Archive for October, 2013

The SVT 40 Self-loading Rifle

1940_Tula_SVT40By the 1940 official TO&Es, the standard Soviet rifle squad was to be fully armed with automatic weapons.   A rifle section was to have a leader, a 2-man light machine gun team, 2 men with SMGs and 6 more with self-loading rifles.    Over 1.5 million such SVT rifles were produced.   They are commonplace in photos of the period and the Finns record having captured 20,000 of them in the Winter War and Continuation War (which clearly must indicate widespread supply to the front line).

But for some reason they are poorly represented on the wargames table and in the hands of model soldiers:  the stereotype of the ill-equipped Red horde seems not to allow them the most  modern of weapons(1).   If tested, wargamers will often dispute the agreed numbers and fall back on the rifles being too widely dispersed to make a difference, even that they may not have been reliable enough to have allowed semi-automatic firing(2).

Re those numbers,  we must recall that the SVT was not intended to replace all Moisin Nagants … just for those 7 members of the rifle sections not already equipped with automatic weapons (plus similar personnel in the pioneer and reconnaissance formations) … that’s just under 1,000 (988) of the 3,000 men (3182) of a rifle regiment’s establishment.   So at 3,000 or so per division, 1.5 million will go some way to delivering the requirements of the divisions in question.

svt1(most of these riflemen have SVTs … it isn’t a particularly early picture judging by the soldiers helmets)

Penny packets?

The 20,000 captured by the Finns seems to suggest there were a large number of rifle regiments with their front line sections fully equipped.

Zaloga, in the Red Army Handbook, reckons that other than for specialists (recon, pioneers, motorised etc.) the true extent was limited to the squad leader, the LMG no. 2 and 2 of the riflemen.   Even so, that is half of the section.

Probably more than half, allowing that many would have been below full strength.

Was it really any good?

Phil with SVT-38(checking out an SVT-38 at the DCC armoury)

The design was very ambitious, requiring a lighter rifle than the equivalent Garand.   As a consequence the less heavy barrel would quickly overheat if the SVT-38 was fired on full auto.  This was fixed by restricting the improved SVT-40 to semi-auto mode – and although it was the 38 that had the reputation for jamming, it was the 40 that was built in the hundreds of thousands(3):  tests show the weapon to be durable and accurate.  The Finns kept thousands of them in the field so long as they could be used, and the Germans reissued any they captured.

There seem to be no issues with battlefield accuracy or reliability with the SVT-40.

SVT coll

(clockwise: Waffen SS with SVT; ‘fix bayonets’; ‘fully armed with automatic weapons’; Red Army riflemen – all with SVTs)

Note that when huge combat losses and production disruption resulted in shortages of machineguns for newly formed units, SVTs were issued to rifle sections in lieu of DPs and ‘full auto’ specials were issued for AA use.   These are obviously desperate measures – but would have been pointless had the SVT’s rate of fire been compromised.

Although the SVT had a relatively short production life, its successor, the AK-47 is probably the most successful rifle design of all time, and the related iconic FN rifle is a modern version of the basic SVT design.

So why did production stop?

Production was wound down from 1942 on.   Probably this was less because of dissatisfaction with the rifle than the emphasis on fully automatic submachine guns: SMGs gave the Soviet infantryman the firepower that was wanted in a form that was easier to use and cheaper to manufacture.

Sniper rifles continued in production.   Remembering that the original brief was for an automatic light-weight weapon it is easy to see that this requirement was eventually fully met by the AK-47(4).

Tactical function

The purpose of adding the automatic weapons to the rifle platoon was clearly to up the output of fire.  If this is not obvious, I think it is shown in the prioritising the LMG no. 2 for the new weapon (upping the rate of fire for the rifle section’s firebase ahead of dispersing the extra firepower across the whole unit).  For leading the assault, the Red Army’s preference was for the sub machinegun – again upping the output of fire, in this case at close contact ranges.

stalingrad firebase

(a fire team in the ruins at Stalingrad … a DP LMG, an autoloading rifle – looks to me like an AVS – plus 2 SMGs: NB this photo is frequently seen on the internet but is usually seen back-to-front … an easy error with old film but one that ought to be corrected more often)

Tactically, as well as putting out as much firepower as they could themselves, the Red Army also learned to target the German firebase – the MG42 – ahead of other low level priorities: wherever possible support weapons and local attacks would aim to strip the enemy infantry unit of its dominant fire power (which would enable the remaining soldiers – with their bolt action rifles – to be easily overwhelmed).

The Germans found this unsettling and ultimately sought a solution in the Assault Rifle … a weapon which could disperse more weight of fire across the unit, protect the MG42 against being singled out and match the cheap Soviet SMGs in close range fights.

Recognising an SVT

Looking carefully at wartime photos in my collection of books and guides, more than half the pictures showing rifle section soldiers – so not artillery men, mortar crews, maxim guns etc. (5) – show SVTs.  Mostly they are not captioned as such.

The SVT has a larger box magazine set noticeably forward of the trigger guard and a split forestock with ventilation slots (all easily obscured in photos) plus a prominent fore sight and a muzzle brake.   Whereas the Moisin Nagant typically has a spike bayonet, the SVT had a sword/knife style bayonet.  The prominent fore sight and the knife bayonet are dead giveaways …

Voronezh, 1942

(SVTs in action showing all the characteristics – but note the bayonet)

Wargaming implications

Given that the Russian use of SLRs and SMGs at low levels prompted the German development of the assault rifle, it is obviously as important to model the Russian distribution of automatic weapons as it is the German response.

In operational games there is little that needs to be shown – the whole regiment/brigade/division’s combined firepower and staying power will be important … how each individual delivers their share of the mix will be unlikely to feature.

But in tactical games like PBI it is clearly important to allow properly equipped Soviet units enough firepower to unsettle the Germans in a way the western allies seldom did.

For fully equipped units … motorised, Naval, maybe airborne (though I would expect airborne to be all SMG aside from their snipers) it is easy enough to issue all rifle groups with self loading rifles using the Garand rule and cost.  Such units should be Veteran or Average.

If the sceptics are right and some only got 3 or 4 rifles per section, a PBI platoon might look more like this (using my conventional corner clipping notation):

1941 inf platoon

The platoon commander (contra the 2006 book) would not be ‘pistol’, but either SLR or SMG depending on your reading of the evidence.  He would have control of a 50mm mortar, and 3 or 4 sections.  Each section would have a DP group and a group of bolt action rifles.  The other stand should be either SLR or SMG(6).

Later, the mortars would likely be grouped with the Company Commander … but an anti-tank rifle team might be attached to the platoon – maybe a maxim under some circumstances.

Again, use the Garand rule and cost (+1 point per base; +1 die per turn in shooting and in op/ret/HTC fire).

Such units could as easily be Raw as Veteran or Average.

It probably won’t shock the Germans the way the real things did, but it will get us closer to what probably went on.

Modelling the SVT

Nobody seems to make one in 15mm despite the weapon’s wide usage and significance.

Although the rifles on 15mm figures are quite small, the details on small arms are plainly visible and it is useful if the weapon type is properly modelled to aid recognition.  The best bet is to resculpt the weapons with a sharp knife and a fine file.

Ideally you need to add a box mag slightly ahead of the trigger guard, re-detail the fore stock and capture the prominent fore sight and muzzle brake.  A knife-bayonet would be good too.

PP adapted SVT groups 01

(Peter Pig Russians with resculpted weapons and headswaps: I used WWI/RCW figures for these to get the puttees we see on the soldiers with automatic weapons at Stalingrad)

I had a go at some WWI/RCW types in my oddments box and the results look OK (sorry the photo is a little over-exposed, but I wanted to get a reasonably crisp shot of the weapons they are carrying for obvious reasons): hopefully they will be rendered obsolete soon by Martin Goddard making some new figures with SVTs.  The magazines had to be added from modelling putty.


(1) in this context we should perhaps not forget the the Soviets were also amongst the first with rocket artillery, surface to air missiles, cluster bombs, parachute forces and were already building the KV and T34 … they were at the forefront of technology in this period.

(2) indeed, one sceptic, confronting the numbers in Finnish hands countered by saying ‘just proves they were useless … the Russians must have been chucking them away as soon as they jammed’

(3) also, much of the jamming mythology comes from Finnish experience with the captured weapons – given that the Finnish standard rifle ammunition was not actually the design size for the SVT (Jaegerplatoon) that may not be the rifle’s fault.

(4) between the SVT-40 family and the AK-47, of course, the Red Army briefly adopted a Simonov designed SKS.

(5) which do account for a lot of wartime pictures as they show troops generally a bit back from the danger zones (where the Press prefer to be …).

(6) if you require a rule to be added to the Russian Company lists, delete the second line in the top box on ‘Russian Rifle Company 1939-1942’ (up to 2 rifle groups ...) and replace with

‘Up to 4 rifle groups per platoon may be replaced with SMG or self loading rifles – all if the Company is of Naval, Airborne or Motorised infantry’

… and in the ‘Infantry Platoon’ box, change the Platoon commander group to ‘(SMG or self-loading rifle)’


Zaloga: The Red Army Handbook; Soviet Army Uniforms in WWII; Rottman: Stalingrad Inferno; Walsh: Stalingrad 1942 -1943; Google Images; (amongst many other casual searches) … http://www.ww2photomuseum.com/GerRusArms1.htmlhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SVT-40http://www.gunpics.net/russian/svt40/svt40.htmlhttp://www.jaegerplatoon.net/RIFLES4.htm

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3 9 Part 2 01

This was the concluding part of a PBI scenario we started earlier in the month.   After a stumbling start, the Red Army paras and ski troops were reinforced with a column of tanks and some accompanying rifle sections.

Although they had let the Russians take control of the mud road, the Germans were stubbornly dug in around the fuel dump in the woods, and had a platoon of scouts in half tracks plus some light armour just off table.

3 9 Part 2 02

This phase opened with an airstrike by the VVS who have just taken delivery of some new LAGGs and Airacobras (as in … I put my latest toys on the table) …

Following the standard assets procedure (dicing for deviation), this went way off target and hit a section of paras (blue on blue) hiding in some adjacent trees.

The Russians got their tanks quickly on table and rolled into the assault.

3 9 Part 2 03(Russian Tanks and Riflemen sweep up to the German positions)

After losses to preparatory shooting, the German position was left mostly being held by Officer bases (Platoon Commander, Company Commander), but with some effective use of the SMG, and closed terrain, they were able to bounce the first wave assault.

Unfortunately, the German reinforcements just made it onto the table in time to see the second wave break over the position.  Two hits killed the Officers (hits in the assault cannot be saved if foot groups)  yielding the objective to the attackers.

3 9 Part 2 04(T-70s get the job done, helping the infantry break into the position … PP figures and PSC tanks)

The Germans had put up a good fight, hanging on til the half tracks appeared.

The counterattack faltered with a mix of good and bad Action Points (3 of 7 vehicles rolled very poorly so could not exploit the exposed sides of the thinly armoured Russian tanks) …

Some enterprising armoured scouts managed to break through with an effective mix of MG42 and Panzerfaust, brewing one of the T-70s on the way … only then to be destroyed by opportunity fire from the other …  The woods were filling up with wrecks and casualties …

3 9 Part 2 05a(the smoke denotes the vehicle is destroyed; the fire marker reminds me it happened this turn – re next morale phase)

My new armoured car failed to dislodge some paras hunkered down around the road bridge, a flamethrowing half track missed, and the Platoon Commander’s carrier with a (Gun Effect 7) PzB rolled insufficient points to fire it – so sat staring at the rear ‘armour’ of  an Aerosan.

Hmm…  All bad luck, but I guess the Russians would have described these as Winter Germans.

These reverses let the Russians reorganise after their assaults, drop into defensible squares, and persuaded the Germans that they would have to pull out whatever they could salvage: the battle was over.

3 9 Part 2 06(The Return of Winter: a battle won)

Apologies that between the two parts, the battlefield and some of the figures changed … I left some boxes at HQ and had to improvise – but we were able to retain the core layout balance and starting positions.

We had 4 players for this part of the game and played for around 2 hours which disappeared almost unnoticed (which is a credit to PBI and the snowy scenario) … it seemed to engage the players and had a good mix of content including some nail-biting combined assaults, some narrow escapes, some blue-on-blue and some big hits.

Great game … I think I need to post a synopsis of where we are with PBI.

3 9 Part 2 05b(PBI: The Return to Winter Part 2)

SS Panzer Division Wiking Tscherkassy

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It is a long time since we Bashed any WWI Squares, and it was interesting for our local group here to have an evening with RFCM’s SBII.

Amiens 00

Harvey treated us to a running of Amiens from the scenarios, with toys provided by Trebian … generally somewhat unfashionable Minifigs, I think.   The game was well organised and presented and ran smoothly.    I thought the feel was pretty convincing (for this scenario, at least) … I recall us being less impressed by SB I (which is why it hasn’t been played that much) …

Anyway, here’s some Amiens eye-candy …

Amiens 02

Amiens 03

Amiens 04

The scenario gives the British players overwhelming force, and the Germans a problematic defence.    The game mechanism stripped out a lot of their machinegun support, and the Brits eventually attacked with some gusto …

Amiens 04a

That said, I’ll happily include a snap of one of my more successful contributions …

Amiens 04b

11 dice, looking for sixes to hit … giving 8 hits!   The Germans replied with several ones in the Saving Rolls … Now that interaction would swing a good number of wargames

Being a man of simple tastes, it also brought a smile to my face …

Trebian has posted a blow-by-blow account, and has some more insightful comments on Wargaming for Grownups

We ended with the Brits in full control …

Amiens 05

Meanwhile I have been trying to keep up with the bits and pieces i have been acquiring for the Eastern Front collection … I added a nice little Airacobra from Revell 1:144 and a Zvezda Sdkfz-222 armoured car to scout for 22PD …

Revell Airacobra 01(Revell Micro Wings 1:144 Airacobra)

I found the FW 190 I made a while back quite tough going (old, ill-fitting, fiddly kit technology) but this one went together much better with very few gaps or misfits.

The Airacobra was a beautiful aircraft, and despite the mixed reception it got elsewhere was one of the most successful fighters on the Eastern Front (more than half the wartime output went to the Soviet Union, and more Soviet aces flew Airacobras than any other plane).

Revell Airacobra 02

The model lacks a canon in the spinner, so I drilled it out and fixed in a slightly over-sized example: the big gun was something VVS pilots really liked despite its slow rate of fire.  This was a quick build and paint (yes, I know it shows, but bear in mind it is a 1:144 – so is getting magnified in the pictures … )

Enjoyed this one.   And less expensive than a Zvezda!

I also enjoyed making up the Zvezda 222 … I had read that this was a tricky build, and needed and extra scout for 22PD as some of its assets have been stripped out to build the Rostov sector’s new unit.    In fact I found this one went together easily enough – it is fiddly but all the parts do fit where intended.   Easier than the BA-10.

zvezda 222 01(Zvezda Sdkfz 222 armoured car)

OK … it is destined for Army Group South but the table on which I did the photos had a baggage element from my ancients collection on it.  I couldn’t help wondering what it would look like sitting behind a Palmyran camel train …

zvezda 222 02a

It has a fun, Panzers in the Desert, sort of look.   Who knows?  Maybe the Mediterranean Theatre will catch on …


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