Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Kursk Month - Midday Counterattack

Kursk Battles (75th Anniversary) - a gaming theme for July.

For my sixth themed game, we are returning to Lock ‘n Loads Tactical ‘Dark July’ boardgame for its largest scenario, which has plenty of tanks to give that Prokhorovka feel.

Please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this post.

Background to - Midday Counterattack
Just after 1 P.M. on 12th July, the German 1st SS Panzer Grenadier Division was attacked from the east by a Soviet force of infantry and tanks from 29th Tank Corps, in yet another attempt to halt the German advance on Prokhorovka. (Scenario Design Juan Carlos Cebrian).

Above - this is the full playing area using the larger X-Maps, basically they enlarge the playing area from one map to two, thereby increasing the size of the hex. I have place a red vehicle and an infantry counter in the cornfield to the right to give an impression of hex scale.

Initial thoughts.
This is quite a mishmash of forces, that together with the large map, evokes a sense of Prokhorovka, looking like the period photographs of tank hulks lumbering through wheat fields that also contained crouching and walking infantry.

The Germans are very weak on infantry compared to the frontage that they need to hold, while in comparison their tank force seems surprisingly adequate. The Soviets have enough infantry and tanks to resemble an assault wave, though the task ahead of crossing that killing ground is daunting and rather like a WWI battle scene, they will be compelled to just carry on to the objective as they have neither the time or leadership capacity to rally those troops that drop along the way.

To win, the Soviets must ensure that at the end of seven turns, there are no good order German units East of the road, so that is effectively from the ditch, rightwards. This forces the Soviets to advance on a broad front to prevent a German spoiling counter-advance at one or more points in the line. I can see this turning into a ‘swirling’ battle, which sounds about right when representing the tank battles of 12th July.

The Forces.
The Soviets are now the attackers and set up in open ground and the wheat fields of Prokhorovka. They can also use the woods on their left flank. Under the special rules, the wheat does not interfere with line-of-sight or give cover, but non-moving infantry must be spotted as though they are in degrading terrain before they can be fired upon - this roughly gives a 50% chance of being spotted if stationary.

They have a special rule that brings the first two knocked out T-34’s back on as reinforcements, which is interesting as there are enough T-34’s in the game to provide these from the outset, but clearly the designer wants to pace the level of armour presence.

The bulk of forces this time are ordinary line troops rather than all being from the airborne regiment and they have morale values of 5, rather than the morale 6 grading that the airborne get. Further half of the troops will drop to morale 4 once they take casualties. This is a clever use of morale to create an initially large and aggressive force that is fragile and can be quickly blunted once subjected to effective fire.

The German side have 6 tanks against the Soviet initial allowance of 10 (+2 reinforcements), which seems pretty good for a defender, added to that, two of them are Tigers and in all of this open space, they will be able to use their noted characteristics. The 88 has good range and ‘to hit’ probability over distance and most certainly out gun the Soviets.

They are however very weak on infantry and support weapons, if enough Soviet infantry get through, they will be in trouble. They get an 81mm Mortar and a sniper, both of which have the capability to get their fire into crisis parts of the battlefield. The infantry will worry about being overrun by Soviet tanks.

Only the Russian player gets an off-board Fire Mission.

The Game
The Germans have taken up positions that combine weapon range and cover to help them absorb the first stages of the attack. In the centre of the trench they have a 75mm anti-tank gun and two leaderless squads, while at each end of the trench, there is a leader, two squads and a machine gun. The right flank is bolstered by a couple of Panzer IV’s, while the left flank is more exposed as the trench line does not extend fully in that area. They have a Tiger and two Panzer III’s and have set up behind wire defences.

Further back on Hill 252.2 (above), an 81mm mortar team that can self observe have set up, together with the second Tiger tank, which it is hoped can stay out of enemy reach, while using its heavy gun to deal with dangers that emerge.

The Soviets have three assault formations. Major Vorishnov is on the right in his SU 152 ‘tank killer’ and a platoon of T-34’s, with Lt. Smirnoff’s infantry following up on foot.

In the centre, Lt. Bonarinko leads a platoon of inexperienced soldiers, who are tasked with taking the trench. To the left, a contingent of Airborne are moving through the woods, flanked by a light tank formation, bolstered by a KV-1 heavy tank. Their function is to fix the enemy tanks to their front in place, so that the armour on the right has a chance to gain local superiority. They will then advance to take the foxholes and trenches.

You can make your predictions now .... my pre-game money is on a tough fight, but the Soviets don’t quite make it! Let’s see how it goes.

Turn 1.
There was a tremendous crash, that most dreaded of sounds to tankers, as Vorishnov’s SU 152 scored a direct hit on the turret front of Sergeant Rindt’s Tiger. The tank was physically moved backwards several feet, but amazingly, the turret turned and the gun made its return fire, knocking out the 152.

Frustrated by poor overall firing, it was only the two Soviet tank commanders that threw open their hatches for better views that actually scored kills, one taking a Panzer III and the other a Panzer IV.

Already there were five burning hulks on the battlefield.
Turn 2.
Further misfortune for the Germans followed, the KV-1 that had knocked out one of the pair of Panzer IV’s, turned its attention to other tank, which happened to have the commander leaning out of the turret, looking for targets. With blazing machine guns and the 76mm pumping armour piercing shells, the KV caused panic to the stationary tank, driving the crew to abandon the undamaged vehicle and run away. On this flank, the lone Tiger on the hill, now had to make every shot count.

Amongst all this confusion, a little unassuming SU 76 pressed on and overran the Germans at the lower end of the ditch, shaking them and then trundled onwards towards the hill. It was within 350 metres before the Tiger noticed it. Exposed and with a nervous crew, the odds were not in the SU’s favour!

Turn 3.
Once noticed, the SU 76 was quickly dispatched, but Lt. Filitov, down in the woods, seeing the Tiger as the main threat to that flank, called down artillery onto the hill. The 122mm field artillery fire was deadly accurate and the physical shaking of the tank must have concussed the crew, as it remained motionless for some time.

For now, the only remaining German tank still operating was Rindt’s Tiger, out on the German left and he was in big trouble as five T-34’s swarmed towards him. The lead tank came up on his left side, closing to within 50 metres. The Tiger had been shooting to its front left and had to swing the mighty 88 gun across to the right to deal with this immediate threat ........

Turn 4.
The T-34 had already lined up to fire, hearts racing, the shot was rushed, but it did glance the front hull, causing panic amongst the Tiger’s crew. Rindt ordered the Tiger to reverse out of trouble, but the shaken driver was slow to respond and only managed to pull back 100 metres The remaining T-34’s, not halting to fire, easily out manoeuvred the Tiger and took up positions to its flanks and rear.

Un-noticed, the 75mm anti-tank gun, located amongst the trenches had observed the speeding T-34’s and turned to cover the Tiger’s right flank. One T-34 presented it’s rear aspect as it tried to get behind the Tiger, falling easy prey to the 75mm PaK 40.

On the hill, Lt. Woll ordered his Tiger tank crew to pull back onto the reverse slope while he assessed the damage to his tank. This gave the KV-1 the freedom to push on unhindered and it managed to get to within 100 metres of the Tigers old position.

The intensity of fighting had brought a crisis point and with it the moment when men of character step up and go beyond the call of duty. Private Markiev had been part of the advance through the wheat field in the centre. With his platoon taking grievous casualties and going to ground, he saw the partially hidden 75mm anti-tank gun moving position to support the German left and the beleaguered Tiger. He sprang forward making for the gun’s position and even though taking a light wound on the way in, he made it to the trench and put the gun out of action.

Turn 5.
Rindt’s surrounded Tiger was overwhelmed by circling enemy armour and the inevitable  shot to it’s rear, left it a smoking hulk. Nearby, the left flank of the German trenches was still holding. Despite the success of the Soviet tanks, their infantry following up had fared much worse, their assaulting ranks thinning. Lt. Smirnoff, who had a galvanising personality, died as his final attacks were fended off.

Lt. Woll, content that his tank was still battle worthy, re-mounted and ordered the Tiger to move around the edge of the hill. He intended to maintain a distance from the T-34 force over on his left, so that he could destroy them at range. As the Tiger moved around the base of the hill, it drove straight into the path of the KV-1, which was ready with a round in the tube, it got a shot off, hitting the Tiger’s frontal armour at 150 metres ......... but nothing! The Tiger’s 88 returned fire and the KV-1 erupted into flames.

Lt. Petrov’s airborne had left the protection of the woods and he made for the German foxholes that covered the German right flank. One squad fell to heavy machine gun fire coming from the foxholes and then a German sniper, who had ensconced himself under the destroyed hulk of the SU 76, forced another squad to the ground after two of their number had taken fatal hits.
Turn 6.
Petrov’s remaining men got amongst the German foxholes and began close fighting against Col. Kerner’s position and they seemed to be getting the better of it.

Woll was surprised to see that the T-34’s had moved to his position so quickly. One fired, striking his front armour, but not penetrating. The Tiger hit one of the T-34s, which ground to a halt, hatches opened and the crew bailed out, abandoning the vehicle. A third Soviet tank had manage to conceal its movement by moving behind and then over the rise of Hill 252.2,  suddenly appearing to the immediate left of the Tiger.

Turn 7.
Woll guided the turret to the left and a single round destroyed the flanking T-34, he had been lucky. The sniper propped himself up, waiting for the T-34’s to advance as their commanders all had their heads poking our from the turret hatches, but, strangely they did not press their attack!

Petrov’s men cleared the German right flank, while at the other end of the trench system, both sides were locked in desperate close quarter fighting, a situation that could have gone either way. In the centre, where the Germans had held off the Soviet infantry assault, the men started to move left and right to support the flanks of their trench line.

Despite seeming to have had the best of it, the Soviet attack had fallen short of the planned objective and they called off the attack in order to re-group.

That was a really enjoyable game that delivered a feel of the subject. I was particularly pleased to see the T-34 swarming tactic naturally occur and the impact of the soviet artillery fire on the hill, shaking the Tiger, which reflected those accounts that I have read of artillery being called in to deal with a Tiger threat.

There are quite a lot of units in this scenario with ranged weapons that are firing beyond typical rifle range and so the threat and carnage is high, especially in the opening turns and both sides have to respect the abilities of the other, with fire often inviting deadly counter-fire.

If the T-34’s can get adjacent to the heavy Tigers, they will get a +2 on their attack value. There is also an additional bonus if the crew go open rather than buttoned up, but of course at close quarters, this in turn can leave the crew vulnerable to small arms fire, especially from the machine guns on other vehicles. By the time the T-34’s reached the Tiger, there wasn’t that much around to be a threat to them, so they kept their hatches open.

There were quite a few instances in which units ended the turn in critical positions and it significantly mattered who got the initiative in the next turn as that would allow a hex to be activated and act first. In one case, a Tiger fell victim to this, which even though it recovered from shaken status, it was immediately hit at close quarters and in another, it allowed the remaining tank (Woll) to get the first shot to clear that T-34 that appeared on his right flank. Likewise in the trenches, getting the initiative allowed Petrov to deliver devastating fire against Kerner’s adjacent infantry, rather than his foe doing likewise.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of this particular scenario for me was to see how well the tactical system, which is based around infantry actions, could handle larger volumes of armour and I must say, this streamline system with slick procedures makes armour clashes of this size easy to manage.

Kursk - The Greatest Battle, Eastern Front 1943 by Lloyd Clark and published by Headline Review. Once again I am no further in on this, simply because play volume and associated write ups is all time consuming.

LINK to the previous post that describes a playing of a Tigers at Minsk figure based scenario LINK

Link to the next battle in this series - The fight moves to the northern sector at Ponyri. LINK

COMMANDERS is a sister web space to the blog and being more snippet based will give an easy overview of this months gaming. LINK

The introduction to the Kursk month of Battles - the first post in this series LINK


  1. To me that really had the feel of a fluid, open battle on the Russian steppe. I thought the Russians we going to win, with their swarming T-34's and having an SU152 as well. Certainly a close run thing, but as always an enjoyable read:)

    1. Thanks Steve, I don’t know what it is, but in whatever game I play, I hang great hopes on the SU 152, only to find that it is generally the first vehicle to get knocked out! I think it is an attention seeker :-)

  2. Another meaty post, Norm! Will look forward to coming back to this tonight for a thorough read.

    1. Thanks Aaron, I had promised myself to go to shorter posting and just got carried away ... again! :-)

      I think the thing I enjoyed about this was the impression of distance that the larger maps gave, which made tank manoeuvre and grouping seem more realistic.

  3. An entertaining read from what seems to have been an interesting game. I especially like reading your game conclusions.

    1. Thanks Peter, I try to write my opening notes up before the game hits the table, just so there is a genuine counter-balance to the Conclusions section, and the conclusion section allows the AAR to be free of system stuff. It seems to work for these kind of posts.

  4. Fine crafting of the narrative, Norm. You wove a very compelling tale of the action. Like Peter, I enjoy your “Conclusions” and sometimes skip down to this section first to signal important points in the game. Your “Initial Thoughts” really set the stage for the action and provide a glimpse of what might follow in the game including possible approaches for each.

    Very well told in an action-packed writing style!

  5. Thanks Jonathan, the system does rather encourage narrative play and I think we both agree that dice rolls represent more than simply pass/fail, hit/miss results.

    1. You are exactly right about interpreting outcomes produced by a toss of the die. To me, an unusual or low probability result suggests something interesting occurred below my level of observation. Perfect opportunity to build an interesting narrative to support this unusual occurrence.

  6. Once again Norm you produce a most realistic and impressive narrative that really captures the stress of a tankers combat. I could almost imagine myself inside one of those Tigers with the AP shot bouncing off the hull, must have been terrifying. You have really inspired me to get back to armoured combat on the Eastern Front.

  7. Thanks Lee, I read a book (Tigers in the Mud, I think) that talked about tank crew nerves being really frazzled as they could feel and hear the strikes against their vehicle, but never being sure whether it was of a calibre that could actually do them harm.

    I was thinking about your 40mm today, while in a model shop looking at 1/35 Napoleonic Prussians :)

  8. Good fun. Though I see a pattern developing where in all the L&L games the attacker has a real hard time. Do you think the system or maybe the scenarios favor the defenders?

  9. I would say that the task of attacking is, as it should be, fraught and needs to be thoughtfully done, a balance between fire and forward movement, but it feels right for that. The attacker does have their work cut out.

    I think the three things that matter to this design 'formula' are that 1. if an enemy is in cover, you must make a spotting test to fire on them, unless they do something to reveal their position, such as move or fire, so you can dice and hope you squad does not waste its impulse or when you move, you might draw fire. 2. Units moving in the open are vulnerable and if they go shaken without being with a leader, are unlikely to get back into the game. 3. There is no what we might term 'final defensive fire' where a defender can repeatedly fire against a close threat, once a unit fires it is done, so if you can get a defender to fire, you can move onto them, in effect the system allows numbers to count and for a defender to become overwhelmed.

    Getting the balance right (and a bit of luck on the dice) is what changes things and brings nuance to every situation. It becomes important for a defender to develop cross fires and an attacker to break them and for both sides to generally hold something back, so you always have something to react with, as if a sector goes entirely used, an enemy can move amongst it in relative safety. Of course there is always potential danger from an enemy undeployed sniper or off board artillery, or on board mortars etc that can spoil your day. :-)

    Finally, Dark July is representing the grinding battles of Kursk, in which men and material paid a high price to move through a battlefield that had a high concentration of firepower and defences, so it is probably replicating that quite well.

  10. Another great AAR,it could have gone either way really and was pretty close with the tigers dominating decision making so a realistic recreation I would say.
    Best Iain

  11. Yes, I liked that the Tigers felt it better to stand off and dominate the ground over longer distances, also the T-34 swarming tactic, I felt by the end of the game, the character of both vehicles had been well represented.

  12. Using my iPad for once! Brilliant write-up. What a battle. Loved the cliff-hanger. Having so often “not quite made it”, I thought the Russians were just going to scrape home.
    Plan to have a golden oldie on the table for Friday.

  13. Thanks Mike, intrigued and looking forward to that. I have just concluded the final scenario and once again the system delivers something different - all good.



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