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.

Review: Stalin Strikes First

World War III 1946: Stalin Strikes First

I’ve said before that I don’t really consider 1940s World War IIIs to really be in the same genre as post-Vietnam ones. However, they still meet the very basic definition. One such work was World War III 1946, which was involved in internet controversy about its quality and plausibility before it got commercialized. The first printed installment is Stalin Strikes First.

This is not the most ideal story. The first issue is that its writing system just isn’t that good. It’s a mixture of snippets, conference rooms, and vignettes that never really rise beyond exposition. The second and more fascinating issue is how the war develops, with the Soviets skill on the ground being downplayed while they pull one superweapon in an area of historical weakness after another out of their hats. There’s also a bit of taking primary sources too literally, especially dated ones. Imagine a 1980s World War III where the Warsaw Pact armies could consistently move at their maximum on-paper speeds at the same time that NATO air power was inflicting its maximum on-paper attrition and you’ll get the idea.

This particular book has the Soviets winning the initial advance. And not through their existing strengths or through Red Army-style showing how they can be more than the sum of their parts. No, it’s through author fiat handing them one victory after another on a silver platter. There is obvious enthusiasm put into this book, but I still cannot recommend it. There are just so many better World War IIIs out there.

Review: Super Tiger

Grumman F11F-1F Super Tiger

The original F-11 Tiger was just one of many 1950s flash-in-the-pan fighters. But there was a developed upgraded version that could have given it more staying power. In this book, former Grumman test pilot Corky Meyer tells its story.

There really isn’t that much to say about the airplane from a macro-technical point of view. It was basically an F-11 with a slightly different shape and a J79 engine (made famous on the F-4 Phantom). This gave it massively more thrust, to the point where it could hit Mach 2 in ideal conditions and reach the practical limit of performance for most fighters. The other unusual feature was that it carried a pair of Sidewinders on the top of the fuselage. From this emerged several other proposals. Described are a basic single-seat, a two-seater with Sparrows, a multirole non-carrier export version, and a reconnaissance aircraft with cameras.

Of course, the best and worst part of the book comes from the story of how it failed to gain traction. While Meyer’s deep connection to the aircraft meant he could say much about it, it also made him obviously biased when it came to its prospects. He was not the best person to give a fair evaluation of why it didn’t go anywhere. The reasons were the US Navy not wanting another jury-rigged shoved-in fighter when the F-4 was almost ready, the Air Force wanting the raw power of the F-104, and export customers facing a mix of Lockheed sleaze, a sales effort that Meyer admitted was understaffed and inexperienced, and the turn-off of the Americans seemingly not wanting it for themselves.

It’s still ultimately hard to feel too much sorrow at the loss of the Super Tiger. While it may have been safer than the F-104, it would still be a 1950s design in an inherently risky role if used the same way, and the accidents would have piled up regardless. Its role was soon successfully filled by the F-4 in American service and the F-5 (which ironically became known as the Tiger II) with export customers. But it’s a fascinating footnote in aviation history nonetheless.

New Command scen for testing: Sneaky Sneaky

I got back into making Command: Modern Operations content with another draft scenario that I’ve called Sneaky Sneaky. It’s in an alternate historical setting where a “Walkerist” rogue state survived in Central America. Now they have to try and slip a few improvised mini-subs past the Royal Navy to Belize. Much inspirational thanks goes to the Covert Shores website for its great work on analyzing such submarines.

The scenario can be tried out here.

Review: On The Path of Songun

The Armed Forces of North Korea: On The Path of Songun

It’s been a while since I read a really, really good military nonfiction reference. Thankfully, Stijn Mitzer and Joost Olieman’s The Armed Forces Of North Korea: On The Path Of Songun takes the cake. The product of the same people behind the legendary Oryx Blog of military intelligence, this took a while to finally get going. Thankfully, it’s well, well, well worth the effort.

So why is it so good? Well, for a start, it’s incredibly well researched, written, and photographed. It’s not an OPFOR manual or a ridiculously broad order of battle chart. What it does do is go into legitimate detail and depth about the KPA and its rise, fall, and rise. What made me absolutely fall in love with this was how this is the rare military book that doesn’t fall into either extreme of “unstoppable or helpless”. When I saw the self-proclaimed intent to the debunk the notion that the KPA wasn’t/isn’t a threat, I feared it would go too far in the opposite direction.

That was not the case. I was treated to a very evenhanded look that amounts to “Yes, there’s modernization, yes there’s legitimately advanced indigenous developments, but as of now it’s limited and foreign support is undoubtedly there” and doesn’t hesitate to point out their shortcomings and material issues. The authors are even good at pointing out what they can verify and what they can’t, a must for dealing with a country as secretive as North Korea.

For enthusiasts, general audiences, wargamers, and anyone, really, this is a great book that I highly recommend.

Review: Morning Noon And Night

Morning, Noon, and Night

Sidney Sheldon’s Morning, Noon, and Night is one of his later books, beginning with a ruthless billionaire falling into the sea off of his yacht and dealing with the subsequent power struggle. It is also one of his worst. How so? First, the obvious needs to be stated. Like every single other one of Sheldon’s books, it’s “gilded sleaze” with simple, easy prose. However, this takes things in different directions. And they’re not good directions.

The prose seemed even more bare-bones than the norm for the author, going from a strength to a weakness. More importantly, the book tried to be an outright thriller at times instead of a “pop epic” chronicling a tawdry saga of wealth and romance. Sheldon’s writing style just isn’t suited for pure thrillers, and this exaggerated version of it was even worse.

Also, the stakes seemed petty (with the wealth of its centerpiece character told more by telling than showing), and the plot was confused with a lot of loose threads and super-quick wrap ups. Sheldon has written a lot better, so I don’t recommend this book.

Review: Third World War: The Untold Story

Third World War: The Untold Story

It’s very hard for lightning to strike twice. And in Third World War: The Untold Story, John Hackett tried. He did not really succeed. The problem was that much of the appeal of the original came from being the first out of the gate, whereas by 1982 the zeitgeist had clearly shifted. (An obscure and amusing example comes from the line “World War III is drawing near” in the XTC song Generals and Majors, released in 1980).

While possibly unfair to list the earliest instance of a genre as not having held up well over time, I do believe that Hackett’s work has aged the worst of all the few “big-name” conventional WW3 books. It’s earliest, and it’s clearly meant as an explicit lobbying document in a way that the (still-slanted) other works of that nature did not. And this applies far more to a modestly repackaged version released four years after the original. Because that’s what it is.

This is the book equivalent of one of those “remastered special edition” movie DVD releases. There’s a reason why those, even if the underlying film is sound, do not generate nearly as much enthusiasm as the first, novel release.