Collecting Forces for use with Vietnam Crossfire - Mortar Section of the US Weapons Platoon

Page Title - Vietnam Crossfire
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Collecting Forces for Crossfire - Mortar Section of the US Weapons Platoon


On the battlefield, the mortar section of the US weapons platoon provides the company commander with his own 'pocket artillery' . Unlike the 4.2" mortars of the battalion weapons company which, depending on mission and priority, could be called upon by any of the battalions rifle company's, the mortars of the Company weapons platoon were used specifically in support of the company to which they belonged. This means that the US Company commander always has on hand three 81mm mortars in direct support of his company.


Weapons Platoon Command Group

The mortar section consists of the platoon command group stand, three 81mm mortar stands (each with three crew figures) and an attached mortar forward observer (hereinafter referred to as the Mortar Fire Controller, or MFC) stand.

One major advantage that the US mortar section has over the NVA mortars is that any US command group (platoon or company), Special Forces/LRRP stand or AFV can take the role of forward observer and control fire from the section. This means that the security of the US MFC would appear to be not as critical as that of his NVA counterpart (however, see Caveat below); if the NVA observer is lost, his associated mortar loses it's indirect fire capability and is left with no option except to fire over open sights. The benefit of this to the US player is quite clear in that indirect fire from the mortar section can be employed almost anywhere on the battlefield that is within LOS of an appropriate stand. The US player can thus switch his indirect fires from the mortar section at will, and focus them in those areas that are critical either in the attack or the defense.


Front view of the completed Mortar Section

The drawback of the US 81mm mortar section is that, as per Crossfire rule 2.2.2, they have to be sited at the beginning of the game in a permanent firing position. Whereas the 60mm NVA mortar in the company combat support platoon is mobile (like an HMG stand) and can be attached to a particular platoon, the US 81mm mortars are static and cannot be attached. A consequence of this is that the US commander must consider the siting and security of these weapons carefully. In a game as fluid as Crossfire/Incoming! it is quite easy to find the enemy using flanking moves to penetrate to the rear of your position (see NVA Recon Squad) and 'hit' your mortar section. Given that the mortar stands fight in close combat as a heavy weapons stand, they suffer a -2 modifier to the close combat die roll. This modifier is negated if they are involved in a close combat that includes either a friendly fire-team stand or the company command group. If the mortar section finds itself in close combat with only it's own  platoon command group in support, then the -2 modifier is applied and this is adjusted by the platoon command group's leadership rating.


US 81mm Mortar Squad

It can be seen then that the mortar section is quite vulnerable to flanking attacks and that the close combat environment is not one to which it is entirely suited. If you are going to deploy a mortar section, then it is a good idea to provide it with some security, such as a rifle stand, for just such an eventuality.

US Mortar Section Indirect Fire Mission

Crossfire Rule 7.1 'Timing of Indirect Fire' states that "... only one indirect fire attack per FO may be performed any time during a player's particular initiative". There appears to be an apparent anomoly here with regard to the Incoming! rules since there is a significant difference between them and the original Crossfire rules in terms of tactical scale. In original Crossfire, the mortar section would have been represented by a single mortar stand and it's fire would have been directed at a single target stand representing a full squad. In Incoming! the mortar section is represented by three mortar stands and it's fire is directed at a single target stand that represents a fire team. After discussion with Barrie Lovell, it seems reasonable to allow the US mortar section to fire all three tubes as part of a 'single' indirect fire attack - Barrie's comment was,

"In my games I would allow the US MFC (Mortar fire controller) to fire all three of his mortars. My basis for this as that it reflects the efficient US communications and also the fact that the rules are pitched at a slighter lower tactical level than the original Crossfire rules".

I am in agreement with Barrie on this but, at the end of the day, players will have to make their own decision regarding the reading and implementation of this particular rule.


Mortar Section Fire Controller (FO)

So, given that each mortar rolls 4 dice, and that all three mortars are controlled by a single MFC, the company commander can bring down a rain of explosive on targets of his choice - enemy in the treeline? Then hit them with 12 dice; three rolls of 4-dice apiece, with each mortar having a kill potential of 1 fire team!

For example, lets say that the MFC has a line of sight to a terrain feature that contains an NVA rifle platoon (a platoon commander stand, six stands of NVA riflemen and three RPG stands). The MFC calls an indirect fire mission at the start of the US player initiative and the target is one of the enemy fire teams ('to hit' roll = 5 or 6). The first mortar tube rolls four dice and scores 2 hits, the target stand is suppressed. The second tube rolls four dice and scores a single hit, the target stand is eliminated and an adjacent stand is suppressed (Crossfire rule 7.1.1 'Kill Potential'). The third tube's fire is academic since the target has been destroyed.


Rear view of the completed Mortar Section

It is not necessary to fire all three tubes and in order to conserve ammunition the MFC may elect to fire one, two or three tubes at the player's discretion. Remember that all on-board weapons capable of indirect fire have a limited number of fire missions and that conservation of ammunition may well be a consideration.  

Caveat

It all sounds great, three 4-dice fire attacks without any chance of losing the initiative and fire from the mortar section can be called in and controlled not only by the MFC but by any number of other eligible stands.... 

The caveat in my games is that I allow this three-tube indirect fire capability only if the MFC stand is in play on the table. If the stand has been eliminated then all calls for indirect fire from the mortar section result in only a single tube being fired. The consequence of this is that the US player must now consider the survivability of his MFC rather than adopt a cavalier attitude regarding his security based on the assumption that any number of other eligible stands can fill his role - now they can't, at least not with the same effectiveness.

 

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All figures are from my own personal collection, painted and photographed by Mike R 2001


 

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