Saturday, November 30, 2013

Born in the North to Die in the South: 10mm FOW Vietnam AAR

Sapper Joe (Joe Collins) ran a 10mm FOW Vietnam scenario today at Wargamers Cave in Granite City, IL this afternoon.  Joe was new to the rules.  So was Combat Colours (Steve Hood), Hostile Contact (Curtis Turner), Warbeads (Glenn Wilson), and myself.  Steve and I ran the PAVN/VC forces.  Curtis and Glenn had the American armor and mechanized infantry.  Joe was the GM.  The Americans had to get across the board.  The NVA/VC were supposed to stop them.  Problem was the Americans had too many recce units to detect the NVA/VC ambushes.  The VC/NVA also didn't have enough firepower to damage the American M48s or enough troops to properly ambush them.  But Sapper Joe threw this scenario together.  He later admitted there wasn't enough terrain for the NVA/VC to sneak up on the Americans once they came on the board.

Barring those problems, the NVA/VC slowed down Americans enough to prevent them from exiting the table on time.  But Steve and I had our behinds handed to us as far as casualties go...  Some victory!?!?

The FOW Vietnam rules work fine.  We just have some getting used to jogging around all the special rules and charts.  There also should have been American air power on the board to make things more interesting.  I leave that to more play testing and getting familiar with the rules.

Here are photos of the actual game:


                                    Steve Hood and Curtis Turner before the game at Wargamers Cave.

                                          Steve Hood talking with Joe Collins.

                                         American armored column at the beginning of the game.

                                          The guys discussing things.

                                         The initial NVA/VC ambush on the armored column.

                                          Remaining NVA/VC fade out to become guerilla reserves.

                                          Americans responded to my attacking NVA company.

          My horrendous die rolling.  I needed 4 or better for casualties.  Nothing higher than a 3!

                                          Remaining American armor rolls on while my NVA rout off the table! 






Sunday, November 24, 2013

Review of The German Army on the Somme 1914-1916

Author:  Jack Sheldon.
Title:  The German Army on the Somme 1914-1916.
Publisher:  Sword and Pen Books.
Copyright:  2006 (2007 and 2012).
Pages:  432.
Price:  $32.50 (US).

Even after a week of constant reading, it took a while to get through The German Army on the Somme 1914-1916.  The author does an excellent job with his sources.  The narrative flows uninterrupted throughout the book.  However, there is so much material to cover with the Battle of the Somme, I felt overwhelmed at times reading it.

There are nine chapters.  Each chapter runs about 40-50 pages.  Chapters 4-9 cover from July 1, 1916 to December 31, 1916.  The grind of positional warfare comes across in the reading.  Units are chewed up and spent by artillery and machine gun fire.  What's left is sent back to the rear to rest and rebuild.  Afterward, the same units are put in the trenches again to began the process all over.  But the German army held the Somme despite the huge expenditure of Allied men and material.

I've always had a bad taste for Field Marshal Haig.  Historians have given him mixed reviews.  Even though this was mainly about the German war effort on the Somme, the loss of British soldiers is folly bordering on criminal.  Some 600,000 casualties for five months of slaughter.  60,000 dead on the first day of July 1916 alone.  Statistics like that boggle my mind.  The losses are enormous.  But that is the product of industrialized death during the modern era.  I read about the Germans running out of shells for their artillery batteries and having to conserve them in the face of the huge Allied shell expenditure.  Landscape becoming as barren as the moon because of the constant shelling.  Trench-foot, rats, flies, and the mud sapping the life out of the combatants during the lulls in fighting.  Talk about hell on earth.  That was the Somme...

The Germans did a good job husbanding their troops.  They stopped defending every inch of ground when Ludendorff and Hindenburg took over the German war effort in the summer of 1916.  Until then, the Germans suffered high casualties with their hold at all cost tactics.  But the whole Somme effort crippled the German army with losses it could never make up afterwards.

Recommended.  Though I've had an easier time reading other WWI histories.  Most of this book is actual after action reports and recollections of German veterans.  

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Review of The Roman Army

Author/Editor:  Chris McNab.
Title:  The Roman Army:  The Greatest War Machine in the Ancient World.
Publisher:  Metro Books (New York).
Pages:  280. 
Copyright:  2010.
Price:  $12.95 (US).

This books was a compilation of different experts on the Roman army.  It covered from the founding of Rome in 758 BC through the fall of the western Empire in 476 AD until the Muslim conquests in the 7th century AD. 

Different sections were dedicated to the composition and tactics of the Roman army during each phase of its long history.  Afterward, particular campaigns and battles were highlighted in detail.  I found the Republic and late Empire fascinating reading. 

I know the most about the late Republic and early Empire from my other readings.  I used to be able to read Latin and survived it as an undergraduate student.  I recognized the different Latin for soldiers and military units in the Roman army.  However, it's has stagnated without constant use.  I doubt I could sightread Caesar or Plinty if I tried.  I had trouble translating Latin 20 years ago.  I don't even want to try now.

However, the book is a solid piece of scholarship.  If you're looking for what the Roman army was like when it waged war, The Roman Army is a good start.  It has borrowed heavily from Osprey Publishing for its color plates of what Roman soldiers looked it. 

The problem with Roman history is the amount of time covered.  You really have to delve into a partial section of the Republic or Empire in order to really study it.  Outside of reading classical text in their original language, I recommend a decent English translation of primary sources.  If you're looking for information about the late Republic, I'd recommend Caesar Against the Celts if you can find a used copy of it on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or a used book store.

Recommended for introduction to the Roman war machine.  Though rather dry on some of the technical aspects of unit tactics. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Review of Queen Victoria's Little Wars by Byron Farwell

Author:  Byron Farwell.
Title:  Queen Victoria's Little Wars.
Publisher:  Pen & Sword.
Pages:  394.
Copyright:  2006 (originally published in 1973).
Price:  16.99 British Pound Sterling.

I bought this book several years ago and read parts of it.  I then remember finishing one Xmas.  I started reading it again thinking I hadn't read it.  But I then realized I had!

This book covers all the military campaigns fought by Queen Victoria's armies during her long reign.  If you're looking for campaign ideas, the list is endless.  Crimea, Sudan, Egypt, India, Ethiopia, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the Gold Coast, and Canada are a few places where the British fought and expanded their empire. 

Many of the chapters are devoted to the Indian Mutiny and Afghanistan.  In reading about the places the British fought and died, an eery familiarity can be seen today with the international forces stationed in the county.  The terrain is the same.  The occupiers are new. 

But getting back to Queen Victoria's Little Wars, the last major war covered was the Second Boer War.  The British fought two different campaigns in the Sudan before conquering it.  I look at all these military campaigns and say what ever became of them besides imperialistic glory chasing.  All the places the British ruled are governed by a common language and customs.  But what was all this gained at what cost?  As Farwell noted, people would rather be misruled by their own leaders than justly governed by another country.  That's just one of the perversities of history in looking at the Victorian era...

Recommended reading for a global view of the British Empire at its height. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Review of Everything We Had by Al Santoli

Author:  Al Santoli.
Title:  Everything We Had:  An Oral History of the Vietnam War.
Publisher:  Presidio Press.
Pages:  235.
Copyright:  1981.
Price:  $7.99 (US).

This paperback is a personal history of the Vietnam War told from the perspective of 33 different people.  It covers from the opening days of 1962 to the fall of Saigon in 1975.  I enjoyed some accounts.  Some I found repetitive or boring. 

Being an oral history, you get a bunch of different viewpoints.  There were special forces, medics, marines, nurses, chopper pilots, and Navy personnel.  However, you get a good overview of the whole war.  Mostly recommended.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Review of The Hill Fights by Edward F. Murphy

Author:  Edward F. Murphy.
Title:  The Hill Fights:  The First Battle of Khe Sahn.
Publisher:  Presidio Press.
Pages:  330.
Copyright:  2003.
Price:  $7.99 (US).

This is the second book I've read by Edward Murphy, a Vietnam War historian.  I liked The Hill Fights:  The First Battle of Khe Sahn much better than Semper Fi Vietnam.   The book focuses on the March and April 1967 battles for Hills 881 N and 881 S near Khe Sahn.  US Marine infantry became engaged with entrenched NVA units occupying Hill 881 N and Hill 881 S.  The US Marines were drawn into a piece-meal battle with infantry companies being ambushed and calling for relief forces.  The relief forces in turned were then ambushed by the NVA.

Murphy's battle narrative is excellent.  But the combat losses are gruesome.  This is my eighth book on the Vietnam War.  I lost track of more ways to die by napalm, concussion grenades, mortar rounds, snipers, 155mm artillery rounds, RPGs, and AK47 rounds.  The problem the Americans had was the jamming of the new M16s.  I read of more men being killed in combat due to their inability to shoot back at their NVA opponents than anything else.  A section at the epilogue is dedicated to the whole M16 fiasco and subsequent congressional investigations.  The US Army rushed the M16 to production using inferior gunpowder.  So the weapons tended to jam in combat.  US commanders denied that the weapons were defective.  But later field testing proved otherwise. 

The whole problem with the occupation of Khe Sahn was it wasn't needed.  The US Marines didn't want it.  General Westermoreland saddled them with it.  Westmoreland wanted it to draw out the NVA for several set piece battles where US firepower would crush their Communist opponents in northwestern South Vietnam.  The reverse happened.  Several NVA divisions eventually besieged Khe Sahn in the spring of 1968.  The surrounding terrain is mountainous rain forests.  What the vegetation wouldn't hinder, the fog and rainstorms did.  Located in a valley, Khe Sahn was an unsuitable location near the DMV as a forward base. 

But General Westmoreland got what he wanted.  The hill fights of 1967 were a prelude to a much larger action the following year during the Tet Offensive.  One must question the logic of just keeping three US Marine infantry companies in a place like Khe Sahn when the whole area favors the enemy.  In that regard, the whole Khe Sahn campaign was unnecessary.  It would have made more tactical sense to have built a fire base further back from the DMZ out of the NVA's artillery range.

I recommend The Hill Fights for those wanting to learn more about the first battle of Khe Sahn.