Phony War – War Games
By Joseph Morschauser
Reprinted from Table Top Talk, July 1965
Twenty-six years ago the French and Germans sat in massive fortifications of concrete and steel, facing each other across a several mile wide strip of no-man’s-land. There was as yet no hint of the mass panzer thrusts, the super swift armored attacks which were to come. Twenty-six years ago, World War II was still nothing but a “Phony War”.
But there was fighting and men were killed. Every so often one side or the other would sally forth from its super fortifications and attack a few pillboxes, trenches and fortified houses. Newspapers would report a push by the Germans or French. Then all would be quiet for a time until the other side came out and retook the positions. This phase of WWII has a great potential for the war gamer today.
One of the problems faced by war gamers who favor modern period games is the very long range of weapons. A “phony war” war game can help eliminate this particular problem. Neither side during this odd period wasted much time or energy on long range artillery nor aircraft attacks. The small actions mentioned above were instead carried on with very limited means. A French battalion, equipped with standard infantry weapons, would advance into an area defended by Germans with similar weapons. Perhaps the French might be supported by a few machinegun carriers (copies of the Carden-Lloyd Tankette), but no more. There would be some mortar barrages on open trenches, a lot of machine gun fire, grenade-throwing. But never would either side call down long range heavy artillery on the other. Things were too pleasantly quiet (in a relative sense) for that. Safe and comfortable in their permanent fortifications just back of the fighting area, the main bodies of each side had no desire to rock the boat. And therein lies the rub of this suggestion for war gaming.
Most war gamer’s table top battlefields are large enough to contain realistic ranges for infantry weapons of the modern types. Thus, if you limit your forces to machine guns, mortars, rifles, grenades, a flame thrower or two and give each side limited objectives you can fight a fine little realistic modern action. Dig the Germans for example, into a small village containing several houses. Give them half a dozen pill boxes containing machine guns plus some trench positions for their mortar.
Draw up rules for snipers, mines, effect of grenades on troops in the open and in pill boxes and trenches, effect of flame throwers, cover, and all the other important little things of close-in infantry warfare. Then, put down a French attacking force and go to it. As your troops come into contact remember to make use of rules for suppressing fire (fire against pill box openings forcing occupants to keep back and not fire), melee hand-to-hand combat both inside and outside of structures, and points gained by objectives.
Regarding the last, one of the best ways of judging the winner of an action is to give the defensive side points for its positions. The attacker must then knock out and occupy these or enough of these to control at least 51% of points available on the battlefield. If he does so, he wins the action. If he does not, the defender wins.
The Phony War has much to recommend it to the war gamer.