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Sherman Elite! 

Winning Strategies for the Yanks in Panzer Elite

by Robert Murphy


        It’s been over a year now since Wing’s Simulation’s release of Panzer Elite. A gripping, realistic, and just plain fun simulation of World War II armored combat, Panzer Elite earned critical raves and rapidly developed a loyal fan base. Indeed, Wings has succeeded where in the past so many of the PC gaming industry’s heavyweights have failed. Yet the same depth and realism which reward the patient player with an immersive simulation experience may initially be a source of frustration, even for experienced PC simulation players. For while PE features a complete difficulty panel to ease in the new player, there is no avoiding the fact that in the game, just as in the actual armored battles between the tanks of the U.S. Army and the Wermacht, one wrong move can get you killed. For the Second World War tank crew, simple survival depended upon the ability to make snap decisions while maintaining maximal situational-awareness in the blinding confines of a "buttoned-up" tank. Crack individual skills matched by an equal capacity for teamwork were required for survival. In the Second World War, green American tank crews were killed or wounded in scores, not just by more experienced enemy tank crews, but by powerful and well-placed anti-tank guns or ambushing infantry. Panzer Elite makes no concessions to playability, and even playing as the Germans – with their vastly superior tanks and veteran crews – the new player may encounter a good deal of frustration before mastering the tactics essential for a successful mission.


        While there are a number of superb articles offering sound tactical advice for the beginning Panzer Elite player, * most of these articles have focused primarily upon strategies for playing as the German tanker, with little advice for playing as the Americans. This is not surprising. Most players would rather command a platoon of the fearsome Tiger I or Panther G over the dependable yet lightly armored and outgunned Sherman tank. (As any trip to Wing’s Simulations message boards --  http://www.wingssimulations.com/ -- will illustrate.) Thus, those bold enough to try their hand at waging a successful Panzer Elite campaign with the U.S. Army’s inferior tanks and generally inexperienced crewmen have had to learn their lessons the hard way. Drawing upon my own experiences in the PE single-player American Campaign, along with the gracious contributions of two noteworthy individuals, Teut Weideman of Wings Simulations and Paul "Top Sgt. KrappO" Chasse, it is my aim to help you make your first Panzer Elite American Campaign a successful one.


Crew, Equipment, Ammunition, the Briefing: Don’t Lose the Battle before it has started!


        As an Ami (German slang for a Yank in W.W. II) platoon leader, one of the most significant difficulties you will face is a scarcity of capable crewman in the personnel pool. After successive missions, skilled crewmen may become rarer still, due to the troubling tendency of the earlier Sherman’s to "brew up" into flames when hit, usually killing or at least severely wounding their crew. Add this to the general superiority of the German tanks and crews (not to mention their targeting optics) and life starts to seem quite unfair indeed. Nonetheless, always assign the best crewmen possible. Veterans are considerably more likely to survive a mission, and the times where you are fortunate enough to posses a ‘reserve’ of crack tankers will be few and far between. While it is definitely wise to occasionally rotate in less capable crewman to allow them to gain experience, the bulk of the men you assign should be the best available.

        The advice in the PE rulebook is sound – take the most skilled crewmen for your tank – then divide what remains of the cream of the personnel pool among your platoon. Try to assign a capable and balanced crew for each and every tank.

* See the superb series of articles featured in "Turret Talk" at SimHQ:  http://www.simhq.com/simhq3/sims/turret/turret.shtml


Crew Assignments


Your Tank:

The best of the best, with the exception of the driver position. Here you will want at least a "good" driver, but an "excellent" or "outstanding" spotter. While an exceptionally skilled driver is less likely to burnout the engine, if you have planned your approach in a given mission carefully, you should rarely need to run at over 30-40% throttle! Besides, for all intents and purposes you will be ‘driving’ the lead tank. Be sure you have the best radio operator available. As the platoon leader, you will call in the artillery strikes so often essential to success as the Yanks, and an ace radio operator (or "R.O.") will provide you with accurate and frequently updated reports on the map screen. Additionally, a crack R.O will relay your orders to your platoon and receive radio messages from other friendly units with great efficiency.


Tank I

Note that I am referring to how each wingman will appear on the Mouse Tank icon, not as they will appear in camp; think of your tank as ‘tank 0’. Tank 1 is your "immediate" wingman; here a good gunner is essential. However, the collective spotting ability of the crew of tank 1 is not quite as important as that of the other crews in your platoon. In most cases Tank 1 will be in close proximity to your tank, and thus in a good position to attack a target spotted by you or your crew.


Tank’s 2&3

No tank should be given short shrift when dividing up capable crewman. As with all of your wingman, try to achieve a balance, particularly in spotting. (Again, I will discuss this vital element in detail later...) Ideally, you want a platoon where each tank has at least one exceptional spotter, as well as a "good" or better gunner. Even in tight formation, one tank may be in a position to spot an enemy another has missed, and for the Ami tanker – particularly when engaging AT-tank guns – getting and landing the first shot is a matter of survival. If you find that your ranks of exceptional tankers have been thinned over the course of your campaign, remember that an "excellent" or "outstanding" commander with high-morale can partially compensate for an average crew, by boosting both their individual abilities and morale.


Tank 4

This tank can be highly effective. Its assigned position in many formations allows Tank 4 to cover the rest of the platoon and may present grant a converging flank shot against an enemy unit which has faced its thick forward armor towards the bulk of your platoon. Nonetheless, tank 4 can also be the source of much frustration. One element of PE (that hopefully the long awaited 1.08 patch will address) is that the AI tanks occasionally display an inability to stay in formation. This is particularly true of tanks 3 and 4, with tank 4 occasionally refusing to budge until tank 3 has started to move. Steps can be taken to restore your formation in-mission (such as directing tank 3 to move forward then re-issuing the general order to assume the given formation) but for now just be sure that tank 4 has the best driver available and that tank three has the second best.



Spotting: The Key to Simple Survival as the Yanks


        While the ability to regularly spot the enemy before he has spotted you is vital for both sides, it is particularly essential for the American tanker. The superior armor of even the later model Panzer IV -- let alone the Tiger I or the Panther G -- allows the German tanker some margin for error, as there is a good probability that a hit from an unseen American AT-gun or AFV will fail to penetrate. As the Yanks, you have no such luxury. A Sherman platoon ambushed in the open by an unspotted AT-gun is almost certain to lose a couple of tanks before taking the gun out, while rolling into an ambush set by a heavy panzer formation can decimate your entire command. Adding the fact that the German’s have superior external visibility from within their tanks while buttoned-up (due to superior optics and design) along with the fact that German tanks generally have a much-lower profile than the markedly higher silhouette of the Sherman, things begin to look grim. (Among many reasons that Wing’s Simulations recommends that beginning players learn the basics by first playing as the Germans.) Yet with ably assigned crewmen, and judicious play, you can surmount the enemy’s many advantages. Remember: the most deadly components of any tank are its commander and his crew.


When assigning your crews, remember the ‘spotting hierarchy’

  1. The Tank Commander: While the T.C.’s command skill allows him to effectively orchestrate the actions of his crew, the ability to regularly spot an enemy is the most important skill of a good commander. For example, if you are faced with the choice of an "excellent" commander with "poor" spotting ability or a merely "good" commander with "excellent" spotting ability, always choose the latter. While a T.C.’s overall command rating is very important, the commander’s unfettered view of the battlefield from atop the turret grant him by far the best chance of sighting the enemy

  3. The Driver: The best forward spotter – besides having an excellent (unbuttoned) view the Driver will obviously have his focus forward.

  5. The Gunner – Spotting ability is important for the gunner, not so much in the initial sighing of the enemy, but for enabling him to quickly acquire a target sighted by another crewman or another tank. Still, pick the better gunner over the better spotter for this position.

  7. The Radio Operator: While the R.O. – like the driver – has a good forward view, the duties of his position may leave him with far less time to look for enemy tanks and troops.

  9. The Loader – Obviously, the view of the Loader is very limited. While a superb Loader who is also an excellent spotter is ideal, realize that the TC and the Driver are the two crucial positions for sighting the enemy.


        While it is vital to assign tank commanders with superior spotting ability, a T.C.’s command rating should not be disregarded. Again, a good Tank Commander raises the performance of the entire crew, including the likelihood that they will spot an enemy. A good commander boosts the morale of his crew, making them less likely to button-up prematurely, and more likely to unbutton sooner. This is a very important consideration, for closing the hatches lessens the likelihood of spotting the enemy by 50%. This is in turn further compounded by the inferior visibility from within a buttoned-up Sherman tank.




        Early war special APBC (Armor Piercing Ballistic Capped) is actually less effective than regular armor-piercing shells, except at longer ranges. While most all of your engagements with enemy tanks will (and should) take place at 400-700 yards, when arming your tanks early in the war, the best choice is a few (5-6) special APBC rounds, then roughly 60% AP, 35% HE, and 5% smoke. Later in the war, the armor penetration of special AP rounds increases dramatically. Thus you will want to ration these shells carefully, and ONLY use them on the toughest tanks – or when in caught in dire situations, such as facing German tanks while caught in the open. (In such an instance survival hinges on eliminating the threat as quickly as possible.) Designed to support infantry, the early Sherman’s weak 75mm main gun does have the advantage of excellent HE effects; while concealed infantry and particularly AT-guns represent potentially grave threats to your platoon, if they are spotted early they usually can be quickly dispatched with main gun and MG fire. Though artillery-delivered smoke can be very effective, I’ve found that tank smoke shells are best used to confuse the enemy, by firing over hills in varying directions while on the move. Although a well-placed smoke round can temporarily block one tank from sighting in on your platoon, usually tank-fired smoke is not very effective for evasion or for screening movement. While you should always stock a few shells, realize that terrain (defilade) is your most effective means of evading the enemy.


The Briefing


        Pay close attention to the details of a given mission during the briefing, but realize you’ll generally have little inkling as to what the enemy has in store for you until you click on the "Go!" button in the briefing screen, and "H-Hour" has arrived. While you’ll generally find that later in the war what you’re faced with in the actual mission more closely matches what you are told during the briefing session, you should always take any "intelligence" imparted here with a grain of salt. Study the map closely, and form a mental picture of either where you will make your stand if defending, or of a good, covered (defiladed) approach if attacking. Realize now that rolling directly over crestlines is one of the fastest ways to add a new ring to a Tiger I’s gun barrel. While positioning your tanks on high ground is desirable, always be sure that you have either forest or higher ground to your rear. This makes your chances of being spotted by the enemy much less likely. Known as "skylining" in tanker-speak, riding over a crestline with only the sky behind you ‘broadcasts’ your position to any Germans in the area, and is one of the most fundamental (and stupid!) mistakes a tank commander can make.


        While attacking, a low, defiladed approach is desirable; when defending the ideal position is atop commanding high ground, but remember: always with terrain, forest, or structures to your rear. This will allow you to defend a vast range of the battle area, and will make your shots against the heavier German tanks much more likely to penetrate. This is due to the fact that fired from a high elevation, your shells will strike either the enemy tanks thin top armor, or strike its glacis plate (the front hull armor) at a much lesser angle in relation to the enemy tank’s sloped armor. Either way, your shells are far more likely to penetrate.


        Obviously, Panzer Elite is not tracked Quake! Patience is the order of the day, whether on the attack, or on the defense. Having chosen the best crews available and stocked up on ammo, and listened to the briefing, its time to fire-up the engines and put your skills as an armor leader to the test.



The Mission


        The most fundamental lesson the successful Yank platoon leader must learn is that terrain is both a tanker’s best friend or worst enemy, depending on how the tank platoon is deployed. An able platoon leader will attack slowly and deliberately, only cresting a ridgeline when there is higher ground to his rear, seeking out good hull-down position where he may stop while carefully scanning the battlefield with his binoculars for enemy activity. Recognize and avoid fundamental mistakes. Besides never "skylining" your tank, you should never approach any area where there is any likelihood of an enemy ambush. Such places as road intersections, river crossings, and contested villages should always be approached indirectly, and while making full use of all available cover. (Low and slow!) Once in contested territory, (which you will be practically from the very beginning of most missions), avoid roads like the plague. Long stretches of road offer perfect firing lanes for enemy AT-guns, and roads are - of course – free of any of the concealment and cover that your platoon’s survival depends on. Do not stray far from supporting tank and infantry on your flanks. Trust me, given the deadly nature of your mission, more than 20% throttle (the ‘2’ key) is usually too fast. The essence of successful strategy for playing as the Yanks in Panzer Elite is best summarized by Paul "Top Sgt. KrappO" Chasse: "creep and peep." Move forward slowly, and take every opportunity to stop and scan for the enemy, from a hull-down or even a turret-down position. Blithely charging forward on high throttle will not only disrupt and break your platoon out of formation, but will also lead to a quick death at the hands of some hotshot Jerry gunner or Panzerschreck-wielding infantryman. Victory or defeat hinges upon your spotting the enemy before he spots you; ideally from a covered position, where you can call in artillery while you land the first rounds. With a few lucky shots, you can compel the enemy to withdraw before he even begins to return fire on your platoon. Meanwhile, that artillery strike you called in is now raining down on him. Indeed, artillery is "the great equalizer" in facing German armor, using it effectively is an essential skill for a platoon leader. (More on artillery in the next section)


Next: Enemy Positions and How to Take Them Out


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