Anti-Submarine Warfare: A Review

  • Author: Rear Admiral J.R. Hill
  • Year Published: 1984
  • Published by: Ian Allan Ltd.

In the mid-1980s, UK-based publisher Ian Allan Ltd. noticed something was wrong. The market had become saturated with military books that featured photos and dry numbers about the latest equipment. Very few of these publications, however, addressed the basic question of how all this stuff was used. Knowing a weapon’s range or a ship’s sensor suite was all well and good, but understanding why it had been built that way and how it worked in combat wasn’t really clear.

Ian Allan attempted to fill this gap with a three-part collection called Combat Roles. Written by men who were experienced and knowledgeable in each field, the books explored the various aspects of modern warfare. Written for the layman, they explored the central dilemmas and tradeoffs that drove weapons design and development throughout the years. They also offered an idea of how each system would hold up in major combat (i.e. the outbreak of World War III).

The first of these offerings, Anti-Submarine Warfare sets a high bar for the rest of the Combat Roles series. Its writer, Rear Admiral John Richard Hill served 41 years in the Royal Navy. Much of that time was spent on destroyers and frigates before working at the Ministry of Defense. Hill wrote no less than 14 books and countless articles that were published in defense journals throughout the world. He was an editor of the Naval Review and the Chairman of the Navy Records Society. So we’re in good hands here.

Hill opens with an introduction that covers the history of anti-submarine warfare and its development from the Second World War to the mid-1980s. We get an outline of the various roles of the modern submarine, from strategic deterrence to tactical employment against shipping and inshore operations. From the outset, he makes it very clear that the start of submarine warfare marks a clear step from tension to war. And for that reason, the rules of engagement in these areas will be fairly liberal. This is the underlying assumption that Hill works with for the rest of the book.

The Soviet threat to NATO convoys in event of WW3 in Central Europe

Chapter Two describes the current threat to NATO. Since the book is from 1984, this is obviously the Soviet Union. More specifically, NATO had planned much of its sea strategy around dealing with the Soviet ballistic missile submarine force, which was designed to attack and destroy NATO countries. Proof of this threat came from the USSR itself – with Gorshkov’s books placing great emphasis on “Fleet against Shore” activities (interpreted as sea-based nuclear attack on an opponent’s homeland) in his own writings.

Hill outlines the development of Soviet ballistic missile nuclear submarines since the end of the war. For decades, the Russians were plagued with problems in attempting to find a satisfactory sea-based ballistic program. A long string of failures led to the development of the dreaded Typhoon class submarine, which he describes as a “submarine battleship.” Its titanium hulls (Hill speculates it has two – actually, it has five), displacement (Hill estimates 30,000 tons – actually its 48,000 tons), and missile-capacity must have seemed fearsome to any naval analyst in the early to mid-80s.

In the same chapter, we get a look at the other side of the coin. The Soviet attack submarine force was largely neglected during WW2. The Russians didn’t seem to know or care much about how to use them. This changed dramatically after the war ended. With one eye toward protecting their homeland against the Polaris submarine threat and the other at taking on American aircraft carriers and NATO shipping, the Soviet attack submarine program took shape in the decades that followed. The design and development of nuclear-powered boats soon took precedence over conventional diesel boats.

Basic ranges and positioning of ASW assets at work

In Chapter Three, Hill writes about the “how” of ASW. Here we get a rundown of how sound travels through water and how the thermocline influences its propagation. Two major factors in understanding the underwater environment are 1.) the volume and quality of data that can be collected and 2.) the depth at which sensors are placed.

There is a constant tradeoff being made in an effort to determine a.) whether a submarine is out there (condition POSSUB) and b.) how to find it (CERTSUB). Advanced sensors pick up more noise and are therefore more susceptible to false alarms. Active sonar has its own particular problems – its range can be increased but at the expense of accuracy. Furthermore, the range of active sonar does not increase proportionately with the power applied. At some point, the law of diminishing returns steps in.

Non-acoustic detection has its own host of problems. Magnetic Anomaly Detectors (MAD) can detect submarines by looking for changes in the earth’s magnetic field caused by the presence of a submarine’s composition – ferrous metals. Unfortunately, their range is limited. Hill discusses the possible future ability to detect minute temperature changes on the water’s surface created by the passage of a submarine far below. This phenomena, known as “thermal scarring”, may be detectable to airborne and satellite observers.

Destroying a submarine consists of five distinct parts: Detection, Classification, Localisation, Tracking, and Kill. Hill describes how this is achieved through the use of bottom arrays, processing equipment such as computers, the use of active sonar and MAD, sonobuoys, and explosives. All of this equipment has its drawbacks and each step is fraught with the possibility for error. A successful ASW campaign involves understanding the intentions of the enemy as well as one’s own capabilities to detect and ultimately kill the enemy.

Chapter Four deals with Weapons. Hill shows how ASW has, by necessity, become a complex and integrated system with various weapons platforms working in concert.

Since submarine speeds have increased considerably since World War 2, the major issue has become how ASW platforms can deliver weapons systems quickly against a detected underwater threat. At the time of writing, rocket-propelled torpedoes such as the Sea Lance system were being developed to address this issue. Helicopters offer even greater flexibility, but are constrained by weight and fuel capacity in terms of the weapons and detection equipment they can carry. Hill goes into considerable detail about the proliferation of towed arrays and how they work.

In Chapter Five, Hill postulates how the ASW battle would be carried out in a hypothetical World War III between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Winning the sea battle would be essential for NATO victory in Central Europe. The primary roles of the navy would be to reinforce Europe, preserve the West’s own strategic deterrence, and either destroy or deter the use of Soviet nuclear ballistic submarines. Sea power would also determine how the war progressed on NATO’s northern and southern flanks.

A look at how ASW assets might be deployed during periods of tension between superpowers

On the offense, Hill suggests a free-for-all approach to defeating the Soviets rather than a set-piece naval battle. He sees independent anti-submarine operations as a way to deceive and confuse the Russians. Only when it suited them would NATO’s submarine and surface forces work in concert to eliminate the Soviet threat.

The Support Group concept as illustrated

As for protecting NATO convoys against Soviet submarines, he believes that sea lanes are impossible to protect given the increasing range of modern cruise missiles and torpedoes. Rerouting convoys to the south would only lengthen supply routes to Central Europe.

Convoy protection boils down to the problem of scale and resources. Hill argues for a shifting support group concept where a constantly-moving collection of ASW platforms (ships, helicopters, carriers, ASW patrol craft) would operate with each other to detect and destroy threats as merchant shipping is passed along each successive patrol area like a conveyor belt.

The book shows that ASW is as much an art form as it is a matter of technology. There is no single simple solution that can be applied to each problem or scenario. Even with all the systems working together, conducting these operations is fraught with the very real possibility of human or machine error.

Overall, Hill’s book is an excellent introduction to the concepts and practice of anti-submarine warfare. It is written simply and with numerous charts, photos, and maps to elaborate his points. Although some of the data on Soviet subs was understandably unavailable at the time, the basics of how to deal with – and ultimately kill them – are no less applicable. I learned more about ASW in this short volume than from all the books about Cold War naval equipment I had ever browsed.

Sixth Fleet – ASW in the Med.

The USS Baltimore (SSN-704) underway.

This is a brief report of Scenario 1 from Victory Games’ 1986 classic, Sixth Fleet designed by Joltin’ Joe Balkoski.

This is a simple short scenario with clear objectives: sink the other guy’s subs before the end of Turn 9.

The background is pretty basic. The USSR wants control of the Med so it can have a free hand at destroying NATO merchant shipping bound for Israel. A couple of US submarines need to stop this from happening.

Setup is as follows:

SS Byngi (Kilo-class) and SN Drabov (Victor III) set up in the Western Mediterranean. Both subs are decent with ASW values of 6. Both are pretty quiet and hard to detect. The US gets a Sturgeon-class boat, USS Drum (SSN-677), just east of Gibraltar. It’s not as sturdy as a Los Angeles-class submarine, but still packs a punch with its ASW value of 9.

SN Sumy (Victor III) and SN Nezhin (Alfa-class) are placed in the Tyrrhenian Sea, ready to strike the USS Baltimore! The Nezhin is the true threat here with an ASW value equal to the Los Angeles class submarine and a tough hull value of 7. What’s most amazing here is its speed.

The Alfas could run at an estimated 42 knots and this is reflected by their counter speed of 5. They are among the fastest naval units in the game. As a side note, they could dive down to around 2000 feet or more, which was far deeper than any NATO sub could travel.

To say that the West was concerned about these subs is an understatement. The capabilities of the Alfas dominated NATO naval weapons development well into the 1980s. Most notably, this lead to several new torpedo programs, including the American ADCAP Mark 48 torpedo and the British “Spearfish.”

SturgeonLos AngelesKiloVictorAlfa
Speed (kts)
2525+203242
Displace.
(tons)
4,2705,7143,9507,2503,680
Test Depth
(m/ft)
396/1300450/1470240/780320/1050750/2460
Complement10911052~10031

All that worry was for naught. Only 7 Alfas were built. They were noisy, unreliable, and insanely expensive to boot. All seven boats were decommissioned and slated for the scrapheap by the mid-90s. Great article about them here.

The Soviets have a T16 recon flight sitting in Annaba, Algeria. I had no idea that Moscow and Algiers were buddies. A little digging revealed that the Russians provided 11 billion dollars worth of military equipment to the country during the Cold War. That explains it!

The Soviets outnumber the Americans but the US player has more air power. There are four P3 Orions available. A good mix of recon and tactical coordination should be enough to even the odds.

Turn 1:

Strategic Air:

The Russians try to detect the USS Baltimore and fail miserably with a roll of 6. The US has no luck detecting the Byngi or the Sumi. The noisy Alfa, though is detected quite easily. A Detected marker is placed on the Nehzin.

The Drum moves east three hexes while the Baltimore moves west in hopes of joining up with it and wreaking havoc on the Soviet sub fleet. Byngi and Drabov move west to cut off the Drum while Sumy and Nehzin pursue the Baltimore.

Turn 2:

The Baltimore moves 4 hexes straight west while the Drum moves one hex toward the Byngi.

Sumy and Nehzn catch up to Baltimore and Drabov closes in on Drum. Drum and Byngi are detected. Baltimore and Sumy detect each other. A fight is brewing.

Turn 3:

Baltimore vs. Sumy:(w/ Tac Coord): 3 + 1: 4

Sumy is damaged!

Drum vs. Byngi: 4

The Byngi is damaged!

Drabov moves north and attacks Drum. We roll a 5. No effect!

Nehzn chases after Baltimore and damages it. The run of luck for the US ends.

Turn 4:

Strategic Air Phase:

A big ol’ stack of planes.

Both sides commit everything to Tac Coordination in the Western Med.

US gets initiative and send the Drum up to deal with the Nehzin. We add three Tac Coordination planes in to seal the deal. Rolling a 5 for a modified 8, we deal 5 damage to the Russian sub, which is enough to flip it over. The damaged Baltimore attacks the Drabov but fails to inflict damage.

The Drabov moves one hex east and attacks the Drum, hoping to damage it with the help of Tactical Coordination. The result is a modified 3. Not a chance.

The Soviets go and the Nehzin deals a hit against the Drum. Both US subs are now damaged.

Turn 5:

Both US subs attempt to deal damage against the Drabov. Both fail.

The Soviet Drabov manages to sink the USS Drum! The Americans are down to a single damaged sub. Things don’t look good. The Baltimore is trapped on all sides by the Soviets.

Turn 6:

Every Soviet sub takes its turn hammering away on the elusive Baltimore. Can it survive?! A string of bad rolls results in no damage! The Americans try to strike back but are stymied. The Baltimore races west in an attempt to outrun the Russians.

Turn 7:

Strategic Air:

Russians on reconnaisance and American planes on Tactical Coordination.

Here we go! The Soviets fail to detect the fleeing Baltimore! The US sub goes toward Gibraltar. The Soviets give chase!

Turn 8:

The Soviets are hot on the heels of the Baltimore!

Turn 9:

The Soviets take a parting shot at the Baltimore before it leaves Gibraltar. The Nezhin nearly damages it with a roll of 5. Had I put the Soviet T16 on Tac coordination, this would have meant the death of the US sub. The Drabov takes a shot and misses too. The Baltimore sneaks off a parting shot at the Drabov, damaging it and then races out of the Mediterranean.

Result: Since neither side was able to sink all of the other side’s subs, this is a draw. Interesting to see how this scenario can turn on a dime from straight up combat to desperate retreat. Back in the Kremlin, Admiral Gorshkov bangs his fist on a desk. Over at the White House, Secretary of the Navy John Lehman has some explaining to do.

Reagan: “Stand a little further away from me, John. And for God’s sake, fix your tie!”

Air Superiority in Gulf Strike

In Scenario 1 of Gulf Strike (VG, 1983), the Iranians are set to invade the Gulf Council States. With the US presence in the area growing more powerful each turn, Iran has to move very quickly to gain control over and consolidate its hold on the Straits of Hormuz. Time is of the essence and an Iranian player who does not move quickly will almost certainly lose the game.

One of the keys to keeping your armies moving is to gain and keep air superiority. Iran’s army has a lot of ground to cover in its march through the region, so its long supply lines that are quite vulnerable to attack from enemy aircraft. Even a rusting pile of junk is able to fly interdiction missions that will create havoc among your ground forces and slow your advances considerably. Yes, you have air defenses and aircraft – but they cannot be everywhere at once. As Stanley Baldwin once said, “The bomber will always get through.”

With that in mind, the Iranian player needs to have a solid strategy for knocking out the enemy’s air forces before they have a chance to do any real damage. To that end, the Iranian player needs to dedicate his fixed-wing air units to the task of eliminating enemy airbases until they have achieved supremacy.

The scenario setup gives Iran the following air units:

  • 10 x F-4 Phantoms
  • 8 x F-5 Tigers
  • 3 x AH-1 Cobras
  • 2 x CH-47
  • 1 x C-130
  • 1 x P3
  • 1 x S-3

The AH-1 Cobras should be the only aircraft dedicated to ground support for the early turns. The Iranian army is strong enough to take care of itself without needing to call on tons of CAS, especially when dealing with Kuwait. Plunk an airbase down in 1140 and put these guys on Offensive missions.

As for the other planes, we’ll focus entirely only on combat aircraft. That’s the F-4 and F-5s.

The Phantoms are excellent fighters with a “6” rating for anti-air. However, they are also your best bombers with a “5” bombardment rating. The F-5 Tigers are poor bombers (“3”) and decent fighters (“5”) so this should be a no-brainer. The F-4 Phantoms will deliver your air-to-ground ordnance and your F-5s will escort them or be sent on air superiority missions. Of course, the F-5s have a much shorter range than the Phantoms and here’s where things get hairy. In order to gain and keep air superiority, the Iranians will either need good luck and a lot of patience or they’ll need to make some incredibly aggressive moves from the first turn onward.

To Strike or not to Strike

On the first turn of Scenario 1, the Iranian player has the choice of either restricting their attacks to Kuwait or going all out. If they keep their units out of the other countries, the Gulf Council States will mobilize on Turn 2. On the other hand, moving into or attacking any countries besides Kuwait will result in the GC states mobilizing immediately.

Although the former may sound like a good way for the Iranians to catch the other countries with their pants down on Turn 2, I’ve come around to thinking that it hurts Iran more than helps it. If the Iranian player wants to win the scenario, they need to go all out from the very start. Turn 1 should be about taking out Kuwait as fast as possible while beginning the process of dismantling enemy air. My buddy Mark has written about Kuwait at length over at Boardgaming Life and the article is so perfect that I have little to add. On the subject of airpower, though, I think there is room to consider a possible approach.

The Opposition

Let’s go country by country and look at what we have to deal with:

Saudi Arabia

The Saudis have, by far, the most powerful air force in the game outside of the major powers and Iran. They have:

  • 2 x F-15 Eagles
  • 3 x F-5 Tigers
  • 1 x Lightning

The F-15 Eagles are better than your Phantoms with an impressive “7” anti-air rating. The F-5s are certainly no joke here either. Coupled with the AWACS for early warning, these become deadly interceptors.

Kuwait

The Kuwaiti Air Force is very small but can still throw a punch. The single Mirage squadron has a “6” anti-aircraft rating. With only one airbase and one scramble opportunity, they won’t be able to do much though. The two A-4 Skyhawk squadrons are poor fighters with only a “2” rating. They are probably more effective at making ground attacks for the short time they manage to stay alive.

Qatar

A single Mirage squadron. Not too much to worry about in the first turn but should be taken care of soon. These long-range aircraft are able to provide air cover for its small army. They might also be used for interdiction as the Iranian army marches down the peninsula.

Oman

Oman has an antiquated air force with only a single squadron of ageing Hunter aircraft (“1” bombardment and “2” anti-aircraft) and Jaguars apiece. The Jags have a very decent bombardment rating (“5”) so shouldn’t be underestimated. Not likely to do much against your armies in the early game but would almost certainly be used for strike missions against eastern Iran or enemy ships that stray too close to its shores.

UAE

The UAE has a pretty decent air force with two Mirage squadrons that could do well enough as interceptors or ground attack aircraft. They also have a Hunter aircraft that would almost certainly be assigned to interdiction.

Aircraft comparisons

AircraftAnti-airBombardmentRange
F-4 6510
F-5534
F-157510
Mirage648
Hunter212
Lightning315
Jaguar153
A-4235

As you can see from the table above, there are only really three types of enemy aircraft that pose any real threat to Iran’s air force: F-5, F-15, and Mirage. Two of these three aircraft are owned by the Saudis. Consequently, the bulk of our air activity in the first turns should be dedicated to destroying their air force. There are just two problems:

  1. The AWACS provides long-range detection of Iranian aircraft, allowing the Saudis to scramble far in advance of our arrival over target. Since we cannot club the Saudi Air Force over the head with better aircraft, Iran will have to rely on good ol’ quantity to get the job done.
  2. If the Saudis set up their air bases in a defensive area around Riyadh (thereby ceding air defense of the other allied nations around it), the airfields will be out of range for Iran’s F-5 aircraft to use as escorts for the F-4 Phantoms. Thus, the Iranian Air Force will be forced to pair up the Phantoms and use them exclusively against Saudi Arabia. It will take several turns to knock the Saudis completely out of the air. The Iranian Air Force will be hurting by the end of it.

This dilemma reveals the true limitations of Iran’s air capabilities (namely, its limited range) and highlights the need for a much more aggressive strategy based on the fact that Iran, if it is going to survive the game, will need to take drastic measures early on to capture and seize airfields. This will play a key role in keeping the Americans out of the Gulf and the Soviets in a position where they will be able to protect Iran’s gains in the region.

The options in the early turns include capturing Bahrain immediately with a marine landing in 2157 (after sinking their FAC, of course). It’s also a supply source. You might try for a foothold on the Saudi coastline by landing near Al Kubar in 1957 but the enemy Corvette and Frigate will both need to go first. A safer option might be to grab Al Hufuh at 1760. This could also be captured by a C-30 airlifted brigade in the first turn. The only problem is that reinforcement in subsequent turns can only be achieved by air.

In my experience, achieving at least two of these three objectives will at usually get the ball rolling. From the second turn, you’ll be using C-130s and your ships to transport your airbases into the newly captured airfields. Start ferrying your air units down there next. This will give you a huge advantage from Turn 3 onwards. You’ll hopefully have two dedicated airbases that can be used to launch F-5 escorted region-wide strike missions with your Phantoms.

You’ll also have a place to hang your F-14 Tomcat EW aircraft. These bases will help protect your ground forces as they move south from Kuwait. They’ll also be a great staging area to move your airmobile and naval forces east when you’re ready to attack the UAE and Oman (which should be very soon).

If the Soviets can be handed a toehold for their MiG-23s based at 4458 at the tip of the Strait of Hormuz, the Iranian forces will have a chance of pulling off a win. The key to this game is air superiority and any strategy that begins with considering how to achieve this will win over a commander who focuses only on the ground war.

Lessons of Volume: Writing Reflections

I’ve just finished my latest book for Lock ‘n Load Publishing: Space Infantry. The tentative subtitle for the book is “Outpost 13” but that may change according to the publisher’s desire. The story was based on something that was already written by another author and most of my job consisted of cleaning up the scenes, fleshing out the characters, and fixing the ending up a bit. Don’t get me wrong – those were huge tasks, but the basic building blocks were already there.

Like my books in the upcoming World at War ’85 series, this one was set in a universe based on the upcoming Space Infantry: Resurgence game. Not having had a copy of the game to work from, I was using images from the kickstarter to help with drawing out the details of the universe that the characters inhabited. In some cases, I could get pretty specific about stuff while in others, I was deliberately vague so as not to step on the toes of the designer. This made my job much tougher than I expected, but it’s a challenge that I was glad to have.

Space Infantry marks the fourth book of 2019 that I have produced. That seems to me like an insane amount of words and it does represent the major thrust of my daily productive life from late January of this year. It’s pretty hard to write this much stuff and tell these stories without learning a thing or two about writing, so I believe what I have gleaned from this experience is this above all:

Writing gets better the more you do it. It also gets easier.

In the early period of this year, I was struggling to pump out a thousand words per day as I hummed and hawed over my scenes and fiddled with words that ended up getting cut from the final version anyways. It was late April when I finally got my act together and started aiming for double that amount as my daily quota. Most of the time I got close – but not enough to satisfy my goals.

So here’s the other thing about writing stories: Planning scenes out ahead of time – even just a little – will help you immensely.

I know that seems obvious to many people, but believe me – when you’re a writer and you’re focused on word count and productivity, the temptation is real to just sit down at your computer each day and write stuff. These writers are known as “pantsers”, as in they write by the seat of their pants. Stephen King is this kind of writer – he mentions in his book “On Writing” that he doesn’t know where a story will take him as he writes.

I’m sure that works for some writers – I suspect though that their brains are just wired a bit differently and that some part of them just KNOWS where a story is going without having to sit down and put it all down on paper beforehand. It’s not that they are being disingenuous about not planning out their stories – it’s more that the productive side of their subconscious is more accessible than others and how the heck do you even begin to understand how that’s different from most people?

I have tried to write by the seat of my pants before and the results were mixed. The method of freestyle writing that produced Storm and Steel (my most successful book to date) was the same one which produced Task Force (a book that was rightly panned by most reviewers).

When I switched over to writing out and planning my scenes beforehand, the word count shot upward and so did the quality. “Insurgency” was the product of a long brainstorming session that, in my opinion, resulted in an interesting book with a satisfying ending and deeper characters. There are still lots of problem with “Insurgency”, but it’s one of the books I’m most proud of.

The fact that the rough draft of Space Infantry was already written before I got my hands on it helped to reinforce these lessons. Without having to worry about exactly where the story was headed, I basically painted inside the lines and helped straighten out the bigger issues. I am pretty sure Space Infantry will be a success – it certainly has a few things to think about and has a twist or two to spur the readers on to a huge climactic ending that sets things up for a sequel.

I think it’s a great story – one of the better books that I have written. Hopefully, it will have a positive reception and I can delve back into the setting and characters for a sequel.

Team Yankee: Cuts Like a Knife

Behold! The thriving metropolis over which our battle is joined.

I’ve been working on my Team Yankee kit lately and slowly adding to the terrain and Order of Battle. As with most minis games, I find that the more you acquire stuff, the more interesting and varied your battles become. Having said that, there is always the real danger of getting hooked on expanding your army and terrain set until the garage is filled with stuff and your spouse is ready to file papers.

I’ve always had a problem with diving headlong into things and finding out too late that I’ve gotten myself in trouble. Despite being aware of that weakness, I now find myself the proud owner of a small and growing collection of Team Yankee vehicles and infantry.

So what to do about that?

Well, get them out and play a game with them, I suppose!

In this scenario, I’ve got a mixed NATO force of Americans and Canadians versus the Soviets in a really confined space. The centerpiece is a small house next to a highway

Here’s the lineup:

Soviets
3 x T-64
1 x Air Assault Company

NATO
2 x Canadian Lynx reconnaissance vehicles
1 x Canadian Mechanized Infantry Platoon
2 x M1 Abrams tanks

The NATO side has a 7 point advantage over the Russians here, so I’ve decided to bring in the NATO side piecemeal while allowing the Soviets to set up all their forces right off the bat.

I am rolling to randomly determine which of the Canadian units gets sent in on the first turn and it ends up that the infantry get that honor. A roll of “5” or “6” at the beginning of each turn brings in one of the other units.

Basic setup

A look at things from the Soviet side of the table.

Turn 1:

We start off rolling initiative. The Canadians get a 4 while the Russians get a 5. The Canuck player rolls a “6” at the start of the turn and it appears the Lynx vehicles will be coming on board earlier than expected.

The Canadian infantry moves up to the center of the table and takes cover near the old house. Small arms fire erupts as the GPMG rakes across the line of advancing Russian infantry. Aware that there are tanks in the area, Carl Gustav anti-tank launchers and M72s are at the ready.

The mortar team fires smoke to the front in a bid to block advancing fire. The Lynx vehicles let loose with the .50 cal MGs and decimate the Soviets, who lose two rifle teams.

The Soviet infantry takes its punishment in stride and moves up to challenge the oncoming NATO infantry. They grab whatever cover is available and fire back.

The T-64s move up on the Canadian flank – a big risk considering they are near assault range – and open fire. The Canucks start taking casualties almost immediately. The mortar team is completely wiped out.

BOOM! The T-64s attack.

At the end of Turn 1, we can see the fun the beleagured Canadians are having:

Turn 2: The Canadian player rolls a “3” and our remaining M1 Abrams platoon stays off the board this turn.

First off, the Can. mechanized platoon gets into position, shifting its anti-tank weapons to the flank to deal with the onslaught of Soviet armor. A squad of men pour into the house and start firing down on the infantry from the second floor.

Carl Gustav teams get into firing position.

“I see it. Straight ahead! Taking a shot!”

Our GPMG team, now with an ROF of 5, starts to rip into the Soviet infantry. The Lynx takes out the Soviet commander and an AK-74 team.

The Russians, undeterred by the losses, start firing back. Two RPG-7 teams run out from behind cover and fire at the Lynx vehicles from close range. Both rockets tear into the thinly armored vehicles.

The T-64s start to pour fire into the Canadians, who are pinned down and unable to do much with the intense return fire slicing into the air all around them. The platoon leader is killed. Things look grim for the Canucks.

A look at things from the T-64 perspectives.

Turn 3: Mercifully, the Canadian player rolls a “5” for his reserve roll and the M1 Abrams may now enter the board. Shots taken at the thinner side armor slice through one of the T-64s.

Meanwhile two Canadian AT teams move around the corner and open fire.

BOOM! BOOM!

Both shots score a kill. The T-64 platoon is wiped out.

The Soviet infantry stages a desperate last-ditch assault against the remnants of the Canadian infantry in the house. The early stage of the melee is marked by Soviet success. Two Canadian squads are wiped out.

But the counterattack by the remaining NATO squad succeeds and the attacking Soviets are whittled down until none remain. A pair of Soviet infantry units watch helplessly from the flank and decide that enough is enough. The game ends in a marginal NATO victory.

End game positions.

Enemy Lines – Army of Two Progress

I am currently going through several of my older books and retooling them for Lock ‘n Load Publishing as part of the World at War ’85 universe. I’m quite proud that my newer and older fiction is being published by LnLP. Some of the older books are being changed to adapt to the WaW universe as created by Keith Tracton while others add bits to it and flesh it out. Some of the changes in the newer books are small while others are wholesale overhauls. Enemy Lines (which will be republished as “Army of Two” is one of the latter.

When I first wrote “Enemy Lines”, my idea was to recreate the feel of a Hollywood action movie from the ’80s. There was an attempt to entertain while at the same time pay homage to the era in which these books were set. The reason was simple enough – I grew up during this time and was fed a steady diet of Chuck Norris and Sylvester Stallone action flicks just like all the other kids. Enemy Lines was written for pure fun.

When I re-read the book, I noticed several ways that the plotlines and characters of First Strike could be adapted to Enemy Lines and it hit me that I would write a kind of sequel to the final battle that takes place in First Strike to sort of explore what happens to various characters in the book. I also managed to draw a thread into Insurgency/Ghost Insurgency that I won’t delve into here.

The new version of Enemy Lines (Army of Two) is a major overhaul that draws on the story of the WaW ’85 universe so far and it also hints at some of the stories coming down the road. In many ways, it’s become a lynchpin of several books in the series. Recurring characters are starting to “grow” within the series and the stuff that’s going on behind the scenes in the war is being more fully explored within the pages of this book.

I’ll write another update once the final draft is submitted, but so far I am very pleased with the progress of Army of Two and I hope fans will enjoy it.

On The Way

Over the last several months, I’ve been extremely busy writing new material for Lock ‘n Load Publishing. Helmed by David Heath, LnLP is a wargame company that has been around for more than ten years. They are the license holders for the upcoming World at War ’85 series, which is designed by Keith Tracton.

Back in January, David got in touch with me and asked if I wanted to write something for the World at War ’85 universe that Keith had created and I was more than happy to oblige. The result is the upcoming book, Storming the Gap: First Strike.

Based on the first three scenarios in the first module of the game “Storming the Gap“, the action takes place in a world very similar to the one I created with my own books though of course there were some key differences about the origins of the war and the events that followed.

Keith was extremely helpful and patient in working with me to help devise three stories that took place during the early days of the war in Fulda Gap. The result is one of my strongest efforts yet. With the support of a publishing company behind my work, the production values are way better than with my earlier books. The work benefits enormously from a professional team that includes illustrators, voice actors, and editors.

Storming the Gap: First Strike will be available as an e-book, paperback, and an audiobook.

Speaking of which, you can check out an audiobook sample here.

I am extremely proud of the result and the book is set to be released very soon. Keep your eyes out on the Lock ‘n Load Publishing facebook page for more information.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

KHAAAAAAN!

Tsukuda Hobby made their first real venture into wargaming in 1981 when the company acquired the license for Mobile Suit Gundam. At the time, the animated space opera was a huge hit in Japan. And no wonder! It’s about huge freakin’ robots fighting each other in space. How could you go wrong with a premise like that?!

pic from BGG. credit to Matt Boehland.

The success of the first two Gundam-based wargames, Jabro (which dealt with ground combat) and Fortress (which focused on space battles) spurred the company to venture further into their existing licenses and make games that dealt with other topics. Star Wars: Death Star and Star Trek: The Invasion of the Klingon Empire were published in 1982. I’m not sure if any of these games were good or not but they were successful enough to spur Tsukuda to keep releasing similar gaming products throughout the 1980s.

In fact, the company branched out its wargaming into three separate series. The first was an SF series that produced games based heavily on popular sci-fi licenses at the time. The second was a First Step series, which were usually tactical level wargames for kids or entry-level gamers that emphasized quick play and simple rules sets. The last one was the “NF series”, which were historical-based wargames that leaned heavily towards World War II in the Pacific and Europe.

Tsukuda Hobby – 1983 catalog

When Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan came out in the theaters during the summer of 1982, it was a huge hit with moviegoers in the States, achieving the highest box office weekend of the year. The movie wouldn’t be released until late February of the next year in Japan (translation and distribution rights takes forever over here – not to mention ensuring that the movie’s release doesn’t eclipse any domestic releases). But Tsukuda must have sensed by then that the movie would be a hit over here too. So they purchased the rights to the movie and produced a game.

The game Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was published in 1983 and…uh…yeah. Thirty six years later, an unpunched copy is sitting on my desk and a couple of weeks of translation work have yielded an English rules set that sort of makes sense. A warning here that some of my complaints about the game may be due more to mistranslation but I think I got most of it spot on.

So what are the issues here?

The first is the bipolar focus of the game. The game has two “modes” of play: exploration or battlefield.

The Rulebook – energy management and movement sections

Where No Man Has Gone Before

Much of the rulebook is given over to the exploration mode. I’m not sure where this really happened in the movie but hey – it’s a Star Trek game and was the central focus of the TV series. So it sort of make sense but then again not really.

Both players move their ships around on a “Warp Map” and you manage your ship’s energy each turn. At the beginning of each turn, the ships under your command are allocated a base amount of energy derived from Warp Drive and Impulse Drive.

Then both players plot out their movement and then reveal their plotted courses. Just like using sensors and weaponry, movement consumes energy.

This plotting/movement phase continues until either both players have either run out of available energy or declare that they are finished their movement for the turn. At this point, ships in the same hex as a star system can then conduct conduct diplomacy (if you’re Federation) or intimidation (if you’re Klingon).

Depending on the outcome of the negotiations, the star system might ally with you, attack others ships or star systems, or even repair your damaged ships. You also might run into space storms or have an encounter from a random table listed at the back of the book.

At the end of the game, victory is determined mainly by how many star systems both sides have managed to either conquer or ally with.

Three mounted mapboards included in the game. 

The Balance of Terror

Battle scenarios deal with famous battles from the movies and TV shows. The first couple of scenarios are based on the famous unwinnable “Kobayashi Maru” exercise that Kirk had to cheat at in order to win during his academy days. One of the scenarios lets you play out the battle between Kirk and Khan at the end of the film.

The battle sequence of play is very similar to the exploration game with some key differences. Instead of using separate warp maps, the ships are placed on the same mapboard. Since we’re dealing with close-up knife fights between huge ships at slow speed, the ships only get energy from their Impulse Drives.

It’s interesting to note that the subsystems generate a small amount of available energy each turn and this can be tapped into during an emergency – at a price.

Movement and combat occur simultaneously and damage to ship locations takes effect at the end of each movement/combat phase so both ships can take each other out in a blaze of glory (“From hell’s heart, I stab at thee!”). Battles run pretty smoothly once you get the hang of it though the charts for hit locations and damage are scattered throughout several pages of charts (that are mercifully separated from the rulebook).

The Trouble with Tables

It’s worth stopping and noting at this point that there are five scenarios in the book and four of these are Battle scenarios. For some reason, the rulebook states that there are eight scenarios but that is a glaring error and not the only one I found. Anyway, here’s a big thing: if your game only has one scenario that deals with exploration, don’t dedicate over half the rules set to it. Find a single focus for your game and develop it.

There are also some weird choices made here. There are three ship types in the game – Heavy Cruisers, Cruisers, and Klingon Battle Cruisers. Each of these has detailed tables of components and energy usage that need to be consulted and written down in a log at the start of each game. The charts are all over the place so this takes a really long time (took me nearly two hours on my first play to fill out the Enterprise log).

With only three ships here, it would have been nice just to have a few pre-made logs to photocopy in order to facilitate play time. I understand that the intent may have been to provide room for expansions or for players to incorporate other ships from the Star Trek universe into the game. But the cost doesn’t seem to be worth the payoff of customization.

The rulebook itself also has some glaring errors, especially in the examples. The illustrated charts and consumption numbers don’t always match what’s in the actual tables. I also found a couple of mathematical errors involving simple sums, which only added to the confusion.

Who Mourns for Tsukuda?

All that being said, my first game of Star Trek went fairly smooth. After translating the rules for myself into English, I finally sat down and played out the Kobayashi Maru scenario. I’ll write about the specifics in a future post but I can say handily that the game did, in fact, feel like Star Trek.

Once you get the hang of managing your energy and understanding what to do with each chart, the game becomes a lot of fun and it felt pretty cool when my wounded Enterprise managed to take on a Klingon Battle Cruiser and manage a hit with a pair of proton torpedoes.

I can’t help sensing that this game was intended as part of a series of Star Trek games that Tsukuda was hoping to further develop in its lineup. As I mentioned above, this was the second game that dealt with the license. A few lines in the rulebook encourage players to build up scenarios for each other. There are tons of counters in the game, some of which aren’t really explained at all in the rulebook – were these meant to be part of a future expansion?

There is a wonderful potential to use the empty ship logs to play with and develop your own ships from the movie and TV universe, even though it’s not specifically stated. I found all this unexplained chrome to be a bit mysterious – as if something had gone on behind the scenes that basically doomed these aspirations from the start. As it is, Tsukuda never produced another Star Trek game ever again. Soon, it turned back to mostly Japanese-based TV shows and animation for its licenses.

It’s interesting that a company like Tsukuda never really got much attention by gamers in the west. Obviously, the language differences were mainly responsible for keeping Japan-based games from having their influence and designs drift back to their source of inspiration in the west. It might have also been the “hit and miss” quality of the products, which from my experience, can vary a great deal.

While I found Star Trek to be an enjoyable but messy game, I had an entirely different experience with Fortress, which was a simple but well-honed machine that did exactly what it was designed to do in terms of theme and entertainment value. On the other hand, I have also set up and stared at Leopard II, TH’s game of armored warfare in hypothetical World War III Europe, which was both unfinished and unplayable in its final form – but somehow managed to impress nonetheless merely on the scale of what was even attempted. (How do you possibly come to terms with a base game that comes with no less than THREE THOUSAND COUNTERS.)

Basically, you can never ever guess what you get from a Tsukuda Hobby game and I find that to be part of the charm and frustration of collecting them.

I’ll be talking a little more about Tsukuda Hobbies and other Japanese wargames in my future blog  posts. Stay tuned.

“Insurgent” Now Available

I’m proud to announce that “Insurgent“, the latest entry in the World War III: 1985 series has just been released.

As with all my other books, it’s available on Amazon in e-book format.

The book is about two Vietnam veterans who are sent to assist an insurgency in East Germany during the opening days of World War III.

 

Along with the insurgent leader, Major Werner Brandt, the team faces numerous challenges as they attempt to hit a the Soviet garrison near Leipzig. It’s a book about war, friendship, and hard choices.

Here’s the synopsis for your reading pleasure:

May, 1985: The Warsaw Pact invades West Germany. World War III has begun. Two Vietnam veterans are sent on a secret mission to East Germany to help train and advise an insurgency aimed at the very heart of the Soviet military forces stationed in the country. 

The chaos of war provides the perfect conditions for a rogue East German major and his soldiers to strike at the Russians as they pour men and material towards the front lines. Though they are on the same side, the three men become embroiled in a conflict not only with the enemy but also among themselves. 

During the Vietnam War, Joe Ricci and Ned Littlejohn trained and lead Hmong fighters against the North Vietnamese Army. When the Third World War breaks out fifteen years later, they are assigned to work with Major Werner Brandt and his shadowy cell of insurgents. Their objective is to break the Soviet occupation force. 

Consumed with hatred for the Russians, Brandt’s lust for revenge threatens to unravel the entire operation. Ricci, on the other hand, struggles to keep the nearby civilians safe from harm in the middle of a war zone. The two men are set on a collision course as they fight for their countries – and their souls.