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How I Lost To South Africa (Steel Armor: Blaze of War AAR)

The saying usually goes that if you can bluff the enemy into thinking that you are more numerable then you are, then you can effectively win the day with a small contingent to their much larger force. Well, Sun Tzu, you haven’t tried holding back the South Africans as they slung a company of mechanized infantry, supported by their fully outfitted APCs in a fortified trench system, at you. In theory, this should have been an evenly outfitted match had my allies, the Angolan FAPLA (you can laugh now), supported my six Cuban T-62s by digging in on the right flank. Like most things of this nature, it is very hard to assess the enemy disposition and from where or if they will attack or at the very least, take the initiative of the battle and swing it towards their favor because it isn’t like the enemy knows how we are faring in terms of manpower nor do they know if their manpower is sufficient enough to take and hold the objective at the same time.

I decided to position my force of tanks on the immediate left flanks so I could assess what was going on and try and make a push into the enemy positions that would assuredly be in the direct east of our position. I put my 2nd Tank Platoon to the furthermost extent of our positions so they could assault and take the area that would be to their east. What I really wanted to do was have them fire and maneuvere so they could assist the mechanized infantry that I had set in front of the 1st Tank Platoon. I didn’t know the South African’s strength so I thought that it may just be some fortified infantry that were lying in wait in their trench system so some mechanized infantry would be the best way to take them out without wasting my precious tank resources. In Steel Armor, if I lose one of my armored vehicles to a technical error, as in an enemy AT weapon takes out the tracks, it carries over to the rest of the campaign and it takes man hours of repair that my force simply doesn’t have on the frontline and if I decided to put them outside the tank to repair it in the midst of battle, they will become another soft body target for the South African infantry and armor to pick out.

On the onset of the battle, my theory was that if my Angolan allies assaulted the South African positions, I would be able to effectively swing down a traditional “hammer and anvil” strike to wipe out their forces. What this meant in the old days was infantry would charge the enemy in one direction while the Calvary, in this case, tanks, would slam down on the enemy’s rear like a hammer. This would be perfect for this scenario as we had  the strategic advantage in that we had them at an L-shaped place in the map and we could act out this tactic but more so, it would be like a door then the classic “hammer and anvil” as my tanks hinged their way to close on the South  Africans. But this was not to be because at the start of the assault, the South Africans took a mechanized company and smashed right into my inexperienced and undermanned Angolan supporting infantry. They continually shelled the area with their superior artillery and then, on top of all that, had their APCs firing down on the Angolans while their Oliphants shelled our supporting APCs and lit the infantry up with MG fire.

This isn’t to say that it wasn’t costly for the South Africans because they lost what equates to a platoon and a half of their mechanized infantry to our supporting T-62 fire and the Angolan RPGs, APCs, and recoilless rifle. While they may have lost a platoon and a half, they still had at least another platoon or two of combat effective mechanized infantry. They scurried out of their burning APCs, lit ablaze by the shell fire, and ran around in a futile attempt to relinquish the flames.  The beauty of this all is the way this interacts to the other units on the map. They can respond dynamically to this by either surrendering, if, for example, a tank or overwhelming infantry force decided to engulf their positions or they can just retreat off the battlefield but in other games, when an enemy retreats, you either lose the unit or something dire happens but in SABOW, the retreated infantry will be reformed into their own platoon sections again but the persistence stays with them.

While on my right flank, the Angolan mechanized infantry was getting decimated and taken over by the SAR infantry, the 2nd Tank Platoon on my furthest most left flank was in the fight of its life to maintain its wits and support the tank assault to take out the SAR in the area. What I didn’t know when I started the battle was that a company of Oliphants were directly in front of my position, almost parallel to my T-62s, closing down on us because their view was most likely that a good defense had the best offense which their tanks provided. On my mini-map, all I saw was one tank after another fading out into greyness as their hull’s were perforated by the Oliphant’s sabots and the crew inside was torn to pieces or they were simply hit in the wrong area by a tank round and were lit on fire.

This doesn’t mean that they didn’t put up a hell of fight though because, as seen by the picture above, the 2nd Tank Platoon took out no more than five of the enemy’s armored assets and immobilized a couple a more as they hit the tank treads. So one after another, the fiery rain just enveloped my left flank and the center tank platoon was left to suffer the fate of effectively being the last men standing and doing their best to hold the line.

The British-made Oliphant was a powerful piece of hardware that was superior to what I had fielded on this day. Soviet doctrine was designed for their armor and mechanized units to completely envelope the enemy with sheer numbers and the Western doctrine was, more or less, quality over quantity. So whenever I sent a sabot or AP shell down range to take out one of these monstrosities, it either ping off it and went skyward to take out Zeus or it penetrated but didn’t cause damage to the internal functions of the tank itself. Because of the ill-fated situation that the 1st Tank Platoon was in, they were sitting ducks that were just waiting to be picked off by the hunters. Lucky for them, however, the mechanized SAR infantry was too occupied on the right flank to assist in the armored push but they did send some APCs over as their infantry continually called in artillery strikes to clear out the right flank with a creeping barrage like in World War I. One person’s hell is another person’s fortune.

As noted before, the situation was bad and just getting worse by the minute. I commandeered one of the T-62s and positioned it on the firing line to try and save what was left of my tank force or inflict as much damage upon the South Africans as possible but as soon as I got into position, I turned to my left and saw that one of my tanks was disabled; they had perished inside their tanks as a shell had penetrated the hull and bounced around, ripping through them like hot butter. Upon looking to my immediate right flank, I saw my other T-62 on fire with two crewmen that burnt to death on the outside and the other two either dead or dying in the inside.

I opened the hatch and made an assessment of what was happening on the battlefield and what I saw was just plumes of smoke rising from the smoldering SAR wreckage but there was still more then a platoon of armor out there ready to take me out and overtake the 1st Tank Platoon’s position. So I got into the gunner’s seat and unloaded every last shell that my tank could muster into the oncoming armor but as some were advancing, others were pouring fire into us. Because of the target rich environment, my T-62 ran out of ammo and had to rely on its MG fire to keep the pressure on but that wouldn’t penetrate the hull of the APCs, let alone the Oliphants and if a tank is firing anti-personal rounds at an armored target then they are mostly likely on the bad end of the ammo count so it was a fruitless affair of desperate firing as my crew yelled slurs, literally, as rounds penetrated our hull and barely missed us.

It was all for naught as a South African tank flanked to our uncovered left and sent a round into us, killing a crewman inside the tank, then as the rest of the crew was getting out, two of them got out on the wrong side and tank shell split them both in half as the other crewman laid low on the side of the tank hoping to survive ordeal.

The battle did not go my way and we ended up losing our starting position and suffered close to 100% casualties but I have to say that I had fun while doing it. When a game can be fun when you win or lose then something great is going in within that game. Much like Dwarf Fortress or any rogue-like or grand strategy, a singular lose isn’t the end of the campaign or story, for that matter. I have the whole topographical map in the operational mode for the Battle of Cuito-Cuanavale in this game and while I may suffer in my dynamic campaign because of this tragic loss, the fun that was had can never be taken away and it goes to show that being a war-gamer is the best type of gaming there is.