With Adam Brooker
The StuG Battery or Assault Gun Battery was one of my favorite lists from the previous German Eastern Front Late War book, Grey Wolf. I’m very glad that it has been carried forward into the V4 German Bagration book as a dedicated formation rather than a Command Card formation. I thought it was a unique German Force, with dedicated infantry to escort the Assault Guns and would often ride the StuGs to the battlefield and even launch assaults from them!! I will admit I am a follower of Stug Lyfe, and do love assault guns from all different lists, like the Russian SU-152, Italian Semovente, and the like.
Two formations from this book are very closely linked, the Storm Grenadier Company Formation and the StuG Assault Gun Battery Formation. In game they represent companies from the 78. Sturmdivison (78th Stormdivision) and the 189. Sturmgeschütz-abteilung (189th Assault Gun Battalion). Both are Eastern Front veteran Divisions, who had been through the meat grinder at Kursk together and survived and also the battles leading up to it. Before Kursk in 1942 the 189th was made an organic support to the (at the time) 78th Infantry Division, and they fought hard there in July of 43 as part of XXIII Corps of the 9th Army, and the fighting at Ponyri, before having to eventually pull back as the Wehrmacht retreated.
As an aside, if you want to represent the 189th Assault Gun Battalion at Kursk using the MW Ghost Panzers book, you can use 189th StuG Batterie Command Card, which does have a Grenadier platoon included in the formation, to represent the integration with the 78th Stormdivision. This card also gives rules for your infantry and assault guns to cross minefields more easily. The great thing here is that you can use the models from your late war force to represent this MW force as well. Additionally, they are re-releasing the specific assault rifle carrying Escort Platoons (GE788), which are excellent models and I recommend getting some!
So after Kursk, they rebuilt over the winter of 1943, and during that time, with the hard lessons learned in assaulting prepared positions in Operation Citadel, the 189th Assault Gun Battalion was given its own escort troops or tank escorts (Begleit) to protect the assault guns from infantry counter-attacks and to help them to spot and take out ambushing anti-tank guns. In fact, by the middle of 1944, while most German Divisions were a shadow of their former strength, the 78th Stormdivision was easily double the strength of any other division with a trench strength of 5700 fighting troops, compared to around 2500 in other Divisions at the time.
The 189th Assault Gun Battalion itself had a strength of 31 StuG III’s as well as the dedicated Assault Gun Escort Battery (Sturmgeschütz-Begleit-Batterie) of 208 men (1 Officer, 30 NCO, and 177 enlisted). The Escort Battery was made up of 3 escort platoons to escort the 31 assault guns. Every escort platoon was to escort 10 assault guns ( a Stug Company), a Begleitzug was made up of 61 men. A squad of 5 men would escort each assault gun, and the escort platoon had 3 escort groups each of 3 squads, to escort 9 assault guns, with the 10th assault gun being escorted by the larger commanders escort group (16 men including the commanding NCO).
To help with this task, giving them firepower in assault and also to help in defending the assault guns against close assaults by the enemy, they were one of the first units fully equipped with the STG 44 Assault Rifle. This new weapon has the rate of fire of a lighter submachine gun, but with a heavier bullet (from the K98 rifle), so more powerful, also in single fire mode, it had the accuracy of a rifle at medium ranges. Additionally, they carry a 30 round magazine, so a substantially better weapon than the lighter MP40 machine pistols they were using previously for close assaults. It is said that this weapon is what influenced the design and introduction of the AK-47 by soviet engineers, some three years after the war.
Unfortunately for the Germans they never got to use these units how they were designed to be employed; in assaults against Soviet positions. The Soviet Bagration Summer Offensive in June of 1944, stopped any further German offensive operations on a large scale. These assault gun companies were used instead as a mobile fire brigade to try to stop or slow localised Soviet assaults, to either allow time for reinforcements to arrive or to buy time for German forces to retreat to new positions.
This unit was fighting alongside the 78th Stormdivision in Byelorussia at the outbreak of Bagration, from the 22nd of June 1944 and into July. They held the line at Festerplatz Orsha alongside the 501st Heavy Tank Battalion, against the Soviet 11th Guards Army. Initially, they stalled the offensive, they were in strongly held prepared positions, with large networks of trenches and strong points. The Germans had expected to be assaulted by the Soviets in the summer and had been preparing during the winter and spring.
The Soviets then brought up heavily armed engineer units as well as the 2nd Guards Tank Corps to break through the German lines. The breakthrough was made by the 1st Guards Rifle Division in a thinly held marshy area, north of the city, held by the 78th Sturmdivision on the 24th. They pulled back to the city and a German counter-attack failed. This allowed a mixed cavalry and mechanised exploitation force to push through, and with the German forces to the North at Vitebsk collapsing this made their position exposed to being encircled. The 2nd Guards Tank Corps then began pushing a force through, and German defences could not stop them, this fast armoured force continued on to Minsk, leaving some troops to complete the encirclement. By the 26th of June, the Germans retreated, with some of the 78th Sturmdivision holding on at the railway station to allow a train of wounded men to be evacuated and to buy time for the other German forces to retreat. There was intense city fighting, by the German remnants, with the city finally falling early on the morning of the 27th. With the rest of the 78th Stormdivision, the surviving units of the 189th Assault Gun Battalion withdrew westward and continued to fight. The 189th was finally withdrawn on the 29th of July to rebuild.
So how can we field these assault guns in German Bagration? It’s actually a pretty simple formation, you have an HQ of a single StuG, and up to three platoons (zugs) of 3 StuGs (either 3 x StuG 7.5cm, or 2 x StuG 7.5cm and 1 x StuH 10.5cm). Additionally, you can add an Escort (Begleit) Platoon, of up to 10 stands of assault rifle-wielding Grenadiers. This is a small formation, which at a minimum will come to around 40 points, which will allow you plenty of points for support units, but if you max it out, it can come to 70 points.
So like most German lists you need to have a careful plan for your force and how it works. All your units have a specific purpose and need to work together to get the job done. You just don’t have the points for luxuries in a German list.
So, why would you choose the 2 x StuG 7.5cm and 1 x StuH 10.5cm option, over the 3 x StuG 7.5cm option? Firstly it’s a point cheaper, so that can help you find that extra point for a unit upgrade or Lucky Command Card, and also you can mistaken target enemy fire onto it, to lose that tank first if you don’t feel you need the 10.5cm gun in that particular battle. Also even though the 10.5cm gun has drawbacks from moving and shooting (it is Slow Firing) and only has a stationary RoF of 1, it is Brutal and has a 2+ Firepower. So it is a good gun for taking out gun teams, as they need to re-roll any passed saves, and you’re very likely to pass your firepower test.
I did like the option of taking the StuH platoon in the German D-Day book, which had up to 4 of these in the platoon and allowed an artillery bombardment as well, but that option is not available here.
But taking the 10.5cm StuH if your planning to assault dug in enemy positions can help, and the FA7 of the StuG has helped me in many battles, especially if at long range and in concealment.
For me I would take one unit of 3 x StuG who would be primarily an overwatch anti-tank unit, in support of your assault element, while your HQ and assault StuG’s get stuck in. You could use either option for your assault element.
Now using the Begleit or Escort Platoon can be a bit tricky. As noted these guys would ride the assault guns until they got into position, and would then dismount to assist in the assault or defend against infantry counter-attack. They also have a good gun for assaulting, with a stationary and moving RoF of 3 (only 1 when pinned), but a shortish range of 8”.
You could use them the same way, they could start the battle mounted on the StuGs, and using the StuGs greater movement, get them into a good assault position, dismount them and use the StuGs to suppress the enemy while you assault. I would also combine this with an artillery template to make sure the enemy is pinned before you assault, just make sure your template is not in the danger close range of friendly troops, 4” for an Artillery template or 6” for a Salvo template, as that will stymie your assault.
Also, they have the Tank Escorts rule – which allows them to dismount from the StuG while charging into contact in the assault phase, and also they can shoot while mounted from armoured tank teams (Stug or any tank), but only one team per tank (so max RoF of 3 shots at 8”). Which can be very useful!
So that sounds great! just mount them on tanks, dakka dakka dakka, then assault, game over right??? Not quite, you have to be aware of the limitations. They get no cover riding on tanks, so anytime a tank with passengers on it takes a hit, the passengers are hit as well, and have to make a save (3+ infantry save in this case). Page 44 and 45 of the rule book explains it, but basically up to 3 infantry teams can be passengers on armoured tank teams, and every time a tank is hit (either normally or bombarded), all the passengers take a save and they can also be pinned. So if you are hit by a single shot, not only does the tank need to save, so does each passenger team, if you have 3 passenger teams that a tank saves and 3 infantry saves. A 3+ save is pretty good, but a large amount of fire can really hurt them.
I’m not saying don’t try it, it can work very well against anti-tank gun teams (esp if pinned), or artillery that cannot defensive fire, or low RoF units that are pinned. But just be aware of the limitations, but it is very satisfying when you do get the rare Tank Escort dismount assault to work!!
Also, there is nothing in the rules saying they have to be mounted on a StuG, you could put them on something a little more suited to assaulting…
So as you can see I have the HQ and 2 StuG 7.5cm Platoons, and a full Escort platoon. I would use these to push up on the objective and make the enemy have to deal with them.
Additionally, I have 3 Wespe to provide me with a smoke bombardment to cover my troops or to soften up my assault target. I have taken a single Elefant to take out any enemy heavy armour or take out anti-tank gun teams without any fear of return fire, and it can also hang back and help hold an objective.
The scout Sd Kfz 250s are there to spearhead and get my assault element closer to the enemy from the get go. That is it, they really have no other purpose other than to annoy.
I have included the Panzer III as they have decent FA (6), and a decent AT of 9, and 4 MG’s each, as well as being reasonably cheap at less than 4 points a tank. They can take care of armoured cars and other light armour without much fear of return fire and even take on most medium tanks like a Sherman, and 20 MG shots are not what an attacking infantry force wants to walk into.
Additionally, they can be used to carry the Escort Platoon as well, and are even better in assaults than the StuG’s. StuGs have a penalty in assaults for being self-propelled guns, so only have a 4+ Skill to hit in assaults, and a bad 5+ counter-attack, which is why they are generally not suited to assaulting but are good to support assaults. The Panzer III can actually assist in the assaults if the escort platoon is going to struggle by itself.
To me, this is a reasonably balanced and fun list, of course, if you are going against an all IS-2 list your going to struggle, but it should do well vs most lists if played well.
A few things I wanted to put into this list but I just could not find the points was the new Panzerwerfer 42 Battery, which is basically a Nebelwerfer put into a half-track, which is great, as it can’t be pinned, but only has the option of 2 or 4, so with the smaller platoon, you will have to re-roll your hits (but with a 3+ to hit it’s not that bad). Another was the Brummbar Assault tank platoon, which would suit this list well, as they can just roll up with their FA of 10 and blast away, but were just too expensive to fit. The last was the Stuka Zu Fuss Command card, which gives a unit of Pioneer Sd Kfz 251 half-tracks a one off heavy Nebelwerfer bombardment (AT 3, Firepower 2+), but I just could not find the points, but that certainly would have been fun!!