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Military History Online - World War II Game
Military History Online - World War II Game
by Ed Druback

This “After Action Report” (AAR) was intended to be written for a dual audience even though it is a review of one game played of the infinite variety of possible outcomes. First and foremost this AAR was written for someone who has never played a table top war game. If you are interested in the early stages of WWII (through the fall of France) whether you have ever played a war game or not, I hope I have made this AAR an enjoyable read.
- Ed Druback

Introduction

For just around a year now Brian Williams, Military History Online administrator, working with a small but growing team, has been developing a division scale global World War Two game. The game design will be quite familiar to old-time military gamers who have played games by Avalon Hill, SPI or Game Designer’s Workshop. It employs a hex-grid system to regularize movement and unit counters with combat strength, movement allowance, along with unit designations and other pertinent information. Each turn represents one week.

The game is truly massive. For those of you who have played a tabletop board game with the half-inch square counters; for this game you would need a table 10 by 21 feet just for the map and a room twice that size for all the charts and data that is kept behind the scenes by the program. The game (right now) starts with over 1,500 “counters” on the game board representing the actual divisions as, and where, they were historically on September 1, 1939. The game however stores all of the data. The program tracks movement expended, executes “die rolls” and, as well, the results of attacks are automatically applied to the affected units. This makes for a game that would, if played on a tabletop with counters, be playable and move quickly and easily.

It should be noted that the game is still in development, but is quite playable for the early stage of the conflict in Europe. It also has a Barbarossa Scenario for those that want to start in 1941 and only play the Axis attack on the Soviet Union.

The game can be played solitaire or over the internet between two players. There is no need to be on the internet at the same time as the game is turn based so when your opponent has finished his turn you get an e-mail letting you know it is your turn, when you have finished yours your opponent gets notified.

After Action Report

For this game, I played the best war gamer I know - myself. The gameplay itself took around 4 -5 hours including taking screen shots and writing enough notes for this write up.

Below is a small portion of the global map showing the European Theater of Operations on September 1, 1939.


On September 1, 1939 the Germans declared war on Poland after signing a ten year non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union. The French and British have declared war on Germany. Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand will soon follow with their own declarations of war on Germany.


September 1, 1939: The initial German attacks on the Polish divisions defending the border are devastating to the Poles. In the north, Panzer Division Kempf along with the SS Das Reich Motorized Infantry Regiment and two supporting infantry divisions, blow a 100-mile wide gap in the Polish defenses. Panzer Division Kempf exploits the gap and makes it to the north bank of the Vistula and the outskirts of Warsaw. At the same time, Guderian’s 3rd and 10th Panzer divisions sweep through the Danzig corridor into East Prussia and join Panzer Division Kempf without firing a shot. In the south, Hoppner’s Panzer Group sweeps east of Lodz, heading for Warsaw from the south in a classic pincer move. Luftwaffe attacks on the Polish air force effectively eliminate it as a threat. Poznan falls to an infantry assault. The Poles retreat as best they can desperately trying to defend Warsaw, hoping that the now mobilizing French will take the pressure off.

September 8, 1939: Lodz falls to the Germans, Krakow almost does, and Hoppner’s panzer group makes it to the southern approaches to Warsaw. In the north Guderian’s group gets bolstered by the slower moving infantry. The Luftwaffe with total air supremacy, pounds away at pockets of Polish defenders, allowing the infantry an easy go of pressing on all across Poland. Below is a screenshot of the situation after the German turn (week of September 8 – 14):


September 15, 1939: The Poles know it is just a matter of time, but stubbornly reinforce Warsaw any way they can. The French and British sit idly by as Warsaw undergoes the full fury of Luftwaffe bombing. The German’s still do not have enough forces to take Warsaw. The German’s do however capture Krakow, overrun the remaining pockets of resistance west of the Bug River and press their infantry toward Warsaw. The Poles defense is stubborn, even if futile.

September 22, 1939: The Germans call off the Luftwaffe and give the task of taking Warsaw to the Army. Finally, after repeated attacks early in the evening of September 28th, Hoppner’s 3rd Light Division enters Warsaw. Poland surrenders as the Soviets flood in from the east.


September 29 – November 3, 1939: With Belgian and Dutch neutrality, neither the Allies nor the Axis had any inclination to get too serious on the Western front. The French spent most of their time positioning their forces for an invasion while the British sent a six infantry division expeditionary force to northern France and spent the majority of their time and effort improving the RAF. The Germans had significant refitting due to their losses in the Polish campaign before they could even think about invading France. Germany therefore spent this period not only moving their Army westward but also repairing their forces.

November 10, 1939: The Germans, though still rebuilding and gathering their forces for the eventual attack westward into France, decided that a quick attack northward was easily within their capabilities. The SS motorized infantry regiment Germania, the 253rd Infantry Division and the 1st Light Panzer (which would by then would probably have been designated 6th Panzer Division) along with the 1st Fallschrimjager attack Denmark.

In the screenshot below a group of Stukas based in Rostock soften up the Danish 1st Infantry division prior to the attack by the 1st Light – a battle the 1st Light would win resulting in the surrender of Denmark


December 8, 1939: After four more weeks of preparation the German’s strike against their next victim – Norway. The initial landing northeast of the port of Christiansand is unopposed and easy allows the defeat of the not fully mobilized 3rd Norwegian Infantry division and with it the capture of the port. The Allies, not wanting Germany to have Norway without a fight, quickly move the British 5th Infantry division from Dover to support the cadres of the Norwegian 4th Infantry in Bergen.

December 29, 1939: The Germans, now reinforced by additional Infantry divisions, assault and take both Stavanger and Oslo. Frustrated by the British adding the 5th Infantry division in support of the 4th, the Germans know they have to commit more resources to capture Norway than originally contemplated. The British 4th Infantry, however, is in an untenable position just outside Oslo and has to pull back to meet up with the 5th in Bergen.


January 5 – January 29, 1940: The British 4th and 5th Divisions are joined in Bergen by the 4th Norwegian Infantry. Germany has had to commit six regular infantry divisions, one Fallschrimjager (airborne) division and eight hundred Luftwaffe planes. Norway’s government has relocated to Trondheim where the Norwegian 5th Infantry protects the Royal Family. By the 29th, however, the UK determines that it can no longer hold out in Bergen. So under cover of the 5th Infantry, the 4th Infantry boards ships in Bergen’s harbor and heads, not back to the UK, but to Trondheim, Norway.

Norway would eventually be cleared of British interference but not until March 3, 1940 when the 4th left Trondheim and sailed for Newcastle. Their excursion into Norway did cost them the 5th Infantry, but it had effectively tied down seven German divisions and 800 Luftwaffe planes for over four months. The planes especially were badly needed elsewhere as the Battle for France was on.

February 2, 1940: Norway becomes a side show to the main event. The Germans, now confident they are ready for what may happen, declare war on the Dutch hoping that the Belgians would maintain their neutrality. In the game this is a possible scenario. However, Belgium immediately declared war on Germany allowing the French and British to enter Belgium and the Netherlands.

Germany had three panzer groups for the attack on France. The northernmost of the panzer groups was led by Hoth, the center by Reinhardt and the southernmost by Guderian. From a historical standpoint all the German panzer divisions were deployed much further north. While Hoth and Reinhardt drove straight into Belgium towards Amsterdam and Rotterdam, Guderian did the unexpected. He too drove NW hugging the western bank of the Rhine. With the defense of the Ardennes by the French, the Germans had only one choice: adopt a modified Schlieffen Plan hoping that this time with tanks it would work out better than it had in World War I. The French and British responded in kind. The French kept their southern flank that was not protected by the Maginot Line firmly anchored in the excellent defensive terrain of the Ardennes Forest. The following two screen caps show the first moves into Dutch territory and the positions after the French and British move into Belgium. (“Yes, Herman – those are 400 Spitfires in Lillie with another 800 backing them up in England”).





February 9, 1940: The Germans dispatched with the Dutch capturing Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague with Hoth and Reinhardt leading the way. Guderian meanwhile swung southwest capturing Brussels and with it forcing Belgium to surrender. The Germans executed their attacks so well they did not present any good opportunity for a British or French counterattack. By the end of the week, the Germans have all three of their panzer groups adjacent to each other and all three within three hexes of the Belgian coast.

February 16, 1940: The morning started like any other, but by the end of the day, what everyone thought would be normal, would have a new meaning. The Luftwaffe threw almost everything they had at the British / French defensive line in Belgium gaining no real advantage (though both the RAF and the Luftwaffe lost over 200 planes each). In the screenshot below, the three planned German attacks are shown (for non-gamers a 2:1 attack has an equal likelihood that both sides will lose the exact same amount of troops). Hoth’s panzer group is the stack on the coast topped in this case by Kempf. Reinhardt’s is just south and is topped by SS motorized “Das Reich” and Guderian’s is SE of Reinhardt’s in Brussels and is topped by the Stukas of 2nd Tactical Bomber Group that had just rebased from Bremen.


“War simply is not fair”, that is all I can say. Three attacks with basically even odds. One would expect that, due to the chance of the die, one of the attacks would go a little in favor of the Germans, one a little in favor of the Allies and the third a wash. Instead, the battle reports from the German commanders were quite clear in their results. Hoth and Reinhardt’s report was quite short: “No British soldier except POWs remain on the continent – six British Infantry divisions destroyed.” Guderian’s was just as short: “I am on the French border -- 2nd French corps (6 divisions) destroyed -- minimal resistance ahead of us”. Weich, who was in command of the four corps of infantry in the German Second Army (attacking into the French anchor in the Ardennes) was just a little less emphatic:” Destroyed all opposition -- will have hard time keeping up with Guderian -- orders?”

The position in the next screenshot before the French reply looked like a breakout was imminent:


The French, however, mustered their troops and found another defensive line right on the French border. At the same time, the RAF abandoned the continent returning to their home bases in southern England. The line was not as well protected without the British holding the coast. It would be thinner but still not afford the Germans too much opportunity.

February 23, 1940: The week started again with Hoth and Reinhardt’s Panzer groups hugging the English Channel coast with Guderian’s panzer group now separated by two Infantry corps from the German Second Army. In what had become the modus operandi, the Germans refuse to attack the well-defended French city of Lille. Instead, Hoth and Reinhardt, bolstered and emboldened by their defeat of the British, pressed their attack on the coast after relentless pressure on the French troops by the Luftwaffe. With infantry support, Guderian hit south of Lille. Both attacks punched fifty mile holes in the French lines -- Lille was isolated. Surely now the only question that remained was which division would enter Paris first on March 1st.

Below are two screenshots showing the ground attacks by the German and the resultant exploitation by the panzer groups:





The French of course had different plans – no need to cede the field to the Germans yet. They knew, as well as the Germans, that Germany had used up all the replacements it had in reserve. They knew as well that the combined economies of the UK and France outstripped that of Germany. They also knew well that one UK infantry division in Norway was holding back redeployment of a significant portion of badly needed Luftwaffe bombers. To aid the situation in northern France, the French divisions guarding the Maginot line forces began moving out to support the north.

March 1, 1940: Another startling morning for the German generals. The French have yet again established a defensive line. Hoth and Reinhardt attack along the coast clearing up the stragglers leaving Lille, but can move no further. Guderian’s straight south attack stalls under determined resistance by the French forces with little progress. The British commit the RAF, but no troops are sent to France. Somehow, however, the French have yet again found another defensive line after another week of pounding from the Luftwaffe and German Army.


March 8, 1940: With the UK abandoning Norway, the Luftwaffe finally gets to send its northern force of 800 medium bombers south to the real battle. They will not arrive for a couple of weeks, but it surely will be over for France soon. The French cannot possibly continue to patch up their defenses and the UK having lost six divisions will not re-commit back to France – right?

The German attack stalls -- only Guderian punches a hole in the French lines, but cannot follow up and exploit it. There are no other bright spots. The French are trying desperately to hold on and manage to constantly patch together new defensive positions.

March 15, 1940: The Germans have been throwing everything at the French for six weeks and finally the French replacement system has broken down completely. There simply are no reserves. The screenshot below shows the German plan for March 15, 1940. The plan had Hoth and Reinhardt attacking across the Seine north of Paris and Guderian continuing his push towards Dijon.


March 22 to March 29, 1940: Both armies are exhausted. Guderian makes a mere 50 mile advance towards Dijon, and then completely stalls. All Hoth manages to do is get behind Paris on the west. Reinhardt is stalled on the outskirts of Paris on the north. Significantly beat up infantry move to within range of Paris as France does not declare Paris an open city. The Luftwaffe unmercifully pounds Paris but attempt not to destroy its history or heritage. The Louvre, Arch de Triumph and Eiffel Tower all survive.

April 5, 1940: The Germans finally assault Paris in full force, albeit with depleted and exhausted troops, with the 30th Infantry the first to enter the French Capital. The German’s also start attacking the Maginot Line as it is not as well-defended. The Italians, wanting to sit at the victor’s table, declare war on France and Great Britain. They hastily mobilize but thinking better of attacking the French Alpine Line sit and watch the end game.

Meanwhile the French fall back upon Dijon while Marshall Petain begins negotiations with the Germans.


April 12, 1940: France falls to Germany and the Vichy government is created as Dijon falls to Guderian in this the final attack of the Battle for France. The screenshot below shows the position at the time of the French surrender including the Panzers of Hoth and Reinhardt streaming across the rest of France. The light blue/grey counters with a French flag are the Vichy French Army that were historically allowed by the Germans in the armistice.


Observations:

First, a caveat: I have been working with the game’s principal designer for the last 9 months as part of the game’s design team and therefore my observations should be read with that potential bias in mind.

The game has been in development for one year and principally programmed as a hobby by one individual with assistance from a small design team. As a game designer myself back in the 70s and 80s, I consider it amazing how far this game has come in that short a time. I am also impressed with the effort put in by all of the volunteers. Some good examples of this include:

• The original source research to develop the unit strengths, location and history throughout the WWII for individual nations;

• The attention to detail like replaying the German attack on Poland over and over to get both the ground and air combat results as close as possible to historic norms.

• The design teams attention to detail together with their ability to be flexible

The game has the feel of a traditional board game but due to the “computerization” of all of the record keeping plays easily and quickly. Simply put, a game on this scale could not be played as a traditional table top game.

It combines the military aspects and the economic aspects (and at some point soon the research and development aspect) to allow for maximum player flexibility. But in doing so keeps the military aspect the prime focus.

It is user-friendly and many aspects are easily modifiable by a user with a minimal knowledge of programing.

There is still much more to do before the entire scope contemplated for the game is a complete and accurate design. It will probably be two or three more years to get the game to what the design team calls “The end of Phase 3” (done with all the bugs gone). However, after just this one year we are nearing the end of Phase 1 (a playable game with some aspects simplified).

Right now, the game, if played somewhat historically is completely playable and enjoyable right up until Operation Barbarossa.

Operation Barbarossa however is currently included as an independent scenario that it playable (but without weather and other features it starts losing its realism with the historical onset of the Soviet winter.

One goal of the design team right now is to work on the game so that full campaign game allows both the Germans and the Soviets to be relatively in the same position as they were historically.

Overall, a fun project for WWII history buffs and gamers alike.   If you'd like to help with playtesting, just let us know.

For more information about the Military History Online World War II Wargame, visit us at: http://www.militarygaming.com/.

Ed Druback may be contacted at: eddruback@hotmail.com
* * *

Published online: 12/16/2012.

* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MHO.
© 2014 MilitaryHistoryOnline.com, LLC Contact Brian Williams at: militaryhistoryonline@hotmail.com