Somewhere near Kursk, during one of the Soviet counter-offensives, Summer 1943…
This scenario is set in the Central-Northern Russian countryside at the time of the great Kursk battles, in 1943. A German attack has been cut in two by the brave Russian defenders of the motherland, and some German forces remain isolated from their main force. A German Heavy Panzer platoon is desperately trying to salvage some equipment and get back behind German lines to lick their wounds.
Meanwhile a German Infantry Division is trying another futile counterattack along a 2-3km front to gain control of an important railway line. The stout Russian defenders have orders to hold the strategically important high ground they captured just recently and destroy any retreating Germans, while they wait for their relief forces to arrive to help them resume the offensive and crush the invaders.
Germans: Main Force Counterattacking is a depleted battalion with 2 understrength companies (2 Platoons each) plus a Platoon of HMGs and another of 8cm Mortars. The isolated force consists of 2 Tiger I (1 disabled), 1 Panzer IIIN escort and 1 Platoon of Infantry (representing composite force of stragglers).
Soviets: Initial force defending on table is 1 Company of 2 Platoons (4 Squads each), plus an ATR Platoon (2 ATR Squads), and a Medium Mortar Platoon (2 82mm Mortars & FOs), and 1 BA-10 Armoured Car (or similar recce vehicle). Arriving at random times and locations are: up to 2 Platoons from a second Company (one has CC with it, the other an attached ATR stand) and up to 3 T-34/76.
Germans: Get both of the Tiger tanks back safely to friendly lines. Capture the two pieces of high ground in the middle of the table.
Soviets: Hold the two lots of high ground against the German counter-attack. Prevent the Tigers reaching safety or destroy them.
The German offensive has been halted and cut in two by the Soviets. A German Heavy Panzer platoon is desperately trying to salvage some equipment and get back behind German lines, to lick their wounds while a German Infantry Division is trying another counterattack to gain control of an important railway line. The Russian defenders have orders to hold the strategically important high ground and destroy any retreating Germans…
The first turn started with the Germans moving their infantry into the village at the west end of the table and probing forward. Meanwhile the Tiger platoon failed to move after forgetting to attach the tow-rope properly! A bad start for the tanks.
The German infantry continued to probe forward and sent a section forward to probe over the railway line and into a wood adjacent to the higher ground objective. However the cunning Russians had anticipated this and held their fire until the rest of the platoon had advanced into the open and mowed them down, leaving the advance section isolated in some woods.
The German player then brought up a couple of MMGs to give covering fire but the Russians carried out some reactive fire and suppressed one of them. The Russians continued to fire at the MMGs during their own turn and managed to kill one squad.
The Germans then advanced some more platoons on towards the railway line to try and maximise their firepower against the defending Russian platoon. And the Tiger crews finally figured out how to tie a rope properly, and the platoon advanced.
The Germans continued to try and suppress the platoon defending the hill but after a few turns of not getting very far, they decided to try to probe towards the other higher ground objective further along the rail embankment. They dropped smoke in front of the defending Russians so they could advance safely across the open ground and managed to move virtually a whole Company into some woods near the other hill.
Meanwhile the Tigers had managed to advance a bit further down the road and had passed the first road intersection. They also tried to advance the two MMG squads into an orchard near the road in support. This forced the Russians to reveal the troops inside the orchard. The original Russian plan was to wait for the Tigers to advance past and then open up with the AT rifle section hidden in the orchard and try to suppress the Tigers (the modified armour rules meant a suppressed AFV was much less likely to move). Half an infantry platoon inside the orchard opened up with reactive fire and suppressed the closest MMG squad and its PC, but they were now exposed to the 88mm gun of the Tiger and the 75mm of the Panzer IIIN that was lurking nearby.
At this point the Germans were also poised to take the second ‘high ground’ objective as no Russians had revealed themselves to halt the German advance. However the initiative swung back to the Russians and the sole defender of the second objective, who was a Forward Observer for some off table mortars, called in the mortars and managed to suppress a couple of squads of the closest German platoon.
The Russians then also revealed their BA-10 Armoured Car that was lurking on the road through some woods since its LOS was currently blocked by the smoke. It drove out of the woods and over the railway embankment towards the German platoons. This proved to be a rather impetuous move, as the platoon it was trying to attack was armed with one of the few Panzerfausts the Germans had. The BA-10 was suppressed and effectively took no further part in the battle.
At this point it was realised that we had forgotten to roll for Russian reinforcements, so the dice were rolled and the Russians three T-34s promptly appeared along the southern road right next to the advancing German Infantry who were about the take the high ground. Talk about timing!
This effectively stopped the German advance on this flank and was very fortunate for the Russians, as they had no other defenders to stop the Germans taking the objective. This was poor defending by the Russians as they had two squads and a PC sitting elsewhere almost all of the game doing nothing.
Near the orchard the Tiger had opened up with its 88 and managed to kill a couple of infantry sections and suppress an AT team. They had halted for a couple turns while dispatching the infantry, but then realised the turns were disappearing fast and they had to put the foot down.
Back near the original hill there was some sporadic fire without much effect but then the German player remembered that the mortars could also fire HE! They proceeded to rain down HE on the Russians and suppressed a couple of squads.
The Germans dispatched the Pz.IIIN that was supporting the Tigers to halt the T-34s. It drove down the road and into a hull down position behind the railway embankment. The closest T-34s attempted to turn and engage the Pz.IIIN but were successfully shot at and pinned by the later, temporarily halting their progress.
The brave Russians who were left in the orchard meanwhile opened up with their remaining AT rifle as the Tigers drove past them but could only watch as the bullets bounced off the thick armour.
Meanwhile more Russian infantry arrived and crossed the stream to help reinforce the infantry in the orchard as the time ticked down and the Tiger convoy was getting closer to the hill. The new infantry Platoon circled around behind the old one and came up in support of the position in the orchard.
The Germans intensified the fire back against the original objective with their infantry wary of the fact that the Tigers would soon be advancing past the Russian defenders and they wouldn’t want to get close assaulted. This was also the best place the Germans now had of capturing a high ground objective. The Panzer III also withdrew from attacking the T-34s to bring up the rear behind the Tigers – engaging the new troops that had arrived in the orchard.
The last of the brave Russian reinforcements then arrived and the infantry platoon advanced across the river and into the destroyed town to try and eliminate the German MG Squads that had been abandoned to their fate by the Tiger Platoon. After completing this and getting new orders the Russian Infantry then were told to go and defend the southern hill and to support the FO who was still isolated. The T-34s also received new orders and one advanced over the railway embankment and up the road to chase the retreating Panzer III.
Meanwhile the clock was still advancing quickly but the knots on the German ropes were holding as the Tiger column approached the main hill.
The Tigers continued along the road and up the hill while a duel between a T-34 and the Panzer III ensured. The Panzer III was eventually suppressed and the last of the original infantry defenders attacked it from another nearby orchard. Two infantry squads attacked with their commander but were destroyed by the Panzer III and its brave crew!
Meanwhile the Tigers had advanced through the woods and were nearing the western village crossroads. The remaining two T-34s dashed across the open grassland parallel to the rail embankment to try and intercept the Tigers but one was immediately destroyed by a round from the operational Tiger’s 88mm. The third T-34 however lined up the Panzer III and destroyed it.
The Russian infantry were still taking a pounding and only a couple of squads remained and they were pinned or suppressed. The Russians carried out a retreat move from the second orchard and then circled around and managed to reinforce the northern objective hill as the Germans were close to capturing it. However the Tigers were still advancing and getting close to the German checkpoint at the crossroads.
Then one of the T-34s (the PC) got a lucky shot at the disabled one being towed and managed to suppress them (our modified rules mean suppressions reduce the likelihood of AFVs being active and moving). The Germans had to halt for a while (perhaps reattaching the tow rope or removing a blockage from the suspension, or trying to get the strained engine of the towing Tiger restarted).
The Germans rallied but there were only 2 ‘turns’ (30 minutes) left and it was going to be very close. The game was now focused on whether or not the Tigers would make it home safely, as the Germans simply couldn’t take either objective with the resources they had left in the time remaining.
The T-34 PC then managed to suppress the Tiger column again, ending any chance of the them getting back behind German lines in time. Victory to the Russians!
Result – A decisive victory to the Soviets, with fresh forces arriving to resume the offensive the German position was untenable, and it was likely the “Valuable Assets” would soon be overrun or abandoned!
Russian Player [Kieran] – The last few initiatives were quite close as there was a good possibility that the Tigers would escape and that I would lose one of the other objectives. My deployment was poor as I left the second (southern) objective basically undefended. I need to think about this a bit more next time; as half of my original defenders were stuck fighting Tigers instead of opposing the German infantry. In general the forces were a bit spread out too and the road the German armour had to withdraw along should have been nearer the table edge, rather than diagonally through the central part.
German Player [John] – A lack of imagination early on basically cost heavy casualties with a poorly planned advanced straight up the rail embankment at the first objective (northern high ground) without any support. We were then too slow to move around the flank onto the second objective, although a little luck (if the T-34’s had arrived later) and we might have made it! As things progressed the Tigers became an obsession and they proved a real challenge as they distracted from concentrating on the main battle to take the high ground. This was a successful part of this scenario as it made the German command work a bit harder on what would otherwise be a straight forward infantry attack.
One last note: in the photos the terrain is not very Central Russian or Kursk like – at the time we were limited to what we had with us on the day. In reality there should be less woods/orchards and stone walls, and more low rolling hills, low ridges, wadis (dry stream beds), wooden fences, and possibly some scrub or marsh replacing them.