Weird Wargaming: Conventional Bush War

The Rhodesian Bush War passed without a decisive 1975-style conventional campaign. Of the two main guerilla organizations, it was the Ndebele, Soviet-favored ZIPRA that placed more of an emphasis on conventional operations, compared to the majority Shona, China-favored ZANLA’s “people’s war”. A combination of largely successful preemptive strikes by the Rhodesian military and a (smart) focus on inherent strengths than weaknesses by the opposition meant that the large battle never came.

The common wisdom about such an operation “Zero Hour” (as one code name for it was) is that it would be stopped with ease (although it does not help that most surviving prominent sources are either from the ZANLA-veteran regime or former Rhodesians, neither of which has an incentive to talk up their opponent). But even if the first such offensive was stopped with ease, the rebels definitely had the people and enough hand-me-down aid to try multiple times.

Such an offensive would feature the fairly light Rhodesian military against an opposition that would have at least T-34/85s, BTR-152s, appropriate artillery, and even rumors of fighter aircraft. (If said fighter aircraft could disrupt the deployment of the infamous Fire Forces, it would not be good for the Rhodesians). It can obviously be played with any kind of wargaming ruleset that can handle early/mid Cold War equipment and formations.

The Eternal Death (And Life) Of The Tank

The year is 1916. Someone peers through his binoculars and sees an artillery shell smashing into one of these new tracked machines called “tanks”, destroying it. Shaking his head, he goes “These can’t amount to anything, they can be destroyed so easily.” (Even with modern tanks, if a big artillery shell hits it, it’s gonna hurt.)

The year is 2022. Someone looks on the internet and sees a drone launching a smart munition and destroying a tank. Shaking his head, he goes “these must be obsolete, they can be destroyed so easily.” Some things never change.

I could point to 1918 and heavy machine guns (really, the M2 Browning was considered a prime antitank gun at its introduction), 1944 and bazookas, 1973 and ATGMs, 1991 and laser-guided bombs, 2003 and smart cluster shells-you get the idea. Many others have said with far more knowledge and eloquence than me about the importance of armor, mobility, and firepower, regardless of its destructibility. So I’ll take another route.

Imagine something that is objectively less well armed and less armored than a tank. Now imagine that it, vulnerable to everything a tank is and so much more, is nonetheless not obsolete but remains totally indispensable. I’m talking of course about the classic basic box-APC, proof against small arms and some shrapnel. There’s a reason why Ukraine in the current war has been so eager to receive any kind of vehicle with an engine and armor plating, and why released footage of its current offensive in Kherson has shown them being put to good use.

There’s a reason why, especially on any kind of open terrain, armored forces are so much more accomplished than unarmored ones. And no amount of anti-tank gadgets can change that.

Review: Red Front

Red Front

The conventional Fuldapocalypse begins in earnest with Red Front, the second book in the Iron Crucible series. After the Yugoslav opening act in the previous entry , this follows the war everywhere from the Atlantic to… outer space. Author T. K Blackwood continues a solid Bond/Red Storm Rising style narrative in this installment.

This has the issues that a big perspective WWIII has, but it also has the strengths, and Blackwood succeeds in a genre that’s incredibly difficult to write well. The book ends on a cliffhanger, but it’s not an unsatsifying one. With a ton of varied battles in a type of novel that doesn’t come along very often, I can say that I highly recommend this to fans of the “conventional WW3” genre.

Weird Wargaming: The Axis Contraptions

After World War II, various veterans of the vanquished (to put it that way) offered to design and make various military platforms. Only a few actually entered production. Kurt Tank designed the HF-24 Marut and sputtered-out Pulqui jet fighters. An Italian submachine gun, the TZ-45, found its way into the Burmese Army. Most fell victim to the same culprits: A combination of Cold War military aid and cheap Allied surplus sweeping them aside, while not being high-performance enough to beat them that way.

Yet for alternate historians/wargamers/writers wanting to add various wunderwaffe to their scenarios, it’s not that implausible that a few could slip through here and there. They’d mostly be out of the way unless history moved to that region (for instance, the Willy Messerschmidt-designed HA-300 would undoubtedly see service in the Arab-Israeli Wars if it entered mass production.) But they could still be done.

What would be most interesting would be the really exotic and large Luft 46 aircraft and wunderpanzer tanks. Those would probably need veto-able foreign engines (or other less obvious components) and would be no picnic to design. But they would be the most fun to play.

Review: Africa Burning

Africa Burning

Back when I was young, I made a horrendously negative review of Gavin Parmar’s Africa Burning, talking about how little sense the tale of a giant army of T-90s and M113s (really) appearing in the Chadian desert to charge up into the modernized, reformed, opened Libya made. (Boy did that “prediction”, made pre-2011, about the direction of the country, age poorly).

Now, well, I have a soft spot for this amateur Ian Slater/technothriller/shoot the terrorist-wannabe novel. It reads like someone acting out their action hero fantasies after seeing and reading a lot of relevant fiction, and the earnest, genuine quality of it has made me smile. I may not recommend actually reading it, but at least I don’t have a bad feeling towards it anymore.

Weird Wargaming: The Abrams-SPH

The year is 1995. Faced with either leaping into the unknown with a clean-sheet system or plugging along with legacy platforms, several contributors to Armor Magazine decided to pursue a middle ground. In the November-December edition, they unveiled their contraption: An Abrams-chassis 52-caliber (same as the PzH2000 and Archer) self propelled howitzer with an autoloader and a whopping 80 rounds inside.

The M1-Arty, or AFAS/M1. Of note is the Archer-esque “backwards” layout of the main gun.

AFAS/M1 would fire 4 to 8 rounds in a Simultaneous Impact Mission (SIM) between 6-40 km. All rounds will impact within 4 seconds (first-to-last round). This requirement can be attained with an effective combination of a battle management system, fire control system, global positioning system (GPS) and an autoloader.-claim for its power from the article.

A resupply vehicle on the same chassis would also be designed. The AFAS/M1 had a target weight of 55 tons.

For all the unusual elements about its design, in practice this beast would have been deployed conventionally. In action, it would have served with heavy divisions/brigades in the usual format. It could be simmed by using the offensive stats of the PzH-2000. Yet it still stands out, in appearance if nothing else.

Review: The Russian Way of War

The Russian Way of War

One of the biggest surprises of the initial part of the 2022 Russo-Ukrainian War was that the former did not fight according to its paper doctrine. At all. Lester Grau and Charles Bartles The Russian Way of War is an excellent attempt at explaining said doctrine for a western audience. As anyone who’s studied them knows, they’ve left quite the paper trail. While sources like the VDV Textbooks Collection can provide them online in Russian fairly handily, this translates them to English.

And it translates them to English well. I have a few quibbles. The biggest is the authors taking an overly optimistic view of vehicle adoption, perhaps taking propaganda sources a little too much at face value. But the rest of it is well-done and evenhanded. The only real “problem” I’ve noticed is that I’ve read so many OPFOR documents that much of what they’re saying is already familiar.

But that’s a good “problem” to have, and I was still enlightened by this book. Every wargamer wanting to do missile-age combat involving the Soviets/Russians should read this.

Review: OPLAN Fulda

OPLAN Fulda

Time to return to this blog’s roots with intelligence veteran Leo Barron’s new OPLAN Fulda. It’s a 1989 conventional World War III novel. In other words, what this blog was made to cover. So how is it?

Well, it’s pretty obvious that this was written by a military intelligence veteran. One passage where a Soviet army commander muses on the two difference courses of action his subordinate division commanders have chosen for their attack is the most blatant, but the tone is clear throughout the whole book. This means there’s too little fog of war for my liking and a lot of Melville-esque passages (complete with footnotes in many cases).

There’s also the usual suspects. There’s the contrived excuse for a war, conference room scenes, and jumping viewpoints. However, and this is important to note, the execution of all this is not bad at all. In a hard genre to do right, Barron succeeds.

The action is good and appropriately messy. Nuclear weapons are not handwaved aside (and the escalation makes sense!). The focus is an intricate one on both the Americans and Soviets instead of swerving away to some British or Dutch unit elsewhere at the worst possible moment. Oh, and it gets the tank designations right.

Because of this, I’m delighted to recommend this book to all World War III enthusiasts. Stuff like this doesn’t come along too often. So when it does, I feel great in reviewing it. The best praise I can give this is that it’s helped inspire me to make a “big war thriller” for my next draft after two mostly nonviolent works.

Review: The Bear And The Dragon

The Bear And The Dragon

Tom Clancy’s The Bear and the Dragon is not just the greatest technothriller of all time, but also one of the greatest novels of all time. With its accuracy and evenhanded portrayal of various cultures, it transcends the shackles of genre fiction to create a new class of literature. Not since Vasily Grossman has a writer truly understood and shown the effects of war in its entirety-

-AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

-Just kidding, by all accounts it’s even worse than Executive Orders. April Fools!

Soviet-Romanian War: The Chronology

I finally have a set chronology for the course of the Soviet/Romanian alternate history war I keep posting about. And yes, I’m now running three WIP books simultaneously.

Using the classical best-case 60km a day (on average) rate of advance, the Soviets would cross Romania in a little more than a week. Under their 70-100km guidelines for weaker opponents (which it’d definitely qualify as), it would fall in 5 days (too optimistic)[1] However, the same sources drop their rate to 30 km in mountainous terrain, found in central Romania.

The Bulgarians take an outsize share of the casualties. In part, this is because of the difference in both skill and equipment (in 1989, the Bulgarians historically still had T-34s equipping their reserve formations!). It’s also because of them having to cross the Danube opposed, never an easy task.

Bucharest, with its population of 2 million people, is not initially stormed in full. Instead it’s surrounded, left for the Bulgarians to keep encircled, and squeezed while the rest of the country is overrun. In around two weeks at absolute most, it is.

In a nod to the Gulf War, BARCAPS are placed to keep the doomed RoAF from escaping to Yugoslavia…. but the majority of planes that make it across due so to Hungary, the longtime rival, instead.

The stumbling block I had because of how much it depends on the story is what would happen to Ceausescu. Whether he successfully escapes, tries and fails to escape, gets couped, or killed/captured by the Soviets (keeping in mind he’d be very old and was in terrible health already in 1989). Of course, now I’ve found a solution that I can work into the plot…

Regardless, it ends in considerably less time than the current Russo-Ukrainian War has already been going on for (which is why I feel comfortable posting this now.) Using MCOAT with variables and unit sizes that I feel are close enough, casualties amount to:

  • Union of Soviet Sovereign Republics: Circa 3,500 killed, 14,000 wounded to varying degrees.
  • Bulgaria: Circa 6,500 killed, 26,000 wounded
  • Afghanistan: Circa 640 killed, 2,900 wounded
  • Romania: Circa 47,000 killed, 131,000 wounded [around a quarter of forces deployed at least hurt!]

These calculations assume nine days of high-intensity combat. Bulgarians and the Basic Forces divisions would take a large share compared to Mobile Corps with better armor, equipment, and medicine.

The result is a regime installed made up of local collaborators and those with some ties to Romania. Occupation duty is largely left to the Bulgarians and Afghans. Although prewar Romanian doctrine called for guerilla fighting, there isn’t terribly much stomach for it from the apathetic, shell-shocked population. Much of Romania’s population flees during and after the war, primarily to Hungary and beyond.

And out of it emerges, among other things… a mystery. Or several mysteries….

[1]The coalition managed a rough 45 km a day in the Gulf War, against a weak opponent in open terrain, and 30 km in the conventional phase of the Iraq War, with a pause and while facing the rougher areas of Iraq itself.