Panzer Grenadier: Liberation 1944
By Mike Bennighof
Sometimes, I have good ideas. At other times, I have ideas that are not so good. A while back, I asked Mike Perryman to design some scenarios for a book to fight out the 1944 British campaign in northern France on the map board from our 1940: The Fall of France. He lobbied instead for a separate boxed game, and I’m very glad I went along.
Liberation 1944 is based on the British drive across northern France in the summer of 1944, starting with the fight right behind the Normandy beaches on June 6th. It was the last game issued with Panzer Grenadier’s Third Edition rulebook, and has been brought up to the standard of the Fourth Edition for its re-release. That means the game carries the Fourth Edition rulebook with its full-color player aids and its special rules are geared to the Fourth Edition standard rulebook (not a big deal for experienced players). It also has a very nice new cover, and a set of our wonderful silky-smooth die-cut playing pieces, without that die-strike damage on the flip side.
Like any Panzer Grenadier game, the heart of Liberation 1944 is the set of 41 scenarios. The first ones take place right after the British landings on Gold and Sword beaches, and include the secret weapons of the Normandy landings: tough British paras, and the strange armored vehicles known as “Percy Hobart’s Funnies.” The Germans strike back fairly quickly, with counter-attacks spearheaded by the 21st Panzer Division, an outfit equipped with all the scrapings of German tank depots across France.
As an experienced designer of Panzer Grenadier games, Mike knows how to use the scenarios to show how a campaign unfolded. In the first scenarios, the British still have powerful off-shore naval guns to help them and are usually facing second-rate German units assigned to coastal defense. Even so, the fighting is tough as the Germans have well-prepared positions and the British are still a little disoriented from the landings.
Afterwards, the British have gathered themselves and brought their tanks ashore in strong numbers. But the Germans have received reinforcements of their own as well-equipped panzer divisions supplement the raggedy 21st Panzer and its array of weird weaponry. The British push their way forward and steadily mangle the elite of the German ground forces, and by the time the scenarios wrap up in August 1944, the Allied armies are poised to break out of Normandy. Along the way, the British engage in many kinds of fighting in the fairly dense terrain, with infantry doing to heavy lifting early on and armor taking an increasingly larger role for both sides as the campaign progresses.
The mix of units is supremely weird, which is why I really like this game. On the British side one finds the expected tank units: the American-made Sherman, which explodes pretty easily. The British-made Cromwell, which explodes just as easily. The Firefly, a British modification of the Sherman, which still explodes pretty easily but carries a huge cannon that can make German tanks explode pretty easily. Balancing those thin skins they have the Churchill, which doesn’t explode very easily but waddles about at the speed of a footsore duck.
And then things get a little strange. The British also have the Crocodile, a Churchill with a flamethrower, complete with a little trailer carrying more fuel. And the AVRE, a Churchill that fires a giant mortar round that blows down buildings. And the Sherman Crab, that can clear minefields. Unless it blows up instead.
The Germans come in two flavors, Regular Army and Waffen SS. The uniformed mass murderers of the Nazi regime have the very best weapons that Germany can provide: Tiger tanks, Panther tanks, Panzer IV tanks with the deadly long-barreled 75mm gun, and late-model assault guns. These SS formations are intended for front-line combat, and far more effective in battle than the cowardly occupation forces more usually associated with the SS. These troops are well-led, well-armed and for the most part well-trained.
The Regular Army is usually much less efficient. The “static” divisions encountered in the early days of the campaign are made up of troops lacking in enthusiasm for the Third Reich; some of them are not even German, but foreigners impressed into German service. Later in the campaign they do display the newer German weaponry: Tiger tanks, new-model Panzer IV tanks, up-to-date assault guns. But Germany is a poor country, and can’t afford many of those shiny wonder weapons, so the Germans make do through reuse and recycling (even the soldiers are sometimes former prisoners of war). Early on, the 21st Panzer Division lumbers into battle behind an array of jury-rigged armor, often Soviet-made field guns bolted onto the chassis of obsolete French or Czech tanks.
There are four maps by Guy Riessen showing the Norman terrain. They are very green; you can see one right here:
Send the Brits into battle! Order Liberation 1944 right here!
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 always-happy dog, Leopold.