Saturday, November 1, 2014

Where in the World is Gallia?

If you've never played the PS3/PC exclusive Valkyria Chronicles I highly recommend giving it a try, especially if your a fan of strategy games.  Weak AI and a poorly implemented evaluation system aside, you're looking at one of the best video game stories to come out of Japan in a very long time; weighty without being depressing, and exciting without becoming manic.  Fans, who are also knowledgeable when it comes to World War 2 history, will undoubtedly notice that the fictional country of Gallia is a composition of various European nations; Dutch windmills, towns named after real places in the Netherlands, a government reminiscent to those found in Belgium and Luxembourger, military structures modeled after Finland, and a national conscription system very similar to that used in Switzerland.  However, something that might surprise even hardcore fans is just how much of the more outlandish elements are based on another usually unmentioned country, Poland.

Take for example the lancaar/theimer weapons which combine the role of a bazooka with a mortar.  Visually these anti-armor devices resemble medieval lances (a common weapon used by Hussars).  Contrary to legend, WW2 Polish cavalry didn't make any ridiculous attempts to charge tanks with this weapon (or sabers for that matter).  Instead they had an extremely deadly anti-tank weapon.  What you might ask?  Considering the invasion of Poland took place in 1939, there was no such thing as the bazooka, panzerschreck or panzerfaust.  Simply put they used special high powered rifles.

A secret weapon of sorts, these extremely long barreled firearms looked somewhat similar to a lance when slung over the back.  Unlike most armor piercing munitions (which use a sabot or similar projectile) the bullet for this gun had a soft lead core and hard outer casing.  Rather than punching a hole, the impacting round would transfer its kinetic energy through the armor plate causing the inner surface (about 20mm in diameter) to spall off at high speed.  As a result the Wz. 35 was capable of piercing the armor of any tank at the time.  While no exact figures have survived to the present day, no less than 832 German tanks were lost during the invasion of Poland.  Granted some of these had to do with mechanical failures, but approximately a third of these losses are marked as being irrecoverable.  I think it's safe to say that a nontrivial amount were destroyed by exceptionally powerful rifles.

Another absurdity that's featured in Valkyria Chronicles is the size of certain tanks.  While it's true that nothing as massive as the Batomys was ever designed and built, the Poles (along with other nations) did make use of armored trains, complete with turret mounted machine guns, cannons and artillery in addition to a sizable complement of infantry.

There are a number of smaller nods to the real history of Poland as well.  The persecuted Darcsens are combination of Jewish people living in Eastern Europe and Polish workers forced to labor under harsh conditions in Axis factories.  Obviously, the geographical location of Gallia on the map of Europa corresponds rather well to the location of Poland on an actual map of Europe.  Then there's the term "Valkyria" which sounds like a derivation of "Valkyrie," women who according to Germanic folklore, were imbued with superhuman abilities.

In the end though we're just talking about a game here, so I don't want to risk over analyzing any more than I already have.  That said, it's surprising just how much real history seeps it's way into places that never actually existed.  For another great example of Polish history influencing game design look no farther than the Witcher series.  Unlike Valkyria Chronicles though I'll leave the research and fact finding up to you on that one.

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