Kursk: Burning Tigers
Scenario Preview, Part One
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
For our Panzer Grenadier: Kursk, Burning Tigers, designer Mike Perryman crafted a set of player’s scenarios: lots of tanks on each side, simple objectives, so many powerful units that if you screw up and lose a few, the game’s not even close to over. This is wargame fun the way it’s supposed to be.
Here’s a look at the first segment of the scenarios in Kursk: Burning Tigers:
Kempf I: Razumnoe Rumble
5 July 1943
The opening of Operation Citadel found Army Detachment Kempf attempting to establish three bridgeheads over the Northern Donets River. The plan called for the panzer divisions to exploit northward once they’d secured the bridgeheads to protect the flank of the advancing II SS Panzer Corps. The 19th Panzer Division managed to cross the Northern Donets River at Razumnoe only to find unfavorable terrain occupied by a determined enemy. Their troubles multiplied when enemy armor approached.
As the engineers struggled to get the panzers across the river the grenadiers found themselves in grave danger of being overrun by the aggressive enemy armor. In response, the German soldiers began using the terrain to their advantage as small teams of grenadiers wielded Teller mines, flamethrowers, and whatever ever else was handy to hold the armor at bay. When the panzers arrived it relieved the pressure on the grenadiers and enabled them to surge a mile forward, securing the bridgehead.
Whatever the game, Scenario One is played more than any other. So it’s good that we start off Burning Tigers with a very suitable Scenario One so we don’t have to break the chronological flow. This one will make a fine intro, with each side having a tank-infantry force of some size trying to force their way forward on a fairly narrow front.
Kempf II: Breakout
5 July 1943
At 1300 hours the 7th Panzer Division lunged forward and easily rolled over the first defensive belt. Following his orders, General A.V. Skvortsov directed his Soviet armor reserves forward to halt the Hitlerites before they could reach the second defensive belt.
The terrain lay flat as a billiard table, broken only by the occasional tributary of the Northern Donets and Razumnoe Rivers and the numerous small scattered villages. This environment greatly favored the Germans’ aggressive mobile doctrine, allowing them to herd the Russians for 4.5 miles before halting operations for the night. The day proved a mixed bag for the 503rd Heavy Panzer Detachment as they claimed 34 Soviet tanks destroyed against no loses in tank fighting. However, minefields wreaked havoc as all of the 2nd Battalion’s tanks sustained damaged when they stumbled into a minefield.
A powerful German tank-infantry force, including a full company of Tigers, is on the attack against a well-fortified Soviet force, mostly Guards with morale equal to that of their attackers. Both sides have plenty of artillery, while the Germans get pretty hefty air support. This one is going to spill a lot of cardboard blood: there’s only one board in play so there’s no avoiding the action.
Kempf III: Almost
6 July 1943
The Soviet High Command, Stavka, ordered an immediate counterattack once the Hitlerites became entangled in a defensive belt, hoping to destroy them while vulnerable. Responding to these directives, a sizable force assembled in the woods west of Koreniskaia Dacha waiting for the right time to strike. They couldn’t believe their luck when the enemy infantry arrived without any supporting armor.
At first the Soviets made good progress but as they approached the Shevekino-Belgorod road things turned sour. The well-trained German infantry let the tanks roll over them and then put the enemy infantry to ground. The tanks continued on unsupported and ran into the arriving flak batteries and assault guns led personally by General Erhard Raus. Despite mounting casualties the tanks doggedly pressed on until reaching the German divisional command post where assault teams managed to set the unsupported tanks on fire with gasoline. Even without proper coordination the Soviet attack had been a near run thing.
It’s just like the intro says: The Germans start dug in with no armor support, facing a powerful attacking force backed by lots of tanks. They will get a couple of assault guns and an 88mm battery, but the Red Army has plenty of tanks and no real concern about losing them. This will be another bloody scenario; all of that force is poured into just one mapboard.
Kempf IV: A Glimmer of Hope
8 July 1943
Army Detachment Kempf bogged down and fell further and further behind schedule. With the stubborn defenders extracting a terrible toll for each yard gained things looked bleak to reverse this trend. Nevertheless, orders dictated another try, and as Germans they would obey or die trying. At the very least, they needed to reach Melikhovo today.
The Germans satisfied their superiors by capturing Melikhovo, but they remained far behind schedule. The achievement of operational freedom of maneuver for the panzers required that the Lipouyi Donets River be crossed and the enemy near Belgorod be liquidated quickly.
Now we get to the big tank battles! It’s not quite a “throw every piece onto the board” battle, but it is a big one with plenty of armor. The Germans have a big edge in tanks, including two companies of Tigers and plenty of smaller ones. But the Soviets are dug in behind a belt of minefields, with the Germans facing a pretty tough schedule of victory conditions to win.
Kempf V: That Old Strategic Sense
7 July 1943
Once Operation Citadel started Stavka followed a comprehensive and well-conceived plan of slowing down the attackers with prepared defensive positions. Once the Hitlerites became entangled in the defensive works the Red Army launched aggressive counterattacks with special attention paid to the defenders’ flanks. On the far southern flank of Army Detachment Kempf the Germans noted the significant Soviet buildup that had begun the previous day.
The Germans planned for this sector to remain a quiet backwater. The Soviets upset the plan and stretched the meager assets of Group Raus almost to the breaking point with their numerous attacks over the last two days. Nevertheless, tenacity and ingenuity allowed the Germans, after much heavy fighting, to hold on without drawing on the armor spearhead to the north for support.
The Soviets are on the attack, with an infantry-heavy mixed force advancing on a narrow front. The Germans have very high morale and a very heavy allotment of support weapons, including some tank destroyers. Numbers favor the Red Army but the bar of victory is set pretty high.
Kempf VI: Like Dominoes They Fell
11 July 1943
Reviewing their first week of Operation Citadel, Army Detachment Kempf showed agonizingly slow progress, and its 6th Panzer Division suffered the loss of over half of its armor. In one last desperate attempt to effect a breakout, Detachment headquarters ordered the 19th Panzer Division to assist 6th Panzer Division by advancing on the east bank of the Northern Donets River. They hoped giving the Soviets two targets on either side of the river would divide the defenders’ attention enough to overcome them.
Adding a second panzer division finally moved III Panzer Corps forward. The 6th Panzer Division advanced six miles and secured Kazachie while 19th Panzer Division stormed through Khokhlovo, Kiselevo and Sabynino before halting for the night. They shredded 7th Guards Army’s defenses beyond repair, forcing that formation to send out a frantic cry for help that evening.
This one’s a pretty big scenario, with a tank-heavy German force assaulting a very well-entrenched Soviet defender backed by tanks and sporting many powerful anti-tank weapons (the 85mm anti-aircraft gun is not quite as awesome as the German 88, but it’s not far behind, either). The Germans have much more artillery at their command, but either side can see air support arrive. Things would get messy here if cardboard could bleed.
Sturm I: The Storm Division
5 July 1943
Early in the war the 78th Infantry Division developed a reputation for achieving results, earning the nickname 78th Sturm Division (variously translated as storm or heavy). A reputation for success led to priority for equipment, and by Kursk their TO&E boasted a generous supply of light and heavy antiaircraft batteries, Nebelwerfers, and heavy mortars. Some sources claim they also fielded a panzer battalion during the battle, but that remains unverified, though they did employ an assault gun unit. The Storm Division used all this firepower to blow through the 148th Rifle Division and reach Maloarkhangelisk during the first day of Operation Citadel.
In Russia the 78th Storm Division performed steadily, though they owed their elite status more to politics then performance. However, on this day they failed to achieve the freedom of operational maneuver that they sought, though the division penetrated over a mile into enemy lines. But the less-favored infantry formations on either flank achieved the same success.
The Storm Division comes with toys: those cute little Goliath demolition tanks they can use to try to blow up Soviet defenses. Plus Elefant tank destroyers and a whole passel of less elaborate heavy weapons. They’re trying to fight their way through a pretty hefty Soviet defensive line just bristling with heavy guns of its own, manned with plenty of infantry, and backed by tanks. Not a lot of subtlety involved in this one.
Sturm II: On the Verge
7 July 1943
During two days of fighting the 78th Storm Division bent but did not break their opponent. They fully expected to accomplish that task today. However, the Soviets decided not to dance to their enemy’s tune and struck first, inflicting chaos in the German ranks. Taking advantage of the disturbance, Soviet columns moved swiftly for the village of Protasovo located on the Maloarkhangelisk road.
The Germans quickly rallied after the initial Soviet shock of impact, and managed to blunt the first attack on Protasovo. Nine more times the Soviets came on only to be turned away with increasing difficulty each time. The Germans began to withdraw during the eleventh attack when a company of Elephants arrived and restored their position.
The German defense has a large number of heavy weapons and a hefty morale advantage, but the Red Army brings numbers and firepower to the battle. It’s a pretty straightforward assignment: the Soviets must smash their way forward, regardless of losses, while the Germans have to stop them, also regardless of losses (though there aren’t that many Germans, so even though there’s no victory point penalty for losses the German side could easily run out of defenders).
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.