Designer's Notes: GURPS WWII: Frozen Hell

by Hunter Johnson

You should have had a chance to pick up your copy of GURPS WWII: Frozen Hell from you Friendly Local Game Store by now. If not, please do so and then come back and read this article. All set? Great!

Frozen Hell deals with one of the sideshows of WWII. Finland had been traded back and forth between Sweden and Russia for hundreds of years before gaining its own nationhood in the beginning of the 20th century. That the Soviet Union would try to bring that new status to a quick end a few decades later was soundly tsk-tsked by the Western world, but there were still too many things going on in the heart of Europe to worry too much about what was happening in the northern swamplands (in English and in Finnish, Finland's name means "swamp").

Finding out today what transpired there faces similar problems. English-language histories are few and far between. The two best, William R. Trotter's A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-40 and Carl Van Dyke's The Soviet Invasion of Finland 1939-40, were published in the 1990s. I shudder to think what this present book might have looked like if the GURPS WWII line had come into being 10 years earlier, without these resources. Happily, I had the luxury of leaning on these books and the even better fortune of having Mr. Trotter write the introduction for the sourcebook. Still, even these two books contradicted each other at times (one drawing on Finnish records, the other on Soviet records), and in some cases both were wrong. In those instances, I am indebted to the Finnish playtesters who could check facts against the current scholarly works not published in English. Since this is a roleplaying sourcebook and not a scholarly history, I also tried to find the full names for the commanders and other personalities who often appeared with their last names only. If the PCs are going to run into (or serve under) a historical leader, it can be useful to know what his full name is!

Another source of frustration came from the gaming side. Games on, say, the Battle of the Bulge clog the shelves and catalogs, but games on the Finnish wars are harder to find. A few are listed in the bibliography of this book; a more complete list can be found on my website at http://www.hunterandlori.com/WinterWargames.html.

I prefer to use outtakes from my drafts in these designer's notes articles, but there are very few to choose from. During the course of my work on the book, the page count for the small-format books rose from 32 pages to 48 pages. This makes a "perfect" binding possible, but it also chewed up most of the information that would have been cut. Two micro-biographies of Finnish leaders were dropped from the final draft:

Väinö Tanner

Väinö Tanner was one of the most prominent Finnish politicians in the first half of the 20th century. A conservative Social Democrat, he led the party during the prewar years, and he opposed extremism, even within his own party.

Risto Ryti

President Kyösti Kallio died at his farewell ceremony on December 19th, 1940. Prime Minister Risto Heikki Ryti immediately succeeded him. Ryti was a member of the National Progressive party. He won reelection in 1943, in part because Mannerheim declined to run. Ryti resigned on August 1st, 1944.

The biggest outtake is the Russian T-35 "land battleship" tank, which appears in several Finnish accounts but probably didn't actually appear on the battlefield. Finnish soldiers were largely unfamiliar with tanks in general, and the Soviet records do not indicate the presence of any T-35s in the Winter War. The T-35 should appear in GURPS WWII: Red Tide, perhaps modified from the version that Brandon Cope sent me. It's quite long, so I'll save it until the end of the article (just a few paragraphs away!).

One omission that I made even while writing my drafts was a discussion of ambient music that GMs or others might use to set the mood during a Winter War game. I'll correct that oversight now. Jean Sibelius is Finland's most famous composer, and his Finlandia (composed in 1899, before Finland's independence) helped nurture the Finn's growing national identity. Other Sibelius works that are easy to find and well-suited are his symphonies (seven of them), Kullervo, and Tapiola.

Georg Malmstén composed popular music during the war years (and before and after too). He was so prolific that some of his songs were credited to "Matti Reima." CDs will be hard to find, but one recent one is entitled 20 Suosikkia. And just for variety, you might check out Amorphis' Tales from the Thousand Lakes. One of its reviewers calls it a "doom-death hybrid" in the metal genre.

Speaking of heavy metal, I now give you Brandon Cope's T-35:

T-35 Heavy Tank

The T-35, based on "land battleship" designs produced in Germany and Great Britain and designed to force its way through heavy defenses, debuted in 1932. The 1935 version mounted one main turret with a 76.2mm low-velocity gun, two turrets with 45mm guns and two MG turrets. The 45mm turrets were on the right front and left rear of the hull and the MG turrets on the left front and right rear. The main turret could rotate 360 degrees, while the smaller turrets could only rotate 184-191 degrees, depending on location. The smaller turrets also could not "unbutton" to allow their gunners to pop up and fire the guns from an unobstructed viewpoint. Their heads would have been in the way of the main gun if they had been able to do so.

Initially, it had 37mm guns instead of the 45mm ones, but these were upgraded in the main production model. The new 45mm turrets were slightly modified BT-5 turrets while the MG turrets were taken from the T-37 tank. The secondary turrets were of dubious value. Like other tanks of this size in the 1930s, it was simply too large to armor adequately.

The T-35 initially had a crew of 11 men, but this was down to 10 by the time of the Winter War. There are two men in the turret: the Commander serves as main gun loader and fires the rear turret MG and, if present, the A/A MG, while the Senior Radio Operator operates the radio and assists with loading the main gun. The Commander of the Main Turret sits to the left of the main gun and serves as gunner for the 76.2mm gun and coaxial MG. Each of the 45mm turrets has a gunner (Commander's Assistant forward and Commander of Turret #4 rear) and loader (Commander of Turret #2 and the Junior Tank Driver) and each of the MG turrets has a gunner (the Tank Driver and Commander of Turret #5). The Junior Tank Technician sits in the steering compartment and drives the tank -- no, none of the crewmen actually designated as Tank Drivers handle this duty. He might keep a large hammer nearby to persuade the stubborn shift lever into a new position.

The combat compartments were walled off; the only way in and out of the tank was through the roof hatches. In the field, this was particularly dangerous for the main turret crew, as the main turret sat higher than usual so that its fire would clear the other turrets. The crewmen at each turret used phones to communicate with the other turrets.

Two more crewmen are assigned to each tank, but do not ride in it. The Senior Tank Driver is responsible for keeping the transmission and running gear operational, and the Motor Mechanic is responsible for the engine.

The T-35 uses 16.8 gallons per hour at routine usage.

A total of 61 T-35s were built. The T-35 made its first battlefield appearance in the Winter War, although some sources dispute its presence here at all. Those that were still operational in 1940 were added to the 34th Tank Division. Most of those were lost to mechanical failures by mid-1941. The remaining few saw action in Moscow at the end of 1941. None were used in battle after 1941. Of 47 lost during WWII, only 7 were lost to enemy fire. The rest succumbed to mechanical problems or terrain.

Subassemblies: Very Large Tank chassis +4, full rotation Medium AFV turret #1 [Body:T] +2, two limited rotation Large Weapon turrets #2-3 [Body:T] +2, two limited rotation Medium Weapon turrets #4-5 [Body:T] +1, tracks +3.
Powertrain: 373-kW gas engine w/ 373-kW tracked drive train and 240 gallons fuel in standard fuel tank [body]; 16,000-kWs batteries.
Occupancy: 2 CS Body, 9 CS body and turrets Cargo: 1.1 Body, 5.8 Turret #1, 3.5 each Turrets #2-3, 2 each Turrets #4-5























Turrets #1:











Turrets #2-5:























75mm Short TG/76.2mm PS-3 [Tur1:F] (96).
47mm Short TG/45mm M-1932 [Tur2:F] (110).
47mm Short TG/45mm M-1932 [Tur3:F] (110).
Ground LMG/DT [Tur1:F] (2000).
Ground LMG/DT [Tur1:B] (2000).
Ground LMG/DT [Tur2:F] (2000).
Ground LMG/DT [Tur3:F] (2000).
Ground LMG/DT [Tur4:F] (2000).
Ground LMG/DT [Tur5:F] (2000).


Size: 32'×11'×11'


Payload: 3.9 tons


Lwt.: 45 tons

Volume: 227


Maint.: 33 hours.


Price: $36,400

HT: 7. HPs: 2300 Body, 200 Main Turret, 120 each 45mm Turret, 75 each MG Turret, 800 each Track.

gSpeed: 19 gAccel: 2 gDecel: 20 gMR: 0.25 gSR: 6
Ground Pressure Low (2/3 Speed)

Design Notes

The design weight was increased 33% to match historical weight and gSpeed was reduced from the 26 mph design speed. HT was reduced from 9 to 7 to reflect the historical lack of reliability.


Model 1938: The frontal armor on all turrets was increased to DR 120. Only six were built.

Flamethrower: Some tanks had the 45mm in one turret replaced by a flamethrower.

SU-7: This tank used the same chassis to carry a heavy (254-400mm) cannon, howitzer, or mortar.

SU-14: As the SU-7, but for 152mm or 203mm guns.

Article publication date: April 25, 2003

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