28 July 2015

Book Review: The Martian

Another of my summer reading volumes which I really enjoyed.

A manned mission to Mars goes wrong in an unusually strong sandstorm, resulting in 5 crew safely departing the Red Planet but leaving one of their team dead on the surface.  Unfortunately for him, he isn't dead and regains consciousness to discover he is utterly alone, far from home and without communications.  This book is his tale of survival in a Castaway meets Apollo 13 kind of way.  You'll either love it or hate it, but I'm guessing you'll love it.  Its a great mix of adventure and hard science with a dash of humour.

A solid 4 stars and soon to be a movie release.  It will be interesting to see Ridley Scott's take on this.


EDIT - I just went to see the movie and posted a review here

19 July 2015

OP SEALION Revisited

This is a neat article, which has a summary of an exercise held at the Staff College, Sandhurst in 1974 with several members of the original cast participating!  I recall reading the full book years ago and enjoying it quite a bit.


17 July 2015

Book Review: Red Army

If you are a wargamer, the chances are pretty good that you've read Red Storm Rising and Team Yankee at least once, probably more.  This book deserves to be right next to them on the shelf; it's that good and I've just read it for I think the third time.

This is the story of WW3 entirely from the Soviet perspective.  To be specific, the perspective of the Russians in East Germany facing off against NATO's Northern Army Group.  Characters include Front, Army, Brigade and Battalion commanders, as well as tankers, infantry soldiers, gunners and a fighter pilot.

Written by an former US Army intelligence officer, the narrative grasps the operational and tactical details beautifully, and touches on some of the political aspects as well.  The reasons for the war are skipped entirely (just like in Team Yankee) to focus on the action, and there is plenty of it. Tank battles, reconnaissance in force, deep penetrations, and airborne operations - they are all in there.  Plenty of scenario material to keep the busiest wargamer occupied for awhile!

Overall, its one of the best tales of the Cold War gone hot: a well deserved 5 stars.
If the mid 80s is of gaming interest to you, you need to read this book.


Sadly, the author's other offerings to military fiction are nowhere at this level, IMHO.

16 July 2015

Book Review: Fox at the Front

This book follows on from its predecessor Fox on the Rhine (see here) so closely that I consider it Part 2 of the story as opposed to a sequel.  In fact the opening sequences are a retelling of the last section of the first book but from a different character's perspective and the narrative flows smoothly on from there.

Warning: Spoilers ahead...

Rommel's command of the Bulge Offensive in Dec 44 saw it drive far deeper than was historically the case, but ultimately its failed its objectives and significant forces were cut off and captured.  Rommel's recognises that this truly was the last roll of the dice for Germany and therefore surrenders his entire Army Group to the Allies rather than see his country ground to dust.  This does not sit well with some of the SS units under his Command...

In consultation with Patton and Eisenhower, Patton opens a corridor to assist the Allies race to the Rhine in the hope that they can get to Berlin before the Russians resume hostilities.  Again, some elements of his former command and other parts of the Wehrmacht aren't keen on that plan.  With US assistance, a German Republic in exile is established with Rommel as its military head and defend it from forces loyal to the Third Reich (though loyalty is not always voluntary due to the increased security measures Fuhrer Himmler introduces)

With the Rhine breached, Patton drives quickly on Berlin, as the Russians smash through the German defensive line in the East.  Facing only town resistance from fanatics, Patton marginally beats the Russians there there, is reinforced by the 1st Airborne Army (with the cancellation of OP Market Garden this had remained intact) and the Third Reich falls.  Stalin is not amused, however, and his forces isolate Berlin and keep pushing on into Germany, swallowing as much as they can.  A Cold War esque standoff develops and to support Patton's isolated forces and their Republic of Germany friends, the Western Allies commence the Berlin airlift operation.

Months drag on and Stalin starts to loose patience while the Allies scramble frantically to complete the Manhattan Project.  As the Russians begin an offensive to crush the Berlin, the desperate Allies deploy the untested Trinity device...

An interesting book which I enjoyed but which retains its deeply US centric perspective.  It includes all sorts of side stories about Himmler, discovering the Nazi concentration camps, and the grunt's eye view from the trenches using the characters of the fictional US 19th Armoured Division which were central to the first book.  Overall, an enjoyable read but not quite a good as its predecessor.  I give it 3 and a half stars.


15 July 2015

Book Review: Fox on the Rhine

Another OOP volume I managed to snag recently for the princely sum of 1 cent (plus 3.98 for postage!), this is a WW2 alternate history novel.  Well written by two wargamers, they have a style similar to other late 1990s military style novels by Larry Bond, Harold Coyle and Tom Clancy.  Warning; unlike most of my book reviews, this one has spoilers...

The book's point of departure is the famous July 1944 bomb plot - in this case von Stauffenberg's bomb is successful in killing Hitler, though the subsequent military coup is not successful in seizing control of Germany.  Instead, a counter coup executed by Himmler sees him installed as the new Fuhrer to control Germany and the SS, with a power sharing arrangement with the Wehrmacht who retain control of the military.  The immediate outcomes of this are the revocation of the wasteful 'stand and die' directives, and more effective allocation of resources to weapon systems development (such as the ME262).  Meanwhile, Rommel survives the much more lenient post assassination crackdowns and Commands all forces in the West after he recovers from injuries sustained in an allied strafing attack in July 44 (a real incident).

While there are many side stores and characters, the major plot line becomes Rommels' decision points in the aftermath of Normandy, which sees Southern France and the Falaise pocket evacuated and strong German defences established at the West Wall.  The key protagonists and the officer and men of the (fictional) US 19th Armoured Division which lead Patton's spearhead and are in the thick of the action throughout.  As this all happens, Himmler craftily establishes a truce with Stalin at the cost of providing V1 technology and ceeding Norway and Greece.  Everyone knows this is just temporary, but it gives the Third Reich the breathing space and additional manpower to face off the Western Allies at the Battle of the Bulge.

Overall, I found this a really engaging book with plausible consequences of a relatively minor point of departure.  Its weaknesses are a very US centric perspective - Monty gets a very minor look in, but its all Patton, Ike, Bradley and the boys of the 19th Armoured - and a lack of imaginative alternative German actions or operations.  The Pacific is mentioned but only in passing (the Philippines operation is cancelled to divert more assets to Europe after the Rusky ceasefire, MacArthur has a tantrum and gets fired, plus the Entrprise Carrier Group is diverted from the Pacific to Europe, gets jumped by a wolfpack and is sunk, killing Admiral Halsey) so it seems a real afterthought rather than an integrated  part of the changed political environment.  Nevertheless, I rate this book a solid 4 stars.

Stay tuned for my review of the sequel, Fox at the Front.


14 July 2015

Game Aids for The Hunters

Two neat things for the Hunters came across my screen this week- a mini 'travel' version of the game which would be particularly useful..

And this online database where you can log your game results and generate stats

In the meantime, the next edition Silent Victory, in which you take command of a US submarine in the Pacific War, is undergoing pre printing checks and is expected to ship around November this year.

Good Hunting!

13 July 2015

Battlegroup: Wacht Am Rhein

From those clever chaps at Ironfist Publishing:
For later this year, maybe breaking through just before Christmas... 
This will be a smaller, softback, BG book, something of an experiment to cover some of the smaller theatres/campaigns/periods of WWII which would not fill a full hardback book. It'll aim to bring the character of the Ardennes fighting to the tabletop, all those forests and roadblock battles, as well as include a few new army list entries and a narrative campaign of linked historical battles. 
Secret planning work is already well advanced and the troops are being marshalled for the assault.
Exciting stuff! Sadly no pre-order available yet though. I had heard that a Stalingrad supplement was being considered in this format but it looks like this will be the first test. I think an approach of presenting one or two minor organisational additions (e.g. SS Armoured Recce), a few battle specific rules, some scenarios and maybe a short campaign will really add a lot to the existing volumes. 

Meanwhile, the first North Africa book is still scheduled for release in April 2016. "Battlegroup 86" is also in development but on a much slower burn. I'm looking forward to that too, which might make a nice basis for a Vietnam version...

12 July 2015

Sometimes you just have to treat yourself...more!

Bought myself more treats with my Birthday money, taking advantage of some 4th of July sales (though I'm still waiting for some Bren Gun carriers and PSC Pz IIIs). The North Africa project is really starting to take shape now!

01 July 2015

Sometimes you just have to treat yourself

Happy Birthday to me with some summer vacation reading :-)
See you when I get back from my travels to Canada and Alaska