28 April 2024

Electronauts - July 1941


Engaging, engrossing, dare I say electrifying! Multi-man-portable flamethrowers too! There’s bound to be something here for you. 

This is the fourth in a series of posts highlighting scenarios currently under development for my debut pack. “Electronauts” is a minority card. It’s not what you might think though. No Allied or Axis Minors here. Only in a literal sense could one of the belligerents be deemed a bit of both. The real departure is that the scenario recreates a deliberate attack on a prepared defence, without the aid of any vehicles whatsoever. While the pace of the attack (and defence) is dictated by the ordinary footsoldier, the scenario remains one of fire and manoeuvre, for both parties.

The Finnish reconquest of Eastern Karelia officially commenced on 10 July 1941. Bloodied in the frontier battles of 12 July, the weakened 37th Infantry Regiment (JR37) had been seconded to the 7th Infantry Division. Having bypassed the strongest enemy outposts, the 7th was now poised to assault the heavily fortified Matkaselkä-Ruskeala Line from two directions. Detachment Korvenheimo, based on the 3rd Battalion of the 9th Infantry Regiment (III/JR9), would pressure Ruskeala from the north while JR37 struck from the east. At 0525 on 20 July, forward elements of I/JR37 made contact with a fortified enemy position a few kilometres east of Ruskeala.

Finnish VII Corps Offensive, East Karelia 20-27 July 1941


Finnish infantry regiments routinely kept War Diaries (WD) at the company level. However, I was unable to locate what promised to be more detailed accounts of the battle that developed around Kokkomäki. Moreover, this nondescript community doesn’t appear on modern maps of what is today Russian territory. Based on an older map of the Ruskeala area published in 1931 and a German version published in 1942, I have a reasonable idea of what the terrain looked like in 1941. 

In addition to low hills, the area was a patchwork of coniferous and deciduous trees interspersed with farmland and dotted here and there with farmhouses and outbuildings. Because the Soviets went to some length to fortify the area, I wanted to grant the defender the ability to open up fields of fire, to create what in game terms are called Prepared Fire Zones (B36.1), PFZ for short. Introduced in the Finnish module Hakkaa Päälle! a decade ago, PFZ allow for the conversion of certain types of terrain into either Open Ground or “Vineyards.” The latter should not be taken literally to mean that the Russians have abandoned vodka for wine. A “vineyard” PFZ is a proxy for Inherent Terrain (B.6) that is similar to brush and which is also capable of bogging vehicles. Imagine a patch of forest where the trees have been cut down and removed, but where large branches and other debris from these trees remain. 

Kokkomäki 1931 and 1942

Normally, an order of battle (OB) will be assigned a certain number of PFZ factors. In “Electronauts” the defender has the option of purchasing a cart-load of PFZ factors instead. Of course, points spent on PFZ cannot be spent elsewhere. Therefore, the Russians need to balance their desire for improved fields of fire with a competing demand for fortifications to plug gaps in their defence. 

It costs one PFZ factor to convert a woods hex to a PFZ vineyard, and another PFZ factor to convert the hex into a PFZ Open Ground. Lumberjacks don’t come cheap. Converting an orchard, brush or grain hex to Open Ground, on the other hand, only costs one PFZ factor. Board 52, the only mapboard included in the Finnish module, is a massive forest with a single road slicing through it. It would require heaps of PFZ factors to clear even narrow corridors of fire. Fortunately the countryside around Kokkomäki had little in common with board 52.

According to contemporary maps, agricultural development in Kokkomäki was modest. By the 1930s some land was dedicated to farming and pasture. More predominate were signs of an active lumber industry. Stands of mature conifers areas could be seen next to areas of new growth where pioneer species such as aspen and birch had taken hold. And then there were the hills, with summits approaching 100 metres above sea level.

In my mind, the upper portion of board 10a comes closest to matching this terrain. Board 10a is also amenable to a defender on a limited PFZ budget. Released in Winter Offensive Bonus Pack 10 (2019), the portion I was drawn to has a pair of hills with patches of orchard, brush and grain and very little in the way of woods (or buildings for that matter). The orchard hexes are nevertheless numerous enough to block or hinder view, and therefore invite the purchase and use of PFZ.

Board 10a WOBP10 and Board 71 AP11

However, board 10a was just half of the topographical battle. Due to a peculiar Soviet fortification that I’ll get to later, I also needed a board with a significant number of hedges. At the same time, I wanted to avoid creating a hedgerow hell, which disqualified hedge-heavy maps like boards 54 and 55 from ASL Action Pack 4 (2008). Even without the hill, board 84, from ASL Action Pack 14 (2019), was too “hedgey.” Cue board 71 from the now out-of-print ASL Action Pack 11 (2015).1 

To complete the transformation, I converted a handful of walls (on board 10a) to hedges, swapped paved roads (on board 71) for dirt ones, and downgraded all stone buildings to wood, removing upper building levels with a final stroke of the pen. Presto! A beguiling hamlet in Eastern Karelia.

Electrical engineers

Historically, the Russian defence comprised a rifle company reinforced with a platoon each of machine guns and mortars. Testing confirmed that more than one heavy machine gun (HMG) or medium mortar (MTR) could, and repeatedly did, leave the Finns in tatters, just steps from their start line. Compromises had to be made.

82mm BM obr. 37

The defenders were also supported by an industrious group of sappers whose signature contribution proved eccentric, to say nothing of the impression it left on the Finns. So extensive was their preparatory work that I have permitted the Russian player to tailor his defence with the purchase of fortifications and PFZ. This provision increases “fog of war” and replay value. The sole exception to the foregoing is the inclusion of a set number of special fortifications in the Russian OB. As hinted at earlier, these fortifications may only set up along a hedge hexside. And at the risk of you heading for the (other) hills, I’ll concede that you’ll have a reason to dig out your Panji counters (G9.1). While you’re at it, have a look for your Dummy (B28.47) and Known Minefield (B28.45) counters too! Seldom seen outside a desert scenario, these counters offer a generous combination of bluff and subterfuge. 

Prepared Fire Zones or PFZ (B36.)

Unimpressed? How about a token NKVD squad, pour encourager les autres? Yet another reason to purchase Twilight of the Reich, if you haven’t already done so. 

Assault engineers

The Russians can engineer the shit outta Kokkomäki. It seems only fair that the Finns have engineers equipped to beat the crap out of their tormentors. Demolition charges (DC), flamethrowers, (FT) and unlimited Smoke. Unlimited Smoke? Yep. 

Sorry to get your hopes up. Finnish Assault Engineer squads (H1.22) have an unimpressive Smoke Exponent of “2.” The good news is that Finnish OB includes two 81mm Savunheitin M/42. These “light-weight” beauties have an infinite amount of Smoke ammo, or in ASL terms, Smoke that isn’t subject to Depletion (C8.9). Pity they only fire Smoke.

81mm Savunheitin M/41 and M/42

So far, so good. However, most of the leg work will have to be done by a collection of First and Second Line squads, armed in the main with ex-Soviet support weapons (SW). Translation: heavy and not-so heavy SW that malfunction as readily as a Conscript with an ELR of “0.” That’s a joke. The fact that most of the SW in the Finnish OB malfunction on a Dice Roll (DR) ≥ 11 (or worse) is no joke. One bright spot is the improvements the Finns made to their stock of captured HMG. Not only are these reconditioned Russian weapons more robust than other MG, but they may be dismantled too, a boon to the attacking Finns. Along for the ride is a home-grown LMG, the Lahti-Saloranta M/26, which constituted about a third of the LMG used by Finland, the remainder being the less accurate but more rugged Soviet Degtyaryov DP-27.

Lahti-Saloranta M/26

All in all, the Finnish player has a mixed bag to work with. And time to get the job done.

Pick yer hill to die on!

The Finns win if they Control the hilltops, by breaking through to the Ruskeala road, or a combination of both. But the assault force has a lot of open area to cross before it reaches the hills. Smoke throwers therefore play an important role at the beginning of the scenario. Later, the Finns will have to rely more on Smoke grenades to cover their final approach. Once they close with the enemy, their FT may be needed to overcome the last position, so they can’t afford to squander these assets early in the game. Their DC, on the other hand, can prove handy for punching holes in enemy lines, especially where troublesome fortifications are holding up the initial advance.

In order to get the most out of their high rate-of-fire weapons, the Russians will need to clear fields of fire, place obstacles that impede movement, and channel the enemy into cunningly laid deathtraps. If you enjoy preparing a fortified defence, one where you get to terraform the ground to your liking, then this card may well have your name on it. The defence is not entirely static though. A good defender will shift assets accordingly, fallback when pressed, and launch a localized counterattack should an opportunity present itself.

For those who like to play defence, the biggest appeal of “Electronaut” is not the mix of weapons and fortifications in the order of battle (OB). They are impressive. It is what you do with them that will make all the difference. The attacker can glean important information about his opponent’s dispositions before setting up a single unit. Deception and bluff therefore have a major role to play, for both sides. Once play commences, however, the attacker will have to roll with the punches. The Finns are in for a lot of pain before they can return it in kind. 

Lieutenant Leonid “Leo” Karjalainen

Will the Finns commit to a particular game plan at the outset and drive hard for the hills or the goal line? Or will they probe cautiously and adjust their plan on the fly? Will the Russians set up forward and make the attackers pay dearly for every step they advance? Or will the defenders adopt a more subtle approach, a mix of targeted kill zones, reverse-slope positions, and hidden units that will catch the Finns off guard? Find out when the pack is released. Or sign up to playtest “Electronauts” today and let the sparks fly! ;)


1. As of May 2024, ASL Action Pack 11 remains available in KitShop. http://asl-battleschool.blogspot.com/p/kitshop-store.html