Hammers of the Proletariat
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
March 2016

The term “Iron Curtain” had been used by others, but became widely known once Winston Churchill used it in a March, 1946, speech in Fulton, Missouri. A “Cold War” between the Soviet Union and the Western democracies had been brewing since the end of World War II, but Churchill’s public attack brought it into the open.

How likely was open, “hot” war between the United States and the Soviet Union? While domestic politics drove both sides to overstate the threat at times, at other points there’s little doubt a Third World War could easily have broken out. Casualties would have dwarfed anything in human experience. Both sides armed themselves for it, both trained and planned for it. And built a bewildering array of weapons to fight it.

And now we’re giving you those weapons. John Stafford has created a fine addition to the Panzer Grenadier lineup with Iron Curtain: Hammer & Sickle. It has 77 die-cut playing pieces, 20 brand-new scenarios and a complete campaign game. The fear is over, and turning it into fun is a fine way to bury it.

The Soviet Armory

Hammer & Sickle’s scenarios draw heavily on Road to Berlin for the Soviet order of battle. The module has 56 new Soviet Guards pieces and 21 for the Soviet Army (formerly known as the Red Army of Workers and Peasants).


There’s only one new type of personnel unit in the module, the Soviet Guards “AK” infantry. These are troops armed with the Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle, a weapon decades ahead of its time when it was adopted in 1947. It took quite a while for it to become the Red Army’s standard weapon, and into the mid-1950’s the overwhelming majority of Soviet troops still carried the Moisin-Nagant bolt action rifle or the much-less-capable SKS assault rifle.

We’ve always veered away from rifle-counting in Panzer Grenadier, as in all our games. Firepower represents more than just the number of bullets a unit can pump out; not least, it also represents the willingness to fire these weapons and the ability to hit something with them.

The Germans introduced their own assault rifle in late 1944, and we only upped their firepower slightly (though a German GREN unit of 1944 represents fewer men than an INF of 1941). The AK-47 represented such a leap in capability that the doubling of Guard infantry firepower seemed warranted. These are the most potent infantry units presented in Panzer Grenadier.

Medium Tanks

There’s only one new medium tank, but there are a lot of them. The T-44 was a re-design of the T-34/85, which had been intended as a stopgap vehicle matching the turret of the KV-85 and the chassis of the T-34/76. It was an enormously successful stopgap, with over 22,000 produced, but Soviet designers knew they could do much better.


The T-44 began to roll off the lines in Kharkhiv in August, 1944. It had a lower profile than the T-34/85 with a re-designed turret and thicker armor protection. A new engine restored the tank’s speed, and it was mounted in “transverse” fashion (side-to-side) to allow the turret to rest at the tank’s center rather than forward positioning in the T-34.

Just under 1,000 T-44’s were made, but none saw action in the Great Patriotic War. Unlike other Soviet tanks, a number of them appear to have been fitted with German-style “skirts” to deflect anti-tank rockets. We included a large number of these tanks in Iron Curtain (12 each for the Guards and Soviet Army), positing that the American challenge would have brought out the Soviet Union’s best.

Heavy Tanks

We know what Panzer Grenadier players have wanted since the beginning: big tanks with big guns. The Soviet Josef Stalin (JS) series is the epitome of heavy metal. We provide two flavors, the JS3 and JS4.


The preceding JS2 heavy tank appeared in Road to Berlin, but the JS3 represented a leap forward in capability. With the “frying pan” turret and “pike’s nose” glacis (front) plate, the JS3 became the model for post-war Soviet tank design. Yet despite its thick armor, Soviet designers thought they could do better, and the JS4 featured even heavier protection at the cost of some performance.

Soviet sources are in agreement that the JS3 saw no combat against the Germans in the great Patriotic War, and the one regiment sent to Manchuria is highly unlikely to have fired any shots in anger during the brief offensive against the Japanese in August, 1945. The JS4 saw no action, and would be withdrawn from service much earlier than contemporary vehicles, due to transmission problems likely brought on by the increased weight of the tank’s extra armor.

In Hammer & Sickle we didn’t skimp on these tanks, either: The Guards have 10 JS3 and eight JS4 pieces, while the Soviet Army adds nine more JS3 pieces.

Assault Guns

The Soviet Union fielded assault guns based on most of its tank chassis, and the T-44 was no exception. We included a pair of Su-101 tank destroyers in the mix, an experimental vehicle based on a highly modified T-44 chassis (borrowing many parts from the T-34/85 assembly line as well).

The Su-101 was inspired by the German “Ferdinand” tank destroyer, and carried a 100mm gun in a lightly armored compartment on the rear of the vehicle. Unlike Ferdinand, or the Soviet designers of the Su-100, the Uralmash team that built this prototype remembered to include machine guns for defense against infantry. Hammer & Sickle has two of them, and they are very effective units.

Click here to order Hammer & Sickle now!

Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.