13th July 1943 - The Kursk campaign, an exhausted German army has fought its way through several deep defensive belts and is at a point of breaking through towards Prokhorovka. Alarmed at this threat, Soviet armoured reserves are released to block the German advance. The scene was set to become the largest tank battle in history, as swirling armoured engagements left burning hulks scattered over the landscape. This scenario just takes a small slice of typical action.
The battle has been played on a hex grid using my Into Battle - WWII Tactical rules. The terrain is randomly set up and some units may be subject to random displacement immediately after they have set up and before play starts (see below).
Please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this post, which describes the scenario and gives some highlights of the action.
The table is 12 hexes wide x 9 deep, Terrain is randomly placed using 2 x D10 to determine the location of each terrain item. The first roll gives the hex row, ignore zero results and instead re-roll (start counting rows downwards from the German baseline) and the second roll counts the number of hexes in from the left hand side of the table. Add +1 to this second D10 die roll. If during this process the same hex is called twice, just re-roll.
Dice for terrain in the following order;
4 x 1 hex hill
3 x 1 hex orchard
2 x 1 hex minefield
3 x 1 hex German owned smoke
1 x 1 hex gully (running in a direction within the hex that goes from flat side to flat side, randomised by a D6 to decide the orientation within the hex)
Once done, grow the gully to a three hex feature by placing a gully tile on either open end of the original tile. I am using stream sections to match what is in my collection. If growing the gully hits another piece of terrain or partly falls off map, re-roll for the initial gully position. Below is a representation of the table that we generated.
Soviet forces set up first in the row of hexes that run along the bottom of the table, shown by the red bar. The T-34’s must set up in two groups and the T-70’s in one group. Each group must start in a single shared hex, so at the start of play, these Soviet forces will only start in 3 hexes. The SU 152 deploys in any other baseline hex.
5 x T34-76
3 x T-70
1 x SU 152
Morale value - 4
German forces set up second. They deploy in the row of hexes that run along the top of the table, shown by the black bar. Pz III’s must set up as two groups of two tanks, each in a single hex. Also they must deploy as flank guards to the Tigers, so during set-up, they must always start closer to the left and right side of the table edge than any Tiger.
4 x Pz III J
2 x Tiger I
Morale value - 4 (this has been increased by 1 point to represent the elite nature of the Tiger I crews and the veteran experience of the Pz III crews)
Once done, each player (German player first) rolls a 5 x D6. For every result of 5, that player can move one ENEMY tank one hex to either side of its current position, but never off the table. On a result of 6, that player MUST move a FRIENDLY tank one hex forward into either one of its two forward hexes. The same tank can be subjected to as many moves as either player wishes to allocate results to it. If a unit is moved into a minefield it is immediately attacked.
The game can now start normally, with the German player taking the role of player 1.
Victory conditions - The German player gets 1.5 VP’s for every vehicle that they exit the table via the Russian baseline (i.e. towards Prokhorovka) and half a VP for every enemy vehicle they destroy. The Soviets get 1.5 VPs for every German vehicle that is destroyed and half a VP for every German vehicle presently ‘stunned’ at the end of play. The winner is simply the side that accrues the most VP’s. If the scores end in a draw, the Soviet player wins.
The game starts at 1100 hours and ends once the game clock passes 1220 hours. Victory is only assessed at that time. The German is Player 1, the Soviets hold the Advantage Chit.
Random Events - whenever random events 3, 7 or 10 are rolled, discard that result and treat the roll as if it had been a 6 instead (Air Support).
Gully - this is simply representing a dry dip in the ground, units in it cannot be seen except from an adjacent hex and units in it can only see adjacent hexes. Therefore all fire ranges that involve gully features will be one hex.
Fast tanks - To represent the nature of combat on this vast and open battlefield and the tactic of the Russian tanks charging forwards to close the ranges down with the enemy heavy Tiger tanks and getting flank shots, in this scenario, the line of sight restriction for moving two hexes is lifted. So, all tanks except the Tiger’s, when moving over open ground (only) can always move a second hex regardless of whether the first hex entered was made in line of sight of an enemy.
Smoke - the smoke placed at the start of play counts as German generated smoke, so each smoked hex will be tested for removal in the German End Phase of each turn in the usual way.
Minefields - every time a player knocks out an enemy tank, they can immediately move one minefield one hex in any direction. The destination hex must be open and on the table.
Pre-game thoughts, in this system units can either fire or move, so the German player has to balance fire with forward movement, while both sides need to read the battlefield to make best advantage of the terrain that has been thrown out by the generator. The optional rules give the Tiger tanks some command advantages that should help keep the Tigers in action.
The Soviets spread out their forces with the T-34 groups on the flanks. They need to cover any German dash for the board edge. In response, the Germans set up to their centre and right flank, concentrating their forces and abandoning the right (by the gully).
Random movement of the initially placed vehicles had little effect. A Tiger got into a better firing position and a Pz III got dragged out into the line of fire of a T-34 group.
Some Game Highlights.
1100 hours - There was exciting play right from the off. The Pz III tried to get back into cover, but was hit by opportunity fire and stunned, leaving it exposed. A Tiger hit the SU 152, but only got a stun. Then two out of the three smoke screens dispersed and by the end of the opening turn, 4 out of 6 of the German tanks were stunned. A bad opener for the Germans and I have not seen as many stun results in one turn before with this system. One of the Tigers was stunned by a T-34, no doubt a lucky shot that perhaps caused an injury to the crew and then a Random Event called in a Soviet air strike, which stunned the other Tiger ... ‘Oh Dear’ thought the Panzer Leader ‘We are getting the worst of it today’!
The first knock out in the game was handed out to the SU 152, from a Tiger (I never seem to be able to hold on to my 152’s, they are always early casualties!). Next a T-34 was hit and left burning. These two knockouts had each activated the minefield special rule and so the group of two T-34’s on the right flank had to test as though they had stumbled into a minefield - they both got stun results!
With Soviet morale lowered due to losses, there was a need for them to advance away from the table edge, in case they failed a morale test and were forced to retreat off the table. Things can either fire or move, so the Germans got a break from being targeted while the Soviets edged forwards.
The first German tank destroyed was a Pz III on their left flank. It must be said that for the most part, the game was witnessing some bad shooting and when hits were scored, they were frequently producing stun results rather than knock outs, so the losses so far were relatively light for a congested and deadly battlefield.
By 1135, one of the Tigers was still stunned and out of action, perhaps the crew had serious injuries or there had been a power failure, but then, it suddenly spluttered to life and started pumping shells, though not with any great accuracy it must be said.
Each side had now lost two tanks each and the Germans really needed to start thinking about advancing, to ensure that breakout towards Prokhorovka. But they lost another Pz III, their morale dropping to 1 and the clock hitting 1159 hours - things were getting serious. The order was given to advance, a dangerous prospect with so many enemy tanks that would soon be on their flanks and rear.
The Soviet T-70’s in the centre stood no chance against Tigers, they made a dash for it from the protection of lingering smoke, towards the rear of the orchard. They survived the attention of a Pz III, reaching the orchard which would give them an ambush position against the Tigers when they passed. At the end of the turn the clock dice are rolled ... double six, 12 minutes are added to the time and the German player winces! There just isn’t enough time left to break through.
A T-34, on the Soviet left, just recovering from a Stun, knocked out the last Pz III. This crashed the German morale level to zero and the two remaining Tiger tanks had to take a morale check. One failed and fell back one hex, right into the sights of two T-34’s on the Soviet right. Both fired, but missed, it mattered not, the German attack was faltering and another leap forward of the game clock signalled the game’s end.
Victory points were scored only on casualties as the Germans had failed to exit the table. The Soviets got 4 x Pz III = 6 Victory Points and the Germans got 2 x T-34 and 1 x SU 152 = 1.5 VP’s, a clear Soviet win.
This was the first time that I have used the system for a tank only battle and it seemed to work out quite well. There is potentially a lot of firepower on the opening turns, but this is somewhat tempered by the randomised terrain that will create some blind spots as well as cover and the command and control system will also ensure that at any one time, either player will typically have vehicles that they cannot activate in the turn**. Together these two aspects brought up all sorts of local tactical nuances.
** note, using the Optional Rules for the Tiger I, potentially gives the German force a significant edge in terms of command activation.
The Germans were unlucky to have most of the terrain on their side of the table, this reduced the Tigers ability to dominate most of the table with their powerful guns and it also stopped the Pz III’s from poking their nose out against so many enemy active gun barrels, they would be bound to be hit before they could get into better firing positions.
The biggest problem for the Germans was that their Tiger tanks gunnery was poor and one of them was stunned for the first half hour. On a luckier day, they should be able to take out a good proportion of the enemy gun tubes. It simply took them too long to engage targets, many of which were simply stunned instead of being knocked out and they were not left with enough time to make a safer crossing across hostile battlefield to exit the table edge. With some heavier casualties, there would have been a greater emphasis on the need to play cat and mouse amongst the available terrain.
The special scenario rules worked quite well, especially including a little more freedom of movement for the tanks. Initially I opened the rule up to only the T-70’s to highlight their good speed and manoeuvrability, but then decided to open it up to all tanks except for the Tiger to instead highlight their limitation.
The randomness of the set-up allows this to be repeat played with an element of freshness and new tactical nuances and problems each time out. It all worked quite well and I don’t think I need to tweak the scenario before another playing. I would rather wait and see how a second game with heavier casualties (better shooting) looks.
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Link to a free download of the Into Battle rules.
Link to a recent AAR covering the north west 1944 module