Wargame Wednesday: Tank Combat at Kharkov, Part II

Wednesday , 3, October 2018 Leave a comment

Russian soldier on top of a Panzer Mk III Ausf J. I hope this isn’t a portend of the game’s outcome.

This post covers an unexpected Russian advance to the western outskirts of town.  I’ve been reading T-34 In Action, one of the Stackpole Military History Series and it seems early war T-34 tankers were supremely confident of their tanks superiority over German panzers.  One of the veterans interviewed: “Against the T-34 the German tanks were crap”. I’m attributing the early attack to the confidence of my opponent’s tankers and will discuss the following items on the next page:

  • Organization of the 2nd Battalion / 201st Panzer Regiment at Kharkov.
  • British Maltilda and Valentine tanks in Soviet service.
  • Opinion of Soviet tankers that only the Malitda and Valentine had superior armor to the T-34.
  • Review of T-34 in Action.

DAR Turns 2 – 4

 

End of Turn 2 and end of Turn 3 positions marked in blue.

Turn 2 I decide to concentrate my forces and cautiously approach the outskirts of town. Two recon units keep watch off screen on both flanks.  The blue circles show where my forces take defensive positions on Turn 3. 

End of Turn 4 after the Russian advance. “D” stands for a disrupted platoon.

Turn 4 begins with a Russian advance to the north of the town. My caution paid off and opportunity fire from 5th Co in the woods stopped them. After the exchange of fire 5th Co retreated behind the woods, out of LOS and a little less vulnerable to flanking attacks the following Russian turn.  The relatively light damage (1 wreck and two disrupts against the Russians versus one disrupt on a Pz III platoon) can be attributed to all shots were at medium range (over 500 meters /each hex equals 250m). Additionally, the Russians using action points to advance and had less points to return fire.

An aggressive push by a company of T-34s down the town’s main road left his tanks exposed to side shots.  During my turn I tried to take advantage of the situation, moving 4th Co from the outskirts of town into the factories and railway station but was soon on the receiving end of effective opportunity fire from a T-34 company stationed along the railway tracks. I was still able to destroy a couple of enemy tanks but had to allocate resources to the the new threat but my long range fire was ineffective (only caused on platoon to retreat). At turn’s end I left an exposed Pz IV platoon (by the 5vp hex) and a burning Pz III at the train station.  At 750 meters and greater, it is very hard for a Pz III to get a result firing at the T-34’s frontal sloped armor.

I left two platoons from 6th Co. in their positions overlooking the train station. Better for them to stand guard against any renewed assault instead of wasting shells on long range targets.

The enemy controls most of the VP hexes but it is still early and my intent is to destroy T-34s over securing objectives. 

 

Organization of the 2nd Panzer Battalion, 201st Panzer Regiment in April, 1942

This scenario my 2nd Battalion has three companies each consisting of:

  • Three platoons of 4 Pz III Ausf J panzers . 
  • One platoon of 2 Pz IV Ausf E panzers.
  • A leader for each platoon which can stand in for the missing Company HQ platoon.

Comparing the scenario OOB with the best historical OOB for this regiment at Kharkov available to me we find the 2nd Battalion at Kharkov contained

  • 2 companies of Pz III’s (each with 3 platoons of 5 Pz IIIs)
  • A separate company of Pz IVs (3 platoons of 4 Pz IVs)
  • A HQ Company (had a light tank platoon of 2 Mk II panzers and a Mk III as the commander’s tank **  

Why the designers elected to do away with the Pz IV company and create a third Pz III company, I can’t explain.  I’m betting the scenario was designed as a head to head match of Pz IIIs against T-34s. 

Despite the designation of the Pz IV as a medium tank and the Pz III as light, the Pz III is more effective with its 5cm KwK L/42 gun than the short barreled 7.5 cm KwK 37 L/24. installed on the early Pz IV’s. The short barrel was designed for high explosive rounds in an infantry support role (but also fired armor piercing rounds). The game gives the Pz IV a combat factor of 4 against armored targets versus the Pz III’s combat factor of 6.  Correct me if I’m wrong but the higher velocity of the shell fired from a Pz III allowed for greater stability of the shell in flight and more accuracy. 

** I’m using an OOB from the incomparable Nazfiger collection.   George Nazfiger is worth a WW post in his own right.

 

Lend Lease and the Maltilda and Valentine Tanks in Russian Service

This section is included as last post I discovered that during Kharkov the only Russian tanks in the 36th Tank Brigade were T-60s, Maltildas and Valentines. Some good info online at Russian-tanks.com and the articles over at tanks-encyclopedia.com for the Valentine and Maltilda . The Russian Tanks article is most useful in providing the Russian’s perception of the British tanks qualities and faults while Tanks Encyclopedia describes how the tanks performed in combat in various theaters.  The Valentine article does not have any information on its performance in Russia but the Maltilda article describes how almost a quarter of the Maltida’s shipped to Russia were lost at sea and the lack of mobility in the ubiquitous mud and snow of Russia. 

The pdf file available here published by the British Information Services in 1944 states that Britain shipped 3000 tanks to the Soviet Union and 70,000,000 million rounds of ammunition (pg11). Of interest was the fact that “Lend Lease is not a one-way street”, at least vis-a-vis between Britain and the USA. Of note, over 90% of US medical supplies in Britain and 80% of the well stocked Post Exchanges were provided by Britain.  However, it is safe to say that aid to Russia was pretty much the proverbial one way street.

T-34 In Action relates that “as far as Soviet tankmen were concerned only British tanks enjoyed any evident advantages over the T-34’s armor”. On veteran said that a British tank commander and gunner would have survived a shell through the turret (the most exposed portion of the tank) because “there were virtually no splinters”. This was due to the higher nickel content of British armor (3 – 3.5 percent) versus the equivalent Soviet armor (1 – 1.5 percent). 

Finally, Russian experience with the Maltilda (and Czech made tanks) revealed the superiority of its ‘planetary’ gear box, resulting in an order from the People’s Commissar of Defense to design planetary transmissions for the T-34 and KV tanks. This order came too late for the earliest T-34 models and chances are my opponent’s tanks are using the original transmission system. This system did not have permanently toothed gear wheels and changing gears required strength and became exhausting when the tank traveled long distances.  One veteran stated it was impossible to shift the gear with one hand and he he had to use his knew to help.

 

T-34 In Action

I’ve had this book for a while but never got around to reading until beginning this series of blog posts provided me the perfect opportunity to crack open the book.  It contains eleven chapters of interviews with tanker veterans with each veterans allocated his own chapter. The author’s introductory chapters are full of interesting information (this is the first time I heard of the superiority of British armor compared to the Soviet’s) and at 181 pages, the book is well manageable for most readers. Even serious history buffs and armored warfare experts are sure to gain insight into the T-34 crewman’s experiences.

The veteran’s stories are both exciting and full of detail. Due to the poor interior communications of the early model T-34s many tank commanders would give orders to the driver by placing his boots on the driver’s shoulder. Press on the left shoulder, turn left, press on the right, turn right, tap on the head to stop, etc.  Ventilation was an issue in combat with gasses from the breech and ejected shell filling the crew compartment.  “You’d yell: Load anti-armor, load anti-personnel; then you’d turn around and see the loader lying lights-out on the ammo boxes. He’d been poisoned by fumes and lost consciousness. Few could last out a heavy fight to the end”. 

 One veteran ended up on a penal battalion, another was cut off and spent weeks masquerading as a civilian worker behind enemy lines until the opportunity arose during the German retreat to escape.  Once he reached the Russian lines his troubles started in earnest while fighting off accusations of being a German spy.  A few survived direct hits on their tanks, some in multiple battles.

Sometimes, it is useful to remember that our simulation games simulate awful things happening. When a combat result results in a burning enemy tank there is a feeling of satisfaction. Fortunately, we don’t try to simulate a lot of the horror such as one veteran recalling seeing his friends tank being hit by a Tiger, the turret flying off, and his friend flying out of the tank and hitting the ground. That is the top half of his friend.  Half of his friend remained in the tank but he saw his friend was still alive and looking over at him when he hit the ground.

 

Next Week

I may try to get hold of the designer to provide background into the design and intent of this scenario. 

I’ll research the OOB of a 1942 T-34 battalion.

Anything good that comes up while playing the next few turns and conducting research. 

 

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