The Battle of Prokhorovka 1943

This was a large scale 6mm battle fought at Tom P's house during the Christmas holiday of 2023. I am grateful to Tom for the words and pictures.

So, for a break from the Christmas merry go round I set up a two day game based upon the 1st SS Panzer Grenadier division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler’s drive on Prokhorovka on the 11th and 12th June 1943, and the Russian 5th Guards Tank Army counter attack. The game was set up so the German initial assault would be fought on day one and then the Germans would have time to regroup and reform overnight ready to resume their attack on Prokhorovka the next day. The number of players was down because of family commitments so I set the game up so one player played the Divisional Commander and the other three players each took one of the regiments in the division (one armoured and two Panzer Grenadiers). The Russians were controlled by the umpire (me) and run in NPC’s.

On table there were ten Russian defensive positions with random defenders (two of the positions were dummies). The October State Farm and the area in front of Prokhorovka were defended by two regiments of the 9th Airborne Division. The German plan was similar to the original, with the 1st Panzer Regiment (with two Armoured companies detached from the 1st Panzer Grenadiers) forming up on the left and moving through the more open ground with orders to take the first ridge line. The 1st Panzer Grenadiers with the assault gun battalion were ordered to move forward on the right to take the October State Farm. The 2nd Panzer Grenadiers arrived on turn two with orders to move to take hill 242.6 by the October State Farm.

The Germans started slowly as the players worked their way into the game with new rules, getting used to playing as a team, and learning how to co-ordinate their forces to effectively take out the Russian defensive positions. The German forces moved slowly forward and by the end of day, in spite of extensive casualties (mainly from Russian Artillery), they had overrun eight of the Russian prepared positions. The Panzers had crossed the stream but had not yet reached their designated objective (the ridge) The 1st Panzer Grenadiers had reached the anti-tank ditch in front of the October State Farm but were not yet in a position to attack the farm. The 2nd Panzer Grenadiers had advanced slowly behind the other formations but at the end of day had moved an armoured company forward and taken hill 242.6.

The next morning, after regrouping, the Germans began their attack again. The Panzer regiment moved forwards and took its first day objective on the ridge line, only to see the Russians appearing over the other ridge line in front of them. The 1st Panzer Grenadiers began their attack on the Russian airborne units in the October State Farm. They stormed the first two defensive positions but suffered from heavy fire from Russian artillery and the defenders. One company of assault guns and the support company were lost and the 2nd and 3rd Battalions forced to fall back. In the centre the 2nd Panzer Grenadier battalion moved forward and assaulted the last remaining defended position on the ridge line.

At this point the Russian counter attack from the 5th Guards Tank army started with a pre programmed barrage on the ridge line inflicting casualties on the German units holding the crest, forcing one armoured and one Panzer company to retire and one to rout. The remaining German units took position behind the crest line bracing themselves for the flood. In the centre the 31st Tank Brigade had two leaders hit by the barrage and loose extensive casualties from this and fire from German 88mm AA guns, forcing two companies to retire.  On their right flank the 181st Tank Brigade was hit by German artillery - few casualties were caused but the barrage broke up the formation and poor Russian command and control meant that only one armoured company managed to move forward.  The 170th Tank Company quickly deployed and rushed forward to attack the crest but two companies of Panzers fired at close range and forced the Russians to fall back. The 36th Guard Breakthrough Regiment (Churchill Tanks) trundled slowly along behind in support.

At this point we had to call a halt.

The game worked well - the German's superior command and control allowed them to hold their forces together and continue with the attack. On day one the Russians held on tenaciously to their positions and the Germans were unable to make serious ground until the strong points were taken one by one, thereby delaying the attack.

On the other foot the second day's fighting proved that Russian poor command and  control meant that once they came under artillery fire, or suffered poor morale results, they were unable to continue co-ordinating  their attacks and, therefore, could not make their absolute numbers count.