Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Review of 'The Red Effect' Trilogy by Harvey Black

Over the last couple of weeks I've read all three of Harvey Black's books about a Soviet led invasion of West Germany in 1984, titled in sequence: 'The Red Effect; 'The Black Effect' and 'The Blue Effect'.

Readers will remember that back in the late seventies and early eighties there was a number of novels and so called 'future histories' that purported to cover this very subject: Hackett's 'Third World War' books; Coyles's 'Team Yankee'; and Ralph Peters's Red Army, to name but three. None of these works have entered the canon of great literature, but then I doubt that was ever their authors' ambition. Some were written as military-techo thrillers and at least one, Hackett's, with the aim of influencing public opinion.

What they all had in common though was that they were writing about the future, a future that has since passed, mercifully without the war they described breaking out. Of course, one of the protagonists in that war collapsed at the end of the 1980s, an event that was entirely unpredicted by the western intelligence and foreign policy community. This is a nice irony given the narrative that most of these books spell out.

Harvey Black's novels are an altogether different proposition in that he is writing about a past that never happened from the perspective of today. As such, Black has the benefit of his experience as a former British Army intelligence officer, serving in the British military mission in West Berlin, and also that of hindsight.

His books are self published, probably because such an esoteric subject (in 2014) won't find a ready mass market. This is no shame, after all, one of the advantages of e-books is that works that perhaps wouldn't see the light of day for purely commercial reasons do get published, and Black as gone a step further and published his books in hard copy. 

The disadvantages of this approach, even when done through a company that specialises in so called 'vanity publishing' , are however painfully evident. The books are riddled with errors that are simply screaming out for a professional editor and proof reader to correct. For example, characters and institutions are introduced more than once in consecutive chapters using virtually the same phrasing. There are many more, too many to list.

Secondly, this is not great literature. It barely even qualifies as airport lounge bestseller literature. Characterisation is week and one dimensional, the plot is thin and the descriptions of events repetitive and cliched.

The underlying fault with these books, one that they share with their cousins in  the 'future history' canon, is that they are not about World War Three - rather they are  about World War Two, or even the early days of World War One, fought with 1980's weapons. The future historians had a excuse in this regard, although not much of one, as the events they purported to describe lay ahead of the time they were writing in. The tendency for military bureaucracies to prepare for the last war and why they do so is well known. Black however, has no such excuse.

We now know that if fighting had to broken out in central Europe in the period in question it was much more likely to have been politically and militarily far messier than these books, and their 'future history' predecessors, describe. 

That said, there is much in Black's work that is useful to the wargamer, and that was the reason that I kept reading. Read together with Google Maps, it's possible to follow the action on the ground right down to platoon level. The reader can work out the order of battle in various encounters and zoom in and examine the ground over which these are fought. The books are replete with battalion and company level engagements involving mainly British and Soviet forces, together with a few more that feature the U.S. and West Germans.

So, if you're bent on playing out 'Cold War Gone Hot' scenarios featuring what was arguably least likely to happen in the event of direct NATO-Warsaw Pact hostilities in the 1980s, you could do worse than get hold of Black's books.

Otherwise I wouldn't bother. You won't be missing anything.

Monday, 14 July 2014

A Hill West of Stanley/Puerto Argentina

The battlefield looking east. This represents a gentle upwards slope from this angle with the Argentines dug in around the rocky peaks in the background
This weekend we played a Force on Force scenario I'd written up.

A platoon of British Paras assaults an Argentine hilltop position. The Argentines were a platoon HQ, a squad of conscripts (TQ: D6 Morale: D6 supported by a couple of sustained fire machine gun teams, and a recoiless rifle team with another squad off-table in reserve. They had night vision goggles, and weapons pits and slit trenches that provided + 3 Defence Dice.

The Paras had a Platoon HQ, including a D12 morale platoon sergeant, and two sections with the option to take a third section in reserve or start with either two sustained fire GPMGs or two MILAN teams on table. No night vision goggles but TQ was D8 and morale D10. There was also three salvos of light artillery and two of medium mortars zeroed in on the Argentine positions for a pre-assault stonk just before zero (which was at 0200 local time, 2300 ZULU).
Paras hook left and go straight up the middle

This is only the second game we've played with these rules and whilst the concepts and basic mechanics are excellent we're finding the layout of the rules terrible. No wonder there are all those questions and player aids on the various forums. We'll persist but I think many must be giving up - it speaks volumes that there is a wiki index on line. Given the resources of the publisher this really isn't good enough.

Anyway the Argies lost badly: six KIA, seven wounded and seven POW. The Paras had three guys lightly wounded.

The artillery did the damage, as well as my misreading the rules - which severely downgraded the protection the defenders received from their field works.

I'll tweak the scenario for a re-run before posting. Perhaps give the Argies the option of mines or write up some Fog of War cards for the Falklands - we didn't use the ones in the book for this game.

Thanks to Chris and Jeff (especially Jeff, who was commanding the defenders) for their patience and good natured sportsmanship.