Learning about combat and some of the realities of it is the main reason Carl and I play Combat Mission. We are now on the third edition of this extremely realistic combat game and have been playing each other for about five years now. It is great because it is a "we go" type of game vs. "I go, you go". In other words, you both plot your turns and then the computer calculates the action and gives you a "movie" of the combat that your turns have produced. This post isn't about Combat Mission, though - it is about the value of scouting and recon.
As of late I have been learning the value of aggressive scouting and how hard it must have been in real life combat. Most of the value in scouting, unfortunately, comes with immediate death for the scouts, whether it be a vehicle or people. However, the enemy has been found and the commander can plan accordingly.
One of the most terrible jobs I can imagine is being a scout in the South Pacific as described in Eric Bergerud's great book Touched With Fire. The Americans and Japanese scouted and probed with columns of men all the time - usually the guy at the point (the head of the line) had about a 50% chance of making it back alive. Add to this the misery of doing this awful job in one of the most inhospitable places on earth to boot and you have one miserable job. An interesting fact is that the Americans carried shotguns quite often when working on the point. I think a good ol' 12 guage pump would be my choice as well - or a BAR if I was feeling good and strong.
Scouting and Recon is essential in a set-war scenario. By set-war, I mean a war where there are sides, lines and defined enemies such as World War 2 or the Gulf war.
If you don't know where the enemy is, you can't blow them up. All of our spy planes and AWACs over Iraq in the modern day served the same purpose as our air forces in the Pacific and Atlantic during WW2. Back then, we constantly scanned the seas for U-boats, the Imperial Japanese Navy or anything else that looked funny. In the Iraq wars, the (more sophisticated) AWACs and drones scanned the desert and cities for tanks, bunkers and anything else suspicious. These airplanes (in both cases) served the same exact function as those Marines previously mentioned in the South Pacific - scouting and gathering information.
Talking about it and actually doing it are quite a jump. The closest thing to doing it in my life will be playing Combat Mission - the results are grim. In a 10 man platoon, usually 5 die instantly in a scouting mission and the other five panic or run away. However, mission accomplished - now that the enemy is located, they can be blown up.
Below I have compiled some photos of machines and men designed specifically to scout along with some notes on each. Hope you like them. You will note that all of these are from the Allied side - it is Carls job to report on the Axis.