The Most Lasting Legacy of World War I, by Joseph Miranda

One of the new strategic weapons first used in World War I was mass propaganda or psychological warfare. That includes the full spectrum of media shaping and political subversion. It was first used on a massive scale during World War I to try attack the morale of enemy troops and weaken the will of opposing governments and their citizenry to go on with the war. It was also employed defensively to try to maintain friendly troop morale and civilian morale at home.

The advent of its general employment has ever since meant militaries can no longer remain apolitical. If they don’t engage on the propaganda and psychological warfare fronts their opponents can, in effect, outflank them strategically there.

The British started with an immense advantage in that regard in 1914 because their control at that time of the global news, cable and wireless services gave them easy access to audiences worldwide. Their propaganda pushed the concept of self-determination for the nationalities living under Central Powers control, especially within the Austro-Hungarian Empire and German-occupied Poland – thereby trying to subverting the legitimacy of those imperial governments.

In Arabia, in addition to that same kind of propaganda, British intelligence dispatched T. E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”) to lead a guerrilla war against the Ottomans. A combination of propaganda, arms supply and training cadre soon succeeded in creating a large force behind enemy lines.

The Germans had to play catch up during the war, creating their own propaganda apparatus. That meant producing newspapers, posters and films, dispatching agitators and other agents in neutral and enemy countries.

The Germans sent agents as far afield as Egypt, Persia and Afghanistan to try to stir up rebellion against the Allied colonial powers. In the Caucasus they supported local nationalists to undermine the Russians and gain access to oilfields crucial to their own war effort. In East Africa, Col. Lettow von Vorbeck conducted a lengthy campaign against British Empire forces that, though militarily insignificant compared with the main fronts in Europe, proved to have great value in maintaining German morale at home.

In 1917 the Germans took psychological warfare to a unique new level when they deployed radical agitators to work to weaken the Russian Provisional Government that, under Alexander Kerensky, was keeping the country in the war against the Central Powers despite the removal of the Czar. In April of that year the Germans transported Vladimir I. Lenin in a sealed train from his place of exile in Switzerland to Petrograd. It proved an inexpensive gamble that paid off handsomely when Lenin's Bolsheviks overthrew the Provisional Government and effectively took Russia out of the war.

For the communists, propaganda was from the start a major front. By employing what they called “agitprop” (agitation and propaganda) they created and maintained a mass movement in support of their larger program of “Peace, Bread, Land.”

Their propaganda effort was also used to create an in-depth political indoctrination program for training insurgent cadre. It became a crucial part of their entire revolutionary effort, intended to not only overthrow the old order but to simultaneously replace it with a radical new one.

They used agitprop everywhere. During the armistice negotiations with the Germans, Lenin and Trotsky tried to use it to secure at the bargaining table what they couldn’t hold onto at the military front. A renewed German offensive in February 1918 put an end to that tactic before it could bear fruit, so the communists agreed to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

That gave the Central Powers effective control – in the form of newly independent nationality based states – of most of what had been the western Russian Empire. Thus it was Germany's propaganda strategy that worked best in 1918, but with powerfully disruptive unintended consequences thereafter.

Another aspect of the communists’ use of agitprop was the creation of what amounted to politicized soldiers – ones who not only conducted agitprop, but also what was called “propaganda of the deed,” the use of military action to gain revolutionary goals. For the communists those were initially the “Red Guards,” a politicized militia that rose in 1917-18 to seize control of government buildings and engage in combat with assorted regime foes.

The full blown Red Army that Lenin and Trotsky later organized took military politicization even further, using it to attempt to spread revolution across not only the lands of the old Russian Empire but also into the Central Powers' armies and Eastern Europe.

The political soldier concept was alien to the former European professional military tradition; however, with the collapse of Imperial Germany in November 1918, there arose the paramilitary “Freikorps” (Volunteer Corps). They were composed largely of veterans of the recently ended World War, and many of their cadre were from the elite stormtroop units of its final campaigns.

They had a strong political component from the start, combining nationalism, anti-communism and an aversion to control by civilian politicians – who they believed betrayed Germany in ending the war. Their overarching attitude – that they were a new breed of ultra-modern soldier – did much to create a break with the past and open the way for those same kinds of forces in other societies worldwide. It was the Freikorps that crushed various communist revolutionary movements inside Germany, then in 1919 marched into the newly independent Baltic states to defeat the communists there.

The Freikorps proved successful against the Reds, but failed in their attempt to set up a German-controlled dependency in the Baltic states. Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia maintained their independence from both the Germans and Soviets and, with Allied assistance, managed to expel both. Nonetheless, the Freikorps became something of a legend within Germany in the years after that, and they provided the inspiration for Hitler’s Brownshirts in the following decade.

Aside from certifying extreme nationalism, the creation of politicized soldiers led to other postwar developments. Ernst Junger, a stormtroop officer and later a literary figure, became an advocate of a far-right form of anarchy in the 1920s. He and his adherents saw the Great War as having shattered the 19th century belief in progress and rationalism, replacing it with a new worldview based on the revelations obtained from fighting together under the full force of modern industrialized combat.

Those sentiments weren’t confined only to Germany. Gabriele D'Annunzio, an Italian war hero who had led an air raid over Vienna in August 1918 to drop propaganda leaflets, was associated with his nation’s version of the stormtroops. In September 1919 he marched at the head of 2,000 Italian nationalists in a coup which took over the city of Fiume in what later became Yugoslavia (now Rijeka, Croatia). He set up a “free state” there and maintained the city's independence for over a year until the Allied powers brought that regime to its end.

At first it seemed the main legacy of World War I was that it had set in place the doctrine of “total war,” which held that for a nation to triumph it must mobilize the entirety of its military, political and industrial efforts. That legacy was overturned in 1945, however, when the advent of the civilization-destroying power of atomic weapons necessitated a switch to “limited war.”

That meant the militaries of nuclear-armed powers could no longer directly engage against each other for fear such conflict would quickly escalate into what amounted to species suicide. Of course, that new limit has in turn worked to further emphasize the importance of propaganda and psychological warfare. Today, though its center of gravity has moved onto the internet and its social media, its that legacy from the Great War that’s proven most lasting.

Check out the latest issue of CounterFact at <>

Marine LAVs for the 82nd Airborne Division, by Gilberto Villahermosa

The US Army is acquiring light armored vehicles (LAV used by the Marine Corps) to support its airborne forces. The USMC’s LAV-25A2, armed with a 25mm automatic cannon, will provide reconnaissance and fire support for the 82nd Airborne Division until a more heavily armed replacement can be substituted. Considering its institutional history in this regard, as well as its ongoing budget challenges, the army is unlikely to move expeditiously to acquire the called for new tank.

For decades, the 4/68 (later the 3/73) Armor Battalion was the army’s only airborne light tank unit. Attached to the 82nd, the unit operated M551 Sheridan light reconnaissance tanks for decades before retiring them in 1996. With an aluminum hull and steel turret, the 15-ton Sheridan served from 1966 to 1996. They were used successfully in combat operations in Vietnam, Panama, Kuwait and Iraq.

The Sheridans were armed with a 152mm gun, which also served as a launcher for MGM-51 Shillelagh missiles. During the Cold War, the Shillelagh could penetrate the armor of all Soviet tanks.

With a six-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine capable of generating 300 hp, the Sheridans were capable of road speeds of more than 40 mph. They were also amphibious, able to “swim” at four mph.

The Sheridans used by the 82nd were improved while in service many times, maintaining an exceptionally high “operational readiness rate” for the battalion.

Those that deployed to the Middle East were equipped with thermal sights, and they could be airdropped from high altitude or via a technique known as the Low Altitude Parachute Extraction System. That involved having the tank be pulled off the exit ramp of its in-flight C-130 transport by the drag on its own deployed parachute.

When the 3/73 Armor was deactivated, it left US airborne and light infantry formations without their own class of armored vehicle. The House Armed Services Committee has therefore been pushing the army to accelerate the acquisition of an air-deployable “Mobile Protected Firepower Vehicle” for some time. Selection of the Marine LAV to fill the light armor gap is therefore only an interim solution, aimed at convincing the committee the army is indeed serious about deploying a new light tank.

The long-term solution will be the acquisition of a vehicle like United Defense’s M-8 Armored Gun System, which was already being tested by the 82nd before the retirement of the Sheridans. Constructed of a welded aluminum alloy, the 19-ton M-8 had a crew of three and was armed with an XM35 105mm rifled gun. It was powered by a diesel engine capable of generating 580 hp. Like the Sheridan, the M-8 could travel at more than 40 mph on land and four mph in water.

Even so, the M-8 was shelved in 1997. The rationale offered was that innovations in armor and firepower on the horizon would soon result in an even better vehicle with a more powerful gun and better optics. It was speculated at the time some of those oncoming innovations might even allow the army to move directly to fielding fully robotic light tanks. In reality, it was institutional politics by the army’s “Big Tank Mafia,” led by former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, which killed the Sheridan as well as its potential M-8 replacement.

Now, almost two decades later, little has changed. Though the army is trying to placate the powerful congressional committee, it’s unlikely to move swiftly in selecting a new light tank, especially considering anticipated budget cuts. The paratroopers of the 82nd will therefore most likely have to continue to deploy without the heavy mobile fire support they should and could have.

Editor’s Note. A master parachutist and jump master, Col. (Ret.) Gilberto Villahermosa served more than 30 years in the US Army, including two tours with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 3rd Battalion, 73rd Armor Regiment as Battalion Motor Officer, Company Commander and S-3 Operations officer.

Check out the latest issue of CounterFact at <>

The (Im)Possibility of War in the Mega-City By Ty Bomba

Back in 2014, then US Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno set off what amounted to a metaphoric explosion of activity within the military-analytical community. He did so when he authorized the online publication and distribution of a 28-page pdf titled “Megacities and the United States Army: Preparing for a Complex and Uncertain Future.”

The study, co-authored by six of his staffers, pointed up a problem that had critical tactical, operational and strategic aspects. That is, after defining “mega-cities” as urban locales with 10 million or more inhabitants – there are 20 of them today with another 25 likely to have grown into existence by 2025 – they authors lamented the fact the US military in general, and the army in particular, had no doctrine for how to wage war in such places.

The standard formula for attacking a hostile city of smaller size – surround it, and then take the area inside the pocket sector by sector – won’t work in these huge conurbations because they’re simply won’t be enough troops on hand to isolate such vast spaces. The document (still available online by searching on its title) went on to list problem after problem, never intending to offer any solutions but, rather, simply to pose all the relevant questions that had been identified.

Since then, numerous writers – both from within and outside the US military – have offered more. For example, in 2017 one writer, under the auspices of West Point’s Modern War Institute, proposed an exact order of battle for a combined-arms battalion specifically constituted to fight in megacities. (That’s also still available online by searching under its title: “It’s Time to Create a Megacities Combat Unit.”)

Even the International Committee of the Red Cross commissioned a study on the subject, titled “Future War in Cities: Urbanization’s Challenge to Strategic Studies in the 21st Century.” Its focus is on the “development of military methods of operating in cities using appropriate rules of engagement that embrace international humanitarian law” (and, we might add, good luck with that).

As it turns out, an older study, one done at the US Army War College way back in 2001 and titled “Urban Operations: Tactical Realities and Strategic Ambiguities,” may already have shown the practical impossibility of any sustained US military involvement in fighting a ground battle for a mega-city. It used a combination of historical case studies and training exercise analyses, and its grim conclusions ran as follows.

A typical rifle company of up to about 200 combatants can be expected to seize a similarly defended city block after about 12 hours of combat. Total casualties among the attackers – personnel missing, killed and seriously wounded – would average 30 to 45 percent during that time, depending on the competency and ferocity of the defense. At the end of it, the survivors in the attack force would need to be temporarily withdrawn from the frontline for rest and regrouping.

At most, by straining mightily, the US Army might be able to concentrate some 180 assault companies, along with another 60 or so from the Marine Corps, to use in a fight for any one mega-city. Each army or USMC division averages 27 such companies, while an armor division could form a dozen or so. Thus the entire infantry force of the active duty US Army and Marines could be expected to be effectively burned out after about 20 days of steady mega-city combat, with total casualties suffered while doing so at about 15,000 to 22,000.

Even after all that, the conclusion offered was an overall victor in such a battle would likely only emerge through attrition, or when the suffering had reached a point where small margins of difference between the opposing forces’ staying power (morale) became the deciding factor.

Given the phenomena of “casualty aversion” that’s overtaken Western societies since the end of the Cold War – that is, a general unwillingness by electorates to sustain any government prosecuting a war longer than one election cycle or bloodier than a relative handful of total deaths – and it can be seen it’s effectively impossible for us a society to engage in that kind of war.

The only exception would be if the stakes involved were readily perceived by a majority the electorate as truly and fully existential at the national level. In turn, to get to that level, you have to posit near science fictional scenarios, such as the Chinese landing en masse along the US west coast or armies of Jihadis surging into Europe’s cities. Short of such epochal hypotheticals, one is hard pressed to name any mega-city anywhere on Earth the control of which would be important enough for a US administration, or that of any other Western democracy, to be willing to sacrifice so much to get it.

Mega-city wars will therefore likely remain the domains of criminal gang turf fights and civil wars fought among groups with nowhere else to go. Until such time as aerial and ground drones and autonomous robots are further perfected, no Western democracy can make war effectively in mega-cities.

The current issue of the on-paper edition of CounterFact Magazine (no. 9) has as its main topic “War in the Mega-City.” It offers both a longer article on this subject and an in-depth wargame that can be played solo or against an opponent. Those interested in that kind of deeper exploration, should go here:…

Russia’s GRU Yesterday & Today, by Gilberto Villahermosa

By the 1980s the Soviet GRU (the Russian-language abbreviation for “Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation”) had acquired a legendary status. It was part of the USSR’s “Special Purpose Forces,” earmarked to conduct both military and paramilitary operations, including partisan warfare, subversion, sabotage and assassinations. Further, such operations were to be carried out during periods of peace and war, as needed and directed by the highest state authority. Any invasion of Europe would certainly have been spearheaded by the GRU’s Spetsnaz commando units.

Throughout its more than 70-year history, the Soviet Union used unconventional forces and methods against its enemies. Those targeted included Czarists and other opponents during the Russian Civil War (1917-20), the Germans during World War II, and the resistance to Soviet domination of Eastern Europe after 1945, especially during the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Soviet special forces also led the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, during which they assassinated Afghan President Hafizullah Amin.

Within the overarching Directorate, the Soviets had a variety of elite forces for conducting unconventional warfare missions, including the KGB, as well as within all service branches of the regular military. All received training in infiltration and exfiltration; night operations; sabotage using explosives, incendiaries, acids and abrasives; clandestine communications; hand-to-hand combat; silent killing techniques; language and customs of target countries; surveillance, and the identification and location of new targets. All those unconventional units were managed directly from the highest level of the Soviet government.

In his books “Inside Soviet Military Intelligence,” “Aquarium: The Career and Defection of a Soviet Military Spy” and “Spetsnaz: The Inside Story of the Soviet Special Forces,” former GRU operative Vladimir Rezun (a.k.a. Viktor Suvorov) revealed all those tactics, technique and procedures. Training was intense, and punishment for betrayal or failure was severe. For example, he recounted how all new agents were made to watch a film showing a former operative, after having been convicted of some malfeasance deemed worthy of capital punishment, being slid slowly into a blazing incinerator while still alive.

Today the GRU is again in the news, and not only because its agents are involved in operations in Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Europe and the US. There have been several botched operations in Europe that generated much more publicity than the GRU would like.

According to reports coming out of Moscow, Russia's senior military leaders determined the GRU to be "deeply incompetent," after Western investigators identified its agents as being behind the attempted assassination of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, as well as a failed computer hack into the headquarters of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

That organization was, at the time, investigating the nerve agent attack on Skripal as well a chemical bombing attack in Douma, Syria, by Russian jets. The investigators identified the specific agents involved in the attack on Skripal. It was also determined the OPCW was hacked by agents of the GRU after tracing one of their mobile phones that had been carelessly activated near GRU headquarters in Moscow.

Of course, those running the Russian government are unhappy with the botched operations, the discovery of the identity of the agents involved, and the resultant international fallout. Recently, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu held a closed cabinet-level meeting to discuss those GRU blunders. During that discussion, in addition to the "deeply incompetent" quote above, he also described the GRU as having become "infinitely careless," “moronic," and consisting of people who “still wear the budenovka." (Those were the peaked caps worn by Bolshevik soldiers until the early 1920s; his meaning being the entire organization is badly outdated.)

Shoigu is supposedly calling for a "big sweep" within the GRU, including retiring most of its present leadership. Such a move, however, can’t take place without the approval of Vladimir Putin, who is himself a former KGB lieutenant colonel, and that approval is unlikely to be forthcoming.

A few names may disappear at the top of the GRU hierarchy, but the clandestine operations will continue. In fact, Western intelligence experts say the GRU is actually stepping up its covert activities, as tensions have continued to mount between Russia and the West since sanctions were first imposed on Moscow over its annexation of Crimea.

Putin’s personal priority remains the maintenance of a strong internal police, intelligence and paramilitary force in order to ensure the survival of his regime in the face of growing domestic opposition. So he has, in effect, given them nearly free reign, and is likely to continue to do so on that same account.

It’s also clear US and European intelligence services have begun a closer tracking the GRU. That probably means those organizations are building up a data base of GRU agents and institutions to strike if the times come to hit back. Reports indicate British intelligence services are, in particular, running exercises aimed at accomplishing just that.

Putin earlier believed his intelligence services were being clever in their operations. They’re weren’t, and their ever more clumsy failures have given impetus to a counter intelligence buildup in the West to counter them.

Check out the latest issue of CounterFact at <>

The Russian Army’s Arctic Warfare Operational & Tactical Principles By Gilberto Villahermosa

(The text below is excerpted from a longer article that’s included in issue number nine of CounterFact Magazine’s on-paper edition, which is now shipping. That full treatment is titled: “Russia’s Polar Pivot: Putin’s Strategy North of the Arctic Circle.”)

Where the Arctic winter brings almost complete and perpetual darkness, the summer has almost constant daylight. Troops have to be supremely fit, highly trained and well equipped. If they’re not, they suffer accordingly.

In winter hypothermia, dehydration, snow blindness and the possibility of freezing to death are constant threats to troop health and morale. The frozen ground makes digging-in difficult, if not impossible, even in the summer, and explosives often have to be used to blast out fighting positions.

Wind-chill increases the chance of frostbite, and rapid heat transference can easily result in flesh sticking to the metallic parts of weapons and vehicles. The latter require special oils, higher rates of maintenance and an increased rate of fuel consumption for both heating their interiors and transport. Engines have to be turned over regularly or kept running constantly.

Logistics are severely challenged due to both the terrain and the limited number and poor quality of roads. In the absence of tracked and all-terrain vehicles, efficient use must be made of sparse railroads, the most effective means of all-weather land transport in the region.

The bulk of troops and supplies will have to transported by sea, or brought in by air, and that too is an immense challenge in the harsh environment. The polar sea produces unique navigational problems for both ships and aircraft. Magnetic compasses are affected by the proximity of the North Pole. Sextants and chronometers are hampered by mist, fog, ice and overcast conditions caused by atmospheric depressions.

Massive accumulations of ice add to ships’ weight, causing them to consume more fuel. Stability is reduced and the risk of capsizing increased, especially in the face of mountainous waves during the frequent storms.

Attack frontages on land must be greater in the snow because of the difficulty in maneuvering. Reserves must also be larger than normal. Troops may attack on skis or sleds towed behind tanks. On reaching the assault line, troops release tow cables or ropes in order to make a coordinated attack on foot with the tanks. When tracked vehicles are used to tow infantry on skis, tanks can tow two squads and armored personnel carriers (APC) can tow one.

Soldiers are expected to be able to fire their weapons while being towed. In deep snow – defined as 1.5 to 2 times the ground clearance of the vehicles on hand – troops may attack while still mounted on tanks. Pursuit may be conducted by tank-borne infantry if snow or lack of roads preclude use of armored personnel carriers or ski-trained troops are lacking.

In cold weather, attack assembly areas are located closer than usual to the enemy. That lessens the approach distance and therefore minimizes fatigue and cold-exposure time. Second echelon and reserve forces follow closer than normal to reduce commitment time.

Attempts to use adverse weather for defensive advantage must be made. It delays an attacking enemy and denies him shelter, thus prolonging his exposure to the cold. Populated areas and forests provide shelter and should be used as strongpoints. The most critical defensive positions are those located along the most likely avenues of advance: approach roads and areas of light snow.

Snow should be used to conceal strongpoints as much as possible. Parapets of packed snow are to be built around weapons and parked vehicles. Snow may also be packed on the upper portion of combat vehicles to aid in their concealment.

Defensive positions, when not under attack, should be occupied by no more than a third of the total on-hand fighting strength while the remaining troops occupy warming shelters. That permits the majority of troops to be at peak efficiency in the event of an attack.

The limited mobility and extreme cold handicaps efforts in regard to logistics. Stores must therefore be moved as far forward as possible when preparing for an offensive, and stockpiling must continually take place while on the defense. Proper road maintenance, for both the offense and defense, is crucial.

Because deep snow greatly reduces the bursting radius of artillery projectiles, the number of rounds required for target coverage increases. At the same time, the rate of fire decreases due to the additional preparation time needed for ammunition and weapon maintenance. Range estimation against a snowy background makes fire adjustment more difficult.

In short, at all levels, warfare in the Arctic is much more difficult than conflict under normal conditions, and requires specially trained troops and specialized equipment.

To order a copy of CounterFact no. 9, go to:…

Another Possible Korean Scenario: A Unified But Still Nuclear Peninsula, by Gilberto Villahermosa


Speculation is growing in the global analytic community that it’s possible the two Koreas have begun moving toward what may be their own independently arrived at reconciliation. If that’s true, it means they’re engaging in a kind of diplomatic subterfuge for the benefit of the international community, while together they’re also secretly engaging in what amounts to unification talks conducted at the highest political and military levels. 

If those speculations are correct, there would be four general prerequisites needed for a self-unified Korea to be successful. 

First, a general amnesty would need to be declared for Kim Jong-un and all members of his regime for the crimes they’ve committed against the Korean people, both North and South. 

Second, some major role for Kim – who wants to go down in history as the unifier of Korea – would need to be created in the newly unified nation. He would also require a guarantee in regard to his long-term security against any attempts by the West to bring him to justice for his crimes. 

Third, all US forces would need to depart the peninsula. 

Fourth, major economic investment in the North would have to be immediately and steadily forthcoming from South Korea, in order to facilitate full social, political and military integration over time.

In exchange for that Southern investment, the North would provide Seoul with a nuclear weapons arsenal. Nuclear technology as well as at least some of the North’s 60 nuclear warheads would be transferred south. The result would be a unified – but still nuclear – Korean peninsula. Those weapons would be used to ensure Korea’s independence and security regardless of the ambitions of China, Russia and Japan and the abrogation of American security guarantees.

South Korea is too well integrated into the global economy to be treated as a pariah state, and that would remain true of a newly unified peninsula. Just as the West has accepted a nuclear Israel, India and Pakistan, so too would it have to accept a nuclear Korea. 

Unification of the two Koreas would effectively depress their joined economies for a decade or more as costly restricting went on. There’s little doubt, though, the Korean people would work energetically to overcome all obstacles and move their unified country into becoming one of the leading economies of the world and a regional military powerhouse.

A Soviet Drive into the Middle East, 1948-49 – What If? By Ty Bomba

Immediately after the end of World War II, Stalin’s strategic outlook was centered on the idea of holding secure what had just been won in the struggle against Nazi Germany. He codified that thinking in a lengthy memo he wrote early in 1947 titled: “Plan for the Active Defense of the Territory of the Soviet Union.”

In it, he forecast, were a new war to begin, it would do so via an Anglo-Allied attack into the Central European lands recently occupied by the Soviets. In turn, the Red Army’s initial mission would be to defeat that aggression before it could go far enough east to reach the Russian Motherland proper. The overall goal was to “secure the invulnerability of the boundaries established by international agreement after World War II.”

Soviet Drive.jpg

Since he still didn’t have an atomic bomb, his further thinking centered around defeating that US nuclear monopoly by deploying Soviet conventional strength on the ground. He therefore ordered the smaller postwar Red Army to be made more combat efficient via full motorization, which was mostly completed by 1949.

Despite the greater access to Kremlin records granted historians since the implosion of the USSR, no document has as yet emerged telling exactly when Stalin moved from the doctrine of strategic defense to one of strategic offense. Even so, though it remains impossible to distinguish exactly when he crossed that line, we know that sometime in 1948 he had made the switch in his thinking.

The evidence for that comes from his split with Yugoslav communist dictator Josef Broz Tito in March of that year. The long-offered explanation for their mutual alienation was it had come about due to Stalin’s jealously of the alternative approach to socialization presented by the smaller country’s dictator. As such, the blame for the split later offered by historians was kept centered on the Soviet dictator’s well known ego and belief in his own unique mission in history in regard to the final unfolding of communist dominance of the planet. More recently, though, as documents from the former Yugoslav government have become available, we know that interpretation is only part of the story.

The main reason the break came about was due to Tito’s desire to set up Yugoslavia as regional hegemon of the Balkans. More particularly, he saw the then burgeoning Greek Civil War as the means to do that. He pleaded, if Stalin would only give logistical support for Yugoslav and Albanian forces to intervene there, a quick and complete communist victory could be won.

Stalin disagreed, not on principle, but due to the fact he was then in the process of fully consolidating his own control over what he judged more strategically valuable territory to the north of the Balkans – namely Czechoslovakia and Poland – and in the Far East, via the communist victory looming in China’s civil war. He felt certain any open communist invasion of Greece would bring swift retaliation by the British and Americans, who had strong aero-naval forces on hand close by in the Mediterranean.

It therefore was best, he maintained, to let the communist momentum building on those more important fronts carry forward the socialist bloc to the proper moment for launching a larger war against the main opponents: the US and UK. Of course, for Tito, the Balkan peninsula was the crucial front.

Since Tito was unwilling to back off from his own idea, Stalin clothed the resultant split in ideological wrappings rather than discussing it as a disagreement over the best time and place to start World War III. In turn, Tito gave up launching his proposed invasion of Greece, since he had no confidence in its success minus at least Soviet logistical support.

Had Stalin been somewhat less egotistical, or had he merely had a different opinion of Euro-Asian strategic geography, we could’ve had a Third World War that began in the Balkans in 1948 or 1949, and that was then likely to have quickly expanded from there across all of southwest Asia. That expansion would’ve taken place for two reasons.

First, given the range of the US bomber force at the time, the only places from which the Americans could’ve dependably delivered their “air atomic” counteroffensive against the industrial vitals of the USSR – then still mostly in and just east of the Urals, after having been moved there to keep them out of German hands during the previous war – would’ve been from borrowed British bases on Cyprus, Crete and at Suez.

Second, America – which had been the powerhouse oil exporter for the whole Anglo-Allied war effort during World War II – was passing peak production. That meant the oilfields of the Mid-East would be crucial to any major new war effort by those nations. Those oilfields, in turn (see map) were almost totally undefended, and they lay much closer to the Red Army’s start lines than they did to any centers of Anglo-Allied power. Their early seizure in any new World War would’ve had powerful effect on the Allied capabilities.

At the end of World War II the Soviet Union had some 12.7 million personnel under arms, with the Red Army fielding approximately 477 division-equivalents supported by about 35,500 combat aircraft. By the end of 1947, the agricultural and industrial labor requirements for postwar reconstruction had allowed for only 4.4 million of those personnel to be kept in service along with about 24,000 aircraft. Meanwhile, however, the Anglo-Allied militaries declined from their wartime highs into an even smaller force.

If World War III had begun during 1948-49, it’s difficult to evaluate which side would’ve won. At the conventional level, it’s possible the Soviets could’ve achieved the overrunning of Western Europe and/or Southwest Asia that Allied planners feared. At the same time, though, if those Soviet advances didn’t break overall Allied morale, or failed to push the USAF bombers out of range, thereby allowing time for the US “air atomic” strategic counteroffensive to be carried out, it’s difficult to imagine how the Soviets could’ve held up against that kind of destruction.

It would most likely have been a close-run thing for both sides, with its final outcome dependent on which side kept up its morale – and therefore its determination to go on fighting – the longest.

Editor’s Note
This is an excerpt from a longer article that will appear in issue number 10 of the on-paper edition of CounterFact Magazine. Those interested in placing a pre-release discounted order for issue 10 should go here:…

Excerpt: Turkey vs. Bulgaria – Strategic Options by Maciej Jonasz

Turkish Options
With two overland avenues of approach and an amphibious one available to the Turks, their options are three – left, center and right.

The left option would see their main advance along Highway A4 to Plovdiv and then on to Sofia from there. The advantage of that approach would be its potential speed. It’s not only the shortest route to Sofia; Highway A4 also provides the easiest route on which to push forces and supplies into the fight. At the same time, though, and for those same reasons, that route would certainly be defended by Bulgaria's best units. Operations there would likely be immediately costly in terms of casualties and equipment wastage.

The center option would see an advance along Route 7 and then, once the Turks reached east-west Highway A1, they would turn left toward Plovdiv and Sofia. The terrain there is more difficult, as the forested hills would channel their advance into a series of potential kill zones. Further, Highway A1 doesn’t have the same capacity to handle traffic as Highway A4. Again, though, for those same reasons, the Bulgarians wouldn’t defend that approach with their best.

The Turks' third option would be to conduct an envelopment of Bulgaria's landward defenses by executing an amphibious operation on the Black Sea coast. Neither the Bulgarian Navy nor Air Force have the assets to stop such an operation, or even to inflict much in the way of losses on the Turks. Nor could the ground force defeat it once the Turkish marines set up a secure beachhead.

The Bulgarians have only enough combat power to defend the two dry land routes into their country from the south and not much more. As Turkish diverisonary attacks in the south would still likely be sufficient to keep some significant portion of the Bulgarian Army busy there, the road to Sofia from the beachhead would be largely open.

As the Turks have sufficient assets for only one amphibious landing, they would need to choose between one at Burgas in the south or one at Varna farther north. Both locations have beaches perfect for landing troops, and both have airports that can be used to ferry in reinforcements and supplies and to evacuate casualties.

An advantage for landing at Burgas is the fact the A1 highway that begins there, runs all the way to Sofia, allowing for rapid movement of troops and supplies. In contrast, the A2 highway, which starts in Varna, goes west for less than a 70 miles, which would mean the rest of that advance would have to be made along regular two-lane roads.

The Burgas option has the disadvantage that, if the Bulgarians were to pull back their forces holding the border area south of there, they would be able to block the A1. If a landing took place at Varna, on the other hand, no withdrawal in the south would likely be able to bring troops into position to block it in a timely way.

Bulgarian Options
The Bulgarians have two options: defend forward or in depth. A forward defense would see both their army brigades blocking the land routes into the country from the south, using the rough terrain near the border to form a series of successive defensive positions. The intent would be to prevent the Turks from capturing significant Bulgarian territory before some kind of outside intervention halted the invasion.

Politically, that’s the best option, as it would force the Turks to fight hard from the moment they crossed the border. If outside intervention came fast enough, the invaders would capture only a small piece of the country, and that would also bring the least harm to Bulgaria's civilian population. At the same time, speedily mounting Turkish casualties might lead to opposition to the war at home.

Even so, this option is risky from a military standpoint and could lead to disaster. That is, given the Turks' crushing superiority, the Bulgarians wouldn’t be able to hold any positions near the border for long. The attackers would punch through, and the Bulgarians would be forced to withdraw under a hail of bombs, rockets and missiles from above. That could deal them such a blow they would be unable to mount effective resistance anywhere else in the country, and the Turks might then complete their conquest with ease. Only if foreign intervention came before the border defense collapsed, or at least before the inevitable retreat from it could be turned into a rout, would this option stand a chance of success.

The second option, defending in depth, is militarily the better one. Here the Bulgarians would pull back into the Balkan mountains to make their stand. Taking advantage of that good defensive terrain, they could hold ground much longer and inflict heavy losses on the attackers. Even in this case, however, the Turks could advance by using vertical envelopment via helicopter assaults and paradrops. Still, this option wouldn’t only cost the Turks more time and blood, the longer the campaign lasted, the greater the chance of foreign intervention.

On the other hand, this option could be a political disaster in that at least a third of the country would speedily come under occupation. Then, if the Turks repeated what they did on Cyprus – ethnic cleansing and the bringing in of settlers – the Bulgarians could see some large portion of their country partitioned out from under them. That might be the “lesser evil,” though, as the same could happen to the whole country if the forward defense was chosen but then collapsed before foreign intervention stopped the invaders.

In the end, the Bulgarians' choice would depend on their estimate of long foreign intervention would take to make itself felt. If quickly, then forward defense would have to be the choice; if slowly, then defense in depth.

Overall, the disparity of forces between Turkey and Bulgaria – not only in quantity, but also in quality – is so large any conflict between the two would be decisively one sided. It would be a conflict the Bulgarians couldn’t win on their own and, at best under present conditions, they could only hope for a Cyprus-style cease-fire and partition of their territory. That would likely be the first step in the subsequent destruction of independent Bulgaria.

The Bulgarians' salvation in case of war can only come in the form of foreign intervention – either military or political. The strength of the Turkish armed forces means a military one would require not only a lot of combat power, but also the acceptance of potentially heavy losses by the intervening nations. They would also face the risk of socio-political turmoil at home from their own Islamic populations. That would likely require more political will than any potential interventionist countries possess.

Editor’s Note
This is an excerpt from a longer article that will appear in issue number 10 of the on-paper edition of CounterFact Magazine. Those interested in placing a pre-release discounted order for issue 10 should go here:…

The First Zapad Exercise & Its Significance Today by Gilberto Villahermosa

As Russia conducts its “Vostok” (East) military exercise, the largest since the collapse of the Soviet Union, a review of one of the USSR’s largest military exercises ever held, “Zapad” (West) in 1977 can help put today’s military threat from Russia in perspective.

At the end of the 1970s the East-West correlation of military forces was, according to Soviet analysts, starting to shift in favor of the latter due to the introduction of high-tech weapon systems in ever larger large numbers. Similarly today, advanced technologies would favor the West over Russia in the event of a war.

Russia, however, retains a large strategic and tactical nuclear force numbering around 2,000 warheads. More importantly, inside the Kremlin there remains a continued belief in the utility of those weapons in the event of a large-scale conflict erupting in Europe or Asia. The following analysis of the first Zapad exercise can therefore provide insight into how Russia might wage a large-scale war (along with a look into the bluster and bravado that, then and now, always accompanies these things).

The 1977 Zapad maneuvers, which took place in what was then communist “East Germany,” were intended to assess the Warsaw Pact’s ability to counteract the progress recently noted in NATO’s combat readiness. The Western alliance had recently completed their own “Wintex” maneuvers, which was their largest one ever and, according to an East German assessment of it, the results had showed the forces playing the role of the Warsaw Pact attackers had fallen short of their objective.

Adding to the significance of Zapad, then, the Soviets’ own scenario assumed NATO would initiate hostilities under the guise of maneuvers such as Wintex. That theme appeared frequently in the late 1970s. Pact intelligence was well aware of NATO’s actual defensive plans, but that wasn’t enough to quell their uneasiness over the presence of so many opposing forces nearby during large-scale maneuvers.

Beyond all that, Zapad had three characteristics that made it unique among all Soviet/Pact exercises held prior to that time.

First, the exercise was distinct from previous ones in its large spatial scope. The commanders and headquarters involved worked in locations with realistic spaces between them. They also worked through the field problems under study using the “real time” method. That is, their decision-making was allowed no more time than was estimated would be available if such a war actually occurred.

Second, it was carried out using realistic staffing and initial positioning for the opposing sides. The hope there was the simulated realism would encourage everyone involved to show creativity and initiative in their search for the best means to solve operational problems.

Third, for the first time they studied in detail the use of armed forces all deployed under a single command headquarters that was itself inside the theater. The exercise boundaries ran from Rostock to Leipzig to Pilsen, just 100 to 150 kilometers east of what would’ve been the actual location of the initial actions in the war being modeled.

Within the initial premise of the exercise, the “Western Forces” were allowed to finish a covert mobilization and, under the further pretense of an exercise, they then successfully implemented a full operational deployment across the Central European theater.

The plan of the exercise’s “Eastern Forces” called for repulsing that initial surprise attack by the Western Forces, then introducing into the ongoing battle reserve fronts and armies to seize the initiative, defeat the spearhead echelons of the Western Forces and then move into a strategic counterattack. They further planned to inflict defeat on any forming enemy reserves, and to then complete the defeat of the aggressor on his own territory.

Overall, by the eighth day of the exercise the situation for the Eastern Forces was judged (perhaps not too surprisingly) to have turned out favorably for them. They were rated as “proficient” in taking the initiative, cutting off groups of Western Forces, and thereby creating the most favorable conditions for totally defeating them.

Under those shifting circumstances, on the 10th day of the exercise the Western Forces made the decision to use nuclear weapons, and then began preparation for that massive nuclear attack. The next day the Eastern Forces general headquarters sent a directive to all its land forces and the Baltic Fleet, warning them it had been confirmed the enemy was indeed preparing for a nuclear strike.

With the threat of nuclear attack by the Western Forces imminent, the commanders and headquarters at the Eastern Forces then concentrated their attention on their own plan for a nuclear strike. Their plan for getting in the first such strike was then judged to have been carried out in time by all involved Eastern Force headquarters, but not by a wide margin. That is, the Eastern Forces began launching their first nuclear attack on the Western Forces at 11:29 a.m. One minute later, the first enemy nuclear strike occurred.

By general calculation, the Western Forces launched 680 nuclear strikes at the Eastern Force troops along the front and in the Baltic Sea, and another 400 strikes went into the western regions of the USSR.

The Eastern Force was estimated to have suffered significant losses: only 36 percent of its formations maintained any combat capability. In all, 31 percent of the Eastern divisions lost all combat capacity while the remaining ones were judged “severely limited” in regard to further operability. Along the front line, huge areas of contamination, destruction and fires were judged to have developed.

The first nuclear strike by the Eastern Forces were rate effective, in that 15 divisions of the Western Force totally lost their fighting capacity. In all, the Western Forces were estimated to have lost a quarter-million personnel. In general, then, the two sides were credited with having suffered equally devastating losses.

During the time the Western Force threat to use nuclear weapons was coming into play, the general headquarter staffs of the Polish, Czechoslovakian and East Germany Armies were credited with successfully putting into effect local civil defense measures aimed at setting in motion the earliest possible recovery from the enemy nuclear attacks.

In his closing remarks following the exercise, Marshal Nikolai V. Ogarkov, chief of the Soviet general staff, was candid about the shortcomings revealed by Zapad, as was Marshal Dmitrii Ustinov, the minister of defense and the exercise commander. In particular, Ustinov noted the Pact needed to acquire new conventional weapon systems to counter the West’s growing superiority in advanced technology.

Even so, Zapad ended on an upbeat note. The final report credited the Eastern Force with having pushed an offensive deep into West Germany, and in that way winning the overall war. Strangely, that was allowed to remain the official final evaluation, despite Ogarkov’s acknowledgement not a single Eastern Force division had totally fulfilled its assigned task.

Check out the latest issue of CounterFact at <>

Soviet Nuclear Strike Plans & Their Possible Legacy Today, by Gilberto Villahermosa

During the 1960s Soviet war planners believed the US and its allies would resort to the use of nuclear weapons early in any major conflict between the two Cold War power blocs. As a result, their counter-plan was to preempt that Western use in order to quickly and decisively defeat NATO. Those Soviet war plans therefore called for liberal use of nuclear weapons from the very start, and they deployed them at nearly 600 bases. By the time of the Soviet Union’s collapse in December 1991, they possessed a combined total of at least 20,000 tactical and strategic nuclear warheads.

In the northern portion of West Germany alone, the plans called for the use of 189 nuclear weapons, including 177 missiles and 12 gravity bombs ranging in yield from five to 500 kilotons. More than a dozen tactical nuclear weapons were to have been used to support the Soviet breakthrough into tiny Schleswig-Holstein province.

Larger weapons were to have been used to destroy major cities across Western Europe, including Hamburg, Bonn, Munich and Hannover in West Germany; Rotterdam, Utrecht and Amsterdam in the Netherlands; and Antwerp and Brussels in Belgium. No fewer than two nuclear weapons were to have been used to destroy Copenhagen, and five more to wreck all the rest of Denmark. Several northern Italian cities were also targeted. The plans even called for dropping two 500 kiloton weapons on Vienna, despite Austria’s neutrality.

Along with the liberal use of nuclear weapons, the Soviets planned to launch a massive ground campaign aimed at taking over most of Western Europe. The goal was to break through NATO’s frontline and advance swiftly beyond it. In order to achieve that rapid initial success, the Soviets aimed for a troop advantage of 5:1 or 6:1 at the main points of their ground attack.

The objectives differed depending on the front. For example, after the initial nuclear exchange, Czechoslovakian forces were to drive southwest and quickly seize Nuremberg, Stuttgart and Munich. By the ninth day of the war they were supposed to have reached Lyon in southern France. After that, Soviet reinforcements would push on to the Pyrenees, the mountain range that forms the border between Spain and France.

Simultaneous with those operations, Polish and other Soviet troops were to conquer the rest of West Germany, along with all of Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium. Securing those areas was deemed crucial in order to prevent the US, Canada and Britain from landing reinforcements on the northwestern part of the continent. As such, the Soviets planned to have secured all of Denmark within a week and to have reached the French Atlantic coast within 14 days.

All those invasion plans called for the communist soldiers to fight in highly radioactive territory that had just been blasted by massive nuclear attacks. In effect, those running the Kremlin were planning on sending forward their own troops until they died of radiation poisoning. Even if the plans succeeded, the USSR would’ve been left with territory in which all the major political and economic centers had been destroyed, with much of it uninhabitable for years or even decades, and all occupied by a ground force in which most of the personnel would be fatally ill.

All that’s known because, following the collapse of the USSR and the pullout of its forces from Eastern Europe that followed, they left behind thousands of documents and maps detailing their plans for a war with NATO. In their rush to leave that was probably due to carelessness by an army already falling apart. Alternatively, it may have been intended as a warning to the West of what awaited if they ever waged war against post-Soviet Russia in the future. By way of comparison, it’s interesting to note few documents were left behind regarding Soviet biological and chemical weapons capabilities and plans.

Today Russia possess some 7,000 strategic nuclear warheads and somewhere between 500 to 2,000 tactical ones. Though there have been no detailed assessments published in regard to the attitude of today’s Russian high command toward the use of nuclear weapons in the event of a major war, it should be kept in mind most of their generals grew up in a military culture that stressed the advantages of surprise nuclear strikes at the start of any such conflict. Further, the still much-debilitated Russian military – which remains underfunded, under-resourced, undermanned and is also still plagued with endemic corruption and criminality – might quickly find itself with no alternative other than to rely on the tremendous combat power such weapons would provide in a major war.

According to Russia’s most recently issued official military doctrine: “Readiness to employ tactical nuclear weapons can be demonstrated by methods such as the simulation of a nuclear attack.” In the event of an actual war, the Russians might therefore be expected to launch a demonstration nuclear strike in an uninhabited area (of their own or possibly their enemy’s country) or in a part of the ocean away from major shipping routes.

Check out the latest issue of CounterFact at <>

Something Entirely Different, Part II: John Wayne vs. the Communists, by Ty Bomba

Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of John Wayne’s death. In observance of that, several new biographies will appear along with at least one television documentary currently in production.

In the objective sense, since he was only a Hollywood celebrity, his personality and career seemingly have little to do with the main areas of interest of this magazine’s readers: military history and current event analysis. More subjectively, however, Wayne’s influence went far beyond theaters due to the fact that, throughout the mid-20th century, his on-screen persona came to typify – for both supporters and detractors – the archetypal American male.

In regard of his larger cultural significance, two weeks ago we offered a short article analyzing that aspect of his early career: his involvement – or, more correctly, his non-involvement, in the Second World War. That article is still available by scrolling down through the posts on this page.

This second, and final, installment examines the violent collisions he had with communist operatives deployed to kill him, first by Stalin in 1949 and then by Mao in 1966. Those episodes remain generally unknown today because Wayne used all his superstar influence to keep them out of the press when they occurred.

He did that not because he was publicity shy – in general he was anything but that. Rather, he was concerned, if those failed attempts on his life were publicized, the upshot would be to bring on more such efforts. In turn, he feared that would mean he would have to convert his home into a fortress and keep himself and his large family cocooned within layers of security and bodyguards.

Stalin, who used to enjoy occasionally dabbling in film production, first began to hear about Wayne from various Russian film directors after the end of World War II. They told him how Wayne’s career was rapidly rising from making B-movie westerns to true superstar status. That increasing stardom, coupled with Wayne’s vociferous anti-communism – he was prominent in the “Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals,” an anti-communist public relations group formed by conservatives within the Hollywood film industry – made the dictator decide Wayne should be liquidated.

He sent two KGB assassins to Los Angeles carrying false documents identifying them as FBI agents, which they were to use to facilitate their getting close enough to Wayne to kill him. The communist “fellow traveler” group – consisting of various low-level film studio employees – with whom the Russians stayed while planning precisely when, where and how to complete their mission had, fortunately, been infiltrated by undercover agents from the real FBI.

As soon as the genuine FBI found out the assassins planned to call on the actor at his office at Warner Brothers Studios – ostensibly to discuss with him a threat against his life that they were investigating – the real G-Men notified Wayne as to what was coming. Since they knew the exact day and time of the attempt – Wayne was then working late into the evenings on a script for an upcoming film project, and the hit was scheduled for that time of day – the actor said to let them come to his office.

Unknown to the assassins, of course, the real FBI men were waiting just behind the door, ready to nab and disarm them as soon as they entered. The plan worked smoothly, and the KGB team was arrested without any problems.

In September 1958, when Nikita Khrushchev toured the US, the new dictator asked President Eisenhower if he could arrange for a meeting between him and Wayne. It seems Khrushchev enjoyed Wayne’s westerns a lot and, even though the communist leader wouldn’t authorize them for public screenings in theaters in the USSR, he had copies shown in the Kremlin for his own entertainment.

At a reception set up by the head of Twentieth Century Fox studios, Khrushchev – off to the side, with only an interpreter present as the two men talked and drank – verified to Wayne the assassins of 1949 had indeed been sent directly on Stalin’s orders. He also said that, soon after the older dictator had died he, Khrushchev, had personally ordered no such further attempts against Wayne’s life should be planned. He also cautioned the actor, though, he should still be careful because there were indications Chinese dictator Mao Tse-tung was looking for an opportunity to kill him.

Wayne then asked Khrushchev if he really liked his pictures and why. The dictator replied: “Yes, I especially like the ones about the US cavalry. They remind me of how white Americans oppressed the true natives of America.”

Wayne later said that, on hearing those statements translated, he felt like “punching Khrushchev in the mouth.” He thought better of it, though, since he didn’t want to embarrass the Eisenhower administration or otherwise start an international incident.

Mao did make a move in June 1966, when Wayne went on a three-week tour of various US military bases across South Vietnam. Since he didn’t sing or dance, after each introduction Wayne would come off the stage to move among the audience of US soldiers, shaking hands, sharing beers and signing autographs. Near the end of the tour, as he was doing that, several bullets whizzed past him, striking the ground nearby, so close that he later said he “could feel the wind as they flew by.”

His Marine escorts quickly got him under cover but, sometime later when Wayne and his party were getting ready to leave, he was told a quick-reaction patrol had located and captured the sniper who’d fired at them. They took Wayne into the room where the disarmed sniper sat bound in a chair.

The prisoner eagerly explained – via a multi-lingual South Vietnamese interpreter – that he was a Chinese soldier who’d been sent personally by Mao to kill Wayne. The soldier said Mao had promised him, if he succeeded, both “great glory” and a “financial reward.”

The sniper said he’d failed because the base’s perimeter security kept him from getting close enough to line up a sure-kill shot. Wayne later remarked, in regard to the sniper: “I don’t know what happened to that poor bastard. I suspect he didn’t live to tell his tale [again].”

Though relations between the US and China and Russia aren’t smooth these days, it’s doubtful any Hollywood star of today is on Putin’s or Xi Jinping’s personal hit lists. We might take that as one modest measure of things getting better.

Note: In the attached color photo, Wayne is shown moving among some US troops in the audience during his 1966 tour of bases in South Vietnam. The black-and-white photo was taken at the reception where Wayne and Khrushchev drank and talked together. (Wayne was careful to stay away out of photographs all during that soiree.)

Check out the latest issue of CounterFact at <>

The US Army’s “Viking Battalion” in World War II, By Erik F. Brun

In July 1942, one of many classified plans was put into motion in Washington, DC. After a year and a half of preparation and mobilization since the Pearl Harbor attack, the US Army had swollen from 269,000 to over 2 million personnel, all while also undergoing a nearly complete reorganization of its equipment and tactics. As part of all that, the War Department personnel arm had given it attention to an estimated 380,000 resident aliens of service age living in America.

The linguistic, cultural, propaganda, political and military aspects involved in forming units of foreign nationals were evaluated and debated. A series of proposals were moved forward, and the 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate), made up of Norwegians, emerged from the “Foreign Legion” debate as the first such experimental unit.

By mid-December 1942 the 99th took up station at Camp Hale, Colorado. The unit was entirely made up of a mix of Norwegian-Americans and citizens of Norway. They were sent to Camp Hale, located 15 miles north of Leadville, Colorado, to receive training to become ski troops. They began conducting a grueling schedule of training at elevations between 10,000 and 14,000 feet above sea level, which regimen lasted until August 1943.

The battalion was shipped to the United Kingdom in the following month, where it was eventually assigned to Gen. Omar Bradley’s First Army in preparation for the invasion of the continent (“D-Day”). For the next six months, the 99th conducted more training in preparation for that campaign.

The soldiers of the 99th began boarding ship on 17 June, and they arrived in France on D+16. The battalion was kept assigned directly to First Army Headquarters to be attached to other commands from there as needed. Their first assignment was to the “Provisional Ranger Group,” which was already in Normandy, and in it they took part in the final capture of the port city of Cherbourg. The 99th subsequently moved across northern France attached variously to the 2nd Armored and 30th Infantry Divisions. In that way they fought at Elbeuf, France, the Willens Vaart Canal in the Netherlands, until finally forming part of one of the pincers that closed around Aachen, Germany, in October.

During the crisis period the Battle of the Bulge that December, the 99th distinguished itself as the first combat unit to arrive in the key defensive sector of Stavelot-Malmedy, Belgium. Thereafter they were engaged for over 30 consecutive days to repeated attacks by SS panzer units.

In late January 1945 the 99th was moved back into France to become part of the newly formed 474th Infantry Regiment as its third battalion. That regiment had been created for a classified mission anticipated since late 1943. It was formed by combining the 99th with 1,700 men of the 1st Special Service Force (a.k.a. the “Devil’s Brigade”). The unit also included some 400 Rangers who’d survived the Battle of Cisterna, at Anzio, early in 1944.

In early April 1945, the 474th was assigned to Gen. George Patton’s Third Army headquarters, where it was immediately tasked to assist with the famous “Monuments Men” mission. Their first job was to move two convoys of liberated Nazi loot that had been hidden in a salt mine in eastern Germany to the security of the Reichsbank depository in Frankfurt. In that role, the 99th escorted to safety over 484 tons of gold and 30 truckloads of art treasures. The gold alone would fetch some 18.5 billion USD on today’s market.

With the capitulation of Germany on 8 May, the whole regiment was alerted for what would become its final mission: to ensure the smooth transition of what was still German-occupied Norway back to independence. On 29 May the regiment was sent to Oslo aboard amphibious landing ships as part of “Operation Nightlight.” There the 99th served as the honor guard for King Haakon VII upon his return from exile in England. The 99th also assisted in disarming and processing into captivity the almost 400,000 German occupation troops, along with helping to repatriate to their own countries some 100,000 civilian forced laborers and Allied POWs.

As a side note, in the summer of 1943, 100 men from the 99th had been recruited by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS, the forerunner of today’s CIA) for clandestine operations in their ethnic homeland. After being given further specialized training in clandestine warfare techniques, those men formed the bulk of the OSS’s “Norwegian Operational Group” set up in the United Kingdom. The group was only finally sent to Norway, however, in April 1945 as part of “Operation Grouse.”

Two teams were landed in Norway, where they linked up with the resistance, and began to conduct sabotage missions aimed at slowing the redeployment of German forces from there southward to the main front in Germany. Tragedy struck during that deployment when two of the transport aircraft crashed, causing the loss of 11 team members. Even so, the mission went on, led by then-Major William Colby, who later became head of the CIA.

During the final weeks of the war, they managed to destroy enough north-south railroad lines to effectively isolate large elements of the elite German Twentieth Mountain Army. They continued in that mission until V-E Day. Their final activity as a separate unit was to stand as honor guard for Crown Prince Olav when he landed at Trondheim on 9 June.

The 99th Infantry Battalion was returned to the US and deactivated at Camp Miles Standish, Massachusetts, in October 1945. While in Europe the unit earned five battle stars: Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes and Central Europe. During 101 days in combat, the battalion suffered the loss of 54 killed in action and 207 wounded. Fifteen of its members received the Silver Star, and another 20 the Bronze Star, for heroism in combat.

For more (lots more!) about the 99th, go to: <>

Check out the latest issue of CounterFact at <>

Now For Something Entirely Different: John Wayne, 40 Years Dead -- Part I: Wayne in World War II By Ty Bomba

Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of John Wayne’s death. In observance of that, several new biographies will appear along with at least one television documentary currently in production.

In the objective sense, since he was only a Hollywood celebrity, his personality and career seemingly have little to do with the main areas of interest of this magazine’s readers: military history and current event analysis. More subjectively, however, Wayne’s influence went far beyond theaters due to the fact that, throughout the mid-20th century, his on-screen persona came to typify – for both supporters and detractors – the archetypal American male.

In regard of his larger cultural significance, we’ll offer two short articles zeroing in on that aspect of his life. This first one has to do with his involvement – or, more correctly, his non-involvement, in the Second World War: Wayne never wore his country’s uniform except theatrically.

The reasons for that are multifaceted, and which you accept as containing the most ‘truthiness’ depend largely on your own political outlook. Wayne himself, starting near the end of the war, began telling his friends he knew it would turn out to be the biggest mistake of his life he hadn’t put his career on hold to enlist, and he predicted – correctly – his critics would always dog him about that omission.

When Pearl Harbor was attacked, Wayne was already 34-years-old, married and the father of four. On that account he was granted a “2-A” deferment. Of course, others in similar situations – both inside and out of Hollywood – chose to give up their deferments and enlist anyway.

Wayne, however, had only recently broken through to A-List stardom with the 1939 release of "Stagecoach." The studios to which he was under contract, as well as the draft board in Los Angeles, therefore assured him he could make his best contribution to the war effort by staying where he was and starring in patriotic war movies.

He later told several journalists he had still gone ahead and tried to enlist, while keeping it from his managers and studio employers, only to be given a 4F (medical) deferment on account of a bad back and easily dislocated shoulder. He'd gotten both those conditions, he explained, during the 1930s when, as a decade-long B-Lister in short action-westerns, he would offer to do his own stunts in order to make himself seem economically employable to casting directors.

In later years, as he aged, he certainly did display signs of chronic back and shoulder pain in everyday life. Even so, no one has ever been able to find the official records of the physical in which he was supposedly given 4F status.

During the war he starred in three war films – “The Flying Tigers” (1942), “The Fighting Seabees” (1944) and “They Were Expendable” (1945) – all of them blockbusters that together worked to forever after make him just as iconic as an American GI as he already was as a cowboy.

Late in 1944, as military manpower shortages became chronic, the whole 2-A deferment category was done away with. Against Wayne’s protest, Republic Studios filed an appeal with the draft board, alleging the star was still most valuable being kept where he was. The appeal was approved, and Wayne was officially reissued with a 2-A deferment.

The one episode of actual wartime “service” he performed came in December 1943, when he went on a USO tour of American bases in the Southwest Pacific and Australia. Shortly after Wayne agreed to go, he was secretly contacted by the head of the Office of Strategic Services (institutional forerunner of today’s CIA) Col. William “Wild Bill” Donovan, who asked the actor to meet with Gen. MacArthur while in Australia.

Ostensibly that meeting was to take place purely for public relations purposes, but Donovan gave Wayne a list of questions he wanted him to ask the general. It seems MacArthur, who was no supporter of the whole concept of the kind of clandestine warfare Donovan typified, wasn’t cooperating in setting up OSS operations in his theater of command. The master spy wanted to see how far that dislike went.

As it turned out, MacArthur had his own behind the scenes contacts in Washington, and they got word to him about the true purpose of Wayne’s request for a meet up. The general therefore made himself scarce during the time Wayne was near his headquarters.

Wayne did get to talk with some of the MacArthur’s subordinates, and on the strength of that he wrote up a brief report he sent to Donovan after returning from the tour. In gratitude for having made the effort, Donovan sent the actor a “certificate of commendation” from the OSS. Somehow director/producer John Ford – who had a decades long on-again off-again friendship with Wayne, and who did serve in the wartime Navy – got ahold of it.

Ford had the letter engraved on a sheet of copper (as opposed to the silver or gold in which military medals are usually cast) and sarcastically presented it to Wayne at a dinner party at his home. Wayne pointedly left the plaque behind when he departed Ford’s house later that night.

Ford went after Wayne about his service record one more time, early 1945 when he was directing the actor in the filming of “They Were Expendable.” In a scene in which Wayne was to salute his costar, Robert Montgomery (who had served and had won the bronze star). Ford kept yelling “cut” because Wayne kept making a sloppy salute. Ford said: “You don’t have the faintest idea how to salute, do you!? That’s because you never joined up! You just stayed at home and made money from lousy pictures while your countryman were giving their lives!”

Wayne stood there wide eyed, receiving Ford’s harangue, until Montgomery stepped forward and said quietly to the director: “You don’t ever talk to the ‘Duke’ (Wayne’s nickname since boyhood) like that. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

Ford then sat down and began to quietly weep. (He apparently suffered from a mild level of what would today be diagnosed as “post traumatic stress syndrome.”) Wayne then graciously ended the episode by sitting next to Ford, patting him on the back and saying: “That’s OK, Coach. You just want to make this film the best it can be.”

In two weeks: “Part II: Wayne in the Cold War – The Duke versus Stalin.”

Check out the latest issue of CounterFact at <>

Possibilities of a Future Sino-Russian War, by Gilberto Villahermosa

In the early 1980s, the Soviet ground force numbered almost 5 million, with more than 180 divisions stationed in Eastern Europe, the USSR and Mongolia, along with 85,000 fighting in Afghanistan. Those divisions fielded 50,000 tanks and 20,000 artillery pieces. More than 5,200 helicopters and 3,500 Soviet and Warsaw pact tactical bombers and fighter aircraft supported them.

The Soviets were also constantly adding to their stockpile of nuclear warheads, with some 250 mobile SS-20 IRBM launchers in the field, each carrying three warheads. Their ICBM arsenal numbered 7,000 warheads on 1,398 launchers, 950 SLBM, 156 long-range bombers and another 150 nuclear-capable Backfire bombers.

All of that was supported by 135 major industrial plants with over 40 million square meters of floor space, all of them producing more than 150 different types of weapon systems for the Soviet armed forces and for export to client states and developing countries.

Today the Russian ground force numbers fewer than 800,000 active duty personnel (versus an authorized strength of one million) with another 2 million in the reserves. The ground force is organized into five Joint Strategic Commands (Northern, Western, Central, Southern and Eastern) and includes several divisional formations and some 85 separate brigades. They’re equipped with 2,800 modern tanks (T-14s, T-90s, T-80s, T-72s) with another 17,000 older models in reserve. There are 4,220 modern infantry fighting vehicles (BMP-3, BMP-2, BMP-1) with another 8,500 in reserve, and more than 2,000 artillery pieces.

Between 2012 and 2017 the armed forces received more than 30,000 deliveries of new or modernized weapons and equipment, including more than 50 warships, 1,300 aircraft, 4,700 tanks and other armored combat vehicles. In comparison, in the five years prior to 2012 they received only two warships, 151 aircraft and 217 tanks.

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, however, only about half the Russian armed forces’ weapons are considered fully “modern.” Further, military spending has recently been cut by a regime scrambling to make economic ends meet.

Today, with a GDP of about USD 3.3 trillion, Russian economic power hasn’t grown significantly since the collapse of the USSR more than 25 years ago. In comparison, American GDP has grown to about USD 15 trillion. Economically, Russia lags behind not only the US and China, but also India and Japan. And while those four top economies are growing, Russia’s is contracting. While Moscow has insulated itself against the effects of Western sanctions by investing heavily in gold and shedding US debt, the failure to diversity and modernize the economy, and low energy prices, will continue to drag down efforts to grow wealth.

Russia will thus be increasingly unable to afford the military technology it wants and needs. Further, the Russian defense industry, which is badly in need of an overhaul, is only capable of producing old armaments with incremental improvements. As a result, many of the advanced weapons being touted by the Kremlin will likely never actually see the light of day.

Russia is thus unlikely to pick a fight with either the US or NATO. Rather, it will stick to extending its influence in its own Near Abroad (former Soviet states) and wherever else it can do so (especially the Middle East) at low cost. Yet that doesn’t mean the chances of Russian involvement in a war are nonexistent.

If fact, the changes are good Russia and China will fight a war against each other sometime during the next two decades. That war will probably be fought over Siberia, with the main action centering around Lake Baikal. The Chinese Communist Party has never officially accepted Russian ownership of that region, which is rich in oil, natural gas and minerals, and that used to belong to imperial China. Further, there are now over a million Chinese workers in Siberia.

Though chances are also slim Beijing will pick a fight with Moscow, China is prepared to move swiftly into Siberia if an opportunity presents itself. Despite proclamations of friendship from both sides, all it would take is a spark. For instance, anti-Chinese race riots by Siberia’s increasingly xenophobic Russians could provide the needed rationale for Beijing to justify invasion.

As another example, with 70 percent of China’s water polluted and 30 percent of it fully toxic, they’re badly in need of potable water. Indeed, Beijing has already begun displacing millions of Chinese westward toward sources of potable water. Lake Baikal, in southern Siberia, with more than 20 percent of the world’s fresh water and 40 percent of Russia’s, could provide considerable relief to China in that regard. Since Beijing can’t move the lake to China, it could in effect decide to move China to the lake.

Of the two nations, the Chinese have invested the most in personnel, weapons modernization and training. While lacking in combat experience, today’s Chinese Army is the more professional and modern force, and has lower levels of the incompetence, criminality and corruption prevalent in the Russian armed forces.

During this century, while the Chinese leadership was nurturing its military, Putin first chose to focus on building his internal security forces in order to safeguard his position against any possible uprising by the Russian people or his own military. Ignoring the military for much of his almost two decades in power, it’s only been within the last few years he’s taken serious interest in it. That interest has come late, at a time when the Russian economy is declining.

Russia may therefore be forced to fight China with an army that’s undermanned, under-equipped and using much the same equipment it deployed against NATO in the 1980s. Today the average Russian soldier lacks the state-of-the-art body armor, night vision equipment and secure communications common to other modern armies. For those reasons, the Chinese would probably get the better of the Russians in a short war. Further, unlike in the past, when Russia possessed considerable superiority against its invading opponents in manpower and industrial strength, they have no such superiority against the Chinese today.

The question would then be: would Moscow use nuclear weapons to defeat a Chinese invasion? That’s unlikely, because China also possesses a significant nuclear capability, with 280 warheads, which can be delivered by ballistic missiles and bombers.

Check out the latest issue of CounterFact at <>

Also see our forthcoming what-if wargame on this topic at:…

CounterFact Magazine Guide to Strategy (in 733 words) By Ty Bomba

“Everything in strategy is very simple, but that does not mean everything [in strategy] is very easy.” – Carl von Clausewitz

Strategy Defined
A plan of action to achieve a major aim in the face of opposition. There are no certain formulas in strategy to fix the tensions inescapably imposed by uncertain intentions, faulty assumptions, unknown capabilities and poorly understood risks.

Principles of Strategy
1. Know your own capabilities.
2. Know your opponent’s capabilities.
3. Pit your strengths against your opponent’s weaknesses.
4. Prevent your opponent from pitting his strengths against your weaknesses.
5. Never pit your strengths against his strengths.
6. At the start of an plan have a reserve of five to 20 percent of your strength.
7. Keep in mind your desired end-state: only do things that move you closer to it.
8. Never repeat a failed strategy with the expectation of getting a better result.
9. The initial objective of your strategy should be to create surprise in your opponent. That will delay and make less efficient his countermoves.

Common Reasons for Strategic Failure
1. Overconfidence due to previous success.
2. Analyzing information only after sifting it through the filter of dogma.
3. Operating with insufficient reserves.
4. “Mirror imaging” – using one’s own rationales to judge the actions or intentions of your opponent – is the single most common fault among strategists.
5. Objectives are not well defined or explained to those below the highest level of command.
6. Objectives not adjusted according to new data coming in from the environment.
7. Unanticipated outside influences.
8. Thinking that what is unknown is the same as what is improbable.

Tactics Defined
An action intended to achieve a specific end that is conducted while in contact with the enemy.

Principles of Tactics
1. Always seek to control the local high ground or its aerial or outer space equivalent.
2. Move in short bounds from cover to cover so as not to be caught in the open by your opponent.
3. Maneuver so as to engage your opponent on his flank or from behind, and so as to prevent him from being able to do that to you.
4. Don’t confuse mere “concealment” with “cover.” The former only gets you out of sight; the latter also offers protection from enemy fire.

Relative Importance of Tactics vs. Strategy
Your superior strategy can make up for your poor tactics; however, your superior tactics will not make up for your poor strategy: “Good strategy without good tactics is the slowest route to victory; good tactics without good strategy is just so much noise before your final defeat” (Sun Tzu).

Value of Surprise in Strategy
Surprise is the consequence of confusion in your opponent induced by your deliberate introduction of the unexpected. Surprise is a force multiplier for the side that can cause it against the other. Surprise creates a temporary period of vulnerability in your opponent that can be exploited by you. Having multiple objectives lies at the heart of creating surprise in your opponent. The strongest form of surprise occurs when one side presents the other with two or more options against which to defend, and they pick the wrong one. Surprise is usually thought of as a tool only available to the side on the offensive; however, attackers can themselves suffer surprise if the situation into which they move turns out to be other than what they expected. (At the tactical level that’s called an ambush.)

Coping With Surprise
Surprise can never be fully avoided, but its effects can be mitigated by preparing for a range of possibilities while also organizing so as to allow for resilience, adaptability and flexibility. Wargaming can expand intellectual horizons, test concepts and identify particular approaches as promising or weak. Field exercises can accustom troops to being tactically surprised. Together they build the resilience needed to make people willing and able to fight through and overcome surprise.

Most Difficult Thing in Strategy
The most difficult thing is to know when to change strategies. If you do it too soon or too often, you’re not a strategist; you’re an opportunist. If you do it too late, or refuse to do it no matter what, again you’re not a strategist; you’re a fanatic. Both opportunists and fanatics are easily defeated by strategists.

Check out the latest issue of CounterFact at <>

Korea: Some Machiavellian Scenarios By Ty Bomba

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527, pictured) was an Italian historian and philosopher. He’s generally considered to be the founding father of what’s today called the academic discipline of “political science.” He advocated the divorce of governance and war-making from all sentimental and emotional considerations.

His only criterion for judging success in such endeavors was the survival and aggrandizement of the ruler’s power along with that of his realm. “Machiavellian” is therefore today defined as meaning “cunning, scheming and unscrupulous, especially in politics or in advancing one's career.”

What follows is a description of several Machiavellian scenarios for the resolution of the North Korean crisis, all based on unscrupulous cunning and scheming, all totally divorced from sentimental and emotional considerations, and all aimed at degrading or ending the Pyongyang regime’s power.

By stripping away the emotion and vehemence of our own political considerations – which now almost totally cloud the presentations offered on this in the media – we can more clearly see the ‘real politick’ parameters within which some resolution may have to be achieved. In short, if the current negotiations fail – and the two sides seem ever more at cross purposes and to be using different vocabularies in regard to even just the basic tenets of an agreement – the US will be left with three basic options.

First, we could settle for yet another play-pretend deal of the kind gotten in previous administrations going back to 1995. The trouble with that is, that would no longer be play-pretending at delaying the North Koreans from getting the bomb: they already have several. Further, it’s not even just that they have some bombs, it’s where some of them might end up outside Korea.

That is, Iran hasn’t been helping to fund the North Koreans’ research – to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars over the years – for any abstract or philosophical reasons. Tehran wants a bomb, as do several non-state terrorist organizations. It’s hard to see how any play-pretend agreement that otherwise left intact the North Korean atomic development program could effectively block that kind of further proliferation. That would only move the crisis from one side of Asia to the other, as the Israelis will certainly not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran.

So the outcome of any new play-pretend agreement isn’t likely to be a long-term, or even intermediate-term, success. One might be packaged well enough in the public relations sense, though, to kick the problem down the road one more time, moving it beyond the 2020 US election cycle. Given the general approach to short “consequence horizons” in Washington these days, that might be judged to be enough by American governing elites.

A second option is preventive war. That is, the US could conduct a sudden and massive surprise aero-space strike against the military, political and scientific centers of North Korea. The danger there comes from two possible forms of international blowback, and one domestic, all of which might occur separately or in combination.

First, it’s doubtful the US could cleanly take out all North Korea’s strike-back capacity at one time. Even as the North Korean regime went down, it could pull a lot down with it. (Scroll down on this page to see the column posted here a few weeks back on that topic.)

Aside from that, or possibly on top of it, there’s no telling how China would react to having one of its few allies – and one on its geographic doorstep to boot – blown to smithereens. Even if China didn’t strike back at the US – or South Korea or Japan – immediately, there would be little doubt such a move on Washington’s part would bring the hardliners in Beijing into political ascendance. There’s a Chinese proverb: “To take revenge, 10 years is not too long.”

If the Chinese did get immediately involved, it’s then hard to imagine such a war wouldn’t expand to cover at least all of East and Southeast Asia, the Pacific and North America. Even if the violence was kept within those bounds, and was prevented from turning into a planetary Armageddon, its disruptive effects on the global economy and environment would be this century’s equivalent of the crisis of 1914-18.

The social, political and environmental efforts during the rest of this century would be no more than an extended recovery period from it. As surely as one era of world history is today commonly judged to have ended in 1914, so too would our present era be seen to have ended with the start of such a war.

Domestically in the US, it’s also hard to imagine the political fallout from a war – even in an otherwise militarily successful scenario – which begins with America launching what would amount to a ‘Pearl Harbor attack’ in reverse. The resultant turmoil would likely make that of the tumultuous years of 1860 and 1968 seem like child’s play. In one way or another, such a war would almost certainly result in ‘regime change’ in Washington as well as in Pyongyang.

The third possibility might be called the pullout scenario. That is, Washington could announce it was unable to come up with a meaningful diplomatic solution, or perhaps sign onto a play-pretend one as a temporary face saver. At the same time, it also announces there’s no longer a rationale for a US military presence on the Korean peninsula.

A final departure date is set, perhaps a year or so from that of the initial announcement, and there’s also an accompanying offer to sell to the Japanese and South Koreans any number of atomic weapons, missile defense systems, etc., which they might deem necessary for their own protection. Optionally, the US could also pull out of Japan, or stay there based on some new and highly profitable (to the US) defense agreement with Tokyo.

The pullout scenario doesn’t automatically cause an immediate war; however, at a minimum, Pyongyang would likely announce it viewed the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Seoul or Tokyo as a de facto declaration of war against it. Similarly, the Chinese wouldn’t be happy with any of it.

In considering this scenario, it’s worth noting there’s been a rumor concerning China and South Korea, which has circulated through the online analyst community ever since the North Koreans detonated their first atomic bomb. That is, the Chinese have supposedly made a secret offer (by spoken word only) to the South Koreans. By it, the Chinese pledge they would pull down the Pyongyang regime and immediately thereafter allow the political reunification of the peninsula under Southern auspices.

In return, the South would have to pledge to send home the Americans, and also sign a “non-aggression and friendship pact” with Beijing. That would mean, in effect, the Koreans giving up their foreign policy independence in return for a semi-autonomous but unified existence as a Chinese satrap.

Though war likely wouldn’t be the immediate consequence of an American pull out, such a strategy would undoubtedly set off a period of intense worldwide negotiations and diplomatic maneuvering. It would make Versailles 1919 seem like a local school board meeting in comparison, and there’s no telling the final shape of the new global order that would result from it.

In sum, there are no clean getaways guaranteed here. It’s a matter of making the best of bad choices.

Check out the latest issue of CounterFact at <>

The Race for Robotic Tanks Heats Up, by Gilberto Villahermosa

The unveiling of two new robotic tanks, Russia’s Uran-9 (Uranus-9) – which was developed specifically for its own armed forces and was recently combat-tested by them in Syria – and Belarus’s Bogomol (Praying Mantis) – which was developed for export – indicate the race to field unmanned armored fighting vehicles is heating up.

As it was, the Uran-9 had a terrible combat debut. The 11-ton vehicle is heavily armed with four anti-tank guided missiles, six flamethrowers, a 30mm auto-cannon and a 7.62mm machinegun. Unveiled in September 2016, and deployed to Syria this past May, the Uran-9 was supposed to be capable of operating up to three kilometers (1.8 miles) away from its controller.

The deployed tank proved unable to operate as far away from its controllers as expected. It could only be operated out to about 500 meters (550 yards) from its operator when amid high-rise buildings. It also had problems firing its 30mm gun, and it couldn't fire effectively at all while moving.

The robot tank's operator lost control of the vehicle 17 times for up to one minute and two times for up to an hour and a half. The 30mm auto-cannon delay-fired six times and failed totally once, and it could only acquire targets out to about two kilometers (1.2 miles) as opposed to the expected 6.5 kilometers (four miles). That was due to the tank's optics failing from unexpected ground and atmospheric interference. There were also problems with the chassis and suspension, requiring repeated repairs in the field. The Russian Army will no doubt work to correct those deficiencies before redeploying an improved version to Syria for more field tests.

In the meantime, Belarus is moving forward with the its own compact-car size (1,700 lbs. / 771 kg) robotic tank-killer, the Bogomol, aimed at the export market. Bogomol is that country’s first foray into combat UGV (Unmanned Ground Vehicle) development. Offered as an “armored ambush vehicle,” the manufacturer claims it can spot and destroy targets “many kilometers away.”

Bogomol is also listed as having advanced communication systems, including a companion copter-drone that can extend the communication range between it and its operator to over six miles (10 km). There’s also an artificial intelligence capability that enables it to find camouflaged targets. Bogomol is able to carry older-design anti-tank missiles as well as newer laser-guided ones.

Russia’s experience with the Uran-9 in Syria indicates Bogomol’s actual capabilities are probably less than what’s being touted by its manufacturer. Nonetheless, the advent of a small robotic ambush vehicle carrying ATGM (Anti-Tank Guided Missiles) is an important new development. It shows that, rather than developing further large and heavy manned armored vehicles, with their inherent terrain limitations, the future lies in small and light missile carriers with relatively inexpensive optic and sensor arrays and a narrow wheel base. The latter allows them to maneuver through constricted natural and urban terrain much more easily than their larger manned counterparts.

Once a robotic vehicle has fired off its weapons, it can be programmed to auto-return to a logistical station. There it can be rearmed either manually or by another robotic support vehicle.

The costs of such vehicles will likely decline in the near future to a point where even a single one carrying an ATGM will prove cost effective and combat effective against manned main battle tanks and aircraft. When that point is reached (probably sometime late in the coming decade), it will result in swarms of them being deployed and mechanized warfare will have been revolutionized.

As Russia and Belarus move ahead to develop robotic tanks, US military leaders inexplicably continue to stymie their development for our own armed forces. It will be up to American military contractors to independently develop and test such vehicles, and then use them to convince political leaders – rather than our more conservative military officers – of their utility. The future clearly lies with robot tanks.

Note: the attached photo of the vehicle with the geometric camouflage is a Bogomol; the other is a Uran-9.

Check out the latest issue of CounterFact at <>

Smoke Over the Bosporus [fiction] Series, by Maciej Jonasz

Book 1: Return of the Ottomans
Book 2: The Cyprus Gamble
Book 3: The Strykers
Reviewed by Ty Bomba

In the real world, Turkey has in recent years careened from election to election, with each one – no matter the particulars of its outcome – generally working to move President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that much closer to becoming an Islamist dictator for life. Often now, he’s not even referred to by his western-style governmental titles: “strongman” is the term becoming the common descriptor for him our news media.

It’s easy to find news analysis, both printed and on video, bemoaning what appears to be Turkey’s unstoppable drift toward fundamentalism, thereby breaking it away from even a pretense of still belonging to the Western democratic cultural sphere. It’s much harder, though, to find any discussion of what all that might mean at ‘ground level’ across the region. In this growing series of near-future what-if speculative novels, author Maciej Jonasz (a longtime e-Friend of this writer) remedies that omission in a way both informative and entertaining.

In the first book, a rape committed by a Turkish migrant worker in Bulgaria sparks a mob to burn down a mosque in Sofia. The new Islamist regime in Turkey mobilizes for a war of revenge and conquest. As the Turks invade, the outnumbered Bulgarians fight desperately to hold them off while seeking help from a moribund NATO.

In the second book, with the Turks’ Bulgarian invasion stymied and a Kurdish insurgency broken out across eastern Anatolia, the Greeks decide the time has come for them to reclaim all of Cyprus. Special forces operatives are sent to help the Kurds, and an armored advance into Eastern Thrace toward Constantinople helps tie up the Turkish Army. Greek marines land on northern Cyprus's beaches, and Greece and Turkey are at fully at war.

In the third book, a US Stryker (medium armor) company at Incirlik air base gets drawn into the dangerous mission of helping evacuate American personnel from there and – even more precarious – keeping the nuclear weapons stored there from falling into the wrong hands. Their journey out of the country reads like a modern American Anabasis, as they cut their way to an over-the-beach evacuation. At the end we find out, despite the Stryker men’s best efforts, two bombs have gone missing, thereby setting the stage for the fourth (and still forthcoming) book in the series.

Jonasz writes exciting combat scenes and lots of them. If you’ve enjoyed this genre of military fiction by the likes of Tom Clancy, John Hackett, Ralph Peters, etc., you’ll feel at home here. Beyond style, Jonasz is always careful to include maps and unit-organizational diagrams for the battles he’s describing and the units fighting in them. That’s a welcome edition that makes following the tactical action much easier than would otherwise be the case. Highly recommended, and all are available on Amazon.

Check out the latest issue of CounterFact at <>