Comparative Values and How to Beat the High Cost of Waging War, Part II

by Kevin Roust

In the first installment of this two-part article, we examined at the Soviet Summer of 1941 when the key resource is Personnel Points (PPs). The basic Soviet Raised 8-4 Rifle Army unit when examined under the microscope was found to be remarkably well-suited to the task of defending the Rodina and, at full-strength, offering sufficient power to effectively strike back at the Axis invaders.

In this second chapter, we triage the rest of the Soviet Force Pool in response to the emergency of WWII with an emphasis on smart economic play in Thunder in the East.

Always Rebuild Guards Units

ETO USSR 4-4 1st Guards Infantry CorpsExcept for the 1 Guards Infantry Corps units (hidden among the Mystery Meat), eliminated Guards Infantry units return to the Soviet Force Pool; they are available for rebuilding for the same 1 PP each that it costs to buy the more dubious Mystery Meat Corps units. Guards Corps units are the best value for putting Combat Strength on the map, with Guards Cavalry Corps providing 3 Strength for only 1/2 PP and Guards Infantry Corps providing 4 Strength for 1 PP.

ETO USSR 3-(4) 4th Guards Cavalry CorpsAs shown by the silver medal in its upper-right corner, when a Guards Infantry Corps has been eliminated it leaves in its wake a Corps Remnant (a.k.a., a Battle Group) unit. Since that BG is a small-size unit, it costs only 1/2 PP to improve it back into a full-fledged 4-4 Guards Infantry Corps unit, and thereby gaining 3 Strength. This is comparable to building a Guards Cavalry from the Force Pool. Further, this BG improvement can occur on any turn it has an Overland LoC while the Guards Cavalry unit, being a Specialist unit. must to wait for the first of the month.

ETO USSR 1-3 Infantry BG SuvorovBeginning in October 1941 when the Soviet Early Mech Corps units disappear, Guard Cavalry Corps are the critical foundations for Soviet Cav-Mech Group units (these combine with the newly-introduced Soviet Tank Corps units). Soviet Cav-Mech Group units provide critical Heavy ZOCs needed to manage the German Panzer Corps in the Autumn and Winter of 1941, cutting their Lines of Communication and Retreat.

ETO USSR Cav-Mech structure

Rebuild eliminated Guards units at every earliest opportunity and make sure to promote a few Guards Cavalry units by October 1941 – you will be glad you did!

Specialist Units: Cavalry, Airborne, and Mountain Corps

During each Month's first turn, you may spend up to 1 PP (maximum) on Specialist units. Do not miss this opportunity! The Mountain Corps units are not that significant in the early war, but Cavalry and Airborne Corps units offer more than excellent value – they have important roles to play.

Cavalry and Airborne Corps are both Small units. This allows them to be "the third unit" in a stack and/or "the second unit" attacking across a hexside. As described earlier in this article, they are ideal for adding that last bit of Attack Strength needed to rescue a pocket.

ETO USSR 2-(4) 17th Cavalry CorpsDuring 1941, Soviet Cavalry Corps are likely the most valuable Specialist unit. Their (4) Movement Allowance gives them a reduced ability to move during the Soviet Special Movement Step, allowing them to shift slightly along the line which could help them contain or assist a counterattack at Axis breakthrough. Promoting them to Guards Cavalry units during July - October 1941 is certainly a good idea, since Guards Cavalry units are necessary to form the much-needed Soviet Cav-Mech Group units. Therefore, strive to have at least one Soviet Cavalry Corps unit on the map at the beginning of the month ready to receive that Promotion.

ETO USSR 2-4 1st VDV Airborne CorpsAirborne Corps units are an interesting threat starting in early 1942 when additional Transport Air units arrive in the Soviet Force Pool. Make sure you deploy them into the Soviet Theater Reserve with ample preparation time (i.e., they must endure a -3 Countdown marker) prior to airdropping them onto the map.

Soviet Mountain Corps units are most useful as the front approaches the Caucasus Mountains; historically this occurred during the Summer and Autumn of 1942.

ETO USSR 3-4 3rd Mountain Infantry Corps

Cavalry Corps units are mobile during their Special Movement Step (when most of the Soviet Army is not). They can provide a decisive Small unit Attack Strength supplement through a hexside that can improve its odds. Make it a priority to investing the maximum 1 PP per Month in Specialist units!

Defensive Units: Garrisons and Improved Defenses

Each faction can spend up to 1 PP per turn on Garrison units and Improved Defense markers. The Garrison units provide good value, particularly when placed at hexes the enemy will likely attack (and where the comrades that Garrison unit is stacked with have a chance of surviving).

Garrison units are a good source of Defense Strength – you receive a known 2 Defense Strength for only 1/2 PP each (which also makes them cheap steps to lose when suffering a Stalemate or Defender Pressed combat result; and when playing a Campaign Game, there is no Morale Point loss when these small units are eliminated) while a Soviet Rifle Infantry Corps unit provides a similar (but unknown) Defense Strength (at least 2 at the start, but Conscripts have only 1 Defense Strength) but at the cost of a full 1 PP each. Because Garrisons are Small units they serve nicely as "the third unit" in a stack.

Offsetting these strength advantages:

Garrison units typically move by rail (meaning they cannot exit an EZOC and you must spend your Rail Capacity to redeploy them);

They are Small units and therefore do not project a ZOC; and

Improving them requires a card play.

ETO USSR Garrison

A (2) Strength Garrison unit is an excellent choice to top off a corner in the line (i.e., where it can attack through three or more hexsides) or to bolster an Objective City hex's defense (increasing that stack's value from perhaps 8 Defense Strength (3:1 from two attacking Panzer Corps units) to 10 (only 2:1 from two attacking Panzer Corps units).

ETO USSR Hardened GarrisonA Hardened Garrison unit (i.e., a Garrison unit improved via playing the Soviet Construction Brigades or Axis Festung Ost cards) makes a city a particularly tough nut to crack. Since Isolation cannot eliminate Hardened Garrison units and they never Retreat, they will defend their position to the death from combat or overrun. A Hardened Garrison unit can buy a critical turn for an Infantry Corps to sail out of Odessa or for Stalin to survive in Moscow, but you must build regular Garrison units there first (and then play the appropriate Event card).

ETO marker Improved DefenseImproved Defense markers are harder to evaluate. Their odds shift effectively increases the Defense Strength of their hex by about 25 to 33% and thus are similar to adding 3 or 4 Defense Strength to a big stack. That sounds like a fantastic purchase for only 1/4 RP (that is "RP" for Resource Point, as you can also buy these without a per turn spending limit using Equipment Points or, in the Campaign Game, Morale Points; note too that some Soviet cards also provide these markers for free). However, Improved Defense markers are immobile, fragile (i.e., eliminated with any step loss in their hex), and might never be attacked. As a +1 odds shift benefit at a critical point that the enemy is threatening to attack, however, Improved Defense markers can be more valuable than an Infantry step.

Improved Defense markers also provide a benefit against overruns, increasing their 1-step defending unit's chance of survival by 1/6. For example, a Panzer Corps successfully overruns the Soviet Garrison unit in Kronstadt (8728) a die roll of 3 or higher (2 for the Garrison's unit's Defense Strength, +1 DRM for a Heavy overrunning unit, and a -1 DRM for the Forest hex's defensive terrain shift). However, the Improved Defense marker that also sets up in Kronstadt at the beginning of Barbarossa improves its survivability to a die roll of 4 or higher (adding another -1 DRM for that marker's defensive "terrain" shift). In the Typhoon scenario, now only a die roll of 6 successfully sees that Panzer Corps overrun the now-Hardened Garrison unit with its Fortified Defense marker in Kronstadt.

Carefully position Garrison units and Improved Defense markers; they still need to provide enough defensive benefit to justify even their small cost. Place Garrison units (and eventually harden them) in must-hold cities (which can markedly delay their capture). Improved Defense markers can fill in gaps in terrain defense lines (and make river line defense positions even stronger), and you might have enough extra EPs, MPs, and Event cards to satisfy this need if the 1 PP per turn spending limit is a hindrance.

Other Investments: HQs, Flak, Air Units

ETO USSR HQ West basicYou can also spend PPs building HQ markers, Air Defense levels (Flak), and Air units. If its hex is defended, it might happen that one of the two Soviet HQ markers is dissolved during Barbarossa (if its hex is not defended or merely out of supply, that HQ marker survives but flees). Whether that occurs or not, since HQ markers are necessary to provide supply in the gaps along the vast line from Leningrad to Kharkov, plan on paying 2 PPs (+2 EPs +2 FPs!) for a new HQ marker in July 1941. That third Soviet HQ marker is very helpful in Crimea and the Caucasus, so it is reasonable to plan on spending another 2 PPs (+2 EPs +2 FPs!) for a new HQ marker in September or October of 1941. Supply makes your front line a threat, and having a few Offensive Points to back those HQ markers makes it even more threatening.

ETO marker Airfields Attack MissionWhen the Axis conducts Airfields Attack Missions during Barbarossa, the Soviets will have many Weeks' worth of Destroyed Air units to rebuild (by "stepping on the gas" or, in game terms, freely spending Fuel Points). Nevertheless, by Autumn of 1941 the Soviets may desire to expand the Red Air Force beyond its nominal 25 units. The 2 PPs + 1 EP (and, later, 1 FP) cost per newly built Air unit is fairly steep, so it is usually better to refit Air units for a mere 1 EP each, replacing their old planes with new-and-improved ones (while not actually increasing the number of actual Air units on the Air Display mat). Reducing the Soviet Air Force headcount might even be justified in a Campaign Game, disbanding some of your wrecked Air units for 2 PPs each.

ETO USSR Yak-1 Ready  ETO USSR Su-2 Ready  ETO USSR Il-2 Ready

ETO USSR Flak markerAir Defense (Flak) provides a fixed deterrent to the Axis sending too many bomber missions against your anchorages, Air Bases, and/or supply centers. The first Air Defense level is inexpensive at a one-time cost of 1 PP + 1 EP which can damage up to one such attacking Axis Air unit per turn. Subsequent Air Defense levels rapidly increase in cost (2 PPs + 2 EPs for the second level; 3 PPs + 3 EPs for the third) and become increasingly less necessary as your Fighter forces improve in quantity and quality and increasingly challenge the Axis risking these Missions.

Budget your resources to build up to 3 Soviet HQ markers during 1941. One to two steps of Flak are perhaps justified for deterrence (but that will likely push the Luftwaffe toward more Close Air Support Missions). The Red Air Force has a lot of Personnel Points invested in Air units, so you might even consider disbanding a few to raise more Rifle Infantry units on the front line.

Conclusions

ETO USSR X-4 Mystery Meat CorpsDuring 1941, the Soviets are well-advised to build all the Cavalry units possible (at 1 PP per month), rebuilding Guards units from the Force Pool as quickly as possible, and getting a third HQ marker in play. Still, most Soviet PPs should be spent on 1-step ?-4 Rifle Infantry Corps and improving those to 2-step 4-5-4 Rifle Infantry Army units. If not adequately provided by Event cards, building Garrison units in key City hexes and Improved Defense markers on critical positions is another important consideration.

ETO German 1-3 KG AntonThe Axis should focus on rebuilding reduced strength Armies (to avoid being gypped of a free Korpsgruppe (KG) should it suffer another step loss and be involuntarily broken down) and protecting KG units in play. You want to exploit KG units' free improvement to Division units and reduced strength Corps units in your Force Pool. During a Campaign Game, consider demobilizing Romanian and Hungarian Infantry steps to achieve 5 PPs in their stock (enough to generate 1 MP each Season).

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