You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.Dwight D. Eisenhower
The day was 6th June, 1944. Exactly 75 years ago. During the early hours, thousands of allied troops assaulted the northern coasts of Normandy in one of History largest displays of coming together as one to defeat a greater evil. D-Day lives on as a reminder that Freedom doesn’t come without sacrifice and that young, brave soldiers with no cover in front and the raging channel waters behind rushed the 400 meter strech of sand that kept the european nations under the odious apparatus of nazi rule. They did not flag or fail. They did go on to the end. They did fight on the beaches. They did not surrender.
Wave after wave they crashed against the german coastal defences and fortifications of reinforced concrete and steel. The task was herculean to everyone involved but-when the day was over- the might of the Atlantic Wall came tumbling down. Germany was on the back foot and found itself stuck between the Soviet meat-grinder to the East and the Allied spearhead in the West. The race for Berlim was on. The war would last a year more.
Despite popular perception the tides had long turned on the Axis powers in Europe a year before D-Day ever took place. By 1943 Germany had lost any hope of gaining an upper hand on the East after failing Operation Citadelle and being terribly defeated at Kursk. The Wermach would never manage to gather enough resources to take on the offensive again. To the south, in Italy- the soft underbelly of Europe- the combined allied forces invaded Sicilly in July 1943 and 3 months later American boots touched Italian mainland. The siege on Berlim was inevitable, and by 1943 it was all a matter of time.
But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men.
The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!Dwight D. Eisenhower
D-Day will forever be engraved in our collective minds as the turning point of the Second World War and no other moment in military history has received so much general media attention as the 6 of June, 1944: this triumph of industrial power, audacious military planning, cunning deception and display of courageous valor and tactical prowess fueled by the imense human drama and high stakes are all but important pieces that have kept alive the vivid imaginations of liberty-loving people all around the world. It is empathy that has everyone of us going back every year to remember those who fought and die.
Pop culture representations of the Battle of Normandy are plentiful. Copious amounts of books, drafts, notes and articles have been published. Engrossed by the humane melodrama countless movie have been produced. Fueled by the possibilities for limitless action and tactical consideration scads of games have been developed. From First Person Shooters to Real Time Strategy, the theme thrives and flourishes.
Last year I picked a couple of games that I believe show some different perspectives on that faithful morning. This time around I bring some oddities that not only focus on the beach-on-beach action but also the fight that took place after the bunkers and trenchs had been cleared by the first waves.
Following the footsteps of the quintessencial Medal of Honor: Allied Assault comes Call of Duty 2. This time around, the FPS darling of the early 2000s was lighting a candle at the infamous climb of Point Du Hoc. What a mission it was! It had you carrying a Springfield Sniper you could use to pick up germans firing at you. The player climb the cliff just to realize that the guns have been moved out (just like IRL). The mission then has you going in search of them in the nearby village and fields, giving you an early taste of the bocage fights to come. After taking out the guns you are recalled back to Point du Hoc to mop out the german resistance.
Playstation 2 players got themselves into a Big Red mess when Call of Duty 2: Big Red One had them landing at Omaha with an interesting twist: Instead of dropping you right into the sandy shores you start with a pair of binocculars relaying bunker locations to your naval artillery. It won’t take too long for you to be a victim of the enemy own guns. A couple of minutes later you are trown overboard and have to make a sprint for cover in what can only be described as the shortest Omaha Beach representation of all times. A couple of steps and you’re at the shingle. Then you proceed to do your run of the mill trench teutonic wacking.
The most recent and goriest depiction of the slaughter that took place at Omaha comes from the folks at Activision once more with Call of Duty: WWII. It might actually be the most authentic even, were it not for its short-comings. It strays away from the typical representation of cliff-side towering bunkers that you see in Saving Private Ryan and many other videogames and opts for a more grounded approach with short gun emplacements for the germans and historically inspired bunker designs. The shingle is also a lot more similar to the real-life counterpart being made of sand and wood instead of just a slightly elevated dune and barbed-wire.
It’s just too bad everything else just slumps downhill from there. The sound design undersells the action. The race for the shingle is so short it really fails to demonstrate how gruelling of a task it was to cross the beach to arrive at some sort of cover. The overly scripted scenes remove a lot of the tension making the action feel too directed towards cinematic set pieces that show you what the designers think you really need to see and not what you wish to see. The guns you use lack any meaningful impact or recoil, the trench clearing is a grand-fest of wack-a-kraut and there’s really nothing exceptional about this mission other from being a tad more grounded in reality but they ended up doing nothing with it. As with everything else Call of Duty of late it brings the looks, the means and the talent to create something impressive yet failing to do so everytime.
Last year I made a mistaked and said that Sudden Strike 4 was not very good at being a decent videogame. I wish to correct that to: Sudden Strike is semi-decent as an RTS and I very much enjoy it despite the lack of depth. The D-Day mission has some interesting twist, having you parachutting alone behind the beaches and then garnering a force strong enough to capture the german guns that you can then use to help the forces on the beach push through. Not necessarily the most impressive mission but still rather interesting. The game even gives you control of tanks, something seldom seen.
Speaking of tanks this leads me to Steel Division. This one takes the interesting concept of Wargame’s franchise large scale engagements and brings them to the bocage-ridden fields of Normandy. It sheds a lot of the intimacy of most RTS squad-based style of play for a more birds eye view of tactics. Steel Division centralizes its concepts on long distance engagements, terrain recon and territorial superiority, line of sight, deck selection and strategical placement of military hardware. The game photo-based maps and its ridiculously large pool of units stand out if you enjoy that kind of stuff. I’ve recently gotten all DLC and found out about the existence of a “division” based on veterans of the Spanish Civil War. One could even stage a couple of Civil War scenarios. I will see to that. Steel Division allows you to create a multitude of “what if” scenarios to see how different divisions would have fared against each other. Its three phase system works even better in these kind of maps as one can easily imagine phase one being the early troops being unloaded and the subsquent phases the heavy reinforcements coming through.
If you are a lucky owner of the excellent U.S.Corps 44-45 expansion pack for Panzer Corps and enjoy the simplicty of Panzer General style of gameplay then this entry brings an abstract, yet extremely fun and understandable representation of the D-Day beach and airborne landings.
For the real grog we have the most versatile wargame of all time, the Operational Art of War IV. I have been going in and out of ToW for nearly an year now but never really got into the WW2 stuff. Despite that I found out about 3 scenarios in-game at the moment that focus exclusively on the D-Day landings and first movements in-land. Don’t really ask me anything about them, they are too detailed, even for my taste. Maybe one day I will give it a try.
D-Day stands out as one of the largest military achievements of human History. Those that stormed the beaches landed themselves on eternal History under the eyes of an hopeful World that wished for better tomorrow.