Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Kursk - Part One

Soviet AA gunners at the Battle of Kursk

Last Saturday, I was fortunate enough to be able to organise a small Memoir '44 campaign day.  The campaign itself was based on the Battle of Kursk.  I've been fascinated by the battle for years, it's vastness, the sheer savagery of the fighting, the strangeness of the thing.  One snippet that I came across this time around was a discussion of the strategic thinking behind the offensive.  While the German High Command were eager to regain the strategic initiative and wipe out the Soviet offensive capacity in a kessel, one of the additional goals was the capture of a large number of Soviet prisoners. 

The thinking behind this was that they would be of use in giving the Reich's industry an injection of forced labour. I found it shocking to think that one of the largest battles in human history was in some sense, a slave raid.  I didn't think I could still find things to be shocked about during the Second World War. 

Soviet Tankers admiring their handiwork. 

I took the following approach to the campaign. I wanted to play Overlord games and at a pleasant pace, I could not see us finishing more than three games in a day.  We could play more, but only at the risk of chivvying players or playing into the night, with the result that everyone would be cranky and tired by the end of the evening. So with three game to play, I needed a campaign structure that gave the players some decisions to make, but that wasn't so involved that it ate up too much of the playing time. Short and snappy is the name of the game here. 

In the end, I settled on the "Kursk: The Movie" campaign.  The idea was to imagine I was making a film of the Battle of Kursk. Obviously, the massive tank battle at Prokorovka is the first thing that springs to mind. Now as it happens there is already a Prokorovka scenario available, so that cut down the amount of work required by a third. But Prokorovka is a finale, not an opening scene.

Mulling over it - the other image of Kursk that always came to mind was columns of panzers moving through wheatfields and then running into miles and miles of defenses,  so I wanted to get that idea in somewhere. I've always had an interest in the battle of Ponyri, since I first read about it in a Crossfire supplement. 

Ponyri is an odd battle, an island of brutal urban combat in what is mainly remembered for long range tank engagements. Essentially the battle revolved around possession of a train station and resulted in a days long fight in and around the station that was later compared to Stalingrad by men who had been there. While all of this was going on, the Germans were trying to flank the town, but ended up fighting through more anti-tank guns, minefield, etc, so in many ways Ponyri shares some characteristics with the first battle. 

So my rough plan looked a bit like this. 

Battle One - A German attempt to breakthrough a Soviet defensive line. 

Battle Two - The Battle around Ponyri

Battle Three - Prokorovka 

The assault on Cherkasskoye on the 5th of July seemed to fit the bill very well.  There were other defensive battles of course, but this one had the advantage of having a big shiny picture in the Osprey and that is recommendation enough for me.  

The idea was that each team, Soviets and Germans, would be assigned a number of reserve tokens and air sortie cards. They were also given a menu of reserve units that they could buy and assign to any of the three scenarios. The first two games were worth a point each, while the last was worth two.   

An somewhat artificial construct, but it served. 


  1. You wouldn't go far wrong with this programme,it seemed to me:
    Battle One; The Germans attempt to breakthrough a Soviet Defence Line;
    Battle Two: The Germans attempt to breakthrough a Soviet Defence Line
    Battle Three: The Germans attempt to breakthrough a Soviet Defence Line.

    However, if you read Maj-Genl F.W. von Mellinthin, it seems it wasn't like that, The Soviets mounted quite a few counter-attacks, and even got into the flank rear of XLVIII Panzer Corps on one occasion. The Germans kept having to clear already captured ground (especially 'high' ground), with of course a bad effect on their forward momentum.

    So one could, given the time and resources, extend the programme fairly indefinitely. I look forward to seeing more on your kursk project.


    1. I have a notion that a flowchart and points system could be made to represent Kursk using some form of "Breakthrough" "Outflank" "Pitched Battle" "Cauldron" system, whereby the victor of one battle picks the link followed towards the next type, theoretically resulting in a string of German Breakthroughs with decreasing forces followed by a Soviet Outflank when the German advance is blunted and swings and roundabouts eventually leading to a Cauldron in which either one side or the other is defeated.

    2. Thanks - well I hope the follow up doesn't dissappoint. I can see your argue for the endless succession of attack- defence games, but that wouldn't make for a great one day entertainment.

    3. It's an approach worth considering, but it would involve more moving parts than I could afford in a single day. It would suit a campaign played over weeks in a club possibly.

    4. I could see it being a way of running an ongoing grudgematch game between two gamers who play together often. I might try cobble it together so myself and herself can try it over the summer.

  2. Are you familiar with http://english.iremember.ru ? There's all kinds of surprises in there. One does not fully appreciate how mad Crazy Ivan is until he moons a battery of 88's.

    1. I looked this up. Pretty heavy sort of stuff! Some vivid and horrific memories have remained with these guys after all these years...

    2. I've always found the Russian memoirs very odd. There's a grimly comic aspect to a lot of them.

  3. This is going to be interesting. The slave raid angle is a bit disconcerting.


  4. Looking forward to seeing how it goes, Conrad.

    Regards, Chris.

    1. Here's hoping it meets expectations.