Spotlight: Bronekaters on the Danube

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At Budapest, the Danube river swells to a formidable 560m at its widest point, a mighty obstacle for the rampaging Russians.

While several bridges spanned the Danube in multiple places, Soviet forces often found themselves needing to rapidly ford the river.

Budapest was once two cities, divided by the mighty Danube river. Pest, on the east bank, is flat
and covered in the sprawling but ornate 19th-century apartment buildings stretching out from the Danube to
where the Hungarian plain begins. Invaders from the east had always come from this direction before hitting the dramatic change in geography on the western bank that is Buda.

Here the terrain becomes hilly and features surviving medieval fortifications. This high ground dominates the
low-lying eastern half of the city. The small rocky mountains of Gellért Hill and Castle Hill provided the
cities defenders with unparalleled observation points and fortifications in the form of the Baroque Hungarian Royal Palace and the Citadel.

While several bridges spanned the Danube in multiple places, Soviet forces often found themselves needing to rapidly ford the river.

The Bronekater

The tank-ships were tough and versatile, designed to be light enough to be lifted out of the water and carried by train to where they were needed.

Cost: 240pts (Inexperienced), 300pts (Regular), 360pts (Veteran).
Weapons: 1 turret-mounted medium anti-tank gun with co-axial MMG, 3 turret-mounted MMGs (each in its own turret)
Damage value: 9+ (Medium Tank).
Transport: Up to 12 men.
Options: Upgrade 1 turret-mounted MMG to a medium anti-tank gun with co-axial MMG for +65pts
Replace 1 turret-mounted medium anti-tank gun and co-axial MMG with 1 Katyusha multiple rocket launcher (heavy mortar, multiple launcher) for free
Upgrade any turret-mounted MMG (except co-axial ones) to
twin MMGs (+10pts each), or to a single HMG (+10pts each),
or to twin HMGs (+30pts each)
Special Rules: Armoured gunboat: No modifiers apply for penetration, all shots count the full armour value. Also, to take into account the Bronekater’s size, discard the first damage roll that equal or beats its Damage Value
Waterborne: May only move in areas of deep or shallow water
being treated as a tracked vehicle for speed and turning ability

The Eastern Front included a surprising amount of coastal and riverine warfare, a fascinating fact commonly obscured by the mammoth scale of the fighting taking place elsewhere. Around the Crimean peninsula and the sea of Azov to the south, and across the Gulf of Finland and the lakes of the Leningrad front in the north, Soviet forces fought from a variety of vessels. Some of the most successful of these were the
‘Bronekater’-style of armoured boats frequently referred to as ‘tankships’.

These were armoured, steel-hulled vessels commonly equipped with one or two tank turrets (initially T-28 or BT-7 turrets, but switched to T-34 turrets from 1940), and several minor turrets mounting machine guns. After 1942, some versions of the type 1124 armoured gunboat replaced one of their tank turrets with a Katyusha rocket launcher for direct artillery support.

The tank-ships were tough and versatile, designed to be light enough to be lifted out of the water and carried by train to where they were needed. Though the early gunboats displaced thirty tons or less, later types tipped the scales at almost fifty tons. With a laden draft of less than a meter, Bronekaters were used to patrol
coastal areas, lakes and rivers, including the Azov, Dnepr, Volga and Danube. They also acted as landing craft for Naval commando forces.

In game terms, such an armoured gunboat functions using the tank rules with turrets and weapons appropriate to the model available. While these vessels were less thickly armoured than a conventional
tank, their greater size and number of non-essential components made them hard to destroy

These are the perfect centrepiece for a Budapest-themed Soviet army. Use the Envelopment scenario from page 140 of the Bolt Action core book, with a river obstacle to ferry troops across.

At 1:300 (the scale for Cruel Seas), the Danube river neatly fits a 6×4 table. Decorate the short edges with lots of 6mm buildings and take a flotilla of Bronekaters out for a spin ferrying Soviet veterans from one bank to another, taking fire from shore batteries and German R-Boats along the way. You could even tie this into a game of Bolt Action, with reinforcements arriving late if the Bronekaters don’t survive the crossing.

A Soviet Bronekater ready for action. Note the Katyusha multiple rocket launcher fitted to the stern.

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