Improve Your Tactical Expertise

reviewed by Maj John F. Schmitt

ARMOR ATTACKS: The Tank Platoon: An Interactive Exercise in Small-Unit Tactics and Leadership. By John F. Antal. Novato, CA, Presidio Press, 1991, 288 pp., $14.95 (Member $13.45).

In Armor Attacks: The Tank Platoon. active-duty U.S. Army tank officer John F. Antal has struck upon an extremely clever, curious, and innovative fictional form that is part tactical decision game (TDG), part combat adventure page-turner, and part The Defence of Duffer’s Drift. Antal has created an interactive story of current-day armored warfare in the Middle East. The reader plays the role of the central character of the story, 2dLt Sam Jaeger, a brand new M1 tank platoon commander thrust into battle for the first time. Antal creates a series of tactical dilemmas and requires the reader to choose Jaeger’s course of action from among several options. Each decision that the reader makes leads to a different result and another decision. For example:

If Jaeger decided to withdraw to live to fight another day, go to Section 20.

If Jaeger decides to stay and take on a Threat lank company with two M1 tanks, go to Section 21.

Starting with the very simple decision of whether to make his first plan on his own or ask his battleseasoned platoon sergeant’s advice, the book takes 2dLt Jaeger through 88 sections. Some decisions lead forward, some back to previous sections. In some sections. Jaeger succeeds. In others, he gets his men or himself wounded, captured, or killed-in which case Antal gives a short lecture on tactics or leadership according to AirLand Battle precepts and sends the reader back to an earlier section:

One of the major tenets of the U.S. Army’s AirLand Battle doctrine is the concept of agility. Agility is the capability to act and think faster than your opponent. . . .

Jaeger paid the ultimate sacrifice. He fought and lost. For whatever reasons, friction, luck, or just slow reflexes. Jaeger’s war is over.

If you have what it takes to lead American soldiers to victory, go back to Section 1. learning from your mistakes and fight again. Victory or Death!

Eventually the reader will learn his lessons and arrive at Section 88, in which Jaeger is promoted to captain for his actions. In the process, the reader will have undergone a primer in tank tactics and combat leadership and will have read a pretty interesting story.

Armor Attacks’ decidedly Army flavor will take some getting used to by Marines. Its style, however, will be familiar to anybody who has read Harold Coyle’s Team Yankee and similar novels-straightforward, unadorned and energetic:

“Lieutenant!” Jaeger’s new gunner cried. “IDENTIFIED . . . TANKS . . . RANGE TWO NINE HUNDRED!”

“Steady, Hyatt. Wait for the command.” Jaeger’s calm voice had a reassuring effect on his new crew. . . .

“Red, this is Romeo Four Seven,” Jaeger confidently called over the radio. “SABOT . . . TEN TANKS, THREE BMPS . . . DIRECT FRONT . . . DEPTH . . . FIRE AND ADJUST!”

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! The platoon fired almost at once, four finstabilized uranium-depleted sabot rounds moving faster than the speed of sound. Two T-72s burst into flames, their crews scattered to pieces across the hot desert floor.

But Armor Attacks is more than interesting reading. As for pure training value, it falls short of the Gazettes TDGs-mostly because the reader’s decisions are multiple choice rather than the creative act that we know decisionmaking to be. And the lessons Antal offers are very basic-this book is most useful to platoon commanders. Yet, because the lessons are illustrated in concrete examples rather than merely described in concept, the book is valuable to leaders at any level. The book is valuable if for no other reason than it recognizes the part luck plays in combat. After some decisions, the reader rolls a die to determine which section to go to next, and success or failure, life or death may depend on that roll. I was genuinely bothered when I or one of my men got killed off-even when due purely to a die roll.

Armor Attacks may not be as valuable a training tool as TDGs, as exciting a work of fiction as something by Tom Clancy or Harold Coyle, or as timeless as Swinton’s Duffer’s Drift. But Armor Attacks is a clever hybrid that does admirably in all three categories. A book that gets the reader personally and genuinely interested in the outcome must be doing something right. One can only hope the book’s subtitle, The Tank Platoon, indicates there will be more to follow, in units of different size and type.

If you decided to give this exercise a try, move ahead with your tactical development.

If not, go back to Square 1.