Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A Facebook Fracas

The other day while browsing a facebook group devoted to boardgaming I came across a fellow relating an anecdote about a game he'd designed on 1st Alamein. He'd called it a classic of its kind, so I looked it up and had a quick read of the designer notes.

Being a New Zealander, and having had a grandfather who served in North Africa, I take an interest in the desert war. I don't game it myself, but have read a few books on it, and am proud of the reputation for gallantry won by the New Zealand Division and by the 8th Army as a whole. I was therefore a little surprised in this instance to read in the notes insinuations made about the New Zealand troops.

What started this designer off was that during the historical fighting on Ruweisat Ridge the New Zealand infantry advanced to their objectives overnight on 14th/15th July 1942. For various reasons the promised armour support never moved forward, the Kiwis were attacked from the rear by tanks from 8th Panzer Regiment, suffered heavy losses in killed, wounded and captured, and 4th Brigade was entirely destroyed.

Six days later, the same thing happened again: the New Zealand infantry advanced to the El Mreir depression, the armour failed to come up in support, and the infantry was again overrun by tanks against which they could do nothing, and the division took a further 900 casualties.

Ruwiesat Ridge from the NZ Archives.

On this, the designer wrote in his notes that:
An attack combining the New Zealand division with brigades of the 1st Armoured Division resulted in the overrunning and obliteration of 4th New Zealand (infantry) Brigade ... and accusations that the tanks had deserted the infantry on the battlefield.

I'm not sure where he got the 'accusations' reference from, but from my own reading I was aware that there had been some bitterness among the New Zealanders - particularly Kippenburger, who turned back to find the armour and urge them to get a move on - that the tanks had not come up in support.

But then, incredibly, instead of leaving the unfortunate incident there, the game designer wrote this:
(It might be remembered . . . that the "premature withdrawal" by a New Zealand battalion from its key position overlooking Maleme Airfield in 1941 . . . had been decisive to the loss of the island of Crete. Not only did Commonwealth forces then take grievous losses in ships and men in the evacuation attempt: the proud and brave people of Crete would suffer terribly under Nazi subjugation.)

I couldn't quite be sure of the intention, but in word he seemed to be saying that:

a) cowardice had been an issue for the New Zealanders on Crete;
b) that the subsequent losses from the Crete disaster were a direct result of this cowardice;
c) that the armour not coming up in support on Ruweisat Ridge was some kind of karmic payback!

I wondered if I was reading too much into it, but decided to reply to his post and query him to see if he had intended to imply what I thought he was implying.

In doing this I politely mentioned that while the Maleme airfield debacle was a terrible blunder, the New Zealanders were certainly not cowards, and that it would be nice if he would remove that implication from his notes.

Well, he wrote back.

HAH! The New Zealand troops may not have been cowards ... as we saw in the desert afterwards ... but 2 of their officers have been publicly criticised even in New Zealand for the bug-out, Aaron. The loss of the potentially decisive Allied airbase of Crete was extremely damaging. But nationalities do tend to get held responsible ... if only for deterring future wavering. Look at the South Africans' collapse at Tobruk in 1942. For your edification: link
 So the "implication" STAYS. The German paratroopers were almost out of ammunition, and they thought their last attack would be futile and suicidal ... only to find the New Zealand 5th Brigade had withdrawn. Your opposition to historical truth ... and justice ... however long after the fact ... is duly noted.

Again, I was slightly surprised by his approach, especially the final suggestion that I, someone he had no knowledge of, was opposed to historical truth and justice and that this had been duly noted!

I replied that he had misread the article he used as evidence: in it the accusation leveled at the officers in charge of the Maleme debacle was not cowardice; it was that they had misread the situation on the ground and, having been peacetime appointments, that they were out of their depth in the field. Personal bravery was not the issue (an MC and DSO with 2 bars for one of them; a VC for the other), and the article did not imply it was.

In the article, Major General Sandy Thomas brought out that the two NZ commanders made crucial mistakes, missed the chance to hold the airfield and throw back the German attack, and that the blunder was decisive in the failure of the campaign:

"The problem was the commanding officers responsible for the defence of Maleme – Andrew and Hargest – did not recognise what was happening on the ground," Mr Thomas said.

"In our first major battle [of World War II] our commanders were fighting a war which they did not understand."

This is a quite damning enough indictment from a fellow serviceman without a game designer needing to add in cowardice to spice up the narrative.

Anyway, the designer replied again, and decided to extend the accusations!

  I'm sure your official history put the best front on things it could ... or was told to ... but those officers nonetheless lost their nerve. Trying to rationalize that by claiming they just "misread" their tactical situation is a disservice to truth ... and future New Zealander battlefield performance, Aaron.
And regarding the discussion of contemporary games on another thread, we could further consider New Zealand now bugging out on Asian-Pacific nuclear deterrent (of China) solidarity, by proclaiming itself a "nuclear-free zone."
But back to World War 2, isn't it true that you "grateful" New Zealanders refused to load our transports, making our U.S. Marines do it themselves ... before they shipped out to Guadalcanal to SAVE you (and Australia)?? 😡
I did not want to get into an unseemly discussion on the topic of NZ-US relations on Facebook (or anywhere else for that matter), so I told him that he seemed to have a chip on his shoulder and that I would bid him good day.

And then with a classic little dig, he said: "Feel free to withdraw, Aaron"; implying that it's all one could expect New Zealanders to do!

Anyway, this little storm in a teacup has left me wondering how is it that an experienced and insofar as I can tell sober and respected game designer who clearly has a thing for historical truth and justice would include something so pointedly unjust and unnecessary in his designer notes, and then, when asked about it, turn it into an opportunity to cast aspersions on the character of someone he has never met and on the character of an entire country.

I know what to expect on Facebook and accept that there are people with whom one will never agree, who look at things from such entirely different viewpoints and accept such wildly different versions of the facts that it is impossible to find common ground with them on some issues.

But it was disappointing for me to find that a game designer would not be more reasonable in his responses. If in his considered opinion the New Zealanders had acted in a cowardly way on Crete, then that is his view and he has his right to it - though it would help if he would support it with relevant evidence - but to imply that the disaster elements of the NZ Division faced on Ruweisat Ridge was rough justice seemed to me to be far beyond reasonable.

Facebook is clearly not the forum to bring this kind of issue up (especially with a person who will respond in the fashion he did), but I am considering whether it's worth preparing a little essay and posting it on the game's page at boardgamegeek and consimworld. But then again, it might have the effect of giving him added oxygen, so I'll have to think about it.


  1. I would be careful about the business of feeding trolls, Aaron!

  2. Aaron,

    You are dealing with that most dangerous of animals ... an 'expert'! Anything you write, he will not read with an open mind. You are peddling 'fake' history that doesn't support his point of view. My advice would be to ignore him and move on.

    I wonder if he would be quite so disparaging about New Zealanders if he'd ever encountered them on the Rugby field ... or seen them in action.

    All the best,


  3. Very strange. It appears that his main spring is wound just a little too tight. As El Grego stated it might not be worth the effort to give him more fodder.

  4. Amazing. Still happy to not be a Facebook user. Don't take it personal... this guy is an obvious flake.

  5. Keyboard warrior Facebook full of em !

  6. Aaron,
    When confronted with such idiots the question to ask is "how do you KNOW that? Were you there?"
    When they bluster about sources, the next question to ask is "where they gained their command experience and what is was like commanding troops in action". Hindsight from the safety of an internet connection is a wonderful thing.
    I assume he knows all about Sidi Rezegh then? Wonder why he never brought that up.
    The problem at Alamein was Monty's over optimistic timetable, bet he's an admirer!

  7. Best to let him strut away with his chicken-brain concept of having vanquished an intellectually inferior opponent. It doesn't matter how much intelligence, wisdom, respect, common sense, etc. you muster to your cause. You're not going to convince him. You're likely only to deepen his sense of self-esteem.

  8. The fellow's a cretin - no more, no less. Don't give him the energy that it would take you to write the response, it sounds like it wouldn't change his outlook.

  9. Don't let the idiot get under your skin Aaron. As a Brit I know what high esteem New Zealand troops were held and still are (having friends still serving with the NZ Army). There are plenty enough sources to back this up - not least Rommel himself who said 'If I had to take Hell I would use Australians to take it and New Zealanders to hold it'.
    Best wishes,
    Jason (Lightbobs & Paintblobs)

  10. Just be proud that the New Zealanders were in the battle for freedom from start to finish and remain steadfast in upholding everyone's right to a fair shout to this day.

  11. You're giving him too much credit. Zero gravitas other than publishing some lousy wargame (which does not make one an expert in anything). The inability to engage in rational discourse without invective belies an ideological agenda that undermines any possible authority.

  12. I suspect he has an axe to grind about something other then ww2 history. Looks like he has read a few books and is an instant expert.

    As a kiwi now, my grandparents\uncles were in Crete, Nth Africa and Italy with the BA - Never saw anything but compliments about the NZ Division.

  13. One would hope to see a game designer draw from the various sources and then to point out to the gamer the various conflicts that exist between accounts, rather than coming off the fence in favour of one interpretation.

    This is not just an issue of 'good form', but it ensures that the designer builds into the design a set of variables that can take into account the range of possibilities that come from source material, even if doing so has the range listed as optional or 'what if' type rules.

    As for public platforms, far better a designer tread the path of diplomat and encourage gamer / buyer participation.

    You may recall that I closed my blog down for a while due to a spat that I managed to get involved with regarding 'lazy bloggers'. A period of calming down and reflection transformed the way that I use the net and now I avoid controversy type stuff and keep my internet world to the friendlier part of the web. It works for me is all I can say.

    The best thing about the internet is that everyone has a voice. The worst thing about the internet is that everyone has a voice :-)

    I think you need to get your Romans onto the table :-)

  14. You will have to agree to disagree as his mind will not be changed by you, or others. I think "do not feed the trolls" comment previously sums it up.

    p.s. it is a great little game, regardless what you may think about the views of the designer) and a friend and I played it many times after it first came out. Not had a chance to gt back to it though we do talk about it.

  15. Thank you all for your thoughts! I wasn't expecting to get such a lot of responses. The consensus seems to be to leave things there rather than post 'corrective' materials, so I shall bow to the collective wisdom. Thanks again :)

  16. Aaron, I had a similar experience when dealing with the subject of archery. It didn't matter what historical archery manuals stated the guy was adamant that 80 yards was the maximum range for a bow. It is unfortunate that the game designer was set in his opinion regardless of the actual facts. That sort of person will never accept anything that does not fit their world view.

  17. I can appreciate your passion on this issue, Aaron. That said, it was nice that the author of the rules responded to your query - whether or not his argument is justified. :)

  18. Obviously not helping the Marines load their own ships is reason to impugn the New Zealand character in general. People get bees in their bonnets over some pretty weird things, and it is highly unlikely that you can change what they choose to believe in an on-line conversation.
    Incidentally I wrote my Master's thesis on Hargest and Crete provided the bulk of my analysis. My final conclusion was that given the poor state of communications, the orders that implied a sea landing was the main concern, and the fact that Maleme was getting the worst of the German bombardment in the whole battle, the loss of Hill 107 was completely explicable and understandable. I'm sure the US Marines could have done better though...

  19. Better of out of it, Aaron! life is too short... :-)

  20. Aaron, what you said is outstanding. Reading your exchange with this sap strongly reminds me of what happens when people try to deal with our President Dimbulb. What he says is "reality" is obviously reality! Don't bother trying to offer facts or reasoned argument in disagreement, as it proves you are obviously deceitful and biased; those with an IQ under 85 have no problem with anything he says or does, so why should the rest of us?

    There is no point trying to change the outlook of someone with the biggest brain ever. Too many other more pleasant things to do!

    Best regards,

    Chris Johnson

  21. Thanks again everyone. I'm a bit overwhelmed by the response to this!

  22. I saw the tip of the exchange on FB and was surprised to see how it went south so badly. It's never a good sign when you're arguing with someone who types in ellipses.

  23. My apologizes for the appallingly bad manners and inability to engage in civil discourse on the part of an apparent countrymen. he definitely seems cut from the "America First" cloth, as implied by others. After all, no one else reallymatters, do they?


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