Red Steel: Through the Brandenburg Gate in an IS-2 Tank

Red Steel: Through the Brandenburg Gate in an IS-2 Tank

Red Steel:
Through the Brandenburg Gate in an IS-2 Tank

Hero Gvardeyskiy Tyazhelyy Tankovy Polk Tactics
with Jorge Sancho


Starting in 1943 the Red Army began to develop a replacement for the KV series of heavy tanks, which lead to the battlefield deployment of the IS-2 tank in early 1944. Named after the Soviet supreme leader (Iosef Stalin), the IS-2 gave the Red Army a tank capable of engaging the German Panther and Tiger tanks on equal terms.

In Flames Of War, as in historical reality, the main strengths of the IS-2 are its powerful 122mm D-25T main gun (which hits with Anti-tank 15 and Firepower 2+) and its extremely thick armour, with of up to 160mm in the gun mantlet (giving it in Flames Of War a Front Armour rating of 11, for the IS-2 obr 1944). Its main drawback is its moderate speed, albeit very reasonable for a massive 46-ton vehicle.

Check out the IS-2 Guards Heavy Tank Company spotlight here...

The culmination of Flames Of War’s Late-war period, the Berlin intelligence handbook focuses on the Soviet assault on the German capital city of Berlin, the battles to encircle it, and the final desperate defence by the by the rag-tag German forces.

Learn more about the Soviet forces in Berlin here...
Berlin
Nevertheless, the IS-2 has turned into a sort of ‘Ugly Duckling’ for many Flames Of War players who focus mainly on its drawbacks, such as the ROF-1 of its main gun (historically accurate  due to its huge, two-part ammunition) and its expensive point cost (around 150 points per vehicle, depending on the version and extras chosen). Undoubtedly the IS-2 is not the most straightforward unit to use in Flames Of War, which is no surprise since both the Soviets and heavy tanks in general can be quite tricky to master. But if given a chance, they can be the solid base of a winning force. Let’s see how we can get those IS-2 models back from the shelves and moving towards the Brandenburg Gate!
Red Steel: Through the Brandenburg Gate in an IS-2 Tank
Strengths of a Breakthrough Tank

Usually the best way to achieve success with a unit in FOW is to mirror its historical role. Although a Flames Of War competition does not necessarily mimic historical conditions, it is nevertheless useful to understand how the unit was intended to be fielded on the actual battlefield. In the case of the IS-2 we are talking about a breakthrough tank, intended to break through the German lines and, with the help of the Red Army Infantry, open a gap for the mechanised forces to exploit. We are not talking about a vehicle suited for outmanoeuvring the enemy with its speed and plentiful numbers like Soviet T-34s, but rather designed to push forward a frontal assault.

For its intended role the IS-2 its frankly a superb vehicle: having excellent all-round protection (not only frontally, but also side and top armour) and it can usually ignore most of the enemy AT weapons while it closes in. Its main gun, although slow firing, can deal with both soft and armoured targets (hits by a 122mm shell with its AT15, FP2+ and Breakthrough Gun attribute are almost a guaranteed kill). It is also a complete monster in the assault phase, being not only a heavily armoured Fearless tank, but also repelling incoming hits during assaults thanks to the turret-rear MG. And it can increase its shock value by adding Tank Escorts.

Berlin

With the release of the Berlin book, the IS-2 Regiment force has only got better, since the IS-2 is one of the units that gets the most out of the Hero rules (ie. extra punch in assaults) for a very small point increase (since the IS-2 has never been affected by the Hen & Chicks rule, due to the elite nature of its crewmen). The only drawback is that tank units are limited to just 2 or 3 tanks each, rather than 3 to 5 as in the Red Bear force. But since the IS-2 has never been a horde-type tank, this limitation in unit size doesn’t really affect the overall performance of the force. In addition, the Berlin force gives you access to the upgraded IS-2 obr 1944 variant (with Front Armour 11 rather than 10) which gives extra resilience with a moderate price increase, plus interesting infantry and artillery support (more on this below).

Even though the IS-2 is already a quite pricey tank, it is usually worth adding all of the ‘extra’ equipment available. The .50 cal AA MG gives a valuable secondary weapon that is very handy when the tank moves. Tank Escorts helps to protect the tank and actually double the amount of potential damage inflicted on the enemy while assaulting. The Bed Spring Armour available in the Berlin Book gives you the added protection you need to survive the defensive fire when assaulting an infantry unit armed with portable anti-tank weaponry. 

Basic Tactics
Standard gun tanks are better suited to covering the approach towards the mission objective, killing dangerous enemy units from afar, while the grunts do the dirty job of actually securing the objective. With all those Panzerfaust-laden infantry teams, late war tanks have to act cautiously in the vicinity of the enemy.
A breakthrough tank like the IS-2 operates on the opposite principle. Your aim is to close with the enemy as quickly as possible, and swiftly expel him from the objective before a protracted firefight takes its toll on your reduced size force. You have to lead your force both in a systematic and rapid manner, so select the most direct route towards the enemy objectives and stick to it - although you obviously will prefer a route that gives some concealment and allows you to engage only a part of the enemy forces at any given time. The basic principles of an attacking force still apply, even if the IS-2s don't have the luxury of performing long flank manoeuvres or changing their axis of attack in the middle of a battle, as other mechanised formations might do. Red Steel: Through the Brandenburg Gate in an IS-2 Tank
As already stated, the IS-2 excels during the assault phase, so don't be afraid to make contact with the enemy. This is where you will get the most kills and the most decisive results from your tanks. Obviously it is not about sending your tanks into a mad dash against the enemy tanks, expert players know that an assault must be prepared in advance; and some of your tanks will have to remain static for a few turns carefully selecting their targets in order to clear the path for the decisive assault.
Red Steel: Through the Brandenburg Gate in an IS-2 Tank
Sometimes you will find your IS-2s engaged in long-range firefights against enemy armour or flanking a target of opportunity, you can also win in those circumstances because the IS-2 is a versatile tank. But you are not using this breakthrough tanks to its full potential if your main aim for them is not pushing the enemy away from the mission objective.

The IS-2 can tackle most of the perils in the late war battlefield, but finds its nemesis in the German ‘Big Cats’, vehicles such as the Königstiger, Jagdtiger or Elephant that have the firepower to easily defeat the IS-2’s armour, and which are also very difficult for the IS-2 to eliminate frontally. The main answer is to menace those 'Big Cats' from above and below using infantry, artillery and air support.

The IS-2 regiment has access to supporting armour (T-34s, ISUs and the like) but I personally think they are quite redundant and expensive in a force that already needs to carefully select every one of its assets. Therefore I will focus on infantry and template support for the Berlin IS-2 regiment.

Red Steel: Through the Brandenburg Gate in an IS-2 Tank
Above: The new all-plastic IS-2 obr 1944
Something that many players don´t realize is that the best way to beat enemy armour (apart from the obvious ‘taking bigger tanks with bigger guns’) is actually engaging the enemy tanks with your own tanks and infantry simultaneously. A bailed tank is automatically killed if assaulted by infantry, and close cooperation between your infantry and tanks not only prevents the enemy from assaulting your own tanks, but also makes flanking much more difficult. On top of that, the Berlin book Soviet infantry is not only a killing machine while assaulting (since they are all hero units that hit like veterans when assaulting), it’s also armed with Panzerfausts and therefore able to menace the enemy Königstigers or Panthers (which will have to choose between engaging your tanks and letting your infantry close in, or focusing on the infantry and letting the IS-2s do their work). This is true for the basic Strelkovy unit, but in Berlin the IS-2s can also get the support of very specialised infantry formations such as Engineer-Sappers, Shturmovye group or Scouts.
Red Steel: Through the Brandenburg Gate in an IS-2 Tank
Soviet hero artillery is also very efficient since they hit as veterans, but are less expensive to deploy. Apart from pinning those annoying AT-guns and infantry so your forward units can close in without suffering the full weight of enemy fire, you also want weapons that can also threaten enemy armour. I therefore recommend the 122mm artillery or even better the newly available 160mm mortars. Couple this with some Shturmoviks and the enemy will be more concerned about how to protect his armour from your template weapons than in dealing with your precious IS-2s.
1500-Point Hero Gvardeyskiy Tyazhelyy Tankovy Polk
Hero Gvardeyskiy Tyazhelyy Tankovy Polk HQ 
With IS-2 obr 1944, Bed Spring Armour, SMG tank escort and .50 cal AA MG 170 points
Guards Hero Heavy Tank Company
With 3x IS-2 obr 1944, Bed Spring Armour and SMG tank escorts 495 points
Guards Hero Heavy Tank Company
With 3x IS-2 obr 1944, Bed Spring Armour, SMG tank escorts and .50 cal AA MG 510 points
Hero Strelkovy Battalion (Red Army)
With two Rifle Platoons with 7 Rifle/MG teams and two SMG Panzerfaust teams 180 points
Hero 160mm Mortar Battalion (Red Army)
With four 160mm obr 1943 mortars and Observer 145 points
Total: 1500 Points

Using This Force
You have a very solid core of seven heavy tanks, backed up by a reliable close-combat infantry unit and a hard-hitting heavy mortar battery. Remember your troops are more lethal when closer to the enemy, so don´t be shy about getting to within ‘hugging distance’ of them. After all, your units are hit as trained, and you don’t want to waste time wandering about in no-man's land.


1750-Point Hero Gvardeyskiy Tyazhelyy Tankovy Polk
Hero Gvardeyskiy Tyazhelyy Tankovy Polk HQ 
With IS-2 obr 1944, Bed Spring Armour and .50 cal AA MG 160 points
Guards Hero Heavy Tank Company
With 3x IS-2 obr 1944, Bed Spring Armour and .50 cal AAMG 480 points
Guards Hero Heavy Tank Company
With 3x IS-2 obr 1944, Bed Spring Armour, SMG tank escorts and .50 cal AA MG 510 points
Hero Shturmovye Group (Red Army)
With assault and reinforcement group 255 points
Hero 160mm Mortar Battalion (Red Army)
With four 160mm obr 1943 mortars and Observer 145 points
Limited Air Support
Il-2 Shturmovik 200 points
Total: 1750 Points

Using This Force
The core of the force remains unchanged, and the IS-2 units will continue to do most of the heavy lifting. With the extra points we have purchased limited air support to give the enemy another template to worry about - a valuable asset that can deal with that pesky Königstiger before our heavy tanks advance to secure the objective. We have also spent some points in purchasing a Shturmovye Group rather than the regular Strelkovy. This unit will allow you a lot of flexibility because you can customise it before every battle (my personal favourite is the humble but deadly 45mm Anti-tank gun) and can also use smoke pots to help overcome enemy defensive fire before an assault.


These are just two sample forces. Certainly the core of the IS-2 regiment doesn’t allow a huge amount of variety (although you can play a little mixing obr 43 and obr 44 variants and adding or not the extra options for the tanks). However, you surely get a lot of interesting support options with which you can adapt the force to your personal play style. Anyway, the key to success with the IS-2 regiment is practice. Because they play quite differently from most other tank lists, it takes a while to learn to master them on the battlefield. But if you give them a chance, they can give most enemy forces a very unpleasant surprise.

Happy gaming!

~ Jorge.