Still Not Over By Christmas- an annotated bibliography.

I was chatting to one of the attendees for the upcoming Pennine Megagames’ Still Not Over By Christmas  game in a few weeks through FB; Rob was asking me for reading suggestions to get in the mood for the event. Now asking me for book recommendations means you’ll end up with a big list as an answer. I thought it would be useful to share what I said to him here. I’ve focussed on those books that I have read; I know there is a list on the game’s webpage but I’ve added my own comments.

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Paddy Griffith – Not Over By Christmas (1983).

The obvious place to start is with the book that gave the game its title. The late Paddy Griffith gives us an academic analysis of the then contemporary stand- off across the Inner German Border and suggests a new flexible mobile defensive plan for NATO to adopt that does not rely on the use of tactical nuclear weaponry. Some have claimed that this led to a reduction in the tensions of the time but I’m not sufficiently knowledgeable to comment on that in detail.

 

Paddy Griffith- Ultimate Weaponry (1991).

By the same author but aimed at a completely different market this coffee table book written at the very end of the Cold War gives us a run down of the weaponry and tactics of a modern army and how it fits together. A useful (and, at the time of writing, cheap) way to get the details on the basic tactics and the state of the art at the turn of the decade.

 

David Miller- The Cold War: A Military History (1998)

This makes a good companion piece to the above as it covers the whole Cold War but at the higher operational and strategic levels. Taking in both the narrative history as well as technological changes it makes an ideal primer.

 

General Sir John Hackett- The Third World War (1978).

General Sir John Hackett- The Third World War: The Untold Story (1982).

The Third World War really kicked off the 1980s trend for fictional accounts of a possible war between East and West. Covering the war at a fairly high level it charts the deployments and combats, the second volume expands the narrative to cover some of the more minor theatres. Whilst the scenario is well thought through it is a little dry at times.

 

Harold Coyle- Team Yankee (1988).

Coyle’s story is set with in a larger conflict but really concentrates on the lower tactical level of a US armour group: the eponymous Team Yankee as they try to delay the Soviet advance. It makes for a great action filled story with M1 tanks and mechanised infantry being pushed hard by T72s and BMPs filled with infantry.

 

Tom Clancy- Red Storm Rising (1987).

To my mind this is the best written novel of the fictional wars, coming from the prolific Clancy it is one of his few novels that is stand- alone not set within the Ryan-verse that you may know from his other books and many film adaptations. The main story concerns itself with the US attempts to get a convoy across the Atlantic in the face of attacks by Soviet Naval Aviation leading to a second Battle of the Atlantic and the invasion of Iceland. If you were to read one book to get a feel for the setting I would recommend this one.

 

Kenneth Macksey- First Clash (1985).

Macksey wrote this book to be used as a training aid to the Canadian army, as a result it is a rather detailed account of a 48 hours delaying action by the Canadian 4th Mechanised Brigade (they were to be a reserve for the US forces in CENTAG). Despite this it is still a good read, giving some insight into how the army could see such a mission being carried out.

 

Ralph Peters- Red Army (1989).

Second to Red Storm Rising this should be on all the Soviet players reading lists, unlike the vast majority of the novels listed here to focuses telling the story from the Russian side, whilst not an insider’s account (warning treat Suvorov with suspicion, I’ve not included him here for a reason) it gives an insight into Soviet ways of thinking about how they approached war in the 1980s.

 

Cyril Joly- Silent Night (1986).

The fiction of the time tends to fall into two camps, those who show how NATO’s technological edge will ultimately prevail of those which portray the Soviets as an unstoppable force that could steam roller over us; in both cases there is a point (usually linked to defence spending or the lack thereof) that the author is trying to make… Silent Night takes the idea of the Soviets as unstoppable to frankly ridiculous levels in its account of a Christmas time surprise attack. Avoid this propagandist drivel.

 

Michael Palmer- The War That Never Was (1994).

An interesting and slightly meta account of a fictional wargame after the Cold War. Interesting as it contains a lot of detail of actions and naval confrontations on those theatres that are peripheral to the other stories i.e. anywhere that isn’t West Germany.

 

Peter Tsouras (ed.)- Cold War Hot (2003).

 

A short story anthology of different ways in which the Cold War could have turned hot. The last light- hearted Vodka based one stands out in particular.

 

Bob Forrest – Webb- Chieftains (1982).

Very similar to Team Yankee in that it follows a tank unit on the tactical level but differs in both tone and nationality: downbeat and British. Tough fights and a feel bad ending make this one a favourite.

 

Steven Zaloga- Red Thrust (1989).

Steven Zaloga- Tank War Central Front (1989).

 

The ever prolific Zaloga offers a mix of fiction and analysis in this volume detailing in turn how the component parts of a Soviet offensive would work. Worth looking out for.

 

The second volume comes from Osprey publishing so most of you will know what to expect from this format. The title pretty much explains what it covers, making this a good primer for those in a hurry.

 

Alfred Price- Air Battle Central Europe (1986).

 

A nice little book that focuses solely on the air war (a volume I’ve been looking at again given my role in a few weeks). Interesting as it is written by a former Cold War aviator turned historian based on interviews with contemporary serving pilots. The basic take home from this is most of the aircraft would be used for interdiction, that and the differing approaches that some of the NATO countries take. The USAF going for Vietnam style strike packages whilst the RAF sneaking planes in in pairs under the radar.

 

Harvey Black – Red Effect, Blue Effect, Black Effect (2013- 2014).

 

These are very recent entries into the genre and as such seem a little nostalgic in a strange way. The first one was for me the best focussing as it does on the build up to the war and the activities of the BRIXMIS operatives that went behind the Iron Curtain as military observers, the real life job the author had at the time.

 

All of these books are fairly easy to get hold of through the usual channels, Amazon’s marketplace, ebay and abe books, some are available on kindle too. I hope that this proves useful to some.

 

Cheers,

 

Pete.

http://www.penninemegagames.co.uk/

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Napoleonic Wargaming for fun and Little Cold Wars- book reviews.

As I enjoyed my short stint as Napoleon so much in the Pennine Megagame’s Jena 1806 (see an earlier post) I decided to pick up a copy of Paddy Griffith’s Napoleonic Wargaming for Fun from the History of Wargaming Project. Whilst it is really not my period (other than a fondness for the Ridley Scott film The Duellists and subsequent desire to do a retreat from Moscow skirmish campaign) I was intrigued by the inclusion in the book of high level games hence my purchasing of it.

The late Paddy Griffith seems to have a reputation in gaming circles as something of an iconoclast famously and publicly swearing off miniatures gaming sometime in the 80’s. This book (the HoWP being a reprint) pre dates that proclamation as half of the book deals with miniatures games; that it was republished within his lifetime implies to me that he still saw some worth in what he wrote and he was not as dogmatic as his reputation at times suggested.

As alluded to earlier the book is a compilation of seven rule sets all on the theme of Napoleonic land warfare, they cover different scales of engagement, starting with the skirmish level, passing through, brigade, division and army level, all of which are miniatures games the book concludes with a generalship game, Kreigspiel and advice on TEWTs (Tactical Exercises Without Troops). It was these last three I was interested in. Not that I am giving up on miniatures, I’m still keen on the toy soldiers but for one thing I’ve not got the space for a giant collection in another period. Rather I’m wanting to use the Napoleonic Wars to add a bit of variety to my gaming.

Dealing with the first four sets of rules first they are very straightforward games, interestingly it is noted that apart from a few special circumstances/ theatres there is not that much scope for little actions within the Napoleonic period and even Brigade and Divisional actions are best assumed to be part of a much larger action. Being honest this middle part doesn’t interest me much. My gaming interests lie at either extreme, the larger extreme being adequately covered by the Army game, also the shortest of the four miniatures rules. Indicative of the time it was written perhaps is the fact that you would still have a multitude of little bases to move about. If I were to dabble at this level in 6mm I’d want to have more figures representing a higher formation to speed play. In any event this rules set would form an ideal starting point.

Following on from this is my favourite part of the book: the generalship game. Essentially it is a time management roleplay where you have to plan your day as a general running a campaign against an opponent who is doing the same. I’d love to use this system to re run the Jena campaign, also the example used in the book, I think it is eminently possible, maybe as a PBEM too.

The nineteenth century origins of Kriegspiel are well known enough now for me to not detail them further. Unsurprisingly playing the 1824 Kriegspiel is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time but like many things remains on my gaming wishlist Paddy Griffith’s notes and observations makes me want to get organised and put on a game. Any pointers as to where I could get the blocks to play the game with would be much appreciated.

The final section deals with yet another part of gaming that I want to try but have yet to do so a TWET, essential a country walk with a moderated battle taking place in the participant’s mind’s eye(s). It has a similar heritage to the Kriegspiel in that it originated as a training technique for nineteenth century officers, known then as a staff ride. I think how ever I shall wait until someone offers to run one of these locally as I fear any attempt to dive in at the deep end myself and run one would be a little beyond me.

Overall the book is ideal for those wanting a little more from gaming, I think that in today’s hobby market the miniatures rules themselves are unlikely to get any new adherents, the market is not structured in that way. However they still have worth as examples of rule sets written by a professional (i.e., holds a PHD in History) historian rather than an enthusiastic amateur, not to belittle the latter rather I want to highlight the different viewpoint that the (rarer) professional historian who also writes rules brings. In gaming as well as his academic work Paddy Griffith wasn’t afraid to follow his convictions even if they went against the orthodoxy (at this point I’ll recommend his ‘Forward in to Battle’).

On a completely different tack but in the same order I bought a copy of Little Cold Wars: Wargaming the Cold War using Toy Soldiers by Tim Gow and Betrand Plastique. This rule set takes a nostalgic and delightfully whimsical approach to the often technologically obsessed genre of Cold War gaming. Channelling HG Wells the authors have developed hybrid of a floor game with toy soldiers to the warm glow of remembering a childhood living under the bomb. Eschewing dice for all but the Close Combat mechanisms Little Cold Wars sees a mix of scales (1/35th for toy soldiers, 1/48th for vehicles, 1/72nd for aircraft) do battle by matchstick firing cannon, dropping darts into targets and throwing scrunched up bits of paper. The thing is it really works, I can vouch for this having played an early playtest version of the rules.

Early hobby gaming all started out by using physical props to determine the results of combat, it was not until after WW2 that the dice rolling obsession took hold. It is really pleasing to see a return to these mechanisms are carefully put together is a game that relies on two lots of nostalgia, not that any gamers alive today would have played any HG Wells style games pre war so that nostalgia at least is vicarious. Being 11 and just starting at secondary school when the Berlin Wall was opened I am probably amongst the youngest gamers who remember the Cold War with any clarity, I’d be interested as to what a millennial would make of Little Cold Wars. My uncle was in the Army in Berlin at the time it was knocked down and brought a piece back for me which I still have.

[A little piece has broken off from the larger lump which gave me the idea to crush it up and mix it with plaster to create a scale model of a section of the wall to have a physical link to the place on the table top]

Either way it is a game I want to play myself, albeit all in 20mm, though I need to assemble a few props and toy cannon… and buy some silly hats… I just wish I still had my DDR flag too.

Both books are available here:

http://www.wargaming.co/

Cheers,

Pete.

Mad Scientists and BIG guns.

One of my favourite archetypes is the ‘mad scientist’: perhaps it was too many Hammer Horror films at an early age I don’t know but it is a trope that continues to get my attention (Less said about jokes about me going mad before I finished my Physics degree the better…. 😉 ).

Anyway during one of my bouts of insomnia I was watching the UK cable channel Yesterday in which they were showing an oldish series of US documentaries ‘Secrets of War’, the episode I caught was on big and I mean big artillery and the man who built the Iraqi supergun Dr Bull. That got my attention so I whiled away the small hours watching it.

Like everything else these days the full show is on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9eG9U13jb8

I remember years ago when I was in the ATC I found a section of the supergun stashed away on an RAF base post impoundment. It was a massive piece of steel, 1m diameter with such a smooth bore it seemed mirrored.

It’s inventer was the former child prodigy Dr. Gerald Bull. The documentary made reference to a biography called ‘Arms and the Man’ by William Lowther. A quick look on the net had a cheap copy winging its way to me. Throughout the book Bull (who ended up being assassinated for his troubles (the smart money is on Mossad)) comes across as idealistic possibly to the point of nieveity in his pursuit of a gun launched satellite, taking the Iraqi money to build his gun whilst helping them out on Saddam’s ballistic missile ‘problems’. One thing that comes across is how he distances himself from his product, not seeing the real cost- probably what killed him in the end.

With the 2003 Iraq war behind us ending the chapter on Saddam era Iraq; the narrative really did feel like a glimpse back in time to the 80s, the Iran Iraq war and the end of the Cold War. Either way the book is highly recommended.

Cheers,

Pete.

[If you like me like real life mad scientists I can also recommend you pick up ‘Wizard’ on Tesla (who should need no introduction) and ‘Sex and Rockets’ on Jack/John Whiteside Parsons (who probably does- long story short NASA rocket scientist by day and occultist by night….)].

Update.

Xmas was OK- had better, had worse- I’m really a ‘Bah Humbug’ sort of person. However Santa was extra kind- directing people to my Amazon Wishlist really paid off as I got a big haul of books this year. Started reading ‘Ian Flemming’s Commandos’ half way through it already so it comes recommended from me.

Managed to get some time in my shed done as well, so I present what I’ve finished most recently:

A trio of modern US Vehicles- all from plastic kits. I’ve got a Iraq convoy game planned for them. The idea will be to go up one side of the board and then U turn to go down the opposite side. That way I get 12′ plus of road out of my small board. Hope fully the route Irish DVD I also got for Xmas may provide extra inspiration… pics once I’ve played the game.

At Triples earlier this year I picked up one of the Skytrex Riverine boats- in the case a heavily armed Alpha boat, packing a 20mm cannon turret, Twin .50 cal turret, 2 pintle mounted .30 cals and a .50cal/ mortar mount. Likewise I’ll be working up a suitable scenario for it (and trying to resist the temptation of buyi9ng more of the range).

I also finished of a batch of modern Africans- but I want to wait until my entire collection of them is completed before I post pics….

cheers,

Pete.