Wargame Wednesday: Tank Combat at Kharkov, 1942

Wednesday , 26, September 2018 6 Comments

A first in a series of posts that will be a mix of a game During Action Report (DAR) and numerous sidebars covering combat on the Russian Front.  

The game is Campaign Series: East Front and the scenario is Tanker’s Holiday.

Russian infantry advance with a T-34.

Scenario Briefing.

Excerpt from the scenario briefing: “Gotha, NE of Kharkov: During the last few days of April 1942 both the Germans and the Russians continued to probe the enemy lines in preparation for their planned summer offensives around Kharkov. Soviet Major Grinyov’s 1st Battalion/36th Tank Brigade was given the task of securing the railway sidings outside of the small village of Gotha, north east of Liptsy. Thinking to find the area unoccupied by the enemy and looking forward to a few days of rest, the Russians instead encountered the 2nd Battalion/201st Panzer Regiment intent on securing the village and rail facilities for their own use. When neither side showed a willingness to withdraw, and with their holiday plans pushed aside, the Red Tankers slammed the hatches of their T-34s and charged to meet the equally willing German Panzers!”

Next page I’ll show a map of the larger campaign referenced above.

Campaign Map.

I have determined that this is, at best, a semi-fictional scenario but that does not detract from the well balanced scenario design. 

I was trying to find Gotha (Гота) to add to the map below and because of this search, confirmed there was a 2nd Battalion of the 201st Panzer Regiment at Kharkov.  One Internet search included the word “Gotha” resulting in a link to Two Soldiers, Two Lost Fronts: German War Diaries of the Stalingrad and North Africa Campaigns . I purchased the Kindle edition and discovered a diary entry when the 2nd Battalion passed through Gotha, Germany on the way to the East Front. During the last days of April 1942 instead of racing towards the front, the 2nd Battalion was at a tractor factory in Kharkov, readying their vehicles for the campaign ahead.

The scenario is fought on 25 April, 1942 but the following is the diary entry for 24 April – 2 May:  “Battalion drill, all vehicles are serviced, no technical problems so far. Order from Division is that vehicles, including tanks or other tracked vehicles, must stay on hard surface roads because the incessant rain has made mud of everything else. Several times at night Russian aircraft fly over the city, but no attacks.” 

Next I searched for the Russian 36th Tank Brigade. They were also at Kharkov but due east of the city as part of the 22nd Tank Corps, not to the NE.  Additionally, they were not equipped with T-34s but the smaller T-60 tanks along with British MkII Matildas and MkIII Valentines.

Red star annotates position of the 22nd Tank Corps.

The map above is an excerpt of a larger map titled: Second Kharkov, Eve of Battle 11 May, 1942 from Robert Kirchubel’s Atlas of the Eastern Front 1941-1945.  The 36th Tank Brigade, as part of the 22nd Tank Corps is located almost due east of Kharkov while the 23rd Panzer Division with it’s 201st Panzer Regiment is in the city.  The red arrows shows the plan for an upcoming Soviet offensive to surround Kharkov from the north while simultaneously attacking from a salient to the south in a bid to encircle the city and capture the huge Army Group South logistics center.  With the Stavka assuming a renewed German offensive towards Moscow the plan looked good on paper. Unfortunately, Russian intelligence failed to pick up on the German intent to strike south in the summer of 1942. 


Scenario Start.

For purposes of this scenario I’d say the action takes place somewhere to the SSW of Stary Saltov.  Both the Soviet 1st Battalion and the German 2nd Battalion approach Gotha from the east and west, respectively. 

I have just finished a game playing the Russians with the same opponent, so I already know what I am up against while playing the German side. There is a 5vp hex hidden under the Gotha text and the highest value objectives are south east of the town.  This may seem odd to place vp hexes in the open when the objective is to secure the town but based on the last game I’d say the designers have placed the VP hexes to enhance game play. I still haven’t figured out what makes it work as usually a Russian player will want to avoid the Panzer’s superior gunnery at longer ranges and the Germans are probably disadvantaged facing T-34’s with Mk IIIs but the intent is clearly to force a meeting engagement. The last game was a hard fought battle resulting in a draw.

Review and Preview of the Next Post.

I’m glad to have come across Two Soldiers, Two Lost Fronts as it confirmed the fictional nature of this scenario while providing insight into the logistics of getting the panzer battalion from France to Kharkov:

  • About 36 hours to load the battalion onto six trains at Versailles-Matelot Station south-west of Paris (1 April, 1400 hrs, departing 0215 on 3 April). 
  • After unloading in Kharkov there is a mention of the road to the tractor factory being in bad shape and under constant Russian air observation.  The diarist (his name is never given) states they marched in companies with the vehicles dispersed between due to the Russian aircraft. I thought the Luftwaffe had more control of the sky earlier in the war.
  • The quote from the diary earlier in this post on the order to stay on hard surface roads due to the Rasputitsa.
  • The 2nd Battalion’s first action takes place on 12 May.  They are ordered by regimental HQ to stop a Russian breakthrough of the lines north of Kharkov. Near Jaruga they are attacked by 12 Ratas (Russian fighters) though “their attack is uncoordinated and our mobile flak chases them off”. They rest overnight in Jaruga and are attacked by Russian bombers during the night without suffering any losses.
  • Can’t tell you where Jaruga (Яруга) is.  Maybe an issue with German translation of a Russian place name.

The next post will have the following:

  • The first few moves of the game.  Not expecting much as both players maneuver for advantage.
  • A comparison of the Pz MK III vs the T-34 M41.
  • An overview of the British Maltildas and Valentines in Russian service.
  • Depending on game play, notes on scenario design.
  • John E. Boyle says:

    Interesting. I haven’t read anything about those British tanks in Russian service.

  • TM says:

    Excellent article. I definitely love this site. Stick with it!

  • Skyler_the_Weird says:

    Osprey’s Campaign series has a great volume on Kharkov 42. Has a few pictures of the Valentines in Soviet Service. The Germans used their 88 flak guns to good effect against the T 34’s.

    The Soviet Counteroffensive was not well coordinated by Tomoshenko and was cut off. Unlike the 1941 battles, a lot of Field Officers and staff were lost in the Kessel.

    • Scott Cole says:

      I don’t have that Osprey but would especially love to see one of the maps for Kharkov.

      I’d say that even with a better coordinated offensive, the Soviets were not yet up to facing down the Germans.

      Part II coming tomorrow.

  • Skyler_the_Weird says:

    Check out Osprey’s Kharkov Campaign. There is a lot of information and pictures.

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