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    Mission report - Panthers at Prokhorovka!

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    33lima
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    Mission report - Panthers at Prokhorovka!

    Post by 33lima on Sat Feb 21, 2015 3:10 pm

    From Kharkov to Kursk - a change of scenery for Steel Fury!
    (as originally featured on CombatAce)



    The battle

    The fighting at Prokhorovka has gone down in history as one of the biggest and most desperate tank battles ever seen. It was a battle within a battle, fought on the southern front of Operation Citadel, the German offensive against the Kursk salient in July 1943. This was an ill-starred effort to regain some of the initiative lost after the Stalingrad disaster. At Kursk, the Soviets knew the Germans were coming and the offensive soon bogged down amidst well-sited defences, storms of artillery fire and fierce armoured counterattacks. The fiercest was at Prokhorovka on 12 July, when hundreds of T-34s from the 5th Guards Tank Army swept forward in massed waves and ran headlong into II SS Panzerkorps.

    As its full name indicates, Ukrainian tanksim Steel Fury is centred on the 1942 battles around Kharkov. However, thanks to the modders and mission makers, its scope has been extended well beyond those battlefields and that year. Sure enough, if you install the Steel Tank Add-on (STA) mod and the associated mission packs you will find that you now have a short series of missions based on the Battle of Kursk - specifically, inspired by the fighting at Prokhorovka. From these, I chose a mission featuring the Panther tank, which the Germans had rushed into service for Kursk, only to find that mechanical teething troubles and limited crew training added up to a very disappointing debut. Would I do any better? There was one way to find out!


    The mission and the tank

    Here's the mission briefing. I think it's fair to say that its intention is to recreate the general pattern of the German operations at Kursk on a smaller scale and - as I found out - give the player a taste of the kind of fighting at Prokhorovka, where the Germans were on the offensive but were faced with having to fight off waves of oncoming Soviet tanks.




    With the briefing panel minimised, you can get a better look at the map, including the disposition of the units, the lie of the land, and the route to your objective. I've got a platoon of three Panthers - the blue diamonds, bottom centre in the map below  - and we are in the middle of the attack, with other tank platoons either side of us. Rather than keep us with our parent tank company - which would have been fully equipped with Panthers (those that had not broken down, anyway!) for the sake of variety we have a mix, including the stalwart Panzer IV but also some Tiger tanks and Elephant tank destroyers/assault guns. There's no mention of infantry or fire support in the briefing but as it turned out we had dismounted Grenadiers with us. It's probably no bad thing that they were on foot; there wasn't much hostile artillery or mortar fire and when the German SPWs (half-tracked APCs) do feature in an SF '42 mission, they seem always to suffer especially heavily!



    Basically, the operation is in two phases. First, we attack and destroy the enemy defensive positions. Then, we pass through and re-group on the other side, presumably in anticipation of a counterattack.

    Before leaving the map screen, I selected line abreast formation and 'Do as I do! for platoon orders. I didn't fiddle with the default game settings, which would have allowed me to change relative skills for each side and increase or reduce the balance (=the size of the enemy force, relative to mine). I kicked off the mission then as I usually do, in the external view, went to the commander's station and popped open the hatch (F3, P key) then moved to the gunner's station (F2) and loaded an AP round. From this station you can control turret traverse/elevation and do most of what the tank commander can, too, giving orders to driver and loader; so this is how I usually play.

    And here are our three Panthers, lined up and good to go. Nice to see that they are the correct model for Kursk - the Ausf. D, with the original 'dustbin' commander's cupola and vertical flap on the right of the glacis plate for the hull machine gun, instead of the later ball mounting. Another early feature is the set of three smoke dischargers either side of the turret (non-functional, as I believe SF doesn't simulate tanks popping smoke) Edit -  Steel Fury mission-maker and modder Lockie tells me  'SF has smoke grenades. To use them u need sit down on loader place and press "space" on keyboard to fire'.



    The other units either side of us didn't hang about, but soon shook out into formation and roared off towards the enemy defensive lines, which were more or less in plain sight and not too far off, either. It didn't stay quiet for long, as the air was soon filled with the din of combat. Already, tall columns of smoke arose from the battle's first victims, friend or foe.



    Everyone else might have been in a hurry but not me. I drove forward a little way into a small fold in the ground, where I halted and started scanning the ground ahead for signs of the enemy.



    ...to be continued!
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    33lima
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    Re: Mission report - Panthers at Prokhorovka!

    Post by 33lima on Sat Feb 21, 2015 3:39 pm

    Into action !



    Scanning left with the gun sight (the object to the right is my 7.5cm tank gun's muzzle brake) I could see one of the Tigers rolling forward, but no sign of the enemy, beyond some knife-rest obstacles. A screen of trees blocked any view into the distance.



    But nearer the axis of our advance, things were hotting up rapidly. Beyond another Tiger, I suddenly saw a T-34 slip over the distant skyline, followed by another, then another. I swung my turret around and started shooting the Soviets.



    I should have set my sights to, say, 500 metres while still zoomed out, because in the zoomed-in view you can't see the ticks against which you read off the range against the scale for the appropriate ammunition. So my first round was a bit of a ranging effort. By the time I had got a hit, my first target has slipped into a fold in the ground. Soon I could see little of him and the other T-34s, except the occasional turret top, flitting left or right. Time to move, and no time to lose! Rather than backing out of cover and advancing again from a different side I just rolled forward, halted in the next fold and started scanning again.



    At this point, things quickly got scary. The fold in the ground ahead must have ended quite close to us for suddenly, zig-zagging T-34s started popping up in front of us, at dangerously close range, and seemingly right in front of the Tigers. Firing as fast as our loader could chamber rounds, I tracked and shot the T-34s. Just as at Prokhorovka, they seemed to have been briefed to close with us fast, as the best antidote to the new German tanks.







    For a while it was touch and go, seeming likely that we would be over-run. For a Panther, with its comparatively thin and brittle side armour, having Soviets in a T-34 as your next-door neighbour is not to be sneezed at. But we managed to halt the onrush, and things settled down again. Scanning left and right, I could see that our lighter Panzer IVs had taken a bit of a beating.



    Time to gain some more ground! I backed out of my fold in the ground, swung around, and began to press forward again. Behind me, only one of my other two Panthers was still moving. Together we pressed on, past the first of the Soviet casualties, an SU-122 assault gun.





    ...to be continued!
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    33lima
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    Re: Mission report - Panthers at Prokhorovka!

    Post by 33lima on Sat Feb 21, 2015 3:52 pm

    Battle over!



    Advancing again, I noticed that my AI tank commander now had his head out of the hatch, which is generally a sign that there's no immediate danger. I could see no particular indications of Soviet defensive positions but for the first time I could see some of our grenadiers, pressing forward on foot. I stopped again in another fold in the ground to cover their advance. Scanning left and right again, I put a round or two into some stationary T-34s as insurance. The Tigers seemed less worried and carried on regardless.



    There was still lead flying, mostly MG fire, and my tank commander wisely decided to keep his head down once more. We rolled forward again to the next dip in the ground. The terrain here was well suited to a bit of fire and manoeuvre, with plenty of little undulations where I could halt the tank in a near hull down position.



    Checking my map I headed for one of the re-grouping zones marked on it, in the form of blue ovals, just on the far side of the enemy positions through which we had now come. At this point, I got confirmation that we had won the battle!



    Rather than end the mission I played on for a little while, keen to make the most of the chance to do some virtual tanking in my fine big Panther. There was still a little shooting going on and if any Soviets needed persuading that for them, the war was over, well, I was up for it. Followed by my surviving Panther, I rolled on a little while, slipping down into a gully and edging to a halt just short of the far lip, with my main gun just above grass level, in a nice hull down position







    Seeing no threats and moving forward again, I decided to test my crew's ability to find cover for themselves, using the 'take up defensive position'! comamnd (available from the map view and as a hotkey, '7').  This worked fairly well and I settled down to scan for a possible counterattack. The infantry settled down too although one of the Tigers - who seemed to have borne the brunt of the fighting - decided it was time to head back, to refuel and re-arm, perhaps. There had been something about re-arming at pillboxes in the briefing but I hadn't seen these.





    There was nothing doing, so I contented myself with putting a couple of rounds into a stationary T-34. You can't be too careful - last mission, playing for once in a thin-skinned Panzer III, I got killed by just such a stationary Soviet tank, who waited until I had driven up right next to him. Live and let die, like they say in that song.





    The expected counter-attack didn't come - likely, we had in fact run into it, at the outset - a meeting engagement, as they call it. In that respect, this mission had played out quite like a mini Battle of Prokhorovka. Neat!

    All that remained was to have a quick look around the battlefield, see what there was to be seen, and maybe grab some loot...


    ...to be continued!
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    33lima
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    Re: Mission report - Panthers at Prokhorovka!

    Post by 33lima on Sat Feb 21, 2015 4:03 pm

    The butcher's bill




    I'd got away with it, this mission, but many hadn't been so fortunate. On the Soviet side, the casualties were mostly T-34s, as was to be expected, including these fellows.







    Another T-34 lay next to a gun pit with a 45mm anti-tank gun, which had been no match for the panzers. There were several of these about but I didn't see any of the 76.2mm field guns which had a much better A/T capability.



    Another T-34 had somehow flipped upside down. Serves him right for showing off, like as not.



    Other Red Army casualties included KV-1 heavy tanks and SU-122 assault guns, like these.





    On the German side, there had also been losses. My own platoon had been fortunate - the Panther which had lagged behind had lost a track but was otherwise intact.



    I hadn't noticed it but there had been at least one SPW on the battlefield, and it had come to grief, as they usually do, along with many of the Panzer IVs. My early-war German vehicles in this mission were all in 'panzer grey' because I had applied the mod which replaces the NTA mod's 'compromise' colour schemes with the early-war colour: by Kursk, many German AFVs would probably have been in the Dark Yellow introduced early in 1943, or in an interim scheme.





    The Tigers had borne the brunt of the fighting and two of them were out of action, both immobilised. Nearby a third Tiger was awkwardly parked but intact.







    Rather less well parked was this Panther, which had evidently fallen foul of a deep anti-tank ditch and left its crew standing about waiting for the recovery crew to arrive and decide whether to pull her out or fill her in..



    Finally there were the Ferdinands, as the Elephant tank destroyers were also known. At that stage lacking a bow MG to defend themselves against Soviet infantry, these were said by Panzer General Heinz Guderian to have had to go 'quail shooting with cannon' at Kursk. One of ours had been somehow knocked out; another had ended up intact but entangled with a knocked-out Panzer IV.





    All in all, this was a very enjoyable mission. I would have seen more action if I'd charged ahead with the others but I prefer to play a bit more tactically and ideally, to bring my platoon through the fight in one piece, rather than just regarding them as expendable AI 'bots'. Like many add-on AFVs, the Panther D lacks interiors (or 'cockpits') but I very rarely use these so I never miss them. While the mission was but a tiny fragment of the real Prokhorovka, it did a great job of recreating the basic scenario. Only quibble would be that as with many SF '42 missions, I would have preferred to be operating as part of a tank company (or a single tank platoon working with an infantry company) instead of a force where each tank platoon has a different tank - the sight of a dozen or so Panthers thundering forward, perhaps with some Ferdinands for fire support, would have been quite a spectacle - not that the mission wasn't, as usual the SF '42 battlefield ambience is first class. Highly recommended


    Last edited by 33lima on Sat Feb 21, 2015 8:53 pm; edited 1 time in total
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    lockie
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    Re: Mission report - Panthers at Prokhorovka!

    Post by lockie on Sat Feb 21, 2015 6:47 pm

    That's my one of the best mission! I mean I like it! The mission and polygon was made by Rends.
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    33lima
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    Re: Mission report - Panthers at Prokhorovka!

    Post by 33lima on Sat Feb 21, 2015 8:52 pm

    Yes it's one of my favourites too. Lots of enemies charging but you have a nice big tank with a nice big gun, plus some friends, with similar equipment.

    The only minor improvements I could think of would be to replace the Tiger with one without Zimmerit and the T-34s with the one now available with the 'Micky Mouse' turret, because this was the version mostly in use at Kursk:




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