Stalin's Sledgehammer - The 203mm Howitzer

Stalin's Sledgehammer Stalin's Sledgehammer - The 203mm Howitzer in Berlin: Soviet
With Livio Tonazzo

With the book, Berlin: Soviet, the largest and most powerful artillery piece in Flames of War takes to the field! It is the 203mm obr1931 Howitzer, the largest field artillery piece among those used by the Red Army during the Second World War.

The crew of the 203mm Howitzer are the same ones who successfully fought in Belarus and Poland in 1944 during Operation Bagration. From this point of view there is no big news, having finally arrived in Berlin has neither exalted nor demotivated the courageous Russian soldier who continues undaunted to do his job. These are medium-trained crews who can count on a Skill of Trained 4+. Not exactly an exceptional value as it is rarely possible to be able to place the artillery template without touching any scenery elements. A result of 4+ is often not enough, you will probably have to hope for 5+, which is approximately equivalent to a 32% probability. Of course, having three attempts you should statistically be able to place the marker, but if it doesn't happen it is not a colossal stroke of bad luck but rather a normal event.

Furthermore, the effectiveness on the third attempt is drastically reduced as you risk hitting opposing teams on 5+ or 4+. This is especially problematic with tanks. While infantry tends to try to resist shelling because the threat in the open would be greater, tanks can easily move and seek cover elsewhere. As a result, you risk having to roll for the range every turn, which could be a problem if you are not very good at rolling 5+.

Even compared to the Motivation, in reality there are no particular innovations. The Soviet soldier does his job but nothing more, with an average rating of Confident 4+. This is a value that must be managed as it does not make the unit "independent". Given the investment in points that is still important (although not excessive) it is advisable to have the 203mm Howitzer supported by an HQ that is therefore able to repeat the failed Motivation Tests. There is nothing worse than having a 203mm Howitzer battery that goes silent as it is Pinned Down. 

Also as regards the Last Stand it can be useful, even a unit of guns is forced to test the Last Stand only when it is reduced to a single piece, therefore when it is by now not very effective and in any case doomed.

Stalin's Sledgehammer

One of the most important values of Flames of War is undoubtedly that of the Is hit on. Not being hit is much better than successfully saving in many ways. Soviet players have always been accustomed to being hit easily and taking few losses (acceptable losses, the commissar corrects me) so there are no high expectations regarding the rating of the 203mm Howitzer. Indeed, there is some surprise on this subject. 

The 203mm Howitzer is deployable in two different units. The first unit is found in Support, the 203mm Artillery Battery and can field two or four howitzers. The rating of this unit is Aggressive 3+, like that of all the others. This is a rating that requires some caution as the unit can easily suffer significant losses due to its reduced effectiveness. It is good practice to protect this type of unit by keeping it in the rear (to avoid MG fire) and deploying the pieces rather wide to limit the damage of artillery templates.

However, there is the possibility of deploying another unit equipped with a 203mm Howitzer as well. This is the Red Banner Storm Gun Platoon, a unit that is part of the Red Banner Regiment and not Support. It, therefore, counts towards the formation's Last Stand (which is a big plus), but the unit only consists of two 203mm Howitzers. This means that the unit will have to test the Last Stand already after having suffered a loss. On the other hand, and here's the news, the 203mm Storm Gun Platoon is rated as Careful 4+. The investment in points is important, but it is commensurate with the power and endurance of this howitzer. Being hit on 4+ means avoiding 50% of the hits received and therefore greatly increasing the probability of survival: for many Soviet players, it will be a rather strange experience! The final stages of the war also offer these emotions, Soviet veterans embittered by years of battles determined to end the game: it will not be easy to stop them.

Stalin's Sledgehammer

The dimensions of the model of the 203mm obr1931 Howitzer allow us understandably to imagine the power of this piece of artillery. It is to all intents and purposes a unicum among all the artillery that can be deployed in Flames of War, which usually does not exceed 155mm (or 15.5cm to use the German language) and which therefore have a lower destructive capacity. The profile of this impressive weapon is also unique.

Obviously, let's start with the bombardment, which is the most important thing for a howitzer. The range is even higher than the other howitzers that can be deployed by the Red Army, such as the very famous 122m or the heavier 152. In fact, the latter can bomb up to 80" away, while the 203mm Howitzer can reach up to 88", i.e. the 10%. Considering that a standard mission table measures 48”x72” this advantage will rarely be exploited. However, if you usually play 4-6 player missions to recreate a specific battle, this could come in handy. I recommend to those who have never played such a scenario (once they were called Armageddon) to try it because it offers unique emotions and fun that can hardly be matched! 

But the value that characterizes this howitzer is undoubtedly the anti-tank capability. Flames of War v.4 saw (fortunately) reduced anti-tank values of the artillery which was used very often to destroy tanks, something historically rare. All artillery in the game up until now had a cap value of 3 (generally assigned to howitzers of at least 100mm), making them ineffective against opposing tanks. In fact, most tanks have a Top Armor value of 1 and therefore can only be destroyed by bombing by rolling a 1, i.e. 16% of the time. Another 16% of the time they will risk being bailed out, while 68% of the time they will come out unscathed. Opened tanks such as the M10, Marder or Priest instead have Top Armor 0 which makes them more vulnerable to artillery with anti-tank 3. They will certainly come out unharmed only 50% of the time, 32% they will risk being destroyed and 16% will risk to be bailed out. Thanks to its enormous size, the 203mm Howitzer is an exception to the unwritten rule of the maximum anti-tank value of 3, showing an impressive value of 4. This is only lower than the aerial rockets of the Typhoon and Thunderbolt.

Stalin's Sledgehammer

Being framed by the artillery silhouette of a 203mm Howitzer battery is also very risky for tanks at Top Armor 1 because they find themselves substantially in the same situation described above for open tanks. Open tanks, on the other hand, suffer even more, seeing the chances of definitely emerging unscathed go down to 32%: it's easier for them to hope not to be hit! On the other hand, those who can reasonably hope to emerge unscathed are the heavy tanks with Top Armor 2 which therefore risk being destroyed only 16%: a percentage worse than the 0% of before but all in all negligible given that usually heavy tanks are not so focus on the battlefield. 

It should be added that the value of Firepower 2+, which is not new to tell the truth, tends to be actually very punitive in case of failure of Armor Saves. Infantry and guns are in many ways used to it, but for tanks which usually save artillery shells easily, it can be a problem. Surely the 203mm Howitzer also acts as a psychological deterrent as it will force the deployment and movement of enemy tanks, forcing them to remain wider and avoiding their concentration at a specific point on the battlefield. This factor is difficult to weigh, but sometimes this deterrent is worth as much or perhaps more than a round of bombardment because it scatters opposing forces and often exposes them to fire from other units.

Stalin's Sledgehammer

In terms of bombardment, however, the 203mm Howitzer really has something extraordinary that will surely make it count on the battlefield. On the other hand, the direct shot profile on which it absolutely does not excel is different. The profile is not too different from a 152mm howitzer designed precisely to destroy enemy fortifications and bunkers. During the battle of Berlin, the 203mm Howitzer was also used at full range for this very purpose with results as devastating as they were effective. There is a very famous video of the time that even shows it in action. In game terms, the anti-tank value is 13 with a Firepower of AUTO. 

These are in themselves good values which, however, are penalized by at least two factors. In the first place, the extremely limited range of 16" exposes the artillery piece to machine gun shots or in any case to short-range return fire which therefore risks destroying it in return fire. Secondly, the extremely limited Rate of Fire, considering the Halted ROF 1 and the Moving ROF - . This last factor may not cause particular concern given the absence of Tactical Move, but be careful because it also means that if Pinned Down the 203mm Howitzer will not be able to fire. In fact, when the units become Pinned Down, they must use the Moving ROF value… which in this case does not exist.Of course, it almost goes without saying, the 203mm Howitzer has the Brutal special rule: what's more brutal than a 203mm shot?

~ Livio Tonazzo