Modern, high intensity warfare is a nasty and complicated business, and so is “1985”. Unexpected events and interaction between the different components of the game make it impossible to anticipate every possible move or consequence.
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Players trying to keep every detail under control or to have a planned counter-move for every possible enemy action will probably need specialist help before the end of the campaign game. According to my wife Barbara, I’ve already reached that level a long time ago.
The best approach is realizing that, as someone said, war is the realm of uncertainty. Always keep some forces in reserve and be ready for bad surprises, even if you have no idea about where and how they will come.
In the long run NATO has the numbers for stopping and even repelling a Soviet offensive, but in order to have a chance to succeed NATO Player must solve four immediate problems:
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- NORTHAG Deployment
- Netherlands and Denmark will to fight (or absence thereof)
- POMCUS Sites Defense
- Air Force Survival
NORTHAG is probably the weakest point of the whole NATO defense and its deployment needs special attention since the beginning. If Warsaw Pact concedes enough time, NATO should decide between a forward defense (requiring reinforcements taken from elsewhere) or a delaying action to a stronger defense line (For example Bremen - Weser). Whatever the decision, always keep in mind that Dutch troops could reserve nasty surprises and leave big, undefended holes in the front line.
Denmark is another problem with no ready solutions, as in case of a strong airmobile / amphibious attack the possibility of a surrender cannot be easily avoided. Moreover, a Danish surrender would give Warsaw Pact several airfields that could be used to transport Airmobile forces along the whole North Sea coast, bypassing NATO SAM network.
POMCUS sites should always be considered and checked, but are less vulnerable than they seem. They should be out of range for Airmobile operations and a difficult target for an Airdrop due to NATO flaks and intercept. The most concrete threat is Warsaw Pact obtaining Air Superiority over the area, an eventuality that should be avoided at all costs.
Air Force, NATO’s real weapon, doesn’t initially have enough squadrons to engage the Red Hordes everywhere. Do not try to contrast every Warsaw Pact Air initiative: wait for US reinforcements before taking excessive risks, or you’ll find yourself with no squadrons available for intercepting dangerous attacks against vital targets.
Once US air reinforcements have arrived, NATO should be able to launch a deep strike air campaign to systematically destroy Warsaw Pact’s SAM network and infrastructures; Tornados and F-111 are of course the spearheads for this kind of missions, with EF-111 and Wild Weasels used to soften enemy AA defenses. The final objective is making impossible for Warsaw Pact to maintain a continuous supply flow across the Elbe River; an ambitious NATO Player could also consider a full-scale implementation of the AirLand Battle, inflicting heavy losses to Soviet second echelon forces as they arrive in central Europe.
Should NATO succeed into stopping or slowing down the Communist offensive, it’s only the end of the beginning. Warsaw Pact may have failed to obtain a Political Victory, but a Military Victory is probably still within its reach as it does not require to camp on the East bank of river Rhine. A decisive counterattack, hopefully starting a revolt in one or more Warsaw Pact countries, is the only way to close the deal once and for all. To this end, Warsaw Pact allies divisions should be the preferred target, as heavy losses on them may trigger a Revolt.
From a tactical point of view, the primary threats for NATO are Mi25 Attack Helicopters and Assault From March, which allows Warsaw Pact to obtain favorable attack conditions against strong defensive positions. Ideally, NATO should always have at least two C rated flak assigned to every key defensive position, and a defense line able to absorb a breakthrough without collapsing.
Another good defense against attack helicopters is obtaining Air Superiority over the area, but this could be extremely difficult due to the sheer number of enemy flaks usually found on Warsaw Pact advanced front line.
Warsaw Pact Strategy
The first and foremost thing that Warsaw Pact player should do is remove from his mind visions of countless and unstoppable columns of Soviet tanks advancing at full speed toward the Rhine; that is not what is probably going to happen. A successful offensive against NATO requires a realistic management of Warsaw Pact’s limited resources and carefully planned attacks.
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Depending on the timing of the attack and on Warsaw Pact allies’ obedience, forces at hand at the beginning of hostilities could be barely enough for sustaining an offensive along one or two axis of attack. Even in the case of a late offensive (Game Turn 6 or later), an all-out offensive along the whole theater is probably out of question.
Reinforcements from Westernmost Soviet military districts should allow sustaining or even expanding the offensive later, but if the initial momentum has been lost they could be insufficient for regaining the initiative.
Whatever the offensive axis, Warsaw Pact will have to confront since beginning with its biggest problem, supply. Even during the “automatic supply” period of the first six days of war, bridges, Front Supply Heads and SAM sites in East Germany must be adequately protected from NATO air strikes. After three turns of war, full supply rules kick in and maintaining a supply flow from Poland to the front line becomes a very difficult task. Despite the apparent abundance of AA assets, the blanket is always too short and Warsaw Pact’s repair capacity is not up to the task. To avoid bogging down due to ammunition and fuel shortage, a good number of strong air squadrons should always be reserved for intercepting NATO strike missions, or at least forcing NATO to have a cautionary approach.
From a tactical point of view, each Warsaw Pact Front should always have one or more Category I divisions ready to execute an Assault from March. The danger of this kind of attack forces NATO to have an in-depth defense, as any brigade could be attacked without receiving support from adjacent combat units. Moreover, a successful Electronic Warfare will make any defensive artillery support almost useless.
As Soviet military manuals suggest, always attack the weakest point and avoid city combat whenever possible. Break down a couple of weak division and use single regiments to bottle up NATO garrison; the second strategic echelon will take care of them, losing maybe a couple of steps in the process but in the end the defenders will run out of ammunitions.
Losses are not a primary concern for Warsaw Pact, at least up to certain extent. Do not hesitate to engage at unfavorable odds if this would allow you a breakthrough with a second, decisive attack.
When launching a decisive attack against a key defensive position, Warsaw Pact should always commit overwhelming forces and not try to predict in excessive detail what the odds could be, as combat is quite unpredictable. NATO could decide to face heavy AA fire and send ground support supported by Offensive ECM squadrons, electronic warfare could not work, airmobile antitank battalions could successfully join the fight.
In the air, the only real advantage for Warsaw Pact is in numbers. Do not waste it by trying to contrast every NATO initiative. Playtest showed that one of the most successful air tactics for Warsaw Pact is the “ambush”; let NATO strike missions with a strong escort pass and concentrate on intercepting those where you could have a real advantage by gaining numerical superiority and adding an ECM squadron whenever possible. Your goal is to inflict as many air losses as possible, as NATO cannot replace them as you do. Should NATO Player use up all his fighter squadrons for escort, show him that’s not a good idea by striking his airfields and SAM sites.
With a bit of luck and some help from NATO, it’s possible (if not probable) to obtain a Political victory. Barring that, your objective is to advance deep enough in Germany and force NATO to take the initiative in order to avoid a Warsaw Pact military victory; at that point, Western generals will discover that forcing a Soviet motorized division to retreat is not a particularly simple task.