CALL OF DUTY WW2: TIME TO RETURN TO AACHEN.

To the delight of many, the latest Call Of Duty is returning to the horrors of World War 2. For many, this is not before time. When it was leaked that the mega-money franchise was returning to World War 2, anticipation raised to fever pitch. The official announcement by Sledgehammer Games was met with great fanfare, especially compared to the derision aimed, by some, at its predecessor, Infinite Warfare. In fact, where Infinite Warfare’s reveal trailer saw over three and a half million dislikes and just half a million likes, WW2’s reveal trailer has, as of writing, over a million likes and just 93,000 dislikes. The people, it seems, are satisfied.

Details on the campaign for COD: WW2 are sparse, but we know we follow the US 1st Infantry Division, also known as the ‘Big Red One’, and their exploits on the Western Front. We also know that the invasion of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge will be part of the game.

The reveal trailer showed portions of the D-Day landings, and possibly the Bulge, but there was one part of the trailer that alluded to another, less well-known battle that the Big Red One was involved in. The trailer shows fighting in what seems to be a clock tower, with the bell prominently featured. Now, this could be any part of France during the invasion, but we believe this scene was from the Battle of Aachen.

Aachen was a hugely important battle in the Second World War. It saw the US attempt to take the ancient city of Aachen weeks ahead of schedule. In fact, the battle was waged in October 1944, when it was initially believed it would take until May 1945 before the allies would be in such a position to take the city.

Aachen was the first German city to be captured by any allied forces and was a hugely important statement.

Aachen was the historic capital of Charlemagne, founder of the “First Reich” and the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, hence Hitler declared the rule of the Nazis as the Third Reich. To strike the historic city was a strike against the Nazi faith. Hitler was determined not to let Aachen fall to the Americans.

Fighting was fierce and close quarters, being one of the biggest urban battles of World War Two. It wasn’t just inside the city that there was fierce fighting, either. During the objective just to surround the city, the 1st’s had to gain control of Crucifix Hill, itself a bloody battle that saw the use of weapons such as flamethrowers and torpedoes to clear German pillboxes.

The battle inside the city also saw the use of flamethrowers, as well as artillery and tanks. There were high casualties though, the US 1st’s lost 1350, the US 30th division lost 3,000, and the 26th division lost 498. The Nazi’s lost 5,000 and a further 5,600 were taken, prisoner. There were also civilian casualties. Many did manage to evacuate before the battle, but some stayed. Marianne Schmetz, 17 years old in 1944, recalls the situation in the town during the battle:

That is what happened then. Constant bombardments – we only lived in the cellar, more or less, and we listened to the radio – enemy radio channels – always having a globe with us to keep ourselves informed about the course of the war. During the days, we cleared away the rubble as much as possible and we patched the damages caused by the bombardments at night. The Americans came closer and closer and so did the ground fighting. And we were in the middle of the no-man’s-land. Wehrmacht artillery fire on the one side and the Americans from the other. Even though we got used to, there was danger at any time.

The Americans were there yet – we could see them in their positions. Once – we were petrified with horror – a black American soldier looked through a hatch straight into our air-raid shelter where we stayed most of the time. Fright and fear! I shouted: ‘Do not shoot. I’m alone!’ Minutes of anxiety… But we have not been harmed – whoosh, and he was gone.

Unfortunately, that was not all. Terrible things happened: Three Americans came to search the house for German soldiers. They were most friendly and polite. The commanding officer, a young, handsome, adorable boy… Yes, I was young! And then the unthinkable: they combed through the house and the factory… but they did not find anything, of course. The situation eased. They stayed for a while to discuss the situation.

The officer stood at the window, talked to his fellow, took off his helmet and lighted a cigarette. Our eyes glued to his face. Then a shot was fired…, he toppled and died instantly. Incredible! Just in front of us. We have been shocked! What would happen now? Gunfight? Retaliation against us?

None of this. When the situation seemed safe, the comrades recovered the body. They kept friendly and polite, something which was beyond our comprehension. One of them even thanked ‘the lady’ as they called my mother. They acted so correctly – we had got used to each other, we showed mutual respect and we had even nearly made friends with each other. We didn’t feel threatened by the Americans at any time, to the contrary!

Aachen is a less well known but important battle of the Second World War, it is also a battle that could very easily fit into a game set in the war. The array of differing battles during the overall operation and the myriad of weapons used will significantly mix up the gameplay. Taking Crucifix Hill with a flamethrower and a few grenades will be a totally different experience from taking the city itself with a standard issue M1 Garand.

In fact, any urban battle will be totally different to Normandy, and the Bulge, the other two known battles COD: WW2 will include. D-Day was fought on the beaches of Normandy, under heavy fire and not the most dynamic battle, a very specific battle for a game to recreate. The Bulge was fought in the dense forests of the Ardennes. Neither of these two is anything like each other or like the urban battle of Aachen. This discrepancy between the different types of warfare is perfect for a game. It removes the possibility of monotony. Great COD games like Modern Warfare were able to use differing missions and styles to their advantage–think the difference between ‘Charlie Don’t Surf’ and ‘The Hunted’. This meant that even though the weapons were similar, the way they were used and the tactics employed was sufficiently different to avoid boredom.

Apart from the fighting, it would be remiss for the game to ignore the cost in human lives at Aachen. As shown above, civilians were not totally evacuated from the city, making for interesting dynamics with their perceived American liberators. It was also such a cost for the US in terms of military casualties that the story Sledgehammer is trying to create, one of camaraderie and “common men doing uncommon things” will fit nicely into such a cataclysmic, close-quarters battle.

Any WW2 based COD should not only shed light on the horrors of the war but also on the less well-known battles and stories that came out of it. Something it seems Sledgehammer are looking to accomplish. We’ve seen D-Day. We’ve seen the Bulge. We’ve seen Stalingrad. We’ve seen Iwo Jima. We’ve seen Pearl Harbor. It’s time we saw something new, and while Aachen is not Operation Dragoon or the Battle of The Scheldt, battles that are horribly unrepresented in the discussion of World War 2, it’s not one of the more “Hollywood” battles.

We are pretty sure Aachen will be in COD: WW2, and it is a battle that deserves to be shown on the world scale.

 

 

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