The VBL – Illuminating the Battlefield

The VBL – Illuminating the Battlefield
By Adam Brooker

One of the most fun French lists from the previous Free Nations book has just got even more fun! They have added these wonderful little scout cars in the form of the VBL Patrouille D’eclairage de Cavalarie (Discovery/Illumination Cavalry Patrol), which apart from being wonderful little models, are cheap and have doubled the size of the AMX-10RC Formation, the Escadron de Cavalerie.

The VBL – Illuminating the Battlefield

You now get the option of up to four AMX-10RC Peloton, and four VBL Patrouille as well as a VAB infantry section that used to be an option between that and a 4th AMX-10RC Peloton. This Formation has become much more survivable now, the extra units allow it to absorb more losses before the Formation breaks, and even more annoying, which is my main criterion for what makes a great list. The more annoying things to kill in the list, the more it distracts your enemy.

The VBL patrol is a lovely 3 points for 3 models, with a multitude of special rules, like Amphibious, Scout, Spearhead and Thermal Imaging, with the option of a 7.62mm MG, am APILAS anti-tank launcher, or an upgrade to Eryx missiles. The Eryx has a much better AT, 24 compared to 21, but it cannot move and shoot, and both are relatively short-ranged, at 16”. Great for flanking a tank, and with the Eryx it ignores special armour like Chobham, ERA etc that increases armour to HEAT rounds, with its Tandem Warhead rule. It may be a good idea to have a mix of them in your list.

The VBL – Illuminating the Battlefield

You can use these great little patrols to forward deploy your AMX-10RCs, get flanking shots on enemy tanks, or scoot around the flanks to take out vulnerable artillery or anti-air units. The VBL Units also advance and make a nuisance of themselves at the same time. I heartily recommend this, give your enemy too many things to worry about, just don’t over-extend yourself, which can be hard to recognise sometimes, but crushing defeats tend to beat that out of you…

The VBL – Illuminating the Battlefield

A VBL unit in desert camouflage, note the VAB in the middle, possible command vehicle, and .50 cal variant.

The Panhard VBL (Véhicule Blindé Léger) or light armoured vehicle, was designed in the late 70’s to work specifically with the AMX-10RC. It was to be armed with a 7.62mm machine gun, or a Milan anti-tank missile, but to have protection against small arms and NBC hazards. This small scout vehicle would be the eyes of its bigger brother, scouting out enemy units, to allow the AMX-10RC to then lay an ambush for them. Quickly knocking out the enemy, with them repositioning and doing it again before the enemy can strike back.

The VBL – Illuminating the Battlefield

A VBL with rear-mounted Milan Launcher

If the VBLs do have to engage tanks they have some options, the VBL anti-tank version carries a rear-mounted Milan with 6 missiles and a crew of 3, but the two-man reconnaissance vehicles have to rely on the shorter range, handheld systems, originally the one-shot recoilless 122mm APILAS system with 12 carried in or on the vehicle. But more recently they have been replaced with the Eryx wire-guided ATGM. But both systems require you to get uncomfortably close, both in game terms (16”) and in real life (500m or less)….. DANGER ZONE!

The VBL – Illuminating the Battlefield

The second formation that has VBLs is the Escadron de D’Eclairage, this reconnaissance Formation's main mission is to scout the route of advance, ensure communications between friendly forces, and identify the position and numbers of nearby enemies. This is a very light Formation, do not expect to take many objectives with it, it has no infantry and very little long-range anti-tank, only a single unit of 3 Milan armed VBLs. But when used in combination with another Formation, I think it will be a blast to play.

The VBL – Illuminating the Battlefield

The VBL patrols in this formation are smaller with only 2 VBLs per patrouille, but can still upgrade the APILAS to Eryx if needed. The Formation does have the VBL Groupe de Antichar Milan, with the option of AT21 Milans and AT24 Milan 2s, but be aware of the Milan 2 rule, which means if one part of your Force upgrades to the Milan 2, all other Units in your Force must.

The VBL – Illuminating the Battlefield

One of the other new models coming out in NATO Forces is the hand-held Mistral SATCP unit, much like the US Stinger and German Redeye missile teams. Similar to the German Redeye team though, this requires the Roland AMX missile unit to be purchased in support first before you can add a Mistral SATCP team.

The VBL – Illuminating the Battlefield

They are slightly cheaper than the Roland, so if you took a 4-point 2xRoland Unit, and the 2xMistral Unit for 3 points, you would be saving a point and getting two units and a more survivable 3+ infantry save with essentially the same anti-air stats. They also have a cool tripod system and great models, so I will be adding these as well. It would be interesting if they had a transport system, but typically they were transported in soft-skin trucks and eventually mounted on them too.

The VBL – Illuminating the Battlefield

I can hear your thoughts, Hugo… Be the Missile!

The Mistral is an infrared homing missile, initially deployed in the late 80s, it has been sold to many other countries and is even now being used. When used in the MANPAD role the "Mistral" missile is transported in a transport and launch container (MPC) together with a "friend or foe" interrogator, power source and tripod with its sighting devices. They are then to be operated by a pair of operators as commander and the ‘missile shooter,’ which BF has represented below.

The VBL – Illuminating the Battlefield

I have put together a Force using all of these units, which I think should be a halfway decent Force, as well as being fun to play. The French are a hard Nation to play, as their soft stats are a little weak sometimes, their morale is not as good as other nations, and their assault value of 4+ is just a bit higher than the normal 3+. So they can be harder to win assaults, and if they take casualties there is a higher chance of them ‘regrouping for an assault on Paris”, but that just means you need to stack it a bit more in your favour before you commit to an assault.

I have put an Escadron de Cavalerie with an Escadron d’Eclairage and packed in plenty of support, like an AMX-10P Section to help assault positions, VAB Mephisto’s to blap tanks from range and especially from behind hills, Mirages and some AMX AuF1 Auto-loader artillery. Unfortunately no points for Leclercs, but I do have plenty of sexy AMX-10RCs and VBLs.

The VBL – Illuminating the Battlefield

The VBL – Illuminating the Battlefield

A few things to take note of, the Gunslinger rule of the Gazelle 20mm helicopters, which essentially means that they get to shoot at enemy teams before anti-air fire, and deal damage before they would normally get a chance to shoot back. So make sure to hunt down enemy AA teams so when your Mirages come on to drop cluster bombs, they don’t get their planes shot out from underneath them.

The VBL – Illuminating the Battlefield

The French also have this wonderful autoloader artillery rule, which means that they get an extra +1 to hit enemy teams under their template when firing artillery. So use these to really suppress enemy infantry, making your enemy roll more dice, meaning that there's more chance for them to fail. I brought 4 of these in this list, with the added bonus of being able to direct fire vehicles or dug-in teams with their Brutal 1+ fire power guns too.

Your main plan will most likely come down to your deployment and the enemies, as you will need to identify the objective that you want to take, or even better if you can make it look like at deployment you are going for one objective, but you have to speed to redirect and go after another. Having multiple scout and spearhead units allows you to really keep your opponent guessing.

As usual, try to keep your units at range and in concealment to give yourself the best chance of avoiding return fire, and giving you the ability to trade distance for kills. The French do have very good skill checks, so also remember to use your movement orders to get the best out of your units.

Once you have taken out the enemy anti-air you can then start to call in your Mirages, which can really do a lot of damage with their cluster bombs, then just keep up the pressure on the units holding the objective, your artillery should be great for that. Your other units like the VBLs and AMX-10RC can run interference until your infantry units are ready to assault.

This will be a fun but challenging list to play, but really plays to the strengths of the French units.

Happy Gaming,

~ Adam

 
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