Evolution of a Tank Brigade

Today Martin looks at how the soviet tank brigade force has evolved through the mid-war period and what this means for the soviet tread head wanting to move forward from the T-34 (early) Battalion in Enemy at The Gates to the T-34 Battalion in Red Banner.

When I started to create the tank battalion force one thing I was certain about was it would contain all soviet armour as I already had models and would be able to get it on to the table quickly. The other thing all of us here at Breakhrough Assault were intrigued by was what if any affect the changes to the T-34 tank would make if any?

The T-34 early is overworked – I love the tank commanders view

This article describes my initial list selections and how I evolved this between the two mid war soviet books I’ll be covering the in game aspects of how the lists performed in a follow up article.

I wanted to build a solid formation that could take on most opponents with a fair chance of success so I adopted a combined arms approach to include, tanks, guns and infantry just like the real brigade. With the Reckless to hit rating of the soviet armour it became pivotal in my thinking that I needed to have plenty of teams in the T-34 early tank units. In the end I decided on a basic structure of HQ and two T-34 tank companies, a platoon of light tanks supported by an integral 82mm mortar and a SMG platoon. This would give me a healthy six formation platoons and leave a few points for some support, luckily soviet support platoons are relatively cheap.

Enemy at the Gates T-34 (early) Tank Battalion

After reading some Facebook posts and looking at how the points broke down for reserves I decided on a larger T-34’s Company of seven tanks and a secondary platoon on five tanks. I chose the smaller Hero SMG platoon which were upgraded with the Hero Tankodesantniki card so they could ride and fight from the back of the larger T-34 company and I added a flamethrower to bring it to seven teams for seven tanks.

Combined these two units are 44 points and could handily form the force reserves. I don’t overly worry about the number of points for reserves and on table troops as long as I am comfortable that I can hold out with what I have on the board until I can get my reserves into play. I also rather interestingly have the opportunity to bring the two units onto the board as one, otherwise it will normally be the T-34’s first and then the Hero SMG platoon. I always find it useful to think through how my reserves will work when I build lists, it saves some time in setting up the game which is especially useful under tournament/event conditions where game time is precious.

I took six tubes of mortars, with their Green skill anything that helps make these more useful is good, six gives re-rolls to hit once I get ranged in. I also took the Reconnaissance by Force command card to ensure I got them positioned where they were most needed in scenarios without the Meeting Engagement rule.

Now I  had 19 points left and still wanted some light tanks, after a bit of musing I decided on nine T-60 tanks and to give them the Local Knowledge command card allowing them to shoot after a cross here move this could give me more tactical options in games rather than a tenth tank to launch them into a surprise assault, this idea is rather hampered by their poor cross rating 5+ and side armour (1). I would have to be a little careful when assaulting with these. Finally comes some force support a general purpose Zis-3 artillery company of four guns, I thought about the 122mm howitzers for the greater bombardment power but I really like the more multi role usefulness of the Zis-3.  A BA-10 armoured car platoon rounded things out and will get me as far forward as possible.

The finished list from Forces of War

Transfering to Red Banner

The obvious issue once I opened up Red Banner was that the T-34 battalion could either be a new build force with a regular SMG Company or a combat experienced Hero force, no more mixing basic tankers with hero infantry. If I was to stick with the larger T-34 platoons I would have to have  a much larger infantry unit eating up points which wouldn’t help with the T-34 platoon sizes as they have got a bit more expensive or the unit count would have to go down. On the plus side with such a large SMG platoon I wouldn’t need the Tankodesantniki command card. The other change I had to make was to upgrade my T-60’s to T-70’s this isn’t so much of an issue as the T-70 is a major improvement on its smaller predecessor which I’m not a big fan of. I would have to lose the Local Knowledge command card as well but it was situational so I was happy to sacrifice it. After simply swapping over these two units and recalculating the points I had the same basic list but now costing 120 points, not such good news.

Now changing the list proved easier to write about than to do, at every turn I just didn’t like what I saw happening to the structure or unit sizes in effect I had to remove the equivalent of four T-34 earlys. There were lots of ways to do it I could simply reduce the tank numbers, I could drop units but this would mean my formation would be much weaker or lack in infantry and/or artillery support.

Lesson 1 – you can’t simply move this list from one book to the next.

After a while I began to look at things a bit differently if this article was to be about the evolution of a T-34 Battalion perhaps what I should have been doing was looking at moving them forward as Heroes of the Soviet Union, hardened veterans who had come through earlier battles and were now awaiting rebuilding ready for resuming the offensive. With the points reduction requirements already bringing me down to company sizes of four tanks, I was practically faced with fielding a Hero T-34 Battalion option anyway but without gaining any of the benefits.

Getting Heroic

A heroic crew pose with an interesting mix of road wheels on this T-34

Sticking with my initial list and converting it to a Hero formation was simple enough, after the change to the tank units to Hero equivalents I had 15 extra points to play with. I could already see the list was going to play differently due to the small platoons of just three tanks but now I had more flexibility in my force thanks to the improved skill and is hit on score coupled with a higher mobility, dash and cross ratings improve. The T-70 has a much improved armour rating than its predecessor being invulnerable to small arms fire. Looking at the historical 181st Tank Brigade diagram in Red Banner I could see that the Brigade included two tanks battalions plus a motor rifle battalion so how about going with two formations rather than one with support after all I had points to spend?

Lesson 2 – You have to change tactics in moving forward just as the Red Army did.

Given the small platoon sizes two formations makes a lot of sense and reduces the risk of the army breaking and fleeing the field. So I evolved the force in to its final form with two complementary formations each of five platoons. A Hero Motor Rifle Battalion to hold ground and a Hero T-34 Battalion to spearhead a counter attack and secure victory. (I hope!)

Hero T-34 Battalion

  • Hero T-34 Battalion HQ
  • Hero T-34 Comapny
  • Hero T-34 Company
  • Hero T-70 Company
  • Hero SMG Platoon (5 teams) with flamethrower

Hero Motor Rifle Battalion

  • Hero Motor Rifle HQ
  • Hero Motor Rifle Company (7 teams + Kommisar)  with Maksim HMG
  • Hero Motor Rifle (7 teams + Kommisar) with Maksim HMG
  • 120mm Mortar Company (6 teams)
  • 76mm Tank Hunter Company (4 teams)
  • Reconnaissance by Force command card

Observations on the evolution

I had to make a fair few changes overall in the evolution, not just on units but on the whole playing style of the list. The original is much more get in quick and over run the enemy positions the later more about stealth and careful movement. As to the individual units the mortar unit have been re equipped with the heavy 120mm mortar so will be more of a threat offsetting the removal of the multi functional 76mm artillery guns. These have been replaced by the dedicated tank hunters these provide a good ambushing option that the earlier list lacked from. The tank hunters are an elite platoon, in soviet terms, and fit well with the idea of this being a hero force befitting from a better save and skill level. The BA-10 unit was a small sacrifice, this list doesn’t really get as much benefit from including them and I expect the effect to be minimal. A discussion worthy issue is the Hero SMG company, it can be included in either formation I went with the more game play based option of mixing them in with the tanks to make both formations equally hard to break rather than a more historical set up.

Now to get these on to the table top and see how they fair!

One thought on “Evolution of a Tank Brigade

  1. The “interesting mix of road wheels” was actually a very common setup: The original five rubber road wheels where too rubber costly, but five steel wheels to resonant, uncomfortable, and put too much strain on the overall vehicle. Compromise was to rubber the 1st and 5th, i.e. first and last, road wheels only, while leaving 2-4 in steel. See picture.

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