Thinking about backing out of a battle gracefully may be distasteful, but it must always be on your mind as a competent commander. You really don't know a whole lot about what is happening on the "other side of the hill" unless your forces are simply dominating the whole flow of the battle. For this reason, the situation as you know it can rapidly change from being one in which you think you are winning, to one in which you wonder what hit you so fast, and who it was that slapped you upside the head in the last five minutes. Retreating consists of having some idea that your forces will be unable to continue to fight effectively under current or soon-to-be-developed situations, and engaging in withdrawal operations with a minimum of loss. This concept applies to individual elements of your force as well as your entire force. Just because you've won the last six battles does not mean that this is the one where the enemy will ultimately triumph to the utter devastation of the men who were depending on your good judgment. And, if you think that you can just end the game and go back to your last save with some foreknowledge of what to expect, Think Again!.
There are basically two levels to retreating. The lower level involves a retreat of part of your force to better positions, or just getting away from a bad situation. The higher level is more serious, and that is extricating your whole force from a battle which you have ascertained that you either cannot win at all, or cannot win without prohibitive cost. The concept lies in making these determinations before you lose complete control of the situation. If you can get out of a losing battle before suffering prohibitive casualties, then you have won. If you fail to make the judgment call on time, you will not only lose the battle, but your core force will be seriously compromised for some time to come.
At the tactical level, parts of your forces may get into fire fights which are untenable. You'll start noticing this when your units become suppressed and pinned, or retreating and routing. One thing you can do to alleviate this problem is blind the enemy, usually with smoke. This will give your troops a few minutes respite from the constant fire. Note that even pinned units can fire, and in the case of a necessary retreat, you can still lay smoke if they have smoke grenades. If you have support units nearby capable of firing HE rounds, fire a few into buildings and woods where the enemy is located, these can catch fire and reduce the enemy's effectiveness. If some of your units can move, then move them into positions which can cover the retreat of the units which are routing or retreating. Engineers will be excellent in aiding retreats, since they will be able to easily set fire to objects, such as buildings with their flame-throwers. Any unit which remains in an area which is on fire will become progressively suppressed, making their fire inaccurate and if they stay, cause them take tremendous damage.
Tactical retreats of parts of your forces are essentially a bounding overwatch in reverse. When you need to retreat, its usually because you've lost or are about to lose control of the battle (at least in that area). This means that all your guys just can't up and run the other way, because the enemy will have the opportunity to cut them down, like shooting fish in a barrel. Instead, if some of your still active units remain positioned or move only slowly backwards, they'll be in a position to return fire, greatly reducing the enemy's accuracy and effectiveness. Positioned and firing units will bear the brunt of the enemy's pressure, allowing your other crumbling, routing units time to get away. Support forces, are best for this purpose since they'll not be engaged. After most of your routing and retreating forces have gotten out of range, then its time to start taking the remaining guys out, sort of reducing the bounding teams until everyone is out. Another reason it seems to work better if you think of it this way is because bounding teams will not surrender or collapse as quickly as, say, the lone support rifle unit you left behind. The purpose is to delay the enemy, and this won't happen if the rear guard collapses quickly.
There may come a time in the battle when the "Point of Crisis" has been reached. This is where your entire force and it's position is compromised. Perhaps the enemy has already broken into the rear, or has gotten strong forces into a flanking position. Actually, though, the crisis of command occurs just before the time when it is already obvious that you've lost. You must, repeat must, always be aware of the possibility that things aren't developing in such as way as to permit a draw or a victory, and keep open your lines of possible retreat. If you can detect the crisis point a few minutes in advance and begin the retreat before it is well-neigh impossible, then you've learned the concept, and saved many lives in your core forces in the process. If you've determined that you can no longer maintain a viable position because you've spotted several force groupings that cannot be dealt with by any combination of your available forces, then the crisis of command has been reached and you need to consider whether to retreat or fight it out. If the former, then you need to select teams of units which can be easily positioned to intercept the enemy advance and buy the rest of your men time to get away. Once you've made the decision to abandon your positions, you need to consider this your overarching goal. Every movement should be directed to either delaying the enemy or moving away. I usually divide my rearguards up into two basic teams, the forward element and the rear guard element. The forward element engages those enemy forces for the purpose of delay, while the rear guard usually provide a last bit of protection for the retreating main forces. The rear guard usually lay a lot of smoke, to keep the retreating units out of sight.
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