Saturday, March 10, 2018

Suomussalmi - the Project.

Early action on the road north out of Suomussalmi.
You have to imagine the snow, frozen lakes.
burned village and the Finns in winter clothing...
Tell you what: if you ever want a project to blow up in your face... !  This started out as pretty much the Tim Gow 'Motti' scenario, from his Megablitz book, adapted to my hex-grid game board and Bob Cordery's Hexblitz rule set.  Of course I just had, didn't I, to hoik out my copy of Robert Edwards's White Death book.  Then redo the map... follow the action ... rethink the orders of battle (OOB)... create a whole new scenario...

In this posting, I'll describe the scenario as played out on my table, the orders of battle, special rules, and list some to the resources I had occasion to examine.  May I add my thanks to Neil Patterson, who pointed me towards some very useful sources for the OOBs.  One clarification did come too late to affect the game: the presence of III/662 Battalion.  For the life of me I couldn't work out whether the battalion General Zelentsov had retained in reserve had found its way to Suomussalmi or not.  

I discovered that some corrections needed to be made to Tim Gow's 'setting the scene', so let's begin with a brief narrative.  

Frustrated in its attempts to negotiate a movement of the Finnish border much farther off than it was from Leningrad (St Petersburg that was and will be)  - indeed to enclose the whole of Lake Ladoga within its borders, the Soviet Union (that is to say, Josef Stalin) sought recourse to the force of arms.  Very late in the year (1939) though it was, Stalin mobilised an enormous force of infantry, artillery and tanks to invade and impose by force majeure the border adjustment he demanded.

Part of the overall plan was to cut the more populous part of Finland off from possible aid via Sweden, with a thrust across the 'waist' of the country to the port and rail head at Oulu, a warm-weather sea port at the head of the Gulf of Bothnia.  This task was entrusted to Ninth Army, of which 163rd (Moscow) and 44th (Kiev) Divisions formed a part.  Marching westwards the commander of 163 Rifle Division, General Zelentsov, divided his force, diverting two regiments (81st and 759th)  to seize the small town of Suomussalmi.  Thinly defended though the place was, the garrison put up a spirited resistance, and was not to be evicted until they had burned most of it down.  By this time 163 Division was already running into trouble and out of supplies.
Rough situation map as at 11 December, 1939.
Dawn. 11th December, II and III Bns, 27th Infantry
about to attack the road east out of Suomussalmi.

"The case of Suomi-Salmi [sic] is worsening," ran the wire to the 44th Division, then still on the Soviet side of the border, south-east of Suomussalmi, "I order all measures taken and urgently without delay to throw all forces of 44th S.D. [Rifle Division] in order not to give the enemy [time] to surround and capture two regiments of 163 Infantry Division. Throw all aviation to help 163 Division ..."
"Commander in Chief: K. Voroshilov,
"Member of Main Council: J. Stalin
"Chief of General Staff: B Shaposhnikov" (Istpravda, 30 Nov 2010 - see below)

Victory conditions.

I extended the game length from 4 (Tim Gow) to 7 days - 11 -17 December, to accommodate the delay between the arrival and first attacks of 27th (Finn) Regiment, and the arrival near Raate, of the 44th (Soviet) Division.  At that the whole action, which lasted about 6 weeks or so, has been compacted into as many days.  Each day comprised 3 game turns, with night being used to recuperate at least some of the loss in strength.

If both Soviet Divisions could must at least half their Strength point on table at nightfall of 17th December, the Soviets won; if only one, it was drawn.  Otherwise it was a Finnish victory.

The beleaguered 163rd Rifle Division under heavy attack

Orders of Battle:

Soviets Forces, elements of IX Army.

163rd (Moscow) Division (Rating Conscript)

- Division HQ (General Zelentsov)  Car SP=1
- 81st Rifle Regiment, 
     3 Battalions, each 4 stands, SP=2* [I discover this was a better trained outfit than the rest of the Division, having been swapped from the 54th Rifle Division.  So maybe it ought to be rated SP=3]
- 759th Rifle regiment,
     3 battalions, each 4 stands, SP=2
- 163rd Recon Battalion, 1xBA6 armoured car, R, SP=2
- 86th Light Artillery Regiment, 
     1x76mm gun plus crew SP=2
     1 x limber (I used a truck - 148th Truck Bn) 1 LOG
     1 spotter (single figure with binoculars, 'r'
- Elements, 14th Transport Battalion
     1 x pack horse stand, 1 LOG.

Note: 1. My researches finally (too late) disclosed that III/662 Battalion eventually fetched up in the area.  In two minds about where this unit might be located, I omitted it.  Perhaps it ought to be retained.  If so it goes on the Y-road junction north of Suomussalmi.

         2. Several factors downgrade the Soviet infantry battalions, even as conscripts: poor equipment, poor leadership, inadequate equipment and protection from the climate (let alone the actual weather!).

Early morning attacks by small 'militia' columns on the road
north out of Suomussalmi.

44th (Kiev) Division (Rating Regular)

- Division HQ (General Vinogradov) Car SP=1
- 25th Rifle Rgt
     3 Battalions, each 4 stands, SP=3 [See Note 2 above]
- 146th Rifle Rgt
     3 Battalions, each 4 stands, SP=3
- 305th Rifle Rgt
     3 Battalions, each 4 stands, SP=3
- 312th (Independent) Tank Battalion
     1 x T26, SP=3 [Although this is a light tank only, in view of the Finns' unfamiliarity with such equipment, I have beefed the SP value up to 3 on 'scary kit' grounds.]
- 122nd Light Artillery 
     1 x 76mm gun SP=2
     1 x limber or tow 2 LOG
     1 x spotter (r)
- 179th Howitzer Artillery
     1 x 122mm Howitzer SP=2
     1 x tow 2 LOG
     1 x spotter 2 LOG
- 4th Recon Battalion: 
     1 x T38 tankette OR 1 x BA Armoured car SP=2. R
- 56th Anti-Tank Battalion:
     1 x 45mm AT gun SP=1
     1 x tow (tractor or truck) 
- 42nd Motor Battalion:
     1 x lorry 3 LOG
     2 x additional supply columns to re-victual 163 Division, each 2 LOG.

Note 3This Division arrives marching along the road through Raate, daybreak 13th December (Day 3)  Road speed on foot, 3 hexes.

Note 4As it happened, only the infantry and tanks got onto the table.  The reasons for this will emerge from the narrative.

Note 5. The 44th Division was considered something of an elite formation, at least by Soviet high command.  It seems that no one in this formation felt very elite in 1939.

Midday, 11 December.  Finnish attacks have successfully
wrecked the Soviet recon group.  But the Finns themselves
have taken substantial losses.

Finnish Forces:

Under command 27th Infantry until the arrival of 64th Infantry, when the whole comes under the command of HQ, 9th Infantry Division.

 - 27 Infantry Rgt (Veteran)
     HQ: single figure SP=2
     Supply Column, pack horse stand, 2 LOG
     3 Battalions each 3 stands, SP = 5 [ I made them 3 stands, thinking them deficient in battalion-level support weapons.  Indications subsequently suggest this to have been a mistaken view.  The 3 stands were beefed up to 5 SP for level of training, familiarity with the local battlefield environment (snow, forest, extreme cold), able leadership (which should account for something).  

- Militia, police and local forces (Trained/ Regular)
    Column Pagernas: 3 stands, SP=4
    Columns Jarinen, Pravola and PPP6, each 2 stands, SP=3

- 64th Infantry Rgt (Veteran)
    As 27th Infantry.
Note 6:  64th Infantry Regiment goes into action at daybreak, 15th December (Day 5)

Midday 11 December.  Concentric attacks have destroyed
III/759 Battalion, and severed the road east towards the Soviet
frontier.  But the Finns were already finding that
the 163rd Division was not going to die easy...

Special rules:

1.  Marching road speed, 3 hexes.
2.  Finns (mounted on skis)  can travel off roads at 2 hexes per turn.
3.  Lakes are frozen and may crossed on foot.  Any troops on lake hexes at nightfall must be moved off onto an adjacent land hex if one is available.
4.  Lacking skis, the Soviets are road-bound.  If they move off road for any reason (voluntarity or otherwise), they must move, or try to move (by attacking the enemy) back onto the road - unless their SP has been reduced to 0.  If a unit's SP has been reduced to 0, it is assumed to be in sauve qui peut mode, and is attempting to flee across country.
5.Soviet moves across country, moving off road, or onto a road, are at one hex only for all troop types.
6. At the end of each day, the following night move is used to recover 50% of lost SP (rounded up) excluding those of units reduced to 0 SP and subsequently (or consequently) destroyed.  No unit may recover more than 50% of SP lost (again round up).  Take note of unit SP at the beginning of each day to determine losses and returns at day's end.
7. (This I didn't think of at the time, but seems like a good idea).  The 163rd Division LOG element is good for 1 day out of supply.  If the roads north and east are cut off, 163rd becomes out of supply, unless and until communications ( a clear road to the map's edge) can be restored.  Out of supply, and LOG exhausted, the Soviets can not recover lost SPs overnight.

Final Note:

Although this special rules are pretty punitive against the Soviets, I found this quite an exciting action to play through: fluctuating fortunes, and a near-run thing.  This was no walk-over for the Finns...

Useful sources:

Far from the only, but I found these the ones I tended to revisit several times.  Neil Patterson pointed me to the first of these, the best account I have seen of 9th Army's operations and the Finnish counter-measures.  
4. (In Ukraine Cyrillic, you can use the internet 'translate into English' feature.


  1. Ion,
    If it's any consolation I too started with Tim's scenario, bought a pack each of Strelets Winter War Finns and Soviets then made the mistake of "just doing a bit of research". At least you have managed to get it on the table while my butterfly mind moved on to other things....

    Prompted into looking at it again, it's probably worth studying it as two actions rolled into one: Suomussalmi and Raate Road.
    My reading suggests the "missing" Finish (65th regt?) Was in action v 44th division (64th being somewhat worn).
    Another snippet; for the attempt on Suomussalmi itself, the Finns formed assault teams equipped with SMG and LMG. Not sure how (or if it's worth) making a rule for this at the scale in question.

    I note you used Hexblitz; was this "straight" or modified?

    Of interest is that the Balagan blog is exploring operational hex based games with Stephen considering writing his own. Bob C has also been posting (New Stanhall) about Martin Rapier's Operation Uranus rules which I think takes you back to where you started?

    For my part, prompted by your Sidi Rezegh posts, I dug out my battered 2nd hand copy of GDW's Operation Crusader game. Perfect for an operational campaign background, the counters are infantry brigades and armour, recce, AT and AA (axis) battalions. It was designed as a "double blind" game for fog of war. It strikes me this would be ideal for two gamers, even conceivably via the internet. Interestingly, when contact is made in a hex, the units (max 4 btns stacking limit) are removed to a "battle board" 7 hex (representing 1 game hex) space to resolve combat. This looks promising as a way to translate the board game to table top.


    1. Hi Neil - a lot to reply to here!

      I was reasonably satisfied with what I managed to get onto the table - a reasonable compromise, but could be improved upon. The SP modifiers for equipment and 'preparedness' could possibly have been left off, as in the country they were fighting in, SMGs were handier than rifles.

      The Hexblitz rules were slightly modified, but could have been played straight. The main modification was in scale, which was more cognate to Megablitz, but with SPs assigned to groups of stands.

      My modification seriously limits 'stacking' - but I might have to bring in some formal rule about that. At present I allow HQ, spotter and LOG/POL elements to stack with other types.

      Bob has posted me some stuff about New Stanhall - rule set and Martin Rapier's article in Nugget from years agone. It is similar to an idea I had years ago but never developed. Martin himself commented on my Uranus game (I think it was) with (I think) a link to an article he wrote about it. When someone referred to it later, it took a while for the memory to connect up the dots.

      Actually, where I started was Bob C's Portable Wargames, with a side order of Chris Kemp's Not Quite Mechanised. In fact it is towards the CK game modified to Army/Army Corps level that Paul and I are aspiring. Suomussalmi is close to NQM standard scale. Uranus was huge (for such a small table), and enormous fun.

      My researches seem to indicate that the Finn 65th Regiment was operating north of Suomussalmi - off the table area. Maybe later in the operation (bearing in mind it lasted well over a month - really a kind of vast, thinly spread 6-week battle), perhaps the 65th joined the attacks on the Raate road.

      I felt that the game worked well beginning with the attacks to seal off 163rd Div, the 44th attempting to drive through, and the 64th attacks to cut the road. At the end of Day 7 is was clear that the 44th was not going to make it through, though by then the column was far from obliterated.


    2. An excellent batle report, Ion! Thanks for posting it. There has always been a huge amount of cross-fertilisation between Bob Cordery, Tim Gow, and me starting in the '80s, so rules for this sort of operation can be somewhat more flexible than, say WH40K or DBA.

      Regards, Chris.

    3. Hi, Chris -
      It was your NQM ideas that got us on to this whole concept. They have led to fun games, and a distinct feeling we're on to something. I have yet to go through my recent posts to collate my own thoughts and see what I can do with them.