In a change to the usual single unit discussion, for Part 4 I’m going to look at the general genre of anti-tank guns, their roles, where I pick them in my lists and how I deploy and use them, hopefully for maximum effect.
The reason for this is I try not to use these units alone in my lists. To use wrestling parlance, effective AT defence needs a tag team.
Before I start, I will state this is about field guns not man packed weapons so I’m not going to include the PTRD anti-tank rifle; that deserves an article all of its own.
As usual, let’s start with a bit of background on Soviet second world war anti-tank gun development, something of itself that has quite a story.
At the start of WW2 the Red Army only really had one field anti-tank gun; the 45mm obr 1937, or in FoW parlance the 45mm (short). This was essentially a Soviet evolution of the Pak36 which Germany had sold a production licence for to the Soviet Union. Hence why it is included as an alternate barrel choice on the same sprue as the German gun (and 15cm Nebelwerfer).
Once Operation Barbarossa got underway, it became clear this wasn’t going to reliably stop the latest German armour and the design was quickly evolved to produce the obr 1942 model (“45mm long” in FoW) with improved armour penetration. Alongside this, the development of the new 57mm Zis-2 had begun.
However, thanks to a “misunderstanding” of German armour thicknesses, production was stopped in favour of focussing development on even larger calibre guns and thus the general 76mm Zis-3 artillery gun which was plentiful was issued to the heavy anti-tank gun units, to combat the late model Panzer III and H model Panzer IV tanks. This didn’t solve the problem of the more heavily armoured StuG assault guns and the new heavier tanks being deployed by mid-1943.
Luckily by the end of 1942, the misunderstanding was resolved and Zis-3 production was back up and running. The gun was issued to the Motor Rifle Battalions. It wasn’t given to the Rifle Battalions. which lacked the motorised transport to move the heavy gun and they were stuck with the more mobile but less effective 76mm Zis-3 being used in the heavy anti-tank role.
With the appearance of the Tiger and Panther at Kursk, even the Zis-2 wasn’t going to be enough. Development of a true tank killer was still ongoing and by mid-1944 the 100mm BIS-3 anti-aircraft gun had been modified and was being issued to the heavy tank killer units.
Like the KV-85 in the Heavy Tank Corps, it was really a stop-gap until the all-new 100mm anti-tank gun became available in sufficient quantities (as also used on the SU-100). Appearing initially in late 1944, it wasn’t until 1945 they started to appear in larger numbers.
So let’s look at this in FoW terms.
The key point here for me is to consider where to pick these platoons from. Except for the 100mm they can all be integrated as “Formation” units and are relatively cheap that way. If just including 45mm or 76mm guns, this is where I often pick them from as you can get a lot more guns, which is never a bad option and makes your formations near unbreakable. If it is the 57mm gun, then I would usually look to take this from the Support Heavy Tank Killer box. “Why? They cost more?”, you all cry!
The answer is pretty simple to understand. Soviet “tank killer” anti-tank gun platoons have a “is hit on” rating of 4+ compared to the 3+ of the formation options and this makes them much more survivable against both direct and indirect fire for a less than 1 point upgrade per gun. Given the general distinctly average, 4+ FP for the 45mm and 57mm platoons then durability becomes a major concern; keeping as many in the fight, as long as possible, can be critical in stopping an armoured breakthrough.
Let’s start with Mid-War
Let’s start by briefly discussing the choice between the 45mm long and 76mm gun in the in Formation units.
The 45mm long has a few advantages; it doesn’t suffer from being on a large base, or being a large gun, but has 1 less AT and FP.
So in MW, where you are generally facing FA5 German tanks, I simply stick to a mix of 45mm short and long guns, backed up by a pair of 57mm guns from Support to take on the odd Tiger and the very rare Panthers.
If points allow, the 45 long will be upgraded to Support Tank Killer units but this is one occasion where I am prepared to go with point saving over effectiveness. I can get both units for the same cost as just the one, freeing up points for the 57mm guns. I keep my 76mm guns specifically as artillery in MW.
With the 45mm short, I tend to keep mine mobile; rolling them forward to get into short-range and then blasting away. Thanks to their lightweight design, you can move these pretty quickly with a Tactical move rate of 6″, being nearly as fast as infantry.
Rely on your gun shield to protect you from direct fire and, coupled with small bases, you can concentrate a lot of anti-tank firepower over a very small frontage. The short is useful vs anything FA 4+ or less and is deadly against armoured cars and light tanks so common in competitive MW lists.
If I have the option to Ambush then it is the 45mm Long that generally gets the job, the extra AT really comes into its own against German tanks weak side armour! 5 in 6 hits should do some form of damage; on a good day you can wipe out whole platoons with marginally above average rolls!
My 57mm guns get set up and dug in, ready for the moment when I really need to snipe out a key tank and to help control the battlefield around my objectives/flanks, thanks to their longer 28″ range. With AT11, there isn’t much in MW that isn’t concerned by these guns; even at long range FA8 tanks still need to be careful.
Moving on to Late War
On to Late War, the 45mm isn’t a gun with much in its favour, except maybe being easy to redeploy. It won’t stop the heavier tanks of this period so its time for it to be gently retired from the tabletop. If you still want integrated AT assets then you probably want to be playing with Motor Rifles who have access to the 57mm “in Formation”. That said, there is still a lack of real reasons to include them “in Formation” as, again, Tank Killer units in Support are better for exactly the same reason as in MW; they are simply a lot harder to kill for not many extra points.
In LW you can now also field the mighty 100mm AT gun.
Now, this may only be RoF 1, but it is a Cat Killer. It may lack a bit of range compared to German guns, but 32″ is more than far enough in most games with well thought through deployment. It benefits from generally being hard to kill and is relatively cheap, certainly compared to a SU-100.
I use these in the same way as my 57mm guns in MW, with them forming a defensive position behind my objectives or flanks, keeping their heads down until I can take out the enemies key tanks or guns. They are hard to shift from range with direct fire, needing 6’s or more to be hit, which cuts down any early casualties. They are a good way to control table space particularly if you can get them positioned on the slope of a hill where they can ignore short terrain concealment penalties to hit. Keep them well spread out though to minimise the risk of artillery bombardments hitting more than one gun; being large guns they only have a 4+ save.
There’s a couple of other items of note with Soviet anti-tank guns. With the exception of the 100mm, they all have a Tactical move rate and can break off from assaults which is a big help. There is also the Armoured Tractors Command Card in LW which, if you have both 57mm and 100mm guns, is worth adding to your list. This card has often saved me having only an average shooting range in games played lengthwise where I have been attacking.
As a final comment, at a push, you can get away with a single unit of AT guns if deploying 76mm ZIS-3 as artillery, which can double as close defence anti-tank guns when needed. I wouldn’t build a defensive strategy on that approach, though.
Hopefully, this provides some thoughts and maybe some inspiration of how you can utilise all these units in your games after all it’s not all about tanks!