Cold War blues...

This is actually a picture I took in Baghdad (2004), but it is too awesome not to use from time to time....
Long time, no post....  Well with School classes wrapping up, followed very closely by Annual Training, painting came to an abrupt standstill.  My schedule was fairly tight, which did not allow for much frivolity.  That said, I managed to get some 'light' kindle reading in.

First up was the final installment of Harvey Black's 1980's WWIII trilogy "The Blue Effect"

While not as meaty and technical as "Red Storm Rising" it makes for a good read of WWIII from the perspective of the British Army of the Rhine, including the oft neglected Danish front.  It is hard to do a good review without spoiling the book, so if you read Gen Sir John Hackett's The Third World War, you can probably guess the ending.  (Think Chieftain's without the downer ending.)  If you want a precis of the Trilogy:

The Red Effect:  Soviets decide its go-time in West Germany
The Black Effect:  Soviet advance begins to slow, time to Slime!
The Blue Effect:  NATO reals following Soviet Chemical strikes, and responds with the other "Special" munitions.

The trilogy taps into all the big items from NORTHAG/CENTAG planning including Atomic Demolition Mines, Soviet Air Assault/Airborne operations in the Division rear, Chemicals, Tactical Nukes.  It scratches the itch for stories of a time many of us remember more vividly than the current generations.

Speaking of which, I also picked up Robert Ratcliffe's Red Hammer 1994

This one attempts to paint a picture of an honest to goodness Nuclear War between the former USSR and the US in 1994.  It does an excellent job painting the picture of Nukes not as giant erasers, but as actual weapons systems including using Trident strikes to suppress Air Defenses to allow the B-1s, B-2s and B-52s to reach their targets.  It does a good jump of painting the actual picture of the danger presented by mobile launchers like the SS-24/SS-25, and he set it in a time period which conveniently allows him to ignore a major land battle in Europe.  (Only US C3I and Nuclear Assets in CONUS are targeted, Europe is spared)  It gets a little fanciful near the end, and the ending itself left me scratching my head, but it was $5 so no harm done.

The book seemed appropriate as I spent a good deal of my time at Fairchild AFB during my training.  My Dad was stationed there in the 80's and I have vivid memories of the B-52s parked near the Alert facility.   Today it is just a base for refueling aircraft, so it seems almost placid by comparison.  Being there had me reminiscing about the 80's and ,as I have often mentioned, I got my start in Wargaming playing a 'contemporary' microarmor game called Engage & Destroy.
Yes, that is a group of infantry w/ an M108 in the direct fire roll.  I would hate to be the guy in front of it.

I was a happy 4th grader playing with five other kids on a 5'x9' Table Tennis board covered in moss and foam hills we made with WD40 and matches (Where were our parents?)  I owned a grand total of 10 vehicles:  5 GHQ BRDM-1 w/Sagger and 5 GHQ Chieftain Mk 5.  Everything else was a small piece of paper with "T-10M" "XM-1" or "BTR-60PB" written on it.  One of my friend's Dad even made an awesome little look down periscope for checking line of site.  (Remember when that was a thing?)

As I grew older however, the problems with Modern wargaming became more pronounced.  The scale and complexity threatened to make it unplayable. I sold off most of my early collection, (ennui!) and moved on.

Then along came Modern Spearhead, and things took a turn.  Switching to platoon scale made the scaling of the games a little more realistic and they used simple orders systems to alleviate the 10,000 foot general problem.  Some simple rules for AA, Close-Air Support, Counter-Battery fires, Electronic Warfare, etc allowed me to play some interesting games.  I mostly stayed with the Arab-Israeli conflict, as the cold-war games seemed to grand.

And therein lies my problem.  I have an entire Soviet Tank Division painted for Spearhead.  (79th TD, part of 8th Army if you are interested)  I have never used them in full.  The problems always seem to be one of logistics and complexity.  (i.e. the problems with real modern warfare...)

The closest I ever came to it was a Brigade JANUS exercise I did with my Armor BN back in the early 2000's in preparation for an NTC rotation..  We actually planned to defeat a 'threat' attack (By that time, the cold war was long-over so we called Soviet tactics "Threat Doctrine") on prepared positions followed by a counter attack to disrupt them.   The scenario played out on a sand table, and then in a massive video game, and they we did it in the desert with real equipment.  I actually saw, and eliminated, the OPFORs Combat Recon Patrol (CSOP; 1 tank and 2 BMPs) punched through their flank and did some "speed power and shock effect" stuff in their Brigade Rear area.

That said, I have never seen what we did closely portrayed on a wargame table.  To turn this into a full-blown rant I have identified the primary challenges I see with modeling a cold-war gone hot on the operational scale (1 model = 1 platoon):

1.  Artillery.  The Soviets loved them some artillery.  If you are in a prepared position they intend to assault, be prepared for some love from the regimental and divisional artillery groups (RAG/DAG), probably some Corps and Army assets as well.  There will be rockets, big rounds and little rounds.  You may also expect gas (more on that later.)  You basically need some hand waving to keep the game from starting with 2 hours of dice rolling for the preparatory bombardment.  The turn length can also cause problems as too many games ask for pre-programmed fire when the game scale makes that nearly useless.

2.  Chemical Weapons.  Soviet doctrine called for the use of Non-persistent agents on the objective before the assault.  We took it serious enough that it was always part of training.  It is hard to find a way to reflect the degradation of capability as well as the chaos of fighting in Chemical Protective gear.  Again, some hand waving pregame to ID units that have been degraded/eliminated can be used.

3.  Threat doctrine.   I find this one hard to quantify some times other than to say, my opponents all seem to fight like Americans.  Modelling Recon led versus command driven armies is kind of hard.

4.  Reconnaissance.  This is one of the most neglected areas I have seen in all wargaming.  ACW players seem to focus on cavalry as shock troops rather than the eyes of the army.   Light cavalry is derided as weak, even though they are a critical piece to the shaping of the conflict itself.  In modern games, the BN scout platoons are often left out, or simply act as the sacrificial trigger line to let you know contact has been made.  The pre-battle dance of Recon and Counter-Recon is kind of important, but difficult to reflect properly.  Scouts fight with their radios first, weapons second.

5.  The Air Battle.  Hinds, Cobras, Close-Air Support, Shilkas, Strelas, Stingers, SA-6s, Patriots, Hawk, AA, ADA, CAP.  Anyone who's made an honest effort at playing the tabletop version of Harpoon can attest to the maddening array of systems designed to deliver death from the sky and to things in the sky.  (Even Tanks can fire main gun at a helo)  That and the concept that most the air battle is aimed at the deep zone behind the main battle line, makes it difficult to model properly.  Again, the affects of CAS seem better applied pre-game or as a programmed event.  ("your reserves were hit en route and arrive at only 60%)

6.  Logistics.  Fuel and Ammo need to flow.  That is hard to model.  Sometimes enemy units get in the back field, or enemy air does the same thing and you get in trouble.

7.  Mine fields.  Breaching an obstacle belt and taking the objective takes less than 30min in real life.  (1 turn in Spearhead) but will result in the significant degradation of your combat engineers (rarely modeled/used in modern games)  and the assaulting force.  Again, it almost begs for some hand waving in the operational level game.  Dropping scatter-able mines is hard to pull off without an Umpire. (especially if it is supposed to be unobserved fire.)

8.  The atomic battlefield.  As mentioned above, we tend to treat weapons as giant erasers, rather than the massive explosives they really represent.  In the 1in = 125m ground scale.  A 10kt tactical warhead would have a fireball 2.5in across and a blast radius 10-11" across for fortified units.  Depending on the weapon type the radiation effects will stretch about 20" across, but will not have a significant impact in the first 48 hours.  The real affect that has to be modeled is the need to disperse troops on both sides.  Massing forces to assemble an Operational Maneuver Group to exploit a breakthrough becomes very dicey.  Again, not a problem for skirmish level games, but at operational level games it puts the breaks on the joy wagon.

There are more to list, but that is enough for this evening's tirade.  I recognize that most of this does not matter a wit to 99% of modern wargamers, but it vexes me.  Oh how it vexes me....

On a lighter not I found this quote over on the ATOMIC ANNIHILATION blog that just made my day:

"In the color and font division of the propaganda war the Soviets had us beat hands down.  'That's straight tens for the Russians on modernist, negative space usage. Bad news for the Americans who seem to be stuck in colloquial realism. Boy,that's gotta hurt!'"


  1. Great read thankyou. I really enjoyed Harvey Blacks trilogy. Red Strom rising is also one of my favourite's, will now give red hammer a look.

  2. Thought provoking! I think you have posited the foundation for a set of modern warfare rules, no?

  3. Sign me up for a copy of those rules when they're finished, provided they do go too modern :-)


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