Otto Skorzeny – Supervillain Extraordinaire

I spent a decent chunk of November playing Avalon Hill’s the Battle of Bulge (which you can read about at Castalia House). One of the neat little things about the game was that it included pieces and rules for Operation Greif and the Einheit Stielau mission. Otto Skorzeny was charged with sending English-speaking commando units in American uniforms to secure bridgeheads along the Meuse and create general havoc in the rear while a brigade of armor using refitted US tanks and Jeeps (ultimately most of this force was made up piecemeal of camouflaged German vehicles) exploited the chaos of the first day to push ahead with the retreating American columns. While the mission was not particularly effective tactically, it created massive paranoia in the deep Allied rear, with speculation that anyone and everyone could be a secret German spy, possibly trying to assassinate Eisenhower. In game, this amounted to four 0-strength units that have a chance to delay allied units moving through towns and junctions (if they aren’t ‘found out’ and eliminated) and a single piece for the 150th Pz, an average strength armor unit with a special Day-one ability to move after combat, instead of before, and ignore ZOC.

Anyway, when I was at the local indie bookstore picking up Christmas gifts, I saw and picked up a copy of Glenn B. Infield’s “Skorzeny: Hitler’s Commando”. After finishing it, my dad loaned me his copy of Charles Foley’s Commando Extraordinary.

Foley presents Skorzeny as a noble man, a brave soldier, and a hero. Yes, yes, he was all of those things during the war, Infield concurs—also, Otto Skorzeny is Red Skull.

skorzeny

The similarities and contrasts of the two biographies were fascinating. Both acknowledge Skorzeny’s cunning, heroism, daring, and bravery—his operation to rescue Mussolini by crash-landing gliders on a mountain top was the stuff of legends that made him a hero at home and earned him the begrudging respect of the Allies, and that was just one of many feats. While Foley’s book is not quite a hagiography, it’s certainly the sort of biography I’d want written about me if I were planning to become an international supervillain. Beginning with a wistful account from a British Commando about the brotherhood between all special forces and how the testimony of fellow commandos spared Skorzeny from the noose, it’s almost shocking that so glowing an account of an enemy’s war-time feats could be written and published not ten years after the fact. The Skorzeny that Foley portrays is one who is a good and decent man who just wants to live and let live, let by-gones be by-gones, put the war behind him and move on with his life.

Infield’s book, compiled and published around 25 years after Foley’s has the benefit of hindsight and declassified documents. While the first chunk of the book covered much the same ground, the remaining two thirds were devoted to his time after the war, including a much more thorough account of his time as a POW and his exploits (in part as a CIA asset) to further the causes of international Nazism and protect escaped Nazis from those trying to hunt them down. While many modern historians dismiss the notion of an umbrella organization for any and all secret international Nazi plotting, it’s undeniable that Skorzeny had his fingers in a lot of pies, and he was one of the most active and influential former members of the SS. This context makes the end of Foley’s tale, in which Skorzeny has begun to invest in wind farming, all the more ominous. Plus, I can now say “You know who else invested in clean, renewable green energy? NAZIS!”

Perhaps what struck me as most odd about Foley’s book was that it had not one but two epilogues. The second focused on the only tangentially related exploits of the Special Air Service, but the first included some pretty spectacular “what ifs”, going so far as to suggest that war’s outcome could’ve been quite different if the Allies had been willing to do to Petain in France what Hitler had Skorzeny do to Admiral Horthy in Hungary.

So, yeah, Otto Skorzeny is one of those guys for whom the term Magnificent Bastard was coined. Even history’s villains can produce complex figures who are admirable for their bravery and heroism despite the causes they fight for. I do know that if I ever run a WWII Pellucidar game again, I’ll probably be using Skorzeny as a big bad for the campaign. Post-war, Otto Skorzeny is funneling personnel, weapons and wealth into the inner earth via tunnels in South America!

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New Wargame Wednesday Series: Battle of the Bulge

It’s been awhile since I’ve had time to document my wargaming here or at Castalia House, so I thought it would be worth highlighting that I’ve got a new one going that will carry us through into the new year.

Recently, I finished a series of Avalon Hill’s The Battle of the Bulge, which I’ll be going over in-depth at Castalia House.

Spoilers, the Nazis went 1-3, with two crushing defeats, a razor thin game-loss and one Strategic Victory (Two mechanized corps across the Meuse, in supply, on their way to Antwerp). But stay tuned each week to find out just how it went down!

This has been one of my favorite games in ages.

Been playing a beer & pretzels Russian Front game the last couple weeks, and may give a run down on those, but it’s been awhile since I’ve gone all out reviewing a game like Battle of the Bulge.

Part 1

Part 2

Also, playing BotB led to an impulse-buy of a biography of Skorzeny (there are special rules for his operation griffon commandos and the 150th Panzer); I don’t know that I’ll be getting many posts out of that (though I may yell at people on twitter about stuff). Still, if I ever run a “Nazis in Pellucidar” game again, I’ll probably make Skorzeny the big-bad.

Fortress Europa Pt 5

Tonight may be the penultimate session of Fortress Europa.  My dad and I got together last weekend and played while football was on.

We’ve fought to something of a stalemate, but considering this is WWII, that is not a good thing for the Allies.  Like in my last update, I’m several months behind the historical Allied progress.  I’ve finally made it to the Siegfried line, but even weak units are nearly invincible when in a fortress in the mountains and across a river.  It’s do or die time, so I’m forced to make repeated attacks at unfavorable odds.  My dad has opted to sacrifice his armored reinforcements for the rest of the game to take advantage of the Panzer Reserve rule; by withdrawing a little over half a dozen units in mid-fall and forfeiting any tank reinforcements for the rest of the game, on the first December turn, lots of the SS Panzer units I had killed earlier are rebuilt and redeployed.  Even with the massive reinforcements, my dad couldn’t get decent enough odds to launch a ‘Battle of the Bulge’ counterattack.  Which means there are tons of heavy tanks in impregnable fortifications rather than out as sitting ducks in the woods between the Meuse and Moselle.  “Hitler decides against launching a massive Panzer offensive through a dense forest?  Brilliant!”

Imagine how hard it would've been for us to fight through all of those red lines if they hadn't run out of gas in the forests west of the Rhine!

Imagine how hard it would’ve been for us to fight through all of those red lines if they hadn’t run out of gas in the middle of a forest west of the Rhine!

The Brits had been stalling out for some time in their own theatre, and it got to the point where I needed to just land a bunch of Americans in the north to get the job done.  I’ve managed to push through the Low Countries now and my only real chance at winning is by maneuvering around the Germans’ fortified lines and causing a systematic collapse.  My dad has refused his northern flank, but if I can get decent enough weather to fly some ground support missions, I might be able to break through.

Now that we’re reaching the end, I can see and account for all of the mistakes I’ve made.

Partisans – Even though they’re a VERY minor factor, not using my French partisans could’ve swung the game in my dad’s favor.  The Partisans are not actually a combat unit, but can be placed out at the beginning of a turn to disrupt rail movement through one hex so long as they’re not in an enemy zone of control or within so many hexes of an SS unit.

Consolidation – I spent too much time consolidating my forces and securing Brittany.  Even though my delays meant that the German forces in other districts were unable to respond, meaning I could get overwhelming numbers into France against those defenses, it cost me time that would’ve been better spent pushing forward.  The troops I sent into southern France and Italy would’ve been better in the north and central theatres and I should’ve left those areas for the Free French in Africa to handle.

Paratroopers – Most of my paradrops were used to harry German HQs.  I would drop a few elite units behind German lines, get 6-1 odds on OB West or whomever, crush it, and then be overrun by Germans who were making their slow withdraw to the Rhine.  I probably should’ve used them to get better odds against forces on the wrong side of rivers.  The few places where a strategic paradrop would’ve been helpful, either bad weather or bad timing prevented me from making the most of it.

One of the most striking parts of playing Fortress Europa is how different the gameplay is for each player.  My turns as the Allies would be 10-20+ minutes agonizing over my forces, shuffling around trying to get decent odds, tallying the strength points of all the units involved and writing them down so I wouldn’t have to recount all of my pieces for each fight and refigure the odds (because I just can’t keep track of the values of 50 counters and odds for 5-10 attacks in my head).  I’d roll through my attacks, retreat units, and do it all over again (but with reduced movement allowance and no air support) for the second impulse.  Conversely, as the Germans, my dad watches and says “Okay” when the units retreat or “Shit” when they die, then on his turn spends four or five minutes to moves the guys on the frontlines back a few hexes, moves reinforcements from the Homeland, repositions his HQs, and at most makes one attack on an Allied division that somehow got isolated at half-strength in a hex by itself.  He does enjoy playing as the Germans because he’s really good at ‘fighting retreats’, but I can’t help but feel strange that my turns have made up 3/4s of the game time.  On the plus side, it’s given him time to read the Summer 1947 Issue of Planet Stories that I’m loaning him while he takes his turns.

I’ll admit that I can’t recommend Fortress Europa as strongly as some of the other games we’ve played.  Though at a glance, it looks similar to Bar-Lev, the latter feels much more fast paced, and the tit-for-tat combat in which both combatants roll their odds at each engagement is more enjoyable than the Attacker-only combat table rolled on a D6.  There’s way more luck involve in an attack because of the Combat Results table since getting favorable odds is difficult without use of airplanes and even then can result in the awful “Defender Retreat”, and no strategy can make up for consistently rolling bad (unlike a game like Civil War).  It has a degree of nostalgia to it, and it IS neat that it includes division, battalion and platoon counters that correspond to their historical counterparts (there is even a fun but useless 150th SS Panzer Brigade 1 strength Panzer unit that can ignore American ZOC or the Voltron-like British 79th Armoured with combat engineering abilities), but there are probably better WWII games out there.