by Eric Lauterbach
Back in 2007 the I95Gamers decided to put on a big scenario game for Cold Wars with three tables of action. The battle we chose was based on the game "Black Sea Black Death" which is the battle for Novorossiysk and we needed a ton of Soviet Naval Infantry and Soviet Paratroopers. Thus began my journey into the land of Soviet Airborne. I thought I would share some of the things I have run across, as the Soviet Paratroopers did far more in the war than most people think.
The Soviets were early innovators in airborne operations with men like Mikhal Tukhachevsky. His theories on Soviet Deep Battle saw airborne as a key component to combined operations. Either through striking deep in to the enemy's rear area to disrupt logistics and re-enforcements, or seizing key terrain and even as a diversion to main attack. Soviet large scale airborne training drops of the 1930 put the world on notice of the new way of war. It is sad to say Stalin's purges put Mikhal Tukhachevsky and Soviet Deep Battle doctrine into the ground and the tactics were forbidden to be talked about. In 1941, the German attack struck like thunder and Soviets had not yet recovered from the purges so they had no real doctrine at all.
When war came, the Soviets had 5 Airborne Corps in the west with 10,000 men divided into 3 Brigades in each Corps. These units were the best infantry the Soviets had, with the massive manpower pool to pick from and extensive training the Soviet paratroopers were hand picked elite. After 10 early tactical drops to disrupt the German rear, three of the Corps were committed as ground troops to stop the German advances. These were swallowed up and wrecked; only the 4th and 5th Corp were somewhat intact for the first large Soviet airborne drops in the winter of 41-42. The Soviet STAVKA was in desperate straights to stop the German Drive on Moscow and they committed their Paratroopers in several Tactical and Operational Airdrops.
Dec 41 at Teryaeva Sloboda One Battalion of the 214th Airborne Brigade
Jan 42 at Medyn One Battalion 201st Airborne Brigade and 250th Rifle Regt
Jan 42 at Kerch-fedosyia One Battalion 2nd Airborne Corp
Jan 42 at Zhelan'ye Two Battalions, 201st Airborne Brigade
Jan 42 at Ozerechnay-Tabory (Vyaz'ma) 8th Airborne Brigade
Feb 42 at Velikopol'ye Zhelan'ye 9th and 214th Airborne Brigades and one Battalion 8th brigade
Feb 42 at Rzhev 4th Battalion of the 204th airborne Brigade
Apr 42 at Svintsove One Battalion of the 23rd Airborne Brigade
May 42 at Dorogobuzh 23rd Airborne Brigade and 211th Airborne Brigade
Sept 43 at Dnepr Bend Two Airborne Brigades 5th and 3rd
As you can see, they were quite active in the Battalion to Brigade level with mixed success and some flat out disasters. This does not count the many diversionary raids conducted in the 60 to 200 men range which is still in the scope of FoW. The Soviets did not have the Air Logistics to make large Operational drops successful, but it did not stop them from trying!
By the time the summer of 1942 arrived, the Soviets had rebuilt and raised new paratroop units and were up to 10 airborne Corps. Stalin converted all 10 veteran and newly trained Corp into Guards Rifle units for the upcoming German summer offensives. They served with distinction in the tractor factories of Stalingrad. This desperate measure did not dampen the Soviet enthusiasm for Airborne forces and STAVKA raised another eight Airborne Corps: (1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th) These new units were trained through the fall of 1942 with between 3 and 10 training drops that stressed cooperation and initiative. Once again, these forces were committed to ground operations.
|Soviet paratroopers - notice the light Machine guns some have.|
The next big operational drop does not take place until September 1943 and the Soviet offensive to cross the Dnepr River. This is the particular battle I put on as a scenario battle at Fall In 2010 and added to serious I95 gaming legends.
|A board game about the drop|
The battle takes place as the Soviets drop a brigade across the
River and attempt to link up with them via amphibious assault across the river. Poor reconnaissance on the Soviet part fails to realize the Germans have moved significant forces into the drop zone area around Kanev. What ends up happening is the Soviet 5th Airborne Brigade lands on top of the moving German 19th Panzer and 10th Motorized Division. The ensuing disaster makes great gaming fun but was complete failure for the Russians. The drop in and of itself was terrible, as night operations were above the Soviet pilot's skill set. The Paratroopers were scattered and destroyed. Several small units did join partisans or formed together and fought their way back to Soviet lines often under the leadership of junior officers or sergeants. One group of 600 stayed behind enemy lines hiding in the forests and conducting raids until it was time for the final river assault in November. They were ordered to attack the German rear so in the end they finally did get to complete their mission.
|Early Paratroop forces|
After the disaster that was the Dnepr mission, the Soviets did not do any further "Operational" large drops. Small "Tactical" drops to aid partisans or disrupt the enemy rear were all they accomplished for the rest of the war. They did conduct one large drop against the Japanese on a "Operational" level.
So how do I make Soviet paratroopers you may ask? Well here is how I did it. After chasing down all the parts, get John Desch to paint them for you! The uniform issued was a standard Soviet uniform with the amoeba camouflage suit over the top. Since my main focus was the non-winter drops, mine are standard colors. I have seen photos that indicate the 42 winter dropped paratroopers wore white suits. The standard weapon issued was the PPsh-41 and the Soviet light machine gun (DP-28) dropped in canisters. The headgear was similar to the Soviet Tanker helmet for drops which would have probably been taken off and switch for the Pilotka hat pictured below. Although pictured in blue below, I have had some indications the Soviets were unable to maintain that and had the same Brown ones issued to infantry units. Either way, I chose to have mine in blue to be cool and it is a precursor to the "Soviet Paratrooper Blue Beret!" Now, for the figures, I bought a crap load of SU707 Soviet Scout Platoon, as the pack gets it mostly right. The rifle fig is a little out of place, but some paratroopers were marksmen so it's ok to add. The real tricky part is the heavy weapons. About the best you can do is cull through the packs and pick out the guys wearing Pilotka hats and not helmets. It took me several packs to do this and it got expensive. At least now they have HMG in Pilotka hat - back in 2007 when I started this they did not even make them. The ATR pack has a couple figs you can use as well. The 50mm RM-38 mortar is another real problem you can only fix this with headswaps.
Honestly, Battlefront could have a box set Battalion of Soviet Paratroopers in about 3 seconds with some packaging and one or two figure modifications to heavy weapons. They have 95% of the figs all ready.
|My Soviet paratroopers organized as standard Mid-War Strelkovy|
|Organized as it should be in three platoons|
The organization of the Airborne Corp went through several changes through the war. The 1941 configuration was:
3 Airborne Brigades with:
4 Parachute Battalions of 458 men each
3 Parachute Rifle companies (24 flamethrowers)
Brigade Artillery 6x76mm, 12x45mm ATG, 6x82mm Mortar
Reconnaissance Company with bicycles
AAA Machine Gun Company
Long Range Reconnaissance platoon
Separate Tank Battalion with 50 xT37 light tanks.
Mobile Equipment Platoon 15 Motorcycles
|Pre-War Airborne Brigade organization (ed: click on the image for a more legible version)|
The Brigades were reorganized after the initial German onslaught for the winter offensives. The changes to the Brigade were:
4 Battalions with (678 men)
3 Parachute Companies
1 Mortar Company
1 Sapper Platoon
1 Machine Gun Platoon
1 flamethrower Platoon
1 Signal Platoon
|SU707 Scout platoons from Battlefront Flames of War|
So, given all this information, if I was going to make a Soviet Airborne List I would do it like this:
A Choice of Fearless Trained or Fearless Veteran
HQ platoon with choice of adding 2 50mm Mortar and Kommisar
3 Airborne Platoon with 9 SMG stands and a Command SMG team
(choice to upgrade two stands to flamethrower)
1 HMG platoon (allow to attach out)
1 ATR platoon (allow to attach out)
1 Sapper platoon
1 82 mm Mortar platoon
1 Recon platoon or Recon Partisan platoon
ATG platoon 1 to 4 45mm ATG guns
AAA ground mount Dshk platoon
Artillery Company of 6x76mm
Partisan Company (they always seam to be present)
As far as Army support, it would depend upon the Battle. In the 42 battles before Moscow, the Airborne forces were attached to the 1st Guards Cavalry Corp after dropping, so all kinds of options there.
|Whenever I want something really cool and above my painting skill, I go to John Desch - he did not disappoint me.|
|Soviet Paratroopers. Paint job by John Desch|
|Parachute ATR platoon is a real pain to make.|
|Li-2 Soviet DC-3 made under license|
The Soviets used two main Gliders in WWII the Antonov A-7 and Gribovski G-11. These wer used to deliver heavy weapons to the Airborne forces and also to partisan groups well behind German lines.
|Antonov A-7 Glider|
In conclusion, I have enjoyed doing several scenario games with the Soviet Paratroopers. With all kinds of crazy options, they are great fun. It would be nice if Battlefront did this force and made it a lot easier to assemble - that way, other could enjoy the force like I have. I do not see what is stopping them they have most the stuff all ready. So what say you Battlefront? Care to make Soviet Paratroopers!
Eric Lauterbach can be heard laughing like an idiot on the WWPD axis of evil podcast.