The Second Kharkov Campaign — A Pair of Pint Sized Campaigns for Chain of Command. A Campaign for What a Tanker by Chris Stoesen

Published by the author, June 2019. 107 A4 or American Letter-sized pages. Several colour photos of terrain, figures and table layouts. Two one page advertisements. No Appendices. ISBN 978-1075419058. Available as a paperback from Amazon or as a PDF from PayHip or Wargame Vault The paperback currently retails for $11.25 plus p&p. The PDF is $9.25 from the first location or $10.50 from Wargame Vault.

This is a pair of campaigns designed for Too Fat Lardies’ rules Chain of Command (CoC). Additionally there is a skeleton outline of a campaign for the same company’s What a Tanker! rules (WAT). The campaigns are set during the Second Battle for Kharkov during May 1942, when the Red Army attempted to jump off from salients over the Donets River with the aim of encircling the major city of Kharkov, captured during the autumn of the previous year (and around which Chris has written another similar campaign book). CoC is a set of rules for platoon-sized actions where models represent individual soldiers, weapons and vehicles. A copy of the rules is essential to gain full benefit from this supplement. Furthermore a copy of Too Fat Lardies’ At the Sharp End and Blitzkrieg 1940 supplements would be useful. The content of Chris’ book could be adapted relatively easily to other rulesets — most obviously Bolt Action but also any other sets at the same level of representation, including those written by wargamers themselves. To offer some context to the review, I have played several dozen Chain of Command games and enjoy the rules. I have not played any campaigns with the rules and have not seen any other campaign supplements.

The structure of the book is straightforward, consisting of an introduction to the historical campaign followed by the two campaigns themselves. Necessarily, given the disjunct between the historical campaign (one involving several corps/divisions on each side) and the level of representation of the rules, the two campaigns are very much snapshots of a very small part of the overall action, namely the advance on 12 May of the Red Army’s 226th Rifle Division and 36th Tank Brigade and the counterattack by 3rd Panzer Division against those Red Army units over 13-16 May.

The historical introduction is a fairly brief outline of the situation facing the German and Red Armies in the Kharkov area at the time. There is a run down of the strength and equipment of the opposing forces and their respective plans. This is high level material and serves as background, informing the nature of the men and equipment which will be available to the opposing players in the wargaming campaigns. The introduction finishes with some very brief (but handy) terrain notes and a bibliography.

The campaigns themselves are each structured as seven, platoon-sized actions across tables which are taken from contemporary maps and which represent the ground fought over, or something quite close to that. Each game may be played up to three times and campaign victory points awarded according to how quickly the attacker (Soviets in the first campaign, Germans in the second) can achieve a win – three points for achieving a victory in the first game, two for needing two bites at a scenario, one for three. So a campaign could provide material for up to 21 games if each scenario is played three times. The rules covering each scenario are largely unmodified from the standard CoC rules and each scenario is (generally) one of the types contained at the back of the rules themselves (Probe, Attack/Defence etc.) The campaign’s victor is determined by the number of campaign victory points accrued.

The troops to be used in each scenario are drawn from a list provided for each campaign. Those lists are fairly standard for the types of platoon to be represented. Support lists are tailored to the likely support available during the historical campaign, with its location within the TO&E determining whether it is available. So, assets from within the company are more likely to be available than those only available within the regiment or brigade or division. Each scenario has a colour map associated with it and a photograph of the table, as created using the author’s terrain. Chris has done a fine job of recreating the terrain from maps available online and provided embedded links to those maps. There are also a few ‘eye-candy’ shots of figures and terrain.

In short there is sufficient information to play the games under the proposed rules immediately and under other rules with a little work. Few of the scenarios are very unusual or stray from the standard Chain of Command missions but the inclusion of some which use a Tank platoon, rather than an infantry platoon, as the base force is interesting. Furthermore, for the Soviets, those tanks will often be Lend-Lease Matildas or Valentines or Soviet T60s, which makes a nice change from the more usual T34s and KVs. As far as equipment goes it all appears to be fairly accurate although I did baulk at the proposed early model Panzer IVs armed with 50mm guns. BT2s making an appearance seemed a little odd too. Certainly there were a few around but their inclusion whilst the BT5 is absent (and the BT7 present) seemed to be the wrong way around.

I did find it disappointing that the interplay between the scenarios within each campaign was limited. For me the attraction of a campaign centres on managing a limited force over a period longer than a single battle and, particularly in the first campaign, that is little in evidence here. For each game, even the second and third time playing of the same scenario, it is frequently the case that each side starts afresh with a new platoon. Furthermore it seems at least possible that a poor early showing by one side will make the campaign unwinnable before all the scenarios are completed (because of an excessive number of victory points accrued).

Personally I feel that this could have been addressed by allowing the attacker a number of ‘games’ to achieve a victory in the last scenario (otherwise he loses) rather than the earning of victory points. Once the attacker has won a scenario he would move on to the next and would be permitted ten or twelve games in total to reach (and win) the seventh scenario. Furthermore, I feel this could be enhanced by allowing the attacker a company of troops (possibly a battalion for the Soviets in the first campaign) from which he selects a single platoon to fight each battle, rather than permitting the selection of another new platoon. This would introduce a force management aspect to the campaign. However, this is a personal opinion and it may be that the near constant refresh of available troops is a feature of other published Chain of Command campaigns.

I’ll comment only briefly on the WAT campaign as its presentation feels very much to be a bonus ‘add on’. As presented, it requires an umpire and is very much an outline of how a campaign might be run. It pits a German tank company against two Soviet ones with hidden movement moderated by the use of PowerPoint over one of the contemporary maps available online. It looks interesting enough but is nowhere near as detailed as the other campaigns in the book.

In terms of presentation I feel the book is under par. The transliteration of Cyrillic is inconsistent, there are several spelling mistakes and typos and the writing is sometimes ‘clunky’ — in particular plural verbs follow their singular subjects. There is no ‘house-style’ for numerals or unit designations and there are one or two incorrect names (Kliest for Kleist, Glanz for Glantz). The book is a little repetitive and, in particular, sections in the introductions for the two campaigns are reproduced verbatim. There appears to be a ‘fossil’ from Chris’ earlier Kharkov campaign book in the description of the arsenal table as listing equipment available during 1941 (the campaigns in this book taking place in 1942). None of this is critical or completely prevents understanding. For me, however, it was distracting and did detract from my enjoyment of the book.

Overall, I am not convinced there’s anything particularly innovative about the game or campaign mechanisms and feel that the latter, in particular, could be improved. A significant let down for me was the book’s presentation (e.g. the centre of much of the action is a town called Nepokrytaya – its spelling changes at least four times over the course of the book) – such might not be others’ experience. Tighter editing, spell checking and a thorough proofreading would have significantly improved the book’s impact. However, this remains a sound product presenting two playable campaigns (the second being more of a campaign to my eyes) for a popular ruleset, with enough information to make it adaptable to other sets of rules. The embedded links are useful and much work has gone into associating the action with the relevant geography (a tiresome task in my own experience) resulting in some very attractive table layouts which are nicely reproduced here. Chris’ research is evident, and welcome, in framing the matériel available in the campaigns and I thank him for the opportunity to review the book.

Review by Andrew Rolph, SOTCW Editor.

Sharing is caring!

1 thought on “The Second Kharkov Campaign — A Pair of Pint Sized Campaigns for Chain of Command. A Campaign for What a Tanker by Chris Stoesen

  1. Thanks Andrew.

    While I have a book on Kharkov 42 (Glatz iirc) a wargaming treatment is welcome too, and I’ll be sure to look this up.

    It’ll make a change from the Kiev Special Military District in June/ July 1941…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *