Welcome to part 2 (find Part 1 here) of my journey through the Soviet support units and, again, thanks to Battlefront for supplying me a kit (SBX78) for my look at the ZSU M17 AA Platoon.
The ZSU M17 AA or, to give it its proper name, the M17 Multiple Gun Motor Carriage, was known amongst other things as the “meat mincer” and is an interesting vehicle. It was built exclusively for the lend-lease program with all 1000 production models being allocated to the Soviet Union. It made up a significant proportion of the Red Army’s mobile anti-aircraft capability, and their only purpose-built mobile AA asset. The essential difference is the American M16 variant was based on the M2/M3 half-track family whilst the M17 was based on International Harvester’s M5 half-track having some superficial bodywork differences and a slightly less powerful engine, giving a lower top speed.
US and Soviet variants both sport the four-gun Maxson turret, carried on a fully traversable turntable. The gunner sat in the centre of the turret, with the guns to either side, an armoured shield in front and a generator to power the traverse and elevation of the turret behind him. The guns used ammo drums which stuck out to the side of the turret-like ears, giving easy access for the loaders. On the M45 mount, the lower guns were mounted further back than the upper guns to provide room for the ammo drums. The 0.50 cals aren’t the most long-ranged weapons but the volume of fire proved highly effective in their quad mount against ground attack aircraft or alternatively for clearing the roofs of buildings. Overall they were a major step forward compared to the DShK AA trucks they replaced.
The Kit – SBX78
This is another completely new and well-detailed kit which makes both the Soviet M17 as well as American M15 and M16 AA half-track varients (I anticipate them being released in American packaging for the Battle of the Bulge at the latest). Assembling the ZSU M17 AA platoon starts off fairly straightforwardly you build a basic M5 half-track chassis and add the gun deck and turntable mount, this is where the fun then starts. Be warned the turret is a bit fiddly to assemble if you have large hands. You don’t need to fit the gunner before painting but may find it easier to do so – I did wonder why he didn’t have a helmet but this seems to have been common in period photos. The last step is adding on the lower two 0.50 cals and this is where things can go badly wrong and care needs to be taken to ensure they go on correctly. Unfortunately, the assembly guide is pretty limited in helping with this so take your time and look at images of the real thing before rushing into this part, there is a locating lug but it is hard to see once you start to fit the part. Once assembled its a nice model with lots of detail and opportunity for enhancement. A loader figure would be a nice extra addition like the German 10/4 loader.
In the game
For 3 points these are a cheap additional Formation unit for your medium tank battalions and handy addition to your Motor Rifle Battalions. They are also available as a Support option so you can field 2 units should you wish. They are capable of dealing with a plethora of lightly armoured threats such as half-tracks and other wheeled vehicles thanks to their high RoF, as well as marauding infantry, you just need to avoid a fight with anything with side armour above 2. Thanks to being half-tracked they are more mobile with a better cross rating than the BA-64’s though much bigger and harder to hide. They can be used to hunt down enemy light units and guns for the same points investment as 5 BA-64’s. Being turreted makes these especially flexible during the movement step and makes them hard to assault just don’t let infantry sneak up on them.
If not needed for anti-aircraft activities and let’s face it air power is a fickle thing most of the time and at present in a Red on Blue game setting is very rare, this currently leaves me using mine in one of two ways.
As a means to defend my mortar/gun platoons from marauding light armour and infantry, being armoured they won’t get pinned by a preliminary bombardment (which you shouldn’t be under) on the gun/mortar batteries prior to an assault and you only need 2 to pretty much guarantee stopping an assault even with veteran infantry or armour 1 vehicles. This frees up my AT guns for ambush duties and means I don’t have to waste more powerful units guarding the rear or have to lift my bombardments if the enemy gets close.
The alternative use is for them to work with BA-64’s or a Reconnaissance Infantry Platoon/Scouts to hunt down enemy SP gun platoons where the 0.50 cal can penetrate the side armour fairly consistently with their high rate of fire and even if I just bail the enemy it can reduce the defensive fire enough to enable the infantry teams to get in and finish them off. Being FP 5+ makes them less use against dug-in positions so leave those to the artillery unless there is nothing better to target.