Wargaming.net is famous for its free-to-play historic military battle games World of Tanks and World of Warships. In the pursuit of historical accuracy, the publisher has also been involved in the recovery and preservation of classic military hardware.
The game publisher recently permanently loaned an Australian AC1 tank, that they purchased and imported from the USA, to The Australian Armour and Artillery Museum in Cairns. I was there at the unveiling of the newly restored tank.
More conventional than New Zealand’s genius, but impractical, Bob Semple tank – a design crafted from a postcard – the Australian Cruiser Type 1 (AC1) Sentinel was born from the same fears.
With Britain unable to spare any of their scant armour, Australia and New Zealand both had concerns over the advancing Japanese threat. Whilst Bob Semple’s corrugated tractor-conversion was not approved by the army, it was a huge morale booster and a great example of Kiwi ingenuity.
On the other side of the Tasman the Aussie’s AC1 served pretty-much the same purpose and, like the Bob Semple tank, was also never sent to a theatre of war and, thus, never saw actual combat.
Standing next to the real-life tank, you really get the scale of these huge machines of war. In true Aussie fashion, the AC1 tank has a rather striking phallic protrusion at the front. As I sat down for a chat with The Chieftain himself, Nicholas Moran, Director of Militaria Relations for Wargaming America, I had to ask what on earth the thing was.
Hello Nicholas, first up, why does the AC1 have something that looks so rude poking out the front?
Oddly enough that does seem to be the most common question about this tank. Even more so than what is it in the first place.
It is the armoured housing for the machine gun. Most tanks will have an air-cooled machine gun like the Besa 7.92 that the Royal Armoured Corp used.
The Sentinel used the water-cooled Vickers 303. If you look up the Vickers 303 you’ll see that around the barrel is a large water jacket. It’s a water-cooled machine gun. Which is great, because it means that you can pull the trigger and as long as you have got ammunition to fire it won’t overheat.
However, the jacket is made from very thin sheet metal so it’s vulnerable to leaks if it gets punctured by fragmentation or bullets or whatever. So they have to protect the jacket of the water, which meant that they had to make the large armoured housing to protect the Vickers 303’s.
So it’s a large armoured housing…
…for a machine gun, correct.
Excellent, right. OK, back to my actual questions, now that we’ve cleared that one up.
It was a valid question.
I think it’s probably THE question that everyone on the website looking at the photo will want to know about.
So you are Director of Militaria Relations for Wargaming America. What do you do on a day to day basis?
As little as possible- I do play the games. We actually kind of mandate that we play the game in the office if we can. How can you really support a game if you don’t play it yourself?
I do several things. I do research. They will fly me around to archives and I’ll dig up information on tanks for incorporation in the game. A lot of the time during my research, because the archives are a mess, I’ll just come across random things. So I write history articles about the random things that I find. I also do videos.
My written articles are published as The Chieftain’s Hatch on Wargaming.net and the videos I do are called Inside the Cheftain’s Hatch. I’ll basically do a video tour, 30-45 minutes long of what it is actually like to operate this particular type of tank. The theory behind this is that anybody can go on to Wikipedia and say that this has got a 2-pounder gun three 110 house-power engines and 57mm of armour. But what about the details? What it’s like to actually operate it? What are the ergonomics like? What was a the though process behind why the periscope was mounted in this ridiculous fashion? That’s the sort of thing that you don’t ordinarily get.
I’m also a community personality, even earlier today a couple of players recognised me and we are going to meet down the RSL tomorrow for a pint. So I do a lot of interactions on the forums, generally chatting about tanks, the history, the game or whatever.
I’m also the link between the company and the militaria, the museums reenactors enthusiasts, modelling magazines and that sort of thing. Do I do anything else? I do things like this. I like to travel.
Yeah, about that, have you been involved in many of these projects?
The last project that I was involved with was the Warplanes to Siberia project. I that context I was a video host, So I few to Edmonton Canada then Fairbanks, Alaska for the documentary that’s being made- it hasn’t been release yet.
I’ve been a lot more involved with this Sentinel project. I started the whole “let’s buy a tank” idea. I first saw this tank in 2006. So I researched what are the arms export laws. How do you export a tank from the US? Many moons ago I never thought that I would be looking up such things. So I’ve been involved in this and also videoing of the documentary and a few other things relating to it.
So with the research that you have done, you can provide fans of a particular tank in the game with more background for the machine that they like to play?
Correct. So they can either be patient and wait for me to get around to it or of just ask me a question on the forum or Facebook. I had one on twitter yesterday saying “hey, how much maintenance do you do on this particular type of tank”, well, here’s your answer.
So how does World of Tanks balance the historical accuracy with the fun to play bit?
If it’s not fun to play people won’t play it. So ultimately, if there is a conflict between accuracy and fun, fun will win.
Now that being said, you can limit the amount of parameters that you are going to play with. So in the game we have hard stats and we have soft stats. A hard stat is something that you get from the operator’s manual for the tank.
So if the Sentinel operator’s manual says that it does 28mph or whatever it is, that’s what it is in the game. If it says that the gun will depress this far, that’s what it is in the game.
Now, something that is not written in the manual is just how easy it is to aim the gun. After crawling around inside one in the UK that has all the internal components I realised that this is actually a pretty terribly designed tank, ergonomically- it’s not easy to operate. This shows up in the game as a large aim time – a large bloom – which people may or may not complain about, but some certainly have concerns.
So as much as possible we try to fudge the soft stats for the game balance but the hard stats like how thick the armour it and the effect of the penetration is as close to realistic as we can get it.
Have you been heavily involved in the development of the Sentinel in the World of Tanks game?
Not so much, actually. I provided the information, the photographs and all that, but the actual importation into the game happens in Minsk.
But you’ve played the game with the Sentinel?
What’s your favourite thing about it?
Its flexibility. I’m a bit of an odd player by World of Tanks. I’ve been playing for years, tens of thousands of battles. I’m an extremely aggressive player.
I will sacrifice some armour for speed. I like to fight on my terms. This tank is actually pretty good at that. It does, however, lack a little bit in the firepower department.
It’s only got a 2-pounder gun and it goes up against tier 6 tanks. Well, occupational hazard- in real life that is exactly what this one would have done as well. In fact, there are some tanks that this one could have met that are so highly-powered that there’s no chance of meeting it in the game.
It’s a general-purpose tank. It’s effective in pretty-much any circumstance. It does lack any specific role that it’s really, really good at- like long-range sniper or close-range brawler. So against a higher tier you have to be really careful how you handle this tank, you can’t just default to a particular role that it is good at.
How long have you been playing World of Tanks?
Four and a half years, around twenty-four/twenty-five thousand battles. Frankly, I think I ended up getting divorced because of it. In hindsight, I really do; I paid more attention to the computer than I did the wife.
So what’s your favourite tank when you are playing the game?
I’m going to go with the M103. The American Tier 9 heavy. It’s not the best tank in the game, but it is a lot of fun to play. It’s very rewarding. It’s like the T95, the big motor carriage with four tracks.
It can be a very frustrating tank to play because the game can be over before you get to the fight. It only goes 8 mph. But, it’s just so cool. I’m a walking 6-inhe gun with a foot of armour and four tracks and I look awesome.
It’s just so cool to play. The M103 has that sort of cool factor. Again, it is very flexible, it’s not a heavy tank like an E75. It’s not a mobile hitter like the AMX 50 120. But it does allow you to be effective in any situation. It’s very flexible, very agile and again, it rewards aggressive play. Hence I like it.
Well, thanks for your time, Nicholas, it’s been great talking to you.
The Australian AC1 Sentinel is available to play now in Wargaming.net’s award-wining multiplayer armoured combat game, World of Tanks.