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Subject: Tac Air - Meeting Engagement: A Session Report rss

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Brad Smith
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"Meeting Engagement", the second scenario of Avalon Hill's Tac Air may not be very creatively titled but it's accurate nonetheless. In this scenario, we have the Soviets and West Germans battling each other for control over two towns just west of the inter-German border in 1987.

The West German 36th Panzer Brigade consists of three tank battalions and an infantry battalion. It has a few assets such as artillery support and a recon element available to help in the upcoming battle.

As for air support, the West Germans get two flights of Luftwaffe Panavia Tornadoes, which are quite decent at ground attack. Tornadoes first appeared in Luftwaffe service in 1979 and were used to replace the West Germans' ageing F-104 Starfighters. These aircraft are still in service in Germany today and are planned to continue being used until at least 2020.

The Soviet 52nd Guards Tank Regiment has three tank battalions along with helicopter support. Like the West Germans, the Russians get a recon element and a smattering of artillery. The one major difference with the West Germans is that the Soviets basically have two headquarters to play with. While the West Germans only get their brigade headquarters in this scenario, the Soviets have both a regimental HQ and a higher divisional HQ (the 6th Guards Tank Division HQ). This gives them a bit more flexibility in terms of command and control. If the regimental HQ is hit, the divisional HQ can take over and issue orders. On the other hand, if the divisional HQ is hit or disrupted, none of the Soviet units can be ordered to do anything.

What this basically means is that the West Germans, with only one brigade HQ, will have to be really careful with it and keep it protected and in proper cover so it can't be easily taken out by air strikes.

The Soviets, on the other hand, can afford to take chances by placing the regimental HQ very close to the front. If it gets hit by air strikes then it's not such a big deal because the divisional HQ can just step in to replace it.


The Soviets have their own SAM regiment to defend themselves from air attack. They have three total air defense units to help fend off NATO air, which isn't that great but it's far better than the single AAA unit that the West Germans possess.

The Soviets get two Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoots (Frogfeet?) to work with. Designed by the Sukhoi Design Bureau in the late 1960s, the Frogfoot entered service in 1978 as a dedicated ground support aircraft. It is a heavily armored attack plane designed to survive hits from ground forces and keep working, much like the A-10 Thunderbolt in service with the USAF.



Here's a closer look at how each side is starting off. Let's look at the West Germans. In the photo below, you can see the three tank battalions (364, 366, and 363) along with the infantry (362) just north of Bayreuth. The funny circle unit behind them is the brigade HQ and the white counter to the right of it is the West German's sole anti-aircraft unit.

Immediately behind the HQ is the artillery and behind all of that are the supply trucks. Over to the left across the river is the 122 Recon Battalion, with the yellow boxed outline around the edges of the counter. The West German's forward air controller is stationed with this unit and can call in air strikes within a certain number of hexes of his position.



In contrast to the West German's tight setup formation, the Soviets are kind of spread out all over the place.



The Soviet 52nd Guards Tank Regiment's three tank battalions and HQ are set up on the outskirts of Kulmbach. The regiment's supply trucks are sitting right behind the regimental HQ. Above that, we have the regiment's attached helicopters and then the divisional HQ. the regiment's artillery support and supply adjacent. Over to the left of the 52nd HQ and its tanks, we have the 6th SAM regiment with its supply and air defense units colored in white sitting in Kulmbach. Normally, I would assign the forward air controller to a recon unit but I'm putting him with the helicopters since they can get around the battlefield quickly.

Each side has its planes ready to provide air to ground support on every other turn. I'm playing solitaire here so I basically rolled for ground targets after conducting my maneuver phase for the ground units.



Alright, everything was ready at this point so game on!

The Soviets started off turn 1 and pushed their battalions along a broad front, hoping to catch the West Germans in a net. The orders from divisional HQ were to keep the Germans from flanking around the south in any surprise moves that might catch the regimental support and command units out in the open. Perhaps it was a much too cautious opening, thought the Soviet commander, but there seemed to be little choice. To fill in the gaps on the Soviet right flank, the reconnaissance elements were sent forward with the 2nd and 1st battalion while the 3rd tank battalion stuck out on the left flank like a sore thumb.



The West Germans went straight for 3rd tank battalion, just like the Soviets wanted. The commander of the 36th Panzer division didn't care. His job was to stop the Russians from reaching Bayreuth and any Russian weakness that presented itself - trap or not - was good enough for him. The lone tank battalion he wanted to attack was positioned tantalizingly in the forest three klicks directly due east. The only problem was that shoving all of his forces at the lone Soviet tank division would leave his flank wide open to the main Soviet thrust coming from the northeast.

He sent the 364 Panzer and the 362 Panzergrenadiers over to set up a defensive line against the main Soviet thrust. Meanwhile, he directed the Leopard tanks of the 363 and 366 Panzers straight east down the road to hit at the Soviet's exposed left flank. He moved his headquarters just behind his men and brought along his meager air defenses. All in all, it wasn't much but it was enough to provide an adequate welcoming party for the Soviets.



The guns of the 365 Panzer artillery battalion opened up around 0710, slamming a lethal mixture of both high explosive and dual purpose munitions into the forests east of Bayreuth. At ground zero, the earth shuddered like a seizure and some of the Soviet T-72 crews were caught out in the open while huddled around a field kitchen, enjoying their a late breakfast that would be their last. Less than 10 minutes later, the first Leopard IIs of the 366 and 363 Pz. started opening fire into the trees from concealed positions off the main road. So many hits were scored that exploding ammunition from the Soviet tanks started a forest fire. Thick black smoke seeped upwards out of the forest canopy. By mid-morning, the 3rd tank battalion of the 52nd Soviet Guards Tank Regiment was only a memory. The 363 Pz advanced into the forests and found only the burnt twisted metal shells of Soviet tanks strewn about as if by some angry god.




The Soviet divisional commander angrily slammed the field handset down on the table. His 3rd tank battalion was simply gone. He turned to ask his aide something and was distracted by the sound of low-flying jets above him. Something outside exploded. Running out of his command tent, he found men running everywhere in panic. Looking up, he spotted a few dark shapes hurtling through the blue morning sky to the west. These were undoubtedly a group of NATO planes that had just tried to hit his command tents. A line of anti-aircraft fire tracer rounds lazily followed after them in a useless token effort.



Things were going well for the West Germans, the commander of the 36th Panzer Brigade thought. So far, they had won the early stages of the battle and although the reports of the Luftwaffe were always exaggerated, he believed that the Tornadoes to the east had scored some hits on the Soviet divisional HQ.

With the destruction of the Soviet 3rd tank battalion, the Russian left flank was wide open and he could simply advance his two panzer battalions east and start hitting at the vital elements of his enemy. Just a few quick battles and it could all be over so soon, he thought.

As he got back on his radio to push on his panzers, someone pointed towards a pair of huge insect-like aircraft lumbering their way towards them from the east. The air defense guns to the West German HQ's rear opened up on the enemy aircraft but it was too late. Suddenly, the West German 36th Panzer Brigade HQ erupted in flame and chaos.



The Soviet commander was pleased at how quickly his men at division headquarters were recovering from the NATO air strike. Their concealment in the heavy forests east of Bayreuth had helped them to escape the worst of the bombing. He had received word that his Su-25s had scored several critical hits on the West German brigade HQ. Now, with the West German command immobilized and unable to issue orders, he could rescue his left flank. He brought his two remaining tank battalions south, one of which would deal with the 363 Panzer while the other pulled back and protected the 52nd regiment's headquarters. Soon, he received reports from the front of the 1st battalion's limited success against the Germans.



By early afternoon, the West German HQ was slowly regaining its composure. Communications with the brigade's tank battalions had been restored but the situation they now faced was completely different than only an hour ago. Instead of facing an open flank that his Leopards and Marders could rip into, they now faced a wall of Soviet steel. The window of opportunity was gone for the West Germans and now they would need to make a hole in the Soviet lines and fight their way to Kulmbach. Shortly after ordering the 363rd Pz forward, however, confusion reigned in the West German command area. The Soviets had counterattacked the West Germans at their line of departure. The commander hung his head for a moment and sighed in exasperation.




Although the air defense units around the HQ were ready for the German aircraft, the fool in charge of the 6th SAM regiment had placed the units stupidly and now they were paying for it. The Tornadoes somehow managed to slip around the Soviet air defense units and avoid the worst of the AAA fire. This time, the bombing did some real damage and although half his men were spared, the other half had been killed while in a command tent only 500 meters to the division's main HQ building. The Soviets visited the same fate upon the West Germans, again directing an air strike at their brigade HQ. For two hours, forces on both sides were in complete disarray. No one moved and for a little while and the front devolved into a static tit-for-tat fight that resembled World War I more than World War III.



The West German commander was frustrated. Once again communications were restored with his men, only for him to find out that his tanks were taking a beating. The 366 Pz commander reported back that they were down to a few platoons of tanks and were just barely holding back the Soviet tank advance. To add to the problem, Hind helicopters had finally begun to show up and were wreaking havoc on the Marders, which rapidly fell victim to the rockets and heavy machine gun fired that streamed out from the enemy helos above.



The Soviet commander looked over at his list of potential air targets. Clearly, he could not win this by just hammering on the West German HQ with the Su-25s. It was time to make up for the earlier loss of the 3rd battalion by using the planes to supplement his maneuver elements. The forward air controllers would have the final say on the next airstrike. The battle was up to them, he thought.

The Su-25s streaked over the West German battlefield on their third sortie of the day. The pilots were exhausted and simply wanted to go home. But here they were, skimming the trees west of Kulmbach, trying desperately to distinguish friend from foe. As they neared the edge of the forest packed with Soviet command units, they circled lazily and waited to hear from the forward air controller. He looked down and checked his dwindling fuel level before his radio came alive and he noted the target coordinates. The Frogfoots adjusted course slightly and unleashed everything they had at the remains of the 366 Panzer. His plane swooped back east and he looked at where his bombs hit. There was nothing left.



The West Germans had one final chance to win this thing. If they could immobilize the Soviets with a devastating air strike at the 6th Guards HQ, they could pull the remnants of their units back from the front and hit the Soviets hard in the rear while rushing for Kulmbach.

The Tornadoes swept in from the north this time but the commander of the Soviet 6th SAM regiment had shifted his defenses after a thorough chewing out from the 6th Tank Guard's divisional commander. With the SA-13s and SA-8s working together to catch out approaching enemy aircraft from the north, there was a better chance of intercepting the enemy aircraft that came again and again like locusts to a feast. He gulped as he watched an SA-8 shoot up towards the oncoming NATO planes and veer off crazily into the ether. This was never going to work, he thought. The planes would get through. He would be shot.

He almost wept for joy then when two missiles, one from each of his batteries, soared up towards the enemy aircraft and sent the Tornadoes scrambling skyward to evade. They jinked and banked and steered wildly to escape the SAMs until finally they disappeared from his radar screen. Maybe, just maybe he would see his wife back home again after all this insanity was over, he thought.



The Soviet commander nodded in approval when he heard that the West German infantry were moving to attack his tanks in the western sector of the forest near Bayreuth. Caught out in the open, they would suffer mightily from the combined attacks of tanks and Hinds that he was sending their way. The next twenty minutes proved him right as the tank cannons and helicopter rockets pelted the infantry as they unwisely approached the forest treeline across an open field.



With the Tornadoes grounded, the West Germans needed to hold on tight. The 36th Panzer Brigade HQ headed north to support the attacks of the 364 Panzer and 362 PanzerGrenadiers. Caught out of position briefly by the sudden appearance of Hinds on their left flank, the air defense was out of range and helpless to prevent the infantry from getting hammered as it moved towards the front.

It was the final sortie of the day for the Su-25 pilots, who were feeling more confident in their mission. They had trained long and hard to hit the enemy along the front instead of its rear elements. Earlier in the day, they were bombing command elements of the West German's panzer brigade but now their objective had switched back to direct air support. The infantry to the south of the forest looked like little dots below him and he could not imagine what it was like down there - to be hit by helicopter and tank fire and...now this. The canisters dropped from the plane and fell directly on target. The Frogfoot, noticeably lighter from having dropped its ordnance, turned back east for home. It had been a good day.

The battle was over and the West Germans had had enough. Disappointed in his inability to stop the 52nd Guards Tank Regiment, he prepared a withdrawal further back across the river to the west. Bayreuth would fall to the Russians but he was determined to see it again some day soon. The Leopards turned west, not for the final time.

Final Comments:

Well, neither side really achieved its main objective in terms of getting to Bayreuth or Kulmbach. However, the Soviets did pull out a win here by eliminating 2 West German battalions while only losing one tank battalion of its own. For the first part of the game, both sides directed their air support to hit at each other's HQs with limited success. The West Germans kept throwing their air units on this mission throughout the game while the Soviet commander learned to diversify a bit and switched to direct air support missions.

This decision basically helped the Russians win as they would inflict damage on a West German unit with ground attacks and then use the Frogfoots to finish the enemy unit off, which they did twice with great success. The West Germans kept running up against fairly effective SAM fire near the end of the game, which caused them to abort their missions twice. They were scoring some good hits at the beginning of the game but once the Soviets juggled around their air defense units and got everything humming, the Tornadoes were effectively shut out of the game. Assigning the West German planes to a SEAD (Search and Destroy Enemy Air Defenses) early in the scenario may have solved this problem but who knows? Anyway, it was a close game and it seems the Soviets pulled a win out of it despite running into some serious setbacks in the opening turns.

Thanks for reading! If you liked this post, feel free to check out my wargaming blog at: http://hexsides.blogspot.com
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Dan Stueber
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Thanks for the great session report. TAC AIR is till one of my favorite games.

Dan Stueber
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Malcolm Corney
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I haven't played this game for years. I bought it when it first came out but none of my gaming friends wanted to play it. I played some of the early scenarios as solo games so maybe will dig out and play it again.
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Sean McCormick
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Nicely done. I always loved the aesthetics of Tac Air.
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Craig Truesdell
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seanmac wrote:
Nicely done. I always loved the aesthetics of Tac Air.


I agree on all accounts...
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Jerry Tresman
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BooBoo130 wrote:
Thanks for the great session report. TAC AIR is till one of my favorite games.

Dan Stueber

Definitely still on my top 10 list and even though my tastes have changed it is still on my current gaming shelf.

I would love to find a face to face opponent.
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First, thank you for this exciting AAR!
Reading this brings me back memories from our own sessions and one question still bothers me after all these years...

Here it is: for several early sessions, my opponent and myself tried various uses for our airpower: we did Sead, for not so decisive results, we went for the HQ and supply trucks, but they kept coming back, we chased the ennemy airplanes, with mixed results...

So, we started throwing erery single aircraft against the tank battalions: each turn half of our force headed for just one (occasionaly two) target on the ground. Aaah, in conjunction with ground attacks this did it: evey single turn, the targeted battalion just vanished from the surface of the Earth!
After a few turns, at this attrition rate, there wasn't much left to get to the objectif.

We always asked ourself if we were missing something: the most basic and frontal approach got the best results?
Nevertheless, we still love this game very much!
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Ben Bosmans
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I played this with my brother lots of times and quite frankly it is one of the best wargames out there to get insight in military structure and Air Land Battle mechanics.

I suppose a more modern interpretation would include GPS counter measures and Drones systems.

But this is a perfect illustration what I mean when talking about the difference of a military structured wargame and pushing some plastic soldiers in Memoir44 or Tide of Iron.

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Brian Trimmer
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Great session report. one of my sons and I just finished a game a few days back but sadly, I did not keep notes on the sessioncry

I absolutely love this game!
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Craig Truesdell
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Always wish there were updates to this and expansions to other regions and time frames. My favorite is no stacking, air units, air defense units, supply units (!), HQ units, helos, and unit organizations.
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