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    Mission report - 'Panther's Last Roar'!

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    33lima
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    Mission report - 'Panther's Last Roar'!

    Post by 33lima on Wed Feb 18, 2015 10:11 pm

    A new mission for a new tank in Steel Fury - Kharkov 1942

    (updated from the original CombatAce.com report)


    This Ukrainian tanksim's small but prolific and talented band of modders certainly keeps the rest of us well supplied with new kit and other toys! The latest of the packaged mods available for Steel Fury is of course the Steel Tank Add-on (STA) available on this site. Of the fifty-plus different missions included in STA's Game Mission Pack (GMP) 3, one is the operation, map and vehicles featured in this mission report. Details of what you need to get the latest and the best from Steel Fury and the STA mod are, as always, kept up-to-date on this forum, here: http://stasf2008.ephpbb.com/t6-steel-tank-add-on-steel-fury

    The mission -  'Panther's Last Roar' by Lockie - has a most interesting premise. The curtain has officially come down on World War 2, but your German unit is one of many who have been bypassed by the advancing Red Army and who are now desperately fighting their way back west, in an effort to reach territory occupied by the Western Allies, rather than surrendering to the vengeful Soviets.

    Even more interesting is the fact that your tank is a real novelty, one that didn't actually see operational service: the Panther F. This was a final Panther variant, a sort of simplified version of the originally-planned Panther II. Basically the Panther F had the hull of the Panther G (which did see service, 1944-45) fitted with a new schmallturm or 'small turret' of a type originally intended for the definitive but aborted Panther II. As you can see from the screenshot above, this turret replaced the typical Panther long, curved gun mantlet with a saukopf or 'pigs head' version, as fitted to the Henschel turret of the King Tiger. The schmallturm was also fitted for a stereoscopic rangefinder. The SF version has the armoured fairings each side of the turret for this device, but has only a conventional sight fitted. Fancy new optics were clearly in short supply in the last days of the 'Thousand Year Reich!

    The mission briefing largely consists of a 'pep talk' from the German force's commander, a certain Hauptman Schulze. In his little speech, he tells us we are officers in the renegade Russian 'Vlasov's Army', which doesn't seem to fit a scenario involving panzers. Schulze isn't telling his platoon commanders much about what they are to do, in this mission. But it seems that the operation is in three phases - we are to break through and secure safe passage to US positions in Halbe, on the way destroying some defensive positions and defeating any counter-attack. You don't find out until you start the mission that the player is in command of just the unit's two Panther F tanks. So you can't be Schulze, who will have made the plan for the mission, whatever it is, and who commands the whole force.  Anyway, here's the start and the end of the briefing.




    Scrolling upwards with the briefing panel turned off, you can see Halbe, our intended destination. Below and right of that is marked the area of the defensive positions, which lie between our force and Halbe.


    In the absence of specific orders, I felt entitled to make my own plan. Looking at the lie of the land, I decided I would go left-flanking, swinging out first behind the cover of the bank which the contours showed ran right to left across our immediate front. Short of the next road that led to Hable, I would turn right, ascend to just below the top of the bank and halt in a hull-down position, well to the left of our main force. From there, I would support its advance by fire. I would then move up to the area of the enemy positions and go firm there, in anticipation of a counterattack.

    I marked out my route on the planning map using the Move command, and gave my unit - whatever it was - the order to close up in column formation and to conform to my movements and actions. Time to get cracking!



    When the mission loaded up, as I usually do, I first ordered an appropriate main gun round loaded (HE in this case) - there's no such thing as 'Battle carry - sabot loaded! in SF '42. And I popped the hatch open from the commander station (F3+P - operating unbuttoned is more realistic and the AI tank commander ducks down of his own accord when the metal starts to fly). Finally I switched to the gunner station (F2) and started swinging the turret. Zoomed out, I set the sights to 200 meters as a convenient 'battle sights' setting then zoomed them in (you can't see the range setting mark when zoomed in).

    For some reason my 'move' command was ignored - perhaps I had done something which had over-ridden it. No matter. 'Driver - left!' 'Left again!' Driver, advance!' - and off we went, leaving the others behind us, silent and still as we rattled noisily on our way.




    ...to be continued!


    Last edited by 33lima on Thu Feb 19, 2015 12:33 am; edited 1 time in total
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    33lima
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    Re: Mission report - 'Panther's Last Roar'!

    Post by 33lima on Wed Feb 18, 2015 10:32 pm

    Into battle!

    Our two Panthers rumbled on, off to the left, where I planned to adopt hull-down fire positions just below the top of the embankment to our right. From there, we would shoot the main force onto the first objective - the enemy defensive positions on the high ground between us and Halbe, where supposedly lay safety from Soviet incarceration.

    We hadn't got very far before the rest of the force moved off, directly towards the enemy. The mission briefing hadn't explained what the plan was but in Steel Fury, attacking force tactics often look to be a simple advance straight towards the objective, more or less en masse. So I sort of expected they would all just 'up sticks' and basically charge. And they did. Off went the dismounted grenadiers, with the single King Tiger in the lead and the light armour - half-tracked SPWs and some Puma armoured cars - all moving off, up and over the bank and directly at the enemy, each at their own best speed. It was rather reminiscent of infantry 'going over the top' in WW1.

    I could have simply started the mission, observed what the others did, then moved my own two-tank sub-unit to conform with and directly support their movements. But the boss hadn't given me any specific instructions and I had decided instead to go left flanking, rather than simply move with the AI herd.

    Before much longer, the herd had disappeared over the embankment. All I could see of them now was the occasional shellburst and a few tracers from 'overs', which zipped past, over where they had formed up, now behind me. I had planned to go well wide but evidently, the party had started and my attendance was now required, as a matter of some urgency. So I turned right up the bank, ordering line abreast formation. Slowing down as my big Panther neared the crest, I depressed my gun slightly in readiness and then stopped, hull down. From there, I began scanning anxiously for targets.


    With the ground sloping up gently ahead of me, the Soviets weren't hard to see. On the upper reaches of the slope was a series of field pieces in rough defensive positions, with some machine guns further back. Some of the Soviets were nicely skylined, right up on the crest. If they had been deployed to face an attack from the opposite direction, many would have been on a reverse slope, able to catch us by surprise and at close range as we came over the crest. But instead, here they were. laid out on a forward slope, like targets in a shooting gallery. Except, these targets could shoot back.

    With my long-barrelled 75mm tank gun's flat trajectory, my initial 'battle sights' setting of 200 meters seemed like it would be fine. So at full magnification, I laid my gun onto the first target and let her rip, correcting for range with subsequent rounds.


    With no serious armoured opposition as yet, these enemy guns were my priority targets, posing the biggest threat, both to myself and to our advancing light armour which - as seems common in SF missions - was rushing ahead, bravely but regardless of danger. The enemy MGs would have to wait. Soviet artillery doctrine, like German, maintained that all weapons should have an anti-tank capability. And head-on, an dug-in 122mm howitzer isn't easy to distinguish from a 76mm field gun or a 57mm AT gun. So I just shot one target then went looking for the next one.

    At one point I was distracted by an odd, moaning, whooshing sound. Up on the skyline, I saw dark smoke trails appear. Evidently, some Soviet Katyusha-type rocket launchers were in action up there, although we must surely be safely well inside the minimum engagement range of these indirect-fire weapons.



    I returned to my appointed task of silencing the enemy direct fire weapons which were the greatest visible threat to our advance. One of the problems with tanksims is that it's relatively easy to get you own tank into a good fire position, but less easy to do the same for your platoon-mates. You can't say to them on the radio - 'Go hull down on my right - engage enemy guns to your front!'. Not a big problem if your platoon already has a direct line of sight to the enemy. But definitely an issue in a situation like this, where I want my other Panther to move up into a covered fire position next to me, from where he, too, could see and engage the enemy. SF has a map screen command to 'adopt defensive positions' but having tried it once or twice, it seems to order everyone, including your own tank's driver, to find and drive into cover. Not wanting to have my own Panther move and unable to work out quickly how best to get my other tank into a decent fire position, I forgot about him and got on with the job in hand, on my own.


    My gunnery in SF seems to have improved with practice and I had soon knocked out all the guns I could see, using one or two rounds apiece and generally getting first round hits - not a big thing I admit, at a range of just a few hundred meters. Next, I moved on to the skylined MGs, whose muzzle flashes showed they were making good shooting at our dismounted troops.



    One or two of my rounds disappeared over the horizon but most were on target.



    By this time, the charging SPWs had just about reached the nearest enemy positions, which included some infantry in trenches. At least some of our half-tracks had survived; no doubt, the guns I had silenced, helped here. The grenadiers, on the other hand, seemed to have suffered badly, as only the occasional German infantryman could be seen moving forward. Knowing that the Soviet infantry had big anti-tank rifles and other close-combat AT weapons which were rather dangerous for our light armour, I sprayed the visible trenches with MG fire, adding the occasional HE round for good measure.


    I could see the SPWs were shooting at targets off to the left. They were soon joined by the King Tiger, which rolled uphill to join in the fun, right across our front. Don't mind us, big boy, I thought to myself.


    With the main threat to my tanks now destroyed, I moved off again, intent on closing with and then finishing off any Soviets remaining in the trenches. The King Tiger was now on the extreme left so I left him to it there. I steered more or less straight up the slope, in between the King Tiger and the main force's axis of advance, over on my right.



    ...to be continued!


    Last edited by 33lima on Wed Feb 18, 2015 11:07 pm; edited 2 times in total
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    33lima
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    Re: Mission report - 'Panther's Last Roar'!

    Post by 33lima on Wed Feb 18, 2015 10:44 pm

    The fight continues...


    Accompanied by the second Panther, I halted behind a slight fold in the ground about half-way up the hill and scanned again for targets. I still could not see what the others had been shooting at over there; I think it turned out to be the Katyusha rocket launchers, which the King Tiger evidently destroyed.






    My radio operator cut loose with his MG for a while at another target on the left, which seemed to be occasional Soviet soldiers popping up their heads at intervals. I rolled forward a bit to give him a clearer shot, and perhaps get a crack myself. But when I halted again a little further up the hill towards the crest, all I could see was grass, wrecked guns, and more grass.








    Firing died away, and the King Tiger moved across our front (again!) and back over to our right. It seemed that we had achieved the first phase of the mission, the destruction of the enemy defensive positions. So far, so good! But there was more to be done. Already, we were being warned to be ready for a counterattack. Nervously, my other Panther loosed off a round at a target I could not see. More pesky Soviet survivors, ducking and diving? Or something else...?






    Cautiously, I rolled on again, up towards the skyline, scanning anxiously left and right along it, as we approached. I could see that going straight across, or even halting there hull down, would be dangerous, as I would skyline myself the instant I came to the crest, to any enemies on the other side. I wanted a lower route over the crest, one that would provide some cover...perhaps those trees over to my left?






    I was still considering this issue when events took matters out of my hands. A shell threw up a column of dirt, just up ahead of me. As I scanned through the gunsight, I suddenly saw an obviously man-made dark green object appear on the skyline, which was just a hundred meters or so away and looked closer in the magnified sight picture.






    I quickly saw that the object was the top of a tank turret and that it was close, moving fast from right to left, and at the same getting closer. I had about two seconds before it came up over the crest to my immediate front.


    ...to be continued!
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    33lima
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    Re: Mission report - 'Panther's Last Roar'!

    Post by 33lima on Wed Feb 18, 2015 10:54 pm

    Here they come!


    A Soviet tank was about to burst over the skyline maybe a hundred metres away, moving fast and coming my way. I had an HE round 'up the spout' - that would have to do. I lined up my sights and as more of the enemy's turret came into view, I let him have it. Immediately I ordered an AP round loaded, firing as soon as the loader began to announce he had finished. At that range, even with a crossing target, it would have been hard to miss, but I was still mightily relieved to see the enemy tank stop and begin to burn. Phew!






    Looking at the Soviet machine, I could see that it was a T-44 which I think, like the Panther F, did not see combat in WW2. It's basically the hull of what would later become the T54/T55 series, but with a T-34-85 style turret. A sleek and dangerous opponent at close range or from the side, where a Panther's armour is relatively thin.




    This train of thought was interrupted by an outbreak of firing over on my right, where the ground dipped away. I was horrified to see more T-44s advancing rapidly, evidently 'swarming' the solitary King Tiger. I began to back up frantically, at the same time swinging my tank's more heavily-armoured front towards the new threat and hoping this move would trigger my second Panther also to face the enemy.




    One of the T-44s was already aiming in our direction, but firing on the move, his round fell short. My first round in return struck the ground just below his front return roller, but my second and third were hits. He ground to a stop, one of his tracks unrolling behind him.






    I switched targets and engaged the other T-44s. Their return fire resulted in my engine being reported damaged. And at some point, one of them knocked out my second Panther; the first I saw of this, later on, was an escaping panzer crewman crawling through the grass, which told me all I needed to know. In the frantic and exciting gunnery duel which had developed, I succeeded in clobbering two more T-44s. But it had been a close-run thing and by the end of it, the King Tiger was finished, too, guns silent, hatches open and obviously abandoned.








    There was another bang and another spout of earth on the crest just ahead of me. Yet another impact confirmed my belief that something I could not see, on the other side of that crest, knew that I was there and was trying to kill me. I backed up frantically, resisting the temptation to edge forward so that I could spot him, knowing that would likely result in the next round hitting me the moment I presented a better target.

    Displacing to one side, I approached the crest so as to re-appear in a different spot. I quickly saw the shooter, and a scary sight it was. A Iosef Stalin 3 heavy tank, head on and hot off the assembly line, with a slow-firing but powerful 122mm gun and heavy, well-shaped frontal armour to match.




    Sensing that I was probably making a terrible mistake, I took a gut decision to take him on. Unfortunately, on engaging the first T-44, I had selected a Panzergranate 40 round and not changed that selection during the subsequent firefight. This Armour Piercing Composite Rigid, tungsten-cored ammunition has higher penetration at short range. But now, all I had left was conventional AP (Panzergranate 39). Firing as fast as the loader could chamber them, I put two or three rounds into the IS-3 before he could get off another shot.






    I was relieved and delighted when the fearsome Soviet monster began to spill smoke and a crewman bailed out and ran off. I'd nailed the Soviet super-tank!!! But all was not well. it was at this point that I saw a panzer crewman crawling in the grass in front of me. Evidently, and un-noticed by me, something very bad had befallen the second Panther, from whence he had come.




    At that point, things started happening fast, once again. More bad things. Something unseen but clearly dangerous hit my tank, silencing my damaged engine. The counterattack wasn't over. In fact, the worst was yet to come. It appeared in the form of two more IS-3s, rolling along in the wake of the T-44s I'd just knocked out. I could practically feel my skin crawling, just like the two Soviet heavies, which seemed to crawl into view, beetle-like and menacing, just a few hundred meters away.




    Unable to move, all I could do was shoot, but I had hardly spotted the IS-3s when another 122mm round slammed into my battered Panther. For me, the war was over. No comparatively pleasant US PoW camp for me; at best some Soviet medical treatment then captivity, at worst….!



    ...to be continued!
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    33lima
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    Re: Mission report - 'Panther's Last Roar'!

    Post by 33lima on Wed Feb 18, 2015 11:01 pm

    The butcher's bill...and some meditations on tanksim mission design...


    A quick look at my own tank's stats showed that we had done quite well, as a crew. I neglected to check the same information for my second Panther, who lay nearby, hatches open. It would have been informative to have seen whether or not he had made a decent contribution, or had largely been along for the ride. To my mind, a good sim, tank or otherwise, is one in which it's not all down to the player and the AI can play its part, too.




    A review of the battlefield revealed all, ranging from rampant IS-3s to killed T-44s and other armour, including our solitary King Tiger, who had fallen victim to the T-44's swarm tactics. As usual, our light armour had also taken a good hammering.














    There were some knocked-out guns and MGs and a couple of Katyushas whose rocket-launching days were clearly over.




    Overall, this was a challenging and really exciting mission, with some good opportunities to practice both gunnery and tactical movement. The new tanks and the map are great! The Panther F is especially impressive, with a very convincing paint job, although she probably should not have the Zimmerit anti-magnetic mine paste, which stopped being applied in the autumn of 1944, I believe.

    I have just three minor quibbles. Firstly, the odds against us were quite steep. I realise you can vary this with the sim's global 'balance' option but would have preferred lower difficulty at the default setting. Secondly, the briefing - 'orders' are the correct term, here, giving a better impression of what they should convey - was very limited. A 'pep talk' from the boss is very nice but is no substitute for him explaining his plan for the mission - in particular, telling the player what his part in it should be. And thirdly, the plan itself, when seen to unfold in-game, looked to be just a straightforward 'charge' directly at the enemy - as a French general observed after a not-dissimilar enterprise during the Crimean War, 'C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre!'. This seems common in SF missions - no wonder the light armour often suffers so badly. Better plans or tactics could - I would say, should - aim to minimise such casualties. It wasn't just my fault that we lost this battle with such heavy losses!

    The limited size of Steel Fury maps will inhibit wide flanking moves but as with a real-life force commander who is faced with tight unit boundaries, there will usually be some things that a mission designer can incorporate into the plan (ie the mission design and its briefing) to deal as effectively as possible with the tactical situation presented in the mission. Things like maximising direct or indirect fire support, to precede and then cover movement; use of covered approaches, avoiding movement over open ground as far and for as long as possible; light armour staying behind the heavy stuff, if advancing on the same axis; and invoking triggers or morale effects which reduce the tendency of the the light armour or dismounted troops, in particular, to rush ahead near-suicidally into heavy fire, until sufficient of the enemy's heavy weapons are knocked out or suppressed. Any or all of that good stuff. In this mission, if planning such an operation myself, I would probably have deployed the tanks into action first, shooting up all visible enemies from the embankment, and 'won the fire-fight' before any light armour or dismounted infantry made a move or exposed themselves, running up that exposed hillside.

    The player, in command of just a platoon of tanks or the like, can't organise much if any of this; that's the boss's job. A military-style mission brief, based on the sort of plan a real-life commander would have made for the operation in question, would be a good start, in all cases. Not just a more realistic experience for the player, but giving him a better picture of what's supposed to happen - what the boss's plan is.

    Sims like Steel Beasts and Steel Armour - Blaze of War (or even M1 Tank Platoon 2, on a small scale) all allow or expect you to plan and/or control the overall battle. Sims like Panzer Elite or Steel Fury put you purely in the platoon commander role, with no ability to plan or control the actions of other sub-units. Which is absolutely fine. But this means it's down to the mission designer - within the limits of the sim - to fulfill the role of the company commander. The man whose job it is, to plan, and then to run, the battle. Anyway, that's my philosophy of tanksim mission design, in a nutshell - that realistic simulation of AFVs, gunnery and so on is of course necessary in a tanksim, but so is a reasonable effort to simulate realistically other important elements of platoon-to-company level ground operations.

    Here endeth the sermon! Anyway, this was a terrific mission, intense and exiting, with an engaging back-story and great new tanks and map - a 'must play' for any serious WW2 tank sim fan. Highly recommended. If/when you have a go, why not report your own experiences, tactics and results here, on this thread?


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    lockie
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    Re: Mission report - 'Panther's Last Roar'!

    Post by lockie on Thu Feb 19, 2015 12:00 am

    This is excellent report! I think the main idea of each mission is how to force player to make mission better.
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    Atlantis_Risen

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    Re: Mission report - 'Panther's Last Roar'!

    Post by Atlantis_Risen on Sat Jun 13, 2015 4:18 am

    I just tried this mission a few times. It's tough!

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