Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Shrewd King 13.3: King of the Battlefield

Dmitri was unhappy with how the meeting was going.

“We were attacked once by soldiers in motor vehicles. Why do you assume it couldn’t happen again?” Dmitri repeated his concern.

“It isn’t that it cannot happen again. It is that the odds are against it. Nobody can afford higher taxes to get better equipment.” Wade Hawk explained.

“You might as well just call the boys back in if you are just going to leave the boys hanging out there without the means to protect themselves. It might give you a warm feeling to throw them out there, but in the end what good can they do?” Dmitri asked.

Rick stepped in before the debate became more heated.

“Dmitri, we all respect what you are saying, but we have limited resources. The ‘boys’ as you call them were able to throw back the invaders once before and they did it with the same weapons they have now. The other thing they will do is sound alarm. That will give folks back here time to drop their tools and grab a rifle or shotgun” Rick said.

“What good will birdshot do against a truck that has steel over the windows?” Dmitri scoffed. “Do you think our enemies are so stupid that they will fail exactly the same way again-and-again?”

“What do you propose?” Chernovsky asked. He had been uncharacteristically quiet. His fighting force was rapidly mutating and he wasn’t sure he was totally in control anymore.

“Artillery” Dmitri said.

Artillery was the king of the battlefield in Soviet combat doctrine. Dmitri had been in the Romanian military which was about as far behind the Iron Curtain as one could be without actually being in the Soviet Union.

Combat thinking had evolved since the Cold War. No longer were enormous, set-piece battles against known enemy locations foremost in planner’s thinking. Artillery, for all of its power requires massive logistical support and a high degree of targeting. Consequently, it lost favor to more flexible “asymmetric” assets.

Wade Hawk scoffed. “Well, that ain’t gonna happen. I don’t see how anybody is going to find or make a 105mm howitzer, for instance.”

“I think you overestimate our industrial capability.” Rick said to Dmitri. “There are some things that are just way beyond us.”

“I am probably more aware of our limitations that anybody else.” Dmitri said, stiffly.

“I am also aware that our grain auctions are getting visitors from outside of Capiche. It is only a matter of time before somebody with a functioning military hears about us and decides to pay us a visit” Dmitri said.

That gave the group pause.

In the end, they agreed to let Dmitri and Janelle perform a study to see if there was any way to better support the fighters manning the roadblocks at the bridges leading into Capiche.


Janelle and Dmitri were looking at the twin spans of M-99 crossing the Grand River. One span supported southbound traffic and the other supported northbound traffic.

“Why don’t we just mine the bridge?” Janelle asked.

“We don’t want to destroy the bridge. It is too valuable and we don’t have the ability to rebuild it.” Dmitri responded.

“How about Claymore mines?” Janelle asked.

“Out in the weather? Somebody will steal them. Besides, if they can be seen, they can be avoided.” Dmitri said.

“Mining the road-bed?” Janelle asked.

“It is paved in concrete. How do you hide it?” Dmitri asked.

“Armor piercing rounds for Berfa?” Janelle asked.

“Can they hit a moving target at a quarter mile?” Dmitri asked rhetorically.

“Why artillery?” Janelle asked.

“Because close counts in artillery. And because we know where the target will be. They have to be on the bridge or lined up to cross it. We can lay in the tubes and the targeting will be a snap.” Dmitri said.

Janelle was shaking her head. “The problem is the lack of high explosives.”

“I can heave any weight you want a quarter-mile with black powder. No problem. But I cannot pack enough black powder into a shell to shred vehicles with shrapnel” Janelle said.

It is little appreciated that most artillery shells function by generating shrapnel. For example, only 15% of the standard, high explosive 105mm howitzer shell is TNT. The other 85% of the weight is the steel casing that is turned into super, high-velocity razor blades upon detonation.

Black powder has enough energy density to rupture steel containers but does not have enough energy density to burst it into thousands of tiny projectiles. That is one reason why black powder is still used in stone quarries. Black powder will shear off large blocks of stone while high explosive turns it into gravel and dust.

“What if you put twenty-five pounds of black powder in a can and tossed that?” Dmitri asked.

Janelle winced. “I run out of black powder. Or, more accurately, sulfur and saltpeter...although I can make black powder without sulfur.”

“So the bottleneck is saltpeter?” Dmitri deduced.

“Yup. Nitrates.” Janelle explained. “Explosives combine a fuel and an oxidizer. Nitrates are the oxidizer. High explosives combine the fuel and oxidizer in the same molecule, like nitrogycerine of TNT. Black powder is a mix of nitrates, charcoal and a little bit of sulfur to sensitize the mix.”

“The other thing is that apparently the farmers need nitrates to grow corn. More black powder means less food.” Janelle concluded.

“Guns or butter.” Dmitri mused.

Janelle shot a quick glance over at him to see if he was making fun of her. He wasn’t.

"I am an engineer.” Dmitri confided. “I believe that a well-defined problem is half solved.”

“People like you and me” he said “cannot help ourselves. We cannot leave a well-defined problem alone.”

“We need artillery. It has to have an explosive shell with the power of ten pounds of black powder and the tube has to be able to shoot it a minimum of a quarter mile.” Dmitri said.

Playing along, Janelle asked “And how many rounds of ammunition will your Highness require?”

Thinking quickly, Dmitri said “Twenty rounds of ammunition….per observation post. Forty for M-99.”



  1. Rifle-launched grenades would be a shorter-range and less deadly alternative to artillery. Smaller versions of whatever warheads they come up with for the cannon might suffice, but the launching method would also need some development.

  2. Mortars. Always had a high respect for that weapon. And I still advocate for mining or destroying the approaches to the bridges.

  3. Why not welding some firing tubes onto the bridges to fire small shells at the targets as they cross the bridges ? I am no expert, but it would be like having 25 shotguns ready and aimed at your enemies ready for you to touch off at any time.

    1. Two considerations:
      Would the projectiles be able to penetrate a 1/4" of steel?
      What means will be used to trigger them? Where will the trigger-man be relative to the bridge?

      There are a lot of ways to skin a cat. The defense needs to pick one and productionize it.

  4. Has anybody thought about checking out the closest National Guard armory to see if there might be any real howitzers, mortars, or machine guns available for the taking? I can guarantee Benecio and others like him have thought about it. Depending on location and distance, Such a trip might be potentially very dangerous. Perhaps so much so that it would be rejected out of hand. But it is something to think about.

  5. Agree with George. I was surprised this wasn't done long before


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