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2mm Kursk (1943): How to Stage an Epic Battle?

Updated: Oct 22, 2023



Operation Citadel was Hitler's last major assault on the Eastern Front, concentrating 800,000 men, 3,000 tanks, 10,000 guns, and 2,000 planes in a bid to destroy the Kursk salient. The only problem was the fact that the Soviets had been aware of the plan for two months beforehand, constructing huge defensive positions, and outnumbering the Germans 2:1 in men and artillery, and 3:2 in tanks, besides 30% aerial superiority.


Having clocked 3rd Kharkov, Goodwood, Battle of the Bulge, Stalingrad and Falaise Pocket already, Kursk had been on my 2mm bucket list for some time before I hosted it at the club yesterday. Who could resist the prospect of a massive tank encounter in a convenient scale, after all?



Kursk is usually billed as the 'largest tank battle in history', owing to the Battle of Prokhorovka fought on 12 July. In fact, Prokhorovka involved just 600 Soviet vs. 300 German tanks, and was unrepresentative of Kursk as a whole. While using lots of tank models, I decided to refight the operational minefield breakthrough attempt instead.



Objectives and Rules



Mal and Patrick were on the Soviet side, whereas Theo and Doug were the Germans.



The Germans had 2:1 local superiority, held the initiative for three turns, and the Soviets had half their total forces off table until turn four.



The aim of the game, using my Panzerleiter rules, was for the Germans to decide where to concentrate and deploy along the minefield edge behind the screen for best effect.



They had to break through and capture Kursk, or inflict more casualties. The Soviets had to stop them and retain Kursk.



I devised special rules for moving through or clearing minefields, allocating three strips of previously cleared pathways to the Germans.



Deployments



Mal decided to concentrate his Soviet defences on the outer bulge (central section), denuding his right flank, and placing most of his tanks on the left flank. He manned the six barricades allotted him but left the minefield blockhouses empty.



Doug and Theo decided, unfortunately, also to focus on the central section, where they placed their three cleared pathways, and concentrated the majority of their tanks and infantry - led by Doug. Theo controlled most of the artillery to Doug's right, in addition to the air fleet.



The Game



Air attacks and artillery dominated much of the game, with the Red Air Force and Luftwaffe trading blows against opposing positions, albeit each side was limited to six sorties per turn unless they played a special card.



Theo began additional mine-clearing with his infantry, but otherwise directed the German artillery and aircraft, not always against the opposition directly facing Doug.



Doug's tanks and panzer grenadiers were attacking in wedges on a narrow front, but did become congested moving in long columns through the minefields. They did look great in their serried ranks however.



Mal was on good form defensively, having manned the front line with infantry, with artillery further back, and a reserve of T-34s at hand.



Patrick's positions took some damage from Theo's artillery, but he managed to move the mass of tanks on the Soviet left up to the front to intercept Doug's emerging panzers.



In the end, the game went well enough, with the Germans managing to break out of the minefields, although Kursk was not captured, and they took heavier casualties than the Soviets.



With only four players and under three hours of play, we only got through three turns, probably not helped by the amount of units on the table. We finished around 11pm, with some players seemingly wanting to carry on.


Unconsciously we had refought Kursk and got the same result, even though the German players had attempted a concentrated assault on the 'bulge' rather the flanks, just where Mal was waiting for them.



Epic Scale, Fine Tuning



As a spectacle 2mm figures offer the look of a massed battle with the convenience of transport in small boxes. There is however a balance to be struck between the satisfying appearance of large numbers of tanks, for instance, and the need to populate the table with a manageable number of units. One solution is to have a movement tray of suitable models depict one 'unit', as opposed to each base representing one unit.



With 2mm, the scale of warfare is actually operational rather than tactical. It is not the individual tank, but the panzer division (however you choose to represent it) which is the manoeuvre formation. Rules must therefore be simplified and stylised, while retaining the feel of the period. Yet the number, organisation and quality of units can change depending on the requirements of the wargame at hand.



An alternative to maintaining balance between aesthetics and practicality is to simplify combat to save time (for example, by eliminating saving throws or reducing numbers of dice thrown) but this risks reducing a game to its bare-bones. By allowing players to deploy closer together, or stipulating fixed movement distances, more game-play can be squeezed from the time available, allowing for more decisive games.



As with any scale, there is an optimum benefit derived from finding a golden mean of a certain number of players commanding a set number of units - fewer or more of either tends to slow the game down, or lead to compromises in optics (number of figures) or playability (rule complexity). Of course, some players are slower than others, and this also needs to be taken into consideration.



While a huge 2mm battle is feasible, the problem on a War Room sized table with this scale would be the difficulty of identifying units visually at greater distances. Friday's game showed that the size of table (6 x 8 feet), the visual effect, and the rules were right, but more players (six max), more time or fewer units were called for. Still, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves!


Historically, the Soviets not only stopped the German offensive, but quickly counter-attacked against their flanks, setting the stage for the eventual destruction of Army Group Centre the following summer.

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