Apr 17, 2017

Team Yankee: Where on earth is the Soviet artillery?

I picked up the rulebook for Team Yankee on a lark over the winter break. Based on the novel of the same name, it's a miniature game that depicts combat between Soviet and American forces in a World War III being fought in Germany. Given the choice of those two sides, I'd definitely be inclined to pick the Soviets - if not for one major problem: artillery.

In Team Yankee, each Soviet battalion gets one battery of 2S1 122mm self-propelled howitzers, and you can also select one battery of divisional artillery, also 2S1s. Were you to select a division's worth of troops, you'd end up with 17 batteries, 102 guns in total, and the single divisional BM-21 rocket launcher battery.

As FM 100-2-3 The Soviet Army: Troops, Organization and Equipment (pdf) tells us, a Soviet tank division mustered four battalions of 2S1 122mm self-propelled howitzers, one per regiment, and an artillery regiment with two 2S3 (152mm) battalions and a rocket launcher battalion. That's a total of 72 2S1s, 36 2S3s and 18 BM-21 rocket launchers (FM 100-2-3, 4-13). In terms of raw numbers, then, Team Yankee is close to the organic tube artillery held by a Soviet tank division, but the 152mm guns of the divisional artillery have been replaced by 122mm ones. With only a single battery present, two thirds of the division's rocket launchers are missing.

There are two problems with this. First, this is a highly counterintuitive way to handle Soviet artillery. As Chris Bellamy (Red God of War: Soviet Artillery and Rocket Forces. Brassey's Defence Publishers, London, 1986) reminds us, the basic Soviet fire unit was the battalion, not the battery (185-190). Divisional artillery in tank and motor rifle divisions was grouped into battalions at regiment level, not penny-packeted to the battalions, which would have been a decidedly un-Soviet thing to do. Motor rifle battalions did have an organic mortar battery, which is missing from Team Yankee. Individual artillery batteries charging around with battalions was not Soviet practice.

Also, what we've looked at so far is just the organic artillery, i.e. the artillery units permanently attached to the division. Team Yankee is set in West Germany, which would have been the crucible of any NATO-Soviet shooting war. There's just no way that a first-line Soviet division would be participating in an offensive in the key theater of operations with just its organic artillery. Bellamy estimates (194-197) that a division advancing along a main axis would be supported by or even allocated artillery from both the Army and Front level; in his hypothetical example, two battalions of 152mm SP or towed guns from the Army, and three battalions of SP guns, self-propelled mortars, 203mm guns and heavy rocket launchers from the Front, for a total of over 300 equipments. In other words, support from higher echelons would more than triple the artillery strength of a front-line division along a major axis of advance, purely in terms of numbers of equipment; because some of the higher-level artillery is heavier, the increase in firepower is actually even larger. To take a World War I comparison, Bellamy estimates that the artillery fire in support of a Soviet breakthrough would have been six times more intense than the initial German bombardment at Verdun.

The heavy breakthrough battle is a special case, though. The scenarios of Team Yankee are set in a more fluid post-breakthrough environment where NATO forces are conducting a mobile defence, and are apparently able to engage the Soviets in smaller engagements. In a sense, then, the whole premise of the game is that NATO strategy has been succesful, and the Soviets have failed to overcome their defences through mass and tempo. However, how would Soviet artillery have been deployed in mobile operations? According to Bellamy (199-200), while artillery control would have been heavily centralized during the breakthrough battle, during the exploitation phase afterward, artillery battalions would be allocated to forward maneuver battalions. In this special case, it might have been possible for individual artillery batteries to be allocated to companies, but at battalion level, a forward tank or motor-rifle battalion would certainly have been supported by an artillery battalion. Existing tactical protocols for meeting engagements, a form of battle the Soviets would have actively sought, deal with an artillery battery attached to the company forming the march security element, with the rest of the maneuver and artillery battalions close behind.

In both the heavy breakthrough battle and subsequent engagements, then, we would expect to see a Soviet maneuver battalion supported by at least a battalion of artillery, if not more. Using the Team Yankee formation charts, the first battalion-level formation would be supported by at most two batteries of SP guns. Adding a second battalion only raises this number to three, meaning that a two-battalion force would only have half the minimum number of artillery support we'd expect to find. Admittedly, the rules make it possible to select "companies" which are actually barely platoons, but at this point the nomenclature and organization become thoroughly confused. An easy solution would be to increase both the battalion- and division-level artillery, and include equipment like the 2S4 Tyulpan 240mm self-propelled mortar, or even the 203mm 2S7 Pion.

Perhaps the most pointed example of the neglect, if not even disdain, the designers have for Soviet doctrine, is the scenario on pages 108-109, called "the Battle for Hill 214". The scenario depicts a Soviet motor-rifle battalion, reinforced by a handful of tanks but with no indirect fire support whatsoever, assaulting a US mechanized battlegroup in prepared positions over open ground. From the Soviet point of view, such an operation would be inconceivable, and the circumstances in which it would come about are exceedingly difficult to envision.


Unfortunately, this neglect of artillery has more or less put me off trying the game, along with the price of the miniatures; at our friendly local gaming store, the 2S1 SP guns set you back 10€ each. One look at the prices for the Team Yankee models, which I didn't by any means think are all that unreasonable, forcefully reminded me of how cheap living card games are! But at the end of the day, while I was hoping for a combined arms battle on the Inner German Frontier, my impression is that this is a system more geared toward charging about in tanks. I'll probably take a look at the West Germany supplement, because if we're going to do Girls und Panzer, then why not go for a proper Panzer; however if they ever put out a rules supplement for the 1985 French army, I will definitely reconsider my decision to not get involved.

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