|Battle of Yonkers|
|Conflict||World War Z|
|Place||Yonkers, New York, U.S.|
The Battle of Yonkers was the United States military's first large-scale, official engagement of the Zombie War. It took place in Yonkers, New York, the largest city in Westchester County, (just north of the Bronx, NY). The battle was an absolute catastrophe: if any one event can be singled out as the point when zombies officially became the dominant species on the planet, it was Yonkers. In the book, U.S. Infantryman Todd Wainio narrates the events of the battle. In the audio book release of World War Z, Todd Wainio is portrayed by Mark Hamill.
The first zombie outbreaks of the war began in China and quickly spread across the globe. The spread of the zombies slowed during the winter of this first year, during which time the placebo-vaccine "Phalanx" was released to the public, who still thought the new plague was a new form of rabies. During this time, elite Special Forces units known as "Alpha Teams" were covertly used against the undead in isolated infestations. Although the actions carried out by the Alpha Teams are still classified, they were highly successful at eradicating these initial sporadic zombie outbreaks. With the onset of winter -- cold weather slows down zombie movement and thus their spread -- zombie outbreaks in the United States were initially contained as soon as they appeared by the Alpha Teams. These three factors combined to lull the American populace into a false sense of security: the winter cold and Alpha Teams kept small zombie outbreaks from spreading, and the fake Phalanx vaccine convinced the public that even if these reports of "reanimated corpses attacking the living" were true, there was adequate medical protection against it. Due to the media-as-big-business culture in America at the time, the result was that after several months the feeling settled in that the "situation" (whatever it was) was under control, rumors of "zombies" became yesterday's news: the mass media treated the "African Rabies" story as just another short-lived scare like SARS or anthrax, and moved on. Thus the primary safeguard against falling victim to a zombie plague -- knowing that there is a zombie plague occurring -- was not in place. However, the Alpha Teams were only originally meant as a stop-gap measure until the regular army could be mobilized to full-scale war levels, an action which was never taken because of the initial success of Alpha Team operations and that many were unwilling to believe the true nature of the undead plague. With the arrival of spring came the return of warmer weather and the zombies became far more mobile and active again. Soon they spread so far and so fast that the Alpha Teams were overwhelmed. Eventually, the number of zombies began increasing exponentially.
Later that spring a female journalist in the USA publicly released the truth: that Phalanx was a placebo offering no protection against the virus, and that the virus was re-animating dead corpses into mindless cannibals who fed on the living. This sparked the "Great Panic" when the public at large realized the situation they were faced with. The spread of the zombies quickly spiraled out of control, and New York City was overrun, as cable news networks showed video nationwide of waves of zombies pushing through the streets as civilians desperately struggled to defend themselves until the city was totally overwhelmed. The Battle of Yonkers would begin 3 months after the start of the "Great Panic", after the fall of New York City, in an attempt to destroy the zombie horde numbering in the millions which was now spreading from the city.
While the special forces "Alpha Teams" had been used against select zombie infestations, Yonkers would be the first time an army of regulars had faced them.
Several elements of the United States Armed Forces were deployed along the Saw Mill River Parkway in North Yonkers. While the parkway served as a natural choke point (the only intelligent tactic that military leadership employed, as described by a surviving veteran), it made no difference in the final result. Utilizing antiquated tactics dating back to the Cold War, positions were prepared in such ways as digging tank emplacements, building barriers out of sandbags, and in foxholes. The zombie hordes from the city were lured into the chokepoint by the handful of refugees still fleeing towards the army's position, and due to the chain swarm effect, gradually the entire New York City infestation, numbering in the millions, was headed towards Yonkers.
When zombies first began to trickle down the freeway, the opening salvos were fired - two MLRS rocket barrages which destroyed a significant percentage of the first wave but ultimately made few kills - zombies with limbs and torsos blown off could still advance so long as they had an intact brain and some means to drag themselves forward. As the undead became more tightly packed, the MLRS lost effectiveness, with the thick swarms of zombies reducing the possibility of a head wound significantly. The second barrage came from M109 Paladin artillery stationed on a hill to the rear of the infantry. They fired fragmentation shells which had even less of an effect than the MLRS barrages. The artillery strikes depended on the "balloon effect," which by proximity to an explosion would cause the liquid in the victim's body to burst. This did not occur, however, because of the zombie's coagulated blood. Therefore, SNT (Sudden Nerve Trauma), which "just shuts down vital organs like God flickin' a light switch," did not happen either.
After this, the infantry, armor and air support opened fire on the "river of undead humans". Firing on the zombies were the full military might of the United States Army: M1 Abrams tanks, M2 Bradleys, Humvees, mortars and several RAH-66 Comanche helicopters. All of these held sustained fire for a time in what was likened to "a meatgrinder, or a wood chipper..." until the anti-personnel ammunition ran out. In fact, little of it had even been provided for the tanks. The armor and helicopters then switched over to Anti-Tank rounds like HEAT or Sabot shells which had little to no effect on the swelling tide of undead.
The infantry were left fighting the undead in close proximity, and there were even zombies locked in the houses behind the front line of infantry that had been freed by the explosions, ambushing and devouring unsuspecting troops. Other soldiers could see everything, through the weapon mounted cameras of the front-line soldiers (thanks to the Land Warrior system); the hordes closing in, their fellow soldiers falling and being eaten alive and even reports of zombies not dying when being shot in the head (this happened because the rounds grazed their heads, something panicking soldiers failed to notice). F-35 fighter jets launched AGM-154 Joint Standoff Weapon, dropping hundreds of thousands of explosive devices.
The bombing run decimated the oncoming wave and resulted in a few moments of eerie silence as the dazed and confused soldiers recovered from the shock of the nearby explosions. However, even more zombies shuffled up the road to take their place. At that point, the battle turned into utter chaos, as the soldiers on the ground saw an oncoming wave of millions more zombies emerging from the smoke clouds from the bombs that had taken out the first several thousand. Satellite images from the Land Warrior system still showed a horde of millions of zombies stretching back into Times Square on Manhattan island. In a notable act of desperation one helicopter gunship bravely tried to buy time for infantry on the ground to retreat by flying low towards the zombie horde with its rotary blades tipped forward; this sliced through many zombies and slowed their advance, but then one of the helicopter's blades hit a wrecked car, causing it to crash and explode.
News crews clambered over one another to get away from the coming onslaught and military personnel sought refuge anywhere they could from the zombies. There was crazy, random shooting from soldiers and armed newsmen in a blind panic. The Air Force dropped several thermobaric weapons on the zombies and their own troops hoping to neutralize the undead at Yonkers in one sweep (which had the gruesome side-effect of ripping lungs out of individuals not destroyed by the initial blast, leaving numerous ghouls wandering around with their lungs hanging out of their mouths). It accomplished its purpose of destroying the majority of zombies from that battle but many more still poured in from Manhattan, overpowering the American forces and proving, to devastating effect, and on national television no less, that the war with the undead could not be won with conventional tactics. Within 3 weeks after Yonkers, the eastern United States was abandoned by the United States military in a mass retreat to a new defensive line at the Rocky Mountains.
What went wrong
The Battle of Yonkers was an unmitigated disaster for the military. Public confidence in them and the United States Government was shattered, and this contributed heavily to the Great Panic and claimed the lives of many more Americans.
The tactics used by the army dated back to plans against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. After years of fighting brushfire wars, the "Fulda Fucktards" (sic) who had come of age during the Cold War were overjoyed to have an opportunity to fight a conventional battle and completely ignored the new, untested nature of the undead enemy. Instead of placing infantry in positions of overwatch and in elevated areas with excellent lines of fire, the soldiers were forced to fight on the ground and were quickly overrun. The higher-ups failed to prepare for what was essentially a human wave attack and should have had fewer men on the ground and more indirect fire units. The soldiers were also outfitted with "Land Warrior" gear which, amongst other things, provided each soldier with a radar readout of the surrounding area for miles around. This included the hordes of zombies that started coming soon after the battle began. Seeing the thousands of zombies, many soldiers lost their composure and would use the Land Warrior communication up link (this allowed each soldier to share communications) to share frantic shouts and hurried claims once they started being overrun, which in turn significantly decreased morale. The soldiers used foxholes, of all things, as part of what the commanders said was a "concealment" technique (designed only for enemies that fired weapons, not for ones that sniffed you out), but popular consensus is that all the fancy equipment, foxholes and everything else was to show the American people the high-tech prowess of the US military over the zombies. Another problem was that the military instruction that these soldiers had been undergoing for years had trained them to shoot at a target's center of mass (torso, because it is the most difficult to miss), and although the soldiers at Yonkers had been informed that the only way to kill a zombie was with a head shot, they had little experience with doing so and could not easily switch to aiming at a new smaller target.
The soldiers were ordered to wear protective MOPP (MOPP Level 4) gear, (used in case of chemical or biological warfare) which greatly impairs one's ability to fight by restricting eyesight and range of motion and respiration. The MOPP4 gear was unnecessary and done as part of the gigantic propaganda tool that Yonkers was supposed to be; re-instilling morale and confidence in the government's control of the situation by showcasing all of the military's newest and most high-tech technologies (i.e. deploying several technological cutting-edge anti-vehicle tanks and weapons, even though these would be next to useless against zombies). Bulky MOPP4 gear made it incredibly difficult simply to reload infantry rifles, and ammunition was also in short supply as they had not accurately gauged how much shooting would be required (few of the standard infantry were expected to even actually shoot, just during mopping-up work after the artillery barrage finished off most of the zombies, but instead they all found themselves fighting for their lives).
In addition, the soldiers had been made to spend an entire hot August day (one of the warmest on record, due to all of the smoke from fires caused by the chaos of the zombie epidemic) digging fox holes and entrenchments while wearing the MOPP4 gear, pushing them near to exhaustion. The entrenchments and foxholes were meant to provide "Cover and Concealment" when the whole point was to draw the enemy toward the firing line (negating the need for Concealment), and an enemy that didn't even use weapons (negating the need for cover). The most convincing point about the MOPP4 gear being unnecessary and "for show" is that military officers and civilian reporters walking around along the defensive line were in no way required to wear protective gear of any kind, and had the military seriously thought the zombie virus might be airborne (which it is not) they would have required command officers and news crews to wear them as well.
A good deal of the equipment was there for no other reason than to just "look pretty". The Land Warrior system, as of this writing in 2011, is still in an experimental stage and has yet to be consistently used by deployed troops. There were radar and comm jamming equipment (zombies do not use radar or any form of communication other than guttural moans and screams); a pontoon-bridge layer system "perfect for the 3-in. deep creek running along the parkway"; a tank line when zombies do not use tanks; foxholes and tank fortifications were built to repel a shooting army when zombie hordes use no firearms whatsoever; even a whole F.O.L. (Family of Latrines) module was placed right in the center of the forward command center despite the fact that all the plumbing in all the surrounding buildings and houses was still running. All this useless equipment just wound up clogging traffic, making it more difficult to move around. Machine guns were available on most vehicles, but proved ineffective. Zombies fired upon by machine guns simply broke in half and crawled at ankle-level, making them slower but more dangerous as they became a much lower target to hit.
The Land Warrior system, which effectively connected each soldier to every other by use of video cameras, proved perhaps the most fatal mistake: morale disintegrated soon after soldiers watched their brothers-in-arms panicking, retreating, and being eaten alive, all on a monitor built into their helmets. It also showed soldiers live satellite camera feeds showing the entire miles-long horde of several million zombies pouring out of New York City towards them, making it difficult to focus on fighting the ones immediately facing them when faced with the full magnitude of the zombie horde.
The conventional anti-tank ordnance was also useless against an army of zombies, as many of the depleted uranium rounds had no effect but to fly straight through the undead and pass harmlessly to the rear of the advancing mass. Once all anti-personnel rounds were fired from the tanks, the tank crews switched to anti-tank rounds; Wainio noted how demoralizing it is to witness a tank fire its' main cannon into a zombie crowd with little effect. The men in charge of the battle failed to properly equip their forces for anti-infantry operations; from the outset, anti-tank weaponry should have been discarded, and AFVs loaded with HEI-T (High Explosive Incendiary, Tracer) rounds. The old guard of the US military command had relied too much on their own technological superiority, not adapting to the zombie threat. There were also noted to be HMMWV's with anti-air systems, which would be even less effective on the undead than anti-tank ordnance.
One of the greatest ironies of the battle is that even if the military commanders had thought that M1 Abrams tanks firing anti-vehicle weapons were useful against the infantry-based undead, they simply did not supply enough ammunition for them to shoot. Even if the anti-tank rounds the forces at Yonkers were supplied with were effective against zombies, they quickly ran out. The counter-argument for this is that due to the poor state of the US economy it was difficult to produce that much ammunition. Nonetheless, the US military command grossly underestimated how much ammunition they needed, and it was short-sighted to put soldiers into harm's way with "the army you have" rather than waiting to be fully supplied. Even if the military commanders sent soldiers into the battle without enough ammunition, recognizing that they were under-supplied but simply had no choice because the zombies were taking over, in no way should they have walked into the battle hyping it to the media as a "decisive victory" that would wipe out the zombies.
Rather than giving good sniping positions, they gave them tanks, helicopters, machine guns, and restrictive suits, none of which had any real effect on the horde. If the military had placed a group of any size on a rooftop with a properly sighted weapon and the ammunition to supply them, the battle would have been drastically more successful.
It is said that "there must have been at least one reporter for every two or three uniforms." This is obviously an exaggeration, but not far from the truth: "prewar records have shown Yonkers to have the highest press-to-military ratio of any battle previously fought." These news crews had been present to document the United States' decisive victory over the undead. As it turned out, however, the extreme press coverage backfired in spectacular fashion: the military command had intended for Yonkers to be a media showcase of the technological might of their forces, making sacrifices in regard to mobility and tactical deployment in order to ensure this (i.e. making infantry wear mobility-restricting MOPP gear and using advanced anti-vehicle weapons against a human-wave attack). The Government felt they needed a showy victory in order to get the masses of civilians to calm down, allowing the government to waste less time and resources on trying to keep law and order and focus on dealing with the zombie threat.
A direct result of this was that ultimately, most of the nation watched much of the United States army get killed and eaten alive by hordes of zombies on live television. Instead of the planned "morale and confidence boosting victory", the entire country was shown that even if the US military concentrated most of its power, both numerically and technologically, against the zombies, the zombies would win.
Adding to this was the irresponsible, "news as big business" culture in America at the time: even after the initial live transmissions, the big media outlets would continue to constantly rebroadcast footage of the disaster at Yonkers. Instead of broadcasting any coherent or helpful information, such as evacuation plans, anti-zombie tactics, survival techniques, etc. the major news channels simply aired 24-hour looped footage of the Battle of Yonkers over and over again. This hyped up the remaining US population into genuine mass hysteria, and cost many lives that were lost due to lack of any information. It is said that the mass hysteria led to numerous "wannabe Rambos" grabbing what weapons they could and in a wild panic simply shooting at anything that moved; this was said to have caused almost as much damage as the actual zombie attacks. Eventually, after several days, the news channels did begin to give one other message: "Go north!", urging people to drive to Canada, where the cold weather was known to slow the movement of the zombies. However, they did not offer any responsible cold weather survival guides, advice on camping/rationing, what stockpiles to take along, etc.; nothing other than literally telling people to physically just jump into their cars and blindly drive northwards. As a result, many who managed to outrun the zombies and reach the Canadian subarctic simply froze or starved to death, and cannibalism soon set in, becoming what they were running away from in the first place. In the following months, 11 million people would die from starvation and exposure in the Canadian subarctic. After the Government's retreat behind the Rocky Mountains, such news corporations were federalized and finally forced to broadcast reliable info that would actually help against the undead.
The single biggest problem in fighting zombies is completely lopsided morale. All previous wars have used terror strategies of some sort to scare the enemy into surrender, from intimidating tribal paint to the Blitzkrieg. Few wars in human history were wars of actual "extermination": almost always, you fight until one side suffers casualties that are so high that it gives up. According to historians in Ken Burns' "The Civil War", most battles in the 20th century were considered a bloodbath if one side suffered 10% casualties, and some of the bloodiest battles in human history such as in the American Civil War, went as high as 20-30% casualties. Zombies, however, will keep fighting until literally the last one. Even if a human army is able to inflict 90% casualties on a zombie horde before it runs out of ammunition, the remaining zombies will just keep coming -- as motivated as ever -- and wipe them out.
The Shock and Awe strategy employed by the U.S.-led coalition in the Iraq War was a good example. Existing U.S. Armed Forces doctrine focuses on using impressive weapons showcasing the American military juggernaut in a variant of German Blitzkrieg tactics, displaying impressive technological superiority and out fighting the enemy in a rapid strike until the opposing force quickly loses hope of victory and surrender. All this changes when fighting against an enemy that not only doesn't feel fear but biologically can't. No matter how many zombies in a horde are killed, the rest will just keep mindlessly attacking until one side or the other is completely wiped out. Their drive to kill and eat will never be affected by things like hunger, fatigue, loyalty, injury, or even seeing fellow zombies set ablaze. Zombies will never suffer a Great Panic of their own, and will never, ever be afraid. Living soldiers, however, as shown at Yonkers, will always have the possibility of losing morale once their technological "wonder weapons" prove useless to the point where they panic, turn tail and run for their lives against such an enemy.
It is stated in the book that the initial zombie outbreaks (before the first winter, when Phalanx was still being used) happened during an election year in the United States and that it was four years after a previous president had been in office for eight years, and the current administration had been trying to "clean up the mess" from the "last brushfire war" for the past four years, so they were unwilling to fully mobilize the United States' military forces for what at the time seemed like an implausible threat. It is heavily implied that author Max Brooks is referring to the Iraq War and the two-term presidency of George W. Bush, after which another president was in office for four years.
In real life, Bush's successor turned out to be Barack Obama, but because Brooks wrote World War Z before Bush's term was over, it's not clear who he meant to be president when the zombie epidemic began. It is heavily implied that Colin Powell was his Vice President. After Yonkers, Bush's successor had a nervous breakdown, and Powell was sworn in as the new President (with Howard Dean appointed as his new Vice President).
The outbreak began (in China and soon other parts of the world) in 2012 when Bush's successor was facing re-election. The Battle of Yonkers took place the August after these November elections. Thus, the battle took place according to Brook's future timeline, in August 2013.
It would be another 10 years before North America was "liberated", cleared from zombie infestations, and Victory in China day was declared two years after that; China was the last major country to be cleared of zombies.
- Brooks 98.
- Brooks 95.
- Brooks 95.
- Max Brooks, World War Z, (New York: Crown Publishers, 2006) (Waino mentioned this in the Battle of Hope chapter)
|The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection From the Living Dead|
|Max Brooks | Solanum | Zombies | Outbreaks | Recorded Attacks|