Friday, August 30, 2019

Checkmate King 2, This Is White Rook, Over

"Cage, why doesn't this damn walkie talkie ever work?"

The characters (L to R): Lt. Hanley, Kirby, Cage, Littlejohn, Doc and Sergeant Saunders.

I have been binge watching episodes of the 1960s television series "Combat!" over the past couple of weeks. The series began ran for five seasons from 1962 to 1967 and the first four seasons were filmed in black & white and the final season was in color. I always thought that the B&W version was much better than the color episodes.

Black & White gives the series a feel for WW2 film footage of the war.

So how did my interest (revived) in Combat! come about? Well, I was working on some SYW and AWI skirmish game scenarios and the thought occurred to me that it would be fun to name a squad of American Continentals Lt. Hanley, Sgt. aunders, Kirby, Cage, Littlejohn and Doc (and Nelson was a regular for the first 2 seasons). Well, as you can guess, one thing led to another and suddenly I was watching episodes of the series on You Tube every evening before going to bed.

It's fun to see some future stars taking small roles in Combat, before they became well known: Leonard Nimoy, James Caan, James Coburn, Beau Bridges to name a few. Plus, most of the episodes featured a guest star such as Robert Duval, Telly Savalas, Eddie Albert, Frankie Avalon, James Whitmore and many others.

I am through most of Season 3 by now, although I skipped several of the multipart episodes shown during the first two seasons. In my opinion, the show holds up fairly welll by today's standards. The producers had to make do with what they had so one often sees the same old village (a set actually) being fought over, arrid California terrain as opposed to verdant green France, and the occasional water run off ditches and culverts. However, that doesn't really spoil the show by any means.

My Combat! Questions and Observations

So here are some of my observations and questions about Combat!:

1) Why do the Germans (Krauts - are we allowed to say that in these PC times?) always leave really great cover and run out into the open where they get gunned down like ducks on a pond? I mean come on, a squad of Krauts have the Americans pinned down with machine gun fire, yet it's like they all say, "hey, this cover is too good, why don't I run across the open space and hide behind that wooden water barrel?"

2) All of the above led to what the late Jim Mitchell called the Nifty Falls" game. The Germans did all manner of summersaults and dives when they were shot, using moves that a modern day Olympic gymnists couldn't do. So when we would go out into the woods and play "Combat" we would try to immitate all of the Nifty Falls that the Krauts did on television.

3) when we played "Combat!" everyone wanted to be Sgt. Saunders, or PFC Cage as a second choice. I remember that you could buy an official plastic Thompson machine gun just like the one that Sgt. Saunders carried. Nobody wanted to be Lt. Hanley for some reason.

4) PFC Cage is obviously the best soldier in the squad. He is smart...and he speaks French, plus he gets to wear that cool looking beret. So why does Saunders alway put Cage "on the point" when they are traipsing through the countryside? Point is the most dangerous duty in the squad, so why put your best man in the most dangerous spot on the battlefield?

5) Geez Louise, how many times does Littlejohn have to get wounded before he can get a free ticket stateside? Littlejohn has to be the unluckiest soldier in the squad.

6) does every German carry a burp gun and does every German squad have heavy machine guns?

7) Nobody gets mangled by bullets - "it's just a flesh wound," or "I will be all right after they get a couple slugs out of me".

8) Sgt. Saunders' squad is more or less bullet proof (see #1 above) - they can run across open space and not get hit by German machine gun bullets.

9) Many of the episodes begin with some great film footage taken during WW2

10) German tanks - yes, I know, these are usually old American tanks taken from the scrap heap and tarted up as German tanks. Also, the same German half-track gets used over and over again (it's probably an American half-track, but I'm not a WW2 vehicle expert).

11) American squad tactics seem to be sound. Saunders is always sending a few guys off to "outflank the Krauts" which makes sense to me.

12) Sgt. Saunders and Lt. Hanley expose themselves to gunfire too often, "I'll run over there while you guys cover me!" Send one of the other guys instead, you know, the guys that aren't regulars on the show.

13) Sgt. Saunders' squad is way too small at four or five guys. Where is the rest of the squad?

14) The Americans never run out of ammo whenever they get into a firefight.

15) Why doesn't that frickin' walkie talkie ever work when you need it the most?

16) Is the opening music the best theme music that you have ever heard? And the explosion graphics were pretty neat too.

I'm having a good time strolling down Memory Lane with my binge watching of Combat!

This is White Rook. Over.


  1. Answer to #11: They learned it from the 'Krauts'.
    Answer to #7 and #8. It's called 'plot armour'. Not even the hero's foot is left unprotected.
    Corrollary question to #13: Yeah, why not beef out the squad with to ten with five 'red jacket' guys (think 'Star Trek') as cannonfodder? Story writers have to acknowledge that your hero ain't going to look heroic if the enemy ain't worthy of his steel. That is why British war films were for so long better than American ones (no longer true, not since at least the 1990s).
    #14: See the 'plot armour' thing again.
    #16: Rolling Stones' 'Paint It Black' for the US TV series 'Tour of Duty'.

  2. Sounds interesting , I've never heard of this TV series don't think it made it to the U.K.

    1. BIG influeence growing up, even my Dad (WWII vet) used to enjoy watching it though he'd occasionally chuckle and shake his head. It was a treat to find them on youtube a few years ago.

  3. Yes Combat was a show I watched at the time and looked forward to it.

    Around that time there was another show named Battle Line. It compared the experiences of one Allied versus one Axis soldier at a particular battle.

    Thanks for the memory Jim,
    Bill P.
    Chronicler for The Adventures of General Pettygree

  4. Usually when the squad received reinforcements they were killed off in the episode. One thing to note - Saunders wore a camo helmet cover which were not worn in the ETO. The reason is that they looked a lot like German helmet covers and drew fire. An excellent series from a simpler time.

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  6. Not sure why every German carries a SMG. It's been a while since I've seen any of the shows, but I thought a fair number carried bolt action rifles, but I might be confusing it with another show.
    Actually the base TO&E of a German squad always had an MG of some sort (usually the MG 34, but sometimes the MG 42). Basically the only difference between a German HMG and the squad weapons was when it was on a tripod, it was a HMG. The German squad machineguns were the best in the war(best pure HMG was probably the American .50cal.

  7. The American SCR-536, better known as the BC-611 walkie talkie, has about 1/4 watt power and its range, at best, it about a mile. The Signal Corps portable radio that did work well was the SCR-300 FM radio but not often seen in movies. The '611 is iconic in movies but not up to the tasks indicated So, yes, they don't often work..... (ref: Signal Corps in WWII, Vol. 4)

  8. I watched Combat all those years with my DAD ,who was in WWII. Great show OVER

  9. WhiteRook, this is checkmate king 2..come in..