We’ve covered plenty of big, heavy tanks in Forces of Fame, and rightly so – they’re just plain cool! While a lot of the focus has been on the German ‘big cats’ (they did make a lot of them!), the Soviet Union had some absolute whoppers as well, and today we’re taking a look at a seriously big piece of kit – the mighty IS-2!

With the advent of larger and heavier German tanks on the Eastern front and the widespread destruction of the mostly obsolete Soviet tank forces during Operation Barbarossa, it was clear that the Soviet Union needed more capable tanks of their own to compete with the Panthers and Tigers being fielded against them. While the T-34 was developing into exactly what the situation required, the KV-series tanks were considered too slow, too expensive, and lacking in firepower. Attempts to resolve this led to the KV-85, mounting the excellent D-52 85mm gun, but the type required refinement. This development would lead in 1944 to the IS (named for Iosif Stalin, sometimes seen Anglicised as JS)-2, the subject of today’s article. Armed with an enormously powerful 122mm gun, and with thick, well-sloped armour, the IS-2 would become the premier Soviet heavy tank of the late war.

Heavy Soviet armour scours the German countryside en route to Berlin.
IS-2, Bohemia, Czech Republic, 1945

Fully capable of engaging and destroying German heavy armour, the IS-2 saw limited combat use through 1944 and into 1945 with Guards Heavy Tank Regiments of the Red Army, proving particularly effective as a ‘breakthrough’ tank against German defensive positions as the Soviet advance ground inexorably towards Berlin. The enormous high explosive shell of the 122mm main gun would prove particularly useful against fortified positions, and utterly devastating against troops in the open, while the IS-2’s armour, while certainly not impervious to harm, provided excellent protection and survivability in combat. Remaining in frontline service alongside its successors into the early Cold War before being superseded by the far more modern main battle tank concept, the IS-2 would also see service in the armies of several Communist states, in some cases even until the 1990s!

IS-2 model 1944, “Combat Girlfriend” 7th Independent Guards Heavy Tank Battalion, Berlin, April 1945
13th Guards Heavy Breakthrough Tank Regiment, Southern Ukraine, Winter 1943/44
Polish 4th Heavy Tank Regiment, Germany, April 1945

In Bolt Action

On the Bolt Action tabletop, the IS-2 is a proper behemoth, with its 10+ Damage Value making it a seriously difficult nut for the enemy to crack, while its heavy AT gun can dish out some real punishment at long range. “But why isn’t it a super-heavy gun??” I hear you cry? Fear not! Given it was developed from a field gun rather than a dedicated anti-tank weapon, while its AT performance is no slouch, it really shines in the anti-infantry role, with an absolutely whopping oversized blast template for an HE shell, allowing it to swat Veteran infantry off the table with ease, or really pile on the pins – or blast away at any troops foolish enough to try to take cover in a building! Combined with a trio of MMGs (one co-axial, one in the hull, and interestingly one mounted rear-facing in the turret, a hangover of older Soviet designs), plus the option to add a pintle-mounted HMG, the IS-2 can put out a frankly withering amount of anti-infantry firepower.

Even an IS-2 is vulnerable in the close confines of urban streetfighting.

At 320 points for Regular or 384 at Veteran, the IS-2 takes up a good chunk of your points in all but the largest games, but with some canny handling can more than make those points back in a hurry. It does have the ‘Slow Load’ special rule, meaning it can’t be activated until an order has been given to at least one other unit, but there are a few ways to mitigate this – my favourite is to have a cheap, Inexperienced officer hiding behind the tank. With your first dice, activate the officer, then simply have them order the tank to Snap To! Problem solved! If taken as Veteran, there are very few weapons that can actually cause the IS-2 to suffer Pins – deal with these first, and then it can rampage around the table unabated! If you see enemy infantry in the open, fire at will, or use an Ambush order to control your opponent’s movement. Remember, though, that you can’t win a game with a big tank alone – keep it well-supported with your infantry!

IS-2 Platoon – Includes a sprue of Soviet infantry to act as tank riders.

Other articles in the Forces of Fame Series:

Bolt Action – The Tiger IPrincess Elizabeth (Jubilee Special)Japanese Special Naval Landing ForceM18 Hellcat; Centurion Mk III; British Airborne; M4A3E8 Sherman ‘Easy Eight’; German Fallshirmjäger; FlaK 88; Panzer IV (Early War); Matilda II; T-34/76; Panzer 38(t);

Blood Red Skies – Messerschmitt Bf 110Ki-43 II ‘Oscar’; Grumman F9F Panther; Vought F4U Corsair;

Victory at Sea – The BismarckFletcher-Class Destroyers; Kongō; Yamato-class Battleships;

Pike & Shotte (& Pike & Shotte Epic Battles) – Cuirassiers; Polish Winged Hussars; Dragoons;

Black Powder (& Black Powder Epic Battles) – The Iron Brigade; 95th Rifles; Zulus;

Black Seas – HMS Victory;

Hail Caesar / SPQR – Dacian Falxmen; Hoplites;

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