A long time ago (2008) we released a Panzer Grenadier book called First Axis. It focused on Slovakia’s army and its role fighting at first for and then against Nazi Germany. I have a great fondness for the “quirks of history,” and the Slovak experience of the Eastern Front certainly fits that description.
Eventually we stopped printing First Axis; like many of our older books it required a great many other games in order to play all of the scenarios, and as those fell out of print First Axis became much less attractive to new Panzer Grenadier players. And then, searching for something else in the warehouse (Plan Z pieces), it struck me that the time had come to return the Slovakian Army to action.
We had plenty of pieces from the old First Axis book, but we also had plenty for another out-of-print book called Sinister Forces. Those featured heavily in the First Axis scenario set (they include Waffen SS, NVKD and Soviet Partisan units), and I realized that we’re unlikely to re-issue Sinister Forces (it draws on even more out-of-print books and games for pieces and maps than did First Axis).
Slovakia’s War, therefore, includes the pieces from both First Axis (88 of them) and Sinister Forces (165 more) for 253 total. They’ve been in storage for years, but they’ve been wrapped in plastic and are still in perfect condition. They needed to be used, not tossed out. And so I proceeded to use them.
Slovakia’s War includes 23 scenarios from the old First Axis, re-worked to use those 253 pieces (not all of them at once) and the pieces and/or maps from Fire in the Steppe and Broken Axis. Some needed more re-working than others; a couple of them also just needed to be better than they were. There are three chapters: the War in Russia, the Partisan War, and the National Uprising.
The War in Russia mostly shows the brigade-sized Slovak Mobile Division during the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union. The Slovaks are the most minor of Axis allies, and despite their organic tank support (Czech-made LT34, LT35 and LT38 light tanks, the latter two models still considered front-line vehicles in 1941 by the Germans) the German command doesn’t trust them with difficult missions.
There are 10 scenarios in this segment, four from the early weeks of the invasion, when the Slovaks aren’t very good but have tank support and a little enthusiasm. Then things start to go wrong, and the Slovak high command withdraws all of the tanks, officially for “maintenance” but likely to prevent the Germans’ seizing them and giving them to crews and commanders who actually know how to use them. The Slovaks then fight a river crossing that probably never happened (though the division command claimed that it did).
We have two scenarios from the one successful operation waged by the Slovaks, in the 1942 offensive toward Rostov and the Caucasus. And then we wrap the section with one scenario each from 1943 and 1944, when the remnants of the Mobile Division are exposed to front-line combat with decidedly poor results.
The Slovaks saw more action against Soviet partisans, most of it at a level too low for Panzer Grenadier’s scale. The Slovaks showed themselves just as willing to commit atrocities as their German mentors, or at least some of them did – many instead fled and joined the Partisans fighting their former comrades. We have three scenarios of Slovaks against Partisans, including one where a Slovak tank unit is trying to switch sides.
And in the last segment, also with ten scenarios, the Slovaks turn against the Germans. They’re still pretty inept, managing to get all of their regulars disarmed in the uprising’s first hours. So the fighting is undertaken by the scrapings of Slovak garrisons reinforced by Partisans and some truly tough NKVD cadres. The Slovaks square off against some SS units that aren’t that much better than they are at this whole combat thing, and some German panzer trainees who are slightly better than the uniformed criminals, but not by much.
The original First Axis included a set of five scenarios from the 1939 Slovak-Hungarian War (yes, this is a thing that really happened). It was sad to delete them, and I’ll have to find an excuse to somehow return them to print.
Slovakia had been the neglected half of the Czecho-Slovak republic, with much lower standards of education. On top of that, Czech prejudice kept Slovaks out of the Army’s officer corps in anything approaching their proportion of the population. The independent Slovak Army faced a serious shortage of officers and NCO’s, with a low level of skill and commitment among those they did have.
Upon independence, Slovakia became the only Slavic member of the Axis alliance. That move was probably politically necessary to avoid total absorption into Hungary, but it exposed the Slovak troops to unrelenting racist attitudes and propaganda aimed squarely at their own ethnicity. With the Germans proclaiming Slavs unfit for anything beyond agricultural slavery, it’s no wonder that Slovak soldiers proved unwilling to fight for such ideals. Soldiers and officers openly displayed their anti-fascist attitudes and suffered no reprisals from their own chain of command.
Slovakia’s War has 84 Slovak pieces. They have some tanks (primarily Czech-built light tanks, but a few German-made models that they get to turn against their former masters during the Uprising). The infantry’s well-armed, with Czech-made vz.24 rifles (also used by the Germans) and VB26 light machine guns (the so-called “Bren gun,” used by the British Army and the Germans as well). They have good artillery (Czech 100mm and German 105mm howitzers) and their anti-tank capability is no worse than that of the Germans in 1941 (but still not vey good).
The problem is that the troops manning those weapons just aren’t very willing. Morale and initiative are usually pretty low in scenarios. When you look at the leader pieces, there are an awful lot of zeroes in the lower corners.
The Waffen SS aren’t a whole lot better – these are the thugs of the actual SS party militia, not the Aryan heroes of Nazi-fanboy fantasy. The formations encountered by the Slovaks were those raised to murder Jews and others, not to fight enemies who might actually shoot back. The Partisans aren’t trained soldiers, and they’re not really suited to stand-up battles.
The NKVD troops were by no means an elite fighting force, but the units that appear in Slovakia’s War scenarios are the hard-core cadres parachuted or otherwise infiltrated behind Axis lines to train the Partisans and give them a hard core of experienced fighters.
The Sinister Forces pieces include a number of pieces that won’t see action in Slovakia’s War (Finnish and Norwegian mercenaries, and most of the SS tanks). We left them in there, as there didn’t seem to be much point in cutting the sheet apart, so you can play with them in your own scenarios.
And that’s Slovakia’s War. It’s a fun little addition to Panzer Grenadier, probably best suited to hard-core players. But it’s not like you’re going to get many other chances to send the Slovaks into battle.
Send the Slovaks into battle! Click here to order Slovakia’s War.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and NASA Journalist in Space finalist, he has published a regrettable number of books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold. Leopold knows nothing of Slovakia.