Today I’d like to talk about what I feel is one of the best medium tanks in Flames of War, the Cromwell. I will cover the basics of the tank, tactics, and some list building advice. First though, it’s time for some history. In WWII, the British school of tank design focused on two types of tank, the infantry tank, and the cruiser tank. The infantry tanks, were essentially more modern takes on the WWI ideas of what a tank should do. They were slow, heavily armoured, and geared towards advancing with the infantry and neutralizing any threats that could make life hard for the PBI (Poor Bloody Infantry). The Cruiser tank, on the other hand, was more like an armoured form of cavalry (in theory). Their job was to break through the enemy lines and create havoc in the rear areas. To that end, they were designed to be fast, but most were lacking in the armor department. For the first 3 years of the war, they were also woefully undergunned. However, in 1944, the game changed radically. Based on the painful lessons learned in the desert with the earlier cruisers, the Cromwell tank was the first truly successful Cruiser tank design. It had a reliable engine, a dual purpose gun, and finally some decent armor. The Cromwell tank would go on to outfit the recce regiments of all British armoured divisions in Western Europe, as well as those of the 1st Polish Armoured Division. In addition, the Czech Independent Armoured Brigade, and the British 7th Armoured Division were almost exclusively equipped with Cromwell tanks.
Now, let’s look at the Cromwell in Flames of War. The first thing we notice is that it is very similar to the Sherman Tank. It has the same armour (6/4/1) and the same 75mm gun (Range 32″, AT10, Firepower 3+). As an interesting side note, the gun is actually a 6lbr re-bored to take American 75mm rounds. The Cromwell also has two machine guns, one in the hull, and a coaxial. Where the Cromwell really starts to shine is its speed. unlike the Sherman, which plods along at 12″ per turn, the Cromwell is classified as a Light Tank, so she screams along at a blistering 16″ per turn. Many an opponent has been caught unawares by the speed of the Cromwell and the ridiculous feats they can pull off thanks to that most important attribute. Another advantage that the Cromwell has is that it has Protected Ammunition, so you are less likely to sit outside the tank twiddling your thumbs when you get bailed out. Another strength that so many Allied players forget, is that since the Cromwell (also the Sherman, and a few varieties of Churchill tanks as well) has a 75mm gun, it also has the capacity to direct fire smoke. The use of smoke in appropriate situations allows you to take far fewer casualties, and should be abused at every opportunity. Another fun rule you get, being British, is the Semi-Indirect Fire rule. This allows you to re-roll misses when firing at targets over 16″ away provided you didn’t move. For Cromwells, this is not often used, as they are an agressive and mobile tank, but can be very useful when defending against medium tanks (FA6 or lower, otherwise hold your fire until they get within 16″), as you can generally out-duel equally trained opponents.
However, along with all the benefits, the Cromwell does have some drawbacks. Its front armour will not adequately protect them against a great many of the weapons it will face, and the saves you do get to take will generally be long odds rolls, so don’t get shot. Use cover and speed to add negative modifiers to the enemy shooting, or better yet, to stay out of sight. If you are going to get shot, and you are not sure if you can hurt the enemy with your shooting, lob smoke in their face with your 75mm guns to make your own cover. The other weakness is the gun, with an AT rating of 10, it is fine against mediums, but anything with an armor rating greater than 7 becomes a challenge to bring down. Fortunately, the Cromwell is fast, so if you play smart, you should be targeting the weaker side armor of enemy tanks after the first turn or two. The lack of high AT capability can (and should) be mitigated through either your support options, or (depending on what force you are playing) may be balanced through the inclusion of Fireflies or Challengers within the Armoured Platoons.
So now that we know what makes the Cromwell tick, how do we use it? To answer this question, I will draw on my experience playing Cromwells from the 7th Armoured Division (the vaunted Desert Rats), which is slightly different than some of the other options because each platoon of tanks comes with a Sherman Firefly for Panther and Tiger hunting. However, the same basics apply. The first thing you need to know about playing Cromwells, is that you need to be aggressive. Everything about the tank is aggressive, from the speed, to its average gun. You need to close with the enemy fast, break through his lines if you can, and engage him where he is least prepared. Against heavy tanks, this is especially critical. Even if you are packing Fireflies or Challengers, you cannot afford to duel heavies at range, you will not win. You need to get up close and personal and shoot them in the side as quickly as possible and with as many tanks as you can. To this end, use smoke and terrain to provide cover on the way in so that you minimize your losses. Always remember that because your tanks are fast, you don’t have to take the enemy head-on, you can strike to the side or rear, and even redeploy if you really have to. The Cromwell is best used as a precision instrument, not a hammer, and it should be wielded accordingly.
Against medium tanks and infantry, recon becomes important, as an ambush of 3 or 4 medium guns or tanks will absolutely ruin your day and cost you a platoon. I’d rather get jumped by a pair of tigers than a quartet of Panzer IVs (hereafter referred to as Mk. IVs) any day. Recon is also a must for dealing with infantry. The British don’t have any breakthrough guns or bunker busters that are readily available (and the AVRE Churchills only get a 4″ range, which is definitely not ideal or terribly useful) so removing gone to ground enables you to get more hits, and thus kill more. To that end, focusing on support platoons to try to break the enemy company (like artillery, anti-tank gun platoons, tank units and other crunchy/small units) and striking decisive blows before the reserves arrive is crucial. Assaults are also ill advised due to the prevalence of integral AT assets (bazookas, fausts, PIATs, etc.) make it hard to pull off successfully, if not completely suicidal. It is important to note that the best way to clear out dug in infantry is not shooting, or assaulting with Cromwells, but through good old fashioned infantry assaults, and fortunately, the British have excellent infantry (large rifle platoons, British Bulldog rule, wide variety of ratings).
Another thing I want to cover is the option to move at the double. Most people consider it suicidal, and many times it is. However, with the speed of the Cromwell, 32″ can get you a long ways, and if there is no threat of ambush or a high probability of something nasty turning up from reserves and you can get out of sight, then it will allow you to penetrate deep into enemy territory and threaten weak units and objectives. Moving at the double is something that I feel is underused in this game, and with just a bit of practice, it can yield great results. Just don’t get shot by stationary teams, or lots of them.
Defense is a bit of an odd situation for Cromwells. It will almost always occur when fighting against enemy tank companies. The key thing is knowing when to open fire, and what to target. If you are fighting Mk. IVs and they wander into the open, rip into them at long range from cover, you can out duel them provided you are equally or better trained (trained vs vets at range is a losing proposition for the trained tanks). If it’s a Stug, or larger, wait for them to get within 16″ before firing. If they have brought heavies, stay gone to ground until they get close, then pounce and hit them in the flanks while the Firefles/Challengers (if you have them) provide covering fire. Above all, make your ambush count, and always focus fire on a platoon until it is dead. Break the enemy upon your guns, one or two platoons at a time, and never forget that your speed allows you to get aggressive, even on the defense.
On to list building. I won’t cover each possible option for fielding Cromwell, as that would be long winded and unnecessary, as all Cromwell forces should abide by the same general principles. Firstly, you want to have a healthy number of tanks. Unless you are running CV Welsh Guards, you should have 3 armoured platoons, maybe even 4 if you only have the three Cromwell platoon options (Normandy Recce Squadrons come to mind). If you can take 4 tank platoons, do so, as 4 is a stronger number than 3 for morale. Artillery is optional, as your tanks have their own smoke, and you should have enough tanks to pin infantry with machine guns. Infantry is a tough choice, unlike the Cromwells, they are slow, so getting the transport to go with them is not a bad idea, whether that be trucks, kangaroos, or M5s (motor platoon). As I have said, infantry is the best antidote for dug in infantry, so I find even a motor platoon can be a nice asset. Infantry also make a decent plan for dealing with heavy tanks, as the PIAT can reliably bag top armour two tanks, and the British like to stay in assaults. Now, there is a support platoon that I do consider to be essential, and that is Recon. Most Cromwell forces have access to a platoon of Recce Stuarts. Take them, they are stupidly effective for their points cost if you know what you are doing. They are the ultimate rear area harassment tool. They can stop ambushes, threaten objectives, lift gone to ground, intercept infantry and gun reserves, mercilessly devour unsuspecting nebelwerfers and even take out tanks. If you are unfortunate enough to only have access to Stuart Jalopies, go with the armoured car options, as the 2lbr is far more useful than a .50 cal.
On the other hand, one option I would never take are the M10C Achilles. They may have an excellent gun for killing heavy tanks, but their thin armour and slow speed really makes them a much better infantry support weapon and ill suited for offensive lists. M10s taken with Cromwells (or any offensive list) are simply a liability, a waste of points, and an easy kill for the enemy. Air support is another thing I wouldn’t use. You are simply too fast, and will get within the “wave-off” distance too quickly to make use of expensive Typhoons. One final thing to note is that you want to have an even number of platoons. Unless you have more than 6 platoons in your force, an odd number of platoons is worse than death, you end up having to leave important assets off the table, and will find yourself lacking enough mass to achieve success against the enemy.
My usual Desert Rats Cromwells look like this at 1500pts:
CHQ (2 Cromwells)
2x Armoured platoon (3 Cromwells, 1 Firefly)
Armoured Platoon (2 Cromwells, 1 Firefly)
Stuart Recce platoon (3 Stuart V)
Crusader A/A platoon (2 Crusader A/A)
Motor Platoon ( 4 MG teams, 1 light mortar, 1 PIAT, with 4 M5 halftracks)
6 platoons, all Reluctant Veteran
I feel this list has a good balance to it. It has what it needs to get the job done, and has the numbers to do it. All the assets are mobile and aggressive. The list is completely built around the strengths and weaknesses of the Cromwell. Various things may change depending on what list you run, or what units you like for support, but the core concept to build upon is aggression and mobility. Plan to attack. I’m not discounting the fact that you may often find yourself defending, but a mobile and aggressive force can bring its reserves to bear faster than a defensive force can, and in a defensive battle, this is a huge asset. Smart play is critical to ensure that you have more men brewing up (making tea) after the battle than you have brewing up (exploding) during the battle.
So, there you have it. My treatise on the care and keeping of Cromwells. I would highly encourage fans of British forces to try running Cromwells. They are a joy to play, and are no less forgiving than Shermans. However, the thrill of being able to outmaneuver your enemy so thoroughly is what really makes them great. To those who face Cromwells regularly, I would say know your foe, and never underestimate what their speed allows them to do. To forget that is to invite disaster. Good luck, and good hunting!