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.

Review: The Iraqi Army

The Iraqi Army: Organization and Tactics

The NTC special text dubbed “The Iraqi Army: Organization and Tactics” is a valiant attempt at quickly trying to adapt to a different enemy. While the Iraqis used lots of Soviet equipment, their actual doctrine was more British-based on paper and often varied from both (usually for the worse). Just all on its own, it’s a fairly conventional and standard OPFOR document. But I find the context incredibly fascinating.

Like in Lester Grau’s much later The Russian Way of War, a tightrope had to be walked between the observed performance and the theoretical doctrine. Given the latter country’s vast paper trail and its known obsession with quantifying everything, separating the two was/is an easy task. As is/was noticing when theory inevitably diverged from practice, from Grozny to Hostomel.

Here, not so much. The Iraqi Army was notoriously slapdash, so the challenge was even greater. One example I like is that an Iraq War wargame supplement even told the player not to try and use any kind of standardized formation for them at all (!). On the more important doctrine, it acknowledges the flaws shown in the war with Iran, but cautiously and wisely goes with what can be paraphrased as “This may have been an aberration, treat them as a mechanized force worthy of their equipment”. That in many cases they turned out not to be showed the importance of assuming strength rather than weakness.

As a primary source, this is a very interesting snapshot. Plus it’s in the public domain and available readily now.

A Thousand Words: Streets of SimCity

Streets of SimCity

When I was young, one of my favorite games to play was Streets of SimCity, a car action game that could take place in actual SimCity 2000 maps. Unfortunately, my frustrations with it were there even then. And now? Looking back without rose-tinted glasses, I can say: It sucks.

Here’s the first thing that illustrates why it sucks: You have no turrets and have to turn your entire car to aim like it’s some kind of wheeled StuG. Second thing. You can’t run anyone over. Because Maxis didn’t want to be too violent, Sims are just these weird bald sprites that you can’t really interact with (a contrast to SimCopter, where you can land on or push people out of your helicopter). Even the story hedges, with you being a stunt driver and all the action taking place in-universe on shows-within-a-game.

That it’s a blatant ripoff of the far better Interstate 76 is another blow against it. Combine this with terrible performance and worse physics, and you get a spinoff that spins off the road.

Review: Blue Masquerade

Blue Masquerade

T. K. Blackwood’s Blue Masquerade is a treat I knew I had to read. First, it’s one of those beasts that are as rare as left-handed baseball catchers or male calico cats-the conventional World War III novel that takes place as an alternate history after the Vietnam War. That its premise involves two of my personal tropes I wish got used more often made it even more appealing.

The first premise is that instead of the USSR backsliding after a successful August Coup or something like it, it reforms enough to avert such a thing. This happens here. Don’t expect to see MiG 1.42s or robot-turret supertanks here-it’s just the classic tanks and BTRs/BMPs. Still, it’s heartening to see this gimmick after wanting to for so long. The second is Yugoslavia, the tinderbox of Europe, being the catalyst for the war. This is a lot more plausible than some other World War III novels you may have heard about.

As for the substance of the book, I would call it a “51% World War III big war thriller”. It gets enough of the basics right and never comes across as truly “bad” in any way. That being said, I have seen everything it does being done better in other books. However, I’ll adjust for context, since this subgenre is extremely hard to do well. In that case, a 51% book is quite the accomplishment, like a baseball pitcher having a positive win-loss record while playing for an otherwise bad team.

If you like alternate history, conventional World War IIIs, or both, check this out. For another opinion, see Alexander Wallace at Sea Lion Press.

Weird Wargaming: The Soviet-Romanian War

If you want to use small-unit wargames in my never-was draft percolating of a futuristic USSR deciding to finish off a surviving Ceausescu, some basic guidelines. Obviously, it’ll depend on the exact ruleset, but here’s the basics:

Union of Soviet Sovereign Republics

The USSR, under a Sovereign Union that in real life got scuttled by the August Coup, follows the 1990s GENFORCE “Mobile Forces” concept. Which is to say a multi-tier force. The “Basic Forces” divisions resemble slightly better late Cold War ones. The Mobile Forces ones have more futuristic equipment, better body armor/night vision, and substantially better training.

Mobile Forces battalions are organically combined arms mixed. APCs/IFVs are three to a platoon with each squad having a magazine LMG and rocket launcher. Company weapons platoons have lighter ATGMs and belt/tripod GPMGs. All Mobile Forces mechanized battalions have a large number of organic 2S31s (or Nonas for less-equipped formations).

Given the terrain, mountain formations have been plucked and sent in. GENFORCE mountain brigades are a four-infantry-one-tank battalion setup with supporting equipment suited for high altitudes (ie, lighter and higher-angle artillery). They also have a separate APC battalion that can be used to motorize if the terrain is appropriate. The one historical Soviet mountain brigade was inherited by Kyrgyzstan and consisted of two BMP and two soft-skin battalions with some attached cavalry and pack animal units.

Soviet Allies

The main contributors to the Soviet effort are Bulgaria and the stabilized Afghanistan. The former mobilizes to its full ability, which means it runs the gauntlet from “1980s NSWP” to “T-34s and World War I heavy artillery” (hey, if it can shoot and make a big explosion, it’s still worth something). The latter contribute a fairly standard BTR-equipped motor rifle division and numerous commando units.

Romania

Romania has a regular army with a degree of military modernization that it lacked. While select units have SRBMs based on foreign civilian sounding rockets, bespoke grenade launchers, and more (comparably) advanced tanks like the bizarrely shaped TAA, others are bottom of the barrel. All units should be mostly low quality, but some (particularly Securitat irregulars) will have better morale than others if applicable.

Organizationally, most should resemble lower-tier eastern forces.