The Airspeed Fleet Shadower. Photo via Wikimedia

Slow-flying battleship spotters were obsolete by 1940

The Royal Navy was still heavily a gun and battleship-centric force in the years just before World War II. So to help spot targets for its battleships, the Royal Navy in 1938 summoned manufacturers General Aircraft and Airspeed to develop two very similar prototype planes — which would become some of the most awkward-looking aircraft of the period.

Curiously, as milblogger Tony Wilkins noticed, the resulting Fleet Shadowers with their perched cockpits resembled the later 1950s-era Westland Wessex helicopter, better recognized in the United States in its modified version, the Sikorsky H-34.


A British Valentine tank sets off for Russia. Photo via Wikimedia

The Western allies certainly gave the Soviets a major boost

by ROBERT BECKHUSEN

Around 80 percent of the more than five million German military deaths in World War II occurred on the Eastern Front. This terrible conflict with the Red Army consumed great quantities of men and material until the Soviets decisively ended the war by capturing Berlin in May 1945.

During that time, the Red Army underwent a radical transformation, having been decimated by Joseph Stalin’s purges before Hitler’s armies invaded on June 22, 1941, inflicting horrendous losses.

But as the war progressed, the two sides effectively traded places, with the Red Army honing a mechanized “deep battle” doctrine…


Soviet soldiers at Stalingrad, the center with a Mosin-Nagant PU sniper rifle. RIA Novosti photo

Quantity has a quality all its own

by ROBERT BECKHUSEN

The Soviet government often exaggerated tales of its front-line snipers for propaganda purposes. The sniper duel between famed Soviet sniper Vasily Zaitsev and “Major Konig” was probably myth, although Zaitsev was unquestionably a remarkable soldier.

Such myths are a weapon in a fight for national survival, and a tool for building morale. But in terms of history, the myths complicate the picture.

However, the Soviet Union certainly embraced the sniper, perhaps more than any other combatant during World War II, fielding them in larger numbers and on a wider scale earlier in the conflict than Nazi Germany…


Destroyed Soviet tanks on June 24, 1941 in western Ukraine. Photo via Wikimedia

The Battle of Brody in 1941 was bigger, and is largely unknown

by ROBERT BECKHUSEN

A thousand coffee table books and countless hours of popular history programs have described the Battle of Prokhorovka, part of the Third Reich’s 1943 Operation Citadel, as the largest tank battle in history. Near the city of Kursk on the Eastern Front, hundreds of Soviet tanks slammed into the 2nd SS Panzer Corps in an enormous conflagration of flesh and metal.

Prokhorovka was certainly an important clash and one of the largest tank battles ever, but it might be time to retire its description as the biggest — a claim which has been seriously questioned in recent…


The CAMM missile MBDA illustration

Britain will say goodbye to the Rapier

by ROBERT BECKHUSEN

Today, the United Kingdom’s defense of the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic from air attack rests with four Eurofighter Typhoon jets and a detachment of 1970s-vintage Rapier anti-aircraft missiles — although Britain might have some short-ranged Starstreak missiles stashed away at RAF Mount Pleasant.

But the Rapier is getting old and both it and Starstreak are short ranged, capable of engaging targets out to a distance of four to five miles. …


The Russian SKS. Swedish Army Museum photo

You just can’t kill Sergei Simonov’s old, reliable, semi-automatic carbine

by ROBERT BECKHUSEN

The most iconic rifle of the 20th century is the AK-47. One of the most iconic rifles of World War II — granted, this is more debatable — is the Mosin-Nagant. Both were developed in Russia.

The SKS, short for Self-Loading Carbine of the Simonov System, is the odd one out.

Developed in the interim between the Mosin-Nagant and the AK-47, Sergei Simonov’s semi-automatic carbine had a mere 10-round internal box magazine, an improvement from the fundamentally 19th-century design of the five-round, bolt-action Mosin.

The SKS shared the 7.62x39-millimeter cartridge with the AK-47, but the latter’s 30-round…


A Chechen militant near the bombed-out presidential palace in Grozny in January 1995. Mikhail Evstafiev photo via Wikimedia

Militants crossed the frigid Sunzha River to ambush Russian tanks

by ROBERT BECKHUSEN

The First Chechen War of 1994–1996 was a disaster for the Russian army, manned by poorly-trained conscripts with inadequate tactics and logistics. Chechen rebels, skilled in mountain warfare, would force a Russian withdrawal — although a revamped Russian military would come back, prepared, in 1999.

The Russian army in the mid-’90s also fought linearly, wasting lives in head-on attacks against prepared Chechen defenses. But the Russian army often had the advantage in weapons, particularly tanks, and on many occasions the Chechens could do little about it.

So the Chechens got creative. During one skirmish in the first…


An A-10 Warthog flies over the Gulf of Mexico during an exercise simulating an attack on a boat swarm. U.S. Air Force photo

Motorboats hear the sound of brrrt

by ROBERT BECKHUSEN

It doesn’t necessarily take the resources of a major nation-state to challenge U.S. Navy warships. China for instance is building up a large navy and invests in long-range, ship-killing missiles. Iran can’t build a large navy but it does invest in swarms of small missile boats.

Like a swarm of insects, a swarm of boats can pose a threat as a larger, far more expensive warship might not be able to swat them all — and a single missile with enough punch can be devastating.

So the U.S. military is practicing with ways to defeat such a…


Abdelmalik Petitjean, an Islamic State recruit who participated in the murder of French priest. Photo via AFP

That makes them easier to spot

by ROBERT BECKHUSEN

The Islamic State, or ISIS, has found growing success recruiting teenagers and pre-teens in the West to plot and carry out attacks, according to CTC Sentinel, the Combat Terrorism Center at West Point’s monthly newsletter.

More curious, very few of these plots are planned by “lone wolves,” or self-radicalized terrorists who do not have any contact with a larger network or group. In fact, more often than not, the teenagers are not “self-radicalizing” but are being lured directly by members of the terrorist organization.


‘Sao Paulo’ in 2002. Rob Schleiffert photo via Flickr

Time has finally caught up with ‘Sao Paulo’

by ROBERT BECKHUSEN

It wasn’t long ago that Brazil planned to retrofit its vintage aircraft carrier Sao Paulo to last until 2039. No longer.

Instead, Brazil will retire the 32,800-ton flattop during the next three years, according to a report in IHS Jane’s. With Argentina having given up on carriers, Brazil’s decision will leave the United States with the only operational carriers in the Western Hemisphere.

Robert Beckhusen

Editor at War Is Boring. Email: firstnamelastname (at) gmail.

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