This past week, two of us at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY headed back to the summer of 1943 and the opening days of what would become known as the Battle of Kursk.
The German offensive in Soviet territory, known as “Operation Citadel,” took place southwest of Moscow and led to one of the largest tank battles of all time, the Battle of Prokhorovka. It was south of Prokhorovka at the Oktiabrski State Farm where our game began.
Our 15mm battle was a mash-up of game systems, using Battlefront models, I Ain’t Been Shot, Mum! rules, and a scenario lifted from the Battlegroup Kursk book by Iron Fist Publishing. Aside from its own set of tabletop rules, the Battlegroup Kursk book offers some well-drawn scenarios easily adaptable to a variety of gaming systems and scales. Our scenario, “West Of The Oktiabrski State Farm,” was the second of seven scenarios from the section entitled “The Inglorious 12th July.”
Our first Eastern Front and largest IABSM game to date started with the German infantry, Pak 40 anti-tank guns and two StuG III units deployed in hidden on a third of the table. Across a wide field, the Soviets deployed on blinds along the table edge in and around a collective farm complex. The initial Soviet blinds featured three infantry platoons at the center, a T-34 tank platoon to the left flank and one more tank platoon arriving on blinds in the second and third turns. Each side also featured off board artillery and the German side also had air fire to draw on throughout the game, although none of it would play a measurable role during the battle.
Soviet objectives sat at the German-defended crossroads, and so the T-34s pushed hard in the initial turns toward the road entry at the edge of the table at the Soviet left. Rolling quickly toward the road, the T-34s encountered a Pak 40 position at a hedge dominating a field of fire at the center of the table. The Pak 40s immediately hit the tanks, damaging the turrets, sights and mobility of the T-34s. Over several turns, fire was exchanged between the T-34s and the German anti-tank crews, leaving several burning tanks and a partially destroyed German gun position.
Mid-game, a reinforcing platoon of T-34s moved to support the first wave of nearly-destroyed Soviet armor but were likewise halted in a crossfire from the surviving Pak 40s and three StuGs moving out their hidden positions and toward the road. The Soviet tank commander managed to close gloriously on the objective, but the StuGs and hidden German infantry positions stalled the advance and his tank went up in flames with those of his comrades, too.
With the Soviet attack on the left completely at a standstill, infantry moved from the farm complex toward the crossroads objective in the distance as T-34s maneuvered to their right using a forested area to cover their advance. The Germans moved to strengthen their center with the deployment of MG42s which laid fire into the Soviet infantry. German infantry deployed across the crossroads objective and were buoyed by the support of another StuG platoon on the opposite side of the trees.
Between the road and forest, the battle for crossroads began. Soviet infantry were cut down in the open and the Soviet armor moved cautiously around the woods to fire into the German infantry and armor. As the T-34s rounded the edge of the forest, a crossfire of Pak 40 and StuG shots stalled the Soviet tank advance with the Germans suffering a loss of only one StuG in the firefight. With the objectives at the crossroads and road at the table edge still secure, the day tipped to a German win, effectively repelling the Soviet attack.
I hardly ever play Soviets, and in a look at the battle afterward I reasoned a consolidated attack to the road on the German right may have provided the critical mass of armor needed to sway the victory. The German anti-tank guns had effectively pinned the center, and a replay with T-34s massing to one side may have provided just enough of a steel wall to allow the other tanks to move to the objective instead of dying in the open. With our largest IABSM battle played out over several hours, we thought having a crack at one of the other Eastern Front scenarios would be worth it to test if Soviet metal might prevail over the German invaders on another day.