Battles That Fascinate Me
Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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There have been a lot of military history lists on this site, the latest being this one: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/34083. It got me thinking about battles that aren't necessarily great or decisive, but those that fascinate us or speak to us on a deeper level. I've made a list of ten of these battles. Forgive the bias for musket combat, because it is my favorite form of warfare, and the lack of non-western battles. Sadly I'm mostly ignorant of Asian and African history prior to 1850.

Please feel free to add any battles that fascinate you.
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1. Board Game: Shiloh: April 1862 [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:4586]
Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Erin go Bragh! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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Shiloh 1862

If there is any battle that I know the most about it is certainly Shiloh, the bloody conflict that erupted in the tangled woods of Tennessee. In one sense the battle was like the assassination of JFK because it ended American innocence about the Civil War and forever changed the psychology of the conflict. The fact that most of the men involved were green only added to the tremendous horror and the battle became a favorite subject of songs, paintings, and even some poetry. The nature of the battle, where both sides often lost control and the fighting took on a life all its own makes this a subject I never tire of studying and pondering. My 2002 visit to the battlefield was an intense experience and the equivalent of a pilgrimage.


The Hornet's Nest:
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2. Board Game: Atlantic Storm [Average Rating:6.53 Overall Rank:2236]
Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Erin go Bragh! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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Battle of the Atlantic 1939-1945

All my life it seems I've known about u-boats, and when I started reading one of my favorite topics was the horrendous struggle for control of the North Atlantic. Nowadays Das Boot is one of favorite movies and Silent Hunter III has already robbed me of many valuable hours.


U-boat under attack:
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3. Board Game: Highlander [Average Rating:6.60 Unranked]
Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Erin go Bragh! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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Culloden Moor 1746

There is tragedy in the Scottish highland clans siding with Bonnie Prince Charlie and then charging the fields of Culloden in a desperate and vain attempt at victory. This is the kind of battle where even the victors cannot celebrate afterwards. It represents the violent and horrible passing of a way of life.


Highlanders vs. Redcoats:
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4. Board Game: Second World War at Sea: Midway [Average Rating:7.12 Overall Rank:3645]
Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Erin go Bragh! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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Midway 1942

How one feels about this battle stems from your perspective. To the Japanese it is almost a grand Greek tragedy as her navy, at the height of its powers, was so utterly defeated. For the Americans it is a tale of hope and victory against great odds. It has become en vogue in many circles to downplay the significance of this battle, or to even say that given the Japanese deployment they were certain to lose. I disagree, and the ways in which luck, skill, and hubris influenced the outcome give this fight a special kind of drama.


Japanese cruiser Mikuma on the verge of sinking:
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5. Board Game: The Battle of Bunker Hill [Average Rating:4.33 Unranked]
Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Erin go Bragh! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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Bunker Hill 1775

Like Shiloh, Bunker Hill's impact was as much psychological as anything. The British, overconfident, marched up Breed's Hill and found out the Americans could fight. The Americans in turn became overconfident and expected the British to continue such foolish attacks, leading to the mindset that would spawn the disaster at Long Island. Regardless both sides now began to take the war very serious. Ironically in America most still view the struggle as idiotic redcoats marching to their death, a myth with only a thin basis in the facts.


The British march up Breed's Hill:
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6. Board Game: Caesar: Conquest of Gaul [Average Rating:7.37 Overall Rank:2215]
Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Erin go Bragh! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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Sabis 57 BC

When I read The Gallic War I was struck by Caesar's description of this fierce encounter that found his men practically ambushed and forced to fight for their lives. But the men held and according to Caesar the Nervii, a warrior tribe, were surrounded and did not submit. They fought to the death. This battle epitomizes the horror of not just war, but battles that turn into slugging matches.


Gallic horsemen:
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7. Board Game: The Battle of Saratoga [Average Rating:7.00 Unranked]
Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Erin go Bragh! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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Bemis Heights 1777

Everytime I read about this battle I feel a strange excitement. There is still debate on what Burgoyne planned to accomplish with his attack, but the death of Simon Fraser and the seizure Breymann's redoubt were certainly not among his plans.


Benedict Arnold in battle:
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8. Board Game: Jena-Auerstadt [Average Rating:5.91 Overall Rank:8112]
Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Erin go Bragh! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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Jena-Auerstedt 1806

I find that many military historians and buffs are dismissive about the French, which is in no small part due to their 20th century blunders. Many are fans of the German military, which I am very critical of. I find French history to be infinitely entertaining, with many highs and lows. Jena-Auerstedt is one of those highs, a stunning example of Napoleonic brilliance in a campaign that saw Prussia subdued in little over a month. It would not be until 1940 that the Germans would achieve a victory as great as the lesson Napoleon taught them in 1806.


Napoleon riding passed the Imperial Guard before the battle:
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9. Board Game: Embrace An Angry Wind [Average Rating:6.74 Overall Rank:5485]
Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Erin go Bragh! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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Franklin 1864

Franklin could easily be called the Culloden of the South. Another hopeless and brave charge that seems to signify the death of an age, and all of its vices and virtues. Sam Watkins, a Tennessee soldier who fought in many battles, wrote that his pen trembled when he recalled Franklin.


Patrick Cleburne in the midst of battle:
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10. Board Game: Fontenoy 1745 [Average Rating:5.82 Overall Rank:8608]
Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Erin go Bragh! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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Fontenoy 1745

Fontenoy was the bloddiest battle of the War of the Austrian Succession but like Maurice of Saxony, the brilliant commander who won the day, it has been somewhat forgotten. There is something pleasing to me in Maurice's handling of the battle. He dictated the course of the fight by choosing a good defensive position and then made a strong counterattack that gave him victory. Fontenoy was a masterful victory by one of history's greatest commanders.


Maurice riding passed Scottish prisoners:
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11. Board Game: Wellington's Victory: Battle of Waterloo [Average Rating:7.08 Overall Rank:2282]
Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Erin go Bragh! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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Honorable Mention

Rather than go on and on I've provided a list of some other personally interesting battles.

Ancient:
Babylon 539 BC
Gaugamela 331 BC
Metaurus 207 BC

Medieval/Renaissance:
Clontarf 1014
Stamford Bridge 1066
Otrar 1219
Flodden Field 1513

Musket:
Camden 1780
Guilford 1781
Borodino 1812
Queenston Heights 1812
Waterloo 1815
Gettysburg 1863
Atlanta 1864

Modern:
Marne 1914
Moscow 1941-1942
Guadalcanal 1942-1943
El Alamein 1942
Peleliu 1944
Berlin 1945


The fall of Berlin:
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12. Board Game: Eylau: Napoleon's Winter Battle, 1807 [Average Rating:6.61 Overall Rank:5701]
Mark Ernst
United States
Morrison
Illinois
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This is the one that gets it for me: the first major battle in which someone fought Napoleon to a draw. I just can't forget the images of the desperation of the grand cavalry charge led by Murat that went in one side of the Russian army and then turned around and came back out. Throw in a snow storm and I'm hooked.
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13. Board Game: Caesar at Alesia [Average Rating:7.07 Overall Rank:1483]
Eric Johnson
United States
Rohnert Park
California
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The Battle of Alesia, 52 BCE

One of Julius Caesar's greatest military achievements. In the winter of 54-53 BCE, Gallic tribes rebelled against the Romans, choosing Vercingetorix of the Avernii tribe as a leader. When Caesar got the news, he quickly crossed the wintry Alps, surprising the Gauls and defeating some of the smaller rebellious tribes.

Caesar himself pursued Vercingetorix with six legions and some Gemanic cavalry, finally catching the Gauls at a fortified hill called Gergovia. Caesar's forces suffered a punishing defeat attacking the strong Gallic position and retreated.

After several cavalry engagements, Caesar managed to fragment the Gallic army, and Vercingetorix withdrew to the fortified town of Alesia.

Caesar immediately began construction of a ring of fortifications around the town and settled in for a siege. Over ten miles of twelve foot high ramparts were built to bottle up the 80,000 Gallic warriors in the town.

Knowing that Vercingetorix had sent his cavalry to summon more warriors, Caesar also ordered the construction of another ring of fortifications facing away from the town, forming a giant fortified doughnut with an outer perimeter over twelve miles long.

In the end, a Gallic relief force arrived, and the Romans, outnumbered perhaps five to one, defeated both the desperate and starving Gauls sallying from the city and the hordes of fresh soldiers in the relief force.

Caesar's personal leadership at the front lines and the phenomenal courage and discipline of his men carried the day for Rome. Vercingetorix surrendered, and the rebellion collapsed.

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14. Board Game: The Battle of Agincourt [Average Rating:5.57 Overall Rank:9050]
Ben Foy
United States
Ellicott City
Maryland
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This was a total fiasco for the French. Marriage negotiations in force. But this battle has resonated throughout the ages. The idea of the outnumbered peasant longbowman beating back a huge force of mounted knights recurs with great regularity in Fantasy literature.
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15. Board Game: Samurai Lords: The Wars of Feudal Japan [Average Rating:7.44 Unranked]
Ben Foy
United States
Ellicott City
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Kublai Khan's 2 invasions of Japan were notorious. The Japanese were unprepared for the first invasion. Both invasions were halted when a typhoon hit the Mongol fleet.
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16. Board Game: 11 de Setembre [Average Rating:5.25 Unranked]
Marc Figueras

Barcelona
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Barcelona, September 11th 1714

The true end of the Spanish War of Succession. After the Treaty of Utrecht, and the withdrawal of all English, Dutch and Austrian troops, the Catalan authorities, who supported the recently-become Austrian emperor Charles VI, found themselves alone against the combined Bourbon Spanish-French armies. (As the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Henry St. John Bolingbroke, put it at Utrecht, "It is not for the interest of England to preserve the Catalan Liberties").

By 25 July 1713, the city was surrounded but attacks upon it were unfruitful due to the scarcity of artillery. After arrival of the French Duke of Berwick with 20,000 men in May 1714, the assaults were renewed. The final assault on September 11 began at 4:50 a.m. and passed through the walls but achieved just minor advances inside the city, with a fierce street fighting (some places, were taken and retaken some dozen times in few hours). Nevertheless, the situation for the defenders was hopeless; at around 3 p.m. capitulation was accorded.

This defeat has a strong emotive bias for the Catalans, as it represented the final of independence or even autonomy inside the Spanish crown for many years to come (in fact, this date is now commemorated as the National Day of Catalonia). And damn! I walk almost every day over the battlefield! (nowadays almost completely erased by the city urban fabric). It's always chilling to park your car in the same place where 300 years ago there was one of the bastions where the harder fight took place.

Sadly, there is just one old wargame on this battle, a very simple one and not very good nor interesting, for that matter. Hopefully we'll see a new game on the subject very soon, much more historically accurate (I hope the authors will soon introduce it here on BGG and at ConsimWorld).



By the way, the withdrawal of English troops became a bone of contention in the House of Lords during various sessions:

[...]the Honour of the British Nation, always renowned for the Love of Liberty, and for giving Protection to the Assertors of it, was most basely prostituted; and a free and generous People, the faithful and useful Allies of this Kingdom, were betrayed, in the most unparalleled Manner, into irrevocable Slavery; and in Consequence of which most dishonourable and perfidious Counsels, the most execrable Hostilities, Burnings, and Plunderings, were committed upon them throughout their whole Province, without sparing the Effusion of innocent Blood, and without the Distinction of Age or Sex; and that unfortunate People were afterwards forced to undergo the utmost Miseries of a Siege, in their Capital City of Barcelona; during which, great Multitudes of them perished by Famine and the Sword, many of them have since been executed. (House of Lords Journal Volume 20: 2 August 1715)
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17. Board Game: Little Big Horn: Custer's Last Stand [Average Rating:6.38 Unranked]
Pete Belli
United States
Florida
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Not only the Custer fight at the Little Bighorn (one of the most talked about, written about, and argued about battles in American history) but the entire campaign including Crook at the Rosebud.

Myth, legend, folklore, and 19th Century legacy control that would rival the efforts of any modern cable news network spin-doctor have created a swirling mist of ambiguity.

In my opinion the definitive wargame on this campaign has yet to be published.
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18. Board Game: Battle for Moscow (first edition) [Average Rating:6.12 Overall Rank:4127]
Bill Lawson
United States
Rutland
Vermont
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One of the most important Battles of the 2nd WW.The Russians victory here was the first time anyone had survived the Blitzkrieg.
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19. Board Game: The 1879 Zulu War [Average Rating:4.33 Unranked]
ian morris
United Kingdom
lichfield
staffordshire
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I'm presently reading Crossing The Buffalo, by Adrian Greaves, and I find the battle of Isandlwana to be quite fascinating. The battle has some similarities to Custer's at the Little Bighorn : the fighting skill of the Zulus was discounted ; intelligence that ran contra to accepted views was ignored ; Chelmsford failed to follow orders ( in this case, his own orders ! ),these to laager or entrench his camps at night ; upon encountering the Zulu, Chelmsford split his force ; the defenders at Isandlwana were further split by Pulleine, the camp commander, this in order to dismantle his camp. Result ? nearly 1400 dead native and British troops and camp followers.

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20. Board Game: Nobunaga: A Dangerous Time [Average Rating:7.48 Unranked]
 
Pierre Pinguet
France
Paris
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The battle of Okehazama
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Okehazama

While much smaller than the large battles that followed, Okehazama has a very special place in the history of the unification of Japan and the end of Sengoku Jidai.

Using ruse and benefiting a well timed rain (seen as help from the gods), a small force of 3000 Oda warriors went undetected around the Imagawa encampment (20-30 000 men, ten times their number) and launched a suprise attack from the rear.
In the confusion, the Imagawa Daimyo was killed, as well as much of his officers and the Imagawa army just melted away

The battle made Nobunaga, young Daimyo of the small Oda clan a famous figure in Japan, seemingly both brave and blessed by the gods.

The fact he was also cruel and merciless bastard only surfaced later...
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21. Board Game: Pea Ridge: The Gettysburg of the West March 7-8 1862 [Average Rating:7.21 Overall Rank:3094]
Paul
United States
Iowa
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The Battle of Pea Ridge

Though little known, the battle of Pea Ridge marked a key turning point in the Federal control of Missouri and the Trans-Mississippi West.

I'm leading a staff ride down to Wilson's Creek and Pea Ridge battefields this fall---so I've read up on them extensively. Just two weeks ago I spent three days hiking through the forests (and got the poison ivy to prove it!).

Pea Ridge in particular is an example of a key turning point---and a fascinating battle where the Union had to fight two separate battles.

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22. Board Game: Strange Defeat: The Fall of France, 1940 [Average Rating:5.12 Overall Rank:10286]
eryn roston
United States
San Diego
California
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Your comments on Jena-Auerstedt 1806 speak to why I find the Battle of France so interesting. Specifically because it would seem that this is the event evokes so much disdain amongst Americans against the French. It seems to me that there is a popular notion that the French simply surrendered outright in the face of German military. I think a lot of people...especially people who were born after the war assume that France didn't fire a single shot.

The whole "surrender monkey" thingseems so silly to me...I mean...at the time of the German invasion into France, America wasn't exactly "Standing up to Hitler" themselves.

I find it difficult to be so harsh on the French and their defeat at the hands of the German army in 1940 when you consider that it took the combined efforts of England, the United States, The Soviets, and more another 5 years to do the job right. I don't see how the French (with a bit of help from Britain and other neighbors), could be expected to do much better.
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23. Board Game: Von Manstein's Backhand Blow [Average Rating:7.15 Overall Rank:2447]
Björn Hansson
Sweden
Bromma
Stockholm
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3rd battle of Kharkov, 1943. The battle that secured Erich von Manstein's place in the military hall of fame as a master of the operational art of war.
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24. Board Game: Drive on Kursk: July 1943 [Average Rating:6.89 Overall Rank:5345]
Bill Lawson
United States
Rutland
Vermont
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Another Eastfront battle that fascinates me.While the Germans could no longer win the war this was there last chance to do something positive.Staying on the defense and counterattacking would've probably been best in hindsight.
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25. Board Game: Stonne 1940 [Average Rating:7.61 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.61 Unranked]
Björn Hansson
Sweden
Bromma
Stockholm
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Stonne 1940

The Grossdeutschland regiment struggle to prevent the French counter attack from reaching the German bridgehead at Sedan, not only allowing Guderian's panzers to race westwards but also buying enough time to secure the Sedan area.
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