Behind the Lines
April 2008

In This Issue

 

Grazing Fire


As you may remember, our February issue started off with a brief recount of my wargame-related experiences in Paris and the Netherlands. Now a few more months have passed and the weather has cleared considerably so I was lucky enough to make my way back to France just in time for a trip to Normandy. The D-Day beaches almost feel like a right of passage for WWII wargaming buffs and seeing is how I work for a company that brings home the bacon by selling wargames, a trip to Normandy was no doubt exciting. This tale of travel and history also involves a number of prominent individuals in our community, namely Eddy Sterckz and Victor Reijkersz who served as excellent drinking companions and in some cases handy tour guides. Eddy had been on the Normandy tour before so he was particularly helpful in getting us around and making sure we saw all the important spots.

Without delving too deeply into detail (and for a 3 day trip I could write pages worth of narrative about this amazing trip), I will say that any wargamer lucky enough to convince the wife (or girlfriend in my case) to travel all the way out to Normandy for only a day or two should definitely prioritize where they visit. Geographically it's easiest to stay in Bayeux which is more or less strategically located equidistantly from everything worth seeing in Normandy. As was the case with my trip, I started in Utah beach and worked my way east. Next was St. Mere-Eglise, that quaint little town with a rather "notable" church tower, Dead Man's Corner, Pointe-du-Hoc, the very intact battery at Longues-sur-Mer, and Omaha beach (we started at Dog Green of Saving Private Ryan fame and worked our way along the beach stopping at a couple of museums and the American Cemetary). Sound like a lot of history? It certainly was and that was compounded by the fact we went through all these meccas of history in ONE DAY.

A machine gunners view of Dog Green Sector at Omaha beach. This picture was taken at high tide, the beach itself would occupy almost all of the space taken by water in this shot.

The gun doesn't work (believe me, we tried) but the bunkers are remarkably well preserved.

My feet hurt a lot.

I guess I shouldn't complain given the state of the many men by the end of the day they actually landed on that beach over 60 years ago but it didn't make my feet hurt any less. The next day we trekked out to Gold Beach to see the defiantly standing Mulberries and to take in the amazingly detailed models at the Gold museum. Eddy and the remainder of our tour party had to get back to their homes in Belgium and the Netherlands by the evening as the next day was Monday and it was back to work for everyone.

I know everyone's first comment will be "Uh, there were 5 beaches and you only named 3." Touche! This is true and I must confess that given time constraints and an unyielding schedule I was unable to free up enough time to work Juno and Sword Beaches into the trip (in addition to the Merville battery or countless other sites in the area). Nevertheless, not all sites were equal in interest (at least from what I was lucky enough to experience) so for the Wargamer with lots of interest and not a lot of time, I would recommend the following sites as a "must see" in order of interest:

  • Pointe-Du-Hoc
  • The Mulberries near Gold Beach (especially the museum right on the beach - the models there were postively amazing)
  • The Longues-sur-Mer Battery (Don't forget to see the completely intact German command and spotting bunker near the cliffs!)
  • Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial
There were a few notably disappointing sites as well. Among those were Dog Green and Dog Red Sector of Omaha Beach, St. Mere Eglise (other than an "interesting" display on the famous church tower, the museum in the town is nothing remarkable), and Utah Beach which, while beautiful, was rather devoid of any interesting historical pieces.

Mulberries near Gold Beach - A piece of the floating dock still survives on the beach. Also see the harbor wall still standing off in the distance.

Pointe-du-Hoc - Flowers replace mines and barbed wire. Notice the rather uneven ground surrounding this bunker, the impact craters from the Naval bombardments are unbelievable.

Of course, reserving ample time and having a thorough game plan to see everything of note is the best way to do Normandy. Yet still, for those with restless families or tight schedules Normandy is still certainly worth the trip even if there isn't time to squeeze everything in.

Enjoy the newsletter,
Sean Drummy and the Newsletter Team

Comments? Questions? We'd love to hear from you through our feedback email address.



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This Week's Historical Short: The Top Five Most Useless Weapons Ever Developed! (No. 5 and 4)

The Historical Short section is designed to provide a brief snapshot of an interesting historical event or trivia that is a little off the beaten path of regular historical discourse.


What were they thinking?

We've combed the yellowing archives, breathed the (asthma-attack-inducing) effluvia of pride and dementia the wafts from long-(and deservedly) forgotten design documents in the dankest, deepest, subterranean vaults of Imperial Germany, Edwardian England, and the "Fantasy Room" deep inside the bowels of the Pentagon, in order to bring you our nominations for…

The Top Five Most Useless Weapons Ever Developed!

Let's start small and work up to, well, gargantuan:


No. 5: Nunchaku ("Nunchucks")

If you actually try to use these crude devices in the style of the martial arts movies, (where the combination of whirring gymnastic maneuvers and "enhanced" sound effects make them look and sound like a two-fisted hurricane, your chances of inflicting painful injuries to yourself were much greater than your chances of disabling an opponent (unless causing him to double-over in convulsive laughter distracted him enough for you to deliver a quick kick to the cubits). The fact is that it requires many hours, even weeks, of intensive practice to master a "weapon" that is vastly inferior in hand-to-hand combat to a convenient big rock or the immortal "pointed stick" of Monty Python fame.

According to the mythology that's grown up around them, the nunchuks were first employed by poor Japanese farmers who were forbidden, by the laws of the Shogunate, from owning any legitimate, recognizable "weapons". So they took two pieces of fire wood, or whatever else could be fashioned into a handle, and connected them with heavy rope or a short length of chain. Since medieval Japanese farmers had precious little with which to entertain themselves after the sun went down, many of them apparently whiled away their leisure time perfecting impressive but mostly impractical ways to use their nunchaku, which were certainly better than nothing in a barroom brawl or for repelling the local bully when he tried to steal your chickens; but which would have been of very dubious utility if your opponent was s trained swordsman, archer, of spear-chucker armed with - wait for it! - a pointed stick! Nor was it possible to conceal them under your clothing and whip them out in the Bruce Lee equivalent of a "fast draw", for the likeliest outcome would be to get the connecting chain tangled around your own hands.

Yes, to be sure: in the average Hong-Kong chop-socky adventure, nunchucks look and sound very cool indeed, but even the poorest oppressed farmer could defend himself more effectively with any kind of implement just lying within reach. A rake, say, or suitable length of fence-wood…or a pointed stick. We therefore judge this grossly over-rated "weapon" as follows:

Coolness factor (100 % being the highest possible rating): 85/100
Practicality AS a weapon: 15/100
Bottom line: In the hands of a Shaolin master, they look and sound very flashy, very dangerous. In the hands of the average klutz, they're far more dangerous to the user than to his target.


No. 4: The Handley-Page "Heyford" heavy bomber

In absolute terms, there were numerous other weapons we could have chosen that were fair more disastrous failures that this bizarre aircraft, the last bi-plane bomber to enter RAF service and one of the last to enter service in ANY air force. That fact alone, while curious enough to exert a weird kind of appeal, was not what really caused us to vote the Heyford a slot on the Ten Word List; no - we adopted it because of its sheer…ugliness. By comparison, the gargantuan Soviet "Ilya Murometz" bomber (which was so big and complex that there were sleeping compartments for its engineers IN THE WINGS!) looked downright sporty. Its defensive guns were mounted on open-to-the-wind platforms (manning them must have been unsettling for aviators averse to heights!) and its non-retractable landing near was housed in enormous, ungainly nacelles whose bulk whacked a good ten per cent off the bomber's potential cruising speed.

Woefully obsolete before the first one came off the assembly line, the Heyford never flew a single combat mission, but a token number of them did perform valuable service as flying test beds for new types of radar, navigating instruments, and experimental gunnery systems. They also made excellent target-towing vehicles.

Curiously, the horrid-looking things were very popular with their crews; for its size, the Heyford handled smoothly, was quite agreeable to fly, and racked up an enviable record for safety and low maintenance. It was perhaps the last RAF bomber which exhibited those pleasing characteristics and still managed to be useful as a combat aircraft!

Evidently, the Air Ministry more or less forgot that some squadrons were still on "active" duty (if the odd target-towing mission could be called that), because the Heyford was not officially declared "obsolete" until 1941, about fifteen years after the fact.

Aircraft Specs:

  • Crew: 4
  • Armament: 4 Lewis guns
  • Range: 310 miles
  • Payload: 2645 lbs (internal bay and external wing racks)
Coolness factor (100 % being the highest possible rating): 0/100
Practicality AS a weapon:
40/100
Bottom line: The aircraft may have found its uses in a variety of niches but it the entire idea was ultimately a grotesque misadventure.


That's it for this month! Stay tuned for the next newsletter to see the rest of our top 5 list of the worst weapons ever!



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Historical Perspective

The Historical Perspective section is intended to give readers the "history behind the game." This week, Will Trotter gives us the second and final part in a series on the history and recent resurgence of the "naval gun." Head here to read the first part in the series.

Manning the Guns (Again!) - Part 2

William R. Trotter

Once the Missile Lobby gained dominance over the fiefdoms of warship design and the vetting of procurement contracts, the "disarmament" of U.S. and Royal Navy vessels went into overdrive. The guided missile promised to be the answer to so many seaborne combat challenges, that its very existence generated a kind of euphoria. While the American navy never went as far as their British colleagues did - i.e., launching an entire class of escort ships without ANY gun mounts at all - the trend was clear. Not only were guns yesterday's weapons - not quite as obsolete as muzzle-loading cannon, but rapidly heading into History - new ship designs seemed intended to render the Token Gun invisible! Let no unseemly "bristle", even the needle-thin barrel of an Oerlikon, spoil the tail-fin aesthetics of the new high tech frigates and destroyers!

At most, the new ship designs might incorporate a single rather wimpy-looking d/p gun on the forecastle, most of its mechanisms hidden deep within the hull and the actual turret (not intended to house "gunners" at all, was reduced to a nubby little acorn, or, in the case of the Arliegh Burke class, the Token Gun was repositioned onto an ugly square deck house amidships. This minimized the Bristle Effect to such an extent that uninformed observers might not even notive see the weapon, and the confirmed Missile Heads could blur their vision and pretend the thing was some kind of exotic electronic gizmo…not a "gun" at all!

By the end of the Vietnam War, the Missile Heads were overwhelmingly in the majority. Traditionalists and unreconstructed Romantics, usually older officers who "remembered when" and were avid readers of naval history, or young officers who might have been seduced into naval service partly by those grainy newsreels of the Gun Lines working-over Iwo Jima, represented two widely separated generations who shared one fundamental article of faith:

A warship ought to bloody well LOOK like a warship; with a big gun forward and another aft, it proclaimed itself as a man-o-war; it was defined as such, instantly, by friend and foe alike.

Read on here to continue part two of Manning the Guns (Again!).


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Game Spotlight: Gary Grisby's War Between the States After Action Report

Gary Grisby's War Between the States is a turn-based American Civil War strategy game currently in development by 2 by 3 Games. The following is an after action report between the game's developer, Joel Billings, and a for the game tester, Jon Pyle. The after action report was written by Joel playing as the Confederate side.


Gary Grigsby's War Between the States After Action Report
Jon Pyle (Union) vs Joel Billings (Confederate)

Jon and I have just started a new PBEM game. For this game we're using Fog of War, Historical Leaders, and the optional Limited Command Point Recovery rule. This rule makes it more difficult to switch units between leaders. It adds a little extra realism to the game at the expense of some flexibility. When you detach a unit from a leader, the leader does not immediately regain its command point (it is regained at the start of the next turn). Command points are used to attach units, so not regaining the command point during the turn means the leader may not have enough remaining to attach another unit.

Jon got initiative with his western generals in August, and decided to go for an early invasion of Kentucky. This cost the Union 100 Political points and gave Kentucky a 50% chance of joining the Confederacy (the main effects of this are 1) the Union would not be able to use Kentucky production even after taking the populated areas 2) the Union would have to garrison it with more troops to prevent partisan attacks 3) more population would join southern armies). Unfortunately for me Kentucky remained neutral. Union forces overran most of Kentucky and an army under Lyon advanced into Humbolt in Northwestern Tennessee. Albert Sydney Johnston was reinforced by several divisions from north of Nashville, but the combined forces were forced to retreat to Memphis. Union forces attacked with over 40000 troops against 24000 defenders. Union losses were 5500 men while the south lost 7000 men and 60 guns (40 heavy guns had to be abandoned during the retreat). A small confederate force advanced into Eastern Kentucky.

Union forces captured three islands off the southern Atlantic coast, but a force of 8000 men and 20 guns that invaded Jacksonville was repulsed by 12000 defenders (including Kirby Smith and 4000 men sent from Savannah). Both sides lost 1000 men and the Union also lost 10 guns.

Jon's early move on Kentucky gives him a chance of moving on Memphis and Nashville with a significant manpower advantage. It also makes control of several key rivers more difficult for me. My goal is to hold Memphis and Nashville through the winter of 1861-62, but if he's able to get initiative with his army commanders I don't think I can stop him. I've shipped in troops from Virginia (and slightly weakened a few coastal garrisons) as my cavalry scouting in the east indicates he's moved more forces west. However, I have not indentified where his fourth army commander is located. Lyon is in Humbolt, McDowell is in Washington, McClellan is somewhere in the west (assume central Kentucky), but Hallack has not been located. I expect Jon to continue making amphibious invasions. Most of my cavalry was in the east this turn so my scouting in the west was spotty. I don't have a good sense of the number of troops in central Kentucky. The screenshot shows the situation after the Confederate August turn. The units in Memphis are shown at the bottom of the screen. The only consolation I can take from his early move into Kentucky is the 100 PPs it cost him. The Political score is Union 1015 Confederate 991.

The Union western juggernaut rolled into Gallatin (just north of Nashville). McClellan attacked, engaging with 25000 troops against 18000 Confederates led by PGT Beauregard. The Confederates took more losses (although four untrained Union brigades were routed), 7000 to 4500/10 guns, and were forced to retreat to Nashville (although it was a very close battle that could have gone either way).

This move forced me to evacuate forts in Dickson and Clarksville (the areas west and north of Nashville), and will ultimately allow the Union armies a direct line of communication. Heavy batteries were posted in a fort overlooking the Tennessee River in Lawrence (southwest of Nashville). Jeb Stuart's scouting in the east gave me the confidence to ship another 10,000 men from Virginia to Tennessee. Unfortunately news that the number of Union transports fleets has grown significantly made it difficult to further weaken my coastal garrisons (although I did steal a few units). In a command reorganization, Beauregard was sent to command the forces in Memphis, and Joe Johnston was sent to Nashville. Albert Sydney Johnston was sent to take command in Virginia. Polk is still commanding the limited forces in North Carolina.


Read the rest of the after action report in the War Between the States forum and stay tuned for more details!


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Latest News

In this section we provide a rundown of the latest updates from Matrix Games, just in case you missed a press release or two.

  1. Matrix Games Announces The War Engine Tax Day Giveaway! - Since Uncle Sam is taxing everybody today, why not get something for free in return!!
  2. Panzer Command: Kharkov Released! - A Major New Release in the Panzer Command 3D Tactical Wargame series from Matrix Games!
  3. An Advanced Tactics: World War II Update Is Now Available! - Plenty of fixes and improvements are ready to ship out to the battlefield.
  4. Maximum Football 2.0 Gets Another Update - A new update has blitzed through the offensive line and his headed straight for hard drives!
  5. World at War: A World Divided Is Updated - A new update has shipped out from the home front and is headed into action!
  6. Matrix Games Announces the PureSim Season Opener Sale and a New 1.71 Update! - No, this isn’t an April fool’s joke! Get 35% off PureSim Baseball now through April 7th!
  7. Harpoon 3 – Advanced Naval Warfare Is Updated! - All hands on deck! A major new update is headed this way!
  8. Maximum Football 2.0 is Updated to 2.2! - Strap on the helmet head into the game – A major Maximum Football Update is ready!
  9. Get a Sneak Peek at Panzer Command: Kharkov with Google Earth! - Watch the epic battle of Kharkov unfold in the splendor of Google Earth!
  10. Flyboys Squadron Now Available from Matrix Games - Fly the legend… Flyboys Squadron thunders off the runway and onto hard drives everywhere!
  11. Commander – Europe at War is Updated - New v1.06 update offers better performance and game play improvements
The latest releases from the Matrix Games lineup.

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A Parting Shot

This month we're particularly pumped about our expansion into new areas of technology. Sure, it's all being used to promote our games but we think new and innovative ideas like the Panzer Command: Kharkov Google Earth Tour are pretty neat ways for gamer's to enhance their understanding of a product (and history) before they take the plunge and purchase something. Expect to see more of that coming out of the Matrix corner because we have some real hot titles in our production queue that are just itching to get out to the public.

You may also have noticed that we had a bit of a "media blitz" in the form of vidoes, screenshots, wallpapers, and more for Panzer Command: Kharkov and we've seen that more than a few gamers were excited about this game and are in fact enjoying it now. From the bottom of our hearts, thanks for that! The staff at Matrix worked so hard to make Panzer Command: Kharkov all that it could be and to find others appreciating and enjoying the game like we do is tremendously gratifying.

Speaking of Kharkov, we have another fantastic title about this mamoth engagement on the way from the folks at SSG. Based of the two award winning game systems of Decisive Battles and Battlefront, Kharkov will feature a variety of new features and innovations over the existing systems and lots of new game mechanics that you won't find anywhere else. More on that later though...

Don't get too comfy in that Panzer though, there's plenty more from Matrix on the way. Apart from the War in the Pacific sequel which armchair admirals are awaiting with bated breath, we have some titles that are rapidly nearly completion that we haven't even announced yet (and no, I won't hint at what they are just yet - maybe next month). Finally, it wouldn't hurt to start paying closer attention to Mark H. Walker's Lock 'n Load: Heroes of Stalingrad. If you check the "More Info" section on the product page you'll see we've added three recently relelased gameplay videos. Everything is shaping up quite nicely for Heroes of Stalingrad so expect much more info and media on the way for that game too. All in all, it's a very good time to stay tuned to the Matrix website!

And as always, anyone who would like to drop us a line and give us some feedback, complaints, death threats, etc., please don't hesitate to do so by sending an email to feedback@matrixgames.com.


Thanks for reading!
The Newsletter Team


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