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Panzer rollen in Afrika vor!

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Steel Fury joins the Deutsches Afrika Korps!





Graviteam's tanksim Steel Fury - Kharkov 1942, as its name indicates, started out limited to the Eastern front, about a year into 'The Great Patriotic War' between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. However, thanks to the efforts of modders you can now travel a bit further afield in time and space! This mission report is set in the sim's original time frame. But for a battlefield, we're bidding adieu to the Steppes and are off instead to the desert of North Africa. Here were fought some of the war's classic tank battles, between the Germans and Italians on the one side and the British Commonwealth and later the USA, on the other.


By mid-1942, the war in the desert had developed into a see-saw battle as first one side then the other enjoyed the advantage. In 1940, Operation Compass saw the British fling back westwards a much larger invading Italian force. The following year the British 'Desert Rats', robbed of troops to prop up the war in Greece, were in their turn flung back east towards Egypt by the Axis forces, now re-inforced by Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps. At the end of 1941, the British Operation Crusader, after some fierce battles, threw the Germans back again. In mid-1942, after a lull, the Afrika Korps was one more on the offensive; once again the British were pushed back well to the west.


The mission

The mission I'm playing here is 'Gazala', which signs me up with the famous 21st Panzer Division, justly famous for its combat record with the Afrika Korps. As usual, I'm using the latest NTA mod and the current Mission Pack. I also enabled the Africa mod, which I'm assuming is needed to replace the stock SF terrain with something appropriate for (in the words of that RAF song) '...a very pleasant land, where miles and miles of sweet eff-all are covered up with sand.'


Full details of all the necessary items you need to get NTA installed with all the bells and whistles are over at the Graviteam Steel Fury forum, here. Edit, August 2014 - the NTA mod has been discontinued but its successor, the STA Mod, is now available: http://stasf2008.eph...d-on-steel-fury


This mission starts off with an excellent German newsreel compilation from the theatre, some of it in colour or colourised. The briefing itself is in the stock SF style. This has rather a lot on the regimental/divisional battle picture which is fine, but not much on the company-level operation that you're involved with. The map gives you some idea what's going on but it's no substitute for something in the format of proper 'oral orders' given to you, and the other platoon commanders in your Combat Team, by your own company commander.


Despite the 'Gazala' title, the mission is set on 26 June 1942, after the battle of that name. By this time, the victorious Germans and Italians were pressing on east towards the Egyptian frontier, and the date is more appropriate for the fighting that took place around Mersa Matruh.


Here's the map for the mission. Basically I am part of a roughly company-strength tank/armoured infantry team, with no air or artillery support. We've to carry out an attack on British defensive positions either side and behind a long minefield of the sort that so often protected the infantry in this sort of warfare. While in the map screen, I called up the orders panel and selected line abreast formation and 'Do as I do', which I interpret as 'Conform to my movements and actions' and should really be default behaviour - Standard Operating Procedure or 'SOP', as it's called.




My mount was billed as a Panzer IVF1. This has the short-barrelled 75mm gun more suited to infantry support, its low muzzle velocity limiting its effectiveness in the anti-tank role.




For some reason I ended up instead with what the British called the 'Mark 4 Special', the Panzer IV F2 (later renamed as the G subtype). Part of the German response to the T-34 and KV-1, this had a much longer 75mm gun and was a potent tank-killer. Needless to say I had absolutely no objection to being up-gunned in this fashion!


I switched to the gunner role (F2) and then toggled on the internal view (F9) and to the gunsight view (Insert). I selected and loaded an armour-piercing round. Then I toggled back to the external view (F9 again) for better situational awareness and to have a better look around at our force. It comprised a mix of Panzer IVs like my own, lighter Panzer IIIs with the short 50mm gun, and some Sturmgeschutze (assault guns) with short seventy-fives. Amongst us were panzergrenadiers in light and medium half-tracked Schutzenpanzerwagens (SPWs). There was even a soft-skinned Opel Blitz truck, living rather dangerously! It was quite an impressive phalanx, each vehicle raising a dark plume of dust as it rolled north towards the enemy.




I ordered the driver to advance and joined the throng. As we moved off, orders came over the radio. These were in German and it was helpful to have them spelt out in a text panel atop the screen.






The others set a fairly fast pace but I could not keep up. My driver ignored commands to go faster, and I gradually fell behind. Perhaps it was just as well, but my platoon - which I took to be the pair of long-barrelled Panzer IVs which I could see nearby - didn't wait for me. I have no idea why. There is a game setting ''Always obey orders' which i had turned off as recommended for a previous mission; perhaps that was why. Either way, I felt like the Duke of Plaza-Toro in that Gilbert and Sullivan song:


In enterprise of martial kind
When there was any fighting
He led his regiment from behind
He found it less exciting.


I ended up watching the first phase of our assault through the gunsight. And this is what I saw. In the centre, enemy mortar or artillery fire whacked into our leading elements. Slightly right, some troops debussed from a light SPW which then then rattled on ahead.




To my front, some more Panzergrenadiers had also debussed and were crawling ahead. I wondered whether it would have been safer for them to have stayed in their armoured carriers.




Other dismounted infantry were being helped forward by other Panzers, like these Panzer IIIs.




Feeling rather left out and seeing no sign of the enemy tanks reported on the right, I stopped and rattled off some rounds from the co-axial MG at what might have been an enemy heavy weapon which I could see as a rectangular-looking blob which came into sight above dip in the ground. I walked my tracers onto him until I saw the ricochets sail skywards. My target might just as well have been a rock but the shooting made me feel a little better, if nothing else.




What this Panzer IV was doing sitting in the middle of a battle with all hatches open, I didn't know - immobilized and abandoned already, perhaps.




The enemy position seemed to be in dead ground ahead of me; I rolled forwards again but I could see nothing of them, apart from the odd tracer whipping past on either side. That the defenders could clearly see at least some of us was obvious from the burning vehicles which began to appear around me as I slowly ground forward, accompanied for a while by another Panzer IV which may have been one of my platoon who had decided to stay with me, after all,






By now, I'd begun to catch up with some of my comrades, as they paused to fire at targets which I could not yet see, like this Panzer III ahead and left of me.




As that Panzer moved off and swung right, I noticed his turret spin around, as if he were tracking a target. Then I saw it too! A single enemy tank, some way off, was moving quite rapidly from right to left. He looked like a Valentine, a small but heavily-armoured British infantry tank, successor to the famous Maltida that reigned as 'Queen of the Battlefield' until our eighty-eights tore them apart at Halfaya Pass in '41. I knew that the Valentine would be a tough target for the Panzer III's short-barrelled 50mm gun. This one would be up to me! I set the range on my sight and lined him up with the lower right corner of the middle triangle. A little adjustment for his movement and my first round would be on its way.




...to be continued!

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Battle is joined!


The Valentine tank seemed to notice us for he turned to face us and halted, presenting his thickest armour. I let him have two AP rounds, firing just over the heads of some crawling German infantry. The Panzer III also fired at him. This seemed to do the trick. The enemy tank didn't burn, but he sat there inactive, evidently immobilized and unable to shoot back.




Traversing right in case he wasn't alone, I quickly spotted a second Valentine, hull down and showing me just the side of his turret. I opened fire, joined again by the Panzer III. Again I let him have two rounds, after which the Valentine began to burn.




I rolled forward again. Ahead of me more panzergrenadiers had debussed from a half-track. Ahead of them, two Valentines were now on fire. I moved on again.






I halted and started scanning for targets again. I wasn't long in spotting one!




Between two burning Valentines was another one, stopped and side on. Until then, he'd been hidden behind the halted SPW. Was he dead? Most likely he was, but I wasn't taking any chances. I put two AP rounds into him, just in case.






I edged forward cautiously, foolishly halting next to a large palm tree which would have made a good marker for anyone wanting to indicate me as a target. But I remained unmolested, while I took stock. All around were the funeral pyres of burning vehicles, friend and foe.







With no further enemies in sight, I rolled forward again. The speed of our advance had slowed down, as our armour paused to deal with the enemies they had spotted. There was a low crest ahead of me and I roared up to it. Perhaps from there I would be able to see at last the enemy defensive positions which were our principal objectives.





...to be continued!

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On to the objective! 




I brought my Panzer IV to a halt on the near side of the low crest and for the first time I saw the enemy position. Rows of obstacles indicated what I took to be the area of the minefield. On the far side were two more Valentine tanks, which my tank commander directed me to engage. Two rounds apiece and it was all over.






I sat tight and scanned ahead. To the left, all was clear. Ahead, I cut loose with the co-ax at  some prone enemy troops near one of our Panzer IVs. That seemed to do the trick; I saw them crumple and disappear from view, although in retrospect they may merely have ducked down into a trench I could not see.




Suddenly, the tank commander called out a fresh target - another Valentine tank, slightly right. I lined him up and put an AP round into him




The Valentine jinked to my right. Tracking him, I fired again and then again. The enemy tank finally lurched to a halt and I put another AP round into him, followed by a burst from the co-ax, in anticipation of the crew bailing out. I wasn't feeling very charitable, right then.







As I watched the smoking Valentine suspiciously, two advancing Panzers slid into my view. The situation on the right flank seemed pretty secure, now. So I moved off again, straight towards the minefield, looking for targets in that direction.






My tank commander put me onto some British infantry who seemed to be engaged in shooting up the bailed-out crew of a Panzer IV that was immobilized in front of the obstacles. I machine-gunned these enemy troops mercilessly,  ignoring a pair of knocked-out Churchill tanks I could see beyond them.




That job done, I now swung my Panzer to the left. My plan now was to come around the left side of the long rows of obstacles, hopefully avoiding the minefield, and to attack any remaining enemy positions from that flank.






As I came level with the last row of knife-rest obstacles, I saw clearly that there was a maze of trenches behind the minefield and that they were still full of enemy infantry. This was going to be a bad day for the Tommies.




First, I opened up with the co-ax, hosing the trench which seemed to have the most occupants, and ignoring one closer to my tank. Weapons flew and bodies crumpled as my rounds hit home. Further away, another Panzer was similarly engaged, shooting up the hapless enemy infantry.




Next I put an HE round into the closest trench. The effect was devastating. While the main gun was being reloaded, I turned the co-ax onto the occupants crouching in another section of trench, slightly left.






Traversing right and elevating the gun slightly, I repeated the process. Another HE round slammed into a trench, followed by long bursts of MG fire.






Shortly after arriving on the enemy's flank I had got the 'Mission completed!' message but my blood was up and I was in no mood to stop. I ended up with a few other Panzers which had broken through, machine-gunning the occasional enemy infantryman who broke cover and ran for it. They didn't get far. For an encore, I put another round into a stationary Valentine which was doubtless long since knocked out. It seemed like a more fitting end to the mission than hunting down a few desperate enemy troops.






Relaxing, our crew opened the hatches to let out the fumes and admit some fresher air. Job done! But at what cost?




...to be continued!

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The butcher's bill 


One of the neat features of Steel Fury is the ability, win or lose, to roam the battlefield after the fighting's over and see what damage has been done. Starting with my own tank's statistics, here we go. Having lagged behind the battle and spent most of my main gun ammo clobbering dead tanks, 'to be sure, to be sure', I ended up with just one Valentine tank knocked out and a number of dead infantrymen to my 'credit'. No medals earned on this mission, methinks, even if SF supported them (and single missions don't, I'm fairly sure - not certain about campaigns).




From the turret number, this looks like my number two. Like me, he has made it through into the enemy positions on the far side of the minefield, where he's lost a track. But at least he appears otherwise all right.




Further back is another immobilised Panzer IV, next to a six-wheeled armoured car - a command variant, from the prominent  'bedstead' radio antenna frame which he carries.




Also further back is this sad little group, all intact but evidently knocked out - a Panzer III, a light Sdkfz 250 SPW with a broken track and a dead crew and just ahead, one of the bigger Sdkfz 251 versions.




Also knocked out is this medium SPW, a platoon commander's vehicle by the look of it, from the 37mm anti-tank gun mounted atop the driving compartment.




Beyond the enemy positions was an immobilised Stug III, though others in his platoon had fared better.






So, onto the enemy. Steel Fury so far has a limited range of British kit - the troops look like repainted mid-war Soviet infantry, lacking the distinctive 'Brodie' rimmed helmets for one thing. Likewise, instead of the 2-Pounder (40mm) AT guns, there are German 37mm ones.




Here are those knocked-out Churchill tanks. With their very heavy armour and effective 6-pounder (57mm) guns, these Infantry Tanks were undoubtedly our toughest opposition on this mission. They weren't at the front yet, in reality - if I recall right, three were used at the later battle of El Alamein, one being knocked out. How one of the two pictured here came to be up-ended in this fashion is a bit of a mystery; in real life, Churchills had a low centre of gravity and though slow, were exceptionally agile, with a reputation for climbing hills considered 'tank-proof'.




And so to the Valentines, the previous British Infantry Tank. They had suffered pretty heavily on this mission; outnumbered and mostly caught in the open during attempted counter-attacks, their heavy armour and compact silhouettes had not saved them.








All in all, this was an interesting mission, and not just because it was a change from the Russian Front. In particular, I liked the in-game radio messages which gave me the impression that the Kompaniefuhrer was running the battle, as he should have been - too often, tank sims cut you loose on your own, when you would most often be operating as part of a tightly-night company-sized team. As for my slow tank, looking again at the map, it was perhaps a patch of what might have been poor going in the centre that slowed me down, even though it may have saved my life by ensuring the others bore the brunt! I'm sure this will be one of those missions that'll be a lot of fun to replay, trying different tactics. Great stuff! But I'll leave you with another view of my crew, relaxing after the battle; I think they have earned their break.



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Fantastic battle report.  I love it.  I love the game too.

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Great AAR. I'll have to look into SF. What are your system specs anyway? I have Win7 64 bit on a AMD quad core with a new radeon R7. This is an older game so maybe issues?

Edited by pcpilot

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Thanks guys!


I'm running SF on Vista 64, early Intel Core 2 Quad, 6GB RAM, 1GB Nvidia GTS 250. As seems recommended with many older programs like IL-2, I installed it outside the Programs (x86) folder to avoid probs and apparently this is also the drill with Win 7:




Only issue you might have PCPilot is that the Nvidia Inspector tweak that enables anti-aliasing, which is otherwise inoperative, is no good for Radeon users. But Xambrium here reports getting AA on an ATI card:




Anyway I've left North Africa for now, swapped sides and am back on the Russian Front finding out what made the T-34 special:








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What I love about this Tank battle sim are the vista's.  The scenery is big.  The skies are big.  Some of the battles seem to stretch out for miles. 







Edited by Dogzero1

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Nice pics!


Yes the environmentals are first-class, likewise the battle ambience. I especially like the variety of vehicles (and missions to match) that's now available in SF; now including a decent selection of British AFVs, some US ones and of course the later-war German stuff.










We're probably stuck with the so-so AI and the limited and map-based platoon control we have now. But the basic engine's pretty good and more missions are evidently on the way; it would be nice to have some packaged into mini-campaigns, Panzer Elite style. Perhaps the modders will also one day add the bazooka and panzerfaust for the late-war missions.


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