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)?? 😡
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.