Weird Wargaming: The Red October

Yesterday I placed a formal Command database request for a hypothetical Soviet submarine. But this wasn’t something like say, a Yankee Notch with conventional missiles. No, this was of a famous literary submarine. The titular undersea ship in The Hunt For Red October. And it made me think of more than just wargame stats.

First, the boring stuff. The Red October in the book isn’t just a re-engined Typhoon. It’s bigger, and has 26 tubes for SS-N-20 missiles instead of the twenty in the original. Weirdly, and this is actually a kind of accidental serendipity, it has only four torpedo tubes compared to the six in real Typhoons. This is probably just getting the not-yet-confirmed details wrong (a sillier example is the even-then biased Clancy portraying the Typhoon as a cramped mess when in fact it famously boasts a gym, arcade, and small swimming pool). But it makes to give up some low-priority torpedo tubes to help make room for the caterpillar drive.

Ah yes, the caterpillar drive. For the database request-in game, I wanted to go the simple route. While in the book it has a combination of the quiet caterpillar-impeller drive and louder normal propellers, I think doing complex mechanics changes for one whimsical hypothetical unit would not be a good cost-benefit. So my suggestion in the real request was just to treat the sub overall as very quiet (at the level of a post-1991 SSBN with advanced propulsion) and leave it at that.

But what got me thinking, especially with full post-USSR hindsight, was how a sub of that nature could be used. Now ballistic missile subs do not have the most complicated or versatile mission structure. But the question (regardless of what the book would say) whether it’d just be used as a more defensible bastion sub or dare to venture out to its quietness would make for interesting study/simulation.

Finally, a part of me views the sub as being something like the ill-fated Komsomolets: A capable and advanced vessel, but one that’s still ultimately a test-bed with additional members of the class unlikely to be built. Especially because the base Typhoon is so big and bulky already.

The Similarities Of Two Seemingly Different Activities

What I like about my favorite simulation games is that you can set up a situation and see how it plays out. Sometimes it’s an obvious situation, and sometimes you legitimately don’t know. Sometimes it’s legitimately relevant to contemporary issues, and sometimes it’s a total gonzo fantasy. I did think that writing fiction was different-until I actually wrote multiple books.

In the spectrum of “write completely as you go along” to “meticulous plotting”, I’m somewhere in between. I do make outlines and character lists, as much as so that I don’t forget them as for any other reason. But my final products have frequently either diverged from the outline or incorporated something not in them. Reminiscing on that has made think “a-ha, so it really isn’t that different from a sim.”

It involves me setting up a situation (which is to say the basic plot and main characters). Then it involves me seeing how that situation plays out over the course of me writing and editing it. It is fascinating to look back on my completed books and see how their development unfolded.

The Minimum Viable Tank

M4 Shermans and T-34s saw service in many armies and many conflicts long after World War II. Their use after the Korean War and the export wave of Pattons/T-54s/Centurions has been interesting to me. It represents something that I’d call, for lack of a better word, the Minimum Viable Tank. Which is to say that against any other tank or any substantial anti-tank weapon, they’re hopelessly outclassed.

Yet they still can and still could do “tank things”. They have armor, they can move fast, and they can make things go boom. Thus the weird wargamer in me wants to go “just what can these minimum viable tanks accomplish?” And in many real cases, the answer has been “a lot”.

What adds to their appeal is that they were not found in the superpower armies directly. The US quickly ditched its remaining Shermans after Korea, and T-34s did not endure that long even in the lowest-category units once a glut of hand-me-down postwar tanks became available. But they were shipped abroad, and they did fight, meaning their presence likely indicates an obscure area.

New Command scen for testing: Sneaky Sneaky

I got back into making Command: Modern Operations content with another draft scenario that I’ve called Sneaky Sneaky. It’s in an alternate historical setting where a “Walkerist” rogue state survived in Central America. Now they have to try and slip a few improvised mini-subs past the Royal Navy to Belize. Much inspirational thanks goes to the Covert Shores website for its great work on analyzing such submarines.

The scenario can be tried out here.

Review: How To Make War

How To Make War

Written by acclaimed and prolific wargame designer James Dunnigan, How To Make War is an impressive one-volume entry on both the basics of military operations and wargaming them. It’s not an easy feat to stuff so much into one book, but he manages it. Every facet of post-WW2 warfare is covered inside, along with simple but generally effective formulas for determining a unit’s “combat power” and stuff like average attrition in personnel and equipment.

Some of the “flaws” are clearly not his fault. For instance, it’s not his fault that (like most aficionados, to say nothing of actual veterans) I already knew most of what he was saying in his basic description of various unit types. It’s also not his fault that some of the book is dated (the latest edition was made in 2003). I’ll even excuse its frequent yet understandable bias, which is exactly what you’d expect from an old western Cold Warrior.

The biggest drawback that I’m not so willing to let slide is how its two central parts don’t really gel. It’s trying to both teach someone to walk (ie, the intro to all parts of the military) and run a marathon (do calculations for exact combat power). It just feels a little awkward to have “here’s the basic differences between infantry-heavy and tank-heavy formations” and “here’s how to calculate the combat power of a Syrian armored division” close to each other in the same book.

Still, this is a very good and very convenient resource for people wanting to learn more about missile-age warfare and/or wargaming. For fictional country simulations/story concepts, I’m already finding his formulas very useful for translating an order of battle into a general feel of its relative strength (which is the most important part). While some specialists may already know its material, you still can’t go wrong with getting this book.

Weird Wargaming: The “Pharaonic” Division

One of the gems in the Micromark Army List order of battle sets is the “WW2.5” hypothetical set. In an alternate victorious Germany, it’s kind of a way to do a battle with all sorts of never-were prototypes and units from Allies and Axis. However, the organizational structure remains largely the same as historically-with one strange exception.

This is the “Pharaonic” Division, adopted by Egypt as part of returning to its ancient roots (yes, this is an excuse plot). And it’s interesting. At division level, it’s very conventional (three brigades, one armored and two infantry), and at brigade level mostly so (two “hosts”/subunits of either tanks or infantry).

However, the regimental (or “host“, as it’s called) level is extremely different. Like the infamous pentomic formations, it has five companies and skips the battalion level. Line platoons consist of five ten-man squads. Artillery battalions consist of five batteries of five guns each.

Tanks do not follow the rule-of-five and instead use a more conventional 4-3 model (4 tanks in a platoon/troop and 3 of those in a company/squadron). However, tank squadrons have an organic pentomic mechanized infantry troop. Although they’re not in the OOB document, I can see hypothetical independent armored formations intended for attachment to infantry units being organized in the “5 subunits” way to make attachment and organization easier. It’s worth nothing that the self-propelled guns used primarily for infantry support/defense are arranged this way.

The original pharaonic division was only covered in mechanized form, but its principles mean it can easily be adopted to other types of units. For instance, I can easily make a triangular pharaonic division with either three or six infantry hosts (depending on if you want a brigade level or not) and the usual support elements.

Weird Wargaming: The Victorious Third Reich

One of the most interesting gaps in alternate history fiction is the seeming lack of a Larry Bond-style serious look at a conflict involving a victorious Nazi Germany. Now, nearly all of this is because most scenarios involving it are “soft” AH made by and for people with less knowledge or concern about rivet-counting plausibility. This isn’t a critique of their quality, it’s just pointing out what’s involved. A semi-hard look at what this would entail can be interesting, and I have some thoughts.

First, the formations are almost certainly going to be outgrowths of early-war organizations. It’s basically impossible for the Germans to win with too late a point of divergence, and there’ll be the “why fix what isn’t broken” mindset. This means things like no gimmick units like the Volksgrenadiers, and large divisions with lots of equipment at full paper strength. It does mean a weird parallel with historical postwar divisions, but then again-that’s how it goes.

Second, it will be dominated by the Wehrmacht. Historically, the SS gained comparative prominence because of the Wehrmacht/Heer supposedly being to blame for losing the war and the plots (ie July 20) that originated within the regular army. This would not be the case here. The most likely fate for the SS is to get purged in Long Knives Part 2 and possibly get supplanted by yet another edgelord alphabet soup organization.

But for the sake of weird wargaming, I’ve warmed to the idea of them using captured/foreign designs and factories to equip their army, potentially rearming them with German calibers-or not. This happened in Marching Through Georgia of all books, with clunkily upgunned KV tanks. While there it was to provide a punching bag for the Mary Sues, it’s still an interesting possibility. And it fits with the theme. Historically, the reason for all the infamous “Foreign Legions” was to get access to a manpower source the main army couldn’t touch, and ramshackle improvisations are closer to what the bulk of the SS truly was than the stereotype of hundreds of shiny cat-tanks. (This stereotype is reinforced by the fact that the western allies largely fought only the legitimately capable and well-equipped SS units, not the Dirlewanger-style garbage ones better at massacres than fighting opponents who shot back)

Third, factionalism was built into the system. The Heer, the SS, the Luftwaffe paratrooper and “field divisions”, the Volkssturm being in large part Martin Bormann’s attempt to get an “army” for himself, and no doubt more examples all speaks to this. One effect of this will be a lot of duplicative units, as everyone wants their share of the pie.

Another is that a nation with all the factionalism but without the existential threat might very well see its qualitative edge wane dramatically. It could be reminiscent of the South Vietnamese military. A politically charged, scheming, cutthroat army whose units are wildly, willdy uneven, ranging from ultra-competent to utterly ineffectual. Everything from case studies of such armies to anecdotal evidence from both Vietnam and contemporary Afghanistan points to this being the defining feature of over-politicized armies more than complete ineptitude, along with a good or bad high-level commander having more of an effect on low-level performance than they likely would in a less politicized one.

The result would be something distinct from both real postwar and real wartime armies. Its opponents would range from the Western Allies shielded by water, the remnants of the USSR shielded by the Urals, the occupants of territory it’d further expand into-or Japan after a likely falling out and power struggle over spheres of influence.

Weird Wargaming: The Ambitious Special Operations of WWIII

This Weird Wargaming has the original intent of Fuldapocalypse meeting what the blog has gained a focus on-largely conventional World War IIIs mixed with elite small unit actions. I got the inspiration for this from a question of “what would the Army Rangers be doing in a conventional WW3?” Whatever the skill, level, troops like them are just far too light for the Centfront and would get bulldozed and/or bypassed. My initial thought was that they’d just get sent over to Norway with all of the other light infantry.

This was a very timid use of them (and other special forces), and the responses got my eyes lighting up. One was “Delta hunting the rail-mobile command center of GSFG, with the Rangers adding extra muscle.” To me it would be a ultra high-risk operation with an iffy reward, but hey, what else would you use them for?

Something like that would be a blast to sim, even if it’d have to use a different ruleset than the usual large-unit Fuldapocalyptic reenactments. While I have the same apprehension that it would turn into another Kidnapped with a scenario the mechanics aren’t meant to handle if you used a “hard” system, good design on either end would make it excellent. And if you used a “soft” system, well, stuff like this is what action heroes are made for.