Supporting your Soviets Part 1

Having recently received some of the nice new Soviet Late War plastic kits from Battlefront Martin takes a look at them and discusses a few ideas about how and where they fit into your Soviet Bagration Force.

The first unit I’m going to talk about in this series of short articles is the BA-64 Armoured Car Platoon (SBX76), others will cover the ZSU M17 AAA Platoon (SBX78) and SU-76 Light Self Propelled Artillery (SBX75).

BA-64 Armoured Car

SBX76 (Image courtesy of Battlefront)

Now I could add to the derth of online reviews of kits and what comes in the box but I thought it would be more useful to talk about how I incorporate these units into my forces and hopefully give you a few ideas about how these can be used as well as a bit of real-world background.

So a bit of background. The BA-64 was the only new armoured car developed by the Soviets during the whole of WW2 and oddly named Bronirovaniy Avtomobil 64, literally meaning “armoured car 64”. This was produced in fairly erratic numbers from 1942 mainly due to the GAZ factory (east of Moscow) getting heavily bombed.

It was one of the factories not relocated to the east after the start of Operation Barbarossa. Alongside it in 1943 the Soviets set up a dedicated driving schools for the BA-64, possibly the first off-road driving experience day!

In the real world, it was a good vehicle with high power to weight ratio and drivability especially the later wider wheelbase 64B version. Its rhomboidal shape (shaped after the SdKfz 251) provided good protection from small arms fire for minimal thicknesses of armour.

It was mainly armed with a standard DP MG which could be pivoted to a steep enough angle to engage ground attack aircraft, some were armed with PTRD AT rifles and Dhsk 12.7mm guns but the lack ammunition storage capacity for the larger calibre rounds made these uncommon.

The BA-64 Armoured Car Platoon is available to all Soviet forces as a Support Unit and additionally as a Formation unit in the Reconnaissance Company. It has either 3, 5 or 7 vehicles in a platoon and provides your forces with access to the Spearhead rule making it a potentially useful addition to any attacking force.

The box provides four models so enough for a minimum sized platoon and provides an Observer for your artillery.  If you already have the Soviet starter set you will have three of these already by adding this box you can now field a full-strength unit of seven and at only 4 points they aren’t going to be difficult to include in your list. The five model unit is more problematic to collect but is probably my favourite of the three options available; I will be mixing the new ones in with my four original resin models.

Now in Flames of War the BA-64 has been given a fairly bog-standard wheeled vehicle movement profile with just an 8″ tactical and terrain dash movement rate and a poor 10″ cross country dash which in my view rather limits its usefulness as a spearhead unit unless you happen to be able to move along a road – not all that common in the Soviet Unions vast interior but very handy once the Red Army arrived in Eastern Europe and particularly Germany with its excellent autobahn network.

Added to this the limited number of scenarios where Spearhead is available you might quickly come to the conclusion like me that having a unit just for that may not be all that useful. It also suffers from a poor cross rating of 5+ so you have to avoid difficult terrain and is almost no use in an assault against anything but teams with a motivation of 5+ or worse.

So how do I field these?

Here you have a couple of decisions to make.

A) If you are simply including them to get a spearhead option in a tank formation then the minimum size unit is where to go.

B) If you are looking at them as a way to get spearhead and do a bit of counter-attacking against the enemy artillery or keeping armoured cars and infantry away from your own artillery then a unit of five is the option I like to go with. I take advantage of the free PTRD upgrade and have three with MG’s to deal with infantry and two with PTRD’s.

On the defence, I place them spread amongst my artillery or mortar units after they have completed any spearhead duties.  They won’t stop a determined tank assault but can ensure you have enough fire power to keep infantry, half-tracks and most armoured car units at bay quite effectively, all for a small three point investment and save tying up more powerful units.

On the offence they make a useful way to create an area denial bubble around your attacking infantry and armour, acting as a flank screen to make using ambushes difficult against my attacking units by either stopping them deploying or forcing them back more than 2″ from the edge of woods limiting their line of sight to just the sacrificial BA-64 platoon.

The seven vehicle unit is more problematic to field in my view, especially with no dedicated formation option. Its too large in the artillery support role, you only get more MG fire which probably isn’t what you need. In the spearhead role it can seriously enlarge the spearhead bubble; if you are fielding full strength Red Army T-34 units then this might be a worthwhile option, but there are other ways which may be a better option.

I feel obligated to point out the alternative use of the BA-64 box in the Soviet Force diagram is to use the option to add the Captured Panzers Command card. If you are doing this with the Reconnaisance Company swapping the Formation BA-64’s for them would be my recommendation, if you still want to include BA-64’s in your Force take them from the Support choice box.

Hopefully this has provided a bit of background and made you think about why and in what way to include a BA-64 unit in your lists. If you’ve got more ideas about tactically how you use these then drop me a note below.