Military History |
World War II
Shelling in Woods and Wood Splinters
Posted 25 Feb 2003
Tim Marshall kicked off a discussion about shelling in woods and the effect of woods splinters. Although within the discussion happened within context of WW2 it applies to any period.
There is some debate in my mind about woods features. In reading about artillery air bursts shredding trees and causing horrendous casualties in the Huertgan forest, for example, one wonders if indirect fire *should* have any protection in woods. However, that's a function of technology. Air bursting artillery rounds were a late war thing, if I'm not mistaken. Otherwise, the protective -1 die one gets for indirect fire can be attributed to the difficulty an FO would have in identifying a target.
Yes, most air-bursting shells with VT fuses were late-war, but the point about woods is that ordinary non-airbursting shells hit tree branches above the sheltering infantry and explode there - effectively become air-burst shells (+ falling tree limbs). Troops were taught to dig in in front of woods, not in them.
Likewise, I have tried some games not using woods as protective against indirect. To my knowledge, all sides in WW2 used combination fused shells where some ground burst and some air burst just for the effect you describe above. Wood splintering compounded the fragmentation effect wonderfully. My understanding of modern tactics is infantry are told never to defend in woods but to dig in a few yards out in front of the tree line as a precaution against being shelled. I would allow entrenched forces protection in woods since they will have prepared positions including overhead protection.
Do you mean additional casualties over and above what would happen if the same troops were caught in the open? Then this would definitely not be correct. From my reading of WW1 (current book is 'The Hell They Called High Wood' but there was Delville Wood, Bourlon Wood and Belleau Wood to name but a few classic battles that involved serious artillery bombardments), woods provided significant but by no means complete protection. Shrapnel was relatively ineffective (read 'shell fragments' for HE shells as well) and HE shells tended to burst high in the trees. The outcome (which is the important issue) was invariably that infantry assaults on woods were extremely costly, no matter how much attention they had received from various calibres of artillery. Defenders could survive in sufficient numbers to make life hell.
Chuck Parrott again
Not really over and above, just casualties hit by wood splinters instead of shell fragments or shrapnel. Mind you a lot of other factors come into play, but my information is based on first hand accounts and first hand discussions with a good friend who was an artillery spotter in Vietnam. In the WW2 account, I have recently finished reading a book by an American officer commanding a line platoon and later company in the 9th infantry division. He specifically covers shelling in woods and noted that many US artillery casualties resulted from the usual shelling defense of going prone. In woods, the veteran soldiers learned the best defense against artillery was to find a large tree and stand up flat against the trunk rather than going prone. In the open, going prone or running for a recent shell crater was considered the best survival tactic.
In WW2, both sides began employing special munitions designed for increased artillery effectiveness. One particular round was the airburst round, designed to create a cone of shell fragments directed down to catch prone and entrenched troops. These shells when used in wooded areas had the effect of shattering the tree tops and felling trees on troop positions. The splinter effect of destroying trees added to the shell fragments and shrapnel of the barrage and caused casualties that otherwise might not have occured. There are well documented medical notes of wood splinter casualties from artillery in WW2.
But I choose to ignore wooded penalties in CF because of the evidence I've read that suggests woods offer no real protection to troops from artillery. I don't think that it necessarily increases casualties for a number of other factors in play such as round spotting and adjusting. Just doesn't reduce casualties. Digging in reduces casualties significantly.
Robert Dunlop again
> In woods, the veteran soldiers learned the best defense against
> artillery was to find a large tree and stand up flat against the
> trunk rather than going prone.
This is similar to the observation that Rommel made about his infantry experiences in WW1.
> In WW2, both sides began employing special munitions designed for
> increased artillery effectiveness. One particular round was the
> airburst round, designed to create a cone of shell fragments
> directed down to catch prone and entrenched troops.
This is similar to the shrapnel shell of WW1. The height of the airburst is very important, and it seems as if the British had a definite edge on this score. The problem is that the cone of fragments is projected forward because of the momentum of the shell. It therefore strikes the ground tangentially, affording protection to entrenched troops provided they are not taken in enfilade.
> These shells when used in wooded areas had the effect
> of shattering the tree tops and felling trees on troop positions.
> The splinter effect of destroying trees added to the shell
> fragments and shrapnel of the barrage and caused casualties that
> otherwise might not have occured. There are well documented medical
> notes of wood splinter casualties from artillery in WW2.
I agree but my impression is that there is a protective effect from woods, particularly if troops are not positioned on or near the edge.
> But I choose to ignore wooded penalties in CF because of the
> evidence I've read that suggests woods offer no real protection to
> troops from artillery.
This is the point that I would disagree with. I believe that casualties in woods are less that casualties in the open. Actually, I think I would put it another way. One of the big attractions of Crossfire and Spearhead/Great War Spearhead is that they concentrate more on outcomes rather than mechanics. The outcome of a unit being caught in the open by artillery was that it was very unlikely to combat effective. A unit shelled by artillery in woods is significantly more likely to survive and be effective.
> I don't think that it necessarily increases casualties for a number
> of other factors in play such as round spotting and adjusting. Just
> doesn't reduce casualties. Digging in reduces casualties
No question about the latter, although digging in takes longer in woods.
Chuck Parrott again
> I agree but my impression is that there is a protective effect from
> woods, particularly if troops are not positioned on or near the edge.
We may be viewing the artillery issue a bit differently because of the no defined scale of CF. I agree with your comments on noted effects of artillery. Especially this comment on troops not in the edge of the woods. I have always viewed in terms of CF any wooded feature you have a line of sight to as being 'edge of the woods'. If you can see the feature, then you are looking at 10-20 meters of wooded terrain and can see all the way into the feature to find targets. I think the rules abstractly support this notion by not being concerned with positioning of stands within the feature. If you can see the feature, you can fire on any stand in the feature governed by the target priority rules. Hence troops in wooded features beyond LOS of opposing forces are protected from fire, both direct and indirect. In CF large wooded features such as you described would be many wooded terrain pieces circled with an outer border that's in LOS, the edge of the woods. Troops positioned there can have fire called down on them very effectively. Troops deeper in the woods are safe from attack. It's an abstraction, because in real life it would be possible to direct artillery fire into the wooded area outside LOS. But without accurate sighting of shell splashes and enemy troop movements, casualties to troops in deep woods would be reduced as you described.
I should ammend my earlier remarks about shelling in woods to say when *accurate* artillery fire was brought down on troops in woods, the woods offered no real protection for them. The trick is getting accurate artillery fire down on troops in woods because of the sighting difficulties. So overall, troops took less casualties in woods than in the open from artillery. And in CF this can happen as well by pulling your troops back out of line of sight of artillery observers.
But as you say it's an abstraction, and in the end it all comes down to how the game mimics history for your viewpoint. The nice thing about CF is that the basic system is so good that tweaking here or there doesn't break the game. It's interesting to read how the game flow and lack of scale of CF creates so many similar yet different impressions of table events and how they relate to real life events.
> Do you mean additional casualties over and above what would happen if
> the same troops were caught in the open? Then this would definitely
> not be correct. From my reading of WW1 [snip], woods provided significant but by no means
> complete protection.
I think that the idea is to treat the effectiveness of HE in woods as equal to that in the open. I suspect that the books you have been reading tell of large woods that in CF would be represented by many woods features. In CF, troops in wood features which are behind other woods features are out of sight and are invulnerable to all forms of attack. Only those troops in the nearest features to the enemy can be targetted at all.
So the scale of the terrain is one thing to think about, and the other is the scale of the barrage. Most of the time in CF this is just the out-put of a couple of mortars, whereas in big battles, the masses of casualties caused are from big batteries of heavy guns.
><snip> I suspect that the books you have been
> reading tell of large woods that in CF would be represented by many
> woods features.
Not all instances would fit this category. The defence of Delville Wood by the South Africans was one example where the German attackers were held at bay by the South Africans who were located around the perimeter of the Wood. They survived a veritable holocaust of German artillery fire from 3 sides of the Wood. Part of the reason that enough survived is that the larger trees and felled tree trunks acted as overhead cover. They were partially dug in as well but only shallow entrenchments because of the problem of the tangled roots.