Now after a very, very long hiatus we got back to our SkirmishCampaigns Grossdeutschland at Kursk campaign earlier this month. Now this was the 9th game over all or in other words the panultimate one in the book. It was named Steel Confrontation and honestly, it lived up to its name. The terrain was mostly open, with the a few hills and even fewer light woods. And that was it. there was the option for dust clouds to drift across the table, but only one materialized right at the beginning of the game and virtually lingered where it had started due to some very low dice rolling. If you see a row of dust markers on the table in some photos… that is it.
The Germans (played by me) had two Marder III (I substituted one with a Marder II), PzKw III, PzKW IV and PzKw VI “Tiger” each. There was a 5cm Pak towed by truck and and a small infantry Platoon HQ in a Kübelwagen.
The Soviets (played by Alexander) on the other hand had three units of three T34´s, one unit of three T-70´s one lone command T34 and a motorized Rifle Squad to field.
The Panzer III and command T34 would enter on a randomly determined round between round one and four. In case of the Germans this meant right from the beginning of the game and in case of the Soviets round four.
Entry was also random as well. In case of the Germans this could either be the South-West corner or via a small section of the western board edge, in case of the Soviets either the North-West corner or a small patch on the eastern board edge. Now the Bolsheviks all rolled the eastern edge (how appropriate) which made that little stretch of the table look like a car park at the beginning of the game. With the Germans the Marder and PzKw III entered via the table edge and all the rest via the corner.
Victory conditions for the Germans were to have both Tiger tanks operational on the southern third of the table, the Russians either had to destroy, immobilize or push them of the table. The game would run for twelve turns at most, by which time either one of the sides would have had to accomplish their goal.
Now the battle turned into a swirling mass of tanks, just like some of the real tank battles during Kursk and writing this up, I felt it was nearly impossible to do a coherent report that would give a real good idea of the battle. So I am trying to do this by following the German units through the battle, because frankly… with all those T34´s I lost track of which of them did what and when.
So lets start with the PzKw III. They decided to push through the dust cloud and along the western board edge to try to outflank the Soviets. The Russians did their best to prevent them from doing so and dispatched three T34´s and two T70´s to intercept them. All their other units were heading towards the southern edge of the table.
Since the Panzer saw their best chance for survival in speed, they chose not to fire at their interceptors, since they were going at high speeds as well and this would have made hits highly unlikely. The lead tank did manage to get a shot off into the rear of one of the T34s who were heading South but only caused minor damage. The other PzKW III hit one of the other T-34s heading South in the flank and set off its fuel. Unfortunately, shortly afterwards the lead Panzer III was taken out while moving through the woods. So his compatriot had to steer to the side not to crash into the wreck and had for a short moment to turn its rear towards its interceptors, two of which stopped and killed it with shots into his weak rear.
Now the PzKw IV lead quiet an uneventful life. One of them decided to take its chances and fired its main gun at the approaching T34´s even though both were going at full speed. Chances for a hit were extremely low, but still it struck gold on its first shot and managed to explode the ammo in the T34 it had fired upon.
But its next few shots all missed and in the end it was taken out by a similar chance shot from one of the T34´s while still advancing. The other T34 managed to kill all of the crew, except for the bow machine gunner on one of the T34 (this man would move to the commanders position, but did only get to fire off a single shot before the game ended, which missed). Shortly afterwards it was taken out by a hit which exploded its ammo while scaling a hillside.
The German truck towing the AT gun and the Kübelwagen had charged forward and stopped behind the ridge of a hill. The PaK with the intention to set up a firing position, the infantry trying to cover it. Before the AT crew could even unlimber the gun, they were taken under fire by the Soviet DP machine gun from the Rifle Squad which had sped forward in its own truck to the other side of the hill. None of them were injured, but the trucks engine took a number of hits. The German infantry had a hard time protecting their compatriots, since they were still getting out of their Kübelwagen and were coming under fire from the Russian riflemen. So one of the Tiger, lacking tank targets at the moment loaded HE ammo and fired at the Soviet infantry. Most of the squad went unharmed, but the DP gunner was ripped to pieces. So his mates withdrew into the cover of the hills lee side. The crew would then set up its PaK and after a short wait, managed to take out a T34 with a hit to its front. They waited patiently for further targets, but soon their field of fire was blocked by T34 wrecks and they chose not to relocate for fear of becoming a prominent target.
Now the Marder III moved forward a little bit before going into a hull down position behind a hill. From there it managed to score two hits on a T34, the first doing some damage, the other one setting it aflame. But soon after, its superstructure was hit and all of the crew but the driver were killed. After recovering his nerves, he climbed up to the gun compartment to man it, but until the end of the game, its view was blocked by burning tanks as well.
Now the other Marder led a rather eventful live. for lack of better positions, if crossed the battlefield from the West to the East, firing the odd shot without much success. One of the T34´s tried to ram it, but it evaded at the last moment. This brought it close to the Russian Infantry. So it charged into the foot soldiers dispersing them and killing two in the process.
And it was gone before the Soviets recovered and tried to throw hand grenades into its open top. It would then turn back north towards towards the centre and damage one of the T34s which was then taken out by one of the Tiger tanks. It would soon end up hiding between some Russian wrecks in the centre and actually managed to destroy one of the T-34´s which had turned around from their successful Panzer III hunt.
By this time the command T-34 had entered the table and seeming the Marder boxed in decided to ram it. Now that one did not turn out as the Russian commander had planned. While it did massive damage to the Marder tracks and wheels it did not render it in operational. On the other hand, it managed to smash its own main gun seriously damaging the commander. When the T34 reversed, the Marder turned and took it out, which actually was the last kill of the game.
Now the Tiger tanks did what they were designed for. They went up a hill (killing some infantry in the process as mentioned before), pointed their thick armor towards the enemy and firing at targets.
In the beginning this was pretty few, since most were either out of view or had been dispatched by other vehicles already. But things got better, once the Russians who had been pursuing the PzKw III turned around.
In the end they had managed to take out all the T70s and whatever T34´s they could lay their Acht-Achter upon. At the same time all the Russian shots seemed to bounce off without doing much harm. There were a few interesting moments though. Since they had taken up positions close to the Russian infantry, said infantry chose to close assault them. And they actually managed to cause the only real damage, by placing grenades on the tracks, but only enough to slow one of them down. Seeing this the German infantry charged forward to defend the tanks, which they managed killing all but one, but at a high price since all but one riflemen perished while doing so. By the time they had done so, one of the T70s had charged up the hill to get into the Tigers rear. The remaining Soldat tried to close assault it as well, but failed to do any damage. But by the time the T70 was imposition to fire, the rear Tiger had turned its turret and took it out point blank.
In the end, the game ended with all but one Russian tank killed and that one only had one living crew member and was immobilized. Of the Soviet infantry only one soldier had survived.
On the German side the Marder II and both Tiger tanks were operational (although one slightly slower due to track damage) and the PaK team was there as well. The Marder III was badly damaged and only had one living crew me member as well.
In the end it was a German victory since they still had 6 ½ rounds to move the Tiger tanks forward and there was opposition left. But the price ha been high and the result had been bloody.