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.


How I became a German Army Skeptic

There are a handful of books and sites that kept me from ever experiencing the kind of feeling of excessively hyping the World War II German military.

The first was Christoper Wilbeck’s Sledgehammers. Now, granted, that book has a massive flaw in that its author takes “questionable” claimed kill ratios at face value far too much, but it nonetheless sincerely tried to find the flaws in the Tiger and did not hesitate to point out lost battles. It got me on the right foot.

The second was Spacebattles and the very informed, very unbiased members of its “War Room” subforum. This was where I learned, among other things, about one of the biggest weaknesses of the German military-strategic intelligence. (Normandy is the most famous example, but I cannot emphasize enough how their blunders there were in the tide-turning 1942-3 period on the Eastern Front).

The third was simply the context that I grew up in. I was free of the “baggage” that dominated the debate and discussion of past decades. I was born long after the period where everyone from scholars like van Creveld and Dupuy to popular historians like Max Hastings put forth a near-consensus that the Wehrmacht was an absolute master of war that lost only due to superior Allied resources and Hitler’s antics. There are also some minor things-I didn’t play that many, if any, WWII video games, be they poppish or wargames. I was too busy in Advance Wars and the postwar Steel Panthers. (So I didn’t see that many of the low-end “why no my krupstall block the sherman shell” ‘Wehraboos’ that fill every WWII game forum with complaints that their wunderpanzers lost)

Then there’s more modern historians like Sovietologist David Glantz and Robert Citino, the latter of whom has specialized in the study of the German military in ways that contradict a lot of the 70s-80s theorizing. I proudly have books by both of them on my shelf.

The Wail Rid I Row Project

So, now I have time to put together something that I’ve wanted to do for a while. Namely, start up an anthology of World War III fiction. The details can be viewed on my secondary blog devoted specifically to it, the Wail Rid I Row Project.

(Wail Rid I Row is an anagram of World War III.)

This is a passion project, everything will be free. I’ve been too critical for my own good-I want to help make fiction, not destroy it. I have modest expectations, but you never know.

Operational Map Games

I’ve been entertaining a few operational “map exercises”. Some are “semi-real” and others completely fictional.

One, which I like because it’s the most readily translatable to Command scenarios features a deep intervention of the XVIII Airborne Corps (or a differently-named formation designed to evoke it) against the fictional “Turkic Republic”, an amalgamated Central Asian opponent.

Which Turkic Republic it is-the strong power or the weak wreck, depends on the kind of scenario I want to make.


The TO&E Paradox

Here’s one of the most interesting paradoxes.

-The TO&E of a unit tells a lot about what the unit is, what it’s capable of, and what it does.

-Any unit that has been in the field for even a slight amount of time will NOT be matching its on-paper TO&E. So, if a unit’s paper strength is 51 tanks and 173 APCs, even a bit of experience in the “rough” will reduce that, if only to mechanical breakdowns. So it’s one of those “use a bit of common sense” deals.

A Big Post on Military Fiction

I’ve wanted to write this post in some form or another for a while. Getting the tone right was going to be important. I now feel I’m comfortable enough to try. Because I found two “a-ha!” moments where I could finally say clearly what I’d been thinking in vaguer terms.

The First Moment

So, wargames and military fiction have been linked together for quite a while. After all, it was the original Harpoon tabletop version where the naval action in Red Storm Rising was famously gamed out. I’d known this for a while, but the connection just emerged to me. It was reading the detailed orders of battle.

I’ve made my previous opinions on wargaming a battle pretty clear. It can be a good help, but deserves to be used in moderation, not taken too literally. My previous concern was that a wargamed-out battle would appear too robotic, but I was thinking too narrow.

Basically, there’s a common complaint about “wannabe movie director” video game developers. One of the most frequently spoken is Hideo Kojima, but he’s far from the only one. Trying to make a game cinematic is not a bad thing by itself[1], and Metal Gear Solid at least deserves some credit for refining, if not inventing, the detailed game experience. (I specifically mentioned the first game, before the series just got really, really weird).

So thus came the writing, and I thought that a similar case applied here. Some of the crunchier military fiction writers never quite got out of the wargamer’s mindset. This is not a bad thing, it’s just a way of approaching things. It’s just my personal tastes lay in a different, strange direction.

This sort of thing-big, deep OOBs, possibly wargamed out directly, is fascinating because while I’d look down on it from a literary perspective, if it was in Command, Steel Panthers, or another proper wargame, with all the research and detail incorporated in to the scenario, I’d actually jump at the chance to play it. Let me put it this way:

If the author plans “Ok, the _______ Infantry Division of reservists dug in near __________ is going to encounter the ____________ Tank Division, earmarked by the army commander as an operational maneuver group, and conducting an exploitation mission. The tank division has, out of a sense of either overconfidence or believing it to be part of their mission, chosen to slam into the formation instead of trying to pin or move around it”, it’s probably going to come across differently than if they plan it as “The protagonist is in his rapidly dug trench when suddenly he hears and sees a large group of tanks and IFVs heading his way.” This is not a knock at the hypothetical author, nor is it a claim to be “bad” beyond my opinion-it’s just understandably different, even if subconsciously so. (My biggest complaint is that the fog of war is often, perhaps accidentally, lifted if the author knows exactly what’s there on both sides)

I’m forgiving of a lot of authors. I’d understand if a wargamer writing narrative fiction earnestly and sincerely went with what they were comfortable with. I’m trying hard to move away from the sneering critic I fear I once was[2]. You have to start somewhere. It’s just that what works in one situation doesn’t necessarily work in another, especially if the work isn’t just a “pseudo-history” with no pretensions of being anything else.

And just as how the film influence is present in (too?) many video games, the wargame influence is present in a lot of the military stories I’ve read. For better and worse. I’d say that the “better” part means that the stories are often more grounded than the superweapon gizmos of authors like Dale Brown and Clive Cussler, something even I can appreciate.

[1]I think that the more focused, cinematic world of Fallout: NV done by the story-focused Obsidian works better than the gameplay/exploration one of Fallout 3 done by the sandbox-focused Bethesda, to give a non-military example.

[2]Another reason why is that I tend to look to the fringes, and better-done stories in the genre paradoxically tend to blur into being good time-passers. Worse ones tend to stand out, and I don’t want to pigeonhole an entire genre based on even accidental selection (imagine if you took the films covered by Mystery Science Theater 3000 and did serious cinema analysis for an analogy of how you could skew that). So I’m less judgemental overall, which doesn’t stop me from noticing common trends or slamming/writing Bad Fiction Spotlights of individual works. I just don’t want to write off an entire genre.

The Second Moment

The second moment when my opinion finally was realized happened when I saw how the genre used the same kind of plot device as one that would be in what I’d think was the total opposite-romance.

If lots of detail alone was the deal-breaker, the kind of thing that made me go “ick”, then pseudo-historical timelines would have been the worst. But instead I find them more tolerable on average. It was something innocent and well-intentioned. Basically, at the heart of crunchy war stories lies a similar plot device as at the heart of—romance stories. And this isn’t something along the lines of “they romanticize war”, it’s a direct analogy.

The issue is one of connection with the audience. After all, it’s easier to identify with a plain-Jane without too much in the way of income than it is with a stunning tigress who drives a Rolls-Royce. It’s an anchor that adds to the fantasy, keeping it grounded even when the rest of the story is implausible, often to ridiculous extents. Likewise, the detail and weird semi-realism, by having the tanks be in the right place, in the right units, working the right way, is the anchor that keeps it grounded, even when the rest of the story is implausible.

This is not a bad thing in the slightest. Detail and realism are good things to strive for, as is making a character more grounded, relatable, and struggling. Yes, they can be, and are often distorted or taken to excess. But it can be done well, and even when it isn’t, it’s generally done sincerely and earnestly rather than cynically.

The Third World War

Now for what was originally going to be the entire focus of what became this post[1]. World War III fiction. This takes the form of a concluding list rather than the main body. I decided to move away from it because I felt I was cherry-picking. So I’ll try to be broader. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the genre, and nothing completely stopping it from being done well. But I do think it’s harder to do well.

The first is that there’s precedents from the pioneers, the likes of Clancy and Bond, that have gotten used and followed in ways that have been ultimately distortionary and negative. However, I think there’s more to it, and that the kind of story that became what comes to mind when I think “WW3 story” is tough (at least by my probably too-high standards) to do right.

Tough enough that even Clancy and Bond fell short. Let’s start with my favorite gripe. You have a lot of viewpoint characters, so they’re tougher to balance in ways that ensure they don’t dilute into blandness or disrupt the narrative too much. Then you have to balance detail and plot in a way that you don’t have to worry about as much in either a straight pseudohistory or less “crunchy” narrative. Then you have to worry about stuff like how it started and how it stayed (most of the time) largely conventional. It’s a tough balancing act, and I can see why many WW3 tales fall short (which is not the same as them being worthless or not enjoyable). But I would never tell anyone “Don’t Try”. By all means, go ahead-I’ve been pleasantly surprised before.


This is something I’ve wanted to write for a while. Now it’s out there.

[1]This was going to be a series of posts, then a possible ebook, then I decided to make it the big blog post you see here.



No Appeal: Special Forces

Ok, some topics don’t appeal to me. This is a matter of personal taste, but still. I might as well give my opinion. I’ll start with the first, and one of the largest. Special Forces.

There’s multiple reasons why I dislike (and wouldn’t routinely use, at least for a main character) the trope of “special forces” or “elite warriors”. One of the biggest is a knowledge of the very real limitations of real special forces, the very different roles employed from the fantasy, the very different basic definitions of the term across different countries and times, and how all of them (in a setting with some degree of realism, at least), differ dramatically from the common fantasy. So that’s one piece of the pie.

But the second has nothing to do with practicality. It just feels off to have someone start the story at the top of the heap. It takes away from the sense of development and heroism, and (especially if used in a fictional fantastical role rather than a more plausibly limited one) smacks of wish fulfillment. It just seems better to have someone ordinary doing something extraordinary than someone extraordinary doing something ordinary-for them.