Shturmovye Groups and City Fighting

Stalin's Europe

Shturmovye Groups and City Fighting

By Wayne Turner

Before the battle of Stalingrad the Red Army had yet to fight a serious urban battle. Previous battles around large cities like Odessa and Sevastopol had relied on rings of defences and fortifications in the countryside circling the city. The fighting was well over and the defenders evacuated before any serious street fighting in the case of Odessa and at Sevastopol the Germans simply bombarded the city into submission after defeating the defensive ring.

It wasn’t until the battle of Stalingrad at the end of 1942 that serious street fighting and its unique challengers were confronted by the Soviets. Street battles presented the commanders on the ground with a number of problems to overcome.

  • Narrow and limited lanes of fire.
  • The use of barricades and the fortification of existing buildings.
  • Due to the nature of streets and buildings, the inability to use large forces of infantry and tanks in a coordinated manner. This led to the reliance on the initiative of the lower level commanders.
  • The complexity of coordinating tanks and artillery with actions of the infantry.
  • The complexity of command and control over the units fighting.
Soviet infantry
Soviet infantryman translates Budapest sign To overcome these problems the Red Army in Stalingrad formed assault groups (shturmovye gruppa). These were based around the companies of a Strelkovy Batalon (rifle battalion) armed with submachine-guns, hand grenades, Molotov cocktails and anti-tank rifles. Added to these were heavier weapons such as infantry guns, mortars and heavy machine-guns. Because of the rapidly changing situations of urban warfare the Shturmovye Group would operate with these weapons as a combined arms force, taking care of its own supporting fire needs. Sappers were often added for mine clearing and specialist demolition capability.
Ordinarily the commander of a Strelkovy Company does not have authority over more than his infantry, but as the commander of a Shturmovye Group his authority extends to support weapons and engineers and to some extent supporting tanks and artillery. This devolution of command was forced on the battalion commanders because of localised nature of street battles. The Shturmovye Group commander does not have the time or opportunity to request fire support from his commander. Neither does the battalion commander always know where all his companies are to provide such fire support or other assistance.
Soviet infantry in Budapest
Soviet infantryman with PPsh SMG

After Stalingrad the Red Army continued to expand on the Shturmovye Group arsenal, heavier guns up to 122mm calibre were added for pinpoint targeting of enemy positions in building and Flame-throwers were often attached. Tanks and assault guns began to be used alongside Shturmovye Groups, providing immediate fire support against stubborn enemy resistance.

By December 1944 Shturmovye Groups were fighting for the city of Budapest supported by T-34 tanks, OT-34 flame tanks, and SU-76M assault guns.

In addition two Sapper-engineer Brigades were assigned to the assault on the city and these provided further expert assault power.

Shturmovye Group tactics

Composition
Usually a Strelkovy battalion fighting in a city environment would divide into three groups based on its three Strelkovy companies. One would lead the way as the assault group, a second would follow behind as the consolidation group and the third would act as the reserve.

OT-34 Flame tank
Soviet infantry with PPsh SMGs

This was mirrored at the lower level within each Shturmovye Group.

As mentioned above the Shturmovye Group has access to a variety of weapons. The strength and composition of each Shturmovye Group depended on the objective of its mission. The commander could define the weapons required before they went into battle to fit with the combat situation.

The Shturmovye Group was subdivided into three groups: an assault group made up of submachine-gunners and attached flame-throwers; a reinforcement group of submachine-gunners, light or heavy machine-guns, and sappers; and a reserve group of submachine-gunners, 1-2 guns, heavy machine-guns and sappers. 

On some occasions the Shturmovye Group would be supported by guns, assault guns or tanks providing additional fire support.

The submachine-gun had clear advantages over the rifle in the confines of street fighting where range was not often an important factor. Shooting was often sudden and speed was more important than accuracy, encounters were decided by who could fire first and enough. Lack of accuracy was made-up for by putting plenty of lead in the air.

SU-76M assault guns
The battle in over

The grenade also became an import factor in any house-to-house fighting. Each rifleman would carry four or five grenades, rather than his usual two. Molotov cocktails were also used. Entering a room, building or fortification would be preceded by a grenade or Molotov cocktail before the submachine-gunners burst in all guns blazing. 

Also key in the success of an Shturmovye Group were the sappers or pioneers. It was their role to clear any obstacles, such as barricades and barbed wire, to gap building walls to ease movement, and to clear mines.

Practice
It was typical for each Shturmovye Group to advance down a street, with other groups operating on parallel streets.

Before a Shturmovye Group could go into action clearing buildings and rooms, the enemy’s ability to fire on the group had to be suppressed. This was the roll of the Shturmovye Groups heavy weapons found in the reinforcement and reserve groups. The nature of the urban environment meant that the defenders of buildings usually have firing points located on several floors.

The way is clear!
Target the firing points! Entrances and opening were reinforced and used as firing points or simply bricked up. However, before the sappers could clear the entrances to gain access to the building, the enemy fire had to be halted or reduced. The guns and heavy machine-guns of the Shturmovye Group were used to silence the firing points by accurate fire directed on each position. The larger guns like the 76mm ZIS-3 gun and 122mm obr 1938 howitzer were also destructive enough to knockout the firing position, while the machine guns and mortars keep the enemies’ heads down and away from their firing positions. If fighting with tanks or assault guns these would also be used for this task.

Once the enemy’s fire was reduced it was the turn of the sappers to push forward and clear barricades, barbed wire, and mines with their explosives and other engineering equipment. They would also open building entrances or gap walls with explosives.

Once the sappers had cleared the way, the assault group would assault the building, clearing the way with grenades and flame-throwers. The reinforcement group would work around the building, if possible, to cut off escape routes. The assault group would work its way from the ground floors up to clear each level of resistance. They would use holes in the ceilings and ladders if stairs were not available.

The reinforcement group would follow the assault group in to consolidate the defence of the building, paying particular attention to basements, sewer manholes and ducts where enemy troops could be lurking. They would also prepare for immediate enemy counterattacks to retake the building. Once the building was secured and cleared of all enemies, attention could turn to the next target. From their new positions they could locate enemy firing positions in nearby buildings to prepare for further assaults. Wounded and dead could be evacuated and food and ammunitions brought forward to replenish the Shturmovye Group. Time would also be spent to identify the next target and to allow the men to catch their breath.

Light machine-gun gives support fire
If nearby buildings were lightly or un-defended the Shturmovye Group would immediately move forward to take them, leaving the job of securing their gains to following troops.
Soviets attack Germans and Hungarians
In Flames Of War

The Street Fighting rules can be found on pages 221 to 226 of the Rulebook or pages 60 to 65 of Das Book.

The Shturmovye Groups were formed to deal with the problems of urban warfare, so following are a few notes about how to use the Shturmovye Batalon from Stalin’s Europe in Street Fighting in Flames Of War.

Softening Up the Enemy
If fighting in a Not One Step Back mission (the City Fighting mission on page 226 of the rulebook) you will be faced with many buildings to assault. This is where the heavy gun options like the 76mm ZIS-3 anti-tank gun and 122mm obr 1938 assault howitzer are ideal. They have the ability to knock out enemy teams inside buildings because of their superior firepower rating. However, they cost two Storm teams each. Also handy for this are the 45mm obr 1942 and 76mm obr 1927 guns which also have effective Firepower rating and the added bonus of only costing one Storm team each.

Street Fighting
SU-76M assault gun

The other weapons such as MG teams, Maksim HMGs, 82-BM-41 mortars and PTDR anti-tank rifle teams will not destroy as many teams at the heavier guns, but they still have the ability to pin down the defenders, vital if you plan to assault them.

Each Shturmovye Group is self-contained for firepower, but it is always good to have further fire support on hand to add their weight to the effort. Additional assets such as SU-76M assault guns, T-34 tanks, OT-34 flame tanks, Tank Destruction Companies and artillery all provided vital extra fire to support to clear the way for the Shturmovye Groups.

Clearing the Way
The role of your pioneer teams, or any supporting sappers or engineer-sappers, is to clear the way for your Sturmovye Groups. They can clear minefields, barricades and breach building walls. Of course this should only be done while the enemy are pinned down. Try to tackle obstacles where the enemy cannot bring too much shooting to bear on your pioneers while they go about their business.

Any infantry team can breach a wall, but pioneer teams do a much better job with a re-roll of failed Skill tests to do so. A breached wall creates a new opening, making another important entry point through which the building can be assaulted. The more openings you can create or access the more teams you will have fighting in the first round of the assault (only one team can Assault through each opening) and the lesser the chance an enemy counterattack will throw you out of the building.

As well as preparing for assaults on building the pioneer teams can also clear the streets of obstacles such as barbed wire, barricades and minefields.

Storming a building

Assault
Once you have pinned down the enemy, knocked out their heavy firepower and can bring enough teams to bear in the first round of the Assault, its time for the final phase of your attack on a building.

As stated above you need to ensure that you can get enough of your teams engaged in that first round of an assault. As only one team can fight through each opening into a building you need to make sure you can knockout some of the enemy teams blocking openings by attacking as many openings as possible. Alternatively you can attack a building or building floor containing less enemy teams than it has openings. This will guarantee you will gain access to the building in the following counterattacks of the Assault.

Storming a Street Barricade
T-34 tanks adavnce through a city street after heavy fighting

Shturmovye Groups are Fearless Trained, so as Trained teams they hit on a 4+ in Assaults, so on average you should hit with 50% of your teams, giving you access into the building through half the openings. Because hits are allocated to any enemy teams in the room you will find the opening can still be blocked because the enemy has more teams in the room or building than there are openings you are assaulting through. However, if this is not the case you can start to move into the building or room in your next counterattack (providing you haven’t failed your Motivation test to do so).

If you have been able to move teams into the building in following counterattacks, those teams inside, plus any teams at openings, can fight. This should increase you killing power and the Shturmovye Group will make short work of any remaining enemy teams.

Consolidation
Once you have taken a building or room you should move more teams into the building in case of an enemy counterattack. You should also be considering you next move and what firepower and platoons you will need moved to keep you plan moving forward.

In multi-room or floor buildings you will need to make further Assaults if there are still enemy teams about. 

SU-76M assault gun
Just remember to repeat the process above. Don’t make any rash Assaults because you think you are on a roll, prepare each Assault carefully following the steps above.

More on Stalin's Europe

Stalin's Europe Releases...
Stalin’s Europe Design Notes...
What's in Stalin's Europe?