The Style of Camouflage

Camouflage uniforms have sometimes been issued in limited amounts, especially during the World Wars. In some cases, they were chosen for practical reasons. Recon troops and others who needed legitimately better concealment were given them. One interesting case is the US only really deploying camouflage uniforms in the Pacific theater in WWII, as the Germans loved camo, and thus using them in Europe caused too much confusion. Another one is how a lot of armies that previously used the classic M81 Woodland have updated their uniforms, since the ubiquity of that pattern has made it very easy for enemies to make disguises.

But there have also been cultural reasons, for lack of a better term. And not just bandwagoning like the infamous American “every service stomps into a digital camo pattern” experience in the 2000s. I’ve heard that the postwar Bundeswehr was slow to adopt camouflage uniforms because of their association with the Third Reich. And in places like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, camouflage has been reserved for elite units as a sort of status symbol. There’s also police forces adopting blue and/or gray pseudo-camouflage to show a sort of “military power”.

This aspect of camouflage uniforms is both ironic (something intended to blend in is chosen because of its looks) and interesting to me. As is the reputation that seemingly neutral camo patterns develop based on who uses them.

The Super Bunkers

I’ve long been intrigued by “super-bunkers”, made by and for a combination of overly paranoid governments and survivalists with too much money. For the former, I’ve liked Albania’s mess of bunkers to the point where I made my very first Command scenario centered around that country. For the latter, well, it’s bemusing to look at the entries of bitter rival (to put it mildly) bunker-builders Atlas Survival and Rising S .

Bunkers range from the small, legitimately practical and affordable to the over-the-top. On one end are essentially beefed-up storm shelters. On the other is Rising S’ “The Aristocrat”, which boasts a swimming pool and bowling alley (!).

The practicality of these, especially for private citizens, has unsurprisingly been called into question. There’s the expense (especially for upkeep) and the challenge of getting to the bunker, since even the advanced ones are hard to live in full time. This happened even to John Rourke, who was caught far away from his “Retreat” and had to fight his way to it in the first arc.

Granted, making a bunker on property one already owns is different from the whole Mel Tappan “countryside retreat” that one mysteriously has time to get to before “it” happens.

Another Theory For Boxing’s Decline

There have been many good explanations for the decline of boxing’s popularity in American popular culture. (I say in popular culture, as many big fights continue to draw big crowds and make big bucks). The usual and well-founded ones range along the lines of…

  • General sleaziness (which is not a new thing-an amusing example of this is how even by the 1960s, the sport’s reputation had shrunk to the point where new strips in the Joe Palooka comic didn’t actually show him boxing).
  • The division of the sport into many rival fiefdoms, from the “alphabet soup” sanctioning organizations to promotions and confusing weight divisions.
  • The sport being confined to niche premium television (it’s a chicken-egg question whether this was a mistake that walled off its customer base or a reasonable solution because its base and relationship with network television was declining anyway).
  • Competition from other sports, not just in terms of viewers but also in terms of what athletically talented people want to pursue. Just look at the career paths of Ken Norton Senior and Junior. This has also affected the other major American classic sport, baseball. Tom Brady was a talented baseball player in high school who was drafted by the Expos and Patrick Mahomes’ father was an MLB pitcher.
  • Because of the first three points and a fairly unique obsession with perfect records, an abundance of noncompetitive squashes, with actual quality fights hard to set up.

The last point leads into a new theory I saw floating around the internet-which is that the mass of lopsided fights leads to lopsided odds that are neither competitive nor fun. A big favorite gets the winner very little money (especially once one considers sportsbook limits) and big losses if their opponent does pull a Buster Douglas. A big underdog is highly unlikely to win.

This is an especially tough problem in a sport that has been closely tied to gambling for its entire existence. Boxing isn’t as fused to betting as, say, horse racing is (In my personal, albeit limited experience, the only people who care about non-Triple Crown races are gamblers), but I’d say it’s definitely more so than the other major sports. While I don’t think poor odds are the only reason it’s fallen out of favor, it certainly doesn’t help.

Weird Wargaming: The “Pharaonic” Division

One of the gems in the Micromark Army List order of battle sets is the “WW2.5” hypothetical set. In an alternate victorious Germany, it’s kind of a way to do a battle with all sorts of never-were prototypes and units from Allies and Axis. However, the organizational structure remains largely the same as historically-with one strange exception.

This is the “Pharaonic” Division, adopted by Egypt as part of returning to its ancient roots (yes, this is an excuse plot). And it’s interesting. At division level, it’s very conventional (three brigades, one armored and two infantry), and at brigade level mostly so (two “hosts”/subunits of either tanks or infantry).

However, the regimental (or “host“, as it’s called) level is extremely different. Like the infamous pentomic formations, it has five companies and skips the battalion level. Line platoons consist of five ten-man squads. Artillery battalions consist of five batteries of five guns each.

Tanks do not follow the rule-of-five and instead use a more conventional 4-3 model (4 tanks in a platoon/troop and 3 of those in a company/squadron). However, tank squadrons have an organic pentomic mechanized infantry troop. Although they’re not in the OOB document, I can see hypothetical independent armored formations intended for attachment to infantry units being organized in the “5 subunits” way to make attachment and organization easier. It’s worth nothing that the self-propelled guns used primarily for infantry support/defense are arranged this way.

The original pharaonic division was only covered in mechanized form, but its principles mean it can easily be adopted to other types of units. For instance, I can easily make a triangular pharaonic division with either three or six infantry hosts (depending on if you want a brigade level or not) and the usual support elements.

Looking Back At The World War III Timelines

So there were a few World War III timelines on alternatehistory.com , with my first one being Lions Will Fight Bears. Now, my story about them has already been told-at the time I hated them, now I think they’re uninteresting. As for their actual quality, well. They’re better than the likes of Stroock and Dragon’s Fury, and more nominally accurate than soft-WW3s like Ian Slater.

Trying to review them, as opposed to their triple-copycat New Deal Coalition Retained, proved to be tricky. I think it’s because, well, I’ll put it this way. Seeing something adopted into a totally different paradigm than its normal setting is inherently interesting. Just seeing double-xeroxed knockoffs of Hackett/Bond is not.

What I think I can say about them is this. First, they were written in a pseudo-textbook style that exacerbated any technical flaws and wasn’t really that interesting otherwise. This is an issue with almost all internet AH, and it’s what I’ve compared to a race car. If you’re going to have a kitbashed spaceframe chassis, a single cramped seat and no amenities, it’d better be fast. But regardless of its speed, that type of car is just easier to build.

The second part is that they were written in what was, with hindsight, an awkward transitional period between the “eagle” and “sparrow” styles. This I think led to the worst of both. You had authors with comparably little direct knowledge making slip-ups iffily. For instance, one contemporary Iran war TL had the IRIAF putting up a much bigger fight and being much more capable than it likely would have been but didn’t have forcing Hormuz as that big a deal-the opposite of the general consensus.

[Aside: Proper wargaming is great for avoiding these. I’m actually a little iffy mentioning Command because I’ve worked on it, but it’s worked. You can see how tough it is to push through a strait full of mines and smartly used anti-shipping defenses, and you can also see the Phantoms falling en masse while only getting the occasional lucky win. In my opinion, one of the best uses for wargaming/simulation is getting the general feel of the conflict, and avoiding stuff like that]

However, you also had these less knowledgeable authors being often co-opted by those who were more knowledgeable but also more biased (not just nationalist bias but stuff like HEAT Age veterans treating RPGs as superweapons in ways that more recent veterans have never done so) The result frequently felt awkward. Leaving aside any personal bias on my part and just looking at the works in their own terms still feels awkward.

The third was that well, the TLs constantly seemed like they were to maintain the formula, never really trying to step outside the lines. This is what inspired the Iceland Scale, and one can understand why reading the same thing with only minor technical tweaks and contrivances could make one frustrated. One example I can give is a Gorbachev heel turn, which to me felt “coming up with reasons for the Soviets to start the war instead of actually branching out and having NATO start it”. Or piling into Red Dawn knockoffs and treating them in an inappropriate rivet-counting way without seeing the literary issues this causes.

Still, they just feel, for lack of a better word, small. Small, and, in the words of the great Alexander Wallace, “sterile”. Thankfully, most of the works reviewed on Fuldapocalypse after its scope widening are not. It does feel a little disappointing to have something to influential be so middling and hard to review in hindsight, but that’s just the way it is. Not the best, not the worst, and not the most representative, but among the first I read.

Leonid Kurchevsky Versus The Third Law Of Motion

One of the most bizarre footnotes in military history is the tale of Leonid Kurchevsky, an interwar Soviet weapons developer. Kurchevsky’s gimmick was recoilless guns. Everything from small antiarmor weapons to giant battleship-sized naval guns was made recoilless by him. He wanted the entire Red Army artillery park (and aircraft, and naval) to be recoilless, and managed to impress the legendary Marshall Tukhachevsky into going along with his scheme.

Of course, like Tukhachevsky, Mr. Recoilless ended up as a victim of the Great Purge. However, after all of my research I’ve found it very, very hard to feel sorry for him. First, because he’d tried to use Stalinism itself to get the factories to build his contraptions (what goes around comes around, something many Soviet industrialists learned the hard way int their “gang wars”). And there was the problem of the weapons themselves just not being very good. They tended to explode, they were overcomplicated, and they didn’t perform any better than conventional weapons of similar caliber (for instance, Kurchevksy’s Rube Goldberg anti-tank launcher didn’t really do any better than the classic PTRD anti-tank rifle).

All Kurchevksy’s recoilless mania did was delay the development of more effective weapons of that nature. While the postwar Soviet recoilless weapons were/are excellent, they had to go through World War II without an effective projector. While Kurchevsky was not the only reason (difficulty in making shaped charges and such weapons not being that much better than hand charges in the grand scheme of things, hence not the most worth it to put in the effort for a gigantic army and limited resources played a big role too), he didn’t help. Muddling the historical record is the Khrushchev-era anti-Stalinism, where Kurchevsky was portrayed understandably but falsely as an innocent victim and a genius who was halted by Stalin’s paranoia and tyranny. In fact, few were more detrimental to the cause of recoilless guns than he was.

I think a Death Of Stalin-style satirical, only somewhat exaggerated movie about Kurchevsky’s life and times, if done right, would be amazing to watch.

Weird Wargaming: The Victorious Third Reich

One of the most interesting gaps in alternate history fiction is the seeming lack of a Larry Bond-style serious look at a conflict involving a victorious Nazi Germany. Now, nearly all of this is because most scenarios involving it are “soft” AH made by and for people with less knowledge or concern about rivet-counting plausibility. This isn’t a critique of their quality, it’s just pointing out what’s involved. A semi-hard look at what this would entail can be interesting, and I have some thoughts.

First, the formations are almost certainly going to be outgrowths of early-war organizations. It’s basically impossible for the Germans to win with too late a point of divergence, and there’ll be the “why fix what isn’t broken” mindset. This means things like no gimmick units like the Volksgrenadiers, and large divisions with lots of equipment at full paper strength. It does mean a weird parallel with historical postwar divisions, but then again-that’s how it goes.

Second, it will be dominated by the Wehrmacht. Historically, the SS gained comparative prominence because of the Wehrmacht/Heer supposedly being to blame for losing the war and the plots (ie July 20) that originated within the regular army. This would not be the case here. The most likely fate for the SS is to get purged in Long Knives Part 2 and possibly get supplanted by yet another edgelord alphabet soup organization.

But for the sake of weird wargaming, I’ve warmed to the idea of them using captured/foreign designs and factories to equip their army, potentially rearming them with German calibers-or not. This happened in Marching Through Georgia of all books, with clunkily upgunned KV tanks. While there it was to provide a punching bag for the Mary Sues, it’s still an interesting possibility. And it fits with the theme. Historically, the reason for all the infamous “Foreign Legions” was to get access to a manpower source the main army couldn’t touch, and ramshackle improvisations are closer to what the bulk of the SS truly was than the stereotype of hundreds of shiny cat-tanks. (This stereotype is reinforced by the fact that the western allies largely fought only the legitimately capable and well-equipped SS units, not the Dirlewanger-style garbage ones better at massacres than fighting opponents who shot back)

Third, factionalism was built into the system. The Heer, the SS, the Luftwaffe paratrooper and “field divisions”, the Volkssturm being in large part Martin Bormann’s attempt to get an “army” for himself, and no doubt more examples all speaks to this. One effect of this will be a lot of duplicative units, as everyone wants their share of the pie.

Another is that a nation with all the factionalism but without the existential threat might very well see its qualitative edge wane dramatically. It could be reminiscent of the South Vietnamese military. A politically charged, scheming, cutthroat army whose units are wildly, willdy uneven, ranging from ultra-competent to utterly ineffectual. Everything from case studies of such armies to anecdotal evidence from both Vietnam and contemporary Afghanistan points to this being the defining feature of over-politicized armies more than complete ineptitude, along with a good or bad high-level commander having more of an effect on low-level performance than they likely would in a less politicized one.

The result would be something distinct from both real postwar and real wartime armies. Its opponents would range from the Western Allies shielded by water, the remnants of the USSR shielded by the Urals, the occupants of territory it’d further expand into-or Japan after a likely falling out and power struggle over spheres of influence.

Looking At Desperation Formations

Occasionally, I dip into what I’ve called “Normandy Syndrome”, which goes something like this. Because the Normandy Campaign may be the single most studied and written about engagement in western history (with the possible exception of Gettysburg), I tend to look at other, different, more novel conflicts. However, this means that because I haven’t looked at them in some time, the big name campaigns become understudied to me in their own right, meaning that then I do take a look at them…

Generally though, I go back once I’ve had my fill. This time is partially an exception, as I’m looking at (gulp) Axis military formations. Don’t worry, this isn’t me becoming the kind of person who can memorize the name of every single Tiger II platoon commander. In fact, what interests me the most is the bad, hodgepodge, underresourced formations.

One area where Normandy Syndrome in general holds up is in force structure. It’s very easy to find and understand Soviet/American organizations as applied postwar. So thus seeing how different ones looked is distinctive to me, and I’m a sucker for OOB charts. But seeing unit TO&Es derived from limited resources, as opposed to Cold War excess, is also a good worldbuilding exercise for postwar formations under similar constraints.

First up are the Italians. Divisions with two three-battalion regiments, often “reinforced” by a Blackshirt battalion or [small] regiment, were the order of the day. I’ll get back to this formation later.

A 1943 assessment of Italian artillery (pg. 79) said it was a hodgepodge, middling force. A postwar assessment of Italian artillery (pg. 25) said-it was a hodgepodge, middling force. Contrary to the stereotype, both sources praise the crews, but note they were underequipped and unsurprisingly deployed forward more often than the Western Allied norm. Which makes sense given transportation issues and the comparative lack of direct fire support.

Then there’s ZE GERMANS. Not the wunderwaffe Germans, but the tattered, late-war, desperate Germans. For all the “lol-Italians” snickering, it’s worth noting that the Germans themselves had six battalion divisions later in the war, both of a downscaled classic type of two three-battalion regiments and a “Volksgrenadier” type of three two-battalion ones that was (on paper) equipped with more automatic weapons to make up for it.

Volksgrenadiers and Volkssturm are often confused. The former was meant to be more capable than other similar-sized formations due to a mass of automatic rifles and machine guns and even in practice was no worse than any other later-war formation, while the latter was the last-ditch pathetic old men with panzerfausts and ancient rifles militia that people know.

Then there’s my favorite, the later-war armored formations. By 1945, a “Panzer” division had only one battalion of actual tanks and one of APCs even at full strength. In fact, it reminds me more than anything of a postwar light OPFOR formation. One battalion of tanks, a few miscellaneous AFVs and vehicles (ie, for the WW2 formations, it was gun tank destroyers, for postwar ones, they’d be likely replaced by ATGM carriers), and some infantry in softskin trucks, equivalent either to a small division or just a brigade, depending on the type. In practice, well, I’ve heard multiple sources say, and I believe them, that the 1945 Germans were comparable qualitatively to the 1941 Soviets.

Because having too few resources is far more common than having too many (and this is before attrition!) I feel looking at the Axis minors and late-war Germans is a good exercise if developing fictional formations. It’s also a very refreshing and important contrast from the usual myth of waves of Tigers.

500 Post Special: On Criticism

Fuldapocalypse has reached five hundred posts. To mark the occasion, I figured I’d do a post on something that was the reason this blog even exists at all-criticism. Here goes.

  • Critics have the right to be as sneery and abrasive as they want in their reviews. As a writer, I’ve found valid points which I’ve incorporated from harsh, bad-faith reviews. The signal can be separated from the noise. Even as a reader, one of my favorite authors I found from a harshly negative review.
  • Writers have the right to ignore criticism they consider invalid. If you’re writing a literary romance and someone complains that the book doesn’t have enough explosions in it, you know that’s not what you’re writing.
  • However, both should ideally hold themselves to a higher standard.
  • Some works of fiction lend themselves more easily to criticism than others. This is why I have such a big insistence on creative control over what I review here. I don’t want this to become a chore, and knew that if reviewing was mandatory, it’d lose its quality.
  • The ideal work to review is something that’s flawed in an interesting way. Something flawed in an uninteresting way is arguably the worst type of fiction to review.
  • Perspective matters. My absolute favorite Bill James essay of all time, Inside Out Perspective, is a beauty. The difference between inside and outside is the difference between getting angry at one repetitive World War III timeline after another that you don’t see much direct criticism of on its website, and realizing that there are more action hero thrillers released in one month than there are conventional World War III stories overall-even with the most slanted accounting.
  • Basically, from the inside, you see things as being bigger than they actually are.
  • I’ve said repeatedly-being a critic has not made me a better writer in my eyes, but being a writer has made me a much better critic. Me the writer has written things in my books that me the critic would denounce if done by someone else.
  • Remember: Sample size matters. A lot.
  • Fuldapocalypse has been eye-opening, enlightening, and a lot of fun.