23 July 2015

Hakkaa Päälle! Rotten to the core?

There has been some grumbling among the grumblers about the value of Hakkaa Päälle! (HP) as a core module. After all, some grognards opine, the Finnish border wars were a sideshow at best, having little to do with the outcome of World War II. Besides, we already have plenty of Finns in Beyond Valor (BV). Did we really need more?
Comparing HP to other core modules is like comparing, well, you know. Apples have a core; oranges do not. In their natural state at least, both have seeds, and the promise of something grand. I will take this as my starting point for a brief explanation of why I think that you should own ASL Module 14. Hakkaa Päälle! benefits the system on several levels. Foremost among these is that HP contains a more historically sensible, Finnish order of battle (OB). The new module also adds some modest yet significant new rule sections, including a new class of vehicle. Were this not enough, HP provides players with an expanded Russian OB, a quarter-sheet of German vehicles, and searchlights! 
Ahistoric OB: "Fighting Withdrawal" not the first
Rivers to the Reich (RttR) is a collection of Squad Leader scenarios adapted for ASL play. Although a few scenarios have noteworthy modifications, most retain their original OB. For instance, U47 “A Small Town in Germany,”1 has three versions of the Cromwell tank in the Canadian OB, a legacy of the Crescendo of Doom counter mix, which did not include Sherman tanks. Between 1985—when Beyond Valor (BV) debuted, and 2015—when HP appeared, AH and MMP published less than ten “Finnish” scenarios. The small number of “official” scenarios starring Finns is likely related to a general unfamiliarity with Finland’s wars, and perhaps more important, to a (previous) paucity of source material in English. Another contributing factor may well have been the lack of a Finnish OB in the counter mix. 
Mere flesh and blood - meet the new Finns
True, BV includes three classes of Finnish squads, as well as a unique set of leaders. However, with the exception of a homegrown anti-tank rifle (ATR)—the 2cm Lahti M39, all “Finnish” support weapons (SW) and Guns in BV were made in Germany. The problem is that the Finnish military was equipped with neither German machine guns (MG), nor German mortars (MTR). Admittedly, Finland also received a small number of Raketenpanzerbüchse, or Panzerschreck (PSK), beginning in July 1944. But with the possible exception of weapons captured from the Germans during the Lapland War (15 September 1944 – 25 April 1945), the Finnish army was supplied primarily with MG and MTR manufactured domestically, or captured from the Soviet Union.
47 Krh/41 mortar
That said, Finnish defence forces took delivery of some 200 3.7cm PaK 35/36, 27 50mm PaK 38, 46 75mm PaK 97/38, and 110 75mm PaK 40, anti-tank (AT) guns from Germany. Germany also sold Finland 53 105mm leFH 18, and 48 15cm sFH 18 howitzers, 50 2cm FlaK 30 AA, and 93 2cm FlaK 38 AA. Yet, the BV counter mix contains just two ⅝” ordnance counters in Finnish grey: a single 3.7cm PaK 35/36 out of 200 purchased by Finland, and a lone 8cm GrW 34, which Germany apparently did not supply. One might argue that players can easily substitute a German Gun, as required. Indeed, this partly explains why Finnish counters were “German blue” in the first edition of BV. (At the time, there were no scenarios covering the “blue-on-blue” battles of the Lapland War, when Finland was compelled—by the terms of a treaty with the USSR—to drive its former ally out of Finland by force.) 
This workaround would make sense were it not for the fact that 75 percent of Finnish ordnance was either purchased elsewhere, captured, or manufactured at home. For this reason, the Finnish Ordnance Listing in HP contains 39 entries, a quarter of which are new to the ASL counter mix, including half a dozen or so of the made-in-Finland variety. The Finnish artillery park is a motley collection of British, Czech, Danish, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Russian, and Swedish designs. The Finnish motor pool is much the same. 
20 ItK/40 VKT AA Gun
Regardless of edition, Beyond Valor never included Finnish vehicles. Again, the thinking may have been that it was easier to borrow a vehicle from the German counter mix than reproduce a StuG IIIG, for example, in Finnish grey. However, in Finnish service, the Sturmi, as the Finns dubbed the StuG IIIG, does not have any smoke dispensers. The Sturmi also has a different ammo load. Moreover, aside from this self-propelled assault gun, there are only two other German vehicles that the Finns used in any appreciable quantity: the Tempo G1200, a 4x4 light utility vehicle, and the Raupenschlepper Ost (literally, “Caterpillar Tractor East”), or RSO, an artillery tractor used to tow the leFH 18 howitzers that were also purchased from Germany. 
Vikkersi - Vickers 6-ton tank and T26E(b)
Instead, two thirds of the 31 vehicles (27 entries) in the Finnish Vehicle Listing are war booty, captured from the Soviet Union, and in many cases upgraded and/or modified by the Finns. There are also two versions of the British Vickers tank, and two armoured fighting vehicles (AFV) from Sweden. Finland purchased a solitary Landsverk armoured car in 1939, and three years later, bought six Luftvärnskanonvagn L-62 Anti II anti-aircraft tanks from the same manufacturer. Therefore, while using German vehicles to represent those in Finnish service  may work most of the time, using Russian vehicles for the same purpose is problematic. 
BT-42(r) assault gun
The problem is compounded by Finnish conversions of Russian AFV that have no direct Russian equivalent. For example, when Finnish armourers converted Russian T-26 M31 to carry the 45mm 20K tank gun, they made room for a fourth crew member, and a bow-mounted machine gun (BMG). These vehicles are represented in the HP counter mix by BMG-equipped T26B(r). Similarly, when the Finns converted captured OT-130  and OT-133, they likewise re-configured the fighting compartment to accommodate another crewman and a BMG. At the same time, they removed the rear-mounted, turret machine gun (RMG). These conversions are represented by BMG-equipped T26B(r) and T26C(r), respectively. Suffice it to say that having dedicated Finnish counters not only makes playing the Finns easier, but also gives scenario designers more scope when recreating specific actions. I will return to this second point later, when I discuss some of the new rules that HP adds to the system. For now, it is worth noting that the new core module also expands the Russian OB. 
Russian 37mm "spade" mortar
Although BV remains the primary source of Russian SW, Guns and vehicles, HP is your go-to source for some of the more esoteric Soviet equipment, and the source for the newest class of vehicle, the propeller-driven sled, or Aerosan (D17.). Aerosans are motorized vehicles mounted on skis. They have a white bar behind their Movement Point (MP) numbers that symbolizes a ski (as shown in the poster at the end of this article). On top of these new counters, MMP has thoughtfully added a dozen examples of American and British Lend-Lease vehicles and accompanying SW, in Russian brown, to the HP counter mix. 
LANO for your Plano - Leningrad 1941-44
Frankly, some vehicles, such as the ST-26 Bridgelayer, are bound to get as much use as a Nimbus Tank-Destroyer (Allied Minor Vehicle Note 24)!2 Having said that, there are some new Russian AFV that should find their way into scenarios soon. The OT-26 flamethrower tank is a prime candidate. Over 550 were built (or converted from T-26 M31). Even the ad hoc armoured (LANO) trucks, fabricated in Leningrad’s factories and used in the city’s defence, have their place in the system. I am looking forward to seeing what scenario designers come up with in the next couple of years.
Hammer time - Soviet early-war clunkers
Those of you with no interest in gaming any of Finland’s wars can easily dismiss the need for an expanded Finnish OB. You also may see no need for Russian AFV that the Germans did not encounter during their invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. You might even get by—as most of us have until now—with using American or British counters to represent Russian Lend-Lease materiel. But then you would be short vehicles that are required for other theatres. The BT-2A, for instance, made its debut in Armies of Oblivion (AoO), which has been out of print for more than five years. This light tank saw combat in Spain, Mongolia, Poland, and Finland, as well as before the gates of Moscow in 1941, and on the Leningrad Front in 1942-43. The Romanians likewise encountered this fast mover, as recounted in the popular scenario “Liberating Bessarabia,” which I have enjoyed playing several times.

Betka BT-2A World Tour
Another (small) incentive to own HP is that it gives you access to eight models of Beute-Panzerkampfwagen (literally, “booty armored fighting vehicles”) from the out-of-print historical ASL module (HASL) Pegasus Bridge (PB). Included, ostensibly, to permit players to game the actions of Panzer-Abteilung 211—a German tank battalion that fought in northern Finland in 1941, only two models of these Beute-Panzer actually saw action in Finland. The remainder of these ex-French AFV are mainly required for scenarios set in Normandy during 1944, which MMP may be working on as I write. An added bonus is that the counters in HP are of better quality than those provided with PB.3
Pz. Abt. 211 in Operation Polar Fox
The last major reason why I think that you ought to consider owning HP has less to do with new counters, although there are certainly plenty more in the box, than with a few, relatively simple rules that have wide applicability across the system. On initial inspection, the introduction of a Russian Early War Doctrine (REWD, A25.212) appears to have little relevance beyond the early stages of the Winter War (i.e. prior to February 1940). The rule is designed to handicap the Russian player, to replicate some of the feel of the period when the Red Army suffered from especially poor organization, and command and control.4 Much of this can be attributed to spotty training, but lacklustre leadership also played a role. The lingering effects of Stalin’s Great Purge partly explains why some Russian commanders were out of their depth. However, unrefined tactical doctrine, overconfidence, and a general lack of professionalism share the blame. Having a Commissar by your side hardly could have helped. 
In game terms, REWD (or REWinD) really messes with a player’s ability to coordinate armour, artillery, and air assets with the poor bloody infantry. The “treadheads” want to do their own thing, and cannot be bothered to wait for the foot soldiers. “Arty” is rarely on target. Pilots have a tough time spotting ground targets, or maybe ground attack is beneath them. And Conscripts, well Conscripts are an even bigger liability in Close Combat. What’s a poor Russian player to do? Adapt, of course. 
A25.212 Russian Early War Doctrine
But here’s the thing. Russian Early War Doctrine has the potential for much wider use. Those familiar with scenario AP31 “First Cristot,” from Action Pack 4, will recall that a Scenario Special Rule (SSR) prohibits the British player from moving infantry and tanks on the same turn. The SSR is designed to simulate poor infantry-tank cooperation during the early stages of Operation Overlord. American forces experienced similar problems in Normandy. Rather than compose a lengthy SSR, a scenario designer could instead state that the British are under the effects of REWD. Given that the British have no Off-Board Artillery (OBA; C1.), or Air Support (E7.), there would be no need for any exceptions—should the designer desire an exception. Players could ignore the irrelevant bits (e.g. Russian conscripts), and concentrate on the fact that each Movement Phase (MPh), the British must move their AFV before any friendly non-Berserk Infantry unit may move [EXC: if (un)loading] during that MPh], and that Armored Assault (D9.31) is not allowed (NA). 
What I am driving at here is that HP provides designers with some useful copy-and-paste rules that can alleviate the need for long and cumbersome SSR. Light Woods (B35.) is another case where a standard rule makes short work of an SSR. The idea is not new. However, the “official” rule codifies portions of previous  SSR, and at the same time, weaves the concept into the wider system. Have a look at the spread below to see what I mean. Before you do, I would ask that you contemplate some of the tactical implications of Light Woods when reading the description. For instance, when I helped play test one particular scenario for HP, I found that routing and losing Desperation Morale (DM) status was a challenge in a Light-Woods environment.5
B35. Light Woods - board 5 will never be the same
Perhaps the best example—a long overdue one at that—of a truly transformative rule is the Prepared Fire Zone (PFZ). A PFZ is not a fortification per se. But it is probably best to think of it as one when you are preparing a defensive position. Fortifications generally serve two purposes in ASL. On the one hand, they channel and/or restrict enemy movement, and possibly inflict casualties directly, as in the case of mines. On the other hand, they increase the physical protection of the defenders themselves. Both kinds of fortifications bolster a defence. A PFZ is somewhat like the former type of fortification. However, a PFZ does more than influence enemy movement. Its key benefit is that it allows a defender to bring fire to bear on areas normally hindered or blocked by intervening vegetation. In other words, PFZ give defenders an opportunity to “terra-form” a portion of the battlefield to suit their devious plans.
B36. Prepared Fire Zones level the playing field
I have avoided discussing Aerosans, as you will not encounter these specialized vehicles very often.6 Do not fret; HP alters ASL winter warfare in other subtle ways. Aside from the addition of “questionable” Ski counters to represent stacks of concealed and/or Dummy Skiers, the amended rules for Ski Troops (E4.) reverse the convention with regard to how Skiers are denoted during play. Furthermore, this rule section has been expanded to accommodate a new, quasi Support Weapon (SW), referred to by its Finnish name “Ahkio.”
E4.8 Ahkio - Laplander sled
For fun, and as promised at the beginning of my sales pitch, I wrap up this post with a spotlight on vehicle searchlights. A searchlight is the term that Russian Multi-Applicable Vehicle Note P uses when referring to the spotlights that were fitted to some AFV, and to T-26 light tanks in particular. It is hard to say how applicable this piece of rule chrome is to other theatres of operation. However, I have seen photographs of T-26 tanks sporting spotlights in Spain, during the Spanish Civil War, in Tabriz, when the Soviets invaded Persia in September 1941, and on Chinese T-26 command tanks in Hunan province, as late as November 1944.
Another bright idea brought to you by MMP
To recap, HP provides core material that expands the system beyond the central focus of the module to make ownership worthwhile, even for those interested only in the European Theatre of Operations (ETO). Players can now game actions involving a variety of Soviet weapons that are not available in BV, until now the repository for Russian equipment. In place of more maps (i.e., other than board 52, which is included) and overlays, HP provides scenario designers and players with new rules that enable the transformation of virtually any board in the system.7 Hakkaa Päälle! also adds new flavours to the system with the addition of an Early-War Doctrine template, Aerosans, Ahkios, and new rules for Skiers, all of which have application well beyond Finland’s borders. 
T-37 amphibious tank and Rider with 5 PP
Granted these additions to the core system are modest, unless one remembers that HP also does a stellar job of (re)integrating the Finnish into ASL. Advanced Squad Leader’s treatment of the Finnish soldier is now far more realistic than the superficial portrayal of three decades ago. Moreover, the extensive, historically-grounded Finnish OB in HP almost certainly will lead to the publication of more, and better, Finnish scenarios in the future. In the interim, HP serves up 17 scenarios that challenge previous perceptions of Finnish invincibility in ASL—almost tripling the number of Finnish scenarios in the Avalon Hill/MMP catalogue.
So even if you did not win a copy of HP in our raffle earlier this month, you still may want to consider picking up a copy of the module before it goes out of print. I was shocked to see how fast FB sold out. Don’t dilly dally. It’s time to self-rally. Gain possession of Hakkaa Päälle! today!
Hakkaa Päälle! - compliments of the Self-Rally crowd and a Swedish volunteer
1. The scenario title is a play on the title of a 1968 espionage novel by British author David Cornwell, a.k.a. John Le Carré. The small town of the title refers to the former West German capital of Bonn, where the novel is set. If you have not already done so, I would encourage you to read the author’s breakout novel: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.
SU-76 Leningrad 1941-44
2. Apparently 71 ST-26 bridgelayers were built. Although only a dozen or so SU-26 saw combat, I think that, for ASL purposes, they would have been a better pick for inclusion in HP. It appears that 14 vehicles were fabricated in Leningrad, and served with the 220th Independent Tank Brigade on the Leningrad Front as late as the winter of 1943. The majority had a 76mm gun mounted behind a riveted gun shield over top of a T-26 chassis. Apart from an extra-large gunshield, the crew was unprotected. Apparently two of these vehicles were equipped with  obsolete 37mm PP obr. 15R guns (Russian Ordnance Note 11). 
3. Also included are more reprints of the Sturmtiger from the out-of-print Operation Veritable Historical Study (OVHS). The Sturmtiger was also included in the Axis-Minor core module AoO. The SdKfz 10/5 halftrack, which debuted in AoO, and made another appearance in the out-of-print Valor of the Guards (VotG), returns in HP. Likewise, the SPW 251/21 halftrack that first appeared in the long out-of-print Kampfgruppe Peiper I (KGP I), and the more recently out-of-print Festung Budapest (FB), is part of the HP counter mix. 
At the time of this writing, the BattleSchool KitShop still has some OVHS counter sheets (and maps) left. Our remaining stocks of VotG and FB have been selling quickly, however.
4. For what it’s worth, I think that HP would have benefited from the inclusion of two more Russian squad types: a Second Line unit, a 4-3-7 or 3-4-7, and an early-war Conscript 3-2-6. The lack of a Second Line unit [EXC: NKVD; VotG22.] is at odds with the massive size of the Red Army. Admittedly, the Buda Volunteer Regiment units (i.e., 4-4-7, 3-4-7, and 3-3-6) in FB could serve the same purpose by SSR, but this HASL module went out of print only three years after it was published.
5. This scenario was not included with HP. Designed by Matts Dagerhäll and Eric Henyeythe scenario is set in the dying days of the Winter War. A group of battle-weary Swedish Volunteers must try to slip through a tightening net of Russian pursuers on skis. It is a fluid action, atypical of most ASL actions occurring in heavily wooded areas. I suspect that the design will be reworked, and released with a compilation of other scenarios featuring Swedish Volunteers. I hope it does, because the “Grafström Raid” is a good candidate for evening play, and tournaments.
6. I highly recommend that those not afraid of the dark give Thuring’s “Night Fans” a spin. The scenario is remarkable for its use of desert boards and overlays to create islands in the midst of a frozen lake. Aerosans attack across the ice in an effort to dislodge the Finnish garrison on the main island. I played the scenario a couple of times in play test. Needless to say that manoeuvring fan-propelled sleighs onto land at night is an uphill battle in more ways than the patently obvious.
7. Although not stated explicitly in the rules, I see no reason why, for example, that one could not use a PFZ factor to transform scrub on a desert board into Open Ground, particularly when Broken Terrain (F13.1) or Steppe Terrain (F13.2) is in play.
Hakkaa Päälle! - Take the road less traveled!


Grumble Jones said...

Another interesting and detailed post. As for Hakkaa Päälle...it's a great addition to the Core Modules in my opinion.

Chris Doary said...

Thanks Scott.

I wanted to highlight some of the things that Hakkaa Päälle! brings to the table. A handful of players have been dismissive of its value as a core module. While I appreciate that some players have no interest in playing the Finns (the Finns in BV may have left them jaded), I believe that HP expands the system in other ways.

The module is also more expensive than we are accustomed to, a consequence of higher production costs (and the need to include updated rule pages and charts*). I suspect that this may partly explain why some people feel that HP does not deliver enough bang for their buck. I get that. But what other core module came with 17 (new) scenarios? Before MMP began including reprints of older scenarios, most core modules had only eight or ten scenarios. From a play-what's-in-the-box perspective, HP delivers very good value.

*The ASLRB was specifically designed to incorporate new rules, and changes to older ones. Griping about the cost of replacing pages and chapter dividers due to the addition of new rules specific to the Finns is silly, especially when some of these same people would have no difficulty adding/amending rules to accommodate their favourite theatre/nationality, etc.