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Firestorm Kursk: Operation Zitadelle

Firestorm Kursk: Operation Zitadelle
With Jim Naughton

After our successful Firestorm Stalingrad Campaign, it was natural that the Legions Games group in Pittsburgh, PA, USA, would jump right on a Firestorm Kursk campaign.  As soon as its availability was announced, we requested a copy (or 2) and when it arrived before Friday, April 26, the offensive began.

As with our last campaign, our administrative rules were inclusive rather than restrictive.  Any mid-war army list is acceptable. If a player came with an American list, his score was recorded against the Germans if he faced a German list and against the Russians if he faced Russians. If an American and a British player square off against each other, a die roll determines who is playing for Axis. If either player in an in-store pairing wanted to score the match in the campaign, it was scored.

We use battle plans and MORE MISSIONS to determine the scenario played. The faction controlling the Battle Arrow must choose ATTACK or MANEUVER for their battle plan. The faction controlling the target sector must choose MANEUVER or DEFEND for their battle plan.  Selecting MANEUVER as a defensive strategy gave the opportunity for the ‘attacker’ to lose the originating sector on a 4+ while if selecting DEFEND a 6+ was required.

When placing a Tank Battle Marker in the Prokhorovka sector there are no restrictions on Battle Plan selection.  

I anticipated the Phases taking more than one week (much as occurred last time) so I applied the same rule as last time – the Phase ended in the week in which all Battle Arrows were addressed, and ‘extra battles’ were applied by rolling the allocation dice at the moment the game started. They had to be applied to one of the existing Battle Arrows in order of creation and if the controlling faction didn’t want to refight that arrow, they were allowed to assign an extra Tank Battle Marker to Prokhorovka.

Why wouldn’t a controlling player want to refight a battle?  Obviously, if he won. But also, in the last game, controlling players wanted to skip battles they had lost 8-1 to choose one they had lost 6-3. This seemed ‘gamey.’ Finally, we saw very little action, comparatively, on the Stalingrad track. This seemed to be a way to generate more activity there.

Firestorm Kursk: Operation Zitadelle

Two battles fought for the same sector average their scores. Battles in Prokorhovka are scored independently.

TimH offered to play the role of Field Marshall Zeitzler while JimH (no relation) offered to play Marshall of the Soviet Union Zhukov. I volunteered to administer and record the campaign (again). As last time, I annotated an electronic version of the map with place names to facilitate e-mail play (See the electronic map). When I did so, I noticed that the German penetrations into the Soviet-controlled front line 4-6 July 1943 have been anticipated on the map.  Effectively, the campaign begins on July 7th.

Firestorm Kursk: Operation Zitadelle

Both were in the store Friday to find me, the map and rules present. We moved immediately to Battle Arrow allocation.

TimH rolled the dice for allocation. Despite being a 3+ for Axis control, Tim managed to roll 3 Russian attacks in a row (which I will deftly explain in the ‘historical’ summary). Tim placed his first Battle Arrow as an attack out of Ponry (2 VP Germans) into Zolotukino (3 VP Russians).  This was the direct route into Kursk for Model’s 9th Army.

JimH allocated his three Battle Arrows quickly.  Battle Arrow 2 attacked from Kolpny (1 VP Russians) to Ponry while Battle Arrow 3 attacked from Kolpny to Orel (2 German VP).  Finally, he allocated Battle Arrow 4 attacking from Oboyan (2 Russian VP) to Belgorod (2 German VP).

The attack from Oboyan to Belgorod preempted the southern pincer. TimH could see that Jim’s strategy would result in any further attacks from Ponry being cut off if either northern sector battle was a Soviet success, so he decided to get an early start on Prokhorovka, allocating a Tank Battle Marker there.

Tim and Jim squared off for the first Battle Arrow, fighting the German attack south toward Kursk.  It was a brutal grinding fight between German Grenadiers with Marders and panzers and a mixed Tankovy Battalion in CONTACT, and saw Model’s German infantry of 6th German Infantry Division push further south into Zolotukino, winning 7-2

BenI then reprised the role of K.K. Rokossovsky, launching a counterattack into 9th Army’s flank.  He played Battle Arrows 2 and 3 with his newest creation, based on a self-propelled gun regiment with armored car and KV support.  Ben’s force initially faced RobG in NO RETREAT. Rob G. was playing a Gepanzerte Panzer Grenadier company with Ferdinand and Marder support, and five minefields forced Ben to fight through the mines and a Marder ambush.   

Ben’s force managed no less than ten FLANK shots into the Ferdinand to no effect, but forcing it to move every turn crippled its effectiveness. Eventually sheer numbers overcame Rob’s force, with Ben winning 7-2. Ponry fell, cutting off XLI and XLVII Panzer Korps, Model’s spearheads.

Firestorm Kursk: Operation Zitadelle

Ben’s second battle was for Orel.  Here he met TimM’s Americans. As per the discussion above, the American Armored Rifles were counted as Axis, fighting against the Soviets.  The scenario was BRIDGEHEAD. Ben described it as a near-run thing, saying “I won the turn before I was completely wiped out.” Ben won 6-3. Out of gas, Model’s spearhead will have to wait until Phase III before it can launch another attack.

Firestorm Kursk: Operation Zitadelle

The Northern pincer was stalled, with the Soviets gaining a victory point.

The second week saw another good turnout, with three more games played.  First up was my match with RobG, playing Battle Arrow Four, Vatutin’s attack into Belgorod.  I played a Forward Detachment of 31st Tank Corps with a T34 Tankovy Battalion and a Ravedzki Company in M3 Scout Cars.  RobG played his Panzergrenadiers again. We decided to experiment with 150 point lists.  I choose ATTACK and Rob choose MANEUVER as battle plans, and we ended up in DUST UP. My KV-8s failed miserably in my opening attack, rolling 30 flame dice before Rob’s Panthers arrived from reserve, scoring 1 hit and killing nothing.  Unsurprisingly the follow up infantry attack by a Ravedzki platoon failed. Rob’s Panthers took two turns to eliminate the KV1s and another two turns to bypass a roadblock and stream and one Panther bogged on the river approach. The loss of tempo caused Rob to miss an opportunity to take a lightly defended objective.  Meanwhile my reinforcements streamed onto the board, and a mass attack by 10 T34s and 6 Valentines supported by SU-122s narrowly missed taking one of my objectives. My drive was supported by two Sturmoviks, who managed to kill 2 Marders and repeatedly bail other Marders and Grilles. The Sturmoviks returned (incredibly) 8 times out of 9 turns played.  We called the game a 3-3 draw when my push failed to overrun the objective.

I participated in the next game, a 150 point team game arranged by TimH (Manstein) and JimH (Zhukov).  StefanA played on the German side, and I played for the Soviets. The objective was Prokorovka. We ended up playing ENCOUNTER.  Jim’s list was a Mixed Tankovy list with 10 T34, 5 KV1s, and 6 Valentines. Tim’s list was dismounted Panzergrenadiers with a mixed Panzer company, Ferdinand, and Marders.  I played the Soviet right with a Hero Rifle Company and the KVs. Jim played on the left with Valentines and SU76s. The KVs ended up with the attention of Marders and Ferdinand initially, but 2 managed to survive after killing 3 Marders.  By then a SU76 barrage caught the German 50MM AT guns forcing the Ferdinand to divert to the Valentines. The KV-1s clanked their way from center court to the objective on our right flank, shaking off occasional hits from MKIVs and MKIIIs. The German tanks were forced to act as a fire brigade, and thus shoot at a disadvantage as they maneuvered.  Finally our 10 T34s arrived and dashed to center court, and the KVs crunched through the unsupported infantry defending the objective. Finally the game was over in a Soviet 8-1 victory.

Our final game of the week was a ‘bonus’ game.  The Germans controlled the combat, and the fight choices were reprise a German victory in Battle Arrow 1, or Prokorovka.  The choice was Prokorovka. ShaneW played for the Soviets and RickB played for the Germans. Both players had infantry armies with some tank support and the Battle Plan matrix produced BRIDGEHEAD with Shane defending.  Shane choose not to take a passive stance and managed to develop a couple attacks, tying up Rick’s attack long enough that the game ended in stalemate, 2-1 DRAW with slight advantage to the Germans.

The mighty German war machine had stalled, and 9th Army’s spearheads in the north were cut off.  The Soviets had captured two areas while the Germans captured one, and the Soviets had earned one point on the Prokorvka track.

Firestorm Kursk: Operation Zitadelle

Firestorm Kursk: Operation Zitadelle

Hitler had reluctantly approved of Operation Zitadelle and events coincided with his intuition.  Brief success in both the north and south were undermined by a surprise air raid on the marshalling yards in Briansk, destroying eighty carloads of precious benzin and another 60 of munitions in a spectacular conflagration.  9th Army’s logistics were thus interrupted at a critical point of the break-in.  A series of thunderstorms washed out a critical bridge over a Dneiper tributary, cutting the main line into Kharkov.  The flash flooding also affected critical crossings of the Northern Donetz. Both Model and Hoth pushed on, and the Soviet commanders pushed for early release of critical reserve forces.

As 9th Army pressed south toward Kursk, 4th Panzer Army pressed northeast, attempting to outflank the heavy belts of defensive minefields.  9th Army’s lunged gained the road junction at Zolotukino,  4th Panzer Army’s attack was thrown back as Romistrov’s 5thGuards Tank Army entered the lists.  Meanwhile an attack by 1st Tank Army towards Belgograd was narrowly repulsed by XXIV Panzer Corps.  

Model’s penetration received quick attention from Rokossovsky, who personally directed 2nd Tank Army’s attention into 9th Army’s western flank while Popov’s 3rd Tank Army drove into its eastern flank and rear.  Ponry was retaken, and Orel was in danger of falling.  9th Army’s spearheads had been cut off.  

Frantic telephone calls and radiotelegrams flew back and forth as the specter of another Stalingrad loomed.

Last Updated On Thursday, May 23, 2019 by Luke at Battlefront