Competitors Fight WWII Battles with Mini-armies
January 20, 2011
FORT LEE, Va. (Jan. 20, 2011) -- Already famous for its informative displays featuring female Soldiers throughout military history, the U.S. Army Women's Museum has also become the site of an annual war-gaming event that attracts dozens of enthusiastic competitors and a respectable number of spectators.
The sixth annual Flames of War Tournament took place Saturday. Participants brought their rule books, miniature armies and meticulously crafted 3-D game boards to re-enact famous battles from World War II. The event focused on one particular episode of the war, as reflected in its theme "End of a Siege: Leningrad, November 1943 to February 1944."
In preparation for the tournament, participants researched battles from the specified timeframe in order to re-create them correctly. It's important to know what armies, uniforms and weapons were involved during an offensive or defensive maneuver as accurate history drives this game.
"Unlike many other FoW tournaments centered on WWII, it is the historical theme, accuracy and intensity of the battles played here that brings me back year after year," said Shan Palmatier, a participant from Baltimore.
Twelve terrain tables were also re-created to represent battlefields on the Leningrad Front. The intricate landscapes included bombed-out villages, wooded areas with bridge crossings and a rather impressive Russian czar's palace. The armies were displayed with hand-painted uniforms and various types of battle gear.
Gamers use official "Flames of War" rules that dictate the actions they can take. Opponents take turns strategically moving men and equipment to defeat their enemy. Given range, type of weapon and any other condition that applies, dice are thrown to determine if a player shoots an opponent and causes any damage.
Several different clubs were represented by the event participants, including the Battle Barn Gamers of Williamsburg, who also sponsored the event, Central Virginia Flames of War (www.whatwouldpattondo.com), Central Maryland War Gamers, I-95 Gamers and Game Vault.
Furthermore, several living historians were on hand to teach the Flame of War attendees about the Leningrad siege by displaying German and Russian historical paraphernalia.
Living historian Dieter Stenger displayed his collection of German equipment and uniforms. His exhibit had items from 1936 to 1943 and included uniforms, weapons, daily items a soldier would need to survive and a pony pack made with cowhide.
Another living historian, Jeff Roncone, wore a uniform from the 193rd Rifle Division of the Workers and Peasants Red Army of the Soviet Union. His display consisted of rifles, semi-automatic machine guns, various uniforms and issued equipment of that timeframe.
One of the most notable persons there was 89-year-old living historian Gerhard Hennes, a former German citizen who was a prisoner of war in 16 different camps and six different countries during World War II.
Hennes said he was a P.O.W. in Crossville, Tenn., because the British could not keep all their POWs and they moved them to the United States in 1943. Almost 300,000 POWs were kept in the U.S. Hennes is now a U.S. citizen and an author of several books detailing his experiences. They include "The Barbed Wire: P.O.W. in the USA," "Hybris," "Under the Crooked Cross" and "The Little Gray Notebook."
According to Ron Bingham, an Army Women's Museum staff member, the annual Flames of War Tournament increases community awareness of Army museums by demonstrating they are more than "just a collection of old stuff."
"These games show that history can be taught in other ways than historical artifacts and archives," Bingham said. "There are all kinds of ways (the museum) can show the exciting side of history; this is just one opportunity to learn something new."
The winners of the 2010 Flames of War Tournament here are Steve MacLauchlan, Best Painted Theme Army; Brian Fuller, Best Combat Air Controller; Mark Greenwald, Best Infantrymen; Phil Gibbons, Best Tanker; Greenwald, Best Losing General (Soviet); and Ken Jacobson, Best Winning General (Finland).
The roots of war-gaming can be traced back to the 1840s. German armies used the tabletop battles to plan their strategies, and the U.S. military still uses "sand table" exercises to prepare for current operations and upcoming missions.