"Damn, the Soviets have a lot of Personnel Points!"

By Alan Emrich

Historians examining the war in the east during WWII always note the differences in the force structures and weapon types between the Axis and Soviet combatants. Some venture even further, explaining how those aspects evolved as they did. The distinctions are palpable in Frank Chadwick's ETO series and Vol. I: Thunder in the East is a case study in its two faction's "way of war." This article will help you understand what that means and how it works in game terms.

Playing to Your Economy's Strengths

The leaders of the Axis and Soviet Factions (i.e., Hitler and Stalin, plus their General Staffs) had to face the realities of their situation when constituting their armed forces and setting their military doctrines. In assessing what kind of armed forces they could build, and how they could employ them, their evaluations created forces and plans best-suited to their specific war-making capabilities and, because each Faction's circumstances were different, their military capabilities and plans evolved in asymmetrical ways.

Ruhr factoriesGermany in the 1930s saw the consolidation of Hitler's bellicose Nazi regime seeking to redress Germany's lamentable post-WWI status. After a bold gamble to reoccupy the Rhineland and bring Germany's industrial base back under its political control, the now-reorganizing German armed forces recognized their manufacturing capability, backed by a sizable manpower base, as their trump suits in a future conflict. Also shaping their thinking was a need to de-emphasize Germany's weak suit, fuel. To this end, German war planning resolved around rapid conquests of divided foes in Blitzkrieg-style warfare; two-front wars and long wars of attrition (like the First World War) had to be avoided.

The Soviet Union in the 1930s was still being politically (and therefore economically) consolidated. Between Stalin's political and military purges and the nominally effective 5-year (economic) plans, the nervous leadership of this fledgling communist state was playing catch-up to the rest of Europe. The vast efforts to modernize and industrialize the Soviet Union were matched in bold, experimental military thinking as new ideas and inventions were rapidly tried (and many discarded).

Both the Communist and Fascist blocs were considered international pariah nations and, despite their intrinsic mutual animosity, worked together (in secret, away from the eyes of complacent Western nations) to develop innovative military ideas and doctrines. Russia and Germany cooperated together in battlefield wargame maneuvers in western Russia helping them both to sharpen their capabilities and learn important lessons for a future war.

Equipment Points and the Axis Force Pool Structure

ETO German 12-9-[6] 41st Panzer CorpsThe evolution of the German Heer (Army) and Luftwaffe (Air Force) saw great technical innovations forged by considerable political will and military ingenuity. Playing to their primary strength in Equipment Points (EPs), Germany developed their 12-9-[6] Panzer Corps unit which, in game terms, is an amazing value and the best overall unit in its class. As the spear point of the Wehrmacht, let us analyze this unit a bit further:

12-9-[6] Panzer Corps Weakness

Requires 1 Fuel Point (FP), the Axis' economic bane, to build from the Force Pool and place it on the map. Thus it is vitally important to avoid their complete elimination because reconstituting them from scratch out of the Force Pool costs +1 FP. It is far better to keep them replaced and up to strength on the map if possible. Never let their Korpsgruppe remnant units die; build them back up!

Requires Equipment Points (EPs) to build up (but that's not such a big deal for the Axis, as they are playing to their strength of manufacturing a good many EPs).

Costs 2 Rail Capacity to use Rail Movement for being a Major Heavy unit. All others cost 1 Rail Capacity each.

12-9-[6] Panzer Corps Strengths

ETO German 24-16-[5] 3rd Panzer Army

Medium size units; has a ZOC and two can stack together in a hex.

Is strong enough (at full-strength) to conduct an Overrun.

Two build up into an awesome Large size 24-16-[5] Panzer Army unit.

One breaks down into an array of useful, Small size Division units: Two 4-2-[6] Panzer and one 2-[6] Motorized (or, after 1942, one 3-[6] Panzergrenadier). These are excellent for creating additional strength in key hexes seeing offensive and defensive activity.

ETO German 4-2-[6] 10th Panzer Division  ETO German 2-[6] 60th Motorized Infantry Division

Has a "third step" in the 1-2-[5] Panzergrenadier Korpsgruppe (KG) it forms when eliminated, allowing it to be rebuilt for half price (or even free) as a reduced-strength, 6-5-[6] Panzer Corps unit (with no Fuel expenditure required, which is a vital factor).

As a Heavy (Armor oval symbol), Motorized (white Movement Allowance) unit with a [6] Movement Allowance, it also:

Enjoys a double-length supply-line from Strategic HQs in Attack mode (Motorized).

Has full movement during its Special Movement Phase (Motorized).

Receives a Favorable +1 DRM in Overrun situations (Heavy).

Provides a Close Support Shift in battles when a Heavy unit symbol is rolled.

Ignores Leg units' EZOC when Retreating and tracing communications; conversely, it blocks these same things for enemy Heavy units.

Has an excellent range when placed on the map from the Theater Reserves (due to its impressive [6] Movement Allowance).

In total, the German Panzer Corps is an excellent all-around unit and is the yardstick by which other units are measured (as we will soon do for the standard Soviet Ground unit).

ETO German Stuka (ready)The Luftwaffe is the "fuel vampire" of the Axis war effort. Thus, the Axis must "play to their strengths" in Thunder in the East not by expanding the number of Air units they have in play (which consumes 2PP + 1 EP to place in the Destroyed box, and 1 FP to move it from there, Damaged, into the Flown box), but by making myriad incremental upgrades to those few Air units they are currently operating (particularly their Fighters) which consumes only 1 Equipment Point each. EPs, remember, are much easier for the Axis to come by than FPs, so if you can only afford a limited quantity of Air units, you need to make sure they keep their qualitative edge in Dogfights. Even more importantly when watching the Axis' fuel gauge is how often their Fighters can Rush Recover (i.e., fly both offensive and defensive missions on consecutive player turns). Fuel is the Axis' Achilles heel and it is the Luftwaffe who suffers the most for it (as does the Kriegsmarine, but the German Navy has been abstracted out of Thunder in the East, so that is not a concern here).

German Infantry on paradeThe Axis, and in particular the Germans, are replete with Personnel Points (PPs), Germany having a large population from their post-WWI "baby boom" (who are now at exactly military age) and a legacy of military training and discipline giving the Wehrmacht a pool of excellent warriors on average. You can see this in their few, excellent, high-quality 6-4 German Infantry Corps, which are great providing offensive punch to support marauding Panzers in their lightning campaigns of easy conquests. This German unit combination is nigh invincible to smaller nations such as Poland and Belgium.

You can see Germany's weakness in prolonged wars of attrition and two-front fighting in the degradation of the Wehrmacht infantry as they emerge on the map over time:

ETO German 4-6-4 Infantry corps6-4 - Crack*

4-6-4 - Veteran*

4-4 - Trained

2-4-3 - 2nd Line (Volksgrenadier)

(2) - Garrisons

*This quality Infantry type also forms Korpsgruppe remnants when duress removes them from the map, making them even more valuable!

Thus, the further down the Axis must scrape the bottom of their Force Pool to build their next new Infantry Corps, the worse they become! As the Axis bubble grows, "the good stuff" simply can't be everywhere leaving inferior Infantry units to fill the gaps and shore up the defenses (leaving exploitable quiet sector and even front-line strength vulnerabilities).

The Axis Card Hand Supporting their War Effort

ETO Axis Blitzkrieg cardThe Axis card hand generally supports their offensive-oriented Blitzkrieg style of warfare (as their armed forces do); it is not designed to support long wars of attrition. This is why their additional Resource Point cards are few and weak in relation to their economy. Instead, cards directly supporting offensive operations (German Generals, New Model Tank Deployed, Panzer Blitz, Air Offensive, Elite Troops, etc.) make up the bulk of the Axis card hand.

In more dire circumstances, they possess cards that will help in defense (Standfast!, Festung Ost, and Sicherungs Divisions). There are also some uniquely Axis enterprises in their card hand, such as the options to Motorize an Elite German Infantry Corps unit (which pinches their Fuel weakness a bit but markedly improves the Wehrmacht on the ground in mobile fighting), or another which allows the Axis player to "rest" the troops in the Theater Reserve (which is tantamount to receiving "free replacements" but at a critical cost in time by removing troops from the front lines where they are most needed -- it's a real balancing act).

Personnel Points and the Soviet Force Pool Structure

ETO USSR Lend-Lease (4 LLPs)Where the Axis is built around short war, quality offensive components, the Soviet player becomes well versed in Lenin's axiom that "quantity has a quality all its own." This is because the Soviet's biggest advantage going into this war is their vast stockpiles of Fuel, Equipment, and specially trained Personnel Points (with Militia and Conscripts mobilization also standing by). Early in the war before these stockpiles are "spent down" to the point where the normal Soviet war economy (plus Lend-Lease) becomes all they can count on, the Soviets have a big (if unwieldy) economic "stick." Until then, the Soviets can spend PPs and EPs faster than the Axis can and garner their asymmetrical advantages doing so, particularly during inclement weather when the Axis cannot effectively bleed the Red Army off the map.

ETO USSR 8-4 61st Rifle Infantry ArmyThe common coin of the Red Army is the 3-step, full-strength 8-4 Rifle Infantry Army, which is raised from adding Personnel Points (PPs) to generic ?-4 Rifle Infantry Corps (lovingly known among the playtesters as "Mystery Meat" for their untried Strength values). Because this is the median unit by which the rest of the Soviet Force Pool is compared, let's take a closer look at its weaknesses and strengths:

8-4 Rifle Infantry Army Weakness

It is a Large unit, so you can only have one of these per hex, making it difficult to concentrate them for high-odds attacks against full-strength enemy units.

ETO USSR Mystery Meat InfantryIts "remnant" step is an untried ?-4 Rifle Infantry Corps that could be of dubious quality, particularly while Militia and Conscript units are polluting the Mystery Meat Pool.

It has a non-Heavy ZOC, so enemy Heavy units can Retreat right past it and laugh, and it brings nothing extra to a Battle that will help garner Support Shifts.

Its Leg movement ability is the most restricted during the Special Movement Phase.

Because of how it takes losses, there is a full Soviet Morale Point lost when it is completely eliminated (1/2 MP when reduced to a 1-step Corps unit, and another 1/2 MP when that Corps unit is eliminated). The Soviets take more "Morale risk" with their main unit in play, therefore, than other countries do.

8-4 Rifle Infantry Army Strengths

It actually has a third step, and that ?-4 Rifle Infantry Corps is a Medium-size unit that has a ZOC. This makes completely eliminating a full-strength, 3-step Soviet 8-4 Rifle Infantry Army an arduous task taking multiple turns because its solid, third step Rifle Infantry Corps stands ready.

At its reduced strength, it is a 2-step 4-5-4 Rifle Infantry Army, which is pretty good, particularly on defense. Having two steps, it cannot be overrun, and with 5 Defense Strength, it is certainly stronger than other reduced-strength Infantry units!

These Armies are raised not built, so adding Personnel Points to them is very easy to do as pieces do not need to be stacked together in the same hex to awkwardly combine as other armies do.

The Soviets have a lot of these units, which always gives their Personal Points a nice home on the map.

ETO USSR Shock ArmySimilarly raised are the Soviet’s companion three-step Infantry Armies: the 10-4 Guards Infantry and the 12-8-4 Shock Infantry (but this latter one is raised with a total of 2 Personnel plus 1 Equipment Point). This trio of raised Infantry Armies gives the Red Army a solid baseline strength when and where they have the time and Resource Points to raise 3-steppers.

In addition to the mass of Personnel Points the Soviets began the war with when playing the Campaign Game, still more become available and the Soviet player can demobilize much of their destroyed Air Force (adding 2 Personal Points per unit sent to their Force Pool from the Air Display)! You will be astounded at the Soviet Personnel Point pool when this situation meets the Soviet's first Seasonal turn of production on July I 1941. The Soviets will be spending the limit (of 10 PPs per turn, maximum) for some time if they aggressively demobilize their Air Force.


ETO USSR Relocated Factory (Kharkov)

Furthermore, the Soviet economy is very resilient in that its Industry hexes continue to produce at half value from the Urals, and still recover their other half when retaken by the Soviets; no other Nation has that ability, and it makes it impossible to completely knock out the Soviet industrial base. Thus, their Equipment Points keep coming and are always supplemented by the arrival of Lend-Lease Points (LLPs). So keeping tanks and planes in the field is not a major worry for the Soviets, but developing useful units like Tank Armies and decent Fighters and Fighter-Bombers is another matter entirely. Still, the Soviets should have enough Fuel to keep their Fighter and red Strike Strength Fighter-Bombers (when they receive them) Rush Recovering enough to credibly harass the Axis invaders.

ETO USSR Mystery Mech CorpsQuality Equipment Point units are not part of the early Soviet armed forces model, as a considerable transition was taking place when the war started. The strength and capabilities of the initial ?-[5] Soviet Mystery Mech Corps vary widely. While a few are good (at 8-4-[5] and 6-3-[5]) and all have the ZOCs inherent in their Medium size, most are weak (and many are downright pathetic). Still, if voluntarily disbanded, they each add 1 EP to the stockpile and a ?-4 Infantry Corps to the map. The trick for the Soviets is holding on until their Tank Corps units can be built (for only 1/2 EP each!). Keeping the Red Air Force’s Fighters and Fighter-Bombers upgraded with the latest (usually still crappy, but at least slightly improved) units is the other key use for Soviet EPs.

ETO USSR 1st Mech CorpsWhen the 3-[6] Soviet Mech Corps is introduced in October of 1942, the Red Army can finally start to combine their Tank and Mech Corps units into their Large size trump units, the three-step Soviet 10-6-[6] Tank Army. Although this unit is not a good asymmetrical counterpart to the German Panzer Corps, it is the best the Soviets have and it really puts the Axis on notice that, wherever they are holding the line with a one-step unit, it can face an effective Overrun.

ETO USSR Guard Cavalry CorpsA smaller-ranked card in the Soviet's trump suit is the single monthly conversion of a Corps to Guards status. It doesn't seem like a lot, but when blessed with so much quantity, even a little improvement in quality is greatly appreciated by the Soviet player. Early Cav-Mech Group units are timely stopgaps until the Tank Armies arrive, and employing Guards Armies, Infantry and Tank, can often provide an extra odds column's difference in Battle.

The Red Army and Red Air Force are built for a war of attrition. Their units are not amazing, but plentiful, as are the Resource Points to keep them going and improving them over the duration of the war. As Soviet Personnel Cities fall to the Axis, Soviet forces will begin to feel a need for more trained manpower than they are producing, and so must become less spendthrift in accepting casualties, working for higher odds and more favorable Support Shifts when attacking to achieve this.

The Soviet Card Hand Supporting their War Effort

ETO Soviet Emergency Mobilization cardThe robust, diverse Soviet card hand is one built for all seasons and occasions. There are vital defensive cards (Emergency Mobilization, Labor Battalions, Militia Mobilized, Enduring Deprivations, and Commissars Motivate Troops) to greet the onslaught of the Axis invasion, creating an even more asymmetrical Personnel Point-endowed Red Army that keeps rising from its Force Pool like extras from a zombie movie.

The Soviets also have decent additional Resource Point cards and the always-useful Planned Political Economy card in a Campaign Game to balance out the Soviet economy. There are cards that exist to annoy the Axis (Scorched Earth, Guerrilla War, and General Winter) and others that will help the Soviets go on offense and take the war to the invaders (their assorted Marshals, Maskirovka, Katyusha Rockets, and Strategic Redeployment) and keep them guessing. So for each tenor, tempo, and tone the war takes, the Soviets have an appropriate instrument to play in their card hand. Of course, knowing when to play the correct card are lessons you must learn by experience!

Examples of Asymmetrical Forces from Operation Barbarossa

A great illustration of the clash of asymmetrical forces is readily apparent during the first two turns of Operation Barbarossa as the Axis obliterate Soviet border forces and drive hell-bent-for-leather into the Soviet Union.

ETO TITE Barbarossa actionThis all begins with the Axis' trump card, Blitzkrieg!, and the sneak attack it engenders on the Soviets. Caught completely flat-footed by the Germans, the German forces (only, as the Hungarians and Romanians are inactive until the second game turn) are, in effect, super-powered, thus exacerbating their asymmetrical advantages in the air and on the ground with their Panzer spearheads. The first turn should see the destruction of a great deal (probably all) of the Red Air Force on the ground and 6+ hex breakthroughs that should find the Dvina River crossed somewhere southeast of Riga, Minsk surrounded, and Lvov either captured or in deep doo-doo. The Blitzkrieg! card Sneak Attack and Panzer Corps create an awesome one-two punch that ultimately brings the Axis to their high-water mark circa 1942.

Making a bad situation worse, the transitions in the Red Army (still reeling from Stalin's officer purges) handicaps their border deployment by prohibiting their vaunted 8-4 Rifle Infantry Armies from setting up in adjacent hexes. Instead, plugging the holes between them, the Soviet player must often reach for some-probably-too-weak Mystery (?-Strength) Corps units. This gives the Axis one-step Soviet units to Overrun during their initial turn, allowing the Germans to really make hay while the sun is shining and often finds Axis forces attacking the Soviet border from the front and rear, thus opening the way for the German Infantry to rush in afterward.

The Soviet's first turn typically finds their frontier border forces facing the Germans largely "nailed in place" by enemy units (Leg units in EZOCs cannot move during the Special Movement Step), while the vast forces in heart of Russia lumber westward to establish defensive positions and prepare to meet the invaders. Fortunately for the Soviets, their forces deployed on the Hungarian and Romanian borders are not locked by EZOCs on the first turn, so in the Ukraine they can adjust their deployment for better defense when these sectors of the line light up on the second turn.

Without an Air Force to support them and little pre-Combat Phase maneuvering, opportunities for effective Soviets counterattacks on IV June 1941 might be limited, but should still be made! What the Soviets do have are all of their Resource Points stockpiled before the war to spend, and this asymmetrical advantage is what must hold the Soviet Union together in the face of Axis aggression as the frontier forces flee to the rear or move to the Casualty mat. Essentially, the Soviets cannot plunk down new/rebuilt pieces on the board fast enough! They must stall the enemy advance wherever they can, "shape" the Axis' opportunities to attack building strong defenses only where it matters and buy time for strong defensive lines to form (with some planning, beyond the Axis' supply range) and the weather to hinder Axis momentum.

ETO USSR I-16 ReadyTo that end, in a Campaign Game, the Soviets are endowed with more Personnel Points and no scenario-defined floor at which they must stop spending them. Also in a Campaign Game, the Soviets can scrap much of their destroyed Air Force and garner 2 PPs each as their atrocious early model planes find their place in the dustbin of history. Removing even 10 such once-flying dregs can garner 20 PPs at a time in the war when the Soviets need them most!

On the Axis’ second turn, which begins the new month of July (and the new Season of Summer), the Axis will select a card, presumably one that will further exacerbate their asymmetrical advantages (perhaps Panzer Blitz to facilitate their Overruns of the shattered Red Army, or elect to replay the German Generals card in the new Season). Per the German's Blitzkrieg doctrine, the Soviet front line forces still enveloped in the kessel (kettle) will be reduced by the advancing Infantry forces now surrounding them, freeing up the German mobile forces to conduct further bold maneuvers, overrunning their way toward crossing vital rivers and penetrating enemy defensive lines. The question for the Axis is how much risk to assume, and where, as their units outrun their supply (meaning they will attack at half strength until their logistics are repositioned forward along the advancing front).

On the Soviet's second turn, they can select a card that will support their asymmetrical advantage in trained Personnel, typically the Emergency Mobilization card which, over the 4 Weeks of July, will net them +16 PPs' worth of stuff. And, as the Soviets reach for the smoking remains of their Air Force to assist them, Axis forces risking themselves in exposed positions should be counterattacked (even at sub-optimal odds). This is because, playing the "attrition game" works to the Soviet's asymmetrical advantage, plinking away a Panzer step or two, or sometimes better still a handful of Axis Infantry steps; these are is worth losing nearly double that amount in abundant Soviet Infantry steps. More importantly, it will give the Axis player pause when they deploy their next forward thrust knowing that you are spoiling for an opportunity to strike back at it. The threat of Soviet Theater Reserves is often as beneficial as their use.

As the war progresses, we hope that you will note more strengths and weaknesses in both Faction's toolboxes and keep those in mind as you devise winning strategies along the front and decisive tactics at key hexes. Play to your strengths and exploit your opponent's weaknesses!