Jagdtigers in the West – A Steel Panthers AAR
Steel Panthers AAR – Jagdtigers in the West. PC Game After Action Review. Publisher: Shrapnel Games. Developer: Camo Workshop. $39.95
Steel Panthers is one of my favorite games of all time. Created by Gary Grigsby in 1995, it is still considered by many wargamers to be one of the finest turn-based tactical wargames of all time. What some gamers may not be aware of is that as SSI was closing its doors, it released Steel Panther’s source code to the public with the caveat that the game engine be made free. Two companies took on the challenge, and to this day both Matrix Games and Shrapnel Games host free downloads of Steel Panthers. Why? Because they are some of the keepers of the flame for computer-based wargaming. And they sell new content for the game engine – scenarios and campaigns.
Today I am taking a look at Shrapnel Games’ version of Steel Panthers, Win Steel Panthers World War 2. I am playing the game on a Windows 7 64-bit system and it plays flawlessly. Gamers familiar with the original Steel Panthers will immediately feel right at home. The graphics haven’t changed much since 1995, but that’s not the point. The point is I’m still playing Steel Panthers in 2011 and I’m loving it!
Browsing through the list of scenarios I ran across a late war (April 1945) scenario with some of my favorite German armor, the Jagdtiger. The downside to the Jagdtiger was it came too late to have any strategic impact on the war. But tactically speaking its enormous 128mm gun and massive armor made it almost indestructible. The downside was that German production was unable to field a power plant to properly move the behemoth, and the Jagdtiger was burdened with the same Maybach engine that the King Tiger used. Needless to say, the mechanical reliability of the Jagdtiger was questionable at best.
The selected scenario is titled Jadgtigers in the west, and pits a defending German force against an attacking French force near Klingenberg, Germany. During the actual engagement one Jagtiger was destroyed by French forces and a second was scuttled by the Germans due to mechanical issues. We’ll see if I can match those losses. Oh and to make things interesting, I am advised that my Jadgtigers are low on ammo.
With that news, I start the game.
The first thing I notice about the map is that it’s a straight East-West layout with the French attacking from the West. My forces are dug in fairly well, but they are all Volks Grenadier, which isn’t very inspiring. I am reminded that, historically speaking, Germany is about a month away from surrender, that this scenario is really a lost cause, and that it’s actually rather silly that the Germans are even attempting to put up a fight. I chose this scenario for the tanks but the only starting armor I have are two Hetzers and a beat up Panzer. The Jagdtigers will arrive as reinforcements later.
Putting aside the woeful quality of troops, the defensive positions aren’t too bad. They are dug in and placed in what I’d call a modified reverse-slope. There are no hills to hide behind so this isn’t a true reverse-slope, but they are positioned in a way that shelters them from too much fire. The attacking French troops will have the benefit of cover, but my units won’t be visible to every attacker due to that same cover. It’s not perfect, but I can live with it.
Since this is a defensive scenario, I look my troops over to get familiar with them, then end the turn. The French will be walking into my guns.
Oh, man. The French Turn 1 reminded me of the absolute air superiority enjoyed by the Allies by this stage of the war. I was slammed by so many air attacks that I lost count. At least two P-51s, A P-47D, An unidentified strafing green plane, and at least three B-25 Mitchells hit me. But with that bad news came some good news – my three Jagdtigers have arrived. I order them East.
The rest of the turn is spent unsuccessfully rallying my troops. Who can blame them? That was an impressive attack and the French haven’t even shown up. The morale of affected units is bad with a couple of unit having a suppression level of 54. If I remember right 99 is when they break and melt away, and every successful rally attempt halves the suppression. These Volks Grenadier are going to be fleeing the map in droves, I can already tell.
I tire of manually rallying everyone and elect to end the turn and let the computer do it for me.
Turn 3 and the French have already taken a couple of objectives. My troops have taken a jeep under fire, but I can see a long line of Shermans headed down the road. I count ten. They are headed toward some buildings held by infantry. Normally I’d be happy with that situation, but these are weak troops and unlikely to have the nerve to assault an armored vehicle. My Hetzer probably doesn’t have Line of Sight (LOS) to any of them, so my next choice is to try and bring up the Jagdtigers. I’d like to keep my Hetzers dug in for as long as possible.
My next problem is a Jeep parked right in front of my 75mm anti-tank gun. It’s got a .30 caliber MG on it, so I don’t want it to shoot up my gun crew. None of the infantry close by can see it, but I have a sniper two hexes behind the AT gun and I bring him up. I get lucky – one shot takes out the jeep. Now let’s put that AT gun to work and let those Shermans have it.
Well, there’s good news and bad news. As I suspected, the burning Jeep has obscured my LOS to the tank column. But that’s also good because now I’m protected from their massed fire and there are lines of sight to specific hexes that should make them good killing ground when the tanks roll into them. I’m not expecting that AT gun to win this battle by itself, but if it can take out a few tanks before it goes I will be pleased. There’s not much more to do, so I end the turn.
For their part the French called in some smoke and advanced a bit. We took another Jeep under fire with an MG, but to little effect. The initiative passes to me, but lacking the appropriate weapon to match the appropriate target (infantry won’t do well firing at an M8 from range) I pass the turn again. The good news is that this scenario is only 14 turns long. We’re a third of the way there.
Next turn I find my Volks Grenadier want to fire at the M8 anyway, to little effect. So on my turn I keep the fire coming and succeed only in getting that squad suppressed. I then bring up my Panzer and take a Sherman under fire, to no effect. Last thing to do is check my Jagdtigers. Oh, and I need to see if I have any artillery on call. It’s unlikely, but possible. A quick check confirms it – no artillery.
Turn 6 is no fun. Not as much air cover, but a P-47 rocket attack destroyed a Hetzer. It’s also clear that the French are going to try to punch through the middle so I start figuring out how to positing my Jagdtigers to take advantage of this. They’re north of the Shermans so getting a flank should be fairly easy as they begin to approach. My Panzer then takes its Sherman under fire and gets a couple of good flank shots, but they bounce off. Hopefully I’ve at least rattled the crew. With that I end the turn and hope there are no more air attacks.
A couple of more air attacks but they succeed only in hitting an MG nest. Since I have very little infantry to shoot at at the moment, this is a good thing. My Panzer takes a lot of fire, but no suffers physical damage. The crew has a suppression level of seven, which isn’t good, but if I can rally them I think I can get off a couple of shots and even take out a tank. I rally them to three, which will have to do. I fire twice, and twice the round shatters off the front armor of the Sherman. With that I pull behind some trees and get into cover. They bounce several rounds off the Panzer to no effect, but the suppression is back to seven, and there are more Shermans appearing. Now I’m just hoping to take some out with my Jagdtigers. But they have to come to me. I’m waiting up the road. We’ll see if they take the bait. I end the turn.
Skipping ahead a couple of turns, I’ve managed to hold the French with very few casualties. Last turn, however my Jagdtigers took a good bite out of some Shermans. Some air power buzzed me but to no serious effect. There is no way I’m rolling back the French advance, but at least I think I’ll hold them to the gains they have so far. And this turn I get some reinforcements: an SdKfz 234 and a captured Soviet T-34! How cool is that?
Dang it. I’ve gotten greedy. I tried to move my Hetzer up to the bend in the road to kill some Shermans and ended up getting immobilized with my gun completely askew. Well, at least it’s not a Jagdtiger.
I end the turn.
Check back with Armchair General as the conclusion to this AAR is published next week.