This article explores the misunderstood and often forgotten fire lane rule (D-8, 12.0). Player's fail to comprehend the importance of the fire lane rule for regular game play. For example, although not directly stated as such in the rules, a machinegun created fire lane is a fantastic suppression mechanism (as they should be). At 1200 rounds per minute (cyclic), an MG42 can really make you think twice about sticking your head up. But very few players use fire lanes, or fire lanes effectively.

Of course, starting a fire lane usually brings all kinds of attention to the machinegun team. But that is small price to pay for the all the benefits gained. You receive a lot of free attacks with a fire lane and a fire lane can really mess up the other player's strategy and tactics. For example, place a fire lane down a road and the enemy will have a hard time crossing that road.

So why is it rarely used? We could find no simple answers other than lack of knowledge of the rule itself. Hopefully we can correct this knowledge gap with this tactics article. When a player discovers the power of the machinegun, it can completely turn a losing effort into a victory.

Beaten Zone
First we digress into some military jargon. When a burst is fired, the vibration of the gun as well as variations in ammunition and atmospheric conditions give each bullet a slightly different trajectory. As a burst strikes a vertical target, the shoots form an elongated oval shape pattern with the density decreasing towards the edges. Trajectories form a cone.

The beaten zone is a military term for the area on the ground upon which the cone of fire falls. Within this oval shaped area of ground covered by the cone of fire, the density of fire decreases outwards. Interestingly, the shape of the beaten zone changes according to the terrain covered by the fire. For example, the effective zone is at its minimum on a steep forward slope.
  • Steep Hillside: On a steep hillside the beaten zone is the same as the cone of fire. the beaten zone is at a minimum.
  • Gentle Slope: The beaten zone is slightly larger than on a steep hillside.
  • Level Ground: The beaten zone is larger than on a gentle slope.
  • Reverse Slope: The greatest area swept by bullets is one where the fall of the ground conforms to the trajectory of the bullet. The zone is at its maximum on a reverse slope.
In TFoB we do not take into account any of these special target conditions. That would add unnecessary complications to the rule. But the skill of successful machinegun operation can be quite involved.

Here is an interesting site detailing several squad tactics: www.globalsecurity.org

Fire Lanes
As discussed above, the target area is called the beaten zone. Since the bursting rules (D-7, 11.0) for machineguns and submachineguns also fire into a beaten zone, what makes a fire lane different?

By definition, a fire lane is a constant (or near constant) stream of bullets focused on a specific target (or target area). It is an incredibly high volume of fire with machineguns approaching their cyclical rate of fire. The psychological and physical effects are devastating.

Since bullets must go from A->B, the risk of injury when crossing a fire lane is very high. This grazing fire is also part of the fire lane.

Lets examine some of the tactical uses of a fire lane:

  • Starting a fire lane causes a Morale Check event on the targets in the beaten zone.
  • A fire lane hits many targets in a beaten zone (like a burst).
  • Free FRT rolls on targets entering or exiting the beaten zone.
  • Since bullets must travel to the target, crossing a fire lane can be just as deadly. Free FRT rolls on targets crossing a fire lane path.
  • Fire lanes are great for blocking and restricting enemy movement on streets, sewers, fields, and other open spaces.
  • Fire lanes keep enemy forces from windows, doors and other openings in buildings.
  • They are very effective at dividing forces and halting an advance.
  • Fire lanes can be walked (moved around).
  • A fire lane is very effective at suppressing unspotted enemy units.
  • A machinegun team creating a fire lane attracts a lot of attention. This can be from grounds forces, artillery, airstrikes and so on. This diverts enemy resources and energy away from other units.
  • A machinegun team can be an NCO, gunner and loader. That is small amount of resources for a large gain in tactics and game play.

Example of Play

In the above example, Russian squads are A, B, and C are located in the north end of a small village. German squads X, Y and Z are located in the buildings to the south. Squads X and Z each contain an MG34 machinegun team, 2 NCO's and a rifle half-squad. Squad X's machinegun team opens a fire lane against squad A located in the building. Squad Z's machinegun team opens a fire lane against squad C. Those units will suffer a morale event and FRT damage. The soldiers of squad A and C will also suffer FRT damage when they leave or move into the fire lane's beaten zone. In effect, the squads are suppressed. The remaining soldiers in squad X and Z can provide fire to squad B.

A fire lane is a great way to suppress troops. Targets are forced to duck out of sight. Although their chance of being hit is greatly reduced (or none at all), it opens opportunities to move. With the enemy cowering, use your leadership actions and send the squads charging to their next positions.

Equally important is the fact that the fire lane has isolated squad B. German squad Y can move out towards squad C and then A under the covering fire of squad X and Z. Although Y may take some harassing fire from squad B, B is effectively out of the game. Squad C is also prevented from easily withdrawing across to the street to B or falling back to squad A.

Here is another example of fire lane use from a TFoB after action report: AAR #3: Sedan, France - May 1940

Questions and Answers
A few questions regarding fire lanes.

Q: When is a fire lane started?

A: On a gunner's action. A gunner may start a fire lane on their card, or through a leadership card. A gunner must announce a fire lane prior to any dice rolling or other activity. Fire lanes are placed on the gunner's action, not at the beginning or end of turn. [TFoB: D-8, 12.12]

Q: Is there any special skill roll required to establish a fire lane?

A: No.

Q: What kind of weapons may start a fire lane?

A: Any weapon with a cyclical rate of fire may start a fire lane. Also the weapon must have sufficient magazine capacity to sustain sustained fire (e.g. belt-fed or large magazine).

Q: Do you need a loader to use fire lane?

A: No. But operating a machinegun without a loader increases your chance of mishap.

Q: When you start the fire lane, does it hit only the enemies in the beaten zone?

A: Yes.

Q: Does the "path" to the beaten zone affect models only when they enter or exit it?

A: Yes.

Q: When you walk the beaten zone (D-8, 12.4) do the models in the "path" between the beaten zone and the MG also get hit (as if they were entering and/or exiting the zone)?

A: No.

Q: When do the targets take damage?

A: Each target in the beaten zone will take damage on the action that the fire is started. The targets will also take damage on each subsequent gunner's action. [TFoB: D-8, 12.3]

Q: How are targets determined in the beaten zone?

A: We play the attacker may choose the targets up to the maximum allowed by the machinegun (which is usually 3 or 4 targets). Starting with the closest and then working your way through the beaten zone. If you are not sure which target to hit, you can always roll to determine the target.

Q: How else do targets take damage?

A: Any unit exiting or entering the beaten zone or the path of the fire lane will suffer damage on the FRT. [TFoB: D-8, 12.6]

Q: Prior to any FRT rolls, does anything happen to the targets in the beaten zone?

A: Yes. They suffer a morale event and must check morale. This only occurs the very first time the fire lane is placed, not for each subsequent attack in the beaten zone. [TFoB B-11, 4.21]

Q: Should you dedicate an NCO to a machinegun unit operating a fire lane?

A: Yes. This makes any support weapon very powerful. Basically that calm, cool and collected Sergeant is scouting for targets and directing fire while the crew concentrates on operating the weapon. The extra leadership cards allow the fire lane to start, stop, and walk (the beaten zone moved left or right, up or down). The NCO may also order the gunner to "fire". Thus all targets in the beaten zone must roll on the FRT (as if a gunner card had come up)

Q: Can you open a fire lane on unspotted targets?

A: The rules state you cannot attack a concealed or unspotted target. But, you can attack a concealed target if ordered through a leadership card. The reasons:
1) It makes sense.... why should everyone just shoot up ever bush, building, quick glance, etc.
2) It helps prevent "gaming the table".
Remember that when you fire, it usually meant you drew fire. So, why would a MG unit open fire on a bush "thinking" there was something behind it only to draw fire on themselves and use up ammunition.

Q: Can you open a firelane just 'down a road'? it is often a great tactic, but can you open it if you don't have a target in the beaten zone? Just to block the road?

A: As answered above, the rules state you can attack on non-visible target (e.g. concealled) via a leadership card. Opening a fire lane down-a-road would be a legal, and often under-used, tactic. I would think too, that if your entire plan was to send a fire team to a position and have them open a fire lane, the fire-lane action would not require a leadership card.

Gary writes: We play that Fire Lanes can be opened on an area even if targets are not present in the beaten zone. This enables the MG team to seal off a flank or to re-route the enemy into another area. It can be extremely effective.

2) It helps prevent "gaming the table".
Remember that when you fire, it usually meant you drew fire. So, why would a MG unit open fire on a bush "thinking" there was something behind it only to draw fire on themselves and use up ammunition.

Q: Can a MG open or maintain a fire lane while moving? For instance an ACAV moving down a road?

A: No.

Q: A fire lane is laid down from a first floor window onto the roof of a three story building - how do you do the FL - is the whole roof of the house under fire or only the part that a bullet could hit - so the back half of the house isn't under a firelane?

A: It depends. If the building was brick, then the only targets that could be engaged are those within LOS at the roof edge. If the building was wood (soft) or stucco (medium) cover, then the other targets on the roof in the beaten zone would still be engaged as concealed targets (x2 and x4) - Page C1 section 5.0.

Q: What about a special modifier or an increase in the rate of fire for the MG42?

A: The MG42 already has modifiers based upon its capabilties. The Shots per Action (FL) is 4 or 5 depending on the type of mount (1 or 2 more than other MG's). As well, mounting the MG42 on a tripod turns it into an "effective" HMG, gaining the FRT modifier of -40. The HMG designation is usually reserved for larger calibre weapons (e.g. 50 cal machinegun), but the high rate of fire of the MG42 results in the -40 modifier. The effect, even in hard-partial or hard-good cover you have about a 50% chance of being INC or KIA. When bursting fire (Shots per Action of 3), it fairs no better than other machineguns.

Q: Can you walk a fire lane over troops obscured by smoke, woods, brush?

A: Yes. But you must take all kinds of penalties when using the FRT. The smoke immediately causes a x2 modifier. The targets also get their regular cover modifiers and/or concealment modifiers. Finally, targets exiting the fire lane also get a modifier.

Q: How does a fire lane end?

A: At takes an entire gunner action to end a fire lane. Targets do not suffer damage on this action. A fire lane may also end due to mishap. Finally, if the gunner becomes INC, KIA, broken or pinned, the fire lane ends.

More Tactics
Burkhard Schulze from DHC Wargames Club in Germany shares his fire lane tactics.

So far I have used Fire Lanes to block the best route of advance for enemy infantry (although I like mortars better for that task) or to deny good firing positions to enemy MGs or tank hunters.

I played a modern game (Liberia, USMC vs. locals) with a friend of mine I was visiting in Paris this spring. I had disabled his trailing Hummer with an RPG and while the crew out two of them were hit and INCed. I advised him to have the other Hummer back up and pour fire into a plaza with its .50cal together with the two SAW gunners (one on each Hummer) while their sniper dealt with the people on the rooftops. They had no way to achieve their primary objective, so they had to stall the enemy to wait for the heavy armour to arrive and still allow for a draw!
(Photos can be found here: DHC Wargames Club)

There is two more things I like to do on a regular basis given the proper terrain. One is block roads between bocage with a firing lane. We played a scenario from one of the SkirmishCampaigns books (I think it was Heros of Omaha and Panzer Lehr)... Bocage HQ. The Germans have few troops and need to keep the American from a mansion. They also have two small minefields and two small barbed wire stretches to place. There is a lane running down the middle of the road which is the best route of advance for the US player. All the fields are lined with bocage. So I sealed the entries to the fields to the side of the road (at least those close to the objective) with barbed wire so if the US wanted to cross to the other side they had to climb. I set up my MG 42 looking down the road to seal it off with a firing lane. This forced the US infantry to the fields to the side. One had the minefields which were in turn covered by my riflemen of lower quality. On the other side there was a stone house with my small (but well trained) security team with MP-40s. Those wreaked havoc and the MG virtually denied the road. I would say this fits with German tactics for those regions.

Another thing I love to do when I have tanks in an urban environment is have them lay down firing lanes on windows and doors that might host AT troops with the their bow, co-ax and A MGs. Works wonders, especially with the proper infantry support. So far I have used it for the Americans, not for my Germans (never played on that side in an urban environment). Which would not be quite proper since I never heard them use these tactics. But the Soviets did in Berlin, so it is not completely out of the WWII setting and will come to good use when VFM releases their Soviets!



If you have any questions or fire lanes action reports to add to this page, please email me: michael.ball@thefaceofbattle.com