Musing on moving, creeping, rolling and block barrages in Crossfire

Aidan of the WarFactory has been running a Crossfire campaign in Normandy. You can follow the progress by watching his Normandy tag. I think this is a great campaign but my focus in this post is something else. His house rule for a rolling artillery barrage.

Moving, Rolling, Creeping and Block Barrages

To expand on what I said in Artillery and Mortar Tactics of WW2, the British invented the moving barrage in World War I and were still using it in World War II (Wikipedia: Barrage (artillery)). Other nations adopted it e.g. the French in WW1 and the Soviets in WW2. In fact the technique was standard Soviet practice in WW2. The Germans also used something similar.

A moving barrage targets a line (or lines) and moves forward slowly, lifting 50–100 metres every few minutes. The goal of a moving barrage was to neutralise the enemy i.e. to prevent enemy movement, observation, and effective use of enemy weapons. The barrage would be quite complex, including wheels and combing backwards and forth. A moving barrage did not depend on identifying individual targets in advance so was useful when enemy positions had not been thoroughly reconnoitred. But it was expensive in ammunition a lot of fire would be wasted on unoccupied ground.

Moving barrages had as many lines as needed to achieve the depth required for the attack. Moving barrages could be either creeping, rolling or block.

  • Creeping Barrage: only one line was engaged at a time. When fire lifted from one line, it moved backwards to the next line.
  • Rolling Barrage: several lines were engaged at once (eg a-a & b-b, when fire lifted from a-a it went to c-c).
  • Block Barrage: several lines engaged simultaneously and all lifting together to a new block.

The barrage shelters the infantry moving behind it. The effect only lasted during the bombardment, which is why the friendly infantry had to ‘lean’ on the bombardment to ensure they reached the enemy positions before the enemy realised the bombardment had stopped and reached their guns. A moving barrage that was too slow would risk friendly fire on one’s advancing troops. If the barrage lifted too quickly the enemy would have time to emerge from cover, resume defensive positions, and attack the exposed advancing troops. ‘Leaning’ on the barrage meant the friendly infantry got the enemy while they were still neutralised. But leaning on a moving barrages exposed the friendly infantry to risk. In World War I the French considered 10% self-inflicted casualties were acceptable losses for infantry advancing behind a moving barrage (Barrage (artillery)).

The diagram of Creeping Barrage is from the Winnipeg Tribune, 17 May 1917.

Creeping Barrage Revolutionises Modern ways of Trench Fighting - Winnipeg Tribune, 17 May 197
Creeping Barrage Revolutionises Modern ways of Trench Fighting – Winnipeg Tribune, 17 May 1917

Aidan’s Rolling Barrage house rule

Aidan had previously mentioned this house rule to me but the official version appeared in his Normandy – West of Hottot Report (Battle 2). This is what he has to say about it:

Rolling artillery barrage rules

British forces sometimes used their artillery in a ‘creeping’ line directly in front of an infantry advance. The rolling barrage is allocated by the C-in-C, and is not available as a firing option for in-game FOs. Often the following infantry struggled to keep up with the barrage and the suppressed Germans had time to recover before being attacked.

Stretch a piece of string across the table. It advances 3” inches (or as specified in the scenario) at the beginning of each German initiative and any elements it crosses is hit. Each element, is only hit in the first turn it is touched by the line. Hidden elements are hit when the barrage first touches the cover they are hidden in. Roll 3d6 for each element (reduced by 1d6 if they have cover for Indirect fire). If the unit is hidden then the owning player can do this in secret, and might want to roll some ‘dummy’ dice when the barrage moves across empty features to avoid their opponent guessing too easily where hidden troops are.

Steven’s observations

I was very pleased when Aidan shared his house rule with me. It is the first attempt I’ve seen to model a moving barrage. I think the rule should achieve the effect desired i.e. to neutralise the enemy as the friendly infantry advance. It should give interesting opportunities for the attacker, as the barrage moves past the enemy forces. The rule is simple, clear, and potent. And I particularly like the “string” bit. A winner.

But I still ask myself … can I improve on this house rule?

Here are some possible tweaks:

  • Treat as smoke so direct fire cannot cross the line at all
  • Perhaps combine with pre-registered fire, so the defender can call in their own artillery, without having line of sight
  • Stands, both enemy and friendly, moving across the line are immediately attacked with no cover bonus
  • Friendly player plans the barrage i.e. the lines, and the timing of moving the lines
  • Tie movement of the barrage to the moving clock rather than shifting of initiative
  • Change the attack dice depending on the artillery shooting (rather than 3d6 for all)
  • Allow multiple lines
  • Assign a points value to a moving barrage, so players can buy one like they can buy an FO; it might be expensive i.e. the cost of several FO
  • Allow hidden defenders to rally, but probably not while the barrage is on them
  • Perhaps something about leaning on a barrage, the trade off between speed of advance and casualties; I’m not sure how that works and I’d have to play around

Would any of these improve on Aidan’s offering? Well, they would certainly change it, but I’m not sure they would improve it. There are times when simple is best.

4 thoughts on “Musing on moving, creeping, rolling and block barrages in Crossfire”

  1. A few comments on the above:
    1. The barrage line isn’t treated as smoke but this rule applies (which didn’t make it into the blog) “The barrage creates a great deal of dust and smoke; any unit firing across the line drops an additional dice (in additional to any cover penalty). Anti-vehicle fire across the line of the barrage is at -1 ACC.”. That makes fire across the line sufficiently ineffective that generally people won’t bother.
    2. “Stands, both enemy and friendly, moving across the line are immediately attacked with no cover bonus”. It doesn’t explicitly say that but the intention was that any unit touching it should be hit, and it makes sense to disregard their cover.
    3. It helps in game to have it move constantly and in small amounts, so I think it probably works better every initiative rather than waiting for moving clock.
    4. Changing attack dice could be done, but 2d6 would be very ineffective (as often with cover it would be 1d6) and 4d6 would probably be a bit devastating.
    5. Multiple lines and points make sense – the points could be for a certain length of line. Maybe 1″ of line = 1 FO, something like that. In the campaign the barrages are allocated at C-in-C (division) level, so tabletop (battalion) don’t get a say in their use.
    6. “Allow hidden defenders to rally”- also didn’t say that but the intention was that this should be allowed.
    7. “Leaning on barrage” sounds interesting but don’t know how this could be translated into game rules. Thought about it, but I’m a bit stumped.

    • Aidan, thanks for your observations. I admit my own thoughts were more brainstorm than real suggestions – “musing” as in the title. Perhaps they’ll inform your thinking if you revisit this house rule.

  2. Thinking about the “Leaning in”. Perhaps a unit hit by the barrage would have a temporary close combat penalty of -2 (in addition to any suppression), but for one turn only. However, any unit attacking them while this penalty was in place would risk being hit by the barrage themselves (not sure what that would be – 2d6 seems a bit weak, 3d6 too much. Maybe they get hit by the standard 3d6 but only on an initial 5+ on a d6, something like that).

  3. This is a really worthwhile post as poor artillery tactics are a key problem with Crossfire (and many other WWII games).

    Is a rule for leaning on the barrage needed? Surely if the attackers fail to stick close (for e.g. because they bump in to unsuppressed defenders and lose the initiative) then the defenders will have an opportunity to rally after the barrage rolls over them. It isn’t a sure thing for either side, as the defenders might fail to rally (or prioritise something else and fail at that), allowing the attackers to catch up with their barrage again, but in general the further ahead the barrage gets the less useful it will be, which is all you need.

    The string approach avoids the vexed question of the Crossfire ground scale, but I am more tempted by a template (representing say 150 yards square) for each battery (NZ: troop) firing. This would allow for individual templates to be moved by the defender with a random roll, making barrages become ragged or fall short and inflict friendly casualties. These were real issues with actual barrages.

    IMO a rule to reduce fire effectiveness across the barrage is far better than preventing it altogether. A well prepared defence would have fixed lines defined for MG fire precisely to allow them to fire blind into the barrage (or at night).

    Also on two pedantic points, the French were certainly ahead of the British in using creeping barrages in WWI, and the true ‘creeper’ as depicted in your Tribune image was much much rarer than the barrage organised as a series of successive lines, I thin because there are so many more sums to do before you can fire one. I’m not sure that true creeping barrages were fired at all in WWII.


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