When Gaming Meets History #2: I Love Tanks!07 Jun 2003 0
The Real Thing!
A frosty early April wind chilled my ears and nose as I climbed out of my brother's car during a recent visit to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds Tank Museum in Maryland. I had combined a family visit with a reunion of Steel Panthers World at War fans on a bright but cold (at least to a good old southern boy) Sunday morning. What we lacked in numbers in the group we more than compensated for in enthusiasm.
After going through the careful scrutiny of the U.S. Military Police at the entrance to the Proving Grounds during this time heightened security and Code Orange, we headed down the road and suddenly to our right the first four of these majestic land battleships of history appeared before us. It was a gorgeous sight. I had been here four years earlier and had lamented the decaying state of these steel monsters as rust nibbled away at their bodies. I now saw evidence that Herculean efforts were being made to change that. I admire the determination of those at the Tank Museum to try to restore these few remaining pieces of history before they are eaten away by nature.
Our small caravan quickly pulled over, dismounted, and gazed in awe at these monuments to history. Here were the tanks that I had enjoyed on my computer right before my eyes. I could gaze at them, touch them, and fully enjoy their silent majesty. My imagination took over, as the diesel engine sputtered and coughed to life, tankers climbed on board and the turrets rotated in a some test turns. What a moment!
In the first bunch that we encountered, I was especially drawn to the "Honey," a carefully mounted and redone M-3 Stuart tank. The other larger vehicles dwarfed it but it still held its cannon high in a sense of pride for what it had accomplished during the war. It is said that a British officer in North Africa, after taking the little tank for a trial run, leaped from the turret and cried excitedly, "It's a 'Honey' of a tank!" And so it was.
It was quite a memorable visit for all of us. We got back in our cars and proceeded to the Museum itself, where the main body of these steel ghosts had their guns proudly pointed outward in a silent salute. We first toured the inside of the museum and as strutting armchair generals moved to the outside where we passed one armored vehicle after another, trying our best to identify each before someone else did. Sometimes I was right. Sometimes I wasn't. There were at least 100 of them spread over a large field, perched on concrete runners, some with nameplates to tell us what they were. We saw tanks from the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, Germany, Italy and Japan. They covered the entire span of armored warfare, including some ancients from the First World War.
I came away from that visit more firmly convinced than ever that I was a tank lover! But then, I'm far from alone. Undoubtedly some of you have visited there and know that feeling. Even for those who have not made that trip, you still have that deep respect and awe for tanks and the men who controlled them. I have yet to figure out quite why I have this feeling about them. But it's deep inside me and looks as though it is here to stay.
Tanks and Computers
When it comes to wargaming, I have my opportunity to enter that fantasy world of steel, cordite, cramped quarters, excited cries and desperate maneuvering, bringing my guns to bear on the enemy. Of course, it's nothing like the real thing, I suppose, except for capturing something of the deep emotion I sense when being in control of one of the behemoths via my computer.
Are you a tank lover too? Then you know what I am talking about here. How well I remember the movies focusing on individual tanks, such as Sahara, or Target Zero (Korea), or even The Beast. In these Hollywood reproductions, the tanks took on a life of their own. You can probably call to mind others that will live in your memory.