Part 3 of my oddysy through the soviet specialist support platoons and its time to turn to the artillery. Keeping with the vehicle theme of my first to articles in this series, today I am going to talk about the Katyusha Guards Rocket Battery (MW – SBX44, LW – SBX74) – Martin
During the second world war the soviets made extensive use of rocketry with the worlds first self propelled rocket launchers. So secret was Soviet rocketry development the crews weren’t told the names of their new weapon until they began training on them. It was those soldiers who provided the name ‘Katyusha’ (Katie) after a popular soviet song and the fact the vehicles were marked with a letter K for their factory of origin (the Voronezh Komintern Factory). They were referenced as Guards Mortars in official documentation until 1942, four years into their development, and long after the Germans had already assigned them the name of “Stalins Organ” thanks to the distinctive sound of the launching rockets.
The official designation breaks down into three parts, the first two letters indicating the type of platform – BM being a ground vehicle, 13 refers to the calibre (82mm), whilst the the last two digits reference the number of launch rails – in our case 16, but this could range from 1 to 72!
In v4 Flames of War we currently have just the BM-13-16, based on a soviet truck bed, but the Soviets mounted these launchers on everything from jeeps to KV-1 tank hulls (KV-1K, though this was seen as wasteful use of a heavily armoured hull) as well as, boats, sleds and rail carriages! So there is loads of modelling opportunity with them if you are so inclined. The Katyusha is just the rail frame part of the whole weapons platform.
Whatever the launch platform, the aim of the rocket units was always the same; area saturation bombardment. The most common unit, four vehicles, could cover an area of up to 400,000 sqm in just 10 seconds with 4.35 tons of high explosive and could reload in just 3 to 4 minutes. It really must have been terrifying experience to be in the impact zone of these especially when used on mass; for larger engagements they formed Battalions of three units. For comparison, I found a calculation suggesting a single salvo by just four eight-rail Katyushas of this kind would require 72 Zis-3 guns to replicate!
So how to include them and use them in your games
Adding in a Katyusha unit is pretty straight forward as they are a Support option and available to any Soviet Force. At just 8 points they aren’t particularly expensive, but like mortar units they lack a secondary use, unlike a gun unit. With 4+ FP and AT2 they are even a threat, not to be ignored, for Top Armour 0 vehicles which covers any transports and all half track units and many self propelled guns.
Now there are a couple of key things to consider when you deploy these on table;
a) they are unarmoured tank teams with just a 5+ save so they need to be hidden away from even small arms fire. I couple them with a regular 76mm or 122mm artillery battery so I can include an observer to act as their spotter, keeping my HQ free to move around.
And b) they use the salvo template, so whilst they can hopefully pound a large number of enemy teams you do need to be careful of the extra danger safe distance, you need to take your time and consider carefully where you place the ranged in marker when planning your line of assault. A specific benefit for Mid War players is the Katyushas being Guards units are Trained rather than Green which helps to ‘Range In’ if you don’t have a preplanned bombardment or need to retarget them.
One major advantages of the ‘Salvo’ template is its size; if you are fed up of those pesky PaK nest lists, the Katyusha could be your answer to dealing with them as they can often hit more than one. The main use I find for them though is area denial; sighting your ranged in marker over an objective means any troops close enough to hold it will also be under the template (unlike the standard artillery template) and this can be used as a way to force your opponet to sacrifice teams to protect the objective. This can seriously weaken smaller infantry units, making an assault easier for your infantry, or immobilise tank units allowing you to flank them. It is also a handy way to try to force any supporting AT guns back from providing defensive fire to infantry unless they want to get blasted by your rockets if you are planning an armoured assault.
Overall you will get generally get no more than two turns of fire against your initial target area and will then need to retarget your Katyusha unit, this mimics their real world employment where they would typically relocate 3 to 4 miles after each salvo to prevent counter battery fire ranging in. Being trained makes this retargetting less of a problem.
In the game, I typically try to use them to disrupt my opponents reserves from turn 3; ranging in into an area where my opponents reserves would like to go. This forces the opponent to either take a different, and hopefully slower route, to reach the combat (combine this with a carefully placed recce unit to stop your opponent dashing and you can really hamper their entrance into the battle) or risking taking a round of fire when they will not benefit from being dug in and having to reroll their saves, hopefully making your one salvo doubly effective!
Well hopefully this has given you some ideas on ways to employ the Katyusha Guards Rocket Artillery, if you have other tactics you use them for be sure to drop a comment and let me know what they are.