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Battling the Red Army in Steel Fury – Kharkov 1942
This is another instalment in the stock German campaign from Graviteam’s excellent WW2 tanksim. Well, not quite stock. First, I’m playing with ‘mods on’; and while the STA mod I use doesn’t affect the vanilla campaign, I’m also using two other mods which do – the STA variant of ‘early spring weather’ which improves the landscapes, and the ‘grey color’ mod which - as its name suggests - reverts German vehicle schemes from the varied mid-war colours of the STA mod, to the ‘Panzer Grau’ used from the start of the war up to the period of the stock game – early summer 1942.
Panzer III J, STA European camouflage scheme (header pic above is in 'Grey color' mod)
And yes, I know some experts tell us panzers were brown and grey (low contrast supposedly hiding the pattern, on most B&W photos) till the summer of 1940. But I’m with those who believe plain grey was the norm before officially being so ordered during the 1940 Battle of France. Anyway, despite some exceptions like Afrika Korps vehicles being diverted to the Ostfront for the German summer 1942 offensive, it seems grey is best for the Summer 1942 Battle of Kharkov that the sim is built around.
The second non-stock aspect of this campaign is that I’m using the variant that’s been modded to use the Panzer III, rather than the Panzer IV. At this time, the ‘Mark 3’ (as the British called it) was still the standard German medium tank, with the later ‘Mark 4’ only beginning to lose its original ‘support tank’ role as more of them appeared with a long 75mm gun in place of the original low velocity, short-barrelled original.
Panzer VI F2, with longer-barrelled, 43-calibre 75mm KwK 40
Apart from that, I believe the campaign is the same as the stock ‘Fredericus 1’ Wehrmacht campaign – same maps, same objectives, just different tanks in the player’s platoon.
As usual in Steel Fury, you start with the mission map, but can’t zoom out far enough to see the whole battlefield and must scroll about a bit, to see what’s what. Also as usual, the narrative briefing is structured in a format which may be authentic (for the Soviet side?) but is a bit discursive for someone used to the (to my mind) better-presented NATO format for orders (the British WW2 system was functionally identical). As for the content, you need to look at the map to find out what sort of force you’re operating with, because the briefing doesn’t go much below Regimental level. That’s fine as background but doesn’t tell you much at platoon or company level, which is what you need most, when playing as a platoon commander.
At any rate, I can see that our objective is to attack and clear a series of enemy defensive positions, these being strung out in a rough line, over to my right. Then, we must stave off any Soviet counterattack. We have some pre-programmed artillery support – a mere platoon commander, I have no say in this – and the Luftwaffe is to drop supplies to some friendly forces besieged in the village of Ternovaya, nearby (tho not near enough to see on the map, although I'm told to advance in its general direction after fending off the counter-attack).
You can see the situation a bit more clearly below, with the briefing text suppressed. We are mounting concentric attacks (the blue arrows) on the enemy defensive positions (red markings, specifically the 'dead hedgehog' graphics). My 'blue arrow' is the one coming in from the left.
Historically, this is all part of a series of vicious battles near Kharkov in the Ukraine where a Red Army offensive knocked the Germans back on their heels, until the latter re-instated their own offensive plans and threw back the Soviets after much hard fighting.
Looking at the map to get a better picture of our operation, I could see that my three-tank platoon - though said to be on the right – is on the left of a company-sized mixed (tank-infantry) force. With me are some panzergrenadiers, in SPW armoured half-tracks. Over to our right – rather far away, for mutual support – is another platoon of tanks – Panzer IVs as I will later discoverare and beyond them, some more SPWs. There is no ‘headquarters unit’, which should have been there to represent the company commander and his immediate entourage, who would be on the ground and in command of a group of several platoons like ours. Though long included in the ‘Army lists’ used by wargamers and having an important role in Wargame: European Escalation and the like, many tanksims omit important HQ units, in terms of their physical presence on the battlefield and not really simulating their exercise of command and control during a mission (mission designers can and should try to represent the latter with mission triggers which prompt radio messages like fresh orders, exhortations or excoriations).
To help formulate my platoon plan, I spent a bit of time working out the lie of the land. SF’s maps are quite good but this can be tricky, with few spot heights, a limited zoom-out and no ability (added to Steel Armor Blaze of War in a recent update, but absent from SF) to view the ground in 3 dimensions, before you actually start the mission. I nevertheless noted that the enemy defensive positions seemed to be in a line, with little depth. This suggested we should ‘roll them up’, from left to right, pretty well straight from where we were starting. As to how, my platoon was deployed with an SPW platoon. I well knew how vulnerable the latter usually proved in SF attacks, having a tendency to advance fearlessly when discretion might be the better part of valour. So I decided to keep it simple and work closely with our grenadiers. In the absence of information or instructions on routes and formations in the briefing, I expected that the SPWs would drive directly towards the nearest enemy. So that’s what I would do, trying to keep ahead of them. The ground was fairly open, and in such country, it seemed best for the tanks to lead.
I kicked off the mission and in the map view - whose icons are the main command and control tool, as there are few hotkeys usable from the 3d world – I ordered my tanks into line formation, close order and to ‘Do as I do’. As usual I switched to the gunner’s position, from where (as in most tanksims, presumably for playability’s sake) you can also do some tank commander stuff like select ammo types and give commands to the driver. Ordering an HE round into the breech, I oriented myself in the external view and off we went, uphill but directly towards the enemy’s right flank positions. Looking around, I could see the SPWs deploying and then moving off in the same direction, just behind and to my right.
As usual in SF, our light armour seemed to be in a big hurry and I had to go flat out, to stay ahead of them. This left my two other tanks lagging behind on either side. And there was no time for me to scan ahead from the halt, for possible enemy positions. I’ve come to like and enjoy SF’s stock campaigns, but I do wish the attacking missions were scripted to allow a more tactical advance, with regular halts to observe ahead and time to apply a bit of ‘bounding overwatch’. If you try that in SF, the party could be over by the time you get there. And the lighter armour will likely have rushed ahead and been badly knocked about. With SF attacks, it’s often a bit of a mad charge. This mission was turning out to be no exception: get stuck in, worry about the finer points when it hits the fan. Which it did, soon enough!
...to be continued!
Missions from the movie, in the tanksim!
Melodramatic tank movies are certainly better than no tank movies at all, especially if they make a decent effort at authenticity, amidst the melodrama. So let it be said of 'Fury'. I found it a tad contrived in places, from the awful, gratuitous prisoner shooting scene to the 'falling plate' Germans, whose erratic anti-tank gunners, plentiful but equally erratic panzerfaust operators and even a Tiger tank, fall to the guns of a few Shermans, crewed by our cynical, war-weary but nearly-all-conquering protagonists.
However, 'Fury' wasn't nearly as bad as I had feared, quite a decent war movie in its own right. And as far as tank movies go, 'Fury's now my joint favourite, up there with 'White Tiger', which substitutes a rather compelling weirdness for the melodrama and T-34/85s for the Shermans. Its protagonist had rather less luck with the Tiger in that movie, at one point resorting to an automatic pistol, after his crew failed to notice they'd plugged their main gun's muzzle with mud. Just when it seemed victory against the super-Tiger was within their grasp, too. Dasvidanya, tovaritch.
Anyway, thanks to prolific modder Lockie, Steel Fury now has a developing set of missions based on scenes from the movie - 'Fury', that is, not 'White Tiger'. There are two 'Fury' missions now available, both for the upcoming version 2.0 of the STA mod, which is in test, but available on application over on the STA forum. This mission report covers both of these missions; at time of writing (February 2016) a third one is in preparation. By way of a spoiler alert, if you haven't yet watched the movie but plan on doing so soon, you might want to do that, before reading how the missions play out!
'Fury' mission #1 - 'Ambush!'
The mission puts you in the role of Brad Pitt's character, Staff Sergeant Don 'Wardaddy' Collier, who tells us early on 'I started this war killing Germans in Africa. Then France. Then Belgium. Now I'm killing Germans in Germany.' He must have missed out on the Battle of Kasserine, then. Things aren't that much better in Germany, it seems, because although the war's being won, your tank is the sole suvivor of your company. Your task now is simple enough - drive up the road to a camp, RV with a platoon of M4s, and then move with them to join forces with another tank platoon, before assaulting an enemy-held location.
The mission has one of Lockie's snazzy splash screens and when it loads, there's a video clip from the movie, showing 'Wardaddy's' Sherman arriving in the camp. This mission's production values are not to be sneezed at!
As in the movie, your tank is an M4A3 (76mm) HVSS, often known as the M4A3E8 or 'Easy Eight'. This was a common variant by 1945 and is distinguished from earlier Shermans by the one-piece 47 degree sloped hull front (no frontal protusions for the driver and co-driver hatches); T23 type turret with longer-barrelled 76mm gun, in place of the original 75mm; and different, horizontally-sprung suspension units with wider track. The SF-STA version is nicely-rendered; there's no 3d interior but the externals look great with lots of animations and external stowage, including the unditching beams carried on the left-hand hull side, just like the movie tank. Limitations in the sim mean the 'Fury' tank name is on the right-hand side of the hull, as per the first screenshot in this thread, rather than on the gun tube as in the movie; but the former is a more realistic place for WW2 tank names. The white tactical numbers on the turret RH side are a bit un-American, though, if not distinctly Soviet.
Approaching the camp for the rendez-vous with the other Shermans, you soon see that Lockie's scenery-building has spared neither effort nor livestock.
On the right as you pass into the camp is a firing range...
...and on the left, a PoW cage, some of whose occupants are nervously standing with their hands still in the air. Evidently, these follows still believe all that Dr Goebbels has told them about the proclivities of the dreadful Amis...or perhaps they have just watched that scene in the seen the movie, too.
The PoWs' apparent anxiety is not surpising, perhaps, as the camp is full of GIs, all armed to the teeth, many of them prowling around purposefully, with their weapons in both hands. Moving on, and being careful not to run over any of these heavily-armed people, you can soon see the M4s you came here to join, parked up ahead.
As you reach the Shermans, you're reminded of your next move - changing on-screen messages and optional waypoint indicators keep you well informed, without reverting to your map. Now, it's time to tag along and link up next with Lt Parker's boys, before we put in the next attack.
Having seen the movie, something tells me that it's not going to be quite so simple!
...to be continued!