineers, whose flamethrowers and satchel charges will be invaluable for blowing up historical and government buildings of all types.

Even though it may seem like there is very little information, actually there is quite a bit. In many cases, you will probably have more information than real historical commanders did in most all types of engagements except for set-piece attacks characterized by the battle of Kursk. One last note: Occasionally, after clicking on the mission button, you may notice that your mission is unreported. That is, there is nothing in the space where your mission is supposed to be! I have only seen this once, and it resulted in a city battle where my side was on defense.

VERSION 1.2 : The Mission Screen now contains an area indicator when you pull up the mission. This will give you some idea of the type of terrain you'll be fighting over. Area 2 is the most common for Europe: Rolling grasslands and hillocks. You'll just have to learn what the others are because, well, I haven't had enough time to do that for you!!

Now let's look at the mission types one by one.

The Defend mission may seem like the easiest, because all you have to do is wait for the enemy to attack and you have the advantage of being on defense. Translated tactically, your troops will face abundant opportunities to bushwhack the enemy. Actually, however, this is one of the hardest types of missions. First, you will be heavily outnumbered quantitatively if not qualitatively. Second, because you have to defend objectives, you will lose some degree of tactical mobility. Third, once your forces become engaged there is a good chance that they will either be destroyed, rout or hold their ground, with the latter being somewhat rare unless you and your troops are very experienced. Fourth, the enemy will most likely have plentiful support units in the form of murderous artillery fire, air attacks, mortar attacks, and special infantry units. Did I scare you yet? No? Just wait till you hear the sound of Katyusha batteries scoring direct hits on your concealed infantry positions.

You will have some advantages, though, and they must be used to the fullest extent possible if you are to win. First, you know where the enemy units are going -- to the objectives of course. Once you do get to see the terrain, you will have be able to discover likely lines of enemy approach -- and defend them accordingly. Second, you don't have to hold all the objectives to win, only most of them. Third, you may also have artillery and air support available, and you may also get those old standbys of defensive warfare: Bunkers, pillboxes and landmines. Fourth, all of your units will start the game in entrenched mode, meaning they will be harder to kill. This won't matter much when your command squad gets hit with four 155mm shells in two minutes, but it will provide better protection against less violent forms of attack. Last, in the initial rounds of combat at least, you will be able to pick and choose high-value targets for destruction with long-range gunnery.

The Delay mission is a variation of Defend. You are still asked to hold objective, your ratio of force is slightly improved, but you will generally get less support points. How does that work, you might ask? How can I have a better ratio of force and at the same time actually get less points to purchase with? Well, what's happening is that the enemy gets less overall points, improving your ratio. Again, this will be of small comfort when one of your core infantry platoons is defending a quiet sector when two platoons of KV-I behemoths emerge from the smoke, but generally your troops will have a somewhat easier time. On the down side, none of your units will begin the battle entrenched. This may be because while you still have to hold the objectives to win, higher command has already decided that the sector cannot or should not be held, and you have not been given enough time or resources to carry out a preparation of the defenses. At any rate, your troops will be more vulnerable to fire than in the Defend mission.

To better understand the ratio of force and support points question, as well as unit availability, I have made the following table :

Table 2.0 Mission Specific Variable Estimates
Mission Type Defend Delay Advance Assault
Ratio of Force 40% 50% 200% 240%
Support Points 180 45-80 50-90 180
Enemy Total Points 450 200 300 500
Fortifications Yes No No Yes
Landmines Yes No No Yes
Air Power More Less Less More
Artillery More Less Less More
Length of Scen. 25 20 20 25

The point totals and turn length estimates are only general approximations based on what I know of the game. The actual amount of points can vary greatly depending on a number of factors such as Nationality, time period, other variables and some randomization. Note that the ratio of force applies only to the point totals that the enemy will get for support forces; it does not count what the computer allocates for a base force. For example, if you are on a Defend mission and get 180 support points, this means that your force will have a total point value of 180 plus the point value of your core force, which may be from 120-220 points approximately. Thus, the total point value of your core force will be in the general range of your total point value times the force ratio. This does not mean that there will be less enemy forces if you buy no support forces; the computer assumes that you spend all of your points to purchase support forces (and you definitely should !)

Air power and artillery will not always be available, again this varies with a number of factors. Generally, there is less chance of availability of this kind of support in the Delay and Advance missions. Airpower availability is also affected by strategic considerations embedded in the game. Don't expect the Germans to have airstrikes available in 1945, nor the French in 1940, though it is possible. Airpower has an additional limitation and that is after choosing one or more airstrikes, the airstrike unit selection button will disappear, meaning that you simply cannot get anymore, no matter that you have the points to do it.

Now, lets move to the offensive missions.

First, there is the Advance mission. Here, force density will be lower than in the Defend/Assault missions, but you will have less time to accomplish your objectives. Because of the lower overall point totals, the computer tends to buy a lot of infantry and cheap guns, rather than high value units like tanks. So, you may not notice the force density is lower per se, just that the enemy units are easier to deal with.

Obviously, the character of your tactics are entirely different in offensive missions such as this. Your troops generally have to move more, and they usually move towards the enemy. This means that detecting the enemy is critical to your success. If you can get Airstrikes, you can not only rain death from above on the enemy, but your planes can actually spot concentrations of enemy forces much in advance of your ground troops. Without this nifty bit of 20th Century technology, you'll be limited to your eyes. Another tactic is that even if you can't see the enemy but suspect he is there, you can use some of your troops to fire into empty hexes with the Z key. When you fire into a hex this way, you percent chance to hit is greatly reduced. However, its much better than zero, which is what it would be if you didn't fire at all. A couple of really damaging hits will flush out weaker troops.

The Assault mission is quite difficult for the novice player. Many more hazards abound in the form of mines and artillery, as well as bunkers and pillboxes. Not only do you have to advance and take objectives, but you have to do it while the enemy calls down artillery fire. The pace of your advance will be much slower than in the Advance mission, not only because of the Artillery and other hazards, but also because of the danger of mines. Force densities will be high, and the enemy will have more high value units with which to surprise you.

The biggest problem players have when on either an Advance or Assault mission is dealing with an enemy counter-attack from unexpected quarters. The computer player frequently hides units in out-of-the-way places, and they will activate and move toward any set of objective hexes which you have just taken. More often then not, you will either not see them coming, or the forces you left at one objective, such as an infantry platoon, will not be able to handle the appearance of fresh, high-value enemy forces. Many players take the first objective they can and then hold their ground awaiting the inevitable enemy counter-attack, deal with it, decimate the enemy counter-attacking forces, and then easily capture the remaining objectives. This doesn't always work, but it is one way of dealing with these troublesome computer tactics.

Campaign Considerations

Before we actually set out to engage in our first battle of the campaign, there are a few things you need to remember. First, your performance in the campaign will be most affected by how much experience your core units are able to accumulate. If your units take casualties, they might lose experience because the replacements aren't considered to be as experienced. If the whole unit is wiped out, you'll basically be back to square one with that unit, though even the rookies will perform well if the platoon and formation leaders are highly experienced. Therefore, when involved in a battle, you should try to give your core forces experience before letting support units get it. Units get experience by making kills. A kill is credited when the firing unit scores a hit which destroys the enemy unit.

In other words, use your support forces only to make kills when absolutely necessary (such as eliminating a few of the 12 T-34/85s bearing down on your headquarters squad). If an enemy infantry unit is reduced to a couple of men, let the nearest core unit get the credit for the kill. However, don't use the intrinsic transport of core units, like halftracks, to get the kills either. Intrinsic transport does not retain kill credits (the drivers aren't really keen on becoming known as real soldiers). A good tactic here is to use the intrinsic transport in a perpetual support role for the unit(s) they are assigned to. I like to have my halftracks placed behind the associated infantry and only rarely use them to fire during my fire phase. When enemy infantry pops up and starts to fire at friendly infantry, the halftrack's machine guns fire back at the firing enemy units, suppressing and killing them, reducing their accuracy, and saving the lives of my core infantry. On most Defend missions, however, you'll take about any kill you can get so on this mission don't bother too much about this policy.

Yet another way to get experience is by accepting the opportunity for a breakthrough attack, or defeating an enemy counter-attack. The manual and the README.TXT file, which is part of the standard Steel Panthers install, mentions this. When and where you should actually accept the challenge of a breakthrough will be discussed later in the Primer (Note that you will not have the option of accepting or declining a counter-attack by the enemy, except to go back to your last save and start again -- but, hey, that's cheating!).

Remember to upgrade your units with the latest possible weaponry. This is fairly easy to do with respect to tank units, but also keep in mind that infantry units of various types can also be upgraded. Around 1943, infantry units of many nations upgrade their squads to include an anti-tank weapon such as the Panzerfaust or Bazooka. Your core units will not be upgraded automatically! Unless you check to see what is available and compare that with what your troops actually have, you could lose an opportunity to make your infantry much more effective against enemy tanks. Unfortunately, the only way to make this comparison is to check out your units during a scenario, and then check what is available at the next refit opportunity. In addition to the anti-tank capability, some types of squads get newer weaponry or an additional squad automatic weapon at some point during the war.

Use support units to detect enemy lines of advance or defense points. Discovering the location of the enemy is a hazardous occupation which is best left to men who will be leaving when the battle is over, and not to the men who will be encamped near your HQ for most of the war. It just doesn't make sense to use core units in a first line or reconnaissance role when you know that there is a much higher likelihood that they will not only take heavy casualties, but may even get wiped out. Of course, this is not a rule, just a policy. Sometimes you have to reconnoiter with core units, and sometimes you want to bunch up everyone into a powerful forward defense line. Anti-tank guns, in particular, whether they are core or support, are best left behind infantry anyway.

If several of your core units are of really inferior quality, don't hesitate to kill them off. Core units, if they survive, will improve over time. With some really bad core units, however, this may take most of the war -- assuming they make it! Sometimes you get stuck with core units that, for lack of a better word, suck. Usually this is due to the poor ratings of the squad leader. They may have abnormally low experience or rally ratings. Rather than start the whole game over, convert them to suicide units and hope for better replacements. More than once I have seen even relatively efficient core units get wasted, only to find that the replacement units have much better experience and rally ratings.

Retreat off the map if things are going badly. No matter how good you think you are, there may be times when discretion is the better part of valor. On the other hand, even if you are in a battle you believe you can win, it may not be worth the expenditure of life (especially in the core units). It's better to suffer minor losses and live to fight another day, than to lose half your force and win the battle. If you've wound up in a position where after a battle or two, you can't even replace your losses, then you should opt for retreating even more readily. At times, I have even deployed my entire force along the edge of the map and retreated en masse on the first turn, just because my core force was depleted (you still get some rebuild points if you lose).

Deploying For Battle

In this section, we'll retain a 'mission' focus. However, regardless of what you think your mission is, it might be different than the one reported to you! The very first thing you should do when you get to the deploy screen is to check out the location of the objectives. If you are on a Defend or Delay mission, the objectives will always be on your side of the map. If you are supposed to be on an Advance or Assault mission, the objectives should be on the enemy's side of the map. However, if you see that one or more of the objectives is on your side of the map, or not where it is supposed to be, get ready! The enemy's mission has just changed from Defend/Delay to either Assault/Advance, and High Command hasn't told you yet! This will drastically alter the way you deploy your forces. You'll get a nice animation screen after you deploy informing you of this change of events, but its much more useful to have that info when you'll assigning platoons to move forward or hold a piece of ground. (Note : if you save a game during the Deploy phase in which an enemy counter-attack is coming and come back later, the message from Headquarters animation will not appear. Don't let this small programming oversight cause degradation in your 'situational awareness,' i.e. don't forget!)

You may also see that one objective is not in your deployment zone and yet is considered under your control. What will happen now is that the enemy will set up for attack, and move toward the nearest objective that is reported as under your control, and that will usually be the one that you can't even set up near because it is outside your deployment zone. If you are on the Advance or Assault mission and one, and only one, of the objectives is on your side of the map, you want to consider some defensive deployment tactics. This really depends on the quality, quantity and relative speed of your forces versus those of the enemy. If you think you can get to the nearest objective outside your deployment zone before the enemy, you might want to do that instead of just defending the one objective which is on your side.

Another thing that can happen is that the objectives, instead of having nice national flags, have a funky V symbol. This is a telegraph to you that this battle will be a meeting engagement. Everyone will be moving towards objectives and in this case the old American Rule of He who gets there fustest with the mostest will be the order of the day. The great thing about this battle is that because the enemy will take some of the objective hexes before you even see them, you'll get to ascertain their main concentrations in advance of your preparation for firefights.

Fig 1. Enemy counter-attack

The GIF file sppill7a.gif shows what can happen when the enemy gets counter-attack status. As the caption explains, the British player was originally assigned an Advance mission, but on the deployment screen he noted that one objective was in his deployment zone. This indicated that an enemy counter-attack was about to occur. Realizing that his slow force, consisting primarily of infantry, would be unable to get to the nearest hill before the German attack arrived in force, he deployed for point defense on open ground, near the sole objective in the British deployment area. Though the defense was successful, as shown, it not until the the enemy had reached the infantry lines that enough Panzers were knocked out to cause an enemy retreat. It could have easily gone the other way, and the British position might have collapsed.

When deploying for defense, you'll want to see how the terrain relates to the objectives. Sometimes, the objectives will be spread out from north to south, making defense appear to be difficult. Other times, the objectives will be in a line from east to west or west to east, suggesting that the first target of the enemy attack will be the one objective closest to the extreme edge of the deployment area.

Generally, the main rule for defensive deployment is to deploy in cover on the higher elevations. If LOS is important, as it always is for tanks and AT-guns, make sure to check the unit's LOS before deciding this is a good location. Trees and buildings on lower elevations can sometimes block what would otherwise be an excellent firing position. Make sure that your units are not so close together that many of them will get plastered by the same barrage of artillery fire (especially on a Defend mission), but not so far apart as to be unable to support each other. Remember that tanks and AT-Guns will almost always need some infantry to guard against an infantry assault. At the same time, infantry will need some of the tubular types if a force of enemy tanks show up.

Another footnote to deployment is the general rule about deploying in cover. Cover will provide protection from enemy bullets and shrapnel, but the bad thing about it is that it tends to catch fire. Fire causes the units in the fired hex to accumulate suppression each turn. If you have a static unit which is not capable of moving (such as an AT-gun without transport) which gets hit with artillery, the hex may catch fire. Soon, your AT boys will head for the rear, possibly stripping your defense line of an important element. Therefore, when deploying, remember that your static units will be vulnerable to this kind of thing. In some cases, you may want to deploy static units in open terrain to avoid the fire hazard.

A good thing to remember about defensive deployment is the concept of interlacing fields of fire. Rather than have everybody facing in one direction and setting up for a linear defense, have some groups face obliquely to the front. It is ideal for each unit to have support from other friendly units capable of hitting attacking enemy units at an angle. This will expose an attacking enemy to fire from two or three directions no matter where they come from, and sometimes result in a good chance for flank shots.

Another thing to concern yourself with is the placement of your command unit. Any other unit within 5 hexes of the command unit will get an additional chance to rally. This can sometimes make the difference between whether the position holds, or your troops decide to head for the rear. Also, whether or not a unit is considered in contact with a command unit will have an effect on things like accuracy of fire. Note that units can respond to rally attempts from up to three command units; that of their immediate squad leader, then their section or platoon commander, and finally the overall command unit (you!). Placing command units nearby gains you, for the most part, the best chance of minimizing the hidden negatives of low accuracy and suppression vulnerability due to poor morale or high suppression levels.

Lastly, on defense don't just deploy in static positions all the time and await the enemy. If you have a mobile force, you might want to think about deploying them away from the main line ready to counter-attack. As the enemy moves forward, taking objectives and firing at the units you throw in front of him, he will tend to become disorganized. If you've managed to hold a reserve in the rear or on his flanks, the enemy may be ripe for a riposte. In fact, sometimes the AI will capture an objective and move on to the next one, without leaving ANYTHING AT ALL TO DEFEND IT! If you other positions come under heavy pressure, taking the objective back will send his forces into confusion! The AI will detach some or all of his units back to the objective you reoccupied, relieving your other forces. If done well, this can result in the attacking enemy being caught in a pincers and cut to pieces.

While it would be nice to defend every objective, sometimes you just can't do it. You will rarely receive enough support points to defend every objective adequately. Other times, you'll actually want to leave an objective unoccupied (especially against the AI), because this makes the enemy's path of attack more predictable. So, don't feel compelled to place units around every objective, let your judgement and determination control the battle, not the AI or the presence of some objective.

Fig 2. British desert defence (1)

The screen shot GIF file sppill2a.gif is an illustration of a couple of tactics of defensive deployment. First, note that one objective is totally undefended. This makes the likely path of the enemy easier to predict. Second, on the northern edge of the map, the defender has placed a platoon of tanks which will either flank a direct attack on the northern objective, or which could counter-attack and swing down to reoccupy the northern objective if it is taken. Third, though it may be difficult to see, any direct approach on the center objective will result in flank shots by AT-guns and one pillbox stationed on the northern side of the center hill. This is a lesser version of the interlacing fields of fire concept discussed earlier. Later screen shots of this game will show exactly what happened.

On attack, there are a couple of basic deployment methods. First, determine whether your forces are capable of operating in groups. Ask the question of yourself: Can my forces operate in cohesive groups each with a specific objective? Each group should have a degree of firepower and mobility related to its mission. Some groups you may wish to give multiple missions or hold in reserve to exploit weaknesses in the enemy defenses. Generally, only higher morale armies with good equipment can form tactical groups in this manner. If your core force is inexperienced, and you are playing with one of the lesser quality armies (such as the early Russians or Americans) you may not be able to form cohesive attacking groups because your troops will become suppressed and rout too easily. In such a case it is best to gather your force together in one big group and try to take each objective one by one. Also, don't forget about placing your leader with a group that needs the extra morale support or on a hill where he can spot (your commander is usually the best spotter).

Next, you need to know how to approach the objectives. Should you simply attack them directly, flank them, or, instead, concentrate on killing enemy units and hope that this causes his force morale to break? Direct lines of approach are sure-fire ways of detecting the enemy, which is good if you are confident that your forces will prevail in a firefight. Indirect lines of approach are good if your object is to minimize casualties and you have plenty of time to accomplish the mission (relatively speaking). An indirect approach will not work, in most cases, if the map terrain is predominately flat and featureless. The enemy will see you coming and start causing losses at a distance, no matter which path you take. However, you may want nevertheless to position your forces so that you come in range of as few defenders as necessary to take the objective.

Initial placement of forces on attack consists primarily of organizing the attack forces into groups and putting them in places that are good starting points for the intended line of march, keeping all the above factors in mind. In some cases, you will be fortunate to have a combination of terrain features on your side of the map and visibility which allow you an excellent view of the possible enemy positions before you even move into no man's land. In this case, you may want to place some heavy guns (if you have them) or your command squad at this point, so that you can take advantage of your force commander's (you!) usually excellent Artillery Command ratings to call down artillery barrages on the enemy.

A typical attack group is a combined arms killing machine (See Section 10, Combined Arms Doctrine, below). First, each group should have someone doing reconnaissance. There may be only one dedicated reconnaissance force available to do this for all the groups, but in some cases you may want to provide this capability to the individual attack group. If you have armor, place your highest frontal-armor-rated armored units ahead of the weaker units, unless those weaker units are low value reconnaissance units. The enemy will tend to fire at the nearest high value unit it can, and there is no sense in letting this be one of your weakly armored albeit high-value tanks.

Some armies can get away with having very little or no infantry in some of the attack groups. The Germans in particular excel in this area. However, if your armor is going to be moving around in areas where enemy infantry are as numerous as ants, this can be very dangerous, even in open ground! Here it might be a good idea to dismount some of your infantry from their intrinsic carriers and mount them directly on the tanks. Beware, however, if the tank comes under fire and a hit is scored -- it may not damage the tank but the riders can become very uncomfortable and even lose a few men. Mounting your infantry on tanks is a good way to protect the tanks from infantry assaults. However, it is not a sure-fire guarantee of protection. If a tank comes under assault from two different enemy units in a single turn, the riders will only 'absorb' the first assault (and they may take casualties in so doing). The second assault can still damage or kill the tank.

Infantry Tactics

Infantry has often been called the Queen of the Battlefield. In Steel Panthers, the infantry squad is the one unit that is capable of doing everything. Infantry can kill enemy infantry and tanks, clear mines, assault fortifications, hide in ambush, lay smoke and generally make life difficult for the enemy. They are also very vulnerable to kinetic energy in the form of bullets and explosions. Though the game is called Steel Panthers, any force without infantry (Fleshy Panthers) is likely to get ambushed and destroyed fairly quickly.

The main strength of infantry is the ability to spot enemy units, as well as remaining hidden when they open up with their relatively meager weaponry. The ability of units to spot and hide is directly related to their experience level. Their ability to kill units is based on their skill level and the Infantry Command ratings of their commander.

Infantry have two basic missions in the game : killing enemy infantry and crews, and slowing attacks by other types of forces (read: tanks) until heavier or anti-tank forces can be deployed to deal with them adequately.

The single most important factor for your infantry's effectiveness is, in my opinion, is whether they are moving when they fire or are fired at. Infantry is most effective and deadly to enemy infantry at ranges between 1-6 hexes when they are 'positioned' (not moving). Their effectiveness is doubled if the target unit is enemy infantry which is classified as 'moving fast'. Correspondingly, when your infantry are moving, they are much less accurate at hitting the enemy, and much more vulnerable to fire. If your infantry is classified as 'moving fast' and gets hit by fire at close range from positioned enemy infantry, most of that squad will buy the farm.

This leads us to a couple of simple rules. First, always seek cover. Whether you are moving fast or just moving, head for trees, artillery holes, and other cover. Second, when cover isn't available, move slow. Don't order your troops to run around at maximum movement every turn, they're bound to get ambushed and laid low. Move a maximum of two hexes per turn, which classifies them as 'moving', and not 'moving fast', when enemy infantry or tanks are, or likely to be, within 10 hexes. 'Moving' units are still fairly effective at firing back, and they're not quite as likely to get cut up when the enemy opens up. Of course, you may need to make a mad dash for that nice warm village or sequestered wood 500 yards away. If you think you can make it with few casualties, go ahead. I dare you.

When moving infantry around, there is also a tactic known as bounding overwatch which is used by most modern armies today in one form or another. If you have a four-squad platoon, move only two squads at a time, leaving the other two in 'positioned' status. If enemy infantry is detected, the positioned troops will be more effective at suppressing them than the movers. Three-squad platoons use the 1-2-1 bounding method (moving first one squad, then two, then one again). Even when your moving troops have completed their move and you think it is safe to now move up the positioned squads, think twice about it. If the enemy pops up during their turn and starts firing, you may have no units in positioned status who can return fire with optimal effectiveness.

When you come up against a position that is too strong, either bring up reinforcements or support, or lay smoke and back off. If you hang around too long, your troops might get pinned and you won't be able to get them out unless they retreat or rout away (in which case they will take heavy casualties).

The other important factor related to infantry effectiveness and survivability is their ability to detect enemy infantry which is moving towards them or waiting for them, and their ability to react fire during the enemy's phase. These factors are directly related to their experience and their commander's skill levels. Less experience and skill means the enemy will creep up on you undetected, more means that you will do that to him. You may notice that when you are moving, you will sometimes detect enemy infantry and they will turn and fire on you. Other times, you may see them, and they don't react. Assuming the enemy still has units left for react fire, they probably didn't see you. This all has to do with a comparison of their experience and skill versus your experience ratings and skill, and whether they or you are moving or not. You may need to adjust your tactics slightly depending on what you have determined to be the relativity of these factors. British versus Italian equals no problemo, your troops will usually spot first. British versus German equals mucho problemo, your troops will get spotted first.

If you are dealing with a situation where your infantry are relatively less experienced and skilled, then you will have to move slower, and even use sacrificial support infantry to detect the enemy. Even on a static defense, the enemy can creep up to your positions and start firing before your greenhorns even know what's happening. This is a particular problem when fighting the Japanese and the Finns, who seem to be most adept at remaining undetected. Using snipers is an excellent detection method, so are mines and machine-gun teams. Just place a few of these low-value units in front of your rookie core units and they will at least have some warning.

Mechanized infantry is much more effective than regular foot infantry at just about everything. They have that cool half-track vehicle which is known as a Bren Carrier to the British, Sd-something (for the Germans), Halftrack (for the Americans), and several other official (as well as unprintable unofficial) names in various armies. A rose by any other name is just as well-armed. The halftracks make it easy to get around almost any terrain with ease, and they come with that extree added-bonus machine-gun. I like to have the halftracks follow the infantry during advances in enemy territory and not fire them at all, they will tend to react to enemy fire and suppress them, enhancing the survivability of my guys.

The really big danger of mechanized infantry is the temptation to stay mounted and move around quickly. Halftracks which get hit by anything bigger than a rifle bullet are liable to become smoking clods of useless junk, taking out the riders in the process. Even the lowly hand grenade, thrown (or fired from a rifle with a special gizmo) from 3 hexes (150 meters) away, has been known to destroy a half-track. Never, never, never mount your infantry in an area where the enemy is putting up an active resistance and may have any direct-fire gun weapons such as tanks and AT-guns. Even small-caliber artillery can flatten an infantry carrier and scramble the riders inside like an egg yoke. However, if enemy resistance is broken and only a few routing squads are about, mech inf excels at mopping up operations. When they move near a unit and dismount to begin firing, they are classed as positioned, so their fire is more effective than ordinary infantry who had to jog up to that position. Again, though, make sure that your squads get the credit for the kills, not the transport units. This is why I don't make a big point about firing the transport units; I want my squads to get the experience, not the driver and the driver's flunky. However, even a routing machinegun crew can suddenly turn around and assault the halftrack, destroying it and contents, so be cautious even when in cleanup mode.

If you are moving around the battlefield while mounted, be sure to dismount at the end of each move. Sometimes, this alone will reveal the presence of enemy infantry just a few hexes away, or even adjacent to you, which would not have been otherwise detected. There is a small danger in doing this in that when you dismount the riders, the halftrack is vulnerable to assault and destruction. Also, the act of dismounting may cause the enemy to react fire on the newly dismounted infantry, who are classed as positioned. This is a small price to pay in comparison to losing both vehicle and rider. The newer versions of SP dismount riders from halftracks automatically, but not from tanks. This may or may not be what you want to happen, so just keep a watch on things. It's your job. You are the commander, right?

Detecting enemy infantry is another important job of your infantry, and for the most part it's not that difficult. As your squads move, they may see enemy infantry just ahead (and get shot at in the process). One thing that needs to be noted is that your infantry squads do not have an automatic 360 degree view from their position. Sometimes, just changing the facing of a squad will suddenly reveal the presence of an enemy squad that you would not have otherwise detected. So, if you're playing hide and seek, don't let your boys forget to change facing and look over their shoulders.

The last thing you need to do with infantry units is pay attention to which squad in each platoon is the one with the platoon leader. On the Unit Roster, this squad is the one with the 'H' next to it. This is usually the first unit in the platoon, unless your leader bit the dust in an earlier scenario, in which case the new leader will be assigned to the most experienced squad (I think!). This is important because the performance of the whole platoon can depend on the existence and proximity of the leader. I have noticed that when the platoon leader's squad gets heavily suppressed or killed, the performance of the whole platoon tends to degrade. Similarly, if the force commander's squad (again, you) becomes heavily suppressed, the efficiency and performance of the whole force might degrade. If the force commander's squad gets killed along with, uh, you, you should quit the game and start over, just to be realistic grin. In the new Steel Panthers II - Modern Battles, the game actually ends if the HQ Unit is destroyed! Not in the Original, though. Bottom Line: You'll want to expose the leader squads to fire from the enemy less frequently than you do the others.

The armies of some nations have excellently equipped infantry squads. The better-equipped nationalities arm them with plenty of firepower, usually including a squad automatic weapon or two. The wanna-bees of the war usually have only rifles for the grunts. In addition to your usually better experience and morale ratings, your infantry will have a distinct firepower advantage. The squad automatic weapons are effective even at the longer ranges of 6-10 hexes. In fact at those ranges, the SAR can be responsible for many more casualties among the enemy targets than your rifles. In such a case, you may want to keep your distance from the lower quality enemy, especially if you are trying to keep your own casualties to a minimum. At the same time, if your are commanding some of the poorly equipped squads, you might want to think about waiting to fire until the enemy gets really close, where your guys at least have a fighting chance to hit something with their rifles. There's always a risk, however, against good troops that your lowlies (who aren't all that good at hiding, anyway) will get spotted before they can ambush the enemy, so you'll want to open up at the 3-4 hex range. Sometimes, they won't even detect them! (Dmitri? Will you stop smoking that cigarette? The Germanskii are getting close to the barn. Dmitri? ; Hands up, drop your weapons.; Ah, yes, the great comrade Germanskii soldiers have arrived already. I've been expecting you.)

Dealing with enemy tanks is very difficult for any group of infantry. Even after the infantry of the major armies get upgraded to the squad anti-tank weaponry, these weapons don't have much range or penetration power, though they can still waste the big tanks with a lucky shot. Most of these types of weapons have a one or two hex range. The Panzerschreck, a German weapon, has a range of 4 hexes, while the Bazooka (Made in USA) has a range of 6. From a two hex range or greater, its considered a ranged weapon, and fired like the rifles. From a one hex range, it may be part and parcel of an assault.

Assaulting tanks is done during your phase by selecting the infantry unit you wish to assault and then using normal targeting to target the tank. After you execute the targeting, several things can happen. First, your assault will go forward and destroy the enemy hulk. Right. Second, your assault will go forward and not destroy the enemy tank. Figures. Third, your assault will not go forward and instead the troops decide to fire their rifles and other small arms and muss up the tank's paint job. Good move, boys! Fourth, your assault will not go forward and nothing will happen. What? Fifth, your assault will not go forward and your troops will go into pinned (Hey!), retreat (Hey, wait!), or rout (Hey, wait for me!) status. What is happening here?

Well, I don't really know. Troops with a suppression level of 6 or less will generally go forward with the assault. The success of the assault appears to have much to do with both the kinds of weapons the squad has (if they have satchel charges or a form of AT weapon, they are much more effective), and the quality of the troops and leadership. As for the other results, where the troops get pinned or rout, this is probably because there is some morale check coded into the assault routines. The morale check is probably also situationally-based. That is, if the enemy tank is a monster, the troops will figure that this is a hopeless attempt and bail. Or, if their side is really hurting or the squad itself has taken casualties and is in a bad spot their morale will (of course) fail. In any event, the result reflects real world considerations in my opinion, and in the real world assaulting tanks takes competence and leadership. Even if your squad's morale fails and you become only pinned, you can still attack the hex using either the Z key or normal firing with the Target Button, and if you have satchel charges, flamethrowers, or the squad anti-tank weapon (later in the war) this can still result in the enemy tank getting destroyed. You might want to manually rally the troops first, since their accuracy is impacted by suppression. If they go into retreating or rout status, well, they may have some apologies to make to the tank commander. (No, no, were weren't trying to attack you, we were trying to surrender to you...)

Sometimes, too, an assault will expend all of the squad's remaining firepower, while at other times the assault will be astoundingly successful and expend only one unit of fire, leaving you with the ability to assault other tanks nearby or move around. Again, this is probably based on morale, experience and leadership factors. Regardless of the outcome of the assault, in most cases the squad will have more suppression than it did before -- much more if the assault failed, and a humongous amount if the assault failed and the tank returned fire on the assaulters.

Your troops will also assault enemy vehicles which move adjacent to them during the enemy movement and fire phase, if the suppression levels of your troops are low. If you see a group of enemy tanks moving towards an infantry position which has not been spotted by the enemy, or which will not be spotted by the tank before it pulls up alongside, make sure that, before you end your turn, the unit's suppression levels are as low as can be (even unspotted troops can be suppressed from artillery hits or morale effects). If there is a risk of the infantry becoming spotted, lay some smoke in front of them. (Be careful, though, because laying smoke is considered firing and can actually result in your infantry unit becoming spotted. Dufus troops may lob the grenade into the wrong hex, or visibility may be so high that one lousy smoke grenade does not actually totally block visibility through the hex. To check this, at some point during the scenario, you should attempt to check your LOS through a smoked hex yourself and determine if a newly smoked hex does in fact totally block visibility. Generally, visibility ranges of 60 or greater mean that one smoke hex will not block visibility through a clear terrain hex).

One tactic that your infantry will greatly appreciate if you order them to assault a vehicle is to direct fire against the target tank with other units before going forward with the assault. This will cause suppression on the target tank. The target may fire back at the units causing the suppression, but this will only help the other, assaulting squad of infantry when they go into assault mode because the tank will have expended all of its defensive fire against those other units, leaving your assault team unhindered, and negating the risk of casualties from the tank's return fire on the assaulting squad. On very rare occasions, the assaulting unit can provide the suppression fire itself. If your unit is unspotted, you will get to fire at least once before being spotted. So, you could fire with the assaulting unit first, move adjacent and then assault. I don't recommend this as a standard tactic, however, since your movement will usually result in the tank seeing you and opening fire. However, if the battle has already been going on for some time and the target tank has fired and been fired on a great deal already, this one last bit of suppression may be all that is needed to completely suppress the crewman and save you from their return fire.

Fig 3. Commandos stops Tiger platoon!

GIF file sppill5b.gif shows one example of how infantry assaults can work. A platoon of Tiger Is was spotted approaching across a flat expanse of desert in Tunisia. Fortunately, they were heading directly towards a river line position occupied by experienced and satchel-charge-armed British Commandos. Prior to arriving at the position, the Tigers had fired on some British tanks about 1000 meters to the rear of the Commando's positions. Also, a platoon of Valentines had fired on the approaching Tigers from the flank, immobilizing one. Finally, the Commandos laid smoke to their front, to insure that they would not be seen by the Tiger crews until they were adjacent. Sure enough, the three remaining Tigers attempted to cross the stream and were instantly assaulted by several Commando squads at once. Two were destroyed immediately, the third was hit by the Commandos again during the British phase. The Commandos sustained no casualties in this engagement.

Tank & Armored Fighting Vehicle (AFV) Tactics

Infantry may be the Queen of the Battlefield, but Armor is King, at least, so say most tank crewmen. Most grunts looking down the Long 88 barrel of a King Tiger would agree. Most of the major armies have tanks, but only two armies really have the best: The Germans (of course) and the Russians. The Allies are in the second category, with everyone else falling behind them. The Japanese are in a category all by themselves with respect to tanks, and this is known as bad, but then, they don't really need them.

Tanks come in a number of different configurations to numerous to detail here. For the moment, lets just categorize them according to their mission. The hard part is figuring out just which tank is the right tank for the right job. In most cases, the tanks in Steel Panthers are armed and armored with what they actually had in the real war. The design, planning and General Staffs of World War II could get just as confused about what role a particular AFV was to play as you will be.

To clear up some of the confusion, there is a table that comes with the game called README.txt, which generally denotes the role of all the major tanks in the game. The table is reproduced here in the Primer in the Tables section below. There is also a penetration table, available in SSI's software library on America Online and elsewhere, called SPWPNS.DOC which provides further detail on this subject.

One helpful item of historical and military knowledge which may help you in this task is knowing what things like 75L31 and 88L51 mean. Most players are aware that the first set of numbers refer to the diameter of the gun tube, and that the second number generally stands for the length of the tube. The number after the L number stands for calibers, though many people think it is the other way around. An 88L51 is referred to as Eighty-eight millimeters calibers Fifty-one. The figure after the L is determined (by engineers and designers and so forth) by dividing the total length of the barrel by the diameter of the tube. So a 75L31 means that it is a 75mm gun, which has the length of 31 diameters of that tube. Generally speaking, any gun in which the calibers are at least one-half of the diameter is probably will have excellent muzzle velocity and penetration values. Note the difference between the German 50L42, max penetration 8, and and the 50L60, max penetration 9. Same diameter, better penetration. Even more enlightening, the German 20L55, with a penetration of 6, versus the Soviet 152L32, penetration only 3! The Soviet gun is over 7 times the diameter of the small 20mm, but it's poor length to diameter ratio means that it cannot reliably penetrate much more than a reconnaissance vehicle, while the 20mm can penetrate even medium-class tanks on a daily basis! Calibers do not explain everything, like they cannot account for the lack of an AP round, special rounds (like tungsten-carbide cores), the general efficiency of the crews, or blind luck, but it is at least one way to determine the tank's role.

With respect to the penetration/armor calculation, note that the penetration values in the table are the theoretical 'maximum' penetration values. Actual penetration will be much less the greater the range to the target, particularly anything over 8-10 hexes. The longer the barrel (i.e. the better the diameter to calibers ratio), the better the round will hold its penetration value over distance. Armor on the other hand, is fixed in value. However, there have been many cases of a round striking an area of an enemy tank and penetrating the armor, even when the armor factor exceeds the theoretical maximum of the round's penetration. Indeed, players have complained about this. What is happening here, I believe, assuming there is no actual bug, is that the game has coded in some random factors, allowing for critical hits and other variables. Tanks, whatever their design and armor values, all have turrets. Turrets are mounted on the hull at a point known as the turret ring. Turret rings hits can cause devastating damage to any tank, and few tanks were completely invulnerable to this type of hit. In fact, some tanks were very vulnerable to such a hit because the design of the hull and the turret did not adequately protect the turret ring. Another possibility is that many tanks of that day were designed with hull or turret hatches, as well as viewports and optical targeting sights. A round striking these areas could in some cases cause severe if not fatal damage. Finally, the armor values are only an approximation of the general level of armor protection at each point. The JS-II tank, for example, which has excellent armor values, also had what amounted to a huge hole in the turret just above the main gun, which was papered over with a thin metal plate. This falls in the category of design flaws, from which many tanks suffered.

The number one role of the tank is to kill other tanks, but some types of weapons mixes are better than others. If a tank has a large, long calibers gun with AP rounds, that's a tank-killer. If a tank has a large gun with both AP and HE rounds, that's more of a multi-purpose tank. If a tank has a gun with only HE rounds, that's a support tank. If a tank has very heavy armor, it will be able to stand up to other tanks better, making it more on the order of a tank-killer (even if it has a weak gun). Thinner armor means it might be better suited to infantry support or reconnaissance roles. It's really a matter of situational judgement. Be guided by but not ruled by what the armies of the day called their tanks. Sometimes the Combat Support tanks (so-called) were the only thing that could really stand up to enemy tank forces! Sometimes the Pursuit, Cruiser, or Crusader tanks were better at scouting than their intended role of engaging enemy tanks. Check out how much firepower the tank can throw at enemy infantry, too. Some tanks are very light in this category, some have no anti-infantry capability at all!

If you have one of those tanks with two large guns, like the Lee tank with a 37mm turret gun and a 75mm hull mounted gun, to get maximum effect you should re-align the whole tank towards the enemy if it isn't already. I've seen the percentage chance to hit rise significantly after I've done this but before firing my first round. That's because the computer calculates the basic percentage based the likelihood that a hit will be obtained if all weapons capable of firing and hitting the target actually fire. If you have 2 guns firing as opposed to 1, your percent chance to hit will rise accordingly.

All of the issues in the above paragraphs also apply to Assault Guns. This species of the Armored Fighting Vehicle is basically a tank with no turret, and the gun mounted in the hull. Usually, these guns had the capability to traverse several degrees in either direction so that the hull didn't always have to point directly at the enemy to get off a shot, and some target-tracking could be done. Some assault guns are excellent tank killers, such as the JagdPanther and JagdTiger, while some are relegated to infantry support such as the Brumbar or SU-152. The advantage of assault guns is that they may be harder to hit and have excellent armor, and they are inexpensive compared to tanks. The negative is that they tend to have low rates of fire (less times to shoot per turn) and appear to be vulnerable to losing the main gun to a non-penetrating enemy hit on the front hull. Nevertheless, for assaults, assault guns are the right choice. They are fairly cheap and have good armor, and can withstand a fair number of hits without shirking. They are ideal for leading other troops into the teeth of heavy resistance, because of their relatively cheap expense combined with good armor and relatively good firepower. Don't expect them to stand up to a strong tank force, however.

Whatever type of tank force you have, a prime method of increasing it's effectiveness is to shoot at the enemy from higher elevations. This is because, if the firing tank is at a higher elevation than the target tank, there is a chance that the round will hit the top of the turret or hull area, resulting in what the game calls a top hit. Top hits are much more likely to penetrate and kill the target. Even the heaviest tanks in the game, like the Tiger or the Panther, can be vulnerable to destruction via top hit. This is one reason why elevations are so critical. If you find yourself at a disadvantageous elevation, try to prioritize those enemy units at the higher elevations which might be able to get a top hit against you, unless you could easily kill off the lower creatures and cause some morale effects among the enemy commands.

There are some mistakes that players can make in both their play and conceptualization of the game with respect to tanks and their weaponry. One is believing that, since your tank has the best gun and the best armor on the map that you are basically invulnerable. No tank, no matter how well armed and armored, can traverse the battleground like a King. On the one hand, every tank is vulnerable to infantry assaults, and, take it from a tanker, its almost impossible to see all infantry threats from inside a tank. Even infantry units walk into ambushes all the time in the real world, and sometimes they still can't figure out where the enemy is even after they've been shot at for several minutes. A tank crew has only about 1/10th the degree of visibility that regular ground soldiers have. On the other hand, even if the enemy's guns can't even theoretically penetrate your rear armor, in the real world tanks are full of weaknesses and flaws that even small guns can exploit. Don't be surprised if some lowly 37mm was able to hit your Tiger tank and immobilize or even kill it. It's very unlikely, but in the real world as well as Steel Panthers, it can happen.

Almost every player, regardless of the nationality you choose, will be faced with a situation where the enemy has superior armor capabilities. Their tanks are bigger, better armored, and may have phenomenal main guns which can squash your armor like beetles under a boot. In the early years of the war, the Germans fear the Matilda and the Russian T-34 and KV-1 tanks. The British find it hard to stop the Panzer IIIj in North Africa, and later the Panther and Tiger tanks. The Americans, well, they have a problem with most heavy German armor, especially the Panthers and Tigers. Even the Russians, with their well-designed T-34 and KV-1s, find that in the early years they have mostly crummy BT-5 or BT-7 tanks, and later in the war find it nearly impossible to deal with the King Tiger.

Assuming that you do not have overwhelming numbers, or are not willing to sacrifice half your armor to deal with a couple of these beasts, there are a few tactics you can adopt when you find yourself in this situation. First, avoid taking shots at those enemy tanks that can stand your worst and, instead, concentrate your fire on those enemy tanks which are vulnerable to your gunnery. If you wipe out all of their other tanks, the big beasts may rout without so much as lobbing curses in your general direction. Second, don't provide an easy target for the beasts. Keep moving around or use the pop goes the weasel tactic of hiding behind a ridge, popping up, firing, and scampering back down. Third, when one of the enemy tanks starts firing at one of yours during your turn (because you've just fired at someone), don't keep firing with the same tank. Remember that enemy accuracy increases with each successive shot fired at the SAME target. Fire with a different tank so that the enemy has to keep switching targets and, therefore, never gets the added accuracy. Finally, even the biggest tanks can be immobilized and rendered irrelevant. If there aren't very many of them and your troops won't be subjected to murderous fire from other units, fire your maximum shots allowed with everything capable of hitting the enemy and try for an immobilization hit. This won't be all that useful if the enemy tank is practically sitting on the objective, but if you can immobilize the tank at some distance from the objectives, it may be worth a try.

Direct Fire Gunnery and other Special Units

Occasionally, you will have the fortune to have some crew-served or self-propelled artillery with your force. Crew-served guns come in several flavors : artillery pieces, anti-tank guns and infantry guns.

Everyone knows about artillery. These are really expensive batteries of big guns that you never actually see, but which manage to do a lot of damage (if only to buildings and dirt). This is off-board artillery. The advantages and uses of off-board artillery are discussed below. You can also buy sections of the same gun tubes and deploy them on-map. This is on-board artillery. The great thing about these tubes is that they can be used just like off-board artillery, by using spotters as described below in Section 17. Unlike off-board artillery, however, their barrage does not fall in predictable patterns, and they are really cheap. If you buy enough of them, they can actually be more effective than off-board artillery in some cases. Plus, if things get too hot, the artillerists can train their guns directly on targets in visual range.

On defense, this may be the only kind of artillery you can afford in many cases. You should keep them out of sight, but nevertheless positioned to provide direct fire support if the enemy gets in close to the objectives. Give them good LOS positions which cover your rear areas, but which are out of sight from the main fronts.

One limitation of on-board artillery is that they are easily spotted from a distance. They can be the ready target of enemy aircraft or artillery barrages because of the telltale smoke which is generated when they fire indirect barrages. Another limitation is that they have a minimum range. If the enemy is too close, they cannot fire indirectly.

Self-propelled artillery is much like the other kinds of artillery, but the tubes are mounted in an armored chassis of one kind or another. They can also be used to fire a barrage, just like on or off-board artillery. Since they are armored, however, they are designed to fire at targets in visual range without undue risk of destruction. They have very long ranges, so there is no need to expose them to enemy fire at closer ranges, unless the only enemy in visual range are infantry or other soft-target capability units. These units are invaluable at suppressing or destroying bunkers and light-to-medium guns (at longer ranges), and laying smoke in key hexes. Watch out for heavy AT-Guns, however, since their armor is not sufficient to stop a big shell from these types of tubes.

Anti-tank guns are specialized units designed to defeat enemy tanks, or support other forces against tank attacks. Using anti-tank guns effectively is an essential component of winning. Often, the anti-tank guns are the same type as those mounted in your tanks, sometimes they are much better than what is available in your tanks (like the German 88, which was available throughout the war years, but only mounted in tanks in late 1942, when the war was more than half over).

The important thing to remember about anti-tank guns is that they are support forces. They can rarely hold a position all by themselves. They are vulnerable to infantry, artillery and other tanks. In fact, anti-tank guns, while thought of as a defensive weapon, actually have little or no inherent defensive capability (except by firing their guns and destroying the units that are within range). Because they are so vulnerable, it is usually best to deploy them behind a line of friendly infantry or tanks. Their survivability will also be enhanced by minefields which can stop or slow enemy tanks and infantry at some distance from their position (remember that most infantry ranges are 10 or less hexes).

When anti-tank guns fire for the first time, their accuracy is good, but usually not good enough to insure clean kills of all the enemy in range. Within one or two turns, any artillery that the enemy has available will come raining down on their position, or the targets themselves will get in range and begin to fire back, tearing them asunder. At best, then, anti-tank guns have only a few turns of effectiveness, unless the enemy can be killed or forced to retreat, or the guns can be moved to new positions rapidly (which requires a Prime Mover). Even if the enemy retreats out of sight, the artillery will still fall in their area, but with less accuracy.

Because of all of the above factors, anti-tank guns are best used in something akin to an ambush mode. You should use the Set Range button to cause them to hold fire, and only open up when your guns and any other forces in the area can cause maximum damage to the enemy in the shortest period of time. The enemy will either be killed completely (rare) or retreat out of LOS of the guns (less rare), and you will then have time to get out of the way of an impeding barrage if you have the requisite transport (actually more common than rare). Of course, if you don't really care about whether the gunners survive, this makes the calculation quite simple. Just wait till your guns have the best chance of hitting them without being killed by the immediate return fire, open up and hope for the best. In any event, if the enemy gets to within 6-10 hexes, your guns won't last more than a couple of minutes without some really good luck.

Another useful tactic with AT-guns is what I call oblique positioning. Here, you place the guns behind a hill facing in an oblique direction (northwest, southwest, northeast, southeast). The trick is to have each gun cover the front of the other like a lattice-work. It is kind of like interlacing fields, but in this case your guns are placed not on the crest, where they have a wide view, but on the reverse slope where their effective LOS is angular to the front. Done properly, this will have several effects. First, any enemy tanks moving laterally across the map will come into range of at least two anti-tanks positions, and both of them will usually have a flank shot. Second, because the enemy will not see the guns until he enters the fields of fire, your guns are better protected. In the desert, I have seen oblique positioning of 88s wipe out attacks by British tanks all by themselves, with most of the fire occurring during the enemy's phase (the 88s were merely reacting). Ideal positions for oblique placement are out of the likely enemy path of advance, behind a heavy line of infantry who will give warning in case the hill itself is in danger of being occupied.

Anti-tank guns can also be used during attack missions. They will need transport to get into position in most cases, but in some scenarios it may be the only way to do some serious damage to enemy tanks. They can also be somewhat effective against enemy bunkers and pillboxes. Again, the same principles apply: Keep them out of sight until needed, open up at an optimal range (10-25 hexes, tending towards the long end of this scale), and then get out of Dodge.

Infantry guns are a different breed designed specifically to kill enemy infantry. They are very good at it. It is not uncommon to see the heavier caliber guns kill half or more of an approaching enemy squad with one hit. Moreover, though their chance to hit appears quite low, they actually cause damage much more frequently. In my experience, if there is less than a 10% chance to hit, there is actually about a 50% chance of inflicting at least one casualty. These gun types are also the ideal weapon to deal with bunkers and pillboxes. Against these targets, you don't actually have to hit to cause damage. Most bunker and pillbox crews will bail out if they start to get shot at by heavy caliber infantry guns (sooner if they've already lost a couple of guys to the 'concussion' effect!).

The big tubes can also be used against enemy armor. While they can get a kill with a top hit (or any kind of hit against lightly armored units) their prime effectiveness against armor is in suppression and immobilization. Any tanker will tell you that in a world of clangs, dings, pings and bings, a large KA-BOOM coupled with massive vibration and uncontrolled movement is really disconcerting. (What was that!?!?!, What did you say? I can't hear you, my ears are bleeding, My arm is broken!, What?!?!?!). A tank hit by a heavy-caliber artillery round will usually get a whole bunch of suppression, and this could result in the enemy vehicle being vulnerable to other forms of attack.

Special units include things like Flame-Tanks, Minesweeping and Dozer tanks. Flame tanks vary in quality and capability, but they are usually alot like one of the tanks of the producing nationality, except that they have a big tube that sprays jets of enflamed jellified petroleum about 100 yards. To use the flamethrower aspect of these fire-children, you need to use the Z key for an area, or hex, attack. The range is two hexes, which is one hex more than Engineers, and one hex more than infantry tank-assault range (how convenient). I've also noted that Flame-Tanks seem to be much more vulnerable to fatal damage, regardless of their armor values. Minesweeper tanks are also normal tanks with giant, spinning rotors that have huge metal balls attached to them with chains. I've never actually seen them work in the game (my attempted use got them destroyed trying to cross a bridge!), but presumably these units will clear a minefield with about the same dispatch as an expert Engineer. Dozer tanks have no observable effect that I've seen to date. They sometimes have a massive front hull armor rating (representing the dozer blade), and you would think they'd clear out trees or something, but I've seen nada.

Other special units include amphibious vehicles of various types. We'll cover this in more detail in another section. But yes, BARGES CAN CARRY TANKS! Other amphib vehicles, lighter in nature, cannot. You'll just have to experiment.

Combined Arms Doctrine

While every army has units of different types in different categories, putting them all together into a coherent combined arms force is more of a necessity than an interesting challenge. Moreover, at times the AI does not pay enough attention to the combined arms concept so, if you're playing against the computer and you can master the tactics of combined arms combat, you will have yet another advantage.

You may be asking yourself (and me): What is combined arms? Combined arms is the art of utilizing the individual strengths of each type of unit in such as way as to provide your force with the best possible methods of dealing with the various enemy threats which may present during the battle. To put it another way, you don't want your tanks rolling through forests without infantry protection, and you don't want your infantry crossing that 2-mile-wide meadowland without some armor support.

Let me give you an example. Let's say your mission is to attack, and the main enemy position has tanks, anti-tank guns, entrenched infantry and some bunkers and pillboxes. Would you just roll up with a platoon of tanks? Or run towards the position with a company of infantry alone? Of course, you wouldn't. The strength of infantry is to deal with other infantry, right? So you'll want to have some infantry to go in. There are better infantry killers out there, like direct-fire infantry guns, but they are naked and defenseless by themselves. If the infantry units can get close to the hill, they can allow a section of infantry guns to pound away at the more resilient defenders, like the bunkers. But what about the enemy tanks up there? Neither my infantry or the guns can adequately deal with the tanks. So, naturally, you'll decide that you've got to have some anti-tank capability in your attack force. Because you're attacking, tanks would be the best choice, but if you don't have any you may be able to transport some AT-guns within range to deal with this threat. If you have some other, general purpose firepower like artillery and airstrikes to keep all the threats suppressed, this will make your attacking force's job that much easier.

In the combined arms equation, infantry and armor are the two most important factors. Tanks can usually deal with most hard targets, while the infantry has some degree of capability against unarmored or soft targets. Exceptions are fortifications and mines, which only artillery, big direct fire guns and Engineers can deal with adequately. Other problems include small, fast-moving armored vehicles which tanks can't hit too easily and which your infantry can't deal with at all unless they get close enough.

Does this mean that your tactical group(s) always have to have a mix of forces? No. It means that whatever threat you encounter, you will be able to bring up the best capability you possess to deal with it in the shortest period of time if it is necessary for your mission. Armor, for example, frequently operates independent of any infantry, but they can move in and out of situations rapidly. If your armored force stumbles on a strong anti-tank position, you could just scamper away and bring in some infantry support. If your infantry are facing an armored threat, your tanks should be able to come to the rescue in time to avert disaster. There are cases where you'll want these elements to work closely together, but there are also cases where you'll want them to be operating as separate teams in your combined arms attack or defense plan. What you want to avoid is the frustration of having your force capabilities so widely separated that each cannot support one another or deal with a truly combined arms threat they may encounter.

In the game, the easiest way to insure that you have some combined arms capability is to have some infantry elements operating near your armored forces, or to just mount infantry on the tanks directly (if you are on the offensive). This will keep your tanks protected to a large extent from the unexpected assault from hidden enemy infantry, and keep your tanks free to deal with enemy tank forces, instead of expending most of their firepower fighting off infantry.

At close ranges, infantry are a deadly threat to armor, especially in the later war years when many of them are carrying anti-tank rocketry of one form or another. Even if they don't kill the tank, enough rifle and machine gun fire can suppress even the most experienced crew in the best tank and leave them wide open to an attack by enemy tank and anti-tank forces. In fact, this is a useful tactic for your infantry forces if a few enemy tanks are rolling up. Tanks are vulnerable to suppression from all kinds of fire, even fire that can't but once in a million times do any damage. Your infantry can suppress them simply by expending an enormous amount of rifle and machinegun fire against the hull, suppressing them to oblivion, and then, if you have some anti-tank forces, they will be able to fire without so much as a whisper of bad language from the enemy. This tactic can only work against a limited number of enemy tanks at at time, simply because, in most cases, it requires so much firepower to suppress a tank.

Some players have complained that this aspect of the game is unrealistic, but I disagree. As a former tanker myself, I can tell you that there is no way to determine where all this fire is coming from, and you get mighty nervous about the possibility that it may be from a gaggle of angry young men just a few yards away. If anything, this is a weakness of the AI, since frequently tanks controlled by the CPU do come a-rolling up on your combined arms positions without infantry support, and the AI tends not to shoot at enemy tanks with their infantry squads unless there is some probability of a kill. If you're playing against a human who won't make these kind of mistakes (after they've read this Primer) you'll have only yourself to blame if you've forgotten the Combined Arms Doctrine in the heat of battle.

A Combined Arms force consists of a dedicated source of reconnaissance information, an infantry capability, an anti-tank capability, a mobile offense or counter-attack capability, and a general source of support suppression firepower such as artillery, airstrikes or heavy direct-fire guns, as well as a command infrastructure. A threat which includes mines or fortifications or both will also benefit greatly from an Engineer capability. Defensive operations are less complex, so reconnaissance and offensive capability is not as important but still valuable. Sometimes, certain elements of the Combined Arms force may have multiple missions so that each part of the Combined Arms Doctrine has some degree of resources committed to it (just not dedicated all the time). You may, for example, frequently have some lead infantry elements performing the reconnaissance duty as well as the infantry capability. Dedicated reconnaissance forces may also have to provide reconnaissance capability to several different tactical groups, and may at some point be converted to a support role once the enemy's main positions are located.

What does all of this mean in game terms? I really hate to give hard and fast rules here, because everyone has their own ideas about what works best, and many of them are the right idea for the particular situation. However, since you insist, here are a few pointers and suggestions:

Combined Arms Tips

  1. Keep your armor within 1 or 2 turns of movement from a substantial (platoon-sized) force of infantry. On defense, position the armor in such a way as to insure that friendly infantry will be able to detect advancing infantry and protect your tanks from infantry assaults, or such that your armor can move rapidly to an enclave or line protected by infantry.
  2. Anti-Tank guns are excellent supports of both infantry-based and armor-based forces. However, because they are so vulnerable to fire, they should be kept behind other forces most of the time unless there is an excellent flanking position away from expected direct lines of enemy approach.
  3. Consider purchasing dedicated reconnaissance elements, or assigning some core forces to this mission. Even on defense, these will be invaluable in determining the enemy's choice of routes to the objectives.
  4. Consider also allocating some resources to the general support and suppression category. This may be as easy as buying artillery, but when resources are scarce small infantry guns, mortars and even machinegun sections can fulfill this role. Machinegun teams on defense are useful either ahead of your infantry, partially providing some reconnaissance, or behind where their weapons can easily suppress enemy units which get close to your main line.
  5. Don't lose sight of your goals. Remember the goal is to win, and this is done primarily by taking the objectives. When you are moving or firing a unit, ask yourself if it contributes to the mission goals. This applies both to your mission as commander and that of winning the scenario, but also to the combined arms elements of your forces. Don't start using your reconnaissance forces as infantry killers just because you can, relate the use of your forces to the overall goals and the unit's assigned part of the overall goals.

The Gentle Art of Self-Defense with Guns (Defense)

Regardless of how much like Patton, Zhukov, or Rommel you think you are, there are occasions when a good grounding in defensive tactics will be a lifesaver. Patton has been credited with saying that the only good defense is a good offense, and he was absolutely correct. It is the interpretation of that statement by the rest of us that causes confusion about the value of defensive tactics. If you think of offense as having more than enough firepower to defeat any threat if that firepower is properly and efficiently applied, you'll have no trouble absorbing and folding defensive tactics into your approaches to tactical problems.

Deploying for defense is a little different than that of attack. Since your forces will not be moving around as much, you do not need to group them into teams as much. Instead, you'll want to cover the obvious approaches to your positions with fields of observation and fire that will allow you to detect the enemy, engage the enemy, and ultimately defeat the enemy. Also, don't deploy units in heavy concentration in areas where the enemy will likely plaster with artillery, this will only cause you the aggravation of casualties and having to move out of your wonderful defensive positions if your troops are to be at all effective.

Fig 4. British desert defence (2)

The GIF file sppill3a.gif shows how to place units to defend an objective and nevertheless avoid initial barrages. This is the second graphic from a single game (the first was GIF file SPPILL2a.gif, above), with the finale appearing in the section entitled Art of the Counter-Attack. Most of the enemy barrage fell on or near the objective hexes, where no defenders had been deployed. Note that the British suffered only one casualty from the enemy's initial (heavy!) barrage.

Detecting enemy attacks can be more difficult than you think. Unless the enemy army is very poor in experience, even moving troops and tanks will not always be seen. The first thing you need to do is make sure that you have the widest possible view of the battlefield. Infantry and snipers are the best spotters. You'll need to carefully look over the terrain and select positions which give these spotting units excellent fields of vision. A spotter is no good if they get killed before accomplishing their mission, so placing spotting units along direct lines of march is not advised. Also, you may want to use the Set Range button to set their range to 3 or less, so they don't give themselves away.

When playing against the computer, be aware that the AI tends to send its forces along general paths of approach to the target. If a road is 5 hexes south of this approach, they will not automatically go on the road to move. They will follow their line of approach, but within a few hexes in either direction, they will take the easiest route in terms of movement points. Rough terrain, in this game, is a real stopper-upper. Tanks can only move one or two hexes through rough terrain, so movement paths tend to swing around it. Heavily forested areas sometimes have long lines of cleared areas, which will also be used by the enemy to move rapidly through the bush. Its these areas that you'll want to have covered with spotters.

Frequently, the enemy will use smoke to mask their approach. In which case your cleverly placed spotters who are not on the line of march will have a difficult time seeing them. Defeating this tactic is a matter of having several key observation points which can see all of the possible or major lines of approach from several different angles. You'll also want to consider deploying some very low value units very forward and very much in the way of the advancing enemy, to insure that even if they are completely cocooned in smoke, these brave lads will still be able to keep tabs on them.

Usually, the first significant firefights occur with long-range gunnery from tanks, AT-guns and infantry guns. Frequently, he who can make this first exchange of fire decisive will come out ahead when the scenario is tallied. You'll want to be the first one to fire, thus choosing the time and place of the initial engagement, rather than letting the enemy decide. You can be the one to make the decision, even during the enemy's phase, by clever use of the Set Range button. (Note : Steel Panthers II - Modern Battles has greatly improved the whole Set Range interface, so you would do well to learn it the hard way in SP1 before you migrate to SPII). The key to gaining a decisive advantage during this initial round is to insure that the enemy is hit from as many sides as possible with as much firepower as possible, and loses as many vehicles and men as possible in the shortest amount of time. To do this, you need to determine an optimal engagement range for you defenses, and use the Set Range button to control the time at which everyone opens fire. You might have your AT and infantry guns set to open up at 16 hexes, your tanks at 12, your MGs at 6, your infantry AT-teams at 4, and your infantry at 1 or 2. Done properly, before everyone is spotted, the enemy will be overwhelmed with firepower the minute they come within the engagement range. Most likely, your units will open fire during the enemy phase. If you are uncomfortable with this, you can set the ranges down even lower so that when the shooting starts, its during your phase. You need to caution yourself against setting the ranges too low, however, against highly experienced troops who will spot your forward positions at a 3 or 4 hex range, and start firing on them before your troops have orders to react. You may also need to play with the range buttons since, after 9 hexes, you can only set to 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 and maximum. Note that the maximum key is just to re-set the unit after it has been toggled down.

If you can get good at setting engagement ranges to match the capabilities of your force and get many kills in just one or two turns, you'll see the effects of morale in spades. If a platoon loses five of its three vehicles in one turn, the rest will frequently rout. If those three kills are spread out over the course of five turns, instead of happening all at once, there is less likelihood of morale effects (though the probability is still good). When you are setting up for the initial exchanges of fire, try to keep in mind that the first turn will not always be the decisive turn. The next couple of turns, after your units have acquired their targets and have good hit probabilities, will be the time that the majority of kills occur. And, you should strive for this to happen.

I can't confirm whether the following tactic improves the hit probability or not, but you can also use the Target button to acquire a target, and then re-set the range back down to lower than the closest the enemy could get to the targeting unit at maximum movement. If no enemy units enter the engagement range, your targeting unit will still have the same enemy unit targeted, assuming it remained in the targeting unit's LOS. Whether or not it improves the hit probability, it is also useful in keeping track of the relative hit probabilities for your units, and may help you in determining the optimal engagement range. Obviously, you won't want to re-set the range to a value lower than that at which your unit could be detected.

Special Subsection : A Note on Targeting

Targeting and resetting range is an important but obscure part of the game, as is simply targeting. Targeting and resetting the range down below the distance to the target has been observed to improve the hit probability for stationary units against stationary targets. Most likely, the hit probability is improved in all cases where, regardless of movement, the targetting unit is able to see the targetted unit during the whole turn without a break. This tactic can give you a tremendous advantage during defend missions. On attack missions, targetting can also result in support fire from one unit while another is being moved by you. If you are moving and one of your other units has an enemy targetted, and that enemy could react to your move, your unmoving targetting unit will actually fire one shot at the potentially reacting enemy. This causes the enemy unit to lose its reaction and save your mover from taking hits. This is an extremely valuable tactic while moving at relatively close ranges, since it effectively negates enemy reactions. Of course, your targetting unit needs to be very experienced and still have shots left.

Setting range is important if the enemy has superior long-range engagement capabilities. You may want to artificially lower the engagement range in order to overcome some deficiency of this character. If your units don't stand a ghost of a chance at 25 hexes, but at 12 hexes they have not only a good hit probability but a good penetration value, while at the same time the enemy's long range capability is decent at the 25 hex distance, then obviously you should choose to keep your unit's ranges set lower so that the engagement begins at a range where your relative capabilities are more evenly matched.

With respect to targeting, keep in mind that your units will frequently target enemy units on their own initiative and fire at them. When you begin your turn, it may be that several of your own units have already acquired and fired at target, and now have very good hit probabilities against this acquired target. If you change the target, you'll be throwing away a good chance to hit. Use the targeting arrow selector to see the best probabilities you have and take the best chance to hit that shows up. Also keep in mind that the best chance to hit is not the best chance to kill. It is better to take a 25% to hit probability with a 50% chance to kill if the round hits, than a 50% chance to hit probability with only a 5% chance to kill.

By the same token, enemy units may have already acquired some of your units and may have very good probabilities to hit. Unfortunately, but realistically, there is no easy way of figuring this out, except by paying attention to which of your units the enemy is firing at during their turn. If you believe that the enemy has acquired one of your units, you may want to think twice about firing them and, instead, lay smoke or get the heck out of there!

End of Special Subsection

If the enemy is superior to you in a number of categories, or you are outnumbered too heavily, another useful tactic for the defense is what I call wearing. No, not the wierding way, from Dune, but wearing. Wearing is effective because it is based on the built-in game-concept of shots available. Let me explain. Most ordinary units have between 4-6 shots available at the start of any scenario. The more shots you take in one turn, even if you aren't fired upon by the enemy, the less shots you'll have the next. If you start with 6 shots available and fire 4 shots in one turn, you'll have two less the next. Fire 4 again, and next turn you'll start out with only 2 or 3 available. Fire your maximum shots available each turn, and your unit will have only 1 or 2 shots available for several turns. Wearing consists of causing the enemy to expend maximum shots each turn, as they continue to advance. The goal is to have them reach your main line in a state of complete exhaustion, so they won't be able to react to your now-overwhelming firepower. Wearing can be effected in a number of ways, but usually putting infantry sections or platoons supported by a couple of tanks, all way out in front of your main position, holding up the enemy's advance, is the best way to do it. Each turn you fire at his lead elements a few times, cause them to react fire and then retreat to the next good firing position down the road.

Using little tactical groups like this for wearing, can also be used for the tactic I call leading. The AI (and some humans) will tend to pursue sighted enemy units. You can use the ambush and retreat tactic to draw them away from critical ground, or right into a kill zone. If you draw the enemy away from your objectives, they can usually be caught in the middle of nowhere, pinned down by fire from the objective and from your leading defenders.

Speaking of kill zones, what are they? I've mentioned them a few times, but perhaps we need to have a clearer idea of what they are. Kill zones are areas where the enemy comes in, but doesn't come out, kind of like a Roach Motel. They can be difficult to create because you've got to concentrate a lot of your critical firepower into a small area, and concentrating is the one thing that is difficult for the defense. If you have a fair idea of the routes the enemy might take, you might chance to roll the dice and set up a kill zone. A typical kill zone has clean fields of fire covered by several high-powered anti-tank guns, are painted with mines, and have entrenched or hidden infantry and machineguns at the edges, and sometimes by tanks on the surrounding elevations. Any enemy entering the kill zone will come under fire from the front and both flanks. You may also have an infantry platoon, a tank section, or a recon section capable of moving into the rear of the enemy advancers and cutting off their retreat. Leading tactics can be used to draw the enemy in, and mines (covered below) can also channel the enemy attack into one of these areas.

On defense, it is critical to remember two things. The enemy has to come to the objectives in order to win, and you only need hold the majority of objective hexes to win. You don't need to defend every objective to win, and even if the enemy has captured one and you've stopped the attack, you do not need to suddenly go over to the attack and retake the objectives the enemy managed to occupy. Even an objective are which is partially occupied can be left as is if it is too dangerous to try to recover the lost hexes, so long as you hold, in total, the majority of objective hexes on the map.

One final word about the tactics of defense, which is particularly valuable if you are playing against a human opponent. One or two squad infantry ambushes are really annoying to the attacker, especially if they result in a tank exploding or a fast-moving infantry unit cut to pieces. If you are on the attack and this happens to you a couple of times, you'll start getting real cautious about moving around. There may be some places you just won't want to go because you don't want to have to deal with the stupid little infantry guys lurking about. As the defender, at times you'll gain immensely if you can induce caution into the enemy's ways. Setting up a couple of cheap, expendable infantry units in hexes where they can only be seen from adjacent hexes is a tactic that will cause any attacker to be much more cautious. This could buy you valuable time. If you do this, I recommend setting up at least two 1 or 2 squad ambushes like this, along likely lines of march. Write these boys off, though, if they radio back We've got 15 tanks coming down the road and...

The Art of Attack

We've already covered how to deploy your forces for the attack, and how to group them into combined arms teams with a specific mission and objective. Now, what do we do when we actually start to move out?

Good question. A lot depends on the composition of your force and the availability of resources. If you have artillery, you should have plotted some bombardments or smoke screens during the deploy phase. Airpower, if you have it, can also be very useful in the prelim phase since it can detect some enemy units (depending on how well they are hidden), and give your attacking forces some idea of what to expect. Moreover, after you've spotted the enemy in this way, you can now call down some artillery (again, if you have it) and cause those unfortunates even more grief.

As you start to move forward, remember that probably no enemy infantry will be detected in the first 10 hexes beyond the limit of your deployment area. Most campaign scenarios usually have a no-man's land where neither side can deploy. However, this is not an excuse to go gallivanting around. If the visibility is high, your troops can still come under long range fire from guns and tanks, which will be quite effective against infantry units classed as 'moving fast'.

The big question here is how do you plan to win? Obviously, taking the objectives is paramount to the score, but there are a number of ways to do this. If the enemy has weak morale levels, concentrating on killing everything you see will reap the benefits of negative morale effects on the enemy. In such a case, you might actually want to detect large concentrations of easy-to-destroy units and, well, destroy them. Done enough times, this will later cause the undamaged enemy units to rout, in some cases leaving the objectives poorly defended or unoccupied. Against most first-class armies, however, the search-and-destroy method won't work very well. It'll just wear out your attacking forces before they even get to the objectives.

One of the first choices you'll make is whether to try to take more than one objective at the same time, or to focus on one objective at a time. Usually, your forces won't be strong enough to advance against more than 2 of the 3 objective areas in any one scenario. If one objective area is widely separated from two others, that might present an opportunity for you to concentrate your forces and drive off the defenders with ease. Remember the basic battle tactic of trying to have as much or more firepower than the enemy at the given points of attack or defense? Concentrating your forces against one objective at a time will insure that you will. Heavy artillery from the defense (which is likely on Defend missions) will make this proposition problematic (i.e. you might have to spread your attackers out more to lessen enemy artillery effectiveness), but the general rule still applies. One reason you might want to go after 2 objectives at once isn't actually to take both of them at the same time, but to pin down the units on the other objectives that could provide long range support to their compadres at the target objective.

Once you've decided on a battle plan and method for carrying it out, you need, above all, to examine the terrain features and determine how they will either help you or hurt you. If your forces have superior equipment, you might want to get into view as soon as possible in order to start dukeing it out. If your equipment is more or less the equal of the enemy, you'll want to occupy some advantageous ground and position some units with long range capability to hold the attention of the defenders, while other units continue to move closer. If your forces lack something on the equipment side, you may want to use intervening terrain to hide your troops from the enemy until you can get close enough to do some real damage.

If you are short on time or mobility and you need to get to the objective areas quickly, you'll need to concentrate on clearing paths which give you the highest probability of getting to the objective in the shortest period of time with the least amount of casualties.

Whether you are heading in one big group for the nearest objective, or in several tactical teams for a couple, there are a few tactics of moving forward which may aid you. First, you don't always have to complete the move of the currently selected unit. Many players move one unit its full movement (or as much of it as they envision using this turn) and then just go on to the next one. This may be convenient, but it's not very safe. You can, and in many cases should, move only one hex at a time, select another unit and move it one hex, and so forth. This gives you the least risk of walking into a buzzsaw, and insures that in the event the enemy is detected, you will have plenty of units to pin the enemy down.

Another mistake that can be made in all the excitement is that when the enemy is detected, players will use the detecting unit to fire at the newly-discovered unit. If the enemy's positions are relatively untouched, this can be very dicey for the attacking unit. Use units that have the best probability to suppress or kill detected enemies, not just the nearest one or the detecting one. When firing, remember that every time you fire, this is one less unit of fire that you will have available to react with. I like to expend my fire in groups of twos; from 6 to 4, and from 4 to 2. Try to keep as many units as possible with the ability to react fire. Don't just grab the nearest really neato unit and get happy until the shots left indicator reads zero. Use your forces as a team, cover each other, and reserve a powerful ability to react during the enemy's phase, when you aren't in control. This is not to say that there aren't times when killing the enemy now with that one handy unit will be necessary, just don't make it your default setting.

On the attack, your units will frequently have superior fire capabilities to whatever enemies are detected. Your units are concentrated, the enemy is dispersed and defending a long line. On occasion, the swarming technique can result in an utter rout. Let's say you've got a tactical team together moving across the fields and you encounter an infantry platoon in a woods line. If you use several of your units to pin the enemy down, they may run out of react fire. You'll notice this if you fire at one unit a couple of times and the enemy doesn't react when they clearly could have. Now, direct your fire (with some other of your units) against the enemy positions which you suspect could still react. After you've gone through this drill a couple of times, the enemy will be completely exhausted. Now you can roll up that fresh Engineer section, or recon element, and grind them to dust. Mech inf, with their extra halftrack, also excel in the swarming tactic since their vehicle-mounted machine-gun can usually suppress the enemy, and then they just mount up the squad, take a jaunt over to the enemy positions, dismount and proceed to accept the enemy's surrender. Swarming consists of using your forces efficiently to wear out their react capability, and then just roll in with everything you've got. This has its risks, of course, but it can also greatly speed up the pace of an attack. Swarming also works well against fortifications and heavy tanks, but there is always the danger that what you've accomplished during the all the firing is suppressed only those enemy units you could see. There may be others waiting who are totally unsuppressed and will have a nice reception for your over-exuberant troops.

A Note on Enemy Surrenders : Getting enemy squads to surrender is very important for the attacker. It cuts down on the amount of time your troops will have to spend wading through the enemy forces, and in some cases can shorten the scenario because the enemy will have no units left. The manual states (somewhere) that enemy units will only surrender if the attacking unit is adjacent to the enemy. This is true. What they don't tell you is that the enemy is about 4 times more likely to surrender if they cannot retreat to a hex which is not adjacent to one of your units. Hence, to force a surrender, just place a friendly unit on each side of the enemy and start firing. Mechanized troops are perfect for this tactic since they can deploy a squad in one hex, move the halftrack three hexes to the opposite side, and then begin firing with the squad. The halftrack will prevent the retreat, causing the enemy to surrender. Also, note that enemy squads will only surrender if they are reduced to 50% of their starting strength and are in rout or retreat status.

Fig 5. German infantry swarm Matildas!

Above is an illustration of the swarming techinique (GIF file : sppill8a.gif). In this case, the Germans were on the defense, but decided to launch a counter-attack with infantry units against a platoon of attacking British Matildas. Supported by one Stug III, over 8 Germans squads rushed the Matildas, after insuring that they had exhausted most of their reaction fire. Several Engineer squads, mounted in halftracks, did most of the dirty work, dismounting near the Matildas and assaulting, then mounting up and moving to the next. All of the attacking British were destroyed or immobilized. (Note : I apologize for the washed out quality of the graphic. Nevertheless, it was the only one I had illustrating the tactic).

VERSION 1.2 : Swarming is less effective in the later versions of Steel Panthers. This is because as you move, your units will lose shots EVEN IF THEY DON'T FIRE!! The designers made this change probably because they recognized that the shots available concept was a function of time, not ammunition or competence. Thus, a moving unit is expending some time so if they decide to open up after moving 3/4ths of their movement rate, the amount of firepower they can bring to bear on the target should be reduced since they have less time to do it. Nevertheless, swarming can still work since even a unit which expends all of its movement points will still have some shots left (if they started fresh). If your units have been moving and firing for a few turns in a row, they may not get any shots if they move their entire movement rating, however, so keep a close eye on the 'shots available' indicator.

If your tactics are good and even-handed, you'll have little trouble getting close to the first objective. Now, you need to be aware of the AI's tendency to counter-attack. In many cases, the AI will send almost everyone to attack the very first objective that you take. All those enemy units that you didn't spot will now be easy to spot heading for the objective you took. The only problem is, now you're outnumbered! Seriously, the counter-attack tendency of the AI is easy to deal with if you're just aware of it to begin with. As I said before, many players utilize this tendency to their advantage and bypass a lot of enemy forces on their way to the objective, just so they will have an easier time killing them during the AI's counter-attack. When you reach the first objective, but before you actually occupy the hexes, start thinking about how you'll need to position your forces to defeat the counterattack. When you do occupy the hexes, take them all at once, don't just take one and then the rest on the next turn, the AI will start moving into the attack when you take the first hex.

If you have a couple of groups rather than just one, you may have one group which has taken an objective while the other is still in reserve or fighting it out somewhere else on the map. Once an objective is taken the group which is still in the rear or fighting it out on the front line will start finding itself with fewer and fewer enemies. Some players, again, use this tactic against the enemy in this way: They assemble one strong group to take the first objective and hold it. Then they have one or more other groups which remain uncommitted. After the objective is taken, the uncommitted or slowly moving groups are in an excellent position to make a mad dash for the other objectives, or slaughter the now-moving enemy forces in open ground.

An important tactic of attack is masking off those enemy defenses that can harass your line of march. Frequently, masking is the only way to approach a position with some degree of cohesion, or to preserve a force which is having a tough time fighting forward. Masking is most commonly done with smoke, a combination of smoke and terrain, or just terrain. Masking allows you to deal with only a section of enemy defenses at a time, rather than everyone who can get you in their sights. In addition to the standard methods of artillery smokescreens and smoke grenades thrown by your infantry, don't forget that a lot of tanks come with smoke rounds. If your crew is lucky or good, you may be able to dish up a serving of smoke to the direct front of that pesky AT crew. Masking is useful even if you don't know the enemy's position and do not need to know exactly at that particular moment. Of course, if you can kill the enemy position without a big scene then do that; masking is an alternative mode to killing outright. However, masking may be preferable to killing if the enemy has lots of artillery and lots of spotters you can't kill. In that case, your masks will be close to your forces so that they will be unspotted, rather than sealing off only portions of the enemy forces from view.

The battle will end when you capture all objectives and the enemy's morale is broken, or when the maximum number of turns is reached, or when all of your own forces have been destroyed (which should never happen, by the way). When you are on an assault mission, you will usually have to deal with enemy artillery, sometimes in very heavy doses. In cases where you've already broken the enemy's back and have only a few remaining objectives to take, you might want to hustle it up a little and take some risks that you wouldn't normally. These risks are preferable to a more cautious approach which will take many more turns longer -- turns in which your troops will continue to suffer the bombardments. You may lose actually fewer men by taking more risks on the ground and getting the scenario overwith sooner. Again, however, this is only advisable on a good assessment on the balance between the risks to your forces and the amount of enemy artillery coming down.

The Art of Retreat

"See, man, we like to think we can get out of trouble quicker than we got into it" Oddball, from the movie Kelly's Heroes, referring to the fact that his tanks go faster in reverse than forward.

Oddball is one commander who has his head on straight when it comes to the Art of Retreat. Thinking about backing out of a battle gracefully may be distasteful, but it must always be on your mind as a competent commander. Because Steel Panthers uses fog of war to a greater extent than many games in the past, you really don't know a whole lot about what is happening on the other side of the hill unless your forces are simply dominating the whole flow of the battle. For this reason, the situation as you know it can rapidly change from being one in which you think you are winning, to one in which you wonder what hit you so fast, and who it was that slapped you upside the head in the last five minutes.

The Art of Retreat consists of having some idea that your forces will be unable to continue to fight effectively under current or soon-to-be-developed situations, and engaging in withdrawal operations with a minimum of loss. This concept applies to individual elements of your force as well as your entire force. Just because you've won the last six battles does not mean that this is the not the one where the enemy will ultimately triumph to the utter devastation of the men who were depending on your good judgment. And, if you think that you can just end the game and go back to your last save with some foreknowledge of what to expect, go right ahead and do it. That will not teach you the Art of Retreat, though. If you are playing the game just to win, then this section isn't for you. If you love Steel Panthers because you know that the decisions you make will have long-term consequences that you have to live with in your campaign game, then you're the kind of player that will find this section of some value. You'll probably enjoy the game a lot more than the other guys.

There are basically two levels to retreating. The lower level involves a retreat of part of your force to better positions, or just getting away from a bad situation. The higher level is more serious, and that is extricating your whole force from a battle which you have ascertained that you either cannot win at all, or cannot win without prohibitive cost. This last usually only applies to scenarios in which you are on the defense, since the enemy will not come to you if your mission is Assault or Advance. The Art lies in making these determinations before you lose complete control of the situation. If you can get out of a losing battle before suffering prohibitive casualties, then you have won. If you fail to make the judgment call on time, you will not only lose the battle, but your core force will be seriously compromised for some time to come.

At the tactical level, parts of your forces may get into firefights which are untenable. You'll start noticing this when you units become suppressed and pinned -- or worse, retreating and routing. One thing you can do to unsuppress them is blind the enemy, usually with smoke. This will give your troops a turn or two's respite from the constant fire. Note that even pinned units can fire, and if they need to retreat this means they can still lay smoke (if they have smoke grenades). If you have support units nearby capable of firing HE rounds, fire a few into buildings and woods hexes the enemy is located in; these can catch fire and reduce the enemy's effectiveness. If some of your units can move, move them into positions which can cover the retreat of other units which are routing or retreating. Engineers are excellent in aiding retreats, since they can easily set fire to adjacent hexes with their flamethrowers. Hexes on fire block LOS, while if you are lucky enough to have the engineer adjacent to an enemy unit, you can fire the hex the enemy unit is in. Any unit which remains in a hex which is on fire will become progressively suppressed, making their fire inaccurate and, if they stay, cause them to retreat or rout.

Tactical retreats of parts of your forces are essentially a bounding overwatch in reverse. When you need to retreat, its usually because you've lost or are about to lose control of the battle (at least in that area). This means that all your guys just can't up and run the other way, because the enemy will have the opportunity to cut them down, like shooting fish in a barrel. Instead, if some of your still active units remain positioned or move only slowly backwards, they'll be in a position to return fire during the enemy's turn, greatly reducing the enemy's accuracy and effectiveness. Positioned and firing units will bear the brunt of the enemy's pressure, allowing your other crumbling, routing units time to get away. Support forces, naturlich, are best for this purpose since they aren't part of your core force! After most of your routing and retreating forces have gotten out of range, then its time to start taking the remaining guys out, sort of reducing the bounding teams until there everyone is out. Another reason it seems to work better if you think of the retreat as a bounding overwatch in reverse is because bounding teams will not surrender or collapse as quickly as, say, the lone support rifle platoon you left behind. The purpose is to delay the enemy, and this won't happen if the rear guard collapses in one turn.

There may come what is known as the point of crisis in the battle. This is where your entire force and it's position is compromised. Perhaps the enemy has already broken into the rear, or has gotten strong forces into a flanking position. Actually, though, the crisis of command occurs just before the time when it is already obvious that you've lost. You must, repeat must, always be aware of the possibility that things aren't developing in such as way as to permit a draw or a victory, and keep open your lines of possible retreat. If you can detect the crisis point a few turns in advance and begin the retreat before it is well-neigh impossible, then you've learned the Art, and in the process saved many lives from among your core forces.

If you've determined that you can no longer maintain a viable position because you've spotted several enemy force groupings that cannot be dealt with by any combination of your available forces, then the crisis of command has been reached and you need to consider whether to retreat or fight it out. If the former, then you need to select teams of units which can be easily positioned to intercept the enemy advance and buy the rest of your men time to get away. Once you've made the decision to abandon your positions, you need to consider this your over-arching goal. Every movement should be directed to either delaying the enemy or moving to the appropriate mapedge. I usually divide my rearguards up into two basic teams, the forward element and the sheepherder element. The forward element engages those enemy forces for the purpose of delay, while the sheepherder element usually provides a last bit of protection for the retreating main forces. The sheepherders usually lay a lot of smoke, to keep the retreating units out of sight.

The Art of Counter-Attack

A well-timed and placed counter-attack can make the difference between winning and losing. You can get into situations where you have a counter-attack chance whether you are on attack or defense. However, the Art of Counter-Attack, in Steel Panthers, is most common when your mission is defensive in nature.

The Art of Counter-Attack consists primarily of holding a mobile force in reserve, and using it at a time when the enemy has exposed themselves to attack by exhausting their own units, or has moved them into exposed positions, or are just so disorganized that they cannot provide adequate support to each other. The appearance of your fresh, coordinated counter-attack force will eliminate their weaker units, strip their strong units of support, and restore or improve the tactical situation. Counter-attack reserves should be centrally placed if you are unsure of the enemy's line of advance, or placed in positions out of view on their flanks if your have some degree of certainty that they will come from a particular direction.

It takes discipline to pull a mobile force off the frontline and put them in some area where they won't be able to add their firepower to a kill zone you want to set up, or to a main defense line. But they can be more effective than these other methods for two reasons: You may enter the fray from an unexpected angle, giving you flank or rear shots against their vehicles, and you will arrive fresh and fit while the enemy has already expended themselves against a different defending force. Let me put it to you this way: Would you rather have 4 Tigers with only 2 shots available each against a position held by some infantry squads and a couple of anti-tank guns, or would you rather have 4 Shermans with 6 shots available each firing on the flank and rear of those same worn-out Tigers? I know its a tough call (after all, we're talking about Tigers, here), but in most cases the Shermans will probably prevail. If you had left the Shermans up on the hill with your main force, some of them would already be bar-b-queued, and those remaining, if they weren't routing, would be in sorry shape.

It is not uncommon to place tanks and other vehicles behind crests, so that they will be fresh at the proper time (Reverse-Slope defense made famous by Wellington, except he did it with the British Guards at Waterloo!). However, keeping your units fresh won't matter if the enemy is also fresh when you commit your counter-attack force. Essential to a good counter-attack is that the enemy has already been engaged against another group of defenders, become somewhat worn down, and possibly maneuvered to expose their vehicles to flank, rear or top hits.

Fig 6. British desert defence (3)

The GIF file spill4a.gif shows the effects of a successful counter attack, and is the last installment of the series of three GIF files from one game (current GIF file : spill4a -- previous files were spill2a.gif and spill3a.gif). In this game, the Lee tanks deployed in the extreme north eventually launched a counter-attack after the German attack of Panzer IVs and Engineers had passed through the objective area on the northern hill. As the northern German force engaged the defending British on the north face of the center hill, the Lees appeared on the northern hill, virtually surrounding the German force. The illustration shows all the Panzer IVs knocked out and the enemy infantry nowhere to be seen at this point. This counter-attack allowed the southern part of the defending British force to deal with the main German attack, as shown.

The tactics of counter-attack can even be taken to an extreme and yet be successful. I've witnessed defenses with NO objectives defended, not even the most remote one. In such a case, the entire defending force becomes a counter-attack force, and they set up a kill zone completely covering, but not on or slightly ahead of, the most remote objective hexes. When the enemy enters, especially the AI enemy, they'll take all the objectives and basically stop moving. This means that only a small portion of their total force is at the final objective, while you, secretly, have massed your entire force within just a few hexes of the area. Suddenly, the trap springs and your whole force moves into counter-attack, retaking objective after objective. The enemy is usually too disorganized and your forces moving too fast for him to react with a cohesive defense. If the enemy has airpower, this tactic might not work, since even if you use the Set Range button to set your unit's ranges to zero, they will still fire at enemy planes that fly overhead (even if they aren't heading for your men). This will reveal your positions to the enemy and the next thing you know it's airstrike and artillery barrage city.

Though we've talked mostly about tanks in the counter-attack, infantry is just as capable of counter-attacking as are their armored friends. However, they are much more vulnerable than tanks so a good infantry counter-attack can only occur if the enemy is suppressed and cannot react fire against your troops as they approach. An infantry counter-attack is best done with fresh, unsupressed infantry against worn-out (low shots, suppressed, low reaction value) enemy units. Infantry can also counter-attack against tanks, provided, again, the tanks are suppressed. This is sometimes the only way to save a position that is threatened by enemy tanks which you can't kill easily with your tank or anti-tank forces.

Rest & Refit

When you get to the end of the battle, you'll usually be carried to the Refit screen (unless the enemy has a counter-attack or you accept a chance for a breakthrough -- see below). Refit is for the most part pretty straightforward, and most times you just click on the Fix All button.

If you are thinking about upgrading, however, note that you do not have to fix a unit before you can simply change it into a better one. Before you fix anyone, if you want to upgrade, you should change the selection tool to upgrade and pick the unit that you want to upgrade. This will save you many points over the course of the campaign. If you don't do this, you'll wind up fixing damaged units and then immediately spending the points for an upgrade, which is wasteful.

Problems can crop up if you don't have enough points to rebuild your entire force. Hitting the fix all button will fix your units from the top of the roster towards the bottom. If you don't have enough points to refit your entire force, all points will be expended and the higher-cost units will not be repaired. This method may not be the optimal order of priority for refit or repair. Rather than fixing all, toggle to the fix button and pick and select those units you want brought back up to full strength. Infantry squads will still do fine if they are missing a couple of guys, so you can save a couple of points there. Your tanks, even the cheap ones, should be fixed, unless you have enough support points to upgrade one and want to upgrade instead of just fixing it.

When you upgrade a unit, it loses some experience. This is no problem with infantry units, since they will rarely need to be upgraded or changed. However, new models of tanks are always coming out. You'll need to refrain from the temptation to always equip your tanks with the very latest technology, because actually you can wind up hurting their experience levels so much that they actually perform worse with better equipment.

Finally, note that some units can be switched from Armor to Infantry and back and forth. You'll almost never do this, but there might be some case where a really experienced infantry unit actually has better Armor Command ratings than the latest batch of scraping-the-bottom-of-the-barrel Panzertruppen. Sometimes players do switch the command unit to a tank, but if so you better make it a really well-armored tank or a recon vehicle which can move very fast. It is rather useful to have a command unit which can move at the speed of lighting, and it is very comforting to know, on the other hand, that your commander is protected by 80mm of armor. The middle ground of a medium tank is to be avoided unless there is no other choice.

Its possible to accumulate points to expend at a later time. On the other hand, its possible to be in a point crunch where at each refit screen there doesn't seem to be enough to go around to fix everybody, much less upgrade. To remedy this situation, when times are good, try to maintain a reserve. Don't spend all your points to outfit everybody with Flame-Tanks. If the good times are over, then you may have to be extremely cautious about casualties and retreat off the map if things get too hot, even if you know you could win! When you are down like this, your first priority should be getting your core force into tip-top shape, not trying to win every battle like it's your last.

VERSION 1.2 : Lots of units have had their costs changed in the newer versions. The revision is usually upward. For example, an 88 section used to cost 20 points, now they are 30. Hence, replacement will be more expensive in this phase than previously. Also, you may not be able to add a section to your core force at the start of a Long Campaign (as some players were wont to do, like me).

Scenario Breakthroughs and Counter-Attacks

One of the neat tricks of the game which keeps us campaigners on our toes is the counter-attack and breakthrough mechanism. This happens when, at the end of a hard-fought scenario, a special message from headquarters arrives informing you of either and enemy counter-attack or an opportunity for a breakthrough.

An enemy counter-attack can also occur at the beginning of a scenario, after you've deployed but before the shooting starts. This type of counter-attack is really just letting you know that the enemy had more points to spend that usual, and their mission has changed from defensive to offensive. We discussed that before. In any event, whether before or after a scenario, a counter-attack will mean the enemy will be tougher than usual, and you won't have a choice either way to accept or decline. If it happens at the end of a scenario, you might get a chance to buy support units or you might not. If you do, you'll notice that you have about half the number of support points that you would normally have on a defense or delay mission. This will make your job even harder.

The breakthrough is an optional mission, leading to either an assault or advance mission. If you get to buy support units at all, again, you'll get fewer points to do it. If your force has been badly scrapped out by the previous battle, then you should probably decline the breakthrough. In fact, you may be asking yourself why take it at all? The manual states that both breakthroughs and counter-attacks will result in higher experience for your units, but there is some debate among the players as to whether the net result means that your troops actually get more experience for participating in a breakthrough than they would if they just fought two normal battles. Because of this uncertainty at this point, I tend to decline the breakthrough unless my core force is virtually unhurt from the previous engagement. I have been unable to determine for certain whether or not experience multipliers obtain in Breatkthrough scenarios. However, I am sure that SSI was aware of this problem, so it has most likely been fixed in version 1.2.

One other caution about breakthroughs. It has happened that after accepting and winning a breakthrough, the enemy can counter-attack. This means that you fought one normal battle, didn't refit, accepted a breakthrough, didn't refit and were counterattacked! That would be entering your third consecutive battle without a refit. The enemy can also launch into counter-attack mode during the breakthrough scenario. These are scary thoughts and one more thing to be aware of when faced with that breakthrough option.

Artillery & Air Power (It's raining lead, hallelujah!)

Death from above can win battles and save you long casualty lists, if your side is dropping it. It can also stop you dead in your tracks, pin down your men, and give you and extree long list of KOs and -9s if you're receiving it.

The only problem with artillery is that you can never have enough of it on your team. Artillery is expensive, and most players are comfortable with only one battery during campaign scenarios. Occasionally, your confidence in your core force is such that you can spring for two, but that's about it. Even a lowly 75 battery (which doesn't even make pretty holes in the ground) can cost around 60 points! When choosing artillery, you'll want to tailor the tubes for your mission and likely enemies. If you expect a lot of tanks in positions that you need to take, remember the larger calibers are better at causing damaging hits. Rocket artillery is not as effective at hitting armored targets. If you're short on time in the upcoming scenario (or expect to be) Rockets and the larger calibers are good because you'll have a limited amount of ammo anyway.

The process of using artillery involves selecting a spotting unit, and hitting the B key. You'll go to the artillery screen, and the LOS of the spotting unit will be highlighted. You can select any hex on the map for the barrage, but artillery that is plotted to a spotted hex will be more accurate (the spread pattern will be low). Preliminary bombardments, those that occur before the start of the scenario, are always as accurate as spotted attacks (representing planned strikes against known coordinates). Remember that the spotting unit can move, but whether the strike is accurate is determined by whether the spotting unit can see the target hex when the shells start to impact (the turn that the barrage begins). Your spotter's artillery command rating will also impact accuracy.

Artillery is effective not only because it can cause casualties, but because it also causes the bugaboo of efficiency : suppression. Troops which get hit with it become suppressed, even if they sustain no casualties. Thereafter, they are less accurate, less alert, and generally very groggy. They tend to run away from situations which progress from getting rounds on their head into rounds in their face. On the attack, artillery is useful to suppress a position in preparation of an advance to within range of the enemy, since suppressed enemies will be very inaccurate if they fire at all. On the defense, artillery can wear down the enemy before they come into range, making their return fire sporadic and off-the-mark.

On the attack, you'll want to use artillery to hit enemy positions that you can't reach effectively with your ground forces, to hit areas in advance of your ground forces where the enemy may be laying in ambush, deal with those nasty anti-tank positions and to lay smoke to cover your advance. The biggest problem with artillery when on an attack mission is spotting the enemy, otherwise your shells may hit nothing except the ground. Even if you can't see the enemy, you at least know that the computer will have some units in and around the objective hexes, so this is an obvious target. As for other targets, well, do we have any volunteers for spotting? Private Brady? -but- Pack up your gear and get out in the field pronto. Don't forget the radio.

Seriously, you'll have to reconnoiter the enemy to find out where they are. If you don't have any volunteers or aren't willing to sacrifice a necessary support unit to do the job, buy a platoon of reconnaissance vehicles along with the artillery battery, and dedicate them to spotting. Alternatively, you can plot airstrikes over suspected enemy positions. These will also spot enemy concentrations, but the artillery strikes will still be less effective unless a ground unit is in LOS of the barrage area. Note that spotting does not have to be a sacrifice, its just more often than not the spotting unit will themselves be spotted and suffer the vengeance of guys that he's raining death upon. Also, there is a difference between spotting the enemy, and spotting for the artillery. One unit can reveal the presence of an enemy unit that you'd like to paste with artillery shells, while another one actually calls down the artillery. So long as the one calling down the artillery has an LOS to the newly-revealed enemy position, your artillery fire will be (insert musical tune here) all that it can be.

Don't forget that most artillery comes down in two consecutive turns. Sometimes players, including myself, have unit which are just outside the barrage area when the shells start to impact and see that the enemy is decimated by the first blast. Then, you forget that one more turn of fire and brimstone is on the way and move in to mop up without calling off the guns. Then it's your guys who suffer the shrapnel and concussions. When you plan artillery, be sure to check it every turn to insure your troops aren't the victims of friendly fire (also known as fratricide in military parlance). You can always cancel a barrage in progress. In fact, sometimes this is a good idea if the enemy has moved or your guns need to save ammo.

Some players are concerned that they cannot plot artillery barrages for more than two turns. This is not really true. You can plot artillery for more than two turns. If, after a bombardment, you again go to the plotting screen, you'll notice that wherever you place the plot, there will be a delay. However, the delay will be ZERO if you plot the same battery to hit the same hex that it did in the last bombardment. Therefore, your artillery can come down in the same spot without a break. You just have to remember to re-plot every 1 or 2 turns. Simple, huh?

Even if you don't move into the impact zone, the impact zone may come to you. Artillery can miss, sometimes by as much as 5-10 hexes. When you have troops this close to the impact area, you need to be extra cautious to make sure that your spotter can see the target hex, and that the spotter has the best artillery rating available.

On the defense, artillery placement is a little more difficult, since the enemy will be moving. However, the fact that they are moving makes them very easy to see. If you can stop them from moving or slow them down, this will make your artillery that much more effective. Mines and lots of direct fire are good for this. Airstrikes are also good at spotting the enemy before they move into sight. This might be handy if visibility is low and you want to breakup enemy concentrations before they come into view. However, there is a risk your planes won't see anything because, after all, you are just guessing yourself when you plot the airstrike.

Occasionally, you'll have some artillery capability while the enemy is on an attack mission. Usually, you have to wait to see the enemy before you can call down artillery with any hope of effectiveness. However, there may be some map and objective configurations which make a preliminary bombardment worthwhile, simply because simply have a very good idea where the enemy might be concentrated for the attack. If you guess correctly, this can be devastating to the enemy because his formations are all bunched up in anticipation of the attack! (Note : The Soviets did this to the Germans in the minutes preceeding the H-Hour of the Kursk attack. The results seriously impaired the ability of some German units to make their specified mission contributions). To make sure that you have the maximum chance for damage, make a note of where the demarcation like is for your forces during deployment. If you can deploy in the first 40 hexes on your side of the map, the enemy will probably be concentrated along a similar 40-hex demarcation zone on his side of the map, although in some missions the deployment zones can be different sizes depending on the type of missions. Your best bet is to identify the enemy's deployment zone and demarcation line, and set up your preliminary bombardment within the first 5-8 hexes from the edge of the line.

Yet another defensive use for artillery which few players take advantage of is using the bombardments to rip holes along the roads that the enemy could use to move rapidly towards your positions. Artillery which is larger than around 75mm will make pretty holes in the ground. A hole in a road hex immediately reduces the class of that road hex to a hole hex, meaning that enemy units will not be able to zip along at the road movement rate. Along a long enough stretch of road, this can actually slow the enemy down by more than a few turns. Road intersections and bridges are ideal targets for this kind of bombardment, but just about any area which is going to be used as a path is also a possibility. Just don't do it too close to your own forces for the obvious reasons, and also because holes constitute a form of cover (which I presume you do not want the enemy to have, correct?). In military lingo, this is known as interdiction fire. You could also use artillery to convert an otherwise flat, pancake-like surface to one as full of holes as Swiss cheese, if your forces are going to need some cover at the base of the hill they need to assault.

If you're on the receiving end of a barrage, there are only two and a half things you can do. One, get out of the area. Send your troops into as wide a dispersal pattern as possible away from the impact zone. Note that the game interface centers the map when a barrage begins over the targeted hex, but the rounds don't always land near that hex. It's that targeted hex you'll want to get away from. Two, sit tight and ride out the storm. If you're entrenched or in good cover, this isn't such a bad idea because your troops will probably take a lot more casualties getting outside the impact zone than they would if they just hunkered down. If you're in the open, on the other hand, it's probably a bad idea. In any case, when you're under a barrage your troops will still suffer more casualties if they are classed as moving, so if you have to move, do so only to make some necessary attack or get out of the area. The last half thing you can do is try to kill or blind the spotter. You have no way of knowing who's doing the spotting (sometimes, you cannot even see the spotter), so killing the spotter is not a solution likely to be effected in time to make any difference. Blinding the spotter is a lot easier. Just have your troops lay smoke all around themselves and hope that this will work. If it works, of course, the barrage will still come down, it just won't be as accurate.

If the enemy has plenty of bothersome artillery that is starting to really impact your ability to get the job done, you'll have to take the objectives or leave the map. Nothing is quite so frustrating as spending turn after turn under a murderous barrage. The only way to really stop it is to win the scenario as quickly as possible. Artillery is the AI's way of saying I'm just not going to let you sit there and concentrate your forces for an attack that I can't hope to stop. You'll have to keep moving forward, ever forward, and, if you just can't take the objectives, backward, ever backward. The only good news is that the larger calibers tend to run out of ammo around turn 20, and the Rocket Batteries even sooner. So if its later in the scenario and you think you just can't stand one more barrage; be hopeful, you may get the answer to your prayers.

One huge player gripe (sort of) about artillery is that it is not effective enough against infantry in the open. I realize that if I am on an airbase tarmac somewhere getting hit with 155s I probably won't survive a whole lot of direct hits. However, it is my feeling that what we see on the screen as 'clear' terrain is really just normal terrain without any outstanding or salient covering features. That doesn't mean that there isn't a pile of big logs there, or a small gulch, or a declivity low enough to hide my hide from the whizzers. Really flat, featureless, pancake-like terrain is actually something of a rarity. Go out yourself and drive a couple hundred miles to the nearest undeveloped area that's marked on a map as being 'clear terrain.' Find a few places where you can hide from an imaginary artillery barrage. See what I mean? OK, now you can come back.

VERSION 1.2 : The artillery algorithims are probably the one thing that has been tweaked more than anything else by the SSI development team, and this in response to the player complaints noted above. In some of the pre 1.2 betas, artillery was extremely deadly, then finally in 1.2 is was torqued down a bit. The net result is that artillery is slightly more effective in 1.2 than in previous versions, and mortar fire, previously unheralded, is fairly effective against soft targets. I guestimate that artillery is about 10% more deadly in the 1.2 version, and mortar fire probably 35%. Additionally, when your troops are taking artillery fire, if they suffer casualties, they may retreat during the bombardment phase. Finally, artillery hits are more likely to kill tanks than in earlier game versions. (Note : One of the versions in which the artillery algorithim had been torqued up as 1.19. In my opinion, artillery was too powerful in this version. I have a screen shot of a river-crossing defense scenario which displays the roster showing massive casualties including 1 destroyed tank, and 2 immobilized tanks. All of these casualties were from 150mm bombardments [their regular forces had not yet been able to engage]. The chance of an armor round striking in a 50 meter square area close enough to a tank to do any damage is about 2%.)

Airpower is an altogether different breed of the same species. It's called down much the same way, but the effect can be varied. Some aircraft are good at attacking infantry and powerless against tanks and vice versa. Generally, only aircraft with 20mm or larger cannons, or 250lb or larger bombs are adequate to deal with medium to heavy tanks. Wing-mounted rockets are not as effective tank killers as are the well-placed bomb, though rocket-equipped planes can come back for multiple strikes whereas bomb-droppers are basically done blowing up really big things after they've delivered their loads.

Just as artillery can miss and hit your own men, aircraft can mistake your men for those of the enemy, and unload with everything they've got. This usually causes a re-evaluation of your immediate tactical situation, and change your overall outlook on life. In fact, aircraft generally hit the first thing they see that is within about 5-6 hexes of the radioed target hex, and they appear to have a limited prioritizing mechanism. Anyone who thinks friendly fire from aircraft is unrealistic ought to check out the history of the Army Air Corps in World War II. In Sicily, nervous American AA gunners killed almost 500 of our own paratroopers by shooting down the transport aircraft. One year later, in Normandy, the Air Corps as part of Operation Cobra dropped a small percentage of the total bombload about 1500 yards short and hit assembly areas of the Cobra attack forces, killing a similar number. Just imagine what it was like for the intended targets: the German forces. In Steel Panthers, a friendly air unit which misidentifies can sometimes, but not always, actually strike friendly forces and then correct itself and go after the real enemies. This, in my somewhat-greater-than-humble-but-less-than-arrogant opinion, is a very nice touch on the programming side.

One other danger of aircraft is that they can get themselves shot down. This is no big deal if they already hit the target -- unless they are on a glide path right into your own troops! Generally the climb-away path should be towards the enemy side of the map, but you can't control that -- it's up to the pilot. Once a plane is in the crash phase of 'crash and burn' and heading for your troops, there's nothing you can do. It's just one more thing to be aware of when plotting the strike.

A single plane can come back for another strike. What appears to be happening in the game is that if a plane conducts a strike an sustains no damage from ground fire, the plane may hang around and wait for additional strike requests. If the plane has already dropped whatever bombs it has, it won't have any more, but things like rockets, cannons and ordinary machine guns are in more plentiful supply on the aircraft. Don't hesitate to keep bringing the flyboys back to do some more work for you.

VERSION 1.2 : The air attacks have been cleaned up. Planes generally come in for one strike and one strike only.

If your pilots have to brave an area where there is a lot of AA (which is almost always true against the German, British or American forces), you'll want to bring your strikes down in big waves. The reason for this is that the AA will tend to shoot it's bolt against the first or second aircraft that swoops down, leaving the subsequent strikes to come in, choose their target and unload without too much harassment from the poor, dumb enemy troops on the ground. This is true even against human players! Some players don't like this fact, but I challenge you to be a ground commander and tell your troops not to shoot at the first plane that comes streaking in from above! Sometimes, it may even be worth your while to consider using your own ground forces to suppress or destroy heavy enemy AA positions, so that your planes have an even easier time. Artillery is ideal for this. A simple rule of thumb is: If enemy AA is dense, overload the defense.

By the way, if you've plotted several strikes with airplanes or artillery and you need to cancel the mission, clicking on the unit name of the artillery or air unit in the indirect fire screen will center the map on the target hex which is associated with the unit. This way, you'll only cancel the strikes you don't need anymore, not the ones that you still want to go forward.

Fortifications & Mines

Fortifications, in their Steel Panthers form of Bunkers and Pillboxes, are as old as war itself. Most military theoreticians in this century discount fixed fortifications as outmoded relics of the past. However, most of them have never been pinned down in the middle of a valley by a few guys in a big strong cement box firing rifles and guns at them.

Placing fortifications on defense is not exactly easy, though. Unlike most other units in the game, these babys have a fixed facing. Once you place them and face them in a direction, they can't swing around to hit that Tiger tank 50 meters to their rear. Again, you'll want to examine likely avenues of attack and place them to defeat that attack. Sometimes, this means putting them on line oblique to the objective, sometimes this means placing them all around the objective for direct defense. If you get more than one, make it so they have interlocking fields of fire and can cover each other's butt. Also, keep in mind that not only are they vulnerable to assault by enemy infantry, they aren't very good at detecting enemy infantry even if they are advancing in the line of fire. Your infantry may need to help out with this task.

Dealing with pillboxes and bunkers is difficult, but it's supposed to be. If it were too easy, we'd mistake them for outhouses or really cool tents with guns. Number one solution is to plaster the position with all kinds of fire, basically everything that can possibly hit it, from rifle and machinegun fire, to Rocket Artillery and Battleship guns. If you hit it enough times, the crew will get nervous and bail out, at which point the incoming fire will make their remains unrecognizable and lead us to believe that the guys inside weren't very logical people. Even if they don't head for the nearest exit point, remember that just because it's a pillbox doesn't mean the guys inside cannot take casualties. Even pithy little rifles and 37mm guns have been known to cause 1 man killed. On the other hand, an occasional direct hit from something like a 155mm shell or a tank gun has been known to destroy them in a half-second.

A second way of dealing with fortifications is to just avoid them. They can't turn to face you, so when you see one, get out of the line of fire. Another method is to drop smoke right in front of the little observation holes, rendering them totally blind. Just don't forget to do it again when the smoke starts thinning out.

The last method is the terror of pillbox and bunker crews : The direct assault. When all else fails, placing a satchel charge or two on, near, around or at the door of a pillbox is likely to make it difficult for the guys inside to listen to Mozart (for the rest of their possibly very short lives!). Engineers and Commandos are best at this. The simple way is to just blind the strongpoint with smoke and creep up from behind and assault. Assaults of this type frequently fail, after all you're dealing with a couple of feet of cement or sandbags here, but they succeed about 25% of the time. The experience and infantry command ratings of your troops can vary this percentage, as can their level of suppression. But, there is another way which takes a little longer, but is guaranteed to cause the guys inside to come out. When you get next to the bunker with Engineers, hit the Z key and attack the hex! If the satchel charge doesn't reduce it to rubble, the flamethrower might, and even if the bunker isn't ruined, the fire raging all over the place is sure to suppress the crew to the point of irrelevance within a few turns. Keep in mind that any infantry can assault a bunker, and some are better than others (like the Japanese, for some reason).

Even more frightening for the static strongpoint crews is the sight of an approaching Flame Tank. Unlike Engineers, these tanks are almost immune to the strongpoint's weapons, so they don't waste time zig-zagging around and laying smoke to approach with caution. They just come right up and proceed to instant pyromania from a 2-hex range (using the Z key). This is why it's a good idea to support your strongpoints with some anti-tank weapons, tanks and infantry.

Mines are a dirt cheap but powerful element of your arsenal. They are only available to you on Defend missions, and you can only buy a limited number of them (130 is the maximum I have seen). Moreover, there is an undocumented but nevertheless present limit on the number of hexes which can contain mines on the map, around 80. If you have a lot of mines and while placing them you notice that the mine you placed just previously jumps to the current placement hex, you've maxed out. From now on, you have to place mines in hexes already containing mines (doubling up) or remove some. Thoughtful placement of mines can make the difference between winning and whining more often than not. Roads are an obvious place for them, but the AI has been known to completely avoid roads during Assault missions (presumably because it was so obvious to the programmers). You can place as many mines in one hex as you want, but beyond three or four you don't gain any additional destructive power. It will take engineers longer to remove them, though. Beyond that, the AI (in version 1.1 and up) will try to avoid mine hexes once discovered. This nice bit of coding can also work against the computer, since you can use the mines to 'channel' the attack right into a kill zone.

The key to good placement of mines (and your defending troops!) is examine the map and look for likely lines of approach. Road intersections are always a good idea, regardless of whether they are on a line of approach (because, while they may avoid the roads during the approach, the enemy has a tendency to take the nearest and fastest exit if they are in rout status. If they hit a mine while in panic mode, they won't be back to bother you again!). Typical employment is to place them at the forward edge of your optimal engagement range, and also about 3-4 hexes away from your defending troops. The goals here can be to either channel the attack into a kill zone, force the enemy to stop movement at a distance from your troops where they (the enemy!) can be easily destroyed, or simply to protect your own positions.

If you have anti-tank guns and expect an armor attack, place some belts of mines about 10-12 hexes away from them along the expected path of attack. This will cause enemy tanks to either blow up on the mine, or get stuck at a range where their machine guns can't hit the gunners, or a broad side of a barn.

If you have both mines and fortifications, another good tactic is to place mines right next to the bunkers or pillboxes which are out of the line of fire of the fort. This will cause any brave engineer or infantry unit that decides to assault the bunker to either move into the line of fire, or trod over dangerously mined ground. A chain of bunkers, pillboxes and interspersed mines can be death to all who enter there.

Another nasty tactic is to place mines on objective hexes. This may seem kinda counterproductive at first, after all, if an enemy moves onto the objective and doesn't get clobbered by the mine, that means at some point if you want to take it back, you've got to scrounge around for a mine-happy unit to do it. On second glance, however, this can be a powerful tactic. You know the AI (and possibly human opponents) will move there so what better place? If the objective doesn't get taken, you've got nothing to worry about anyway. If the enemy, however, sends a large force to take the objective (and they find a curious lack of resistance on your part there, ahem) they'll probably never go anywhere else ever again! If you wind up having to take it back, just bring along some engineers and/or some really cheap units like trucks or AT-teams to recapture this killing field.

When placing mines, also keep in mind that your guys may need to move around. You don't want to just leave holes in the line that your troops can move through, because the enemy will be able to use these holes to come at you too! Instead, place one line in front of another, spaced by one hex. That way, it'll still present a solid front of exploding ground to the enemy, but they won't see the secret, winding channel path that is a way out (or in).

As British (game year : 1940), I once place three successive lines of mines about 15 hexes in length in front of a hilltop position containing three tanks, a platoon of infantry, one pillbox and one bunker. The position was attacked by about 20 tanks and 2 platoons of combat engineers. More than half of the German vehicles were destroyed or immobilized on the mines, the rest were (slowly) picked off by the pillbox and the tanks. Crews from the leading tanks bailed out, headed for the rear and blew up on the mines they had already passed up in their vehicles. In a word, the entire attack was completely broken up. Only some of the engineers and one Panzer were able to make it on to the hill. The Panzer was destroyed immediately, and though my infantry had trouble dealing with the engineers, even they eventually were forced back.

While the above scenario is an example of how mines can be really effective, at bottom mines are basically a gamble. No amount of mines can cover the entire front enough to stop an attack. However you decide to place your mines, remember the enemy can always avoid them entirely. You should too. When on the attack, you should try to clear or avoid mines in your path, and completely avoid dealing with mines which will not hamper your optimal attack paths.

Special Note on Clearing Mines : While I discuss this below, in Section 19, I should make a brief mention of how it is actually done. Mines are detected by squads when they step on them, or, in the case of experienced troops or engineers, at a distance of one or more hexes. To clear the mine, move a squad up to an adjacent hex. If you move or fire the squad adjacent to the hex, they will not clear the mine (or clear very many). After a turn or two, you will begin to get messages at the bottom of the screen that squad x clears x mines. When the mine icon disappears from the map display, the mines are all cleared. Note this whole process can be rather difficult when someone is trying to kill you.

Combat Engineers

"All that we are, is all that we need to be. We're Engineers." Gary Numan, Engineers (from The Pleasure Principle, 1979)

When it comes to down and dirty, hand-to-hand, in-your-face firepower, no one is better than Combat Engineers. Against regular infantry at point blank range, the technicals will cream the grunts first with satchel charges, then with flamethrowers (if you use the Z key). In many cases, its actually better to use the Z key against enemy infantry because they have a tendency to run away from Engineers at the first burst from their rifles. The Z key hits them with everything before they can scamper away. Version 1.2 incorporates a selective fire feature so that you can choose which weapon is fired. You need to select a target first, then hit S and select your poison. This feature is ideal for Engineers, since their main problem is not in getting good body counts, but having enough satchel charges and flamethrower fuel to keep going. The Z key in the older versions is wasteful because you used everything in one attack: Rifles, satchel charges and the flamethrower. With selective fire, you can choose just to Shake 'em (use the satchel charge) or Bake 'em (use the flamethrower), or just revert to the old method of Shake and Bake by hitting Z. With the new selective fire feature, it's nice to see just how many kills you can get with just the flamethrower, and its only possible to see this effect using selective fire. Remember also that sometimes you don't want to use up your precious Shake and Bake supply, even at close range, so just use normal targeting when you deem that adequate to the situation. However good your Engineers may be at point blank range, it may be pertinant to note here that at longer ranges, they will usually be at a distinct firepower disadvantage.

There is one serious drawback to the use of the Z key however, which apply to everyone but matter most to the Engineers (since they can frequently kill enemy units with it). You don't get credit for the kill. Try it out a couple of times. Right after you shake and bake resulting in a kill, check your stats. Unchanged. Drats! Therefore, use the Z key only if not getting the kill credit won't bother you, which it won't if you're surrounded, frothing at the mouth, and radioing high command : send the entire Division and get us out of here!

Not only do Engineers excel at smearing infantry and fortifications all over the ground, they are also pretty effective tank-killers. For many armies in the early years, Combat Engineers are the only relatively effective way for infantry to deal with the heavier tanks. Later, when the grunts get bazookas, Piats, and Panzerfausts, even they can stand up to tanks for a little while, so Engineers become less popular for this purpose. But in those Blitzkrieg years, Engineers are the infantrymen's answer to the tank. However, the big limitation is range. It is one hex. At any range greater than that, your engineers are just regular guys in the sights of the nearest enemy tank.

Everyone has seen tanks get blown up by satchel charges, what is less well known is that the flamethrower can also destroy tanks. Of course, unless you have the new version with selective fire, you have to waste a satchel charge to get this effect (which you may never see anyway, thankfully, if the satchel charge sends the tank's turret spinning into the air). In the older versions, use the Z key; in the newer, just use the selective fire feature.

VERSION 1.2 : With the addition of movement-adjusted shots available, the programmers have also reduced the effectiveness of Combat Engineers. I have found the Satchel Charge and the Flamethrower to be unavailable if the Engineers have moved much. With these new versions, your wily Engineers will no longer be able to run up to a tank and kill it with the Shake and Bake combo.

Another neat tactic with Combat Engineers is to mount them onto a Flame Tank. Yes, that's right, this awesome combination will hit any approaching infantry with all the regular firepower the tank can muster, plus the tank's flamethrower (which has a range of 2 hexes), plus the Engineer's rifle fire, satchel charge and, you guessed it, the Engineer's flamethrower (if you are attacking). If you plan to send your tanks rumbling through enemy infested cities, woods or jungles, mounting an Engineer section on a Flame Tank is a great way to lead your troops to the fight. I have never seen an enemy infantry survive this combination, though I have seen the Flame Tank get destroyed by the assault of a second enemy squad after the Engineers had dismounted to deal with the first. Of course, the second squad didn't survive either, but I was pretty angry about the loss of my expensive Flame Tank. Another risk, particularly in cities, is that your tank will get hit with anti-tank fire and cause casualties among the riders. Sometimes the Engineer squad just disappears leaving you wondering if you need to write their families. Check the unit list to see if they, indeed, got wasted.

Yet another particularly effective tactic at which Engineers excel is that of bridge-blowing. While any large shell can do the job, an Engineer attacking a bridge hex with the Z key will almost certainly result in the collapse of the bridge. If there happens to be an enemy tank or squad on the bridge, they'll be sent plummeting down to the river or stream, resulting in an instant (and pretty darn cool) kill. If you're on defense and there is a bridge hex where enemy vehicles are likely to use to head to your objectives, placing an Engineer unit or two adjacent to the bridge is a great way to defend it and bloody the nose of an overzealous enemy. This works especially well if there is covering terrain next to the bridge, since your Engineer will have less likelihood of being spotted.

Finally, lets not forget that Engineer's main job: Finding mines. Engineers can detect mines better than anyone else. Preceding an advance into mine country with Engineers is a sure way to minimize casualties, at least among your regular troops. Engineers will nearly always see a minefield before it does them any damage, and immediately commence to clearing it. Engineers can either be on or adjacent to a hex to clear the mines. Regular infantry can also clear mines, but they're much worse at it, and they usually find the minefield by stepping on a couple of them first.

Mine-clearing is a hard job, even when no one is shooting at you. Engineers and other units engaged in mine-clearing will do so much more quickly if they aren't under fire, suppressed, or firing back at the harassers.. Therefore, when you find a minefield and decide you need to clear it, lay some smoke first so you can do your job without the hindrance of someone sending a hailstorm of aimed fire into your area. If you're on the defense, keep those Engineers pinned down with fire to prevent their clearing of your strategically placed minefield.

Fig 7. Using engineers to find minefields

An illustration of a typical mine-clearing operation, this one in the relatively open expanses of the desert, is GIF File sppill6a.gif. The engineers have moved two hexes a turn, and laid smoke three hexes to their front for about 4 turns at the time of this screen shot. Suddenly, all four detect a minefield (without suffering any casualties), and the most northern Engineer unit has also detected a repositioned British infantry squad without been seen by them. This is another example of how sometimes smoke hexes are not total blocks to LOS. Note that following closely behind the Engineers are a platoon of Assault Guns, and the Engineer's intrinsic halftrack transport. If the British infantry squad had detected the Engineers and attempted to fire, they would have suffered the wrath of all of these supporting units, and probably not survived. In any event, now, the minefield line has been detected and will be cleared, allowing the main assault force, following directly behind this team off the screen, to continue to move into position to attack the main British positions to the northeast and southeast of this area. For insurance, the main German forces to the rear have also laid smoke to screen those main British positions, the edge of the smokescreen being just visible in the top right-hand side of the graphic.

Fig 8. US Marines defend with flamethrowers!

Yet another neat illustration of the capabilities of Engineers is in GIF file sppill1b.gif. Here, Marine Engineers set fire to many hexes along the path of a heavy Japanese attack, using the Z key. In later versions of the game, you could simply use the Selective Fire (S key) and fire the flamethrowers. The Japanese attack bogged down in the fire, but some units attempted to move around the fired hexes. Ultimately the Marines were able to repulse the Japanese, sustaining only moderate casualties.

City Combat, or "Urban Reconstruction"

Combat in an urban area is altogether different from any other type of combat. On the one hand, your units are located in buildings which offer excellent protection from fire. On the other hand, limited visibility ranges mean that most engagements will be at close range, while the buildings supposedly protecting you can come crashing down on your head, wiping out your defenders.

Most casualties in urban areas come from ambush fire, where a unit takes casualties after moving adjacent to a previously unspotted unit. Tanks, for this reason, are much less effective in cities because they really can't see anything and cannot move around very much without the risk of a close assault.

In the city, he who has the most satchel charges and artillery will win. It is possible for an entirely infantry force to defeat a normally powerful combined arms force in a city (just ask anyone who knows anything about Stalingrad).

On defense, you can use the streets as fire lanes to channel the enemy attack into specific blocks. Fire lanes usually don't last too long once the shooting starts because there will be smoke everwhere, but they can nevertheless channel the initial stages of the enemy's advance. The fire lane can be classified as an infantry, an infantry and armor, or just an armor fire lane. Obviously, you'll need to have the appropriate weapon to set up the type of fire lane you want.

Your forces will have, in addition to the invaluable Engineers, many more machine guns and snipers than usual. If you have the option to build mines, then you should definitely buy some (40 is a good number to start with). Mortars are nearly worthless in cities, while Rocket batteries are probably the most effective kind of artillery. The larger the caliber (of regular artillery) the more chance you'll have of collapsing buildings, which can be fatal to whole squads at a time.

In the city, you can also use the rotation system to keep fresh units up front. It's relatively easy to shield units from the enemy, so you can keep fresh, unsullied forces within one turn's march of the units at the front. The enemy will be forced to rotate his attackers if he's to have any chance of breaking your line.

The objective hexes are important in every scenario, but in a city they are actually less important than otherwise. Ambush positions and use of them will dominate the flow of battle and these may or may not be near objectives. Also, since it's so easy to hide, you can have whole platoons of infantry walking around bothering enemy attempts to move. You'll find that large areas of the city will be unoccupied simply because the points of attack and defense will be so densely packed with units and nothing is left for the other areas. On the other hand, if you don't station enough units near the objective and the enemy seizes it, it will be almost impossible to take it back, especially if your counter-attacking force will have to cross several streets.

On attack, caution is your best ally. Never assume that a building is unoccupied or not under the gun of an enemy unit. Keep your leaders near their subordinate units, since they will be needing to rally quite often and will benefit in ambush situations if their leader can add his experience ratings to the troops. Tanks are best used as mobile fire lane supports, rather than direct support to the troops. This is because the more you keep your tanks up front and moving forward, the greater the risk they will be destroyed in a close assault. Even mounting infantry on tanks, the normal tactical use when expecting a close assault, will not work in a city because there is usually too much enemy infantry to deal with (your mounted squad can only absorb one assault per turn).

Let your infantry platoons attack, clear and secure one block at a time, with the tanks along the streets sealing off the attacked block from lateral reinforcement. If you encounter more than light resistance, back away and let the redlegs pound the block for a few turns. Tracked and armored artillery pieces can be very effective in cities because they can cause buildings to collapse (not to mention decimate the enemy even if the building holds up), so long as they don't get close enough for the enemy to shoot at them. Above all, don't try to rush positions in cities. You'll wind up rushing into yet another ambush.

Desert Rats (Desert Combat)

A friend of mine has compared desert battles to ship battles. One of the associated GIF files, SPPILL8a.gif, mentioned earlier, looks more like an encounter of destroyers and battleships than a ground engagement.

It's true that in the desert gunnery will be king. Ambushes are far less likely than almost anywhere else, and the long-range gun duels will usually be decisive. Desert terrain is hard on attackers because of the lack of cover, and so the task then is detection at long range. This usually means having reconnaissance forces out well in advance of the main forces, to draw their fire. If you are on assault rather than advance, the situation is reversed: Your recon element will usually hit mines before it draws any fire, so the better tactic is to form wedges and advance slowly until the minefields are detected and, if possible, cleared.

Smoke use will be heavy in deserts for the attackers since it is your only effective cover. For this reason, use your smoke judiciously or risk running out too soon. Time your use of smoke. If your men carry six smoke grenades, then perform a tactical bounding movement that will take six or less turns to complete.

Key to victory in the coverless desert is knowing the optimal engagement ranges of your gun-equipped forces, and holding or using what little cover there is. At what range is your most common gun likely to score a kill on an enemy tank? This can vary greatly from nationality and from tank to tank. You might need to take a hard look at the weapons table, determine your penetration ratings and the armor of the enemy, and make your dispositions accordingly. Often these issues cannot be determined for certain in advance of a real battle, so you'll need to keep a mental record of how things developed in battle. Did your selected engagment range of 16 hexes result in you sustaining more casualties than you dished out? If so, then you should close the range. If not, then maybe your guess was right.

To illustrate this problem, experienced players know that in 1942 the British have a hard time dealing with Panzer IIIj's at anything but ranges under 10 hexes. Why? Because nearly all of the main guns on British tanks are incapable of penetrating the J's heavy frontal armor factor, except at relatively short ranges. If you looked at the ratings of your gun and compared them to the J's armor rating, you would have known this in advance. So, find out what you are up against and act accordingly. In this case, most players opt for deployments which permit the engagement range to be close, because they know they will lose a long range gun battle. If there is no way to do this because of the terrain or the position of the objectives, or the nature of the mission (Attack, Advance, etc.), then you'll have to use smoke to get close, and take out the intervening defensive positions without jeopardizing your tank force.

In sum, the desert is ruled by the gun; not by artillery, not by infantry, and not even by clever tactics which ignore the gun.

Bungle in the Jungle (Jungle Combat)

The jungles of the South Pacific witnessed some of the most intense, bloody combat of the entire war. Your gameplay in Steel Panthers will be no exception. If you select any of the US forces and start in the Pacific theatre, or the Japanese, as your nationality, chances are very good that the majority of your battles will be in the jungle. Jungle combat is of an entirely different character than anything else in the game. In this section, I'll try to prepare you for the salient features.

The first aspect of jungle combat is the lack of visibility caused by the dense foliage. Many firefights will be at point blank range. Direct fire guns and tanks will be at a disadvantage. When in situations of low visibility, the natural solution is to have more engineer-type Squads available. However, since mobility is also quite restricted, you nevertheless need mechanized units to stand any chance of reaching the objectives in time to clear the enemy out and win the scenario.

The second aspect of Jungle combat is the inevitability of Japanese troops. If you play against them, you'll quickly learn that they are ideally suited for jungle combat because they can sneak up and decimate your positions before your troops can react. If you play as the Japanese, you'll generally find that you have better battlefield intelligence than the enemy, and can therefore pick and choose where to strike. On the other hand, the Japanese suffer greatly from the lack of a decent tank force and heavy weapons of all kinds, as well as low support point levels (which drop precipitously lower as the years go by).

Winning in the jungle will usually go to the side that is able to manuver undetected AND control the areas of passage which exist in the jungle in a rather unpredictable and meandering pattern. Since mobility is so restricted, even for mechanized units, attacking forces will tend to seek out weaving strings of clear hexes to speed their passage. However, unlike the city, these areas cannot be dominated by tanks or guns since they are rarely straight or very long. Instead, the areas of passage will be garrisoned by infantry forces supported by machine guns and other light forces, usually in significant numbers, and sometimes laced with mines and fortifications.

In sum, the dominant force will be the one that masters close proximity infantry tactics to control or gain the few areas of passage or clearings. In some scenarios, the objectives will be of minimal significance. This is true especially when, as is often the case, there are no roads. In other scenarios, the overall character of the jungle may be less dense, and there may be a few roads or towns in random places along likely lines of march. Here, the objectives may be more important.

Your core force must nevertheless retain a good combined arms capability, since not every scenario will involve heavy jungle terrain. On occasion, your forces may be called upon to engage the enemy in an amphibious scenario, a city combat scenario, or they may even find themselves on a map which is very similar to typical European open country side (which has palm trees instead of oaks and pine trees). The typical core force mix for, say, a Marine force, is 3 platoons of Marines, 1 platoon of Raiders (later in the war), 1 platoon of Engineers, and 1 platoon of Stuart tanks. If you have some spare slots, the Quad-50 halftracks are very useful as a mobility enhancement (not to mention their devastating effect on enemy infantry and airplanes). You should nearly always select Foot Infantry as the core force type.

Artillery is less effective in the jungle, primarily because you will not see the enemy until they are too close to actually use it. Nevertheless, it can still be effective in hitting suspected enemy positions, and plastering the few roads to reduce enemy mobility. Aircraft, on the other hand, are more useful in the jungle than elsewhere. This is because they can spot the enemy (not as effectively as over clear terrain, but much better than your ground forces), and spotting the enemy in the jungle before they detect you is a significant advantage. Second, the jungle, while restricting mobility and visibility, isn't actually very good protection against fire, so the aircraft that do spot and attack will be of great effect on the spotted and hit enemy units.

Version 1.2

Many items have been cleaned up in this version. Among the most important changes, however, is the loss of shots available due to simple movement. Defense lines cannot be swarmed so easily, making defense slightly more powerful than before. This has been discussed elsewhere. There are several other notations throughout the text of the significant changes in the later versions of the game. I do apologize for the lack of material here.

Though I am loathe to start a the computer cheats debate, one thing I have noticed is that computer-controlled troops seem to have much more accurate rifle fire than human-controlled troops. I usually play the Germans, and I have been involved in defensive scenarios in which the enemy's rifle fire seems far more accurate and deadly than my own, and my guys were A) Germans and B) entrenched! Perhaps a reader has some cold, hard information on this issue. For now I'll simply leave you with this warning based on a shallow impression.

The other big change is the way the computer AI now coordinates attacks. In the past, the computer would simply have everyone move towards the objectives in their pre-arranged patterns at a designated speed. This usually resulted in the enemy tanks arriving much in advance of the infantry, where your infantry and anti-tank guns could deal with them effectively. Now, however, the AI forces the tanks to move slowly, so that when they arrive at your defense line you are facing a bona fide combined arms force! On this note (and, I might add, with this one small insight on the part of the SP development team), the AI has now a tremendously enhanced attack capability. Even experienced players will find that they will lose more scenarios than previously, and may have to change they way they habitually deploy for defensive scenarios.

River Crossings and Amphibious Landings

I must confess that I have only played one River Crossing scenario all the way through -- as defender. It does at least appear that the code for river crossings has been cleaned up and are now a viable platform for engagements in Campaign games. From my limited play, I can sum up a few basic rules for the hopeful commander.

On Attack : Buy artillery and lots of it. It is not only the only real killing force you will have till your men get across the river in force, it is also invaluable for laying down a wall of smoke. Smoke is persistent in river hexes as well as elsewhere, and without it your men in their paddleboats and barges will become the victim of the all-too-easy enemy kill. While your men are mounted in their river crossing vehicles, they can be destroyed by well-thrown stones (not really, but the point is almost any hit will sink the boat and the passengers). Barges are better protected, but here again, any hit from a gun bigger than a machine gun is death. Obviously, you should buy some barge-carriers too.

I don't recommend lining up everybody along the river and spurting across as fast as possible. The enemy will usually have several powerful units ready to oppose the landing, and these need to be reduced or suppressed before your troops have a decent chance of winning the scenario. The normal approach is first, lay smoke, second, move up assault teams and covering forces to the departure line, Third, get your covering forces into position and cover the assault teams as they cross. After the assault teams get ashore, begin sending them support or follow-on forces as much as possible without diminishing necessary cover fire from across the river. Covering forces are usually tanks and armored vehicles. As your assault forces get ashore, they will be able to interfere with or break up enemy resistance, allowing your support and covering forces to get across safely.

On Defense : The enemy will never be more vulnerable to you than in the first few turns, as they attempt to cross the river in their relatively flimsy craft. For this reason, have as many troops as practicable all along the shoreline, ready to take advantage of this weakness. Of course, there will be smoke, making it difficult to see the little puffy boats which you can destroy by the dozen, but if you have many troops along the river's edge, some of them are bound to see the furiously-paddling future kills. Make sure you have some guns too, since these can sink the barges bringing across the tanks. Sink enough of these barges and the chances that the enemy can win, much less secure a foothold, are greatly reduced.

If the enemy get ashore, flex the defense. Leave some troops in good positions along the river to continue to interfere with reinforcement movements, while the rest of your men engage in a more traditional battle on the landward side. Periodically, raid to the river in force with some tanks in the hopes of catching a few more barges in your sights. Sink every barge you can see!

The CPU as a Commander

The Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Steel Panthers is generally agreed to be the one of the best, if not the best, ever put together for a commercially available wargame. The computer is capable of flank attacks, frontal attacks, oblique attacks, zig-zags, and reserve placement, movement and commitment.

Those of us who have been playing computer wargames for, oh, a few months now have learned to disdain the AI. This is a mistake in Steel Panthers. The programmers appear to have coded in a very good general logic engine with some specific situational templates. I have observed entire tank companies and platoons placed along the edge of the map where they would likely remain undetected until my troops captured one objective. Then the go hell on wheels to the place and wreak havoc. I have seen crews rout halfway across the map, only to come back and re-man the Tiger tank that I thought I had destroyed. I have seen the computer call down artillery barrages on it's own positions which were being attacked by my troops, but only when there really wasn't any other way to defend the position. I have seen combined arms attacks by the computer against what I thought were impregnable positions succeed and cause my own personal morale to fail. I have seen stars on fire off the shoulders of Orion . . . no, no, wait, that's a different manual, er, game, er, movie.

The point is if you are accustomed to winning all the time against AI once you 'get to know the interface' you won't be nearly as successful this time. Unlike many other games, defeating the AI requires time-tested real world tactics, rather than planning for the expected.

I have seen some players complain that the AI's strategy on Attack or Advance missions to be hey-diddle-diddle, straight up the middle. I couldn't disagree more. The center of the map, say the ten hexes to either north or south of dead center, will nearly always have some enemy units assaulting through it. However, the AI is capable of strengthening the flanks and sustaining pincer movements. If you are finding the enemy's tactics predictable, its probably you've been fighting the same enemy too long. Attack planning is factored for national characteristics and force mixes. The Russians, now they do come right up the middle. The Germans, well, they tend to organize combat teams to head for all the objectives simultaneously, with some teams stronger than others. The Japanese tend to assault in waves: the first wave dies, but reveals your positions; the second wave dies but weakens you; the third wave then either dies or kills off your remaining forces. Nice.

One major weakness of the AI is the placement of units on defend or delay missions. There will almost always be some units placed directly on or near the objective hexes. This knowledge gives human players and advantage when planning pre-battle bombardments and air strikes. On one occasion, in Poland, my pre-battle bombardment and Heinkel air strikes were so effective that two objectives were completely abandoned by enemy forces on the first turn of the scenario. Don't hesitate to use this knowledge to your advantage.

Correspondingly, the AI tends to allocate preparation bombardments either around the objective hexes, or to lay smoke along the intended lines of advance. In the former case, you will have the advantage of taking relatively few casualties from the preparatory bombardment because you had the wisdom not to concentrate your forces around the objective hexes. In the latter, the smoke screens signal the course that advancing enemy forces will take, allowing you to do some repositioning, range-setting or other adjustments to cause maximum damage to the enemy.

A last glaring weakness of the AI has to do with the movement of forces vis-a-vis the objectives. Enemy groups which take objectives nearly always head directly for the next nearest objective. Once a given objective is taken, all units which were heading for it immediately turn and head for the next nearest one. This makes it somewhat easy to plan an ambush for them. This is also why the tactic of leaving one objective undefended can be so effective. However, it doesn't always work as planned. If a group is dispersed and heading for an objective from an indirect path (that is, oblique to the objective), the objective hexes may be occupied by some fast moving elements before the rest get there. At the instant all objective hexes targeted by the moving group are occupied, they will all turn and head for the next one. If the leading elements are 10 or 20 hexes ahead of the main force, the path they take to the next one may be unpredictable from a planning standpoint. Of course, you can always place some units there to slow up the lead elements so everyone arrives at more or less the same time, so your pre-positioned ambushers will still have a purpose in life.

One last note: on many missions the computer will have a lot of artillery. It can get somewhat tedious to watch each shell fall; in some cases it will take several minutes of staring at the screen before it's your turn again. To speed this up, one thing you can do (aside from making sure the turbo button on your system is 'on') is to zoom the view out to maximum before ending your turn. The wide-view somehow results in the artillery crashing down at a much faster rate, but the downside is that this eagle's perch doesn't permit you to get the weenie on what is happening to your troops on the ground. Still, its useful early in the scenario when you major task simply finding out where in the world the enemy is.

VERSION 1.2 : From my own play, I have noticed that the CPU-driven enemy is much less predictable than in the past. Particularly on defense, unit placement is surprising and remains tactically valid. Players will no longer find the enemy bunched up on the objectives, or in predictable lines. Rather, the computer will be more tactically oriented. Your tactics should adjust to take this into account.

Special Subsection : Human Cheats

Yes, I hate to tell you about them, but it may help some players who think the AI is too strong, has too many cheats, or for those who just need to test out a few things.

  1. The Get Back to Where You Once Belonged Cheat : This one is fairly obvious. Always save your game after every battle is over. When you go to the next battle, just save the campaign in a different slot. If the battle doesn't go your way, or you want a different mission, just go back to the first save. The enemy force structure may be different, heck one or another operation (such as the Ardennes) may even come to an end!
  2. The Victory (hex) Is Mine Cheat : 'J'ever notice that little Undo button on the orders panel of the scenario screen? You may have even used it a couple of times. Its function is to take back a move that you didn't like, except it does not function if your move triggered any enemy reaction. What you may not have noticed is that if you move on to a victory hex and the move does not trigger an enemy reaction, the Undo button will not only take the move back and give you all the movement points back, IT WILL LEAVE THE VICTORY HEX IN YOUR CONTROL!!! It can be useful for taking that last victory hex on the last turn, when your guy would normally run out of go juice.
  3. The Time, Time, Time, Is On My Side Cheat : This involves saving a game during a battle in progress. When you reload the game, the length of the scenario may be drastically different! I noticed one game go from a 20-turn scenario to a 28-turn scenario against the Poles as German (allowed me to take my time on an Advance Mission and suffer no losses in my core force and only two casualties in the support units; a completely inadvertant discovery on my part. Really.).
  4. The Magic Bus Cheat : Suffer some annoying damage to a few of your critical, high-value units? Like the loss of the Main Gun? Save and reload. The damage magically disappears. Drawback: So does the enemy's damage, which is no big deal if the enemy is a Stuart and you are a King Tiger. (Note: This cheat will no longer work in version 1.2 of Steel Panthers.)
  5. The I Saw (You) Standing There Cheat : If you right-click on a map hex, any map hex, and there happens to be an enemy unit there, the informational screens will come up. This works regardless of whether the enemy is hidden! This cheat may have been fixed in versions above 1.13x.
  6. The I Can See All (Enemies) In My Way Cheat: During the computer's move, before the AI starts shooting, you should look at the strategic map in the lower right hand corner. Occasionally, you will notice little off-color spots appear and then disappear. These are actually enemy units moving around, but the game has categorized the moving units as unseen (to you). Nevertheless, these spots still show up on the strategic map. Taking note of the general path of these spots (they are only visible for a short period) will give you a handle on the movement and path of some enemy units. While classified as a cheat, I write this off to the troops hearing or 'sensing' the approach of enemy units. As of 1.19 and above, this cheat still happens. In fact, it still happens in Steel Panthers II!


The Germans are the dominant army in the game. By and large, the Germans can accomplish more with less resources than any other army. The reason for this is simple, moderate to excellent equipment combined with the best overall experience, reaction and leadership ratings of any army.

Playing the Germans, however, is no cakewalk (at least most of the time). Assuming you are playing a long campaign, in the early stages of the war you have two handicaps : 1) you need to take as little casualties as possible and 2) their tanks are relatively inferior to those fielded by their enemies. The Germans compensated for their inferior tanks with their excellent tactics and efficiency, but this is largely a matter of tactical command ability. That is, it's up to you to use what you have wisely and effectively.

In the later stages of the war, the Germans had much better equipment, but by that time they were badly outnumbered most of the time. You will have the same problem. You will begin to notice two things, the amount of points you get for support starts to drop in 1943 and the quality of replacements will start to fall also, though not as dramatically until 1944. This is when all the lives you saved in the early years will make the difference. Arriving in the late years with a highly experienced force will make the later battles a little easier.

One final word about the Germans: Eighty-eights. These awesome weapons can kill tanks at long ranges better than any other crew-served weapon in the game. Just a section or two can make a huge difference in the outcome of a battle. Actually, they kill infantry better than anything else too (including artillery) because of their range and accuracy.

The British are a good match for any army. There is no lack of support points for the British in all but the very early stages of the war, and their quality ratings are first-class. Their equipment is generally good, but tactics need to be reflective it's strength and limitations.

In the early stages of the war, playing the British is harder than you might expect. The main reason for this is the lack of any dominating anti-tank weaponry. While there doesn't appear to be a problem dealing with the Italians, their 2-Pounder gun can penetrate German tanks only at relatively close ranges. Moreover, the British have a problem defeating anti-tank elements of enemy armies, because most of their tanks have to close within 4 hexes in order to fire their machine guns. Their main gun, the 2-Pounder, can't even fire at infantry units at all (they have no HE rounds). Thus, whether on attack or defense, British tanks will often operate with infantry close by, to deal with other infantry and crew-served weapons. When they become available, always buy 1 or 2 sections of the Close Support tanks, the Crusader-CS and Matilda-CS, to alleviate the problem of dealing with enemy troops at long range.

In the later stages of the war, the British finally get some good tanks from the Americans, and the guns on British-made tanks get upgraded to the 6-Pounder, which can fire at both infantry and tanks at longer ranges. Support point totals continue to rise, and airpower is available frequently. The only thing to watch out for at this point are, of course, heavy German tanks, and the low quality of your replacements. You will not be able to suffer heavy casualties battle after battle and expect your replacement troops to perform up to standard. So, be careful with your loss rates (as you should always be, anyway).

Despite the improvement in equipment for the British, they are still plagued with problems. The game manual says that British morale starts to drop off in '44. What they don't tell you is that even high-morale units in your core force will actually shed 10-20 morale points! You'll notice a big problem sustaining attacks against enemies that don't immediately run away, in situations where your troops were, in earlier years, aggressive enough to muddle through.

The Russians start off the war pretty badly, but they finish with a big bang. By the end of the war, it's the Russians with the great tanks and massive artillery, and it's the Russians who will be attacking most of the time. In the early years, the Russians suffer from extremely poor quality equipment and general leadership and experience ratings. Often, just a few key losses will send their whole force reeling in retreat. Interestingly, though they rout fairly easily, routing Russian infantry is more apt to turn around, fire and/or assault if you move next to them than most other nationalities. In the newer versions of the game, each Russian infantry squad has 13 men, not 10 as in most other armies, making them just a little harder to kill off.

You can actually start a Long Campaign as the Russians during the Finnish War of 1939-1940, more than a year before the German invasion. Don't make the same mistake as Stalin and underestimate the Finns, however. The Finns are nearly as good as the Germans, and actually harder to detect. It might also surprise you to find out that the Finns have tanks, most of them captured from Russia (though it has been reported to me that this aspect of the game is historically inaccurate -- the Finns, apparently, did not utilize a single Russian tank for mobile operations, though a few were used as emplacements). What's even more surprising, or disappointing, is that the Finns handle your tanks better than your own troops do. An equal number of Russian-model Finn tanks will easily defeat Russian-manned versions, unless you handle yourself very carefully. One tactic is to let the Finns waste themselves against your infantry (you have plenty of it) and then counterattack with your tank units to stop their tanks. Finn infantry is very good at staying hidden and killing tanks, so stay clear of them as much as you can. You infantry will be in an absolute funk against Finn infantry (you can thank the Purges for the poor performance of Russian troops!); their infantry command ratings are about twice the Russian.

If you are playing as the Finns don't rely on anything but your infantry, and at that these men are outstanding. Their greatest strength is the ability to move rapidly and remain undetected. Moreover, your opponents have just decimated their own officer corps, leaving their command ratings pretty poor. Your Finns are well armed, and have some interesting weapons giving Finn Infantry a good antitank capability well before most other armies have it. With your superior morale ratings, you should concentrate on causing the enemy's morale to crack. Your troops can withstand a goodly amount of fire, while the enemy is just dying to get back to Leningrad and swill down the latest batch of Communist-made vodka. Once they start cracking, keep them under pressure, but don't bother yourself too much about getting kills. Get to the objectives and keep them.

When facing Russian tanks, hide. Let them try to find you. If they do, you should be able to assault. Finns excel at killing Russian tanks (they killed a lot of them with nothing but grenades and dynamite (supplied by the Swedes, no doubt).

After you plough through hundreds of BT-5's and T-26's, the Russians start getting some really good armor. If you're Russian, the biggest threat to your predominate armor in the late 1941-late 1942 period is German infantry and the unexpected anti-tank gun. If you're German, about the only way to stop a Russian attack is with the venerable 88s or by some really desperate maneuvering with your tanks. Airpower can help too, but the larger Russian tanks can take a direct hit even from a 500lb bomb without so much as a mussed 'do. For the German, combined arms is a necessity during this period. The T-34's are vulnerable to rear hits at close range, and of course to top hits if you have the courage to stand on a crest and hit shoot at them long enough for a top hit to happen. The hardest nut to crack are the KV class tanks, named after Klimenti Voroshilov, the top Soviet General who, ironically, was completely discredited by Stalin for the poor performance of the Red Army in Finland in 1939-40, before the Germans launched Barbarossa. The KV tanks are much better than their namesake. Even 88s have a problem with them. The best you can do is hope for an immobilization hit. If you can afford it, another way of dealing with these huge hunks of Bolshevik metal is to buy an Engineer platoon and place them in spots where you think the enemy will go. In fact, 88s work best in combination with the Engineer tactics since the Russian tanks will spend most of their shots dealing with the nearby infantry threat rather than sending your gun chassis spiralling into the air. You'll need to time your gun's entry into the fray for about the same turn as the enemy hits your Engineer line.

Later in the war, the Russians will have plenty of support in the form of devastating airpower, plentiful artillery and rocket batteries, and excellent tanks. Though lack of good experience and leadership ratings continue to be a problem even to 1943, the declining quality of the Germans more than makes up for this deficiency.

The Russians tend to attack in giant waves. Even if you are playing the Russians, this is a fairly good tactic since it will compensate to some extent for your relatively weak leadership and morale factors. Russian equipment, while good, is still not as good as the Tiger or Panther tank for example, but chances are you'll have many more tanks than the enemy. You'll be able to afford to lose a few to get close enough to blast the Germans all the way to France if you have to.

If you are lucky enough (as a Russian) to find your way to a city battle, you can let loose with a happy shout of OOO-RAAAH POBIEDA! The Russians are the best troops in the game when it comes to City Combat. They can move around without being detected, surprise enemy units in buildings with nasty amounts of bad yelling and bullets, and drop vodka bottles containing gasoline and a flaming bit of a German flag right down the hatch of an enemy tank (if they are sober enough to recognize the difference). In a City Combat scenario, a normal Russian squad is better than a regular German infantry at remaining undetected even when moving, and about as good as the invader Engineers. I wonder any of this programming has anything to do with the legendary battle of Stalingrad? Naw, prob'ly not.

The Americans start off the war with relatively good equipment, but that is compensated by generally lower morale, experience and command ratings. Their best tanks are no match for the Germans, but most of their vehicles have very good mobility. American infantry is well-equipped and, if upgraded, will feature two squad automatic weapons instead of just one as in most other armies.

Battles with the Americans involved tend to be more fluid for two reasons. First, the Americans tend to run away more, but recover from morale losses more quickly. If a squad gets out of the command radius of the platoon leader, the squad will tend to break and follow the leader. this results in most infantry positions held by the Americans to be somewhat fluid. Second, about the only way to keep the powerful German guns from destroying your vehicles is to keep moving around. Americans tend to rush in and then, if things don't go so well, rush out.

One aspect of battle at which the Americans excel is airpower. The Americans have an awesome array of airplanes, and usually plenty of points to purchase them with. If you can take out or reduce enemy AA, the American pilots will keep coming back for seconds if you ask them (pretty please with sugar on top). However, don't make the mistake of thinking you own the skies. If your force is mostly foot infantry (without the halftrack mounting an AA machine-gun), a couple of AA guns is not a bad idea.

The American troops gain experience ratings very quickly, but their command ratings progress at about the same speed as everyone else, so this will still be a problem against well-rated and experienced troops later in the war (since they've had a couple extra year's practice). If you are lucky enough to get a battle against the Italians at some point in 1942 or 1943, get as many kills as you can -- it may be your only chance to get a leg up on the Germans in the experience category.

Marines at War

To anyone who has played the Marines in the Pacific in this game, you know what I mean when I say that those Japanese are vicious, tenacious, well, er, you know what I mean. I'll never forget my first encounter with the Japanese. I'd already wiped out about a dozen squads and thought the rest of the battle would just be dealing with some isolated attack by some guys who hadn't quite 'gotten the word.' My chain of bunkers was still intact and everything! But they just kept coming and coming, right into the center of my position. It was all I could do just to get out!

Dealing with the Japanese requires no subtlety whatsoever, just lots and lots of heavy firepower. These guys just don't give up. Right up until you eliminate the last platoon, you'll think you are under heavy attack from all directions. If you have to attack their positions, which I dread, lots of tanks with infantry squads riding are essential.

The main difference in this theatre is that the Japanese are extremely hard to detect, and they do not suffer significantly from morale effects like routing . Even if they do, you can be sure that they'll turn around and continue to give you a problem to the last man. Though they do not surrender, they are vulnerable to suppression and this is a key point in your tactics. Your forces will wind up being in more concentrated groups than in other theatres because once you encounter the enemy, you will need every ounce of gunpowder you can muster, in whatever form you can throw at them, just to stay alive. Your core forces will probably greatly benefit from Flame Tanks, since these marshmallow-factory roasters can put whole squads to the infernal reaches with one or two shots. On the attack, having some snipers or Rangers out in front will get the Japanese to give up the ghost, and if you have a couple of Sherman Flames with Engineer riders right behind, you can just blow(torch) your way right past them.

In nearly every scenario, the Japanese will have their full complement of 48 units, so be prepared for long battles. Though it is usually difficult, avoiding their infantry while you're attacking means that your men can make it to the objectives that much quicker, but since they don't consider force morale, be prepared for a massive counterattack nearly always continuing right up to the last turn of the scenario. The good news is that the Japanese have very poor anti-tank capability and a very poor tank force. But, with infantry like this, who needs tanks?

The Wehrmacht in Europe

Yes, few thrills can equal that of leading the best army in Europe (or the world, for that matter) across the entire continent, achieving victory after victory -- er, until about 1944 that is. Playing the Germans does require some special adaptation of the tactics we have learned in the Primer so far, so lets take a look.

The best strength your force will have throughout the war is much higher experience levels than most enemy units you will face. By the time the enemy nations get serious and have good tanks and decent support point totals, you've already fought half-a-dozen or more battles, and your troops began the war with excellent ratings! On average, your troops will be one or two entire classes of experience over the typical enemy. However, this can cause you to be cautious about losses, or getting whole units killed off, since their replacements will have to start from scratch on the experience side. Therefore, the key point for the Germans throughout the war will be minimizing losses in each battle, saving your troops for the really tough battles ahead (and there will always be tough battles ahead, no matter what year it is).

If you start in 1939, your first couple of battles will be against the Poles. The Poles are very weak in heavy weaponry such as artillery and tanks. While you shouldn't have too much trouble with them if you stick to good combined arms tactics, their infantry can be a problem if you don't have adequate support. The 7TP tank is also quite good, and can kill your best tanks at closer ranges. The main goal should be achieving a victory with a minimum of loss, while at the same time maximizing the experience of your key units.

Next up is the French campaign. The French lack nothing in heavy weapons and support, but lack everything in morale. One little historical note here (sorry, I can't help myself). The French army was throughout the 19th Century on of the best, and many wargamers often wonder why the French have performed so poorly here in the 20th Century. It is not commonly known that since the Dreyfus affair, the French body politic were very badly polarized. The French Army was central to the political division across the nation, as the Army consisted primarily of conservative political stripes (in France, that meant they were either Bonapartist, anti-semitic, or both). Not only did the French Army not enjoy the confidence of a good portion of the French nation, it was not treated like an army, but more of a political repository and kick-ball. The government alternated between unqualified support and lukewarm funding. And their was also that one war -- what was it? oh yeah, World War I -- in which the French army, owing to the absolute incompetence of many a French general (who clung to certain mythologies about Frenchmen in the attack or mass action -- Nivelle being the worst of this lot), needlessly suffered hundreds of thousands of deaths, literally stripping France of the flower of French manhood. It is not hard to see that confidence in the French army among the people of France sunk to lows not seen since the Franco-Prussian war or even to Pre-Napoleonic times. Consequently, many Frenchmen didn't join the army (or hated their conscription), and the army itself suffered from low levels of training and development compared to the Germans in the 1930s. I read an account of B.L. Montgomery's life in which this morale factor caused him, Montgomery, the greatest shock of his life. He was in Belgium in 1940, and, after the German attack started, saw French cavalrymen shooting their own horses. They had already given up. No Napoleonic Frenchmen would have done this.

Hence, French morale, or lack of it, will be your greatest asset as the German player. Though the French might attack with awesome numbers of tanks, bake a few and the rest begin to muddle. The CharB1 is a great tank, but it is very slow. Your first kills will be the faster models of tanks and armored cars (such as the Panhard), and these will be easy kills. Once you've killed off the light stuff, the heavies will not have the stomach to continue, and most likely they never got in the fight in the first place. French infantry is really nothing to speak of, unfortunately, except for the heavy infantry squads, which have decent firepower ratings. Advance missions against the French will be easier than what you experienced in Poland, and you will feel, uh, well, just so GERMAN when your outnumbered troops are able to dash up to French positions and cause them to rout within a few turns.

Unlike Panzer General, another SSI game, there will be no invasion of Britain here, but you will start encountering the British either in France, or at Agedabia in Libya. Regardless of whether you want to go to the Eastern Front, you'll always have at least one battle against the British before you go east, young man. British infantry, while not the equal of the Germans, of course, is much tougher than any other type of infantry. Dug-in, they are like rocks. To deal with British infantry, your infantry will need some help from the tanks if they aren't to suffer too many casualties. If you're planning to go to the Eastern Front, you may want to be extra cautious about losing troops here, since there's nothing worse than losing a couple of leaders before you embark on the invasion of Russia. British tanks are for the most part not much account at this point, except for the Matilda. This fine piece of British craftsmanship has armor factors well in excess of your best tank's guns, and they are really hard to kill. If you come up against Matildas, your best bet is to hope for an immobilization. Keep firing at them until their treads break. The other tanks, the A-series, have the same gun as the Matilda but they are very lightly armored and fast. Unless you're outnumbered, you'll be ok unless you expose yourself to flank shots at close range. If you are outnumbered, stick to long ranges and pick them off one by one.

If you decide to stick it out in Africa against the British, things start to rapidly change after the first few battles. The Brits get Crusader and Matilda II tanks as well as air support, and their experience ratings start to go up. You'll have a harder time killing their tanks until you get the 50L60 gun in the Panzer IIIh and IIIj models. In the desert battles, you'll frequently want to have a couple of 88s handy to deal with their heavier tanks at the longer ranges. Later, you'll also want to include some 20mm AA guns, to deal with the ever-present threat of British airplanes. By 1942, British tanks will approach parity with the Germans, particularly after the arrival of the Grant/Lee and Churchill-class tanks. Your advantages will consist of having better long-range capablity against their lighter tanks, and the British lack of anti-infantry capability in many of their tanks (except at close ranges). One the American tanks show up, however, this latter advantage is also gone.

If, on the other hand, you went east, the whole picture changes dramatically. Fighting the Russians requires patience and calm in the face of the unexpected. The Russians have a wild mix of capability, from crummy BT-5 and BT-7 tanks, to the awesome KV-I and T-34 tanks, which are better than yours. Russian infantry, on the other hand, can rout easily, but they can also recover from rout status as your move next to them with your Panzers, and they then toss a Molotov cocktail to the Panzertruppen at just the wrong moment for the crew. On the defense, you will be humbled by the numbers of enemy tanks which come in huge clumps straight for your positions. The key to success for the Germans, at least at this stage, is identifying the capabilities of the Russian force as quickly as possible, and adjusting your tactics to take these into account. When faced with masses of light tanks, stay positioned at long ranges and pick them off. When faced with smaller numbers of their good tanks, you may need to manuver into flank positions at close range, or even back off completely. Against the KV-class tanks, the only way to get a sure kill is to work in coordination with infantry, preferably Engineers. By the time Winter rolls around, your force is sure to have suffered some casualties (particularly among your tanks), and now you will be facing the Russians at close ranges. You will need to concentrate your forces in ambush positions and prepare for massive melees in which you won't be sure whose winning until the fat (Russian or German) lady sings.

By 1942, on the Russian Front, you begin to notice a few subtle changes. While your troops still have the upper hand, the Russians won't run away so quickly or bail out of their tanks right after they're immobilized. This is because the morale of Russian troops jumps about 20 points in mid-1942, never to return to those precipitously low levels of 1941 (and earlier against the Finns). Russian airplanes may also start to make their presence felt for (probably) the first time. Their light tanks are now replaced with the T-70, which is about as good as your Panzer IIIj (which is one of the best tanks that you have, period). Until you can get the Tiger late in 1942, which is as monstrously expensive as it is large, you will be frustrated by the inability of German industry to provide you with a tank capable of dealing with the new T-34 and KV models. You'll still be scurrying around in your IIIs and IVs, which cannot stand up to a direct hit from the bigger Russian guns at anything but the longest ranges, while at the same time your best tank gun, the 50L60, still cannot penetrate even the Russian's side armor at anything less than 500 meters. Buy some Assault Gun platoons to absorb some of the losses in your forces until you can get to 1943 and Panther heaven.

When playing the campaign in the 1939-1942 period, you need to think about saving up a massive reserve of refit points. In 1943, you need to have about 300 points stored up so that you can easily upgrade your existing tanks to Tigers or Panthers, and upgrade the infantry to the Panzerfaust-armed squads. After this upgrade is finished, you'll still need to have a strong reserve to replace future tank losses. After you have Tigers and Panthers, losing only 2 or 3 of them (along with the crews) will cost you more in refit points than you will probably get in each scenario, even if you win.

Speaking of Panthers and Tigers, which one is better? Despite the fact that the Tiger I has the 88 main gun, the Panther's 75L70 is actually more accurate and has better penetration that the Tiger. Panthers are also faster. The only real weakness of the Panther is the side and rear armor rating. Despite this, however, the Panther's frontal armor rating is actually higher than the Tiger. Therefore, I usually prefer the Panther to the Tiger I, and stay at long range. Almost nothing can penetrate the Panther's frontal armor at longer ranges where the Panther's gun is more deadly than the Tiger's 88. The whole calculation on this issue changes, however, when the Tiger II or King Tiger arrives in 1944. The King Tiger has an 88L71 gun, which is about 5% more accurate than the Panther, and about 15% more penetrating with normal AP rounds. The King Tiger's armor is massive from every angle, and consequently it is much slower than the Panther. The King Tiger, like all tanks, remains vulnerable to airstrikes, which the enemy will have in spades. Still, the King Tiger is probably a better tank in defensive battles, the character of most of your encounters at this stage, provided that they are well placed with good fields of view.

From 1943 and beyond, whatever front you are on, your forces will be at a disadvantage. All of the enemy nations have more support points and better equipment than they had before, while the amount and quality of the support you get begins to drop. Enemy airpower and artillery is plentiful on the battlefield, and enemy experience and command ratings now approach Veteran status. It is at this point that your handling of the early years will make the difference. If your troops took few losses among the leaders, your experience ratings will still exceed theirs, in some cases by more than 15 points. If you have saved up your refit points, rather than squandered them, you'll be able to upgrade your tanks to the superior Panther and Tiger models, and your infantry can be upgraded to include a Panzerfaust at the squad level. These capbilities won't mean much if your losses were too high and your squad and crews are just Veteran -- about the same as the enemy -- rather than elite.

Ironically, players who arrive in the 1944-45 period with an elite force and plenty of refit points stored up usually have an easier time during this period as compared to the earlier periods. Those players who squandered their points and troops in the earlier years will have a comparatively tougher time. The Panther and Tiger tanks are much superior to the enemy, and the experience of your infantry (now armed with Panzerfausts) more than compensates for the high amounts of support the enemy can throw at you. The biggest drawback at this stage of the game is airpower. You will have little or none, the enemy will have whole squadrons waiting to strike. About the only thing you can do is spend a good portion of your support points on AA capability, usually of the 20mm variety because of its cheapness. If you can afford to upgrade to the King Tiger late in 1944, do it. This tank is virtually invulnerable to anything except heavy guns at point blank range, and its main gun is deadly to any enemy tank at long range. Don't lose them, however, since they cost 25 points to replace (Probably more in the later versions of the game)!

The British in North Africa

This is a popular subject for campaign since, basically, it was the only active front for the forces of Britain (and the Americans after December 1941) from mid-1940 to mid 1943. The exploits of Rommel are well known, and, to some, the process of stopping the Deutschland Afrika Korps holds a mystifying fascination. After all, who knows how the war may have turned out if German troops had managed to reach the Suez Canal?

The British face some particular problems on this front. Here, even the Italian forces can be troublesome. The lack of a good, long-range anti-tank capability is especially exposed on these flat, sandy expanses. The 2-Pounder gun is the main anti-tank armament until mid-1942, and this weapon is very ineffective against German tanks unless they are less than 500 yards away. On the other hand, you cannot let the Panzers get too close, lest they spot you and shoot to kill. Only by using higher elevations and/or flank shots do the British troops have any hope of stopping the German Panzers. Finally, the British will often be grossly outnumbered in tanks and support units, again until about mid-1942.

Many a player has found themselves in 1941 suffering defeat after defeat against German forces, and usually, but not always, getting a victory against the Italians only at some cost. There are a few things you can do to rectify this situation.

First, know your limits. Don't position your forces to duke it out with the Germans at long ranges. They will win. If you are firing at the Panzers at ranges of greater than 500 yards, chances are slim that you will even hit them, much less penetrate. On defense, position your forces instead for flank shots, and let the enemy take one or two objectives so that you will know where they will generally go on the map (they have to take objectives).

Attacking German positions is a nearly insoluble problem, especially if the Germans have 88s. You simply will not be able to attack frontally unless you have plenty of artillery and plenty of smoke (which you usually won't). Even British airpower is woefully ineffective in the early years, since there is not much of it and the Hurricane IIs carry only one 500lb bomb. Instead, try for flank attacks using any intervening terrain you can for cover (especially from those dreaded 88s). Use smoke to cover your flank.

Another problem with the British tanks in the early years is lack of any anti-infantry shell for their guns. If you are approaching a position bristling with anti-tank guns, you will be sorely disappointed to discover that your tanks have to close within 4 or 5 hexes to use their machine gun, instead of simply popping off a few main gun rounds. This is even more frustrating if you have already defended against the Germans, who do have an HE round, and who most likely were able to deal with your anti-tank guns rather easily. Most of the time, your tanks will never get close enough to such a position. The solution is to have infantry in front of the tanks, dropping smoke and approaching the positions in bounds. When they get to within 10 hexes, you can start hitting them with the Squad LMG, 2 inch mortar (if they are Heavy Weapons squads), and your rifles. Even if you don't kill anybody, remember that the gunners are becoming progressively suppressed and will be less accurate. When you get Combat support tanks (CS-tanks), buy a section or two. These babys can fire HE at anti-tank positions, and they can also fire smoke rounds at a distance, which is very handy for blinding that 88 position which has already capped a couple of your tanks. The AI, though, treats CS-tanks as a priority target (now there is some good programming!), so try not to get too close and stay out of sight as much as possible.

Later in the war, the Grant and Churchill tanks appear, and you will immediately notice a difference if you get some. The Grant or Lee tanks have a built-in, hull-mounted anti-infantry gun on the order of 75mm, which has also been known to kill as many or more tanks than the main, turret-mounted gun! The Churchill tanks, on the other hand, retain the weak two-pounder but have massive armor ratings that can stand up to the best German guns (except, of course, the 88mm Flak gun). Upgrade some of the tanks in your core force to one or the other of these types as soon as possible. A few months after you get this upgrade, you might notice that the German tanks also seem harder to kill and are more effective at killing your tanks. This is because they get the Panzer IIIh and IIIj models. Both German models feature improved frontal armor ratings, and the J mounts a 50L60 gun, which is quite deadly against your more thinly armored tanks, and also very good at killing the heavier armored tanks like the Churchill. Keep them at least 10 or more hexes away from your front or you'll start to see your tanks explode like Roman candles on the Fourth of July. In 1943 they get Tigers and Panthers, which no Allied tank was able to deal with reliably to the end of the war. By then however, you should be 'Out of Africa' and supported by plenty of airpower and new-fangled tank destroyers.

One final word about the Italians in North Africa. When playing the British, one tends to discount them for obvious historical reasons. Don't. Their tanks aren't all that good but they will have more than you do. One particularly annoying little vehicle in the early years is the CV-33, which is a tiny tankette mouting machine guns. These insect-like excuses for a real tank will roam all over the battlefield, usually in front of the main Italian force. The blood-boiling aspect of these things is that at something like 4 hexes (200 yards!), you get an astounding sure-to-kill hit probability of about 6 percent! The small size of these mosquitos makes it hard to hit them, and your infantry is very vulnerable to their fire. I like to concentrate about half my anti-tank fire on these guys, just to protect my infantry, while the other half hits their tanks. (By the way, the size factor is a relevant consideration when you are upgrading your own tanks. All things being equal, choose the smaller size tank -- it will survive longer).

Yet another Italian gem is the Semovente 90. To the British player, these vehicles are about as hard to kill as the CV-33, except that they mount a 90 millimeter AA gun. That's right, I said a NINTEY MILLIMETER!!! If they hit your tanks, your tanks start a-smokin'. If they hit your infantry, they start a-fallin'. And all at long ranges! I classify these as the highest priority target when I see them. They are at least vulnerable to any type of gun and to artillery, but most kills come from direct fire. Fortunately, you won't have to deal with the Semovente until early 1942 (the year before the year the Italians surrender <g> ).

The American Army in Europe

"We're not the American Army, we're just a private enterprise operation" Kelly, From the movie Kelly's Heroes (again) when challenged by the local German / SS bad guy.

And that pretty much sums up the whole American strategy. The Americans spent about five times as much money on the war effort than any of their opponents, and wound up with fewer casualties and the most heavily-laden supply train of any major army in the world up to that time. The Germans referred to the American tactics as the tactics of materielschlagt or materiél battle, in which the Americans relied on copious amounts of indirect fire from artillery and airplanes to cause casualties among them, rather than old-fashioned military ardor, elan, leadership and raw courage. This is of course not to say that the Americans were lacking in these things, just that they for the most part, and wisely, wished to spare the lives of their soldiers and would much prefer to kill the enemy with low-risk and low-casualty methods rather than, say the German or Russian way, of discounting the cost of life in attaining tactical military goals.

Steel Panthers reflects this aspect of the real war. The Americans are supposed to have the highest number of support points of any army for each mission, and artillery and aircraft are usually in good supply. On the other hand, particularly in the early war, the Americans are very easy to suppress and cause to rout. However, if you start out as the Americans in a Long Campaign early in the war, say in December, 1941, you might find that the going is pretty tough at first. Departing from my ordinary style here, I let you hear what some other players have had to say on this subject:

>Subj: Re:AI overbias
Date: 96-01-16 01:12:03 EST
From: WBKOly
I haven't read all the following messages on this subject yet, so forgive me if someone else has already made this point, but i also suffer from frustration when playing an American campaign.

>Subj: G.I. hotshots sought
Date: 96-01-16 15:45:31 EST
From: AlKharizm
So, who has been winning with the Amis in the long campaign? We the suffering would like to hear from you, and this should be included in the upcoming FAQ release. I've read the other posts on the subject here--some nice pointers. But we'd all like to hear of the best US vs. German record in a long campaign on the hard setting, and then hear how it was done. It's much more challenging than playing as German or Russian.

See, i came out of two long campaigns with all decisive victories on the Eastern Front with green troops on hard setting. i've played Panzerblitz and ASL since nine years old. But i am GETTING THRASHED as the U.S. player in the long campaign vs. krauts. My engineers (green) and Stuarts were blown to bits, rolled over, and spat upon by the Afrika Korps near Fondouk. ok, fine...they had Tigers and plenty of arty. best thing to do was run. I've managed draws at Syracuse and Salerno. But at Salerno, the krauts had more than two dozen tanks, and plenty of infantry. they're getting better buys for their construction points by quite a margin. Well, i love a good challenge, and this is it. Time to upgrade my skills. Help!

>Subj: Re:Getting crushed!!!
Date: 96-01-16 19:42:31 EST
From: RAGNAR8224
I'm a far cry from a hot shot but I'm finally starting to see some moderate success with my Americans against Germans in the long campaign. (Of course I've lost 5 battles because everything I do is an amphi assault and I started out in the water without landing craft - didn't take casualities anyway).These are some general things that have work for me.

From a game standpoint I've had to run to the Pacific theatre to win easier victories (the Japanese have nasty infantry but no armor usually) to rebuild before returning to Europe. I also buy mechanized infantry so I can sacrifice the half tracks to get close or team up 8 of them to machine gun a german tank into retreating. In the desert I still get my butt kicked, but in other terrain if I run my tanks in to basically point blank range I score kills. The tricky part is getting that close. This usually involves running around the map to attack from the least likely direction. The AI germans will often sit still elsewhere while I overrun one victory area. Wolverines are a bit fragile but in the first half of the war they are the only thing I could hurt Panthers with. The AA halftrack is actually handy to have around for running off infantry but if a tank gets it sighted it's history. Lately I've been able to take advantage of the fact that the German AI units will attack to retake a victory area near the last 5 turns or so. Then the engineers can hide and try to jump them. (Engineers are the only infantry unit I bother with these days). I'll have to check on my current long campaign attempt, I might still be on the moderate difficulty setting.8 in guns from cruisers are really cool when available. They have scored the only indirect arty kills on enemy tanks that I have had.

Bottom line is I take heavy casualties, many of them coming right at the end of the scenario in the German counter attacks. I'd like to hear what works (or not) for others so I can send a few more boys home walking rather than laying down.

Other players have made similar complaints. It would seem from the above that unless the American forces have tremendous numerical superiority early on, they will have a difficult time prevailing against German forces which include heavy armor. This is about right, as I read the historical situation. Every time the Americans were faced with superior numbers of German troops attacking, even into 1944, they had a very hard time and had to rely on airpower and artillery to even the score. Remove airpower from the equation, and you had things like Kasserine, Salerno, and Anzio, and during some parts of that battle, the Bulge. Indeed it wasn't until the Bulge campaign that the Americans could engage the Germans in situations of numerical inferiority without air support and nevertheless prevail.

In my own Long Campaign as the Americans, I lost the first two battles, but thereafter had greater success. Perhaps one key for me was the inclusion of two Stuart platoons in my core force. These vehicles are very hard to hit, and their small 37mm gun can nevertheless penetrate every German tank except the Panther and the Tiger. I focused on keeping the Stuarts either moving or out of sight, and when I opened fire I did my best to insure that it was at ranges of 12 or less and from the flank. If Tigers or Panthers showed up, I only attempted to harrass them, not kill them. Usually, this meant firing one or two shots and then ducking for cover. I always tried to have one section of Wolverines handy in case I could get a flank shot on these boys, but the Wolverines had a hard time surviving. Most Tiger and Panther kills resulted from an immobilization hit followed by an infantry (Bazooka) attack. Using the Stuarts this way, in close cooperation with infantry and Bazooka teams, I had no trouble dealing with superior numbers of Panzer IIIs and IVs, while the German infantry could not stand up to the Stuart's three machine-guns. After the units I could kill were stripped away, the Tigers and Panthers either got immobilized, massively suppressed by the Stuarts, or blundered into infantry positions.

Sherman tanks are not generally regarded as great tanks. In fact, if you compare the main gun of the Sherman with that of the Stuart, the Stuart's gun has about the same penetration and accuracy as the early Sherman, and the armor factors are also comparable (Shermans have slightly higher factors). The drawback of the Sherman is it's profile, or, in the game, it's size. Shermans are much easier to hit than Stuarts, and consequently will be cooked more often than the Stuart, all things being equal. Therefore, if you plan to use Shermans, you may want to have some Stuarts out in front, providing harassing fire and drawing off the enemy's fire.

If you want to play the Americans and plan to start in the earlier phases of the war, just being aware of the inability of your forces to deal with the some German units may save you some lives and frustration. Instead of relying on tanks, artillery and airpower, or other weapons of offense, you may want to invest heavily in a whole bunch of defensive weaponry such as AT-guns, mines, pillboxes and bunkers for support, especially on defensive missions (of course), but even when on offensive missions. If you are on the attack, you'll need plenty of tanks, artillery and airpower, but if you don't have enough keep your goals limited and above all be prepared for the German counterattacks.

Questions of Leadership, Morale, and Experience

Yes, we've saved the most important for last. Morale and Experience factors, as well as other related categories such as Command Ratings, can have a decisive impact on the game, and whether you win a particular scenario. We've already discussed at several points where these factors can matter and how they impact your troops. But, what are they? What do they really mean? How can I improve them?

Experience is the most visible factor if not the most important. When you click on a unit to get information, a big graphic display of chevrons or a star will pop up, telling you how much experience your unit has. Here's what SSI's Readme.txt file has to say about the icons:

Experience levels can affect the following :

Experience increases at a rate of between 1 and 2 points per battle, though I have seen it go up more than that. Unit may increase at a higher rate if they achieve kills, the more kills the more experience received. The most experience a unit can receive in one battle is not known at this point, but I have observed units achieving an increase of around 10-12. Units which take casualties will have their experience increase rate reduced. If the unit takes too many casualties, the experience level may actually decrease (reflecting the dilution factor of replacements).

Remember that a scenario ends when all of the objectives are captured and all enemy forces are either dead or demoralized. There are some cases in which you may not want the scenario to end, primarily because you have the situation well in hand and want to rack up some kill credits for your units, er, I mean, give them some combat experience. The only way to do this is to allow the enemy to capture an objective, and then leave that objective under enemy control until you've killed all their units. Obviously, if your facing a desperate situation, you may not want the enemy to capture an objective that you can't take back at some point. However, when facing weak opponents who have orders to advance or attack, you may want to let them come in, take an objective or two, and then go for the kills. This is a great way to rack up experience, which may be of inestimable value later when facing more competent armies.

By the way, if a leader gets killed, you might assume that the replacement leader will have less experience, lower command ratings, and fewer or no kills. This is usually true, but not always. Particularly with tanks, the leader can get killed even if most of the squad or crew has not been hurt. In this case, the squad or crew will have around the same level of experience, while the commander's ratings may be slightly less. In any case, the replacement leader may be drawn from the unit, and may already have several kills to his credit. Leaders can get killed without negatively impacting the basic ratings of the unit because the game probably assumes that the overall experience and command ratings are based on the experience of the whole squad, and the replacement leader is usually drawn from the unit's men (and he may therefore have very good ratings, if its a very good unit).

After experience, there is also the unit morale rating of the unit. This number represents the percent chance that a unit will not break if it comes under enemy fire or other kinds of stress for which the game makes a morale check. For example, if a unit has a morale of 95, and it sustains enemy fire causing at least 1 suppression, there is a base 95% chance the unit will not break. If a unit breaks, then one of three things can happen: the unit will retreat, rout or surrender (if it is adjacent to the firing enemy unit). The higher a unit's suppression, the higher the likelihood that morale will fail. A decent rule of thumb when playing is to assume that each point of suppression will represent an equivalent reduction in the percentage chance that a unit will not break. A unit with 95 morale and 10 suppression will have only an 85% chance of remaining in good order. Japanese infantry and US Marines never surrender, so while Marines can rout (sorry, all you leathernecks!), Japanese infantry are far less susceptible to the effects of suppression, meaning that the effect on morale by suppression appears virtually non-existent or greatly diminished.

Basically, what this means is that higher morale units will stick around longer under enemy fire, and try to run away less often. With enough suppression, however, even high morale units will split the scene. Morale is a double-edged sword. Sometimes, when you've gotton your squad into a jam and they are pinned, you pray that their morale breaks so the squad will retreat and is not destroyed. Other times, you're glad that a unit can stand up to fire and get some payback on your turn.

You may be wondering why squads are killed at all if enough suppression will cause them to break and/or run away. This is because morale is affected by suppression, and the amount of suppression received is based on the type of fire directed at the unit and the experience of the target unit. A unit could be receiving rifle fire (generally low suppression factors) and sustaining heavy casualties. In such a case, if the unit has high experience (reducing the effect of suppression even further) the suppression never rises to the level of causing the unit to break before it gets destroyed. Also, even when the morale fails, the unit may not be able to get away from the firing units anyway, and it will be destroyed.

A Note On Suppression : Suppression occurs when your units take fire. Even a miss generates one unit of suppression against the target unit. In the newer versions of the game, suppression can have an additional effect : death. Tank or vehicle crews which accumulate more than 100 points of suppression and which are no longer in their vehicle will unceremoniously be classified as destroyed. Their icons will still appear on the map, but they are history. I'm not sure if this is a feature or a bug, but there are ways to deal with this effect. When an AFV gets hit and the crew survives and bails out, you need to attempt to reduce the suppression of that crew if you want to save it. You can move the section or platoon leader to within command radius and then manually rally the frightened crewmen, or move your side's overall leader to the crew and try the same thing. If the rally attempts fail, try again next turn. This won't always work, but its better than just letting the crew become the walking dead. The crew will continue to accumulate suppression until it gets out of the area or is totally rallied. Consequently, if you don't try to reduce suppression, the crew may die after a few turns. This featurebug may result in some new tactical considerations, too. An area held by a tank platoon may find the position becomes more easily compromised as the leader's tank runs around trying to save other crews from death-through-suppression. Once you succeed in rallying the crew, you may want to mount it onto a vehicle and get it out of there. Once a unit is mounted on a vehicle, it appears to save it from accumulating further suppression.

Morale can also be affected by the condition of other units, at least as I have observed. If a unit sees and is near another unit which is retreating or routing, that unit may also have a morale failure, even it has not been the target of enemy fire. Even if a unit does not see a friendly unit in a state of morale failure, it can be affected by Force Morale, which was described in earlier sections. A unit can also be affected by the loss of a leader. If a unit leader, formation leader, or force leader is killed, this may cause suppression to accrue on all subordinate units.

Morale ratings can increase during the course of a campaign, but relatively slowly in comparison to experience. They can also drop precipitously if your unit's morale ratings are higher than the national average and your units take losses (and get replacements). See the morale table below, in Section 34.

Leaders are very important to the performance of subordinate units. Remember that in most cases, only two leaders really have an effect on the unit: the Squad or Unit leader and the Formation Leader. The Squad or Unit leader is listed along with the unit when you bring up that unit's informational screen. The Formation Leader is listed only in the Unit Roster screen, and is considered to be accompanying the unit with the little 'H' next to it on that screen, as noted before this is in most cases the first unit in the formation.

Leaders add performance enhancements through a little-discussed but highly important feature of the game called Command Ratings. Each leader has an Infantry, Armor and Artillery command rating. The only thing the manual says about these is that they affect the accuracy of the unit, based on the type of unit and the associated Command Rating. The command rating can add as much as 25% or more to the unit's hit probability (see the Ballistics Tests, below). What is not mentioned is how superior leaders, such as platoon and force leaders, affect the performance of the units, or whether or not the effect of the leaders is taken into account in the hit probabilities which are displayed when using the target button. The percent chance to hit will show an improvement in accuracy based on the command ratings, but the actual percent chance to hit may be much more than is actually displayed. I have seen a nominal 67% chance to hit jump right to 99% immediately after the weapon is fired, but before the results are reported. After you fire, there will be a small information banner at the top of the screen (as the round or shots are heading for the target) which presumably shows the 'real' percent chance to hit. At this point, suffice to say that superior leaders probably have a positive effect. This may be even more for the individual units who have formation or platoon leaders attached. I have noticed that units with leaders who have particularly high Command Ratings also appear to react very well during the enemy's phase, and that they hit the target more often during reaction.

The main function of leaders, aside from adding their expertise to the subordinate unit through their command ratings, is to rally the subordinate units. Rallying troops is the main method of reducing their suppression. This happens automatically at the end of each turn (if you have auto-Rally turned on). You also have the ability to manually rally units during your turn, and this may be useful if your unit is in a critical position and needs to have some additional shots available. A successful manual rally may increase the shots available by one and will decrease the level of suppression. Many times players have gotton a kill by manually rallying units, obtaining an extra shot or two, and then killing the target unit. If you plan on doing a manual rally, do it before the unit fires at all, since the lower suppression level that may result will improve the accuracy of every shot.

There may be two reasons you don't want to Rally a unit. One is that you want the routing or retreating unit to, well, run away. This may be the only way to extricate a unit in a bad spot. Another reason is that if the Rally attempt fails, the rally rating of the leader goes to zero. This doesn't matter much for squad leaders, but in the case of higher leaders, their rally ability is now gone for the rest of the turn and they won't be able to rally other squads.

Rally factors of each leader never improve. If some of your leaders have bad rally ratings, you may just be stuck with them, or you may want to put them a few hundred yards ahead of your main line. Unlike the real world, this is the only way to fire leaders who just can't seem to hold their units together.

How do the morale and other ratings affect tactics? A couple of general guidelines here. First, units with lower morale ratings (say, 80 or below) will not last long under intense pressure. If your units have generally lower morale ratings, you should plan on using your forces for the quick kill by overwhelming the enemy with numbers and firepower before your troops' metal begins to show. Your groups should be more concentrated to ennable you to bring vastly superior firepower to bear very quickly. If your units start to break, your whole tactical position will probably be compromised. Another thing to do in this case is to use your units strictly by platoon; if one platoon breaks, it will need another unbroken platoon to give it some time to get out of the area.

A second guideline is to not allow yourself to be fooled into thinking that high morale values equals superior ability. Remember that experience is paramount to battlefield efficiency, and morale is actually subordinate to that (despite what Napoleon said). Generally, the higher experience units will also have very good morale ratings, but this is no excuse for sending a low experience but high morale squad to its doom.

Finally, remember that morale can work against you. Don't let your high-morale squads get into tight spots and leave them there just because you know they will hang. They won't break and run for cover, and this may in some cases mean they don't survive.

A Soldier's Story (Testimonials)


There is no substitute for combat experience. Since Steel Panthers is just a game, that is something SSI doesn't include in the box. However, what we can do in this Primer is give you a little taste of how some real battles (in Steel Panthers) went from the perspective of the guys that had to do the job on the ground which, to you, look like cool little green, brown or gray graphics representing a single soldier. Future versions will include screen shots of a turn of the game the subject of the testimonials. If you would like to submit a testimonial, please do so in ASCII format, and include either a screen shot or a save game file of the turn you want made into a screen shot, with a description of the events happening during that turn and how they relate to the testimonial.

Sergeant Mickey Anderson's log. 323 Combat Engineers.
by Frank Radoslovich []
A Deadly Walk in Farouk.

Sergeant Mickey Anderson's log.
323 Combat Engineers.

We had arrived here at about 0200, and we knew were were going to get into some action. There was an unease which was felt throughout our platoon. Myself and a couple of guys had managed to get into a brief card game with an M-10 tank destroyer crew, Commanded by a Sargeant named Van Gorkum. Painted on their M-10 was a bad painting of bird, with the words Wild Duck. I don't remember who won. The rumor was that we were going to try an take a hill which the Germans were using to harrass the regiment with artillery fire. We had about a company of riflemen with some armor support, and our unit was attached for the attack.

At first light, Lieutenant Morgan deployed our squad behind a small rise, and the whole platoon dug in side-by-side. The sand was hard and the ground was rockey, so it was tough going for a while. However, the weather was crisp and cool, and I could have sworn there was an ocean breeze, although we were miles from the ocean. The guys had all grown used to the idea that it would be hot all the time, like some French Legionnaire movie, and it had been hot sometimes, but not today.

We looked out over the rise. About a mile away, across flat desert, was a small hill, and we had a strong hunch that the Germans were on it, although we hadn't been told that yet. Division wanted the hill, and two others nearby, to sight artillery. Most of the squad was PO'd at the idea that we'd have to walk across that flat desert, but we were Engineers, and we knew when the assault came we had to go in front to look for mines. We couldn't see many places to hide, just a few scrubs and some small dips in the ground. The rest of the company was a couple hundred yards to the rear with some tanks, and would follow us in once we jumped off.

I could hear the tanks moving around back where the company was, and they were kicking lots of dust into the air. I knew the Germans could see that, and were probably siting their 88s right on us. The Lieutenant had told me that Division had given us a lot of artillery, so we were going to plaster that hill for awhile before we went over.

While waiting around, I ate. I wasn't brave or anything, and my stomach was nervous and upset like the other guys, but I still felt like eating. It was crazy. So I had some chocolate and hoped my hole was big enough -- The Germans probably had artillery, too. This was probably the tenth blasted hole I had dug in 3 days, and I hadn't been shot at yet. None of us had, if you don't count the few shots the French took at us at the beaches. Cripes, their resistance was a rumor.

The Artillery was set to go in a few mintutes, and I told the guys to hunker down in case some of the rounds were too short or in case the Krauts threw something back at us. Most of these guys hadn't even heard a lot of artillery going off at once before. They'd get a show. I was on the landing ships, and I remember how loud the battlewagons were. I remember thinking that I probably wouldn't hear the guns, because they were far in our rear. I'd just hear the whining of the rounds.

The basic plan, near as I could figure, was to plaster the hell out of the little hill with artillery, and run like Ty Cobb towards the objective. This was called a frontal assault, and there was nothing fancy about it. We were supposed to stop about a thousand yards from their lines and search for mines, and cut a path through for the Rifle Company bringing up the rear. Its at that point I knew I would get real scared, because we would be pretty bare at that time, and the Germans could cut us up pretty bad. Hopefully, the artillery would do what it was told and fire a lot of smoke rounds so the Germans would not see us.

At about 0700 our guns opened up, mostly 155s and mortars. Our objective disappeared in a cloud of smoke. Round after round hit the hill. Some of the guys looked out of their holes, fascinated by the sight. I told them to keep their heads down. One of the shells must have hit some ammo, because a small ball of orange flame flashed for an instant on the hill. I borrowed the LT's glasses, but I couldn't see much. But at least I knew they were up there waiting for us.

Suddenly about a hundred guys screamed Incoming! and with a tremendous screech we were clobbered by an enemy artillery barrage. Most of the rounds landed to our rear where the Rifle Company was dug in. . About a hundred yards to our left there was a chorus of screams followed one of the shell crashes. I found out later that Sargeant Leonard and his gun crew took a direct hit, wiping them out to the man.

The artillery duel lasted about ten or fifteen minutes. The German shells kept landing behind us, and we kept clobbering their hill. They were not really doing much to us, and we just rode it out. A thought crossed my mind that we probably were not doing much to the Germans either, and they would just be sitting there waiting for us when our shelling stopped.

Through all the shelling I heard the loud drone of aircraft engines and looked up to see a couple of our B-26s fly over my hole. They dropped several bombs on the enemy hill. The Lieutenant looked over the hole and told me he thought he saw German bunkers on the western face, which means the bunkers would pointing right at us.

Our artillery let up for a couple of minutes. I knew this meant that we were getting ready to move out. Lt. Morgan told me to get ready, and I passed it down the men. As I was standing and barking ordres, the Germans got our range. One shell came down about twenty yards from me, into the hole occupied by Private Wright and Private Means. Means began screaming and shouting and I ran over them to shut him up. When I got there, I saw that Private Wright had no head and no right arm. I don't know how Means survived, but I grabbed his arm and dragged him over to my hole. I had to carry his weapons because he was blubbering all over the place. When we got back to the hole, the rest of the platoon had already went over, and we had to sprint a few yards to catch up. Major Navarro had come down to our position, and was cursing a blue storm to get us moving. Means seemed to pull himself together fine, but he looked grey and stupid, which is not a good state to be in when you got to look for mines.

While pulling Means along I saw the rest of the company about two hundred yards behind us coming out of their holes and stepping over our hill, with about a half a dozen tanks and tank destroyers. At that moment, I saw the German shells come down on Third Platoon. I saw one round hit and about five guys disappear in a cloud of smoke and body parts. Most of the shells were landing harmlessly to the left flank of the company line, but Third Platoon probably lost about eight men. I saw a couple other guys stay to tend the wounded. I turned around and pressed on. We had a fine view of our own shells landing on the German position, but we had no idea if they were hitting anything. The Lieutenant was straining his eyes through his glasses, and saying over and over, Get that damn bunker, get that damn bunker.

The mortars and tanks began to pump smoke rounds around the enemy hill. The Lieutenant was shouting at everyone to spread out, and we began moving off to the left to move ourselves away from second and third squad, who were bunching up too much. The Lieutenant went over there and screamed at the squad leaders, who began to spread out. We were strung out in an irregular line about two hundred yards wide, about forty of us. We would have to clear and mark paths for the tanks through any mines we saw. The tanks, who were now only about fifty yards, were to follow us slowly and give us cover fire. I felt better knowing they were there. I looked back at one of the Shermans, and the commander must have read my mind, because he gave me a thumbs up sign, which I returned. As I looked, I could see a couple of shells hit Major Navarro's position, and the company HQ went to ground. One of our SP howitzers also got hit, and I could see the crew getting out and its Commander staring at his vehicle's treads and kicking the sand in frustration.

We had advanced about 500 yards. The Germans shells kept coming, and kept landing to the rear. The German artillery was working over the Rifle Company, and I got worried that they'd pin them all down on this plain and pick them off one by one, and leave us Engineers without support. The HQ got hit again, and 1st Platoon looked like they were taking losses, too. I could see bodies falling or blowing apart, and medics running among the wounded. The shells weren't hitting our platoon or the other engineers.

There was a small ridge ahead which would afford us some cover if we needed it. The objective was still obscured by the smoke and about 800 yards to our front. The tanks had must have been spotted because they rapidly began firing towards another hill about a thousand yards to our left, to the North of our objective. I saw a white flash which appeared to be return fire from a German position, but I couldn't tell what was firing. The tanks were firing rapidly and moving ahead in fits and starts. I then saw the Wild Duck, which have suffered a close call because it started to move back and forth and twisting rapidly, as if to present a difficult target. I could see Van Gorkum standing up in its turret, gesturing with his arms. Meanwhile, another B-26 showed up and dropped its bombs on our objective, which caused a massive explosion which shot debris a hundred feet in the air, followed by an orange plume of flame.

We still had not seen any mines.

We got to the ridge and we all paused to regroup. Most of the Rifle Company had slipped though the German artillery, and the shells were falling behind them. Our tanks kept exchanging fire with some unknown enemy position, and I heard a large WHANG! of a German round hitting one of the Shermans, which stopped suddenly, kicking up a great volume of dust as it did so. Our smoke rounds were landing everywhere, and there was a thick curtain of smoke to our front, about 150 yards away. The Lieutenant screamed at everyone to keep moving.

We got up and sprinted over the ridge. The German artillery got our range again, and a few rounds landed right along our line, but no one was injured. However, I learned later that 3rd Platon, 2d squad was all but wiped out by this barrage. We ran into the smoke cover, and I knew we were only a few hundred yards from our objective. Again, no mines. But we couldn't see too far in the smoke. We knew the Germans were there, however.

We went forward for about fifty more yards when Merski in 3d Squad off to our right screamed Mines!. At that moment Means also noticed mines, and the whole platoon froze. The Germans had laid strong barrier mines along our front. We immediately began clearing them away, while the tanks crawled up behind us. I was scared that the tanks would just roll right over us in the smoke, but I dispatched Corporal Algini and Pvt Blanchard to slow them up. The rest of the Rifle Company bunched up behind us, and their officers were yelling at the riflemen, telling them to stay down and keep their intervals. The German artillery had found us, and I knew a rain of shells would come down on us and probably kill us all. I saw Major Navarro and what was left of Company HQ crammed on a jeep, and the Major began to walk up and down the line shouting obscenities at the green horns and commanding them to sit tight and ride it out while we cleared the minds. Seconds later, the jeep was blown to smithereens by a German gun position, but I couldn't see where it came from.

We worked fast in clearing the mines. Second squad managed to cut a path pretty quick, but shells began folling all around my squad, so we were having difficulty. I knew a few more guys got hit, because I heard their screams behind me. Our Medic, Ramirez, went to the rear to the help with the wounded, and he told me he'd come right back, but I barely heard it. An M-10 was idling behind us, and the commander was shouting at us to hurry up, or we'd all be killed on this spot. I flipped him the bird.

The Lieutenant said We gotta get moving sargeant. 2d Squad's already through. Lets move it. I glanced over to my right, and I saw second squad move forward, waiving the infantry to follow. We were slower going because of the artillery. The tanks and riflemen behind us were yelling at us at the top of their lungs.

A long burst of machine gun fire erupted about a 100 yards to our right, and slashes of tracer fire began to come from the hill. It looked as though 2d squad was taking fire, and the riflemen following behind them all went to the ground, and it seemed like none of them were firing their weapons. A small sargeant was bravely standing up and barking orders at the terrified men, telling them to shoot your f**king weapons and get those bastards, but most of the men were hugging their weapons and not firing a shot. The sargeant began to open up with his Thompson, and a few took his lead and began shooting at the tracer fire. Through the smoke it looked like several men were hit, and the tracer fire kept coming, kicking up sand wisps and causing a few guys to bury themselves in the sand like a bunch of halibuts.

We finally cut a path through, and frantically I waived a Sherman forward, and it picked up speed and drove right through our position, nearly clobbering Blanchard. The Wild Duck sped by, followed by an M7 Priest, the latter of which stupidly went off the path we cleared, and immediately hit a mine, blowing pieces of its track up into the air and lurching to a noisy halt. A burst of machine gun fire opened up from an enemy bunker, and I could hear the bullets smack against the Sherman. The commander hastily dropped back in the turret, closing his hatch with a loud clang. An German anti-tank gun opened up from somewhere, and there was loud WHANG sound again as a round bounced off the Sherman.. Had we lead the way, we would have been creamed. Tracer fire begain to zip through our squad, and we crawled forward towards the tank. A rifle platoon followed close to our rear, and a few men began firing their rifles, although I still could not see anything to shoot at.

The Sherman fired a round, but I now saw that there were a line of German bunkers about 100 yards in front of us, and it looked like about three machine guns and three anti-tank guns all opened up at the Sherman, and two anti-tank shells hit it.. The Sherman stopped dead in its tracks, but it didn't look damaged. I yelled SMOKE! and a couple of our squad began to pop smoke grenades to screen us from the bunkers. Then there was a tremendous explosion, and another tank to our right blew up, its turret doing spins in mid air. By some miracle, I saw a tanker climb out of the hole where the turret was, and he begin running wildly toward the rear, his left boot on fire. However, three other tanks and a halftrack drove right pass the wreck and roared up the hill and around the left flank of the German bunker line. The tanks began to slam rounds into the German bunkers at point blank range, and the halftrack let them have it with its quad-mounted 50 calibers. Fire from the bunkers ceased.

Another quad-50 pulled up about 30 yards way from me, and began raking the enemy positions ahead of our squad with heavy machine gun fire. The Wild Duck also began firing rounds at the German bunkers. The Lieutenant was ordering us to prep our demo charges and get ready to move. The German artillery then hit us with vengeance, falling all along the base of the hill where most of the assault force. Several rounds fell among third squad -- and no one survived -- the whole squad just evaporated. Second squad also got hit severely, and it looked like they only had about three men who could stand. There were now probably about a dozen effectives left in our platoon: the rest where obliterated or maimed by the artillery.

Through the smoke ahead and I saw a about twenty Germans fleeing from the tank onslaught. They were outflanked by the tankers, and were running away right along the front of our position along the crest of the hill, and could be seen like silohettes or ducks at a carniva shooting gallery. The tanks let them have it with their machineguns and enemy bodies fell like like shirts blown from a clothesline. A few put there hands up and one of the tankers gestured to them to walk to the rear, and the prisoners walked right past me, looking like sheepish schoolboys, with their hands on their helmets. Means yelled Look! and pointed to my left, and I saw two more Germans fleeing down the hill about 80 yards away. We opened up with our rifles and one fell hard, never to get up. The other made it a few more yards, but one of the tanks got him with a long stream of .50 caliber fire.

When the rest of the company saw that the Germans were running, they gave a tremendous shout and charged up the hill. German shells rained among us, and Blanchard fell hard and died without a word. The Lieutenant told us to make for the empty bunkers and shelter ourselves. Our tanks were up there waiting for us, exchanging fire with a German gun position to the North. I saw four other Germans fleeing, and the tanks shot them down. The German gun hit an M-10, and its turret erupted in flames, and the remainder of its crew fled, and one man, who was on fire, dropped to the sand and rolled around in a vain effort to put himself out. There were only about fifty of us who made it to the hill, and we hysterically looked for cover in any nook we could find. The M7, a sitting duck on the minefield, was also hit, and it began to blaze. No one survived.

As our squad began to move up to the top of our objective, we all froze momentarily. We saw several German assault guns, Stug IIIs, I think, barrelling at us from the north, guns firing. Our two halftracks exploded, spraying molten debris and belching smoke. A Sherman also got hit, and caught on fire, its crew bailing out and running past us. We all looked at each other for an instant, and instantly read each other: we began to run back down the hill. The Lieutenant joined us, screaming at everyone to pull back. An M-10 stayed to cover our retreat, and was slugging it out with some German infantry which had emerged from nowhere and furiously counterattacking, spraying the area with small arms fire. Then the M-10 went up in flames.

We were being attacked by armor from the North, and enemy infantry from the East. We were flanked. The remnants of the Rifle Company also began to run, dragging whatever wounded they could find with them. Major Navarro was nowhere to be seen. The Lieutenant stopped and began to call for artillery fire to cover our withdrawal. His radioman got shot through the head and fell, dragging the phone out of the Lieutenants hand.

We ran to the intervening ridge, where we had sheltered briefly during our approach. I looked back in horror and saw that the fleeing riflemen were setting off mines. The Wild Duck got up on the ridge and spun around to cover us, firing at the German STGIIIs. I also saw a .50 caliber team set up, and it began to spray fire along the ridge, where the Germans were jumping back in their bunkers and taking pot shots at us. Through it all, German shells kept falling among us. Then I saw Navarro, pitifully hobbling along on his bloodied left leg, with two or three members of HQ giving him support. He seemed to be yelling into his radio, although it was unclear whether he was calling for reinforcements, artillery fire, or divine intervention.

Algini stepped on a mine, and the explosion tore off his leg and he died. The explosion knocked Means down, who also set off a mine which killed him and tore guts out of Private Nordquist, who began to scream and gurgle up blood. Ramirez ran over to help him.

The Wild Duck took a hit its left track, causing a tread to uncoil like a wounded snake, but Van Gorkum kept firing. A Sherman pulled along side of it, shooting its gun wildly at the enemy, and then went into full reverse and fled. I helped Ramirez pick up Nordquist and began to drag himaway, propping him up between us. Nordquist held his guts in with his left hand. We stumbled along with the rest of the squad, which was now down to six men.

We made it back, but Nordquist died soon after we set him down. There were only seven men left in our whole platoon. The Rifle Company, which was down to about sixty men, trailed along behind us. The Wild Duck, which probably saved most of us by making its valiant stand, was killed to man when their tank was hit several times by German fire. I remember watching the vehicle burn a long time from my hole, while waiting for the German counterattack. Fortunately, it never came.

We had taken horrible losses. We had met the Africa Korps, and we were theirs. We were unequivocally defeated. We pulled back for twenty-four hours, and we received some replacements, but most of us were still too dazed by the violence of our experience to offer the new guys any hospitality. Then word came down to move out, because the Germans were advancing in our sector. . .

Log of Sgt James Thatcher Sparks, 1st Coldstream Guards Battalion by Todd David Brady (
Cassino, May, 1944

Cassino. We'd all grown to dislike the place. In fact, none of us cared too much for all of Italy at this point. At least the weather was improving, indeed it was a bit hot for some of the lads who'd joined up since we'd come over to Macaroni Land from the Island in September.

The word had come down that we were to attack once again. Attack again that place which had become synonymous with fortress, with immovable object, with impregnable. The German propagandists were alive with tawdry criticisms of our inability to break their line. What the jolly rogers back home in England and Scotland didn't know was that things were much worse than that. Only a month ago, one of our own Guards battalions had been given an attack order, but the jerrys launched an immediate counter-attack and surrounded them. I'd heard some of them, those that had survived, talk about how they'd started out along a tree-lined road, and within minutes half a dozen Panthers on each side had them pinned down, while their infantrymen kept pushing on down the road against them. The Panthers crossed a stream and took the village they'd started from. It was only with some difficulty that other elements of the Regiment had gotten them out. Most of the poor boys needed a bit of rest after that.

So today came another attack order. We wondered amongst ourselves what the jerrys had in store for us this time. Colonel FitzGibbon, however, exuded confidence in the days before. Our battalion would not get stuck on some pitiful Italian road, he said. We would go forward in the grand style, and drive them once and for all away from that dreadful monastery. Indeed, he said, our whole force would be attacking all along the line, and we were to play a critical part in the whole operation. Not only our own countrymen, but all the Allied armies in Italy would be depending on how our battalion performed today.

We marvelled too at the equipment which seemed to be ready for us. Our two engineer sections were given the new Kangaroo, which was an infantry carrier like our Bren Carrier but which was really just a Sherman without a turret, and therefore very well armored. Division, per course, allotted the attack force our usual, dedicated heavy tank platoon and infantry-tank support platoon (Churchill IVs and Valentine XIs, respectively). They added this time a Sherman platoon, which we in the ranks could not but appreciate. With the weather clearing, we were also promised several airstrikes, though we'd learned not to depend on this sort of thing too heavily.

My task was the command of my tank, a Valentine XI, part of the dedicated infantry-support tank platoon for A Company. With all due modesty, I had only previously been given the Battalion Expert Badge, having received credit for over 50 kills with my vehicle. I'd been with the Battalion since France, when the jerrys overran the place, but that time and place was now only a distant memory.

Colonel FitzGibbon, we called him Fitz for short, divided our attack force into three teams. The Northern Group would attempt to work around the extreme northern edge of the enemy's defenses, through rough terrain but devoid of cover for the last 1000 meters. This group would consist of the Commando platoon supported by one section of Engineers in their new 'Roos. The Centre group would consist of One Platoon, a section of Engineers in 'Roos, and the Heavy Tank platoon, and their job was to support the Northern group and tie down any German fire from the centre. The Southern Group, where I was assigned, was strongest. In addition to my tank platoon, we had the Shermans, and Two Platoon mounted in BC's. We were to work our way around the edge of the enemy's line and then proceed along their flank to the centre, where we would be aided and perhaps joined by Centre Group. Then, whomever could continue would aid and assist Northern Group if needed to take the northern positions. Fitz wanted all of our force active and engaging the enemy from the start.

We moved into position just before dawn, every Group behind some hill or treeline, out of sight. At first light, we heard the sound of planes, and to the surprise of some of the veterans among us, it turned out to be the air support we had been promised! Four Beaufighters came down to attack the jerrys. We couldn't see what happened. We heard a good deal of jerry AA fire, but we also heard the distinctive blast of bombs. On the radio, I heard the pilots chattering away with Fitz, and he sounded a bit disappointed by their reports. I kept this bit of news to myself. Wouldn't want to upset the lads. Eventually, the ADC radioed to my platoon, and to me, that a bunker had been spotted on the southern position. He continued by telling us the pilots had spotted a couple of 20mm AA positions in the centre (of no concern to us at the moment), but that a good deal of MG fire had been reported from approximately 1000 metres to our side of the jerry line. Not good news at all. The ADC also told us that we were to move out in a few minutes, as would everyone else.

Number 2 platoon mounted the BC's and started to roll out, just behind the Humbers, which I of course had forgot to mention earlier. Anyway, we were very pleased indeed to have the reconnaissance troop with us, since that would lessen the possibilty that the nasty jerry panzerfausts would be able to get close enough for a shot or two. We moved out in bounds, each platoon keeping close to whatever cover would hide us from the main jerry line some 1800 metres to the west. Just ahead was a large hill with, in typical Italian style, a sorrowful village on the crest probably left over from Roman times. The BC's went just south of the hamlet while the Shermans went directly in. There were no Itais there anymore, they'd long since left for more peaceable climes, also in typical Italian style.

While we were enroute, we heard another wave of our planes come in. This time it was a pair of Typhoons. Above all the clatter our tin boxes were making, we could still hear the whoosh of their rockets firing. I didn't have the time to hear Fitz conversing with the pilots at just this moment, but I certainly didn't hear him say jolly good as he was wont when one of our RAF boys hit something of interest on the ground. Nevertheless, I certainly hoped that they were keeping the jerry's tea boiling hot.

Suddenly, the lads in the Shermans lost a little composure on the radio. Some half-baked jerrys had started firing at them, fortunately with little effect. The silly buggers had just started shooting at the first thing they saw with the first weapon they could get their slimy Hun hands on, which happened to be some MG-34s. Number 2 platoon also came under light MG fire from another position, but no one was hurt, thank God. Leftenant Vincent was the commander of our Group, and he reacted to this news with the calm determination of most of the officers of our Regiment. He immediately ordered the Shermans to continue firing and gain the village, whilst 2 platoon was to dismount and move from south to north into the village to provide infantry support.

Within just a few minutes, we had spotted the enemy positions, two of them, on the reverse side of the slope. Sergeant Keyworth, of the Sherman platoon, swung around one of the larger buildings in the village to gain a better firing position and ran straight into a squad of jerry infantry. The Huns reacted quickly and got off a panzerfaust shot, and Keyworth could be heard yelling bloody hell for probably a mile when the shot blew off his portside track. The jerrys were quite sorry after that, of course, since Keyworth is one man no one in the Regiment likes to anger. He destroyed the German half-track and sent a few Hun souls to their ultimate destination, more out of his bad disposition at that point than any sense of duty. His mates in the other Shermans did the same to another jerry position on the northern side of the little hill. 2 Platoon, the tommys coming up from the south, had no trouble at all with the Germans nearby, doing much the same as Keyworth's platoon. In the end, three half-tracks were blown up and the jerrys sent reeling. Other than Keyworth's bad luck, no one had been hurt.

As for myself, I saw none of this good show. My Valentine platoon was still clambering up the eastern face of the hill, out of sight. The terrain was very broken up and full of huge boulders, making our passage a bit slow. By the time we'd reached the village, the show was nearly over, though we knew the jerry infantry was just the other side of some smoke grenades they had thrown. Most probably, they didn't want to invite us down for a chat. Leftenant Vincent ordered our group to extend an invitation to them.

Yet another jerry position opened up on Keyworth's vehicle, changing the colour of his face from bright red to lavender, as his crew swung the turret around and poured fire into their position. Actually, Keyworth couldn't see very much, none of us could, but we had the jerry's bearing, and that was enough. Vincent and I got to the top of the hill, and he ordered my vehicle to swing around to the north so as to support Keyworth, while he ordered 2 platoon to mount up and come up round the west face of the hill with godspeed. While my gunner kept the jerry's heads down, 2 platoon worked a marvel of efficiency, riding in to the midst of the Germans in their Brens, cutting them down. A Humber or two came along for the ride, lending their 15mm machinegun to the symphony.

Overhead now, we could hear another section of Typhoons dive down, this time directly attacking the AA positions in the jerry centre. I heard Fitz over the radio say jolly good show as both of the pilots reported direct hits. And above all that came down our four and a half inchers. Fitz was pounding the jerry southern position for us, so that when we finally swept up these ragamuffins and proceeded thence, we'd have an easier time of it. I overheard him talking to Leftenant McEwen of Centre group, apparently they'd found a jerry infantry platoon north of the road which was putting up a good fight in which a few of our lads wouldn't see much more of the war if it went on too long.

Vincent and I had a good view of the two-step proceeding to our front, but it wasn't long before we had a dozen German prisoners, and the firing died down. Whether he knew it or not, and of course he wouldn't tell, Vincent had done an excellent job in this first little brush with the jerrys, as we had suffered no casualties and had only Keyworth's vehicle corked up. We proceeded to reorganize ourselves for the next big push. Vincent reported the situation to Fitz, who said we'd done a fine bit.

Fitz said everything was going well, but that Centre Group had been held up a bit by an infantry platoon in a strong position. Just as he was giving us a report, we heard yet more MG fire to our north. Vincent said that he had to investigate the situation and would get back to the Colonel presently. Sure enough another jerry platoon was directly north of the Huns we had just bagged. The jerrys had been watching Sgt Ricketts squad, and had opened up from 100 metres. Fortunately, only one man was injured.

Lt. Vincent asked me over to his tank to discuss the situation. I dashed over, and he quickly explained that it appeared that the Germans had lined virtually the whole front of our battalion attack zone with infantry platoons in good positions, but that our boys would have no trouble dealing with them, provided the tanks closely supported the infantry. The problem was that Southern Group didn't have the time to waste clearing the front; we had to get to the first objective posthaste. I told him that we ought to get Ricketts out of the spot he was in, and that at any rate the next up jerry platoon would give us something to think about if we moved against the southern objective without taking their accounts.

Vincent then ordered half the remaining Shermans to move into position on the western face of the hill and start firing on the bunker which was some 1200 meters out. He then told me to take the rest of the Shermans and most of my platoon, and one squad from number 2 platoon to direct our efforts north and get Ricketts out of the jam. I dashed back to my tank, climbed aboard and immediately informed the others of our task. We moved out, and while I lent cover fire to Sgt. Astin's Sherman, he took a direct hit from another Panzerfaust shot, though his tin can didn't seem to be affected. At any rate, my little group destroyed all four halftracks, while Ricketts got his men out of the mess without further adieu.

Meanwhile, Fitz had ordered some reconnaissance by our Humbers even further north, as Centre group was taking still taking fire from the south and could not get a view of the redoubtable jerrys there. I listened to the radio and sure enough, just like Lt Vincent had thought, the Humber ran straightaway into another German platoon midway between Southern and Centre groups. They got out of that situation without delay, though we didn't hear much from them the rest of the day.

It seemed to me we had a good book on the whole of the jerry position now, at any rate of the jerry front. Aside from the bunkers and AA positions which our RAF boys had seen from the air, though, the jerry main position was something of a mystery to us. At least, I thought, we hadn't run into anything serious like a Panther or a Tiger. And, our Group, despite everything, had dished out a large dollop of punishment to the Germans without so much as a scratch (except, of course, for Ricketts' men and Keyworth's blown track).

Vincent radioed me and said that he'd chatted with Fitz about things, and that they'd decided to ignore all remaining enemy positions and get Southern Group moving towards the first objective. I told him I thought this was a good idea, since Ricketts was out of trouble and the jerrys further north wouldn't be of much account to our impending advance. However, even if it was only that one bunker at the objective, we'd still have to cross about a kilometer of open terrain. Vincent said he'd like me to accompany the whole of the advance, and to bring the rest of my lads along too. He said the Shermans would stay on the western face of this hill and provide cover fire against the bunker position.

Just then, we heard another section of our RAF come down, this time in the twin-engined Mosquitos. I was a little let down that they didn't come in against the southern objective, but Fitz had his own ideas. They went in against the German centre, and the pilot reported they'd spotted a German tank up there, but most likely just tank-destroyer. Fitz didn't seem too concerned about it. I found out why a few minutes later when Sgt Murray, of the heavies, calmly reported : Colonel, one Marder II destroyed. Apparently, Fitz had already had the sardine can under the gun.

We all felt a lot better after Murray's report. Even better news came in as Vincent radioed that the jerrys in the bunker appeared to be making it for Dutchland. They'd had a little too much of four-and-a-half-inchers and our Shermans taking potshots at them. He said he was sending the Shermans and two Humbers to gallop across the valley, so that I could use my group to attack the northern German platoon, although, he said I had to be quick about it. Fitz was already informed and had approved. Centre Group was engaging the last remaining jerry platoon on the front, so it looked like we would clear them out after all.

Gardner's squad and my three Valentines XI's (one was helping out the Shermans) maneuvered around into excellent firing positions, and we were able to send a third German platoon reeling back, without their halftracks. Another Marder opened up on the Shermans as they started out across the valley, but we didn't have to wait long until Murray gave yet another monotone report to Fitz on the radio : Second Marder II destroyed, Colonel. If Murray kept at it, I'd have to do some extra duty to keep my Battalion Expert Badge (he had over 30 kill to his credit since Egypt!).

Fitz was in a jolly mood thereafter. He felt that we'd really broken the German back, and he ordered everyone to start making it for their objectives without further delay. He said he'd be joining Centre Group in a few minutes, since there wasn't much left to spot for the redlegs and the airmen. My little group spent a few more minutes dodging in and out of burning German positions, just to make sure they were clear. By this time, Southern Group had probably taken upwards of 20 prisoners.

When my group emerged from the smoke, we found that we were actually closer to Centre Group than the bulk of Southern Group, so I radioed the Colonel myself and asked him if he wanted me up there, or back down with Vincent. I could see some of Centre group's boys advancing here and there in fits. Just as the Colonel was responding, his truck came under long range fire from a pillbox far to the north - one the Commandos were supposed to have been assaulting. Gads! I'd forgotten all about those men! They hadn't used the radio for communication (something about using dash and speed to accomplish their objectives). Fitz was able to hop out of his truck, along with the radio man, and asked Lt Peirse, the Commando leader, for a report. He said that his platoon had encountered and destroyed three pillboxes already, and were under fire from at least two others and two bunkers, in addition to those AA crews. Several of our boys have suffered gravely, I'm afraid, sir, was the last sentence. I later learned that the Commandos destroyed 5 fortified enemy positions, mostly while under heavy fire, and both of their 'Roos were KO'd. It was almost as if, Peirse said later, the jerrys had known they were coming. When Fitz did not order Peirse to take out the pillbox that had just upset his truck, I knew that the Commando men must have been under very heavy pressure. Finally, he rang back to me and said that Centre Group had just cleared out a minefield along the road, so that it would be a good route for my platoon to take to follow them in.

I started moving out the platoon northwards to the road to join up with Fitz. Within a minute or so, Sgt Thompson's Valentine hit a mine and was stuck for good. With my two remaining tanks and the one squad from number 2 platoon, I tried an alternate route, but then both tanks hit mines almost simultaneously. What a rut!!! I told Gardner, the squad leader of the infantry unit with us, to take known routes back south to join up with Vincent, as the route north was obviously unmarked and hazardous. My whole platoon was rotted out on mines! The only good bit was that we had very good fields of view from where we were. I could see the pillbox that had fired on Fitz, and at the other end I could see the boys in Southern group, who were already at the southern objective.

My view of this magnificent panorama was interrupted by a gypsy German squad in a halftrack barrelling out of the smoke behind us at full speed! He obviously didn't expect us to be there. Some of my platoon had already started to send some long range shells to hit the pillboxes and bunkers we could see, so I swung the turret around and brought the sardine can to a no doubt unexpected stop. The jerrys bailed out and continued moving west as fast as their legs could carry them. They also didn't see Gardner, who was directly in their path. Without putting out his cigarette, he laid a steady fire on them from the BC, and kept moving south to join Vincent.

I spent the rest of the time directing the fire of my platoon, and some of the boys began referring to themselves as the localized artillery battery in the radio chatter. I heard and partially saw events as Centre Group crept up to the centre objective area, discovering a bunker which they dispatched. Some of the Centre men had come under fire from pillboxes on the main centre ridge, but slowly and surely I could see the men who did get through, along with the heavies, take them out one by one. Even Fitz's command squad, led by the redoubtable Sgt Spears, who had been with Fitz since 1940, participated in a pillbox assault. All of Centre Group could be heard giving three cheers!

Postscript : The battalion's attack of that day was mentioned in 5th Allied Army dispatches. Sgt Murray was later given a field commission and promoted to command the Heavy Tank Platoon. Sgt J.T. Sparks, VC, was later killed during an attack near Eindhoven, Holland, during Operation Market-Garden. His Valentine was spotted and fired on by two Panthers at long range. Though he was able to destroy one, his vehicle was first immobilized and then killed when the remaining Panther scored a direct hit.


While I have tried my best to give a good introduction to some winning tactics, it will be inevitable that not only have I missed some essential components, but that I made outright mistakes. Also, the necessity to earn a living has hampered my efforts at completeness, as some may note. Nevertheless, many players have contacted me and thanked me for this small effort to make a great game more understandable, if not more playable and enjoyable. I thank you all very much.

Tables and Other Data

Experience Table, Uploaded by Arnaud Bouis

Here are the morale and experience tables of Steel Panthers for each nationality and year of the war. Courtesy of Jim Wirth. They require a few explanations: This is the base experience/morale. To this base is added a random number between 0 and 20 for each unit. 10 is then added if the force is elite, and substracted if green. This yields your final experience and morale.

Experience Table
Nationality 1939 1940 1941 1942 1943 1944 1945
German 65 70 75 70 65 60 50
Finnish 70 70 70 65 65 60 55
Italian 35 35 40 40 30 30 30
Rumanian 35 35 35 35 30 25 25
Hungarian 35 35 35 35 30 30 30
Japanese 70 70 70 70 65 65 60
French 45 45 50 55 50 55 55
British 50 50 50 55 55 55 55
Greek 45 45 45 50 55 55 55
Belgian 45 45 45 45 45 45 45
Dutch 45 45 45 45 45 45 45
Norwegian 45 45 45 45 45 45 45
Polish 45 45 50 55 55 55 55
Yugo-slav 45 45 45 40 45 50 55
Soviet 35 40 45 50 55 60 55
US Army 40 40 45 45 50 55 60
US Marine 55 55 55 60 65 70 70
Chinese 30 30 30 35 40 40 40


Morale Table
Nationality 1939 1940 1941 1942 1943 1944 1945
German 70 70 70 70 70 65 55
Finnish 70 70 70 65 65 60 55
Italian 30 30 30 30 25 25 25
Rumanian 25 25 25 25 25 25 25
Hungarian 30 30 30 30 25 25 25
Japanese 70 70 70 70 70 70 70
French 45 45 55 60 55 60 55
British 60 60 60 60 60 60 55
Greek 60 60 60 60 60 60 60
Belgian 45 45 45 45 45 45 45
Dutch 45 45 45 45 45 45 45
Norwegian 45 45 45 45 45 45 45
Polish 60 55 60 60 60 65 60
Yugo-slav 45 45 45 50 55 60 65
Soviet 35 40 45 50 55 60 65
US Army 40 40 45 50 55 55 60
US Marine 65 65 65 70 70 70 70
Chinese 35 35 35 40 40 40 40

Steel Panthers Tank Chart.

Ratings Key:
A= Excellent tank with very good armor and weapons. Keep this tank.
B= Good tank with above average armor and weapons. Ok for now.
C= Average tank with average to below average armor and weapons.
    May want to consider upgrading the tank.
D= Poor tank with poor armor and under gunned.
    Should replace tank with newer model otherwise crew
    will have short and violent lives.
- = Tank not available at this time.

Max Pen = Max unmodified AP round penetration for this weapon.
Rng = Max range in hexes for this weapon.

Inf Support= This means that the tank is design to kill soft targets only. Not very useful against tanks.
Anti-tank= This means that the tank is designed to kill tanks or hard targets. It has limited use against infantry or soft targets.
SPA= This tank is a self propelled artillery tank. Mobile artilley, useful against soft targets only.
AA= This tank is designed to shoot at aircraft.
Recon= This tank or vehicle is design to scout and look around the battlefield. Not intended to shoot it out with the enemy.

German Tanks
  Year Ratings
Name 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 Gun MaxPen Rng Role Cost
Pz-Ib C D           MG's 0 10 Inf Support 3
Pz-IIc B C D         20L55 6 20 Anti-tank 5
Pz-IIL - C C D       20L55 6 20 Recon 6
Pz-IIIE A B C D       37L46 7 30 Anti-tank 9
Pz-IIIG - A B D       50L42 8 30 Anti-tank 10
Pz-IIIH - A B C D     50L42 8 30 Anti-tank 11
Pz-IIIJ - - A B D     50L60 9 30 Anti-tank 12
Pz-IIIM - - - B C     50L60 9 30 Anti-tank 13
Pz-IIIN - - - B C     75L24 6 30 Inf Support 10
Pz-38t B B C D       37L46 7 30 Anti-tank 7
Pz-35(t) B C D         37L40 5 30 Anti-tank 7
Pz-IVc B B C C       75L24 6 30 Inf Support 8
Pz-IVe - B B C       75L24 6 30 Inf Support 9
Pz-IVf2 - - - B C     75L43 13 50 Anti-tank 14
Pz-IVg - - - - B B C 75L48 14 50 Anti-tank 13
Pz-IVh - - - - - B B 75L48 14 50 Anti-tank 15
Panther - - - - A A B 75L70 19 60 Anti-tank 25
Tiger - - - A A A B 88L56 17 60 Anti-tank 30
King Tiger - - - - - A A 88L71 22 60 Anti-tank 50
Brumbar - - - - A A A 150L10 0 50 Inf Support 15
Stug-IIIb B B C D       75L24 6 30 Inf Support 8
Stug-H42 - - - A B B B 105L30 0 40 Inf Support 13
Stug-IIIg - - - - B B C 75L48 14 50 Anti-tank 11
Stug-IV - - - - B B C 75L48 14 50 Anti-tank 12
Jpz-I - C D         47L43 8 30 Anti-tank 7
PzJagd-38 - - - C C     76L51 13 50 Anti-tank 11
Marder - - - B C D   76L51 13 50 Anti-tank 10
Marder II - - - B B D   75L48 14 50 Anti-tank 11
Maeder III - - - - C D     75L48 14 50 Anti-tank 9
Nashorn - - - - B B B 88L71 22 60 Anti-tank 16
Hetzer - - - - A B B 75L48 14 50 Anti-tank 10
JPZ-IV/70 - - - - - A B 75L70 19 60 Anti-tank 15
Jagdpanther - - - - A A   88L71 22 60 Anti-tank 35
Elefant - - - - B B   88L71 22 60 Anti-tank 40
Jagdtiger - - - - - - A 128L58 22 80 Anti-tank 60
Sig33 - - - C C C   150L10 3 50 Inf Support 9
Wespe - - B B C C C 105mm 0 40 SPA 12
Hummel - - - B B B B 150mm 2 50 SPA 15
Lorraine - B B C C C C 150mm 3 130 SPA 15
Wirblewind - - - - - A A 20mm 3 30 AA 11
Ostwind - - - - - B B 37mm 6 40 AA 12
Gw-38t - B B C       150L10 3 50 Inf Support 10
Sdk-221 C C D         MG's 0 10 Recon 3
Sdk-222 B C D         20L55 6 20 Recon 5
Sdk-231 B B C C - - - 20L55 6 20 Recon 5
Sdk-234 - - B B C C   20L55 6 20 Recon 6
Puma - - - - B C D 50L60 9 30 Recon 9
Sdk-234/3 - - B C C C   75L24 6 30 Recon 10
Sdk-234/4 - - - - - C C 75L48 14 50 Recon 12


Russian Tanks
  Year Ratings
Name 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 Gun MaxPen Rng Role Cost
BT-5 C C D         45L46 7 25 Anti-tank 5
BT-7 B C C D       45L46 7 25 Anti-tank 6
BT-7A B B C D       76L26 5 30 Anti-tank 7
T-26S B C D D       45L46 7 25 Anti-tank 5
T-60 - - C D D     20L55 6 20 Recon 6
T-70 - - - C C D D 45L46 7 25 Recon 8
T-28C B B C D       76L26 5 30 Anti-tank 12
T-35 B B B C       76L16 6 30 Anti-tank 25
KV-1 A A B C       76L35 8 30 Anti-tank 15
KV-1C - A A B       76L41 9 40 Anti-tank 18
KV-85 - - - - B B   85L53 13 50 Anti-tank 20
KV-IIA A A B         152L20 0 50 Inf Support 20
JS-II - - - - - A B 122L43 20 60 Anti-tank 25
JS-III - - - - - - A 122L43 20 60 Anti-tank 30
T-34/76A - A A B C     76L35 8 30 Anti-tank 12
T-34/76B - - A B C     76L41 9 40 Anti-tank 12
T-34/76C - - A B C D   76L41 9 40 Anti-tank 11
T-34/85 - - - - B B C 85L53 13 50 Anti-tank 14
SU-45 C C D         45L46 7 25 Anti-tank 6
SU-76 - B C D       76L41 9 40 Anti-tank 8
SU-85 - - - - B B   85L53 13 50 Anti-tank 12
SU-100 - - - - - A B 100L60 21 60 Anti-tank 20
JSU-122 - - - - - A B 122L43 20 60 Anti-tank 20
SU-122 - - - - A A B 122L22 6 40 Inf Support 13
SU-152 - - - - A A B 152L32 3 50 Inf Support 15
JSU-152 - - - - - A A 152L32 3 50 Inf Support 16
BA-10 C C D         45L46 7 25 Recon 8
BA-64 - C C C D D D 20L55 6 20 Recon 6


American Tanks
  Year Ratings
Name 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 Gun MaxPen Rng Role Cost
M2A4 - C C D       37L53 9 30 Recon 8
M3 Stuart - - B C D     37L53 9 30 Recon 9
M5 Stuart - - - B B C D 37L53 9 30 Recon 9
M24 - - - - - B C 75L38 10 40 Recon 10
M3A1 Lee - - - B C     37L53 9 30 Anti-tank 11
M4A1 Sher - - - B C D   75L38 10 40 Anti-tank 11
M4A3 Sher - - - B C D D 75L38 10 40 Anti-tank 11
M4A3E8 - - - - - B C 76L54 12 50 Anti-tank 12
Jumbo - - - - - B B 75L38 10 40 Anti-tank 18
T26 Persh - - - - - - A 90L50 16 60 Anti-tank 24
M10 Wolv - - - B C C D 76L54 12 50 Anti-tank 12
M18 Hell - - - - B C D 76L54 12 50 Anti-tank 11
M36 Jack - - - - - B B 90L50 16 60 Anti-tank 14
Sherman Flame - - - B B C C Flame 0 2 Inf Support 20
Sherman 105 - - - B B C C 105L30 0 50 Inf Support 13
M7 Preist - - - B B C C 105mm 0 130 SPA 9
M12 GMC - - - - B B B 155mm 3 130 SPA 15
M8 Grayhnd - - - B B C D 37L53 9 30 Recon 7
M20 - - C C D D   .50 MG 3 20 Recon 5

Steel Panthers Weapons List

Note: This is not a full comphrehensive list of all weapons in Steel Panthers. This list covers most of the weapons used in the game.

HE= High Explosive value, used to determine HE attacks against soft targets like infantry.
AP Pen.= Max unmodified penetration for the AP round.
HVAP Pen.= Max unmodified penetration for the HVAP round.
HEAT= Max unmodified High Explosive Anti-tank penetration.
Range= Max range for the weapon, in hexes.
Accuracy= Number of hexes the weapon will have an unmodified 50% chance to hit its target. Example= Accuracy is 8, this means the weapon will have from 1 to 8 hexes, a unmodified base hit chance of 50%. Note this number can go up or down due to various modifiers in the game.
SMG= Sub machine gun
LMG= Light machine gun
MMG= Medium machine gun
HMG= Heavy machine gun
FH= Field howitzer
AA= Anti-aircraft
AT= Anti-tank
BAR= Browning Automatic Rifle
Rkt= Rocket
Mtr= Mortar

Infantry Weapons
Name HE AP Pen. HVAP Pen. HEAT Range Accuracy
Rifle 1 0 0 0 10 4
Semi Rifle 2 0 0 0 10 5
BAR 4 0 0 0 10 8
Carbine 3 0 0 0 6 3
Pistol 2 0 0 0 2 1
SMG 4 0 0 0 2 4
MG-34 LMG 8 0 0 0 10 8
MG-34 MMG 14 0 0 0 18 12
MG-42 MMG 16 0 0 0 18 12
Breda LMG 4 0 0 0 10 6
Breda HMG 9 0 0 0 16 10
FM LMG 6 0 0 0 10 8
Lahti LMG 6 0 0 0 10 8
Bren LMG 6 0 0 0 10 9
DP LMG 6 0 0 0 10 8
HotchkissMG 10 0 0 0 16 10
.30 CAL MMG 12 0 0 0 16 10
.30 CAL HMG 16 0 0 0 18 12
.50 CAL HMG 14 3 0 0 20 15
Maxim HMG 14 0 0 0 18 12
Maxim AAMG 14 0 0 0 14 8
Dshk HMG 14 3 0 0 20 15
Vickers HMG 14 0 0 0 18 12
Tashio LMG 5 0 0 0 10 6
Type 96 LMG 6 0 0 0 10 7
Type 92 HMG 10 0 0 0 16 10
Flamethrwr 10 0 0 14 1 0
Satchel Ch 12 2 0 15 1 0
Molotov 0 0 0 9 1 0
Anti-tank 0 0 0 20 1 0
Hnd Grend 4 0 0 0 1 0
AT Rifle 0 3 0 13 10 4
PzFaust 0 0 0 20 2 1
PIAT 0 0 0 11 2 1
Bazooka 4 0 0 14 6 2
PzSchreck 0 0 0 15 4 2
Rifle Grnd 0 0 0 7 3 2


Artillery and Mortars
Name HE AP Pen. HVAP Pen. HEAT Range Accuracy
60mm Mtr 5 0 0 0 40 5
75mm FH 6 1 0 0 130 5
76mm FH 6 1 0 0 130 5
2IN Mtr 4 0 0 0 10 4
3IN How 6 0 0 0 30 4
3IN Mtr 6 0 0 0 50 5
4.2IN Mtr 9 0 0 0 70 5
4.5IN FH 10 2 0 0 130 5
8IN How 18 10 0 0 130 5
49mm Mtr 4 0 0 0 10 5
50mm Mtr 4 0 0 0 10 4
81mm Mtr 7 0 0 0 55 5
82mm Mtr 7 0 0 0 50 5
100mm FH 9 0 0 0 130 5
105mm FH 9 0 0 12 130 5
120mm Mtr 10 0 0 0 130 5
122mm FH 10 7 0 0 130 5
149mm FH 11 2 0 0 130 5
150mm FH 12 3 0 0 130 5
152mm FH 12 2 0 0 130 5
155mm Gun 13 4 0 0 130 5
155mm FH 12 3 0 0 130 5
132mm Rkt 13 0 0 0 130 5
150mm Rkt 15 0 0 0 130 5
4.6IN Rkt 10 1 0 0 130 5
290mm Spig 25 0 0 0 2 0

This table has been modified from the original to include weapons not listed in the original but which nevertheless appear in the game, and the table also denotes the nation which has the weapon in its inventory.

Main Guns and Anti-Tank Guns
Name HE AP Pen. HVAP Pen. HEAT Range Accuracy
20mm Quad(+) 18 3 0 0 30 10
20L55(+s) 2 6 0 0 20 5
25L72 0 5 0 0 25 6
28L61 0 9 0 0 15 5
37mm Fl(+sa) 10 6 0 0 40 9
37L21(fj) 2 5 0 0 20 3
37L33(fj) 2 5 0 0 25 5
37L40(+) 2 5 0 0 30 6
37L46(+) 2 7 0 0 30 7
37L53(ab) 4 9 0 0 30 9
40mm Fl(a) 11 7 0 0 50 10
45L46(s) 3 7 0 0 25 6
45L66 3 8 0 0 30 9
2Lb(b) 0 8 0 0 30 8
47L32(i) 3 5 0 0 30 5
47L34(f) 3 6 0 0 30 7
47L40(ij) 3 7 0 0 30 8
47L43(+) 3 8 0 0 30 9
50L42(+) 3 8 0 0 30 8
50L60(+) 3 9 13 0 30 10
57L17(j) No data
57L52 0 11 0 0 40 11
57L73(s) 4 12 0 0 40 12
6Lb(b) 0 11 0 0 40 11
75L12 6 0 0 0 30 3
17Lb(b) 6 17 22 0 50 14
75L24(+) 6 6 0 9 30 4
75L31(ab) 6 9 0 0 40 8
75L34(ij) 6 10 0 0 40 8
75L38(a) 6 10 0 0 40 9
75L43(+) 6 13 19 0 50 11
75L48(+) 6 14 0 0 50 14
75L52(b) 6 10 0 0 40 10
75L70(+) 6 19 0 0 60 19
76L16(s) No data
76L26(s) 6 5 0 0 30 4
76L35(s) 6 8 0 0 30 8
76L41(s) 6 9 12 0 40 10
76L51(+) 6 13 19 0 50 11
76L54(a) 6 12 18 0 50 12
77L49(b) 6 14 17 0 50 13
75L36 6 8 0 0 30 8
85L53(s) 7 13 17 0 50 12
88MM FLAK(+) 7 15 0 0 80 20
88L56(+) 7 17 0 0 60 15
88L71(+) 7 22 0 0 60 20
25LB(b) 8 6 0 0 130 5
90L50(a) 8 16 25 0 60 15
90L53(i) 8 15 0 0 60 12
152L20(s) 12 4 0 0 30 4
95L22(b) 8 3 0 11 40 5
105L30(+ai) 9 3 0 12 40 5
100L60(s) 9 21 0 0 60 13
122L43(s) 10 20 0 0 60 8
122L22(s) 10 6 0 0 40 4
128L58(+) 10 22 0 0 80 15
150L10(+) 12 2 0 0 80 15
152L32(s) 12 3 0 0 50 5

+ = German or Axis Weapon
a = American
b = British
f = French
i = Italian
j = Japanese
s = Soviet

Note : Many tanks and guns were interchanged among allies, so it is possible for a weapon designated as owned by one nationality will appear in the inventory of another. Where weapons have no designation, it was not found in the encyclopedia and will probably be found in the inventory of minor nations.

Ballistic Tests by Todd David Brady

The following ballistics tests were conducted on flat maps, with the target tank parameters changed to zero ammunition to prevent reaction fire. All firing and target tanks were stationary, and every shot in the test was a first shot at the target. This was achieved by lining up the firing and tanks at the specified range, and firing one shot from one firing tank to the exactly opposite target, then moving to the next firer and firing at that firer's opposite target, and so on. Other parameters were changed as noted. Tests conducted with version 1.14x, downloaded from Novastar's Web Page.

Test Set : Tiger versus T-34

Test # 1

Test #2

Test #3

Test #4

Comment :
The Tiger is a much more effective tank at this range, with the ability to kill twenty times more tanks than the T-34 at this range. Though the T-34 does not have the penetration rating to penetrate the Tiger's front armor, two kills were nevertheless achieved. This is explained by, no doubt, some randomization which occurs vis-a-vis armor and penetration ratings during fire. One item that is anomalous is the higher to-hit percentages for the T-34's gun in the last test, which was inferior historically to the Tiger's 88 at any range.

Version Notes

This is the final version of the Steel Panthers Primer. Several versions have been released through various channels on the internet, but this is the last, and final, version. The graphics package is not embedded in the document, but they are available as referenced above, and at several web sites. In some places the text refers to the graphics file as being in the document, since I have tried for the first time to do some virtual publishing. In all cases the graphics are available on the Primer Page. Note also that because I have no access to the internal mechanics of the Steel Panthers engine or code, some of the discussions about how the engine works are just educated guesses; at least, I am fairly well-educated and I am guessing. I do know some basic aspects of programming and have played board and computer wargames for 20 years. This version of the Primer discusses those aspects of versions 1.0 to 1.2 of Steel Panthers. Version 1.2 of the game, which contains significant changes to the game mechanics, is noted throughout the text and is summarized in a special section.

Robert's Notes

This is the final version of the Primer that I was given by Todd as a way to preserve this document on the web. To my knowledge it is the only version of the final document that exists. If there is someone out there who thinks that mirroring this document is a good idea. Please let me know and I can supply a copy. Apart from this, what can I say but: enjoy!