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Steel Fury - King Tiger!

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Going to war with the ultimate predator - the Koenigstiger heavy tank!

 

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For this mission reports, it's back to terra firma - speficically, to the snowy wastes of the Russian Front in World War Two. Our hosts are Graviteam, in the form of their excellent tank simulator Steel Fury - Kharkov 1942. The 'Kharkov 1942' bit of the title is now pretty well redundant, as modders have greatly extended the scope of the sim, not least into North Africa and with many later-war AFVs...including the tank which is the star of this particular show.

 

The tank

The mighty Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausfuehrung B - better known as the Tiger II or the King Tiger - needs little introduction. Combining the sloped armour that the Soviet T-34 taught the Germans to apply to tanks with the other design concepts of the original Tiger I, the King Tiger was one of the outstanding tank designs of World War 2; perhaps the most effective tank on the battlefield from the summer of 1944 till the end of the war. Its early transmission problems were dealt with and its reliability was soon adequate. With very thick armour all around and especially frontally, and a powerful gun that combimed deadly armour-piercing capability with extreme accuracy, the King Tiger was a formidable enemy, if you were unlucky enough to meet one in the field. They were not invincible, of course. In Normandy in July 1944, Lt John Gorman of the 2nd Battalion, Irish Guards, Guards Armoured Division, surpised a King Tiger but was perhaps himself surprised when his gunner's first round - they had a 75mm HE 'up the spout' - had little effect. The Sherman's gun then got a stoppage and Gorman ordered his driver to ram, which caused the startled German crew to bail out. Gorman's crew did likewise, one of them briefly sharing a ditch with the German tankers. A 'borrowed' Sherman Firefly's 17 pounder gun enabled the intrepid Gorman to settle the matter permanently.

 

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The mission

One of these days I will go to virtual war in Steel Fury in a Panzer 38(t) or even a Panzer III. But for now, the prospect of fighting in, rather than against, heavily-armed and heavily-armoured  tanks retains, for me, a certain irresistible appeal. So I was glad to find that the modders have not only provided SF with a King Tiger, but some missions for the beast as well. Here's the one I elected to play for this mission report - 'Counterstrike' by Deviator, with adjustments by Lockie and input also from Woofiedog and Tanker.

 

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I'm using the latest NTA mod, Lockie's latest mission pack, and the winter weather mod, all enabled via the indispensable Jonesoft Generic Mod Enabler (JSGME). The weather mod by Maleshkin transforms the standard SF environment into a winter wonderland which nicely captures the essence of the Eastern Front at its chilliest. Details of all of these are available over on the Graviteam Steel Fury forum, here. [Edit, August 2014 - the NTA add-on has been discontinued, but a successor, the Steel Tank Add-on (STA) is now available: http://stasf2008.ephpbb.com/t6-steel-tank-add-on-steel-fury ] It's worth mentioning that the this mission has a long video intro consisting of some excellent clips of German armour and other troops in action, including some combat camera footage I had not seen before - from the Deutsche Wochenschau newsreels by the look of it.

 

And here's the mission. The screenie below was taken a little way into the mission itself, by which time my platoon of King Tigers (blue trapezoids) had driven out in front of the dismounted infantry we were supporting. It was early 1945 and the mission itself was a counterattack, by elements of the 3rd SS Panzer Division 'Totenkopf', on the village of Pettend in Hungary, a German ally which was then feeling the full weight of the Soviet steamroller as the red tide swept westwards towards the Reich. I have the orders panel turned off for clarity; incidentally, in-game, I also turned off the 'head up display (ammo load, turret orientation etc) using Ctrl+backspace and could also have turned off the orange diamond/arrowheads (Ctrl+|) that act as target indicators, which you can see in some of the screenshots which follow.

 

The orders in the panel I have turned off tell us simply that our the aim is to seize and hold the village, destroying enemy forces in the area. From the markings on the map, these can be seen to consist of infantry defensive positions in an arc on the outskirts of the village, likely with tank support; I'm not ruling out the possibility that they may also have antitank guns.

 

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Our own force consists of our brave grenadiers in what appears to be weak company strength, with just my under-strength platoon of three King Tigers for fire support. Looking at the map, the terrain was fairly open and I contemplated going either left- or right-flanking. From either flank, I could have supported the advancing grenadiers by fire at roughly right-angles to their axis of advance, in the approved manner, perhaps finishing with an assault on Pettend timed to arrive on the objective at the same time as the troops, for maximum shock effect. But after milling about a bit the grenadiers seemed to be in a hurry to get at the Ivans rather than give me time for any fancy manoeuvres. So I formed us up in line formation and decided we would just roll on into the objective, ahead of the infantry, to shield them, and basically shooting anything that looked likely to hold them up. Plan made - time to get busy! I lined myself up and waited for my two other King Tigers to get into position, either side of my own tank.

 

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...to be continued!

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Into action!


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With my other two King Tigers I raced for the Start Line, which was a tree-lined track running across our front. At this point, I thought better of charging in ahead of the infantry. The mission brief had suggested there were enemy tanks around, and it seemed wiser to hang back and exploit the greater effective range of my long-barreled and accurate gun, rather than do them the favour of closing the range. So I modified my plan, on the fly. I would still go in on the same axis as the infantry, but I would not rush it. Instead, I would pause every few hundred metres, to scan my arcs carefully for targets - and for tanks in particular - before resuming my advance. I decided my first halt for observation would be on the Start Line. As I approached, I could see the objective, Pettend, a straggling group of buildings to my direct front, maybe 800 metres ahead. I gave the loader the order to load Armour Piercing; I had 30 of these rounds, and 40 High Explosive.

 

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As usual, I was playing by going first to the gunner's station (F2) and then toggling between the external view (for optimum all around vision) and the gunsight view (to scan for and engage targets). Although nominally in the gunner's station you can give steering commands to the driver from here. The alternative is probably to play from the tank commander's view (F3) and use the open hatch view for general observation, supplemented by the binoculars, and leave gunnery mostly to the AI gunner. I think I'll try that next time!

 

Halted in my first fire position - in the open, the ground between Pettend and our force didn't have much in the way of cover - I scanned from left to right. And there he was! With the sight zoomed in, I was able to pick out a T-34/85 amongst the buildings, near some railings on a low wall.

 

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This is where I made a potentially serious mistake. In my haste, I set the range using the wrong scale. These are not the easiest to read - I think there is a mod somewhere which changes their colour - but there are four scales. Two, which appear on top in the screenie below,  are for different AP rounds - the one marked 'Pzgr 39/43' is for conventional German AP (which has a small explosive filler) while 'Pzgr 40/43' is for a lighter tungsten-cored round with greater penetration at shorter range. The two larger, lower scales are for HE ('Spgr 39') and HEAT/hollow charge ('Gr 39 Hl'). In SF 42 you rotate these scales using the mousewheel and read the range against the spike at the bottom right, at about the 5 o'clock position. Your aiming point is the bottom right apex of the large central triangle, which moves up or down as you adjust the range - the other traingles are to help you aim off for crossing targets. But I ended up using the HE scale for an AP round! Realistic gunsight reticles and usage is one of the marks of a realistic tanksim and I really ought to have been more careful! Even at fairly close range it took me three rounds to hit and kill the T-34. He didn't burn but I knew he was dead when his driver's hatch popped open and the crew bailed out.

 

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By now, targets seemed to be popping up everywhere and I traversed left to pick up another T-34/85 which was coming in from the outskirts of the village on that side. After my first round, he jinked to my left, giving me a shot into his side, which did the trick.

 

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A command to engage infantry to the right was quickly replaced with a more urgent call to engage another T-34, on our left flank. Two of the beggars had appeared as if from nowhere, likely out of a fold in the ground. They were were fairly racing across the snow, stopping to fire from the short halt as they came. I pivoted my tank on its tracks to face them, both to get my gun around faster and to present them with my thickest, frontal armour.

 

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The range was still short enough not to make my sight-setting error totally fatal and my first target shuddered to a stop after a first-round hit. I then switched to the second T-34 as he sped right and after my second round, he too halted and the crew bailed out.

 

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No more targets! I rolled forwards again, across a barren ploughed field. My platoon-mates had also been busy. The funeral pyres of burning enemy tanks stained the winter skies in several directions.

 

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But the battle was far from over!

 

...to be continued!

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On to the objective!

 

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Just as I was beginning to think we had dealt with Ivan's armour, a new threat developed from the opposite flank. My tank commander indicated yet another tank target, off to the right. Again I spun my tank on its tracks and swung the turret right, at the same time. He wasn't hard to find, stopped out in the open and aiming right at us. I let him have it and he burst into flames after my second round.

 

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But the fight was still not over. Scanning left again, I picked up the shape of yet another T-34, partly concealed behind some buildings. I swung the tank left to get a better shot at him, then put two rounds into him, too.

 

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Moving off again, I approached the outskirts of Pettend. There was still a lot of small-arms fire flying back and forth, but I was on the look-out for deadlier prey than enemy troops.

 

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As I edged over to the left, yet another T-34 suddenly came into view, this time at scarily short range. I saw his 85mm gun fire and the tracer flash past to my right, likely aimed at another King Tiger. I fired once in return and the Soviet crew promptly bailed out. Some of them were carrying weapons so I machine-gunned them mercilessly, seeing two of them stagger to their feet and collapse.

 

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I continued slowly edging towards Pettend, relying on this to open up new arcs of view and hopefully continue to reveal whatever might be concealed the other side of the scattered buildings.

 

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From the gunsight, I scanned back and forth. There was nothing to be seen to my front, but smashed or burning Soviet armour. The small-arms fire seemed to be easing off, too

 

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Continuing my cautious advance, I came across a stationary T-34 at close range. Taking no chances, I put a round into his side. I immediately realised he was already knocked out; my round succeeded only in killing a crew member who was foolishly hanging around, in front of his tank.

 

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The fighting definitely seemed to have died down now, with our grenadiers having reached the objective and apparently being engaged in mopping up the last remnants of whatever Russian infantry was still holed up in or around Pettend. I swung right, intending to come around that flank and help clear the village, without venturing too deeply into it.

 

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At this point, I was rewarded with the news that the mission objective had been achieved! I opted to play on, however, continuing to edge around the right flank and looking out for any surviving Ivans. One of my King Tigers seemed to have been left behind - I was to find out later that he had lost a track - but my other tank was still with me.

 

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All I could see was smashed T-34s. There was still some desultory small-arms fire, whether involving holed-up infantry or bailed-out tankies. Between us in our two King Tigers, we machine-gunned any enemies we saw.

 

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The snow began to fall heavily, as I halted in the middle of the village, after machine-gunning some Ivans clustered around a knocked-out tank. Job done!

 

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I was literally about to hit the 'escape' key to quit the mission when a round slammed into the front of my tank. I hesitated, then as I made again to quit, my tank was hit again, the split second before my finger hit the key. Too late to do anything about it but determined to find out who was responsible, I used the post-mission 'review' facility to tab from target to target. And this is what I saw.

 

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Apparently the Russians called these self-propelled 122mm guns 'beast killers' because of their ability to destroy the German Panthers and Tigers; and it was this ISU-122 that had clobbered me. He had the nerve to sidle up to the railway embankment and settle into a nice fire position, while the commander had a good look at my King Tiger, which had begun to burn nicely. Lockie tells me that the opposition you face in a mission like this will vary with your game settings for 'balance' and 'experience' - for example, enemy AT guns may appear in this mission at the more difficult settings.

 

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Oh well! At least we had won the battle. Tabbing around, the Soviets had lost heavily. The Red infantry hadn't had any anti-tank guns, it seemed, nothing heavier than a few of those distinctive Maxim guns on wheeled mounts with little armoured shields. They had been relying for protection on a company of T-34/85s, which we seemed to have wiped out.

 

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One of my King Tigers was sitting back in a ploughed field, immobilised. One of his tracks lay unrolled onto the ground in front of him, but the crew looked pretty relaxed, as the snow fell around them. The other King Tiger was helping the grenadiers mop up near some scrub on the outskirts of Pettend. Both seemed oblivious to my own fate.

 

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Overall this was an exciting and interesting mission. The lack of anti-tank guns on the Soviet side had perhaps been compensated for by the lack of artillery or air support for my own side, and the superior numbers of T-34/85s meant that even for three King Tigers, things might have turned out differently. Next time, though, I will make sure I am settting my sights correctly...and try out one of the lighter tanks, from the many now available for Steel Fury - Kharkov 1942.

 

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King Tiger at the Royal Armoured Corps Tank Museum, Bovington Camp, Dorset, in 2008 - author's picture

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