#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

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

#SundaySummary – From Kursk to Karelia to No Motherland Without; complete Scythe, Dicing with @ADragoons, Cepheus Engine, and too much Kickstarter #wargame #boardgame #TravellerRPG

Wargames

Still working on my Kursk Kampaign reading. Have gotten through July 12, 1943 and am now looking at my tactical armored combat wargames like Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel 3rd Edition (Academy Games, Panzer (GMT Games), or Blood & Thunder (GDW) to see how they approach the the first part of the offensive and especially the signature Battle of Prokharovka.

At the same time I am exploring my newest Standard Combat Series (SCS) title from Multi-Man Publishing, Karelia ’44: The Last Campaign of the Continuation War (2011). So far it’s pretty “bog-standard” SCS with the added splash of “The Boss’s Patience” rules which vary game length. More to follow!

Boardgames

My copy of No Motherland Without from Compass Games was supposed to ship this week. I don’t have a shipping notice yet so I hope it’s on the way. It arrived! It may have spent the night out on the porch. Did I accidentally order the “Frozen Chosin” edition?

My corrected copy of Scythe Complete Rulebook (Stonemaier Games) arrived this week. The major changes were in the Automa for solo play. Using the Automa for solo play was a part of the Scythe design I have shied away from; maybe that needs to change?

Check out another episode of Mentioned in Dispatches podcast from Armchair Dragoons where we talk about dice for over an hour. Did we have a purpose for the podcast, or was this just a good ‘ole bullshat session?

Roleplaying Games

Issue #4 of Cepheus Journal is out. If there is one thing I find interesting about this issue is the range of settings that are using the Cepheus Engine rules. I mean there is everything from classic space opera to more hardish sci-fi to historical to fantasy to modern. This issue may be the best one yet showing off the versatility of Cepheus Engine.

Kickstarter

Lot’s of wargame content being offered with closing dates before the end of the month; so much so I can’t possibly back them all:

Pro Wargame Reading Recap

Via Micah Zenko (@MicahZenko)New Defense Science Board report on state of US military gaming, exercises, simulations. –>”strategic gaming has become a rarely employed tool for analyzing today’s larger and longer term challenges.”

Via Major General Mick Ryan (@WarintheFuture) An awesome Friday #PME read – #Strategy, #War, and the Relevance of Carl von Clausewitz, from the Military Strategy Magazine.

Via designer Brian Train“Commercial Wargames and Experiential Learning” by Roger Mason PhD.


Feature image from Team America: World Police

Not Conflicted – Why Conflict of Heroes (@Academy_Games) a great #wargame series

MY CORONATINE TIME IS QUICKLY CLOSING DOWN. Starting next week, my job will be going back to about 50% time in-office. So what better reason to get some wargames played? This weekend, I put Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel, Kursk 1943 3rd Edition (Academy Games, 2019) and Conflict of Heroes: Price of Honor, Poland 1939 Expansion (Academy Games, 2010) on the gaming table.

For Storms of Steel the scenario was “Mission 9 – July 10, 1943: Black Knights of the Steppe.” This is part of the Battle of Prokhorovka and features elements of the German Panzer Division LAH confronting armored elements of the Soviet 5th Guards Tank Corps. Germans forces include one Tiger Ie heavy tank with Veteran Cards “Iron Will” (Ignore 1x Hit marker for 1x Command Action Point-CAP) and “Combat Hardened” (reroll 1d6 for 1x CAP). The Soviets set up 2x KV1 tanks hidden at the start of the scenario. The Soviets have Veteran Cards “Motivated Leader” (reduce Rally number by 2 for 1x CAP) and “Concealed” (remain hidden when attacking for 1x CAP as long as a 1 is not rolled).

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This Storms of Steel scenario was played using the Third Edition rules. For those unfamiliar with the legacy of Conflict of Heroes series, the Third Edition created some controversy with the introduction of the Spent Die. In previous editions, units were allocated Action Points (AP) which – once used – resulted in a unit flipping from Fresh to Spent. A turn usually ends when both player’s units are Spent or both take consecutive Pass Actions. In Third Edition, rather than tracking each units AP, players execute an Action and then roll a special Spent Die. If the number rolled is greater than the AP cost, the unit remains Fresh; otherwise it becomes Spent.

A major criticism of the Spent Die is that it is too much luck and can lead to some incredibly unrealistic situations. In my game it looked like this was happening when two German SdKfz 251 halftracks loaded with Panzer Grenadiers raced across the board seemingly at will. Indeed, it really looked bad as even the Tiger I was able to move up quickly bypassing the hidden Soviet KV1s without the opportunity for the Soviets to shoot.

But then the battle took a very different turn.

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Dead Tiger

Those Panzer Grenadier units that raced forward raced right into the jaws of four Soviet T-34 tanks arriving as reinforcements. Now unable to exit the board (1x VP per unit) they instead tried to seize the two Control Markers in the village (each worth 1x VP). Of course, they had raced so far ahead of their tanks they needed to fall back and await support. But as the Germans tanks moved up, they were caught in a deadly crossfire from hidden KV1s and Churchill Mk III’s. Even so, the veteran Tiger I was able to remain undamaged using it’s “Iron Will.” As it moved forward to confront the four T-34’s and support the Grenadiers, the last KV1 broke cover and positioned for a rear shot. To hit required a roll of 10 or greater on 2d6 – the roll was 10. The Hit Marker drawn was DESTROYED. No problem for the Tiger, right? After all, it has that “Iron Will.” But to use that Veteran Card requires 1x CAP and this was the end of the turn and the Germans had no CAP left. No CAP, no “Iron Will.” One dead Tiger and no chance for a German victory in the scenario.

Price of Honor is actually the oldest Conflict of Heroes title in my collection. Technically an expansion to Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear 1st Edition (Academy Games, 2008) it is compatible with the Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear 2nd Edition (2012). Here I decided to try the game using the Third Edition rules. The scenario chosen was “Firefight 2: Cavalry Charge! Polish Cavalry Attack at Krojanty – Sept 1, 1939.” Here elements of the Polish 18th Uhlans Regiment ambush a column of the German 76th Motorized Infantry Regiment. The Poles must inflict maximum damage and try to seize and hold critical junctions before the German armored car detachment arrives which will easily overwhelm the cavalry.

PriceOfHonour-v2
Courtesy Academy Games

The special rule in this Price of Honor scenario is Horse (Cavalry) Units. Not only do horses receive a movement bonus in certain terrain, but they also possess advantages in Close Combat (CC) when mounted. Much like history, the Uhlans emerged from the forest and charged the dismounted German Rifle units. In the first two turns the Germans were routed. The Uhlans then struck out for the other two crossroads. The first one was guarded by a German Light Machine Gun (LMG) in a building that proved unbeatable and would hold until the end. Both sides raced towards the final crossroads with the German foot soldiers just barely arriving before the mounted Polish cavalry. The Uhlans dismounted and attacked through the woods, eventually ejecting the Germans. By now the German SdKfz 231 armored car detachment arrived and was moving towards the last Control Marker. A Soviet Anti-Tank Rifle (AT Rifle) worked its way to the flank of the German armored cars and took a shot, pinning it down. Through the use of Battle Cards and CAP, the AT Rifle was able to quickly take another shot and scored another hit, brewing up the armored cars. Polish victory!

After playing both these games I am much more comfortable with the Third Edition rules and really like them. I believe the criticism of the Spent Die is unwarranted. If you want a more “realistic” ruleset then maybe those Advanced Squad Leader Starter Kits should be your thing. But if you are like me and enjoy a good “believable” battle with incredible narrative moments, then Conflict of Heroes is perfectly suitable – and satisfying!