Wednesday, April 30, 2014


A long, long time ago I became the proud owner of that item depicted above. It was my very first Avalon Hill war game (Kriegsspiele in German).

My best friend back in those days was a chap who I'll call Freiheit, for that is how we referred to him back then. He introduced me to this hobby and the two of us spent many an hour (and many a dollar) re-fighting World War II. (And the Civil War, and World War I and...)

There was even a "new game smell", I can't really describe it. It had something to do with the heavy cardboard the unit counters and map were made from and the ink used to print them.

Sample Unit Counter Sheet

Sample Map
Ah, hexagons, we love them!

Learning a new game could take quite a while. Freiheit and I spent many a day studying the rule books for these games like a lawyer studying for the bar. Woe betide the player who did not realize that, "Yes. You can drag your artillery into those woods on that hilltop. But Rule 25a states that they can only fire at units immediately adjacent!"

Rules lawyers. We didn't hate them, we were just annoyed that all of our brilliant plans were drowned in a sea of rules. But once you learned those rules, most games were very similar as to the mechanics of movement and combat. They became almost second nature.

Eventually we discovered that there was another war game company "out there". An outfit called "Simulations Publications Inc" or simply "SPI".

Both companies had their own in house magazines, The General for Avalon Hill and Strategy & Tactics for SPI. Yup, had subscriptions to both. Couldn't live without them. (Which may explain why I didn't date much in high school!)

The greatest thing about Strategy & Tactics is that every issue came with a game! (Be still my beating heart!) The games in the magazine were usually pretty good. Strategy & Tactics also made a point of covering current military affairs. (I was one of the few kids my age who knew that the "Kama River Truck Plant" in the Soviet Union was a major (if not the major) producer of tanks for the Red Army. (The company I worked for before joining the Air Force sold a bunch of machines to the Russians. They all went to, you guessed it, the Kama River Truck Plant. "For agricultural stuff," the management said. "Bullsh!t," the workers said. Hhmm, perhaps I should not have mentioned "But they make tanks there." Meh.)

Made in the US... made in the US... made in the USSR!
Soviet T-54s
(With apologies to The Beatles)

The General specialized in articles about Avalon Hill's games. Tactical and strategic tips, replays of games between really good players and articles about upcoming "soon to be released" games. (Which I also, simply had to have!)

Now my enjoyment of war games stemmed from my love of military history (which I devoured from the time I learned to read) and enhanced my enjoyment of that subject. I cannot get enough military history. Clausewitz. Jomini. Sun Tzu. Frederick the Great. I've read all those.

David Chandler's The Campaigns of Napoleon I have probably read 20 times. Each time I learn something new (well it is a pretty thick book!)

My enjoyment of war games continued throughout my service in the Air Force. Five of us on Okinawa got together to play The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

Each of us controlled a country: Britain, the Soviet Union, Italy, Germany, France and the United States. Now if you count those up, that's six countries, and you said five players?

Well, one guy controlled France and then later the United States. It was rare, very rare for France to last beyond 1940. One of my best buds and I controlled the Axis Powers, he was Italy, I was Germany. We decided to not go by the standard rules but let the players indulge themselves diplomatically.

It was odd seeing Britain and Italy allied early in the war. It was odder still when the Italian Army stabbed the British in the back in North Africa. Along the lines of "Go ahead and go into Greece, we'll keep an eye on Egypt for you."

The guy controlling Britain and the guy controlling Italy had been best friends for a long time. They'd been stationed together at their last assignment. It was a couple of months before they started speaking again. (Poor Bob, he never did live down the fact that he lost Egypt to the Italian Army. Wasn't a German within miles of the place either!)

Another game we played on Okinawa was even more intense. Though no friendships were damaged and no fisticuffs were engaged in.

Terrible Swift Sword was the name of the game. Produced by SPI it was a massive game of the Battle of Gettysburg, three separate maps and each unit on the map represented a single regiment or artillery battery. Think from 200 to a 1000 men in a Civil War regiment and 4 to 6 cannon in a battery.

Our dormitory rooms being not so big, we couldn't play the entire game. However, the struggle for Little Round Top could be played on one map. So four of us got together and played the game. Fighting for the North would be Yours Truly and my buddy Mike, from Philly. Apropos we thought. Controlling the Johnny Rebs would be Other Mike, from Alabama, and Zorba from New York.

Uh, Zorba? From New York?

Yeah. His real name was Pappas, a Greek kid from upstate New York. So of course we called him Zorba. Said he didn't mind fighting for the South as he thought taxes in New York State were far too high. (Okay, he had a point there.)

Terrible Swift Sword map covering the Round Tops

Unlike real life, the 20th Maine didn't save the day. They were pretty much destroyed on the forward slopes of Little Round Top by a couple of Texas regiments from Hood's division. On the last turn, with our last two regiments, Mike and I drove Other Mike's and Zorba's vastly depleted 15th Alabama off of the key "victory hex" and just survived the Southern onslaught.

Other Mike could not believe that "his boys" had been blown off the hill and forced to retreat by "a buncha blue bellies from Pennsylvania." Mike from Philly said that "his boys" had been fortified with an emergency shipment of Philly Cheese Steaks that very morning and were ready and raring to go!

Okay, so we didn't behave correctly in an historical sense. Though General Meade (who commanded the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg) was from Philadelphia, in my readings about the battle, nowhere are Philly Cheese Steaks mentioned. Just hard tack. And tepid water. Yummy.

So that was one of my very first hobbies. I shall write about this topic again. I still enjoy a good (simulated) battle.

I've even commanded a carrier task force back in the day. Seemed simpler than in real life! On the living room floor. On paper.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Ceremony of the First Mowing

It was quite a weekend here at Chez Sarge, for it was the weekend of the "Ceremony of the First Mowing". Or, as it is called in Japan...
Saisho no kusakari no shikiten

That's right, it was time to get out the old lawn mower and cut the grass!

Excitement was at a fever pitch!

There were the usual ceremonies...

The Traditional Blessing of the Mower
芝刈り機の祝福 (Shibakariki no shukufuku)
Of course, the usual military parade was held on the main route through the estate...

France called, they would like their Garde Républicaine back in time for Bastille Day.
And no First Mowing is complete without the traditional flyby!

Not sure if they can get lower.

Well, I know that's a whole lot of folderol and silliness just to indicate that I cut my grass for the first time this weekend. I may have mentioned before just how much I don't like to mow the lawn. So each year I have to come up with something to motivate myself to do so.

So this year it's a faux Shinto ceremony with military parades and flybys.

Not sure what I'll do next year, those this idea tickles my fancy -

Somehow I get the feeling that The Missus Herself might veto this. I mean sure, the flamethrower tank itself would make a big dent in the household budget. Not to mention the probably prohibitive cost of the fuel for this beasty. I'm also not real sure of my ability to burn the grass down to the proper height without, you know, charring it too badly. Not to mention the deleterious effect a poorly controlled flamethrower might have on the many flower beds, topiary trees, bushes and decorative shrubs which lie adjacent to the green stuff which requires cutting.

Hhmm, the house is rather close to the lawn too. In fact, right in the middle of the whole green expanse. I'll betcha the insurance folks would not like the flamethrower tank as lawn mower at all. Not even a little bit!

But wouldn't that be cool?

Monday, April 28, 2014

And Me, An F-4 Guy!

Remember this bird from the other day? The one I misidentified as a Phantom (though there was a little voice in my head saying, "Are you sure?") but which alert reader emtgene pointed out was not a Phantom.

When I read the comment, I just sat there for a moment. Then this wee voice in my head said, "I told you it wasn't a Phantom!"

"Did not."

"Did too!"

"All you said was 'There's something funny about that picture...can't quite put my finger on it.'"

Well, it went something like that. Now look at the next picture, showing a couple of things which should have said "THIS ISN'T A PHANTOM YOU BLOODY NITWIT!"

Or words to that effect...

And of course the nose is completely wrong. The Phantom has a nicely rounded nose, whereas the underside of the Jaguar's nose is rather flat. Now here is a photo of a Phantom AND a Jaguar...

About the only thing that these two aircraft have somewhat in common is the downward angle on the stabilators.

Why yes, that is an 8th Fighter Wing F-16.
(Juvat's and my old outfit, when they flew F-4s. Not Jaguars.)

Which brings me to the real point of this post (other than I need to pay attention to my photos) and that is target recognition. And the difficulty of that task when under stress (not that I'm claiming that!)

Back in 1994 there was a major incident when two USAF F-15s shot down two US Army UH-60 Black Hawks. Here's what Wikipedia has (in part) on that:
The 1994 Black Hawk shoot down incident, sometimes referred to as the Black Hawk Incident, was a friendly fire incident over northern Iraq that occurred on 14 April 1994 during Operation Provide Comfort (OPC). The pilots of two United States Air Force (USAF) F-15 fighter aircraft, operating under the control of a USAF airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft, misidentified two United States Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters as Iraqi Mil Mi-24 "Hind" helicopters. The F-15 pilots fired on and destroyed both helicopters, killing all 26 military personnel aboard, along with civilians from the United States, United Kingdom, France, Turkey, and the Kurdish community.
At the time I was still on active duty, still in Germany and assigned to NATO. The general consensus at the time was that the two Eagle drivers had blown it big time. Splashing two friendlies. I remember a buddy of mine (fellow MSgt) exclaiming, "How the Hell do you mistake a Black Hawk for a Hind?"

First off, here are the plan views of the Black Hawk and the Hind -

Now try and look at the next two pictures quickly and tell me which is which.

Not too hard to tell apart looking at a computer monitor are they? Scroll back and forth between the two photos. What do you see?

I see a big rotor and a tail rotor with the tail canted back on both at nearly the same angle. Now put yourself in the cockpit of an F-15 flying at 400+ knots. And your IFF* doesn't indicate that it's a friendly helo.

When I was out on the Reagan a few weeks back the SH-60s were up and about. This is the Navy version (sort of) of the Black Hawk, the Navy calls it the Sea Hawk. In the glare of the hazy sunlight there were times that all I could see was a silhouette. And as the helo flew away from me, I would've been hard pressed to tell it from a Mi-24. A helo is a helo.

In hindsight, it's not that hard to mistake one for the other. Especially if you're in a fast mover, IFF doesn't respond properly and there are two helos, down low to the deck and camouflaged to make them hard to spot. Big Air Force's actions still rankle with me 20 years later, you can read all about that here.

There's a reason why air crew study the silhouettes of other aircraft (including their own!) In the heat of the moment, it's not that hard to see what you expect to see.

Google said Phantom, so I saw Phantom.

But the Jaguar is cool looking.

Even if it's not a Phantom.

Jaguars of No. 16 Squadron RAF
F-18s, Indian Harriers, Indian Jaguars and an Indian Carrier.
It was easy seeing the F/A-18E, d'ya know how long it took me to find the 
Me thinks I need new spectacles!

*IFF = Identification Friend or Foe

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Thank You!

The "magical" view count went over the quarter million mark last night.

While I missed that momentous occasion (yep, watching back-to-back episodes of Lilyhammer again), FRaVMotC Juvat took a screen shot of the "magic" moment and sent it along to me. (For which I am deeply grateful!)

I have you, my readers to thank for hitting this number.

Now let's get back to it, the blog ain't gonna hit a half-million by itself now, is it?

(Just kidding, just kidding.)

Seriously though, thanks.

I think the occasion calls for, you guessed it...


VF-92 Silverkings and USS Constellation
SR-71 Habu and Phantom of VX-4 The Evaluators

Phu Cat Phantom
RAF Phantom in 'Burner
Ehhhh - WRONG!
It's a SEPECAT Jaguar in Burner! - H/T to emtgene for the correction!
F-4D with the refueling door open
(And yes, I have a story about that!)
Navy Phantom Trapping on USS Midway

And what the heck, because Juvat and I spent time in some of the same places out in Asia. And because Juvat flew Phantoms and "The Pale Gray Jet" (aka F-15 Eagle), we have some...


RF-4C Recce Bird with an Eagle Escort out of Kadena AB, Japan
(Why yes, that is a Kiev-class ship they're eyeballing)
18th TFW (Kadena) Pilots and Maintainers
Ah, what the heck...

Here's a video of a Luftwaffe Phantom over Malta.

Thanks again!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

A Must Read

From time to time, I like to share with you my recommendations on certain books I have read. This is one of those times. Now, if you have no interest in history or historical fiction, then go on, surf off somewhere else on this here web. For I mean to take up some of your precious time with my thoughts on what I consider a superb work.

As I mentioned in my Damn Yankee post, not that long ago, Ralph Peters' book Cain at Gettysburg was next up on my things to read list. As I mentioned, I picked up this book in Fresno while awaiting my series of cross-country flights taking me from my daughter's place in California back to the banks of Narragansett Bay.

Today I have finished the body of the work. Pickett's Charge has receded, the Army of Northern Virginia has ceded the field to the Army of the Potomac and all that remains is the author's notes at the tail end of the book.

It is the rare book which leaves me sad that it's over. This is one of those books.

Now Lieutenant Colonel Peters (USA, Retired) is something of a controversial figure. A man of strong opinions he has his critics. I don't care. His writing skills are marvelous, he can describe a battle as few others can.

Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters, US Army, Retired

This is not the first book of his that I've read, but this (to me anyway) is his best.

Although knowing the outcome of the Battle of Gettysburg, reading this novel puts you on the edge of your seat. You almost feel that somehow Lee's army is actually going to win the battle this time. Then again, you can almost feel that Lee's second invasion of the North was doomed as soon as Harry Heth's infantry collided with John Buford's cavalry just outside the town of Gettysburg.

Now the cover of this book touts this as "Surpasses Michael Shaara's classic, The Killer Angels". No, it doesn't. That's marketing hype, written by people with no clue for an audience with even less of a clue. But that doesn't really matter, this book is a superb complement to The Killer Angels.

The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

Both are superb novels looking at the same historical event from slightly different viewpoints.  Both novels are well worth your time. Anything written by these two men is well worth your time.

I would also mention Mr. Shaara's son Jeff Shaara, who completed his father's envisioned Civil War Trilogy (Gods and Generals / The Killer Angels / The Last Full Measure) after his father's untimely death at the age of 60. All of which I've read. All of which are treasured parts of my library.

Jeff Shaara is a superb author in his own right. Both men can describe a battle with "you are there" immediacy. Jeff Shaara has written on the Mexican War in which many of the Civil War generals had their first taste of battle, as well as World War II. I'll buy and read anything he writes!

But I highly recommend Cain at Gettysburg, a book which will haunt me and which brought tears to my eyes as I read of the courage on both sides of that bitter fight.

I also wept at the waste of combat and thought with great bitterness of the stupidity and hubris of politicians both North and South. Then and now.

Never again must be our watchwords. Never again must American raise arms against American. This great land of ours was soaked with far too much blood between 1861 and 1865.

I must get to Gettysburg again. And soon.

To marvel at the courage of those long-dead men who wore the the blue and the gray.

To mourn them and honor their sacrifice.

The Friend to Friend Masonic Memorial
Brigadier General Lewis A. Armistead, CSA - Captain Henry H. Bingham, USA

A Milestone Approaches

A milestone approaches.

Noticed that just a few moments ago.

At the current rate of people and spam-bots touching base here, this will probably tip over the quarter million mark tomorrow. Later today is a possibility.

Be still my heart.

Exciting times! Though YMMV.

I will have a real post for later, have to run some errands right now. I would apologize for sleeping late, or for not writing anything last night but...

Yeah, but what? Pretty sure no one gets up at the crack o' dawn on Saturday to see what I've written.

Pretty sure.


Friday, April 25, 2014

The Open Road... a state of mind.

The Friday Flyby - 25 April

Last week the SR-71, this week the U-2/TR-1. Both were products of the Lockheed "Skunk Works" both designed by Clarence "Kelly" Johnson, a true American genius.

So Sarge, what's up with all this black aircraft, spy plane stuff?

Well, while pondering what to do for this week's Flyby I saw an article, well multiple versions of the same article really. All pretty much had the same title, "Air Force to retire the U-2", all pretty much 
read the same. For budget reasons, the Air Force wants to get rid of the U-2 and the A-10.

I get more ashamed of "my" Air Force everyday. You bozos want to cut something, how about ceasing all spending on that flying LCS, otherwise known as the F-35?

Better yet, fire everyone above the rank of colonel, reduce the Air Force to a single wing of drones and a single squadron of F-35s. A single squadron of the latter will be about all we can afford.

Then my old service can revert to its historical antecedent, the Aeronautical Section of the Signal Corps. You know, return it to being a part of the Army. Hell, toss in a couple of tethered observation balloons and a crate of carrier pigeons and we'll really be going "Old School."

Am I bitter? Am I angry?

I dunno, should I be?

Well, enough ranting and raving. Let's take a look at the bird in question. While she ain't fast, she does fly awfully high. While not exactly sexy, she does look ominous.
The Lockheed U-2, nicknamed "Dragon Lady", is a single-engine, ultra-high altitude reconnaissance aircraft operated by the United States Air Force (USAF) and previously flown by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). It provides day and night, very high-altitude (70,000 feet / 21,000 m), all-weather intelligence gathering. The U-2 has also been used for electronic sensor research, satellite calibration, and communications purposes.

The U-2 has been prominently featured in several events during the Cold War, at stages of which U-2s commonly overflew the Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China, North Vietnam, and Cuba. In 1960, CIA pilot Gary Powers was shot down while flying a U-2 over Soviet territory. In 1962, a U-2 piloted by Major Rudolf Anderson, Jr. was shot down over Cuba by surface-to-air missiles during the Cuban missile crisis.

The U-2 has remained in service since the end of the Cold War and is one of several aircraft types that have been operated by the USAF in excess of 50 years. It has participated in conflicts such as Afghanistan and Iraq, and supported several multinational NATO operations. The role of the U-2 is increasingly performed by alternative platforms, such as surveillance satellites, unmanned reconnaissance drones such as the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk, and conventional aircraft. - Wikipedia
Wikipedia's article on the U-2 is extensive. Lot's of history there with this bird. Francis Gary Powers, the Cuban Missile Crisis and all the outfits which have operated this unique aircraft. I recommend it to you!

TR-1/U-2R Plan View
Courtesy of  bagera3005

U-2R Cutaway Drawing

She carries just about everything you need in a reconnaissance aircraft.

That impressive wingspan lets her stay aloft for a long time.

The U-2 reconnaissance aircraft, piloted by Maj. Alan Zwick, lifts off on its record-setting flight. (Back in 1998.)
Fifty-eight minutes into his flight, Zwick and the aircraft were at just over 66,800 feet, roughly 38,287 feet higher than the previous record
of 28,513 feet, set by a Czechoslovakian pilot in 1979. (Photo by Senior Airman Johnny Saldivar)
U-2 pilots (like SR-71 pilots) dress like astronauts.

Like all aircraft, sometimes a little loving care is needed to "keep 'em flying."

Looks rather submarine-like from this angle.

Another U-2 Pilot, Note the Patch

Trainer, the TU-2S
Note the piggie-back cockpit.

Over the misty mountains.

Kelly Johnson and two of his creations.

At Fairford, December 2009

The Lockheed U-2/TR-1, coming soon, to a museum near you.


H/T to fellow Lexican Mike K for the idea!