Musings of a Hobby Hipster: Iranian Knights – 1001 Basij Infantry

If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking.

General George S Patton

In a long line of ridiculous projects, this might just be my most ambitious – my most difficult – my most arduous adventure yet… Team Yankee Iranians. 

I knew nothing about the Iran-Iraq War before the Oil Wars book was released, and only a smattering afterwards. This is bonkers if you do know anything about this conflict as the numbers are staggering.

  • Almost 8 years of fighting from September 1980 to August 1988.
  • There were 1,000,000+ overall casualties
  • 100,000 civilian casualties

This makes it the largest conventional war fought since WW2 but with often WW1 style tactics and Cold War munitions and armaments – it all makes for a hellacious mix. 

Iran into a Problem

It was a seed planted by an insidious source – Lee. The swine had mentioned that the Iranian force in Oil War was the only one in Team Yankee that had access to a complete infantry, not mechanised infantry, formation.

That is like catnip to me – catnip I tell you – something unique and slightly leftfield get’s my attention every single time.

So, I started to look more closely at the Basïj Infantry Battalion.

Basij to the Future

The Basïj wasn’t a unit or force, it was literally a movement. 

The Basij were initially employed in assisting the Revolutionary Guards and the Revolutionary Committees (disbanded in the early 1990s) to secure law and order in major population centres. Their role, however, shifted dramatically after Iraq’s 1980 invasion.

As the war took its toll on Iranian forces, the poorly trained Basij were deployed alongside the regular Iranian military. They were often used in “human wave” tactics, in which they were deployed as cannon fodder or minesweepers, against Iraqi forces. Mobilisation of Basij for the war-front peaked in December 1986, when some 100,000 volunteers were on the fighting front.

In Team Yankee the Basij are the only non-mechanised infantry formation. They reflect the increasing use of militia infantry by Iran as the war progressed – from not only necessity but also from success. The early success of the Iraqis – surprising the Iranians despite the heavy build-up of men and material at the border led to the partial occupation of the oil-rich Khūzestān province. This early success ground slowly to a halt by the end of 1980. 

The Iranian counter-offensive in early 1981 coincided with the first appearance of the Basij alongside the other paramilitary force – the Pasdaran. This influx of volunteers brought the inequality of military manpower from 5:1 in the Iraqi favour to more like 2:1 and allowed the Iranians to innovate in their tactics. The regular army units suffered from terrible logistics and supply early on 

The first human-wave attack was recorded on 29 November 1981, at Bostan. The sheer raw brutality of the manoeuvre broke the morale of the Iraqi Popular Army – essentially conscripts – as the Basij and Pasdaran attacked over a minefield, cut and then assaulted across barbed wire entanglements – all under sustained fire – and into the Iraqi emplacements. All in daylight.

The Iranians looked to exploit this success but scheduling more human wave assaults and to make them at night this time to compound the shakey morale of their enemy. These tactics evolved into the standard operating model for the Iranians and led to horrifying casualties in the attacking units. 

A Basij Reputation

So, how is this most extreme of forces position itself in the Team Yankee?

Well… you get a lot of infantry but not much else in your formation. The Anti-Tank Jeeps with recoilless rifles are cheap and handy for direct fire against dug-in infantry or against light armour on things like the BMP chassis or other infantry fighting vehicles. 

The T-55 or T-62s were often those taken from the Iraqis and turned on their previous owners. They are cheap in points but as the Iranians had a more Westernised approach to formation the groups are limited to a fixed size of 3 tanks. 

As for the individual companies you get some scope in the size of units deployed with the maximum size a terrifying 37 stands of infantry. You really need to consider how you plan on deploying these zealous troops though as their special rule Basij Assualt and an Infantry Save of only 4+ means you will take plenty of casualties. 

In summary, if you have a Basij Battalion (NB this cannot be used if you opt in to only include a single Basij Company) you NEVER benefit from Bulletproof Cover and you can NEVER be placed in Reserve. In exchange for these limitations, you get to essentially make a Spearhead move. 

Never benefitting from Bulletproof cover is a bit of a blow – assaulting some buildings and kicking out there occupants and then getting hosed down by machinegun fire inside said buildings is a bit of an issue but it forces you to keep on attacking… and attacking… and attacking! 

Note that this rule is a MAY so you don’t have to conduct a Basij Assualt if you are forced to defend. This allows you some flexibility in placing Basij in foxholes or other cover and into Reserve. 

The other applicable rule to the Basij is Martyrs. This allows you to move further in an assault when Charging into Contact – it’s a small bonus but one that can be important in maximising the numbers you can force into your opponent and makes them extremely dangerous early on as you can: 

  • Spearhead to just outside of 16″ of an opponents unit
  • Move your Tactical Rate of 8″
  • Follow Me another 4″ using your 3+ Courage rating
  • Assault 6″ 

That gives you quite a threat range early on an can put your opponent on the back foot immediately if they are not prepared for it. 

I really like these unit rules as they seem to give a flavour of how the unit operated in the real world and give you some benefits matched with some disadvantages. I would’ve liked to maybe see a rule where the Basij Battalion always attacked but I understand why that might have been too much of a push. 

Basij Decisions

So, this is the first iteration of the Basij list – I’m very certain that it will evolve as I play games – I think that the premise for my selections are sound(ish). We’ve been playing mostly 50pts and 75pts sized games on a 6ft x 4ft board so I’ve stuck to that initially. So what do we have tucked away in there?

Well, I’ve opted for the full complement of Basij companies in the Battalion for starters. As I said above you will take casualties so you need to be able to absorb them. I went for 2 of the mid-sized companies and 2 of the minimum sized ones. I feel that the biggest company is more suited to taking smaller numbers of companies as you have a finite amount of table space and they become unwieldy quickly.

The smaller units should still hang about if I can keep the HQ nearby and that many RPGs has to be a consideration for most armies. 

I’m going to have to be very careful when it comes to missions that require putting anything into Reserve. This is because if I choose to use Basij Assualt then everything in my support section has to go into my Reserve which is less than ideal as it contains the majority of the high Anti-Tank capabilities in the force. 

I opted to include the recoilless armed jeeps as they are: 
1) Cheap
2) In the main formation
3) Give me something to dig out stubborn infantry with
4) Might scare lightly armoured AFVs… maybe… 

For support, I absolutely, positively completely essentially needed some proper anti-tank capabilities. The more reading I did on the Iran-Iraq war the more those 2 elements seemed to stand out in the early fighting; the artillery using M109 and M107 and the Cobra gunships of the IRIAA.

The Cobra gunships would help with the issue of enemy armour – their TOW missiles proved to be a continual thorn in the side of the Iraqis – and the M109s provide some suppressive firepower to keep defenders heads down while the Basij swarm towards them. 

I did think to include BM-21 MRLS initially but I think that the salvo template – whilst handy in some circumstances – might only get to fire once per game as the Basij should be swarming all over the opposition and get into that extended Danger Close area. 

The final elements in the list essentially just round out the points. The Scorpion is a very hand little light tank that I can use to stalk opposing self-propelled artillery and alike. The Shilkas made it in as I felt that I needed some form of anti-aircraft defence – I think I might switch to the ZSU-57 at some point for the added grunt of the 57mm cannons but the ZSU-23 should at least make helicopters think twice about putting an attack run in. 

The ZSU-57 was also used in strong points to give some longer-range anti-infantry potential so probably fits the aesthetic of the list better as well. 

Finally, everything is rounded out with some TOW armed jeeps to add some more invaluable anti-tank and they do fit the aesthetic of lightly armed 

The Basij Touch

So what is the plan for this tidal wave of humanity? Well, I think if I am attacking I have to use the Basij Assault to get those troops up and pinning the opponent in place. The Cobras that then use their TOW missiles over the tops of the Basij to snip choice targets.

The M109s will pin the most threatening infantry while the Scorpions and recoilless jeeps can scamper up and begin to positioning to threaten softer targets towards the rear. The TOW jeeps can find a nice spot to cover using their long-range weapons and the Shilkas will cover an objective and provide some AA if necessary. 

If I have to have reserves then it will be a toss-up on using the Basij Assualt, as mentioned previously it leaves everything off the table that isn’t in the Basij battalion, or mixing it up and going on the defensive temporarily and waiting on my numbers to appear so I can take advantage of them. 

Breaking Basij

As I said earlier this is my first pass at a very unique list in the world of Team Yankee and I’m sure that it will change over time. Something that I’m already considering is a formation of T-62s (captured from the Iraqis I’m sure!) as this allows another platoon of Basij to be incorporated into the list in a different way. 

The lists in Oil Wars do give some variety over the forces in the European theatre for Team Yankee and are well worth a look if you have not already done so. 

Hopefully, that has given you some insight into the most unique of Team Yankee forces and the flavour behind them. 

Until next time
– Dunc

Category: BattlefrontFlames of WarHobby HipsterIranList DiscussionOil WarPaintingTeam Yankee

One comment

  1. Note it is possible to choose NOT to make a Basij assault. In that case you can benefit from cover. A somewhat dubious tactic as it does not quite play to it strengths. But by Allah possibly harder to winkle out than a hermit crab hiding under a wombat playing possum

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Article by: Duncan Gosling