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Tiger, Tiger, burning bright - SF '42

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Roaring into battle with the famous Tiger tank in 'Steel Fury - Kharkov 1942'!

  'Tyger, tyger burning bright

  In the forest of the night

  What immortal hand or eye

  Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?'

  William Blake, 'The Tyger', 1794

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And now, for something completely different. No, not a Monty Python sketch, but a change of pace and scenery: from the clear blue skies and snarling aero-engines of combat flightsims to the solid earth and thundering heavy weapons of perhaps the best available tanksim, from Ukrainian developers Graviteam - 'Steel Fury Kharkov 1942'.

 

The sim

My first tank sim was back in the early 1980s, believe it or not. It was played on my younger brother's Sinclair Spectrum and compared to 'Pong', 'Rommel's Revenge' was a revelation, albeit the wire-frame graphics were perhaps not quite what we're used to these days. Fun, though; I was pleased to see that it's been preserved for posterity on Youtube:

 

 

Turn the clock forward about 15 years, and my first modern tanksim was Ultimation's 'Panzer Commander'. Graphics had come a long way and despite simplified (but very usable) targeting, odd bunker-based anti-tank guns and no infantry at all, this was a great product, with a dramatic musical theme and varied and engaging single-player campaigns covering US, British, Soviet and German tanks and AFVs.

 

 

It was soon joined on my hard drive by another classic, Microprose's 'M1 Tank Platoon 2', showcasing the US Army's formidable M1A2 Abrams. This also had its vicissitudes, like near-instant deluges of lethal artillery fire which usually killed off any attached APCs early on and a tendency to over-rely for successful gameplay on the simulated IVIS real-time tactical display, where, as one reviewer put it, you could spend the whole battle watching little blue and red squares firing pixels at each other. Still, with high production values (including newsreel-style video intros from 'MPS News' to each of the campaigns) it was a great sim, a classic that, with a bit of fiddling, can be played on modern PCs and is still great fun:

 

 

Tanksim fans were rather spoiled back in those days. There were other less capable but still fun modern tanksims like Novalogic's 'Armoured Fist 2' and 3 and Interactive Magic's 'Spearhead', soon joined by the original 'Steel Beasts' from eSim, which simulated the mechanics of tanking with unpredecented accuracy. For World War 2 fans, as well as 'Panzer Commander', there was Interactive Magic's 'iPanzer 1944', but the best of all came with Wings Simulation's 'Panzer Elite'. Modders soon appeared who tweaked the original rather cartoonish graphics and by the time the Special Edition arrived, this was clearly the premier WW2 tanksim, and I think still is, in many respects. This is not least due to the continued work of the mod community, notably Aldo and other members of the PE Development Group and BobR and the Ostpak team. PE is still playable on modern systems and well worth it, too, as seen in this 'playthrough' of the Beresov mission from Ostpak:

 

 

And so to modern times. 'Steel Beasts' is now a grapically-improved professional military training tool with a spun-off version for simmers, and if you want something simpler and cheaper there's IDDK/Crazy House's 'T-72 Iron Warriors/Balkans on Fire'. Although you're often just a single tank driving around and clobbering stuff with little opportunity to co-operate with fellow AI, this looks good, has plenty of detail and plays well:

 

http://store.steampowered.com/app/1670/

 

For World War 2, there was 'T-34 -vs- Tiger'. Like the same developer's 'T-72', this is a pretty good simulation of the operation of the featured vehicles. Again, you're essentially on your own in missions, with the other AI, friendly and enemy, acting out their scripted functions. Looks and sounds great though:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmyM-WLyd8U

 

Which brings us to Ukranian developer Graviteam's 'Steel Fury Kharkov 1942', which at last puts you in the role of the leader of a platoon/troop of tanks and pitches you right into company-sized combined arms operations on the Eastern Front. While the original release featured a decent set of German and Russian tanks (including the Lend-Lease British Matilda infantry tank, of all things!) it was limited, as the title suggests, to the mid-1942 era.

 

While the sim's mostly still Eastern Front only, the modders have been at work, making AI AFVs playable and adding new missions and vehicles. And unlike other Graviteam titles like the 'Achtung Panzer/Graviteam Tactics' series which are essentially wargames, or 'Steel Armour - Blaze of War' which is an unusual sort of tanksim within a 'strategy' game, SF'42 is a proper tanksim, through and through

 

SF'42 was hard to come by for a while but is now available at GamersGate:

 

http://www.gamersgate.co.uk/DD-SFURY/steel-fury-kharkov-1942

 

The mods are now de rigeur for anyone wanting to get the best of this sim and the best place to start is I think over on Tanksim.com:

 

http://www.subsim.com/radioroom/showthread.php?t=178218

 

Edit - since writing this I've discovered that the best place for SF mods is Gaviteam's on forum for the sim:

 

http://graviteam.com/forum/index.php?board=1.0

 

Use of Jonesoft's Gerneric Mod Enabler is essential and many mods seem set up to use it. Install order is important and as with most sims there are some aspects of modding with which you need to have a bit of patience. But most or all of what you need to know is there on Tanksim.com. And most of the stuff you'll want seems to be on Mediafire, here, courtesy of Godzilla1985:

 

http://www.mediafire.com/?q38nkzaginphq

 

Edit, August 2014 - the SPM mod was used for this mission; the later NTA mod has been discontinued, but its successor, the STA Mod, is now available and I think it's fair to say STA is the latest and most comprehensive mod for Steel Fury: http://stasf2008.eph...d-on-steel-fury

 

Fancying a slice of tank action for a change, I dusted off my old modded install of SF '42 and knowing that it is better to give than to receive - especially if the 'present' is a solid round of 'Armour-Piercing Capped, Ballistic Capped' travelling at over 2,000 feet per second - I decided to start with my favourite tank - the German Tiger. Which by all accounts, is pretty good at both giving and receiving.

 

The tank

The Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger I needs little introduction. Its unsloped armour reflects the fact it was designed more for superiority over the likes of the British Matilda and French Somua than the T-34 or KV-1 which so shocked the Germans on meeting them in the summer of 1941. But the Tiger proved an excellent antidote to the superb Soviet tanks and indeed, to the Shermans, Cromwells and Churchills it would meet in the Mediterranean and North-West European Theatres. 'Nuff said, except that I count myself privileged to have met the mighty Tiger 131, now restored to running order and authentic appearance by the Royal Armoured Corps Tank Museum at Bovington Camp, Dorset, having been captured, abandoned, from Schwere Panzer Abteilung 504 at Medjez el Bab, Tunisia in April 1943 after being damaged by Churchills of 48 RTR:

 

Tiger 131.jpg

 

The mission

Here's the mission briefing; the tail end of it, anyway. It's preceded with other sections which help set the scene, telling me that my platoon of three Tigers is part of a Kampfgruppe of Panzer Regiment 201, 23rd Panzer Division, tasked with following up a successful counterattack. Our Kampfgruppe appears to be a combined arms force of reinforced company size, with artillery and air support. Our mission is in two phases - first to destroy enemy defensive positions along a low crest then to swing left and clear the village of Nepokrytoe.

 

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While the briefing has the semblance of military orders it could still be rather better presented. The current NATO format for 'orders' like these - Ground (technically a preliminary to the orders), Situation, Mission, Execution, Service/Support and Command and Signal - would be better. Not unrealistic either, as it is essentially the same as the British WW2 format (with detail differences, eg 'Situation' was 'Information') adopted also by the Americans. Convergent evolution being what it is, the German WW2 format wasn't much different. The SF'42 format doesn't give me as much info as I'd like on the operation, eg the composition of the other subunits my platoon's operating with. And the attack itself could have been better described, more clearly broken down into its two constituent and distinct phases, with the detailed tasks given for each subunit for each phase stated, including my own. As it was, while the narrative didn't provide a clear picture of the composition of our force this was apparent from the map, which showed unit type symbols - diamonds are tanks, the 'pointy rectangles' are infantry in APCs. In our case the APCs are SPWs (Schutzenpanzerwagen) as the Germans called their Hanomag half-tracked armoured personnel carriers. The map itself isn't bad but despite the presence of contours and the occasional spot height, it doesn't make the lie of the land very clear (a vital consideration in ground ops) and it doesn't zoom out enough, so you have to pan around to try to orient yourself properly.

 

The map screen is also were you can issue orders to your platoon, which you can do 'in game' only by calling up and clicking on this map - there are no hotkeys to order (eg) a formation change. The scope for giving orders is pretty low, perhaps better suiting Soviet tanks where radios were limited and hand or flag signals were the norm. The most useful orders are 'do as I do! and basic formation commands, options being line (abreast), column/single file, a sort of 'blob' (as near as you'll get to the common arrowhead or wedge formation) and the ability to order 'spread out!' or 'close in!' I probably need to spend a bit more time on this map/briefing screen to better appreciate its facilities.

 

One other issue is that the map is from the original sim which is for operations in the Kharkov area in mid-1942. While this wasn't the only period when there was fighting around this town, even my mission's date is in May 1942, some months before the Tiger first appeared in action, in the Leningrad sector in September 1942. But this is a modder-made tank in a modder-made single mission which makes the best use of what's available, and I for one am most grateful for the opportunity to fight in a Tiger in a modern sim.

 

From the map, I could see that my platoon was sited to the centre rear of the mission's Start Line, which was a track running across our front. You can see this more clearly below, with the briefing panel minimised. We are the three blue diamonds, roughly bottom centre. To our right are some Panzergrenadiers in their SPWs. To our left are some more SPWs with  more tanks, all still in column formation until they reach the Start Line clear of the woods. The latter will evidently be our Kampfgruppe's left-hand boundary. So I will be in the centre, as ordered, with a Panzer Grenadier platoon each side, with some other tanks for a bit of extra firepower.

 

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Enough of the preliminaries! Time to get the show on the road. I started the mission, the loading screen helpfully giving me a snippet from a German tanker's manual, this one a warning that stopping after spotting an AT gun close by was suicidal and that only a fast-moving attack with all weapons would do. I'd try to remember that! Soon, I found my virtual self standing tall, hatch open, in the commander's cupola of my Tiger, looking up at the Start Line, which I could make out in the form of a line of trees interspersed with telegraph poles, maybe a hundred meters ahead. Here we go!

 

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...to be continued!

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Phase 1 - clearing the enemy defensive positions on the ridgeline

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Before leaving the briefing map screen, I had ordered my platoon to 'Do as I do!' and into line abreast formation. I haven't played much SF'42 but one thing I do remember is that there's no hanging about. When you launch the mission, likely as not the other units in your combat team - to use the Cold War British Army term for a grouping based on an infantry company or a tank squadron (US company) - are already hare-ing off towards the enemy. No pauses, however brief, on the Start Line (US 'Line of Departure', IIRC) to pick up our dressing and orient ourselves on the axis of our advance. So I ordered the driver to proceed at speed, uphill for 'the off'. He skillfully negotiated the bank on the near side of the track that seemed to mark the Start Line, with my platoon's other two Tigers waiting their turn impatiently, close behind.

 

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You can see how our tanks are basically early production jobs, finished in uncamouflaged Dunkelgelb (dark yellow) which was standard on all German heavy equipment ('Grossgerat') from early 1943. Not only do we have the early 'dustbin' commander's cupola, Fiefel air cleaning system to hull rear, triple smoke grenade launchers either side of the turret mantlet and dished rubber-tyred interleaved roadwheels, we also have on each hull corner the cylindrical 'nahverteigungswaffe' launchers fitted to discharge an S-mine as a defence against nearby infantry, which was only carried on very early Tigers.

 

Across the track and playing for now from the external view for better situational awareness, I saw the Panzergrenadiers' SPWs moving ahead on my left. I maintained my speed so as not to be left behind by them. The pace they were setting was such that there was no time here for anything fancy, like making the attack with my tanks on a separate axis and shooting the infantry onto the objective with fire from a flank. The Grenadiers were pelting full tilt towards the enemy to our front and I now needed to be right up there, with them.

 

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By about this time, you need to have made a decision as to how you are going to play this sim. You can play from most crew member roles including the driver, but the gunner or commander are the main choices from which to fight your tank, in SF'42. Playing as commander, the sim lets you give orders to your AI driver: a fairly decent set comprising speed, direction, halt, short halt for firing, follow road and go hull-down/into cover. And you can select weapon (main gun, co-axial MG) or ammo (AP or HE, typically) and designate targets for your AI gunner, as well as sending him simple shooting corrections (over or short). However, mainly because it was my preferred and familiar method in M1TP2 and Panzer Elite, I opted to fight from the gunner's position. This is actually a sort of merged role as you can also issue driver orders, as if you were also the commander. So as we advanced I switched to the gunner role, from which I was able to swing the turret left and right to scan for targets and cover likely threats quickly (a good idea, as the Tiger's turret traverse speed was not one of its strengths).

 

SF'42 has nicely rendered tank interiors, including these, for the commander and ahead of him, the gunner:

 

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However, I spend no time in these, finding it better to play in the external view (or if playing as commander, in the 'unbuttoned' view, standing in the cupola with hatch open) and to switch to the binocular (commander) or gunsight (gunner) view to locate or engage targets.

 

Another point worth mentioning is SF'42's 'Head-Up Display' which provides a pretty good set of icons around the edges of your screen, covering everything from ammo to crew status to turret/hull orientation. There are also target markers which provide a visual cue to any targets that are called out on the intercom. You can see the 'HUD' icons in the screen below. You can also turn off all of this, which, somewhat dangerously, I opted to do on this mission. The only other thing I could wish for is a turret ring indicator in a ticker-tape format when I was in the gunsight view, for use with the icons turned off, as not knowing which way the turret is facing can be a bit disorienting when in that view with no icons visible.

 

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Back to the battle! With my two other Tigers close behind, I rumbled over a ploughed field, throwing up a cloud of dirt. As I did so, rounds began to fall amongst the advancing SPWs to my left, throwing up spouts of dark earth. I hadn't noticed any tracer (the Soviet variety is conveniently green while German is red, in SF'42) so guessed this might be indirect fire, from either artillery or mortars.

 

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Half right, the second platoon of Panzer Grenadiers were forging well ahead, accompanied by some more Tigers which I hadn't noticed in the briefing. Just beyond them, the enemy defensive line on the low crest was dotted with dark clouds of smoke from a combination of supporting artillery fire and direct fire from the other Tigers, who had begin to engage targets I could not yet see with direct fire from main guns and MGs. From time to time, Stukas screamed in and added their bombs to the general mayhem.  A platoon commander like me would generally not in WW2 have been able directly to request or control air support and in an attack like this, both air and artillery support would have been organised in advance anyway. So it's no reflection on SF '42's realism that I had no influence on all this fire support, which, combined with friendly tank fire, now fell on the enemy to our front.

 

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One of the best things about SF'42 is the great battlefield ambience, backing up the great visuals with equally good sound effects. Many of the MG sounds are poor, too 'mechanical', and you can hear voices which appear to originate outside your tank just a bit too easily. But overall the effect has to be heard to be believed. Violent bangs from the discharge of cannon or incoming rounds, a wild miscellany of screams and shouts, the pop and rattle of small arms fire, the clunk of fragments hitting your tank, the roar of engines...they're all there and together, they create a real sense of your being mixed up in a confusing and continuous inferno. Brilliant!

 

Looking back left, I saw that the Grenadiers had de-bussed from their armoured half-tracks and were forging ahead. This left them with rather far to cover on foot, to get to the first objective. Perhaps their Artificial Intelligence is a bit 'iffy'. Or perhaps it is actually rather clever and judged that even with tank support, the risk in open country from AT weapons made it safer for them to leave their lightly-armoured 'battlefield taxis' and assault on foot for the last few hundred metres.

 

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The infantry carriers on my right had their own tank support; the ones to my left seemed now to have mainly me to rely upon. Anxious not to let them down, I forged ahead, without pausing to scan for targets of my own. Ahead of me was a row of 'knife-rest' obstacles and not far beyond that, the low crest were lay the enemy. As I roared on at full tilt - though heavy, the Tiger I is no slouch - more enemy rounds fell to our front. Red and green tracers from friendly and enemy MGs and tank or anti-tank weapons started to fly back and forth on both my flanks. Battle was well and truly joined, but so far I was still not engaged! I plunged on, taking a chance but keen to contribute my platoon's fire to the assault that was now developing on the enemy defensive line.

 

shot_2014_02_25_12_37_28_0007.jpg

 

...to be continued!

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On to Phase 2 - the assault on Nepokrytoe

 

The Ivans on the Phase 1 objective had been subjected to a torrent of fire from artillery, Stukas and tanks. And without much help from me, struggling from the outset to keep pace with the advance! I was particularly mortified when one of the SPWs advancing to my left, which had pushed ahead of me, went up in flames.

 

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I passed the first line of 'knife rests' and came up to a second row of these fairly ineffective obstacles just short of the enemy-held crest that was our Phase 1 objective. There, as our Grenadiers swept past on foot, I paused at last, looking for any threat to our advance in general and to our infantry in particular. To my right, the tanks - which I could now see included some early model Panthers - had also stopped and appeared to be shooting their own Grenadiers onto the objective at point-blank range.

 

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Looking half left, roughly in the direction of our Phase 2 objective, Nepokrytoe, I could see that the terrain dipped away, with some dead ground fairly close. Beyond that again was a long field of fire to some rising ground which had been screened in other directions by trees along the crest line. Feeling suddenly rather exposed, I swung my heavier frontal armour to face that direction and started scanning from the gunsight, zoomed in.

 

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The din and clamour of combat was still going on all around but I saw no targets. And soon after, the message came through that the enemy positions on the crest had fallen. Phase 1 complete! Little thanks to me, perhaps, but so far, so good.

 

I motored on. As I came over the crest and gained a line of sight into the dip in the ground ahead, much to my surprise, I saw ahead three knocked-out enemy tanks. T-34s evidently, two of them on fire. At that stage I had no idea if they had been killed by my own tanks, by the others or by artillery or Stukas. The enemy was still around and dangerous, though; you can see that the luckless Grenadier half left of my tank has just caught a bloody packet in the head.

 

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Nosing forward more cautiously in an effort not to crush any of the German troops around my Tiger, I finally saw something that needed shooting - a hull-down T-34/76 just a few hundred metres away. We exchanged shots but my first round appeared to hit and that seemed to shut him up. In SF'42 it's realistically not always obvious that your target tank is dead. In real life you see many tanks hit and holed over and over again. 'Keep firing until it changes shape' is reportedly how US Army tankers see it. Conscious of this, I put several more rounds into him, then left it at that.

 

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I now resumed my advance, more cautiously though, as the ground opened out ahead and around us; more exposed than ever. Reasurringly, my other two Tigers were still with me; this is actually one from the other Tiger platoon, seen through my gunsight, over on my right.

 

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And this is one of the knocked-out T-34/76s, now up closer and looking intact but quite dead, with the driver's hatch open and the body of a crew member strewn in front. The Grenadier lying prone ahead of me has just fired a round from his rifle and is in the act of rising to resume his advance; you can see the fading puff of light grey smoke from his shot, just in front of him.

 

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By this point our dismounted infantrymen were all around my Tiger. Their Kar98K rifles are a bit on the long side and sometimes they stand about a bit aimlessly for long moments. But overall the SF'42 infantry look pretty good with perhaps slightly-oversized helmets but realistic field equipment and they're fairly well-animated. You can see that the ones to my rear seem to cary MP40 submachine guns; others carry MG34s.

 

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Anyway, having cleared Phase 1, our attack now re-oriented itself to the left and headed for the Phase 2 objective, the little village of Nepokrytoe. Across another ploughed field we went, then back onto grassland, a seemingly-ragged but purposeful tide of Tigers, Panzergrenadiers and half-tracked Schutzenpanzerwagens, all now headed for the village which lay in another dip in the ground, not far away.

 

shot_2014_02_25_12_45_16_0020.jpgshot_2014_02_25_12_46_26_0021.jpg

 

...to be continued!

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To Nepokrytoe and beyond

 

By now I was moving from cover to cover, making brief halts for observation in tracks, dips in the ground, anywhere that offered a little bit of extra protection. Soon, climbing out of a rutted track I'd momentarily sheltered in, I could see the burning village just ahead.

 

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I turned to face it, halted in the open grasland and started scanning again. All I could see were burning rooftops, clouds of smoke and steadily advancing Grenadiers.

 

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I moved off again, towards the village. The firing seemed to have slackened right off, and as I neared the outskirts, scanning anxiously left and right for concealed anti-tank guns, the mission's success was suddenly proclaimed - Nepokrytoe was ours!

 

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At ths juncture - provided the mission hasn't concluded with your destruction! - SF'42 will let you quit to the deberifing, view statistics - of which option, more later - or continue with the mission. If I'd played a more active role in our success, I might have called this one quits, but in the circumstances I opted to play on. This was firstly, in the hope I might get a crack at some more Ivans; but secondly, because as anyone who's had any combat training knows, the final phase in any attack is the 're-organisation', during which you 'go firm' on the enemy side of your objective, mopping up, regaining control of your troops, sorting out supply and casualties, and perhaps most importantly, making yourself ready to deal with the quick counterattack you must always expect at this very point.

 

Besides, I wanted to fight through the objective, even if the sim already considered it fallen. One must do one's battle drills in the right order, after all! So on I went, into the sad ruins of little Nepokrytoe, edging past wrecked buildings, careful to avoid crunching any of our troops and at the same time, looking out for any remaining Ivans.

 

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Nearing the other side of the village, I could see to my right another Tiger - one of mine, as it turned out - blazing away with his hull MG at some unseen target. Between us lay the wrecked remains of what looked like one of those typical Soviet 76.2mm field guns that were also rather dangerous AT weapons.

 

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Finally reaching the edge of Nepokrytoe, I edged into a conveniently-sited large bomb crater, which made quite a good hull-down firing position for my big tank. Once settled in, I swung my turret from right to left, scanning for targets and in the process, confirming that the Tiger to my right was from my own platoon, with the same distinctive unit insignia (can't tell which as all my 'Panzer Colours' volumes are in the loft at the moment and I've no time to go looking online).

 

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All clear. Evidently, our job here was now done. My own role had been rather modest, to say the least, but the day was ours. It remained to inspect the battlefield, and perhaps grab a few souvenirs.

 

...to be continued!

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Aftermath

 

At this point, battle over and mission complete, it was time to select the SF '42 option to 'View statistics'. This isn't the usual worthy but dull listing you often get in sim debreifings. Instead, you get to wander the battlefield, tabbing from vehicle to vehicle, weapon to weapon, able to see more arrows than after Custer's Last Stand, each denoting a hit; and to call up, for each, their own mission kills and damage sustained.

 

Here's my own Tiger. I'm shown as having taken a hit from an 85mm round low in the gun mantlet, non-penetrating fortunately. The numbers are the type of round I think, and the range. From the other side, you can see that I've taken another couple of whacks, from a 76mm gun in the nose and from a 45mm AT gun in the side

 

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By switching from the 'Hits' tab (at bottom) to 'Statistics' I get an overlay with the mission units, friendly and enemy, listed on the right and in the centre, a larger overlay with my own 'vital stats'. Neat, isn't it? Seeing this now, I remember loosing off an AP round I had 'up the spout' and a shed-load of co-ax rounds at an emplaced gun, which event I didn't capture in a screenshot - possibly as the b***er was firing back at me! - but the confirmation I got him is here!

 

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Moving on, I can also see that my platoon's other two Tigers have had a rather more successful day. As the leader of my little team, it's encouraging to see that we've done reasonably well, even if my own personal score was rather low.

 

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Moving on, our lightly-armoured SPWs had taken a bit of a beating:

 

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This Tiger and Panther were where I last saw them, immobilised but with crews surviving and clearly candidates for early recovery and repair. Another Panther had not been so fortunate, though.

 

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And so to the defeated Soviets, whose knocked-out T-34/76s and T-34/85s littered the battlefield.

 

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Their infantry support weapons and field and anti-tank artillery had suffered similarly; as had some Soviet BA-10 armoured cars, whose presence I'd not even been aware of, even though my number 3 got one of them - along with two T34/85s. Worth an Iron Class First Class at the very least, methinks..

 

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So that was it. This was a very enjoyable and thoroughly absorbing mission, battlefield simulation immersion at or near its very best. Some aspects could be better. Platoon control is limited and your platoon mates seem to be like Cold War Soviet tanks, able to receive the limited range of orders you can give but unable or forbidden to communicate in return, whether to indicate targets, acknowledge your orders or communicate difficulties. It's perhaps possible that some of the target indcations you hear over what you take to be your own tank's intercom are supposed to be on the platoon or company radio net from other tanks but it's hard to say. I haven't played much in the way of SF'42 campaign missions but my impression is that while they are nicely representative historical set pieces, I'm not sure they are any more than a set of single missions or whether - outside of some real combat footage set to music - there's anything resembling the sort of crew management or campaign extras that you get in M1TP2 or the like. Good old Panzer Elite not only has much more comprehensive tools for platoon management in battle and better (if somewhat robotic and less exciting) radio comms and chatter. And you can fight in Africa, Italy or NW Europe as well as in the East.

 

But for great visuals, great sounds and great missions, Steel Fury Kharkov 1942 is very hard to beat and a 'must have' for any fan of WW2 tank simulation action. And the mod community have taken a good basic package to a new level. Very highly recommended!

 

shot_2014_02_24_23_09_56_0015.jpg

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Glad you enjoyed it, Dave!
 

I thought I'd finish off with some pics of a few of SF '42's other playable tanks. Here, I'm using the latest version of the Steel Panthers Mod (SPM 2.0, available here: http://graviteam.com/forum/index.php?topic=11026.0 and enabled after the basic English language patch, in JSGME).

 

The Klimenti Voroshilov (KV) 1:

 

shot_2014_03_07_15_33_28_0000.jpg

 

Developed from the KV series, the even more formidable Iosef Stalin (IS) 2:

 

shot_2014_03_06_20_16_35_0000.jpg

 

One of the early 'fast tanks' using the US Christie suspension, the BT-5:

 

shot_2014_03_07_20_08_16_0001.jpg

 

British lend-lease in the form of an Infantry Tank MkIII, the Valentine:

 

shot_2014_03_07_15_37_45_0003.jpg

 

The Germans used a lot of captured kit and this is a 1942 model T-34 in German camouflage and markings:

 

shot_2014_03_07_20_05_41_0000.jpg

 

A late-model Sturmgeschutz III assault gun, with streamlined cast 'saukopf' gun mantlet, remotely-controlled MG-34 on fighting compartment roof, and rippled Zimmerit anti-magnetic paste:

 

shot_2014_03_06_20_12_18_0001.jpg

 

The tank on which the StuG III was based, the Panzer III, here in what the British called the 'Mark 3 Special' version, with the long-barrelled 50mm gun:

 

shot_2014_03_07_19_23_35_0001.jpg

 

Late-model Tiger 1, distinguishing features including low-profile commander's cupola with horizontally-pivoting hatch, Zimmerit finish, turret side triple smoke dischargers replaced with single British-style launcher fired from a port in the turret roof, no Fiefel air filtration system on rear hull, and resilient steel roadwheels with one less layer, in place of the original dished, rubber-tired ones:

 

shot_2014_03_07_20_00_48_0001.jpg

 

And the German apex predator, the mighty Tiger II or King Tiger, here with the angular Henschel turret which replaced the more streamlined Porsche version fitted to (IIRC) the first fifty; seen here in the so-called 'ambush' scheme with dots of contrasting camouflage paint supposedly applied to create the dappled effect of light falling through foliage to facilitate concealment in hides:

 

shot_2014_03_07_19_32_39_0001.jpg

 

It's worth mentioning the high level of animation you get with all of these, not just fully-moving suspension/running gear but also the crew who can be ordered to 'button up' but otherwise are quite happy of their own accord to open their hatches when it's quiet, duck down and use periscopes when it gets dangerous and close hatches completely when the muck really starts flying.

 

The SPM mod comes with at least single missions for all the above and many more, linked in some cases to form mini-campaigns. I found out just recently that there is a desert war mod but while there are apparently also some US vehicles available, you are basically otherwise restricted to the original Kharkov area maps which are fine for 1942 and 1943 but not strictly historically accurate for 1944 or later, after the liberation of the Ukraine. Not that this matters much; while not large the maps are, to my mind, excellent 'sandboxes' for any company-sized battles fought in the former Soviet Union and perhaps other areas of eastern Europe in those days. If you want to see larger battles, you should instead really be playing a wargame like one of Gravitean's Achtung Panzer series - company and platoon level actions are exactly the right scale of battle for a tank simulator.

 

With the exception of Steel Beasts, with most other tanksims, it's like you and your platoon are off for a drive in the countryside, conducting a little mission of your own, with other AI units, if there are any, likewise only loosely co-rdinating with you. This is not how it usually worked, then or since. Your tank is part of a troop (US platoon) which is part of a squadron (US company). As a tank commander who's also a troop/platoon leader, the orders you get will be given to you - and to your fellow troop/platoon leaders, plus those of attached troops like armoured infantry -  by your squadron/company commander, all together at what the British Army calls an 'Orders Group'. And 'orders' are what you get - the common term 'briefing' is much too casual, a real misnomer. Your mission will be a closely-linked part of the squadron/company's mission, not your own little drive in the countryside. 

 

SF '42 has its limitations in this and in other respects; but it still simulates this important reality of combined arms warfare much better than any other WW2 tank sim I've played and is beaten in that respect only by Steel Beasts. To be fair, I suspect that you could probably achieve something similar to SF '42 in Panzer Elite. My attempts to do this in my own efforts at missions tended to break down when (as regularly happened) any AI subunit got stuck and mission triggers designed to co-ordinate things between different sub-units then didn't fire; a less ambitious or less complicated approach might have worked better. Anyway - within the inevitable limits of AI and mission design - compared to other tank sims, SF '42 does an exceptionally good job not just in simulating the operation of your own tank but also in the bit most other sims seem to do less well - nicely simulating the experience of participating in company-level combined arms operations, in this case on the Eastern Front in Word War 2.

 

shot_2014_02_24_22_51_54_0013.jpg

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I have it, but I have not devoted nearly enough time to playing it. The times that I have played it, I have enjoyed it immensely.

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For completeness I should add a couple of things that I've found out, courtesy of Frinik, since writing the mission report.

 

Firstly, the SF '42 discussion and modding scene is now covered most actively over at Graviteam's own forums, here: http://graviteam.com/forum/index.php

 

Secondly, the most recent mod package is no longer the SPM one I used above, but the latest NTA mod ('New Tank Add-ons'), details being available here:

 

http://graviteam.com/forum/index.php?topic=10944.0

 

Edit, 27 July '14 - the NTA add-on has been discontinued, but a successor, the Steel Tank Add-on (STA) is expected to be released soon: http://stasf2008.ephpbb.com/t6-steel-tank-add-on-steel-fury

 

The NTA mod includes several vehicles (and supports some mission packs) that don't come (or work) with SPM, so that the range of tanks and AFVs is now wider than ever, including these beauties and the missions for them:

 

Panzer IV Ausf.H in the murk, well clad with spaced armour:

shot_2014_03_08_23_38_31_0001.jpg

Soviet T-70 light tank (stock):

shot_2014_03_08_23_34_16_0000.jpg

Panzer 38(t), an efficient Czech type impressed by the Wehrmacht and famous for its role with Rommel's 7th 'Ghost' Panzer Division in May 1940:

shot_2014_03_08_23_31_11_0002.jpg

IS-2 heavy tank, a dangerous opponent even for a Tiger:

shot_2014_03_08_23_27_23_0002.jpg

Panther Ausf.G in very late-war camouflage and with the mantlet 'chin' introduced to reduce the shot-trap:

shot_2014_03_08_23_42_38_0003.jpg

Marder II self-propelled AT gun, a captured Soviet 76.2mm on an early Panzer II chassis:

shot_2014_03_08_23_45_16_0000.jpg

Sherman M4A3(76mm), one of a handful of US AFVs now available:

shot_2014_03_08_23_51_51_0003.jpg

 

Many user-made vehicles don't have interiors but you can still play them from external and gunsight/viewport views, which is what I mostly do anyway.

 

Re-reading earlier today the original reviews of SF '42 over at SimHQ and Tanksim.com, they come across as rather cool. Partly this doubtless reflects the state of the sim on release, rather than the one it's matured into. And frankly, I think anyone who's too critical of the nature of typical SF '42 missions is probably missing the point that many deliberate attacks in real life, in training or on operations, tended from the platoon commander's standpoint to look more like the typical SF '42 mission than the sort of sweeping battles of manoeuvre that they imagine were how tanks always operated.

 

As Basil Fawlty said to a guest who complained of the view from his little hotel, "What were you expecting? The Hanging Gardens of Babylon? Herds of wildebeest sweeping majestically across the plain? THIS IS TORQUAY!".

 

The typical SF '42 attack mission might look like the work of a fairly unimaginative company commander and seem a tad chaotic in execution. Like Panzer Elite, AI limitations may hamper anything very much more sophisticated. But for the types of operations it portrays and for the WW2 period in particular, SF '42 does an exceptionally good job, in my book. 

 

Panzer, marsch!

 

shot_2014_03_08_12_51_30_0001.jpg

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I'm on it! Need to update to NTA as well. Thanks for the heads up. BTW, I think a lot of people like to shit on it because there's no multi-player. I think that's part of it's charm personally.

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