Destroying Fort Schmerzen: The Schmerzen Express

Mission Photo Album

The last train station before Fort Schmerzen, with one of its many guard towers in the foreground.

The last train station before Fort Schmerzen with one of its many guard towers.

Having blacked out communications in the area, Lt. Mike Powell sneaks through a snow-blanketed public park as German alarms fade into the distance.

He’s on his way to fictional Fort Schmerzen, which he’ll destroy with help from a team of U.S. Army Rangers he’s meeting at a nearby train station. While the soldiers in the park offer little resistance, the station is better-defended.

Powell’s objective: cut power to the electrified perimeter fence so his team can sneak through, then send a false order for a train to stop at his location. I’m not sure how his transmission is heard since he just destroyed the nearby radio post, but I digress.

Like the last one, most of this mission isn’t based in history, so I had to find something specific to focus on: trains.

It’s no surprise that trains have been featured a few times in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, as they were important modes of transportation during World War II. They could work day and night, cover hundreds of miles per day, and carry tons of cargo.

Trains transported troops, supplies, mail, casualties, prisoners, raw materials, and fulfilled a number of other roles for Allied and Axis armies alike. However, trains and railways were vulnerable to sabotage and enemy attacks and were targeted often because of their importance.

In Allied Assault, Powell is dropped off and picked up by a train in Trondheim, Norway, then diverts and destroys a train while behind enemy lines with the French Resistance. In the final mission, Powell and his team of Rangers will ride a captured train into the heart of Fort Schmerzen to catch the Germans off guard.

Powell watches a German train crash into explosives as he escapes in the back of a truck.

Lt. Mike Powell watches a German train crash into explosives as he escapes in a German truck.

According to this account by the U.S. Army Air ForcesGermany began the war with an excellent railway system that allowed them to quickly transport troops and supplies to the front lines.

Traveling these tracks was the Deutsche Reichsbahn (the German Reich’s railroad company), a civilian organization that was placed under Army control during the war.

In contrast to the DR, which usually transported supplies and troops, Germany also utilized armored trains that were entirely run by the Wehrmacht.

According to this article by Arvo L. Vecamer, the DR’s last peacetime activity was transporting all non-motorized divisions to staging positions along the Polish border and to defensive positions along Germany’s western border prior to the invasion of Poland.

Though many railroads were disrupted or destroyed by retreating Poles or by Luftwaffe bombs, they were repaired and used by the DR after Poland fell.

As the Germans pushed west, they easily added defeated countries’ rail systems to their own, as they all used standard gauge rails, Vecamer says.

However, rail traffic on the Eastern Front was problematic.

Vecamer says that inside the Soviet Union, railroads were few and far between and because most had not been upgraded since World War I, they did not meet the engineering standards of the day. Similarly, many Soviet rail bridges had been installed as temporary structures and were poorly built.

The Russians also used broad gauge rail, which meant the Germans had to convert the tracks to fit their trains before they could be used. Although nearly every important railway in the USSR had been converted by the summer of 1943, Vecamer says that the Germans spent the rest of the war defending their “ever-shrinking network.”

This graphic details the difference between different track gauges. Standard gauge is the thick light blue line, while the Russian gauge is depicted in dark green.

This graphic details the size difference between various track gauges. Standard gauge is the thick light blue line in the center, while the Russian gauge is shown in dark green.

Also on the long list of hindrances to German rail traffic in Russia was the severe winter of 1941-1942. Vecamer says the severe cold stopped nearly all German transportation to the Eastern Front, and while trains still ran, they were far less effective.

He says that the precision parts used in German locomotives froze easily, rendering 70 to 80 percent of the engines inoperable. In January 1942, the Wehrmacht needed a minimum of 30 supply trains per day, but barely 10 could be managed.

Even warmer spring weather didn’t help – floods caused by melting snow and ice damaged or destroyed many Russian bridges.

According to the U.S. Army Air Forces’ report of attacks on railways and waterways during WWII, the invasion of Europe was supported by bombing railroads, train yards, and other locations vital to German transportation.

When the Allies pushed into Germany, this continued, fragmenting railways across Europe, with the exception of those used by the Allies for their own supply trains.

The report says that in mid-August, 900,000 German freight cars were loaded each week and that railroad attacks dropped this number to 214,000 per week by March 1945. After that, “the disorganization was so great that no useful statistics were kept.”

French railroads in 1936 (left) and in 1944 (right).

French railroads in 1936 (left) and in 1944 (right).

It also says that air attacks didn’t stop German trains from departing, but it became uncertain when trains would arrive (if at all). The report notes that couriers would often accompany supply trains, get off when they were delayed or stopped, and report where they could be found.

According to this segment of a documentary on the Military History Channel (since rebranded as the American Heroes Channel), trains and train yards were dangerous to attack, despite being easy to find.

The danger was twofold – the train could be carrying troops that could return fire on attacking planes, or the train could be carrying Allied prisoners or other non-combatants. Some supply trains were also escorted by armored trains that could be equipped with artillery, machine guns, anti-aircraft weapons, and more.

Every train in Allied Assault appears to be an armored locomotive followed by a varying number of boxcars. It’s unclear whether these engines would’ve been used to pull unarmored cars, but I doubt they were as prevalent as the game makes them seem.

~ by John on January 5, 2015.

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