Sunday, April 17, 2016

Tank Commander Exposure in Combat Mission

With the release of's (BFC) Combat Mission: Final Blitzkrieg (which utilizes the second generation Combat Mission (CM) game engine), there has been a bit of discussion about the modelling of tank commander exposure in that game system. There seem to be two main of points of contention at present
  • how often should tank commanders expose themselves to enemy fire
  • how effective should fire directed at them be
Those issues will be resolved by BFC in their own community, but largely absent from the online discussion so far has been a reference to available evidence.

Evidence - Rate of Exposure

On the face of it, casual histories answer the question of how often tank commanders exposed themselves to enemy fire, and why, very simply. This primer on German tank crewmen of the Second World War sums up the situation in typically vague terms:
At the rear of the turret sat the commander. At safe distances, he would stand on his small seat, so that his upper body was exposed in the cupola, and observe the battlefield with binoculars. When the enemy was near and in combat situations the turret hatch was battened down, and the commander observed the battlefield through small episcopes set into the cupola surface.(1)
A survey of tank operations mentions:

The interior of an (Armoured Fighting Vehicle - AFV) is cramped and dark, with hard metal edges wrapping around the crew and passengers. Visibility is provided through a mixture of periscopes (and) vision slits...Even with the most advanced systems, the crew will have a distinct sense that there are things going on out there that might harm them and that they cannot see.
 One response to this vulnerability in the past has been for the tank's commander to direct combat standing up from an open turret. This has its advantages - the commander gains a complete perspective of the battlefield, being cognizant of all threats, including those from the air. He can also spot enemy infantry attempting to creep up on his tank.(2)

And a primer on U.S. tank crews in the Second World War suggests that in U.S. units, there was an additional advantage to the commander exposing himself to enemy fire:

Above the commander's hatch was a .50 cal. Browning heavy barrel machine gun. This was intended for anti-aircraft protection, but in fact was much more often used for self-defense of the tank and for attacking ground targets that did not warrant the use of the main armament...The .50 cal. heavy machine gun was very destructive, and proved to be extremely effective in attacking enemy infantry and trucks; the 4th Armored Division placed a great deal of emphasis on its use. Gen. Bruce Clarke later recalled:
I told my men that the greatest thing on the tank was a free .50 cal. in the hands of the tank commander. We were not able to fight from tanks with the tank commander buttoned up - that has never been successfully done. [Buttoned up] he can't hear or see and so pretty soon he unbuttons. Now if he's got a free .50 cal. machine gun, all he has to do is press his thumb and he can pick out a dangerous spot. It may be a bazooka flash or something. He can throw a burst there without even thinking about giving an order.
On the early M4, the .50 cal. machine gun was mounted on a pintle that was attached to the commander's hatch. On later tanks with the all-vision cupola, it was fitted to a pintle behind the commander's hatch, very awkward for the commander who had to expose himself to use the weapon. On the M4A1 (76mm) and M4A3 (76mm), both of which had the large round loader's hatch with pintle, units often moved the machine gun to the loader's side due to its more convenient mounting. Other units came up with their own improvised solutions. On (Creighton) Abram's (Sherman tank), he had a .30 cal. machine gun mounted in front of the cupola for his personal use.(3)

Early Sherman variants had the AAMG on a pintle behind the commander's turret, requiring a crewman to expose himself in order to fire it.

 The turret used on 76mm Sherman tank variants (T23 turret) had two round hatches, the commander's (with armored glass vision blocks and a round hatch) and the loader's (with split hatch). A pintle can be seen at the rear of the loader's hatch. (Image from:

The introduction of a larger round hatch on the loader's side of the turret was not an intentional move to enable the loader to access an anti-personnel weapon; crew concerns about emergency exit had been raised since the original Shermans which had no loader-side hatch at all. A small oval hatch was added at first, since "(c)ombat reports had indicated that the early hatches were inadequate for emergency exits, especially in the turret." The introduction of the oval hatch meant "the loader didn't have to wait for the commander and gunner to leave before he could get out."(4)

The Regimental History of one Canadian armoured regiment had a copy of the Tank Standing Orders that regiment used during combat in Italy and Northwest Europe. The document is reproduced online here. One of its provisos shows that Commonwealth tank commanders were expected, under penalty of court martial, to fight with commanders able to expose themselves quickly where necessary:
20. HATCHES ETC. Crew commanders will NOT close both turret flaps except under very heavy mortar fire when the situation does not demand unrestricted vision. Drivers and co-drivers hatches will not be fastened. Safety belts will NOT be used. 

 27. DISCIPLINE. Failure to obey these orders will be treated as a court-martial charge.
A Canadian Sherman in action at Ortona. Commonwealth units often removed the AAMG altogether, but the exposure of the commander is obvious. Vision-block cupolas did not appear on the majority of types employed in Commonwealth units and only late in the war for certain American Sherman types.
The use of the .50 as an anti-infantry weapon seems not to have been considered by Commonwealth tank crews:
As well as the 75mm main gun and the two .30 calibre machine guns, Shermans came from the factory with a .50 calibre machine gun mounted on the commander's hatch for anti-aircraft use. While this was sometimes replaced with another .30 calibre gun, in the Canadian Army tank commanders were discouraged from exposing themselves to air attack. There were specific anti-aircraft units whose job it ws to shoot down enemy aircraft and it was believed that commanders had enough to do in commanding their tank without engaging in gunfights with aircraft.(5)
Crew Survivability

The question of survivability is a separate issue. Roger Lucy provided some hints in a forum conversation at - suggesting that Operational Research seems to have focused on what killed tanks with comparatively less emphasis on how crewmen were killed. One report is held by the Laurier Centre:

Medical Research Council Team for Survey of Casualties Among Tank Personnel - Casualties among tank crews in 11 armoured division in operational veritable 27 Feb - 4 Mar 45

and this is available online;

Injuries to Tank Crews: A Guide to the Data-base and the Data Forms

There is certainly scope for additional research. Library and Archives Canada has this for example:

RG24 Series C-1, Reel C-5254
File: 8676-9-8 , Access code: 90
File Title: Casualties - Royal Canadian Armoured Corps 

Other Models

Player complaints that crew commanders are killed too often are difficult to justify without understanding what the historical situation was. Other games like Advanced Squad Leader may be a guide as they also model crew exposure's benefits and drawbacks. In ASL, a tank suffers a penalty to direct fire against enemy targets with the main armament when the commander/crew is not exposed ("Buttoned Up" or BU). When "Crew Exposed" (CE) the tank receives a bonus to its movement. Enemy fire against the exposed crew is possible, and they are given protective bonuses equal to infantry behind a stone wall or in hard cover in a building.

The effects of crew casualties are temporary inability to perform any actions ("Stun") and a permanent loss of crew exposed bonuses. How often do tank crews expose themselves to enemy fire in ASL? One often-cited article regarding tank warfare in ASL suggests rather unhelpfully that:
Whether or not to remain CE probably comes down to personal preference, though the primary consideration involves any hazards invited by doing so.(6)
However, good advice in the conclusion of the article applies in CM as much as ASL:
...(K)eep your eye on the prize. Your goal ultimately is to win the scenario; so even though your stated object is to defeat the enemy's armor, do not let yourself become side-tracked from the Victory Conditions solely to engage his armor. Strategy is dictated by the Victory Conditions - though, if tanks are involved on both sides, they will almost inevitably come to grips with one another. However, do not let yourself become distracted!
... it must seem that the "successful" tank commander adopts a primarily defensive posture during an armored battle. In fact, by following the Rules of Engagement and through judicious use of mobility, a tank tends to behave very much like a hunter stalking its prey...Likewise, the successful tank commander waits for the enemy to move into his sights, or carefully moves into an advantageous position to destroy the target. Conservative play is the by-word here, since the DEFENDER will almost always hold the upper hand initially during an Engagement. Whatever the case, allow the enemy to make the first mistake while you wait to take immediate advantage. Above all, patience is the virtue which most distinguishes the successful tank commander.
Another article on fighting armor in ASL, equally unhelpfully says: "The often difficult decision of "CE or not CE" is taken away from you (when providing one-man turret tanks in the order of battle)" but does not discuss the actual decision making process.(7)

About the only thing that ASL can offer is that in that game system, deciding to button up or expose the commander is a highly individual and subjective choice to make.


It would seem tank crews in the Second World War were not only encouraged to fight with the commander exposed, but may have even preferred to do so. Canadian regulations in at least one case actually required the commander to at the least keep one of the turret hatch halves open except under heavy mortar fire "when the situation does not require unrestricted vision."

The use of turret machine guns seems to have varied by nationality, certainly on the Allied side, and possibly only late in the war when U.S. 76mm armed tanks were provided with turrets/hatches that permitted a greater flexibility of weapons employment.

Combat Mission player's perceptions that tank commanders are too easily eliminated may have some basis of truth, though more research into historical casualty rates may be useful. At the very least, though, the rate of exposure in the game seems consistent with the references cited above. Being exposed offered very real dividends, tank commanders often took these risks in order to achieve these benefits, and CM at least seems to model this realistically given the absence of more definitively defined references.


1. Williamson, Gordon. Panzer Crewman (Osprey Publishing Ltd., Botley, Oxford, UK, 2002) ISBN 7-84176-328-4 p.27 
2.McNab, Chris and Hunter Keeter. Tools of Violence: Guns, Tanks and Dirty Bombs (Osprey Publishing, Botley, Oxford, UK, 2008) ISBN 978-1846032257, pp.99-100
3. Zaloga, Steven J. US Army Tank Crewman 1941-45: European Theater of Operationss 1944-45 (Osprey Publishing Ltd., Botley, Oxford, UK, 2004) ISBN 1-84176-554-6 pp.20-21
4. Culver, Bruce. Sherman in Action (Squadron-Signal Publications, Carrolton, TX, 1977) ISBN 0-89747-049-4 p.30
5. Guthrie, Steve. The Sherman in Canadian Service (Service Publications Ltd., Ottawa, ON, 2002) ISBN 1-894581-14-8 pp.15-16 
6. Bakken, Bruce "Panzer gegen Panzer" ASL Annual 93'a (The Avalon Hill Game Company, Baltimore, MD, 1993)
7. Olie, Dave "What To Do If You Have A Tin Can" ASL Journal Issue 1 (Multi-Man Publishing, Gambrills, MD, 1999)

Monday, February 15, 2016

Festung Budapest - through Hitler's Eyes

When the German drive into the Caucasus stalled in the late summer of 1942, Hitler ordered that his military conferences be recorded, word for word, by military stenographers. Hitler had various 'Table Talks' recorded beginning in July 1941, and the order to record the daily military conferences extended this past practice. There was a desire to preserve decisions for posterity, but the deciding factor seems to have been an argument between Hitler and the Chief of the Operations Staff of the Armed Forces High Command, Colonel-General Jodl. Fearful that his officers might make false appeals to words he never uttered, Hitler began recording the military conferences in September 1942.

The complete set of transcripts at war's end amounted to 130,000 single-sided sheets of paper. All copies of the manuscript were burned following the defeat of Germany, but portions of one copy were rescued from an ash heap in May 1945. What survived the war has been translated into English. The book Hitler and his Generals: Military Conferences 1942-1945 (Enigma Books, New York, NY, 2004 ISBN 1-929631-28-6) reproduces the text as edited and with detailed footnotes by Helmut Heiber and David M. Glantz.

Players of Festung Budapest may find some interest in a conversation recorded on January 10, 1945. The participants included:

  • Adolf Hitler, Führer of Nazi Germany 
  • Reischsmarshal Hermann Göring, head of the Air Force 
  • Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, Chief of the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces 
  • Colonel General Alfred Jodl, Chief of the Operations Staff of the Armed Forces High Command 
  • Major General Eckhard Christian: Chief of the Luftwaffe Command Staff 
Note that the original transcripts were in rough shape when they were recovered, and missing or unreadable tracts are noted by [--] in the book. 

From the midday situation report on 10 Jan 1945 at Adlerhorst.(1) 
LIEUTENANT-COLONEL HERMANI: The situation at the Budapest bridgehead is very serious. Here's where the attacks against the Eastern front took place. (Presentation.) Because there's no place to land, the supply is very strained, and an airfield absolutely must be built up somewhere in this area. I have a city map of 1:25,000, which we can use today to review the blocks of houses that have been lost, my Führer. (Presentation.) This is a fortification on the outskirts of town; it's not shown on the map because the map unfortunately doesn't reach that far. That was the position on January 8, and this morning we got a radio message with the position of the current main battle line. I drew it in quickly here. The occupying forces are pushed together in this area.

THE FUEHRER, ADOLF HITLER: There's no airfield there anymore.

HERMANI: No. The one was over here in this area, and the second was built up on Czepel Island...(2)

THE FUEHRER: That doesn't help; there's no airfield in this area anymore.

HERMANI: No, there's no airfield anymore. [--] I'd like to present the figures that the Russian Army reported regarding the battle in the Budapest area: "several residential areas" were taken on December 30, 1944, "several residential areas" on December 31, 1944, and from January 1 to 8 - taken together - 1,761 city blocks. ... the outer suburb.(3) It is generally correct, while in detail ... I just received a radio message about the daily report from yesterday, which says: ... heaviest defensive battles at the eastern bridgehead because of the shortening of the main battle line ... led to deep penetrations ... heavy street fighting and sustained ... heavy casualties on both sides; on the western bridgehead sudden concentrations of fire. [--] The supply situation forces us to be extremely economical. Air supply ... up to now 3 tons in the castle ... from the ship, which is on the Danube ... food secured ... How it came to that, I don't know either. [--]
Festung Budapest map.
Google Map satellite view of the same area in Budapest today.
THE FUEHRER: How long is this here, anyway?

HERMANI: The scale is 1:25,000.

FIELD MARSHAL KEITEL: One centimeter equals 3 kilometres.(4)

HERMANI: Yes, that's 3 kilometres.

THE FUEHRER: Is this ice?

HERMANI: There's ice on the Danube, yes.

THE FUEHRER: That's too bad! This is 1-1/2 kilometres. Can you land a seaplane on 1-1/2 kilometres?

REICHSMARSCHALL GOERING: Yes, it depends, my Führer.

THE FUEHRER: With the Ju!?

GOERING: We've landed on the Danube with a Ju before.

Ju-52 transport aircraft, fitted as a seaplane.
GENERALMAJOR CHRISTIAN: In principle it needs only ... with heavy bombs ...

GOERING: But the area is very short, ...

GENERALOBERST JODL: Now, Guderian has developed this idea.(5) --

HERMANI: General Wenck will come this evening. The Colonel General has just spoken with the Führer - he called him.

JODL: -- the idea to go to the west bank and then get more space up here to create an airfield.

THE FUEHRER: Impossible! All these airfields are just ideas that can't be employed because every location is under artillery fire.

JODL: I don't know if the idea was developed internally.

THE FUEHRER: It doesn't matter who had the idea, but every airfield ..., which is not set back 4 to 5 kilometres, ... when they fire on it with mortars, they can't land; it is impossible. They see every plane that arrives at night, ...

CHRISTIAN: The report from yesterday, which claimed that four aircraft landed -- I don't know where -- must be confirmed.

THE FUEHRER: Perhaps they landed on the troop training ground.

HERMANI: That was here on the ...

CHRISTIAN: Here it was still possible yetersday. [--]

THE FUEHRER: Could you find out what's happening with the ice floes here? If the ice is breaking up, nothing will work - that is clear - but it could be that the ice is not flowing. [--] We don't have light planes or anything like that? [--]

GOERING: But we do that with the piggy-back plane, too.(6)

THE FUEHRER: Yes, and do we have gliders?

GOERING: We have gliders.

THE FUEHRER: Gliders - they could land. There are enough of them.

GOERING: We brought them in quickly. They were in Graz.

THE FUEHRER: Gliders can always land.

GOERING: They could certainly land here.

THE FUEHRER: There are countless places for gliders. They're the only ones. Send the gliders here at once - all that we have!

GOERING: There are areas here and here for gliders. They just have to avoid the tall houses.
Current Google Map of Budapest. Area of Festung Budapest map outlined in red. Andrassy Street is indicated by the red pointer.
THE FUEHRER: Gliders can go anywhere. If worst comes to worst, we could land them on streets like this one - Andrassy [street]. [--] How wide are the gliders?

GOERING: That varies.

THE FUEHRER: They have to open up a street like Andrassy, by tearing out the streetlights and everything. [--]

GOERING: But a glider is always more or less lost.

CHRISTIAN: He has 200 gliders.

THE FUEHRER: (How much will they carry? [--] One ton?)

CHRISTIAN: One ton, yes. [--]

CHRISTIAN: ... but actually only in limited numbers.

GOERING: We still have them, but I always say: if something is broken, adjustment a half year later it comes ..., when we need it.

THE FUEHRER: For gliders I don't need a lot of stuff.

GOERING: No, that's not a major concern. The Hitler Youth do it. The Hitler Youth have gliders at their schools.

THE FUEHRER: And then we don't risk the expensive tow planes.

GOERING: No, they release.

THE FUEHRER: They will float down in the night.

LIEUTENANT-COLONEL WEISS: There is a parade ground below the castle - 900 metres long, as smooth as glass..., open area ... landing and starting again.(7)

THE FUEHRER: Gliders can definitely get in?!

WEISS: We'll have to examine it again, to be sure.

THE FUEHRER: We have to try everything, anyway! [--]

HERMANI: Right now there are attacks here.

GOERING: You know that area, Weiss?

WEISS: Yes, Herr Reichsmarshal. In the spring I saw it with General Schmundt - I drove there. At least one regiment was being drilled on it. It's as smooth as glass. There are no barracks or ...

JODL: I'm familiar with it, too. It's the best anyway, because the castle is right next to it, with all the cellars.

GOERING: I can confirm it with a radio message.

WEISS: It is very easy to find; it's below the castle.

Buda Castle, in relation to the Festung Budapest map.

GOERING: The castle protects it from the wind, which is very good. [--] Could you arrange for that whole area to be cleared of every obstacle - trenches, etc., so that it's leveled off?

THE FUEHRER: Flak is definitely [--]

CHRISTIAN: I'd like to report the following. We have gliders in four locations: in the southeastern area around Linz and Wels - they have already been ordered here, but the others are in Wittstock, and they must be driven to southern Germany...

THE FUEHRER: At first we can use those that are in the East already; the others will be brought by train, by priority transport.(8) [--] They don't have much there, so it would be good if they were actually to get the Tiger detachment brought in for the attack, because there's no sense in having Tigers, etc., here! [--]

HERMANI: At least you can drive them around.

THE FUEHRER: And further north?

HERMANI: North of the Danube, the 20th Panzer Division began its attack early this morning and pushed through to Ogyalla.

Ogyalla was renamed after the war to become Hurbanovo. Its relationship to Budapest is shown on this current Google Map.
Another group from the 20th Panzer Division is attacking Perpeto. Parts of the 208th [Infantry Division] that pushed ahead from Komoram [Komorn according to the book, most likely Komárom as on the map above] forced an enemy tank group to turn away. We took Naszdav and Imely yesterday. They are attacking further to the southeast now. An attack - which has been held off thus far - against the front of the 211th [Volksgrenadier Division], which has built up a blocking front again, ... At this time there are enemy attacks against Kürt from the southeast and east.

THE FUEHRER: It's a mystery where this guy brings these tanks from again. 
 On January 27th, a mid-day situation conference in Berlin contained the following report:

GENERAL HEINZ GUDERIAN: In Budapest the situation is intensifying because the enemy has shifted his focal point to the center of the western sector and has reached the so-called Blutwiese [Blood Meadow], which, until now, was the main drop point for supplies brought in by air. The counterthrust has begun. Whether it's possible to do it with the available forces - to clean this thing up - is uncertain, because the casualties have increased significantly. He is trying to build a bridge here over the Danube to Margaret Island. The situation is visibly intensifying... 

Location of Margaret Island. The Blutwiese (Blood Meadow, or Vérmező) is visible at lower left.
1. Adlerhorst was Hitler's forward headquarters, established for control of the Ardennes Offensive - not to be confused with the Eagle's Nest in Berchtesgaden: Wikipedia article on Adlerhorst
3. According to Heiber and Glantz, the Russians reported on city blocks taken daily. Their figures are slightly different than that presented here. On 8 January, according to Glanz, 2,000 of 4,500 city blocks were in Russian hands. 
4. According to Heiber and Glantz, Keitel is either referring to a 1:250,000 map, or was incorrectly transcribed (10cm on a 1:25,000 scale map is about 3 kilometres (actually 2.5).) 
5. General Heinz Guderian, Chief of Staff of the Army, visited Budapest January 5 to 8 to investigate the failure of relief attacks intended to relieve the city. Guderian's post (he was appointed a day after the Bomb Plot of July 20, 1944) was largely symbolic as Hitler had in effect become his own Chief of Staff.
6. A reference to the Mistel, any one of various combinations in which a piloted aircraft was physically attached to a glider, airplane or drone for delivery to a target. See Wikipedia article.
7. Almost certainly the Vérmező (Blood Field), as shown on the Festung Budapest map.The Hungarian Wikipedia has an article here (English translation by Google) which mentions the field being used for courier aircraft and glider landings.
8. Heiber and Glantz point out that "priority transport" was a specific term for a train going non-stop from loading point to destination, and carrying items of sufficient importance that other trains were removed from the track in order to ensure speedy passage. Generally reserved for shipments of ammunition, tanks, etc., for planned attacks or blocking movements to prevent enemy penetrations of the front.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Preview of War Diary Magazine Issue 1

Despite what the editors refer to, in the maiden issue, as "months of preparation and work," that self-same premiere has been accomplished with amazingly little fanfare. Sadly so, in my opinion, as the wargaming hobby has been poorer for a lack of quality periodicals. The editors apparently feel the same way and have announced an intent to address this condition. Their goal - again, as stated in their own introduction, is not to publish yet more games (which seems to be the function now of most of the remaining general interest wargaming periodicals (as distinct from "house organs" that devote themselves to single product lines)) - but to provide the mix of historical articles, game analysis, and industry and hobby related articles that marked the best of "old school" hobby writing that the editors promise to be reminiscent of.

This blog entry will not be a review so much as a simple description of what lies between the covers of the first issue. I can only imagine many are curious, and, hopefully, wish for an endeavour such as this to succeed. I am in a unique position in also producing a small hobby wargaming magazine, which in no way should be considered a "competitor" of War Diary as I feel my focus is sufficiently narrow to avoid that title. I mention the fact in the interest of full disclosure, but more to highlight the fact that I can relate a little more fully to some of the challenges around the technical aspects of putting a project like this together. If I seem more forgiving of minor gaffes, this is probably why.

Physical Appearance

The magazine is very nicely laid out. I suppose if the magazine was truly "old school" the articles would all go for two pages, then have a "continued on p.28" notice and you would turn to the back of the magazine to read the last half column of text, but not here. Articles, images and ads are nicely laid out into just the right amount of room, text is nicely justified, fonts are well-chosen and readable, and the editor doesn't act like he picked up the latest women's fashion magazine or update to Quark and feel like he has to show off every bell and whistle in the software. The emphasis has been put on the material.

A minor point - in the last days of Fire and Movement, the text moved farther and farther toward the edge of the page until there was practically no margin whatsoever. I never understood that, and even a response to a letter to the editor never cleared it up entirely. It's nice to see a nice, clean layout here.

What You Get
There are 44 pages (including the covers).

Ghost Division - the lead article is pure history taking up 18 pages or so, focusing on the 7th Panzer Division in France, and the effects of Rommel's personal leadership. The article is footnoted, and sources are a mix of older texts with good usage of more recent ones from the last decade. As one would expect from Dr. Michael Rinella, the prose flows well and the sources are well utilized. The footnotes are actually as interesting to read as the text itself, something you don't always (or even often) see.

The Grand Alliance - a variant article for Barbarossa to Berlin. This variant includes rules and a set of counters affixed directly into the magazine, uniquely attached to a blank space on one of the pages (see image at right). The article takes up five more pages.

Operation Husky - an analysis of Fast Action Battle: Sicily. This article is seven pages long.

A nice little article on e-gaming by Andy Loakes appears on pp.32-33, with a handy list of URLs - many of these may well go out of date within a year, but one hopes the author can keep regular and timely updates on this subject in future issues.

What's In a Game is a more personal story about one player's relationship with the gaming hobby, and a fellow gamer, which covers themes of personal redemption and the influences of Kickstarter, eurogames, electronic gaming.

A game review, of Gloom, follows, and what I can only call a Preview of The Great Game, which is currently available for preorder at the Legion Wargames site. The preview is about half history article, and half game description.

The final article is billed as "A Discussion of the Game Publishing Industry and It's (sic) Customers." This is another opinion piece like the "What's In a Game" article.

Room for Improvement

Some of the maps selected for the Ghost Panzer article are a tad too small to read. The Sicily map is a familiar one from the U.S. Army History. It is a colour map, but reproduced here in black and white, and comes out a bit murky. More puzzling is the very famous photo of OMAHA Beach in Normandy used to illustrate the article about Sicily. A minor bit of trivia, but if the audience is hard-core military buffs, this seems ill-advised.

The editors may get some grief about the pencil sketches of military commanders that appear throughout the magazine. They may be derided as mere filler. Individual tastes will vary. I thought they provided a unifying theme though some of them did not come off as well as others (Patton looks like his helmet has melted in the sun.)

The list of URLs in the e-Gaming article is inconsistent with its underlined text - some are, some aren't. A few minor typos as well - most egregious is the mis-spelling of Rundstedt's name in one of the quote boxes on page 15. As an editor I know the horror of this and it is quite possible two or three people looked at this article multiple times and still missed it. You just stop seeing the trees because of the forest.

I would hope, though, that more images of the games themselves will grace the magazine in future, particularly in analysis articles. The OMAHA Beach photo took up half a page in an article about a game that didn't have a single image of the game board or counters. The text actually says "as you can see from the game map" - but never shows it to us, instead opting for the blurry historical map instead, unless the intention was to include the game map but for technical reasons it never occurred.

I won't give a grade or a mark because:

a) this is the first issue and the editorial team is no doubt still finding their way;
b) individuals will have to figure for themselves if this is the kind of magazine that will appeal to them

For what the editors set out to do - create an "old school" magazine that will appeal to wargamers, I think they are on the right path. There was a mix of hard-core wargame stuff and lighter fare, certainly with the opinion pieces and even the so-called "non-wargame" reviews.

I guess the only major question to be asked is whether the latter were intentional, or due to lack of submissions/content.

My personal reaction is that I have no heartache reading reviews of games I won't play as I am still interested in the history behind them - which is why "The Great Game" article still interested me. I had no such interest in Gloom, any more than I had interest in reading articles about "Wrasslin'" when Avalon Hill published those in The General. But I digress.

For what it is worth, this is what War Diary Number 1 looked like. I enjoyed the magazine and felt that what I received was of value and that a great deal of effort had gone into producing it. I'm looking forward to upcoming issues, and hope that the quality of submissions allows the overall quality to remain high. The magazine can only be as good as those who write for it.

The above was posted at I've since been in touch with the editor who have responded positively to the feedback. My copy of issue 2 was damaged in transit (it looks like the postman dropped it in a puddle) and the editors are shipping my replacement copy as I write this.

More info on the magazine is here:

And the magazine's website is here:

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Combat Mission: Take Thirteen

Not counting "Campaigns", the impending release of CM: Market Garden will be the thirteenth kick at the cat since the highly acclaimed CM Series made its award-winning debut at the turn of the century. (Though it's hard to keep accurate score, since you never know if you're supposed to include Touch, which I haven't, or Afghanistan, which I did despite it not being a development.)

As someone who has been accused of paying too much attention to the goings-on at Battlefront HQ, it would be tempting to say there has been a lot of talk about the upcoming release - but in all honesty, I don't think there has been. I don't intend to comment on whatever contentious issues may linger around issues of game design philosophy (the move to 1:1 representation has been firmly established and my thoughts are a matter of public record elsewhere), Digital Rights Management (personally, I've had no issues with this), or the timeline of the new game series (we do finally have a projected release date for Market Garden, per the preorder release notice on 30 August 2013, stating (admittedly in roundabout fashion) that we would see the game 4 to 6 weeks after the historic anniversary of Operation Market-Garden itself (in other words, or rather, not in so many words, since they don't come right out and say it, sometime in October). I guess I should point out I will also not be talking about's public relations style - mostly since I just did.


What is of interest is the content of the news release, i.e. the sneak peak at the content. Some background, however.

In a statement on the official forums on May 23 of this year, the developer had this to say:

Portraying the battles of Market Garden posed unique challenges to us on the development end. Specifically that Market Garden requires British and Waffen SS units, which are part of the Commonwealth module. And yet our philosophy is to never require players to purchase Module A to play Module B. Likewise, our philosophy is to not duplicate content in Modules because we don't want to double charge those who want both.

Interesting dilema we got ourselves into, eh?

Instead of canceling Market Garden (CM:MG), which we did contemplate, we decided to pack Market Garden so full of new stuff that people will find value in it and minimize the overlap with Commonwealth that people won't feel like they are buying stuff they might already have. So here's an overview of what's being included:

1. Basic Waffen SS and British units which represent those units that fought directly in the Market Garden battles. Which means the majority of units found in Commonwealth are not present in CM:MG.

2. New German Heer, Waffen SS, and Luftwaffe units have been added which aren't present in Commonwealth. These better portray the scratch formations which made up the bulk of the early German resistance to the landings. Training, security, school, admin personnel, etc. are available.

3. We've added German Navy units. These poor saps were base and ex-ship personnel thrown into battle without much consideration about their fighting capabilities (which were next to none). In fact, this is the first time we've ever had Navy ground units in a CM game. Though to be honest, it's mostly for flavor as organizationally they weren't that much different from horribly stripped down and under equipped Heer units. Still, it's better to give you explicitly tweaked units than to say "imagine those Heer guys are Navy".

4. AAA units are present for the first time on the Western Front. Not only the sorts of AAA stuff found in Gustav Line, but some new fun things like Wirbelwind and Crusader AA.

5. The Germans also now have access to Panzer Brigades. These armor heavy units are uniquely organized and contain the ever fun SPW 251/21 in large numbers.

6. Fallschirmjäger are now present, all the way from June through September.

7. Some new vehicle variants for all forces just to keep things interesting.

8. New terrain features to create the feeling you're battling in The Netherlands and not France. Yes, we have even included a windmill

9. Bridges. Lots of 'em We are including 5 custom made historically accurate bridges, a canal bridge, and 3 new generic long bridges. Some, like the Arnhem road bridge, are massive. For the larger ones we include "stubs" which map makers can use to simulate fights around the entrance to a bridge without having the other 500+ meters stuck in there.

And before the questions start flying about what new game features are to be added... a reminder that as a rule Modules do not add new game elements unless they are directly necessary for that particular Module. Besides the new bridges and some other terrain related stuff, we don't see the need for new features and therefore there won't be many directly related to Market Garden. However, anything new that was added for Gustav Line will be automatically carried over to the entire Normandy Family of games. Such as new shaders, "movie" lighting, bug fixes, gameplay tweaks, AAA support, etc. No worries there.

There's no doubt more stuff than that, but I think that's enough for now to get things started.


Note that the reference here to Gustav Line is to the parallel game series Combat Mission: Fortress Italy, in which the game engine received upgrades. New units, terrain, etc., developed for the Fortress Italy series are not available to players of the Battle for Normandy series of the games, and vice versa. Game engine changes, as noted, will in theory be made available to all game series. The updates are not "automatic" as I understand the term (for example, I have MMORPGs that will automatically upload patches when I connect to the server), but are indeed made available as new modules are completed in parallel series. There does seem to be a time lag as the small production team puts together the appropriate patches.

Pre-made Maps

The most intriguing part of the pre-order announcements is in regards to "Master Maps".

Master Maps!

The 7 "master maps" are huge maps, historically accurate, detailed and thoroughly researched, depicting the main areas around the bridges where most of the fighting happened:
•Johana Hoeve
•Arnhem Road Bridge
•Oosterhout ( north of Nijmegen)
•West Nijmegen

These master maps will help scenario designers in creating their own scenarios without the burden of having to create the maps from scratch. The maps can be cut to encompass smaller areas for individual battles.

A number of interesting questions and observations come up here.

What immediately caught my attention was the inclusion of Nijmegen, which of course would be a necessity for any treatment of the Market-Garden campaign. The subject has received a modest deal of attention in various hobby treatments, particularly both the climactic attack on the road bridge (notable for the cooperation between U.S. paratroopers and British troops of the Guards Armoured Division), and the waterborne assault by U.S. paratroopers over the Waal using flimsy assault boats, again supported by tanks of the Guards Armoured.

Elst is another interesting location; currently the subject of the first Historical ASL map for the ASL Starter Kit series. The designer of that module noted in his own blog that:

The module is based on the battle that took place along "Hell's Highway" on the "Island" between Nijmegen and Arnhem during operation Market-Garden. The battle was fought in the vicinity of the small town of Elst that is situated about halfway along the main road between the two cities of Nijmegen and Arnhem. It started on Sept 23 and lasted until Sept. 25, 1944.

The British 214th brigade from the 43rd Wessex Division fought an "ah hoc" German unit known as Kampfgruppe Knaust for control of this strategic village. The British needed to get to the Rhine River Bridge to while the Germans sought to delay them as long as they could.

The author designed this scenario for CM:BN in Feb 2013.

The locations for the "master maps" are clearly logical ones as far as placing tactical wargame scenarios there, but I'm not positive I understand the concept or the marketing. Every Combat Mission game has shipped with pre-made scenarios, which as a matter of function include a map that can be re-used for other scenarios if the purchaser wishes. This has never been a selling point before. Given that the majority of scenarios have always been "historical" scenarios (the level of historical accuracy in these kinds of games is always open to debate, another topic I won't touch here), the maps have always been "historical", and in matter of fact, given recent tools such as GoogleEarth, the trend has been to if not "accurate" maps (that is to say, accurate to the 1939-1945 period), then certainly at least "realistic" in terms of the way the terrain has been sculpted, using real world data as a guide (as opposed, say to, the "clump of this, clump of that" style of art design found in many hex-and-counter wargames.

I think I understand what the concept will be - an extremely large map which can be pared down in the editor - though maddeningly, we are not being given a preview of what to expect. Are these 100km square maps? Is there a new tool to quickly slice (and preview) them without having our CPU choke on trying to load a full size 3D representation of all of Nijmegen?

Past Announcements, Lowered Expectations

The random map generator of the original game engine was a very successful tool, if not always popular, and was able to not only give scenario designers a head start at generating random terrain, but produced "Quick Battles" instantly and for the most part entertainingly. The Quick Battle system has been carried over into the current game engine, with the requirement that maps be pre-built and, if playing against the computer, have AI plans provided to guide the computer enemy.

Theoretically, this has dropped the number of maps available to players of Quick Battles from "infinite" to very finite. In reality, the difference this makes may be more negligible than some may think. Hobby time is never infinite, for example, so a "need" for infinite map making ability is probably nil. The most prolific of the tactical board games, Advanced Squad Leader, has made do with some four dozen maps (not counting the historical and "desert" boards) for thirty years, albeit with the addition of overlays and "scenario special rules" to permit modifications to the terrain. Nonetheless, there are something like - without exaggeration - 5,800 scenarios in print (check the ASL Scenario Archive for a complete breakdown), the majority of which utilize those same 4 dozen boards. Using the Advanced Search feature on the site, and searching by just the original Squad Leader boards, one finds 81 scenarios set on Board 1, 293 scenarios including Board 2, and 316 scenarios played on a surface that includes Board 4.

The ability to mix and match the "geomorphic" (or, isomorphic) boards was something that the Combat Mission developers alluded to in some comments after the ability to randomly generate terrain was lost with the new game engine. (Map designers will note that the original game engine was restricted to a 20-metre terrain grid and just 20 different elevation levels, while the new engine has realistic contour lines of practically infinite gradation, and a tighter 8-metre grid off of which LOS and movement is based.)

In this posting , the developer hinted that a "Meta-tile" system might be introduced to the Quick Battle system:

The question many of you have been asking as of late is "where does Battelfront go from here?" now that v1.08 is out. Well, that's a valid question and I hope I can answer it to the satisfaction of most. But remember... we try to not to get too specific about low level changes because we do not wish to set up false expectations. Therefore, what follows is a more philosophical answer than a list of highly detailed descriptions of feature changes. First, an explanation of who makes Combat Mission...

Battlefront is 5 full time employees and a bunch of regular contractors. The primary force behind the games is Charles and myself (Steve, if you didn't already know). I do most of the design work and historical research while Charles does all of the coding. Charles has a significant amount of impact on the design elements since, obviously, he has to code them. Charles also has some great ideas of his own, of course, so at times he is the main brain behind a particular feature and I simply flesh it out. If Charles nixes something for coding reasons I usually manage to work around the problem areas so the feature can be included in some form.

Moon (our fearless President), KwazyDog (our lead pixel pusher), Madmatt (Battlefront's jack of all trades), and Rune (master of the monster scenarios [img]smile.gif[/img] ) handle a lot of things besides CM:SF, so although they have other responsibilities other than testing CM:SF night and day. Which is a good thing because someone has to do the other stuff!

For the day and night testing shifts we have a bunch of volunteer testers who were hand picked from this Forum. They are the ones that kick the tires and tell Charles that something needs more time in the oven You have no idea how much work they put into testing and therefore can't appreciate how much good they do for the game as a whole. Whatever faults people see in the game I can assure you that it isn't because of the testers are failing at their job.

Last, but not least, are the people posting on this Forum. Without public input none of the CM games would be what they are today. Overall the information we gather here is very valuable and worth having to sometimes dig for, even when it's burried under a pile of poo someone deposited It's not easy to handle a gaggle of highly opinionated people who aren't afraid to speak their minds (even when they've misplaced them), but that's an unavoidable part of an online discussion forum. Gotta take the good with the not-so-good. People can agree or disagree with how I handle this... I don't care. It works for us, therefore in the long run it works for everybody.

OK, with that out of the way, onto the outline...

Way back in 2003 we made a long range plan based around what is now called the CMx2 game engine. I can say, without any doubts, that things have gone according to plan and that we are overall pleased with the position we are in now. I know, I know... how can I say that after all the bugs and rancor that came about after its initial release? Well, easy... we take the long view and keep things in perspective. Of all the millions of things that could have gone wrong between 2003 and now, things have gone pretty much according to plan. Obviously things haven't gone perfectly, and we are no more happy about that than you guys are, however that's small potatoes compared to the things that could have gone wrong. Like what? Well, going out of business would have been a bit worse!

Our plan has been partially explained to you before, however in case you've missed it the next thing we will release is the Marines Module for CM:SF. More modules for CM:SF will follow in parallel with development of our next major release (aka "Title"); WW2 Western Front. The initial release will be situated in Normandy between US and German forces with subsequent addons (aka "Modules") introducing additional forces, weapons, vehicles, and some other things. The first Module for the WW2 Western Front game will be focused primarily on Commonwealth Forces, though with German and some American additions as well. We do not have release dates to announce for either the Marines Module or the initial WW2 release, however I can say that the Marines Module is very far along and the WW2 stuff has already been started on. This is the beauty of the CMx2 system... we can do parallel work and still get things done faster than we could for one topic using the CMx1 system.

What we are doing now, behind the scenes, is planning out the specific features that will find their way into the first WW2 title. Will these features make every single one of you reading this happy? Certainly not... that's not possible to do. But will these features make some of you who are currently a sitting on the fence or sitting on the sidelines happy enough to enjoy our next Title? Based on the months of feedback here, definitely. Others will continue to sit there with their arms crossed and tongues sticking out at us. Oh well, can't please everybody [img]smile.gif[/img]

For the most part our plans for the future of CMx2 have not changed since CM:SF was released. However, the emphasis on certain elements has been changed based on user feedback. Briefly, the shorterm priorities for us are:

Introduce a new Quick Battle system - It's been clear to us for quite some time that the existing system has some serious shortcomings in the eyes of many players. Therefore, a new QB system is a very high priority for the next major release. The primary improvements are some form of unit Cherry Picking system and semi-randomly generated maps. Think of this as a bridge between the good features of both CMx1 and CMx2 QB systems.

Features necessary for simulating WW2 ETO - Many of the things people have felt are missing in CM:SF aren't supposed to be there or aren't really all that relevant or necessary to the Syrian setting. Obviously moving to France means that some of these things need to be included. Besides the obvious stuff (temperate terrain/weather and WW2 units) major things to expect are water, bridges, AT guns, on map mortars, infantry riding on tanks, expanded defensive works, and other stuff like that. Obviously TacAI goes right along with this since these things all require new TacAI and/or improved existing TacAI. (note that TacAI is a long term "work in progress" and will never, ever be considered "done").

Features not necessary for simulating WW2 ETO - Some of the things that make contemporary warfare what it is are things which WW2 fans find "not fun". This has caused some to be unhappy with the Syrian setting simply because it isn't WW2, regardless of all other factors. Things like the extremely high lethality, asymmetric forces, the lack of "familiar" equipment, the whiz-bang technological stuff, etc. It should be obvious that this stuff will not come along for the WW2 titles, however it appears that this can get forgotten at times. Consider this a reminder

Some additional MultiPlayer options - I don't want to over comitt us here, but I will say that it is likely that there will be a form of TCP/IP WeGo for the Normandy game. Will it be exactly what WeGoers want? Probably not due to some technical issues and the time we'd need to make sure we could work around them. Therefore we have come up with what we feel is a viable compromise system that shoudl give WeGoers most of what they want. More on that in a couple of months when we get into the coding.

Graphics improvements - We're as unhappy as some of you are about the inconsistent performance of CM:SF's graphics on various systems. As some of you know, we've been frustrated from the start by videocards and their drivers not doing what they should. We have some ideas on how to work around the problems better and also fix some of the oddities that some of you have experienced more than others. Time is limited so some of the graphics glitches people have noted have not been high up on our fix list so far. Besides straight graphics stuff I'm alos thinking about some of the WeGo playback issues.

Some changes to the UI - Any game developer will tell you that designing a UI that makes a majority of gamers at least moderately happy is a tough task. Many have forgotten that CMx1's UI was generally frowned upon when first experienced. Complaints generally only died down when people got used to how it worked. CMx2's UI has also taken a lot of punches and, with some patched improvements, people have also gotten used to it. However, it is my sense that there is more resignation than acceptance than we would like when compared to CMx1. So it's not quite back to the drawing board, but we are are exploring ways to improve what we have.

There are lots of finer points than this, so please don't think that if you don't see something mentioned on this list that we aren't going to address it in the short term. I can't speak much to the details yet at this point anyway, so this is more or less a heads up about the general direction rather a written in stone list of specific features and what we intend on doing with them.

In conclusion... we know why we are here, we are happy with the overall position we're in, and we're looking forward to continuing on for years to come. Having faith is an option, but a total lack of faith is unhealthy. People need to figure this out for themselves because all we can do is keep blazing the trail that we are on. There is no turning back even if we wanted to. And we don't want to

Now, a special message for those of you who have so far "rejected" the new game system for one or another reason. I know for sure a lot of you will be quite happy with the WW2 game when it comes out, if for no other reason than it is WW2 and not modern Syria. Others will be less sure, but at least find it more enjoyable than CM:SF. However, it is certaint hat some of you will find nothing good in what I've said here and continue to be extremely hostile towards CMx2 just like many Steel Panthers and Close Combat guys were towards CMx1. I'm sure the latter group of people have something better to do with their time, so my hope is that they realize this so everybody can be a lot happier for it.



P.S. Support for CM:SF has not ended. It continues in parallel with Marines and WW2 development as it has for the last 2 months already.

This was followed up with:

Yes, the "mega tile" (as we call it*) map system is the route we are planning on exploring. What this basically means, in practical terms, is that people make small maps with certain predefined characteristics. This is similar to the way the game works now, but instead of selecting a single user made map CM will custom assemble one from the smaller pieces based on the QB parameters.

This is the best system we can think of since making a true random map generator is beyond our capabilities.

*(Note - a subsequent post corrected the developer on this point, reminding him that he had originally used the term "Meta Tile".

A number of items stand out here (still not mentioning the timeline, though the "Where Does Battlefront Go From Here" post can be seen to have been posted in April 2008 and the first of the World War II series will just now be completed in August 2013), notably the reference to "infantry riding on tanks" being a natural for inclusion in the Normandy game - a feature still not included. (Lest anyone think this was somehow a "Russian" practice, Michael Doubler talks specifically about how at least one U.S. Division in Normandy adopted the practice of U.S. infantry riding to contact right on the tanks as a means of ensuring close co-operation between tanks and infantry, the lack of coordination between the two having been a problem throughout the early weeks of the campaign.)

The lack of TCP/IP support seems to be an ongoing concern, for example, this thread documents (four years after the Where Does Battlefront Go From Here announcement) the ongoing requests for the inclusion to TCP/IP WEGO support. In plain English, the ability to play turn-based while connected online at the same time. This functionality existed in the original game engine. Strangely, it is possible to play in Real Time while connected online via TCP/IP. WEGO can also be done via email or a file transfer service like Dropbox (there is nothing in the game itself to facilitate the transfer of files.) Those who didn't play the original game series TCP/IP (and even some who did) see this issue as a tempest in a teapot, while others have claimed to refuse to support the new game engine unless the issue is resolved.

Also of interest is the mention of the original CMX2 game, set in a fictional U.S./NATO intervention in Syria - strangely prescient now, given President Obama's speech just today, though there is an insistence of course that boots will not hit the ground (and a British refusal to assist given the defeat of a motion in Parliament two days ago). Nonetheless, the setting seems that much more spooky somehow.

I'm personally drawn back to the issue of the maps in Combat Mission: Market Garden. I can't help but think the Master Maps, whatever they are, have been instituted as a replacement for whatever plans had originally been drawn up to provide a replacement for the random map generator and that those plans are probably now shelved. The concept of the Master Maps seems so - bizarre somehow - and like such a non-event, that it is hard to come up with any other rationale for the unveiling of this "feature", than as the realization that there is nothing better to offer in its stead. The progression seems to have gone:

* Random map generator (CMX1)
* Announcement of "MetaMap Tile" feature (2008)
* Announcement of "Master Maps" (2013)

And yet the Master Maps don't seem to be anything that hasn't already been offered in every other Combat Mission offering - i.e. historically accurate maps that can be re-used by other designers if they wish. The only hint that anything is different is they may be of a different size ("huge maps") than normally found in the new game engine.

There will be some new building and bridge types as well - a current running AAR at the official forums shows off the windmill building type:

As noted in the caption from the BFC site, the building model is not animated.


Combat Mission: Market Garden appears to be a product grudgingly put together by a publisher who wasn't quite sure how to approach the subject, and then admitted they weren't quite sure how to make it appealing. The danger with this game system, or more accurately, the current marketing approach, has always been that each of the modules would only be soldiers in different coloured uniforms not really much different than the module that went on sale six months (or, perhaps, three years) before.

With Market Garden, we see that the publisher literally struggled with this notion, having to include both Commonwealth and Waffen-SS infantry in the release that were already available via the Combat Mission: Battle for Normandy – Commonwealth Forces release. And yet, to make up for it, only substandard troops like German naval forces and Luftwaffe ground troops were apparently left to throw into the mix.

The inclusion of historic terrain is something that has been lobbied for before. I am certain I've mentioned this in the past, and am looking forward to seeing the Arnhem and Nijmegen bridges rendered in 3-D. This is a definite step forward for the game system, and has worked well in other games such as Panzer Command: Ostfront, which had historic buildings sprinkled into many scenarios (the Central Rail Station in Stalingrad comes to mind).

Whether or not the addition of a few bridges and German troops in blue pants will be enough "new" content to warrant the $40 tarrif will be hard to say. The die-hard fans will undoubtedly say yes, as they always do, leaving the only real question to be how many of them will remain to continue to subsidize the efforts. My money has already been sent in, which must make me one of them.

My Last Word

I'll yield the last word to the currently top-rated response to this promotional teaser video released by

Click "watch on YouTube" to see all the comments, but the one that has at present received the most approval states:

flamethrowers? camouflage for guns? no! new uber bridge for $ 35!