Sunday 27 November 2022

Audible - Vietnam, Max Hastings

I knew I needed to read this book, so I bought it, but it sat on the shelf (as it is no small volume) for  a long time. I knew I needed something to complement the numerous first hand accounts I had read, to try and to get a wider picture of the conflict. I relished Ken Burns marvellous TV documentary series and it stands out for its graphic imagery and cinematography. The hurdle of "reading about it" (a much more intimate process) defeated me though. As a second best (listening to it) Audible came to my aid. Max Hasting's "Vietnam" via Audible has become a friend on car journeys and dog walks, telling a very dark history with my hard copy flicked through for reference points of maps and pictures (see below, Max Hastings certainly pulls no punches with his views on the American politicians and Generals, which in his capacity as a reporter, he met first hand, from the likes of President Lyndon B. Johnson and Robert McNamara; absolutely fascinating): 

Update I: Just over a third of the way through this book and it is truly an epic journey, masterfully told. Starting with Vietnams earliest modern colonial history and disputed WWII ownership, through the French post WWII period in Indo China and finally into its most turbulent and troublesome times with the active American involvement. Still twenty hours to go! Gripping! Highly recommended.

Update II: Coming to the final few chapters and I honestly cannot believe the twists and turns - trials and tribulations that South Vietnam went through. As much as the pre-American deployment history was new to me, the post American withdrawal, political cynicism and huge battles (AVRN supported by US air power) that followed were equally "new" to my previously selective history (Platoon and The Deer Hunter) of the period. Everyone could see it was not going to end well and it didn't! I literally don't want to hear the next chapter unfold.

Update III: Finished. And the avoidable horror happened all the way to the end of this tragic period of history. The gut-retching senselessness of it all and then the haunting words that Max Hastings penned, to parallel the folly of the 1960's and 10970's to the subsequent Iraqi and Afghanistan events. To quote a US Cavalry Troop commander from Iraqi, "There was nothing to hang any success onto". No fabric or structure that was not alien to the indigenous peoples - that we (the Western World) were supposed to be helping!

Friday 18 November 2022

WWIII - Somewhere in Belgium in the late 1980's a Cold War Goes HOT [Part 2 of 2] The Battle

The Soviet player made very obvious pushes on the far right and centre of his line but almost unnoticed  there was a subtle (BTR Battalion sized) end-around left. "Bear Two's" report had not gone unnoticed or unheard, its importance had been digested, understood and the opportunity was tantalising. The Soviet General committed his fifth BTR battalion to his far left. Although slow in its move up across rough ground but its significance is huge, as it was the key to unlock the Belgian back-door and completely break the line of defence (see below, quietly the the fifth BTR moves up in company column and line): 

In the middle of the battlefield, what seemed to be destined for a bloody tank-v-tank slug fest, frittered away into a long range sniping duel. After a worrisome moment where the Belgian Abrams could have been caught in the open, it changed to professional calm as the M1s acquired the safety of hull down positions - which meant it was (very, very) prudent for the Soviets to retire their "gun line of tanks"; leaving both sides covering a "dead zone", one that either side could only move through at its peril. A Mexican stand-off. Suddenly this part of the battlefield was static. Note: The best Belgian unit was held in check, fixed into a defensive position. The battle would circulate around the M1s rather than them being an active part of it (see below, the T-72s prudently move back after firing a last Parthian shot):   

Meanwhile Soviet infantry swarm into a Belgian town sector. The Soviets have mechanically and efficiently de-bussed a whole battalion into an urban sector defended by a single company of Belgian infantry. The supporting Soviets tanks, and there is always a bunch of supporting Soviet tanks wherever you look, roam the perimeter of the urban area, like frustrated dinosaurs taking pot shots at targets of opportunity. Burning Belgian Cavalry recon M113s burn like Roman candles (see below, the Belgians were clearly caught off guard, displaced, pinned and unnerved in this isolated town quarter. A very bad start to the day - local reinforcements are called up and the Belgian Divisional Commander commits his reserve, but will it get there in time to be of use. The Russians are pressing everywhere): 

Although the town fighting is abstracted in Modern Spearhead/Battle Group Commander, you get the sense of the Belgian's dire predicament; they are outnumbered 3:1 and the enemy is bringing down indirect fire assets to bear. It is only a matter of time before the outermost town sector falls, retreat is impossible because the boulevard is covered by those damn T-72's main guns. What is more worrying is fact that the Belgian right flank is now hanging completely exposed as miscellaneous Soviet AFV's bypass the town. The only Belgian hope is another frantic rushed commitment of reserves to plug the gap (see the Soviet pressure below, one Soviet battalion in the town, another flanking left, yet another rushing right [into the larger "centre" of the main town] - the Belgian infantry defensive line is crumbling and their powerful M1 Abram tanks are hull-down in the wrong part of the battlefield so cannot help and could they even help in an urban environment?):  

The Soviet BTR Battalion that was called up to exploit the hanging gate explodes onto the Belgian left flank. Just a single company of Belgian infantry are hunkered down on the edge of the woods, in cover holding this flank. The Belgian infantry faces off against a composite Soviet armoured infantry force, very wary of the deadly NATO AT LAWs. Recon "Bear Two" is called upon once more to advance and flush the Belgian infantry out 'by being too tempting a target' not to fire at. The Belgian infantry is hoping they can buy time for a company of AFV "Tank Hunters" to deploy and make a mess of the Soviet armour (see below, the infantry combat here is critical to the outcome of the wider battle, a time for the NATO troops to show their professionalism, hold their nerve and hold the line): 

Firing is simultaneous and represents an extended firefight for over a period of fifteen or so minutes of direct and indirect fire (the blue markers on the NATO forces are player aids to assist remember who is still to fire). The advantage of defensive terrain for the Belgians is partly offset by armour and more heavy calibre weapons of the Soviet mechanised infantry and the Soviet advantage in numbers. Each stand represents a platoon of infantry or troop (4-5) vehicles, casualties represent KIA, wounded, troops temporally incapacitated and lack of cohesion. Vehicle hits represent KO, non-runners and abandoned vehicles (see below, "the dice will have it" all hangs in the balance): 

The close combat is brutal and as the guns speak the Soviets take a terrible 20% casualties but the Belgians take a horrific loss of 50% combat effectiveness. That means unless there is a miraculous intervention the Soviets will likely overrun the Belgians, especially as the Soviets too have additional troops moving up. The sounds of the Belgian armoured "Tank Hunters" moving up through the woods gives cause for some hope, but the terrain is too poor for these ersatz tanks to make quick progress (see below, the Belgians will need (or be blessed with) a massive amount of luck next turn or face a crippling blow from which they may not be able to recover):  

"Fate" is not kind to the underdog. The plucky Belgians are overran. They lost the initiative and the Soviets unleashed a second wave, of this time newly dismounted mechanised infantry, which broke the Belgian infantry company into pieces. What is even more worrying, the ersatz tankers who hurried up a break-neck speed are now completely without infantry support, which means the "hunters" are going to become the "hunted" in very short measure (see below, the fate of the whole battle is hanging on the outcome of this small micro-battle on such a small plot of real-estate): 

The Belgian "hunters" become trophy "hunted" by dismounted Soviet mechanised infantry, the Soviet BTR Battalion commander duly reports success back up the chain of command. The Soviet system is brutally simple - reinforce success, ignore failure, in fact punish failure by taking away assets that can be more usefully deployed elsewhere. The only black mark for the Soviets is that valiant "Bear Two" was lost by straying too close to an ersatz tanker and finding that the cannon was more than good enough for despatching a BRDM2 armoured car with. Still I am sure that the Soviet Divisional Commander has a posthumous medal in a tin box waiting for his widow (see below, the significance of this reverse it dawning on the Belgian Divisional Commander, as 'one-by-one' his units on his right flank are going "off net" unexpectedly): 

Crunch! With the last defending Belgian back stop removed the Soviet General can sense blood and the potential of a huge Divisional breakout. A radio frequency is dialled and the Regimental Tank Commander's voice is heard expectantly asking, "You have orders for me Comrade General?" "Yes Yuri. You are to lead the divisional breakthrough in Sector Four Two, there is no meaningful resistance left. The BMP Regiment will be close in support behind you. Punch through the woods to the left of the town, we have the Belgians on the ropes, show them no mercy! Speed Yuri, speed is of the essence. May the devil run with you! Overrun their headquarters and rear area!"

Thursday 17 November 2022

WWIII - Somewhere in Belgium in the late 1980's a Cold War Goes HOT [Part 1 of 2] Ebb and Flow

The Sunday morning quiet of a sleepy Belgian town is rudely broken by military diesel engine revving noises as camouflaged armoured reconnaissance vehicles trundle inconsiderately into its sleepy suburbs. Recon is wit, speed, aggression but tempered with enough caution to live long enough survive and report. The Soviets thus win the opening moves with their aggressive thrust (see below, the Soviets advance across two thirds of the table whereas the Belgians are content in gaining local objective points around the town, the consequences of which means that the Soviets can spread and seek out the weaknesses of the Belgian defence):    

The Soviets are poking their noses around corners of fields, folds in the ground, trails through woods - constantly testing for gaps and finding out where the Belgians are and are not. This empty road seems to point straight into the NATO backfield (see below, a tempting  open flank is found that really needs to be explored by "Bear Two" - no Belgians in sight either, even better): 

The Belgian reconnaissance commander is bemused by so many reports coming in of enemy movement across the whole front, surely the Soviets cannot be here so soon? Small arms fire is heard from the outskirts of the town, looters or the enemy? The implied reported numbers mean that the Soviets are here in force, it must be a whole recon battalion which implies at least a couple of regiments will be following up behind. There is going to be some hot action starting here very shortly. Still the valiant Belgian is reassured in himself that the Belgian formation is tank heavy, so they should be well placed to stop the Reds in their tracks (see below, the morning solace is broken all hell is about to break out): 

Significantly a Soviet recon creeps quietly across an important river. The Soviet Lieutenant briefly reports, "Bear Three. Route Green Three is open, feet dry!" Back at the mobile command centre, a wry smile breaks across the face of a grizzled Soviet Motor Rifle Divisional Commander as he taps a Red BTR Battalion marker on the map, "Forward! Fast!" (see below, there is a fleeting opportunity to exploit the slow moving Belgians):  

Incredibly the Russian motor cycle reconnaissance platoon along with a BRDM2 armoured car support troop races around the sleepy Belgian suburbs without encountering any opposition. Not understanding how they are still alive they radio in "Bear Two. Route One Open. Repeat, Route One Open!" This generates yet more frantic activity at the Russian Divisional HQ. Three battalion markers, each representing a BTR formation is moved across teh map to the town. "Take the town!" barks the General, knowingly committing a full regiment of his best (BTR) infantry supported with their organic tank companies (see below, a Soviet Recon unit disbelievingly with an open road and no sign of any opposition): 

Meanwhile the Belgian recon is hunkering down behind a riverine and near a friendly town. They nervously expect to meet Soviet Recon elements at any time. They are hoping their powerful M1's will appear soon. The Belgian caution resembles more of a peacetime operation, following a known COA with NATO Allies playing Red, repeating a common TEWT pattern and a plodding ignorance of an active enemy stalking them (see below, the Belgian recon is far more content to watch across the river than actively probe beyond it, they are bivouacked and awaiting orders and thus vulnerable to unexpected "events"): 

"Events" such as a whole battalion of BTRs crossing an undefended bridge on the Belgian left flank, something which the peace loving Belgians are totally unaware of (despite the Belgian player being able to "see them" out of the corner of his eye). So, 'Bear Three' has the company it requested, is really happy and is ready to push forwards to create more mischief. The Soviets are flanking left in battalion force, even if jut to be a nuisance (see below, undoubtedly the Belgians will have to react to it and in teh process be "distracted" from teh defence of the central town): 

Speaking of which, the "town" has now become the centre of attention for "three" Soviet BTR battalions. The first of which runs into Belgian teeth, a formidable Belgian defensive formation, a battle line of M1 Abrams tanks deployed onto a key terrain feature overlooking the approaches to the town. The Soviet Tank Coy supporting the BTR Battalion starts a fire fight to cover the Soviet infantry deployment (see below, the BTR battalion is ordered to de-bus into the urban area to its immediate right): 

However, the two other BTR battalions find much less opposition barring their way into the town and push the Belgian reconnaissance units easily aside. A burning M113 tells the sorry tale. The last thing an armoured Belgian cavalry commander really wants to do is play "meet and greet" with a Soviet T-72 in a boulevard. One BTR battalion spreads out in deployment of a fighting line covering the third battalions column of attack into teh heart of the town (see below, deployed Soviet infantry are now advancing into the town and the Belgians find themselves on the backfoot and need to make an emergency deployment): 

The Soviet floodgates have been unleashed. Two full BTR regiments, the wheeled infantry complement of teh Soviet Motor Rifle Division, are set in motion. The broader plan if for the Soviet infantry to find a weakness in the Belgian defensive line. Then the Tank Regiment followed by the BMP Regiment can create a deep penetration. 

Sunday 13 November 2022

Remembrance Sunday 2022

There is a village in North Yorkshire, England .. like so many other small villages and places in the UK that remembers those who made the sacrifice (see below, the hand knitted poppies from the community, mostly red, but white, purple and black too - are planted): 

Individual soldiers were researched and remembered (see below, the old photographs are haunting, putting a face to a chiselled name): 

The lawn of the church bleeds red (see below, from the font of the War Memorial across the well-cut grass): 

The ghosts stand-to, guarding the poppies (see below, and stop the passer-by in their tracks): 

There are so many to be named (see below, from all walks of life): 

From the world wars and more modern wars (see below, it never seems to stop):

It is a very moving place where people's thoughts turn to the past (see below, I am left wondering how far we have actually come): 

And this is but one of the many villages, of the many towns and of the many cities in the UK and wider Commonwealth and connected world (see below, it touches us all): 

Remembrance and respect.

Wednesday 9 November 2022

A Package from America: "Fire in the Lake" COIN Board Game - GMT P500

In the hedonistic (pre-Covid) days where the UK pound was much stronger than the dollar, so transatlantic shipping(*) from America was offset by the nice GMT P500 discount, I saw the jewel of the COIN crown was being reprinted so I jumped on that P500 train without hesitation. Now, my long term investment (years of waiting/forgetting) has paid off as the postman passed on a suitably (or dare I say delightfully) heavy parcel to me (see below, the box art is beautiful, the Huey is so iconic of Vietnam [got to make one of those in 1/72] and the scene below seems straight from "Apocalypse Now" - the red setting sun and steaming jungle):

(*) Note: Appreciation and kudos goes out to Second Chance Games as they partially offset this cost with their Euro Friendly Shipping arrangement with GMT.  

Inside the geography jumps up from a beautifully mounted map board (see below, a geography map straight from teh classroom, bended with some lovely photo art, class!): 

Then there are the meeples, the event cards, the rules, the bot instructions and the scenarios (see below, a long winter night or two will be spent around this one for sure): 

It is a thing of pure beauty to behold and a nice companion to "A Distant Plain". 

Sunday 6 November 2022

Wargames Developments (WD) Third Edition

Click here, for those adventurous wargaming souls brave enough to enter the WD catacombs of thought (see below, time to expand your mind):

There be pearls of wisdom and games of unimaginable forms that await you. I bet you will find a "new take" on something or a "definition" of something you did not even know existed.