Review: Luxury Fleet

Luxury Fleet

Professor Holger Herwig’s Luxury Fleet is the single best book on the Imperial German navy that I’ve read. It manages to be both detailed and fun, going into political squabbles and technical details while remaining easy to read. Reading it really gets you a feel for the “Luxury Fleet”, or “Tirpitz’s Folly”.

It’s great to read this alongside Andrew Gordon’s The Rules of the Game, an equally effective study of its adversary. But if you’re into naval history at all, this is well worth a purchase on its own.

SOF Infiltration Techniques

I’ve decided to kick off the new year on Fuldapocalypse with my current “I justify it by claiming it’s for book research, but really it’s mostly for its own fun sake” obsession. This is the way special forces teams are infiltrated (moved in to their target, almost always with the intention of stealth).

Granted, there are elite teams moving about in All Union (without spoiling any specific element), and the Soviet-Romanian War saw the biggest deployment of special forces in modern history. But it’s still a fascinating topic. So in rough order from least to most complicated…

  • On Foot. This is the most basic type, with very obvious limitations. In this case the borders are already packed with conventional troops (including recon ones), so very few to no SPF teams would go in that way.
  • Helicopter/VTOL. This needs little explanation. Both its strengths and weaknesses are pretty obvious to those with basic military knowledge.
  • Boat. This also doesn’t need much explanation. In this specific case, it’s hindered by Romania having only a small amount of coastline suitable for amphibious landings. One 1970 CIA analysis put it at only nine miles (page 10), but this admittedly would be far less a problem for small SOF craft as opposed to large landers.
  • Ground Vehicle. AKA the Desert Rats. This gives the force a lot more mobility once in the target area, but it also makes it more noticeable and adds to their logistical areas. And especially for the more prosaic role of most spetsnaz, this also overlaps to a large extent with the horde of BRDMs and long-range patrols in “conventional” units.
  • Static Line Parachute. This is less precise than helicopters but can take advantage of (often) longer range or higher-performing aircraft. The type of aircraft also differs-I have a soft spot for planes like the An-2 and C-145 Skytrucks that are small for mass paradrops but quite able to release small teams.
  • Infiltration in Peacetime. This uses secret agents and other “peaceful” means to help bring the SPF in before the fighting starts. The problem is that you need a good network of secret agents to succeed this way.

These are the mundane, usual, “boring” techniques. Now for the “interesting” ones.

  • Free fall parachute jumps. Requiring more skill and risk, this is further divided into the “easier” HALO (High Altitude, Low Opening) and “harder” (High Altitude High Opening) jumps. The former is mostly intended for unconventional war to keep the drop plane hidden (in a visual and sound sense) and less vulnerable, while the latter is an extreme jump that involves the parachutists gliding a considerable distance.
  • Ultralight aircraft and paramotors. Mentioned in both the GENFORCE-Mobile and TC 7-100.2 manuals for special forces insertion, these seemingly silly devices have been considered a serious way of moving in. The performance of motorized paragliders and ultralight planes varies, but can be “increased” if only a one way trip in is needed.
  • Wingsuits. The most exotic yet, these are mentioned in TC 7-100.2 and the various Worldwide Equipment Guides. Still conceptual as of this writing and the absolute hardest to use, these squirrel-gliders are nonetheless, well, awesome. Especially the powered ones.

It’s important to note that the majority of historical spetsnaz from the 1950s to 1991 were still two-year draftees. The best and most motivated two-year draftees, but still two-year draftees. Infiltrators in the second category in a Soviet-style military would have to be officers or professional volunteers with longer-term contracts to get the time to master such exotic techniques.

A massive number of Soviet, Bulgarian, and Afghan special purpose forces participated in the invasion of Romania. The very first substantial Soviet casualties in the war came when a Romanian MiG-23 shot down a transport carrying SPF for a parachute insertion, killing all eighteen people on board. While those three nations are well known, there have also been rumors of other SPF as well as western mercenaries disguised as employees for humanitarian NGOs.

Review: Encore

Kirov: Encore

Like every good concert, the 64-book Kirov series has to have an encore at the end. And so it was made in a book creatively titled Encore. I mentioned in my review of the final proper installment, Journey’s End, that the overarching villains of the aliens and Ivan Volkov were dealt with in an anticlimactic, rushed manner. This hoped to give them proper closure in proper battles.

It did not exactly work. By this point there was no way for the series to conclude in anything but a screeching halt, and all the big set pieces here did was change their fates from “short and contrived” to “long and contrived.” Then again, “long and contrived” describes the whole series well, so (shrugs).

This is only for Kirov completionists.

The Big Amphibs

There have been many proposals proposal to make large amphibious warships. One of the more interesting is the Project 11780 amphibious ship, proposed in the last days of the USSR. Nicknamed the “Ivan Tarava” because of its comparable performance to the American Tarawa amphib, its proper name was, in an eerie coincidence given the recent war, the Kherson class.

The Khersons would have been built in Nikolayev, not far from their namesake province. Besides the collapse of the Soviet Union, what doomed them even before that was that the yard was chosen to build the Kuznetsov carriers instead. One interesting quirk is that the Kherson designers reportedly loathed the idea of their ship being converted to a fixed-wing carrier and thus moved a gun turret in one of the drafts so it would block the flight deck and prevent a simple conversion.

The Khersons were designed to carry 1000 marine infantry and up to around 60-70 “pieces of equipment”. They could hold both helicopters and landing craft.

Operation Causeway

Operation Causeway was a proposed plan by the US military in World War II to land on Taiwan. It would have been a massive high risk, high cost, and high reward operation. In actual history, Causeway was shelved in favor of landing in Luzon.

The initial landing sites for Causeway would be in the south.

The Causeway documents are useful not just as an alternate historical reference, but also as a general guide to what a large amphibious invasion of Taiwan would entail (something that, for some mysterious reason, has remained relevant postwar).

A Thousand Words: SpringSharp

SpringSharp

Want to design a physically capable steam-age (1850-1950) warship? Then Springsharp is the game/program for you! Designing anything from coast defense ironclads with low freeboard to ridiculous twenty turret monsters, it works very well for any alternate shipbuilder.

Some caveats are in order. First, it’s just a weight simulator. This is why it doesn’t really work for volume-dependent missile age ships. Second, it works better for large (by the standards of the time) ships than small ones. Third, you have to know the basics of naval design and ship dimensions to really put in the right numbers for a viable ship.

But with this in mind, it’s an excellent simulation that can create the fleets of your dreams.

Weird Wargaming: Missile Iowas

The Command database now has many more hypothetical proposed missile upgrades of the Iowa-class battleships, including adding a ramp for fixed-wing aircraft in one entry (!). These ships bring a very strange feeling to me. Because they inspire equal parts awe, horror, and disgust.

See, the problem is that missile launchers intended for long-distance operations render the 16 inch guns nothing but a heavy explosive risk. This has been known in real life too. There was a serious consideration during the reactivation of the Iowas (primarily to have tons of box launchers for Tomahawks) of just leaving the guns closed up and inoperable. They’d be unlikely to fire in a fleet action, and if they did fire, it couldn’t be good for any sensitive machinery in the rest of the ship.

So my head regards the Missile Iowas with derision. But my heart adores them. Simply because of how crazy and audacious they are. Do I really need to explain this?

Anyway, for the boring details, they’d likely be used in a way similar to how the real 1980s reactivated Iowas were. As the centerpiece of surface action groups. If you wanted to be cold-hearted, you could treat them as expendable sunk costs. But you can also revel in the absurdity.

Arthur Hailey: Technothriller Writer?

Generally speaking, alternate history questions about how some creative artist’s career could have gone differently are not my favorite thing. There are just too many inputs and inspirations, and one would be hard pressed to find something more volatile than popular culture tastes. That being said, I’ve found one author who I can definitely see sliding into a different genre if he’d come to fame 10-15 years later.

That author is Arthur Hailey, most famous for his novel Airport, which inspired the movie that spawned the entire disaster genre (and its parody in Airplane!). Hailey loved to write books that examined a complex thing (be it banks, airports, car factories, or what not) in amazing detail, before climaxing in some kind of crisis. He also loved technology to the point of taking too many futurists at face value (Passenger pods loaded into planes on conveyor belts!)

Hmmm, massively researched technical detail? A love of technology? That sounds like he’d be right at home with technothrillers.

In fact, I can so easily imagine Arthur Hailey’s Aircraft Carrier. The carrier and everything from the catapults to the air tasking order is described in minute detail. As is the drama surrounding members of the crew, which will consist of at least two middle-class Americans committing adultery. Then, in the final chapters of the book, the carrier will sail into action! But it won’t be a full on Fuldapocalyptic world war with the carrier fending off a hundred Tu-22s in the GIUK Gap while a nuclear sword of Damocles hangs over everyone’s head. Hailey just wasn’t that high stakes a writer, and his target audience probably wouldn’t go for something as tense as that. It would probably be something like El Dorado Canyon, probably against a fictional OPFOR country. The carrier accomplishes its mission, but not before a million more “I know the exact designation of a Scud TEL” infodumps are launched and at least one of the adulterers is blown up.

Look, I didn’t say it was going to be a good technothriller.

Indeed, as much as Clancy and Bond’s books may have been dated and rendered less potent by their technology becoming considerably less novel, Hailey’s have aged far worse. And I’m not (just) talking about their culture and characterization. Their entire gimmick is “this is a thing.” And if you already have the slightest familiarity with that thing in ways that audiences in the 1960s and 1970s did not, the books become empty clunkfests.

Still, it’s very easy to see the success of someone who wrote in a very similar style (Airport is basically a peacetime technothriller, after all) translating to something else down the road. That’s the fun of alternate history.

Review: Marque And Reprisal

Marque and Reprisal

I eagerly awaited the newest Brannigan’s Blackhearts book, Marque and Reprisal. After devouring it, I figured I had to review it. And it’s slightly disappointing. But only slightly. The issue isn’t the action or plotting (even if one “twist” of them getting betrayed is rather obvious). The issue is the setting.

Without going into spoiler-ish details, the villains feel like well, how do I put it? They feel like the kind of antagonists a mainstream action thriller would have. Which means the book fails to take advantage of both ends the series can go to-either gritty third-world mud fights or giant spectacles. They’re too out-there for the former and too mundane for the latter.

This is still my favorite thriller series ever, and it’s only a “disappointment” by the previous books massively high standards. But a part of it felt lacking nonetheless.