Unless you've been under a rock, you'll know that the Ferdinand / Elefant is one of my favorite German oddball AFVs. I even wrote up the late war list and modeling guide that were published by Battlefront for Flames of War V3. That being said, truly fielding a representative 656th force in V3 using the published lists was difficult - and impractical given the high point cost of the Ferdinand tank destroyer itself. There are a lot of ways to get the unit on the tabletop now in V4 using a combination of Ghost Panzers and Iron Cross lists, and I'll likely be fielding mine as support for a Grenadier list, though with the available command cards, there are a lot of other options.
In this particular article I'll go through the various fun and unique vehicles that comprised the unit and how they can be represented in Flames of War. Fortunately all of them are already available through Battlefront's existing line of miniatures, but many of them could use a little extra detailing to make them better represent the unit as it fought at Kursk.
Let's start with the elephant in the room, the super-heavy backbone of the 656th, the Ferdinand tank destroyer. Battlefront has produced a miniature for this vehicle for over a decade, though it has been remastered and it is now available in a set of two as the Ferdinand Tank-hunter Platoon (GBX127). The biggest change appears to be that the rear portion of the fenders are now molded in with the resin piece rather than being part of the metal tracks, though I'll do a more thorough investigation when I get my set. For now I've been building up some old copies I had lying around waiting for the new book...
Unfortunately, there are a couple of errors in the assembly instructions provided for the miniature as both of the hull top hatches are incorrectly placed (EDIT - these are now updated on the Flames of War website!). The circular hatch is rotated by 90 degrees from where it should be with hinges at 60 degrees and 240 degrees (assuming the front of the vehicle is 0 degrees). The correct placement is 120 degrees and 300 degrees. Also, the rectangular hatches should open front to back rather than side to side as shown in Battlefront's assembly instructions. The correct orientation is shown in pictures of my ready to paint miniatures below
You'll also notice that the Ferdinands above are sporting a re-worked gun mantlet. There is a reason for this! First, the Ferdinand / Elefant is an odd bird even as German vehicles go. Only 90 were produced as Ferdinand, and then only about 45 of those lasted to be reworked as the Elefant. Battlefront makes separate resin components for the different versions, but the tracks and guns are exactly the same. This cuts down on production costs, but unfortunately the gun as provided is only correct for the later Elefant version of the AFV.
|Mantlet detail from Ferdinand Elefant Vol. 2 by Tadeusz Melleman|
The drawing above shows the evolution of the vehicle's 8.8cm gun over time. Initially delivered sans any sort of gun shield, the crews quickly developed their own version before the start of the Kursk offensive. All of the photos I've seen from both units during the actual battle show the earlier style gun shield. I therefore decided to make the correction on my vehicles.
I started by cutting a piece of styrene to the right width. I then scribed a connection point between the two halves. Using a micro punch, I punched the hole into the shield based on the drawings from the Münch books. Once this was done, I snipped the existing gun shield off of the gun barrel itself and rounded it to accept the new one.
Once that is done, I can glue the barrel into place. I added the rib detail on the back of the shield freehand using very thin styrene strip (see photo below). The pieces were larger than needed in the final product to ease handling and were then trimmed to size.
I now have four of these beauties ready to support my Kursk offensive. Peddinghaus decals makes a set for pretty much the whole of Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung 653 that's available now. I've already bought a set and can't wait to start putting them on vehicles. The question is do I go hog wild and do the whole unit???
The 656th had several gun tanks available on loan from 12. Panzer-Division. These were mostly Panzer III variants (10-12 Panzer III L/42, 7 Panzer III L/60, and 3 Panzer III 7.5cm), but there were a few Panzer II tanks (3) available as well. Ghost Panzers has a neat rule allowing you to take "escort tanks" to go with your Ferdinands - though they're limited to the "late 5.0cm" and the "late 7.5cm" versions. Building on the lovely earlier Panzer III plastic kits, Battlefront has released the Panzer III (Late) Tank Platoon (Plastic) (GBX122).
If you go by the instructions for assembly, these will build up the very last versions of the Panzer III gun tank produced - the Ausf M ("late 5.0cm") and the Ausf N ("late 7.5cm"). These both include Schürzen armored plates on the hull sides and turret which started in May 1943. Many of the Panzer III tanks I've seen from photos have these plates present, but many others don't. That being said, if you're modeling a true "end of the production run" Panzer III, there is another expedient Battlefront has made that is incorrect for this version of the tank. By this point, the side hull escape hatches had been deleted. If you want a correct late production track run, the StuG (Late) Assault Gun Platoon (Plastic) (GBX123) box contains the correct track assemblies.
Given a lot of Panzer III tanks were rebuilt, it's likely that specific unicorns with a mix of features are present. Also, since the Schürzen cover up that area anyway, I'm not bothering to change them on my initial run of tanks. If I ever decide to make a version missing a few plates, I may mix and match tracks between the kits.
The 656th was also provided with support from PanzerKompanie (Funklenk) 313 and 314. These units fielded the Borgward demolition carrier which was directed by radio control to its target by an operator in the Stug III. Photos of these vehicles are rare, and I've so far only found one photo of a StuG definitely from the Funklenk unit, and it is so heavily camouflaged that it is hard to tell much about the specific model, though that one does not appear to have Schürzen. That being said, there are plenty of other pictures of StuGs at Kursk, and many appear to be the early Ausf G. type with bolted front armor.
As I mentioned, the Battlefront plastic kit is very nice, but unfortunately it doesn't include a bolted front plate, so I made one myself. The plate itself is just thin styrene sheet, and then I punched rivets out using a very small punch set.
One interesting thing I discovered was that the rivet pattern is not even and it is not symmetrical top to bottom. I assume this has to do with the locations of internal components, but I haven't been able to glean the reasoning from my references, yet. I'm planning on doing up about four of these as well to support my force.
At this point, I'm just building the Borgward Demolition Carriers (GE611) out of the box. They're nice little kits, although again I'm dealing with new old stock. I only had one blister of four, and I'd like at least eight, so I've got a new box on order.
More commonly known by the Allied intellengence name Brummbär, the Sturmpanzer IV also made its combat debut at Kursk. Once again, I'm building these out of the box as I had several blisters lying about. Battlefront now sells the miniature in pairs as the Brummbär Assault Tank Platoon (GBX128). Be aware, these have the old style e Schürzen with the individual brackets. Be very careful separating the brackets from the sprue! A sharp hobby knife and cutting mat are your friends here!
Jentz, T. L., & Doyle, H. L. (2009). Panzer Tracts No.3-3 - Panzerkampfwagen III Ausf. J, L, M, and N. Boyds, MD: Panzer Tracts.
Melleman, T. (2004). Ferdinand Elefant Vol. I. Gdańsk, Poland: AJ Press.
Melleman, T. (2005). Ferdinand Elefant Vol. 2. Gdańsk, Poland: AJ Press.
Münch, K. (1997). Combat History of Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung 653. Winnipeg: J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing Inc.
Münch, K. (2001). The Combat History of Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung 654. Winnipeg: J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing Inc.
Restayn, J. &. (2006). Operation "Citadel" : A Text and Photo Album, Volume 2: The North. Winnipeg: J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing Inc.
Spielberger, W. J. (1993). Panzer III & Its Variants. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Pub Ltd.
Spielberger, W. J. (1993). Sturmgeschutz & Its Variants. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.