Communal Combat Mission COs required

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A Combat Mission battle orchestrated by a single wargamer invariably furnishes drama. Replace that lone CO with a band of collaborating commenters and the resulting pandemonium can be astonishingly tense, tangled, and resonant. This year’s communal CM challenge involves the very first CM title – Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord (2000) – and a petite chunk of French coastline in imminent danger of liberation. Volunteers like your good self will, I hope, over the next twenty days, arrange a very warm reception for the British forces intent on establishing a bridgehead in the vicinity of the sleepy village of Caent.

The Concept

Just in case you weren’t around for last summer’s nailbiting Baltic barney, here’s how Play By Comment Combat Mission works. Every turn, via a comment along the lines of “Turn 1 orders here, please…” I solicit written instructions for friendly forces (enemy units are AI controlled). Orders are accepted on a first-come-first-served basis with individual commenters only permitted to ‘move’ a single vehicle, infantry platoon*, or weapon team per turn.

*Usually platoons are composed of several squads and an HQ.

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One turn Humbug might send the armoured car trundling southward towards grid square j22, while Catesby chooses a target for the 120mm mortars and SlowDoris does something sly with the sniper. During the next order round, Gazputin could end-up in charge of the halftrack while Balaton76 and LMF do the honours with the mortars and the sharpshooter.

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Once the orders are in for all* units, I’ll execute them and return with a short image-accompanied account of how the last sixty seconds of in-game action played out (The progress reports will appear as standalone posts every morning at 08.00 GMT). Did that HQ manage to cross the lane without being cut to ribbons by the Universal Carrier in the gateway? Did your Sd.Kfz. 251 discover something nasty behind the woodshed? All will be revealed.

*Occasionally, to keep things moving, I may step in and issue orders for an unpopular or peripheral unit myself.

The Challenge

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It’s the morning of June 6, 1944 and minutes after being rudely evicted from a lovely dream involving Trude Berliner and the softest hayrick in Normandy, you find yourself hurrying southward towards a picturesque backwater called Caent. The local plage is crawling with Allied soldiers and vehicles and you and your comrades have been ordered to hold the village for as long as possible. Every minute the Britishers are delayed increases the chances that the counterattack, due to start shortly*, will succeed. Pushing the enemy back into the sea will be much harder if they’ve managed to secure footholds amongst Caent’s stout stone dwellings.

*But not within the timeframe of the scenario.

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This is going to be a desperate fight. You will be outnumbered. You will be outgunned. The men you’ll be facing will be highly-trained troops not easily deflected from their task.

The Battlefield

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^ Click to enlarge. Tall pines (blue-green squares containing three dark triangles) and cliffs (grey squares) are impassable to all vehicles. Walls (white lines) are impassable to wheeled vehicles only. ‘Bocage’ hedgerows (green lines) are impassable to German vehicles only but, like walls, can be crossed by infantry. The textured green squares represent brush (low scrubby vegetation offering no cover but some concealment) the ones containing five dark green dots are scattered trees (light cover and concealment).

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640 metres by 480 metres, the battlefield features four relatively low-value victory locations – the church, mill, bakery and farm. While the side holding the majority of these VLs at the end of turn 20 is likely to find itself victorious, the Germans may be able to grind out a win simply by destroying a substantial portion of the enemy’s strength.

As mentioned above, CMBO’s stylised/fudged representation of Normandy’s thick ‘bocage‘ hedgerows assumes all tracked Allied vehicles are equipped with hedge-breaching aids. Expect to see Cromwells (?), Stuarts (?) and the like pushing through leafy barriers from time to time, and accept – however unfair it may seem – that your own AFVs won’t be able to follow them.

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Units a few metres from bocage can see – and fire – through it. When further away, the high hedges completely block Line of Sight. In the pic above the selected squad has LoS into the field on the right but not the one lower-left.

Studying the following enlargeable screenshots should help you get a feel for the lay of the land. There are only three ways off the beach (the western, central, and eastern exits) and all involve a bit of a clamber. ‘Inland’ the terrain is relatively flat, the only hills of any significance are the low protuberances shaded red in the following image.

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^ Looking from NW to SE.

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^ Looking W to E. The ‘Tall Pine’ forest in foreground is impassable to vehicles.

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^ The NE corner of the map boasts a marshy stream only traversable by infantry.

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^ Looking from the hotel down the beach road. On the left is one of the map’s two low hills. Troops will refuse to enter burning buildings like the sanatorium on the clifftop.

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^ Western exit from the beach…

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…and viewed from the N.

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^ Central exit from beach…

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…and viewed from the N.

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^ Eastern exit from beach…

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…and viewed from the N.

Friendly Forces

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In a communal Combat Mission first, friendly forces include two pre-positioned MG pillboxes (b11 & r11. Already suppressed, these are unlikely to survive the first turn), plus a selection of units that must be sited at the beginning of the battle.

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The deployable units comprise a sharpshooter, a 50mm Pak 38 anti-tank gun, a string of daisy-chain anti-tank mines, and, highlighted in the above image, a field of anti-personnel mines. Site these, especially the latter trio which are basically static, with care. They could be influential.

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In addition to the sniper, AT gun, and minefields, the Germans start the game with a veteran PSW 234/1 armoured car (At close range and from advantageous angles its 20mm cannon should be able to deal with many of the AFV types fielded by the Brits), an MG-armed halftrack, and a veteran rifle platoon (3 x 9-man rifle squads each packing one or two Panzerfausts) bolstered by a 2-man MG 42 team. The MG team and 4-man platoon HQ start embarked on the HT. This cluster of units is on the northern map edge close to i30 when the battle kicks off.

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The first wave of  reinforcements should arrive circa Turn 5. Expect a platoon of heavily armed Pioneers to turn up in the vicinity of a24 and a tank or SPG of some description to appear at i32.

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Apparently, a few fallschirmjager are also on the way. Travelling on foot cross-country from an airfield to the NE the Green Devils should be with you in 10-12 minutes.

Enemy Forces

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Before the two pillboxes succumb to the inevitable, they should be able to provide some information on the substantial Allied force gathering on the beach. Your HQ has also warned you to watch out for stray US paratroopers on the map’s eastern fringe (Apparently at least one stick of American airborne troops was misdropped just along the coast last night).

Issuing Orders

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You don’t need to understand the intricacies of Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord in order to participate. Consider the tactical situation, and provide a destination coordinate and perhaps a clue to pace/cautiousness and I’ll do my best to translate your instructions into an in-game order.

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Full strength infantry squads, represented on screen by three figures, can be split into two sections for tasks like scouting, and will fight harder, react quicker, and be less likely to panic if close to an HQ (The ringed squad in the above pic is ‘out of command’ and is therefore less effective).

During the sixty-second non-intervention ‘action phases’ that follow order issuing, units may encounter a threat or target that causes them to abandon or modify your instructions. For example, AFVs may decide to pop smoke and reverse if they don’t like the situation they find themselves in. Specific targeting instructions may be issued but usually combatants can be relied upon to self-select targets sensibly.

The excellent pdf manual that comes with the game explains play mechanics in detail. I’ll do my best to answer any technical questions that arise during the next three weeks. Hopefully, knowledgeable spectators and players will furnish explanations from time to time too.

Happy hunting, Comment Commanders. Brace yourself for the British onslaught!

*       *       *

This way to the foxer

51 Comments

  1. Tim Stone says:

    Turn 1 orders here, please. Commenters are cordially invited to suggest moves/positions for the following 8 units (a maximum of one unit per commenter).

    These units can be placed anywhere on the map except the beach and cliff:

    *Pak 38 AT gun
    *Sniper
    *Daisy-chain anti-vehicle mines (easily spotted but should provoke a detour from any vehicle that encounters them)
    *Anti-personnel mines

    These units are circa i30 and awaiting movement orders:

    *PSW 234/1 armoured car
    *Sd.Kfz. 251 halftrack
    *Rifle platoon (3 squads + 1 HQ)
    *LMG team

    (The player that takes on the halftrack this turn, might want to wait until the rifle platoon and LMG team have orders before issuing their own as the platoon HQ and LMG team start the game aboard the HT)

    • JB says:

      Without knowing the enemy disposition, it’s a little ropey coming up with good suggestions.

      To that end, how about we get the HT with its precious cargo of infantry moving churchwards, so we can react to what the pillboxes show us?

    • alh_p says:

      Anti personal mines: Lets put them over the Eastern Beach Exit. As to how to position them:
      – Cover the full exit path if possible. If it can be done placing them lengthwise (i.e. so the longer side is oriented N/S), that would be ideal. Otherwise I’d settle for covering the full width – unless there’s no advantage to this.
      – If there’s anything to be gained from doing so over having them block the open beach path, hide them in the scrub immediately behind the path (I don’t know CM beyond these CCM parties)

    • Axolotl says:

      Lay the AT mines at n10, right at the central exit from the beach.

      • Mi-24 says:

        I don’t know much about how it generally works in this game (I’ve never played it and only watched the last one) so correct me if you think otherwise, but im wondering if this position could be a waste, would the first vehicles they send in be transports or recce for instance? and not worth destroying as much as a tank, maybe placing the mines here would just destroy a lightly armoured target.

        EDIT: just read that the vehicles would spot and avoid the mines, was your idea to just divert them to other chokeponts?

        • Axolotl says:

          No. I’ve just read that those mines are easily detectable. You’re right.
          Can we place the mines at c10-e10? How much do they cover? If the mines force detours, I’d like to use them to prevent vehicles from controlling the western hedgerows to just bust through to the middle of town.

    • klops says:

      PSW full speed to k23 through north of the hotel. From there it moves to L21 and creeps to L20/L19 in a position where it can both have a narrow LOS south through l15 and a LOS to P13 and if possible P12.

      Hatch open.

      (Most likely we’ll have to backtrack PSW pretty soon, but from there it can shoot at the first nosy APCs or infantry if they can get through the n10 mines. I don’t dare to send it alone to S/T 21 where I’d like to cover that u-x LOS to south for the fear of the paratroopers. Getting away from there would require the car to show its side too much)

      If someone opposes, I’m open to changes.

    • Axolotl says:

      Who’s taking it upon himself to place the pak38? No pressure, it’s just the most important, most vulnerable AT option we have.

      • g948ng says:

        I am gonna do it. I am going to regret my decision later, sure, but that is a problem for future-me.

        Tim, please put the PaK38 the G21 square, looking south-east. I want LOS to to I19 (aiming through the gap between the hedge and the house)and I -also- want LOS to L19 and L20.
        If all of this can be combined with peeking over the bocage towards that gap in G18 that would be swell, but purely optional.

        Our outdated PaK needs to cover the two main approaches to the middle of the map from a flanking position at very close range, far away from any US paratroopers.
        I know this leaves the gun crew open to any AFV barging through the hedges further west, or sneaking infantry but I do hope that we will get advance notice of such a move by our trip-wire pillbox. Also, our reinforcements will enter the map close by.

        Also: I have been waiting for this! Yay!

        • g948ng says:

          PS: Ambush stance, please. So, only firing at vehicles and not giving away their position by lobbing HE shells at far away infantry.

  2. Stugle says:

    Ooh! Another communal combat! Awesome, I look forward to watching from afar as plucky Jerry is pasted all over the map by Terrible Tommy.

    That said, in a break with tradition I’ll actually suggest at least one order: sniper in the church tower, please. It’s a tradition, or an old charter, or something…

    How big of a space does the anti-vehicle minefield cover? Is it big enough to block off the western beach exit? If it is, I’d like to put it there, so we just have to worry about vehicles from the center/east. If it only covers a single square, I’d drop it in the center exit.

    Any knowledgeable commenters out there, please feel free to countermand my mining orders. :)

  3. beleester says:

    The western side of the map has a maze of hedgerows that will choke up the infantry, but it’s passable for vehicles. The other side is full of concealment and trees, good for infantry. So if I were the British commander, I’d send some vehicles up the left side to break through the hedges.

    Ideally, we’d hold them at the choke points on the beach, but our troops are at i30 and I’m guessing they can’t get across the map in one turn. So maybe we set up our defenses around rows 15-20 – taking advantage of the hedge maze on the left and the thick trees on the right to slow them down, then falling back to the buildings if we get overwhelmed.

    If we put the AT gun in the trees at c15, will it be able to fire at vehicles coming up the slope? Or will the building get in the way?

    • klops says:

      I’d rather keep our Pak further back. If the AT has a good line of sight to the beach, so do the multiple vehicles at the gun. It’s slow. It’s alone.

      It penetrates the armour well and most likely it kills a vehicle or two, but just basic MG fire can keep the AT crew covered and I’m pretty sure there will be tanks lobbing HE shells at it. So we’ll lose it soon in c15. The sparse trees are not a very good cover.

      • alh_p says:

        A someone who rashly committed scarce AT materiel in previous CCMs (er, oops!), I’d second caution in the deployment of what is currently our only ranged AT weapon… In the scale of WW2 AT weapons, its a bit of a pea shooter too, so it’s going to do its best work in ambush or from the flank.

        • klops says:

          I’m worried about the paratroopers in the east. They could easily run to the object area and cover lots of ground from there. They are hard to reach since the route there is tough to reach safely/fast.

          The sniper could bother and slow them a bit if there’s any attempt for a quick dash for the Old Mill in east. Then again they could be hiding on the eastern hill very soon also.

          Argh.

    • alh_p says:

      In accordance to your reading of the terrain, I think the eastern exit might be a good/nasty place to plonk the AP mines. Ein pfennig for your thoughts Herre kameradin?

      • Axolotl says:

        I agree. That area looks very inviting for infantry.
        As for the AT mines, I think we should place them on the road starting at the central exit, since it’s only one square wide, so a vehicle coming from there would have to run over those mines.

        • emily riposte says:

          I’m somewhat worried that mines on the road at the central exit from the beach will just force afvs to briefly go off-road at that exit, and not actually block it. I would prefer on the road somewhere in town in the at gun’s field of vision, to make them unable to move at road speed past the at gun’s line of sight.

          • Axolotl says:

            How about l19? It’s impassable to vehicles on both sides, and any vehicle wanting to enter town from either the center or the west would have to charge blindly through a hedgerow.

    • khamul says:

      Can I respectfully suggest that the Pak 38 is nestled up against the hedgerow, just between the two buildings at d/e 20/21?

      It’s a bit hard to read LoS from the pictures, but that looks like it has a reasonable chance of decent lines of fire across most of the western farmland, plus it can be supported by infantry in the buildings adjacent, potentially hold the victory point, and maybe we can use the road nearby to get it out of trouble if things go badly?

      I don’t know how to play the game – just remembering how painful things like it have been to face in previous Communal Combat missions, and trying to return the favour.

      Can we use the AT mines to drive the enemy into its line of fire? Behind the hedge around d15, something like that?

      • g948ng says:

        Just saw that you posted one minute after I gave the PaK an order. Seeing that we actually had (very) similar ideas I will let the order stand if you do not object.

        • khamul says:

          Yes, I’m fine with that.

          I may have missed it, but I can’t see any orders placing the sniper?

          If they haven’t been told where to skulk yet, can we put them in the mill? That gives us another VP held, and allows them to cause trouble on the east – more infantry-tempting – side of the map. I *think* the mill also just has LOS down the east access off the beach.

          I’m a little worried about leaving them unsupported and exposed, so someone please correct this order if it seems dumb. I think we’ve got an LMG coming in though, which is good?

          They should only fire if they have a good clean shot at infantry, preferably targeting command.

          • emily riposte says:

            In my experience with CM, the best use for snipers is to button up afvs before engagement by your own afvs/at guns, to give your own guys a little more time undetected and maybe an extra safe shot or two. Against infantry, particularly unsupported, they seem to just die right away.

            That being the case, i’d suggest the sniper be put in a good spot to shoot at expected lines of advance for their armor just before they enter our at gun’s vision keyhole. I’m a little unclear which suggestion for placing the at gun is going to prevail, though, which makes it hard to place the sniper.

          • khamul says:

            What about the big building at k21?

            I think there’s only one order for the PAK. g948ng’s order predates mine, and I cede to his positioning anyway. beleesters’s placement was more of a question than an order, and as Tim had the PAK definitively unplaced in a later comment, I take it Tim also saw it that way.

            So I think g948ng’s order for the PAK is definitive?

            If that’s the case, the big building at k21 looks to have good LOS down both the major routes for enemy vehicles… but @emily, you haven’t ordered yet, and I defer to your greater experience, so please do feel free to place the sniper.

  4. alh_p says:

    Huzzah for Tim! You’ve picked a good time for a month long stay-cation, or whatever other abomination before god it’s now called when you stay at home for a month.

    This looks like a real challenge. The previous CCMs may have been more balanced in set up, even the oddly sited olive grove (in a desert!!??) when we at least had SOME (short-lived) tanks (oh and one god-mode Stuart), but this really doesn’t look easy.

    Occupying VP buildings with infantry, backed up with flanking mobile forces and arty (eventually – when we stopped telling the poor mortar crew to run around) worked well enough for our doughty Anzacs in the Libyan desert.

    Our starting infantry squad is veteran, so that could help in hand to hand. Keeping them in command range would be best, if it’s possible.

    • khamul says:

      Also, yes, Hurrah!
      I love these things, and will be observing with great enthusiasm, and occasionally screwing up my courage for a suggestion or two.

    • Cederic says:

      I’d forgotten that unfeasibly omnipotent Stuart. At least this battle doesn’t have a mortar team for me spend four turns climbing a wall.

  5. klops says:

    Questions to Mr. Stone:
    Does the AT have tungsten shots?
    You could position guns into tall pines, right?
    How long does it take from infantry/halftrack/PSW to move from the starting position to i20, q 21?

    • Tim Stone says:

      No tungsten for the Pak 38, I’m afraid (14HE, 36AP).

      Yes, the Pak could be placed in a tall pines square.

      Reaching i20 would take the PSW around 35 seconds and the HT about 55. If they sprint, the rifle squads will be circa i22 at the end of the turn.

  6. Axolotl says:

    Is the pine forest near the eastern exit on top of the hill? If so, it looks like a very strong position for infantry to hold, providing both sight lines and cover.

    • Tim Stone says:

      The ‘ruin’ at q/r19 is on the summit of a small hill. Any troops in the pines on the southern slope of the hill (q17-ish) would have a good view of units leaving the beach via the central exit. s18 and r17 overlook the eastern exit.

      The wood at q/r/s/t13 is on flat ground.

      • Hydrogene says:

        What about the PAK at f26, in the pine trees? Does the low hill there have enough elevation to get a LOS over the small houses south at e21 and h21? Or is it too obvious and without enough protection from the sides? Any idea?

        • Tim Stone says:

          Place the Pak on either of the hills and it will struggle to engage targets moving through the large area of bocage between rows 21 and 12. Not enough height to see over the mega hedges or most of the houses in the village.

  7. DeadCanDance says:

    Is it my lack of knowledge of this column or Tim prefers the older versions of combat mission?

  8. sagredo1632 says:

    A few technical questions:

    1. I see some of the bocage and walls have little divots in them. Are these infantry-passable choke points?

    2. Once a British vehicle has traversed a piece of bocage, will the traversed space become open ground?

    Looking forward to another round of WEGO shenanigans this year folks!

    • Tim Stone says:

      The divots are just a visual quirk of the map editor display. Please ignore them. Infantry and Allied vehicles can pass through bocage at any point, and infantry and – I now realise – *all fully tracked vehicles* can pass through walls.

      Sadly, our tank when it arrives won’t be able to follow Stuarts etc. through dynamically-generated bocage gaps. Bocage isn’t altered by Allied AFVs. One of the shortcomings of the old CMBO engine.

  9. Tim Stone says:

    There’s about eleven hours to go before I launch Turn 1 and there’s still a few units waiting for instructions. If anyone’s hanging back worried about making a hash of things, there’s really little danger of disaster at this point. All the Allied units are currently on the beach so all movement by the i30 units (PSW, HT, and rifle platoon) will be unobserved movement. Placing the the Pak 38 in a spot with direct LoS to a large swathe of the beach would be risky (though a ‘hide’ order might ensure its survival). All other options should be pretty safe.

    Currently not placed:
    Pak 38

    Currently orderless:
    Rifle platoon (3 squads + HQ)*
    LMG team*

    *The halftrack containing the HQ and LMG has been ordered to head towards the church.

    • Rituro says:

      Yes!!! CCM was the feature that made me a regular reader of RPS — super excited to see it return! Let’s see if I can keep my streak of seemingly-suicidal-yet-actually-critical-game-changing tank maneuvers going…

      First thing’s first, though. Send the non-embarked rifle squads to capture the farm at j27.

    • Cederic says:

      (original post deleted, as it gave a pak 38 order – but ten minutes ago Khamul placed a different one, so I defer to his superior and more timely intervention)

      After reaching the church, LMG team disembark and leg it to the mill where they set up in the SE corner ready to shoot airborne from the East and provide support to the troops to the south.

      I don’t think there are any troops to the south, are there. Hmm.

    • BooleanBob says:

      Rifle platoon to follow the halftrack as it moves towards the church? Getting them into a central area should keep our options open for more specific deployment as needed next turn.

    • Skabooga says:

      Ah hell, if there are still pieces to play around with, I’m game.

      Tim, if you would be so kind, please have the HQ disembark from the halftrack outside the church, and set up inside the little building at K-22 (unless being inside a little building would block their commanding powers; then, have them setup just north of that little building).

  10. AlexHeartnet says:

    I vote that we just charge in and get everyone killed :p

    On a more serious note, if the bunkers are going to die then couldn’t we just have the crews try to escape?

  11. jozinho says:

    Hi Tim

    Would you be willing to share your control configuration/technique? I tried getting into CMBO recently and had a heck of a time adjusting to the somewhat outdated scheme. Any tips you can share for a wannabe grognard? (ditto to any experienced readers)

    • Tim Stone says:

      The lack of WASD camera movement and mousewheel zooming will seem horrible at first. Persevere though – get used to using the number keys (view levels) in combination with the mouse – and in a day or two you should feel pretty comfortable. I rarely use the CC-style overhead views (5-8) but I’ve met CM players who use little else!

      • jozinho says:

        Thanks for the encouraging words! Once I master these controls, my next goal is to understand why this speed bump the tutorial calls an ‘elevation’ is a matter of life and death… I hope to learn more of this secret art from your play-by-play.

  12. oceanboy86 says:

    Just thought I’d throw this out there before making orders…
    Does anyone personally oppose to me giving orders despite being complete rubbish at strategy games, and bad at ww2 logic in particular?

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