Old Gamers Never Die: ‘Regiments’ – Lessons from the Battles of Grasleben: There is NO Shame in Tactical Retreats!

The Battle for Grasleben rages, and Soviet forces are taking losses! The Retreat command icon is the arrow-shaped symbol pointing down on the third black square, second row, in the Tic-Tac-Toe style Orders menu. The vertical rectangle on the left side of that menu is the Stop unit command. Game design elements in this and other screenshots from Regiments are (C) 2022 Bird’s Eye Games and MicroProse

Lessons Learned from the Battles of Grasleben: There’s No Shame in Retreating

Retreat? Hell, we just got here!” – Captain Lloyd Williams, USMC

This Soviet ZSU-23-4 “Shilka” was part of an AI-controlled unit that attempted a Retreat in Regiments. I could no longer see the unit icon in real life, but my virtual A-10 pilots did and destroyed this fearsome (but fragile) anti-aircraft vehicle before it reached its Entry Zone.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from playing Regiments’ Grasleben Attack scenario multiple times is that even though the objective of the mission is to capture and successfully defend as many of the enemy’s Objective Zones as possible within the game’s time limit (it can range between 30 to 60 minutes, depending on your pre-game settings), commanders will sometimes need to use the “retreat” command to prevent one of their units from total destruction, especially in the early stages of a battle, where every vehicle and soldier counts.

The main menu screen. Grasleben can be found in Skirmish mode.

Regiments – in case you’ve missed my earlier posts about this recently-released game developed by Bird’s Eye Games and published by MicroProse – is a real-time tactical level wargame set in an alternate version of 1989. Its main conceit is that Mikhail Gorbachev’s attempts to reform Soviet economic, political and foreign policies failed, and the Cold War went hot, sparked by increased tensions between NATO and the Warsaw Pact and accelerated by a revolt within Communist-ruled East Germany that escalated into a war between the two alliances in a divided Europe.

When deterrence fails! For 44 years after World War II, the presence of U.S. Army divisions in West Germany was intended to dissuade the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact vassals from starting World War III in West Germany. In real life, deterrence worked. In “Regiments” things go wrong, and U.S. forces must fight off a Soviet-led invasion.

In any military operation, no matter what the specific mission might be, every commander hopes to inflict more casualties on the enemy force than the enemy inflicts on his own. Unless you have the same sangfroid attitude possessed by many French generals during the First World War and truly believe that Dulce et decorum est pro Patria mori, as a commander in Regiments, one of your goals is to do more damage to the enemy than he does to you.

Because Regiments attempts to portray late 1980s conventional warfare as realistically as possible without showing gory Saving Private Ryan-like scenes of soldiers being maimed or killed onscreen, you, as a player in the role of a unit commander, must accept the reality that no matter how well you plan an attack or how “cool” your tanks, scout vehicles, infantry fighting vehicles, and other military hardware are, the AI-controlled enemy is not passive. You will be fired at from various locations as soon as the defenders spot you. You will be suppressed by automatic weapons (which means your troops will be too busy ducking enemy bullets that they won’t fire their weapons as fast as they otherwise would. Some of your vehicle crews or infantry might panic.

Even Soviet aircraft (denoted here by hard-to-see planes and red inverted U symbols can be suppressed. Here, as two A-10 Thunderbolts dash toward the northwest to attack a Soviet BMP-1 platoon (which has already lost two BMPs), a U.S. Vulcan VADS sends a Soviet pilot into a panic with its 20mm cannon, while TOW missiles from an M2 Bradley platoon with infantry “reaches out” to “touch” the same Soviet unit spotted by the attack helicopters (not seen but mentioned above) and the A-10s. A tank platoon and a section of scouts in M3 CFVs have already retreated.

And, regrettably, if the enemy’s anti-tank guided missiles, artillery fire, automatic weapons, or tank cannon rounds are accurately aimed, or if your units are exposing their vulnerable sides or rear to incoming rounds, you will lose tanks, other armored fighting vehicles, and – sadly – some of your soldiers.

Sometimes, if the enemy uses cluster munitions (such as cluster bombs from ground attack aircraft or DPICM artillery rounds) that affect large areas, entire units will be destroyed in one blow.

That puff of white smoke on the right-center side of this image indicates a unit was given the Retreat order. The smoke is from special grenades launched from retreating vehicles to cover their withdrawal and hopefully avoid being hit by enemy fire. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

More commonly, though, units – especially those equipped with armored vehicles that can move relatively fast on the battlefield – lose vehicles one at a time. It sucks, especially if you’re like me and hate seeing your units being hit by enemy fire and the number of tanks or other vehicles being reduced by those incoming rounds or missiles.

M3A2 Cavalry Fighting Vehicles and M1 Abrams tanks move cautiously forward in the early stages of the Battle of Grasleben.
Proof that the Retreat option sometimes does not go as a commander wants; those two smoldering vehicles off to the center-right of the image (under the mini-map at top right corner and south of OZ Alfa) are the two M3A2 CFVs in the previous image.

“He who advances without seeking fame,
Who retreats without escaping blame,
He whose one aim is to protect his people and serve his lord,
The man is a jewel of the Realm”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Luckily, Regiments has two commands that you can issue to your units so they can “get the hell out of Dodge.”

U.S. forces deploy near Grasleben, Lower Saxony, June 1989

The first option – Reverse – allows you to “pull back” a unit that is under enemy fire in reverse and place it in a safer location without removing the unit from the battlefield altogether. This is usually the preferable option because you don’t lose the unit’s firepower (even though its losses reduced its effectiveness) and it might survive – provided its new location is either out of range of the enemy’s weapons or is in heavy forests or urban terrain where shelter is available.

The downside to Reverse is that most vehicles move slower when they’re driven in reverse gear, so if the enemy can still see your tanks or infantry fighting vehicles scuttling backward like a crab and his weapons have the range, chances are good that you’ll probably lose one or more vehicles if you issue a Reverse order. (This is especially true if one of the enemy units is an attack helicopter, which has a higher-than-average line of sight – or LOS – and is often armed with long-range guided missiles.)

Dug-in units take longer to respond to orders, and sometimes even a Retreat command doesn’t prevent this from happening.

Retreat is more extreme, because once you issue it, the unit’s surviving vehicles will fire off a volley of smoke grenades to obscure their movement, and it is no longer available for any command from you, at least temporarily. In Regiments, the unit’s NATO symbol will “grey out” and you can no longer see its vehicles on the battlefield. (However, since Regiments tries to be realistic, this invisibility is not like a Romulan cloaking device that fools the enemy into thinking the unit vanished into thin air. Enemy cannon fire, anti-tank guided missiles, or artillery fire can still kill the retreating unit with lucky hits. Of course, this works both ways, and your side can destroy retreating enemy units as well.)

“Certain battles were won by retreating.” ― Eoin Colfer, The Eternity Code

If the game had not been at the One Minute mark, I would have issued a retreat order to this AH-1F Cobra unit, which lost one helicopter and was running low on main ammo. As it was, I kept it away from the obviously unoccupied Objective Zones Foxtrot, Golf and Hotel. Note all the craters and burn spots all over the battlefield!

The advantage that the Retreat order gives you is that if a surviving unit reaches your Entry Zone/Supply Depot, it not only gets replacements of both men and equipment, but it retains battle experience and becomes a veteran unit. In contrast, destroyed units can be replaced with Deployment Points, but they will be green. Inexperienced, and less combat effective than units with high veterancy.

Of course, Regiments does not spawn replacements instantaneously; it usually takes several minutes of game time to place either a reconstituted veteran unit or a new “green” one on your “available units” queue. And you can’t deploy either type of replacement unless – naturally – you have enough Deployment Points in your “bank account.”

To the last man: Even if the AI had ordered this Soviet unit to Retreat, its defensive stance – you can see the “berm” of dirt around the BMP vehicle in foreground – impeded a rapid skedaddle from this position. DPICM rounds fired by division artillery wiped out this unlucky quartet of Soviet armor.

But, unlike units that you kept in the battle using the Reverse command, the units you sent to the rear with the Retreat order will be at full strength when they arrive. The best you can do with a Reversed platoon or section is to repair damaged vehicles, rearm, refuel, and get replacement soldiers, but no new vehicles will be added.

“To withdraw isn’t a sign of weakness… It is a sign that a man knows the limits of his capabilities and the most probable outcome of the future. One who retreats to fight another day isn’t running away, but looking for another road towards the same destination.” ― Lionel Suggs

So, remember, in Regiments, as in real war, discretion is the better part of valor. Learning when to retreat – and when not to – are key concepts every commander must learn. If done properly, and if your efforts eventually pay off with a victory, there is no shame in a tactical retreat.  

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

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