The war is coming to an end and Berlin Soviets mark the start of the final chapters in the Battlefront journey through the Late War in Europe. Martin takes on the journey through another brilliantly produced book full of interesting historical details, great artwork and many new (if belated in some cases) Formations appearing amongst the Red Armies ranks.
Whilst the book describes itself as Soviets on the Eastern Front 1945, the history of Berlin Soviets covers a wider period going back to mid-1944 which the eagle-eyed amongst you will notice overlaps with the Bagration Book series period, Berlin Soviets contains some background which matches up against and is explored in more detail (from the Soviet side) to that in the Bagration Axis-Allies Book. This in my view actually helps understand some of the choices Battlefront made in the Forces they have included in this final Soviet Late War book.
On a general note the book follows the now familiar layout, with the Introduction, Know Your Tanks/Infantry sections, Special Rules, and the overall Forces diagram, after that it splits into two distinct sections, the Soviet push through Romania, Hungary and Austria, with the sieges of Budapest and Vienna covered dealing with the Axis Allies and then the drive through Prussia culminating in the final assault on Berlin with the crossing of the River Oder, all followed by the Force Support options
The book then moves back to the familiar starter set Sample Force and Painting guide followed by a Berlin Terrain section, the City Fighting Rules not unsurprisingly are included in the book, and a 5 game-linked mini-campaign follows but with only 1 new but very different scenario (which I’m sure we will write more on) and it closes with the inclusion of the Night Fighting Rules and a very nice picture of some Germans wearing infra-red goggles and tanks with infra-red equipment (nicely placed spoiler) finishing with the model Catalogue.
So what Forces has it actually got in it?
At first glance, you might think this book is all about just 1 thing the “Emcha” or to give it its proper name title the M4A2 Sherman Tank – yep, the lend-lease tanks first delivered in 1942 have finally made their appearance in the Soviet forces with a very nice looking new M4A2 model, stats wise its a Sherman (late) with FA7 but with no stabilisers (the Americans didn’t provide them) or smoke ammunition option. Cost wise it’s on par with a T-34 85mm, not a no-brainer choice this time as the T-34 is faster, has a better cross rating and more FP than the 76mm Sherman with 1 more side armour for 1 less FA and only MG’s rather than MG and 0.5 cal MG presenting a genuine choice. Soviet players are gifted with not 1 but 5 yes, that does say FIVE Formations to field these in.
There is the standard Red Army version with massed platoons of up to 10 Aggressive, Green tanks or the more skilled Hero Battalions with 3 or 4 Tanks these come in both 75mm or 76mm armed options providing 4 Force builds altogether in the book. The differences in the Formations are minimal beyond soft stat changes, the 75mm Battalions may swap their 2nd Tank platoon for 76mm and their third for Valentines, whilst the 76mm Battalion Force is the other way around, the remaining grey box options follow the standard Soviet Tank Battalion layout, SMG or Hero SMG infantry, 82mm Mortars and ZSU M17 Quad 0.50cal AA half-tracks these mirror the T-34 options on Bagration Soviets. If you are wanting to field Bagration or earlier era Shermans I’d use the 75mm armed Formation and later era fighting it would be the 76mm Formation. In reality, it’s just a matter of choosing whether you want a 75mm or 76mm armed tank for your HQ. The final Emcha Force option is a Sherman Forward Detachment this is the same unit choice as the Bagration Command Card one but with Hero Sherman Tanks instead of Hero T-34s. Now what I do like is that the T-34 Forward Detachment which is a Command Card in Bagration is also included in the Berlin-Soviets book meaning you can now field it with either Bagration or Berlin support options which is a nice touch, there are also a few minor variations in the Berlin list choices (more of those later) as the available platoons vary between the two books.
These 6 Tank Formations are accompanied by two Infantry ones. The Berlin Hero Guards Motor Rifle and Hero Reconnaissance Formation, layout-wise are pretty much the same as before but therein ends the similarities to their predecessors. By now in the war Soviets manpower is starting to dwindle but the troops doing the fighting have a lot more experience and are better equipped, and this is reflected in changes to their Motivation, Skill and Is Hit On ratings as well as their access to captured German anti-tank infantry weapons. You can now equip all your Infantry platoons with Panzerfausts which in the case of the Motor Rifles are Limited 2 for +3 points per platoon and Limited 1 for +2 points for the Reconnaissance troops. The Hero Guard Motor Rifles retain their previous Motivation but are now Veterans with Assault 2+ thanks to the For the Motherland rule whilst the Reconnaissance Formation platoons also benefit from being Fearless, Veteran (Assault 2+) and Careful (hit on a 4+). All this comes at a cost though with all the platoons getting more slightly more expensive denuding the overall size of your Force. With these the first Force lists section of the book covering the Soviet offensives against the Axis Allied countries concludes.
Now we are on the dash for Berlin across Prussia led by the very best Tanks of the Soviet Army the magnificent and mighty IS-2 (late) yep we get two more IS-2 Guard Heavy Tank Battalions, a Hero (2 or 3 tanks) and Non-Hero version (3 to 5 tanks). The IS-2 (late) has a reworked front hull section getting rid of the step in the upper front hull and increasing its armour rating to FA11 – you will need a big gun to reliably kill this beast, it can also be equipped for a mere +1point for the platoon with Bed Spring Armour – so called because it looked like a bed frame base, this provides a 5+ save vs FP5+ weapons, in its Hero guise with Careful crew the average German with a panzerfaust has a mere 7% chance of stopping one of these beasts. Points wise the Aggressive Red Army tanks are 8pts each whilst the Careful Heroes come in at 12 points despite their relatively poor gunnery this is a fair balance with a Bulge period Panther (late) or Tiger I tank.
Supporting the breakthrough tanks battalions are the Red Banner Rifle Regiments – the battle-hardened veterans of the Red Army from Kursk to Berlin these units have been on the front line and it shows. This formation is an evolution of the earlier Shock Rifle Battalions but now with an added punch for the tough street fighting in Berlin. Led by their Red Banner carrier (look out for the background text on these) racing to be the first to plant their red Banner flag on the Reichstag these are a formidable Formation with all the tools to get the job done. Not only are the basic infantry now rated Confident, Veteran and Careful they are supported by the heaviest gun in the game to date, in the form of the massive 203mm howitzer of the Storm Gun Platoon (you only get 2 though) with AT4 and FP2+ these will ruin anything day, not to mention their AT13 FP Auto direct fire (you can also have 4 as a Support choice but with Aggressive crews). The other unit included in this Formation that is new is the Assault Tank Company a mixed unit of T-34/85 and ISU-152 these groupings are seen in photographs from the period and are mentioned in a chapter in Dimitri Lodza’s autobiography so great that they have been included in the Formation. The ISUs lose the ability to Bombard but this brings down the cost and a platoon of 2x T-34/85 and 1x ISU-152 is not unattractive at 16 points, historically these were also combined with Shermans which would have made a nice alternative option – maybe it will be a Command Card option?
The final Formation in the book is my personal favourite the Hero Sapper-Engineers these are the troops that started it all off in Operation Bagration but now they have not only skill but experience, the units are smaller but even more deadly. These are without doubt the best infantry teams in the game on a team-by-team basis but they will burn up your points very quickly. They now have the Panzerfausts as a fixed weapon option, are Fearless and Veteran but thanks to their special rules (Pioneer, For the Motherland and Crafty) this is nearly always a 2+ and being Careful combined with Assault Smoke Pots you can now get them where you need them and they will knock out just about anything they encounter, the Body Armour may even work occasionally. However, as I eluded to the cost in points is high with a maximum size platoon down from 20 to 11 PPSh SMG plus 2 DPMG teams costing a hefty 25 points. The Formations 4th platoon Tank option now also includes the IS-2 (late) options as well as the Red Banner Assault Tank Company and another new option the Hero OT-34 platoon.
Looking at Force Support there are all the usual towed anti-tank options 45mm, 57mm, 76mm and 100mm guns, The Flame Tanks are now the Hero OT-34 with either 76 or 85mm guns in platoons of 3 or 4, personally these feel a bit too fragile. Artillery options have all the existing gun teams plus 2 new ones in the 160mm mortar and the 203mm Howitzer both come in platoons of 2 or 4 and the 160mm is a pretty cheap option FP2+ weapon at just 4pts making them worth a go. The 203mm is pricey at 14pts, the 4 Aggressive guns are a better value overall than the Red Banner Rifle Formation Careful 2 team option at 10pts. You also get Hero T-70s and Hero SU-76Ms and the two Sturmovik Flights. The last units I’ll mention here are the Self Propelled Tank Hunters, where choices have become more limited to just two options the SU-100 with its ROF1, slow firing, AT15 gun or another lend-lease option of the M10 3 inch Gun Motor Carriage, these make an alternative AT12 platform to the T-34/85 not quite as well armoured but 18pts for a Fearless, Veteran, Careful ambush platoon could be tempting to consider when compared to a Hero T-34/85 unit. There is some nice historical background on the units that were equipped with these included in the book as well.
So that’s the Forces done and most of you will have now started to lose some interest but we are still only on page 71 of 97 and there is a lot more to cover! The next chunk of the book covers building your models and includes a Force using the all-new M4 Sherman Forward Detachment starter army which I have to say apart from having 2 Katyushas in it is a truly excellent set as everything is useful and would be on any Soviet players shopping list, it also has good core Formation strength and variety something the earlier LW Soviet starter sets lacked. Basic Basing and Painting guides follow.
Next up is the Berlin Terrain guide to help you theme your tables for the Eastern Front which is followed by the City Fighting rules and the mini-campaign which introduces a new scenario Buying Time which pits the Defender against an Attacker who has a force twice as big – this will be a real test of skill for the Defender who if they hold on to Turn 9 or stop the Attacker always wins 8-1 whilst the Attacker scores victory points based on how long it takes to overcome the Defender. So, rather than worrying about how many platoons are lost, a quick all-out assault losing platoons is better than a slow cagey game avoiding losses. This provides an alternative style of play not really introduced in this way before and makes an opportunity to use some massive Soviet Battalions or massed heavy tanks. Watch out for an AAR on this scenario soon.
Then we get the Night Fight rules included I suspect more in anticipation of the Berlin-German release but they are an optional choice for any game rather than just ones with the British and minefields, again in this book Battlefront is encouraging alternative types of game to be played seeking to make the hobby more open with this book. This is followed by a couple of pages showing us the new Late War two-player starter set Clash of Steel, this comes with a bit of a mish-mash of Soviet models but combining it with the previously released Soviet Assault Gun Force boxed set could be a good way to build up a decent Soviet Force – something else we will take a look into.
Finally, there is the model catalogue, the first page shows us the gaming aids; Unit Cards, Command Cards and a Berlin Aces campaign card pack. Then we have the army starter deal sets of the T-34 battalion and the new Sherman Formawrd Detachment as well as a new Red Banner dice tin with in my opinion a welcome return of the hi-viz orange dice (these are so much easier to find when dropped on the floor than the dark green ones). Lastly comes all the units of which there are only 4 truly new releases with Berlin Soviets. The Bed Spring armour upgrade sprue is back (note; there are no T-34 options in the book for this), the M4A2 Sherman (5 tanks), the 160mm Mortar (4 guns) and 203mm Howitzer (2 guns). Here I will voice criticism of Battlefront the Combat Engineer-Sapper box is the same as the Bagration one meaning you will need to buy 2 to field the maximum size unit as it only contains 1 DP/MG team, which is rather disappointing as you get too many SMG teams, in their defence the box will make all the teams for a small (5 teams) and medium (8 teams) sized unit – quite why you’d want either of those I don’t know.
So there you have it, another well-researched and produced book from Battlefront to extending the options open to the Soviet player and having just maybe having more of a historic focus than we saw with the Bulge books, whilst encouraging more ways to play- Martin