After a long hiatus from the world of Il-2 and RoF, the announcement of Tank Crew has me extremely excited indeed. The concept of multicrew tanks has been my dream for sometime and every game I have played has so far come short of it. Steel Armor is single player, Steel Beasts is too friggin' expensive and WWII Online is paid on a per month basis. The promise of Eastern Front adventures in Tank Crew makes me very happy!
Prompted by the questions some people had about the vehicles of Kursk, I thought I'd post up some background and info on what people might expect from the history and my comments on what recreating that might entail for the game.
A bit of history
Operation Zitadelle, being the German component of the battle of Kursk - although many regard the operation's failure and cancellation as the end of the battle, there's a pretty good argument to be made that the subsequent Soviet counter-offensive (Operation Kutuzov), also falls under the heading of the battle of Kursk - was the final major German offensive in the East. Afterwards, the strategic initiative was constantly in the hands of the Soviets - who would begin a more or less constant advance that would end in Berlin in 1945.
Popularly, Kursk is the largest tank battle ever fought. In recent years however this claim has come under attack, notably in discussing the actions of 1941 around Brody and Dubno.
Kursk represents a significant swing of the pendulum in terms of the relative technical capabilities of the two sides with the large scale deployment of the Tiger, Panther and Ferdinand. Prior to Kursk the relative strength of armoured forces on a technical level might be regarded as relatively equal. The T-34 and Panzer IV were relatively equal, with the Panzer IV with the long barrelled gun being somewhat superior, this in turn was balanced out by the heavily armoured KV-1.
With the arrival of the Panthers and Tigers however, this balance swung in favour of the Germans, although things hardly went all their way. The Panther in particular suffered from significant mechanical problems that plagued it all through the course of the battle. Its crews were under trained and had detrained in preparation for the offensive only a day before the offensive was to take place. Such was the rush that the guns hadn't been boresighted (i.e. zeroed to their gun sights, like gun convergences on aircraft). On the march to the front, a fifth of the Panthers (of 200) broke down and two destroyed by engine fires.
Hardly a promising start. I sincerely hope the poor performance and preparation of Panthers in Tank Crew is modelled in some way.
Zitadelle itself began on July 5th, proceeded by fifteen minutes by a Soviet spoiling barrage which whilst disturbing appears to have done little damage. Two main German thrusts struck at the base of the Kursk salient, intended to take Kursk and in doing so cut off the Soviet formations holding the salient, creating an encirclement like the ones Germany had performed so successfully in 1941.
Given that we appear to be promised a Belgorod - Prokhorovka map, the majority of the Southern thrust, under taken by the II. SS and III. Panzer Corps will be available for us to work with. These two formations consisted of some of the most well-equipped formations in the Wehrmacht - notably the famous 1. SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, the 2. SS Das Reich and the 3. Totenkopf divisions, as well as the 6. 7. and 19. Panzer Divisions, supported by the 503. Heavy Panzer Battalion (equipped with a lot of Tigers!) and other formations. At the edge of the map, the advance of the Grossdeutschland division adds yet more vehicles, including Tigers, to the fray.
Problems in the handling of commanders hindered German progress. Instead of an overall commander for the southern attack, there were two, one for each of the corps involved. Thus whilst II. SS Panzer Corps fought the 5th Guards Tank Army, the III. fought its own "operationally pointless" battle.
There are a few vehicles notable by their absence in the German lineup. The Ferdinand (the SDKFZ 184), appears to only served on the North thrust, as far as I have been able to find.
The advance was marked by extremely heavy fighting. The Soviets, knowing well that this was to be the main German offensive for that year (for once they got both the time and the location right, they screwed up both in 41, got the location wrong in 42) had intended to prepare three defensive lines, however only two were prepared by the time Zitadelle began with the third only partially complete. The first line resisted ferociously, with some fortified villages holding out despite being surrounded. The offensive gradually fell behind schedule. Soviet handling of their armour was a mixed bag. For example, one company of lend-lease M3 Lees (reputedly called by their Soviet crews "grave for seven brothers", went on the attack against a kampfgruppe of Das Reich and was destroyed in half an hour. One gets the strong impression from the fighting at this stage of the battle that it was Soviet anti-tank guns and not their armour which did the lion's share of the work at slowing the Germans down.
Matters were made worse for the German advance by poor reconnaissance, which led to units (including the unfortunate formation of Panthers discussed above) being stopped at ravines (Balkas in Russia) to be pounded by Soviet artillery. The entire Grossdeutschland division was halted by a muddy swamp (which they should've been prepared for) stretched directly in the path of their advance.
Originally, Prokhorovka was not the primary objective for the German advance. However the slow advance of the Germans necessitated a change of plan.
Soviet armoured counter-attacks, given the need to halt the German advance, were often made piece-meal, with one formation going on the attack whilst others nearby were still forming up. The sizes of these formations varied, with a unit of twelve Churchills advancing against an SS Panzer division to support its infantry units, whilst other counterattacks were done at the corps level. Often times these formations became separated from their infantry units and then were cut off. I'm honestly not sure what winning in Tank Crew will look like given such conditions!
The clash at Prokhorovka is the one everyone's been waiting for. Beginning on the 12th of July, by now the German armoured spearhead had been ground down to about 400 tanks of all types. These were opposed by the 800 tanks of the 5th Guards Tank Army. This clash has been much mythologised by tank nerds and the Soviets alike, with reports of up to 2000 tanks (the numbers just kept growing) clashing in that engagement. The real numbers are closer to a rather less exciting 500. The origin of these numbers comes primarily from the 5th Guards Tank Army's commander, Rotmistrov, who wished to cover up the fact that in the course of the fighting he'd lost the better part of his Tank Army. Eventually the Stavka (i.e. the Soviet High Command) got to the bottom of these numbers and Stalin wanted to have Rotmistrov shot, although he was eventually dissuaded from this. Rotmistrov would later on be relieved of his command for another failure and promoted to a new position to get him away from the front and prevent his image being tarnished. Valeriy Zamulin's excellent book"Demolishing the Myth" provides more details on this then I could hope to discuss.
Poor reconnaissance, inadequate artillery preparation and the fact that 40% of the 5th GTA was made up of T-70s (and therefore useless against Tigers) were responsible for this defeat. Nonetheless, the German plan for Zitadelle had long since fallen so far behind schedule that a breakthrough and encirclement had become impossible. This was compounded by the Allied landings in Sicily which resulted in the cancellation of Zitadelle (there are long tedious arguments about which contributed more to the cancellation - they usually revolve around whether one or the other side believes the Soviets could've won the war on their own).
Despite the Germans cancelling Zitadelle, the Soviets didn't get the memo, with large scale counter-offensives beginning up and down the line as part of operation Kutuzov. This began a long, though not unbroken, train of Soviet offensives that would culminate in the capture of Berlin.
The war was probably lost at Moscow (or at Stalingrad if you're feeling old-fashioned), but Kursk irrevocably placed strategic initiative in the hands of the Soviets.
There's a lot we don't know about Tank Crew at this stage. At this point the only really concrete info is the list of tanks and even that is a tentative. Some of those appearing on the list are surprising. On the Soviet side, the M4A2 I have yet to find a mention of on the Southern Front. There were none in the 5th Guards Tank Army and I have yet to see a mention of it anywhere else. The Soviets received M4A2s to be sure, at least later in the war, but I have found no mention of them being present at Kursk.
There are a host of more deserving lend-lease vehicles, including the Churchill IV (the standard heavy tank in the 5th Guards Tank Army), the Matilda II, M3 Stuart and M3 Lee (although the latter three, if not the Churchill itself would be like taking the I-15 up against a 262). Given their opposition in 1943, one can understand why the Soviets were unimpressed by these lend-lease vehicles. Indeed, the only one of these the Soviets liked was the (later) Valentine Mk.IX, whose 57mm gun could give even a Tiger a bad day.
Notable by its absence from the list is the T-70. A two man light tank with a rather ineffective 45mm gun, it would be about as much fun to play as any of the lend-lease vehicles discussed above (with the possible exception of the Lee), but it made up about a third of most Soviet armoured formations in the battle.
Playing the Soviet side is going to be... interesting. Their heavy self-propelled guns (the SU-122 and SU-152) with their large calibre guns could give any German tank a very bad day. Otherwise, the Soviets will have to use ravines, woods and whatever else is available to them to get flanking shots for their turreted vehicles. Its not going to be a very fun experience for anyone who wishes to charge head on like they do in the movies.
The big names for the Germans are of course the Panther, Tiger and Ferdinand. From the front, these vehicles will be all but impervious Soviet gunfire. To hope to dent these vehicles the Soviets will have to get suicidally close. Their heavy guns will meanwhile give any Soviet vehicle an extremely bad day, no matter their type. (unless you're Panther, in which case you'd better hope your gun's been boresighted or you ain't hitting anything!) The Panzer IV with its long barrelled gun will be the equal of most Soviet vehicles, its superior crew layout and (apparently - there's always an argument about this one) optics will give it an edge over its closest analogue the T-34. Only the Panzer III, despite being the most numerous tank of all, is at something of a disadvantage, with its 50mm gun having trouble against the KV and even the T-34. Its extra armour will give it an advantage however.
Given the apparently heavy imbalance between the two sides, 777 is going to have be clever with making sure both sides have a fun game. The most critical thing to remember from the above history is that Kursk isn't all tanks. Infantry, anti-tank guns and mines had a significant impact upon the performance of the units involved. To not include all these elements would be a significant oversight. More than likely the lack of these elements would have severe implications for the balancing of the game - with German armour effectively ruling the roost with no ability for the Soviets to break up German advances.
Terrain will also have a critical impact. The date is important here. As we saw above, whole units got bogged down in mud (that they'd not recced!) from recent rains. Will these marshy areas be part of the game? Rivers and bridging (however that maybe handled) will also be important, with the crossing of the Psel river south of Prokhorovka being the opening of the Prokhorovka engagement itself. Many Soviet armoured units dug in their vehicles during the battle as well, driving them out when their position was compromised. Some way of doing this may also be worthwhile. From where I sit, the Soviets need all the help they can get on this one!
Its worth remembering as well that the Soviet mission here is primarily a defensive one, with counterattacks taking place that were aimed at preventing the Germans from advancing and breaking up their attacks. Retaking villages was naturally important, but a Red army that is constantly on the attack is likely to have a bad day given the imbalance of firepower. Mission designers must be extremely clever in how they structure their missions. The current system, where both sides of objects in enemy territory likely wouldn't hold up, with the Germans easily able to complete their objectives whilst the Soviets, spread out trying to attack and defend multiple objectives, would very likely achieve very little.
Forcing the Germans to support AI formations which are on the attack (as the Soviets support their defending units) and giving AT weapons teeth (a 76mm AT shell to the flank give any German vehicle a bad day) would help in this regard. The potential for tank commanders to be sniped by infantry if they unbutton (this is a 777 product so I take it as given that we'll have no cruddy 3rd person view to spoil proper tank warfare).
That's all from me, I hope some found this rather too long essay useful and perhaps illuminated what we'll be getting come mid 2018. This is all written by one guy so give me a shout about any factual errors and I'll consult my sources and correct them.
The Battle of Kursk by David M. Glantz and Jonathon M. House.
Demolishing the Myth by Valeriy Zamulin
Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front 1943 - 1945: Red Steamroller by Robert Forczyk