Wargame Wednesday: Tank Combat at Kharkov Part IV

Wednesday , 17, October 2018 Leave a comment

The scenario ends in a major German victory. 

Instead of retreating my opponent continued to fight forward and left his last tank company exposed.  I was able to mop up the company and a couple disrupted platoons off screen.

After the jump I’ll compare the Mk III and T-34/1941 using the Campaign Series unit data and my thoughts on this scenario.

Part I of this series can be found here, along with Part II and Part III.

The Scenario

I enjoyed playing this as both the Russians and Germans but the Germans have the advantage due to raw numbers: 27 T-34s versus 36 Pz IIIs and 6 Pz IV’s.

The T-34 Model 1941 is equipped with the F34 76.2mm main gun, which was superior to the L11 gun fielded in 1940 but the advantage over the panzers is not overwhelming. Tank for tank the T-34 is superior to the Pz Mk III but ironically, in this scenario, the quantity of Pz IIIs have a quality all their own. Despite the T-34’s superiority in mobility, armor and firepower the Russian’s disadvantage in numbers leaves little room for mistakes or a run of “bad die rolls”.

As long as the German panzer companies are positioned to support each other this scenario turns into a head on clash as the relative small grouping of most of the VPs allows for a German concentration of forces. I believe the VPs were placed east of the town and in the open to allow superior Russian firepower (strange saying this in an EF scenario) and mobility come into play.

During play testing the disparity in numbers must have been an issue as the German Pz III platoons start with 4 tanks each, while the full strength platoon file in this game has 5 per platoon.  The number was decreased to 4 in the scenario editor.

I’d prefer using “historical” OOBs in a scenario designed to compare two specific tanks.  I put historical in parenthesis as most OOBs available are for the full compliment allocated to an unit and only in depth research can reveal the actual number of tanks available on a certain date.  Sometimes it is impossible so a scenario designer has to make a best guess.

An excerpt from the diary of the 2nd Battalion serves to highlight the difficulty in designing a historical scenario from even primary sources. On 16 May 1942 a Kampfgruppe (ad hoc battle group) is sent from the 2nd Battalion to relieve surrounded German defenders in a village called Tenrowaja. The Kampfgruppe arrives and takes up defensive positions, spotting the enemy digging in outside of town while spotting an enemy tank column 3 miles to the SE.  The next day the defenders spot 40 T-34’s “west of the small forest at  226.3” while another group of 6 T-34’s “is spotted with attack direction toward Ternowaja”.  226.3 does not refer to a hill but a reference to an undefined (by the diary) area on the map.

The numbers of tanks in the battlegroup were undefined but after the combat 3 of six T-34s were destroyed and the group of 40 T-34s retreated after destroying 13 panzers. No mention of how many losses the group of 40 T-34s took but I figure there were at least 32 tanks in the Kampfgruppe because after this combat the diarist reports 23 panzers left though only 19 combat worthy.  Add the 13 lost or disabled tanks to the 19 combat worthy tanks we have an action where 32 panzers, the majority of which were probably Pz III’s faced 46 T-34s.

The number of tanks in that combat were easy to figure out but there is hardly any information on the numbers of infantry and AT guns they had in the town, nor numbers of Russian infantry and AT.  As for drawing a map, if a designer can’t find Tenrowaja (and good luck with that) then a lot of assumptions have to be made on terrain features based on the limited reports, “small forest at 226.3 is hard to plot unless one has the original map with notations.

Throughout this series I’ve been saying that I thought the scenario designer was looking to compare the two tanks but there is also the possibility this was a vanity project in which the Russian player is the one with greater firepower but is outnumbered…..

Comparing the Pz Mk III and T-34/M1941

A good, basic, comparison can be found in this Infogalactic article.

Below is the unit data for the two tanks taken from the game’s unit view tool , using its superb comparison feature.

The text on top is hard to read so I highlighted different columns.

From left to right the first red column shows the Pz III’s assault value of 4 versus 6 for the T-34.  This value comes into play when a unit is conducting close assault (i.e. not firing direct but going for “hand to hand” or close combat).  Both the main armaments and mounted machines guns play a role in this factor.

The yellow highlights are armor comparisons.  The T-34 has an overwhelming advantage in front armor and is also superior in side armor. If you don’t get anything else out of this series, the innovative sloped armor in the front made the T-34 almost impervious to most German guns from head on.

The next red column lists the amount of action points required to fire.  Each unit has 100 points at the start of the turn.  Notice the panzer only needs 35 points versus 45 for the T-34.  This means the panzers can fire twice and depending on the terrain, move at least one hex and on roads fall back or go forward at least two hexes, while the T-34 will pretty much stay stationary if firing twice.  These factors is the game’s attempt to model superior command and control along with documented rates of fire.  It was a lot easier for the Germans to coordinate fires as opposed to the T-34s with almost useless interior communications.

The green highlights are for movement. The T-34 has a distinct advantage off road, as they well should on the muddy Russian Steppe. You may remember I was congratulating myself one turn on trying to take advantage of my opponent sending two platoons away from the town to the north.  I thought it would be at least one turn before they could get back into the fight but they were able to rush back to the town, and get one shot off the very next turn.  Note to the Russian player, move the focus of combat away from the roads and use your mobility to get some side shots.

The red and blue table on the bottom is a comparison of the firepower factors for the main gun.  Range is in hexes (250 metres). Red is for armor piercing and blue for high explosive (anti-infantry).

A final quandary for game designers is how to adequately account for command and control.  Take the diary entry from earlier in this post.  Over 40 T-34s were told to go forward and they were easily repelled. Using the Campaign Series game engine and the “God’s Eye View” of the battlefield, I could easily overwhelm a German force of 30 Mk III’s even in defense.  I would draw some op fire and then maneuver a couple of companies to take advantage of distracted German panzers and go for side shots.  Thing is, if you read T-34 in action and other accounts of early war Soviet armor, a lot of direction on the battlefield was given by flag signals and remember that many tank commanders would give orders by pressing his boots on the driver’s shoulders.  Imagine trying to coordinate a complicated maneuver in this way, especially when visibility was a big factor in a buttoned down tank.

Thinking of a series on the Poles or Finns next.







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