Saturday, May 11, 2019

Choosing My Cold War

I was a tread-head almost from birth.  My Dad served in Korea, and had photos of his time at Fort Knox, Ky from the 1950s.  As a pre-schooler, I was captivated by his photos of World War I tanks on display at the base, and would look at them over and over, asking endless questions about them.

This fascination continued through my childhood via movies, books, and toys.  Plastic army men rose to power when I was seven.  My first Chamberlain and Ellis book came the following year.  Couple that with being a child of the Cold War, and it was a done deal.  Tread-head for life.

When I got into gaming, the Cold War just seemed like an obvious subject for the tabletop.  I was surprised at how few in the hobby actually shared that thought, even being shunned at some of the early conventions that I went to for my interest.  

For me though, Cold War gaming has always been a part of my hobby, first in 6mm, then 20mm, which later transitioned into 15mm due to availability in the days before the internet.  Probably the biggest appeal has always been the diversity of the armor.  Into the early 1980s, it wasn't too hard to find WWII vintage equipment still lingering in a few armies, potentially taking up positions on the same battlefields as early M1s and Leopard IIs.

Combining the variety of equipment with the vastly different types of formations was a tremendous draw for me.  Airborne, air mobile, motorized, mechanized, armored, helicopters, close support, special ops, so many possibilities.

My gaming group played the Cold War as it was happening, keeping up with cutting edge technology, even as the Cold War ended, we soldiered on, on the battlefields of Germany and elsewhere in Europe.  From time to time, we would play earlier Cold War era games, set in the 1950s or 1960s, these games provided us with some of the most memorable experiences in our Cold War gaming; though, our options were somewhat limited due to the availability of models to represent many of the more obscure vehicles and units.

As the early 1990s progressed, the frequency of our Cold war games began to fade, as did all of our gaming, as life started getting in the way.  There was still the occasional game, and the interest never really faded for me, but the appeal of those earlier Cold War games began to grow, far more than battles of M1s v. T80s. 

All of these years later, "my" Cold War is now a part of the past, and in time, I came full circle to study the era as an historical period, rather than experiencing it as a contemporary event.  Not so surprisingly, my perspective has changed somewhat, now seeing the entire Cold War as a 40-plus year global event.  

For the last few years, as I've studied the evolution of the Cold War, I've really rekindled my desire to play games set there.  Despite the popularity of Team Yankee and other contemporary gaming avenues which seem to focus on the mid to late 1980s, I find that I am far more intrigued by everything prior to that.

Most Cold War gaming is basically an endless stream of hypotheticals, as all of the proxy wars tend to be treated as their own separate periods from the gaming perspective.  But around the world, any of those proxies can become hypothetical Cold war conflicts with a simple tweak.  

For example, what if we crossed the Yalu in Korea, or Chinese or Soviet troops went to Vietnam?  What if the Israelis hadn't recovered in '73 (the 82 airborne was put on alert for middle-east deployment there at the time), or the US sent troops to Angola?  And what if the Soviet embassy had been over-run in Iran, instead of the US?  Maybe the Soviets invade, the US responds, and oh my!

All throughout the period, there are possibilities that would be jewels on the table top, pitting every conceivable unit and vehicle type against each other.  Clashes of military theory, culture, and the burdens of location and environment are endless, and in time I will explore some of these further.

As I conducted my exploration of the Cold War over the last few years,  I realized how much more of the period is now accessible through the internet.  Information gained directly, or through sources made available by the net makes so much more of the period a table top possibility.  Combine this with the ranges of miniatures now available, and there is surprisingly little than can't be represented on the table.

Don't get me wrong, there is still work to be done in building forces, finding historical maps, assembling TO&Es and orders of battle, etc.  And, terrain will have to be built, miniatures painted, rules worked out.  But it is now accessible.  Those earlier years of the Cold War, so much over-looked for so long, can now largely be brought to the table top.

So while my peers are driving divisions of M1s across Germany to meet hoards of late model T64s and T72s, I mostly focus on earlier match-ups.  Imagine the first iteration of West German forces, featuring  M47s  and motorized infantry meeting T54s and BTR50s in 1958.  AMX30s and T62s mixing it up in the late 1960s, or trying to stem the flow of the nightmarishly advanced T64 with your M60A1s and A2s in 1977.

The same is true for aircraft; replace F16s and A-10s with F84s, F100s, and F4Ds, and the challenges are very different.  Air mobile in H34s is a different creature from Blackhawks and Apaches.   Davey Crocket, Atomic Annie, different times, and very different battlefields, and on both sides, Cold Warriors stood ready to protect their homelands by whatever means their political leaders deemed necessary.

As I revisited the Cold War for table top battles, I tried to find the "right" time to pick for things going "hot".  The year that would yield the most interesting tabletop battles, but no such year could be found.  The reality is that the continuously changing face of both sides makes every year an interesting consideration.

I did manage to eliminate both edges of the Cold war window.  Too early, and the battles are largely fought with WWII hardware, and the idea of there not being a German army to protect Germany just seemed wrong.  And on the tail-end, I wanted to exclude the technology of the late 1980s, so that narrowed me down to 1958 to 1982.  

By mid 1958, West Germany starts to assemble a formidable force, and the other primary forces of NATO have been modernized enough that they don't look too much like their WWII counterparts, and there are some very interesting organizations (Pentomic anyone?).   Additionally, as I cross into the 1960s, I lose a generation of US hardware as M47s, M75s, etc. are phased out, and M60s and M113s come online.  So 1957-1959 became my first window of consideration.

As you progress into the 1960s, Soviet and US forces make significant transitions in equipment with adoption of the M60 series, and the T62 and BTR60 joining the ranks, but French and German forces don't start replacing their older US MBTs until around 1965, and the British finally replace the (magnificent) Centurion.  Once the Chieftain, Leopard and AMX30 join the game, their respective armies have a very different face.  Also by the late 1960s, The BMP1 has been introduced and the air forces of both sides see entire new generation of aircraft.  Thus 1968-69 becomes a serious consideration.  (Also, Checkout THEDEITZ.COM  for some great stuff about armored cav. in Bad Hersfeld)

In the next decade, technology strides on and the US military finds itself in a stressful time in the post Vietnam era.  By this time, many European armies have built their own equipment or are replacing older US hardware with newer European types.  I find the challenge of this time, where M60A2s might have met T64s, when infantry started to have a punch against armor with the spread of effective ATGMs, and air mobility has matured significantly, to be captivating, and so 1977-78 becomes a gaming target.

And lastly, despite my whining about M1s and T72s, the period where forces begin to transition to drastically improved technology, where tremendous imbalance in localized force capability can occur, offers a set of interesting challenges and a different flavor to the potential battles.  A "sprinkling " of Leopard IIs, M1s, T80s, maybe some sparring between the first Tornados and Mig29s, can be a good thing on a tabletop not yet completely dominated by these beasts.  To catch a glimpse of these on my table, I add in the 1981-82 window for Cold War list.

Consideration of the target dates was also much greater than just a look at equipment.  In my own mind, I envision conducting Cold War campaigns of varying scope in these settings, and have a need to "justify" the conflicts with "historical" background.  Thus consideration was given to proxy wars, political events, changes to and consolidation of leadership, etc., in choosing the target years.

Once I arrived at these four targets, 1958, 1968, 1977, and 1982, the task of building the forces began.  From Cold war gaming in years past, I already had thousands of pieces of micro-armor for the period, and given the nature and scope of the games that I want to play, 6mm is just the best option for me.  Big enough for individual tanks, and small enough to get battalions on the table.  Anyway, I inventoried my collection, and began the search to fill in the gaps.

I began looking through my TO&Es, to see what models I was missing, and discovered that I was missing a lot of TO&Es, particularly for the Germans and French in the 1950s and 1960s.  I was a better equipped for the US and UK forces, and in great shape for Soviet and WarPac forces.  

A variety of TO&E sources including the old Ultra Modern Army List books, Tankograd books from Aberdeen BookstoreMicroMark TO&Es, various US government publications, lists from the TOandEs Yahoo group, bits from Wikipedia, and help from members of The Wargames Website, and TMP filled in a lot of blanks.

With the TO&Es mostly in hand, I can now fill in the blanks for equipment and infantry formations in my rules, and order the many miniatures that are still needed.  Miniatures sources will include C in C (currently moving operations to Legions IV Hire in Canada), GHQ, Heroics & Ros, and Scotia-Grendal.  Additionally, I will fill in a few gaps via Shapeways, mostly from Masters of Military.

With respect to the miniatures, I am starting from the beginning (1958 in my case), and building in order,  West German, French, British, Soviet, East German and US forces.  In time I hope to expand, including Belgian, Dutch, Norwegian, Austrian, Italian, Polish, Czech, and Yugoslav forces, and probably a few others. 

I have some 6mm buildings that will work, a mix of my own and GHQ.  Additionally, I have  a sampling of buildings from GameCraft miniatures, and am planning to pick up some from Levin.  The focus will be on adding buildings more typical of Germany, and then expanding to those of other countries that the games might lead me toward.  

I've acquired a number of maps over the years, mostly Fulda and the North German plain that I will use in association with my games, but I have yet to actually start a serious search for maps.  I suspect that i have what i need to get started, but that I will need to supplement my them in time.

I guess that is about all for now.  I hope to field the first games set in 1958 late this year, and will share posts about miniatures, forces, sources, back story, and AARs as I make progress.


  1. Interesting ! To me the dates are also significant, 58...year I was born! 78 the year I joined the army! Retired in 98, so went through allot of cold war stuff then went to the gulf .

    My late friend and I carried on our own version of the CW with Simi mythological nations started off in the 50s to the 90s, as we were both army (he a tanker, and I artillery) and were assigned here at Ft Hood. We had intimate knowledge of the training areas so we took standard military maps and enlarged the grid squares to produce our own nations, (was good for two decades of fun) I ran the US-ish force he the USSR type. We played in both Miro and 1/87th scale. As soldiers we had access to allot of training aides to help out such as map overlays showing Warsaw Pac fighting positions etc. I think I still have those around here somewhere for a Sov MRB.

    Best of luck with this project, if ever there was an era where "What If" ruled , this is the one!

    1. Hi and thanks for sharing the thoughts above. Sorry to read of the loss of your friend. It would be amazing to have opportunity to play in such a game for so long, I am envious.

  2. Thanks he is dearly missed. We met in 1979 at FT Sill OK when I spotted a painted Persian army in his back car window he was a SSG E6 and I was PFC E3, been friends ever since. Our games ran intermittently as our assignments had us in different places from time to time. We always did stay in touch and when on the same post picked right up where we left off.