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Panzer Grenadier: Sinister Forces
A Preview
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
January 2013

Sinister Forces was the first “supplement with pieces” we published for the Panzer Grenadier system. Sinister Forces concentrates on the Eastern Front, 1941-1942, with some scenarios taking place at other times and places. It includes 35 scenarios and 165 die-cut and mounted playing pieces. Here’s a look at some of the more unusual of them.


Gamers and history buffs have always been fascinated by German use of captured enemy tanks and armored vehicles; I’ve never really understood why. They were usually not as good as German models, and even for superior vehicles, maintaining them proved pretty much impossible. Mechanics could not get their hands on spare parts, ammunition often proved hard to come by, and many times the tanks only fell into German hands in the first place because they’d already suffered some kind of breakdown.

The Pz 747r is the Soviet T-34/76; the Germans lumped all models under this one designation. Official figures are always very low for overall totals of this tank in German service, but anecdotal evidence and unit records indicate that front-line units often put them to use and ran them hard until they broke down for good. The SS Viking Division was one of these; other SS units took T-34/76 tanks into action at Kursk.

French armored vehicles, on the other hand, were carefully cataloged and issued with the same bureaucratic care as standard-issue German vehicles. The Pz B2 is the Char B-1 bis heavy tank with only minor modifications for German service. This tank had a 75mm howitzer in its forward hull for infantry support, and a 47mm gun in a turret to fight tanks. It also had reasonably thick armor for 1940, when it served as one of France’s main battle tanks.

It was too slow for widespread use under German doctrine, and of course there was that maintenance problem. Some of them were converted to flamethrowing tanks, with a flamethrower in place of the 75mm gun, and were designated Pz B2 flamm (shortened to B2f to fit on our game piece). Examples of both types went to Yugoslavia with the 7th SS Mountain Division.


The NKVD’s OMSBON commandos represent highly trained specialists, many of them former soccer players (but they were tough soccer players — really). They were armed with submachine guns and knew how to use them. This unit is has the highest firepower of any infantry piece yet presented in the Panzer Grenadier series.

Partisans, on the other hand, were armed with whatever came to hand: discarded weapons salvaged from the battlefield, stolen German weapons, Red Army issue infiltrated to them by air. Strict Party rules stated that unarmed men and women were not to have their lives thrown away needlessly, and partisans who went into battle almost always did so well-armed.


While many (actually, almost all) of the SS formations portrayed in Sinister Forces are inept warriors on their best days, the Norwegian skiers and Finnish mercenaries were quite accomplished, especially the Finns, and so are represented by their own game pieces. The Finnish units, while officially equipped by the Waffen SS, had acquired large numbers of submachine guns from Finnish Army sources to increase their firepower.

Despite the obsession with the modern, the Waffen SS also had a weak spot for the horse. Cavalry regiments in the old Imperial Army, and to a lesser extent in the new Nazi state’s regular Army, represented bastions of privilege where officer rolls were filled with noble predicates. By forming its own cavalry units, the Waffen SS hoped to project the image of a class-free society, where farmers and working men could ride and fight — and in particular, participate in equestrian sports — just like counts and dukes. The SS cavalry was never very good as a battlefield force, but then, neither was the regular Army’s cavalry.


While Waffen SS troops were not generally as capable as their regular comrades during this period, the opposite was true for the Soviet Union’s political troops. NKVD rankers served three years rather than the two put in by the regular army, and they contained a much higher proportion of party members.

NKVD rifle and machine gun platoons were organized similarly to those of the Red Army. They are more capable in game terms due to their greater training and experience, though the weapons are usually about the same. NKVD units do have a higher proportion of machine gunners than Red Army line units; there’s a reason we called this book Sinister Forces.

The anti-tank rifle platoons appeared in very late 1941, in both the Red Army and NKVD. Unlike other armies, Soviet practice concentrated these weapons (usually 14.5mm) in their own units, with regiments sporting a company of them. While useless against actual tanks, they could be devastating against lightly armored vehicles like half-tracks and armored cars.

The 220mm mortar was a huge piece produced in 1915 by Schneider-Creusot for the French Army. A number of them were captured by the Germans in 1940, and the next year were issued to the Police Division’s artillery regiment. The big mortar was difficult to transport and had a shorter range than a standard heavy artillery piece, but the SS stood behind the Army at the time for deliveries of artillery pieces, and the Police Division in turn stood behind the “real” SS divisions.

NKVD divisions did not include their own organic artillery, though they sometimes had Red Army corps- or army-level assets attached to them. The heaviest weapons on the NKVD roster were light mortars and anti-tank guns. To make up for this shortcoming, NKVD divisions and brigades did usually have several armored trains attached, and these were often more modern than their Red Army counterparts.

Volkswagen’s Kubelwagen was used by the Army as a staff car, but the Waffen SS seized on it as a means to create “fast” motorized units. By late 1942, several of the divisions had “fast” motorized infantry regiments using these heavy cars instead of trucks. The Waffen SS units that went to the Eastern Front in 1941 were almost all motorized, but they had been issued French trucks that suffered very high breakdown rates on the rough Russian roads and could not be easily repaired due to a lack of spare parts. The Kubelwagen could be obtained far more easily than military-grade German trucks, a sector where the Army had a stranglehold on new production. And Volkswagen had a close relationship with the National Socialist Party and the SS in particular, with an enthusiasm for "expendable" slave labor that shocked even SS liaison officers.


Armored personnel carriers came in several types, with the light SPW 250 and medium SPW 251 the most common for carrying infantry. Waffen SS units with halftracks during the period covered by Sinister Forces were almost exclusively reconnaissance troops, who usually had the light SPW 250. And it’s a model we haven’t seen before in the Panzer Grenadier series, so we wanted to include it.

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