Golden Journal No. 49:
Storm Division

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For Golden Journal No. 49: Storm Division, we focus on just one German division that participated in Operation Citadel, the July 1943 offensive at Kursk in central Russia. It’s a unique outfit, the 78th Storm (or “Assault”) Division, not one of the better-known German formations.

The 78th Storm Division fought on the right flank of XXIII Corps, an infantry formation charged with protecting the left flank of the advancing XXXXI Panzer Corps. A penetration’s most vulnerable point lay at its “shoulder,” and 78th Storm Division seemed the ideal unit to hold this crucial point where German planners assumed that any Soviet counter-stroke against the northern wing of the German double-envelopment would be aimed.

Because of the division’s deployment at the fulcrum of the German position, it already appears in three scenarios of Panzer Grenadier: Kursk, Burning Tigers. It even has its own chapter with those scenarios plus a battle game to tie them all together. In Storm Division, we’re going to look at its participation in the Battle of Kursk more closely.

German infantry on the attack. The Storm Division didn’t do much of this.

Despite its impressive name – typical of Nazi bombast – the Storm Division had not been built for attacking; it was organized and equipped to hold ground with enormous firepower. Originally formed as a standard infantry division, after it was shattered in the Rzhev salient in late 1942, rebuilding began in January 1943 with weapons rather than replacements. This followed a pattern based heavily on the experience of German and Italian units in North Africa, but would be the only such division on the Eastern Front.

The division’s rifle squads each had a second light machine-gun team, just like the panzer grenadiers. The rifle companies had three rifle platoons, just like other infantry battalions, but in addition included a heavy machine gun section with two guns, a platoon of 81mm mortars and two platoons of 75mm PAK40 anti-tank guns. The division’s six infantry battalions lacked heavy weapons companies, and had just the three rifle companies, which had plenty of heavy weapons of their own: in theory, the division bristled with 108 75mm anti-tank guns but went into action at Kursk with “only” 99 of them (close to three times the allotment for a standard infantry division, and many of those formations still fielded the less-capable 50mm anti-tank guns in some of their batteries).

In addition to all of that firepower, the division had the usual four-battalion artillery regiment plus organic battalions of heavy (120mm) mortars, anti-aircraft, assault guns, tank destroyers and Nebelwerfer rockets. XXIII Corps added a company of radio-controlled Goliath toy demolition tanks.

All of those heavy weapons are included in Kursk: Burning Tigers; what Storm Division provides are those machine-gun-heavy assault platoons. They’re in their own special color scheme (the grey-green I really wish we’d used for the German Army from the very start of the Panzer Grenadier series) with their unique divisional symbol, the iron hand of Götz von Berlichingen (which would also be adopted by a spectacularly inept division of the Waffen SS party militia).

They’re die-cut and silky-smooth, just like the fine pieces that come with Kursk: Burning Tigers. You get 24 of them with Golden Journal No. 49, most of them assault infantry platoons (an unusual unit type in Panzer Grenadier) and some additional support weapons to supplement the mix provided in Kursk: Burning Tigers.

The scenario set fleshes out the brief chapter included in the game, setting the Storm Division on the offensive and defensive. What quickly becomes obvious is that the Storm Division wasn’t all that good at storming. It was not a motorized or mechanized formation, though it had a few elements that were (including, curiously, the heavy mortar battalion).

The Storm Division did not have specially-selected officers or men – it was manned through the same replacement pool as every other shattered German division (though with its higher proportion of specialists with more training, it did have somewhat better morale and cohesion than the typical infantry outfit). And its unwieldy structure just didn’t give it all that much infantry, comparatively speaking, to take ground. It was by no means elite, but it did have enormous firepower.

The division’s purpose wasn’t to spearhead an assault, but rather to hold the ground already taken. The Soviets failed to oblige the Germans by flinging massed armor at the Storm Division, but it remained steadily in action until the Soviets launched their own Operation Kutuzov a week after the start of the German Operation Citadel, and the armies on the northern flank of the Kursk salient retreated to avoid annihilation.

A gun crew orients a 75mm PAK40 anti-tank gun. The Storm Division had 99 of these.

Golden Journal No. 49: Storm Division joins No. 39: Legions of Zog as the two Panzer Grenadier-centered volumes devoted to a historical campaign that really happened; most issues of the Journal focus on alternative history or alternative weaponry. That topic brings it closer to our Campaign Studies, adding another chapter to Kursk: Burning Tigers based on the actual actions of the Storm Division.

I want our Golden Journal to have as broad an appeal as possible, while keeping the weird and fun vibe we strive to hit. Storm Division hits on an unusual aspect of the Battle of Kursk; I might have preferred not to highlight yet another German division but the inefficiencies of the Nazi feudal state created all manner of odd exceptions that more rational organizations avoided.

Kursk: Burning Tigers represents the peak of what Panzer Grenadier is supposed to be: massed armor action across large stretches of open ground. The game system is designed to replicate any theater of World War Two, and does so quite well. But we put “Panzer” in the title because that’s what most wargamers want. Kursk: Burning Tigers is one of the centerpiece games of the Panzer Grenadier series, so we’re going to support it that way with books, Campaign Studies and of course the Golden Journal.

The best part of the Golden Journal is that it’s free – that’s right, free – to the Gold Club, at least when we first offer it. After that, you have to pay for it.

The Golden Journal is only available to the Gold Club (that’s why we call it the Golden Journal).

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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and NASA Journalist in Space finalist, he has published a great many books, games and articles on historical subjects; people are saying that some of them are actually good. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children, and new puppy. He misses his lizard-hunting Iron Dog, Leopold.

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