Reading Red Army

So I read Ralph Peters’ Red Army, one of the fewer classic World War III novels I hadn’t read yet. A part of me doesn’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth. This is better-written than many of its contemporaries and well-intended. It isn’t just the grit of the battles that works, but how Peters, unlike so many other writers in the genre, goes light on the technical terminology. It still has a little too much viewpoint-hopping, but flows well. In that, I’m reminded of Team Yankee doing a similar thing, and both books are good “counters” to each other[1].

However, I still have some criticism. A lot of the characterization is done through telling and not showing, and while the viewpoint hopping is smoothed over, it still exists. Also, I think the two main parts of the book are at cross-purposes. The intent is to tell a ground-eye-view story that humanizes the Soviets and a cautionary tale of how NATO could lose. They don’t quite gel, and a lot of the high-level viewpoint characters are infodumpers that make it a little ham-fisted.

The last major comment I have is that the book has a lot of its power lost when read by a history enthusiast several decades later. All the “classics” have this issue too, and it’s not the fault of their writers. But the big “punch” of this is a softball to someone who already knew about the issues that plagued NATO for its entire Cold War existence that the book brings up.

But this is still a worthy Cold War Hot novel that any enthusiast should pick up. I still recommend it.

[1]IE, two good but fundamentally different Cold War novels, idealized American vs. ideal Soviet, star-spangled spectacular American win vs. gritty Soviet win. The readable but horribly erratic Chieftains (let’s say I’ll just be talking more about that book later) can’t quite serve as Coyle’s foil. This can.

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My Favorite Weird Ugly Tank

One of my favorite looking tanks is the infamous M60A2 “Starship”.

m60a2starship

The tank itself had a deservedly short and unglorious career. Its 152mm gun-missile system and electronics were, er, less-than-ideal, and after only a few years most were either converted back to conventional 105mm M60s or support vehicles, where they served well. But its unique turret just looks fascinating to me. It’s ugly. But that’s part of the charm.

The July 20 Plot

Today is the 74th anniversary of the nearly-successful attempt to kill Hitler.

A lot of alternate history in popular imagination tends to focus too much on “For Want of a Nail” style events. Those have existed, but the July 20 Plot was not one of them overall. The conspirators were not Adenauer-ian liberals, but nationalists who the Allies would never have negotiated with. Moreover, the plan was extremely unlikely to succeed in gaining control of the government even if Hitler had died-the result would probably have been either Goering or, if he had died or been ousted in the chaos, some military junta ruling Germany for the last year of war.  Likely, very little would have changed.

The (intended) use of postwar heavy tanks

While many designs and prototypes of larger-than-normal tanks were made, the only American heavy tank to reach a degree of production was the M103. Even then, the Marines were more enthusiastic about it than the Army.

But the army had worked heavy tanks into their doctrine. And they were primarily tank destroyers. Not completely, like the purpose-built TDs of WWII, but organized very similarly.

According to the 1949/1951 edition of FM 17-33, when heavy tanks were “brewing”:

“The missions of the heavy tank battalion are:
a. To provide antitank protection, in both offense and defense, against enemy tanks.
b. To support the advance of the medium tank and armored infantry battalions.
c. To perform, in addition, the missions normally assigned to the medium tank battalion.”

Note the prioritization. Paragraph 254 is even more explict and similar to the initial wartime tank destroyer doctrine.

“The heavy tank battalion of the armored division normally will be given an antitank mission in both the mobile and sustained defense. When attached to the combat commands or the reserve command, the battalion, or its companies, usually will be held in reserve, ready to move out to meet any enemy threat, especially by tanks superior in capabilities to the medium tank.”

Now, other roles for the heavy tank, including the breakthrough/support role its eastern counterparts were primarily envisioned for (and which it was designed to stop) were mentioned, this was not inflexible. But the focus was on the anti-tank role.

The AH conundrum-Solved?

A long time ago, I made a post wondering why there was so little “middle-tier” alternate history. Why was there so little alternate history that wasn’t either blatant or technical. There was a discussion to this end on Sea Lion Press some time ago, and (at least partially) from seeing and participating in that, I had an “ah-hah!” moment that might help explain the reason why.

The reason is simple: What would be “middle-tier” alternate history isn’t sold as or even considered alternate history most of the time. Using a ridiculously expansive definition, anything that isn’t an explicit reenactment/retelling of a historical event can be considered “alternate history”. A fictional city? Alternate history. A fictional political leader? Alternate history. A never-was weapon or car being used because the author liked it? Alternate history.

Even in lesser cases, where there’s a clear timeline divergence, it could be considered alternate history, but isn’t. For instance, since the timeline diverged in the 1980s with the arrival of Scion, Worm could be considered alternate history.

The sad truth (for alternate history fans) is that there isn’t much gain in labeling something alternate history. It’s known, but it’s known as a genre where the divergence is clear and blatant. For a more mainstream audience, it’s been shown that it’s better off being labeled as just what its genre is-a thriller, a mystery, or whatever it might be.

Tanks vs. Aircraft

Prior to the introduction of “smart” weapons, attacking tanks directly with aircraft was, in purely materialistic terms, incredibly difficult and certainly inefficient.

While pilots claimed massive numbers of tank kills, careful examination when the dust settled revealed a different story. In WWII, it was 5-8%, depending on how you fiddle with statistics. By Korea, the 100% confirmed aircraft kills of tanks had risen only modestly, to 12%. Granted, this is a slight lowball figure because a lot of the “unknown” losses were to aircraft napalm. If every single “unknown cause” loss turned out to be due to aircraft, it would rise to 40%, but this is doubtful, and the modest point still stands.

As this video shows, attacking and disrupting the soft-skinned support elements was something air power at the time was far better equipped to handle.

One thing I’m legitimately curious about (and haven’t read that much on, hence my curiosity) is the height to which “dumb” (albeit ballistic computer-assisted) rockets and bombs could reach with postwar technology.