The Beginning of Conventional WW3 Plans

I’ve talked sometimes about the “you’ve seen so many imitators that the original doesn’t seem so original” effect with regards to fiction. When reading this translated, declassified 1969 Soviet lecture on conventional operations after the monomanical focus on nuclear weapons earlier that decade, I’ve found it applied to history as well. Because a lot of it just seems like later pieces on how a large force would fight conventionally. And there’s more interesting things to it as well.

  • “A future world war is first and foremost a nuclear war.” Similar pieces illustrate that while the Soviets had made plans under the assumption that a World War III would start conventionally, they did not believe that it would end conventionally.
  • This is for front and army level operations, with one frequently replacing the other. This I’ve seen a lot of in translated Soviet field regulations, to include two unit names being used interchangeably, one an echelon below the other. The assumption I’ve always had is that it’s a concession to heavy casualties because your “front” will quickly be worn down to the size of a paper-strength army, your army worn to a paper-strength division, and so on. I could be wrong.
  • The stated rate of advance is 35-40 kilometers a day, a slightly lower one than their later 40-60.
  • Airborne forces are to be used.
  • The “going over to nuclear weapons” section specifically brings up the opponent pushing the button as soon as they start losing badly.
  • With typical Soviet precision, the article estimates “A fighter bomber division is capable, in one day of combat with two to three sorties, of inflicting destruction (up to 20 percent losses) on one to two enemy brigades.”
  • As always, there’s the boilerplate necessary propaganda statements and the obligatory (if quite understandable) reference to World War II.

Review: Captain Beefheart

Captain Beefheart

One of my favorite strange musicians is Don “Captain Beefheart” Van Vliet, so I knew I had to get Mike Barnes’ biography of him. Barnes goes into great detail on the eccentric musician and his works. One thing that’s made clear is that his persona was not an act-van Vliet was truly eccentric and difficult to deal with, to the point where it’s quite understandable why he left music and spent the rest of his life as an artist, where he had much more complete financial and creative control.

Everything from Beefheart’s struggles with the labels to struggles with the various “Magic Bands” to his lifelong on-and-off friendship with Frank Zappa is covered here and covered well. Also covered is the very origin of the nickname, coming from a bizarre film project known as “Captain Beefheart vs. The Grunt People”.

The book is strangely at its weakest when it gets to the music itself. In part this is because any description in text of Beefheart’s music fails to do its” quirkiness” justice, but Barnes makes it seem particularly dull, which it is definitely is not. For instance, the description of “Kandy Korn”, my favorite Beefheart song because it manages to mix his weirdness with genuine melody, is long, pretentious, and doesn’t give a good impression of the music. That being said, this book isn’t bad as far as musical biographies go.

Review: Strategy


B. H. Liddell Hart’s Strategy will always be a book I remember, although not necessarily for good reasons. It was one of the first history books where I’d become well-read enough to reasonably question its thesis. While Liddell Hart’s life and career has no shortage of controversy around it, I want to focus this review purely on this specific book.

Liddell Hart talks up the “indirect approach” big time, listing a huge number of historical examples. Unfortunately, the history is a cherry-picked list of questionable ones. Even when much younger, I remembered Liddell Hart skipping over several attempted indirect approaches in the American Civil War that failed and brushing off the battle of Guadalcanal (while falsely saying it was a project of MacArthur. It wasn’t.)

As for the theory, well, this kind of “maneuver warfare” talk is the kind of thing that’s uncontroversial in general principles yet doesn’t always translate to specific goals. Sometimes a “direct” approach is desireable. Many more times it’s necessary, for better or worse. What one can see Liddell Hart going for is wishful thinking, where fancy footwork alone can break an enemy without the need for any kind of attritional phase. This is utopian.

Is this book totally bad? No. I’d say it’s useful if you know the context. With that in mind, it’s useful for looking at how one school of thought approaches history and doctrine. But it shouldn’t be anyone’s first book on the subject.

The Oderpocalypse

This could only have been produced in a very short time period, after the Berlin Wall and end of the Warsaw Pact but before the actual breakup of the USSR. Because of this, this RAND report looks interesting, especially in its “long-term” ramifications.

Having an intact, hostile USSR but no Warsaw Pact means that to threaten Germany, it has to move through Poland first, can only put two fronts against Germany directly due to Poland not being that wide (the third has to either be a reserve/second echelon or swing through the Czech Republic), and puts the initial front line considerably farther to the east, with the Oder river being the first big obstacle. It’s an interesting piece.

Review: British Battleships

British Battleships

Oscar Parkes’ 1957 British Battleships: Warrior to Vanguard is exactly what it says: A gigantic encyclopedia on every large armored warship the Royal Navy operated from 1860 to the then-present. This has been one of the oldest, rarest, biggest, and most expensive books I’ve owned, and it’s amazing. This is a big, comprehensive look at British capital ships, from the famous ones of the World Wars to weird 19th Century contraptions.

The mid/late 1800s are the most interesting time period as battleship design zigzagged around, but every part of the book is effective. There are numerous cutaway drawings, and they’re well done. The writing is descriptive and engaging as well.

Yes, being made in the 1950s means a lot of it is dated now. Yes, it’s a little more broad than it is deep, a consequence of having to cover so much ground. But it is still an amazing, incredible history book. When published, the age of the battleship had just ended, making this book a fitting tribute.

The Conventional War In The Air, 1970s

I’ve come across a declassified CIA document from 1972 illustrating a speculative Soviet air campaign in a Cold War turned conventionally hot. Having just emerged from the nuclear monomania of the past decade, it shows the weaknesses of the Soviet air forces in what was new territory for them. Almost everything was either too short-ranged, too vulnerable, carried too small a bomb load for conventional war, or a combination of the above.

That being said, it still would be very formidable to oppose, especially by the standards of “we only need to hold the air above the North German Plain for a few days”.

Review: Fallen Soviet Generals

Fallen Soviet Generals

Aleksander A. Maslov’s Fallen Soviet Generals is a long, detailed, historical list of how general officers died in World War II. It’s a book I’ve mentioned before on this blog, but it deserves a full review of its own. Because the subject is interesting to me (for some reason), I enjoyed the book in spite of its obviously morbid topic.

This has the weakness of a dry history book. It’s not very lively or engaging for someone not into the subject matter, and it’s not helped by the book both being originally written in another language and being translated/edited by David Glantz, a legendary historian whose prose is nonetheless sometimes, er, flat. But it also has the strengths, meticulously categorizing how, where and when every single Soviet general died in the war.

The topic is interesting to me because, especially to an American (the US lost only twenty generals in World War II, less than a tenth the Soviet total) used to technology where they theoretically should be at less personal risk, the loss of a general officer seems like a strange aberration. Yet it clearly wasn’t, and there are many conflicts where it would be. Even for conflicts of a different technological type, Maslov’s book remains an excellent resource for how and why general officers could die in battle.

Review: Serial Vigilantes of Paperback Fiction

Serial Vigilantes of Paperback Fiction

Bradley Mengel’s Serial Vigilantes of Paperback Fiction takes on the task of trying to catalogue many, many cheap thrillers. Mengel uses the term “serial vigilante” to describe what many call “men’s adventure”, and what would in many circumstances be labeled “action hero” on this blog. It’s an impressive feat.

Most of the book is lists and descriptions of various series’ in this subgenre. It’s a self-proclaimed encyclopedia, so its descriptions are broad and not deep. Interestingly, it provides page counts. Though a little dated thanks to to its 2009 publication date, this book has nonetheless been an invaluable resource for finding obscure series.

Review: Air-Mech Strike

Air-Mech Strike

The book Air-Mech Strike holds the origin of the infamous “Gavin” nickname for the M113. It’s also extremely dated and, for the most part, badly written. This is a very 1990s book, despite being published in the early 2000s.

The “Gavin” name is a little more forgivable in this context because it’s meant to refer to a heavily modified and upgraded M113 instead of just the stock vehicle itself. The problem is that the authors want to have their cake and eat it too-they want an existing vehicle to fill the “medium motorized” infantry role out of legitimate concern that a big procurement wouldn’t happen in the post-USSR budget crunch, but also want a lavishly upgraded one. Yes, they give supposed cost figures, but I’m still skeptical (to put it mildly).

There are huge lists of TO&Es, to the point where I could probably just say “read the book itself” if I was doing a Weird Wargaming on the “air mech strike force”. There are piles and piles of 1990s NETWORK SMART WEAPON BUZZWORDS. There’s a utopianism that goes far beyond the reasonable arguments to mechanize existing airborne forces.

This is only backed by lopsided and unconvincing hypothetical case studies with absolutely no effort to “stress-test” the proposal. There’s a cakewalk in Central Asia against ragtag (conventional) opposition, a Kosovo intervention with pushover Serbs that might have been understandable before the actual war, but which feels like it would turn into the next Market Garden with the knowledge of their abilities gained after it, a Second Korean War where a risky deep attack is brushed aside as succeeding in one paragraph, and a Kuwait defense scenario that rightfully argues it’d be better than a footbound “speedbump”, but doesn’t examine how much better.

Ultimately, it just comes across as being enthralled by a certain type of theoretically possible toy. This is the land warfare equivalent of arguing for an air doctrine built around flying aircraft carriers, a naval doctrine built around submarines of various sizes, or any other gimmicky weapon that could be technically buildable.

Review: ParaMilitary Action-Adventure Fiction, A History

Paramilitary Action-Adventure Fiction: A History

I have loved and respected Nader Elhefnawy’s analyses of fiction. So it’s with a heavy heart that I say that his Paramilitary Action-Adventure Fiction, A History doesn’t live up to his other work on the technothriller.

I saw one big technical error, claiming the SEAL Team Seven series was issued in the 2010s by “Keith Douglass.” In fact, it was reissued from its original run in the 1990s and 2000s after the bin Laden raid and “Keith Douglass” was a pen name used by at least two different people (William Keith and Chet Cunningham) and possibly a third or even more. But a bigger problem is structural.

My biggest criticism is the overly long amount of time spent on the socio-political context of the times, which while obviously relevant at times (such as the crime increase of the 1960s that paved the way for the vigilante novels or the Vietnam War MIA obsession that did the same for action novels in the 1980s), sometimes doesn’t feel like that. It flows a lot worse than the techno-thriller piece does and, worse, zooms out too much. There’s a saying of missing the forest for the trees. This misses the trees for the forest. It’s okay enough when talking about non-print items, but misses the mark when talking about books.

Far more important than what effects the economy had on the national mood were just the simple economics of dealing with anything low-margin, which is what these novels were. The sad, harsh, boring reality is that the kind of disposable paperbacks that the work covers are/were the most expendable bottom feeders of commercial literature. The slightest dip in the economy and/or change in customer tastes could knock out all but the most popular. I don’t blame Elhefnawy for taking the approach he did, but think he was looking in the wrong place.