I’ve been working my way through a big block of VolksGrenadiers for Flames of War and so I thought I’d give some thought to the grand-daddy of Assault Rifles – the SturmGeweher (literally ‘Storm Rifle’ with storm as in ‘storm a castle’) 44.
"...when you have to kill every communist in the room"
The Nazi Warmachine, whilst flawed in some ways (ever heard of ammo standardisation??) and obviously serving an ill cause, was scarily advanced in many aspects. Modern rockets, cruise missiles, air-air missiles, the swept wing and axial compressor turbo jet, all have their roots in secrets retrieved from the ruins of the third Reich. Hitler’s Wunderweapons didn’t bring a 1000 year Reich, but they did last a lot longer.
In some ways the humblest of these survivors is the concept of the Assault Rifle.
Prior to WWII you have three categories of fire arm:
- The Pistol – A one handed firearm, firing a stub nose round with a short cartridge (9mm Parabellum and .45ACP being common). Effective over a short range only.
- The Sub-Machine Gun – Firing the same ammo as the pistol over the same ranges, the SMG is a larger, two handed weapon that generally only fires in automatic bursts (single shot i.e. semi-auto modes were rare). Useful for room-room fighting or clearing trenches but too inaccurate for much beyond that.
- The Rifle – Typically bolt action but semi-automatic versions would become more prevalent in the major powers, excepting the British. This is a large two handed weapon with a single shot action. It fired a heavy round (all about 7.5mm in diameter) with a long, powerful cartridge capable of accurate fire to distances up to 800m on iron sights, 2km away if a scope was used. The single shot fire, even when semi-automatic, and the length made it clumsy for Close Quarter Battle.
The Germans discovered that most of their fighting was taking place at ranges less than 300m – possibly skewed somewhat by Stalingrad! The rifle was overpowered and clumsy but the SMG, whilst capable of putting out firepower at short range, was too situational. Interestingly a few pioneers in the German army had tried making this case after WWI but the development of the SMG largely distracted everyone from pursuing it further.
The answer seemed to be the automatic rifle. This already existed with the US Browning Automatic Rifle but this was a large and bulky weapon intended as a squad support weapon.
The Luftwaffe led the way with the awesome FG-42 for the Fallschirmjäger (German paratroops) but this suffered from being expensive to make and also difficult to control in automatic fire as the German standard Rifle cartridge was too powerful.
The major evolutionary game change was the step that the Heer (German army) took – to introduce an intermediate round, the 7.92x33 Kurz (German. Short) round. This round was effective to the golden 300m range, powerful enough to rival the rifle in that range bracket but low powered enough to be controllable under automatic fire. The prototype rifle could also fire in single shot mode for accurate fire with an automatic fire mode capable of 500 rounds per minute for use in emergencies (such as “oh god, this room is full or Russians”).
The German Heer rushed the MP (machine pistol) 43 to the Eastern Front for evaluation, the MP designation designed to hide its nature from Hitler who, for some reason, had taken a dislike to the concept. The weapon was a success and won even Hitler over who demanded that its designation be changed to the SturmGewher, or Assault Rifle.
"Ja, and this one is our prototype iStG 44 with camera and MP3 player"
The StG-44 would not change the outcome of the war though. After the war, the Russians collected what they could and it even armed Czechslovakia for a short while. Eventually the StG-44 were sold to Soviet Union client states such as Syria and Iraq and thus, being a more peaceful part of the world, never seen again…
The Western allies would be slow to pick up on the assault rifle concept. Post-war (nothing seems to have been done earlier) ,the British tried pushing for a 7mm round to go with their experimental Bullpup Assault Rifle but the US forced NATO to stick with the full powered .30 cartridge. NATO would not adopt an intermediate round until the M-16 and its 5.56mm round and so the 50’s and 60’s saw the semi/auto rifle and SMG combo continue.
But in the East, the Russians – always proponents of the SMG – looked upon the Kurz round with great interest. A Russian design team produced the 7.92x33 round and a semi-auomatic rifle the SKS to use it quickly followed. But it would be after the war when a certain Mikhail Kalashnikov paired it with his gas operated rotating bolt system and a frame not too dissimilar to the StG-44 that the round really came to attention along with its gun, the AK-47. But that is best left for another article.
In the Game
Two Sturm Platoons and an Assault Rifle Scout Platoon - This whole article is just an excuse to show off my recently painted stuff...
The StG-44 (and its earlier version) is the only Assault Rifle in the WWII version of Flames of War so it is unique in that respect. It has all the benefits of an SMG, so 3 shots no matter if you move, with a range halfway between the SMG (4”) and Rifle (16”). However, when pinned, it drops to a single shot.
So, right away this is an offensive weapon, not a defensive one. If you plan to sit still in a foxhole then the MG team is superior with its pinned RoF 2 and equal when unpinned and static. On the other hand, the Assault Rifle is no worse than a pinned Rifle/MG team and superior when un-pinned, so long as the enemy is only 8” away.
Framed as an offensive option, the 8” range is not much of a penalty. You’re inevitably aiming to get in assault and so closing with the enemy. It’s certainly better than the SMG which inevitably always seems to be just out of range!
Assault Rifles and Panzerfausts - because its always good to keep your options open
So what units have access to the Assault Rifle? And should you take it? Let’s consider a few examples.
The first one is the most common; the Grenadier Scout Platoon. This small unit (five stands strong) appears in both a Mid War (Eastern Front) and Late War (Grey Wolf – also with an option for even smaller with only three stands, plus other books) flavour. Tipping the scales at only 115pts, it’s a handy recce element for an Infantry army but is only armed with Rifles. However, it has a 15pt per stand (all or none though) Assault Rifle option. Tempting?
On one hand, that gives you a small platoon that can act as a limited (with only foot power) reserve force or a delaying assault force. But over a five team Recce Platoon that’s a 75pt point sink, equivalent to a small platoon in its own right. It’s a difficult sell for a unit that should be doing something other than wading into the fight and largely not shooting. I’ve tried it a few times so that an offensive unit (Scouts being more useful on the attack) can be have a role in the defence (mobile reserve) but it’s too small a unit and I’d be tempted to spend the points elsewhere.
Sticking with Mid War, the Schnell Squadron from Eastern Front is an interesting list. Its core units are the Schnell Platoons. These come in at 200 pts for 7 Rifle/MG Recce stands and have a 10pt per stand all or nothing Assault Rifle upgrade. This is something that bears some pondering. On one hand it creates a 270pt platoon (you could go to only 5 stands for 195 pts, but numbers are important here). On the other hand, it gives you an assault platoon that can use a Recce move to close some of the distance and then cautious movement to work its way forward to the target without getting shot up too much. It can then close the last bit of distance whilst firing from the hip. I probably wouldn’t upgrade all my core platoons to be assault rifle equipped, but certainly one of them could be a hard hitting choice with its Rifle MG equivalent providing support.
"Schnell is German for Quick" to take the Nachtjaeger example...
(I’m not going to touch upon the Brandenburgers from Burning Empires, the other Mid War option. A lot of the Schell Platoon arguments are equally valid – but remember that the MP-43 never made it to the desert…)
Despite what some may think...
Into 1944 now.
We’ve already covered one Grey Wolf entry with the Grenadiers. The other is the Begleit (German. Escort) platoon. This is a Weapons choice for a StuG battery (so long as it doesn’t pay for each platoon to have tank escorts) that consists of a massive 10 Assault Rifle team(for an equally massive 310pts) or 7 team (for 220pts) platoon. That’s a lot of Dakka! It can also, at the start of a game, choose to mount up and give each StuG platoon a tank escort (hence why you can’t also buy tank escorts).
On one hand, that’s quite a discounted Assault Rifle platoon. On the other, why would you? I’d argue that Tank Escorts are far handier and you pay a premium to buy a Begleit platoon just to act as tank escorts, unless you have all four StuG platoon available for the force. If you have only two or three, then its cheaper just to buy each the 45pt platoon upgrade and rely on supporting Sturm infantry to clear up after you tank escort equipped StuG and StuH42 have made a mess of the enemy platoons…
As an ex-40K player I always feel a little weird when my officers have helmets on...
Normandy doesn’t have Assault Rifles so it’s on to Very Late War. There are various different Assault Rifle platoons but they all boil down to two varieties.
Gepanzerte Panzer Grenadier platoons such as the 107th Panzer in Bridge by Bridge (the Market Garden axis book) or the PanzerSturm in Nachtjäger. The Panzer Grenadiers combine the firepower of Halftrack mounted MG-42 with the short range hit of the StG-44 to great effect. On the defence, a platoon of Assault Rifle equipped Panzer Grenadiers can act as a mobile reserve to aid a beleaguered objective. On the attack, the same platoon brings enough firepower to suppress a gone to ground target platoon on its own, something of great help when you lack Recce and/or artillery like some Very Late War axis forces. Points wise, the Confident Trained 107th is pretty generous at 245pts. But it is competing for points in a Panther list so it’s a tricky one to fit in. The Reluctant Veteran PanzerSturm with night vision equipped Assault Rifles have a similar issue. The Confident Veteran version, a weapons choice for the trucked Panzer Grenadiers in NUTS, tops out at 320pts but is a great assault unit to support the slower trucked guys as discussed above.
The other Very Late War unit is the VolksGrenadier Sturm Platoon from Nuts. This is an interesting combination of five assault rifle teams and two MG teams; the idea being that the two MG teams provide a base of fire for the Assault Rifle platoons on the assault, or bolster the defence. The Confident Veteran version costs 270pts, but there is also a Reluctant Trained version at 160pts and Confident Trained and Reluctant Veteran versions also appear as support choices for other lists in other books. The lists in Nuts have some interesting support and it’s the variant I’ve been working towards with my force. I think the Reluctant Trained version would be hard to make work, especially against US forces with artillery. You really need to avoid staying pinned under fire and you need to make the hits in assault count – difficult with trained.
Assault Rifles *and* Camo smocks - all the reason you need to play the bad guys...
The Marinedivision in Nachtjaeger take the standard VolksGrenadier formation and add Fearless Trained. It also loses Storm Trooper but gains Always Defend, which isn’t the best time to have an Assault Rifle.I haven’t had a chance to try it out but the list may have some merit and will be next on my list of things to play.
So, that’s a quick and dirty run down on Assault Rifles in Flames of War (WWII anyway). Hopefully its some food for thought. If you disagree or have your own thoughts on Assault Rifles in Flames then drop us a line below!