Operation Causeway

Operation Causeway was a proposed plan by the US military in World War II to land on Taiwan. It would have been a massive high risk, high cost, and high reward operation. In actual history, Causeway was shelved in favor of landing in Luzon.

The initial landing sites for Causeway would be in the south.

The Causeway documents are useful not just as an alternate historical reference, but also as a general guide to what a large amphibious invasion of Taiwan would entail (something that, for some mysterious reason, has remained relevant postwar).

Review: In The Balance

Worldwar: In The Balance

In 1994, Harry Turtledove decided to run with what can rationally and scientifically be called one of the most awesome fictional concepts ever: Aliens invade during World War II. The opening book, In The Balance, starts things off with a bang.

A group of lizard-aliens known only as “The Race” with juuust the right amount of technological balancing to make for a great story attack a humanity that’s stronger and more advanced than anticipated. While the issues Turtledove has with long series (pacing, repetition, etc…) appear even during this book, they’re not deal-breakers. And the weaknesses are more than made up for by the amazing first impression the book makes.

If you like alternate history, science fiction, World War II, or just strange concepts in general, this is worth checking out.

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: Parting Shot

Parting Shot

Written by nuclear expert James Kunetka, Parting Shot promised a more grounded, realistic look at the infamous “The Germans have a nuclear bomb” World War II alternate history. When I saw the Sea Lion Press review, I knew I had to get it. So I did.

It’s indeed the most plausible “WWII German nukes” AH out there. In fact, it’s arguably too much so. This is a rare example of the kind of book that’s possibly too realistic for its own good. The Germans go with a gun-type device, because that’s the easiest to build. Although that arguably just shifts the bottleneck from the physics package itself to uranium enrichment-it’s why I’m certain that’s the reason the Iraqis went with a more complex but less U235-hungry implosion design. But then again, having a cheap thriller drag you into plausibility arguments isn’t the best itself.

And make no mistake-the final fight leaves no doubt that this is intended as a thriller. Only the contrivances of that (and other scenes) mixed with the intent to be more realistic leads to an awkward stumble. The very nature of a program that wasn’t even close becoming unrealistically successful is jarring in and of itself. And even the bomb proper didn’t really work for me, being a cheap thriller cliche just short of “HITLER LIVED!”

Finally, the structure of the book works against it being a good thriller. Having stuff told in the past tense and jumping between past and (then) present takes away a lot of the drama. This is still an ambitious book, but it kind of falls apart from that very quality. If it’s too realistic for its own good, it’s also too scattered.

Review: Hitler’s Last Levy

Hitler’s Last Levy

Hans Kissell was chief of operations for the German “Volkssturm” (lit. “People’s Storm”), the infamous last-ditch militia created at the end of World War II. In Hitler’s Last Levy, published in German in the 1960s and translated decades later, he told their story. It’s an interesting look at a horrific footnote.

The Volkssturm was both a desperation formation and Martin Bormann’s attempt at making his own pet army (like the SS was for Himmler or the Luftwaffe ground formations were for Goering). Kissell goes into detail and includes a massive amount of direct primary sources. While this is a work by a German WWII commander, its subject matter makes it at least a little better than the usual “we fought in our unstoppable kitty-tanks until we ran out of ammunition and fought totally cleanly” memoirs. It’s impossible to portray the ragged old men as some kind of super-army, and they had far less opportunity to commit war crimes simply because by that point they were losing. And Kissell doesn’t hesitate to point to their (many) weaknesses.

Because of this, and because of the wealth of primary sources and details (for instance, describing how on paper, some Volkstturm battalions had an organic battery of captured anti-tank guns), I recommend this for anyone wanting to know about them or similar emergency territorial formations. Yes, it’s dated and slanted. But it’s not nearly as bad in those regards as you might think.

A Thousand Words: Valkyrie

Valkyrie

2008’s Valkyrie stars Tom Cruise and depicts the July 20 Plot that tried and failed to kill Hitler. An unusual historical movie for Hollywood, it has both the strengths and weaknesses of a lavish production aimed at a big audience. The strengths are obvious-great production values. The visual style is excellent, and the John Ottman score is nothing short of amazing.

However, it also, in the interest of audience morality, sugar-coats and oversimplifies the plotters. The movie does do a decent job in showing how unlikely it was for the Valkyrie conspirators to actually gain control of the government even if Hitler and his inner circle were killed off. However, it does not dwell on how the actual plotters ranged from “ok, at least a little better than Hitler, but that’s definitely not saying much” to “Really bad, including Einsatzgruppen commanders and mass POW-killers”. It also does not bring up that the Allies would never have accepted the terms the plotters wanted to offer, and would have just viewed it as infighting among thugs. While understandable, this is still a missed opportunity for complexity in addition to an inaccuracy.

Leaving factual issues aside, the acting is a mixed bag. Cruise himself is quite wooden, but a lot of the supporting cast does well. Tom Wilkinson does a great job as the weaselly General Fromm in my favorite role. An underrated performance is David Bamber as Hitler. Not only does he come across as appropriately menacing, but he’s menacing in a soft-spoken way that’s quite different from the usual (including Downfall) bombastic Hitler.

For all its issues, Valkyrie is still worth a watch, especially if you don’t mind historical inaccuracy.

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.