#Wargame Wednesday – “Fair winds and following seas.” RIP John Prados

RIP to the great John Prados,

John Prados is an author and analyst of national security based in Washington, DC. He is the author of about thirty books and many articles on topics of current importance, presidential studies, international security; and diplomatic, intelligence, or military history. 

About John Prados Web Page

When it comes to books, the one title that will always stand out to me is Combined Fleet Decoded: The Secret History of American Intelligence and the Japanese Navy in World War II (Naval Institute Press, 1995). But as much as I like his books, it is his wargames that I really remember, especially Third Reich.

Third Reich was the first “monster” wargame that my friends and I played back in the early days of my wargaming past. I remember having a sleepover birthday party in middle school, maybe 1981 or 1982, where we played what was likely Rise and Decline of the Third Reich: 2nd Edition (1976). It was an epic game; I don’t think we played 24 hours like the game is rated for but we started Saturday after lunch and finished (gave up?) around 5am Sunday morning after something like 16 hours of playing with a break for dinner/cake/presents—none of which I remember…but I remember the game.

Given John’s affinity for intelligence studies it is no surprise that another game of his, Bodyguard Overlord (Spearhead Games, 1994) is in my collection. Click the title right there to see my thoughts. TL:DR a game that was probably ahead of its time.

Mr. Prados was an also advocate for wargames in the Naval service. In 2006, he wrote an article for Naval History Magazine titled, “Waging Wars with Cardboard Navies” that I still reference to this day. Indeed, the bibliography after the article captures for me the wargaming John Prados that I will remember most fondly:

Mr. Prados is a senior fellow with the National Security Archive in Washington, D.C. The author of numerous books and articles, he is also among the “Old Guard” of gaming, having designed numerous board games. In terms of disclosure, it should be noted that Mr. Prados has published games with Avalon Hill Game Company, Simulations Publications, Game Designers’ Workshop, TSR Hobbies, Operational Studies Group, Clash of Arms, Avalanche Press, GMT Games, Decision Games, Against the Odds, and Harper & Row, among others.

John Prados Biography at The Naval History Magazine (online)

Fair winds and following seas
may forever you feel, upon your cheek, the salty breeze.
Your spirit lives on in many a heart,
your words captured and never to depart.
May your loved ones be comforted knowing
that heaven is where you are going.
For all that they have to do is look above, at the gaming table
and they will be reminded of your love combat results tables.

With apologies to Dave Kelly
Courtesy johnprados.com

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#SundaySummary – Stuffed #Thanksgiving and seeing red on #BlackFriday with @Alderac @trevormbenjamin @djackthompson @Zmangames_ @gmtgames @LnLPub @HuzzahHobbies @hollandspiele @PieceKeeperGame #wargame #boardgame

As previously warned about, not much gaming due to limited time and space. Then again, this is the time of the year I gladly give up game time on the family dining table for festive meals prepared by Mrs. RockyMountainNavy!

Wargame

Winter Wargaming Series

The RockyMountainNavy War Chest Winter Wargaming Series continued this weekend with me facing off against RockyMountainNavy T again. War Chest, by Trevor Benjamin and David Thompson (AEG, 2018) has become a go-to game for RMN T and myself to fill in the after-dinner time before watching sports or a movie. We use the draft system to pick our forces and this week was another interesting match-up:

  • RMN T – Marshal, Berserkers, Footmen, Crossbowmen
  • RMN – Royal Guards, Warrior Priests, Lancers, Archers

This was a hard-fought battle that lasted a full hour of play. I ended the game with just two coins in my bag but controlled five of my six needed areas before my last unit was killed. This game once again saw RMN T use the Marshal to order forces from a distance. We also had lots of change-of-initiative as we both leaned hard into using that rule to give ourselves back-to-back turns. For myself I think I used the Royal Guards more wisely than I have before. RMN T is now ahead 2-1 in our War Chest Winter Gaming Series with many more match-ups to surely come!

With RockyMountainNavy Jr. home for the holiday the Boys and myself got a play of Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Z-Man Games, 2022) in on Thanksgiving Night. We played on Padawan-level (3 missions) since it was RMN Jr.’s first play but we will play at least at Jedi Knight-level (4 missions) in the future because we never felt pressured. It also helped that RMN Jr. built a squad right from the beginning that was highly suited to the two at-start missions shown…

Holiday Sales/Black Friday/Small Business Saturday

I was (barely) able to take advantage of the GMT Games Holiday Sale. Was a bit difficult given I was on the other side of the world at the time. Next War: Vietnam by designer Mitchell Land should be inbound shortly. I also ordered a copy of Brandywine: Battles of the American Revolution Vol. II (designer Mark Miklos, 2000) only to later remember it is one of the games in the Tri-Pack Battles of the American Revolution (2017) that I already own! Ah…the challenges of managing your collection on the other side of the globe on a BGG app using spotty wi-fi…

Not Vietnam but another both a past and “Next War” candidate (photo by RMN)

I also took advantage of a sale at Flying Pig Games. Old School Tactical Volume II : West Front 1944-45 will hopefully arrive before Christmas. I recently acquired Old School Tactical Volume III: Pacific War 1942/45 and I like the system.

I also splurged a bit on myself for two other games from an online retail seller:

I tried to order a game from the Lock n’ Load Publishing sale but couldn’t. Seems that whenever I try to place an order the shipping selection is lost. Same error on iOS, MacOS, and Windows devices in different browsers. (Sigh.) Guess the Interwebs Gods are telling me I spent too much already…

Wargame Practitioner

Am in the midst of a reading/research review of my library on the 1982 South Atlantic Campaign. Plenty of books but too few wargames. Detailed post in the future…

Boardgame

The day after Black Friday I stalked the tables at my FLGS, Huzzah Hobbies in Loudon, VA in support of Small Business Saturday. I was a bit surprised to find a Hollandspiele boardgame, The Field of the Cloth of Gold (designer Amabel Holland, 2020). Hollandspiele games are usually print-on-demand via Blue Panther and I had not previously seen a copy of any Hollandspiele game in this store. The game is still in shrink and I’m not sure if the shop ordered a few copies or if it was a consignment of sorts but it was 50% off (plus “Mil-D” – military discount) so I’m not complaining. I also found the game Flag Dash (PieceKeeper Games, 2016) on the $1 table so I picked that one up to add to the gifting collection of games.

Look Ahead

Gaming darkness. Have to take RockyMountainNavy Jr. back to college (whole day roundtrip driving). Have one more overseas business trip before Christmas (week on the road). Sister-in-law still occupying gaming space (ongoing for another five weeks).


Feature image courtesy of self

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#SundaySummary – A War Chest from Japan to Cambrai to Angola while going Tongues Out with the reading Marines & watching for incoming. @alderac @trevormbenjamin @djackthompson @MultiManPub @ADragoons @BlueOrangeGames @MC_UPress #Wargames #Boardgames #MilitaryBooks

Good week; bad week.

The Good

Wargames

RockyMountainNavy Game Night featured War Chest by Trevor Benjamin and David Thompson from Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG, 2018). We hadn’t played for a while so we took our time and really enjoyed the trash and tactics table talk. Alas, RockyMountainNavy T continues his win streak against Dad and handed me yet another defeat. Sounds bad but really it was good to play an awesome wargame that makes you think and agonize over almost every move. Also hard to beat the clicking of those hefty coins in your hand…

He’s a mighty young king… (Photo by RMN)

In happier news I took advantage of the Multi-Man Publishing Fall Sale to acquire a few new-to-me games at nice discounts.

Warriors of Japan: A Country Aflame 1333-1339 (regular $48 sale $15) is a low-complexity, high solitaire suitability game. Hmm… Breakthrough: Cambrai (regular $44 sale $15) is a Michael Rinella area-movement, impulse mechanics game. I like similar Rinella games (Patton’s Vanguard: The Battle of Arracourt, 1944 from Revolution Games comes to mind) so I have high hopes for this title. Angola! (regular $83 sale $30) is a four-player game that I may have a hard time finding enough players to get a full game in but as much as I want to play I also just want to tear it apart and see how the game mechanisms work. Regardless, Regimental Commander Brant at Armchair Dragoons pointed out that I have plenty of #Unboxing Day materials for the next few months…

Speaking of the Armchair Dragoons, I am scheduled to record a podcast this coming week on “Accessories.” Look for that episode of Mentioned in Dispatches to be out later this month.

Boardgames

Although my own boys are older, I am always looking out for good children’s games for Mrs. RockyMountainNavy to use with her elementary-age students—or her favorite nephew’s daughter in Korea. Thus, Tongues Out released this year from Blue Orange Games arrived. For some reason I don’t think Brant is looking for an unboxing of this one.

Let loose the dogs of…fun?

Books

If you don’t already know, Marine Corps University Press offers books for free. As their website states, “As a federal government publisher, our works are free of charge, but please help us be good stewards of federal dollars and request only the books or journals you need most.” Admittedly, I already have a few of these in digits but I’m a bit old-fashioned in some ways so picked up dead-tree versions. I find physical books easier to thumb through quickly when I’m looking for a particular section.

From Marine Corps University Press (Photo by RMN)

INCOMING!

After who-knows-how-long Compass Games put Carrier Battle: Philippine Sea by Jon Southard up on Kickstarter which means it is getting close to print. The 2022 Holiday Catalog carried it as “Early 2023” so that may actually be accurate.

Speaking of naval games (and I wouldn’t be RockyMountainNAVY if I didn’t), I also bit the bullet on Task Force – Carrier Battles in the Pacific from VUCA Simulations. This game appears to be a major update of the 1982 edition. The preorder discount is in effect and the publisher reports, “This game is now at the printer and will be shipped in early 2023.”

“At Sea: No arrival date yet” is how GMT Games describes Next War: Supplement #3. As the website states: “Effectively, this supplement is an upgrade kit for Next War: Poland, 1st Edition to the 2nd Edition, but, of course, it also includes goodies such as the additional counters, the ROK OoB, [Next War: Korea] new Cyber Warfare rules, and assorted other optional rules.” My gut feeling is that this game supplement could arrive before Christmas…maybe.

A game that may be closer to arrival is SUM8 by Turnup Games. They updated Kickstarter backers with this positive message on November 01, “We wanted to give you an update on where the SUM8 Classic Edition shipping is at. The boat arrived in port on Friday October 21st. We are now patiently waiting for it to clear customs and be on its way. ARC Global, our Logistics partner is in constant contact with us, and do not believe it should be held much longer. As soon as it is released and moving again we will let you know!”

I also have several books inbound from Helion Publishing on a historical topic that is a personal favorite of mine. The ones I ordered where on enough of a sale that even with shipping from the UK thrown in they were still better priced than going through Amazon. I hope that once they arrive I will have the basis for a “History to Wargame” blog series going into next year.

The Bad

Not really that bad, but…challenging. With the arrival of two sisters-in-law for an extended stay, RockyMountainNavy Jr. coming home for the holidays, and two business trips in the next months, I have for the most part “lost” my gaming space (and lots gaming time) for the next 90 days. When I do get a chance to play if it’s not Game Night then I am forced to use a collapsible 4×5 low table that I can’t keep set up all the time. However, with RMN Jr. back we should get some more family gaming in so that’s not really bad…


Feature image courtesy of self

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#SundaySummary – From Clone Wars to Barbarossa with @Zmangames_ and lombardystudios.com

Wargame/Boardgame

Got several sessions of Star Wars: The Clone Wars – A Pandemic System Game by Alexander Ortloff from Z-Man Games to the table this weekend. This is an excellent variation of the Pandemic System originally designed by Matt Leacock. Not only is the theme well-executed, the cooperative game play is exciting. I don’t hear much buzz about this Adventure Wargame which saddens me as it is excellent!

“Begun, the Clone War has…” (Photo by RMN)

Books

My Kickstarter campaign from Lombardy Studios delivered Black Cross Red Star: Air War Over The Eastern Front – Volume 1 Operation Barbarossa and Stalingrad: New Perspectives on an Epic Battle – Volume 1 The Doomed City both by Christer Bergstrom this week. I look forward to these new views of the war on the Eastern Front, especially the air campaigns.

New Books on the Eastern Front… (Photo by RMN)

Feature image courtesy RMN

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#History to #Wargame – Imperial Japan’s Indian Ocean Campaign through The Darkest Hour (@Helionbooks) and Second World War at Sea: Eastern Fleet (Avalanche Press, 2001)

Exploring history through reading and wargames….

I love my Osprey Books, but these days the titles from Helion Books seem to capture my attention more. Like Osprey Books the Helion titles are illustrated with many photographs and color artwork along with extensive tables of information. For a wargame player, The Darkest Hour series of books from Helion provides in-depth background into the Imperial Japanese Navy offensive into the Indian Ocean in 1942 which in turn makes playing a wargame like The Second World War at Sea: Eastern Fleet that much more enjoyable since the “why” of certain rules or victory conditions becomes much easier to understand.

History Reading

Piegzik, Michal A., The Darkest Hour – Volume 1: The Japanese Naval Offensive in the Indian Ocean 1942 – The Opening Moves (Asia@War No. 31), Warwick: Helion & Co., Ltd., 2022 (84 pages) / Piegzik, Michal A., The Darkest Hour – Volume 2: The Japanese Naval Offensive in the Indian Ocean 1942 – The Attack against Ceylon and the Eastern Fleet (Asia@War No. 33), Warwick: Helion & Co., Ltd., 2022 (72 pages)

The Darkest Hours from Helion Books

From the book backs:

The Darkest Hour presents the Imperial Japanese Navy offensive in the Indian Ocean area in March-April 1942, the main goal of which was to destroy the Royal Navy in the Far East and achieve domination on the western flank of the Pacific War on the eve of the Battle of Midway. The bold operation by two Japanese task forces (Kido Butai and Malay Force) in the Indian Ocean would only be possible with the fall of Singapore in February and the Dutch East Indies in early March 1942.

The first volume examines events up to the capture of the Andaman Islands and Christmas Island…

The second volume examines the Japanese aerial assault upon the British bases on Ceylon, and the attacks on the carrier HMS Hermes, cruisers HMS Cornwall and Devonshire, and the destroyer HMS Vampire.

The Darkest Hour Vol 1/Vol 2 book back

The Darkest Hour series is basically broken out into a strategic/operational volume and a tactical volume. The strategic/operational aspects of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Indian Ocean campaign are covered in Volume 1. The first volume sets the strategic situation and follows the operations up to the morning of 5 April 1942. This is where Volume 2 starts. The second volume dives into tactical details of the battles fought between 5 April and 9 April after which Kido Butai retired. To be fair, the later half of the second volume steps back up to the operational/strategic levels following the early April battles but that is not the focus of the volume.

Both volumes of The Darkest Hour are well illustrated. I don’t consider myself well-read on the Indian Ocean campaign, but I do think I have more than passing knowledge and some familiarity with the subject. I was pleasantly surprised to see photographs in these books that I do not recognize from elsewhere. The color plates are as one should expect but what really caught my attention was the other illustrations that in hindsight present information I have obviously seen before but never paid attention to. For instance, color plate ix in Volume 1 presents “Japanese Aircraft Carrier Deck Markings in Indian Ocean Offensive.” I have looked at countless pictures of Imperial Japanese aircraft carriers but never before did the different flight deck markings stand out to me.

In terms of written content, The Darkest Hour is a fairly-comprehensive overview of the political and military situation surrounding the April 1942 campaign. The split-volume format works quite well with the background situation covered in the first volume and a zoomed-in focus on key battles in the second volume. I hate to always be making comparisons between Osprey and Helion but The Darkest Hour is a great example of why I enjoy Helion books; The Darkest Hour provides a high-level overview but with more-specific depth when needed. For the wargamer in me, The Darkest Hour gives me a deeper understanding of the “why” behind a wargame scenario or campaign without it becoming a doctoral-depth deep dive.

The wargamer in me also enjoyed a little wargame-ish call out in The Darkest Hour. Buried in the middle of Volume 2 is a section titled, “Simulation of the battle of Aircraft Carriers in the Indian Ocean” (Volume 2, p. 47). This small entry discusses the article “The Brave Operation in the Indian Ocean” published in the Japanese magazine Gakken as part of their Military History Pacific War Series in 1992 (though the bibliography credits it as 1993.). The source article is in Japanese, but from the summation presented in this volume it certainly appears the (uncredited) author/researcher conducted either a wargame or some form of operations analysis. Alas, the scenario presented is more a flight-of-fancy than any real serious analysis, with Kido Butai being surprised by a combined air strike from HMS Formidable and HMS Indomitable just as the five Imperial Japanese carriers are set to launch a strike. Fortunately for us, there is a wargame title available that can be used to explore Imperial Japan’s Indian Ocean campaign.

Wargame Pairing

Second World War at Sea: Eastern Fleet, designer Michael Benninghof, Avalanche Press (my copy is boxed first edition 2001).

Here is how Avalanche Press describes Eastern Fleet::

Following their victory at Pearl Harbor, the Imperial Japanese Navy’s First Air Fleet moved through the American, Dutch and British colonies of South and East Asia. Having taken the mighty British naval base at Singapore, the next move was to enter the Indian Ocean and challenge the Royal Navy there. 

Eastern Fleet is a complete game in the Second World War at Sea series covering these campaigns. Scenarios range from the Japanese invasions of Burma and the Andaman Islands through the massive carrier raids to the planned but never executed invasion of Ceylon. The Japanese often have overwhelming superiority in the air, which the British must counter with guile while trying to lure the enemy into range of his slow but powerful battleships.

Pieces represent the ships and aircraft that took part in the campaign. The Japanese fleet is built around its five powerful fleet carriers with their deckloads of Zero fighters, Val dive bombers and Kate torpedo bombers, all wielded by expert pilots and crews. They are supported by four fast battle cruisers, fast but lightly protected heavy cruisers and big destroyers armed with the awesome Long Lance torpedo.

Eastern Fleet ad copy
First edition box cover (courtesy BGG)

The SWWAS series of wargames are operational-scale campaign systems; players represent fleet commanders fighting a campaign. The situation in Eastern Fleet lends itself to an easily manageable campaign due to the number of ships and aircraft involved. Though the map may not be as crowded as some other titles, the situation is no-less tense.

As I reviewed my copy of Eastern Fleet for this posting, I was surprised by what the game actually covers. My first edition has three Battle Scenarios, only one of which is from the April 1942 campaign (and one of these scenarios is purely hypothetical). Looking at the eight Operational Scenarios, only three are from the March-April 1942 period; the other five range from July 1942 out to February 1943; several of those Operational Scenarios are outright hypotheticals! The actual depth provided in the background is also “thin” to say the least. Looking at SWWAS: Eastern Fleet after reading The Darkest Hour I now see the game’s focus more on “widgets” and less on the situation:

The Royal Navy is outnumbered and outgunned in the air, with three fleet carriers — all of them smaller than their Japanese counterparts — and one nearly useless light carrier. The British do have four old and painfully slow R-class battleships and the much more useful Warspite, newly rebuilt in an American shipyard. British cruisers are vastly inferior to those of the Japanese in both numbers and capability, as is the case with the British, Australian and Dutch destroyers.

Eastern Fleet ad copy

In a further example, here is the background for Operational Scenario 3 ” Raid on Ceylon – 26 March – 11 April 1942,” arguably the main focus of The Darkest Hour (especially Volume 2):

Having stunned the British with the rapid conquest of Malaya, Singapore, and the Dutch East Indies, The Japanese next turned their attention to the hapless British Eastern Fleet operating in the Indian Ocean. The crack First Air Fleet targeted British bases on Ceylon and Allied merchant shipping in the Bay of Bengal. Meanwhile, a large troop convoy used this diversion to move the 18th Infantry Division from Singapore to Rangoon.

Operational Scenario 3

Compare that “backgrounder” to the introduction of The Darkest Hour Volume 2:

At the beginning of April, the expected Japanese carrier-borne strike on Ceylon could severely influence the strategic situation in the Pacific War and lead to more threatening Axis’ combined operations against the British Empire in the following months. The Royal Navy’s command correctly interpreted the Combined Fleet’s plans. However, the British lacked more detailed intelligence information about the enemy’s movements in the Indian Ocean to prepare for a night counter-attack. With only two modern aircraft carriers and dozens of bombers with fighter escorts at his disposal, Admiral Somerville could rely only on Japanese mistakes and his instinct to hit the stronger task force, literally described as “invincible,” without taking the risk of being destroyed in return….Once set sail for the Indian Ocean, Kido Butai had only one chance to destroy Eastern Fleet and could not afford to make any mistakes.

The Darkest Hour, Volume 2, Introduction

I have to hand it to Avalanche Press; they do a great job setting the game up as the “invincible” Imperial Japanese Navy versus the underdog Royal Navy. For the longest time the (simple) Avalanche Press version of the history has dominated my conceptions of the campaign. The Darkest Hour goes a long way towards reeducating me by providing a deeper understanding and a greater level of appreciation for the challenges both sides faced.

There is one other aspect of Eastern Fleet that I feel fails to delivers—the “secret” British base at Addu Atoll. Again, we go to the ad copy:

But this is the Royal Navy, with a tradition of victory and a secret base on which it can fall back in the middle of the supposedly empty Indian Ocean. The British cannot be counted out until their last warship is sunk.

Eastern Fleet ad copy

What are the Eastern Fleet rules for that secret base?” Avalanche Press first tells us, “The Japanese were not aware of the base’s existence during the April 1942 carrier raids in the Indian Ocean, and Somerville’s fleet used it extensively. So we should expect some secret base rules, right? Well, not so fast…

In our game Eastern Fleetwe gave Addu Atoll no special secret abilities: The Japanese player knows the British have a base there. The game system doesn’t lend itself to “secret” bases, since the opposing player is going to figure out that a task force probably isn’t going to halt in mid-ocean for several turns. Optional rules make it harder to detect, but unlike Chuichi Nagumo the Axis player already knows it’s there and therefore knows to look for it.

Eastern Fleet: Britain’s Secret Base (Nov 2011)
Courtesy Avalanche Press

I don’t know what “optional rules” the Avalanche Press is talking about as I don’t find any such rule in my first edition rule book. Maybe it was added in a later edition?


Feature image “Aircraft carrier HMS Hermes sinking, 9 April 1942by Unknown Japanese photographer – http://cas.awm.gov.au/item/302403 courtesy Australian War Memorial.

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#ThreatTuesday: South China Sea #wargame danger zone – Will the PLAN wield a trident with ASBMs and carriers?

I play wargames to learn. Wargames, or what some call “historical conflict simulations” have taught me alot of history. But I also believe wargames can provide insights into the future. While think tanks use wargames to inform or influence decision and policymakers, hobby wargamers can explore similar issues using commercial titles.

I recently read the article “Analysis of the Relations between Chinese Aircraft Carriers and the Maritime Order of the South China Sea” in The Korean Journal of Defense Analysis (Vol. 34, No. 3, September 2022, 433-452). What caught my attention in particular about this article was the authors; Xingxing Wang and Jiyong Zheng, are from the Shanghai International Studies University; Fudan University; People’s Republic of China. Articles about sea power and the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) are a dime-a-dozen these days, but to read an article written by “the opposition” is not as often encountered. Wang and Zheng’s article is intended more to inform than to propagandize, but it does fit into a series of studies around the maritime aspects of the U.S.-People’s Republic of China (PRC) competition that relates several articles and books together. Along the way, we also have an opportunity to look at what wargames can help us better explore these issues.

Aircraft Carriers

As Wang and Zheng explain:

“China has gradually shifted its geopolitical focus from land-based control to sea-based developments out of both security and economic considerations. Marked by the official launch of its aircraft carriers a decade ago, China has dedicated resources to building up its navy as a blue water force rather than the offshore defensive force that it had primarily been until that point. Meanwhile, by serving as the pillar of sea power, these aircraft carriers will play more important roles in China’s naval development, ultimately reshaping the global strategic picture of sea power. This article aims to explore the influence of Chinese aircraft carriers to maritime order of the South China Sea and strategic pattern of global sea power by analyzing the Chinese aircraft carrier fleet’s operational design and reconstruction of China’s naval strategy. The presence of Chinese aircraft carriers in the South China Sea and their inherent combat capabilities has inevitably cased a subversive light on the region and brought the attention of the United States’ and other regional actors’ own activities and strategies for the region. This research has great significance for understanding China’s grand strategic conception and practice on the South China Sea issue as well as construction of a new maritime order in the context of China-U.S. competition.” (Wang & Zheng, 433)

If you are a wargame player like me, then you might of gamed out a confrontation between a PLAN Carrier Task Force and a U.S. Navy Carrier Strike Group (CSG) using a game like South China Sea: Modern Naval Conflict in the South Pacific (Compass Games, 2017) or Harpoon V (Admiralty Trilogy Group, 2020). Playing such scenarios may lead to the assumption that a PLAN Carrier Task Force is not a true match for a CSG. While that conclusion may have some basis, it ignores the impact of the PRC’s “carrier killer.”

Carrier Push Back

Gerry Doyle and Blake Herzinger are co-authors of the book Carrier Killer: China’s Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile and Theater of Operations in the early 21st Century (Asia@War No. 29, Warwick: Helion & Company Ltd., 2022). Doyle and Herzinger frame the issue this way:

“The idea of an anti-ship ballistic missile has taken root in China’s military planning. The country is not only building more of its first version of such a weapon, the DF-21D, but has developed an anti-ship warhead for another such missile, the more-numerous DF-26, billed as having a 2,500-mile-range — more than enough to hit Guam from several hundred miles inland in China. In theory, that puts any naval adversary at risk long before it is in Chinese waters, let alone within striking distance of China’s coastline.

That puts US carrier strike groups — a linchpin of US power projection, able to hit any corner of the world at short notice with overwhelming force — in a situation they have never before faced. For years, US war planners took for granted that American naval power could operate unimpeded anywhere on Earth and deliver strikes with relative impunity. If a missile can sweep that option off the board, it changes the balance of power not just in Asia, but across the Pacific.”(Doyle & Herzinger, book back)

Photo by RMN

Again, wargames like Harpoon V or South China Sea can help game out the impact of these anti-ship ballistic missiles, at least at the tactical levels. While South China Sea provides some insight into the strategic impacts of the ASBM on operations in the South China Sea, the topic is actually underrepresented in wargames. Maybe, just maybe, the arguments advanced by Wang and Zheng regarding the capabilities of a PLAN Carrier Task Force are not that inconceivable if the PRC uses their “carrier killers” to keep the U.S. Navy out of the South China Sea…and beyond. That in turn creates opportunities for the PRC to “wield a trident.”

Trident Strategy

Kohji Kuhara of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force writes in the Spring 2022 edition of the Naval War College Review about China’s ‘Trident” Strategy (Kuhara, Kohji (2022) “Countering China’s “Trident Strategy—Frustrating China’s Aims in the South China Seas and the Indian Ocean,” Naval War College Review: Vol. 75: No. 2, Article 4):

“China is trying to construct a naval strategy to deny U.S. forces freedom of action in the western Pacific Ocean. Looking back to the U.S. Navy’s last major strategic contest, against the Soviet navy during the Cold War, provides comparisons between Soviet and Chinese strategies that yield insights and analogies that can help develop more effective countermeasures against undesirable Chinese initiatives.”

Kuhara reminds us that, unlike the claims of Doyle and Herzinger, the U.S. Navy has indeed faced before a situation in which access to the worlds oceans was contested. In the Cold War, the Soviet Union challenged the United States for supremacy on the high seas. Wargamers can play out this confrontation in many games, ranging from Victory Games’ Fleet series (Victory Games, 1985-1990) for operational campaigns to the strategic Blue Water Navy: The War at Sea (Compass Games, 2019) or Seapower and the State (Simulation Canada, 1982). Alas, there are very few “modern” equivalent game showing the confrontation between the U.S. Navy and PLAN, and certainly none at the strategic level. Quite simply, there is no good wargame to help fully navigate “the danger zone.”

Danger Zone

Hal Brands and Michael Beckley write in Danger Zone: The Coming Conflict with China (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2022) that:

“China is at a perilous moment: strong enough to violently challenge the existing order, yet losing confidence that time is on its side. Numerous examples from antiquity to the present show that rising powers become more aggressive when their fortunes fade, their difficulties multiply, and they realize they must achieve their ambitions now or miss the chance to do so forever. China has already started down this path. Witness its aggression toward Taiwan, its record-breaking military buildup, and its efforts to dominate the critical technologies that will shape the world’s future.” (Danger Zone dust jacket)

Photo by RMN

Finding a wargame, or in this case maybe more properly a strategy game that looks beyond kinetic military confrontation, of the U.S.-PRC competition is nearly impossible. I had some hope earlier this year with the release of Flashpoint: South China Sea from GMT Games which advertised itself as thus:

Flashpoint: South China Sea is a two-player strategy game that simulates the complex geopolitical contest currently taking place between the United States and China in a disputed region of the South China Sea. The game is driven by a card deck that captures developments ripped straight from today’s headlines, bolstered by cards with a context-setting reading of recent history, and a set of speculative cards capturing a diverse range of potential future events. 

The Chinese player works to influence other countries in the region, establish territorial claims and regional hegemony, and improve its world standing. The U.S. player works to maintain influence with allied countries in the region, secure freedom of navigation, and keep China in check. Success for both players hinges on the support and allegiance of non-player countries in the region. The game stops short of dealing with a potential full-scale military conflict. Rather, it requires the nuanced exercise of political, economic, and military resources, in a form of prima facie diplomacy – on the waters, in the air, and ultimately in the minds of the people – to achieve victory.”

Photo by RMN

Alas, for all the theme in the ad copy, Flashpoint: South China Sea is more “Euro” than “wargame;” it’s a mechanically well-executed game with the thinnest of themes layered over. Consequently, its ability to explore the “danger zone” is limited at best.

Building from the Brands & Beckley book, we can see how the “Trident Strategy” is but one part of the danger zone, and the PLA’s “carrier killer” anti-ship missiles are one of those technologies that change maritime strategy. Does our perceptions of what a PLAN aircraft carrier is intended to do change?

Wargaming the South China Sea

Wargames seem very popular in the think tanks of Washington, DC. A recent article from War on the Rocks by Robert Haddick titled “Defeat China’s Navy, Defeat China’s War Plan” talks about what wargames are “teaching” decision and policymakers:

“Washington has already lost the war for Taiwan — at least according to the most recent wargames organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The think tank’s simulation of a conflict between the United States and China saw several U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups sunk, hundreds of U.S. combat aircraft destroyed, and thousands of U.S. military personnel lost in the war’s opening days.

These games, planned long before the most recent Taiwan crisis and set in 2026, add to decades of analyses of the Taiwan scenario conducted at war colleges and think tanks on both sides of the Pacific Ocean. Scheduled to be written up later this year, the games have reinforced at least one previously well-known conclusion: should the United States attempt to fight the battle for Taiwan relying mainly on military forces located west of Guam, U.S. losses will be severe. The United States and its allies might stalemate the People’s Liberation Army. But the cost could very well be too high for U.S. society to sustain. And if China’s leaders believe this, even wrongly, deterrence will collapse, and the risk of war will rise.”

Via YouTube

With an online moniker of “RockyMountainNavy” it should be obvious where my loyalties lie between navalists and (ch)air force advocates. This makes it a bit hard to accept Haddick’s advocacy of using U.S. Air Force bombers to defeat the PLAN:

“Destroying China’s maritime power would end China’s capacity for conquest in the western Pacific. Yet the Chinese navy is not an Air Force priority, despite its vulnerability to U.S. bombers. As Taiwan-focused wargames show, the shortage of U.S. anti-ship munitions represents a missed opportunity that will come with high costs. 

Civilian policymakers should make China’s maritime forces a top targeting priority for the U.S. bomber force. First, they should require Air Force officials to explain how their munitions strategy supports deterrence by denial against Chinese forces. Following that, they could demand the Air Force fund the rapid development of Mark Gunzinger’s affordable mid-range munition and acquire, say, 2,000 long-range anti-ship missiles, even if this means acquiring fewer joint air-to-surface standoff missiles. Policymakers could also demand the Air Force repair and return to service some of the 17 B-1B bombers that were recently sent to the boneyard despite each being able to carry 24 long-range anti-ship missiles. These relatively minor expenses would quickly add substantial striking power against the Chinese Navy.

More broadly, policymakers should recognize that the sensor-missile military-technical revolution has transformed the Indo-Pacific into a military theater where long-range aerospace power dominates. America’s aerospace power is an enduring competitive advantage that matches up well against several Chinese vulnerabilities, starting with its navy. Exploiting this competitive advantage is the most direct way to strengthen U.S. deterrence in the Indo-Pacific region.”

Regardless of my service biases, even I recognize that Haddick’s proposal is probably worthy of exploration with a wargame. This seems like a good scenario to explore at the tactical level using Harpoon V or at the operational level using South China Sea.

What does the wargame tell you?

Which brings us back to our original inquiry: Wang and Zheng talk almost exclusively about the “defensive” power of a PLAN aircraft carrier. What if the PLAN wants to operate those carriers out to the limit of, or beyond, the coverage of their ASBMs? Will the pointy end of the trident be sharp or dull? Does that change the nature of the danger zone? What are the alternative strategies that armchair commanders can wargame at home? More broadly, how can we use hobby wargames to explore this strategic situation?


Feature Photo: Simon Yang, CC-BY SA 2.0

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#FridayReading Paired with #Wargame – From Midway into the Danger Zone as seen Ex Supra (mentions @ADragoons #fscsgame @gmtgames @AEI @Iron_Man_Actual)

Three new books this week that I will read and likely use as “inspiration” for gaming.

The Battle of Midway, Craig L. Symonds, Oxford University Press, 2011

Wargame Pairing: C.V.: A Game of the Battle of Midway, 1942 (Yaquinto Publishing, 1980)

The ad copy for Symonds’ The Battle of Midway claims:

Symonds is the first historian to argue that the victory at Midway was not simply a matter of luck, pointing out that Nimitz had equal forces, superior intelligence, and the element of surprise. Nimitz had a strong hand, Symonds concludes, and he rightly expected to win.

Goodreads

I think Symonds’ argument that the American victory “was not simply a matter of luck” is a valid claim when compared to Gordon Prange’s 1982 book Miracle at Midway (Penguin Books). I’m not so sure you could make that same argument when comparing it to Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully’s Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway (Potomac Books, 2005). I also recently visited this topic in my article ““What WAS Nimitz Thinking?”: Another Battle of Midway Wargame Analysis” for Armchair Dragoons.

Danger Zone: The Coming Conflict with China, Hal Brands and Michael Beckley, W.W. Norton & Company, 2022

Wargame Pairing: Flashpoint: South China Sea (GMT Games, 2022)

It has become conventional wisdom that America and China are running a “superpower marathon” that may last a century. Yet Hal Brands and Michael Beckley pose a counterintuitive question: What if the sharpest phase of that competition is more like a decade-long sprint?

Over the long run, the Chinese challenge will most likely prove more manageable than many pessimists currently believe—but during the 2020s, the pace of Sino-American conflict will accelerate, and the prospect of war will be frighteningly real. America, Brands and Beckley argue, will still need a sustainable approach to winning a protracted global competition. But first, it needs a near-term strategy for navigating the danger zone ahead.

Goodreads

Both authors are from the American Enterprise Institute, a DC-based think-tank generally described as “right-of-center.”

Ex Supra: A Novel by Tony Stark, (Self-Published?), 2022

Wargame Pairing: Traveller/Cepheus Engine Role-Playing Game (Various publishers, 1977-2022)

This book started out as a work of Fictional Intelligence (FICINT) that the author, Tony Stark (@Iron_Man_Actual on Twitter) expanded out. The ad copy for Ex Supra reads:

This is the story of the war after the next war.

In 2035, an AI-driven disinformation campaign turned us on ourselves. We became the enemy’s first strike weapons, and as we set fire to our own country, the People’s Liberation Army seized half of the Pacific. From the first combat jump on Mars to the climate change-ravaged jungles of Southeast Asia, EX SUPRA blends the bleeding edge of technology and the bloody reality of combat. In EX SUPRA, the super soldiers are only as strong as their own wills, reality is malleable, and hope only arrives with hellfire. Follow John Petrov, a refugee turned CIA paramilitary officer, Captain Jennifer Shaw, a Green Beret consumed by bloodlust, and many more, as they face off against Chinese warbots, Russian assassins, and their own demons in the war for the future of humanity. 

Ex Supra ad copy

Feature image courtesy reddit

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#ThursdayReading – September used books a weekend early #militaryhistory #militaryscience

I try to schedule a run to the used book store only once a month. That means I should have waited until next weekend to go but life happens. Here are my September used book finds…for late August.

Miracle at Midway, Gordon Prange, New York: Penguin Books, 1982 (softcover). From the publisher:

Here is the definitive history of the battle of Midway, an American victory that marked the turning point of the war in the Pacific during World War II. Told with the same stylistic flair and attention to detail as the bestselling At Dawn We SleptMiracle at Midway brings together eyewitness accounts from the men who commanded and fought on both sides. The sweeping narrative takes readers into the thick of the action and shows exactly how American strategies and decisions led to the triumphant victory that paved the way for the defeat of Japan.

Goodreads

I am well aware that Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully’s Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway (Potomac Books, 2005) rewrote the story of the Battle of Midway, but before they came along it was Fushida through Prange that drove the common narrative of the battle. While Miracle at Midway is not the current viewpoint it is still very good to read and understand.

The Wizards of Armageddon, Fred Kaplan, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1983 (hardcover w/dustjacket). From the publisher:

This is the untold story of the small group of men who have devised the plans and shaped the policies on how to use the Bomb. The book (first published in 1983) explores the secret world of these strategists of the nuclear age and brings to light a chapter in American political and military history never before revealed.

Goodreads

Another book that is commonly referenced but which I lacked a personal copy of. I wonder where today’s “wizards” are with the threat of North Korean strategic and tactical nuclear weapons and the Extended Deterrence strategy.

7 Leadership Lessons of D-Day: Lessons from the Longest Day – June 6, 1944, John Antal, Havertown: Casemate Publishers, 2017 (hardcover w/dustjacket).

The odds were against the Allies on June 6, 1944. The task ahead of the paratroopers who jumped over Normandy and the soldiers who waded ashore onto the beaches, all under fire, was colossal. In such circumstances good leadership can be the defining factor in victory or defeat. This book is about the extraordinary leadership of seven men who led American soldiers on D-Day and the days that followed. Some of them, like Eisenhower, Theodore Roosevelt Jr, and Lieutenant Dick Winters, are well known while others are barely a footnote in the history books. 

Goodreads

Colonel Anatal is quickly becoming one of my favorite military leadership and strategy authors. He is very easy to read and always has great points.


Feature image by RMN

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#Wargame Wednesday – Anytime, Baby! Grognard memories of Tomcats

Some of you might of noticed a few weeks back that I listed this new article: “Persian Tomcats: Can Iran get another 20 years out of its F-14s? (How Iran manages to keep its F-14 Tomcats flying),” by Babak Tagvhee in Aviation News, August 2022.

Part of the reason I flagged this article is that Tomcats and my air combat wargaming have long gone hand in hand. The first modern air combat wargame I owned was the TSR edition of Air War: Modern Tactical Air Combat (1983). The cover featured, of course, an F-14 Tomcat.

Never paid attention to the other planes… (Photo by RMN)

Not an air combat game, but in 1986 I picked up Target: Libya, a magazine game in Strategy & Tactics No. 109 based pretty much on the Tomcat cover only.

Less than 3 years later I would be in almost the same place (Courtesy BGG)

The second modern air combat wargame I acquired was Air Superiority from GDW in 1987 featuring…a Tomcat on the cover!

Gulf of Sidra Incident…sorta (Photo by RMN)

Even my favorite naval combat wargame, Harpoon, got into the Tomcat “game” with the cover of Harpoon: Battles of the Third World War – Modern Naval Warfare Scenarios from GDW in 1987.

Note the Red Storm Rising reference… (Photo by RMN)

My love affair with Tomcats was not limited to just wargames. One of the earliest Squadron/Signal Publications books to enter my collection was F-14 Tomcat in Action: Squadron/Signal Publications Aircraft No. 32 by Lou Drendel (1977).

Mostly B&W photos but the color plates…(Photo by RMN)

Who can forget the incredible flying scene in the movie The Final Countdown (1980) where Tomcats and “Zeros” tangle!

“Play with them” YouTube

In 1986 the designer of Harpoon, Larry Bond, was credited as co-author with Tom Clancy for his bestselling novel Red Storm Rising. Although we don’t “see” any Tomcats in the book, we read all about them, especially in the chapter “Dance of the Vampires” which we now know was plotted with the assistance of Harpoon.

Tomcat targets (Courtesy ATG)

In 1986 we also get the original Top Gun movie and all that Tomcat love…

“Jesters’ Dead” YouTube

The cover of what may be the best-ever coffee table aviation photo book by C.J. Heatley III (what a great aviator name) is The Cutting Edge (Charlottesville: Thomasson, Grant & Howell, 1986) and has…Tomcats.

Seriously, I read it only for the pictures (Photo by RMN)

My Osprey Publishing book collection even has a Tomcat entry with Iranian F-14 Tomcat Units in Combat: Osprey Combat Aircraft 49 by Tom Cooper and Farzad Bishop (2004). There is LOTS of good wargame scenario fodder in this book!

Persian ‘Cats (Photo by RMN)

For this winter, I have a 1/144th scale plastic model from Trumpeter to build.

I also have a Soviet Backfire C for “target practice” (Photo by RMN)

Part of my love affair for Tomcats also comes from my two cruises with Dale ‘Snort’ Snodgrass. Although he was not my squadron skipper, he was a legend in the Naval Aviation community that we all respected. His death in 2021 was as sad as it was unexpected.

Dale Snodgrass practicing his “banana pass” off the deck of USS America in 1988. (Photo by ABE3 Sean Dunn, courtesy of Dale Snodgrass)

While the Tomcat-cover wargames are not the only air combat games in my collection, they are the most memorable. Now that I think about it, the cover of Birds of Prey: Air Combat in the Jet Age (Ad Astra, 2008) features an F-15 Eagle. Maybe that cover, as much as the difficult rules, explains why I don’t enjoy BoP?


Feature image by self

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#ThreatTuesday – Essential background sources for modern-era #NorthKorea #wargame design and play

If you want to play a wargame involving conflict on the Korean Peninsula, you can play titles like Mitchel Land’s Next War: Korea (GMT Games, 2019). It is also helpful if you have some background to better understand the situation and threat. Here are three titles that I consider essential reading for players (and aspiring designers) of modern conflict on the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea Military Power: A Growing Regional and Global Threat, Washington, DC: Defense Intelligence Agency, 2021. Press Announcement – “This volume in DIA’s series of military power reports provides details on North Korea’s defensive and military goals, strategy, plans and intentions. It examines the organization, structure and capability of the military supporting those goals, as well as the enabling infrastructure and industrial base.”

The Armed Forces of North Korea: On the Path of Songun, Stjin Mitzer & Joost Oliemans, Warwick: Helion & Company, 2020. From the Publisher – “North Korea’s Armed Forces maps the most important events from the inconclusive ceasefire struck at the end of the Korean War, throughout the Cold War until modern day. An especially heavy emphasis is placed on the current status of the Korean People’s Army by examining their wealth of indigenously designed weaponry. In the course of the book not only will many of the Korean People’s Army’s most secret projects and tactics will be covered, and its conflict history with the South and the world at large is put into new context. Moreover, an up-to-date, comprehensive assessment of the equipment holdings of several branches of the Korean People’s Army is included, offering a numerical estimate of its naval and aerial capabilities. From the recently introduced stealth missile boats, ballistic missile submarines and main battle tank families to their often-ignored indigenous aircraft industry, virtually all indigenous weapons systems are discussed extensively.”

Helion & Company, 2020

ATP 7-100.2 North Korean Tactics, Washington, DC: Department of the Army, July 2020. From the Introduction – “ATP 7-100.2 addresses the tactics, organization, and activities of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s ground forces. Part one of this document focuses on the strategic and operational levels, and includes North Korea’s military structure, organizational philosophy, and an introduction to functional tactics. Part two focuses on the tactical level, and describes Korean People’s Army Ground Forces (KPAGF) offensive and defensive tactics in detail. Several appendixes provide additional information on specific military functions and their use in tactical situations.”

Alas, there is no single-source tactics guide for the Korean People’s Air Force (KPAF)…

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sits in an airplane as he guides a flight drill for the inspection of airmen of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) Air and Anti-Air Force in this undated photo. (KCNA/Reuters)

…nor for the tactics of the Korean People’s Navy (KPN).

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, front, stands on the conning tower of a submarine during his inspection of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167 in this undated photo. (KCNA/Reuters)

A Note of Caution: While these sources certainly create a solid baseline of understanding, they are not “living documents” and therefore some of the data is possibly outdated or has been supplemented by newer understanding. But it’s a start…


Feature image – North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presides over an urgent operation meeting on the Korean People’s Army Strategic Rocket Force’s performance of duty for firepower strike at the Supreme Command in Pyongyang, March 29, 2013. The sign on the left reads, “Strategic force’s plan to hit the mainland of the U.S.” (KCNA/Reuters)

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0