Kursk Battles update 1.
First game up on the table is scenario 1 from Dark July, Lock ‘n Load’s 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
Please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this post.
Background - (Assault on Hill 252.2) Near Prokhorovka, 11th July 1943.
On the 10th, after a long and violent fight, Hill 241.1 had finally been taken. Farther to the east, some units from the Aufklarung Abteilung had reached the outskirts of the Oktiabrskii State Farm and reported that the Soviets had set up a strong defensive line around the State Farm and the nearby Hill 252.2. The German advance was then postponed until the next morning; Hill 252.2 would be their next objective.
At 0900 A.M. the next morning, elements of the 1st SS Panzergrenadier Division began the assault on Hill 252.2, which was defended by an Airborne Company of 26th Guards Airborne Regiment. (Scenario designed by Juan Carlos Cebrian).
Although Lock ‘n Load Tactical, like many tactical boardgames, does not play with an organisationally determined command structure, I do like the way that the scenarios are set out with the Orders-of-Battle showing units organised by formation formations, so for example, the two German StuG’s are shown as belonging to the Sturmgeschutze Zug, Sturmgeschutze Abteilung and the Tiger tank from Schwere Panzer Zug, Schwere Kompanie 13, SS Panzer Regiment. The separation of forces helps me think in terms of formations when I am playing and I tend to keep certain elements grouped within close proximity as a result.
The Soviet side have got 4 mines, 4 wire and 5 trenches in their OOB. Of interest are the the two tank emplacements that the two T-34’s are allowed to use. I like the simple effective rules for these, essentially they negate all confirmed hull hits and if the tank moves out it must reverse and then the emplacement is removed. Since there is a randomiser that decides whether a successful ‘to hit’ strikes the turret or the hull, then these T-34’s, together with the wire, mines and trenches could prove a formidable obstacle. The Russian infantry get an allocation of the RPG 43 anti-tank grenades, which are a new bit of kit for this expansion.
The German side have some powerful attributes. Of note is the single Tiger I tank, which has the capacity to deal with the T-34 turrets at a distance (if only it can hit their turrets!), plus there are pioneers, who need some thoughtful management on crossing this open battlefield to be successful, though Colonel Wagner is a leader with a rather exceptional morale value of 8, which will help keep him in action, though surprisingly, he has a Leadership Value of zero, so his capability is somewhat more limited than his role needs.
His unit also has a Scout. These have special abilities of being able to use Stealth Movement, so are never auto spotted and units with him only pay 1 MP for moving through woods etc. The scout can call down artillery and gets a superb -2 modifier to spotting attempts. The rules give real character to some of these unit types with minimal rules overhead, it is what Lock ‘n Load does best.
Both sides each have a single off-board artillery mission. With such an array of targets available, each side will want their one chance to really count.
Note, there is an EVENT marker placed in a woods hex (lower left of map), as soon as a German unit gets line of sight to the marker, the associated event is activated. I have not read the associated Event paragraph yet, so it will be a surprise to me (as intended) and I will not disclose it in the write up, so as not to be a spoiler for others playing the module.
With a focus on Hill 252.2, the victory conditions require that all six hexes of the Hill become German controlled and that there must not be any good order Soviet units in or adjacent to the Prokhorovka Road running along the bottom of the map ...... having just laid the Soviet defences out, that seems like a tall order, but the victory conditions do not take account of casualties, so the German force must just press on and meet their timetable by overwhelming the defence.
Soviet defences rely on Airborne Company, 2nd Battalion, 26th Guards Airborne Regiment, supported by two T-34’s. The Hill has been fortified with the supplied entrenchments and mines have been placed to cover the front flanks, together with wire covering the left flank between the Hill and the woods, as that seems an ideal covered approach for the Germans. The two T-34’s are ‘emplaced’ above the Hill and a squad with an anti-tank rifle is in the wheat field next to them. Below the Hill, the capable Lt. Petrov takes up position in the woods with a platoon of Airborne and a 45mm anti-tank gun. These guard the flank to the Hill 252.2 while also threatening the Prokhorovka road. An 82mm mortar team are tucked away amongst the wheat to the rear of the Hill, they will be reliant on a leader to act as an observer for them.
Sorry about the picture quality, very bright sunlight and plexiglass have pretty much hazed the map out, I will look to get that right for the next game.
The pioneers moved along the rail track (bottom arrow), looking to envelop the Soviet positions. The Tiger tank entered at the top arrow to engage the emplaced T-34’s at a distance. The infantry with Sgt. Riener and Colonel Kerner moved through the woods (middle arrow). The secret event was activated, I will not disclose what happened here.
Lt. Woll commanding the Tiger tank fired at a T-34, it hit and scored a hull hit, which the emplacement absorbed. A StuG did likewise. In return fire, one StuG was KO’d.
Woll, having found his range on the T-34, put a shell through the exposed turret, but the other surviving T-34 knocked out the second StuG as shots were traded. Woll decided he would stay out at medium range and engage from his current relatively safe position.
As Colonel Kerner’s men moved along the tree-line, they were caught by heavy fire, but one man, Private Bach, heroically took the lead and inspired two squads to keep up with him. More fire came in from the Hill, the 12.7mm HMG thumped continually, crossing the 400 metres of open ground to the woods catching the German 50mm mortar team in full just as it was setting up.
Colonel Wagner led the pioneers further along the rail embankment and then they poured down the sides and moved at speed towards the woods below the Hill, 150 metres away. The 45mm Anti-Tank gun turned in place to supplement the fire of the SMG armed airborne defenders in the woods. Wagner’s leading men made it into the woods and bitter fighting started, with the Airborne defenders initially looking like they were getting the best of it, but surely they would eventually become overrun!
Colonel Kerner, brought down accurate off-board 105mm artillery fire onto the front slopes of the Hill, causing disruption and importantly, Lt. Filitov’s command post took a direct hit.
With the pioneers pushing into the woods to threaten the lower portions of the Hill, a momentum of attack had developed, it was now or never to get across that open ground. A Panzer III and Panzer IV arrived to support a more general advance by Kerner’s and Reiner’s infantry, who having left the cover of their own woods, made the perilous frontal assault over the exposed ground in front of Hill 252.2. Alas, the artillery had failed to silence the 12.7mm HMG and Reiner took a wound, while the men around him fell.
With the command post on the Hill still out of action and Petrov fighting for survival against the pioneers, the Soviets were not able to call on either their off-board artillery or the nearby mortar team, as neither leader could act as a spotter.
Colonel Wagner’s pioneers pressed their attack into the woods, but suffered heavily due to the stout defence of Petrov’s men and the assault started to falter.
The HMG on the Hill continued with its deadly fire, hitting Reiner again, killing him and most of those immediately around him. Kerner’s platoon likewise took heavy fire and with the pioneers assault now also stagnating with heavy losses, the spirit of the attackers was pretty much at breaking point. Even Woll in his Tiger was cursing as every shot was just burying itself in the soft earth of the T-34 emplacement. The choreographed attack was falling apart.
The Panzer IV trusted the disposal of the remaining T-34 to the Tiger and disengaged to instead climb the slopes of the Hill to overrun the infantry positions, successfully clearing a section of trenches. Amongst the carnage on the forward slopes of the Hill, Private Bach once again ignored his own safety and made a dash for a nearby trench that had a shaken squad with their heads down, crouching in the bottom of it. It would be easy for him to clear the trench ......... CRACK - a sniper squeezed the trigger and Bach went down! (Photo below, bottom right red unit).
The Panzer IV continued to overrun the trenches, joined by the Pz IIIJ. The emplaced T-34 saw the opportunity of getting a flank shot at the Panzers and swung its turret around, it missed, but almost at once, the Tiger fired and this time found its mark, the second T-34 was silenced.
As a final act of defiance, an airborne squad carrying a satchel charge emerged from its trench and ran the fifty yards to place the charge against the Panzer IV, which following the explosion, slewed to one side and shuddered to a halt.
Exhausted, the Germans stopped their attack and started to pull back to get out of SMG range of the remaining Soviet Airborne. They had come close, capturing 3 of the 6 Hill hexes, but in the end, time and casualties were against them, the Soviets got the victory.
The scenario provided plenty of drama. The pioneers attacking from the rail embankment opened things up for the Germans, who are really playing against the clock here. They had a bit of luck as they crossed the open ground before getting into the woods, but in this system, once a unit has fired, it does not get a second fire against adjacent units (Final Fire) and so it is possible to create the situation of defenders once they have fired, being overwhelmed by large attacker numbers - at least until the Melee actions, so the Germans had good cause to believe that having got amongst the trees, they would eventually clear the woods, but Petrov’s stack held off the first melee, inflicting casualties while not suffering any.
As the troops closed in that sector, the importance of winning the initiative at the start of the next turn was highlighted. Amazingly, turn after turn, the pioneers were not able to clear their initial melee hex and ended up just feeding troops in to replace the losses. The dice were indeed consistently cruel to them and gracious to the defenders.
The tank emplacement rules worked very well, with pretty much all of the shells ploughing into the soft soil embankment, though of course on another day, the first two shots could have taken both tanks out. Sometimes you just need a bit of Lady Luck!
Probably of most significance was the German artillery strike against the Hill that caused Lt. Filitov to go shaken, he failed to rally in the following turn and this prevented the Soviet side bringing in their off-board artillery fire mission of 122mm guns and left their 82mm mortar located in the fields behind the Hill blind at a time when German infantry was most vulnerable by being bunched up, crossing the open ground. Filitov then pulled back one hex to rally in safety, but that put enemy units beyond his line of sight, so when he did recover, he still couldn’t spot.
The arrival of the two German tanks on turn 4 is probably there to help ensure that a flagging German attack maintains some momentum and help deliver the firepower and mobility needed to clear the Hill. There is a special scenario rule that allows vehicles to ‘control’ a hex, so I imagine playtesters found a need to have some armoured mobility contribute to the final dash to secure the Hill - with the amount of anti-tank weapons that squads have, their capability will result in some interesting last stand end runs, as it did for us today.
By turn 4, the system had delivered two German hero counters from the cauldron of fire and their partial leadership qualities and effectiveness in melee, strengthened the German hand somewhat.
Overall the scenario is a nicely balanced contest and scenario 2 using a different part of the map as troops assault the Anti-Tank ditch, looks equally interesting - that should be going on the table tomorrow. I will AAR it, but will keep it briefer than here as some key concepts have already been explained.
Kursk - The Greatest Battle, Eastern Front 1943 by Lloyd Clark and published by Headline Review.
The narrative has progressed to a chapter dealing with Operation Barbarossa and the opening months of the war. Interestingly described, but I am now at page 99 and unfortunately while the games have started, my reading has yet to give me something about Kursk itself! I will plod on, but wish I had chosen another title to start off with.
LINK to next post - Clear the Ditches
LINK to the previous post that describes the features of the Dark July map
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