Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Inspiration from Guy Sajer's Forgotten Soldier

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...

Obsolete Equipment
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.                                                    

Anti-Partisan Actions
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.

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