Review: White Horizon

White Horizon

TK Blackwood’s 1990s continued Cold War gone conventionally hot series continues in White Horizon, an excellent installment. The Fuldapocalypse not only continues apace but features the powerful but often overlooked country of Sweden as a major setting. Featuring everything that has made the past installments so good, this was a joy to read.

The only real “problem” was teasing a successor. But that’s a good problem to have. This shows that the “cold war gone conventionally hot” subgenre still has quite a bit of life in it.

The Vehicle Puzzle

The GENFORCE-Mobile organizational chart got the then-still-in-development BTR-90‘s stats wrong. It’s both too light (at 17 metric tons compared to the 21 of the real one), and more importantly has too many dismounts (ten as opposed to seven I’ve seen in every real source). The real BTR-90 was cursed by coming right as the USSR fell, but in many ways it was also just a wheeled BMP-2, so its lack of entry into service is understandable.

But I thought (both for the All Union story and for my own fun) “Well, what if you could get a vehicle with ten dismounts?” The squad would grow to USMC size (two or three in the vehicle plus ten dismounts), and it presents a very tricky puzzle: Get a vehicle that is fit for a mobile corps (so it has to be viable in direct combat, both offensively and defensively), can carry ten dismounted troops as standard, and can’t be too big or heavy. If you want heavier weapons, it basically needs a remote uncrewed turret to not tip the scales. It’s not technologically impossible by a long short, but tradeoffs will have to be made.

Finally, the big squad means I can finally introduce my “eastern fireteam” concept I rejected for the next-gen BMP. Which makes more tactical sense, since doctrinally they’ll be fighting away from their vehicle more often, especially in rough terrain or as part of a tactical heliborne operation. So they need to be (theoretically) better in terms of both equipment and skill.

As for how it works, well, I’m writing right now a chapter where such a motorized rifle unit storms a Romanian town…

The Ultimate Trench and Dugout Building Guide

I stumbled into this 1920s American training document on building fortifications with the lessons of World War I in mind. The full piece has detailed guides on everything from “the kind of thing you build when you have only a few hours” to “the kind of thing you build when you have a few years”. Both fighting positions and gargantuan medical/residential/command underground dugouts (or “cave shelters” as the document calls them) are there.

There are a couple things I found interesting in particular. The first is that antipersonnel mines, despite becoming a hallmark of later fortifications, are only mentioned very briefly and dismissively. According to it, they take too much effort to emplace for something that’s going to be knocked aside/detonated by the big artillery preparation already. (Antitank mines, including ones rigged to be sensitive, are treated somewhat more favorably.)

The second is that what became known as an overpressure system (ie, higher pressure in the area than out of it, pushing clean air out instead of poisoned air in) is talked about as a counter to poison gas for large bunkers. I didn’t know it was talked about that early, and thought it was a Cold War invention. So that was interesting.

The third is that while machine guns were present, very few of the later infantry support weapons were. Besides indirect mortars, the only thing talked about for forward emplacement is the 37mm infantry support gun. So this was a very interesting time capsule, and some of its TTPs (techniques, tactics, and procedures) are still relevant. After all, artillery hasn’t exactly gotten less lethal since the 1910s.

Review: Small Unit Infantry Ambush Tactics

Small Unit Infantry Ambush Tactics

It’s very rare that I find a book that’s essentially a “strictly worse” version of another one. Where another work exists that can do literally everything it can and do it better. Yet that is the case for Small Unit Infantry Ambush Tactics, a how to fight guide about-look at the title.

By itself it’s not too bad, showing different ambush types and critiquing rote training. But it’s just that Special Reconnaissance and Advanced Small Unit Patrolling has everything it does and so much more. Plus the latter book has a far better tone, giving credit to the establishment where the author thinks it’s due instead of the more overly critical one of this book. So I feel comfortable in saying: Get Wolcoff’s masterpiece instead.

Weird Wargaming: The Mobile Corps Squad

So first I must say that I owe a lot to the Battle Order website and channel for inspiring me. Go check it out. Anyway, the GENFORCE-Mobile document, while a tour de force overall, has surprisingly little on the absolute smallest unit tactics. It does say that the basic and mobile forces do use very similar tactics (it’s just the latter have more training on them). Anyway, there isn’t much to say for the high-intensity doctrine. Primarily use lines, squads are unitary without teams, the vehicle commander doubles as squad leader, and that’s that.

The table of orders and equipment does (by virtue of looking at quantities of in a platoon), have one RPK variant and one RPG variant (marked as an RPG-29 in that example) per squad in the mobile forces, similar to historical practice. The company weapons platoon has an array of light ATGMs (marked as Metis, but those would probably be superseded) and PKM belt-fed machine guns.

(Strangely, the early 199X OPFOR squad is actually weaker on paper dismounted than its predecessors, with only one magazine machine gun instead of two belt-fed ones).

Soviet unitary squad line. From DDI-1100-7-776, The Soviet Motor Rifle Company, 1976

The legacy regular army, basic forces, or whatever you call them uses this doctrine relatively unchanged. But what about the new ones?

I had the Sovereign Union’s mobile corps using tank-based IFVs. There have been similar attempts in actual history, yet I figured these would be the more interesting. Basically the priorities shift a lot here. The historical BMP-3 is skewed in exactly the wrong direction. Instead of a glass cannon packed with all kinds of boom-makers, the focus is on shielding the newly-important resource with tank-level armor.

So in this timeline the BMP-3 is one of those things that only sees small amounts of use in its home country, but nonetheless achieves success on the export market. The Mobile Corps in All Union primarily rode into Romania with either BMP-2s or IFVs based on existing tank platforms. Whereas the historical T-64 APC proposals were an act of desperation, these have a deliberate goal of more protection and mass production ability, similar to the Israeli tank-APCs of real life.

Two real Soviet surplus IFV proposals are two from Ukraine, the circa 36 ton “Vavilon” on the T-64 chassis and the 46 ton “Berserk” on the T-84 (upgraded T-80) one. Apart from trading protection (the Vavilon was advertised as having STANAG 6 30mm AP protection and being able to withstand a 125mm round from 500 meters, likely against the front) for weight and logistical issues, the armament is pretty standard IFV fare: A 30mm autocannon, various machine guns and grenade launchers, and ATGMs. Crew of both is three for the vehicle itself and up to eight dismounts.

Now for the fun part.

Option A: 7+3 Unitary

Composition: Squad leader/vehicle commander (rifle/PDW), vehicle driver (PDW), vehicle gunner (PDW), 1-2x machine gunner (LMG), 1x rocket launcher (RPG), 1x assistant (rifle+RPG ammo), 1x rifle grenadier (self explanatory), 2-3x riflemen (rifle). One of the riflemen could be a “deputy leader” who commands dismounts when the commander stays with the vehicle.

This is the smallest and most conservative organization. It’s designed to duplicate the BMP procedure of having one empty paper-strength seat so that platoon/company troops can ride along. It fights like a standard unitary squad.

Option B: 8+3 Unitary

Composition: Squad leader/vehicle commander (rifle/PDW), vehicle driver (PDW), vehicle gunner (PDW), deputy commander (rifle), 2x machine gunner (LMG), 0-1x marksman (DMR), 1x rocket launcher (RPG), 1x assistant (rifle+RPG ammo), 2-3x riflemen (rifle, possibly one with underbarrel).

This also fights as a unitary squad, although a marksman is moved to squad level and the deputy commander who controls the dismounts is a permanent table position. Still fights as a simple unitary squad. Marksman is optional

Option C: 4-4-3 Fireteam

Composition: Squad leader/vehicle commander (rifle/PDW), vehicle driver (PDW), vehicle gunner (PDW). Fireteam A: Team leader (rifle), team machine gunner (LMG), team launcher (RPG), rifleman (rifle, ammo for MG/RPG). Fireteam B: Team Leader (rifle), team machine gunner (LMG), team launcher (RPG), rifleman (rifle, ammo)

This is a massive divergence and features the dawn of the fireteam, with two four-man elements and two RPG launchers (with one of the riflemen possibly a marksman). Naturally, more advanced formations and dismounted maneuvers are used.

My personal choice for the sake of the All Union story would be Option B. It’s still similar enough to be comfortable, informal task-organized teams can still easily be formed if need be, but is also more advanced. Not just having a squad marksman but in having a specific dismount commander, which makes it easier for the APC to act as part of a separate “armored group“.

Review: World War III 1987

World War III 1987 Blog

Now that the main war has finished, I feel comfortable reviewing the World War III 1987 blog. Now, I must admit that I’m benefiting a lot from the context I’ve learned since I’ve started Fuldapocalypse. Part of it is that there are too few 198X Cold War Hot works of fiction instead of the too many. But another part of it is that web serials (which this ultimately is) and traditional books are apples and oranges. Or, to be more accurate, the relationship between them is like that between baseball and cricket, boxing and mixed martial arts, or rugby and American football. All involve hitting a ball with a bat/pileups of burly players/beating one’s opponent up, but anyone with knowledge of both would admit to big differences and often a lack of overlap.

Likewise, writing a book and writing a serial both involve creative writing, but they also have different priorities and require different skillsets to really excel at. And I can say that as a serial, the WWIII87 blog succeeded very. The first thing a serial needs to do-and I mean needs, is be punctual with updates. While there were understandable human slip ups, the update schedule was nonetheless brisk.

The update schedule was good, and so was the content of said updates. I could quibble with a lot of things, but I don’t really have the heart to go “no, the combat power of that division was (X) instead of (Y)” or nitpick minor technical details or circumstances. There are just too many soft factors and confounds in a hypothetical Fuldapocalypse to really call any one outcome plausible, especially given the unlikeliness of a sustained conventional conflict (Cold War era field manuals from both sides are very clear-a third world war is likely to start off conventionally, but highly unlikely to end that way). Let me just say I’ve read substantially worse and leave it at that.

I do have to take issue with the plotnukes, which do the Hackett style of “trade two cities” (Madrid and Gorky/Nizhny Novgorod), and which serve as a Deus ex Atomo at the end. Though even there there isn’t a real good way to do them. I think the least contrived option, which I really haven’t much of in other fiction is to have them deployed tactically against field formations but not strategically against targets in cities or deep beyond the front (kind of like a local version of Arc Light’s skewed extreme counterforce strikes to make a large exchange survivable). Like faster than light travel in science fiction, you just have to try and stay consistent and run with it. And I’ll admit the nuclear ride, when the story goes there, is a little bumpy to me. There’s also a little too much focus, IMO, on detailed actions in the peripheral theaters, which made the pace on the truly important Centfront somewhat slower than I would have liked.

That being said, this is a good effort and my hat’s off to the writer. My personal journey since starting Fuldapocalypse and reading so many books has broadened my mind, and the serial has progressed throughout this blog’s existence. Congratulations and good work!

Review: Special Reconnaissance and Advanced Small Unit Patrolling

Special Forces (specifically MACV-SOG) veteran Edward Wolcoff has created a masterpiece in Special Reconnaissance and Advanced Small Unit Patrolling. Despite the long and clunky title, the book itself is very accessible. The goal was to create a list of tactics, techniques, and procedures determined by both theory and practice. It was also to present them in a way that was easily accessible and not written in field manualese (indeed, taking issue with official doctrine is stated in the introduction as a big motivation for the entire book). Wolcoff succeeds admirably in both parts.

This is not just for people who actually do light infantry patrols. Even armchair writers like me will find it very useful for both research and curiosity. Few stones are left unturned. This aims to be comprehensive and it succeeds. It does arguably focus a little too much on the past, but given the author’s Vietnam service, this is quite understandable. While “tone” isn’t the most relevant for a book like this, I enjoy how this comes across as being critical of official doctrine and often greatly so, but not in a bitter or axe-grinding way (Wolcoff has said that he submitted this book to a security review and cooperated with the Pentagon in its publication, FWIW).

What I particularly like is how Wolcoff makes it very clear that failure is as big a teacher (if not more) as success. Survivorship bias can skew things massively, so it’s important to look at what didn’t work as well as what did. This is a great resource for well, anyone, and well worth a purchase.

Mobile Corps Order Of Battle

So my book project now has a name: All Union. To celebrate this milestone and excellent progress on it, I figured I should share the rivet-counting infodump of very little actual relevance to the plot (or is it…) but which is fun to do: An Order of Battle chart of the Mobile Corps (of GENFORCE-Mobile inspiration) of the Union of Soviet Sovereign Republics, most famous for their actions in the invasion of Romania.

The methodology is simple: For the number of corps and locations, I went with this analysis, which predicted eight total by the turn of the millennium and theorized their number by district. In actual history, only one was created, the 5th Guards Army Corps stationed in Belarus. For their numbering, I went with the invaluable ww2.dk and looked for defunct/easily disbandable corps HQs in the general area (HQ cities here NOT always correspond to historical bases). So on with the fun exercise/sneak preview-oops, did I say too much??

General Notes

Mobile Corps have adopted a degree of heraldry beyond previous divisions. All save one have a geographic semi-nickname, and all have a “mascot” creature displayed prominently on all unit patches and symbols. The “Sovereign Guards” honorific was made to reward units for the Romanian war without worrying about legacy “guards” titles from long ago.

Western TVD

5th Guards Mobile Combined Arms Corps “Neman” (bison): First (and in actual history only) mobile corps created. Peacetime garrison Minsk, Belarusian SSR, served in Romanian invasion under Dniester Front.

7th Sovereign Guards Mobile Combined Arms “Vena” (elk): Peacetime garrison Vitebsk, Belarusian SSR. Served in Romanian invasion under Dniester Front, given sovereign guards status postwar.

28th Mobile Combined Arms Corps “Buh” (medieval lion): Peacetime garrison Lviv, Ukrainian SSR. Served in Romanian invasion under Dniester Front. Considered one of the primary frontline units against independent, hostile Poland.

Northwestern TVD

26th Mobile Combined Arms Corps “Lagoda” (Karelian Bear Dog): Peacetime garrison Petrozavodsk, Russian SSR. Did not participate in Romanian invasion but was on high alert and was earmarked for a proposed second large offensive operation that never had to be conducted.

Southern TVD

17th Sovereign Guards Mobile Combined Arms Corps “Fergana” (Huma bird): Peacetime garrison Tashkent, Uzbek SSR. Participated in Romanian invasion under Dniester Front. Given sovereign guards status postwar. Its base in the otherwise remote area makes it the closest thing to a strategic reserve mobile corps, and it is poised to always go either west, east, or south. One of the main characters in All Union, Cholpon Murad-Kyzy, served in the 17th Corps during the war in a forward medical station.

Southwestern TVD

64th Sovereign Guards Mobile Combined Arms Corps “Donets” (nightingale): Peacetime garrison Luhansk, Ukrainian SSR. Participated in Romanian invasion under Dniester Front. Given sovereign guards status postwar. Its base in the birthplace of All-Union president and legendary leader Anton Yatchenko is widely believed to not exactly be the most coincidential, as is it receiving sovereign guards status and massive accolades.

32nd Mobile Combined Arms Corps “Roman-Kosh” (mythical hippocampus mermaid-horse): Peacetime garrison Sevastopol, Russian SSR [not a typo]. Participated in Romanian invasion under Danube Front, the only mobile corps to do so. Is believed to be the mobile corps with the most focus on amphibious invasions and operations in extreme terrain. There are even rumors that detachments from it are earmarked for the seizure of Iceland should it come to that.

Far Eastern TVD

57th Mobile Combined Arms Corps “Kisilyakh” (lynx): Peacetime garrison Ulan-Ude, Russian SSR. Did not participate in the Romanian invasion but was earmarked and prepared as part of the ultimately unnecessary second offensive operation.

43rd Mobile Combined Arms Corps “Amur” (mosquito): Peacetime garrison Khabarovsk, Russian SSR. High-priority unit for potential war with China. Because of this and its distance did not participate in the Romanian invasion and was never considered for doing so, even as part of the hypothetical second wave.

VNG/Efir Group

“VNG Elite Corps”/”Efir Group Corps”/”Phantom Corps” (ghost): Peacetime garrison Gorky, Russian SSR. Formed after the Romanian invasion, exact strength still unclear. Under the control of KGB successor VNG (based on an acronym that can translate to “All Union Monitoring Group”). Part of the mysterious and nominally private “Efir [Aether] Group, which officially is nothing but a small real estate firm registered in Pune, India. It is said that the corps is haunted and anyone who gazes at its facilities without approval is immediately flung out of a tall window by poltergeists.

Review: High Intensity Military Urban Combat

High Intensity Military Urban Combat

The book High Intensity Military Urban Combat focuses on exactly what the title says. It aims to teach in the very relevant task of high intensity war in built-up areas. To an extent (being adopted from an official use only instruction) it’s focused on a military audience and having them “unlearn” the circumstances of low-intensity urban war (superior resources, ability to do complex operations, rightful focus on collateral damage) compared to a slugfest in Seoul/Tallin/Taipei (or wherever. There are a lot of big cities!)

Focused on squad level operations, it’s well-illustrated and detailed. To a degree, it duplicates what’s in existing publications, although trading field manual-ese for clear text and good diagrams is a welcome tradeoff. I can’t say how helpful it’d be to a professional audience, but to an armchair observer like me it’s illuminating.