Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Battle of the Bulge: German Medical Care


My main source is the German Infantry Handbook 1939-1945 by Alex Buchner (cheaper options available on Ebay, or at the Barnes and Noble marketplace).

The Handbook lacks Battle of the Bulge specific information but the Back-Line Services chapter has sections on medical and veterinary services. This chapter is very interesting as I have never thought about the need for a divisional butcher company ("capable of slaughtering 15 cattle, 120 hogs or 240 sheep and making up to 3000 kilograms of sausage daily").


Organization

Medical units were divided into troop and divisional services. Troop medical services began with a trained medic assigned to each platoon, and a medical NCO and soldier assigned to the company HQ. The company medics usually worked with the battalion surgeon during a battle and along with auxiliary stretcher bearers were responsible for taking the wounded from the battlefield.

In combat, the hope was that a wounded soldier could be taken off the battle field to a "nest" or collection point, immediately behind the front line. There first aid would be given and transportation to a troop dressing station (TVP) where the battalion surgeon provided "the first professional care" to include bone-setting, stopping of heavy bleeding, serums and other medicines, etc but not surgery.

Transition to divisional care took place at "wagon stops" where troops would be transported from TVPs to a main dressing station (HV-Platz), usually located three kilometers behind the front here.
Here we get our first insight into the difference between U.S. and German medical care.  The Americans relied on jeeps to transport the wounded off the battle field while the designation of "wagon stop" evokes a slower method.

Each division had a medical company, organized in three platoons and other units. All specifics on equipment and number of personnel have to be view as taken from the standard organizational chart and was probably the "best case" for actual medical support resources available:


  • 1st Platoon - Stretcher-bearer platoon. Led by a specialist. Collect troops from the battlefield and set up the wagon stops.
  • 2nd Platoon - Main dressing station platoon. Commanded by a surgeon. Responsible for setting up the HV-Platz. They had "a complete operating facility packed in portable containers, with full lighting and a light field X-ray machine". 
  • 3rd Platoon - Replacement platoon. Commanded by a surgeon (when possible). Helped the other two platoons and set up collecting stations for slightly wounded or sick men.
  • Field Pharmacy (transported in 3.5 ton truck). 
  • Dental Station (dentist and assistant)..
  • At least one cook capable of preparing special rations for patients.
  • Two ambulance columns. Each column had three platoons (40 men and 12 ambulances, two cars and 8 sidecar motorcycles). These columns were used to transport wounded from the Hv-Platzs to field hospitals or other medical facilities.
In addition, the motorized divisional field hospital was manned by five surgeons, assisted by 66 men. Transport included 6 cars, 11 trucks and two motorcycles with sidecars. This level of resources allowed for the care and treatment of up to 200 to 300 patients. The book describes how the field hospitals were usually insufficiently manned and could be ineffective in their mission due to the frequents moves required to stay out of danger. Under a reorganization for infantry divisions in 1943 section the book lists divisional medical services as:


  • 1 medical company, horse-drawn
  • 1 medical company, motorized
  • 1 ambulance company
Long term care and care for the severely wounded would be dependent on local medical infrastructure in the general vicinity or transport back to Germany. 



Veterinary Services

For an army dependent on horse drawn transport (each division had over 5000 saddle and draft horses), veterinary services were as vital to the mission as regular medical services for the humans. 

The veterinary organization consisted of regimental and battalion vets subordinate to the divisional staff. The regimental, battalion and unit vets were located "on the spot where the horses were" so they performed their duties in dangerous locations. .  

Each division had "about thirty" veterinary officers of different skill levels with a strong contingent of reservists called up from rural areas. 

The book doesn't make clear how a veterinary company related to the regimental and battalion veterinarians so I'm guessing it was a divisional asset.  The Veterinary Company consisted of:

  • Six vet officers
  • 24 NCOs
  • 203 enlisted
  • 88 horses
  • 21 wagons
  • 1 car 
  • 9 trucks
  • 1 solo and 2 sidecar motorcycles.
The Veterinary Company was responsible for setting up a collecting centers where wounded and sick animals would receive their "first adequate treatment", a small field hospital along with an area to quarantine horses suspected of contagious diseases and a supply section where healed horses were returned to service or new horses from army remount stations were cared for then distributed.

Hiwis (Soviet prisoners that volunteered to help the Germans) contributed greatly to the veterinarian services. Readers may remember this post in which a Hiwi reenactor is caring for a horse.


After years of reading military history, years of wargaming and knowledge of the vital role horse transport was to the German Army I never gave thought to the fact that:

"Normally every company, battery or unit had a blacksmith or blacksmith NCO.  In the battalions and similar units, and in the veterinary companies, there were master blacksmiths..". The blacksmiths often helped as veterinary assistant giving first aid and care of sick and wounded animals.

Impact of Allied Air Superiority


Foreign Military Studies  MS # B-048's titled Mission of the Chief Army Medical Officer of the Fifth Panzer Army reveals the impact of Allied air superiority towards German medical care:


- Throughout 5th Panzer Army's area of operations a significant portion of casualties, military and civilian, were caused by strafing airplanes, requiring an increased number of surgeons.

- River crossings for medical ferries were located away from troop ferries and marked by "appropriate flags".  River crossings and their associated traffic jams were prime targets for Allied aircraft.

- There were shortages of ambulances and gasoline and sometimes the shortages were exacerbated by air attacks on the ambulances ("frequent enemy air attacks, even on vehicles bearing the Red Cross emblem"). It seems that Allied aircraft attacks on medical installations were "probably unintentional" and "Generally, stations marked with Red Cross emblems were spared by the enemy" but the report states there were many cases aircraft attacking ambulances in broad daylight.

- Air attacks on transportation infrastructure (highways, ferries, overpasses, railways and rail stations) effected the evacuation of wounded to the rear and medical supplies to the front. 

Here is the final paragraph of the report:

"As a result of enemy air superiority, losses were particularly high, the performance of medical duties particularly difficult, and the conditions for adequate treatment of wounds and recovery particularly unfavorable. On the German side, there was no shortage of war-experienced medical officers, and to the end there generally was no lack of medical supplies, but circumstances beyond out control dealt the heaviest blows. Up to 500 casualties passed through collecting stations daily. The job done by the surgeons, who often kept on operating for 16-18 hours practically without pause, could not be surpassed". The same applies to the accomplishments of the medical officers and medical personnel, who worked day and night, and in particular to the performance of the courageous ambulance drivers".









Friday, March 22, 2019

Finnish Continuation War: Unknown Soldier


Just found out about this Finnish war movie, ordered it, and highly recommend it. This three hour film comes up to the standards of Tali-Ihantala 1944  but the emphasis is less on brave, outnumbered Finns fighting against great odds in defense of the homeland to hard fighting and sometimes demoralized troops not so enthusiastic about fighting for a "Greater Finland". 

There is a scene where the Finns cross the old, pre-Winter Warborder and some question the wisdom of taking Russian territory. The Finns dilemma was similar to another minor Axis Ally, Romania. Once the Romanians retook Bessarabia (recently annexed by the Soviets) most common soldiers considered their job done. As the Romanians pushed further east and losses mounted, morale dropped, culminating in the disintegration of the Romanian army in the icy fields around Stalingrad. Unfortunately, for the Finns and Romanians, once involved with Hitler's attack on Russia, there were only two apparent outcomes, total victory or total defeat. It is outside the scope of this review to speculate on how Finland retained it independence after the war but the film makes clear that this is an expensive gamble.

One of the early scenes in which a platoon is ordered to advance at all costs and is pinned down within seconds of advancing into the open is terrific. The young Lieutenant is terrified and hugs the earth and only overcomes his fear due to the actions of an older officer who leads by example. The old officer seemed well into retirement age and may be a means of depicting total mobilization for the war.

Compared with Tali-Ihantala 1944 many Finns are quick to lose morale and on many occasions abandon their posts and even wounded comrades. The film also depicts human nature at its worst when showing a prisoner shot maliciously, drunkenness and looting of a captured Russian town.

Unknown Soldier follows a machine gun company from mobilization through three years of war. The main protagonists is a middle aged veteran of the Winter War, a reservist that has a difficult time to adjusting to the professional army of the Continuation War. Despite his many run ins with officers his experience is valued and his heroics on the battlefield save the day on a few occasions. 


I still have to see Talvisota, which takes place during the Winter War.

Questions for those familiar with Finn military history:

Q: Was there a difference in discipline, and relations between the ranks when comparing the army fielded by the Finns in the Winter War versus the army of the Continuation War?

Q: Is Unknown Soldier a pure "anti-war" film or is it an accurate description of demoralized troops fighting an unpopular war (unpopular at least for the troops having to fight outside of Finnish territory)?




Sunday, March 17, 2019

Battle of the Bulge: U.S. Medical Care




Evacuation by 1/4-Ton Truck in deep snow in the vicinity of Monschau and illustrates Medical Detachment personnel of the 393d Infantry Regiment, during the Battle of the Bulge. Picture from 324th Medical Battalion Unit History

U.S. Medical Care

Battle of the Bulge Memories needs to be added as a permanent link to the index as this is the second time the site has come up in searches for relatively obscure information.

This article, Medics in the Bulge by Ralph Storm provides a great overview, not only of medical care during the battle, but also throughout the European Theater of Operations (ETO).

Storm's article goes beyond medical unit organization and front line procedures with extended sections on typical medical cases such as trench foot, cold injury and combat fatigue.

A quote from medic Keith Winston of the 100th Division (note: the 100th ID was not at the Bulge but held the line to the south as other divisions were rushed north)  on casualty evacuation under ideal conditions:

 "A boy gets hurt on the line.  Within a minute or less a telephone message is sent back to our forward aid station, a distance of 300 to 1000 yards from the front, where a Sergeant and four litter bearers are always on hand.  They rush right up to the line with a litter." First aid with an emphasis on stopping bleeding and hopefully by the time the patient was stabilized another litter team will have arrived to take the wounded to " where a jeep can travel... anywhere from 25 to 300 yards, depending on conditions."

The Medics definitely were earning their combat pay even when they were not entitled to it until early 1945!

Aid stations were located 1 to 3 miles behind the front line, did not have beds and only had the bare essentials. A physician would look at the patient who was then sent to a clearing station farther to the rear with a note from the physician on a card, attached to a button hole in the patient's coat.

Be sure to read the piece on litter carrying in the article.  It is in the aid station section and describes the exhausting work.  During emergencies it was not unknown for the battalion surgeons would act as litter bearers.

 The clearing stations would probably still be in artillery range of the enemy but this was the spot that any emergency operation would be performed. Finally, the wounded are taken by ambulance to an evacuation hospital, "where first class attention is administered".

During the Bulge many of the hospitals had to constantly move. The 130th General Hospital at Ciney, Belgium (northwest of Bastogne), was caught up in the fighting just as they were moving out.

Again, I highly recommend this article as it contains a wealth of information and interesting insights such as how penicillin could be extracted from the urine of patients and reused and despite the U.S. Army being segregated a decision was made not to set up segregated hospitals due to the impracticability and redundancy.

Summary of Winston's description:

Front line medics:

  • stabilize until litter team can pick up and carry to where a jeep can pick up the wounded.
Aid Stations:
  • fist look by a physician and initial diagnosis performed.
Clearing Stations:
  • emergency operations performed.
Evacuation Hospital:
  • "where first class attention is administered"
  • If a patient needed more than six months of care he was sent back to the U.S.  Less than six months, he would be kept in theater for a quicker return to his unit.  During the Bulge this time was shorted to four months (to be sent back to the States) due to the surge of casualties. 


Warfarehistorynetwork.com has a good article on the U.S. Army Medical Corps in WW2 and mentions Portable Surgical Hospitals (PSH's). Originally, I thought PSH's were the clearing stations described by Keith Winston but they were a little more specialized.

 From the article:

"These spartan PSH tents were set up to accommodate major surgery, sometimes so close to the front that they were under fire from the enemy. They retreated or advanced rapidly with the fortunes of war. A staff of a fully equipped PSH could disassemble and load tents, equipment, and personnel onto waiting trucks within two hours"

The "ideal" process for treatment in the Warfarehistory's article summarized:


Front Line medics:

  • Treat where the wounded man fell.  
  • This usually consisted of a shot of morphine to prevent him from going into shock, some sulfa powder to keep his wounds from getting infected, and a rapid bandage to stop the bleeding.

Battalion Aid Station:

  • "perhaps a kilometer behind the lines". 
  • Thorough first aid, diagnosis, and serious injuries stabilized. 

Collecting Station:

  • Further back from the aid station.
  • Serious casualties sent to a PSH (if available) or sent the wounded to a clearing station that consisted of 12 doctors and 96 enlisted men.

Clearing Station:

  • "major medical surgeries could be performed in sanitary conditions before the worst cases were sent to an evacuation hospital."

Portable Surgical Hospital:
  •   Major surgery, probably allowing for more complicated cases than a clearing station.
  •   Sometimes located in range of enemy artillery.


Evacuation Hospital

  • 12-15 miles behind the lines.
  • "Seriously wounded were shipped to a general hospital as near to the home of the individual soldier as possible."


Overview

Compared to conditions in WW1 the mortality rate for a wounded soldier fell from a little over 8% to 3%.  During the Civil War the mortality rate was as high as 25%.

I'll begin reading and try to find information allowing a comparison between medical care available to the Germans at the Bulge.  To help this comparison any suggestions and comments are welcome.


Related Links

Link to the Bulge series index.

324th Medical Battalion unit history, from training to deployment and their actions during the Bulge.

Recollections from nurse Dorothy Steinbis Davis who served in a field hospital in the European Theater of Operations with the 7th Army.



Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Wargame Wednesday: Link to Post

Only one WW post today and it is a Battle of the Bulge game review over at CH.

Next post here will be on medical care on both sides of the front line during the Bulge.


Saturday, March 9, 2019

Venezuela: Transición de Guerra de Nervios 9 March

Massive power outages in Venezuela yesterday and it looks like it is ongoing today.

Conflict News Worldwide's feed: @ConflictsW is reporting many states still without power and more ominously retweets a report on a second widespread power outage with 96% of the country without power and two substations on fire.



I hate to speculate but with two substations on fire the chances that this is caused by external actors and not just incompetence and lack of proper maintenance.  Either way, it doesn't matter as this definitely marks a transition from a "War of Nerves" either to overt action or the possibility of an  implosion f the Maduro regime due to an inability to maintain essential services.

I won't call the situation in Venezuela over, or even close to it but at risk of breaking my attempt to be neutral in my blog posts I'm ready to call one loser: the American public.

Or at least the American public that consumes the American press.

As I type this Fox News' web page feature American political stories with most featuring high profile Democrat politicians while CNN's featured articles are on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 and domestic American news and politics with a racial component.  All this while there are significant events happening in Venezuela.

10 March:




11 March:  this series on the Venezuelan electrical distribution system is excellent.


13 March:  The clown show continues on Fox News' web site.  "Below the fold" on the main page:

 
Thing is they probably consider themselves a serous news outfit.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Brian Train: Game Designer & Interview

In addition to answering my questions concerning matrix games, game designer Brian Train was good to sit for an interview and discuss current events in Venezuela and his thoughts on insurgency themed games and game design.

Brian's blog is here while information on many of his games is here, many of which are free. Check out Maracas for an urban counterinsurgency game taking place in the capital of fictional Virtualia.

This link will give you an idea of what he gets up to participating in professional wargaming conferences and joining in and sometimes helping to design and administer "megagames".

I have been running a series of post on the happenings in Venezuela and using some items from Brian's game Caudillo to explore both the game and current events.

Q&A - 5 March 2019



Scott Cole:  Please give me your view on what is happening in Venezuela today.

Brian Train: The situation changes daily, and I admit I have not been following it in depth, so I offer no predictions beyond more uncertainty, misery and violence. Those always seem to be safe bets.

I largely subscribe to what Greg Palast writes here, how what’s going on is the latest racist backlash.
The race angle is not played up in the media here at all, instead they talk about Guaido coming from nowhere and about the humanitarian aid problems…

The promptitude with which he was endorsed by other countries as the real President is almost sinister: Canada's foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, was actually sharing a stage with Brazil’s Bolsonaro when she announced Canada’s support.

Whatever happens, good or bad, the government of my country had its hands wrist-deep in it before the fact.

Diplomatically it also seems we are in a bit of a fix, as unlike the United States we have always had good relations with Cuba… but this has now been tested because of Cuba’s support of Maduro (since cheap Venezuelan oil sent there by Chavez in the 1990's saved their country, when exports from the collapsed USSR vanished).


SC:  Palast raises an interesting point when he mentions the media’s coverage of events. Despite being highly critical of the Trump Administration at home, they are fully on board with the attempted overthrow of the Maduro regime. Reminds me of a passage from one of Orwell’s essays which I’ll paraphrase:

“When one thinks of all the people who support the Guaidó coup, one stands amazed at their diversity. What a crew! Think of a programme which at any rate for a while could bring Trump, the New York Times, Elliott Abrams, the foreign minister of a Liberal Canadian government, CNN, Richard Branson, John Bolton and etc. & etc., all into the same boat! “

BT: Orwell is always worth quoting.

I don’t know if he is always worth paraphrasing according to usages 70 years after his death.

But I do take your point.



Scott Cole:  Let’s say you are playing a simulation as Maduro in a Guaidó / humanitarian aid scenario. What is your game strategy?  

Unfortunately, we are using the “Aquí No Se Rinde Nadie” optional rule so you cannot make a deal to retire with your personal gold stash to Aruba.

Brian Train:

Why didn’t we hear about any aid convoys before Guaido popped onto the stage? People were certainly hungry and short of supplies before.

Eh, anyway…



SC:  OK, the Maduro side has played the "Life isn't Fair card" but rolled low on the dice and does not garner any extra international support.  What does the Maduro player do now?

BT:  The most prudent course of action: shore up and hang on.

So far there have been only a few defections from the security forces, so it appears possible for him to do this in the short term.

The long term question, though, is just how much the outside world wants Maduro out of power, and Guaido in power, or the opposite, and how much profit and loss that involves. Not long ago it seemed that Russia and China were prepared to back Maduro up, as a Latin American proxy and counterweight to American pressure, but now I am not so sure they want to make that material and political investment.So you’re right, he rolled low.

But Guaido also needs external assistance and reassurance to advance (note his recent meetings with Vice-President Pence and others) and claim power, so the issue here is how much of a quid pro quo can he offer for that support… a change in government in Venezuela will not greatly affect the world price of oil, which was the major problem at first.

Perhaps we could view this as one more example of “disaster capitalism”, where one or more American corporations (Koch et al) swoop in and scoop up what remains of Venezuela’s petroleum industry at fire-sale prices, while life doesn’t change at all for the Venezuelan people.

If this is the case, and the issue is forced, then Maduro has already lost any game that might be afoot. It’s likely he could find personal exile somewhere (Cuba?), without his gold stash maybe he could go back to driving a bus.

But my larger concern is that there will continue to be a great deal of disorder and violence in Venezuela, no matter who is in charge… there are large amounts of military-grade weapons on the streets already, little chance of a new regime recovering them, and a lot of people with pent-up grievances and the will to use them.

Letting humanitarian aid in won’t stop that flywheel of violence: and at current oil prices there is slim to no chance of a Latin American analogue of a Marshall Plan to rebuild the economy, bring the economic refugees home, feed everyone and make the streets safe again.



SC:  I’ve been looking into Caudillo and while you have taken pains to stress that it was never designed to simulate actual events I have to ask that if you intended to design a game simulating contemporary Venezuela, what would be your general organizing principles?


BT: Caudillo was never meant to simulate Venezuela, but when I set out to design it in 2013 it was inspired by what a post-Chavez regime might look like.

The main point of the game is to stress the pressures between building up a large and durable personal power base, which gives large rewards a few times during the game, and having to cooperate with other players in defeating the socio-economic crises that keep popping out of the deck - which gives smaller rewards,more often… Having that big power base gives you more resources to contribute, but if you leave it too late the whole country will collapse, and so on.

In designing a game on contemporary Venezuela, I would think carefully about what part of that big tamale I’d want to cut off and chew on… there’s no way to simulate completely an entire country facing a situation like this, it’s far too complex.

So what I would do is look at some aspects of what’s going on… maybe some form of game on subversion, power struggles, and maneuvering within the security forces, or a study of the various political factions within either the Guaido camp or the Maduro regimes.

What would be really interesting - and this is something that is almost never done in games - is something on the reconciliation, readjustment and reabsorption processes after a conflict, after a transfer of power.



SC:  I came across your game on the Uruguayan Tupamaro urban guerrillas and read this game related interview. You discussed Che Guevara and Regis Debray’s “foco” revolutionary model.  For readers, this model consisted of three main tenets:

  • Popular forces can always defeat a regular army in a guerrilla war;
  • the main arena of action will be the countryside; and
  • It is not necessary that all conditions for making a successful revolution exist: the professional revolutionary cadre group (foco), can either create these conditions or simply do without them.

Besides what can only be described as wishful thinking what struck me was the comparison between Debray’s expectation that the countryside would be the focus of revolution but it was only in urban areas that long running insurgencies took root while the old Bolsheviks and Mensheviks expected the revolution would arise from the exploited proletariat of urban Europe and were taken by surprise (but did not hesitate to exploit) revolutionary conditions arising in comparatively undeveloped Russia.


BT: The long answer to this is in my article on urban guerrilla warfare, the first piece I had published in Strategy and Tactics, back in 1993.

The foco model didn’t work, and in retrospect was rather silly.

There are good examples of long-lived, insurgencies that sustained themselves in the boondocks... the Sendero Luminoso of Peru and the Nepalese Civil War are two (also the Moro Wars, from which American English gets the term “boondocks”!).

But it’s always risky to generalize; Mao may have said that a revolution is not a dinner party, but don’t show up at next weekend’s barbecue in black tie either.

There are good reasons for there to be urban-based insurgencies too, and they are becoming increasingly unavoidable, simply because more and more people are living in such areas… two good books to consult here are David Kilcullen’s Out Of The Mountains and Mike Davis’ Planet of Slums.


SC:  Are you thinking of releasing Virtualia (Game on urban insurgency in fictionalized post-Chavez Venezuela. Amplification of Tupamaro system)?


BT:  As of this weekend I have started working on a cards-and-cubes variation on that design. Some parts of that game helped me to make further modifications to the 4-box system, like the chit system in EOKA. But this one will be a bit streamlined and free-form from that, and I hope to use it to show some of the dilemmas in pursuing different kinds of actions.

Sorry that sounds unhelpful and nebulous but I am not done yet.

I might just release it with a choice of free PnP, or a priced homemade copy, like I did with Caudillo.




SC: In your essay on South American urban guerrilla movements, The Terror War you stated that it was politically impossible for the guerrilla groups to overthrow their governments as true revolutionary situations did not exist.

My thought after reading the article was these groups attempted to use terrorism to create the revolutionary situations but they failed at great cost to themselves and the societies they were ostensibly fighting for.

At that time and place (1960 - 1980’s Latin America), were other tactics available to these groups beyond terrorism? In a recent lecture you stated that an insurgent movement works to “out-indoctrinate the government or re-occupy a physical or mental space where the government’s writ does not run”.

I’m guessing there was a spectrum of options from total non-violence (e.g. a community service type strategy) up to the IRA / Sinn Féin model?


BT: Armed guerrilla movements are not “politics as usual”, and they arise when politics as usual is not working… if it was, then you wouldn’t have these spasms of violence, doomed as they seemed to be.

Few of these movements started with violence right out of the gate; one exception is the Sendero Luminoso, which began the conflict with a bang after nearly ten years of covert organization and planning (but Sendero is an exceptional movement in many senses of the word).

Most of them went to violent methods after being shut out of normal political processes, or through state overreaction to the non-kinetic methods they did try.
More often though, they became violent through having to resort to crime to raise resources (even Stalin got his start as a bank robber) or a conscious decision to provoke the state into further overreaction.

The Tupamaros did belatedly create a united political front with a legitimate party and contested elections, but there had been too much violence for them to get away with it. And shortly after those elections, the whole table of democratic process got kicked over by the military so there wasn’t even a question of carrying on with that…But I think it gave a lot of people a bit of a tickle when Jose Mujica, former Tupamaro and prisoner of the military for 13 years, became President of Uruguay in 2009.

The real victory is in outlasting your opponent.

Mujica said as much in a speech in 2014:
“Life can set us a lot of snares, a lot of bumps, we can fail a thousand times, in life, in love, in the social struggle, but if we search for it we'll have the strength to get up again and start over. The most beautiful thing about the day is that it dawns. There is always a dawn after the night has passed. Don't forget it, kids. The only losers are the ones who stop fighting.”


SC:  Do you know of any insurgency themed games that are personality based? I think revolutions and counter-insurgency themes lend themselves to strong characters affecting game play, I just don’t know of any.

 Besides the clandestine nature of the conflicts and a dearth of publicly available information on most characters involved do you think a insurgency themed game with a personality driven game system is feasible?


BT: I don’t subscribe to the Great Man theory of history; historical personages exist of course and did affect the events of their day, but the Cuban Revolution did not stand or fall because Che and Fidel in particular lived and breathed.

There was nothing magical about these men; if conditions are right for rebellion, someone else would have emerged and led it. I think there is too much of a tendency to “personalize” history, though it seems to help people to understand it.

I’d sooner subscribe to the Great Schmuck theory of history, which explains the catalog of missed opportunities, failed conversions, own goals and other disasters caused by the hesitancy, control-freakiness, incompetence or malice of the personality in charge at the time.

I don’t know of any serious insurgency games that are personality based.
It would be possible to make one, I guess, perhaps as some kind of role-playing game (where your Charisma score would be pretty important!).


SC: You have an impressive resume of insurgency/civil war themed games from 1848  to games on the Greek Civil War; an extensive collection of South American titles and the American War in Afghanistan.

Looking upon your experience are there any common themes in game design that keep coming up?

Also based on the research required to produce insurgency/civil war games from diverse historical periods do any common themes emerge about the nature of revolution and civil unrest?


BT: About half of my output is games on insurgencies/irregular war and the like (which means the other half isn’t, but it doesn’t get as much attention!).

Over the years I have derived several different systems to reflect this form of conflict: I’ve also done one-off games, and the games in each system have each undergone considerable modification to allow for their particular circumstances (civil conflict or not, colonial, foreign occupation, etc.).

However, general themes and principles emerge only with the broadest of brushstrokes… I am reduced to truisms like:

  • Many are called, and few choose themselves. Only a small fraction of a population in conflict is driven to direct action, generally with the support of a somewhat larger fraction of sympathizers. Hence many of my games draw a distinction between small “mobile” units of dedicated fighters drawn from larger static mass organizations.Both are necessary, and complement each other.
  • Same arena, different rules. Guerrilla warfare has been called the “warfare of the weak”, but in any struggle for power the antagonists are always far from symmetrical or equal in terms of means, motive and opportunity. This needs to be reflected in a game by maximal asymmetry in mechanics, objectives and force structures. The simplest expression of this is found in my game Guerrilla Checkers, the idea for which came to me one night while I was lying awake thinking about Afghanistan. It’s the simplest idea I have ever had and I wish I had more of them.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Venezuela: The Cuban Army in Venezuela

The Foresight Method
Via a David Goldman post I followed a link to Foresightcuba's July 2017 article on The Cuban Army in Venezuela.

The "Foresight" section serves as the site's "About" page and begins by discussing the Foresight Method, which is analysis that helps define goals (needs) and the risks and opportunities presented by measuring and comparing demographics, economics, resources and well being.

Forsightcuba believes that:

"Cuba is in a deep crisis, caused by erroneous policies, totally disconnected from rational socio-economic foundations and with an enormous cost for the people of Cuba" and goes to state that their project "tries to raise awareness about the challenges, and contribute information for better decision making".

In short, they are not supporters of the current Cuban government and this outlook influences any articles they have on Venezuela its Boliviarian regime. That being said, I don't detect, so far, an overly propagandist or emotional style and believe a lot of the information gathered is informative.

A map and more details on the next page.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Venezuela: Guerra De Nervios 1 March Link Aggregation



Isolated Venezuela
The Saker gives 1 point to Maduro and the "Anglo-Zionist Empire" zero points in the recent humanitarian aid offensive. 

The Saker has an interesting back story and I enjoy his writing but his recent posts on Venezuela show more emotion and are a little less analytical than usual. Despite awarding the recent round to Maduro the Saker expects more trouble ahead.


The prolific David Goldman calls the Guerra de Nervios a "Bloody War of Attrition". Goldman states that the United States does not have any good choice but favors a U.S. policy of constant subversion and mayhem. Just like the Saker, a reader may not agree with his positions but his articles are always worth a read. In his article Goldman devotes a few paragraphs on explaining that Latin American revolutions are usually "prolonged, bloody wars of attrition" (e.g. Columbia).  Also, there is a link to a ForesightCuba.com article on the Cuban Army in Venezuela.  Translating that post and seeing if I can find additional information online will be the subject of my next Venezuela piece.

The Saker links to Nat South's post analyzing sea and air traffic in the Caribbean during the recent humanitarian aid push. Via Nat South I discovered the Twitter account of Steffan Watkins, worth following, not just for the situation in Venezuela but for anyone interested in analysis based upon open source reporting and sighting of military assets, worldwide.








Battle of the Bulge: 62nd Volks-grenadier Division

A companion post to the 18th VG Division . Reference is MS # B-026 , Report on the Ardennes Offensive. The 62 VGD by Brigadier-General ...