Saturday, May 10, 2014

Hill 228.6 - Bunkers and Mines at Kursk

Kursk is famous for the tank battle at Prokhorovka, but I think the real story of most of Operation Zitadelle boils down to Soviet strong points and bunkers. That certainly seems to be the case in every scenario I've played in John Tiller's Battles of Kursk - Southern Front.

Scenario description

I've not played this game as much as it deserves. Probably because it does depict Kursk, and I find Kursk such a slog that it just isn't engaging. I really like the game system, I just wish it was a different operation.

Anyway, in this scenario I'm again indulging my interest in small unit-scale actions. The scenario represents a battalion action to clear Hill 228.6 of the artillery observation positions overlooking the assembly areas of II SS Panzer Korps on July 4th, 1943. The action begins at 0100 and visibility is very limited due to darkness.

My choice of optional rules. 
 I'm experimenting with the optional fire and assault rules, which should give more consistent results in both types of combat. I've also turned on "Higher Fatigue Recovery." Fatigue is the key mechanic in Tiller games. One criticism of the Tiller game engine is that the fatigue mechanic that works well for Panzer Campaigns and Modern Campaigns results in too much fatigue for too quickly at smaller scales, particularly in Squad Battles. I'm trying this rule to see if it makes fatigue feel more realistic at the platoon scale.

Overview of the battlefield. It looks like there may be a line of Soviet positions in advance of the objective. 
My plan is to move both companies up on either side of the road and first assault the bunkers on the southern side of the hill. 
I move both companies mounted north and south of the road on Turn 1. My lead company makes the base of the hill, but the trailing company discovers a bunker. I'd like to clear this to avoid line-of-communication and supply problems when I start my assault.

After clearing mines with an Pioneer platoon, I leave on platoon behind to engage the bunker and move the rest of the company up to the hill for the assault.  Two more Pioneer platoons lead the assault on the southern-most bunker to clear mines and obstacles. It's 0300 already.

By 0500 I'm finally ready to assault the first bunker. Mortar fire has been totally ineffective at suppressing the defenders, as have panzerschrecks fired against the bunker. One of the main differences between Panzer Battles and Panzer Campaigns is supposed to be the emphasis on fire combat at the Panzer Battles scale. Unfortunately, with the Soviets always hunkered down in bunkers, neither fire combat nor artillery seems to do any good. I can't even manage to disrupt a unit in a fortified position prior to assaulting!

My first assault is an even trade in terms of casualties.
The assault on the bunker along our line-of-communication goes slightly better, but still fails to clear the enemy from the fortification.
One company continues to assault the southern bunker while the other, mines cleared by Pioneers, maneuvers to assault the next bunker in line. My attack is taking too long to develop!
Since my mortars seem to be useless for even suppression, I'm using them to provide some smoke to isolate my targets. My companies continue their assaults without much progress, but without terribly high casualties, either. 
At 0600 my second company, supported by a pair of Pioneer platoons, takes a bunker, finally. Unfortunately it's turn 7 of 10.  At 0630 the second bunker falls...
...and a lightning attack by two Pioneer platoons manages to quickly take a third bunker. Half the strong points on the hill are now in my possession. I only have two turns left, however.

An Axis Minor Defeat!
Two turns weren't enough to push on and take the rest of the strong points. I almost certainly hurt my final point total by pushing rifle platoons into mined hexes and taking casualties rather than using the Pioneers to clear them first in the last two turns.

Damn, that's a lot of Russians!
In retrospect, I believe I'm massing too many troops for my assaults. A better approach may be to combine a Pioneer platoon, a Rifle platoon, and a Weapons section into a team and use these to attack a larger number of strong points simultaneously. I think I may not be using my troops as efficiently as I should.


  1. Doug it seemed to me from screenshots at game launch that Kursk had an almost world war 1 feel. Lines of fortifications and in this case mines. And it sounds like from the post you think the same thing correct?

  2. Hi Chris. Kursk isn't quite as static as WWI Western Front combat, but it was an operation that the Soviets were well prepared for. They laid literally millions of mines and had entire city populations digging entrenchments. The German pincer on the northern flank made something like 12km before stalling out. The southern pincer made better progress, advancing over 50km before meeting the Soviets at Prokhorovka. It's a bit more of a maneuver battle once the Germans are through the outer defensive lines, but it's nothing like Barbarossa or Case Blue.

    The Americans and the British opened the war in Italy during Operation Zitadelle by invading Sicily, and that was the end of it.