25 February 2011

Book Review: Chieftains - The WWIII Novel

Well over 20 years ago I borrowed a book called "Chieftains" from a mate. It was a good dramatic read, and introduced me to a few concepts that I certainly had never heard of before. I returned the book and over the years had always wanted to read it again - especially in the last 12 months or so.

So on Thursday I once again borrowed the same book from the same mate, who probably found the book in the same spot that he placed it after I gave it back to him 20 years ago!

Here it is looking a little aged:


I finished it this morning and thought it worthy of an immediate book review as I think it is a relatively rare book now.

The book was first published in 1982 and describes a Third World War type situation set in around 1985. Whilst not much detail is entered into the reasons why it all kicked off - it appears to begin down in Yugslavia with the Russians intervening and the Americans providing logistical support to the Yugoslavs. As the Western nations have been going through a recession for most of the late seventies and early eighties, defence spending is down and it is implied that this is enough for the Soviet leadership to think "Why the hell not!" and invade Western Europe.

The story follows a number of different people - a little like Red Storm Rising - but only looks at things from the NATO point of view, is generally focussed on tankers, and is primarily about a Chieftain crew in particular.

Whilst the Soviets arn't shown as supermen or super-boogeymen per say - the sheer weight of the Soviet numbers is enough to be constantly driving the NATO forces back for the majority of the book. The book has a certain doom and gloom about it. Nothing is held back - war certainly is hell, and you don't want to form much of an emotional connection to the characters as its highly likely when you turn the next page that they'll die - often a somewhat senseless death.

Mistakes are made, either stupid little ones or massive ones - but it is done in a very realistic, totally beleivable manner. Artillery is massively destructive, gas is used - and I won't tell you what happens in the end - but I'm sure you can guess. Not a happy ending kind of story - a little like reality.

Team Yankee certainly felt a bit cleaner, less mistakes were made and the tactical situations were generally one sided - in favour of NATO. So whilst the story lines are similar - not much else is.

One of the things the book introduced me to all those years ago was the role of the SAS in West Germany in the middle of a Cold War Gone Hot. This aspect of the book is pretty cool, and if it had been written by Tom Clancy - apart from it being all about Americans - this section would have been greatly expanded.

Parts of the book are a little unsatisfying. It kind of felt like it was written to A) like John Hackett's "The Third World War" help convince the government to increase defence spending, B) convince the BAOR to train harder so they don't make stupid mistakes, C) to portray the Soviet Army as the big bad wolf that everyone thought it was in the 70s and 80s which kind of turned out to be not really so true, and D) try and convince everyone to avoid war at all costs (a good idea in my book). As such it was very, very grim.

Some parts seemed a little unlikely, the lack of NATO air support, particularly against massive inviting targets, such as a strategic Soviet bridgehead didn't ring true to me nor did the Soviet use of gas with seemingly no impact of the Russian performance. The timing of the book meant systems like MLRS, DPICM and FASCAM were non exsistent, and the performance of the M1 (refered to as the XM1 in the book) is woefully short of reality - potentially able to knocked out by an ASU-57 or RPG, no Thermal Imaging, no blast bins for the ammo etc. But still not bad for a book published in 1982, which probably meant it was written in 1980 or earlier.

That doesn't for a second mean that as a whole I didn't really enjoy the book. Some of the engagements are written extremely well, and you get caught up in action, especially as the Chieftain moves from firing point to firing point, hammering at Soviet armour and being hammered at in turn. It represent the chaos of battle extremely well.

Overall I think this book is well worth the read. The size of this particularly genre of books is pretty limited to begin with and this is a worthy addition to the panetheon. Its also nice to have a book that is written from a primarily British point of view and is more interested in showing what the authour considered to be the likely realities of the battle rather than having a happy ending.

If you get the chance to read this book - read it.

Have fun


21 February 2011

Eisenbach Gap


A few weeks ago I went down to Canberra for the Annual Wargaming Convention there: Cancon. This year I went solely as a shopper rather than playing in any tournament. I'm rather chuffed with the result - in that I managed to pick up 3 boxed wargames, some 1/72 kits and a couple of 120mm mortars for my Soviets.

One of the games I bought was Lock 'n Load's Eisenbach Gap as seen above. I managed to get it second hand and complete - as in it wasn't missing anything!


Over the weekend I got to play it for the first time in a solo game. At least this way I was guaranteed to win (and to lose...)

I've made up a dodgy AAR - I'm sure many could do it much more nicely - but alas - all my desire to do so was not matched by an appropriate computer program (or the skill to use it!)

So the board looks like this:


however the actual playing area for the first scenario is more like this:


The Soviets are attacking from west to east across the map (couldn't really work this out in my head - but hey - I was just doing what the scenario said to do). They have 10 platoons of T-72s and an HQ. The US (Team Yankee - almost straight from the book it appeared to me) had 2 M1 platoons, an ITV platoon, and Infantry platoon with a Dragon ATGM and an HQ. This shows the initial set up of the game:


The Soviet set up (the red oval) is pretty much set whereas the US could set up anywhere from around the two central hills and to the east. I placed 1 M1 platoon in the woods on the hill to the south, 1 M1 platoon in the small central village and the infantry and ITVs in the town at Eisenbach. The US HQ was in the small village with an M1 platoon. The Soviets had to take Eisenbach to win the game - anything else was a US victory.

The NATO Plan was pretty simple. Start defending forward and then withdraw to Eisenbach. The ITV with its good range would defend the town and the infantry would be the last restort.

The Soviet Plan was likewise pretty straight forward. Beyond the obvious crush the imperialists - it involved taking the northern hill quickly and while part of the force swung around to take Eisenbach from the north, the main body would deal with the tanks in the town and the other hill and then attack Eisenbach from the south.


The game started quite well for the Soviets. They got a free turn (special scenario rule) and then I drew their activation chit first, so they got another move again. This got most of them into a pretty good position behind/on the northen hill with the loss of only one platoon. At the same time they managed to knock out the M1 platoon in the central village and degrade the Team Yankee HQ.


With the centre in trouble, the southern most M1 platoon began to withdraw to Eisenbach, while the soviets also enacted their plan by driving a couple of platoons to the northwest of Eisenbach.

The soviets (read me) then remembered that they had some artillery support so spent the next couple of turns raining arty down on the infantry in Eisenbach. This cunning sub-plan failed miserably and the infantry laughed in the face of the ineffective red artillery. Ha Ha Ha. They proved their contempt further by, along with the ITV platoon, managing to knockout the 2 T-72 platoons hiding in the woods to the Northwest.


The Soviet attack started to break down here and when a couple more T-72 platoons also tried to drive to the South they got hammered as well, while the reduced M1 platoon and the HQ traded shots with the Soviet units on the hill north of the central village.


Finally the US forces took out the remaining units in the central village and with only 2 platoons left, the Soviets decided to call it a day.

Unit of the battle:


The ITV platoon was totally awesome and did more damage than any other unit in the game.


Well - my bottom line is that I enjoyed myself. Its been years and years since I played a board game like this and after just 1 game, I started to realise I still loved pushing little cardbaord chits around. I'll be playing this game again.


The grahics of this system are simply stunning. Lovely full colour counters and excellent map board. The counters can be a wee bit difficult to read - but that's me just getting old! I love the activation system and it caused some interesting swings backwards and forwards in the game.

Towards the beginning of the game when things were going well for the Soviets I couldn't see how the US side could win. I seriously thought they were going to get massarced. Later inthe game I couldn't see how the Soviets could move fromthe central area of the board without getting hammered. To me this actually felt pretty balanced - so I was happy with that.

Movement is dead easy and the combat system is pretty cool. I also generally liked the Command system.


Bear in mind that this is after one game - so this may change. There are a couple of things I felt could have been explained better and I think the Player Aid card could have a lot more useful information on it.

I couldn't find anything in the Morale section that talked about the effect of loses on the force as a whole. Even as the Soviets were getting hammered they still just carried on and could theoretically have continued literally down to the last man standing. I hope I'm wrong and I have simply missed something.


I'm not the biggest fan of solitaire play - it just makes me think I'm Billy-no-mates, but it wasn't that bad in this game. Apart from having someone explain to me all the things I was doing wrong (which would have helped a great deal), and having someone else do the thinking for one of the sides, I'd be happy to play thsi again either by myself or with a mate.

And remember - ITVs rock. Have fun