Kursk: Burning Tigers
Scenario Preview, Part Two
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Sometime months from now, I’ll probably have a chance to truly appreciate Panzer Grenadier’s Fourth Edition games: the fine covers, the beautiful maps, the full-color charts of the new rules set. And we seem to have finally hit on the formula for the perfect playing piece: just the right tile-like thickness, with crisp print quality and a smooth finish – no ugly die-strike damage here.
But the heart of any Panzer Grenadier game is its scenario set, and for Panzer Grenadier: Kursk, Burning Tigers, Mike Perryman has crafted a truly outstanding look at history’s greatest tank battle. Here’s the second installment of our preview:
Storm III; Grizzly Bear’s Roar
8 July 1943
With Protasovo in enemy hands Stavka found their ability to reinforce their forces fighting at Ponyri complicated. To rectify the situation they had launched the 74th Rifle Division against the Germans eleven separate times on the previous day. The division left most of their supporting armor burning on the battlefield, but an unsympathetic command replaced what tanks they could and ordered the division command to scrape together another assault. So when the 12th Artillery Division finished their bombardment the Soviet soldiers went forward once again.
The greenest Lieutenant on either side could have foretold the outcome of the attack before it was launched. When used correctly, the German heavy weapons put up an impenetrable wall of fire. The few supporting Soviet tanks failed to get within range of the Elefants supporting the defenders before breaking off the attack. This allowed the massive Brummbar (“Grizzly Bear”) assault guns to work over the Soviet infantry at their leisure.
This one’s tough on the Red Army of Workers and Peasants, as they’re forced to assault a well-armed German defender with only a handful of tanks in support and the mighty Elefant waiting to attack them when they break cover. The Elefant’s pretty wimpy against mice (foot soldiers) but on defense it makes for a powerful armored pillbox.
Graveyard of Armor I: Firefight at Butyrki
5 July 1943
On the first day of Operation Citadel the 6th Infantry Division launched an attack designed to secure the village of Butyrki to control the Oka Valley. To help them along they would have the heaviest concentration of Tiger tanks used in battle to date, plus the new Goliath unmanned demolition vehicles to clear paths through the Soviet minefields. As soon as the German bombardment began, Soviet T-34 tanks rolled into Butyrki to help hold the vital village.
When the Tigers easily sliced their way through the defenses despite the Kommissars and technicians repeatedly attending to the vulnerable spots it rattled the Soviet commanders. It didn’t help that the Soviet commander had never had to stop a planned blitzkrieg before.
The 505th Heavy Panzer detachment claimed 42 T-34s destroyed in the Butyrki vicinity, and in their war diary contends that the immediate commitment of 2nd Panzer Division would have unhinged the whole Russian defenses in the sector. As the next few days of fighting proved, the Russians could field more than enough men and material in the vicinity to seriously dispute that contention. Both sides’ records state that T-34s participated in the fighting, but they don’t say which units fought. It’s likely that they belonged to a separate tank regiment attached to 13th Army.
The Germans get to prove that they’re still the world’s best toy makers, with their cute little Goliath explosive tanks and their huge Tiger tanks teaming up to smash through a Soviet prepared line backed by tanks. The Germans have a tough set of objectives to meet, but they have plentiful forces with which to do so.
Graveyard of Armor II: The Lead Panzers
5 July 1943
General Walter Model chose a conservative approach to Operation Citadel for his 9th Army. He supported his infantry formations with special battalion detachments of heavy tanks or assault guns to exploit through the holes opened by the infantry. The one exception to this, the 20th Panzer Division, he detailed to secure Teploye if possible. Planning called for engineers to clear paths through the numerous minefields in front of them before the panzers advanced.
Formed in October 1940, the 20th Panzer Division received little favor within the Army, falling toward the back of the line for replacements of men and material. At the beginning of Operation Citadel they still fielded two platoons of obsolete Czechoslovakian-made tanks and possessed only 40 long-barreled Panzer IVs. In addition, the panzer grenadiers processed no halftracks in which to ride into battle. Nevertheless, they rapidly tore a gap through the defenders and, acting on information from a prisoner that Bobrik was lightly held, modified their plans to secure the village. However, once they seized the town the newly-arrived 6th Guards Rifle Division pinned them in place.
This is one of the few small scenarios in Burning Tigers, with just one mapboard in play. So while the German armored force isn’t huge, it’s concentrated in a small space and the Soviets have no tanks and only one 76.2mm battery. They’ll need to get the Guards reinforcements into play quickly to use their good morale to assault the panzers when possible.
Graveyard of Armor III: After the Ambush
6 July 1943
Second Tank Army could not get its 16th Tank Corps into action on July 5th thanks to poor staff work, and spent that night getting the corps into attack positions. In the pre-dawn hours the Soviet tankers finally moved forward, only to run into a line of 16 Tiger tanks, dug in and well-camouflaged, that devastated two of the corps’ tank brigades – 10th Tank Brigade lost 46 of its 50 tanks in minutes. As the survivors attempted to withdraw from the disaster things went from bad to worse as the fresh 2nd Panzer Division arrived on the scene and gave chase.
A potent offensive force formed when the 2nd Panzer Division arrived on the battlefield and assumed control of the 505th Heavy Panzer Detachment. The 2nd Panzer Division now fielded over 40 state-of-the-art Tiger tanks in addition to their 59 long-barreled Panzer IVs. Using this firepower they easily forced the remnants of the Soviet 16th Tank Corps back to the second defensive belt where the 70th Guards Rifle Division, backed by plentiful antitank gun support, stopped all forward progress for the day.
Irresistible force meets immovable object: the Germans field a whole passel of Tiger tanks and a deep roster of other modern tanks (long-barreled Panzer III and IV tanks). And their infantry all ride into battle in armored halftracks. The initial Soviet screen trying to slow them down is pitifully weak, but the main line of resistance is manned by tough Guards infantry backed by a relatively huge number of powerful (76.2mm) anti-tank guns and eventually some tanks of their own.
Graveyard of Armor IV: The High Ground Beckons
6 July 1943
Both sides considered control of the series of ridges around Ol’khovatka as vital to their success. Therefore, corps commander Gen. Joachim Lemelsen only allowed part of 2nd Panzer Division to pursue the shattered remnants of the 16th Tank Corps while the majority of the division concentrated on securing Ol’khovatka. The depth and sophistication of the Soviet fortifications shocked the Germans when they reached the second defensive belt.
The Germans drove the Red Army out of Saborovka but could not exploit westward. The Soviet 19th Tank Corps was supposed to be in position to attack at sunrise but they squandered so much time reaching the battlefield that they didn’t actually attack until 1830. The ineffectual result surprised no one. To say the least, Stavka did not appreciate the lackluster performance.
The German armored force is massive, with lots of Tigers and a large array of late-model Panzer Iv medium tanks. They even have more of their little exploding Goliaths. But the Soviet defensive line is even tougher here, with lots of big anti-tank guns protected by entrenchments, and they even have two batteries of 85mm anti-aircraft guns pressed into use against tanks – a weapon only slightly less effective than the feared German 88mm gun.
Graveyard of Armor V: Rokossovsky Prevails
7 July 1943
After failing in the bid for Ponyri earlier in the day, 9th Army’s General Model turned his attention to a series of hills dominated by Hill 274 near Ol’khovatka. His opponent, General Konstantin Rokossovsky of Central Front, held the area with two tank corps supported by an antitank brigade. The previous day’s skirmishing had achieved very little, leaving the question of who would control the hill to be dealt with again today.
The German breakout plan hinged as much upon controlling the hills around Ol’khovatka as controlling Ponyri. The opposing generals instinctively understood this and poured as many formations into the area as possible. On this day the Soviets prevailed, inflicting horrendous casualties on the Germans while holding their ground. “The German army is a machine,” Rokossovsky liked to say, “and machines can be broken!” All of the participating Tiger tanks received multiple hits but their rugged construction meant the maintenance crews only wrote off three.
Another case of irresistible force and immovable object; the Germans have a mighty force of tanks and plentiful infantry, support weapons and artillery. But the Guards holding the Soviet line equal them in morale though not in leadership, and have a formidable array of anti-tank guns. There’s only one path to German victory: push through those entrenched lines at any cost.
Graveyard of Armor VI: Teploe Tango
7 July 1943
Unable so far to break the defenses before them, 47th Panzer Corps received the fresh 4th Panzer Division from 9th Army’s reserves to bolster the attack. Gen. Lemelsen ordered the division to secure Teploe and exploit southward. Virtually destroyed in 1942, 4th Panzer Division had remained at the front near Kursk for over a year while absorbing new men and equipment. Gen. Model at 9th Army hoped the rebuilt division could finally break the tenacious defenders.
The 2nd Battalion of the 33rd Panzer Grenadier Regiment suffered almost 100 casualties before securing Teploe. Despite the losses the grenadiers received orders to assist in driving the rapidly reinforcing Russians off the hills just to the south. Joined by the halftrack battalion and additional panzers they moved out as ordered. Heavy artillery fire soon put the Germans to ground and neutralized their antitank guns. Every effort of the panzers to work their way free of the killing zone came to naught. Finally three panzers managed to overrun a Russian strongpoint inspiring the grenadiers to follow. When that attack stalled the last surviving officer of the 2nd Battalion, Capt Diesener, rallied his men once more. They managed to drive the defenders off the hill but could not hold it against determined counterattacks. Fighting like this continued here for three more days.
This is a somewhat smaller scenario, with the Germans forced to come to the Soviet defenses with a well-balanced force of tanks and infantry sporting very high morale. But the Soviets have almost as many tanks, if less enthusiasm, and waves of reinforcements to set things right if the Germans do break into their fortified line.
Graveyard of Armor VII: Proud Grenadiers
8 July 1943
XLVII Panzer Corps failed to break out into the open despite three days of heavy fighting. Time and pressure from the high command weighed heavily upon them as they fell further behind schedule. Introducing the fresh 4th Panzer Division led to the capture of Teploe on the previous day but little else changed, and the Soviets now encircled Teploe. Ninth Army headquarters transferred Panzer Brigade 21 and its fifteen obsolete Mk. III's, most of them early models equipped with a short-barreled 50mm gun, to the 20th Panzer Division, along with orders to relieve the men struggling at Teploe and then subdue Samodurovka.
Under a scorching sun the grenadiers came on and the waiting Soviets hacked them to pieces. All the officers of 5th Company, 112th Panzer Grenadier Regiment fell in the first hour, but still the men pressed relentlessly forward. Battalions soon became companies which, before long, shrank to mere platoons. The possession of Samodurovka in no way offset the horrendous casualties suffered.
This is a big scenario, with all four mapboards in play and covered in combat units. The Germans are strong, well-balanced, and feature cutting-edge armor on their cutting edge. But the Soviets are pretty determined, and they have the big guns to shoot big holes in all those shiny new tanks rolling towards them.
Graveyard of Armor VIII: Giving Their All
8 July 1943
To secure Hill 274, XLVII Panzer Corps ordered a few of the remaining operational Tigers of 505th Heavy Panzer Detachment to spearhead the attack. Instead of supporting a panzer unit weak in infantry they now supported the 6th Infantry Division, an arrangement that had worked well in the past. Lemelsen and his staff hoped the additional manpower available to support the huge panzers would tip the scales in their favor.
The 6th Infantry Division left everything they had, including a large number of dead, on the battlefield. Inch by agonizing inch they forced the stubborn Soviet Guards from the north side of the hill. Desperately fighting for the elusive breakthrough, the Germans forced the enemy onto the back slope but the breakthrough they needed would not come.
Users recorded few good words regarding the Goliaths so it is interesting that the 505th Heavy Panzer Detachment claimed to have achieved excellent results from theirs. Panzer Company 312 claimed to destroy a T-34 tank, three antitank guns and several pillboxes in exchange for four of their 20 Goliaths. Despite the arrival of more Tigers, the 505th Heavy Panzer Detachment’s commander deemed his unit no longer fit for combat at the end of the day and they were withdrawn for rest and refitting.
Finally, the Germans have a serious edge in numbers against another well-fortified and very well-armed Soviet position. They’re going to need those numbers, since they have to break through if they hope to win – while they could theoretically win just by causing enough Soviet casualties, they’re not going to get close to the Red Army without taking some serious losses from the entrenched 76.2mm and 85mm batteries.
Graveyard of Armor IX: Unflappable
8 July 1943
General Model frittered away the combat power of his panzer spearhead trying to fulfill his operational orders and the breakthrough they demanded. That goal lay within sight but the 17th Guards Rifle Corps on the ridges north of Ol’khovatka stood in the way. With the three operational Tigers of 505th Heavy Panzer Detachment busy elsewhere, the 2nd Panzer Division would be on its own today.
A report from the commander of the Soviet 3rd Destroyer Brigade reported 70% casualties in the 1st Battalion of antitank rifles, and the 1st and 7th Batteries destroyed. On the flip side, his men claimed 40 enemy tanks destroyed. They anticipated one more battle where they would either stand or perish. Behind their unflappable leaders the Red Army stood their ground though attacked repeatedly throughout the day. At 1700, though forced from the hill, they dug their heels in on the south slope denying their enemy his coveted operational freedom.
As the intro notes, the German spearhead has weakened, while the Soviet lines are still very tough. Though not quite as well-armed as before, the Red Army still has many ways to shoot up a panzer. And the Guards who’ll take the brunt of the fighting here have morale every bit as good as the elite panzertruppen. This is going to be another bloody affair.
The Graveyard of Armor X: Against Better Advice
9 July 1943
Ninth Army’s commander, Gen. Walter Model, had doubted the plan for Operation Citadel from inception. After the previous day’s bloodbath he’d seen enough and argued relentlessly with Field Marshal Erich von Manstein and OKW to cancel any further offensive action. It came to naught, and he received further orders to break the enemy no matter the price. He obediently reformed his shock groups and ordered the men forward.
As Model anticipated, the Germans failed in their attack. When a small breakthrough occurred, a prompt Soviet counterattack against other formations made sure no forces could leave their locations to exploit the opportunity. Soon fresh Soviet troops arrived to contest the breakout and inflicted heavy losses on their tormentors. These counterattacks expanded greatly in the following days making the needless casualties suffered here even more devastating to the German cause.
This time the Germans strike first with an infantry force, with the tanks coming on a little later to exploit whatever gap the foot soldiers have made in the Soviet lines. That’s going to be a tall order; the Red Army has plenty of troops and guns in its lines even if these aren’t the fearsome Guards and there are no 85mm tank-killers on hand.
And that’s it for the second installment!
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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.