History to #Wargame – My Kursk Kampaign – Part 3 Tactical Choices

Although the main focus of my Kursk Kampaign History to Wargame exploration of the Battle of Kursk uses Trevor Bender’s Battle for Kursk: The Tigers are Burning, 1943 (RBM Studios, 2020) wargame, I am also looking at the more tactical wargame titles in my collection. As I read more of The Battle of Kursk by David Glantz and Jonathan House (University of Kansas Press, 1999) and Christopher Lawrences’s The Battle of Prokharovka (Stackpole Books, 2019) and reach their descriptions of the signature battle, my thoughts turn to more tactical-scale wargames and how they work to convey history.

Tactical Wargames for Kursk

TitlePublisherUnit SizeDistanceTime
Blood & ThunderGDW, 1993Platoon250m/ hex~15 min
PanzerGMT, 2012Squad/Tank100m/ hex~5 min
Storms of SteelAcademy Games, 2017Squad/Tank~100m/ hex~10 min
Table 1 – My Tactical-scale Wargames with Battle of Kursk scenarios

Terrain

From a more tactical perspective, in my readings this time I took in much more about the terrain of the battle. One “myth” of the battle I have in my mind is of wide open steppes and tank battles at range. The reality is a bit different. Take for instance this excerpt from Glantz as he discusses the terrain in front of Baksov’s Soviet 67th Guard’s Rifle Division 14-km sector:

To Baksov’s front the terrain sloped downward, gently on his right toward the main east-west rail line six kilometers distant and even more precipitously in the center on the left toward the villages of Butovo and Iamnoe and the Vorskla valley. The slightly tilted billard table approach on his right was marred by a ravine and associated dry marsh, which marked the course of the rivulet Berezovyi, less than a kilometer to the front. In the center clumps of trees and in the east the ground forward of the division’s defenses was heavily cut up and gouged by ravines and stream beds sloping southeast to the Vorskla and the village of Kazatskoe. Clearly the main routes into his positions ran northward along both sides of Butovo. The main German positions were invisible to the naked eye between four and six kilometers away, extending across the rail line from Loknia through Iamnoe to Katzatoe.

Glantz, The Battle of Kursk, p. 72

This detailed terrain analysis is too in-depth for Battle for Kursk which looks to be 10’s of km per hex in scale. However, it certainly is applicable to tactical scenarios. This is a consideration I need to remember as I look at the tactical games.

Kursk was a Tank Battle

As I read both Glantz and Lawrence I am also struck by how much of the Battle of Kursk was not a tank battle. Sure, the signature event at Prokhorovka is a giant armored clash but that came days after the start of the campaign. Many of the battles were fought to get through the Soviet defensive belts and many of those actions were infantry-heavy fights supported by tanks and highly dependent on engineers. Airpower also had a role. Here is how Glantz relates an attack by the Grossdeutschland division on July 5 from the unit history:

The infantry left its positions and attacked, but there was something wrong with the fusiliers. The Panzer Regiment GD and the panther brigade were supposed to attack with them, however they had the misfortune to drive into a minefield which had escaped notice until then–and then even before reaching the bolshevik trenches! It was enough to make one sick. Soldiers and officers alike feared that the entire affair was going to pot. The tanks were stuck fast, some bogged down to the tops of their tracks, and to make matters worse the enemy was firing at them with antitank rifles, antitank guns, and artillery. Tremendous confusion breaks out. The fusiliers advance without the tanks–what can they do? The tanks do not follow. Scarcely does the enemy notice the precarious situation of the fusiliers when he launches a counterattack supported by numerous close support aircraft. The purely infantry companies of III Panzer-Fusilier Regiment GD, or the 11th, 12th, and 13th Companies, walked straight into ruin. Even the heavy company suffered 50 killed and wounded in a few hours. Pioneers were moved up immediately and they began clearing a path through the mine-infested terrain. Ten more hours had to pass before the first tanks and self-propelled guns got through and reached the infantry.

Glantz, The Battle of Kursk, p. 96

Honestly, this sounds like a scenario I expect to find in Advanced Squad Leader (Multi-Man Publishing) or PanzerGrenadier (Avalanche Press), not Storms of Steel.

Scenarios

I decided to list all the scenarios I have onhand before I read about the actual battles. This way I could “be on the lookout” for the given battle and get a sense of how “historically accurate” the scenario may be or if it is more “representative;” i.e. possibly sacrificing realism for playability. As I reviewed my wargame holdings I was actually very surprised to see just how many scenarios I have that touch on the Battle of Kursk. Sure, with a title like Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel – Kursk, 1943 I expected that one to have scenarios but I was surprised at just how many I hold elsewhere. As a matter of fact, in addition to the 17 scenarios in Storms of Steel, I have a further 10 elsewhere.

That said, of the 27 Kursk-related scenarios in hand, only two (2) take place on the iconic day of July 12:

  • Blood & Thunder Scenario 20: Armored Melee – Prokhorovka (south of Kursk). As the II SS Panzer Corps seems poised for a breakthrough, 5th Guards Tank Army is committed to throw it back, and the result is the largest tank melee of the war. In the center of the fight, at the gates of the key road junction of Prokhorovka, the spearhead of the SS Liebstandarte Adolf Hitler Division collides with the Soviet 170th and 181st Tank Brigades of the 18th Tank Corps.
  • Panzer Expansion #2 Scenario 18: Beginning of the End: Kursk, 12 July 1943 – After rolling over the Soviet 6th Tank Corps, the 3rd Panzer Division moved into a defensive position on the western flank of the Grossdeutschland Panzergrenadier Division. At the same time, the Soviet 1st Tank and 6th Guards Armies were advancing to cut off the German forces advancing on Prokhorovka. At daybreak on 12 July, the Soviet 10th Tank Corps moved out against the 3rd Panzer Division’s positions in the Bereavka area. Throughout the day, the German forces were forced to fall back. Even after launching a series of counterattacks, they were not able to regain any of the lost ground. By the end of the day, the Soviet forces had advanced well over 14km, threatening to turn the flank of the entire XLVIII Panzer Corps.

Seeing how I was more familiar with Panzer than Blood & Thunder, I elected to play “Armored Melee” to experience the B&T system. I made this choice for several reason, amongst them the historical notes and sources cited. I also felt that the scenario layout of the map, set up 1×2 vertically with the road going up the middle, was more evocative of the battlefield. It also covers an area of 17 hexes x 42 hexes (just a little over 4 km x 10.5 km) which is about half the frontage of each of the three major attacks Lawrence discusses for this day (p. 345-347). I also felt the scale of Blood & Thunder, being platoon-level and 250m per hex, was better suited to portray the big battle.

Melee? What Melee?

According to the scenario set-up information, this engagement portrays an attack by advance elements of the Liebstandarte SS Adolph Hitler Division against the defending Soviet 170th and 181st Tank Brigades of the 18th Tank Corps starting around 1000 hours. The scenario points out this important part of the battle, “The intensity of the fighting is summed up in a single incident: one of the KVs of the Soviet 395th Tank Battalion, damaged and burning, rammed a Tiger tank at full speed, destroying both vehicles in the resulting explosion.”

Problem is I can’t find this event in either the Glantz or Lawrence book.

Glantz doesn’t go down to the battalion level, but reports that the 170th Tank Brigade on July 12, “lost its commander and as many as thirty of its sixty tanks” (p. 189). The types of tanks lost are not specified, nor is the loss of a KV-1 against a Tiger called out. Lawrence recounts the battles of the 170th Tank Brigade on pages 314-319 and notes that by noon (Moscow time) it, “had lost 60% of its tanks, its brigade commander had burned to death in his tank, and one battalion commander was mortally wounded” (p. 316). Lawrence notes the 170th Tank Brigade consisted of T-34 and T-70 tanks; no KV-1s were assigned to it. It was not until later in the day that battles against Tiger tanks were fought, and then it was elements of the 181st Tank Brigade against Tigers likely from the Totenkopf SS Panzer Regiment. Lawrence does point to data that the Adolph Hitler SS Division was down one (1) Panzer VI (Tiger) by July 13 (p. 341), but also shows that the only KV-1s on the battlefield, a single track in the XXIX Tank Corps and another single track in the 1529th Heavy SP Artillery Regiment, both were operational at the end of July 12 (p. 342).

All of this made me question the historical scenarios in Blood & Thunder. Well, at first. I then realized that Blood & Thunder was published in 1993 meaning most, if not all, the research predated the fall of the Berlin Wall. Sure enough, the sources cited for the scenario range from 1966 to 1987 meaning they were part of the German mythology of the Battle of Kursk. What I mean is this scenario reflects the Battle of Kursk as the Germans portrayed it after the war in their memoirs. Chadwick’s “Armored Melee” scenario does not benefit from the opening of the Russian archives and the years of subsequent research that Glantz and Lawrence take advantage of.

This is Not the Battle You Are Looking For

Does that make “Armored Melee,” or any of the other scenarios about the Battle of Kursk, less valuable in my eyes? No, I don’t think less of “Armored Melee” or any of the other scenarios just because they are not “historically accurate.” On the contrary, I enjoy the many scenarios because they create interesting challenges that force decisions. Take for instance the earliest scenario from July 4, the day before the Battle of Kursk:

  • Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel Mission 1: The Courier’s Satchel – Shortly before Operation Citadel, a Soviet probe intercepts a courier carrying a satchel with German deployment orders. An elite platoon of Panzer Grenadiers is immediately dispatched to retrieve the satchel. The provincial Soviet commander orders the documents delivered to an Intelligence Officer at headquarters for translation. With the local front a beehive of activity on both sides, getting the satchel to headquarters is easier said than done–Panzer Grenadiers notwithstanding.

I can’t point to a specific passage in Glantz or Lawrence that this scenario is based on, but both authors discuss the capture of several German soldiers by the Soviets on the eve of the battle making this scenario at the least “inspired by actual events.”

The same “based on a true story” approach to scenario design is in Panzer (GMT Games):

  • Panzer Playbook Scenario 8 – Assault: Kursk, July 1943 – The 4th Panzer Division, as part of the General Walter Model’s 9th Army’s XLVII Panzer Corps, met the Soviet 2nd Tank Army headlong on the Northern Kursk Salient. Along with the 2nd and 4th Panzer Divisions, these panzer divisions formed the middle prong of the army’s central strike force.

This scenario appears to be based on events of the 4th Panzer Division between July 7-8. I say “appears” since using Glantz it is hard to determine the ground truth. The 109th Tank Brigade in the scenario set up does not appear in the text of The Battle of Kursk but the unit is shown on the map on page 116 placed opposite the German 6th Infantry Division to the east of 4th Panzer Division (with 2nd Panzer Division between them). The end result is a scenario that is not historically precise, but still quite plausible.

Shall We Play a Game?

Between older sources clashing with revised history and a scenario design philosophy that emphasizes interesting situations over reality, one could make the argument that the tactical scenarios in many games covering the Battle of Kursk are useless. Well, if your view of history in wargaing is strictly historical than yes, you will be disappointed. I take a different perspective; though many scenarios are not strictly historical they cover interesting and challenging situations that place you, the player, in a position of making decisions similar to yet not identical with those commanders present on the battlefield in 1943 faced. Indeed, I argue that these scenarios show the power of wargaming which don’t need to recreate reality to deliver a lesson, just recreate the atmosphere of the time. Playing is the best way of learning, and playing all these scenarios will teach much of the times than a lockstep historical scenario can.

You can read a book for the specifics of history, but play the wargames to experience the times yourself.


Feature image “Panther with its turret blown Battle of Prokharovka” via reddit

Sunday Summary – Preorder & Kickstarter Update (@LederGames, @MultiManPub, @JimDietz1, @compassgamesllc)

Spring has arrived meaning those long, dark winter days are behind us and outdoor chores demand my attention. Spring is traditionally a slower gaming time in the RockyMountainNavy home as we all are more busy and “spring fever” sets in.

Kickstarter

In the past few months there has been something of a renaissance of wargames on Kickstarter. Since early February I tracked at least eight wargame(ish) titles that I was VERY tempted to pull the trigger on and purchase. Add to that a further seven boardgames and it is very easy to see that the first quarter of Kickstarter in 2021 could be very costly for me—as in nearly $900 in pledges assuming lowest levels of support and not factoring in any shipping! Alas, I ended up only backing one wargame/boardgame (Root: The Marauder Expansion from Leder Games) and even then I went in at a lesser level.

Incoming

As I write this post, I am tracking 26 items on my Preorder & Kickstarter Roll GeekList. With a bit of some luck, I might see three games deliver this week and another two within 30 days:

Looking a bit further ahead I might see as many as six additional titles in house by June. That should keep my gaming table busy enough!


Feature image Cherry Blossoms in DC taken Mar 16, 2021

#RockyReads for #Wargame – The Battle of Prokhorovka: The Tank Battle at Kursk, The Largest Clash of Armor in History by Christopher A. Lawrence (Stackpole Books abridged second edition, 2019)

BLUF

Looks bigger than it is. The Battle of Prokhorovka is largely a textual retelling of the extensive database collected by The Dupuy Institute on the battle. Many details but best parts may actually be the sidebar texts that cover a myriad of associated issues in a short, succinct manner.

The “Short” 639-Page Version

The Battle of Prokhorovka is a hefty book coming in at a grand total of 639 pages. Surprisingly, it is an abridged version of the author’s 1,662 page mega-book Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, 2015). This abridged version focuses almost exclusively on the actions of the SS Panzer Corps and supporting III Panzer Corps from July 9-18, 1943. The account is based primarily on German unit records complimented by some access to Soviet Army Files from the Russian Military Archives. The work was originally accomplished by The Dupuy Institute for the US Army Concepts Analysis Agency (CAA), better know today as the Center for Army Analysis.

Deconstructing German Myths

I noted after reading The Battle of Kursk by Jonathan Glantz that his book attempted to deconstruct the German myths around the Battle of Kursk and retell the story in a more balanced fashion by incorporating Soviet archival materials. Christopher Lawrence in The Battle of Prokhorovka attempts much the same, but instead of depending heavily on Soviet archive material like Glantz does or on memoirs of German officers like many others, he digs into German (and as available some Soviet) unit reports. You know, those daily, often monotonous tomes of numbers. The end result is a viewpoint in retelling the story that still is biased towards the Germans, but one that attempts to “ground” itself in data rather than emotion.

With the focus on two German corps on the south side of the Kursk salient, The Battle of Prokhorovka is really just a small part of the larger story. That said, one might assume that with 639 pages this volume is very detailed. Surprisingly, I actually found Lawrences’s The Battle of Prokhorovka easier to read than Glantz’s The Battle of Kursk. Maybe this was because the language used was less emotional. It might also be easier to read because The Battle of Porkhorovka is actually laid out on the page in an easier to read manner – there’s more white space on some pages than I expected which lengthens the book but doesn’t expand the content. There are also several interesting sidebar content areas, like the “Terrain Photo” or “Photo Reconnaissance” sections. There are also many interesting sidebars on the tanks and various “numbers” associated with the battle.

Large Clash but Small Numbers

As someone who grew up steeped in the myths of the great Battle of Kursk, it never ceases to amaze me just how small the battle actually was. Not only was the area very small (10’s of kilometers across and in depth) but also for all the “Corps” and “Armies” involved the number of tanks was actually far less than the myth portrays. The two numbers that jumped out at me in this reading of The Battle of Prokhorovka was the Panthers and German tank losses on July 12.

According to Lawrence, around 200 Panther tanks were assigned to Panzer Regiment von Lauchert supporting the Gross Deutschland Panzer Grenadier Division. Here is what happened to all those Panthers, on the first day (July 5) of the offensive:

The Panther Regiment started with as many as 198 tanks operational. By the end of the day, they were down to 119 operational. As well as can be determined, two were lost due to friendly fire, one to hostile fire, six broke down during the march in the morning, and up to 19 were lost to mines. The remaining estimated 51 tanks were most likely mechanical failures. The Panther regiment had hardly seen action, but was now down to around 60 percent of its strength. This does not seem worth the two-month delay in the start of the offensive for this level of support.

The Battle of Prokhorovka, p. 56

A single graphic on page 344 of The Battle of Prokhorovka destroys the myth of the battle better than any written account can. According to Lawrence, the Lieberstandarte SS Adolf Hitler Division lost 19 tanks on the fateful day of July 12 as compared to 159 in the opposing Soviet XXIX Tank Corps. Lawrence further points out that many “losses” claimed in battle were made good by battlefield recovery effort, meaning losses in combat don’t necessarily mean losses in combat power over the course of the campaign.

Wargame Application

The Battle of Prokhorovka, focusing on the actions of the SS Panzer Corps and III Panzer Corps, is a very good source for wargame scenarios or campaigns based on the actions of these units. That said, Lawrence generally discusses unit at the Brigade/Regiment levels and occasionally down to Battalions. If one wants to recreate more tactical scenario situations like in Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel, Kursk 1943 3rd Edition (Academy Games, 2019) then there might actually NOT be enough detail in this book. That said, I encourage every potential scenario designer to focus not on recreating a historical event in a scenario, but instead focus on recreating the historical situation in a more “inspired by history” situation.

The accounts of battle in The Battle of Prokhorovka, and especially how many tank “losses” didn’t come from hostile fire, also challenges wargame scenario designers. I know of few scenarios where units are attrited before contact (“fall out”) or where mines and engineers become so important for a tank battle. It’s a new perspective and one often overlooked, if for no other reason than it “ain’t cool” if you don’t get to blow up tanks in battle!

Citation

Lawrence, Christopher A., The Battle of Prokhorovka: The Tank Battle of Kursk, The largest Clash of Armor in History, Guilford: Stackpole Books abridged second edition, 2019.

History to #Wargame – My Kursk Kampaign – Part 2 Before Citadel

Introduction

As I discuss in a previous post, Trevor Bender’s wargame Battle for Kursk: The Tigers are Burning, 1943 found in C3i Magazine Nr. 34 (RBM Studios, 2020) is a bit of a misnamed game. While I expected the game to be focused on the actual Battle of Kursk, popularly cited as taking place from July 5 to August 23, 1943, I instead found a game about the summer and fall 1943 campaign season on the center and south portions of the Eastern Front. Now that I learned the mechanics of playing the Battle for Kursk I figure it’s time to start really exploring the Battle of Kursk. To do so I decided to mix both reading history and playing wargames together.

This History to Wargame series focuses on two books, The Battle of Kursk by David Glantz (University of Kansas Press, 1999) and The Battle of Prokhorovka by Christopher Lawrence (Stackpole Books, 2019). The feature wargame is Trevor Bender’s Battle for Kursk: The Tigers are Burning, 1943 (RBM Studios, 2020).

Lead Up to Citadel (March – June 1943)

Glantz

The Glantz book is an excellent overview of the forces, leaders, and situation leading up to the Battle of Kursk. Indeed, the Battle for Kursk wargame closely mirrors Glantz’s discussion of the lead up to the battle in terms of the units discussed and the area focused upon. Having the Battle for Kursk game map out while reading Glantz helps immensely with understanding the geography.

One part that caught my attention for a possible “what if” was the plans for Operations Habicht and Panther (Glantz, p. 25) which were intended as follow-on attacks from Citadel. But “what if” one reversed the plan? What if the Germans launched Habicht/Panther in May 1943 (Turn C) before the Soviet fortifications in that area are complete with orders to seize Kuyansk and cut the rail line from the south into the Kursk salient?

Shown using Battle for Kursk (RBM Studios, 2020)

At several points in the lead up to the battle, Glantz discusses the “correlation of forces.” He first discusses this on page 65 and again when he shows a German Staff Estimate on page 75. Now I wonder if I need to bounce these figures off another Lawrence book, War By Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, 2017) which makes extensive use of data from the Kursk campaign.

Lawrence

One aspect of the lead up to Operation Citadel that Lawrence emphasizes is the political aspects of the offensive, especially Hitler’s concern about his allies. Lawrence asserts that the need to prop up Italy was an important distraction. Now I better understand one of the alternate starting scenarios in WW2 Deluxe: European Theater (Canvas Temple Publishing, 2018) which has the “Citadel and Avalanche (Summer 1943)” start scenario. These two offensives were not only linked temporally but politically as well.

Lawrence also goes much deeper than Glantz into the discussion of the different tanks and how tank production by the Germans in many ways drove the start date of Citadel. For all the different tanks discussed it is interesting to see how few actual tanks were in a given unit. It is also interesting to see all the different models that were thrown into battle at Kursk. The tank vs. tank battles are certainly played up in the wargames Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel, Kursk 1943 (Academy Games) or Panzer (GMT Games) but Lawrence reminds us that there were many other tanks on the battlefield, including more than a few designed for infantry support.

A possible “what if” scenario that jumped out at me from Lawrence’s preparations was an idea rejected at the June 27 pre-battle commander’s conference. At that meeting Hitler, “rejected a recent memo from Army Group Center to evacuate the Orel bulge so as to create an operational reserve. He also again rejected the idea of a “backhand” strike. He decided it would be better to seize the initiative and attack” (Lawrence, 29). This could be recreated in Battle for Kursk by having the Germans chose a “Reposition” or maybe a “Deploy” Posture on Turn D and evacuating the Orel bulge by realigning forces along the 1800 hex column. This would shorten the front lines in this area from 7 hexes to four hexes. More importantly, the four Infantry Corps and four Panzer Corps within the Orel bulge would take over the new line (4x Infantry Corps?) leaving four Panzer Corps to become that “operational reserve.” It might still be possible to launch Citadel on Turn 1 and not lose the initiative to the Soviets. [In Battle for Kursk if the Germans do not attack by Turn 1 they “lose the initiative” to the Soviets as the German bonus VP marker on Kursk turns Soviet and is placed in Kiev.]

Shown using Battle for Kursk (RBM Studios, 2020)

Battle for Kursk – Alternate Preparations

I decided to play out an alternate start for Battle for Kursk. German High Headquarters ordered Operation Habicht/Panther starting on April 12 (Turn B) while at the same time ordering the evacuation of the Orel bulge. The weather is non-randomized (uses Mud turns as printed on Turn Track).

Why Turn B when I talked Turn C above? First off, the Soviet Fortifications in this area were expected to be completed on Turn C so rather than have the Germans attack into the fortifications the offense jumped-off a turn earlier. Of course, Turn C was historically Mud; maybe I should of used random weather?

Operations Habicht/Panther

FAILURE – Although 1st and 4th Panzer Army were able to cross the Donets, progress was immediately stymied by a stubborn Soviet defense. The Soviets strengthened the Southwest Front to limit further German penetrations. The rasputitsa (Mud on Turn C) brought the offensive to a complete halt.

Orel Bulge

DISASTER – German 2nd Panzer Army realigned allowing the 9th Army to go into operational reserve. By mid-July (Turn 2) the Soviets had strengthened the West and Bryansk Fronts which broke through the German lines at Bryansk and eventually led to the collapse of the northern part of Army Group Center and the capture of Smolensk (VP). The commitment of the new German operational reserve (9th Army) to the defense of Gomel (VP) provided an opportunity for the Soviets to remove the Belgograd salient in August into September (Turns 3-5) by retaking Belgograd, Kharkov (VP), and Sumy from Army Group South.

Endgame

Army Group Center proved unable to hold Vitebsk (VP) in the north. The German 9th Army attempted to defend Gomel (VP) but was ground down and the city lost. 4th Panzer Army was beaten up withdrawing from the Belgograd salient and rendered combat ineffective. The 1st Panzer Army and 6th Army withdrew in fair order across the Dnieper. Final score = +5 German Operational Victory.

Missed the Backhand

In my post-game AAR, it dawned on me that, acting as the staff of Army Group Center, I had totally failed my von Manstein-check and employed my operational reserve in a very poor way. Rather than taking inspiration from General von Manstein and looking for a chance to use the German operational reserve to deliver a ‘backhand blow’ and cut off the deep penetration advances of the Soviet, I instead committed them to a valiant, but ultimately fruitless, defensive stand in front of Gomel.

Next Time – Part 3 Tactical Choices


Feature image “Manstein with tanks” courtesy weaponsandwarfare.com

Sunday Summary – Stellaris Infinite Legacy from @Academy_Games and shoutouts to @fortcircle, @compassgamesllc, @gmtgames

Boardgame/Kickstarter

I love Academy Games. I particularly love the the tactical World War II combat series Conflict of Heroes and the lite family wargames of the Birth of America/Europe series. I don’t play enough of the 3D deconstructive superhero Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon nor the team worker placement One Small Step. I am a backer on the 3D racing game Reality Shift. So I was very excited to see Academy Games bring the 4X boardgame Stellaris Infinite Legacy to the tabletop.

Then I saw the price.

For a mere $110 you can back Stellaris Infinite Legacy and get the Standard Edition. That is the 2-4 player version but includes NO stretch goals. If you want the stretch goals you must back the Deluxe Edition at $170 which should deliver the Standard Edition PLUS expansions for the 5-6 player version as well as any stretch goals.

Sorry, that’s just too much me. For either edition. Granted, it looks like I am on the wrong side of the decision matrix here as there are already nearly 12,000 people who backed this project driving it to over $2 million in pledges.

My non-backing decision is not an easy one. I am very drawn to short (few hours) game time and the promised ability to “drop-in/drop-out” of the game. This could suit my family gaming style well. As I’ve mentioned before, this is also not a “woo is me during COVID I’m strapped for cash” kinda thing, this is more a current appraisal of my gaming condition. In my mind I have a very loose “cost to gaming” equation and the gut-check here says Stellaris Infinite Legacy does not work. YMMV.

Regardless of my feelings on cost, I wish Academy Games the best of luck here. I hope that once they get Stellaris Infinite Legacy out the door they can get back to Conflict of Heroes – First Men In Normandy 1944 and Conflict of Heroes – Blitzkrieg France and the Lowlands 1940 for my future gaming table.

Speaking of Kickstarter, Root: The Marauder Expansion (Leder Games) closes around 48 hours from the time of this posting. The funding campaign is successful (who expected otherwise?) with nearly 20,000 backers and ~$1.75 million raised.

Wargames

I was very fortunate to get a Play Tester Kit for Halls of Montezuma by designer Kevin Bertram at Fort Circle Games. Very fortunate since the game kit itself physically is a highly professional looking product. I kinda feel embarrassed because this looks and feels like a $45 game already but he sent these out for free AND paid the shipping to boot. I gotta figure out if he has a PayPal or something to throw some money his way just out of appreciation. Now I just HAVE to do a good scrub of the product to give Kevin (hopefully) valuable feedback since he has already invested so much in ME.

Last week I wondered what happened to South China Sea: Indian Ocean Region (Compass Games) that was scheduled for an early March delivery. Well…according to the developer the counters for the second edition of South China Sea were somehow delayed and they want to push back the release of both Indian Ocean Region AND South China Sea so they can be released closer together. The latest update to the production schedule on the Compass Games homepage shows April for IOR and May for SCS. Honestly, since Indian Ocean Region is a stand-alone game, I don’t agree with this reasoning. Not my decision, but not my happiness either. I guess I should be getting used to these delays as even customers of flagship publisher GMT Games (like me) are suffering delays.

Books

Stepped away from non-fiction this week to take a bit of some fictional downtime. Went back to some old sci-fi standbys, especially a few titles that I love for role-playing game inspiration.

#RockyReads for #Wargame – The Battle of Kursk by David M. Glantz and Jonathan M. House (University of Kansas Press, 1999)

BLUF

The Battle of Kursk by David Glantz and Jonathan House presents an opposing view of Kursk as compared to classic German perspectives thanks to the availability of Russian archive sources. It is maybe best viewed as “the other side of the story” to oppose classical German accounts like F.W. von Mellenthin’s Panzer Battles (Ballantine Books, 1971).

…and Now, the Rest of the Story

When I was growing up my neighbor was a representative of Ballantine Books. Knowing I was a huge military history fan he would throw boxes (and I mean boxes) of paperback books over the fence to me. Some copies were advance reader editions, some were first prints, and more than a few had the front covers torn off. It didn’t matter to me as I read them all. As I was also a budding wargamer with my first game, Panzer by Jim Day from Yaquinto Publishing (1979) I really paid attention to the World War II books. One particular title I remember is Panzer Battles by F.W. von Mellenthin. Indeed, books like Panzer Battles written by German officers after the end of the war shaped much of the “view” of the Eastern Front not just for me but for many readers and historians throughout the Cold War. However, once the Wall fell, some western historians like David Glantz gained access to Russian archives to discover what they had to say. The result was a “new” view of the Ostkreig (East War) and significant engagements like the Battle of Kursk.

In The Battle of Kursk, Glantz and House take aim at the “mythology” of the namesake battle:

German generals who participated in the violent struggle wrote memoirs that concentrated primarily on assessing political and military blame for the unprecedented German defeat, whereas Soviet general placed the battle within the context of the inexorable Soviet march to victory. Single volumes, too, have tackled the task of describing the immense battle….

Yet the sheer drama of the battle juxtaposed against the limited quantities of exploited Soviet source materials has given rise to a certain mythology that has surrounded the battle. This mythology has accepted the German framework and defintion of the battle and maintains that it took place from 5 to 23 July 1943. In doing so, it ignores the essential Soviet framework for Kursk, which placed the defensive battle in the Kursk salient within the proper context of the Soviets’ two-month-long Kursk Strategic Offensive Operation.

The Battle of Kursk, Preface p. xi

Reading The Battle of Kursk

The Battle of Kursk turned out to be a bit more difficult to read than I expected. First, it took me some time to get used to the methodology Glantz uses to refer to units. Soviet units are referred to by unit designation (5th Tank Corps in text, 5 TC on maps) whereas German units are often referred to using Roman numerals (XXXXVIIIth Panzer Corps) or by name (Totenkopf). This can get real challenging when looking on the maps when you have 2/2 PzGrenR in 2 SSPzGrenR of the SSAH PzGrenD of II SSPzC under 4 PzA (whew). Add to that the fact the maps have subdued backgrounds making reading locations difficult – at best.

Second, though presented as a single volume overview of the Battle of Kursk, the book The Battle of Kursk devolves into a very in-depth play-by-play description of the engagements at or around Prokhorovka on 12 July. That is, in-depth at least from the Soviet point of view as German viewpoints are less used to describe the action.

If I have one criticism of The Battle of Kursk it is the poor maps. Yes, there are maps int he book but they are gray-scale and difficult to read. When the narrative of the battle gets the most involved the maps seem to be the least helpful. Personally, a good map can be a work of art and a useful map is worth many words. Alas, the maps force one to depend on the narrative alone vice both working to help each other.

At the end of the day, The Battle of Kursk is a very emotional book. Emotional in that it tries so hard to show the Soviet perspective that it becomes maybe a bit too one-sided; that is, Glantz tries so hard to show that the Soviets have a viewpoint that the vast majority of the book becomes that viewpoint and the German side drops off (is ignored?) in places. In The Battle of Kursk, Glantz certainly destroys the German mythology of the battle, but I am unconvinced that in doing so he doesn’t accidentally creates a counter-myth.

Wargame Application

Strategic

The first few and later chapters of The Battle of Kursk present the strategic situation. As such, they are very useful for studying the battle using games like Trevor Bender’s The Battle for Kursk: The Tigers are Burning, 1943 (RBM Studios, 2020). Indeed, I had my Battle for Kursk map out while reading The Battle of Kursk to help me better visualize the strategic situation.

Operational

I don’t have any real operational-scale wargames on the Battle of Kursk so I couldn’t game out any using the book. [I have now preordered The Eastern Front Operational Battles Quad from Compass Games so that problem is solved!] That said, The Battle of Kursk piqued my interest in the logistics of tank repair and replacement on the Eastern Front. Not all tanks destroyed in battle stay destroyed, and not all tanks were lost to battle damage. This is a point that often gets lost in lower-level tactical games.

Tactical

I have several tactical wargames on that can depict battles in and around Kursk. What I found most interesting about the battle while reading The Battle of Kursk is that, regardless of the game system used, the impact of terrain and weather is far greater than most games give credit to. Indeed, while titles like Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel 3rd Edition (Academy Games, 2018) and Panzer by Jim Day (GMT Games, 2012+) are good tactical armored games, they might actually be too small-scale for this battle. I actually found another title in my collection, Blood & Thunder: Tactical Combat on the Eastern Front by Frank Chadwick from GDW (1993) a slightly better fit as it uses 250m hexes and platoon-level units vice 100m/hex and individual tanks and squads.

Citation

Glantz, David M. & Jonathan M. House, The Battle of Kursk, Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1999.

#RPG Thursday – From The Winds of Gath to #TravellerRPG

Role-playing games didn’t just spring up from nothingness. The most famous RPG, Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) had it’s root in science fiction and fantasy literature. The famous D&D Appendix N gives readers a listing of some of those sources. Likewise, the Traveller RPG drew from science fiction, but there has never been an “official” counterpart to Appendix N. Some fans have built their own. For myself, I prefer to read some of the Golden Age of Science Fiction stories and find connections. So it was that I picked up The Winds of Gath, the first story in E.C. Tubb’s Dumarest of Terra Saga. First published in 1967, there are direct connections to elements found in Marc Miller’s 1977 Little Black Book editions of the role-playing game Traveller.

The Winds of Gath

“What’s it like being a traveller?”

‘I mean, what do you get out of it?’

His eyes were curious and something else. Dumarest had seen it so often before, the look of the stay-put to the mover-on. They all had it and the envy would grow. Then, as the prison of their ship began to close in, that envy would sour into hate. That’s when a wise traveller waited for another ship.

‘It’s a way of life,’ said Dumarest. ‘Some like it, some don’t. I do.’

‘How do you go about it? What do you do between trips?’

‘Look around, get a job, build another stake for passage to somewhere else.’

The Winds of Gath, Chapter 1

Note how E.C. Tubb uses the double-L version of traveller, just like Marc Miller would. This short exchange summarizes the essentials of any Traveller adventure, especially the early version found in the Little Black Books that were mostly rules and very light on setting. Get a job. Build a stake. Move on.

Cold Sleep

Dumarest sat hunched in the box as Benson crossed to the dispenser. He wrapped his arms about his chest, conscious of the cold, the bleakness of the compartment. The place resembled a morgue. A chill, blue-lighted cavern, the air tainted with a chemical smell. A low place, shapeless with jutting struts and curved beams, harsh with the unrelieved monotony of unpainted metal.

There was no need for heat in this part of the ship and no intention of providing comfort. Just the bare metal, the ultraviolet lamps washing the naked coffin-like boxes with their sterilising glow. Here was where the livestock rode, doped, frozen, ninety per cent dead. Here was the steerage for travellers willing to gamble against the fifteen percent mortality rate.

Such travel was cheap–its sole virtue.

The Winds of Gath, Chapter 1

In Classic Traveller, when a Traveller is awakened from Low Passage there is a basic saving throw of 5+ on 2d6 (Book 1 Characters and Combat, p. 21). That works out to an 83% chance of survival – or 17% chance of dying. You want to boost your chances? Have an attending medic (“DMs: Attending medic of expertise 2 or better, +1).

‘I haven’t lost one yet,’ boasted the handler. ‘That’s why you had me worried. I’ve got a clean score and I want it to stay that way.’

It wouldn’t, of course. Benson was still fresh at the game. Give him time and he would become less conscientious, more time and he would grow careless, finally he wouldn’t give a damn. That’s when some of his kind thought it cute to cut the dope and watch some poor devil scream his lungs raw with the agony of restored circulation.

The Winds of Gath, Chapter 1

Travel the Traveller Way

Further off and to one side, on some high ground well away from the danger of the field and the smell of the camp, sat a prim collection of prefabricated huts and inflatable tents. There sat the money and comfort money could provide–the tourists who travelled High, doped with quick-time so that a day seemed like an hour, a week a day.

Those in the camp had travelled like Dumarest–Low. Those who rode Middle stayed with the ships which were their home.

The Winds of Gath, Chapter 1

Book 1 Characters and Combat on page 21 laid out the three classes of travel:

  • “High Passage – Includes first class accommodations and excellent cuisine.” CR (Credits) 10,000
  • “Middle Passage – Includes second class accommodations (though still reasonably good quality) and passable quality food and drink.” CR 8000
  • “Low Passage – Involves travel in cryogenic (cold sleep, or suspended animation) capsules, and the traveller is unconscious for the course of the journey.” CR 1000

Better Living Thru Chemistry

We already noted that High passengers used “quick-time” to speed up the perception of time. In the chapter “Drugs” in Book 2 Starships we find “Fast Drug:” “Fast Drug is named because it makes the universe (to its user) appear to move much more quickly; the drug slows down personal metabolism at a ration of approximately 60 to 1″ (Book 2, p. 38).

The opposite of Fast Drug is Slow Drug. Again, we find this in The Winds of Gath:

‘You said that you know what you are doing but few have used slow-time in the conscious state. The dangers are too great. It isn’t just a matter of living faster, you know.’

‘I know.’

‘I hope that you do.’ She handed him a small bag. “These glucose tablets might help. You’re going to need all the energy you can get. Unconscious you’d be no problem; I could supply intravenous feeding and your energy-demand would be relatively low. Conscious…’ She broke off. ‘Well, you know about that. Just remember that the square law comes into effect on food requirements and everything else.’

….

He felt nothing, not even the air-blast carrying the drug into his bloodstream, but, with shocking abruptness, the universe slowed down. It hadn’t, of course. It was just that his own metabolism, reflexes and sensory apparatus had suddenly begun operating at almost forty times the normal rate. The danger lay in accepting the illusion of a slowed universe as reality.

The Winds of Gath, Chapter 14

In Classic Traveller a Slow Drug accelerates the users metabolism to twice the normal rate. Not quite the “forty times” in The Winds of Gath but the essential element of the drug’s effect is there.

1 of 1001 Characters

Classic Traveller Supplement 1 1001 Characters included nine characters drawn from science fiction. Although not identified in that supplement, the later Supplement 4 Citizens of the Imperium called them out. Here is Earl Dumarest (warning – minor spoilers):

  • Homeless Wanderer
  • BFCA98 / Age 34
  • Cr – 0 to 100,000
  • Blade-6, Most other edged weapons-4, Most guns-4, Streetwise-3, Steward-2, Pilot-1, Tactics-3, Leader-3
  • This individual habitually carries a blade or dagger and wears mesh. Raised on a tramp trader, he now wanders the galaxy alone, searching for the home he left as a youth.
  • In the course of his travels, he has acquired the formula to the affinity twin, a chemical that, when ingested by two beings (animals, persons, etc) allows one to occupy and control the other. The occupation ends with the death of one of the individuals.
  • Incidentally, he is pursued by nefarious forces that want this formula.

History to #Wargame – My Kursk Kampaign – Part 1 Introduction

As I discussed in a previous post, Trevor Bender’s wargame Battle for Kursk: The Tigers are Burning, 1943 found in C3i Magazine Nr. 34 (RBM Studios, 2020) is a bit of a misnamed game. While I expected the game to be focused on the actual Battle of Kursk, popularly cited as taking place from July 5 to August 23, 1943, I instead found a game about the entire summer and fall 1943 campaign season on the Eastern Front focused on the area covered by German Army Group Center and Army Group South. Now that I learned the mechanics of playing the Battle for Kursk wargame I figure it’s time to start really digging into the history of the Battle of Kursk. To do so, I decided to mix both reading history and playing wargames together.

Books

For My Kursk Kampaign I am primarily reading two books. The first is The Battle of Kursk by David M. Glantz and Jonathan M. House (University of Kansas Press, 1999). This 472-page volume provides an excellent moderately-deep look at the forces, leaders, and situation leading up to and through the battle.

The Battle of Kursk

The second book I am using is The Battle of Prokhorovka: The Tank Clash at Kursk, The Largest Clash of Armor in History by Christopher A. Lawrence of The Dupuy Institute (Stackpole Books abridged edition, 2019). This 639-page(!) volume is a very in-depth look at the actual battle around Kursk with a deep focus on the events of July 9-13 around Prokhorovka. Actually, The Battle of Prokhorovka laser-focuses on the actions of the SS Panzer Corps and III Panzer Corps from July 9-18. In terms of the Battle for Kursk wargame, this is just two (!) counters.

The Battle of Prokhorovka

My plan it to read both books together but alternate between them by dividing the reading by different periods of the battle. For each section I will also look at wargames to support my learning:

  1. Preparations – Glantz chpts. 1-3 followed by Lawrence chpts. 1-2
  2. The Battle
    • “German Assault” (~July 5-9) – Glantz chpts. 4 / Lawrence chpts. 3-7
    • “Stopping the Blitzkreig” (~July 10-15) – Glantz chpts. 5-6 / Lawrence chpts. 8-13
  3. The Aftermath – Glantz chpts. 7-8 / Lawrence chpts. 14-16

Wargames

Campaign

As already mentioned, the primary wargame I will use to go along with my reading is Trevor Bender’s Battle for Kursk, The Tigers are Burning, 1943. This game geographically covers the Eastern Front from Velike Luki (hex 1200) in the North to Taganrog (hex 2724) on the Sea of Azov. Historically, this was the front of German Army Group Center and Army Group South. Units are Corps for the Germans (approx. 25,000 troops) and Armies for the Soviets (approx. 40,000 troops). Each turn is approximately 2-4 weeks of time but is flexible to represent operational tempo and weather. The four preliminary turns (Turns A-D) each cover about a month starting on March 18 (Turn A), April 12 (Turn B), May 3 (Turn C), and June 12 (Turn D). “Regular” turns begin on Turn 1 (July 5) and play through Turn 8 (Nov 3). The most important mechanic in Battle for Kursk is the Posture Selection Segment. The Posture chosen by a player determines the amount of Replacement Points, mobility, and ability to engage in combat for that turn.

The Battle for Kursk – Set Up

My goal is to actually play Battle for Kursk at various points during my readings to try out several “what ifs” or simply better explore the situation as it existed historically. Decisions made in the game may be limited based on what I read.

Battles

To a lesser degree I also plan on incorporating two tactical wargames into my reading. The first is Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel – Kursk 1943 3rd Edition (Academy Games, 2018). The second tactical wargame I will try to use is Panzer, 2nd Printing from GMT Games (2012). I fear my use of Panzer may be limited as I wait for the only expansion module I lack – Panzer Expansion #1: The Shape of Battle – The Eastern Front, 2nd Printing (GMT Games, forthcoming in 2021) to deliver.

Now that I look at it, the scale of Storms of Steel and Panzer may be too finite. Individual tanks and squads of infantry at 100m per hex may be good for looking at a particular small engagement but too much for this exploration. As I look around my gaming shelves, I also see Frank Chadwick’s Blood & Thunder: Tactical Combat on the Eastern Front, 1941-1945 (GDW, 1992) which is platoon-level units and 250m per hex. This First Battle series title may just be playable enough to make it to the table as part of this exploration.

While I may be tempted to play out a tactical battle, more realistically I think my focus will be more on an evaluation of published scenarios as compared to the history I am reading. It may also delve a bit into the equipment and parse how certain vehicles are depicted in the different games.

Air War?

As I start this exploration, my copy of Wing Leader: Legends 1937-1945 (GMT Games, forthcoming in 2021) is “At the Printer” meaning it may deliver sometime in mid-2021. If it delivers in time I would certainly like to play the campaign system which focuses on the air battles supporting the Battle of Kursk. I really want to explore a point Glantz makes on page 63 in his book; “Red aircraft might be inferior to their German counterparts, but they were certainly sufficient in numbers to deny the Luftwaffe undisputed command of the air.”

Vasilevsky or Vasilevskii?

A note on terminology. The Russian transliterations used by Glantz, Lawrence, and the various wargame designers are different from one another. To the greatest extent possible, I will use the transliteration in the text I am discussing at that moment but will fall back on those found in Glantz when necessary.

Next Time – Part 2 Before Citadel


Feature image “Walter Model with General lieutenant (later General der Infanterie) Friedrich Schulz” courtesy dedefense.blogspot.com

#ThreatTuesday – #Wargame Order of Battle Update for South China Sea (@compassgamesllc, 2017)

“Chinese Navy ‘s second Type 055 large destroyer enters naval service” via navyrecognition.com.

The last line of the article (taken from Chinese media) is interesting. “The Type 055 destroyer can also counter stealth aircraft and low-Earth orbit satellites, thanks to a dual-band radar system” (my emphasis). Does this mean the ship has an Anti-Satellite (ASAT) mission?


Feature image from “USA-193 Intercept” courtesy russianforces.org