This weekend I saw the fantastic new film Fury, which follows the grueling missions of a World War II m4 Sherman tank crew operating deep within enemy territory. I knew practically nothing about the plot when I went in, so I was ecstatic to learn that it gave tank crews a well-deserved (and often ignored) spotlight. These guys had one of the hardest and most terrifying jobs in the war. Enclosed in a suffocating hunk of metal, their only sensory connection to the outside world was the tiny, restricted view from the small ports around the tank and the sound of bullets and shrapnel ricocheting off the armor inches away from their head. They were also the biggest, most obvious target on the battlefield, and knew that at any moment an anti-tank shell or rocket could come shooting their way, ripping through armor and flesh or starting an inescapable fire. It was a rough, unforgiving life.
It doesn’t need to be said that video games don’t come anywhere close to simulating the feeling of being in an actual warzone. However, my experience with a military simulator, Arma II, has given me a much closer understanding (and appreciation) of that feeling, albeit in the comfort and safety of my cozy apartment. The way our group plays Arma is an attempt to balance a fun, casual gaming experience with a grounding in some amount of realism and challenge. We’re only trying to “simulate” the battlefield to the point where we get a fun, interesting experience that no other game can provide. Despite our focus being on fun, however, I’ve found that playing Arma has given me a lot of sympathy for the kind of things real-life soldiers have to go through, especially the tank crews.
Like in real life, in Arma II’s armored vehicles our view is restricted to an extremely narrow field of vision. If we want to be able to quickly look around and have a better view of the world around us, we have to pop our heads out of the top of the vehicle, completely exposing ourselves to all kinds of deadly threats. We typically have three crew inside a tank: one gunner, one driver, and a commander. Each crewman has a large responsibility to keep everyone in the tank alive, and has to be able to make split second decisions when they see an immediate threat. Each person has to rely on each other to stay alive, which makes being in a tank very team-oriented, and downright terrifying. The driver is stuck having to listen to the commander and gunner communicate threats, listening to machine gun fire tink off the armor, all while looking out of his tiny viewport at probably nothing. It’s a helpless and stressful feeling for everyone involved, and it makes me think of how awful being in a real tank in a real battlefield must be.
This is what made me so happy to see a movie like Fury show the real struggles of operating a tank. I wanted more people to see this part of history and war that most people never even think twice about, without having to play an obscure and insanely complicated video game to do so. It gives a mainstream audience a glimpse into a relatively unknown part of history, and it’s a very entertaining movie to boot. Visually, it looks fantastic. It might be the only war movie I’ve ever seen to actually show the tracers of machine gun fire, which is not only realistic, but adds greatly to the horror and excitement of the battlefield. I won’t say the movie is realistic as a whole, especially towards the end where it goes into almost Rambo-level ridiculousness, but it doesn’t need to be. In much the same way that Arma II is just realistic enough to hint at the feeling of being in a battle, but unrealistic enough to stay entertaining, Fury straddles the line of realism and action movie silliness. It accurately represents the kinds of experiences that a World War II tank crew might have to go through, while still simply being an entertaining piece of fiction.
I won’t spoil the best scene in the movie, but I will say it involves a German Tiger tank and an anxiety-inducing chess match of tank combat between the two enemies. It evokes the famously stressful submarine-versus-destroyer scenes of Cold War thrillers, and I absolutely love it. If you’re at all interested in tank warfare, go see this movie. And if you’re stupidly interested in combined arms warfare, join us on Saturdays in our Arma group, AnArmaFeeling.