“I keep running out of !@##%!^&&*! trucks!”-Kevin Ravnsgames play tester for Warsaw Pact 8.4
There are only so many trucks in any army. How’s that for profound wisdom? And yet it’s an obvious fact that gets ignored not just by wargamers but also by armies. The truth is those shiny new trucks sent in by the thousands as the offensive begins, begin a process of attrition almost immediately:
Trucks break down
Trucks run out of gas
Drivers go back for supplies and decide never to go forward again
Commands not entitled to your trucks pinch them
Foot sore Generals requisition them
And on, and on, and on, and on……..
So after a few days your mechanized advanced is walking. Trucks in this context mean anything that carries replacement parts, food, gas and people. Thus even M2’s or BMP are little more than armed fancy trucks carrying needed supplies to the battlefront. And all these trucks are subject to loss.
In writing Warsaw Pact! 8.4 I wanted to show this attrition as I felt it was important consideration on the part of a tactical command at company, battalion or regimental level, even divisions and corps must recon on the number of trucks they posses. Thus the unique set of rules in place to make YOU feel the transport crunch!
” The American Army is so roadbound, the soldiers have almost lost the use of their legs”…General Ridgeway 1950
Twenty three BMP-02 trundled down the canal road on their way to yet another Israeli breakthrough attempt. The Egyptian soldiers had trained with an intensity and determination which lead them to a peak of professionalism and vigor in attack. They had trained under the watchful eyes of Soviet training personnel, executing the battle drill so well even the Soviets had to admit the Egyptians looked like Soviet soldiers. As they approached the Israeli position the BMP’s broke into a wedge formation and the infantry opened the firing ports ready to pour a deadly fire on the poor leg bound Israeli infantry. It would be a duck shoot. Suddenly the recoilless 75’s of the Israeli’s opened on the BMP’s melting the aluminum armor and condemning the brave men inside to a slow agonizing death as they melted and suffocated in the fighting compartment. The whole battle took five minutes, not a single ‘BUMP’ survived. It was not suppose to happen this way.
With the death of those Egyptian soldiers, died the Soviet experiment in having soldiers stay inside the vehicle. This outcome ended a debate inside and outside army circles as to how the mechanized infantryman would fight the next war. The Soviets had embraced the idea of the “Infantry Fighting Vehicle” i.e., a vehicle used to protect the infantryman, and making him little more than an intelligent turret which protected the the vehicle when it ran into enemy resistance while blowing through the enemy defensive crust. This philosophy was born out of the experience of World War II, the Germans had certainly used mechanized infantry inside SDKFZ-251. This halftrack and it’s family pointed the way to cheap serviceable mobile infantry. The Russians somehow forgot however, that those German soldiers got out of their Hanomog’s and fought on foot taking advantage of all the ground could give them.
The US had also forgotten this lesson. But the US had a rude, bloody, and ultimately helpful dose of reality at the hands of the Chinese Communist Army in the frozen wastes of North Korea. It took one brilliant and practical American General to understand and absorb that lesson. General Mathew Ridgeway, while on an inspection tour of the US 8th Army in Korea during its race up to the Yalu River in 1950, noted mechanized columns wind their way up endless mountain tracks with truck loads of infantrymen unwilling and in some cases unable to get out and walk. This left the high ground; indeed almost all the ground; to an enemy willing to walk to war. When Ridgeway became 8th Army commander the first thing he did was institute a training regime including road marching, setup all round defense, and taking the ridge lines away from the enemy with ‘Ridge Runners’ small, light men that could climb quickly and still be able to fight when they got to the top.
This one man saved the US Army and all of NATO the painful and expensive lesson learned by the Soviets. Trucks get you there…feet keep you there.
Research into a game can lead you down many a path you never planned to study at the time nor had any real interest in. Artillery of World War III was one such subject for me. Being a military historian artillery naturally interested me, but the complex problems of modern artillery use was fascinating.
As both NATO and Warsaw Pact looked at the modern battlefield they saw a world which precluded the use of tubes lined up hub to hub. This was much harder on the Soviets than the West as the annihilating power of massed artillery had been a cornerstone of their success against the Wehrmacht. The question was how to put enough HE on target and at the same time not loose your artillery to counter battery, air power, and nukes? The obvious answer was self propelled artillery pieces, an expensive solution, and one fraught with pit falls. SP units are expensive to use: larger crew per gun, fuel, more spare parts, and tracked support units; unless your willing to risk driving your SP’s on open roadways. The advantages were limited mostly to the fact the gun could ‘Shoot and Scoot’ that is fire a mission then immediately move.
The British may have been the first to see the issue and take steps, but it was a long gestation for them as one insufficient SP after another was rejected. The need was there the money and the technology was not. France saw the issue only in terms of the two or possibly three corps they had earmarked for operations with NATO in Germany. Thus France used a combination of US M155 and the AMX Mk F3 155. The Germans decided to use US mobile artillery and support this with the Luftwaffe flying Alpha Jets and Tornadoes in close support roles. Belgium felt the problem outside their scope as the country was so small that towed artillery could quickly move around and anyway there weren’t that many places to go. The real leader was the US who not only began to test fast mobile artillery along with missiles and rocket batteries, but also started looking at aerosol propellants which would allow SP weapon platforms that would allow for longer field operations and less ‘tail’ i.e. support units. The US also produced the Fairchild A-10, the Bell Super Cobra, and Boeing AH-64 Apache.
That left the Soviets. What would the USSR do with all those towed heavy artillery pieces they had built and stored at considerable cost? Their answer was indicative of the Red Army conservatism. Approaching the problem in two ways: first the Soviet towed artillery would be increased in the hope to offset loses with numbers, and two, build a large SP force which would be used at the Schwerpunkt of every attack. Units such as the 2S1 Gvozdika were indicative of the SP design philosophy of the Soviet Army.
One can’t help wondering if the artillery issue was not more a sales opportunity and less a real issue. Certainly towed artillery batteries made a nice juicy target for tactical nuclear strikes, but then again, so did everything else. Counter battery fire had been a fact of life for artillery for three hundred years and defenses had been developed. Air strikes had not been all that effective against artillery during WWI and WWII due to strong Anti-Air defenses and by the 1980-1990’s air defense weapons had only gotten stronger. What would have happened then? NO definitive answer can be given except maybe: Luckily it never happened.