Golden Journal No. 29:
by Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
When I was in graduate school my minor field advisor, the legendary Kristin Mann, advised me that I would need to reign in my fascination with “the quirks of history” if I wanted to succeed as an academic historian. I obviously failed to listen.
So, when I went searching for some pictures of the 1917 Mark IV British tank for our Infantry Attacks: Lawrence of Arabia, I found a quirk. I’d been aware that the similar Mark VIII was manufactured in the United States just after the First World War as the Liberty Tank. I hadn’t been aware of what became of them. After a decade or so in training deployments, they went into storage and most of them still existed in 1940.
That odd little quirk seemed like just the thing for the Golden Journal. The Liberty Tank was still around in 1940, and so was the equally-vintage M1917 light tank. So they could have been used in battle (given a lot of maintenance and repair, but we can overlook that tiny detail). And that’s the basis of Golden Journal No. 29: Ancient Armor.
The Golden Journal is the little rag we put out whenever we feel like it. It’s actually a very nice little rag, with a full-color cover; it’s printed just like the books we make, only thinner. A small set of playing pieces goes along with it, die-cut and silky-smooth just like the pieces we put in the “real” books and games.
In Golden Journal No. 29, there are 24 new pieces: six Liberty Tanks, two M1917 light tanks armed with cannon, four M1917 light tanks armed with machine guns, four Mark IX armored personnel carriers, and eight U.S. Army infantry pieces (here styled “RIF”) to represent troops still armed with the Springfield bolt-action rifle rather than the M1 Garand.
The Liberty Tank is a slow, lumbering beast with a great deal of firepower (two 57mm guns and seven machine guns), thin armor by the even the standards of 1940 and very low speed – infantry can run it down. It’s a huge tank; though “only” weighing in at 37 tons thanks to its tinfoil armor, it’s better than 10 feet high and 34 feet long. That makes for a splendid target, and with next to no overhead protection it can’t fend off unlucky mortar rounds. It’s not going to surge ahead of the foot soldiers to break through the enemy’s lines. Instead it’s going to need the infantry to protect it as it advances.
The U.S. Army took delivery of 100 machines in 1919 and 1920, and they seem to have been phased out of service and into storage fairly soon after they were first issued to the Tank Corps. An attempt to sell them to the Canadians in 1940 fell through even at scrap value, and they were melted down instead.
The M1917 light tank isn’t that much better. But the U.S. Army had a lot of them – 4,400 were ordered and about 950 actually delivered. Slightly more than 500 carried machine guns, a few were radio-equipped observation vehicles, and the rest had a short-barreled 37mm cannon. Another 300 or so French-built Renault FT17 light tanks, identical expect for the shape of the turret, were shipped back to the United States after the war. Like many weapons, the M1917 exists because it was much cheaper to produce than the Liberty tank, but as in just about every other wargame that’s an issue settled far away from the Panzer Grenadier battlefield. It’s a hair faster, with less armor and far less firepower.
The U.S. Army had sent all of them into storage by 1940; they saw no combat but were deployed against the Bonus Army protestors in 1932. Two hundred fifty would be sold to Canada in 1940; the Canadians declined to buy any Liberty tanks. The French still used a few survivors of their massive FT17 stockpile in 1940, but the modern battlefield had passed by the venerable little tank.
The Mark IX was a British variant of the Mark VIII (the British version of the Liberty Tank), intended as an armored personnel carrier – the world’s first such vehicle. The Americans did not build or purchase this variant, but it just seemed so cool that I wanted to include it. It’s only a little faster than its armed cousin, and rumbles along at the speed of marching infantry – but it carries infantry inside it, protected from machine-gun and rifle fire and not much else.
That infantry is a little less powerful than the awesome American foot soldiers of standard Panzer Grenadier games. The M1 Garand semi-automatic rifle, the basis of much of that firepower, hadn’t reached all units by the early summer of 1940. It had reached some, but I wanted to include some less-capable American infantry to go along with the less-capable American tanks. These troops carry the M1903 Springfield, a bolt-action rifle used by American troops throughout the actual war. On the other hand, this is the pre-war all-volunteer professional army so they’re pretty tough.
Next, I had to choose who the American tankers would fight with their ancient armor. I thought hard about sending them to Tunisia to battle the Italians, or maybe to the Pacific to fight the Japanese. I finally decided that they’d fight the Germans in Road to Dunkirk, in a 1940 American Expeditionary Force. That would put them up against some equally crapulent tanks (many of the panzers aren’t very impressive) and against infantry armed with the puny 37mm gun: the so-called door-knocker is plenty effective against a door made of cardboard.
This is the sort of topic I like to highlight in the Golden Journal: it’s quirky, it’s real (the tanks did exist, and apparently at least two hundred of them still ran in 1940) and it adds a lot of game fun.
The Golden Journal is only available to the Gold Club (that’s why we call it the Golden Journal). It’s free when we first offer it, but then it’s $12.99 afterwards. We print enough of them to handle initial demand and a few extras, but once they’re gone we won’t reprint them – there’s just no profit in a company as small as Avalanche Press keeping a $12.99 item perpetually in stock. If you want your Ancient Armor, the time to grab it is now.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and NASA Journalist in Space finalist, he has published a great many books, games and articles on historical subjects; people are saying that some of them are actually good.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife and three children. He will never forget his Iron Dog, Leopold.
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