“Assembly Lines of Defense” – Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant (Chrysler) Film

Here’s another period film, related to the production of American tanks and the issues and general process that was used for the task of the industrial mass production of tanks. While it clearly blows Chrysler’s horn loud and clear, it’s pretty neat to see one of the more overlooked aspects of the war. The film is circa late 1941 or early 1942, given that we see M3 ‘Lee’ tanks.

 

“The Tanks Are Coming!” – Vintage Recruiting Film

In the build up to American involvement in World War 2, which was perceived to be inevitable by the Roosevelt administration, there were numerous films made by various studios to help increase recruitment into the Armed Services.

This one, from 1941 is a color film for recruiting men for the 1sr Armored Force. It shows some interesting insights to the training regime that may have been experienced at the time, though it’s clearly been propagandized and polished up for the sake of the film.

Please keep in mind that this film reflects the nature of its era.

Tankfest NorthWest 2016

While I will grant you it has been some time since Tankfest NorthWest 2016 (it took place on May 30th), I feel it was well worth the wait to write my article, in order to accumulate some of the pictures that were taken during the event.

And boy do we have a treat in store for you! Amongst the treats are some photos shot using surplus Soviet black and white film, which had some pretty neat effects, as well as numerous color images.

Fair warning to those with slow computers, phones, or connections: Lots of high resolution images will be in this post.


 

Tankfest NorthWest 2016 was, in essence, a great experience for me and it seems like it was a success for the Flying Heritage Collection ( Link to FHC’s Site ), which hosts the annual event in Everett, Washington. According to one of the organizers I spoke to during the event, they anticipated roughly 6000 people to attend, nearly double the number from last year. For a Memorial Day, I do not think you could have asked for better weather. The sun was bright, but the weather was somewhere in the low-to-mid 70’s (Fahrenheit).

We arrived around 9:45, to find the line was already quite substantial, stretching for maybe a quarter of a mile around the block. The lines moved fairly quickly, but my excitement mounted as I reviewed the pamphlet for the event, as I had no real idea what to expect aside from them firing the FlaK 37 8.8cm gun and that Nicholas Moran (The Chieftain) was going to be giving a presentation on American Tank Destroyer doctrine in World War II. Ushered through the gates by the friendly event staff while in a semi-ecstatic daze, I drifted around the venue to take in the sights and sounds of the event. My first object of adoration was the Jagdpanzer 38(t) aka ‘Hetzer’ that was on display.

 

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Jagdpanzer 38(t) ‘Hetzer’ at Tankfest NorthWest. Behind it, to the left, is the SS-1b SCUD-A launcher. I admire the paint job they did on the Hetzer, though it technically doesn’t match the OKH regulations (which is minor).  It is a fully restored, running Jagdpanzer 38(t).

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A closer image showing the paint scheme in detail.

From there I drifted down the line, surprised to see a German Sd.Kfz.8 Half-track as well. These things were huge, and did a lot of heavy lifting for maintenance and supply, primarily towing  artillery, moving  crew  and ammo, and even being used to help recover vehicles at times. This one is in running condition and the vehicle pretty neat looking in a utilitarian sort of way.

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The Sonderkraftfahrzeug (Sd.Kfz) 8. Look at those interleaved road wheels!

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A detail shot of the side, showing more of the driver’s position and the characteristic bench seats. Also featured is a bit of the suspension.

From there, I wandered over to the M3 Stuart and the M4A1 Sherman they had on display (both in running condition). People were scrambling about, making sure the vehicles were ready to for their runs around the tank track.

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The M4A1 Sherman ‘Boomerang’. It was being prepped for its run around the track, hence the orange vested gentleman on the vehicle and the open hatches.

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A rather nice detail shot of the turret and gun mantle on the M4A1.

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The M3 Stuart ‘Katie Sue’

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Detail shot of the Stuart. You can just barely make out some of the interior of the vehicle through the open driver’s hatch.

After these vehicles, I took a look at the M3 Half-tracks they had on display before wandering off to look at the reenactors and other displays, in the period of time before the Opening Ceremony. The all came from the Pacific Northwest group called ‘Army Group 1944’ (Website!). They were all very professional and friendly and were happy to pose for pictures and answer questions.

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M3 Half-Track up close.

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My two photographers both got images of the gentleman in the center.

 

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These guys helped educate people on the equipment and weapons that were used by all sides during World War II.

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Don’t stare for too long at the NKVD officer… he might have some ‘questions’ you need to answer.

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This guy was really impressive, dressed up as Soviet Naval Infantry. He wandered around and was happy to talk to just about anyone (I don’t know who he’s talking to in this image).

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A gaggle of German reenactors.

Here’s some of those Soviet surplus black and white film images I was talking about. I really like the grainy quality and how it handles the contrast, makes things look very authentic.

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One of the German reenactors was kind enough to pose for this picture.

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That one guy in blue jeans, part two.

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The business end of a BAR.

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Another German reenactor. This gentleman was wearing ‘Pea Dot’ camouflage and carried around that MG34 the entire time.

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An American reenactor kindly posed for this image.

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There were several female Soviet infantry reenactors at Tankfest NorthWest 2016. Here is one of those lovely ladies.

It was around this point that they started the festivities. The opening ceremony begins with the National Anthem, then they proceed with firing off, with great fanfare, the 8.8cm FlaK 37. I sadly do not have any photographs of this, but I did find a video on YouTube from last years flak firing. However, the video doesn’t really convey just how loud they are nor the physical impact one feels when one is fired.

 

It’s a two stage thing… you hear and see the gun fire, and then, barely a split second later, you feel it kick you in the chest. It was all rather exhilarating and I highly recommend you go and see it if you’ve never had the opportunity.

So, with that done, they proceeded to show off their various vehicles during their parade of tanks. I may not be able to identify some of these (sadly).

Obviously, there’s a Willy’s Jeep, followed by some sort of transport truck, a staff car, then two M3 Half-Tracks, and then their M4A1 Sherman. They had other vehicles and tanks do the rounds, but sadly those pictures didn’t quite turn out well enough.

With the M4A1 and the M3 Stuart, both stopped during their rounds to fire off their main armament a few times, both of which were pretty cool to observe. I only have clear shots of the M4A1 when it did this, unfortunately.

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After this demonstration, I went back to wandering around the museum, admiring various neat things. For instance, the Flying Heritage Collection has a captured V-2 Rocket, a Messerschmitt 163 B ‘Komet’, and the Scaled Composites Model 318 ‘White Knight’ that was part of the Spaceship One project and X Prize.

I also came across this M55 while wandering about.

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M55 ‘Eve of Destruction’

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Front angle shot of the ‘Eve of Destruction’.

Around this point, I knew that The Chieftain’s lecture was going to be starting soon, so I headed over in that direction and got to see his lecture. I was fairly disappointed by the lack of attention this got, with no video crew to tape the lecture, which was quite good. I don’t know if anyone had taped it unofficially, but I haven’t found anything on YouTube yet. At any rate, being an amateur historian, it was great to have an opportunity to personally attend a lecture on one of my favorite subjects, that being tanks. I could not  try to replicate the lecture, but I hope he has a copy somewhere. After the speech, he signed autographs and chatted with fans. I got in line, but aside from my notebook, I had nothing for him to sign besides my copy of Infantry Attacks by Erwin Rommel (which I had brought with me on the train for reading material). So I had him sign that, to which he had a chuckle. I also got to ask him a few, brief questions:

  • Has no books out currently, though he implied he’s been trying to get one or more published.
  • Most people don’t realize that he hasn’t been able to do more research on tanks lately, due to a perceived lack of interest in his work at the National Archives.
  • Research is time consuming, because many of the archives are not really organized or collated, so it can become expensive to spend time doing that, especially when he doesn’t get a lot of views or support from fans.
  • He told us the next video of ‘The Chieftan’s Hatch’ was going to be about the Littlefield Collection’s Panther (which is somewhat old news now).
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Nicholas Moran, ‘The Chieftain’ signing my copy of Erwin Rommel’s ‘Infantry Attacks’. We had a chuckle over the irony.

Overall, it was great to meet him in person. He was very friendly and I hope that next year I get the opportunity to meet with him again and ask more questions.

My only sticking point is that I had my World of Tanks name added (one of the perks of going up and meeting him in person) to a list of people to get a wee-bit of gold, but I never got mine… bummer.

Overall, the entire event was an absolute blast and I look forward to going again next year. I was surprised by the general lack of Wargaming’s presence, aside from The Chieftain being present and the presence of some computers set up to play World of Tanks. I would have thought they might leap at the opportunity to help promote their product more with one of their demographic groups, but there was more of a presence made by the WoT clan I’m part of, Pacific Northwest (PNW), than Wargaming itself. Given that the event had nearly double the people there this year as last, and more people who came to see The Chieftain’s presentation, they really missed out on an opportunity to connect with gamers and potential new players alike. Hopefully, they won’t make the same mistake again and we’ll see next year’s Tankfest NorthWest be even more successful.

If you ever have the chance, I recommend you go and get to experience it for yourself. While it may not have the pedigree and prestige associated with Tankfest in the UK, it’s a great way for us Yanks across the pond to get a taste of tank awesomeness for ourselves.



At this point, I’d like to thank Sarah Hickson de Salazar for providing all the wonderful color images in this article, and I’d also like to thank my brother, David, for using and sharing his precious Soviet surplus film to take photos at Tankfest NorthWest. They get all the credit for how nice the images turned out.

 

How effective would a tank ram be?

Here’s another Quora post I answered! In this case, I was asked to by another Quora user. Enjoy this interesting tidbit of history :)

Answer by Agares Tretiak:

Thank you for asking me to answer!

Ramming a tank with another tank has been used at least once in warfare, in order to cripple the enemy vehicle.
It occurred during the Operation Goodwood, when the 503rd Heavy Panzer Battalion (Schwere Panzer Abteilung) engaged with various British forces, including the Irish Guards, near the town of Cagny.
During the course of the battle, Lt. John Gorman, the commander of a Sherman M4 (named Ballyragget), came across a Tiger II with its turret pointed away from him.
According to his account of things, he and his driver had discussed prior to the battle what they would do if they encountered one, and they had both agreed the only hope they might have was to outmaneuver and then ram the vehicle in order to either cripple it or give them a chance to fire at point blank into a vital component of the massive Tiger II.
king_tiger_rammed
A picture of the Ballyragget rammed into the side of the Tiger II. Note the Prototype Tiger II turret of the vehicle (sometimes mistakenly called the Porsche Turret).

Given nearly this very scenario, Lt. Gorman had the driver ram the Tiger II in the side and fired an HE round into the side of the turret. The ramming supposedly unseated the track and damaged the suspension, crippling the tank, and the HE shell and physical impact of being rammed caused the German crew to abandon their vehicle.  Lt. Gorman and his crew also bailed out and Lt. Gorman began to look for a Firefly he could use to ensure that the Tiger II was completely taken out of commission
post-66801-0-93914400-1398503219An alternate angle of the same incident (afterwards).
John Gorman wrote a book of his account of the war as well as this incident and later went on to become a well-known Irish politician after the war.

Generally, ramming tanks is likely to be a last-ditch maneuver, as the outcome can and very likely will go poorly for the individual who tries it. However, it can also, if carried out successfully, be wildly successful, as it will almost certainly damage or cripple the enemy tank, especially the suspension or tracks. What happens after you ram the enemy is anyone’s guess, as the chances are your vehicle also sustained damage and might be crippled. Given that the crew awareness levels and turret rotation speeds of a well-trained tank crew in a modern tank are going to be much better than during WW2 or other eras, it really is not advisable to attempt.

How effective would a tank ram be?

What are the best looking tanks?

As you may or may not be aware, I also answer question on Quora. Here’s one I wanted to share with you all, dear readers!

Thank you for asking me to answer!

I find it difficult to rate vehicles based on aesthetic appeal, because it’s a very subjective sort of thing. What I may find attractive or interesting when it comes to a tank, may look hideous to someone else. What I can do, however, is provide a list of tanks that I like the look of.
World War 2
Panzerkampfwagen IV ‘Tiger’ Ausf. B (Königstiger or Tiger II)
I love the way this thing looks. Let’s ignore its mechanical issues, weight, and hideous cost for the war. The thing is intimidating and it looks solid and immovable.

tiger_ii_mg_7801Tiger II at Musée des Blindés, Saumur, France. The only currently known operational Tiger II.

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“Did you notice my hinterhalt-tarnung, Senpai?”

T26E3/M26 ‘Pershing’
Of the American tanks of WW2, I like how the Pershing looked the most. You can clearly see how it later contributed to the long-serving Patton series of tanks, and while the Pershing itself was not a terrific tank in many regards, it still looked good.
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As one can see from the expressions of the crew, the Pershing was serious business.

Cold War (1950’s-1980’s) Era
T-54/55
Not only a revolutionary concept for a tank, it was rather good looking in my opinion.
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Mmm. That low, curved profile…

M60A3 ‘Patton’
I liked the more streamlined look of the M60 series of Pattons, though the M60A2 ‘Starship’ was a bit of an… odd design. The M60A3 is by far my favorite version of this series, though.
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Taiwanese M60A3 Pattons on display. I really cannot think of anything goofy to say about this tank.

M103A2
America flirted with its own, real Heavy Tank designs, but the Army quickly abandoned the vehicle they came up with in favor of the M60. The Marine Corps, however, were happy to make use of the big bastard well on into the 70’s. Say what you will for the vehicle, it looks like the M60 Patton’s bigger, meaner brother.

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I can think of only less goofy things to say about this tank.

Post-Cold War Era (1980’s-Present)
Challenger 2
My favorite tank in terms of its aesthetic appeal from the modern era, is the Challenger 2. It looks like a scarier Abrams. Not that the Abrams isn’t scary, but…
296faea98405a2daa08cf81807b7dde3c99c62e93e167a3b491fbf8c46ce0618
“Rule, Britannia! Britannia rules the tanks…” (in terms of aesthetic appeal).

Leopard 2A6HEL
My next favorite looking tank is highly specific. It’s a Leopard 2 variant that the Greeks use.
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It has ‘Hel’ in the name and a nice camo job and it looks very ‘tank’ to me. Greece may not be able to pay for its debt, but it does have a nice looking tank.

I’m sure with more time and effort, I could put out an even longer list of ‘attractive’ armored vehicles, but I’m getting all hot and bothered by what I’ve already shared with you. Nothing says “military prowess” like a nice set of roadwheels and a big main armament.
The author is currently receiving extensive therapy for his misplaced attraction to armored
vehicles.

If you want to read more answers to this question on Quora, click the link below!

>> What are the best looking tanks? <<

Mister Tretiak Presents: SPECTRE – A Ghost of What it Could Have Been

So before I get started, my apologies for the delay in my release of the next part of my ongoing series about tanks and games. Rest assured, it will be released by this Wednesday! To tide you over, I”ll provide you with something from a different angle of observation, opinion, and critique.


THIS IS A SPOILER ALERT

I am one of those people who do not find spoilers to really spoil anything. I’m always intrigued by the actual execution of any given plot or narrative, and simply knowing how it will turn out does not reduce that sense of interest or desire to see how it turns out. Never mind that I’m also one of those irritating people who tend to figure out the plot by Act 2 (or earlier).

Thus, it may be of no surprise that I will undoubtedly have spoilers in my analysis. If this might offend you, I urge you to cease reading right now by immediately shutting off power to your computer or other data-access device, close your eyes, cover your ears, and sing as loud as you can “Mary had a little lamb” over and over until you forget you were ever here. I will not hold it against you. While I will not try to reveal ever nuance of the plot and ruin -everything- for my readers, I will invariably discuss elements of the plot and its structure and so, ultimately, reveal many aspects of what some of those little twists and turns some of us may be looking forward to when they see the film for the first time.


And so, I present to you my breakdown and views on SPECTRE, the most recent installment of the James Bond franchise.

To begin with, I wish to say I enjoyed the movie. Most movies these days are, ultimately, enjoyable. Those few that are not, generally are rather horrid. But I wish to differentiate between enjoyable cinema, good cinema, and great cinema. Of these, SPECTRE was definitely enjoyable, relatively good, but not great. And that’s a shame, given that Skyfall, its predecessor was frankly my favorite James Bond film in a very long time. I’d go so far as to say that Skyfall represented the most radical and well played-out story and structure we’ve seen to date from the Bond Series, but that is perhaps a conversation for another day.

With SPECTRE, its pedigree was good, the potential was certainly there, the cinematic sense of scale and looming menace pervasive in the way much of the film was shot, yet the actual plot, theme, and progress all felt rather forced and cobbled together come the end. As a person who has a rather deep interest in storytelling and the structure and coherence of a plot, I got the feeling that perhaps this film was two condensed into one, that its elements, the story, characters, and settings, all got chopped up and forced through a strainer, and then fed to the audience in a transparent effort to make it palatable. Sadly, it never concealed that the end product was a mush that muddled individually excellent components. While I’d happily watch it again, the film fails to fulfill the promise set in its previous installment and I intend to examine some of what went wrong and what could have been done to make it better, if for no other reason than for the sheer mental exercise of it.

First, let us start with how it felt cobbled together and forced. The opening is pretty good. The setting is vibrant, the mood well cast with the backdrop of Dia de Muertos, with portents of death and destruction looming (yes I know that is not the point of the actual holiday), and a rather nice long take really got my cinematographic appreciation going. Really, the whole film is very well shot and the visual elements throughout are quite excellent in my opinion. When Bond’s apparent mission goes pear shaped, one witnesses a rather thrilling action sequence that helps frame Bond’s next moves in the story, before it cuts to the title sequence.

A note about the opening song: I like it. I really like it. Not, maybe, as much as I do Skyfall’s, but it’s great and the feel of the song during the opening sequence is great. Sam Smith demonstrates a great voice and the ability to project emotion into his singing and should be praised for his performance. However, as this is an opinion piece, I would like to have seen the same song done by a female vocalist, just for comparison. Maybe I’m just craving the second coming of Shirley Bassey.

Following the (excellent) opening title sequence, the story picks up with Bond getting chewed out by Ralph Fiennes’ ‘M’. Then they somewhat awkwardly introduce ‘C’ (Andrew Scott), making it clear that he’s going to be shown as or treated as a villain at some point in the story within a few seconds. And frankly, this is to the detriment of the story. Being so blatant about the villain might have served well in the previous installments of the franchise worked, but with Skyfall, they introduced much more obscured and less immediately visible foes, something that should probably have been played up for the whole ‘world-spanning-diabolical-conspiracy’ that SPECTRE represents. So when they make it pretty clear that ‘C’ is not really on Bond’s side right off the bat is pretty hamfisted and ruins what could have been a more effective reveal and sense of infiltration and betrayal come the end sequences of the film. In some ways, this reminds me of what Quantum of Solace attempted and failed to do in its plot, though the introduction of that was pretty well exercised, early in that film.

With the plot already establishing how very thin the ice under Bond’s feet is at this point, we get to visit ‘Q’  in a scene that harkens back to the earlier films, with Bond prodding ‘Q’ as they discuss Bond’s predicament and have him implanted with a new tracking method. While I may have had flashbacks to Metal Gear Solid during the sequence, later in the film its handled rather lamely and the potential it could have presented in terms of plot are also lamentably missed. This is a theme with the film, it seems. It introduces an idea, concept, character, plot device that is pretty neat and solid, but never really carried out to the full extent. Rather, everything seems to be rather under utilized, including the acting talents of everyone in the film. It is not that the acting is bad, per se, but they’re not really pushed to provide the same sort of performances that could have been. That’s what gets to me most, what drives me to write this article, I think. All of the ‘could have been’, the potential to develop and produce the story in a compelling way that seem to have been left unfinished and under-used.

As an example of both this constant under-utilization and the feeling that they tried to fold two movies into one, we see how Monica Belucci’s character (Lucia) is first introduced, seduced, and discarded. While not exactly a new thing in Bond, the character she plays seems at least somewhat sympathetic as well as mysterious and she is presented as being in very real, immediate danger. Her character and the ties she had with the organization of SPECTRE represent a great opportunity to build more of the story around her, her plight, and Bond’s desperation to find and expose SPECTRE. I’ll even expand a little and point out a possible plot that could have, in its own right, made a great Bond film, not even including the other parts of the film we got in the theaters. I’ll touch on that in a bit. When we get to the whole vaguely Illuminati ominous meeting of the secret elite of SPECTRE, we’re still in what feels like the film that was presented, more or less, at the beginning. There’s some continuity and things are fitting together relatively well so far. Then Oberhauser does his whole ‘Cuckoo’ thing, things get messy, and we messily end up in Austria with Bond having tracked down Mr. White rather handily through…well, we’re not even sure how the connection is really made. It’s a bit of an open end and it seemed like they were implying that Moneypenny may have slept with ‘C’, but it’s not really clear.

Either way, we’re suddenly in Austria and Mr. White has been poisoned, is dying slowly,and has an all-too familiar Hollywood redemption-means-death sequence. Cue Bond being implored to track down Mr. White’s daughter who is now the last person who may know something about the leader of SPECTRE. Blah blah blah, things happen. While they make it clear that Bond by now suspects who the leader of SPECTRE is, they again support this via a rather hamfisted means with ‘Q’ magically showing up and then conveniently confirming Bond’s suspicions. More things happen, Bond and Swann are on their way to the desert hideout of SPECTRE where we finally get the reveal of Bond and Swann’s connections to Oberhauser and somewhat weirdly erratic behavior of Oberhauser/Blofeld. It seems like at times, Blofeld wants to invite Bond to SPECTRE.

They seem to build up to it, but then it cuts to a torture scene that really doesn’t make sense, in the way its presented. It felt rushed and weird, with little real explainable rationale for the particular means of torture, which was implied to be intended to reduce Bond to a crippled husk before killing him. While two of the tortures apparently are applied, they have -zero- effect on his ability to quickly escape and shoot, with little hindrance, a bevy of Blofeld’s guards before ‘accidentally’ blowing up the base. Supposedly Bond was supposed to be unable to walk properly or be coordinated enough after having his brain pierced by drills to function, after the successful operation is carried out by Blofeld. While this might be posed as Blofeld bluffing, it really doesn’t seem to make sense, even then. Cue then, somewhat mysterious escape back to London where ‘C’ is the source of being tracked down and a rather weird sequence of events that don’t really feel like they fit together very well. C dies by accident, M gets to use his authority without question or consequence, Bond passes up on killing Blofeld. While all of this could have been made to work with more time and intervening actions, it is instead compressed and forced together with little reason and less development as plot devices, like the film is trying to desperately tie up all the loose ends before the credits roll.

A lot of this seems to be the result of this being Daniel Craig’s last Bond film, despite originally being slated for one more film after this. I think it’s entirely possible that due to Mr. Craig’s desire to move on to other projects and roles, the scripts for both films had to be condensed and forced down into a single movie. Which would definitely explain some of the oddities and weird little quirks with unfinished or unused plot devices that kept cropping up in the film. I’m not saying Craig should have chosen to cut his run of films down by one, or really trying to give hell to him, the cast, crew, director, or even the writers for what happened with SPECTRE. The film is ok and it was enjoyable. But it’s when you really think about how it is presented, it becomes a bit clear, to me at least, that it had a lot of untapped potential and so my mind, being what it is, has run on and tried to fill in those blanks. I admit, there’s more than a little speculation on my part. And hell, this is my opinion article (that’s what most critique really is after all), so I can say anything I want, but I still want to be clear I’m not really hating on anyone involved in the film. Hindsight offers a lot of perspective and its easy for me to sit here and underscore the points where the film has failed to meet the expectations Skyfall had set. The casting was great, with a bevy of great actors, but all of them seem fairly under utilized in the film, and their acting, while solid across the board (I disagree with most critics who claimed Craig was wooden, I just see it as a Bond who’s so jaded and tired that he’s emotionally drained), was similarly under utilized. I could probably ramble on for quite some time about this, so we’ll just move on.

What I’ve written about so far are the problems I saw in its narrative, without, I admit, offering much in the way of what I would have done differently. Well, I hate to complain without offering a solution.

So here’s my alternative and showing just one option of how this could have been two films. Hell, you could even change the ending of this first one so that ‘C’ is handled outright, etc. Here it goes, in outline:

  • Keep the opening segments, but perhaps fix the introduction of ‘C’ to make them more ambiguous (much as Ralph Fiennes’ character was in Skyfall).
  • Bond first evades MI-6 and makes his way to Rome. Upon arriving, insert him being tracked or ambushed by agents who could have been either MI-6 or SPECTRE. Leave it a little vague and make it ambiguous as to who they are and what they really want. Maybe the want to take him back to ‘M’ maybe the want to kill him. Make Bond run after one of his usually successful gambles doesn’t pan out, but he does get away after an exhilarating chase.
  • Cut to the funeral sequence.
  • Continue to Bond and the Mansion scene where he rescue’s Lucia (Monica Bellucci). Extend their conversation and make clear implications of wide spread corruption and infiltration across the world by SPECTRE. Seduction follows and then Bond getting her over to Felix.
  • Continue to his attempted infiltration of the SPECTRE meeting, but rather than get spotted, after the whole Hinx(Dave Bautista) introduction, he instead gets pulled away when Felix contacts Bond and reveals he got ambushed as he was escorting her to safety. Perhaps show that its the same guys who were earlier trying to capture Bond. Bond is then torn between his promise to keep her safe/helping an injured Felix and continuing his infiltration. He chooses the former and slips away after creating a distraction.
  • Cut to Felix being rescued and Bond leading a daring escape from a tightening noose of goons.
  • Bond now wants to retrieve Lucia because she is the key to finding Mr. White/The Pale King who has some sort of ties to the enigmatic figure who leads SPECTRE (this information revealed by both the meeting and Felix).
  • By this point, Bond is far, far off the reservation. Some of the goons Bond kills turn out to be MI-6 or MI-5 and this prompts a more official manhunt for Bond. Simultaneous, Bautista’s Hinx begins to hunt Bond down or at least, seems to. Bond is now the subject of perhaps two or three manhunts and has to constantly evade capture. Perhaps he gets some sort of cryptic message back to ‘M’ or ‘Q’ regarding that something else is going on. Inject more ambiguous potential villainy from ‘C’.
  • Bond catches up to Lucia, but she’s not got long to live. She reveals that the men who caught her were Mr. White’s, who were escorting her by force to him. Cue her being killed by Hinx just as she’s about to reveal something about the identity of SPECTRE’s leader and leading to a big badass brawl show down, ending with Bond winning, but ending up in ‘C’s custody.
  • C, during an interrogation of Bond, reveals he’s a SPECTRE agent. Cue evil/creepy/ego-maniacal activities, like shooting the guards and then giving Bond the empty weapon or something startling of that nature, allowing Bond to escape so he can find Mr. White and lead SPECTRE to him. Make some sort of commentary along the lines of “It’s better to set a trap and bait it, if one can manipulate the circumstances to suit their goals. We’ll let you find The Pale King, but we -will- be there.” or some such ominous and revealing comments about having plans for Bond.
  • End film with Bond being a rogue agent, and approaching the Austrian lake house.

Now you’ve established a great cliffhanger and direct tie-in to the second film, which I would have presented as something along the lines of this:

  • Pick up with Bond entering the Austrian lake house.
  • Cue his finding a considerably reduced Mr. White in the state you see in SPECTRE.
  • I would change the cause of Mr. White’s decline from being poisoned, to perhaps something like cancer or another terminal illness. However, I would change his redemption path as starting after the events of Quantum of Solace, before he knew he was dying of illness X.
  • Have Mr. White explain that he had leaked the connection of Marco Sciarra (the guy Bond kills at the beginning of the first film) to Judi Dench’s ‘M’ as part of his plans, hoping to both set Bond on the trail of SPECTRE and to rescue Lucia from SPECTRE. I would also have Mr. White explain that it was during the events of Skyfall that he discovered that Bond had ties to the leader of SPECTRE and that Mr. White’s own daughter also had connections to the enigmatic leader. I would then have contrived to have Mr. White go on his despair ramble about being caught in a hurricane and how much effort he’s taken to evade the eyes that are soon going to be everywhere (Nine Eyes now makes more sense and Mr. White’s hiding and perhaps his own ‘I’m with the bad guys’ revelation more plausible). Posing White as trying to atone for his past mistakes and misdeeds, but perhaps being too extreme in his enthusiasm and causing harm in the process should be a sort of mirror of what Bond himself could someday become. Reflections and the like would be a major motif in this film.
  • Cue Title sequence
  • Mr. White again entreats Bond to protect and rescue his daughter, then kills himself in much the same way he does in the film. Perhaps have ‘C’ personally show up after the whole deal, rather than Hinx and have ‘C’ order the Hinx replacement as lead henchman to track Bond and find Swann.
  • Bond proceeds to find the daughter, and with the exception of how ‘Q’ ends up getting involved, allow events to proceed more or less as they do in the SPECTRE film, albeit with perhaps a different lead henchman for SPECTRE than Hinx at this point. I’d make a point of having Swann being very, very guarded around Bond at first, keeping various pieces of information from him, even if they could have made events in the film easier for him because she’s really not sure if she can trust him.
  • For Bond’s part, I’d start playing up him becoming older and more tired/weary of the lifestyle and his own internal doubts, fears, and demons beginning to eat at him more obviously, including perhaps implying or even outright voicing he is unsure if he can justify continuing to work for a government that has abandoned him and been so heavily infiltrated by an organization like SPECTRE.
  • This sort of moment of human vulnerability leads to Swann being more forthright with Bond. Perhaps the whole sequence occurring after a particularly brutal or unpleasant run in with MI-5 or MI-6 double agents working for SPECTRE and Bond being forced to kill one or two, despite knowing them and working with them in the past.
  • During the whole L’American sequence would be the best time. At this point, Swann reveals that she’s met with and used to know the leader of SPECTRE and that one of her fears was that Bond was working for them, as he reminds her in a lot of ways of both her father and of Oberhauser. I would make it around this time that the name Oberhauser is used by her and it prompts Bond to make some connections with his past.
  • Rather than have their relationship be as antagonistic as it was in the SPECTRE film, I would have had their relationship be fairly amicable, even close as Oberhauser and Bond were raised as children together. I’d have revealed that Oberhauser’s father had taken Bond in because he was a close friend to his parents and was supposed to be the guide on their doomed mountain expedition, explaining Oberhauser’s father’s desire to try to look after Bond as a sort of act of atonement.
  • Set it so that Bond only learns this when he’s preparing to join the military and leave home for good. Oberhauser and his father ‘apparently’ die in an accident shortly afterwards, Bond having left with rather harsh words or something.
  • Set Bond and Swann getting very drunk, much like they do in the film, and while they’re more trusting of one another now, there’s still a lot of tension and distance between them.
  • Cue scenes of ‘Q’, ‘M’, and company all struggling under the problems created by ‘C’ and the impending ‘Nine Eyes’ project’s approval. Perhaps also imply that ‘M’ (Ralph Fiennes) was perhaps aware of what Bond was trying to do as he was also let in, to some extent, on the whole SPECTRE/Sciarra thing by the previous ‘M’ through similar means as Bond had been.
  • Back to Bond, the whole mouse sequence, finding Mr. White’s cache of information in the L’American hotel. Discover location of SPECTRE’s HQ and hatch plot to go there. Show Bond finding a sort of second wind, at least in part prompted by Swann’s growing acceptance of him and a clear enemy to pursue now.
  • Actions scenes on the train. Proceed more or less like the SPECTRE film does.
  • Proceed to the desert train station scene as it does in the film, even the whole affable treatment of Bond and Swann when they are brought to SPECTRE HQ.
  • Proceed to reveal Oberhauser, but instead of villainous villainy in SPECTRE, have him try to convince Bond and Swann both to join SPECTRE with a whole ‘We can free ourselves from the past and make a better future and world. SPECTRE can do that. You can do that with me.” type of speech in the Meteorite room. Have Oberhauser make a comparison between himself and the Meteorite, how he’s changing the world through SPECTRE. Bond makes cynical comment about how he was called a dinosaur by ‘C’ and that Meteorites and dinosaurs don’t do well together. Cue silence from Oberhauser, who then takes them to the control room, show’s them just how corrupt and deeply infiltrated the world has become in its search for security and how he’s done nothing that the rest of the World has not permitted him to do. Bond points out that simply because corruption and evil exist, doesn’t justify what SPECTRE does, and that good and decent people ( “better men than you or I”)  exist and will resist SPECTRE even if they successfully activate Nine Eyes. Oberhauser becomes enraged (his ego-maniacal nature beginning to show through) claiming he is and will always be that better man, that Bond drove his adoptive father to suicide, a suicide that Oberhauser claims nearly cost him his own life. Bond points out that thier parting was rough, but that Oberhauser’s father wasn’t suicidal, and Oberhauser then, rather tellingly says that it was suicidal of his father to favour Bond over his own son, implying he murdered his father and faked his own death. Then the whole “I am Ernst Stavro Blofeld,  Oberhauser died with his father that day.””
  • Play up some sort of comparison between Blofeld and Bond, visually.
  • ‘C’ turns up at this point, perhaps via video call (oh god the thought of an evil skype call cracks me up) claiming victory. Blofeld points out that ‘M’ and company are hindering their plans and makes it clear that not handling them will result in ‘C’s demise. ‘C’ is visibly shaken by this. Bond makes witty remark, gets knocked out when he tries to get a weapon from one of the goons.
  • Proceed to beginning of torture scene, where Blofeld begins to brag about how much of Bond’s life he’s ruined, and how he intends on crippling Bond at this point physically, so that he can be forced to watch Blofeld’s victory before being killed. Rather than have the nonsensical brain drilling that doesn’t work, perhaps have him get his arm drilled or something equally unsettling/creepy/painful. Have Bond escape more or less as he does in SPECTRE, but has more help from Swann as they fight their way to a helicopter (similar to the film), with the same general ‘accidental’ demolition of SPECTRE HQ.
  • At least show Bond and Swann flying away and stating they’re returning to London (seriously).
  • Cue M and company going to the safe house, have things play out a bit with their desire to cripple Nine Eyes and reveal the whole plot to the world or…something. Don’t let audience see Swann’s capture as she walks away from Bond, same as in SPECTRE. However, remove whole sequence with Bond, M, and company getting ambushed by ‘C’s goons. Instead, have them successfully infiltrate the CNS building, but then Blofeld shows up, kills ‘C’ to prevent having someone who could reveal the whole plan, and lures Bond into his trap at the MI-6 building. ‘M’, ‘Q’, and a handful of loyal operatives fight off goons in the CNS building without Bond as they try to disable the Nine Eyes computer system from coming online.
  • Proceed with Bond’s confrontation with Blofeld in the MI-6 building and Blofeld trying to force Bond to abandon Swann or get himself killed rescuing her, etc.
  • Bond Rescues Swann successfully, Blofeld realizes that while ‘M’ will not be able to reveal the existence of SPECTRE, he has lost this round, regardless of if Bond dies or not and that keeping Bond occupied with Swann at least gave SPECTRE a chance to retreat. Blofeld leaves, thinking he’s at least killed Bond, not realizing he’s underestimated 007 again due to his own hubris.
  • Cut to ‘M’ being invested with his powers again, able to at least prove that ‘C’ men were corrupt etc. Bond finds Blofeld, and is ready to execute him to prevent him from fleeing England via a private jet. Blofeld, not seeing Swann anywhere, thinks Bond has abandoned her and tries to goad him into killing him. Bond instead shakes his head and holsters his gun as Police swarm the plane and capture Blofeld, apparently realizing how Blofeld has tried to manipulate him the entire film by using the women he couldn’t protect (make sure to work this theme into the last two films as part of Bond’s increasing ennui and rage). The implication should be that Bond could have become like Blofeld or Mr. White had he simply retaliated by killing Blofeld. While it be heavy handed, one could have him explain as much to ‘M’ before announcing his retirement from the 00 program.
  • End film with Bond retiring with Swann and getting his car back.

I could probably do better with some more time to work out plot and such, as I only saw the film on Sunday (that being, yesterday). But there you go. At least it expands upon and makes the plot tie together much more neatly than SPECTRE did. I do wish I knew what the premise for the two films that weren’t made was in actuality and if I’m correct in my speculation regarding it being condensed down into a single film. Either way, I’d recommend seeing the film still, just be aware of what it isn’t and try to enjoy it for what it is, and I’m sure you’ll be okay. I’ve taken enough of your time as it is with this long, rambling article I think.

How Games Misrepresent Tanks: Visibility and Situational Awareness

In the next part of my series on games and how they don’t always (or sometimes outright ignore) how AFVs actually operate, we’ll be covering how games don’t really cover how a tank crew keeps stock of their surroundings.

While I figure it’s usually safe to assume people are aware of this, I’ll just touch on a few basics about how this was and is currently done, both in a modern and historical context.

What we need to keep in mind, starting out, is that a tank is essentially a giant steel bunker with tracks, turret, and a main gun. It is designed to repel all sorts of external threats and damage, from small infantry weapons like pistols and rifles, to shrugging off shrapnel and large bore artillery explosions (in their general area, at least). To do so, even today, tanks limit number of holes or other openings that are readily accessible or exposed, to ensure the strongest possible protection against these various external threats. This means that tanks are relatively isolated, internally, from their external surroundings, especially when it comes to your normal senses, such as sight, hearing, and smell. It may help some to consider that being in a tank is similar to being in a submarine (ok, not really, but bear with me). You are at the mercy of what you can see or detect, but you have a limited amount of tools at your disposal to detect the threats around you or to select targets offensively. This is an issue that has been a long standing issue with armored fighting vehicles since they first started showing up.

Early tanks and vehicles essentially had little vision slits that provided some view of the area directly overlooked by the slit. So drivers could see a narrow little band of space before them, gunners could see little strips of what was directly before their guns, etc. To overcome this, many early tanks would have multiple crew members with multiple gun sponsons (essentially a hull mounted gun turret) laid out around the periphery of the tank to cover multiple angles with fire. They also would have the vehicle commander try to keep an eye out on their surroundings, by using either an armored cupola or similar construct with vision slits to permit them a better sense of their surroundings. These early vehicles, like the British Mk V, were slow, extremely ungainly, and had difficulty maneuvering, though they still made a difference with crossing trenches and helping break some of the stalemate of the war. During the war and afterwards, it was noted that these crude vision slits were very limited in several ways. One, that they were rarely ‘covered’, letting in bullets, snow, rain, ash, smoke and the like into crew compartment. Those that could be closed, were still a weakness in the armor of the vehicle. Long range vision in an early tank was generally accomplished via a man with binoculars, either looking out of an opened hatch, door, or large observation position on the vehicle. Gunnery sights were crude.

A British Mark V heavy tank from World War I. It is something of the quintessential early tank design. Not the bulge on the sides, housing a machine gun position and a forward placed gun sponson.

A British Mark V heavy tank from World War I. It is something of the quintessential early tank design. Note the bulge on the sides, housing a machine gun position and a forward placed gun sponson. Note also the vision slit just above the gun barrel. Located towards the front is the driver’s and front machine gunner’s position, which looks like a box. Towards the rear of the vehicle is the vehicle commander’s position with various vision slits located around his box.

As time progressed, leading up to the Second World War, various nations experimented with new technologies and manufacturing techniques to try to provide both good visibility from inside the tank, while improving the protection and security of the crew. The vision slit still remained, early in the war, but was gradually replaced by periscopes and sight prisms that allowed for better protection and fewer points of compromise in the armor layout.

Panzer IV Ausf. (C or D) Nr. 613 from the 6th Panzer Division. Notice how the Tactical symbol (the Rhombus) is a metal plate.

Panzer IV Ausf. (C or D) Nr. 613 from the 6th Panzer Division. In this case, the gunner has opened the side hatch, probably for conversational purposes with the men located around the vehicle. Notice the vision prism and pistol port built into the hatch.

The gun sight on a Panzer III. I am uncertain of either the source of the image or the model of the Panzer III, but one can see through the open hatch, the conventional layout of the vehicle, in accordance with the Heer's standards during the war.

The gun sight on a Panzer III Ausf. J One can see through the open hatch, the conventional layout of the vehicle, in accordance with the Heer’s standards during the war.

Guns got better long range performance and sights were improved to increase the effective accuracy of these better weapons. While the Germans produced very accurate and easy to use gunnery sights, they were very expensive and complex, and had a limited field of view. German gunners rarely had any sort of back up sight or wide-view periscope to assist in target acquisition, which limited their effectiveness, relying on the vehicle commander in particular to help guide them on to a target. Other crew generally had very limited options for seeing, though in some cases (such as the hull MG/radioman and the loader) this was not strictly speaking needed for them to do their basic jobs. It was shown, however, that (surprise surprise) more eyes scanning the surrounding area made for much more effective operation of the vehicle, either while it was moving or when it was trying to identify targets.The Allies produced their own gunnery sights that, while generally not as sophisticated, were perfectly functional and also had begun to provide gunners with secondary sights for better situational awareness.

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The turret of a ‘Königstiger’ aka Tiger II (H). Position of the various sights and vision systems: bottom right is the driver, seated unbuttoned from his position in the hull. Directly above him, on the turret, is the hole in the turret front where the gunners sight is located. Directly behind that, on the top right of the turret is the commander’s cupola, with the distinctive late-war dome and multiple vision prisms. To the left, located above the gun on the forward turret roof plate, is the loader’s forward vision periscope.

Near the end of the war, multiple sides had nearly finished or started to put out crude night-vision technology, allowing for a limited improvement in night combat abilities.

A late-World War II German infrared night-vision device with an illuminator spotlight. It seems to be mounted on a Panther's commander's cupola. While limited in range and offering a poor image, it represents some of the first steps towards improving tank crew's ability to operate with extended sensory equipment.

A late-World War II German infrared night-vision device with an illuminator spotlight. It seems to be mounted on a Panther’s commander’s cupola. While limited in range and offering a poor image, it represents some of the first steps towards improving tank crew’s ability to operate with extended sensory equipment.

Even with the advances and improvements made, it was found that situational awareness, especially for near or around the vehicle, was incredibly poor, leaving tanks extremely vulnerable to flanking and and infantry. The most reliable means for a tank crew to ascertain the nearby conditions and environment is to open their hatches and look around ‘unbuttoned’. This gives excellent situational awareness, though perhaps for obvious reasons, it has major drawbacks. The most cynical among us could successfully argue, for instance, that having a tank commander taken out by a sniper certainly would increase the vehicle crew’s general situational awareness to the threat of nearby infantry. That said, it is not the best course of action when one suspects nearby infantry or enemies, forcing crews to either rely on friendly troops or vehicles to overlap their vision or otherwise protect them from such situations. However, even today, it is easier and most effective to drive a tank or check the local situation by popping your head out of the hatch to have a look around, provided you’re not suicidal or otherwise engaged in combat.

More recent improvements to tanks include a wide range of sensors and devices that allow for better vision during the day and night, full thermal vision, and even devices that can assist in detecting the direction where gun fire has come from. Other improvements, either being developed or tested, including direct feeds from local UAVs, remote cameras mounted to cover various angles of the vehicle, GPS navigation, and military data networking that allows for real-time information being transmitted to various vehicle crews across the field of battle. Yet all of this still doesn’t change that you are still in a giant metal bunker with limited options for viewing or observing your immediate vicinity. It only mitigates this reality and help improve the function and efficiency of the vehicle crew.

AMX-56-LeClerc-1-1024x768

The AMX-56 LeClerc is France’s premier MBT and a very formidable fighting machine. Take a good look at the turret, however, and try to count the various vision devices and sensors you can recognize! Modern MBTs all have similarly large collections of periscopes, sights, and the like, all to improve the tank crew’s situational awareness and ability to detect, evade, engage, or locate the enemy.

So, how do video games usually stack up to this reality? Generally, not very well on average (with some notable stand outs). Let’s see what some of the contenders are!


The Battlefield Series

Perhaps surprisingly, the Battlefield Series has made some efforts to reflect the fact that you can only see a limited amount of space when you’re in a tank, and should be generally commended for that. Are they the most accurate or well-thought out presentations? Ehhh, not perfect. They still do a better job than some other games I’ll mention, however.


World of Tanks

World of Tanks does rather poorly, all told, in how it handles tank visibility and situational awareness, though this can perhaps be written off a little as the game isn’t trying to simulate real tank combat. Rather, it uses game mechanics (vehicle sight vision, making tanks invisible, etc) to ‘simulate’ the limited vision and awareness a tank crew might experience. However, with a third person view and tank gunnery sights that are limited at best, and outright fanciful at worst, it’s not really the paragon of realism (nor does it try to be in most cases). Armored Warfare falls into the same general category, though it gets a special shout-out for it looking into, at least, night vision and thermal devices in the future, which would be pretty neat and allow for night fights in the game.


War Thunder

War Thunder is fairly similar to World of Tanks in some cases, where in others, it can be significantly better. It really depends on what type of game mode and game experience you are looking for as a gamer. Arcade matches feel very similar to World of Tanks in a lot of ways, though there are clear differences in approach (for instance, game balance does not really exist in the same way that it does in World of Tanks). With Simulator battles, however, tanking becomes much more about your own situational awareness and using the tools they provide to make the maximum use of your vehicle and its armor in combat. They incorporate various real-world analogs that would be shared across virtually all tanks of the era. Here’s a basic list of this vision characteristics: the gun sight is adjustable, you can simulate viewing things through a tank commander’s binoculars, seeing through the driver’s periscope/prism, or even being unbuttoned from the commander’s hatch (kinda). The game still has some major issues, though, for the hardcore tank simulation crowd, as the gunnery sights are not unique to the country (they varied in sophistication and operating method for different models and countries in real life) and still feel more tacked on, than as fine-tuned mechanics. Still, the experience is a bit more ‘authentic’ to what it might be like to be in an actual tank and try to take stock of your surroundings than either Battlefield or World of Tanks.


The Red Orchestra Series

Ah, Red Orchestra: Ostrfront, Mare Nostrum, and Darkest Hour. These were, for the longest time, my personal staples for World War II tank combat. I loved how you had to manually dial in the range of a target and sight it, how you were always in danger if you poked your head out for a quick look around at your surroundings. They tried, very, very hard to replicate the sense of isolation a tank crew might feel and the dilemma of exposing yourself to enemy fire in order to gain a better sense of the situation around you. Was it perfect? No, not really. But they did a great job, especially for what were all fairly advanced gameplay concepts for their era and if someone is looking for a cheap tanking simulation thrill, it’s a good place to go if you don’t mind the inaccuracies and more game-y elements you might encounter (or bad armor simulation).  Not just that, but you can run most of a full tank crew, depending on the vehicle, with driver, commander, gunner, and hull gunner all being playable by other players (and a positive blast when you have friends who want to join you in running a tank).

Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad and Rising Storm do an even better job, albeit with a much, much smaller pool of vehicles and tanks. The internal models of their vehicles (The Panzer IV and T-34, along with a recent expansion that includes additional vehicles) and how they work, the vision slots and your limited options for looking around, all of these can really bring home the isolated world inside of a tank. I frankly adore that they have tried to do this, though I lament their continued lack of additional vehicles, such as the IS, KV-2, or Tiger (to name a few of the, many, many vehicles they’re lacking). However, it’s clear that each one would represent a significant and very time consuming and expensive investment to produce, despite how absolutely gaga I would be for Tripwire Interactive to create them. I can only hope and look forward towards the future and the modding community.


The ArmA Series

I love ArmA. I truly do. But when it comes to vehicles and vehicle combat, it has some major weaknesses and lets armor-orientated players down a fair bit. Yes, it’s mostly infantry focused, yes its not a full on combat simulator. But one had hoped, given that they have done a great job with modeling the interiors of helicopters, trucks, airplanes, and even the transportation compartments of an APC or IFV, they might also model the interior of a tank or other AFVs with the same vigor. Sadly, they have not and probably will not in the foreseeable future, much to my disappointment. That said, the ArmA modding community has made significant efforts to rectify this terrible tragedy, and various mods and efforts have made or are making mods that replicate the interior of these vehicles and how they might or do operate. My only current qualm is third person views, which I think breaks immersion for me and others, though its simple enough to find a server or group that limits vision to first-person only.

All told, games have made efforts to help replicate, if not directly simulate this aspect of operating an armored vehicle. In any game where multiple crew positions are available in a first person mode, it really can immerse players in the unique challenges faced when one is in a tank and it really is quite unlike anything else when its done well.

Tune in on November 4th, when I shall post my next article in this series!