With Adam Brooker
So usually I am fighting off the Red hordes with my Germans or pushing from the other Fronts with my British, so I have hardly ever fielded the glorious People’s Army on the field and then usually with a borrowed army. But… even in the old Red Bear book the units that really used to turn my head were the Assault Gun units, like the ISU-122, ISU-152, SU-76 and SU-122. Luckily, or unluckily for my back-log of painted minis, I recently found a lot of Soviet LW items on sale at a recent convention. I was suddenly overcome with the zeal of the Peoples Forces and was compelled by the ghost of Stalin to procure them…. suddenly I had then found myself with 15 ISU-122/152 and 10 IS-2/85s, a bucket full of T-34s, plus a few SU-85s and SU-122s, with the goal of making a assault gun lists for both Mid War and Late War.
With the release of the new Soviet Bagration Book, it looks like this is the perfect time to put these beasts together. I must say that the ISU-152 assault gun is the type of vehicle that really seems to display the Soviet design philosophy of slap the biggest gun you can on the biggest piece of metal that you can! It just looks brutal, and certainly not something I would like to try to face as a German infantryman in a trench in WW2.
These huge BEASTS came about as a direct result of the Tigers and Elefants the Germans were producing, and the need for a Heavy Tank Destroyer, using a KV-1s as a base for the vehicle, they slapped a 152mm monster gun on it. This was initially designed as a heavy self-propelled artillery piece against fortified positions, but in its first battles at Kursk it worked well as an impromptu tank destroyer when used in ambush. Despite only having HE shells and no AP shells, it was able to work well enough as the huge HE shells either disabled the tanks in one shot, or disabled the crew inside, and in many cases literally blew the turrets off the tanks. The only real limitation was the lack of turret and because of the limited gun traverse due to the tight-fitting breach block of the huge gun, the gun literally had to be aimed by moving the assault gun.
When the older SU chassis was going to be stopped in favour of the newer IS designs in 1943, they then made plans to mount the same gun on the IS chassis. Although this still had the same limitation of not being able to traverse the gun without moving the tank, it did gain significant armour protection.
It was also noted that the SU-152 has worked well as an impromptu tank destroyer previously, so two variants were made, the Object 249 with an A19 122m gun (the same gun as the IS-2 tank) which became the ISU-122, and the Object 241 with the ML-20S 152mm gun which became the ISU-152. The ISU-152 was given the affectionate nickname the BEAST KILLER or KILLER of BEASTS, which it inherited from the SU-152, which had the same weapon. Presumably because it killed all the Beasts the Germans called their tanks eg. Panthers, Tigers, and Elefants.
During the Bagration Offensive, these Heavy Self-Propelled Artillery Regiments were used to spearhead the assaults against the German lines, with either the ISU-122s providing overwatch fire on the flanks supporting the assaulting infantry, or the ISU-152s advancing with the infantry to directly assault the fortified positions or entrenched infantry.
Well now we know why these beasts existed, now let’s have a little look at the Formation in the new book. It’s pretty simple, an IS-2 tank as a HQ and 2-4 Batteries of ISU-152/ISU-122, plus the option of taking some attached infantry, so an SMG Company/Hero SMG/ or Engineer Sappers. Also it should be noted that these are also a Guards Company, so they do have the better stats associated with the IS-2 and IS-85 Guards, and access to the more elite Engineer/Sapper troops. This is a very limited Formation, but given the point cost of the assault guns it really needs to be. In an average game you would be hard pressed to fill out this formation. To me this will not be a typical Soviet force from MW or Fortress Europe, this is a high point cost, elite force, so very much like playing a German list, but being hit on a 3+.
The ISU-122 is very much a tank destroyer, with a formidable AT of 14, 2+ Firepower and a decent range of 28”, this gun will rip massive holes in any German or Allied armour. It is also Brutal, so can be used to also knock out dug in anti-tank gun teams or infantry. But it does have a low ROF of 1 and Slow Firing (-1 to hit if you move), so you either take your chances with a 50/50 blitz roll, or try to find a good firing position at the start with good fields of fire and blaze away.
I will say this has its challenges, as you are 3+ to hit, if you are facing any AT 12 or greater weapons, you will want to be either in concealment or hull down with a good field of view, so you can still take your shots, but be harder to hit in return, or also gamble on a 50/50 scoot and shoot. But if there is only AT 10 or less facing you, then just advance to short range and blast away, as they really can’t hurt you with your Front Armour of 9 (they may at best bail you). Just be wary of being flanked, your Side Armour is still 8 which is very good, but just that bit less, which you can fail with some bad rolls.
The ISU-152 is very similar in all respects, except its gun has a bombardment option and a slightly lower AT of 13, but has an AUTO for firepower, meaning anything that it hits and penetrates is dead, DED dead. This does come at the extra cost of 1 point per model compared to the ISU-122, which depending on your force, may or may not be worth it. As 3 or 4 points in a Soviet Army can be a unit of AA half-tracks, or some scouts, or even a few T-70s. I will say I do like the versatility of having the bombardment option ( 64”, AT 3, 2+ Firepower), it is no small thing, and usually you get a few opportunities in a game to drop a few templates. I would not like to be under a repeat bombardment from these guns, and the Reconnaissance by Combat card, which allows you to re-position a pre-game ranged-in marker, would work well here to dig out enemy anti-tank guns or infantry early.
Also don’t forget to grab the AA gun upgrade for each battery at 1 point, not only is it great value, but it allows you to have a chance at shooting down any planes your opponent sends against you, but more importantly also gives you something to ward off infantry assaults, as you have no hull MGs fitted, there was simply no room.
Also as for the infantry unit that is included in this formation, I think the best pick is the Engineer-Sapper Company, and then behind it is the Hero SMG Company, as it is cheap at 7 points and can hold an objective for you.
Although the Engineer-Sapper Company is expensive as far as Soviet troops cost, the benefits are worth it. They have Sapper Body Armour, Assault Smoke pots, and the Pioneer special rules, which in combination make an excellent assault unit. Sapper Body Armour means when in assault, if they are hit by the enemy, instead of just dying, on a roll of a 6 they are unharmed. Assault Smoke Pots allow 2 stands, instead of firing, to generate a smoke template to cover their assault, making it harder for the enemy to shoot them in defensive fire, and Pioneer allows you to cross minefields on a 2+ and can clear the minefields automatically next turn if they are still inside it. They also can have a variety of heavy weapons including HMGs, flamethrowers, and 2 captured panzerfausts in each unit. With a 3+ Assault value, and as well as being fearless, this makes both a potent attacking unit, and quite a resilient one when it has taken or holding an objective. Give them the RPG 6 Card as well and they have plenty of AT to deal with any tanks foolish enough to try to assault them.
So here is the first list I came up with, as you can see it focuses on the ISU-122 providing the bulk of my anti-tank weapons, but I have included a large unit of Engineer-Sappers as my Assault element. For artillery Support I have brought some 76mm artillery, mostly for smoke…. , and as anti-tank in a pinch to protect my objective, and some SU-76 assault guns. The SU-76 is a great, versatile unit, with a decent AT of 9 and it can also bombard, for 10 points I think it’s a great buy.
The plan is for the Engineer Sappers and IS-2 HQ to move forward with help of spearhead from the BA-64s, and to advance under the smoke provided from the Under Cover of Smoke Card (lasts until the end of the opposing players 2nd turn), which is also why I need the 76mm artillery. The ISU-122s will also advance on the flanks to help knock out any tanks or other units that threaten the main advance. While the rest of my force holds the objective. Not the easiest list to play, as it requires good timing and some good luck, but I think if you move fast enough, especially with spearhead, and the extended smoke screen that the Under Cover of Smoke Card provides, you can catch your opponent unawares. He may not be able to provide enough forces quickly enough to stop your assault.
The other list I looked at using focuses on the ISU-152 and an armoured assault element of IS-85s. Now this is a very compact list, what I call a Sledgehammer list, and it means that you will really have to focus on one point and smash it, assault it quickly to put your opponent off balance. The 2 units of ISU-152s can be used either in direct fire or in bombardment, these can be devastating to soften up the target of the IS-85s assault, or to knock out any flanking anti-tank guns that can possibly fire at them. The IS-85s have the advantage that they can still move and shoot without the usual Slow Firing penalty of the IS-2s, and their AT12 guns can take care of most enemy tanks. Also they are an easy 40 points if you have to put forces in reserve.
Once again, the only real point of the BA-64s is to put your assault unit in the best position and give them the shortest or safest route to their assault. I do like this list for its simplicity, and also I think it will be a barrel of laughs, you will either win quickly, or lose quickly, but either way you should have fun. The HQ and IS-85s move up in assault, the ISU-152s covering, while the BA-64 and ZSU half-tracks sit back and try to defend your objective (a thin hope really…lol).
What you need to be careful of in this list, is losing due to your formation breaking, as you only have 3 units, the HQ and 2 units of ISU-152s. It would be nice if I could find some more points for some Hero SMGs. You could maybe lose a IS-85 and add a small unit of them, but all they would be doing is saving you from a formation break. I think its better if you keep your ISU-152s moving and out of fields of fire of most of the enemy. Also watch out for swarm lists, it will probably require you to keep your ISU-152s back to defend your objectives, but always make sure you are using your IS-85s to threaten theirs.
Additionally, just because they are called assault guns, doesn’t mean they are great in assault in this version. As they are classed as self-propelled guns, and not tanks, they have poor ratings for assault and counter-attack, as that is not really their role, they are not designed for this and have poor fields of view. Both the ISU-122 and ISU-152 only have a 5+ for counter attack and assault values, so if you do assault, they will probably not hit anything, and will probably not hang around very long in an assault. So taking the AA MGs upgrade is crucial to give you something to try to stop an infantry assault against them. Please keep that in mind.
Historically the crews were given 2 PPsh submachine guns and 20 or so grenades to fight off infantry assault, but to use them they would have to unbutton the hatches, so it would leave them vulnerable.
Additionally I can see the ISU-152 being a great support unit for a lot of Soviet armies, especially with its versatility with such a great anti-tank weapon and a devastating artillery bombardment as well. Four of these monsters assisting another list would be excellent at 30pts, either blowing up tanks or using their huge guns to dig out infantry and dug in gun teams. They would also be a good distraction, while they are focusing on how to kill these, you advance with everything else.
Well I hope this has given a few of you some ideas on how to use these huge Brutes, and you will learn to appreciate these heavy assault guns as much as the Soviet Infantry did that they supported. They used to say of them “Nekrasivo, no spasibo!” (Not Pretty, but Thanks!”), they are certainly not the prettiest of vehicles, but they did their job well!