By JJ Robinson
Company of Heroes on PC – released 2006, Relic Entertainment
In a hot foreign climate, far from a place where any of them would like to call home, three disparate military minds, were brought together by a LAN connection and non-alcoholic beer for one final time to face their most audacious challenge.
Tensions would be raised, hissy fits were guaranteed and lifelong friendships would be cemented via real-time strategy. This is their story.
It was the Spring of 2012. German Panzer tanks rumbled into the outskirts of the Seine Canal docklands, a dense maze of warehouses, cranes and the rubble of bombed out factories. Three divisions of the Nazi war machine had encamped on the open countryside of the mainland to the southwest, bent on seizing the docklands to the northeast. A pair of canals split the territory into three strips of land connected by two sets of four bridges, creating a series of chokepoints.
The defending Allies, camped in the ruins of the far strip of dockland and lacking the resources, armour and logistical efficiency of their German opponents, recognised immediately that holding the four bridges on each side of the centre pier was the only feasible option. A pair of these looked as if it could be hastily destroyed by sappers, but the others were clearly impervious to any hasty demolition work. Each of the three Allied commanders would have to hold one of the three remaining bridges with a pile of corpses until sufficient Anti-tank emplacements could be set up.
The tactic relied heavily on the Welshman. Armed with bountiful shovels, his job was to dig, be shot at, and dig some more – while being shot at. He also had access to powerful anti-tank gun emplacements and a corp of engineers able to rapidly repair them, however these were rather high up his tech tree and promised to be out of reach for much of the engagement. The Brit-Aussie squad had sappers, teams of commandos and an eye for setting up MG42 machine gun nests, but was rather helpless against the German armour. The pureblood Australian, inexplicably in command of an American military force, was tasked with quick response, using his lighter and more mobile forces to shore up any bridge that looked as if it might be overrun. They hoped futile and frustrated firing at the Welshman’s trenches would preoccupy the Germans long enough to better secure the chokepoints.
The four bridges on the side nearest the Allies were quickly seized without a skirmish, the fragile one destroyed by sappers. But the bridges on the far side of the centre island would not be so easy. The sheer volume of enemy flesh and metal pouring across the far bridges immediately erased any hope of retaining the middle, and the Allies found themselves ceding it to the Germans. A bitter defence ensued; the Allies were well stocked with munitions but without the centre had barely a trickle of fuel between them – the stores were spread across warehouses in the middle pier, now firmly under Nazi occupation.
Chaos ensued. In many ways, the situation reflected the world of the players’ day jobs – a troubled city under siege by the forces of political Islamists and an oppressive dictatorship that had been recently ousted but was hell bent on returning at any cost. The Welshman and the Brit-Aussie were journalists, while the Australian, appropriately, worked for the Red Cross. Nazi-occupied France was their escape, and holding the Seine Canal was its impossible challenge.
A sense of inevitability descended as they realised the Germans had sneakily repaired the destroyed bridge behind the fog of war, and were using it to funnel troops behind Allied lines. The battle was lost, although it would be another 20 minutes before the Welshman’s last trench was shot into mud.
The defeat was poignant. This was to be the final war before the Australian left forever, bound for Haiti. Failure was an unacceptable farewell. Arrangements were made for one last attempt at holding the city, the day of his flight.
It was the Spring of 2012, again. This time the plan called for seizing the four bridges on the far side of the map, closest to the German encampment. Holding them early would be difficult, given the higher flood of reinforcements, but promised control of the fuel in the centre pier and the higher-tier defences it would offer. Sappers destroyed the fragile bridge, and a sniper was posted in a gutted building to watch for approaching engineers on the other side of the canal. Seizing the other three bridges would not prove so simple – the tide of Germans had reached two of them before the Welshman could finish digging. Infantrymen who had hoped to laugh as tank shells flew over their heads were now caught in the open. With heavy casualties and all other forces barely holding the remaining two bridges, loss of the centre seemed inevitable. Such a rapid defeat was to sadden the occasion further. The impossible challenge had proved impossible after all.
The Americans had proved ill-suited to holding ground, but the Australian had insisted on their deployment. Suddenly, a rain of Humvees parachuted gracefully on to the besieged bridge, their heavy machineguns driving back the German infantry and buying time for the Welshman to complete his trench network. The line of defence was completed – more incredibly, it was holding.
German pressure continued, but without the resources of the centre pier it lacked the teeth of the last encounter. Still, with every resource committed to defence, there was little left with which to throw at German command across the canal, and few vehicles could survive the carnage on the bridges long enough to cross the canal and still remain useful. Moreover, the greater threat of the Australian’s imminent flight departure was looming.
While the Welshman held the lines and the Australian reinforced him, the Brit-Aussie landed a glider full of commandos in the forest behind the German encampment. Production buildings vaporised in a suicidal blaze of C4, the torrent of troops heading for the bridges began to weaken. Slowly, the Allies were able to push forward. The German base was overrun, and the battle was won.
The Australian made his flight to Haiti; with the sadness at a good friend’s departure tempered by a sense of teamwork and glowing accomplishment.
Whether they ever met again, there was always that glorious struggle by the Seine.