Thursday, July 26, 2012

"Their officers thought it was chic to die with white gloves on..."

I love the First World War.  I specifically like Western Front - 1914.  The problem is translating it into miniature wargaming.  I do have WWI rules.  But they are appalling violent with 80% casualty rates.  As a friend of mine said, I might as well be playing with blocks.  What rifle and MG fires doesn't destroy, artillery fire will.  This doesn't translate well into good gaming. 

I've written rules for 28mm WWI Western Front and 28mm Balkan Wars, too.  They are more skirmish based with the battalion being the largest unit on the table.  My house 20mm WWI rules are brigade level.  Those are the ones I've played.  And those are ultra-violent.  The subsequent mass slaughter defined an entire era.  The quote "Their officers thought it was chic to die with white gloves on..." is attributed to a British Expenditionary Force soldier about the French infantry officers in the heady days of August 1914.  There was still movement on the Western Front.  The problem was there were too many men deployed throughout the theater.  There was no room to manuever.  People started digging in and trench warfare became the norm. 

France bore most of the Allied casualties in 1914 on the Western Front.  If 1870 had been a year of defeat, 1914 was a year of suffering.  The French army survived.  But it was not prepared for attritional warfare.  No one was.  No one was prepared for the massive casualties lists and wholesale destruction of an entire generation. 

Several things made this possible.  First was the Industrial revolution and massive production of weapons.  The second factor was the wholesale increase in Europe's population from 1815-1914.  Whole army corps filled northern France and eastern Europe.  While in western Europe there was no room to manuever, Eastern Europe saw the movement of fronts. 

Millions of men perished under horrendous conditions.  In the words of John Keegan, there was no longer any illusions to make the military life bearable as there had been in previous generations.  There were mass mutinies both in France and Italy.  Out of the four years of carnage, four empires collapsed.  The German, Austrian, Russian, and Ottoman Empires.  And the peace didn't last long.  In the space of a generation, the world would be at war again when Nazi Germany invaded Poland.

But a question begs to be asked, why is WWII consisted a "just" war that has enjoyed more sympathetic press than the First World War?  WWII could be argued just to be a contiuation of WWI.  In order to understand the global Armageddon of WWII, one should look to the causes of the First World War.  WWI happened by mistake.  No one wanted it.  But everyone prepared for it.

There was no mistaking the starting of the Second World War.  I still wonder why a company like Battle Front Minatures can come up with a 15mm WWII miniature gaming system that plays like WH40K, while no one has marketed something for the Great War.  WWII was bloodier and more catastrophic than WWI.  But the First World War doesn't have the ring of a just cause.  There no famous leaders or important generals to cheer for.  Most the WWI generals earned the nickname the "jackasses" or "mules" from their troops.  How does someone explain a person like Field Marshal Haig and the mass slaughter of 600,000 men at the Somme?  Criminal incompetence on the verge of folly. 

So I retreat back to 1870 with the Franco-Prussian War.  The war is similar to the First World War.  The battle fields are similar.  But the outcomes are different.  Empires were both created and destroyed in 1870.  They were destroyed in 1918.  And  cries for revenge would resonate into total war by 1939 to consume the entire global with 55 million casualties.  And that is the butcher's bill for the known casualties not including those known only to their God. 

And you wonder why I don't game Flames of War? 

No comments:

Post a Comment