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Wittmann at Villers Bocage

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Fighting Steel Fury's version of WW2's most famous tank action!

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OK, so maybe Kursk was more famous, but it was a battle with tanks in it, rather than a specific tank action. In the latter category, few can be more well-known that Michael Wittman's (largely) solo action against the spearhead of the British 7th Armoured Division at Villers Bocage in Normandy, on 13 June 1944.

 

This mission report is based on the first of three new missions by the Steel Tank Addon (STA) team, featuring the equally-new Normandy terrain; my earlier Panzer IV report was based on one of the other missions in this set. This is a very welcome addition to what's been a solidly Eastern Front tanksim, apart from a desert mod and some NW European missions, the latter nearly all based on Soviet maps. The Villers Bocage map isn't an exact replica of the actual terrain: for example, Villers Bocage itself lacks the closely-spaced rows of buildings on some narrow streets, I suspect because SF's AI would have difficulties with these. But it's pretty close, and with its hedgerows and distinctive buildings and structures, it really makes the player feel like he's somewhere different, where lines of sight are short and an A?T gun, a bazooka or a tank could be lurking on the other side of every hedgerow.

 

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As with the terrain, the mission is not an attempt to reproduce exactly the Witmann action, which itself has been the subject of different interpretations over the years. Rather, it captures the spirit of the fighting that morning, fifty-one years ago.

 

You're playing the role of Michael Wittmann and you are ordered firstly to get to Point 213 a few hundred metres to your north, and ambush the British advance guard from there. Having done that, you are to attack into Villers Bocage itself and destroy the enemy there, too. You have just your own Tiger initially, but a second one is being made ready and will join you at some point. You are also warned to keep out of red zones marked on the map, as these areas are known to be under enemy observation and you will compromise the ambush if you're spotted first. Below is the mission map, showing the first phase. You're starting from Beauvais, marked by the blue oval. On this mission, it's important you follow your orders reasonably closely; for example, your arrival within the oval area around Point 213 will, I believe, trigger the British advance from the town, up the N175, towards you (along with simulated radio traffic warning you of this).

 

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Kicking off the mission, I ordered an AP round loaded and from the external view, had a look around. Below is my Tiger in the hamlet of Beauvais, with the as-yet-unready second Tiger stationary close by; to my front was a radio-equiped Kubelwagen field car.

 

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Wasting no time, I turned north and rattled off, towards Point 213.

 

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You can just about see Point 213 in the screenshot below: it's the rising ground more or less right behind the little house, half left. I was steering slightly right of it, to ensure that I stayed away from those darned red zones.  I was careful not to smash the well or otherwise do more damage than I could avoid, to the nice Norman scenery. The fence in front of me was the exception. It was a shame to mangle that nice ironwork but the shortest distance between two points being a straight line, it just had to go.

 

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Soon, I was rattling as fast as I could go, over the relatively flat, open ground towards my first objective. I say 'open', but the terrain is a good deal less open than the usual SF landscape, criss-crossed with hedgerows and dotted with patches of woodland. Not ideal Tiger country, as I was soon to find out!

 

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...to be continued!

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Excellent ! This story ever amaze me, not only that Wittman was the "top-scorer" (even after removal of the magic multiplier fom the propaganda his score remains impressive), but the fog that still hangs over this engagement.

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On to Point 213...sort of...

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As my solitary tank roared and rattled over the undulating countryside towards the covered side of Point 213, I had a bit of free time to admire my mount, which is a mid-production model Tiger with, amongst other things, ribbed ‘Zimmerit’ anti-magnetic mine paste and a low-profile commander’s cupola. Modder Lockie has provided a ‘dirtied up’ version of the common three-colour later-war camouflage scheme, complete with tactical number 205, which was carried by one of Wittmann’s Tigers in Normandy. The vehicle is well animated and the engine sound is well above stock SF standards. It also has a detailed interior complete with animated crewmen, which is unusual for modder-made vehicles. I don’t tend to spend much (if any) time in these views and can well play entirely without them, but they are certainly very nice to have; below you can see the tank commander’s closed-up view, with my gunner (left) and loader (right) sitting tense but ready for action.

 

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If you know the story of the real battle, you’ll appreciate that Wittmann wasn’t ordered to set up an ambush at Point 213. Rather, he acted on his own initiative after the British column drove up the road and halted, just a few hundred meters from where his newly-arrived Tigers had harboured. He first attacked the halted column on the road itself, mostly half-tracks and carriers, defended mainly by some infantry 6 Pounder A/T guns. This mission doesn’t attempt to recreate precisely the actual action fought that morning; instead, it presents the player with some different challenges. Starting quite early!

At this point I should confess that this report isn’t describing my first play-through. I’ve been testing different versions of the mission for Lockie and in fact, I ‘came unstuck’ on Point 213 the first few times i played. Carefull choice of fire position is the key issue here, methinks, followed by sensible tactics when you get there. [spoiler alert - you may want to skip this next bit, if you want to find all this out for yourself!]

 

First time out, I set up in defilade, on the side of Point 213 that’s away from the enemy. There, I turned back to face the way I had come, watching over the N175 where it passed the high ground, so as to catch the enemy from the flank, as they drove along. Lined up like little metal ducks in a fairground shooting gallery; you get the idea.

The first problem here is with the lie of the land around Point 213, your nominated ambush position. There’s lots of shrubbery, many dips and folds in the ground and a generally convex shape to the hill. This means that wherever you set up, there’s a lot of dead ground, close around you (‘dead ground’ meaning ground which is not visible to the observer). In particular, it can be hard to get a decent line of sight onto the N175, unless you sit dangerously close to it. Or, to open out the range, you can move further back, to where the hill falls away and the N175 comes back into sight. But that leaves the door, which you're trying to keep shut, half open, letting the enemy come rather too far past Point 213 itself.   

The second problem here is that you’re on your own. Firing from defilade – to one side, with an obstacle in front, hiding you from an advancing enemy until you can shoot them in the flank – is generally a good idea. But not so much, when you’re alone and aren’t planning for just a quick ‘shoot and scoot’ kill. To hold your ground, you really need other friendly forces, all in defilade, either side of you, and indeed behind, in depth. This gives interlocking (or better still, overlapping) fields of fire, covering the complete front and in particular, each other’s blind spots. Without this, once the enemy knows you’re there, it’s only a matter of time before he flanks you, possibly using your own cover to close in unseen, for the kill. Don't believe me? Have a look at this, then:

 

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There's my Tiger, in a decent defiladed position. Hidden from the enemy coming up the N175 in front of me. Until I started blasting them...witness my victims, one afire. Note also the Sherman Firefly, on the right, who crept over the hill, and got me from the flank. See what I mean? On your own, firing from defilade works...for a while. After that, you need to move, or you'll get the chop.

I also tried setting up just over the enemy side of Point 213. There’s a good deal of cover; and from there, you can shoot the enemy as they come into sight, just beyond Villers Bocage, at longer range. But unless you drive right onto the forward slope and make a clear target of yourself - not a brilliant idea, need I say - the enemy can quickly get into dead ground, in the lee of Point 213, under your nose as it were. In fact, the leading tanks will likely have passed out of your field of fire, by the time you get into position. This leaves you with some light armour to shoot up...while the leading tanks are steadily closing in, out of sight.


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[spoiler alert ends!]

Anyhow...I knew (or believed) that I had to get close to Point 213, to trigger the enemy advance. But I didn’t really want to set up there. Decisions, decisions! And all the while, my Tiger rolled on, towards the fateful Point 213.

 

Just ahead now, I could see the row of trees, interspersed with telegraph poles, which a quick glance at my map told me must be the N175. My speed fell off and my Tiger struggled noisily as it lurched up the bank onto the road. While well away from those red ‘danger zones’, I came a bit too close to the crest of the road. But a nervous look down the long, nearly straight section I could see of the N175 as I crossed it, showed the road to be clear.

 

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The same view also confirmed my plan, which was simple enough. I would drive up towards Point 213 until I heard the radio message announcing that I was in position and to wait for confirmation the enemy was moving my way. I would then retrace my steps – or my tracks, to be more precise. Just a little way. I would in fact set up on the road itself, facing back down towards Villers Bocage. The road levelled out near Point 213, so I could be hull down, by sitting back from the crest. Backing up would take me out of sight or turret down. There was tree cover on both sides, to screen a move to either flank if need be. The long straight stretch of road which I could see offered a decent field of fire. The Tommies would not see me until they turned the corner at the end of this straight stretch, offering me targets at about 6-800 metres, where my combination of a big gun and thick armour would be more than a match for even the 17 Pounders. In fact this is a classic ambush position for enemies moving along a stretch of a road or track. Shoot down the length of it, at a point there’s a curve which keeps you out of sight, except to the people you are shooting, with the rest behind wondering what the hell's going on. Hopefully.

I duly got the message that confirmed I was in the ambush area. Now, I had to get into position and await confirmation from our recce people that the enemy were enemy were on the move up  the N175, towards Point 213.

 

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I stopped and backed up, down towards the N175. As I was nearing the road, I received another radio message telling me - lest I had forgotten - to do what I was now doing - get into position and await the signal from callsign Viper, the recce boys. These in-mission messages help remind players who may be inclined to go swanning off, doing their own thing, that they need to stick to the plan.

 

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Reaching the road, I swung around, still in reverse, then stopped, facing the enemy. At this point, with near perfect timing, came the news I was waiting for. My guests were on their way.

 

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I tested and adjusted my position, mainly from the gunsight, lining her up and setting the range for the point a little closer than where the road curved right, out of sight. A hint of a smile doubtless played around the corners of my mouth as I realised that I now had a nice little killing ground set up ahead of me, into which the Tommies were obligingly about to drive.

 

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The main problem was that there was good cover left and right of the road, into which the emeny could quickly scarper. The trick would be to do as much damage as I could, while I had the chance. Sherman Fireflies, with their dangerous 17 Pounders, would be my priority target, though hard to distinguish, seen from the front. I’d have to treat any Sherman as a potential Firefly. At some point, the second Tiger, from Beauvais where I’d started, should be able to cover the open left flank.Or so I hoped.

From where I sat, I had a clear line of sight into my kill zone. I was parked far back enough from the crest in the road just ahead, to be mostly hull down to the enemy, when they came. I had an AP round loaded and my sights were set for the range. The Tommies were about to pay me a visit and I was now quite ready to ensure that they received an appropriate welcome. I didn't have long to wait.


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...to be continued!

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Looks like fights on.

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From a view to a kill...

 

From my vantage point looking down the N175, I waited just long for the leading Tommies to come into the open; a troop of three Cromwells, they looked to be. My first round crashed into the leading tank...which kept coming. My tank commander insisted that I do something about this and I obliged, with another round. The good part was that this stopped the Cromwell. The not-so-good part was that the two behind him - not entirely unexpectedly - promptly took advantage and scattered off the road, one each side.

 

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The Cromwell which went right didn't get very far. Estimating where he had got to, I let rip into the shrubbery. I didn't really expect to hit him, so I was quite pleased to see a column of smoke appear above the tees, evidently coming from my point of aim. Not a bad start.

 

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I tried the same with the Cromwell that had gone left, but while I didn't see any results, my tank commander seemed to think we had got him, for I 'heard' him announce the destruction of a group of enemy tanks, on the radio. I think maybe he was exaggerating a little, or at least, just a tad optimistic. Even so, things weren't going too badly.


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I rolled back a little way up the N175, to get a bit more hull down, knowing now that the element of surprise was lost. I also wanted to see if I could open up a line of sight amongst the vegetation, to the left of the road by the kill zone, where I suspected the third Cromwell might have gone to ground. But my attention was quickly drawn back to the road, with the appearance of two Shermans - Firelfies, as it turned out. Their hatches were open and they didn't seem to be put off by the knocked-out Cromwell sitting in front of them.

 

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Events began to move pretty rapidly, from this point. I immediately engaged the lead Sherman. One or two rounds, and he ground to a halt, just behind the Cromwell, the crew bailing out. My tank commander promptly ordered me to switch targets to the second Sherman, which had started to evade, backing up to the left. Even as he did so, more British armour turned the corner, into my line of sight.

 

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I needed no urging and let the other Sherman have it. There was a brief but satisfying explosion as my 88mm AP round smashed into him. No time to lose, though. My boss was already indicating a third target, which seemed to be a Stuart light tank.

 

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By the time my loader had chambered the next round, the Sherman I'd just shot was burning, but the Stuart had disappeared somewhere to the right. At about this time, I noticed some trees falling on the left of the road, indicating that the Cromwell that had driven off the road down there was still in action and on the move. I'd need to watch that! Now would be a good time for the second Tiger to show up, I thought to myself.

 

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To my surprise, at this point the Stuart re-appeared, having driven back onto the road in front of the tanks I had clobbered. My ever-watchful tank commander saw him, too, and directed me onto him. To digress briefly, I like to turn off the on-screen targeting aid you can see marking the enemy tank below and rely on the voices, but while there is a brief on-screen text display of the intercom traffic, SF uses a rather weird system, giving the compass bearing of the target. This seems to be the Soviet system - in the SABOW T-62, you can see, next to the gunner, a little compass repeater disc that seems designed for this purpose. SABOW backs this up with a more intuitive target indication system but the SF one is rather harder to follow, without using on-screen aids. Anyway, there was I, and there was my target, the foolhardy Stuart, driving up the road towards me...

 

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...but not for long. Another 88mm AP round saw to that. Even as he jerked to a halt and the crew bailed out, more enemy armour appeared, this time, a group of the little 'Carriers' so widely used by the British Army in WW2.

 

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I was soon laying into these. I should perhaps have changed to HE rounds at this point and conserved my supply of AP but I decided just to crack on. The Carriers were small and quite fast-moving targets and at that range, the higher velocity and flatter trajectory of the AP rounds would give a higher hit probability.

 

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It wasn't long before the scene down in my chosen killing ground was a jumble of smashed British armour, reminiscent of the well-known German Propaganda Kompanie photographs of the actual battle (a clip of newsreel  footage they took is featured as a video intro to this mission). Some armoured half-tracks which joined the party just added to the mess.

 

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At this point things seemed to settle down and I backed up a little further, to take stock of the situation from better cover. My tank commander - Michael Wittmann himself, presumably - took the opportunity to provide HQ with another upbeat Sitrep.

 

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Some of the half-tracks had escaped off the road to the left and now, some carriers took the opportunity to do the same. I got one of them, but the ones in front made it into cover.


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A lot of good it did them. At last, the second Tiger had appeared and they ran straight into him. You can see him about half-left in the screenshot below, in the field, just left of the telegraph pole in the foregrround. At this point I was backing up again, because some more tumbling trees along the roadside on the left indicated that the missing Cromwell was working his way up towards me, out of my line of sight in the dead ground to my front and probably concealed from the other Tiger by the foliage. If he got close enough or flanked me, his 75mm gun might immobilise or even kill my Tiger, and I wasn't going to let that happen, not now...not if I could help it, that is...

 

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...to be continued!

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it's still great panzer sim, but not bare -mods really add to it

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Up close and personal!

 

My ambush of the British spearhead had gone much as planned, even if that had meant interpreting my orders somewhat widely. Their tanks lay smashed or burning in my chosen killing ground. Some lighter armour had escaped, but had run into the second Tiger, now in action down on my left.

 

The fly in this particular ointment was that one of the Cromwell tanks had escaped both my ambush and the attentions of the other Tiger. He had made it off the road to the left of the ambush site and from the occasional falling tree, I reckoned that he was creeping up the left verge of the road, evidently intent upon getting a crack at me. Head on, his 75mm gun should not be able to kill me, even at very close range. But he might break a track (an 'M' or mobility kill, in more modern tankspeak) or get onto a flank, from whence he might just be able to do me more serious damage.

 

To counter this threat, I had reversed back down the road, back from the point it dipped down to the ambush site. This meant that when he came to the point the road levelled out and we saw one another, he would not be at point blank range and I should be able to kill him, before he got close enough to get me, instead.

 

The first part of this little scheme went pretty well to plan. I had suspected the Cromwell was using the shrubbery along the road's left-hand verge for cover, and I was right. The boxy shape of his turret pushed into view, almost exactly where I had laid my gun, in anticipation of him breaking cover.

 

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I shot him straight away and I'm pretty sure I got him, though he fell back amidst a plume of dispersing dust and muck from the impact.

 

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My tank commander, optimistic as ever, had evidently come to a similar conclusion. At any rate he directed me to engage some infanty to our front, possibly the bailed-out tank crews. I wasn't having any of this, for I now saw that the Cromwell was still on the move, slipping down the roadside embankment, further to our left. A tough cookie, as the Amis would have said. He turned towards us again and I let him have another round. But the b***er kept coming and drifted left, behind a large bush. Though he didn't immediately re-appear, I was sure he was still in action. This was becoming rather worrying.

 

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I backed up some more. That Cromwell was getting too close for comfort. He appeared again and my commander directed me to engage him.

 

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The Tommy broke right, out of the bush, moving uphill but fast. By this time, I had rolled back off the road and was sat at an angle, on the verge. From there, I put yet another round into the Cromwell and saw the muck and dust fly again. I was getting hits, but he was still coming. This wasn't how it was supposed to happen!

 

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He reached the road and drove in our direction, looking massive in my gunsight, framed by the smoke from his burning comrades on the road behind. I've never had the feeling in a tanksim before that I was being rushed by a zombie, but I had that feeling now.

 

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I fired again. Whether I hit him or not I don't know, but he swung sharply left across my nose and drove past me, seemingly centimeteres away. My turret traverse wasn't fast enough and I was lucky he didn't shoot me in the flank. I can only guess that his turret crew had become casualties or my damage had knocked out his gun.

 

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The Cromwell crashed into some bushes just behind me and lurched to a sudden stop, like he had run into a giant net. As my sights came onto him I let him have it. Then a second round, right into his rear. Probably overkill, but after what I'd just seen, I was taking no chances.

 

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That did the trick. About time, too!

 

...to be continued!

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Grunt troubles

 

I didn’t have much time to recover my composure after being rushed by the Cromwell which now lay just to our rear. There was a loud bang as something hit us, up front. My tank commander started calling out infantry targets. I immediately started backing up again, onto the road, applying the principle ‘distance is your friend’. Until I had identified whatever it was that had hit us, getting further away from it seemed like a good first move.

 

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As it was, I soon picked up the enemy in my gunsight – a single soldier, standing in the road just in front of us. Even as I saw him, he threw a grenade, which explained the earlier bang.

 

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He was in fact a bailed out tankie with a bad attitude. He should have stayed down the road, instead of trying to kill a Tiger tank with hand grenades. Down he went. Why is my commander - we are 'Elephant 1' - announcing the destruction of the enemy light tanks? No idea...maybe the crewman was the last survivor from one.

 

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He wasn’t alone, though. Further down the road were proper infantrymen, skirmishing towards us. I spent a bit of time putting a stop to that, with the co-ax.

 

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Some of them had worked up onto the high ground to the right, but my alert boss spotted them. The enemy troops seemed intent on infiltrating past me and were rather hard targets in the undulating ground and long grass. Fortunately, they didn’t seem to to have brought with them any serious anti-tank weaponry and after some more busy work with the co-ax, the supply of targets dried up.

 

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By now, we had already been reminded that our next task was to assault Villers Bocage and clear up to the Hotel de Ville or town hall. So I rolled forward again down the N175, towards the crest in the road. Happily, we managing to avoid squishing the bloke who’d grenaded us. There seemed little point killing dead things; besides, the driver wouldn't have thanked us if we had added to his maintenance tasks the job of cleaning up the tracks, afterwards.

 

Looking down, the wrecks of my original victims lay where I’d left them, now with a scattering or enemy dead in front and around. I rolled on down and past the crest. No fresh targets appeared and we were not fired upon.

 

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I had lost sight of the second Tiger, but glance at the map told me he was just to the left of the ambush site. I considered briefly going wide on either left or right flanks. But for no better reason than that was how Wittmann did it, I decided that I would now go ‘straight down the middle’ - just drive down the road, straight to Villers.

 

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About half-way down the hill to the ambush killing ground, feeling sure that the risk of bumping live enemies must be increasing, I swung left, off the road. The other Tiger had cleared this flank – witnessed by a string of knocked-out British AFVs in the field – and the road and associated shrubbery on both sides of it would help cover my right. To my front, the map showed that two hedgerows ran left to right across my line of advance. These would cover my approach to the town, which was still out of sight on the other side.

 

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Running along parallel to the road, I passed the ambush site, keeping a careful look-out all around. There was no sign of life. Neither could I see the other Tiger; I was reluctant to call up the map to see if I could locate him even for a second, while in my current rather exposed position.


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I ploughed on, until I had reached the first hedgerow. I nosed slowly into this, just far enough to be able to see what lay on the other side.

 

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The answer was, not a lot. In fact, nothing at all, enemy-wise. So I pushed on through the hedgerow and out the other side, towards the next one, maybe a hundred metres to my front.

 

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This time, nosing into the next hedgerow, there they were: two enemy tanks, facing off to my left. They looked undamaged but didn’t move. The nearest one was a Stuart. Partly hidden the other side of him, was a Cromwell.

 

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Halted, I put a round into the Stuart, as much to prod them into life while I had them at a disadvantage...if life there was, left in them. This produced no reaction, so I drove on.



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The Cromwell looked equally undamaged so before driving close to him, I stopped and let him have a round, too. I was conscious by this time that my supply of AP was dwindling – though as yet, I was unaware that I hadn’t started with a full load! But I was disinclined to take any chances.


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Finally, I rolled up to the last hedge and getting my first real view of our Phase 2 objective, Villers Bocage. I halted and scanned hastily left and right, then settled down to a more careful check of the view that now presented itself – scattered houses on either side and stretching away along the N175, with lots of foliage cover around and between them.

 

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This was quite different to Steel Fury’s usual Soviet hovels – hardly Park Lane, but much more ‘up market’. It was also a going to be a bit of a tactical nightmare: short lines of sight everywhere, a good place to get ambushed, where a single infantryman with an A/T weapon would be deadly for a even a Tiger. No place for any tank, especially a single one. This was going to be scary. Maybe I should have gone wide on a flank, after all?

...to be continued!

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Where Tigers fear to tread...

 

I sat for a while, scanning left and right, across the vista of Villers Bocage, waiting for something to happen. Something, anything, that might relieve me of the necessity of driving into what should be the last place anyone would take a tank, even a thick-skinned Tiger. A place where a single infantryman with a hollow-charge weapon or even a sticky bomb could end my mission in unpleasant fashion. Where an anti-tank gun or a tank could be lurking behind each piece of cover, ready to slam a solid shot into my thinner side armour, at point-blank range.

 

But of course, nothing happened. In Panzer Elite, I would have been saving my artillery support for moments like these, to flatten as much of the town as possible before venturing into it. But this wasn't Panzer Elite. In Steel Fury, artillery is pre-programmed and in any event, there was none, not on this mission. Not so much as a mortar bomb fell from the heavens onto Villers. Nothing else for it, then. Time to motor on, into town.

 

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There was no way I was going to drive straight down the main road. Instead, my plan, such as it was, was to move via the back gardens of the houses, parallel to the N175 and with the intention of outflanking anything that was set up to ambush the road itself. And I would do it in short bounds, pausing frequently for observation, before making my next bound. I would use the same cover that might hide my enemies, to hide my own tank, until the last minute.

 

I covered the stretch of open ground in front of Villers as quickly as I could. About three-quarters of the way there, scanning to both sides for possible targets, I suddenly saw one - a low, rectangular object, about half right, between two houses.

 

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I should have turned into him but my gun was already laid in his general direction so I just halted in place and steadied my aim...onto a garden shed. Had he known, the owner would doubtless have been grateful I'd noticed, before pulling the trigger. And that I didn't shoot anyway. I don't know about you, but I don't take kindly to being frightened by garden sheds.

 

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I moved off again and soon arrived at a low fence. Just before churning my way across the unfortunate householders' gardens, I stopped to scan again for targets. And this time, I spotted a real one. It was a prone soldier, presumed enemy, near the base of a telegraph pole, where the road turned to the right. He was unfortunate enough to be lying in a short stretch of the N175 which I could see, between the buildings and foliage. I quickly shot him with the co-ax, firing short bursts until I was dropping the rounds right onto him.

 

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At this point, I became aware of what sounded like a very large petrol lawnmower, running amok. I realised quickly that it was a tank on the move. Where he was, I could not see. Except that he seemed to be getting closer. At first, I thought it might be the other Tiger; but no, this was quite a different sound, smaller, faster. More from instinct than anything else, I started backing away, across the field behind me.

 

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Whatever it was, it seemed to be somewhere to my front...and coming right at us. As I backed up, I looked desperately to see what it could be. And there he was! A single Sherman, dodging between the houses and shrubbery but headed my way. My tank commander spotted him at the same moment and called him in.

 

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My mind registered the fact that he wasn't a Firefly, but at close range, winding down rapidly, I couldn't afford to stretch my luck. I stopped and fired as my turret traverse took my point of aim across him.

 

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A hit, but low and right, with no penetration, just a metal scar where it glanced off the point his transmission housing meets the glacis plate. He kept coming and put a round into us, which seemed to do no serious damage.

 

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I took more time to aim the next round, but too long - he jinked right disappeared behind the nearest house, just as I let rip. I laid the gun onto the spot on the other side where he should re-appear, but he didn’t. Damn and blast! Had I got him, perhaps? I could still hear his engine. Suddenly, he burst out into the open, to the right of the house, and turned again towards me. Resisting the temptation just to let fly, I forced myself to fine-tune my aim, going for the turret. He had got off only one round but I needed to get that gun before he fired another - at such short range even a 75 could do me some harm.

 

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Got him! The hatches flew open and the crew bailed out - some of them, anyway. They ran off to my right into cover, pursued by tracers from my co-ax. After my earlier experience with the grenade-throwing tankie back up the road, I was disinclined to be merciful to bailed out crewmen.

 

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While collecting my wits for my next move, I had a quick look through the gunsight at my latest victim, noticing for the first time the spash mark made on his front hull by my first round. The hole in the turret to the right of the gun mantlet told its own story. The bow gunner's and loader's hatches were shut, which confirmed that not everybody had made it out. Details like that bring SF to life in a way that few other tanksims can match.

 

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Right, now, where was I? Ah yes, the plan. Get into Villers and drop by the Hotel de Ville. I advanced again, driving past the Sherman I had just knocked out and halting in the lee of the first houses. Between the cover ahead, I could see again that stretch of the main road, at the point it turned to the right.

 

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It was starting to rain and visibility was deteriorating. But I could make out some more prone infantrymen, lying near the road. I started shooting, short bursts with the co-ax, feeling for the range, dropping bursts onto the enemy, one at a time.

 

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Suddenly my tank commander called out an anti-tank gun, just left of the troops, on the other side of the road. I laid my gun in the direction indicated but saw nothing, just a murky area of shadow in the lee of some shrubbery. Ordering HE loaded next, I rather desperately hosed the dark area with the co-ax, feeling rather helpless and thinking that instead I should be backing up, rather than messing about with a potentially deadly enemy I could not yet see. This opinion was confirmed when a tracer round flashed out of the murk and crashed into us. Keeping my finger on the co-ax trigger, I let fly also with the AP round I had up the spout. At the same time I ordered the driver to charge forward, to take us into cover. We were out of sight in seconds, thereby escaping further unpleasantness...for the time being.

 

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Now what? Get that anti-tank gun, obviously. But how? Time for a rapid Combat Appreciation. A quick look at the ground ahead decided the issue. I would swing slightly left, keeping a large house between me and where the gun seemed to be. When I got there, I would halt, then plan another short bound forward, again keeping left of the gun but steadily getting closer. Once I had got close enough, I would make a final rush at him from cover, on a flank, at point-blank range. Plan made, it was time to get weaving. I picked my next fire position in the lee of a house and broke cover, making straight for it.
 

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I reached the side of the house and edged up to the corner. From there, I scanned in all directions, to make sure that I was clear, before making my next move. My tank commander must have been feeling safer here, for he was heads out of the turret again. You can order your crew members to duck down and/or close hatches but the AI tank commanders in SF seem quite capable of behaving sensibly, according the the actual or perceived threat. It's another nice feature that helps make Steel Fury rather special. But let's get back to the business at hand...

 

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I set off across a short stretch of open ground towards a patch of what looked like sunflowers, standing tall as my tank, as sunflowers are apt to do. A reminder to my crew of sunny days on the Soviet steppes, no doubt. The sunflower patch seemed to extend up to the road on my right, roughly to where I thought the anti-tank gun should be. It was all a bit disorienting. To hell with it. We would get into those sunflowers, drive diagonally across them and come out the other side. The closer to the gun, the better. If all else failed, I wouldn’t stop, I’d just roll straight over the b*****d.
 

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...to be continued!

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Villers Bocage, hin und zuruck

 

Through the sunflowers we went, crop damage be damned. Time to get that anti-tank gun!

We rolled out the other side and there he was – a 6-Pounder. He was a bit to far away to rush him so I stopped to shoot instead - this time with the correct round, having loaded HE after emptying my chambered AT round at him, earlier.

 

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Strange! He was just sitting there, side on. Was he tracking the other Tiger? His crew seemed to be down – perhaps he was out of action, from my earlier fire! I was in no position to take chances, so I let him have the HE round. That put matters beyond doubt!

 

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My tank commander started calling in more infantry targets, slightly right, where an smaller road or open area joined the N175. As we were shooting these people, a radio-equipped jeep was silly enough to drive up the street and was suitably dealt with.

As if to avenge him, to the accompaniment of more ‘lawnmower amok’ noises which caused me to back up again, a Cromwell barged out onto the road, just in front of us. He got rather clsoe but lasted no longer than the jeep, perhaps in part because the other Tiger had showed up again. Which one of us got him, we could settle later.

 

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The second Tiger started off down the N175. Abandoning my plan to keep off the road, I decided to conform to his movements, for better mutual support. Whatever one Tiger can do, two can surely do better. I slipped in behind and left of him, glad to have some friendly company in this dangerous close quarter battle zone. A quick look at the map showed that not far beyond the turn in the road, lay the Hotel de Ville. With our two big tanks now poised to sweep aside any remaining opposition, I looked forward to sampling Monsieur le Maire’s best cognac...should any remain.

 

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At that point, it all went tits up. As we were stopped to shoot up some more seemingly-helpless enemy troops who lay prone on the road in front of us, first one, then another Cromwell turned onto the road just ahead of us. I started shooting at once, only to find out that I was quickly down to my last AP round. Bad drills, that I hadn’t checked the supply at the start of the mission, but I was now rather shocked to find that I had no other anti-tank rounds, either – no hollow charge, no tungsten-cored Panzergranate 40. Just High Explosive. I laid into the Cromwells with this, hosing them with the co-ax in between reloads and praying the other Tiger would get them.

 

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But this wasn’t just a tank battle. In amongst all the shooting, I heard the distinctive ‘whoosh’ of an infantry anti-tank weapon firing; then again. Strictly speaking, this sound isn’t really right for the spigot-fired PIAT used by the British rather than bazookas, but when you’re under attack with the things, you have more pressing concerns. Like preventing you and your crew from being incinerated.

I backed up and traversed right, but it was too late for the other Tiger. He was further forward and on my right. The PIATs must have got him. The crew bailed out into the roadway. I hosed some troops I could see over there, but could not be sure that I got the Tiger’s killer.


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One of the Cromwells seemed to be out of it but the second one advanced, even as I backed up. He halted next to the disabled Tiger and we exchanged rounds. With only HE left, I tried to break his tracks, clobber his optics, anything. In the end it seemed to work, for he fell silent.

 

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Now what? I still had a fair bit if HE left but that was it. After this tank-infantry ambush, it seemed to me that the prospects of our completing the mission had just slipped from excellent to abysmal. To match the mood, the skies darkened and the rains came down. But we’re the Hundred and First SS Heavy, I told myself, panzer men as tough as our tank's Krupps steel, and we don’t give up easily. I was going to make a last, death-or-glory push for the Hotel de Ville.

What I wasn’t going to do, was drive any further down than particular stretch of road. Instead, after checking my map, I backed up and turned off to the right. I didn't get far. The silent Cromwell came back to life, putting a round into my side. My left-hand tracks parted and unrolled behind me as I pitched into the roadside ditch.

 

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It seemed that all I could do now was let fly at the Cromwell from where I sat, with the remains of my HE ammo, hoping he would go down before one of his 75mm rounds did me more serious damage. So that's what I did. I took a certain amount of satisfaction in winning this particular duel, when his hatches opened and the crew started to bail out.

 

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But we weren't done yet. I had forgotten that crews in Steel Fury can do a certain level of repair work in the field. Happily, track repairs come into this category. IIRC there's a gameplay option to speed this up and I must have had it selected, for in a matter of minutes we were mobile again. I wasted no time in pressing on and emerged from cover with an open area to my left, where most of the infantry had been.

 

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Fearful of a getting a PIAT in the flank, I rattled on without pausing, coming finally, as planned from the map, to a minor road running parallel to the N175. Here, all was clear . I breathed a sigh of relief that I was finally out of that hornet’s nest behind me. At full speed again, we moved down the road to the next junction and there, turned left. Still no opposition! Maybe we might yet be relieving Monsieur le Maire of some of that cognac!

 

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...to be continued!

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An end, of sorts...

 

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Slowing down, I moved more cautiously down the left-hand verge of this road, hugging the cover. This brought us out onto the flank of the furthest Cromwell. He didn’t move but he didn’t look particularly dead, either. So, encouraged by my tank commander, I blasted him at close range with some of my remaining HE ammunition.

 

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We pressed on, crossing the N175 and bypassing the Cromwell.  The Hotel de Ville, the map indicated, was just across the road, set back a little, so our ultimate objective was only seconds away.

 

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We roared up the last stretch and there it was; the Tommies hadn’t had time to haul down the German flag, which was still flying in the front garden. Halting, I looked around, expecting some final ambush.

 

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Nothing in sight, not a round came our way. No mad lawnmower sounds. I probed cautiously around the building. We'd done it and the coast was clear, but still, there was none of SF's usual confirmation message that we had completed the mission. Obviously, simply reaching the stated objective -  even being in sole possession of it - was not enough. Evidently I needed to find and kill more Tommies, somewhere in the vicinity. However, by now, I rather lacked the means to do so. In particular, if those Cromwells I’d smothered with HE weren’t quite dead and needed to be, then I was as out of luck, as I was out of AP rounds.

 

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I could see what looked like bailed out British tank crews up the road, beside the Cromwell I'd knocked out as it sat next to the crippled second Tiger. They looked pretty miserable, standing there in the rain next to their broken tank, but I hosed them with the co-ax anyway. A lot of good it did me - still no victory confirmation. They had died in vain.

 

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It can be frustrating if you have to drive around to locate and destroy some last enemy to complete a mission, rather than just reaching the objective and holding it. But I decided that I would play along, to a degree. Instead of ending the mission and stomping off in a huff, I would attempt to do what Wittmann might have done in similar circumstances. Unsupported and low on ammo, I reckoned he’d probably have withdrawn and attempted to get back to his company lines, there to get 'bombed up' and organised for a fresh attack.

With this in mind I turned about and drove north, getting out of Dodge as fast as my Tiger could go. No subtleties this time, I just ‘floored it’ and off we went, hoping we had already sprung most of the mousetraps. On my way out, I took a chance and passed close to the site of the British ambush in a last effort to mop up remaining enemies, but this just seemed to confirm that the other Tiger's crew had become casualties, which made me feel less bad about shooting down the Cromwell crew nearby.

 

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Swinging around clear of Villers, I made for our original ambush site. A glance at the map showed this to be a good landmark on a more or less direct route back to Beauvais, where we had started.

 

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As I drew away from Villers Bocage, I turned the turret around until my gun was laid over the engine decking, facing the enemy, in the approved fashion for a withdrawing tank. SF doesn't really do 'blue on blue' so I was more worried about being able to respond quickly to any threat to my rear, than being mistaken for an enemy by friendly forces.

 

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Reaching the kill zone, I turned slightly right, to give the wrecks a wider berth, crossed the N175 diagonally and then turned left again, on a heading for Beauvais.


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And in that fashion, as the rain fell steadily from dappled skies, we made it back to our starting point.

 

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Despite the mission not being recorded as a success, my own Tiger’s stats were rather good, if not quite up to the standard set by Wittmann in the real mission (probably with a full ammo load, and certainly with more opportunity to smash up light armour).
 

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Behind us, we left a goodly assortment of damaged or broken ironmongery. Much of this was in our original killing ground on the N175.

 

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There was plenty in and around Villers Bocage itself, too.

 

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All in all, this was an excellent mission (a beta, at the time of playing). It’s very different from the traditional Steel Fury job, in which you are usually commanding a platoon as part of a closely-knit attacking force which you can see and thus co-operate with. This solo mission looks, feels and plays very differently. Because you’re on your own (apart from that second, AI-controlled Tiger, which is liable to be out of sight often) the mission helps you learn and apply some basic lessons in handling a single tank – notably selection of fire positions, use of ground and cover and of course, application of fire or gunnery, whether you play from the tank commander or (as I did) gunner positions.

I was disappointed to run out of main gun rounds, particularly the AP ones I needed most, and was surprised to discover that my ammo supply had actually been reduced by design. I feel a full ammo load would have been preferable, as the mission can be difficult enough without reducing your ammo load. If you want a greater challenge, in game setup, you can vary the balance of forces (one setting introduces a 17 Pounder towed anti-tank gun, I believe!). The limited ammo would have mattered less, had mission success not required the destruction of more enemies, beyond merely arriving at the final objective.

As usual, some of SF’s limitations were apparent. As you’re not in command of other vehicles on this mission, it doesn’t matter that you have limited platoon control or that what you have, you must switch to the map view to exercise, rather than using hotkeys. But the excessively aggressive AI was also in evidence. This can see your platoon-mates make wild charges against detected enemy instead of staying with you. In this mission, single or light AFVs or troops were too willing to advance or attack regardless of losses or risk. However, decent AI was also on display, with vehicles driving out of the kill zone and that Cromwell making good use of dead ground and cover to stalk my Tiger...up to the point he just charged me. SF’s AI does take some account of morale but should have more regard to danger and losses – in particular, the loss of platoon (or higher) command elements, which should visibly degrade unit performance.

Another downside is the near complete lack of radio comms in SF, except for event-triggered traffic incorporated by individual mission designers. It’s a pity that SF platoons do not routinely transmit by radio things they would in real life, like situation or contact reports. Panzer Elite was outstanding in this respect. Steel Fury is probably suited to mid-war Soviet (or early-war western) practice where maybe only platoon (and above) command tanks had transmitters. A good feature of this particular late-war, western front mission is that Lockie has built in plenty of radio traffic. This is exactly how it should be done for western armies and compensates quite well for the sims’ lack of AI radio traffic.

It’s also frustrating that while the German tank commanders in Steel Fury use the clock code to indicate targets in spoken intercom messages, 12 0’clock is not straight ahead, as it was in real Panzer practice (as replicated in Panzer Elite), but due north. This makes it needlessly difficult to play with the visual aids turned off. Graviteam’s newer tanksim, Steel Armor: Blaze of War, replaces this with a still-slightly-quirky but more intuitive system. Indeed, with many other improvements and a dynamic campaign system, SABOW should be a great basis for WW2 virtual tanking on any front, if and when suitable mods or downloadable content appears. Even then, and regardless of some limitations, Steel Fury with the Steel Tank Add-on will still be a top tier WW2 tanksim, a title shared currently only with the visually inferior but still exceptional Panzer Elite. I’m particularly delighted to see Steel Fury now at last fighting in Normandy, with a range of really excellent new US and British vehicles and some of the best terrain and ground objects seen in the sim to date. Far from facing defeat, with this content and these missions, Steel Fury has truly opened up a new front!

 

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