The 761st "Black Panthers"

The West Tokyo Wargamers seem, at the time of writing, to be getting into 20mm WW2 gaming in a big way using Blitzkrieg Commander (and possibly Flames of War).

As a club project some of us are looking at building up representative forces from all the main theatres (and a few smaller ones as well!)   For my part, I have lots of Russians and Germans as well as some Japanese, but I have also been taking a look at doing some Americans for the ETO in 1944/45 for a potential mini-campaign.

Now, I have been into wargaming for years, yet never before have I really considered doing a US force.

This has been partly a result of being a Canadian living along the border and bombarded with media images from the US, much of which gave the impression that it was the US who single-handedly won the war. While certainly not to belittle the American achievement, this is simply not true- certainly as far as the ETO is concerned.   So I was never in any hurry to represent a US formation when there were the Commonwealth forces and other allies- not to mention the Soviets- to promote.

But the main reason has really been the lack of an organization on the US side that could really capture my imagination.  I know there were a lot of units with excellent combat records, and I know of American gamers that would choose this or that unit on the basis of having relatives who had served, but none of them seemed household names outside the Airborne divisions, the Rangers and Marines. But the Marines all served in the Pacific, and the Airborne and Rangers didn't have tanks with which to face the Germans I had.  

But then while searching the Internet for something completely unrelated, I happened by chance to come across the story of the 761st Tank Battalion.

Well, I have the 54th Massachusetts in my ACW collection, so it seemed a natural to take a better look at the 761st, it being the first African-American tank regiment to fight in the war.  And on looking at it's combat record, it did pretty darn well at that.

It saw hard fighting right up to the end of the war, and ended up being one of the first units to meet up with the Soviets in Austria, who were then coming in from the opposite direction.

But that is only part of the appeal.  These were men who were fighting for the freedom of Europe under the flag of a country considered the torchbearer of liberty.  Yet paradoxically, many of them came from states which actively enforced laws officially treating African-Americans as second-class citizens; the hateful "Joe Crow" statutes.

In fact, one of the members of the 761st, the future baseball player Jackie Robinson,  was charged with defiantly breaking the law for refusing to sit at the back of a segregated bus as ordered to by the driver.

Yet despite all this, the men of the 761st went to Europe and fought hard for their country.  In doing so they contributed to the growing call for desegregation of the services and indeed, played their part in setting the scene for the whole Civil Rights movement of the post-war years.

These were men I would think that any nation would be proud of, and in reading about the 761st I have found the inspiration I needed to start building Sherman tanks!

There is quite a lot of information available in the form of books and websites, so this will be a feasible force both to research and to play on the wargames table.  

(And I can use P-47's for air support!)