Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Axis and Allies Miniatures: Commissar

I'll be posting, on an occasional basis, musings about particular pieces in the Axis & Allies series of miniatures.

The Commissar is a core unit of Axis & Allies Miniatures, showing up as collector No. 3/48 from the Base Set and again unchanged as No. 17/60 of the 1939-45 set.

Rarity: Uncommon
Speed: 1
Defense: 4/4
Cost: 5
Attacks vs troops at short-medium-long ranges: 5 - 0 - 0
Attacks vs vehicles at short-medium-long ranges: 2 - 0 - 0

Special abilities: Close Assault 6
Commander Abilities: Initiative +1, Bravery Enforcement — Friendly disrupted Soldiers adjacent to this unit don’t suffer the –1 penalty to their attack dice. (revised card wording)

Historical text: Commissars accompanied Soviet units into battle to ensure that every officer and man fought with proper patriotic zeal. failure was not an option.
The unit in history: The Soviet military had an unusual dual command structure, where the military chain of command was mirrored by a party chain of command at every level. These party officials were called commissars. The influence of commissars waxed and waned throughout the period of Soviet rule as the Communist Party wavered between fear of the army's political threat and the fear of defeat on the battlefield. The German invasion of 1941 caught the Soviets at the end of one of their swings and commissars played a big role in the battlefield events of 1941 and 1942. On the one hand they did stiffen resistance but often at the expense of tactical sense. Eventually the power of the commissars was curtailed as the Soviet military's battlefield performance increased. While the popular image is that of the political officer summarily executing the faint-hearted, their primary purpose was to monitor the loyalty of the officer corps and see to the welfare and morale of the troops -- roles that they retained after their enforcement role was reduced.

Photo caption: Political officer I. Sobchenko is briefing the 107th Separate Tank Battalion personnel on the overall situation. Volkhov Front. July 6, 1942.

Base set

The unit in the game: Because several Soviet units, including the basic rifleman, suffer from the restrictions of the Command Dependent special (in)ability the Soviets need large numbers of low-cost leader units in order to move and the Commissar fulfills this role quite nicely. For a while the only other Soviet leader was the Cossack Captain who costs almost twice as much without being twice as good. The Eastern Front set finally added a better Soviet leader in the form the the Veteran NCO, but he is not available in 1941 scenarios.

1939-45 set

The Commissar has enough inherent combat ability to defend itself against troops and light armor and the +1 initiative bonus will help reduce the likely German edge in that category. The Bravery Enhancement special ability is considerably toned down from the original wording. The old ability, which sacrificed a unit to boost other units' attacks by +1 die, was costly to use, but it could provide a critical boost to Soviet soldier attacks when facing tough German foes such as Panzergrenadiers or Tiger tanks. Now it's just a little goose for disrupted units. Still useful for for a cheap leader.

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