This post is overdue - I was knocked out of several days of normal productivity by a bout of illness and then computer problems. This caused me some problems with a number of competing deadlines and the blog simply had to wait.
In the meantime, I did finish up Guy Sajer's The Forgotten Soldier, an autobiographical account of a Franco-German soldier who spent nearly three years on the Eastern Front in World War II. It was even more depressing than I recall from reading it 14 years ago. I'm not going to do a review of the work, except to say that I highly recommend it. There's apparently some conflict regarding the authenticity of the work - you'll have to make that judgment yourself. I believe its based on actual experiences.
Beyond the sobering enrichment this book offers (akin to All Quiet on the Western Front) to a reader, there's plenty of interesting things in the book that lend themselves to wargaming the period - and I must say that I still have a hard time separating what I would consider technical details (ie. equipment, orders of battle, etc) from Sajer's emotional overall account. Regardless, here goes...
I was rather surprised how older model tanks and anti-tank guns showed in Sajer's accounts. Granted, they often appeared in last ditch defenses and the like, but I really didn't expect that Panzer I's and Panzer II's would be used in late 1943/early 1944. I recall the Panzer I's were used to tow trucks through muddy terrain during a retreat and another early Panzer (II or III) was employed in a ditch during the Prussian city fighting in late 1944. Even the 37mm anti-tank gun shows up, providing close support along with panzerfaust teams. On a sort of related note, Sajer even mentions trucks painted in blue in the late war years - I would have expected everything to have been in dunkengelb by then. Also, there always seems to be some foreign trucks impressed into service.
Sajer, whether a supply truck driver or as a member of the Gross Deutchland Division, encountered partisans more often than I would have expected. Sometimes their numbers surprised me, as well. Plenty of small actions and company-sized operations are described in the book. Again, this is where older equipment shows up (esp. the Panzer Is). Also, I believe Sajer's company mounts their machine guns on trucks during one operation.
For what was a gigantic tank battle, we only see a few tanks in Sajer's account. His unit spends its time infiltrating Russian entrenchments and fighting its way through villages. Their defensive actions in a village prior to the German retreat would make a good company-sized game: plenty of machine gun nests, coordinated with a few mortars, infantry guns, and a bit of self-propelled artillery (or anti-tank gun).
From a gaming perspective, there's a lot of unusual things one could add to their tabletop scenarios and miniatures that one doesn't expect to see late war, based on The Forgotten Soldier. Honestly, I'm only talking a little bit about how Sajer's accounts might alter the typical expectations one might have for gaming the Eastern Front.
I love history, mythology, and games. My favorite projects allow me to mix them liberally and turn readers onto something new and different. When it comes to games, players ought to do more than roll dice, flip a card, or move a piece – they ought to feel immersed. I look for this in my favorite pastimes and I bring this attitude to the table and my work. This blog features my thoughts and experiences about the games I play and my contributions to the hobby.