Kursk Battles (75th Anniversary) - the third scenario.
Another scenario from ‘Dark July’, the Lock ‘n Load boardgame module that covers the tactical level fighting in the region just west of Prokhorovka and specifically at the Oktiabrski State Farm and Hill 252.2
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Background - (Secure the Oktiabrskii State Farm) Near Prokhorovka, 11th July 1943.
Fierce fighting had been raging all morning and by 1 P.M. the Soviet forces had taken up well defended positions at the Oktiabrskii State Farm. The Germans needed to capture the farm to secure the left flank of its advance towards Prokhorovka. The Soviets, however, were prepared to hold the State Farm at all costs. (Scenario design by Juan Carlos Cebrian).
The Soviet side have a strong defensive position based upon the farm complex of eight buildings including a church and a respectable anti-tank force in the form of 2 x T-34’s and an anti-tank gun that has been up-gunned from 45mm to a 76mm model.
Of particular note is the special rule that gives the two stone buildings fortified status, their defence value is increased from the normal +4 to +5. Considering that the system usually has a maximum allowance of +4 even for cumulative terrain benefits, these are significant strongpoints. Further they cannot be assaulted in melee unless all occupants are already shaken... wow! That is an intriguing special rule.
The German side is interesting and we are given two assault guns and two tanks and an 81mm mortar to bring some heavy fire onto the farm, together with flamethrowers and satchel charges for the close assaults on buildings that will be needed to clear them.
They also get the very capable tank leader Lt. Woll again, plus a sniper, which will help, but if we think that the sniper is best used against either of the two strongpoints, then its safe placement is going to be difficult to secure in the first part of the game.
Both sides get a single off-board Fire Mission.
To win the Germans must simply control the two fortified stone buildings ....... no pressure there then!
The Soviets set-up in and around the farm. The two yellow dice show the positions of the fortified buildings. Since the ultimate target for victory is based upon occupation of the stone buildings, the wire, mines and crossfires are set up to protect those locations. The right hand stone building has an EVENT marker, which the Germans will activate if they get to OCCUPY the building. I have no idea what the event is, but in any case I won’t disclose it here, to preserve its ‘secret’ value.
They have decided to use their two leaders by placing one in each of the strongpoints, but this means that without leaders elsewhere, any units that go shaken, will not be able to be rallied.
The Germans get a more dynamic set-up area this time as they start by flanking the farm on two sides and can have start positions that are potentially quite close to the village. As well as approaching the village from the fields, they have the hill, which might give some observational advantages and also they can use the length of the anti-tank ditch as cover to penetrate into the right flank of the farm. In the photograph I have used a length of cord to show the German front line.
Group A are the Pioneers under Colonel Kerner, they are in the anti-tank ditch and heavily armed with flamethrowers and satchel charges.
Group B are in the left hand field under Sgt. Riener. They will assault the first set of farm buildings to get close firing positions to the fortified stone buildings. they have two StuG III’s with them, which are set back a little so that the T-34 tank cannot claim short range when firing.
Group C - a scout and 81mm mortar are on the hill. A tripod mounted MG-42 is in the field to the right and Lt. Woll has his Panzer IV and III covering both aspects of the farm - this group is a fire base.
The Soviet HMG is in the church. It gets to business straight away and fires ahead at the enemy MG-42, hitting a couple of te crew. Lt. Woll from his Panzer IV, knows that this HMG has to be silenced. He puts aside any discomfort he has about firing on a church and directs accurate fire that deals with the MG nest.
The German left (Riener’s people) lay down heavy suppressive fire, while the StuG disables the T-34 that had been skulking behind the farm. A couple of squads venture forth, but are forced to hit the dirt straight away, but a third squad manages to take the first farm building.
With the church cleared, a German sniper sets up in there, getting clear views of the first stone fortified building on the left. Commissar Ilvanich is in there and he calls down artillery to strike amongst Riener’s positions. It is spectacularly successful, with the open field not affording any cover. Riener is wounded and his teams are further decimated. Private Bach, a soldier noted for his bravery, immediately picks himself up and starts to rally his comrades.
Kerner’s pioneers have made it to the end of the ditch, but he plans to stay there until there is enough confusion and suppression going on, that his men can emerge and cross open ground without inviting too much fire.
A lot of firepower is being exercised in a small space and moving in the open has deadly consequences. The Soviet 81mm mortar team, over open sights, are putting down a concentration of fire against the StuG’s, in the hope of discouraging them from enveloping the farm.
The German armour starts to tighten its grip on the farm, advancing slowly to get into fire positions against the strongpoints. The 75mm anti-tank gun is waiting patiently and gets a bead on the Panzer III as it edges forward, the thud is unmistakable, but then nothing ..... a dud, the gun crew curse for revealing their position.
As Soviet units around the farm start to go to ground without the leadership to get them going again, German units start to close in on the left hand fortified stone building, occupied by Commissar Ilvanich and a squad armed with an LMG.
Kerner’s pioneers leave their ditch and avoiding the wire, they move leftwards towards the centre of the battlefield so that they can approach the right hand stone building via the woodland.
With the pioneers closing on their position, the 75mm anti-tank gun swivels to fire, but they have an A.P. round parked up in the breach and frantic hands to get an H.E. loaded doesn't help, the pioneers being on top of them all too quickly and they are captured. The pioneers now have their jumping off point amongst the cover of the woods.
Nervous at the StuG being just 400 metres away, the mortar team have been frantically dropping mortar bombs on and around it, the persistence of which looks to have shaken the confidence of the crew.
With the Soviet anti-tank gun silenced, the Panzer III edges around the right flank of the farm, catching the remaining T-34 off-guard and knocking it out. The Soviets are now without any gun tubes, the German tanks will be able to concentrate on pounding the two strongpoints.
Three of the buildings to the left of Commissar Ilvanich‘s strongpoint are now German held and the firepower pouring in to the Soviet position escalates - but still they hold!
There is a short lull in the fighting as each side rallies and reorganise their men. Both sides use this breather to good advantage, even the wounded Riener and the remnants of his squads, mauled by the enemy artillery, have got themselves ready to engage again.
Lt. Woll brings his Panzer IV up to the left hand strongpoint, calmly assessing the building and getting some co-ordinated fire going, but the defenders are still defiant and one by one, the squads that were meant to assault the building, instead get drawn in to simply adding to the volume of fire from their positions.
Wanting to do something decisive, Kerner stupidly steps out from cover to get his flamethrower to within range of Commissar Ilvanich’s building, his entire team is instantly driven to ground with heavy casualties, however, the second part of his platoon that followed, does get close enough to discharge their flamethrower, incapacitating the Soviet Squad. Now it is only the driven Commissar Ilvanich fending off German intentions. The thick walls on these strongpoints are making for a most resilient defence.
“Hurry up!”, Private Macher steps out into the open ground next to Ilvanich, which is mined, he is wounded, but manages to get next to the house to help direct fire and his bravery refocusses the determination of his comrades.
Over on the right at Petrov’s fortified farm building, another German unit was doing the same, getting right outside the farmhouse.
Now both fortified buildings have German units next to them so and the fire put down against both buildings is more intense that ever. But from that maelstrom, the natural leadership qualities of Private Vania came to the fore and he stood shoulder to shoulder with Ilvanich, defying the enemy and getting his own comrades back into firing positions amongst the rubble.
The StuG and tanks were now pouring fire into the buildings, but the rubble generated just seemed to create more varied cover and firing positions.
With both buildings pretty much surrounded, it seemed that it was only the personalities of the leaders that kept the defenders fighting against all the odds.
Another Soviet squad from a nearby building tried to run the gauntlet to reach Commissar Ilvanich, but despite getting close, they were cut down, as every aspect of the ground around the building was dominated by German firepower.
On the right, Petrov’s men fire on the adjacent pioneers in an effort to force them back. They inflict enough casualties that it now looked unlikely that the German right was strong enough to operate independently to storm the building. On the left .... who knows! the building should have fallen by now!
This was a very enjoyable scenario and very tense for both sides as the last half of the game teetered on whether just one more fire would break the defenders and allow a storming of the building. As it happens, despite the volume of fire and the units being well placed for the final assault, the buildings did not fall. At times, it was single man counters alone that were maintaining the status of the strongholds.
The special rule about the defenders of the building needing to be shaken before they can be close assault is simply superb. Without it, the defenders would just be able to get one shot off and then they could be overwhelmed by numbers. The rule gives a sort of Stalingrad quality to fortified positions.
The importance of getting German units adjacent to the buildings was purely because that causes the target to be automatically spotted. While spotted, everyone else will be able to fire at them without having to test for spotting.
In this replay, especially with Commissar Ilvanich‘s position on the left, at any one time, there was usually only one unshaken unit ‘holding the fort’, usually the Commissar himself and this prevented the building being assaulted. When the hero was generated (Private Vania), this just helped the defenders that bit more by ensuring that the maths might allow one unit (leaders are units) to always be in good order and prevent close assault.
This yoyo effect of units going shaken and then rallying in the fortifications brought a lot of tension, every die roll mattered and it was very engaging from a players perspective.
Over the course of the last three scenarios, one of the things that has had meaningful influence is that the Soviet Airborne forces have a morale rating of 6, while the S.S. Troops are rated at 5. Since it is the latter who are moving over open ground and have the burden of being the attacker, this matters and has fed into the results of the last three games.
Overall, this scenario delivered the storyline and tension that Lock ‘n Load is good at doing. Of course, from turn 5 onwards, some different results on the dice and perhaps the hero not being created, would have given a different result. The battle was very finely balanced.
Since the Germans did not capture Petrov’s position, the EVENT relating to that hex remains a mystery, even to me, which is good as it will keep a replay fresh.
The next scenario takes us to the lower right of the map.
Kursk - The Greatest Battle, Eastern Front 1943 by Lloyd Clark and published by Headline Review.
I have read out to page 153 and enjoyed the narrative concerning 1941 going into 1942, with Operation Typhoon and the Soviet winter counter-offensive, it makes me want to get my Barbarossa and Typhoon games out. But, the point of the exercise surely was to read about Kursk and from that perspective, this book is still not delivering. I have looked ahead and text will shortly turn attention to early 1943 and the planning for Citadel.
LINK to the next post - Road to Prokhorovka
LINK to the previous post that describes a playing of scenario 2 - Clear the ditches LINK
LINK to the previous post that describes a playing of scenario 2 - Clear the ditches 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