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Commanders, a wargame digest


The reading table

Gettysburg by Sears

Essential and easy reading for the wargamer interested in Gettysburg.

Gettysburg - Stephen W. Sears, published Mariner Books.

I recently picked this up because I am all very ‘Gettysburg’ at the moment. It has a very readable narrative of the battle, discussing things at a level that the wargamer enjoys and giving insight to how action really unfolded and was prosecuted.

It is a fest of incidents and information and even the brief sections that I have browsed leaves you wondering whether your rules of choice could do what is being described and on the flip side of that, it helps make sense of some design decisions that are in rules.

It also helps visualise what all those double ‘1’s or double ’6’s on the dice roll represent in their abstract way ...... ‘As his brigade wavered, Colonel Perrin rode out ahead of the line and redirected the assault more towards the Union Flank. He had detected a gap in the Union line - some 50 yards, between Chapman Biddle’s left-hand regiment, the 121st Pennsylvania, and Colonel Gamble’s flank guard of cavalrymen - and drove straight for it. Perrin himself led the charge. “Filled with admiration for such courage as defied the whole fire of the enemy,” wrote J.F.J. Caldwell of the 1st South Carolina,  ‘...the brigade followed, with a shout that was itself half of the victory.” Page 218

Arnhem by Beevor

This is his latest title and is well told in his easy read, but factual and detailed style that knits the story of the overall campaign at the senior command level, right down the many stories and experiences of the individual soldiers and the citizens of the local populations.

I do like the way that at various points in the book, he adds personal opinion such as ‘no doubt this was the right course of action’, which helps shape the way that the reader views the various capabilities and character of the commanders from a position of hindsight.

The first 70 pages of the book looks at the various planning stages and gives some insight into the personalities of the senior Allied Commanders, which frankly is often unflattering and then the account of the campaign that brings together four distinct aspects, the desparate struggle in the various paratrooper battles, the drive of XXX Corps to reach the bridges, failures at the planning / command level and both the bravery and the missery suffered by the local populations.

The individual stories show the best and worst of people and the whole read is a thought provoking exercise, from a pen that does this sort of thing so well.  I was left feeling very much more informed, but also somewhat dismayed by war itself. He does a good job at making this emmotional connection with the facts of matter.

Panzer Killers

I had enjoyed T-34 In Action by Artem Drabkin so much, that his name on this title made it a 'must buy'. Basically the books are formed from interviews of veterans and give a real insight into the reality of battle, the soldiers lives and the effectiveness of the equipment that they had to work with.

The opening pages give a brief history of the development of anti-tank capacity both in terms of the equipment and the organisation of units. The chapter also includes aspects of armour penetration and how various shell types work. It is informative in its own right, but looks like it was included to set the scene for the personal accounts that follow.

As you go through the accounts, you get fantastic insight in to the nature of the real world of the Soviet soldier and every page has something new that 'puts you there'. The interviews feel like the soldiers have been allowed to tell the story in their own words and the style carries a sort of 'we fight as comrades and will die for the Motherland' heroic type tone, but the accounts themselves feel realistic and honest.

There are just so many things covered that a few paragraphs here does not do the book justice, but personal experiences such as when  a gun shield on the front of a 45mm anti-tank gun was raised to aid movement in the snow  allowing enemy bullets to get under the anti-tank gun and wound the crew in their feet, gives insight into equipment working in action - I had often wondered how effective the shield was and it seems it was proof against bullets. 

There is an account of a pinned SU 152 using bore sighting to calculate a shot at a mostly hidden Tiger tank. The commander had aimed at the crown of a tree under which he believed the Tiger to be situated. Then using experience and good judgement he adjusted the gun for trajectory and took the turret off the tiger tank with his first shot.

For anyone writing WWII rules or just wanting to inject some realism into their games, the book is crammed with fascinating personal accounts like this and throw away incidental one liner comments that will be picked up by the wargamer. It is also interesting to see harsh Soviet discipline inter-woven with moments of defiance from the ranks and leniency from understanding officers. The scale of death and the ease at which it can select even the unsuspecting, leaves one wondering how anyone could have hoped to survive in continuous service from the start to end of this conflict.

Overall the book is a gem. I'm not really sure where else one would go to get so much of this type of information and story for this theatre of war in one place. Taken together with the T-34 book, these have been good buys for me.