Golden Journal No. 36:
Once upon a time, I designed a bunch of Panzer Grenadier scenarios set on Iceland. Yes, Iceland. The Germans made plans to attack the strategic island with a regiment of mountain troops; the U.S. Marines sent a brigade to defend the place despite official American neutrality.
We never published it, I used the background piece as Daily Content, and I sort of forgot about it. The scenarios used the U.S. Marine pieces from our old Guadalcanal game, but when Guadalcanal fell out of print, that ended any thoughts of fighting amidst the fjords and volcanoes. Until my assistant asked if she could toss out the cartons of Guadalcanal Marine pieces. She likes reducing clutter.
I don’t like throwing out perfectly good pieces, but neither did I have any plans to use them. I could write a full-sized book about the U.S. Marines in Iceland, and the hard-core Panzer Grenadier players would love it: Marines fighting Germans, in unusual terrain. Very few outside the hard core would want it. Finally it sank in that since the pieces teetered on the edge of dumpsterization, they had a value of zero, and it would cost us little or nothing to give them away. That meant that I could use them in a Golden Journal, and give them to the people who would appreciate such a weird scenario set.
So that’s the genesis of Golden Journal No. 36: Atlantic Marines. I found an excuse to make something that I think is really fun, even if much of the gaming world disagrees, and craft a Journal with a huge number of pieces: 165 of them, compared to the usual 24 of a Golden Journal. They’re all U.S. Marines, including Marine rifle (styled “MAR” here), Parachute and Raider platoons, plus all the support weapons the Marines took to Guadalcanal (hint: there aren’t very many of them, and they’re not very good ones).
What the Marines do have is leadership. Scads and scads of leaders, most of them really good ones. These are the long-service Marines who enlisted before Pearl Harbor, and they’re very good at what they do. They’re just not particularly well-armed. They do have lots of air support, both Marine and Navy.
There are two scenario chapters, one based on War Plan Indigo, the 1st Marine Provisional Brigade’s deployment to Iceland to resist the planned German invasion that never happened (Operation Ikarus) The other is based on War Plan Bungalow, President Franklin Roosevelt’s request for a plan to invade the Vichy French island of Martinique in the Caribbean. So they’re battles that never happened, but they’re battles that could have happened and that someone intended to happen.
They’re also two very different chapters, which is what I wanted in the book and now the Journal. In the Iceland chapter the Marines are on the defensive and under attack by German mountain troops and paratroopers. We have desert terrain standing in for the lava deserts that cover much of Iceland (a whopping 1.21 percent of the island consists of arable land, including the tiny remnants of Iceland’s once-widespread birch forests).
The Germans are pretty tough, but they’re at the end of a long and very thin supply line so they need quick results. The Marines are well-adapted to holding ground, as they would prove on Edson’s Ridge and along the Tenaru River; the Germans are certainly no braver than the Japanese but they have considerably stronger firepower. And how often do you get to see Marines, Fallschirmjäger and Gebirgsjäger all together on your game table at once?
The other chapter is based on a scenario set I sketched out once upon a time, but I wasn’t sure what to do with it and set it aside. In it, the Marines follow through on FDR’s intent to take Martinique away from the Vichy French and deny its ports to German submarines and the small French squadron stationed there. They face the Vichy French garrison, which isn’t very good but they are on the defensive against Marines trying out this whole opposed amphibious landing thing for the first time.
Martinique’s actual garrison was much smaller than the Americans presumed, just one reinforced battalion. Most of the island’s military manpower (and that of neighboring Guadeloupe) had gone to France in late 1939 to fight against the Germans and was still there. The Americans expected to face a reinforced brigade with at least some artillery support, and so that’s what the scenarios assume.
The cane fields and hills of Saipan stand in for those of Martinique (no one bothered to plan defending or invading Guadeloupe), and the Marines get to finally use their paratroopers in a parachute drop (which was part of the American war plan). The French are not very enthusiastic about defending the island, but they do have numbers in most scenarios and, on occasion, the air support the Americans feared they would face. The airplanes brought to Martinique by the aircraft carrier Béarn (106 Brewster Buffalo and Curtiss H75 fighters) had no pilots, and had deteriorated well beyond the point of salvage.
American planners expected fierce resistance, and prepared for anything up to 18,000 casualties (almost the entire strength of the proposed landing force). That seems rather excessive, but since we’re making a game based on planned rather than actual operations, we have the leeway to take the planners seriously. It’s going to be a tough fight for the Atlantic Fleet’s Marines here, too.
I could have added more scenarios in each chapter, or split them into two chapters apiece, and published Atlantic Marines as a regular book. We’ve been trying to increase the pace of the Golden Journal, and provide still more good stuff to the Gold Club, so while I’m a little hesitant about passing over the book option I’m happy to have such a meaty Journal (with 165 pieces!).
The Golden Journal is a great outlet for unusual items like Atlantic Marines that are going to appeal mostly to the most dedicated Panzer Grenadier players. I like creating games about events that no other designer has ever touched; unfortunately, not everyone likes buying them. In the Journal, we get to make them without worrying about sales potential, and that makes them fun.
And that’s what we’ve got in our Golden Journal No. 36.
You can order Journal No. 36: Atlantic Marines right here.
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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 misses his lizard-hunting Iron Dog, Leopold. Leopold was a good dog.
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