Wednesday, April 28, 2004

"Your New Flamethrower"

Aaah, flamethrowers, one of the most fearsome weapons of the Second World War, and in ASL as well. Flamethrowers (FT) are a wonderful weapon for both close-in city fighting or the complex terrain in PTO. They have the very useful trait of being immune to TEM effects, making them very valuable in the high-TEM terrain found on the city boards. The hardest part sometimes is simply getting them into position to use, due to the inherent vulnerability of a unit armed with one.

Who can use them? Any unit can, but only elite units can use them without the penalties for non-qualified use. Remember that SMC are generally considered elite and so may use these weapons accordingly, although they are probably not ideal for such use. For non-elite units, the X# is reduced by two (or four if the weapon is also captured). With an already low X10 for FT, use by non-elite units is highly likely to result in a permanently disabled weapon, but in most scenarios containing FT you will be given appropriate elite units to go with them. Some players have advocated giving the FT to half-squads to limit the damage to your forces when that unit inevitably draws a large amount of fire. However, one Casualty Reduction will leave your FT unpossessed and lying in the open. A crew can be used (remember, all crews are also considered elite), which has the advantage of self-rally, but still is vulnerable to Casualty Reduction. A squad then may be the best choice, as one bad roll is less likely to take your FT out of action before even being fired.

How are they fired? Simple enough, they have a FP of 24 at one hex range, and 12 FP at two hexes, and cannot be fired beyond 2 hex range (although some vehicle-mounted FT have a normal range of 2 hexes and can fire as Long Range fire out to 3 hexes). They have two very important characteristics which make them quite different from other support weapons. First, fire during the AFPh is not halved as Area Fire, even if the unit has moved during that turn. Other forms of Area Fire do apply however (e.g., halving the FP for firing against a concealed target). The other big difference with FT is that there is no DRM for TEM. Hindrances do still apply, which with the limited range of FT mostly means the effects of smoke (since smoke applies as a Hindrance whether present in the firer's hex, the target hex, or anywhere in between). Obviously though that stone building is no longer quite as secure a defensive position as it would otherwise be, one of the reasons why flamethrowers are nice to have in the big city, and a huge potential threat to the defensive player.

What are the hazards of flamethrowers? Aside from the fact that a unit carrying a flamethrower will be a magnet for the opposing player's bullets, the flamethrower makes the unit more vulnerable to that fire by applying a –1 DRM to all attacks against it.

So how do you make best use of a flamethrower? Here's the problem. The FT's short range (along with the –1 DRM for attacks against the carrying unit) is its greatest drawback. There's no possibility of a standoff attack here. The firing unit has to get to one or two hex range to make use of the weapon, and it's getting to that point that is the hard part. The FT-equipped unit will likely attract as much fire as the opponent can muster, particularly as it closes in on a critical location (such as a victory location or a fortified building). To use the FT at full FP, the unit has to be adjacent to its target, which obviously makes it even more vulnerable to return fire. This is another reason why a city is a great place to use these, since it provides enough cover to get close to the target. However, what do you do if you have to cross some open ground (such as a street) to get to the target? And how do you use this might weapon to greatest effect?

One thing to keep in mind is that the FT is a very disruptive weapon even without ever firing. Once your opponent knows where it is, he will concentrate his troops and firepower to protect his own forces and his critical locations from the flames, or move units accordingly to keep them out of harm's way. The FT's presence alone may be enough to disrupt his otherwise well-planned defense, or at least divert part of that defense from another critical point.

If you do have to get in close and use the FT though, there are several ways to accomplish this task, using tactics that are helpful in many situations. Say you have to cross a street with your FT-toting unit but a MG-laden enemy squad is covering that street, skillfully placed so as to lay fire down the length of the boulevard. One option is to use half-squads (deploy as much as possible). Run a half-squad or two at his strongpoint. If he shoots at them, you may lose those units, but you will have limited his further defensive fire options for that turn. If your unit survives, then his SFF options will likely be limited by the presence of that half-squad (see A8.3 for the range limitations on SFF). For instance, if the surviving half-squad is closer to the enemy MG than where your unit with the FT wishes to cross the street, it will be immune to SFF from that MG. If your opponent is wise, he will hold his fire against those initial half-squads. However, by doing so he allows those units to close with his strongpoint, putting it under greater threat. Meanwhile, if he ignores too many units, he will have defeated the purpose of placing that MG in that location in the first place by letting too many units pass unmolested. (Another thing he could do is lay a Fire Lane down the street if your half-squad scouts approach from that angle, but at least this reduces the effectiveness of the fire he could direct at your FT unit.)

This may be effective in taking care of peripheral units, but does nothing for the defending units your FT unit is gunning (flaming?) for. Again, moving up adjacent to them will invite point blank fire, and drawing their fire with other units won't necessarily help because of both SFF and FPF possibilities if you try to move your important unit adjacent to the target location. One option here is to stay at two hex range which at least avoids the point blank fire modification for defensive fire. Your subsequent attack will be halved to 12 FP, but this is still a pretty good shot to take since no TEM will apply (a 12 FP attack with no DRM has an 83% chance of at least a NMC). If you simply must move to point blank range, then you can try distracting him with other units first to draw fire (as described above), which means his attacks against you will at best be normal firepower (halved for area fire and doubled for point blank fire) as SFF or FPF. Another option is to throw smoke grenades from other units (or even the FT unit). This will get your FT unit out in the street and adjacent with the protection from the smoke to limit the damage from any defensive fire. Also, the smoke will dissipate before the AFPh allowing you to fire (assuming you survived) at full 24 FP strength with no hindrance modifiers.

Ultimately, though, the best way to protect your FT is to mount it on an AFV. The –1 vulnerability DRM for a FT-equipped unit does not apply to PRC of a vehicle with a FT. Some vehicular FT have a normal range of 2 (with a Long Range of 3 hexes).

FT are great weapons, but can be hard to get into position to use effectively. Remember that the threat of the FT is sometimes worth enough by itself to significantly affect your opponent's tactics, so don't throw them away needlessly by taking unnecessary risks with the carrying unit or firing them against low-yield targets at the risk of permanently disabling the weapon. And if you are lucky enough to be given a vehicular FT, it's time to play a little "Crocodile Rock" for your opponent. Enjoy.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?