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The U.S. Army at Elsenborn Ridge
By Mike Bennighof, PhD
January 2015

One of the counter-intuitive aspects of researching and designing games in the Panzer Grenadier series is that it's relatively difficult to find good, consistent tables of organization for the U.S. Army in World War II. The German Army is described in loving (and often disturbing) detail both in print and on the internet, and similar though much less extensive resources exist for the Japanese, British, Italian and even Polish forces.

Yet it was the U.S. Army that held and threw back the German assault in the Ardennes at the tail end of 1944. While American soldiers went into battle with more material support and better food and sanitation than any army in history, at the sharp end of things combat still boiled down to the struggle of armed men at close quarters, and it was the American soldier who vanquished the Nazi hordes.

Today we'll have a glance at American forces present in Elsenborn Ridge that aren't found in other Panzer Grenadier games.

On Tracks and Wheels

Some years ago I took a few months away from my dissertation (because everyone delays finishing their dissertation) to do a re-write on a friend's memoirs of his Second World War service with the Third Armored Division. Belton Cooper had very little good to say about the quality of American tanks, in which he watched many brave men die for what he believed to be the War Department's blundering.

In Elsenborn's sister game, Battle of the Bulge, we included only two versions of the M4 Sherman: the standard M4 with the low-velocity 75mm gun, and the close-support version with a 105mm howitzer. The M4 is present here as well, plus the M4/105. But we've added the M4/76 (seen also in Patton's Nightmare), by the end of 1944 the more common tank in American battalions. It has a better anti-tank capability, but is not quite as good against soft targets.

Most of the other vehicles are also found in Battle of the Bulge, though we replaced all the artwork with new, sharper drawings.

Heavy artillery rarely makes an appearance in Panzer Grenadier series games with its own pieces, as it's factored into the off-board artillery mechanism. But the Americans get an M12 here, a 155mm GPF rifle mounted on a tracked chassis. One of these vehicles punished SS troops in La Gleize on 22 and 23 December, blasting them at point-blank range. Punishing the SS is always a good thing, and so we really had to include the piece in the game. The M16, a halftrack with four of the awesome .50-claiber machine guns in a quad mount, has appeared before but we did not have the unique drawing used for this piece.


On Foot

At Lanzerath on the opening day of the German offensive, a lone Intelligence and Reconnaissance (I&R) Platoon led by Lt. Lyle Bouck faced an entire battalion of German paratroopers. The Americans inflicted hundreds of casualties on the advancing Germans, and the platoon became the most decorated small unit of the war, with a Presidential Unit Citation, four Distinguished Service Crosses and five Silver Stars - though all the survivors were captured by the Germans, almost all of them wounded.

Yet we had never included this unit in a Panzer Grenadier game before. One such platoon was attached to each infantry regiment. Although the heroic battle at Lanzerath doesn't make for much of a scenario - no German player is going to deploy his or her forces as idiotically as did their historical counterpart - there are a handful of other situations where they do appear and their special abilities needed to be modeled.


On Wings

Battle of the Bulge did not include American airpower for a variety of reasons, but it makes up for its previous absence with a vengeance. The P47 Thunderbolt was a good fighter plane, but absolutely devastating in the ground-attack role. And when the weather is clear, the American player will often have copious air units available.

Though the P47 made the most notable impact on German consciousness, many other types flew ground-support missions as well. The attack squadrons with their A26 and B25 light and medium bombers were very effective as well.

When American air units arrive, they usually do so in much greater numbers than have been seen in previous games in the series. And they have greater attack factors than those of other nationalities as well. Like an actual German commander, German players will have to watch the skies constantly.

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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.