Formations in the Fog Of War

Two previously speculated-upon formations that have not had much evidence to substantiate their (exact) existence include Iraqi “Special Forces Divisions” and the “Islamic Regiments” of the 1980s Afghan mujaheddin.

The former were depicted as regular army formations containing soldiers with at least some greater training and morale than the bottom-of-the-barrel rabble. They were fairly conventional triangular motorized infantry divisions in terms of structure, operating in either trucks or wheeled APCs. These divisions contained no organic (part of their structure) tanks, but could easily get them cross-attached if need be.

The latter were supposedly black-clad formations of raiders with more organization and standardization than the usual bands, but nothing (usually) heavier than normal crew-served weapons. They consisted of about 600-900 people broken into multiple small battalions. It’s worth noting that their layout does bear a resemblance to the kind of “guerilla regiments” that Mao described in detail in On Guerilla Warfare.

Of course, there is a hint of truth to these formations. There were/are large commando formations in the Iraqi and especially Syrian armies, the Republican Guard did have an unambiguous “Special Forces Division”, and the mujaheddin did occasionally operate in formations the size of the fabled “Islamic Regiments”, as well as deploy better trained and equipped subunits. This is of course is what leads to the inevitable exaggerations.

And also, the joy of generalist wargaming rules and alternate history is that these units can easily be simulated as if genuine. Neither requires much in the way of exotic equipment or modifiers to use.

The increased effectiveness of smart bombs firsthand

I decided to indulge my inner VVS target planner and do some (very basic) calculations for air power against opposing targets. What I found made me smile. The methodology is extremely simple-I used a regiment of 36 paper-strength aircraft, carrying 4 PGMs each (a proposed upgrade for the MiG-29 had a targeting pod on the centerline and up to 4 KAB-500L laser bombs). Then I used the 60% hit rate estimated for smart bombs in the Gulf War. Then I had only 25 aircraft actually launched to simulate attrition and realistically low readiness.

So that gets 100 drops and 60 targets plinked. That’s one-two battalions worth, if we’re talking about armored vehicles. And even that’s ideal and doesn’t take stuff like aborts, aircraft getting shot down before reaching their target, and hitting the wrong thing into account. But this is an oversimplified spherical cow exercise anyway.

What makes this more interesting is the 1969 claim that “a fighter-bomber division is capable, in one day of combat with two or three sorties, of inflicting destruction (up to 20% losses) on one to two enemy brigades”. Meaning at the very least, even earlier PGMs can have an air regiment do what used to take a division three times its size.

This was a fun little thought exercise to do.

Weird Wargaming: My dream wargame…

…Is based on a boxing simulator.

Yes, after playing a lot of Title Bout Boxing, I’ve come to the conclusion that I honestly think you could apply it to a (consumer-level) wargame. Of course, I’m not a programmer and know very, very well that thinking up something and actually making it could not be more different. But what I think…. yeah.

  • Start with a sort of MCOAT-style War of the Spreadsheets, with a variety of inputs. The fighter stats have this in Title Bout.
  • Make the inputs editable, to remove bias. It would come with several default guesses/theories.
  • Add in other conditions on the menus. In Title Bout, this is the fighter’s career state, skill level, and their corner staff. This could be something like battle circumstances, terrain, skill, and morale.
  • When the fighting actually starts, the player realistically has very little ability to intervene. You can try to push more or less, but the ability to actually execute them depends on the virtual dice. Adding luck is realistic and keeps it from being a deterministic spreadsheet war.
  • There’s a summary afterwards. Casualties are not the same as holding territory.
  • Mismatches can happen. You pit Ali against Ben Askren, and the latter gets crushed. You make a battle where the difference makes the Gulf War look like Verdun, you get that.

The important thing to me is the same thing that made me fall in love with Command when I saw what its editor could do. An ability to combine fast setup with diverse results. Of course, I can already see a thousand pitfalls, but the dream is there.

“Put a higher-than-normal quality force of ‘BTRykers’ supported by independent tank battalions and have them attack an entrenched old-style rifle division. See how it shakes out. See if one side gains territory [the attackers probably would] and list the casualties”

A lot of people might not like this wargame’s lack of interactivity, but I would enjoy it scratching an itch.

The Making Of A Division

Just as eggs, butter and flour mix don’t equal a pancake on their own, having three hundred tanks and two hundred APCs does not equal an armored division. By American standards, even in World War II, it took a year and a half to turn a scratch-built division from “exists on paper” to “ready to deploy”. Postwar, two years was an optimistic hope.

The central core of the division is a “cadre”. The officers (how many are commissioned vs. non depends on the circumstances) comprise the cadre of the division, which in a normal sized division is around one to two thousand people. Reserve forces deliberately keep their cadre at higher strength and readiness so they can be quickly built around during mobilization.

There’s also external powers not just supplying the equipment, training, and resources for their client/colonial army, but also supplying the central officer cadre as well. (This is why one snapshot analysis of Iranian casualties in the Syrian Civil War found no confirmed dead below the rank of sergeant.)

I also want to say that the cadre forces are the hardest to obtain (from just my amateur gut reaction) compared to either a large number of shorter-trained recruits or a few high-level commanders. The bottleneck for your revved-up 25 division army, especially an effective one, feels like the roughly 25,000 people in the cadre, compared to the 25 commanding generals or the 250,000 enlisted. And this is before political difficulties arise. Although I should note that this was less an issue for continental powers in the World Wars because of both having plenty of survivors from destroyed units as cadres and, to be frank, lower standards.

Cadres can come from:

  • Scratch-trained officers “jumping rank”.
  • The small existing military being streched out to become a cadre force (this happened in World War II-in 1939 Ike was a lieutenant colonel).
  • Retired personnel being brought back.
  • Existing irregulars being formalized. (This led to “Zouave” regiments in the American Civil War being formed around Napoleonic reenactors because they were the only ones with skill at musket drills).
  • External personnel being sent in to fill the cadre role.
  • Survivors from reduced/destroyed units.

Courses of Action

So one of my concepts, well, anyway…

-Intact, with all the cancelled toys USSR going to finally rid themselves of the surviving Ceausescu (I’ve wanted to write a sort of “Soviet Gulf War”). Notably, the only ex-Warsaw Pact state that allows staging and troop support by this point is Bulgaria. (Bulgaria was considered the most politically reliable of them, being a longtime Slavic ally of Russia that did not experience much unrest before the fall).

-This was created using the amazing Map.Army program.

-Heavy OPFOR Operational says that high-level paradrops generally max out around 250 km from friendly troops (Which means 36 hours to catch up even under their most ideal advance rates, four days under the most ideal against a peer opponent, and at least a week under any kind of realistic resistance). The earlier Voroshilov Lectures say 150 km at most in conventional conditions.

That being said, the map!

Three courses of action. These are not specific drop zones but general guidance areas, and yes, I did extend COA 2 into the Ukrainian SSR itself. OOPS!.

Course of Action 1 (not labeled but closest to the border) is the most tame, and features a variety of tactical close-to-support airdrops in the initial advance areas. Course of Action 2 is a deeper operational/strategic drop to secure the other side of the Carpathian Mountains. Finally, COA 3 is the deepest and most daring yet and involves having paratroopers land ultra-deep to quickly establish a presence in the Yugoslav/Serbian border to try and hold off any escape or resistance aid from there.

As for the rest of the plan, it’s pretty much Soviet boilerplate-blast through, charge deep. Bucharest is going to be encircled first and then left to second-line units (including Bulgarian ones) to actually reduce. Romania’s plan in this not-unexpected event was to just stage a prolonged unconventional resistance and use their inevitable-to-be-overrun regular units to buy a little setup time.

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.

The Growing MOUT Frontage

The Soviets had a love-hate relationship with city combat. On one hand, the pitfalls of something that went against their desire to move fast were very apparent. On the other, as the world became more built-up, they recognized it as a necessity. So in my relaxing reading of old field manuals, I decided to look up the frontage they desired in cities. Strictly defined frontages and unit boundaries were a trademark of them. Having both late 1940s and mid-1990s as my primary dates (because that was where I had the most detailed primary sources/analyses) wasn’t ideal, but oh well.

By the Heavy OPFOR/Genforce Era, the city block (generally 80-100 meters wide and 200-300 meters long) that had doctrinally taken a battalion or even entire regiment to storm fifty years earlier had been reduced to a reinforced company (whose reinforcements included SPHs meant to engage buildings with direct fire). Me being an detached armchair enthusiast, I’m wondering how much was better trust in a smaller unit with better training and communications and how much was the belief that they just had to walk over the rubble because their supporting firepower was so much greater.

And of course different circumstances would produce different geographical densities. But I still found it interesting. As was the shift of where the tanks should generally be compared to the infantry. With the Battle of Berlin undoubtedly in their minds, the most relevant statement in the early postwar regulations was “The mission of the tanks and the self-propelled artillery is to support the infantry attack with fire and shock action [note the “Fire” appearing first]”. Then much later their assault drills had the tanks usually going ahead of the infantry. Then after the uncomfortable experience of Chechnya, it shifted back to “the infantry should almost always go first unless the situation specifically calls for something otherwise”.

Flipping The Ranks

Words are weird. English words are weirder, thanks to that language’s status as an unashamed word thief. Military rank words, coming from even more different backgrounds, are arguably the weirdest yet. After some brainstorming, I’ve thought of a way where the rank structure we know could be flipped on its head. Even more so than, for lack of a better word, the “radical” rank system used by the SS and 1930s USSR, which involved variants of plain “unit leader”.

The lowest tier of personnel could be called “generals”, because they would make up the general population of the military. The highest tier could be called “privates”, because it would be a holdover from the time when leaders (openly) had private armies. May not be the most plausible, but it’s still an interesting worldbuilding exercise.

Weird Wargaming: From The Periphery to the Centfront

The force deployments of the Cold War Central Front have been one of the most obsessively studied and analyzed of all time. Yet some surprising curveballs can still emerge. One of them I recently found was unadopted suggestions to move either Turkish or Italian forces to permanent bases in West Germany. The Turkish force I heard was two divisions. The Italian one was undefined.

The biggest (purely military and not political) risk I felt was that a significant portion of these nation’s heavy formations (the only viable ones for a conventional Fuldapocalypse) would have to be moved. Thus they would need to be either reequiped with cheaper and less capable superpower surplus, beefed up expensively, or have fewer mechanized units on their own territory.

As for where to put them, there were a few options. One was the obvious use of them to shore up the always vital and always vulnerable NORTHAG. Another was to put them in Southern Germany and/or other areas with good defensible terrain (such as the Harz Mountains) to free up Bundeswehr troops to go elsewhere.

However they were equipped and wherever they went, having these alternate deployments seems like it would make for an interesting wargame scenario.

The Super Bunkers

I’ve long been intrigued by “super-bunkers”, made by and for a combination of overly paranoid governments and survivalists with too much money. For the former, I’ve liked Albania’s mess of bunkers to the point where I made my very first Command scenario centered around that country. For the latter, well, it’s bemusing to look at the entries of bitter rival (to put it mildly) bunker-builders Atlas Survival and Rising S .

Bunkers range from the small, legitimately practical and affordable to the over-the-top. On one end are essentially beefed-up storm shelters. On the other is Rising S’ “The Aristocrat”, which boasts a swimming pool and bowling alley (!).

The practicality of these, especially for private citizens, has unsurprisingly been called into question. There’s the expense (especially for upkeep) and the challenge of getting to the bunker, since even the advanced ones are hard to live in full time. This happened even to John Rourke, who was caught far away from his “Retreat” and had to fight his way to it in the first arc.

Granted, making a bunker on property one already owns is different from the whole Mel Tappan “countryside retreat” that one mysteriously has time to get to before “it” happens.