In 1929 the Soviet Red Army and Chinese forces clashed in the Sino-Soviet War, described as the war nobody knew!
I knew the basic background to this war, but bought this book earlier this year – not only does it outline the course of the war in detail, but it presents a good historical perspective that covers the Boxer Rebellion and Chinese Warlord period that took place in the years leading up to the war. Those are both conflicts that I’ve got 20mm wargames armies for, so it’s a useful reference book for me. Basically, in 1929 the Chinese decided to take over the Chinese Eastern Railway, something that had been up until that point a joint Russian-Chinese-operated venture. The railway ran through Manchuria and provided a much shorter route to the Russian port of Vladivostok than the more northerly rail link that ran through Russian territory. The Soviets, however, were having none of it and resolved to use force to address the situation!
The fighting lasted through the late summer and autumn of 1929, finishing at the end of November, so this week’s wargame was near enough a 90th anniversary game. Given that this is a little-known conflict, it was more by good luck than good management that I actually had 20mm troops available. Russian Civil War Red Army figures are spot on for the Russians, and for the opposition I’ve got Chinese 1920s troops and WW2 figures in winter clothing. The only items I specifically bought for this conflict were two 3D-printed Russian T-18 tanks (painted earlier this year).
For the wargame, the action hinged around the fictional rail halt of Ukphup Junction (shown above). The Red Army’s objective was to capture the train and rolling stock shown top centre of the picture. This had to be achieved in eight moves, or the Chinese would manage to get up steam and back the train up the line to safety (up and out of the picture above).
The Russians had received reasonable intelligence info from their spies in the town up until two days before the attack, at which point the Chinese had rounded up any remaining Russian nationals and shipped them out until tensions died down. This info indicated that three companies of infantry garrisoned the town around the station building, machine guns and barbed wire covered approaches from the east (right of picture), a bunker covered the approach of the railway itself from the south (the bunker is smack in the middle of the picture) and a heavy mortar position had been completed near the coaling station at the north end of the town (top of picture). The Chinese commander had billeted himself away from his troops in the comfortable villa to the west of the picture (top left) and rarely seemed to tour any of his garrison’s positions. The Chinese forces available for the game are shown below.
The Red Army decided to attack shortly after dawn. Their tactical reconnaissance was good and they identified most of the Chinese forces. Unfortunately, in the two days between the Russian spies being rounded up and the attack starting, the Chinese commander had taken delivery of a tank platoon (one FT-17 tank), which he “deployed” in the outbuildings of his villa and which remained hidden from prying eyes! In addition, a brand new 20mm anti-tank gun had been delivered and stored in the arsenal building in the middle of the town, again unseen by the Russians or their agents.
The Russians allocated three infantry companies to the operation, supported by a machine gun platoon, an artillery section (one horse-drawn 76.2mm gun), a cavalry troop for scouting and a light tank platoon (two T-18 tanks, made available because the Russians knew the Chinese army possessed tanks). Although the numbers of infantry appear similar, the Red Army companies were at full strength and contained integral light machine gun sections, giving the Red Army a 50% advantage in numbers but with twice the firepower of the Chinese infantry. The Red Army forces available for the game are shown below.
The Russians were allowed start their attack from anywhere to the east and south of the town. The Russian commander elected to deploy all of his forces along the left hand half of the lower table edge, with the artillery and tanks deployed on his left flank and most of the infantry on the right flank facing the Chinese centre.
The attack caught the Chinese completely off guard and two Soviet infantry companies fought their way into the buildings on the south side of the muddy track through the town, eliminating one of the Chinese companies without taking heavy casualties themselves. Recovering from their shock, the Chinese moved an infantry company from the station building across to the makeshift barricade running from the villa to the small shrine, but machine gun fire from the two Soviet T-18s inflicted casualties on this unit.
The Chinese FT-17 moved out of the villa to engage the T-18s and failed miserably, but the Chinese heavy mortar crew managed to bring fire right down on the two Russian tanks, riddling them both with heavy splinters, destroying the engine in one and causing the other to suddenly explode after its punctured fuel tank ignited!
The Chinese anti-tank gun crew deployed in the town but were cut down by fire from the buildings occupied by the Russians. As the Chinese infantry facing the eastern side of the town started to move to the station building to support their comrades at the shrine, the Soviets overran that position completely and eliminated the defending infantry. The Chinese reaching the station were quick to take action however, and the Russian infantry at the shrine were cut down in the open. At this point, even with severely depleted forces, the Chinese managed to slow the Soviet advance, with the remaining infantry and machine gun crew trading shots with the Soviets as the heavy mortar team brought down effective fire on the 76.2mm gun.
However, the Russians were now managing to flank the Chinese from the west, occupying the villa and engaging the last Chinese infantry around the station building. The Chinese FT-17 and immobilised T-18 traded shots with little effect until the Soviet 76.2mm gun managed to hit the FT-17 on its side and blow it to pieces! As the Chinese commander made good his escape to the north on foot, the Russians managed to eliminate the last of the Chinese defenders and capture the train (on Move 8 – just in time)!
It was a good game that moved along quickly, but with ups and downs along the way! I commanded the Chinese and so lost this time round, but didn’t mind. My mate John led the Red Army to victory, defeating the Chinese in spite of mounting casualties! I’d made some adjustments to my rules, mainly with the aim of simplifying things and speeding the game up, and that worked well. The game seemed fast and bloody (and, appropriately, had a very pulp-fiction-era combat feel to it) but that’s because we got the same result in two hours that would normally have take at least twice that time. For all that, though, it seemed to go as might be expected, but with enough hiccups along the way to not make it a walkover for the victors. I also wanted rules that would work reasonably well for both WW1 and WW2 and what better than try them out on a war that took place mid-way between those two conflicts!