Wunderlogistik

Sometimes, the hallmark of a truly bad setting is it making the heroes weak or their enemies strong, often inadvertedly. So, revisiting an old “classic”, I found it was even worst in that regard than I previously knew.

I knew TBO was a bad setting. I knew it gave the Germans ridiculous logistics.

But still…

  • Advance to the Don and Volga Rivers to the point where they serve as the frontlines while the Soviets/Russians are still actively resisting.
  • Stay there in the wake of the Russo-American armies for 4-5 years.
  • Keep their warlord states in South Russia going for close to a decade after Germany proper is nuked, and they have to be pushed out of them.

Yeesh. For a series intended to debunk the Wehraboo Wunderwaffe, this doesn’t look so good. But somehow it got even worse.

  • Pull off a Crimea-style amphibious sneak attack to quickly occupy Britain.
  • Keep mobile forces running around as fire brigades to shore up the undermanned line for those 4-5 years. And do so effectively, without the counters the Allies historically developed.
  • Inflict 1.3 million combat deaths on the Americans alone without suffering similarly monstrous losses.
  • Finally, when they do flee into the Middle East, serve as the only viable force of the strawman Muslim superstate that can do anything except riot and rant.

There’s a backwards reason here, and it’s to make the story possible at all. The initial forum post that led to it (a kind of ‘strategic decision game’) described it as follows.

“How is this for a strategic scenario?

We’re in 1947, the US has successfully tested a nuclear device (and managed to keep a lid on it). They’ve built up an arsenal of around 60 devices, all Mark 1s of average 10 kiloton yield (up a bit, down a bit, things weren’t terribly precise back then). They have a production rate of around one Mark 1s per month with a single 15 kiloton Model 1561 every four month. Coming up is the 25 kiloton Mark 3 (one a month from mid-1947) and the 50 kiloton mark 4 (one a week from the start of 1948 ) . This is a somewhat faster production rate and reflects an acceptance of wartime engineering standarsd rather than peacetime. It means the devices shorter lives. By the way, Super (fusion device) is on the way.

Bomber force will be 500 B-36s, all jet equipped (the B-36s have priority for jets precisely because of the nuclear device). B-29s are there but mostly face the Pacific.

In Europe, the Germans occupy from the Urals to the Pyranees and from the UK to North Africa. They range into but do not hold the Sahara. In the east they have a hell of a partisan warfare problem in the occupied territories. That requires a major force commitment. Western Europe is relatively peaceful. Spain is doing a balancing act – pro-German enough not to be invaded by Germany, not pro German enough to be pounded by the US.

At sea, the Germans aren’t so lucky. The US Navy and what’s left of the RN have swept the seas of the German fleet. The Atlantic is a US lake. The US carriers are pounding the Western edges and there isn’t much the Germans can do about it. Of their submarines, only the Type XXIs can do anything useful and they are hunted mercilessly. The older subs have an at-sea lifetime of hours rather than days. There are no transatlantic convoys to sop up Allied resources so everything goes into an attack fleet.

In the air the German jets had a temporary transcendence in 1944/45 but thats fading fast. The P-80 and the new Grumman F9F are marginally inferior to the latest German jets but they are enormously greater in numbers. Both the allies and the Germans have a problem; there isn’t enough jet fuel. This forces them to keep piston engined fighters in the inventory (historically correct by the way – that problem took until the late 1950s to solve – know you know why the ANG kept Mustangs so long). The US carriers are running in, grabbing local air superiority, smashing targets and the defenses then pulling back out to sea before the germans can concentrate to match them. The areas the Germans stripped to do that then get hit by another carrier raid. The Germans know the B-36 is coming and are trying to do something about it but they have problems. Their older piston-engined fighters are useless; they can’t get up high enough and fast enough to intercept. They have specialized high altitude piston engined fighters but they are too lightly armed and the performance differential is too low. The jets have a better chance but they have problems all of their own. Oddly the German plane that is best suited to a B-36 interceptor is the He-219. It has the speed, altitude, firepower and endurance to be a threat. The Germans are building them again (despite its shortcomings) and they have replaced most of the older twin engined fighters. They’re taking a beating from the carriers though.

The Germans have spotted something else. A stripped recon version of the B-36, the RB-36 has been making runs all over Germany. They’ve tried to intercept and failed. Whatever’s going to happen is about to start. They’ve heard a codeword but don’t know what it means. That codeword is “Dropshot”.

Hows that for a base. If we can all live with that strategic situation, we’ll go ahead and plan a nuclear war.”

So, it was trying to ram a square ‘plausible’ scen into a round ‘pure hypothetical exercise’ hole. The result was-well, that. But that still doesn’t explain why Stuart insisted on the warlord states holding out.

Or the way they’re described in TBO itself, which seems to me like layering stuff from the real war on without thinking of the ramifications. The story lists fuel shortages, the same turf wars that hurt German production, the loss of so many pilots that the Germans were forced to stuff kids into He-162s like in the real 1945, to the point where a 21-year-old is one of the oldest members of his unit (TBO, page 11)-and yet, because the story calls for them to hold the line until the super-bombers break the stalemate, they somehow hold the line.

As for the postwar divergences, well, the Middle Eastern ones can be sadly explained as not wanting to give any credit to Muslims.

This sort of ‘analysis’ is why I bizarrely like reading bad fiction.

Command Fiction: Two Hypothetical Units In One

This Command Fiction takes a look at two hypothetical units operating together.

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Operation Central Latitude

The life of a surveillance aircraft navigator was almost always boring. Today promised to be an exception in that the abnormally clear weather promised to rename the entire reach of land from Luanda to Kikwit “Paveway-ville”. So, they were going to be doing some real BDA, and, if the CAPS and SEAD forces hadn’t done their job right, going to be facing a few of the Angolan flankers.

So, after the first group of fighters departed MOB Alfa in the South Atlantic, Argus One did so as well. As her pilot steered the Aurora upwards, Capt. Nancy Le recalled what she was actually doing…

FLYING A MACH 5 PLANE OFF A MILE-LONG SHIP!

Yes, her sister was far and away the wealthier of the two. But did she ever FLY A MACH 5 PLANE OFF A MILE-LONG SHIP?

_ _ _ _ _

In-game, the hypothetical SR-72 Aurora can fly off Mobile Offshore Bases. The obsessive statistician in me envisioned a detachment traveling with each and every mixed tactical wing to serve as their recon assets.

Command Fiction: Fisherman’s Knowledge

This vignette is based on the latest preliminary release in the Northern Fury series. In it, you command an improvised naval flotilla assembled by a crafty Soviet division commander for a hop across the Trondheimsfjorden.

I immediately thought of a background that could give the commander the knowledge to raise the flotilla successfully. The player, controlling one of the division’s regimental leaders, is not so gifted, as evidenced by this line in the introduction

“You can barely hold back a retch at the stink emanating from one of these dilapidated old working boats.”

_  _ _  _ _ _ _

March 9, 1994, near Leksvik, Norway.

Anton Mikhailovich Yatchenko never thought he’d be glad to sense the smell of fishing boats again as he hurried south for one more furtive inspection.

It was either join or spend my whole life being a fisherman like my father and grandfather and great-grandfather. And now I’m back to square one. Oh well.

The ad-hoc multi-service force was poised to try something really, really crazy. Yatchenko in his heart did not expect himself or anyone else in his force to survive it. Much less the infantrymen in the lead regiment, and for the lead battalion-that was a horror of its own.

But the major general wasn’t going to try something he knew wholeheartedly couldn’t work. Having seen and crewed fishing boats like the ones in his new flotilla, he felt there was a chance they might-might be useful for an amphibious assault.

“We have nothing to lose. Either we take Trondheim and run low on supplies or run out of supplies without taking Trondheim-do not make this a Gallipoli and lose your nerve.”

Speaking with the unlucky regimental commander who was picked for the first wave, Yatchenko noticed him suppressing a gag as he passed near a fishing boat.

“And-uh, make sure the troops in the fishing boats can handle the conditions. I don’t want them collapsing from er-seasickness- before they hit the beach.”

Even in the darkening skies, Yatchenko could see his subordinate blushing slightly.

_ _ _ _ _

The scenario, Northern Fury 12.1, Something’s Fishy, can be found here. I was hesitant to include the ranks because I wasn’t sure of them-I think it’s major general and colonel, but don’t know enough about Soviet/Russian ranks to be sure.

Command Fiction: Out With A Whimper

Intro:

This Command Fiction vignette is based on my scenario Chilean Chevauchee. It’s deliberately intended as a basic, extremely easy scenario with little opposition. Most notably, it would also have been the last hurrah of the battleship Almirante Latorre.

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You could say that the last South American battleship went out with a bang, as the gun crews of the Latorre definitely did not lack for work during the brief bombardment. You could also say that the last South American battleship went out with a whimper.

All that it faced were a pair of armed tugboats and an artillery position that it handily outranged. This was no Warspite at Jutland.

But it did its job, arriving with a show of force and convincing the Peruvians to back down. Intended deliberately to be a game-changing shock, it succeeded. Perhaps the last such shock, as aircraft weapons grew better and the old battlewagons became harder and harder to run.

Command Fiction: Democratic War Theory

Intro:

For whatever reason, a Command scenario that has stayed in my imagination long after I released it was Regaining Honor. Perhaps it’s the unconventional drone gameplay or something else. While its description of the state of the Yemeni armed forces has turned out to be the exact opposite of what happened in real life, the circumstances-similar to real life but also different, have gripped me.

So I’m writing this “Command Fiction”, describing the aftermath of a scenario. There will be more of this, from multiple perspectives.

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June 12, 2015.

The irony of it all. A Middle Eastern nation with little history of anything but authoritarianism holds a democratic election and hands over power. Under most circumstances, it would be cheerful.

Not today.

On April 2, routine drone operations turned into the largest aerial combat losses for the United States since the Vietnam War. Four American fighters, including two of the previously unbeaten F-15s, fell. In return, they shot down at least seventeen Yemeni planes. The regional buildup has accelerated, and now a fleet of warships sits off the coast, backed by hundreds of land-based aircraft everywhere from Jordan to Djibouti.

All against a military that, even before the loss of half its air force, was hideously weak even by regional standards. But every American from President Winslow down to the lowest-ranked enlisted knows that striking first after the event would be politically suicidal. Even the initial sweep and cruise missile strike (apparent an awkward enactment of a CENTCOM contingency plan for the loss of a crewed aircraft over Yemen) was considered by many domestic and international observers as overreacting.

An immediate snap election was called. The ruling YPP won 79 out of 141 seats in the Yemeni national parliament, allowing it to (theoretically) form a cohesive leadership without the awkward dealings and rumblings that characterized the past two years of civilian rule. No one believes its large victory to be the result of anything but fear and a desire for some kind of stability.

The YPP’s coalition partners accepted the defeat (at least for the time) and the new single-party cabinet was sworn in on June 10.

Unresolved issues include POW Jim Butterfield, an F-15 pilot captured during the air battle (Two were killed and a third was safely rescued).

The elected, civilian government chose to shoot down the drones as a political move-an irony that, for the claims of “democratic peace theory”, it proved more belligerent than its authoritarian predecessors.

Whatever, markets have jittered and oil prices spiked since the start of the crisis. While Yemen has little interdiction capability and the American buildup would make any attempt near-impossible, the instability is bringing fear. If Winslow hoped that a large buildup would reassure financial leaders, he is mistaken.

An exercise in excessive force

So, when repeatedly flipping through the Command scenario generator, I discovered the “South American Tuna Wars”. Reading more about it, my interest was raised.

(Long story short-Peru and Ecuador were seizing American tuna boats for unauthorized fishing in what was to become their Exclusive Economic Zones. In real life, the issue never progressed beyond small, often lifted sanctions before the US accepted the EEZ concept in the 1980s ).

It wasn’t making a scenario based on it (which would probably be either a nonviolent enforcement exercise in all plausibility) that held the most appeal to me. No, it was thinking of the concept for a deployment based on the notion that the two nations were preparing to sucker punch the Yanqui ships at any minute, and thus they needed a massive guardian force to counter that.

For basic screening, a few light warships, with endurance and then speed being the chief factors, would have done the trick. However, given their opposition in the early 1960s time frame, the following assesment was done by me.

  • Peru possessed a pair of cruisers. Therefore, a similar, if not bigger ship was necessary to counter them on the American side. For one editor experiment, I used a hypothetical surviving Alaska class, and for another, a conventional 8-inch CA.
  • Peru also possesses submarines, requiring ASW forces to have a surer counter. In an extreme case, American submarines themselves could be deployed.
  • Both countries have air forces, and therefore some defense beyond just increasingly ineffective AAA is necessary. A SAM warship, still fledgling even at this point, is a possibility.
  • Of course, there’s one ship that can do both ASW and air screening. Yep, they’re going to send in a carrier. Along with its immediate escorts, since what if they launched an attack on it?
  • And of course, the logistics vessels to support this armada.

And all for some tuna fish. This is a goofy exercise, but this take no chances and do nothing by halves attitude is a real one in real crises, and illustrates the reason for lopsided expenditures and deployments.

 

The Saga of the Escort Cruiser

This all started off with me seeing a database entry in Command, and ended with me understanding a fascinating process of evolution in naval history. The British “Escort Cruiser”, beginning as a supplement to its large carriers, ended up replacing them.

(The most invaluable sources on these never-were ships were DK Brown’s Rebuilding the Royal Navy and Norman Friedmans British Cruisers, Two World Wars and After)

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the escort cruiser concept was conceived of as a way to increase the ASW power of a carrier task force, leave space on the deck for strike aircraft by putting the helicopters on a separate ship, serve as a potential independent force for the RN’s defensive ASW mission (extra-crucially after the large carriers were cancelled), and in desperation, be a staging ship for helicopter landings. Thus they were to be helicopter carriers with a SAM armament.

Early designs were called cruisers but had the size and would-be construction standards of a large destroyer.

(early escort cruiser, source shiplover on ShipBucket )

Later they grew bigger, to become “proper” cruisers.

(late escort cruiser, source shiplover on ShipBucket )

This design was not unprecedented. Similar ships with a similar role can be found in the Italian helicopter cruisers and the Soviet Moskva .

Due to the “issues” in the postwar British economy and military system, the escort cruisers were never built. The story might have ended there, except the still-larger proposals turned into the  actually-built Invincible-class .

HMS Invincible turned into an impromptu American-style power projecting carrier for the Falklands, and the rest is history. Now to describe my own experience

When I first saw the escort cruisers in the Command Cold War Database, it was an early build, the game didn’t have the marked “Hypothetical Unit” symbol it now does, and so all I was looking at was a cruiser I couldn’t find a name for, with a strange missile-only armament and helicopter deck. (At the time I didn’t even know the Italian or Soviet counterpart).

While looking around on ShipBucket and Alternatehistory.com, I found the escort cruisers with the hull numbers the DB entries matched. Then I, interested, looked up their history (and saw some discrepancies with their in-game portrayals that I noted in the CWDB thread, backed up with sources as is proper procedure).

It’s extremely fascinating to look at such a clear evolutionary process, from drawing to drawing to actual ship.

Desert Shield Simulations

Last year, I did a three part series of posts on Baloogan Campaign detailing a big what-if that many alternate history scholars have speculated-if Iraq had been more proactive in the 1991 Gulf War, how damaging would it have been to the US-led coalition?

Now I’ve decided to link back to them, seeing another “WI greater Iraq competence” thread on alternatehistory.com (where I cited the simulation posts).

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3/Conclusion

 

The Fall of the Technothriller

I have recently read an extraordinarily good article detailing the ascent and descent of the military technothriller.

The article touches on many of the influences on the genre and speculates that the fall of the USSR was a gigantic blow to it. I agree, but think that they’re neglecting to mention what I consider my own theory for the fall of the story-that, as I said in my review of the prototypical example of the genre, the very ubiquity of high technology in warfare made it lose almost all of its novelty value. There’s also the substantial changes to the publishing business as a whole that are not mentioned, although out of fairness, that’s a totally different subject than what the author wanted to talk about.

Another feeling I have is that technothrillers may have simply burned themselves out. Reading multiple Dale Brown books, where the setups get increasingly ridiculous but the structural flaws mentioned in the article are never countered, gives me that feeling.

This might just be my contrarian attitude, but for all that I’ve enjoyed some of the classic technothrillers, the decline in the genre has not exactly been one that I’ve shed the most tears over.

Kind of like adventure games.

Jutland 100-The Rules of The Game

On the 100th anniversary of Jutland, World War I’s largest naval battle, I should talk about one of the longest and most influential books I’ve read, which happens to feature the battle considerably. That book is Andrew Gordon’s The Rules of The Game.

It was one of the first real deep, scholarly military history books I obtained. The book, which I saw as incredible upon my first, long-ago readings of it, has faded somewhat. In terms of describing the battle itself and the history of the Royal Navy, it’s still amazing.

But in terms of analyzing the history, it falls short.

The book describes not just the fleets, but also the personalities. The reader hears about John Jellicoe, the cautious yet respected commander of the Grand Fleet and David Beatty, the brash, ambitious, not-so-respected battlecruiser commander. Another far more unknown but pivotal figure is Hugh Evan-Thomas, an organization man put in charge of the four most modern Queen Elizabeth battleships of the fleet.

Gordon covers the battle until the moment where Evan-Thomas continues to sail towards the German fleet because he did not receive a signal, and then shifts to the 19th century, from the development of steam engines, increased signalling, the romanticization of central control, and the effort by George Tryon to reform it, cut short by his death in the HMS Victoria disaster.

After going up to World War I proper, it returns to May 31st, 1916, and ends with the post-engagement (and postwar) recriminations. The attention to detail Gordon has is incredible. So why have I (slightly) soured on it?

The answer can be summarized in one sentence. It’s too Pentagon Reformer.

  • Gordon shows a fatalistic view of communications technology, stating that it will always be pushed past its limits. While true, this is a glass-half-empty view of it, the reverse being that said limits themselves keep expanding.
  • The love of the “dashing maverick” hurts his view. Gordon seems to be reluctant to acknowledge the big picture-that fleet engagements were a luxury compared to the blockade, and that said blockade worked-the RN knew how to do it, and did it well. While he acknowledges it, it seems to be with gritted teeth.
  • Said “dashing maverick” also makes him one of a very few historians who hold David Beatty highly. What it amounts to is “Well, yes, Beatty was an egomaniac, yes he botched his deployment so that his best ships were in the back, with fatal consequences, yes he failed to do his job as a high-end scout, but hey, he understood initiative more than Jellicoe. This isn’t convincing.

 

Finally, the biggest problem with analysis (as opposed to presentation), is that it’s working off a sample size of one. This is not Gordon’s fault, this was the nature of WWI at sea. But even the most experienced forces can stumble, and so making a grand narrative of decline based on one single incident, no matter how big, is flawed. If the British had declined from Nelsonic initiative to centralization and then smashed the German fleet anyway, a hypothetical Andrew Gordon’s account would sound less like a chronicle of decline and more like the Reformer post-Gulf War “But you didn’t hit any Scud launchers” sour grapes screeds.

If the reader can keep these caveats in mind, The Rules of The Game is still a fantastic book.