Review: The Burma Wars

The Burma Wars

Because Myanmar/Burma features so prominently in my current novel draft, I figure I’d look at George Bruce’s The Burma Wars , a history of the British conquest. There were three large Anglo-Burmese wars, but Bruce mostly concentrates on the first. This is understandable, as the latter two were uninteresting squashes.

Bruce is every bit the Empire fan you’d expect a British pop-historian of the 1970s to be, but he still gives the Burmese credit when due. They were comparably armed, had a knack for building fortifications quickly, and the Anglo-Indian force that went against them was logistically troubled and questionably led. And yet, the British still eventually won, and it only got better/worse from there.

I wouldn’t make an old piece of popular history the sole source on any big historical event, but this at least made for a good starting point. I’m glad I read it.

Review: Journey’s End

Journey’s End

Amazingly, surprisingly, the Kirov series has gotten a formal conclusion with Journey’s End. I’d predicted that there was no way for the series to end gracefully after 64 clunky volumes. And my prediction turned out to be accurate. A lot of this is de facto flashbacks to each ill-developed member of the crew. The final battle is just a wargamed clash like the hundreds before it. The hanging threats of Volkov and the aliens are dealt with hurriedly and contrivedly.

The conclusion is “a generally happy ending is stuffed in at the last second due to yet more time travel technobabble.” Schettler was clearly desperate to finish Kirov so he could write a fantasy novel series (which are no stranger to giant, bloated, sagas), and it shows. Still, that a 64 book epic with millions of words was completed at all is no small accomplishment.

Review: British Cruisers

British Cruisers

Norman Friedman turns his knowledgeable eye to one of the most arbitrary ship classes in British Cruisers. Going from the early 20th Century to the Cold War, he covers the enigmatic ship type that can best be summed up as “bigger than a contemporary destroyer, but not too big”. From wartime workhorses to unusual goofy designs, Friedman leaves few Royal Navy stones unturned.

The final desperate attempts at large capital ships after 1945 are the most interesting to me. The large “escort cruisers” started off as ASW helicopter ships, then grew into the famed de facto light carriers they became and were later used as. Everything else was rightly shelved. But this is a typically excellent technical history of cruisers in all eras.

Review: Blue Masquerade

Blue Masquerade

T. K. Blackwood’s Blue Masquerade is a treat I knew I had to read. First, it’s one of those beasts that are as rare as left-handed baseball catchers or male calico cats-the conventional World War III novel that takes place as an alternate history after the Vietnam War. That its premise involves two of my personal tropes I wish got used more often made it even more appealing.

The first premise is that instead of the USSR backsliding after a successful August Coup or something like it, it reforms enough to avert such a thing. This happens here. Don’t expect to see MiG 1.42s or robot-turret supertanks here-it’s just the classic tanks and BTRs/BMPs. Still, it’s heartening to see this gimmick after wanting to for so long. The second is Yugoslavia, the tinderbox of Europe, being the catalyst for the war. This is a lot more plausible than some other World War III novels you may have heard about.

As for the substance of the book, I would call it a “51% World War III big war thriller”. It gets enough of the basics right and never comes across as truly “bad” in any way. That being said, I have seen everything it does being done better in other books. However, I’ll adjust for context, since this subgenre is extremely hard to do well. In that case, a 51% book is quite the accomplishment, like a baseball pitcher having a positive win-loss record while playing for an otherwise bad team.

If you like alternate history, conventional World War IIIs, or both, check this out. For another opinion, see Alexander Wallace at Sea Lion Press.

Review: The German Aircraft Carriers

The German Aircraft Carriers

A book devoted to German aircraft carriers could have all the pages be blank and still be technically accurate. After all, the decision to not go ahead with them was one of the very, very few good ones the country made in World War II. But Simon Beerbaum’s work on them manages to show an excellent train of thought. For most of the actual writing and layout quality, what I said about the Russian carriers book applies just as well to this. What’s interesting is the content.

You might think that a compilation of never-built German designs would have a lot of weird ones as gargantuan as they were impractical. And you would be right. But there was a method to the madness of several. Intended as commerce interdictors, the carrier designs mostly had substantially large gun armament but smaller airwings. They resembled a pre-missile version of the Kiev “air carrying cruisers” in that regard. The book also covers postwar helicopter/VSTOL designs proposed by shipyards for export customers. It’s an interesting look at an interesting set of designs.

Review: The Soviet/Russian Aircraft Carriers

The Soviet/Russian Aircraft Carriers

It’s time to ring in the new year with…. another history book. This one is Simon Beerbaum’s book on Soviet and Russian aircraft carriers. It’s not just about the Kiev and Kuznetsov classes, which I feared it might have been. On the contrary, it has everything from pre-WWI czarist proposals to post-revolution plans for converting surplus ships (with limited technology/resources, it would have been easier to finish a large warship as a carrier rather than an armored, big-gun battleship) to never-weres like the Ulyanovsk and Project 11780 Kherson “Ivan Tarava” helicopter amphib based on the Kiev.

This is an amateur enthusiast project, so it has issues with formatting and inconsistent quality in the line drawings. Those are small issues, and if I had a bigger gripe, it’d be that far too little attention is given to the actual air wings of those carriers-the entire reason they’re built. It’s vague, especially when there’s no shortage of equally fascinating never-were carrier planes as well (from the Yak-141 to navalized MiG-23s to other exotics).

Still, this book does what it sets out to do. For a country whose carriers have arguably all been prestige peacocks, a lot of designs were made. If you want an intro to these flattops, you could do a lot worse than this book.

Review: US Battleships

US Battleships: An Illustrated Design History

Norman Friedman’s US Battleships: An Illustrated Design History was one of the first really big, really crunchy, really technical books on military equipment that I got. It’s obviously not light reading (at least for normal people), but it flows well. And I honestly think battleships are the best suited to a historical chronicle like this.

Since 99% of their history was in the past tense (the sole exception being the Iowa reactivation at the time of the book), it means there’s less sensitive info around. And since battleships are gigantic and awesome (don’t lie), it makes for fascinating reading. In battleships, you can see the US Navy going from its humble beginnings to its World War II juggernaut.

Technical naval warfare fans should definitely get this book. It’s one of the best of its kind.

Weird Wargaming: The Red October

Yesterday I placed a formal Command database request for a hypothetical Soviet submarine. But this wasn’t something like say, a Yankee Notch with conventional missiles. No, this was of a famous literary submarine. The titular undersea ship in The Hunt For Red October. And it made me think of more than just wargame stats.

First, the boring stuff. The Red October in the book isn’t just a re-engined Typhoon. It’s bigger, and has 26 tubes for SS-N-20 missiles instead of the twenty in the original. Weirdly, and this is actually a kind of accidental serendipity, it has only four torpedo tubes compared to the six in real Typhoons. This is probably just getting the not-yet-confirmed details wrong (a sillier example is the even-then biased Clancy portraying the Typhoon as a cramped mess when in fact it famously boasts a gym, arcade, and small swimming pool). But it makes to give up some low-priority torpedo tubes to help make room for the caterpillar drive.

Ah yes, the caterpillar drive. For the database request-in game, I wanted to go the simple route. While in the book it has a combination of the quiet caterpillar-impeller drive and louder normal propellers, I think doing complex mechanics changes for one whimsical hypothetical unit would not be a good cost-benefit. So my suggestion in the real request was just to treat the sub overall as very quiet (at the level of a post-1991 SSBN with advanced propulsion) and leave it at that.

But what got me thinking, especially with full post-USSR hindsight, was how a sub of that nature could be used. Now ballistic missile subs do not have the most complicated or versatile mission structure. But the question (regardless of what the book would say) whether it’d just be used as a more defensible bastion sub or dare to venture out to its quietness would make for interesting study/simulation.

Finally, a part of me views the sub as being something like the ill-fated Komsomolets: A capable and advanced vessel, but one that’s still ultimately a test-bed with additional members of the class unlikely to be built. Especially because the base Typhoon is so big and bulky already.

The Seventh Marine Division

So with the help of the Spatial Illusions Unit Symbol Generator, I set to work making an alternate historical USMC formation. First, the very name. The name “7th Marine Division” is deliberate to symbolize its fictional nature. In real life, the USMC never had more than six divisions even at the height of World War II.

The 7th Division itself is basically an administrative formation that would never actually deploy in full as one manuever unit. Even its subunits are often unlikely to deploy in full at any one location. Its “line” formations are the following.

  • The Parachute Regiment, a sort of revival of the Paramarine concept. The heaviest formation in the 7th Division (in that it has the light artillery and vehicles that an airdroppable regiment/brigade elsewhere would), it functions as a parachute-qualified light airborne formation.
  • The SOF Regiment, which essentially is just the real MARSOC under a different structure type.
  • The Raider regiment, which unlike the real renamed “MARSOC” is meant (at least on paper) to be a more direct-action focus formation comparable to the traditional Army Rangers.

I’m sure there are very good reasons for not adopting an organization or formations like this in real life. Oh well. This is for thriller fiction and wargaming, after all.