Ten Hut Soldier! It is training time on Unit Designations
As a wargamer, there are somethings I feel I am good at. Interpreting rules, teaching others rulesets, and sussing out mechanics. For sure, though, there are other aspects of our hobby that I am not so skilled at. Putting aside strategy and tactical acumen for now 🙂 , I thought I would focus on one particular area that has often given me trouble. I’m talking about unit designations. Where others see the correct hierarchical designation for a unit, I simply see a string of letters and numbers.
By way of background, let me be clear I have no military training. Outside of wargaming, a few too many Tom Clancy books (his early good stuff), and a general interest in military history there is no reason I should know this kind of thing. But I know it would help me if I tried.
I’ve had a recent breakthrough with my new online gaming buddy Joey and I want to document it and share it here. Joey has a dual service military background through which he instructed other service members in just what I am talking about. What a find for me!
While much of this can be found online, I’ve never really seen it presented in the context of a wargame. Since I’ve been playing a lot of Where Eagles Dare recently, I thought it would be easiest for me to present this info in the context of that game.
One of the immediate benefits of getting this concept is the increased communication Joey and I experienced while playing. Units were more easily found and the flow of play more easily followed once units became “D Company, 2nd Battalion” rather than “The blue infantry unit in 55.117.” It has also helped me tremendously as I’ve read up on the history of Market Garden.
Rule of 3
Joey started me off with the Rule of 3 to understand how unit sizes compared to each other. Each unit is comprised of 3 units of the lower level. Here’s the list of units we discussed from smallest to largest
With the Rule of 3 in mind, there are 3 soldiers in a Fireteam, 3 Fireteams in a Squad, 3 Squads in a Platoon, 3 Platoons in a Company and so on. To be fair, there are plenty of exceptions once you get into it and this setup has a particular US-slant in its use. However, when applied to Western armies, and given how many games at least I play from US designers this basic understanding can take you far.
Since we start with an individual soldier, we can start to do the back of the envelope math on unit size.
- Fireteam = 3 soldiers
- Squad = 9 soldiers
- Platoon = 27 soldiers
- Company = 91 soldiers
- Battalion = 273 soldiers
Ok, this is where it gets to be a bit rough. These values may not line up some numbers you’ve heard about unit sizes. What I’ve learned is that these are only the front line direct combat elements and some support elements like mortar support. In most quoted unit sizes there are a host of other support elements that aren’t direct, aren’t combat elements. We’re talking about cooks and photographers, the mail guys, clerks, paymasters, etc. It takes a village to get a soldier in the field. As Joey told me he used to say “It took a hundred civilians, fifty enlisted men and women and a handfull of officers to put just one of you on the battlefield!”
Application to Where Eagles Dare
Once one understands what to look for, the WED unit designations are generally straightforward and well-organized. This is especially true for the non-independent units.
For example, let’s take a look at the 502 Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR). I used to only think of these troops as the “yellow guys.”
The counters that follow below are the 502 Regiment units that appear in the campaign game. A couple of things one might notice pretty quickly: 1) They all have yellow bands, 2) They all have “502” at the end of their designation 3) They all have green backgrounds.
Nos 1 and 2 deal with the regimental designation (502nd) with the yellow color simply being a way to help with quick recognition of regiments. In WED game terms the 502nd is a Formation which plays into the chit pull mechanic in the Grand Tactical System.
No. 3, the counter color, covers the Division Designation of the unit. In WED, all units with a green background, of which the 502nd is only one formation, are from the 101st Airborne Division.
The text in the yellow box is what I’ve really been after to understand. To be fair, once you know what to look for it is pretty straightforward. The text reads left to right, from the smallest unit size to the largest. In WED, full strength units are companies.
The text in the yellow box is written in the following syntax: Company/Battalion/Regiment. You’ll see it is from the smallest designation, Company (also the scale of Where Eagles Dare) to the largest the Regiment. That regimental level is important for the chit pull mechanic in the game.
As an example, the first unit in the image, “A/1/502”, is A Company, 1st Battalion, 502nd (Parachute Infantry) Regiment. It is as simple as that.
Applying our knowledge to the Formation, we can start to talk about units/counters in groups. We can talk about “1st Battalion” to represent the collection of the first four counters in the image. Those four companies are 1st Battalion.
“But wait Ty, what happened to the Rule of 3. You said there were four Companies in 1st Battalion. Aren’t there supposed to only be 3?” Well yes, and this is how the model, and the combat forces, have some flexibility. The S(Mtr)/1/502 unit is a Support Mortar Company attached to the 1st Battalion. I’m sure the paratroopers appreciated the extra firepower! Its attachment also highlights how the number of soldiers in a unit can be a range.
While we’ve been talking about the 101st US Airborne in the context of Where Eagles Dare, a similar, but not entirely identical, approach applies to the British Units as well.
For instance, in the units below we can see the four Red infantry units. The syntax is the same as for the 101st Airborne in Company/ Battalion Regiment In this case however, the Regiment is a proper name (Irish Guards) and there are four company units rather than three. There is a Support Mortar too.
For me with the British the hardest part has been keeping the Proper Names straight. “IG” is Irish Guard but the Formation is “Group Hot” which I think is particular to Market Garden and appears to have other Regiments in it like the GrenGuards.
Not to be outdone, the German Units also follow the same convention as the 101st US Airborne. However, like the British it has a few of its own twists.
This isn’t really a discussion about the unit symbols, but like in all Grand Tactical Series games, units use the historical icon of the nationality not simply NATO/US style icons. So the icons are different. I really like that touch. We’re trading familiarity for authenticity.
The German syntax is a bit extended in most cases. It still follows the Company/Battalion/Regiment format but adds Division at the end. So 1./1/1036/59 is 1st Company, 1st Battalion 1036th Regiment, 59th (Infantry) Division. And, hey look, a Support Mortar too! (But only a single step so probably a Platoon).
The period after the Company designation (“1.”) signifies it as an ordinal number (1st, 2nd, etc.). Apparently space limitations prevent them from being used throughout.
Well, those are the basics. Once you get into the game, there may be attached units and other irregularities but now you can understand them in a much better context.
This has been something I hoped to get better at and felt it would really help my understanding and have wide application in wargaming. I’ve generally been right about that. Certainly using them out loud during game play makes it sound like I know what I am talking about. This is one of the great things about wargaming to me . . . learning something new. Thanks for the lesson Joey!