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 Flames of War
Armored Panzergrenadiers
by Norm Lunde

The following is my take on Armored Panzergrenadiers - tactics, force composition, and options - in Flames of War.

Who are the Panzergrenadiers?
Panzergrenadiere, or Armored Grenadiers, represent the first really effective application of modern combined arms doctrine. Mounted in trucks or armored halftracks, Panzergrenadiers are the only troops who can keep pace with the rapid advance of an armored spearhead. Unlike the doctrine of other armies, in which limited numbers of slow-moving tanks provide support to the infantry, the Panzergrenadiers escort the massed armor of the Panzer divisions, clearing out hidden enemy positions in close or built-up terrain that might otherwise stall the offensive.

History
The first units of Infanterie Motorisierte, or motorized infantry, were formed in 1937. Under the command of General der Panzertruppen Heinz Guderian, motorized infantry regiments were incorporated into each of the mighty Panzer divisions in time for the Blitzkrieg offensives of 1939-40. As an integral arm of the Panzertruppen, these motorized schutzen (troops) trained and fought alongside the tanks during the unrelenting drive across Poland and Eastern Europe, and then deep into the Soviet Union in the first months of Operation Barbarossa. In the West, elite units like the Infanterieregiment Grossdeutschland outflanked and overwhelmed the beleaguered French and British armies, driving them all the way to Dunkirk.

As the string of stunning victories and rapid advances came to an end in 1942, the motorized infantry received a new designation - Panzergrenadiere. (At the time, all German infantry were redesignated as grenadiers by order of the Fuhrer, in a vain attempt to bolster morale.) By this time Panzer production was clearly inadequate to equip the many divisions needed to replace losses and reinforce the collapsing Eastern Front, so Panzergrenadier divisions were formed - these consisting of, typically, two regiments of Panzergrenadiers plus a battalion (vice a full regiment) of tanks. Although in theory the Panzergrenadiers were to be equipped with half-tracked armored personnel carriers, in practice these vehicles were also in short supply. Most Panzergrenadier units (typically five out of six battalions in a division) were equipped with soft-skinned trucks instead. A few elite units like the Panzergrenadier Division Grossdeutschland and the Panzer Lehr Division were favored with larger allotments - even full regiments - of halftracks.

Panzergrenadier formations represented the elite of both Heer and Waffen-SS units, being relatively well-trained and equipped. As the situation deteriorated for the Axis on both Eastern and Western fronts, Panzergrenadier battalions were often thrown into the most desperate situations, using their mobility and firepower to counter Allied breakthroughs or mounting a mobile rear-guard defense to buy time for an entire army to escape encirclement. In the course of the retreat, some units, like Grossdeustchland, were decimated and reformed several times.

In Flames of War
The gepanzerte Panzergrenadierkompanie, or Armored Panzergrenadier Company, is a popular choice among FoW players. Perhaps it's because of the history, or perhaps it's the curb appeal of a dozen camouflaged halftracks arrayed in panzerkeil (wedge) formation. Maybe it's the unique combination of special abilities, or the double handfuls of dice needed to shoot all those machine guns. It might just be an excuse to say those magic, sexy words - Ich bin ein Panzergrenadier.

Strengths
The greatest strengths of the Panzergrenadiers are mobility and firepower. When mounted in their customary SdKfz 251/1 halftracks, Panzergrenadiers can move 12" across clear terrain, or 24" at the double - the same speed as a tank. On roads they can go even faster - 16" (32" at the double) like their wheeled counterparts. If a scenario comes down to a race for the objective, the Panzergrenadiers are going to win. Because they can move so fast and so far in a turn, mounted Panzergrenadiers can easily outflank an opponent or exploit any gaps in his defenses. On the defense, a few mounted Panzergrenadier platoons can cover multiple objectives and redeploy to support each other as needed. Having a mobile reserve, ready to strike at any time, will force the opponent to hold back reserves to guard his own objectives - unless he is careless.

An abundance of transport allows the Panzergrenadiers to carry an impressive loadout of weapons and ammunition - typically two MG34 or MG42 light machine guns per squad. In game terms, that means every team is an MG team, with three dice each. Add to that the command MG team and a hull MG on each halftrack, and you have a whopping 33 dice for the full (dismounted) platoon! Note that, unlike American or Soviet armored transports, the SdKfz 251 is equipped with a regular hull MG which can be fired even when no passengers are present. In addition, each halftrack mounts a passenger-fired AA MG for self-defense. Although considerably weaker than a dedicated AA weapon, the self-defense AA MG does have a 360-degree arc of fire and is quite effective against enemy infantry.

Among the various German company types, Panzergrenadiers have perhaps the widest selection of interesting support choices, including most of the options of a Panzer company and several unique selections like the armored (halftrack) flamethrower platoon. Panzergrenadiers can operate with Panzer platoons, armored cars, self-propelled FlaK, armored or towed artillery, tank hunters or towed antitank guns. As such, your Panzergrenadier force can be tailored to suit your style of play and/or your favorite opponents.

Panzergrenadiers are flexible, in that they can fight mounted or dismounted, depending on the circumstances. When an opportunity arises to seize the objective quickly, or when heavy enemy fire makes movement hazardous, the armored halftrack is a real advantage. When confronted by enemy armor, or vast hordes of Soviet infantry, the Panzergrenadiers can dismount, dig in, and bring their full rate of fire to bear.

Weaknesses
Above all else, Panzergrenadiers are expensive. A mid-war Armored Panzergrenadier platoon with three squads costs nearly twice as many points as the equivalent platoon of basic Grenadiers. The Soviets can buy up to ten T-70 or Stuart light tanks for that price. You do not want to take them on with thinly armored halftracks.

Because they are so expensive, of necessity your Panzergrenadiers will be few. It is not unusual to see only four platoons in a 1500-point Panzergrenadier army (compared to eight or ten in a Soviet or British horde.) This means that Panzergrenadiers are especially sensitive to losses, both at the platoon and company levels. Morale checks are not the only worry; the smaller number of platoons means fewer independent maneuver units, which makes life difficult when there are multiple objectives to defend. In scenarios with the Delayed Reserves or Strategic Withdrawal special rules, you may have only two platoons on the table, which is simply untenable for more than a turn or two.

Rules to Live (or Die) By
As a General der Panzergrenadiere you will, of course, be expected to memorize the special rules for Germans and make the most of them. Of particular note are:

Kampfgruppe
This rule allows you to create an extra platoon, led by your 2iC, by attaching teams from your regular combat and weapons platoons. The Kampfgruppe platoon acts as an independent maneuver unit and adds a platoon to the count for company morale checks. What is more, by attaching up to half the teams from each of your other platoons, you can build the Kampfgruppe into an especially strong platoon - the ideal assault force. Keep in mind that you must form the Kampgruppe before you begin deployment.

Mission Tactics
Auftragstaktik is the German doctrine that small-unit leaders can and should comprehend the overall battle plan, and take independent action when the circumstances call for it. In game terms, this means that when a platoon command team is destroyed, any other team of the same type (infantry or tank team) that is within command distance may assume command. Yes, this does mean that one of your MG teams may transform into a Command SMG Panzerknacker team to replace the one you just lost! Apparently Panzerknackers are very hard to kill.

Stormtroopers
All German units have the opportunity to make an extra 4" move during the Assault Phase, in lieu of making an actual assault. Most of the same restrictions apply (units cannot do it if they moved at the double, are pinned down, etc.) , plus the platoon must pass a skill test (normally 3+ for Confident Veteran Germans) to proceed. The 4" movement applies to teams of any type, even gun teams, and regardless of terrain - although rough terrain still requires a bog check. Panzergrenadiers can use this move to mount or dismount from their halftracks, but it is not possible to send empty halftracks to the rear as a Stormtrooper move.

Mounted Assault
This rule was written just for us. Unlike any other nationality or company type, Armored Panzergrenadiers are allowed to ride their transports right into the midst of the enemy during an assault. Although transports do not normally fight in assaults, up to one passenger team per halftrack may fight as a tank team in the first round of combat. Note that the passenger does not become a tank team; it merely fights as one. If they survive the first round, all passengers will dismount for the second round and fight as regular infantry. Note also that mounted Panzergrenadier platoons can still be pinned down by defensive fire, and thus prevented from assaulting, even though the transports are armored. It is always a good idea to use those hull MGs and any available artillery to pin the defenders before you launch that madcap charge.

Transports, Mounting and Dismounting
Read the rules on transports and passengers very carefully. Remember that mounting occurs at the end of the movment phase, after the transport has moved; dismounting always happens at the start of a movement phase, followed by the movement of the transport. Normally it is not possible to drive somewhere and then dismount in the same turn, unless you make a Stormtrooper move (see above.) Because Stormtrooper moves take place in the Assault Phase, instead of an assault, it is not possible to drive up, dismount, and then assault in the same turn. It is never possible to mount, drive some distance, and then dismount in the same turn.

Transports and Morale Checks
Remember that your halftracks, as transport teams, will have a negative effect on platoon morale checks if destroyed. You can try to keep them out of harm's way by maneuvering them into cover, but that can be hard to arrange while still keeping them within command distance. Another option is to send them to the rear during your movement phase, but of course then they will be gone for good. Those hull MGs and armored transports constitute a significant chunk of your combat power, so it is often an agonizing decision to send them away. The best course of action will be determined by the circumstances. Ask yourself: are the tracks in danger from antitank weapons or artillery? Am I likely to remount this platoon and resume the offensive, or are they digging in for the rest of the game? Usually the right answer will become apparent.

Worst-Case Scenarios
Panzergrenadiers are at their best when they can use their mobility to advantage, as in Free for All. Panzergrenadiers are most vulnerable when their already meager numbers are cut in half by rules like Reserves, Delayed Reserves, or the dreaded Scattered Reserves in scenarios like Encounter or The Cauldron. As a Mechanized force, Panzergrenadiers will usually be the attackers, unless facing a pure tank company.

The Cauldron is probably the worst-case scenario for Panzergrenadiers. Whether attacking or defending, at least half of your platoons will be held in Reserve, and the remaining platoons will either be bunched up in the center of the table or scattered to the far corners. Neither position is especially advantageous for an outnumbered force.

It helps to prepare in advance a battle plan for attack and defense in each of the standard scenarios. That way, you'll have some idea of what to do when the worst case scenario happens. Moreover, as you are making the plans you will better realize the strengths and weaknesses of your force, and perhaps think of some adjustments to make it more viable even in the worst case.

Helpless Victims
Panzergrenadiers are very effective against basic infantry. With their superior firepower and ability to drive circles around slow-moving foot-sloggers, Panzergrenadiers can seize the initiative and control the battle. When faced with overwhelming numbers the Panzergrenadiers can dismount, dig in, and mow down the advancing Bolshevik mob with their machine guns. Crazed, horse-whipping Cossacks will fare no better against the discipline and technological superiority of the Wehrmacht.

When mounted in their armored halftracks, the Panzergrenadiers have little to fear from small arms fire or even mortars and light artillery.

Dire Enemies
Panzergrenadiers rely on close cooperation from their accompanying armor to protect them from enemy tanks. As such, they carry relatively few anti-tank weapons of their own. In Mid-War games, there is an option to upgrade each platoon and company command team to Panzerknackers. While somewhat dangerous to tanks in a close assault, the Panzerknackers are otherwise harmless. One Panzerknacker team is not usually enough to ward off a platoon of assaulting tanks. The Company HQ has an optional tank hunter section with antitank rifles. While these are relatively useless, the available PzB41 and Puppchen upgrades are more effective.

In the Late War period, the Panzerknackers are replaced by Panzerfaust teams. These are considerably more effective than Panzerknackers, but still too few in number. There is also one Panzerschreck team attached to the company HQ. Panzer Lehr platoons (in Villers Bocage) get a Panzerschreck-equipped tank hunter team per platoon. While these are great for close-in combat, the basic Panzergrenadier units still lack an effective antitank weapon with any kind of range. To deal effectively with tanks, a significant fraction of your weapons and support points should be spent on good antitank weapons.

The Sincerest Form of Flattery
While no other nation fields a force equal to the Panzergrenadiers, some of our enemies have tried. The Soviets have a Rota Razvedky company, comprised of one or two Armoured Transporter platoons and various support options. The Razvedky platoon, while larger in manpower with four squads, can muster only 21 dice when dismounted from their wheeled transports. In the Late War period, the British have their Motor Company, with only four teams per platoon riding in completely unarmed halftracks. Completely unarmed! The Americans have the Armored Infantry Company in both Mid-War and Late-War periods, and this is the closest Allied approximation to the Panzergrenadier ideal. American Armored Rifle platoons contain only two squads, but they are lavishly equipped with many bazookas, mortars, and formidable .50 caliber AA MGs atop their halftracks.

Forming a Kampfgruppe
The basic organization of a Panzergrenadier company includes a Company HQ and 2-3 Panzergrenadier platoons. At the 1500-point level, two full platoons plus HQ upgrades will leave about 700 points for weapons and support choices - which you will surely need. Consider the units your opponent may be fielding, and choose the options that complement your strengths and counter his.

The standard weapons platoon of the Panzergrenadier company is the Heavy Platoon. Fully equipped, it is a smorgasbord of HMGs, mortars, and light infantry guns in small servings. Each of the components is optional, depending on how you wish to spend your points. As part of a weapons platoon, the individual teams may be parceled out to the combat platoons as desired. Note that the SdKfz 251/1 halftracks of the HMG sections are rated as HMG Carriers, which means that one mounted HMG team may fire at ROF 6 and range 24" in lieu of the regular hull MG when the vehicle is stationary. If the vehicle moves, or the HMG team is not aboard, the crew can still fire the hull MG at the normal ROF 3, range 16".

Some form of antitank weapon with decent range is mandatory; preferably something with the mobility to escort your halftracks and/or shift positions as needed. Marders and StuGs are popular choices, but consider also the true Panzers. Panzer IVs can be had for about the same cost as StuGs, and even a few Panthers or Tigers are not out of the question, if you expect to be facing heavy armor. Towed antitank guns are relatively cheap, but lack the mobility to keep up with your maneuver units. They will usually be relegated to static defense of an objective, and carefully avoided by your enemies - which still has tactical value in that it takes away some their options.

Consider also some form of indirect fire. SdKfz 251/2 mortar halftracks are very cost-effective, with the ability to lay down smokescreens, kill antitank guns, and pin down defending infantry platoons as needed. Although the Heavy Platoon may optionally include a section of two mortars, the full Armored Mortar Platoon with four tubes is much more effective, as it does not require hits to be re-rolled. The Armored Artillery Battery is quite powerful, especially when equipped with Hummels. With AT13 and FP 1+, Hummels are a credible direct-fire threat to armor at ranges up to 24", though they lack the protection to survive a prolonged shootout. With the Bunker Buster trait, Hummels are also deadly to troops hiding in buildings. Remember also that Hummels and mortar halftracks, like all armored vehicles, have the excellent ability to continue firing bombardments while pinned.

If enemy air support is anticipated, the armored version of the SdKfz 7/1 (quad 20mm) is especially effective. Take note of which types of self-propelled FlaK are available as weapons platoons (as opposed to support) for your force. Vehicles from the weapons platoon can be split up and attached to your combat platoons as escorts.

Mid-War
In the Mid-War period, heavy tanks like Panthers and Tigers are exorbitantly expensive. Try Marder IIIs or Panzer IVF2s as relatively affordable alternatives. Consider how you would handle an opponent with as many as a dozen Shermans, T-34s, or even more light tanks. Ostfront contains the classic mid-war Armored Panzergrenadier TO&E with its many options. Panzergrenadiers on the Afrika front were usually mounted in trucks, but a few armored units did exist. In general the choices in Afrika are fewer.

Late Wa
For the Late War period, Festung Europa provides the basic Armored Panzergrenadier TO&E with many of the same options as Ostfront. Some point values have been revised; in particular, decent tanks become more affordable. As mentioned above, the Panzergrenadiers gain some integral short-ranged anti-tank capability with Panzerfausts and Panzerschrecks. The Villers Bocage book introduces the Panzer Lehr division, which is well-equipped with extra Panzerschrecks. Support choices are somewhat limited, as the book restricts them to what was historically available to Lehr in Normandy during June-July 1944. With Monty's Meatgrinder, we now have the opportunity to field a full Panzergrenadier company in ugly, unreliable French halftracks. The opportunity to field a 16-tube Reihenwerfer mortar track makes it almost worthwhile. Almost.

Panzergrenadier Tactics
At the start of any game, once you've determined the scenario and assessed your opponent's army and its capabilities, you should be prepared to choose one of two options: attack aggressively, or hunker down and defend. This initial posture will drive your decisions about which units to hold in reserve or ambush, which units to place on the table, and where to deploy them. Against slow-moving infantry (or in any scenario that requires you to attack to win, such as Hold the Line), it is best to start off with troops mounted and ready to roll. An opponent with lots of heavy artillery (think Soviet or British) may also force you to keep moving to stay alive. Against an armor-heavy force, your Panzergrenadiers may fare better if they dig in and go to ground, sending the halftracks to the rear immediately. Remember that platoons which start out mounted will take one full turn to dismount, and another turn to dig in (assuming they pass the 3+ skill test.) During those two turns they are quite vulnerable to direct fire and artillery. If they become pinned, they may never get the chance to dig in.

On the attack, focus on the mobility of your combat platoons. Use the terrain to your advantage, taking care to end each movement phase outside the line-of-sight of enemy antitank weapons and artillery observers. Don't be afraid to move at the double, provided that every halftrack will end up in a safe spot. Remember that enemy tanks will have the opportunity to move up to 12" before they fire, and never park your halftracks within assault range (10") of enemy infantry. If cover is scant on the battlefield, consider using smokescreens (delivered by your mortars) to blind the enemy gunners, or just pummel them with Hummels to pin them or kill them outright. Your ultimate goal should be to carry out an overwhelming assault on the platoons defending one of your objectives, but first your platoons must reach the objective intact.

Consider carefully the finer points of the assault. By using the Mounted Assault rule, Panzergrenadiers may start the turn as far as 16" away - just at the edge of small-arms range - and still assault. Moreover, the halftracks can and should fire their hull MGs at the full rate during the shooting phase, hopefully scoring enough hits to pin the defenders (but don't count on it.) The halftracks' light armor is proof against rifle and machine gun fire, but remember that any five hits will pin your platoon and spoil the assault whether they penetrate or not. Once you are upon the enemy, only one passenger team per halftrack can fight in the first round of combat. Thus, even a full platoon of three squads plus command team will have only four teams fighting in the first round. The enemy will have the chance to fight back; note that although your mounted Panzegrenadiers can fight as tank teams, they do not count as tank teams for the purposes of the "tank terror" motivation test to counterattack!

There are several things you can do to improve your odds in an assault:

  • Use artillery and fire from supporting units to pin down the defenders.
  • Bring multiple platoons. Their assaults will be resolved individually, but their cumulative effects are more likely to break the defenders' morale.
  • Use Aufklarungs or Panzerpioniers. Unlike the standard combat platoons, Aufklarungs and Panzerpionier platoons (available as support choices) come with two halftracks per squad - meaning that all seven teams get to fight as tank teams in the first round!
  • Attach the independent command teams. The 2iC can bolster the strength of the platoon by absorbing a hit, and still be replaced by the regular Platoon Command team if he is killed. The CiC can do the same and add the opportunity to re-roll motivation tests, but remember that charging into enemy machine gun nests is a high-risk activity. The CiC may be killed or simply forced to flee if the platoon fails a morale check, which eliminates your ability to pass company morale checks in either case.

Note that Mounted Assault by independent command teams is a controversial topic. Although the rules and briefing books don't explicitly sanction this usage, many FoW gamers allow it as a house rule. (See More Lessons from the Front Again for Phil's official take on the subject.) Always check with your opponent before you try it, especially in a tournament setting. (editor's note: the newer army lists like Villers-Bocage specifically states that then can.)

Conclusion
While beginners may be drawn to the Panzergrenadiere by their formidable capabilities and elite reputation, experienced players will enjoy the opportunities to best brute force and superior numbers with tactical ingenuity and sound judgment. With so many dissimilar opponents to face, and such a rich variety of support units available, your Panzergrenadier army will grow and evolve, providing years of gaming enjoyment as you learn valuable lessons in combined arms tactics. Although you may lose many battles in the beginning, by the end of the campaign you will be a superior tactician. That, and you'll have a battalion of nifty little halftracks.

 

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