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Military Games

Game Features: How Accurate is Company of Heroes: Western Front?

Company of Heroes and its sequel has enjoyed broad acclaim, but there are those who love to trash the game for being historically misleading.

Company of Heroes and its sequel have enjoyed broad acclaim, but there are those who love to trash the game for being historically misleading.

by Ben Haile

History has earmarked the Battle of Stalingrad as one of the bloodiest battlefields, not only in World War II, but also in the history of armed conflict. Two giant armies pitted themselves against one another: the well-armed, trained and supplied German Army Group B, and the conscripts of Stalin’s Red Army.

The German operations were initially successful. On July 23, 1942, against the advice of his military advisors, Hitler altered the operational objectives for the 1942 campaign, amending them to include the occupation and hold of the city of Stalingrad. The city was prized by both leaders for its propaganda and psychological value as it bears the name of the Soviet leader. Hitler also believed that if his forces were able to control Stalingrad, the Wehrmacht’s northern and western flanks would be secured as they advanced on oilfields of Baku.

But this would later spell doom for his invading forces.

Alarmed by the German advances and the seemingly ever-increasing number of desertions, on July 28, 1942, the Soviet high command issued the now infamous Order 227: ‘Not a Step Back’.

The grand order established that each Front must create penal battalions composed of only of rank-and-file Red Army soldiers and officers accused of disciplinary problems. Those battalions would then be sent to the most dangerous sections of the front lines as a punishment and to be presented with a chance to redeem themselves. Conversely, the order also directed that each army unit must create “blocking detachments” whose task would be to shoot “cowards” and fleeing panicking troops from the read.

Effects of the order were immediate. Soviet troops took into the rabbles of Stalingrad and engaged the German forces in close-quarter combat, effectively overturning previously gained German footholds, and eventually driving them out of Stalingrad.

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A Controversial Portrayal

Relic’s portrayal of the Battle of Stalingrad, however, has ruffled some feathers. In its missions, COH2 offers a playable version (or interpretation) of Joseph Stalin’s Order No. 227, ‘Not a step back’, which forbade the retreat of Red Army troops from Stalingrad and to hold to whatever they have at all costs. In the game, if a player deploys the ‘Frontiviki Squad’, a timebar appears, and for that duration, players can not have their troops go into full retreat back to HQ. Conveniently, an NKVD commissar will also appear out of the HQ and shoot the retreating soldiers point-blank as they near the HQ.

It is for this portrayal that the Russians love to hate the game.

While there’s no denial that the Battle of Stalingrad was won because of the Red Army’s ingenuity, courage, and unparalleled sacrifice, one ought to also remember that what we mostly know about the actual events that transpired in Stalingrad comes from secondary sources -sources that were subject to soviet censorship. The Soviet government, and understandably so, anxious to use its hard-bought victory to ramp up commitment to the communist cause has engaged in editing out the inconvenient truths and damaging details.

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