If there is a heaven just for game designers, it has a new archangel. John Hill, best known for designing the groundbreaking board wargame Squad Leader, passed away on January 12. He was inducted into The Game Manufacturers Association’s Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design Hall of Fame in 1978; Squad Leader was inducted into the HoF in 2004.
His many boardgame designs include Jerusalem (1975), Battle for Hue (1973), Battle for Stalingrad (1980) and Tank Leader (1986 and 1987), but John was always a miniatures gamer at heart, and anyone who ever got to play a game on his magnificent game table considered themselves lucky. Squad Leader was originally intended to be a set of miniatures rules, but the publisher, Avalon Hill, asked him to convert it to a cardboard-counters boardgame design. His Civil War miniatures rules Johnny Reb were considered so significant that even Fire & Movement magazine, which primarily covered boardgames, published a major article on the JR system. Most recently John designed Across A Deadly Field, a set of big-battle Civil War rules, for Osprey. He completed additional books in the series for Osprey that have not yet been published.
January 26, 2015
Austin Bay looks at the risky but rewarding path of aggression and propaganda undertaken by Vladimir Putin:
Russian president Vladimir Putin made dangerous history in 2014. His invasion of Crimea and subsequent annexation of the peninsula shredded the diplomatic agreements stabilizing post-Cold War Eastern Europe.
Then Putin ignited a low-level war in Eastern Ukraine. Despite a September 2014 ceasefire agreement, Putin’s overt covert war-making continues in Eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin has concluded that Western leaders, European and American, are weak and indecisive.
Putin, unfortunately, knows how to use specific tactics in operations designed to achieve his strategic goals.
Military analysts typically recognize three levels of conflict: the tactical, the operational and the strategic. The categories are general, and distinctions often arguable. Firing an infantry weapon, however, is a basic tactical action. Assassinating Austrian royalty with a revolver is a tactical action, but one that in 1914 had strategic effect (global war). U. S. Grant’s Vicksburg campaign (1862-63) consisted of several Union military operations around Vicksburg (many unsuccessful). The campaign’s concluding operation, besieging Vicksburg, was an operational victory that gave the Union a strategic military and economic advantage: control of the Mississippi.
Putin’s Kremlin uses propaganda operations to blur its responsibility for tactical attacks in Ukraine. International propaganda frustrates Western media scrutiny of Russia’s calculated tactical combat action. Local propaganda targets Eastern Ukraine. Earlier this month, Ukrainian journalist Roman Cheremsky told Radio Free Europe that despite suffering criminal bullying by pro-Russian fighters, Kremlin “disinformation” is convincing Eastern Ukraine’s Russian speakers that Ukrainian forces are “bloodthirsty thugs.”
Oil’s price plunge, however, has also slammed Putin, threatening the genius with political and economic problems that, if prices remain low, could erode his personal political power. Energy revenue declines do far more damage to Putin than the economic sanctions Western governments have imposed.
So what’s a brilliant, innovative, thoroughly unscrupulous and utterly amoral strategist to do?
According to the AP, this week (Jan. 20), Iran and Russia signed “an agreement to expand military cooperation.” Iran and Russia are old antagonists, but given current circumstances vis a vis the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, Tehran and Moscow may be following an old Machiavellian adage: “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The deal includes counter-terror cooperation, military training and “enabling each country’s navy to use the other’s ports more frequently.”
For years Iran has sought Russian air defense weapons, presumably to thwart a U.S. strike on its nuclear facilities. However, the agreement’s naval port clause attracts my interest. About a third of the globe’s exported oil moves on tankers through the Persian Gulf’s Indian Ocean outlet, the Strait of Hormuz. To spike oil prices, Iran often threatens to close Hormuz. If Iran actually tried to shut the Strait, Western nations have assured Gulf Arab oil producers that they will respond militarily.
January 24, 2015
But looking back I can say that, all unwittingly, Kabul and the army were right to regard Elphy’s arrival as an incident of the greatest significance. It opened a chapter: it was a prelude to events that rang round the world. Elphy, ably assisted by McNaghten, was about to reach the peak of his career; he was going to produce the most shameful, ridiculous disaster in British military history.
No doubt Thomas Hughes would find it significant that in such a disaster I would emerge with fame, honour, and distinction — all quite unworthily acquired. But you, having followed my progress so far, won’t be surprised at all.
Let me say that when I talk of disasters I speak with authority. I have served at Balaclava, Cawnpore, and Little Big Horn. Name the biggest born fools who wore uniform in the nineteenth century — Cardigan, Sale, Custer, Raglan, Lucan — I knew them all. Think of all the conceivable misfortunes that can arise from combinations of folly, cowardice, and sheer bad luck, and I’ll give you chapter and verse. But I still state unhesitatingly, that for pure, vacillating stupidity, for superb incompetence to command, for ignorance combined with bad judgement — in short, for the true talent for catastrophe — Elphy Bey stood alone. Others abide our question, but Elphy outshines them all as the greatest military idiot of our own or any other day.
Only he could have permitted the First Afghan War and let it develop to such a ruinous defeat. It was not easy: he started with a good army, a secure position, some excellent officers, a disorganized enemy, and repeated opportunities to save the situation. But Elphy, with the touch of true genius, swept aside these obstacles with unerring precision, and out of order wrought complete chaos. We shall not, with luck, look upon his like again.
George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman, 1969.
January 23, 2015
Published on 22 Jan 2015
For a decisive advantage on the Western Front, the military commanders of both sides are trying to use technological advances. And so this week, German Zeppelins are flying their first air raids on English towns. Winston Churchill is outlining his ideas for what would later become the tank. Meanwhile at the Western Front, the soldier Adolf Hitler is thinking about how this war is going to continue.
January 22, 2015
A lot has been said about the purchase of commissions — how the rich and incompetent can buy ahead of better men, how the poor and efficient are passed over — and most of it, in my experience, is rubbish. Even with purchase abolished, the rich rise faster in the Service than the poor, and they’re both inefficient anyway, as a rule. I’ve seen ten men’s share of service, through no fault of my own, and can say that most officers are bad, and the higher you go, the worse they get, myself included. We were supposed to be rotten with incompetence in the Crimea, for example, when purchase was at its height, but the bloody mess they made in South Africa recently seems to have been just as bad — and they didn’t buy their commissions.
George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman, 1969.
January 20, 2015
H/T to Tyler Rogoway, who has a few other photos of Iowa-class battleships moving through the Panama canal.
Published on 19 Jan 2015
World War 1 broke out in summer 1914, a little over 100 years ago. Our channel is following the historic events week by week. For everyone who recently joined this channel: this recap is specially for you! Catch up with the last six months, hence the first six months of the war. Between the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the Battle of the Marne and the Christmas Truce, hundreds of thousands of soldiers had to die. This is modern war.
January 18, 2015
Indian troops suffer a particularly bad experiment in local sourcing of equipment:
In 1999, the Indian Army fought a three-month-long undeclared war with Pakistan. It was also the combat debut of India’s new INSAS battle rifle.
The INSAS is a very bad rifle.
During the conflict — waged over the disputed and mountainous Kargil district in the province of Kashmir — the Indian troops’ rifles jammed up, and their cheap, 20-round plastic magazines cracked in the cold weather.
Designed to shoot in semi-automatic and three-round burst modes, some soldiers would pull the trigger, and the gun would unexpectedly spray rounds like a fully automatic.
Soldiers also preferred the heavier 7.62-millimeter rounds in the FAL rifle, which the INSAS and its 5.56-millimeter rounds replaced.
Then in 2005, Maoist rebels attacked a Nepalese army base. The Nepalese troops had INSAS rifles bought from India. During the 10-hour-long battle, the rifles overheated and stopped working. The Maoists overran the base and killed 43 soldiers.
“Maybe the weapons we were using were not designed for a long fight,” Nepalese army Brig. Gen. Deepak Gurung said after the battle. “They malfunctioned.”
January 16, 2015
Published on 15 Jan 2015
French general Joseph Joffre is stuck in a dilemma: the Champagne offensive has been going on for weeks now — without any expected results. Should he dig in and tolerate the enemy on French soil? Or should his soldiers continue to run up against the impenetrable German defences? Meanwhile, South African troops attack German South West Africa and in London, Winston Churchill’s plan for an invasion of the Dardanelles has been approved.
Every now and again, I’ve reminded you about the sad, sad state of the Canadian Armed Forces’ long quest to get new helicopters. If any other western country has had a worse time trying to re-equip their military with capable helicopters, Germany must come close to the top of the list:
As early as the mid-1980s, German army aviation needed new helicopters. Its Vietnam-era Bell UH-1s and Sikorsky CH-53s had seen better days.
France, West Germany, Italy, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom got together in 1985 and drafted a scheme to develop a new fly-by-wire, multipurpose helicopter—the NH90. The U.K. soon left the project.
The NH90 itself struggled through its long years of development—and ultimately proved less than perfectly reliable. The Dutch have struggled to prevent corrosion in their naval NH90s that deploy aboard warships. The Germans have had problems of their own.
In Germany, the NH90 was originally supposed to open a new era of air-assault operations, wherein different variants of the NH90 would haul troops, vehicles and equipment in lightning-fast attacks behind enemy lines. There would also be a naval version.
But when the Cold War ended, funding became scarce. The German military had wanted more than 200 HN90s but ultimately ordered just 122, making large-scale air assaults unlikely. The first few machines arrived in December 2006.
Another seven years passed before Germany deployed the NH90. In April 2013, several of the copters began flying medical-evacuation missions in Afghanistan.
On June 19, 2014, an engine on one of the deployed NH90s exploded during a training mission over Uzbekistan. On Nov. 17, the German aviation security advisory board grounded the whole fleet.
January 15, 2015
Tam indulges in a bit of reminiscing from before it had a fancified name like “stolen valour”:
Once upon a time I worked in a gun store whose owner had invented a rather colorful Vietnam-era military past for himself. It’s called “stolen valor” now, but back then it was still just plain bullsh!t. One of his favorite topics on which to hold forth was how awful the M-16 was, and how, when his unit had switched to the new rifle from the old M-14, he threatened to kill his sergeant and so he was allowed to keep his M-14. I managed to refrain from pointing out that when the Army switched from the 14 to the 16, he was too young to lift either one and, as a consequence, was barely old enough to have been drafted to help pack boxes for the inactivation of Tan Son Nhut.
Every time an AR-15 came in the shop, we’d get an earful about how he wanted to kill Eugene Stoner (who was three years in the grave already) and about all the times his unit had been ambushed and wiped out almost to a man and he had to (and I quote, here) “turn over the bodies of his boys and each and every one of them had a broken-open M-16 with a cleaning rod jammed down the barrel!” The travails of the XM16E1 as reported to the Ichord Subcommittee have taken deep root in American gun nut culture indeed when even semiliterate Bubbas can repeat them as though they were first-person happenings.
January 14, 2015
Published on 12 Jan 2015
“Indy is answering your questions again. In this episode of OUT OF THE TRENCHES he is explaining how airplanes got armed with machine guns and what was the bloodiest battle of WW1.
January 9, 2015
Published on 8 Jan 2015
The Austro-Hungarian army resembles a better militia after six months into the war. After defeats against Serbia and Russia and still under siege in Galicia, the forces are in dire straits. Many casualties, especially among the officers, mean that an effective warfare is impossible. And all this while the Russians are close to entering the Hungarian plains. On another front, the Russians are winning the battle of Sarikamish which ends in a disaster for the Ottoman Empire. On the Western Front, each side still tries to gain a decisive advantage.
January 2, 2015
By way of Think Defence, a great visual illustration of the highest risk points of transit in world shipping:
Published on 1 Jan 2015
The Champagne offensive is still going on the Western Front without any side gaining a decisive advantage. In the Caucasus, Enver Pasha is showing how far he’s willing to go to achieve his goals. Against his military advisors’ recommendations, he decides to send more and more troops to Sarikamish. Without supplies and with temperatures constantly below -20 degrees, thousands of them freeze to death before even reaching the frontline. When the Russians finally encircle the Ottoman Troops, defeat is inevitable.