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.

The Soviet Pentomic Division

In the late 1950s, the United States adopted the ill-fated Pentomic Division layout of organization for its army. While going through declassified CIA documents, I found that (assuming the CIA document is accurate, the necessary caveat) around the same time, the Soviets were seriously considering adopting a similar model with a similar justification. The document in question is here.

Here’s the important picture. The proposed “Soviet-Pentomic” structure is on the left.sovietpentomic

The big thing that makes the two similar is skipping conventional battalions in favor of regiments/”Battle groups” with a large number of companies in them. I thought it interesting at any rate, a minor footnote in organizational history.

 

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.

Post-Soviet Snags

I like obscure conflicts in Command, even hypothetical ones.

However, there’s one (not insurmountable, but still present) issue I’ve fond with would-be post Soviet conflicts. The issue comes from the Soviet-era force structures. In many ex-bloc states, a conflict in the scenario editor ends up in an unequal squash. Surplus aircraft with little standoff capability go against top-of-the-line air defenses designed to stop the USAF.

Thankfully, there are workarounds. Plot ones like saying the missiles aren’t totally deployed, in-game ones using WRA and proficiency changes to make the SAMs less effective, or, in the case of large countries, taking place in an area where the best defenses wouldn’t be stationed anyway.