Sunday, March 24, 2013

Prokhorovka 70th Anniversary

In an ongoing observance of the 70th anniversary of 1943 and the decisive events of WWII that occurred therein, I got together with a few friends to play a game representing the tank battle at Prokhorovka, which took place on July 12 1943.  We were a bit early in out observance of it, but that was due to a long-time gaming buddy planning to leave soon.  I apologize the pics aren't better but I only had my iPhone with me!

We played a scenario pitting forces representing the 5th Guards Tank Army's 29th Tank Corps vs. the II SS Panzer Corps, 1st SS Panzer Division (LSSAH) which were the main forces that clashed near Prokhorovka on July 12, 1943.  We used a modified version of the Flames of War scenario found online here as a guide, playing on a 6' by 5' table.  The Soviet forces were represented by 7000 points of Red Army Fearless Conscript Tankovy Batalons, consisting of 2 batalons of 3000 points, and one reserve batalon of 1000 points.  The Germans were represented by 5100 points consisting of two Fearless Veteran SS panzer companies.  As was historically the case, the Soviets were primarily T-34 tanks and the Germans Pz-IVs.  We only had two Tigers on the field, in defiance of History Channel and BBC history television programming, which like to show all the German tanks as Tigers.  In total, the Germans fielded about 30 AFVs in our game, vs about 80 Soviet AFVs of all types.  So for history buffs we were representing the clash at a ratio of about  1 model to every 2 tanks at the battle between 29th Tank Corps and LSSAH.

The game lasted 12 turns, and victory would be determined by which side controlled the majority of 7 objectives at the end of the game.  A major victory would be possible by holding 5 or more of the 7 objectives at game end.  To represent the bitter fighting, there were no morale checks above the platoon (Soviet company) level.  The German commanders were myself and KayJay of WWPD podcast fame(?), Bob B, Bill W. and myself 

The game began with one company of Germans facing off against a battalion of Soviets, driving full speed down the road from Prokhorovka.  The Germans moved quickly to form a firing line on hills wherever possible. A German barrage disabled a few Soviet tanks.

The firing line on the right flank.   The yellow felt represented "destructible" sunflower fields that would provide concealment until trampled by three or more tanks entering and exiting them.  

The first Soviet horde as deployed.  

The Soviets then spread out quickly, rushing the German right flank and putting pressure on the center objective.  The Germans destroyed a number of Soviet tanks and some AA guns in the center.  

A bevy of light tanks (Stuarts proxying for T-70s) skirt the sunflower fields and charge the German lines.

On turn 3, German and Soviet reinforcements arrived in the form of another SS Panzer company and another Red Army Tankovy Batalon.  Here my panzers take up a position behind a rail embankment to cover the German right flank.  The Germans have set up a good firing line to try to hold off the Soviet charge.

Tovarisch Podpolkovnik Bill happily deploys the pride of the Motherland on the German right.  Hiding in the back are a few zveroboi (big game hunter) tank-destroyers.  

The battle is joined in earnest during the middle turns as the Soviets rush forward en masse across the table.  The Germans hold back and try to avoid being flanked and overwhelmed.  Superior German firepower inflicts heavy casualties on the Soviets as they advance. 

A Soviet Sturmovik fighter-bomber targets and destroys one of the German Tigers!  Air power played a minor role for the Germans but caused some important casualties for the Soviets.  One mistake I made in building the Soviet list was to give them an 8-gun Katyusha battery.  These were almost entirely ineffective against German armor.  

A wave of Soviet tanks advances under heavy fire from the German line.  
The Soviets penetrate the German left flank in the middle turns.  But would their firepower be enough to break the German line and swing the battle in their favor?    
Sensing that time is against them, the Soviet commanders have their tanks rush the central objective.
Soviet tanks take heavy casualties on the German right while advancing under long-range fire from the panzers.  The Soviets are unable to effectively respond at range.  

Fighting on the German left intensifies, but the Soviets are taking the brunt of it.  Another pile of smoking Soviet tanks tells the tale, although some still fight on.  In the center, the Soviets have seized the objecteive and engage the Germans at point-blank ranges, with some success.  

With a blanket of smoke suppressing the Soviet AA guns, the Panzers respond to the central thrust with heavy firepower, including the surviving Tiger.    in the background, a third under-strength Tankovy battalion joins the fray adding 15 more T-34s to the mix.  Will it be enough to shore up the Soviet line?

The Soviet tanks reach their high water mark on the German left flank.  The heavy firepower of the German tanks and the dug-in 10.5cm guns repel the final gasps of the attempted flank attack.

The Soviet tanks disgorged their tank-rider company to add weight to their claim on the central objective.  T-34s race to reinforce them as the Soviet tanks in the center lose the battle against the German panzers.

Another view of the carnage as the final Soviet reinforcements rush forward.

Artillery barrages and well-aimed German panzer fire annihilate the central T-34 company.  Only the infantry remains to contest the central objective.

 On the German right, the utter devastation wreaked by their fire inspires the panzer commander (me) to advance toward the Soviet objective.  Tank wrecks provide cover as the panzers roll forward, suffering only minor casualties.  Soviet anti-tank fire from the 76mm battery proves ineffective.

The panzers break another T-34 company, and roll up a few Soviet stragglers as they take the objective point.  Note the Katyushas were just for looks as the battery was actually located off-table.  Eventually my company of 13 AFVs lost 3 Pz-IVs and 1 Stug to Soviet fire, in exchange for destroying approximately 30 Soviet AFVs.

 In the center the German armor massacres the Soviet infantry with machine-gun fire.  They break and run.  The remaining Soviet tank company is not strong enough to seriously contest the objective unsupported.

A few stragglers exchange desultory fire as the game is all but over.  The SU-152s actually crept up through the woods and took 2 shots at the Tiger, only to miss and fall prey to the Tiger's return fire.  Their burning hulks can be sen in the lower right corner.

The final view from the Soviet side of the central objective.  Having broken almost every Soviet company deployed, the Germans stand uncontested masters of the battlefield.

Conclusion:  The Germans ended the game in possession of 5 objectives to the Soviets 2.  We declared it a major German victory, in light of the fact that not a single Soviet tank company remained intact.  Almost every Soviet AFV, of about 80 fielded. was destroyed.  The Germans suffered a total of  no more than 10 AFVs destroyed.  This was a loss ratio of about 8:1 and almost 100% for the Soviets vs. about 30% for the Germans.  In the actual battle between 5th Guards tank Army and II SS Panzer LSSAH, the losses were about 8:1 with the Soviets losing 259 tanks to the Germans 32.  (Note this number reflects both AFVs knocked out of action and those totally destroyed.)

So very interestingly, we saw a near-historical result from our adaptation of the historical OOBs to Flames of War rules.  The Germans inflicted very heavy casualties and held the field, as they did historically.  In history the size of the Soviet tank reserves still facing them and concerns elsewhere (such as Sicily) led the German High Command to cancel the Kursk offensive.  Although this is satisfying on one hand, one has to wonder how it was that 7000 points of Soviets could be so easily handled by only 5000 points of Germans.  Perhaps the Flames of War mid-war lists are better for historical re-creations than for competitive gaming?  It couldn't be...

Thanks again to KayJay for hosting and to my erstwhile opponents who hurled their tanks at us like true heroes of the Motherland!