Review: White Horizon

White Horizon

TK Blackwood’s 1990s continued Cold War gone conventionally hot series continues in White Horizon, an excellent installment. The Fuldapocalypse not only continues apace but features the powerful but often overlooked country of Sweden as a major setting. Featuring everything that has made the past installments so good, this was a joy to read.

The only real “problem” was teasing a successor. But that’s a good problem to have. This shows that the “cold war gone conventionally hot” subgenre still has quite a bit of life in it.

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 The company weapons platoon has an array of light ATGMs (marked as Metis, but those would probably be superseded) and PKM belt-fed machine guns.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“.

A Thousand Words: Armoured Commander II

Armoured Commander II

Surrounded by all kinds of danger, a threat can come out of nowhere and kill you. This describes war, but it also describes roguelikes, the kind of deliberately unfair randomized video games that have occupied a niche for decades. Naturally, someone had the great idea to combine them. The result was the Armoured Commander series, with the second installment being the subject of this review.

You are a tank in World War II. You can command just about any kind of tank in any campaign at any point during the war. Try and survive in a world of ASCII graphics and constant threats. The deliberately ultra-retro UI gives the game a bit of a learning curve, but I didn’t consider it too hard. A more intentional “issue” is that you get what you want. I learned the hard way that a Renault FT means you’re slow, you’re weak, you’re inaccurate, and the commander has to do a ridiculous amount of multitasking.

This is an excellent game for anyone who likes roguelikes and/or tanks.

Review: World War III 1987

World War III 1987 Blog

Now that the main war has finished, I feel comfortable reviewing the World War III 1987 blog. Now, I must admit that I’m benefiting a lot from the context I’ve learned since I’ve started Fuldapocalypse. Part of it is that there are too few 198X Cold War Hot works of fiction instead of the too many. But another part of it is that web serials (which this ultimately is) and traditional books are apples and oranges. Or, to be more accurate, the relationship between them is like that between baseball and cricket, boxing and mixed martial arts, or rugby and American football. All involve hitting a ball with a bat/pileups of burly players/beating one’s opponent up, but anyone with knowledge of both would admit to big differences and often a lack of overlap.

Likewise, writing a book and writing a serial both involve creative writing, but they also have different priorities and require different skillsets to really excel at. And I can say that as a serial, the WWIII87 blog succeeded very. The first thing a serial needs to do-and I mean needs, is be punctual with updates. While there were understandable human slip ups, the update schedule was nonetheless brisk.

The update schedule was good, and so was the content of said updates. I could quibble with a lot of things, but I don’t really have the heart to go “no, the combat power of that division was (X) instead of (Y)” or nitpick minor technical details or circumstances. There are just too many soft factors and confounds in a hypothetical Fuldapocalypse to really call any one outcome plausible, especially given the unlikeliness of a sustained conventional conflict (Cold War era field manuals from both sides are very clear-a third world war is likely to start off conventionally, but highly unlikely to end that way). Let me just say I’ve read substantially worse and leave it at that.

I do have to take issue with the plotnukes, which do the Hackett style of “trade two cities” (Madrid and Gorky/Nizhny Novgorod), and which serve as a Deus ex Atomo at the end. Though even there there isn’t a real good way to do them. I think the least contrived option, which I really haven’t much of in other fiction is to have them deployed tactically against field formations but not strategically against targets in cities or deep beyond the front (kind of like a local version of Arc Light’s skewed extreme counterforce strikes to make a large exchange survivable). Like faster than light travel in science fiction, you just have to try and stay consistent and run with it. And I’ll admit the nuclear ride, when the story goes there, is a little bumpy to me. There’s also a little too much focus, IMO, on detailed actions in the peripheral theaters, which made the pace on the truly important Centfront somewhat slower than I would have liked.

That being said, this is a good effort and my hat’s off to the writer. My personal journey since starting Fuldapocalypse and reading so many books has broadened my mind, and the serial has progressed throughout this blog’s existence. Congratulations and good work!

Mobile Corps Artillery

Indirect fire assets available to a GENFORCE mobile corps. As expected, they have a lot of them. The basic forces are largely equipped and organized with 1990-era Soviet equipment.

Battalion

Combined arms battalions have a…. something of 24 2S31 120mm gun-mortars at paper strengths. Why the “something”? It’s because it’s called a battalion in the document, but feels a little awkward to have a battalion under the command of a battalion. It’s just as confusing in Russian, where it’s a variant of the word “division” equivalent to a western battalion of artillery or missiles-yet a different variant of “division” is a classical multi-regiment/brigade division. Anyway, the battalion’s battalion/division-whatever takes the place of the classic regimental 2S1 formation.

The other indirect-capable (if clumsy) asset is the four 2A45 Sprut 125mm AT guns in the battalion’s anti-tank battery. While the USSR used towed anti-tank guns in the classic TD role throughout its existence, it also used everything for indirect fire. Although firing tank ammunition and only having a max elevation of 25 degrees, a big cannon is a big cannon is a big cannon.

Light motor rifle battalions used for infantry-dominant areas and heliborne operations have 8 towed 82mm 2B14 mortars and just as many 2B16 Nona-K 120mm towed gun/mortars.

Brigade

Intended to be treated similarly the Basic Forces division, combined arms brigades have an organic artillery regiment. This consists of 54 six-inch SPHs (the 2S19 Msta is the default) and 18 light multiple rocket launchers (the default is the “Prima”, a version of the BM-21 with 50 tubes per truck instead of 40). The artillery regiment has its own set of organic spotter drones.

Light motor rifle brigades, which are used for a similar role as the battalions mentioned above, only larger, have 18 MRLs, 36 towed 2A65 Msta-Bs, and 18 2A61 light 152mms (Think a smaller, lighter 152mm gun with muzzle brake on a three-pronged D-30 carriage).

Corps

The combined arms corps has two missile brigades with eighteen surface-to-surface missile TELs each (Tochka/SS-21 in the document, but anything in that category could be used). It also has a multiple rocket launcher brigade with 72 medium MRLs (default is BM-27, but again, anything in that ballpark). Rounding it out is an artillery brigade of Giatsints- 48 towed and 48 self-propelled.

The corps air assault battalion has eight 2S9 Nonas.

Front/Strategic Grouping

Fronts will have brigades/regiments, usually lumped into one administrative artillery division of the weapons mentioned above and 2S7 eight-inch SPHs. They will also usually have a rocket brigade of the 9A52/BM-30 Smerch or something similar (bigger than a BM-27, that’s for sure), as well as longer-ranged ballistic and cruise missiles.

The guns and multiple rocket launchers are almost always pushed down to army and corps-level artillery groups in battle.

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 ww2.dk 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.

The Armored Group

Looking at the 1990s OPFOR documents, a “new” (well, newer in a formal sense) type of formation arises: The “armored group” (bronegruppa). It’s important to note the history of Soviet-style doctrine beforehand. The stereotype, often true, is of formations operating as entire units for a certain task. Thus a formation (generally a company as the smallest) will as an entire unit operate as one arm of an attack or another. In defense one formation will sit and fire behind fortifications while another will act as the counterattack/reserve.

The armored group is ad hoc by nature. Formed with a number of armored vehicles usually equivalent to slightly more than a platoon (although GENFORCE-Mobile mentions ones slightly smaller than a company if the parent unit is big enough to handle it), the key is the following:

  • The tanks operate away from their parent unit.
  • More crucially and importantly, the IFVs operate “empty”, with their infantry having already dismounted.

The use of an armored group depends on the situation, of course. Examples given in the GENFORCE-Mobile and Heavy OPFOR Tactical documents are:

  • Sweeping around to hit the side while the dismounted infantry and main force attacks from a different axis.
  • Serving as the base of fire while the dismounted infantry and supporting arms do the sweep.
  • Acting as a reserve/pursuit force, especially one that can quickly roar in and (however temporarily) block off a route from a retreating foe.
  • Acting as a counterattack force on the defensive.

The armored group’s origins come from the Soviet war in Afghanistan, where such formations were used in an irregular, nonlinear, frequently rough-terrain war.

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.

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.