The Ultimate Trench and Dugout Building Guide

I stumbled into this 1920s American training document on building fortifications with the lessons of World War I in mind. The full piece has detailed guides on everything from “the kind of thing you build when you have only a few hours” to “the kind of thing you build when you have a few years”. Both fighting positions and gargantuan medical/residential/command underground dugouts (or “cave shelters” as the document calls them) are there.

There are a couple things I found interesting in particular. The first is that antipersonnel mines, despite becoming a hallmark of later fortifications, are only mentioned very briefly and dismissively. According to it, they take too much effort to emplace for something that’s going to be knocked aside/detonated by the big artillery preparation already. (Antitank mines, including ones rigged to be sensitive, are treated somewhat more favorably.)

The second is that what became known as an overpressure system (ie, higher pressure in the area than out of it, pushing clean air out instead of poisoned air in) is talked about as a counter to poison gas for large bunkers. I didn’t know it was talked about that early, and thought it was a Cold War invention. So that was interesting.

The third is that while machine guns were present, very few of the later infantry support weapons were. Besides indirect mortars, the only thing talked about for forward emplacement is the 37mm infantry support gun. So this was a very interesting time capsule, and some of its TTPs (techniques, tactics, and procedures) are still relevant. After all, artillery hasn’t exactly gotten less lethal since the 1910s.

Weird Wargaming: The Mobile Corps Squad

So first I must say that I owe a lot to the Battle Order website and channel for inspiring me. Go check it out. Anyway, the GENFORCE-Mobile document, while a tour de force overall, has surprisingly little on the absolute smallest unit tactics. It does say that the basic and mobile forces do use very similar tactics (it’s just the latter have more training on them). Anyway, there isn’t much to say for the high-intensity doctrine. Primarily use lines, squads are unitary without teams, the vehicle commander doubles as squad leader, and that’s that.

The table of orders and equipment does (by virtue of looking at quantities of in a platoon), have one RPK variant and one RPG variant (marked as an RPG-29 in that example) per squad in the mobile forces, similar to historical practice. The company weapons platoon has an array of light ATGMs (marked as Metis, but those would probably be superseded) and PKM belt-fed machine guns.

(Strangely, the early 199X OPFOR squad is actually weaker on paper dismounted than its predecessors, with only one magazine machine gun instead of two belt-fed ones).

Soviet unitary squad line. From DDI-1100-7-776, The Soviet Motor Rifle Company, 1976

The legacy regular army, basic forces, or whatever you call them uses this doctrine relatively unchanged. But what about the new ones?

I had the Sovereign Union’s mobile corps using tank-based IFVs. There have been similar attempts in actual history, yet I figured these would be the more interesting. Basically the priorities shift a lot here. The historical BMP-3 is skewed in exactly the wrong direction. Instead of a glass cannon packed with all kinds of boom-makers, the focus is on shielding the newly-important resource with tank-level armor.

So in this timeline the BMP-3 is one of those things that only sees small amounts of use in its home country, but nonetheless achieves success on the export market. The Mobile Corps in All Union primarily rode into Romania with either BMP-2s or IFVs based on existing tank platforms. Whereas the historical T-64 APC proposals were an act of desperation, these have a deliberate goal of more protection and mass production ability, similar to the Israeli tank-APCs of real life.

Two real Soviet surplus IFV proposals are two from Ukraine, the circa 36 ton “Vavilon” on the T-64 chassis and the 46 ton “Berserk” on the T-84 (upgraded T-80) one. Apart from trading protection (the Vavilon was advertised as having STANAG 6 30mm AP protection and being able to withstand a 125mm round from 500 meters, likely against the front) for weight and logistical issues, the armament is pretty standard IFV fare: A 30mm autocannon, various machine guns and grenade launchers, and ATGMs. Crew of both is three for the vehicle itself and up to eight dismounts.

Now for the fun part.

Option A: 7+3 Unitary

Composition: Squad leader/vehicle commander (rifle/PDW), vehicle driver (PDW), vehicle gunner (PDW), 1-2x machine gunner (LMG), 1x rocket launcher (RPG), 1x assistant (rifle+RPG ammo), 1x rifle grenadier (self explanatory), 2-3x riflemen (rifle). One of the riflemen could be a “deputy leader” who commands dismounts when the commander stays with the vehicle.

This is the smallest and most conservative organization. It’s designed to duplicate the BMP procedure of having one empty paper-strength seat so that platoon/company troops can ride along. It fights like a standard unitary squad.

Option B: 8+3 Unitary

Composition: Squad leader/vehicle commander (rifle/PDW), vehicle driver (PDW), vehicle gunner (PDW), deputy commander (rifle), 2x machine gunner (LMG), 0-1x marksman (DMR), 1x rocket launcher (RPG), 1x assistant (rifle+RPG ammo), 2-3x riflemen (rifle, possibly one with underbarrel).

This also fights as a unitary squad, although a marksman is moved to squad level and the deputy commander who controls the dismounts is a permanent table position. Still fights as a simple unitary squad. Marksman is optional

Option C: 4-4-3 Fireteam

Composition: Squad leader/vehicle commander (rifle/PDW), vehicle driver (PDW), vehicle gunner (PDW). Fireteam A: Team leader (rifle), team machine gunner (LMG), team launcher (RPG), rifleman (rifle, ammo for MG/RPG). Fireteam B: Team Leader (rifle), team machine gunner (LMG), team launcher (RPG), rifleman (rifle, ammo)

This is a massive divergence and features the dawn of the fireteam, with two four-man elements and two RPG launchers (with one of the riflemen possibly a marksman). Naturally, more advanced formations and dismounted maneuvers are used.

My personal choice for the sake of the All Union story would be Option B. It’s still similar enough to be comfortable, informal task-organized teams can still easily be formed if need be, but is also more advanced. Not just having a squad marksman but in having a specific dismount commander, which makes it easier for the APC to act as part of a separate “armored group“.

VTOL Landing Zones

Finding the (ideally) safe landing zone radius for hypothetical VTOL transports is a little hard because there haven’t been that many of them. The first precedent is the ideal landing radius for a V-22.

From a Marine Document, we get:

V-22s are about 84 feet wide at their widest. So that ranges from 2.1 times their width/wingspan to 4.1 times.

The second is an EASA draft regulation on “vertiports”. The “D” value is defined a circle around the aircraft when its thrusters are in takeoff/landing mode.

Credit EASA

The draft describes the safe landing area as at least 1.5 times the D-value of the aircraft plus a safety buffer of at least 3 meters or 0.25 times the D-value, whichever is greater. These are of course just guidelines (and keep in mind they’re for constant civilian travel, not military action), but they’re still good rules of thumb.

Mobile Corps Order Of Battle

So my book project now has a name: All Union. To celebrate this milestone and excellent progress on it, I figured I should share the rivet-counting infodump of very little actual relevance to the plot (or is it…) but which is fun to do: An Order of Battle chart of the Mobile Corps (of GENFORCE-Mobile inspiration) of the Union of Soviet Sovereign Republics, most famous for their actions in the invasion of Romania.

The methodology is simple: For the number of corps and locations, I went with this analysis, which predicted eight total by the turn of the millennium and theorized their number by district. In actual history, only one was created, the 5th Guards Army Corps stationed in Belarus. For their numbering, I went with the invaluable and looked for defunct/easily disbandable corps HQs in the general area (HQ cities here NOT always correspond to historical bases). So on with the fun exercise/sneak preview-oops, did I say too much??

General Notes

Mobile Corps have adopted a degree of heraldry beyond previous divisions. All save one have a geographic semi-nickname, and all have a “mascot” creature displayed prominently on all unit patches and symbols. The “Sovereign Guards” honorific was made to reward units for the Romanian war without worrying about legacy “guards” titles from long ago.

Western TVD

5th Guards Mobile Combined Arms Corps “Neman” (bison): First (and in actual history only) mobile corps created. Peacetime garrison Minsk, Belarusian SSR, served in Romanian invasion under Dniester Front.

7th Sovereign Guards Mobile Combined Arms “Vena” (elk): Peacetime garrison Vitebsk, Belarusian SSR. Served in Romanian invasion under Dniester Front, given sovereign guards status postwar.

28th Mobile Combined Arms Corps “Buh” (medieval lion): Peacetime garrison Lviv, Ukrainian SSR. Served in Romanian invasion under Dniester Front. Considered one of the primary frontline units against independent, hostile Poland.

Northwestern TVD

26th Mobile Combined Arms Corps “Lagoda” (Karelian Bear Dog): Peacetime garrison Petrozavodsk, Russian SSR. Did not participate in Romanian invasion but was on high alert and was earmarked for a proposed second large offensive operation that never had to be conducted.

Southern TVD

17th Sovereign Guards Mobile Combined Arms Corps “Fergana” (Huma bird): Peacetime garrison Tashkent, Uzbek SSR. Participated in Romanian invasion under Dniester Front. Given sovereign guards status postwar. Its base in the otherwise remote area makes it the closest thing to a strategic reserve mobile corps, and it is poised to always go either west, east, or south. One of the main characters in All Union, Cholpon Murad-Kyzy, served in the 17th Corps during the war in a forward medical station.

Southwestern TVD

64th Sovereign Guards Mobile Combined Arms Corps “Donets” (nightingale): Peacetime garrison Luhansk, Ukrainian SSR. Participated in Romanian invasion under Dniester Front. Given sovereign guards status postwar. Its base in the birthplace of All-Union president and legendary leader Anton Yatchenko is widely believed to not exactly be the most coincidential, as is it receiving sovereign guards status and massive accolades.

32nd Mobile Combined Arms Corps “Roman-Kosh” (mythical hippocampus mermaid-horse): Peacetime garrison Sevastopol, Russian SSR [not a typo]. Participated in Romanian invasion under Danube Front, the only mobile corps to do so. Is believed to be the mobile corps with the most focus on amphibious invasions and operations in extreme terrain. There are even rumors that detachments from it are earmarked for the seizure of Iceland should it come to that.

Far Eastern TVD

57th Mobile Combined Arms Corps “Kisilyakh” (lynx): Peacetime garrison Ulan-Ude, Russian SSR. Did not participate in the Romanian invasion but was earmarked and prepared as part of the ultimately unnecessary second offensive operation.

43rd Mobile Combined Arms Corps “Amur” (mosquito): Peacetime garrison Khabarovsk, Russian SSR. High-priority unit for potential war with China. Because of this and its distance did not participate in the Romanian invasion and was never considered for doing so, even as part of the hypothetical second wave.

VNG/Efir Group

“VNG Elite Corps”/”Efir Group Corps”/”Phantom Corps” (ghost): Peacetime garrison Gorky, Russian SSR. Formed after the Romanian invasion, exact strength still unclear. Under the control of KGB successor VNG (based on an acronym that can translate to “All Union Monitoring Group”). Part of the mysterious and nominally private “Efir [Aether] Group, which officially is nothing but a small real estate firm registered in Pune, India. It is said that the corps is haunted and anyone who gazes at its facilities without approval is immediately flung out of a tall window by poltergeists.

College Coaches Fail In The Pros

College football coaches have a track record of failing in the NFL, with Urban Meyer being the most recent predictable casualty. The interesting question is “why”? The most stated answer is simple: Because the player-coach power dynamics are completely different.

In college, the coach is the centerpiece of the team, his players are short-term by the very nature of college, and he’s the one who gets the megadeal. In the pros, the players are the centerpiece of the team, most coaches are expendable and expected to be tossed aside at the slightest failure, and the players know it. Free agency and bigger player contracts have not exactly swung things in favor of the coaches, but as the tale of Lou Holtz and the Jets shows, the same dynamic existed long before 1993.

The other issue is that the gap between the best and worst pro players is a lot smaller than the gap between the best and worst Division 1 college players. There’s no “coasting through a week against the paid tomato can”, as the point spreads show. The biggest NFL point spread of all time was only 28 points for the Broncos against the Jaguars in 2013, and it was not covered by the favorite. Meanwhile seemingly every Week 1 (and many subsequent ones) power program game is so lopsided that most sportsbooks don’t even bother with moneyline (straight win-loss) options at all.

How Big Would The Mobile Forces Have Been?

The GENFORCE concept featured an eastern OPFOR divided into legacy “Basic” and more advanced, mixed, “Mobile” forces. Yet how many formations of the latter would plausibly exist in a nation the size of the USSR?

I found a possible answer in a 1985 CIA analysis called “Trends And Developments in Warsaw Pact Theater Forces, 1985-2000” (a great source for a continued Cold War in its own right). The mobile combined arms corps, effectively a big division, is mentioned.

Obviously assuming a surviving USSR and Warsaw Pact, the document estimated that nine such corps would be ready by 2000. Three of these would be in the western theater, two in the southwestern, and one on in the northwest. Two would be in the Far East and one in the south/middle east.

180,000 personnel would be needed from a napkin calc of corps numbers x paper strength of each corps. It’s actually closer to the actual number than most because existing tail assets could be used to support them. However, there will be undoubtedly more people than that necessary, especially to have them achieve their full potential.

The problem isn’t getting that many soldiers. It’s getting that many good soldiers, especially because these mobile corps are specifically designed to be better and more complex tactically than previous line formations. And because they have to compete with the airborne and naval infantry for the best inductees.

Interestingly, the document itself also mentions the possibility of the tank divergences continuing, with the basic forces (word choice deliberate) getting a less exotic model and the mobile corps getting a more out-there one. This would also coincidentally make two bureaus/plants very happy instead of one, so I can see it happening.

It’s an interesting document in any case.


I’ve always been intrigued by “superjumbos, which I unscientifically define as “any airliner which is bigger and/or can carry more passengers than a 747.” Perhaps the only mass-produced superjumbo has been Airbus’ doomed A380, a luxurious plane that was nonetheless brought down by an inability to be used as a freighter and a shift away from the “hub and spoke” model that it was designed for.

But with the hub and spoke model in place, and with air travel increasing, the superjumbo does make at least conceptual sense. The justification works like this: If, thanks to a lack of runway space, you can only get X number of flights per major airport, you might as well give them to a bigger plane. To oversimplify it, the choice isn’t between two planes with 300 passengers each or one with 600, it’s between one with 300 or one with 600.

Granted, there are many, many practical obstacles too, like if your superjumbo needs more engines and/or is less fuel efficient (neither an unreasonable thought). But the place for these aerial titans is a legitimate one. Or at least an excusable one with regards to getting one or more of the many on the drawing board designs into alternate production.

And of course, mammoth aircraft that, unlike the A380, were designed to be heavy freighters, do have a niche role in carrying big and oversized loads. See the late An-225 (which had a passenger variant proposed!) and the Super Guppy/Beluga/Dreamlifter oversized transport planes.

It’s all food for thought. After all, what aviation enthusiast doesn’t like gargantuan planes?

The Mountain Flip Flop

Despite otherwise having little in common save for lots of mountains, Switzerland and Afghanistan have a shared reputation in popular culture as being impregnable, untameable countries. Which led me to go: What if circumstances flip-flopped their history and outcomes?

In Central Asia, a Dari-speaking nation arises in the mountains of what we’d call northern and central Afghanistan. Close to many major trade routes, it takes advantage of its geographic security and reputation for studious neutrality to develop a thriving financial sector. This and the wealth generated by it enable this to develop a reputation for exporting luxury, advanced artisanal goods as well. Meanwhile in Europe, an artificial clump of different ethnicities in the Alps becomes a weak, tumultuous, war-torn “western Yugoslavia”.

Yes, it’s a very soft alternate history. But it’s the kind of thing that alternate history was made for, and it’d work great as a story’s setting.

The Super-Mansion

The conclusion of The Sure Bet King took place at a Los Angeles super-mansion. My current WIP is also focused around a super-mansion. The super-mansion is one of those setting places that I just love. They’re (impractically) big, they can have a lot of stuff, and they can have very different themes.

The closest thing to an official definition of a “mansion” is “a luxury home at least 5,000 square feet in size”. Super-mansions are even more nebulous, with their only real distinguishing feature being their bulk. My own definition is “it’s a super-mansion if any one room in it is bigger than an entire normal mansion”.