It has been far too long since I wrote a substantial blog entry. This is because my site got hacked and not being a tech guy I had to rely on the charity of friends to get the site back up. While I greatly regret the hiatus, there’s nothing to be done now – you can’t go back and change history.
In 2012, Steve Bean Games participated in the wwpd.net Operation Overlord Global Online Flames of War Campaign. I wrote about how the campaign was organized, the games my local group played and finished with a comparative analysis of the historical D-Day and the online global game “simulation” and received a “Best of the Blogs” nod from Battlefront Ltd, makers of the Flames of War (FoW) 15mm WWII tabletop miniatures skirmish game.
Starting before the wwpd.net Overlord Campaign and up until about a year or so ago, SBG was part of a very active group of 7-8 players focused on FoW. But then a number of things happened: people’s schedules changed and one of the most enthusiastic players moved away. I stayed in the area but moved another 75 minutes further from our central gaming location. Games became fewer and farther between.
After an almost complete hiatus of several months, Matt (my gaming buddy and a developer at SBG) and I wanted to get back into playing some FoW. In the absence of an active, larger group we decided to just play each other. The problem? We both play Germany almost exclusively. I DO have a largely unpainted collection of Soviets – enough for a few lists – but have almost no interest in playing them. Plus, I feel like I’m always the guy who says: “Oh, we need an Allied player? Okay, I’ll do it…” As a result I often don’t get to play the minis I’ve painted or the lists I’m interested in.
The solution? We decided we’d just play some “red on red” games. (Red on red is the military term for enemy on enemy fire or hostility.)
A Flames of War Mini-Campaign: Krieg unter Brüdern (War between Brothers)
As we started talking about playing a series of red on red games, we also started talking about a history-based fiction in which battles between German forces in World War II could plausibly have taken place.There was one battle at the end of the war in which German regular army forces (Heer) fought alongside American and French soldiers to defend a castle in Austria against the SS. But we wanted something a bit grander in scale than a single battle.
The obvious source – especially since we knew we wanted to play the Late War period in FoW – would be to fictionalize the July 20 Plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, imagine it succeeded and then add a supposition that Germany’s military devolved into civil war between factions.
So we imagined that the July 20 Plot – sometimes referred to with the misnomer “Operation: Valkyrie” – succeeded in killing Hitler in his “Wolf’s Lair” but that the conspirators’ plan to seize control of the government using the Replacement Army (sort of like the National Guard in the US and the actual Operation: Walküre [Valkyrie]) failed. Hitler’s named successor, Herman Goering, has taken over the government but the OKW – the western command of the German regular army (aka “Heer” in German) – still hopes to achieve a coup d’etat.
Goering has recalled to Germany the forces loyal to him – the SS and the Luftwaffe –to secure his grasp on power. Meanwhile, Feldmarschall Erwin Rommel has forcibly replaced Feldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel as Chief of the General Staff of the OKW and has put the support of the Heer publically behind Ludwig Beck (a retired, formerly high-ranking general who opposed Hitler in the late 30s), naming him President of Germany. This self-appointed government has ordered all Heer units to integrate any nearby SS units into their commands or to disarm said unitsif they refuse to submit to Heer authority. Beck has sent diplomatic envoys to the Western Allies offering conditional surrender to the UK and inviting the US to oversee this surrender to avoid an all-out invasion of the Fatherland by the Soviets.
In the midst of this confused situation, the aforementioned Soviets continue their rapid advance in the east. There, the entire Wehrmacht – OKH, SS and Luftwaffe – continue to fight together to prevent collapse of the front.
Western Europe is a different matter. In the wake of a general German retreat, US and British forces liberate France without firing a shot after the Battle of Caen. Operation: Cobra, the Falaise Pocket, Operation: Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge – none of these will occur; all have lost their place in (alternate) history. Similarly, in Italy, the Allies will never have to throw themselves against the Gothic Line to drive the Wehrmacht from Italian soil – it has already left.
So, in our alternate history, the Western Allies have stopped at the German border at the end of July 1944 to regroup in the wake of their unopposed, lightning advances behind the rapidly withdrawing Germans. Allied air forces continue to patrol the skies. Overtures of surrender from the OKW have inclined the Allies towards the Heer and so Allied ground attack aircraft sortie against SS, Fallschimjager and other Luftwaffe units when clear targets present themselves. But for the most part the Western Allies are content to let the Germans tear each other apart and take advantage of the gift of time to make ready to launch a new offensive when the dust settles.
Four-Game De-escalation Campaign
A quick search of the web will reveal many discussions of the question “Would the success of the July 20 Plot significantly changed the outcome of WWII.” The general consensus seems to be, in a nutshell, “no.” But Matt and I are almost entirely unconcerned with this question. The purpose of our fiction is to give us an excuse to play a red on red multi-game series with the internal logic of the fiction shaping some of the parameters of army list-building and other game mechanics.
The winner of a FoW game is the player who captures an objective or forces the other player’s company to fail morale and break. The games are then scored on a seven point scale. This final scoring depends on how many platoons the losing player defeated in the winning player’s force. This produces the following four possible game scores: 7-0, 6-1, 5-2 and 4-3. At the end of our four games we’ll calculate a total score but winning and losing isn’t really the focus of this series of “friendly games.” Instead we’re focused on mastering rules, practicing tactics and running all the fun army lists we’ve never gotten to play.
There is a well-established campaign format in FoW called “escalation.” In an escalation campaign the size of players’ forces increase with each game over the course of a multi-game series. We decided to do the opposite: a de-escalation campaign. The size of our forces would shrink over the series of four games, representing an attritional effect of a civil war on German military strength. In 2014, the official point count for a Late War tournament force was 1780 points. We decided to do a four-game mini campaign. Our four games will have point counts of 1650, 1500, 1350 and 1200 points respectively.
“Approved” Source Books for Army-Building Lists
Like many tabletop miniature skirmish games, FoW uses source books to guide players in selecting forces to play. One of the things about FoW as a game product that most impresses us is the research that goes into trying to make FoW source books history-based. But our campaign was ranging into the realm of fiction! So in designing our campaign we would have to decide which books/lists – and the historical forces they present – would be appropriate to an “alternate history.” Exercising our powers of interpretation and extrapolation we selected:
Atlantik Wall and Blood, Guts & Glory: These two books offer army lists from the German defense of Normandy. We agreed that any of the units represented in these two books that survived the first weeks of fighting after D-Day would be present in our fictitious general withdrawal following Hitler’s assassination.
Bridge by Bridge: Covering German forces in Holland during Operation: Market Garden in September 1944, we thought that the Kampfgruppes – ad hoc combos of any and all available units – in this book would represent well the mixing and matching that might occur in the wake of the schism between Heer and SS/Luftwaffe.
Devil’s Charge and Nuts!: These source books cover many of the key German units of Hitler’s doomed Ardennes offensive. Though the so-called :Battle of the Bulge will never occur in our alternate history timeline, many of the lists in this book represent units and force compositions that were already being organized at the end of July 1944 and could believably come to the battlefield in our fictional civil war.
Fortress Italy: In our alternate history, German forces have withdrawn from Italy to join the factional fight over who would govern the Fatherland. Fortress Italy would provide us with game lists for the forces coming from the historical “southern front” on the Italian peninsula.
Desperate Measures and Bridge at Remagen: These two source books cover the makeshift German units that defended the Reich on home soil in the final days of the war in Europe. Though Desperate Measures is written with a view to the eastern front, its lists also represent units that fought in the west. Both books cover a period a good six months or more later in the war, but we thought these books would serve a similar function to Bridge by Bridge – representing the kind of ad hoc forces we imagine this fictitious civil war would produce – AND a function similar to Devil’s Charge and Nuts!: representing units and force compositions that were already being developed, if not utilized, at the end of July 1944.
In my next blog I’ll present some house rules we instituted in our campaign as well as brief after-action reports (AARs) for any games we’ve completed by then. Until then, Happy New Gaming Year!