The King of Battle - A Guide to Artillery in Steel Division: Normandy ‘44

By Ian Boudreau 08 Jun 2017 0

Steel Division: Normandy ’44 is a game about combined arms warfighting, but it’s very easy to over-focus on the movie stars of the Second World War, infantry and armor. These are the branches that have provided the basis for the war’s human dramas, and it’s not hard to see why. Thousands of troopers storming the French beaches, paratroopers dropping in over the countryside, and the rumble and terror of the Tiger all are immediately recognizable as moments of human valor and fear.

But you’ve only got so many card slots for your battle group, loading up on tanks and foot soldiers means you may not have room for what the Army has long called “The King of Battle.” Artillery can be key to victory, whether you’re pushing forward or defending a position. Steel Division handles artillery remarkably well, and depending on your chosen division, it’s possible to build a battlegroup around a devastating core of field guns.

Artillery in Steel Division is divided into four types, and using each effectively means the difference between smashing the enemy to pieces and getting stranded on the wrong side of the front without fire support. Being that there are 400 unique units and vehicles in the game, we’ll talk broadly about the four types of artillery and where they’re most effective in the fight.

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1. Mortars

Mortars aren’t traditionally considered artillery, even though they’re an indirect fire system. Mortar crews are usually a specially-trained five-man infantry squad organized with a larger infantry element. And while mortars are considered artillery in Steel Division for the purposes of battlegroup management, they’re best used in conjunction with your forward infantry to provide fire support and smokescreens while assaulting enemy hardpoints and machine guns.

Ideally, and this is true of all artillery and is just a good general rule, you’ll want to have recon elements ahead to let you know what’s in front of you so you can identify and prioritize targets. “Indirect fire” means you don’t need a line of sight to hit something, but you do need someone telling you what to fire at. Intelligence is crucial to effective use of artillery, so any artillery-focused battlegroup will need a healthy complement of scouts. You may notice that the targeting reticle reads “corrected” over mortar targets; this means the unit’s shots will become progressively more accurate as it fires at one target.

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Just like everything else in Steel Division, mortar crews can only carry a limited amount of ammo, so be prepared to send supply trucks to their positions. It’s never fun to need mortars lobbed at a machine gun nest and then see the “No Weapon” tooltip pop up.

In the field, move your mortar crews up slightly behind lines of advancing infantry, looking for treelines, hills, and other protected areas to set up in. Avoid placing them along roadways or anywhere with long sightlines and clear approaches, since they’ll quickly wither under even the lightest enemy rifle fire. And always be ready to tap the “fall back” key. There’s nothing you can do with a mortar team that’s full of bullet holes.

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2. Field guns

Now we’re into proper “steel on steel” territory – dropping big rounds on big things. These guns are towed, and once they’re set up they’re difficult to maneuver. But they compensate for this by having longer ranges and much more devastating ordnance than their more mobile mortar cousins. Field artillery pieces like howitzers are organized into battalions and company-sized elements called batteries in real-world militaries, but in Steel Division you’ll be adding them to your battlegroup a piece at a time, meaning you’ll want to carefully consider the size, cost, and phase availability for each gun you decide to bring.

Not all your towed pieces will be howitzers, of course. There are also several rocket artillery pieces in the game, including the Germans’ Nebelwerfer 41, which fires barrages of 150mm rockets.  Each munition has its own range and high explosive (HE) damage value, so carefully consider the kinds of rounds you’re using when composing a battlegroup.

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Field guns’ long ranges mean they can and should be placed well back from the front lines. However, their ranges aren’t enough to cover the entire map, so it’s important to think carefully about where to set them up. In the A and B phases of the game, you’ll want to get guns into position to cover likely enemy approaches and forward emplacements, and to provide heavier fire support for areas you want to capture quickly. Keep your guns behind high cover, such as trees and buildings, so it’s harder for your enemy to find them – powerful artillery pieces are high-value targets that your opponents will be sure to prioritize once the rounds start falling out of the sky.

Again, you’ll need to keep your guns supplied, and this brings us to an important point about battlegroup design: committing to an artillery-focused strategy means more than simply picking out a couple guns. Supply and recon units are crucial for keeping your guns firing, so it’s important to decide early on what strategy you’re planning on fielding and how it fits in with your chosen division’s available units. Obviously, supply trucks and scouts can help the rest of your force too, but thinking about how the pieces of your battlegroup will overlap and interlock is a major key to success.

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3. Self-propelled artillery

They might look a bit like tanks to the uninitiated, but self-propelled artillery units are for all intents and purposes large field guns bolted onto tank chassis. They come in various forms, of course – the 2nd Infantry Division’s experimental Xylophone, for example, is a multiple-launch rocket system welded onto the bed of a two-and-a-half-ton truck.

Self-propelled artillery units generally have ranges comparable to field guns, but they’re much easier to move around the battlefield. That’s not to say they should be on the front lines, but they’re more resilient than most other artillery units in the game and can get out of the way if they’re targeted by enemy aircraft or batteries.

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The variety of self-propelled pieces means they fill various roles on the battlefield. The French 2e Blindée’s Mortier M21 is an 81mm mortar in an armored car, along with a handy M2 Browning .50 caliber machine gun, which is one of the most versatile weapons in the game and can fire at aircraft. The Germans’ Panzerhaubitze Lorraine sports a 150mm howitzer-type (meaning it can only fire while stationary) gun and a lighter, but still versatile, MG 34.

The area of effect of the various rounds will help determine which of these pieces to bring. Larger AoE means less damage across bigger areas, which can be helpful to dislodge entrenched infantry or cause area denial. Smaller AoE means damage will be more focused, and that’s more helpful against enemy artillery and armor.

Self-propelled artillery generally suffers from the same weaknesses as tanks, namely they have poor vision and must either be hidden or supported by units that can protect their less-armored flanks. However, self-propelled artillery units generally can carry more ammunition than other types of artillery, so they are (again, generally) less reliant on support units.

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4. Forward observers

Forward observers, or observation posts, are the guys who call in the big stuff. These are the massive naval and rail batteries that exist off the map, and can rain down ordnance from miles away. The FO’s job is to direct their fire. In real life, this was usually done by relaying information back to a battalion fire control officer, who had a team able to triangulate target locations and the pass on aiming information to gun crews. In Steel Division, you’ll only have to worry about getting your observers close enough to a target to call for fire. And in the interest of gameplay utility, observers don’t rely on line of sight – they can target anything within range, even if it’s obscured by terrain or buildings.

Observers can call for some of the largest rounds in the game, such as 203mm naval guns, and the fact that they don’t require any line of sight means they’re perfect for taking out enemy field artillery or anti-aircraft guns.

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As always, though, there are trade-offs for this kind of power. Observer units are usually unarmed and lightly armored. While it’s possible to keep them back from front-line action, they’ll need to be close enough to the fighting to be able to target key locations. And since fire missions require coordination between the observer, the Fire Control Officer, and the gun crews, there’s a significant delay between placing a target beacon and rounds reaching that location. How long depends on what kind of fire mission you call for – you can request a quick, low-intensity barrage; or call for “fire for effect,” which usually takes around 30 seconds. Crucially, there’s no way to resupply your off-map artillery assets, so you’ll only get about three barrages per observer unit you deploy.

What this means is that you probably don’t want to try using your heaviest artillery on units on the move. It’s better to save those precious rounds for massed anti-air and enemy artillery positions, or for heavily-reinforced infantry and armor in towns and the factory area. However, if you can see an attack coming and time it just right, there’s nothing quite as rewarding as seeing an enemy column roll straight into a naval barrage.

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Conclusion

Each of Steel Division: Normandy ‘44’s divisions are unique, but in many cases, it’s possible to make artillery a centerpiece of your battlegroup. Even if you decide to focus on other areas, cheaper artillery units (such as Phase A mortars) will be invaluable in assaults and static defense situations.

Steel Division is, however, a combined-arms game that can be won or lost in the battlegroup design window, so think carefully about how each component will work together in each phase. Now go put some steel on steel!

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