30 March 2024

Rubber Hussars - August 1941

Rubber Hussars

South of Golovanevsk, Ukraine. Where the rubber meets the road. Where pneumatic tyres meet cold, steel tracks. Yet another spin on early-war tin.

This is my third post featuring a design for the scenario pack I have been working on for some time. Compared to “Booty Call” and “Tin Omen,” “Rubber Hussars” is less bull’s blood and goulash than Dreher and pretzels. Strictly speaking, beer and perec. But I think you see where I'm headed, and it isn't a gastropub.                

In the third and final week of the Battle of Uman, remnants of Lieutenant-General Ivan N. Muzychenko’s 6th Army were fleeing south in an effort to escape Axis encirclement south of Kiev. In Muzychenko’s path lay the Hungarian 1st Cavalry Brigade of the Gyorshadtest, or Fast Corps. Fast being faster than walking, and then only where the Soviets had bothered to build a road fit for purpose. 

Overstretched, a weak cavalry screen guarded one of only two major crossings over the Bug River. As dawn broke on 6 August 1941, the Gyorshadtest was as clueless as to the whereabouts of the Reds, as Muzychenko was to the presence of Magyar interlopers. Upon receiving disturbing news of enemy movement in the woods south of Golovanevsk, the commander of the Hungarian 1st Cavalry Brigade, Major-General Antal Vattay, reacted by ordering an immediate reconnaissance of the area, an area that lay uncomfortably close to his rear echelon.

Operation Barbarossa - Golovanevsk Ukraine - 6 August 1941


The topographical requirements for the scenario are fairly simple, an open space with a woodline bordering one side and a main road running perpendicular to the wooded area. Despite having more than 100 “official” boards to choose from, finding a suitable match proved harder than I anticipated. In the end, I resorted to the much fought over board 19—originally released in Yanks 37 years ago—for the northern half of the battlefield.

Rather than use a one-hex overlay to erase the only building on the board half in play, I buried the structure under a Debris counter (B37.1). Should you not be in possession of Festung Budapest (2011), you can find heaps of Debris in the recently released Twlight of the Reich (2024). The latest module also includes updated Chapter B pages that incorporate the rules for Debris, among other “new” terrain types, into the core rule set.

Twilight of the Reich - Debris (B37.) - Board 19 (Yanks)

Board 69—from the out-of-print ASL Action Pack 101 (2014)—extended the Golovanevsk road southward. The half of the board in play is mercifully bereft of dwellings. Unusually, it includes a narrow lateral valley (B22.). 

Over the decades, ASL has developed novel rules to represent hilly terrain. For instance, Chapter F contains rules for gently sloping higher ground, half-level obstacles termed hillocks (F6.1). Alpine Hills (B10.211) seem to imply the opposite, namely much higher, alpine-like hills. Instead, they are a crude but effective way to model the natural rise and fall of intervening ground by blocking LOS through same-level hill hexes. This optional rule can be invoked via a Scenario Special Rule (SSR) to overcome the series of artificial plateaus created by stacking one pancake-flat level upon another in ASL. For the most part, the core ASL rules have no equivalent rule, optional or otherwise, that accounts for the minor dips in elevation more representative of an undulating countryside. That is, unless, we resort to using overlays and repurposing rules meant for North Africa.

ASL Action Pack 10 - Boards 69 and 70 - twin villages - open countryside

For some time now I’ve wanted to trial a European form of what, in ASL terms, is called a deir, a shallow depression in the ground that can afford a modicum of protection in the right circumstances. Technically, a deir is a desert phenomenon, a flat depression covered in sandy soil and ringed by a rocky fringe. The shallowness of the depression distinguishes a deir from a valley, and therefore explains why the former has unique effects on Line of Sight (LOS) and consequently incoming fire. More specifically, it is the rocky perimeter of a deir that can, under the right circumstances, provide units inside it with a positive Terrain Effects Modifier (TEM).

Overlay D5 - Deir El Munassib, Egypt - Hollow Legions 3rd Edition

The valley on board 69 presented me with an opportunity to convert this low ground into something more nuanced. A two-sentence SSR transforms the valley into a deir (F4.1). I’m not suggesting that my Ukrainian deir is the equivalent of an Egyptian one, complete with a parapet of rocks. I prefer to think of it instead as a slightly deeper depression, more in line with a shellhole that provides a +1 TEM (B2.3) under certain conditions, but that also provides added benefits to vehicles. The result provides much needed cover for the weak Hungarian force as it braces for a Russian hasty attack. 

However, this still left Soviet infantrymen terribly exposed, with nothing but Open Ground between their start line and the deir. So I added a third sentence to SSR 1 that mitigates the effects of Open Ground. If you want a realism argument for this, consider it a consequence of grasses that have grown high enough to offer some cover from view but not substantial enough to warrant an LOS Hindrance like grain. 

A second SSR adds variable artificial TEM to board 19 in the form of vehicle wrecks and the possibility of a Wreck Blaze (B25.14). The prospect of burning wrecks ought to influence each subsequent playing of the scenario. As should the prospect of a Russian half-squad (HS) crawling out from underneath a non-burning wreck. The wreakage reflects carnage brought about earlier that morning, which brings me to the perpetrators.

Patrol commander

Ensign László Merész was leading a two-car patrol when around 1000 he encountered cavalry moving south toward him, some five or six kilometres south of Golovanevsk. Thinking them to be Romanian, Merész stopped and hailed the cavalrymen in German. He got an unintelligible response. When Candidate-Sergeant László Cserniczky’s Csaba drew up, his driver—a Slovak speaker—recognized that the horsemen were speaking Russian. Upon learning this, the crew commanders buttoned-up and opened fire, mauling and scattering the better part of two squadrons. An hour later, and little father north, Merész and Cserniczky lay in ambush when a convoy of Soviet trucks approached. As their coaxial machine guns (CMG) tore the convoy apart, a company of Russian infantrymen suddenly appeared from a nearby woodline. The Csaba duo shifted its attention to this threat only to face a new one moments later when they started taking fire from Russian armour.

39M Csaba - László Merész - Hungarian Golden Medal for Bravery - Iron Cross

The Hungarians begin the game on the backfoot. Outnumbered and threatened from multiple directions, they must allocate their fire carefully until reinforcements arrive in the form of another Csaba and a platoon of infantrymen on bicycles. I’ve given the Honved a little backbone by way of an increased broken Morale Level. Aside from that, there’s nothing especially special about these “rubber hussars.” 

Gruppa on the run

During the night of 5 August, Lieutenant-General Ivan Nikolaevich Muzychenko, commander of the Soviet 6th Army, led a 4000-strong battlegroup in a desperate bid to escape encirclement near Uman. Composed of remnants of the 141st and 190th Rifle Divisions, Muzychenko’s force enlisted the aid of the 44th Tank Division.

As beffiting the time of the war, the Soviets have a low Experience Level Rating (ELR), mediocre leadership, and are limited to support weapons consistent with a force intent on travelling light and fast. Their supporting cast of armour is nothing to write home to Budapest about either. As far as I know, the Hungarians didn’t, because their accounts fail to identify the tanks encountered on 6 August. In light of this, I’ve allowed the Russian player to select which of the three armoured reinforcement groups will enter. 

Based on hits suffered by a least one Csaba, however, it seems clear that no T-34 or KV-1 tank was present. For the most part, the various mechanized corps assigned to the 6th Army were equipped with medium and heavy tanks that would have made mincemeat of the Hungarian armoured cars. Moreover, Péter Mujzer, a Hungarian historian, has related how ten tanks of the 44th Tank Division—one of two such divisions in the 18th Mechanized Corps—supported an attack north of Golovanevsk on the night of 5 August. And from what I’ve been unable to dig up, the 44th was equipped solely with light-tanks. 

According to the Nafziger Orders of Battle Collection, the four tank battalions in the 44th’s sister formation, the 47th Tank Division, began the war with 120 T-26S (Russian Vehicle Note 6). In contrast, the 44th Tank Division had an equal same number of the earlier M33 version of the T-26 (also Note 6). Nafziger offers no insight with regard to other tanks in these divisions, while stating that the 135th Tank Regiment of the Corps’ 218th Mechanized  Division had no tanks at all! Consequently, I’ve relied on more recent secondary sources, in particular Steven Zaloga’s books on the T-26 series (2015) and the BT fast tank (2016) for the composition of the armoured battalions in the 18th Mechanized Corps.

I’ll return to these light tanks in a moment. Before I do, possibly the most likely Armored Fighting Vehicle or AFV (D1.2) to have been encountered would have been a tankette, either a T-37, or its successor the T-38, both of which fall under Russian Vehicle Note 1 in ASL. Reconnaissance units of Soviet cavalry, infantry and mechanized formations were typically issued with this amphibious vehicle. The main advantage of this CMG-armed AFV is its small size. Granted its weak armour is proof against most Small Arms Fire. And to be fair, the T-37 can shrug off hits from the Csaba’s Main Armament (MA) about 40 percent of the time. But the T-37 will struggle to knock out a Csaba, which is why this optional reinforcement group comes with an attached Russian hero and anti-tank rifle (ATR).

T-37 Tankette - Byelorussia - September 1935

At the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, the Southwestern Front in Ukraine had over 1300 T-26 tanks in its six Mechanized Corps. By 1 August, only 74 remained operational, this despite the Southwestern Front having incorporated much of the Southern Front’s formations in July. More surprising, at least to me, was that the Odessa Military District (i.e., ex-Southern Front), to which the 18th Mechanized Corps was assigned, had 36 twin-turreted T-26 in its tank park before hostilities commenced on 22 June 1941. These fascinating decade-old tanks were too good to pass up. The second optional reinforcement group therefore contains one T-26 M31 (Russian Vehicle Note 6.1) and one T-26 M32 (Russian Vehicle Note 6.2).

Twin-Turreted T-26 M31 and M32

I was likewise pleased to learn that as many as 1127 tiny T-27 tankettes remained in service in 1941. They were divvied up among seven, tank-heavy corps, including the 18th Mechanized Corps. Like the previously mentioned twin-turreted T-26, the counters for the T-27 (Russian Vehicle Note 1.1) were introduced in Hakkaa Päälle! (2014). To date they appear in only two, third-party scenarios. Enough said! One T-27 added. But who in his right mind would choose a group with a T-27? Would partnering this tiny tyke with a formidable big brother be enough to sway you? 

T-27 Tankette Specifications

In April 1941, there were 119 BT-7A artillery tanks in Soviet service. I can’t say for certain how many the 18th Mechanized Corps had of this variant. If we divide the total among all Soviet mechanized corps, formed or still on paper, that still leaves us with at least four per corps, or two per tank division. Zaloga puts 75 BT-7, of all types, with the 18th Mechanized Corps at the start of hostilities. I’m good with that.

BT-7A Artillery Tank - Fast Tank (BT) - 1937 and 1941

The BT-7A is unique in the scenario for having a radio, meaning the vehicle is under no restriction to move independently, as all of the other radioless (D14.1) Russian AFV are. The BT-7A is also unique in the Russian OB, because it alone is capable of placing Smoke. Pairing the artillery tank with a diminutive T-27 is admittedly odd. But when viewed in the context of a collection of Soviet men and vehicles attempting to escape encirclement, the appearance of this odd “artillery” couple is at least plausible. (Imagine the T-27 as a prime mover that ditched its artillery piece—a 45mm PTB obr. 32—when its crew decided to do a runner.)

Numbers Game

To win, the Hungarians must have the road on board 19 under fire. They can accomplish this with as little as a HS on the road itself. A Csaba can help by bringing its Firepower  (FP) to bear on the road. By itself, however, a lone armoured car cannot achieve victory, as its FP falls short of the scenario objective. Nevertheless, the importance of the Csaba to the Hungarian cause makes them the primary targets of Soviet fire. Neutralizing all three will take some effort, not least because the Russians are unable to coordinate their forces effectively, labouring as they are under Russian Early War Doctrine (A25.212). And should the armour of either side fall prey to the vicissitudes of BattleDice, Infantry will have to carry the day. The Reds have the numbers, the Honved the cover.

Will the Russians attempt to force the issue on Turn 1, or adopt a measured approach? Should the Csaba use their CMG sparingly and conserve ammo for the endgame? Or will the Russians tempt their opponents to take greater risks with these CMG? Will the Hungarian bicyclists brave enemy fire, or ditch their rides and head cross country? Find out when the pack is released. Or sign up to playtest “Rubber Hussars” today!

BT-7A and T-27 captured by Hungarians - Lt-Gen Muzychenko POW 


1. As of April 2024, ASL Action Pack 10 remains available in KitShop.