Swallows of Death:
Publisher’s Preview

When we published Panzer Grenadier: 1940 The Fall of France, I quickly noted the scenarios including the 1st Moroccan Division. I knew the Moroccans had fought courageously against the Nazi invaders, and the game definitely showed that. But it did so using the standard French blue pieces with their angry chicken national symbol, and I thought that the game would have been so much cooler if the Moroccans had had their own color scheme. If cowardly SS militia criminals get their own colors, then brave Moroccans should, too.

Some years ago, we issued a special set of red pieces for our Gold Club, but that still didn’t satisfy my need to tell the Moroccan story in greater depth. Much more depth. And so I laid a challenge before designer Philippe Léonard: create a set of Moroccan-themed scenarios for 1940: The Fall of France, using a new set of die-cut and silky-smooth pieces. The pieces had to fit on one half-sized sheet (that’s 88 pieces for a Panzer Grenadier topic) and the scenarios had to fit in a standard 64-page large-format book, numbering between 30 and 40. And that’s exactly what he delivered.

1940: Swallows of Death has 35 scenarios, all of them from the 1940 campaign and focused on the 1st Moroccan Division, and 88 pieces, most of them Moroccans in their own special color scheme. There are also a handful of French units (it wouldn’t be a Philippe production without some little-known new weaponry) and a German commando platoon.

The French Army of 1940 was, in some ways, a failed attempt to re-create the Nation in Arms of the Revolutionary period. Large numbers of men would move through the regiments, receiving training and then entering the reserves. Those reserves would then flesh out the army when war came. Economic and demographic pressures warped that vision; with so many killed or disabled in the Great War, the French economy literally could not afford to remove young men from the labor force for two or three years. The “regular” units actually had the least training, as they included the new intake of recruits, while the reservists had not received nearly enough training and specialists (artillerymen, engineers, signalmen, drivers and such) had to be shuttled all across France to get them to units that needed them.

That wasn’t the case with the 1st Moroccan Division. Its three infantry regiments were all full-time soldiers, locals recruited in the French protectorate and professional soldiers from metropolitan France. French officers signed up for adventure, self-selecting the division’s officer corps for initiative and bravery. And they had adventure: the Moroccan regiments saw constant activity suppressing rebellions and banditry.

While the French occupiers trained Moroccan officers and NCO’s in schools set up for that purpose, Morocco could not provide the educated men required for technical specialties. And so the division did receive a draft of French reservists to help man its support units and artillery for the most part. Even so, it had a higher proportion of full-time, fully-trained soldiers than any of the metropolitan French divisions.

That professionalism, combined with a charismatic commander in Maj. Gen. Albert Mellier, goes far to explain 1st Moroccan Division’s performance in 1940. The 1st Moroccan Division would be the only infantry formation to stop a panzer attack in 1940 (throwing back not one but two German panzer divisions at Gembloux) and fought hard throughout the campaign. It’s an inspiring story, one that highlights some heroes on the side of the good guys.

As always, it’s the scenario set that’s the core of 1940: Swallows of Death; in our story-arc format, the scenarios are structured to tell the story. Philippe’s provided 35 of them, which are organized into six chapters. Each of those chapters has a battle game that ties the scenarios together with common victory conditions if you play all of them.

At 35 scenarios, the book’s slightly heavy on scenarios compared to story; I like the two elements of our expansion books to be in rough balance. The Moroccan division by definition is an infantry force, so we don’t get that many massive tank battles, but the Panzer Grenadier game system is designed to give an equal role to infantry (that’s why it’s called Panzer Grenadier).

Those Panzer Grenadier infantry-centered scenarios are the most fun, at least in my mind, when they rep[resent a clash between well-led forces with good morale and initiative. The German infantry divisions in the 1940 campaign were very good, for the most part, and the key reason why the Germans won the war in just six weeks. The panzers got all the headlines, but it was the infantry that ground down the Allied armies.

In the Moroccans, the Germans have an opponent just as good as they are. Their artillery support is usually not as good (like other French divisions, they have to rely on the tried-and-true 75mm field gun while the Germans have new 105mm howitzers). And they’re not quite as well-armed. But in all the soft factors (leadership, morale, initiative) they are at least a match for the Nazis.

To help tell those stories, we have the set of new pieces in Moroccan red. The infantry get their own designation (TIR for “tirailleur,” the formal name for French African infantrymen), with the same firepower as the very best metropolitan French foot soldiers. The supporting arms (like engineers and machine gunners) are the same as regular French units, as are the support weapons (anti-tank guns, field guns, anti-aircraft guns).

We also have pieces (and, of course, scenarios) for the elite Spahis Marocains, Moroccan horsed cavalry. They’re better than the metropolitan French cavalry, and we’ve added horse machine-gun platoons for both the Spahis and the regular French horsed units.

Rounding out the set are some French FCM36 tanks, the odd French WT15 tank destroyer, crack French (and Moroccan) infantry scouting platoons, a German commando platoon and an unusual German armored prime mover because, of course there is.

1940: Swallows of Death is exactly the sort of book I want to publish here at Avalanche Press: very fine pieces, lots of great game play to bring added value to the games you already have on your shelf, and a compelling story. With just this book, you can make your copy of 1940: The Fall of France into a new game. You can’t pass that up.

You can order Swallows of Death right here.
Please allow an additional three weeks for delivery.

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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, three children, and new puppy. He misses his lizard-hunting Iron Dog, Leopold.

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