Hard and Fast!: Making Use of the Light Tank Company

The Battle of the Bulge

Hard and Fast!:
Making Use of the Light Tank Company
with Bede Bailey

Equipped at the core with M5 Stuarts and M24 Chaffees, the Light Tank Company is fast and manoeuvrable, giving an aggressive commander the opportunity to quickly close with the enemy and find weaknesses in their defence. This article will examine the use of these light tanks on the Flames Of War battlefield, and suggest some possible tactics that will help you achieve victory.

The Battle of the Bulge
In December 1944 the German forces were supposed to be on the back foot, so their desperate push in the Ardennes took the Allies by surprise. Desperate defence by the American and British Commonwealth forces gradually turned to counterattack as they fought to erase the 'Bulge'.

Learn more about The Battle of the Bulge here...

Battle of the Bulge: Allied Forces on the German border, September 1944 – February 1945
Although there is already the option to take a Light Tank Company equipped only with M5 Stuarts in Turning Tide, it is the addition of the M24 Chaffee to the Battlefront arsenal that will have many players eager to look into this new company type. Historically the Chaffee only started appearing on the front line in November 1944, where it began replacing the Stuart, which was considered by its crews to be obsolete. It was armed with a 75mm main gun that differed slightly from that mounted in the M4 Sherman, although the performance was approximately the same. The main gun was supported by two .30 Cal machineguns and one .50 Cal anti-aircraft machinegun. This array of firepower was considerably better than that found on the Stuart.
Hard and Fast!: Making Use of the Light Tank Company
It was the mobility of the Chaffee that really distinguished it from other tanks. It utilised twin Cadillac engines, just like the Stuart, giving it a top speed of 40 mph off road. The suspension was vastly improved and was very similar to that used on the M18 Hellcat Tank Destroyer. This married speed with agility and made the Chaffee an ideal reconnaissance vehicle. With a crew of five it was also able to undertake many of the tasks typically given to the Sherman variants.

On the Flames Of War battlefield, it is also the speed of the Chaffee that sets it apart. In game terms there are only a small number of tanks that are classed as ‘light tanks’ for movement, giving them a 16”/40cm move on roads andcross country terrain. The Chaffee is one of these tanks, giving its commander the ability to pick where and when the enemy will be engaged. Tactically this is very important as it is often the platoon which takes the first shot that wins the engagement. It is also armed with the useful 75mm main gun which is rated Anti-tank 10 and Firepower 3+, perfect for engaging gun teams and the weaker side armour of German tanks. It is the speed of the Chaffee which will carry the tank into the best position for doing the most damage to the chosen target and then escaping unscathed. When considering how to proceed with building your Light Tank Company force, this speed is of greatest importance. Not only will the combat platoons be rated as ‘light tanks’, but many of the support platoons are also highly mobile. The Assault Gun Platoon and the M18 Tank Destroyer option are also ‘light tanks’, while the reconnaissance platoons can make use of their increased movement rate on roads. Even the infantry and artillery support, in the shape of armoured infantry and the armoured field artillery battery, can keep up with the tanks. All in all, the commander of a Light Tank Company has all the tools to play a highly mobile game.
Hard and Fast!: Making Use of the Light Tank Company
Smaller Games
For those players just getting into Flames Of War, or making the move to American forces, smaller games can provide an interesting starting point. At 1200 points you can still use your regular gaming table and have an enjoyable battle, without having to get so many soldiers painted. You are also forced to get the most out of your combat platoons rather than relying on support to get the job done – this knowledge will hold you in good stead when more options become available at higher point totals. With a Light Tank Company, it is always the Chaffees that should be doing the heavy lifting.

The first major option to consider is what Group your company will be built from. There are two options, the 2nd Cavalry Group, which is rated Confident Veteran, and the 14th Cavalry Group which is Confident Trained. Veteran tanks and soldiers are of course better than Trained; they are harder for the enemy to hit, they hit harder in assaults and they pass skill tests more regularly. The first point is the most important as the Chaffee and the Stuart have very thin armour. What better way to avoid having to take an armour test than to avoid being hit at all? However, for these benefits players that choose to represent the 2nd Cavalry Group pay a premium when list building and at smaller point levels this can be detrimental. Less tanks equals less flexibility, a factor which rates highly when considering possible tactics. There are other ways to avoid being hit after all, such as staying concealed or out of LOS, which makes the argument for representing the 14th Cavalry Group and its Trained units quite compelling.

Light Tank Company, 14th Cavalry Group
(Confident Trained)
Light Tank Company HQ
 
with 2 M24 Chaffee
130
Light Tank Platoon
 
with 4 M24 Chaffee 255
Light Tank Platoon  
with 4 M24 Chaffee 255
Light Tank Platoon  
with 4 M24 Chaffee 255
Cavalry Recon Platoon
 
with 1 Cavalry Recon Patrol
70
Armored Field Artillery Battery
 
with 3 M7 Priest, 1 Jeep and 1 M2 Half-track
175
Air Observation Post
40
Total:
1180
The core of this example 1200-point company is most certainly the three combat platoons. In order to defeat tanks with heavy front armour, such as the ubiquitous Panther tank, the Chaffees need to operate together. There are two simple things that the commander of the Light Tank Company should be attempting to do, depending on the situation. One combat platoon should be tasked with holding the centre, while the other two speed off down each flank. By choosing the time and place where the Chaffees will engage the Panthers, the German commander will hopefully be forced to expose the vulnerable side armour to one of the Chaffee platoons. In another situation, it might be best to get very close to the Panther platoon using cover, before using the superior speed of the Chaffee and the excellent ‘stabiliser’ special rule to get multiple side shots at close range. This is of course a simplification, and which tactic is selected will depend on the mission being played and the type of enemy company. For example, if playing tanks with heavy front and side armour, it doesn’t make much sense to rush head-on into a onesided fire fight. The Light Tank Company commander must become the master of picking the moment when to commit his combat platoons for they will likely only get one chance to succeed.
Hard and Fast!: Making Use of the Light Tank Company
The support for this smaller list is tailored to getting the Chaffees into position to pounce unharmed. The Cavalry Recon Platoon is both a nice historical addition while also fulfilling the vital reconnaissance role. In Version 3 Flames Of War, reconnaissance platoons have become a very important tool. Primarily, they are there to secure potential enemy ambush sites so that the more valuable parts of the army are protected. To help them in this task, they can make a reconnaissance move before the game begins which can place them in the perfect spot to foil your opponent’s plans. Recon platoons can also reveal enemy teams that have Gone to Ground, thus making them easier to hit. This can mean the difference between success and failure as a good opponent will keep their teams hidden so that they may strike first. When the Chaffees are launched into attack they will need every factor in their favour. The Air Observation Post compliments the Cavalry Recon Platoon as it is also able to secure potential enemy ambush sites. Together, they will help to make sure your Chaffees remain operational for as long as possible.

The Armored Field Artillery Battery provides another tool to help keep the Chaffees out of trouble. Rather than hitting enemy tanks and anti-tank guns with high explosive, they are there to provide indirect smoke bombardments. If the enemy has deployed teams near potential ambush sites, they can be smoked which will render the site unusable in the following turn. Enemy vehicles can also be smoked to force them to move in the following turn, thus reducing their rate of fire. Another useful tactic is to selectively smoke one or two enemy tanks, leaving the others in the platoon open to the concentrated fire of the Chaffees. That way the chances of getting a kill from a ‘double bail’ increase and the surviving enemy tanks need to move to fire back in the next turn. If indirect smoke is not required, the Armored Field Artillery battery is good at keeping enemy tanks spread out as they fear a ‘Time on Target’ bombardment. They are also great at softening up an infantry platoon before an assault.

The Chaffees also have the ability to direct fire smoke. This is different from indirect smoke which needs to be fired at the beginning of the shooting step. Direct smoke can be fired at any time and is perfect for blocking off parts of a platoon, or for covering for a poor round of shooting. For example, if one platoon of Chaffees moves into position then misses with all its shots, then the second platoon can fire smoke to reduce the return fire in the following turn. One thing is certain, when running a Confident Trained 14th Cavalry Group Light Tank Company, smoke will play a vital role if games are to be won regularly.
Hard and Fast!: Making Use of the Light Tank Company
Combined Arms
The traditional and suggested points value for a typical game of Flames Of War is 1500 points. This allows for a greater range of units while still forcing players to make hard choices about what to include. If planning to progress with the 14th Cavalry Group this allows the addition of a variety of other units such as tank destroyers and infantry. These act as force multipliers; they are not in the list to do the same job as the Chaffee but to do the jobs that the Chaffee has trouble with. For example, the lightly armoured Chaffee will have difficulty assaulting infantry which are dug in around an objective in difficult terrain. A Rifle Platoon, on the other hand, is tailor-made to fulfil this task.
Light Tank Company, 14th Cavalry Group
(Confident Trained)
Light Tank Company HQ  
with 2 M24 Chaffee 130
Light Tank Platoon  
with 4 M24 Chaffee 255
Light Tank Platoon  
with 4 M24 Chaffee 255
Light Tank Platoon  
with 5 M5A1 Stuarts
200
Tank Destroyer Platoon
 
with 4 M36 90mm GMC
370
Cavalry Recon Platoon
 
with 1 Cavalry Recon Patrol
70
Rifle Platoon
 
with 3 Squads (Confident Veteran from 2nd Infantry Division) 200
Total: 1500
The core of the force remains similar, with two platoons of Chaffees. The major difference is with the third platoon, where four M24s have been exchanged for five M5A1 Stuarts. This is for both historical and game play reasons. The M24 Chaffees were introduced slowly in the European theatre, and it is nice to be able to recognise this by adding a Stuart Platoon to the company. More importantly, with the addition of the Tank Destroyer Platoon, the anti-tank work that the combat platoons should be expected to carry out has been reduced. The Stuart has the same speed and armour as the Chaffee, but does carry a much smaller gun. This is not as important when targeting infantry or lightly armoured vehicles as opposed to tanks, and the Stuart has the added bonus of having a very small hull-size – perfect for getting all five into the opening round of an assault. The key to success with the Stuart is keeping them away from tanks and anti-tank guns and using them to snipe at infantry moving in the open from reserve, or hitting unprotected artillery batteries. They also excel at chasing away enemy reconnaissance vehicles.

The Tank Destroyer Platoon has a very important role to play. The M36 Jackson provides the heavy anti-tank power that many American lists miss, and when employed correctly give any opponent pause for thought as they consider where to hide their expansive tanks.
Hard and Fast!: Making Use of the Light Tank Company Armed with the 90mm gun with AT 14, the Jackson takes the role of one of the Chaffee platoons from the smaller list. It is part of a three platoon tank hunting group, with the Chaffees looking to speed forward and get side shots while the Jacksons hold the centre and wait for the light tanks to pounce. They are aided in this role by an excellent set of special rules which include an ambush that can be sprung at the same time the Chaffees make their move. The headquarters section can also make use of a reconnaissance move before the game begins, allowing them to get into a good position early.
The M24 Chaffee in Flames Of War
      Armour
   
Name
Mobility
Front
Side
Top
Equipment and Notes
Weapon
Range
ROF
Anti-tank
Firepower
 
M24 Chaffee
Light Tank 4
2
1
Co-ax MG, Hull MG, .50 cal AA MG.
M6 75mm gun
32"/80cm
2
10
3+
Smoke, Stabiliser.
Infantry support is added in the shape of a platoon from the 2nd US Infantry Division. Rated as Confident Veteran, they are tasked with holding objectives against tanks and taking them from infantry. Although there is the choice of taking Veteran or Trained support for the Light Tank Company, when it comes to infantry it is hard to pass up Veteran troops. When holding an objective they can start the game Dug In and Gone to Ground making them impossible to hit from ranges of more than 16”/40cm. When assaulting they are harder to hit in defensive fire, and roll Skill Checks on a 3+. While the Chaffees and Jacksons take care of enemy tanks, the infantry can move into position to assault, relying on mass machine-gun fire from the vehicles in the list to pin the defenders.
Hard and Fast!: Making Use of the Light Tank Company
The M5A1 Stuart in Flames Of War
      Armour
   
Name
Mobility
Front
Side
Top
Equipment and Notes
Weapon
Range
ROF
Anti-tank
Firepower
 
M5A1 Stuart Light Tank 4
2
1
Co-ax MG, Hull MG, AA MG.
M6 37mm gun
24"/60cm
2
7
4+
Stabiliser.
Stepping Up To Veteran
Many Flames Of War tournament organisers use 1750 points for Late War events. This gives the Light Tank Company commander the flexibility to select a swarm of Trained tanks or a solid backbone of Veterans. At this larger point value the 2nd Cavalry Group becomes a more viable choice, with the ability to field a large amount of very fast Veteran Chaffees that can shrug off enemy fire until they choose to pounce.

The Veteran rating makes a big difference in game terms. The combat platoons are no longer required to be as circumspect when charging forward, as even at close range 50 percent of direct fire shots at them will miss. When taking into account range and cover as well, an aggressive commander should be able to keep the Chaffees in the field for much longer than their Trained counterparts. With more points to spend, the combat platoons can be upped to full strength, with five tanks in each. This has a positive effect on motivation rolls; for example, in a situation where two tanks are knocked out and one is bailed a motivation test will not need to be made. A four-tank platoon in this situation would have a 50 per cent chance of leaving the field, unless the company commander was nearby to give a re-roll. The large Veteran combat platoons are also far better in assault for the same reasons as the Veteran infantry described above. They can also make good use of the special rule ‘Why We Fight’ whereby platoons in a Light Tank Company or Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron are granted the ‘British Bulldog’ rule when fighting any SS platoons. This vastly increases their chances of staying in the assault until the job is done.

Hard and Fast!: Making Use of the Light Tank Company
An artillery option is nice to have, and as is typical with American lists they have a wide variety to choose from. Players can select either Trained or Veteran support which grants even more flexibility. A Trained Armoured Artillery Battery with three guns comes in at the same price as the Veteran M8 Scotts in the above list, but as the Veteran Chaffees do not need to rely so much on smoke bombardments it is okay to plum for speed. The Scott is a flexible vehicle that has the same movement speed as the Chaffee, and it carries a .50cal anti-aircraft machinegun along with a 75mm howitzer that can direct fire and make bombardments. This makes it a good option for coming on from reserve and rushing into action where required against a variety of opponents.

One of the downsides of this Light Tank Company from the 2nd Cavalry Group is that it is made up of only five
platoons. Normally an even number of platoons is best in Flames of War so that half of the company is available for missions with reserves. However, the Light Tank Company and the Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron can make
use of the ‘Never Out of Touch’ special rule which allows for one reserve dice to be re-rolled each turn. In missions with ‘Scattered Reserves’ they are also allowed to re-roll one dice which determines where the reserves arrive on table. This, when combined with the fact that all of the company has excellent speed, means that reserves will arrive quickly and make their presence felt.

Light Tank Company, 2nd Cavalry Group
(Confident Veteran)
Light Tank Company HQ
 
with 2 M24 Chaffee
165
Light Tank Platoon
 
with 5 M24 Chaffee 415
Light Tank Platoon  
with 5 M24 Chaffee 415
Assault Gun Platoon  
with 4 M8 Scott HMC
180
Tank Destroyer Platoon
 
with 4 M36 90mm GMC
485
Cavalry Recon Platoon
 
with 1 Cavalry Recon Platoon
90
Total: 1750
Flexibility and Speed
The Light Tank Company offers Flames Of War players a flexible and fast option for both tournaments and friendly games. There are a range of support options available that are both Trained and Veteran which allows for a wide variety of list types; only a fraction of which have been covered in this article. With the addition of the Chaffee to the American arsenal the Light Tank Company can certainly lay claim to being one of the fastest armies in the game, especially when the fact that Hellcats, Stuarts, Scotts and late-model Shermans are available in support is taken into account. All in all, it offers and fast, fun and competitive army for those looking to expand their gaming experience in that direction.


~ Bede.
Hard and Fast!: Making Use of the Light Tank Company