Having been lucky enough to leaf through Bagration; Axis Allies, not only are there some great new additions to the Late War arena but there are also some very interesting ways to reflect some niche units that weren’t possible until now.
I think that my affection for commandeered and repurposed tanks by German forces in WW2 is very well documented. The new Bagration; Axis Allies volume has opened up, a previously forbidden, door to a unit that I have had a long time hankering to put on the tabletop; Panzer Ersatz und Ausbildungs Abteilung 100.
Panzer Ersatz und Ausbildungs Abteilung 100 was an independent tank training unit established in France in 1941 to get new recruits used to the confinement of tank warfare without tying down valuable frontline panzers and, as such, it had to make do with whatever armoured vehicles it could rustle up; namely captured French tanks from the fall of France in 1940.
Originally stationed at Satory near Versailles it was transferred to Normandy around the Cotentin in May 1944. Despite limited experience in fighting the Maquis and the additions of new German radio equipment, these 25-30 vintage tanks were completely ill-equipped to be operating anywhere near the front line of a peer-on-peer engagement.
It is most well known for its involvement in the fighting for La Fière Bridge, which crosses the Merderet in the Cotentin, alongside the German 91st Air Landing Division against the paratroopers of the American 82nd Airbourne Division.
In the run-up to 6th June 1944, under the operational direction of 91st Air Landing Division, the men of Panzer Ersatz und Ausbildungs Abteilung 100 busied themselves constructing Rommelspargeln to restrict the ability for Allied gliders to make a safe landing in the fields and meadows of the Contentin.
As of May, when the unit was redirected to the Normandy coastline Panzer Ersatz und Ausbildungs Abteilung 100 was listed as having a motley collection of arms and armour:
- 14 x Panzerkampfwagen 35R 731(f) – Renault R35
- 8 x Panzerkampfwagen 35H/39H 735(f) – Hotchkiss H35/H39
- 1 x Panzerkampfwagen 35S 739(f) – (Somua S35)
- 1 x Panzerkampfwagen B2 740(f) – Char B2
- 1-3 x PzIII – probably a D or E variant from the Battle of France
- 5(?) x Panzerkampfwagen 17R/18R 730(f) – Renault FT 17/18
As you can see from this rag-tag assembly, it really isn’t equipped to be taking on anything in the Allied armoured arsenal but it wasn’t supposed to. It was supposed to be operating as a security unit behind the front lines, against lightly armed troops like the paratroopers of the 82nd Airbourne.
We won’t overly dwell on this but it does warrant mentioning that in the version 3 books Turning Tide and Atlantik Wall there were lists dedicated to Panzer Ersatz und Ausbildungs Abteilung 100. In fact, there is a great battle report by Mike and Wayne from 2011 that you can still read. But we are beyond version 3 now and this is where Bagration; Axis Allies comes into play.
Romanian R2 Tank Company
The new Romanian list gives you access to the R-2 Light Tank Company, and within that company, you can now select the R-35 as both HQ and core units.
This means that you can take an HQ of three R-35 and three platoons of three R-35 tanks, giving you a mighty formation of twelve R-35 tanks. The Romanian R-35 is the Renault R-35 meaning that we can now field, albeit with only one variety of tank, Panzer Ersatz und Ausbildungs Abteilung 100, and this gives me immense joy!
As the 45mm variant of the R-35 uses captured Soviet 45mm guns I’m going to only field the 37mm versions and retain the points cost – essentially deciding that including a 1940s tank in 1944 is not enough of a handicap!
I did mess around with trying to include the Souma and Char B2 but nothing in the Romanian list seemed correct. The only thing I could think of was to include a platoon of Panzer III tanks as a support option. The Souma could be a standard Panzer III and the Char B2 the short 7.5cm variant with the final tanks in the platoon being a standard Panzer III D or E. I don’t think that this is a great analogue so I’ve decided to leave this platoon out at the moment.
The only issue is… that this force leaves me with around 85pts to spend in my force. Good news in one way; plenty of points for other toys, bad in another; I really, really need those other toys!
You could include elements of the 91st Air Landing Division by using Fallschirmjager with the addition of the No Jump Training card – or even by using Beach Defenders as the 91st were essentially just another infantry division and their quality might be slightly dubious at this point in the war.
Do I think that the Panzer Ersatz und Ausbildungs Abteilung 100 is going to “break the game” and be the next auto-include formation for German forces? No, no I don’t. There are some frankly crippling weaknesses that even its super cheap price can’t mask.
Rate of Fire 2/1, Anti-Tank 4 and Overworked on your main gun means that most of the time you are a glorified MG carrier. Your speed is a massive issue; to the point that forget about firing most of the time you will be dashing all over the place just to get into range of something (anything!)
On the positive side of the coin, I can see these being useful(ish) assault tanks. Side Armour 3 means that it is only dedicated anti-tank weapons that will be a threat to you piling into infantry but once you are in making hits stick and then Counter Attacking is always going to be an issue.
No matter what the negatives are of these little gems I love them and I’m pleased as punch that they are back as an option for Normandy. I’m so enamoured with them I might have to revisit my thoughts for Warfare in November… ridiculous I know but they just look so cool!
I’ll be back soon with a cup of single-origin, cold brew flat white artisan coffee with more thoughts from the hipster’s beard.