Wednesday, 8 December 2021

Second World War Russian infantry in 20mm

After a break of several decades I returned to miniature gaming in 2011 when my interest was reignited by the Crossfire rules. Despite the fact I hadn't been playing games with miniatures for many years I never stopped playing wargames or making models. I just did the two separately. I made scale models for display and scratched my gaming itch playing hex and counter wargames. This was the moment when the model making and gaming were reunited and was to take me down the path that led to Chain of Command. 

The Crossfire rules work particularly well for actions in close terrain, like city fights. So, with battles like Stalingrad in mind, I set about trying to quickly assemble two opposing forces, which is how I came to collect the Russians in 20mm. 

I'm old enough to be part of the Airfix generation and so my default scale for miniature gaming was always 1/72 (20mm). I'd watched the arrival of 28mm and 15mm from a distance but I felt a natural affinity towards 1/72 which, in my opinion, works well for the Second World War. The sets from the Plastic Soldier Company seemed ideal and provided more than enough figures. 

I discovered Army Painter Quickshade dip and before long I had put together a couple of Russian companies for Crossfire (three figures to a base, each representing one squad). I did the same with the PSC Germans and so the journey back into miniatures began. I scratch built terrain from foamcore and I remember taking the pictures below and feeling very satisfied with my work.

When I first tried out Chain of Command I used the Crossfire figures - even with the multiple basing. Other than coming up with a way to mark individual casualties the multiple basing worked fine, however it wasn't long before I was enthused enough to 'disband' two of my Crossfire companies and rebase the figures individually. 

As a result my initial Russian infantry platoon for CoC started with PSC figures and to this day a few remain in service. If you've been following the blog you will know that slowly I've been replacing most of my older Second World War miniatures with those from the AB Figures range. They are beautifully sculpted and offer a much wider range than PSC (that said, they are metal and considerably more expensive).

The Russian rifle platoon is led by a Leytenant (senior leader) armed with a pistol and these two are from AB. As with all my senior leaders they are on rectangular bases.

This distinguishes them from the junior leaders who are on 20mm round bases, the same as individual soldiers. 

I've tried to set the junior leaders apart from the other ranks by selecting a figure with a distinctive leader-type pose and then adding a few rocks to the base. Once again these are all AB figures.

I've found the combination of the right pose and the rocks does the job without the need for larger or different shaped bases.

In certain situations the Russians are able to have a commissar as a support option. The role of the commissar changed considerably as the war progressed and this is reflected in the rules, with their role developing into less of a political supervisor for the officers and into more of a political inspiration for the men. This commissar figure is based on one of the officers in the PSC plastic set (those older PSC figures are not totally redundant just yet and do still have their uses). 

I've also converted the same pose by replacing the head with a bandaged head from the PSC German set to make a wounded leader.

The basic Russian rifle platoon is made up of three rifle squads, each of ten men, all operating as a single group or team. They are led by a Serzhant (junior leader) who has under his command an LMG crew of two men and seven riflemen. This first picture is the squad made up entirely of my original PSC figures, some of whom still see use. Previously my junior leaders were based on 25mm round bases and you can see one here, but I found those bases took up too big a footprint and so this particular figure is no longer used for Chain of Command.

I had a similar footprint issue with the way I was basing my weapons teams. Originally they were on 40mmx40mm squares, a hangover from how I had based the Crossfire squads. As you can see in the picture below they take up a lot of space for just two figures. In the picture above you'll notice the LMG team is on a smaller base with a more naturalistic edging to help it blend into the terrain. That's how I now base all my weapons teams. If you're interested, there's a blog post here on how I carried out the rebasing.

These days the rifle squads are made up mainly of AB Figures with the odd PSC rifleman to make up the numbers (the squad below has nine AB and a solitary PSC figure). There are unpainted AB Russians in the paint queue that will mean eventually I will field a full complement of AB figures in each squad. Aside from being great sculpts, the AB figures are also correct in having their bayonets attached to their rifles as it was Red Army doctrine to have them on at all times. I'm also able to arm the Serzhant, the squad leader, with an appropriate submachine gun.

Aside from the rifle platoon the Russians can also field a tank rider platoon, the famed tankodesantniki. The size of these squads varied during the war, containing anything between six and eight men. The platoon is commanded by a Leytenant (senior leader) and is made up of three squads of identical composition. Each is commanded by a Serzhant. The men are all armed with the iconic PPSh-41 submachine with supporting fire from a Degtyaryov LMG.

The Cambodian War Museum, which is primarily dedicated to the wars with Vietnam and the Khmer Rouge does feature a fair amount of Soviet equipment, albeit most of it post-war. However they did have a PPSh-41 and, unlike most museums, visitors are free to pick up any of the exhibits. The PPSh-41 is quite heavy (and in this case the magazine was empty) and I'm sure I'm not holding it correctly.

While the squad above is made up exclusively of AB figures, the one below has a Degtyaryov LMG crew from the original PSC plastic set. While I prefer the AB sculpts the PSC figures mix well enough with them if required.

Talking of the Degtyaryov light machine-gun here is one on display in the Spanish Army Museum in Valencia.

If need be I can make up extra SMG squads from the remaining PSC figures. While the PSC set has soldiers armed with both rifles and SMGs it is a bit limiting in that there are only five of each different pose. As the Russians didn't mix up rifle and SMG armed men in the same squads it means with five different SMG poses there is bound to be an element of duplication.

The Red Army made much use of scouts and AB produce a lovely group wearing amoeba suits.

The set includes a number of useful figures including a sniper and a pair that make for a good forward observation team.

SHQ produce one of the few sets that I'm aware of that feature assault engineers wearing body armour. They are all armed for close assault with submachine guns and LMGs as well as a flamethrower. They are one of the few units in this collection not made up with figures from the AB range.

Support options include various forms of infantry anti-tank teams. AB produce a handy set of men armed with anti-tank grenades and panzerfaust. Perfect for those late war scenarios.

You may also have noticed the mine dog and handler. This pair are from SHQ. I have yet to use them in a game but thought it would be useful to have them in the mix. From what I understand this was always something of a desperate measure and not particularly successful. Not sure how true the stories are but I've heard the dogs were not able to distinguish between tanks and so a Russian tank was as good to run under as a German one. It may be apocryphal but for whatever reasons it was a tactic soon abandoned by the Red Army.

On a more practical and far more effective level, a Russian platoon would appreciate the support of a Maxim MMG team and this one is from AB.

Below is a maxim in the Spanish Army Museum, which looks like a model from the 1930s and probably goes back to the era of the Spanish Civil War.

I've seen several figures firing the Maxim in a sitting position, not just in 20mm but in every scale, however I'm not sure whether this is based on actual fact or the perpetuation of an error. The weapon doesn't appear to be designed to be fired from a seated position without the firer exposed above the gun shield and with their knees bent almost up to their hands. That strikes me as not only uncomfortable but also hazardous, presenting too big a target. 

Quick research reveals photographic evidence from the period of the weapon fired from a prone position and I'm inclined to think AB have got this one right. Interestingly if you look at the Maxim pictured above from the Spanish Army Museum there is a wooden device attached to the legs that looks like it might be intended as an elbow rest for the person firing. Looking at the images below that would make sense if it was.

Neither AB or PSC make a team and gun for the DShK 12.7mm heavy machine gun and so my solution has been to use the AB maxim crew with a gun from MMS. MMS also produce a crew for the gun but I have found their figures to be rather small and slim in comparison to AB and so decided not to use those.

A 50mm mortar was a very common platoon support and this one comes from the PSC Russian Heavy Weapons Support set. I have to say it's probably my least favourite piece in the Russian collection. The figures look very clunky but for now it serves its purpose.

The Russians continued to make use of their AT rifles long after other nations had stopped. They still packed a powerful punch and an operator that knew how to find the weak spots in German armour could cause damage. Here are two AT rifle teams, both from AB.

While there is a good sniper figure in the AB Russian scout set I already have this sniper team that I made using the plastic figures that come with the Zvezda Scout set. I like that they feature a female sniper, a nice acknowledgement of their service in this role.

That covers off the core infantry units and supports, then there are the heavier support options including anti-tank guns and artillery (I will cover Russian armour in a different post). 

This 45mm AT gun is from the Plastic Soldier Company with a crew from AB. The gun comes in a set that allows you to make up two versions of the 45mm AT gun. The earlier 1937 model with a shorter barrel or the 1942 model. The one below is the 1937 model.

Both guns used the same gun carriage and so it's really just a matter of selecting the appropriate barrel when making the kits. Below is the same PSC kit but with the 1942 model 45mm gun. In this case the three crew on the base with the gun come from the original PSC crews that come with the set, the gun commander and other crew member are from AB.

PSC also make the 57mm Bis-2 anti tank gun, a considerably more potent anti-tank weapon than the earlier 45mm. Once again the crew on the base are from the PSC set and the other two are from AB.

The barrel on the 57mm is extraordinarily long and seems even more so when you see one up close, like the one below which I saw on display at the Musee Des Blindes in Saumur.

And this one at the Military Museum in Beijing.

Close range artillery support comes in the form of this M1927 76.2mm regimental gun, a plastic kit from Zvezda with a crew of mixed figures from PSC and AB.

The Zis-3 76mm gun provided both AT and HE support and was a widely used weapon. This gun is from the PSC set and all the crew are from AB.

While I will cover Russian armour in a separate post I think the SU-76 probably deserves a mention here. The T-70 light tank may not have been a huge success but the modifications made to the chassis to lengthen it and add an extra road wheel formed the basis for the SU-76, a self propelled version of the Zis-3 gun that was designed as an infantry regiment close-support asset. These were produced in very large numbers, second only to the T-34 and provided infantry regiments with considerable additional mobile fire support as the war progressed. This is the plastic kit from UM Models out of Ukraine.

Another vehicle more likely to be seen in a platoon level game like Chain of Command is a GAZ jeep, this is one from S-models with passengers from AB.


  1. Bit of a pedantic note about the PSC 45mm AT gun kit - both barrel lengths the kit offers are 45mm, the shorter one is the model 1937 and the longer is the model 1942. There was a similar looking 37mm Soviet gun, but it was nowhere near as common at the 45 and has a different carriage with older style wheels. Wikipedia (always reliable, of course) suggests 500-some 37mm guns produced compared to 37,000-odd M1937 and M1942 45mm guns made.

    1. You know, I know that, must have just had a brain fart or got confused with the German 37mm. You are totally correct - short barrel and long barrelled 45mm. I'll go back in and correct it, thanks for pointing it out.

  2. For some reasonyour photos of the figures for Crossfire at the start seem to have more brown in the color than the later photos. My impression of Soviet uniform color was more fo a brownish khaki than an actual green while most of your figures look very green in the photos. Not sure if it's light ing or not, but the uniforms in most of them look off for the basic uniform color.Otherwise, lovely painting on the figures.


    1. I did paint those earlier figures a shade of khaki but I’m much less convinced that’s accurate. A bit like the seated maxim gunner I think it’s the perpetuation of a colour that was made popular in the 60s when little was known about Soviet uniforms. The more I see the more I’m convinced the colour was greener but one that could fade over time. I see little evidence that soldiers wore their clothes out, they seemed to be regularly replaced, so I’m not sure how common faded uniforms would actually be. But hey, it’s like arguing over the “correct” shade of feldgrau. Millions of uniforms made in hundreds of factories using variations of dyestuffs over several years make me inclined to think variety was common at the best of times..

  3. That is a lovely presented post, thanks for taking the time to do it and sharing your thoughts on force creation. Your brushwork does bring out the best in the sculpts. I know you dipped into 12mm and guess you have been having a tug-of-war of which scale to support, is the 12mm still a live project?

    1. Yes, 12mm is very much alive and kicking. I'm using it for company and battalion level games and have been trying out the O Group rules (which I am liking). Also used them to introduce a friend to Crossfire. I'm due a blog post to bring it up to date but at the moment 20mm is great for skirmish/platoon level and 12mm for higher levels of organisation.

    2. Look forward to the OG update

  4. Great looking miniatures and plenty of them. Nice job! I liked the pics of the real thing interspersed throughout.
    You really nailed the awful color of Russian green. It’s a terrible color and makes me cringe. I did a lot of cringing while reading this post. 😀😀

    1. LOL, just wait until I do the post on Soviet armour, they come in any colour you like as long as it's....that green.

    2. I would be interested in the colours you have chosen. Iam thinking giveing my russians a go, but struggle with the green uniforms.

    3. The base colour is Vallejo Russian Uniform and I highlight with a mix of that and Buff. Some say that is too green but I’m happy with the results.

    4. Oh totaly forgot about this question. Well I like it its visually more interesting then the next kahki horde.

  5. Wow, great looking figures, and a wide variety as well.

    Those PSC plastic snipers really illustrate one of the advantages of plastic... it would be hard to make those gun barrels in any other material.

    1. Thanks, glad you liked them. The two snipers are actually from Zvezda but they are also plastic and I completely agree with your point.

  6. Very good. Looking forward to seeing the vehicles now!