Forgotten Theatres of World War 2

By Sean Couture 03 May 2017 0

By just taking a mere glance at wargaming and the wider strategy genre as a whole it’s more than apparent that the Second World War monopolises both in a big way and for good reason. It’s after effects shaped culture and politics on a global scale that are still felt by many to this day, and due to the war’s immense size and scale there are countless documents, journals, books and other points of reference covering it. But as is often the case with history certain flashpoints and theatres have taken centre stage, whilst others remain largely unsung. Today, dear readers, we shall be looking at two such unsung theatres and why I think that they should be transposed over into the virtual medium we call gaming.

Operation Weserubung

In late 1939, after the fall of Poland, Hitler had his sights firmly set on Europe’s “low countries” (The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg) for his eventual push into France. However Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, a senior member of the Kriegsmarine, voiced his concerns about Germany’s supply of Swedish iron ore that came through the Norwegian port of Narvik. Specifically Raeder feared a pre-emptive British invasion of the neutral nation designed to cut of Germany from a valuable resource use for her tanks, ships bullets and so on.

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Meanwhile in London, the War Cabinet under then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was discussing the possibility of a German invasion of Norway, at which point a pre-emptive invasion of Norway was then discussed and devised under the name Plan R4. This invasion never occurred but a small section of Plan R4 was carried out (called Operation Wilfred) which involved the Royal Navy mining off the coast of Norway to force German ore shipments out of Neutral waters into open sea where they could be intercepted.

Things had progressed faster than either side had expected and by the time the Royal Navy had begun their mining operations a Kriegsmarine invasion force was steaming its way towards Norway so the Allies mobilised fast the battle for Norway had begun.

Panzer General 2, Atlantic Fleet, and the original Blitzkrieg all covered this Theatre to some small extent, but all three of their representations were sadly superficial at best. In all three of the aforementioned titles no real attempt was made to accurately simulate Norwegian forces, nor the complex political situation at the time. Strategic Command WWII: War in Europe also attempted to recreate Operation Weserübung but it was done through an event rather than actual gameplay.

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It’s not hard to see why devs haven’t touched this theatre a whole lot, in all honesty. The invasion of Denmark, an often overlooked aspect of Operation Weserübung, lasted around six hours, making it the shortest campaign of the war. This was not due to cowardice or incompetence on the part of the Danish army (though they were clearly marked from the beginning) but instead occurred when German bombers dropped leaflets over the capital of Copenhagen. With the air force decimated and the city devoid of air defense King Christian X realised that the civilian population would suffer greatly from potential German air raids, and ordered the Danish Army to stand down. The series of events I just recounted would be difficult for a grand strategy titles to recreate without overuse of event cards and railroading players, while smaller operational/company/platoon level games wouldn’t have enough content to use.

Norway, however, managed to resist invasion for almost three months (making it the nation that held out against a German invasion for the second longest amount of time, the first being the Soviet Union). Norway faced the same problem as Denmark, though, in that its forces were woefully outdated and significantly less trained than Germany.

Naval superiority was undoubtedly one of the largest contributors in Operation Weserübung’s outcome, especially in the early stages. Both battles of Narvik where some the biggest battles of the early war, and displayed the strengths and weaknesses of both the Kriegsmarine and the Royal Navy. A title such as Command Modern Air Naval Operations (or CMANO for short) would be perfect. Whilst not set during Operation Weserübung, CMANO has already covered a conflict in Scandinavia region with the well received Northern Inferno. Players would control either Allied or Axis naval forces, starting before the invasion has been commenced. The AI on both sides would have several historical and nonhistorical plans to choose from, keeping players on their toes and promoting replayability. Objectives would possibly be a little difficult to define: historically, the Germans conquered both nations and struck a humiliating blow to the Allies, so their objectives would most likely stay the same. The Allies, on the other hand, would have to minimise losses and seek smaller victories -- such as damaging Narvik harbour -- to deny it from the Germans or something to that end.

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Another theatre for consideration would be the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941. Germany and her allies invaded the new Kingdom following a successful coup that had overthrown the previous government, which had just signed the Tripartite Pact and joined the Axis powers anyway. Much of Yugoslavia’s population welcomed the Germans and refused to fight in the nation’s defense - The country only held out for twelve days before surrendering. Despite this, German rule (and more specifically, the rule of the puppet government set up by Germany) was unpopular. Various Partisan groups formed. The main two were the Chetniks who supported the old Monarchy and the National Liberation Army (who also changed their name quite a few times) who had more communist leanings and were led by Josip Broz Tito, future dictator of Yugoslavia.

Only one game to my knowledge has ever covered the Yugoslav Partisan movement. Released in 2005, Codename Panzers: Phase Two was a fairly unique RTS with some original ideas that sadly fell foul of one elementary fact: it wasn’t Company of Heroes. Despite being released almost a full year later, Relic’s classic dominated the WW2 RTS horizon and easily swept any competition aside. As a result, Codename Panzers: Phase Two was almost entirely overlooked and forgotten by many. It’s gameplay regarding the Partisan faction was robust, but wasn’t really innovative in general; it felt more like a visual and narrative novelty rather than anything meaningful (though it was still appreciated).

This article mentions games published and/or developed by members of the Slitherine Group. For more information, please see the About Us page.

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