World War 2.5 – Gaming An Alternate History [Part One]

February 16, 2015 by crew

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There’s an old saying: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” But is that always true? Consider the delicate and uncertain partnership between the “Allies” during World War II. There was open gunfire between the British and French, and jagged mistrust between the British and the Americans. Even Americans and French engaged in full-fledged battle when US troops first encountered Vichy garrisons in North Africa.

All of this paled, however, compared to the paranoia and animosity simmering between the Western Allies and Soviet Russia. These are factions that would have been happy to go to war with each other, if the Third Reich hadn’t been standing between them. Perhaps it’s a fitting measure of Hitler’s evil that he managed to get men like Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin around the same table, striving for his downfall.

But what if this alliance hadn't held?

Meeting of Minds

“World War 2.5” is a project that postulates what might have happened if a “hot war” had broken out in Central Europe in the near-immediate aftermath of World War II. Maybe the Potsdam Conference went badly, maybe the 1948 Berlin Airlift was forcibly opposed by the Soviets? Maybe Winston Churchill remained in office and his anti-Bolshevik belligerence triggered an incident. Maybe Patton didn’t die in that car crash, and his blustering about settling accounts with the “mongol Russians” sparked the fateful conflagration. Maybe Stalin’s paranoia got the best of him after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and he decided to strike before the Americans could build a viable nuclear stockpile.

Of course, we’re not saying such a war was likely, or could have happened at all. Nor are we forwarding a specific reason “World War 2.5” might have started, such questions are not in the scope of this project. Suffice it to say that it’s the summer of 1946 and somehow or another, the unthinkable has happened in Germany and the Soviets have reached a point where they “have no choice” but to strike. The Soviet armies that just liberated Mother Russia and stormed the Reichstag are now pitted against men who landed at Normandy. World War “2.5” has begun.

Big Guns!

Naturally, it would take more than a few articles to properly envision the totality of such a nightmare scenario so we’ll just focus on part of the air-ground war in central Germany, where four Soviet “Fronts” (roughly equivalent to a western “Army” or “Army Group”) will deliver the main Soviet strike. Their objectives are to achieve a breakthrough, push on the industrial heartland of the Ruhr, and perhaps even cross the Rhine. This axis of attack is no accident, landing at the junction between the US occupation zones of Hesse and Bavaria in the south, and the British occupation zones in Westphalia and Lower Saxony to the north. Of course, this also gives us the opportunity as gamers to put our post-war Soviets up against both post-war Americans and post-war British.

Campaign Map

Within this proposed campaign area, we find our Soviets facing off against General Hodges’ US First Army (12th Army Group) and General Dempsey’s British Second Army (part of the newly-formed British Army of the Rhine). The French First Army is also deployed further back in their Rhineland occupation zone, and there are even a handful of small re-armed West German units. Perhaps these are the nascent beginnings of what will eventually become the “Bundeswehr,” their creation accelerated by the impending threat of our scenario.

Americans Vs Soviets & Poles

The date is June 1, 1946. The Soviet offensive begins. To the north, ten Soviet divisions drive on Hamburg, aiming for Bremen, the Danish border, and perhaps the mouth of the Rhine. To the south, two more fronts invade Bavaria from Czechoslovakia, while a small operational group drives into Austria and Italy from Hungary and Yugoslavia. These are just holding actions, however, designed to prevent reinforcement against the main Soviet strike in central Germany, delivered through corridors ranging from Hannover in the north to Nuremburg in the south. Meanwhile, still more Soviet forces surround the Allied garrisons in West Berlin, which the Soviets promise will be exterminated without mercy if the Americans dare reach for their very small stockpile of atomic weapons.

As big as it is, the Soviet Army has of course suffered terrible losses in World War II, and so cannot simply roll across Germany in a “Red Steamroller.” Likewise, the American and British have drawn down their “citizen armies” to a fraction of their 1945 levels, compelled by popular opinion and exhausted economies. Not only were these considerations baked into the campaign for plausibility reasons, but also to keep the game manageable and allow more room for manoeuvre.

Clash of Armour

Of course we’re not playing everything on the divisional scale with hex grids and counters. Sooner or later we have to “get down in the dirt” and engage in eyeball-to-eyeball combat. Accordingly, we decided to try out the great “Battlegroup” system (as in “Battlegroup Kursk” from Iron Fist Publishing) to run our 15mm tabletop games. Granted, we've had to come up with some of our own data cards, army lists, and scenarios since Battlegroup doesn't have a “1946” campaign book, but the system is amazing and highly recommended.

For our first miniatures battle, we decided to recreate a small portion of the “Fulda Gap Breakthrough” described in the map above. Here, elements of American “Combat Command A” of 7th Armoured Division tries to hold the spearhead of Soviet guards armour while heavier American tanks of 2nd Armoured Division rush to reinforce their comrades.

Setting the Stage

The Soviets came in from the northeast, with a platoon of post-war IS-3 (Stalin 3) heavy tanks pushing up on the right wing, three SU-100 tank destroyers pushing up on the left wing, and a reinforced platoon of infantry up the central road. This infantry was supported by an immense ISU-152 assault howitzer, which the Soviets hoped to use to suppress American infantry positions. This was especially vital since this scenario envisioned the Soviets as a vanguard “breakthrough force,” already pushing deep into American lines and perhaps out of range of their own supporting artillery.

Soviet Push

Admittedly, I’m still something of a novice when it comes to the Battlegroup system but already I love how it can create great narrative moments on the table top. One such moment came when the Soviet IS-3s tried to outflank the American screen of M24 Chaffee light tanks, and the first IS-3 was wrecked by some incredibly lucky American bazooka teams. When you lose a unit in Battlegroup, you have to reach into a pot and blind-draw a counter which tells you how many “Battle Rating” points your battle group has just lost. But there are also “special counters” in the pot, and sure enough, the Soviets drew a “Beyond the Call of Duty” counter which allowed another of their IS-3s to take an extra order (in this case, a double-shot “Open Fire” order).

Chaos Erupts

So even as the first IS-3 burned, the second enraged crew was putting down a hideous, superhuman amount of firepower, pretty much mangling the whole American left wing. When the Americans drew their required counters for unit destruction, they drew a “Break Down” counter (which you play on enemy units, in this case the runaway IS-3). However the IS-3 crew rolled a “1” on the Breakdown Table, which allowed theses “Heroes of the Soviet Union” to keep driving despite the clanking noise. “You been drinking our brake fluid again, Yuri?”

American Reinforcements

The Americans were getting some lucky breaks as well. To the south, their 76mm-armed Shermans shot the SU-100s tank destroyers to bloody ribbons, firing from under cover in a small German farmyard. One of the surviving M24 Chaffee light tanks managed to get around the side of the ISU-152 assault gun (after it had “Broken Down” as well), and eventually took the beast down with flanking fire. Things really seemed to be turning around when the three American M26 “Pershing” heavy tanks arrived, perhaps at last providing a counter to the Soviet IS-3 heavies.


Fortunately for the Soviets, they finally started rolling the required 5+ for the arrival of their air strikes. The first IL-2 “Sturmovik” ground attack plane took out the lead Pershing, a second Pershing falling to one of the IS-3s (even as an IS-3 blew up when hit with a Pershing’s 90mm gun). The final Soviet air strike eventually took out the last Pershing, effectively winning the game for the Soviets. Although this vanguard has been mauled beyond repair, it seems they have kicked open the door for follow-on forces and the Soviet advance through the Fulda Gap can continue.

Air Strike!

How do you like our “World War 2.5” campaign so far? Comment below with questions and more then check back when our next article publishes to see how the British are doing in the north.

The Series:-

James Johnson

If you would like to write an article for Beasts of War then please contact me at [email protected] for more information!

"Perhaps it’s a fitting measure of Hitler’s evil that he managed to get men like Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin around the same table, striving for his downfall..."

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"Of course we’re not playing everything on the divisional scale with hex grids and counters. Sooner or later we have to “get down in the dirt” and engage in eyeball-to-eyeball combat..."

Supported by (Turn Off)