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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Mathpocalypse Now: Cat Killers and You!

by Eric Riha

With the re-printing of Red Bear and the coming of the new Desperate Measures book, most of us are happy to know the Soviets got the boost they (desperately) needed. One of the happy-faced changes that came along with the re-print was the addition of the Cat Killers rule to Tank Killer Companies (SU-85, SU-85M, SU-100, M10). Another boost to The Peoples' cause comes in the form of the Medium Self-Propelled Artillery Regiment (heretofore known as the MSPAR), which allows you to wield these babies in Battalion formation.

Image courtesy of Battlefront Miniatures.

Today, we're going to take a deep dive into the Tank Killer Company, and specifically look at how well the SU-85M and SU-100 match up against today's meta-based opponents. Just so you're aware, we're using Expected Values in all of our calculations to show the "expected" result from each engagement. For more information on Expected Values, see some of my previous Mathemagician articles here, here, or here.

Confident Trained Tank Killer Company
Courtesy of
Courtesy of

Cat Killers
M10, SU-85, SU-85M, and SU-100 assault guns do not use the Volley Fire special rule. Instead, M10, SU-85, SU-85M, and SU-100 assault guns that did not move in the Movement Step may re-roll failed rolls To Hit when shooting their main guns at platoons with all teams more than 16"/40cm away.

First of all, the new Cat Killers rule comes at no additional point cost to the platoon, which allows them to do their job (killing tanks) without really boosting their effectiveness versus anything else (maybe also against large artillery pieces, but that's about it). A surgical alteration by BF rather than the blunt hammer used in some previous changes.

Second, the rule builds synergy with the V3 Hen & Chicks rule, making these units perfect for 'over-watch' style maneuvers. Previously, it was always tough to lean on 4-5 shots from stationary SU-100's to get anything done. Now, you're far more likely to get those 1 or 2 hits you need to blow the doors off whatever you're shooting at.


Since Semi-Indirect Fire Cat Killers + H&C makes stationary fire far superior to moving fire, moving in concert with another AT platoon is vital to delivering effective Anti-Tank fire. In essence, your goal is to bait your opponent into taking shots at your assault guns while you move into position, survive, then destroy the target with return fire. Even when remaining stationary in an over-watch position, the Tank Killers will need to survive long enough to return fire with CK in order to be effective.

Because of the need to survive direct AT fire, I can only recommend taking SU-85M and SU-100 units which have Front Armor 9. The increase in cost from the SU-85 is well worth the survivability - especially since all of your Tank Killer platoons come Trained.

It is also worth noting that a platoon of 5 vehicles costs less than virtually every other main tank platoon currently in use, so numbers will frequently be on your side - especially in the case of the MSPAR army list. Looking at the current LW meta, this will either give you an extra maneuver group versus other tank companies or superior equipment.

While the math often works out in favor of the Tank Killer company versus standard targets in standalone engagements, the goal is to move two companies (Russian platoons) into long range of a single target simultaneously. Firing on the move will usually result with no hits, often seducing your opponent into a false sense of security. If your opponent decides to stand and fire, not only will his fire be less effective than he thinks, but the return fire will be twice as deadly!

Image courtesy of Battlefront Miniatures.

Part of the reason is due to the current perception, and availability, of Front Armor 9 vehicles. In most cases, these vehicles are very expensive (Tiger IE, Panzer IV L70, ISU-122, etc.) and fielded in relatively small numbers. We also know that AT 15 from Fireflies, AT 14 from Panthers, and AT 13 from US Armor/TD's are able to make short work of these smaller, almost fragile, platoons. It then becomes too risky to use Tigers, ISU-122's, etc... because of the very real threat of 1-2 armor penetrations from high Allied AT.

In the case of the MSPAR, you are bringing 15 (!) or more of these units to the table. The ability to shrug off AT 10-11 shots and still have enough vehicles to survive specialist AT weapons makes the MSPAR a very viable list on the tabletop.

But don't trust me - roll that beautiful math footage!

Tank Killer Company vs. US 7th AD Jumbo/E8/A3 Combo

One of the new blacks out there is the Confident Trained 7th Armored Division Tank Platoon, with a Jumbo, 2 Easy Eights, and 1-2 M4A3 Shermans. To compare roughly similar points, we're using 5 SU-100s/85Ms (390/365 points) against 1 Jumbo, 2 E8s, 1 A3 (430 points). In this engagement, we move all 5 of our tanks out to engage the Sherman platoon at 30+ inches. We also assume all moving fire misses.

If the E8's sit or Smooth Ride to engage at Long Range, we expect: 4 Shots * 1/2 To Hit * 1/3 To Pen * 2/3 To Kill = .44 Dead SU's

SU-100 Return Fire: 4.56 Shots * 3/4 To Hit with CK = 3.42 hits.
With a Jumbo, 1 hit goes there: 1/3 To Pen * 5/6 To Kill = .27 Dead Jumbos (not effective).
2.42 hits go to the Shermans: 2.42 * 1/1 To Pen * 5/6 To Kill = 2.02 Dead Shermans (very effective)

SU-85M Return Fire: 9.12 Shots * 3/4 To Hit with CK = 6.84 hits.
2 hits bounce off the Jumbo, leaving: 4.84 * 1/2 To Pen * 2/3 * To Kill = 1.61 Dead Shermans

Even with a disadvantage of 40 to 65 points, both SU Tank Killer platoons come out ahead. It is also very important to engage the Shermans at 30+" and not just long range. This avoids both Smooth Ride and Stabilizers bonuses at short range which tip the balance in favor of the Sherman platoon.

I should also note here that The Math favors SU-100's versus Front Armor 7 or higher targets, and SU-85's versus FA 6 or lower (at long range).

SU-100s vs. CT Panther Platoon (435 points)

Panthers may become common again with the new Enjoy the War rule, and 3 Confident Trained Panthers is the closest you can get to 390 (I don't remember seeing 2x CV Panther platoons out there, but technically they would be closer at ~375). Also, SU-85Ms are removed from this equation since their AT fire is worthless against FA 10 at long range - a good reason to bring a mix of SU-100s and 85Ms.

The SU-100's move to engage at long range and miss all initial shots (sure 5 dice at 6's might hit something, but I would never rely on any damage from that).

Panther Fire: 6 shots * 1/2 To Hit * 1/2 To Pen * 2/3 To Kill = 1 Dead SU

SU-100 Return Fire: 4 shots * 3/4 To Hit w/CK * 2/3 To Pen * 5/6 To Kill = 1.67 Dead Panthers

Again, the SU's are able to kill more than the enemy platoon, and a much higher % of platoon strength (20% dead SU's vs 55% dead Panthers). Here it is important to engage the Panthers when they do not have a way to Stormtrooper out of LoS after their stationary fire.

Tank Killer Company vs. Market Garden Canadian Armoured Platoon (435 points)

As the most deadly of meta opponents for the SU's, the MG Canucks bring Veteran Status AND Cat Killers Semi-Indirect Fire to bear. SU-100's are guaranteed to miss all moving fire shots and SU-85M's are now in the hail-mary 6's range.

Firefly Fire: 4 shots * 3/4 To Hit w/SIF * 2/3 To Pen * 2/3 To Kill = 1.33 Dead SU's

SU-100 Return Fire: 3.67 shots * 5/9 To Hit w/CK * 1/1 To Pen * 5/6 To Kill = 1.699 Dead Shermans

SU-85M Return Fire: 7.34 shot * 5/9 To Hit w/CK * 2/3 To Pen * 2/3 To Kill = 1.81 Dead Shermans

While the SU's do kill a greater share of Shermans in the enemy platoon, the likelihood of a hit against a Firefly is relatively low. This makes return fire from the Fireflies especially deadly. I would not recommend this engagement unless two platoons can actively engage the single Armoured Platoon.

Smoke and Tank Killers

The hiccup in all 3 of these engagements is the enemy ability to fire smoke, be it direct or indirect. This is the main reason why you must work to engage any enemy targets with two Tank Killer Companies simultaneously, and spread your 5 tanks out as much as possible to avoid smoke bombardments. While 1 TKC may be able to hold on it's own, 2 TKCs substantially mitigate the risk of the engagement. Many times your opponent will move away, rather than attempt to engage both targets - giving you free shots on the way in (even if you're only hitting on 5's or 6's).


Buy some Tank Killers!

Hop on over to the forums if you want to discuss Tank Killers/MSPAR some more, and talk about how other current list builds affect the effectiveness of the Tank Killer Company.

Peace Out!

"Eric Riha is a total jerk and probably doesn't want to hear your comments, but I guess if you wanted to leave some, you can drop them off in the WWPD Forums."

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