Central War Gaming Blog

Central War Gaming Blog

 

Monday, October 29, 2018

The Battle of Westerplatte, 1 - 7 Sept 1939

I have recently found that Amazon Prime Video has a huge selection of obscure (to me at least) foreign war movies. Most interesting, is that many of them are from the other side of the Iron Curtain, things we couldn't see when they were first shown.

Some are awful, but some are fun, and others are classics. Today I want to talk about Westerplatte (1967). There's also a 2013 Polish movie on the same topic, but it's too angsty, too full of flashbacks, and uses bad 3D effects.

But the older film is wonderful. Guns are authentic to my eye as they are both Polish productions, and interesting to see as different from the usual US (or non-gun/airsoft gun). IMFDB page on it. They seem mostly properly employed. Lots of fussing with MGs to load them, to make sure they are moved to the best position all the time, re-water them!

People are yelled at to fire only short bursts. They even low crawl very properly. 
The film even went to the level of making not everyone a hero. People broke after days under fire, or just decided they didn’t want to fight until an officer all but threatens to shoot them. Maybe worthy of the Mindset Quote thread (translated) is a day 3 discussion in the local HQ by the officers:
We talk about surrendering, while our men only worry if they have enough ammunition. Well, gentlemen, we have enough ammunition.

The battle itself is super interesting for reasons that are perfectly relevant today. The political situation was horrid. They were on a weird little bit of only nominally Polish land, with both land and sea on all sides from what was supposedly an open city. 
Danzig was supposedly not really part of Poland or Germany, and had a police force but no army, but the Germans effectively occupied it, in a great example of peacekeepers not doing their job before the Canadians led the UN to generally figure out how to do this. Here's a close up of the Westerplatte peninsula. Danzig (modern day Gdansk) is mostly to the west. 
This strongly misrepresents what a fortification consisted of, but is an easy to read simplified plan:
The League of Nations nominally enforced Danzig being open, but it was entirely toothless. And, too beholden to avoiding war at all costs, so appeasing and backing off, as we all learned didn't work very well in the end against the Nazis, or the Empire of Japan. 
I am reminded of the UN mission to Rwanda doing nothing, and the French having to come and rescue all the Westerners, but leaving everyone else behind to die. Compare to Operation Unicorn, where French peacekeepers counter attacked and destroyed the entire Ivorian Air Force for an attack. Last year, UN withdrew from a peaceful Cote d'Ivoire; enforcing peace with force can totally work. 
German Photo-reconnaissance from 1936 clearly showing many of the buildings
The garrison on the peninsula was restricted in size, and from having significant weapons, or fortifications. All because of a desire to not make the Nazis angry, and give them an excuse to attack. Of course we know now that lacking that, the Germans just made up an excuse when it was time to attack. The Polish Army even reinforced for a few weeks shortly before this, but had to withdraw under international pressure. 
And to add to the awfulness, despite sea access and being in sight of Poland, it’s actually entirely cut off from friendly territory. Everything goes through the Open City of Danzig, which rapidly became  effectively enemy territory. Not only is there no way to fall back, but supplies are restricted even during the build up. 
Another photo-reconnaissance shot from 1936 showing where the New Barracks is situated (by the black arrow) and also showing the old ammunition bunker on the lower far right of the photo with the Old Barracks and Officers Casino about the half way mark on the extreme right of the photo whilst the Red Wall can be seen running the length of the photo.
Even the movie hits on this well. That logistics and the whole tail matters. The medical section complaining their supplies are held up in customs is just another dumb administrative thing to deal with before the war starts. But once the shooting is on, it means all your casualties stay that way, or die, because there’s not even enough dressings, much less antibiotics, surgical tools, or enough staff.
The same for backup radios and commo wire; from the first day they had to use runners to talk to outposts, are risking guys running more wire. And for most of the time they cannot talk to higher at all so cannot get clarified orders or more intelligence. Or, how to feed people once the kitchen is blown up because you expected that the big fort would be bomb proof. And a thousand other things that sap the ability of your men to fight.
Generally, it’s a good example of how individual bravery and the man with a rifle will do a hell of a lot, but artillery, air attack, and machine guns will often win out. The newsreel footage in the older film didn’t match at all, but I didn't mind as it as jaw dropping. Every gun on an battleship firing on the island at a range of about 150 m (really) is, even in grainy film, a sight to behold.
Above is a painting, but I like it.
The whole movie is also on YouTube for free, just start at the beginning instead of from this clip where the bombardment is. 
I cannot imagine sticking it out in the face of that.  And no one expected they would. The tiny, determined garrison was actually planned, at the national level, to only last 12 hours, and that was considered nuts, as it was up from a pre-no-reserves estimate of maybe 6 hours. If I haven't outlined enough horrible things they had to overcome then try this last add on for the tactical situation: The whole island isn't theirs. There's a wall down the middle, and Nazi soldiers on the other side. 
Another aerial photo from 1936, clearly showing the Red wall running the length of the 
Harbour Canal and the Old Barracks in the extreme right of the picture edge
And not a fortification. A wall. like what you might separate your back yard from your neighbors. Here is it after the battle. Yup, it's about one layer of brick, and some wire on top.  
A German posing for a shot by the ruins of the Red Wall
And yet, they lasted an entire week under those conditions. Imagine if they had even twice the manpower, better fortifications, and a dozen mountain guns to wheel around and blast the Germans with?

I bring this up not just to celebrate some really solid heroism, but because horrible situations happen, at small scales and large, for unimportant battles and key moments in history, all the time. 
CWG events, and training, tend to focus on getting the basics right. Not just teaching and letting you exercise small unit tactics, or using fewer and unencrypted radios, or how to navigate with a compass. No, while we are happy to teach those, more important than knowing any one skill is understanding principles. 
With those, you can react to loss of material, loss of mannpower, loss of communications. You can change and adapt to the situation, instead of waiting for direction from on higher, failing to take action because there's no fire support or air support, or just sitting there clueless while you wait for the Blue Force Tracker to get fixed. 

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Rain, Waterproofing, and Jungle Rigs

I have been thinking much lately of waterproofing, and gear designed to work in constantly wet conditions. I got rained on a lot in Poland, almost constantly in Iceland, and then came home to many days in a row of rain.

Waterproofed

My rain gear has gotten a workout, and I have been re-waterproofing much of it to handle it better. Gore-tex doen't easily wear out, but the micro-permeable layer is on the inside. The surface of your jacket can also soak up rain, get heavy and cold, and be unpleasant. Periodically you need to re-waterproof your gear. 

My favorite is definitely wash-in waterproofing. Nikwax TX.Direct Wash-in Waterproofing is easy to use, and the most effective thing I have used so far. I apply it to all sorts of stuff when it looses waterproofing. Tents, packs and pack covers, hats, and more.

Use the directions on the bottle for the amount, but I do not ever risk getting a waterproof washing machine, and just do it in a bucket or a sink. A spare sink or wash basin in the basement, not the kitchen sink. Agitate and rotate your gear so it gets evenly soaked, rinse it out, and let it dry fully.

The wash-in will be fine as it is. Use sprays (the matching brand usually, as it's the same stuff) to touch it up as it starts to loose waterproofing resistance over time, especially on high-impact areas like the sleeves and shoulders of a rain jacket, where the rain falls directly on you. 

Water-Sealed

But not everything is or can be under a waterproof cover. One lesson of jungle warfare especially is that some gear has to just be able to tolerate wet conditions all by itself. 

Sometimes this is you rifle, radio, optics, and electronics. They cannot live their life in waterproof bags, so need to be designed to accept being wet all the time, without leaks or corrosion. 

Maintenance is an important part of this. Many of us may thing of cleaning and oiling metal parts, but plastic, electrical, and water-sealed components. 

Every time a new electronic device comes to me, and periodically for maintenance or when they clearly need to be cleaned, I remove all battery doors and other removable panels. Many seals and panels get silicone to assure they do not stick, and gaskets or o-rings get white lithium grease. If possible, remove the gaskets and o-rings to grease both sides. 

Without suitable lubrication, you won't be able to tighten the panels, seals won't move into place or can even erode and tear. Dry seals are not waterproof. 

Electrical items, like the battery screw caps on your Aimpoint, need the same treatment, but we need to make sure the electrical contact work. Most of these devices pass electricity through the cap into the body of the device; corrosion can prevent this from working, but so can some oils and greases. 

Instead, do the same treatment with dielectric grease. It's simply electrically-conductive grease, and works very well for this. 

Water-Loving

The jungle has always been the worst environment, and lessons have been learned at great cost about the right gear to wear and carry, from the Philippine Insurrection right on through to today. 

Of course we like to forget the lessons of the past, so almost everything learned from the Pacific campaign was lost by the time Vietnam rolled around, but since our various post-war jungle insurgencies, the US, France, the UK and others have maintained jungle warfare schools to keep the skills alive and push for suitable equipment. 

While the jungle is the most extreme version of the relentlessly-wet environment, there are bits and pieces of it all over, which make their lessons very relevant. Many times I have been walking along a creekbed in Missouri that is covered in ferns and moss, with a layer of fog indicating 100% humidity. And it's like this all day, all year round. 

For those environments, and for the periodic rainy seasons we get, we learn that some items cannot be waterproofed, or worn under cover, but have to learn to live with constant dampness. Slings, belts, and load bearing equipment are the tip of the spear on this front. 

There are a few lessons in finding and configuring equipment for this: 

  • materials that do not retain water... not canvas, not padding
  • drains... and this is more complex than you think; every time there are two layers of fabric, water can get trapped between them
  • nothing that can corrode, or rot — drain grommets are all too often the solution to drainage, but are not great
  • f
  • Do not cover too much of the body. The soldier has to be not overheated 

In the past, you simply couldn't meet all these requirements, so spent a lot of time making sure your gear could dry out, trying to apply waterproofing materials, cleaning them, and replacing worn bits. Or, they were so waterproof (vinyl and other rubbers) and heavy they were fatigue-inducing for the soldier.

Today, technology is not just more phone apps, but materials that give thrilling options to meet these needs really well. Lightweight synthetics like Hypalon, and many proprietary laminates are offered that have zero water absorption. They also are built in interesting ways, to reduce weight, complexity, and avoid padding and spaces which can trap water.

While several companies make such things, two leaders of note are Velocity Systems, especially with their Mayflower line Jungle Kit, and Blue Force Gear, which has a whole line of Helium Whisper pouches, and a line of Minus load bearing gear with laser cut slots and holes instead of MOLLE webbing sewn on.

(Note, Blue Force Gear seems to be discontinuing some of their Minus rigs, so if you want one, today is the time to get them while on closeout)


My Jungle Rig

I have used a lot of load bearing gear. ALICE, the SDS RACK, commie chest rigs, belt lines. A few years ago, I took that info, sewed my own, and it had some fun features but it got worn out so at the beginning of 2016, I started looking to replace it. Had some wish list ideas, etc. but I stumbled across a MACHS (a Hellcat Mk2 with extra pouches) for a steal, and wrote about that.

It had some relevant features which make it work well. A lot of the design is very nice to avoid chafing, or trapping water. The shoulder straps for example are wide webbing without padding. But it's still a little over-built, and despite some customizing on my part it cannot meet all my needs simply because it is a 5.56 only rig.

Jungle Kit

Recently, I went to a friend's store, and tried on a number of things to meet this need. I started with a lot of assembling and trying the Mayflower Jungle Kit. It was not me. But let me explain.

First: It’s nice. So nice that if you love ALICE or other belt setups I cannot suggest it more highly. It is very stable, very well built, and very light. And, meets all the other needs outlined above about comfort and water retention.

But I personally have settled very much to where I like to wear my rig (high) and know how belts work for me. They don’t much. The pouch bottoms stab me, and tilt, and snag on my ruck belt, and so on. I want a platform tall enough to mount the pouches TO, not hang them FROM. If that makes sense.

Front or Back Adjustment

The other thing worth considering is the overall layout. Both belts and chest rigs are of a fixed diameter. They have adjustable straps which allow them to fit your body — and which must adjust as you change clothing for the environment, have fat days, or choose to wear or not wear armor.

For belts, the adjustment is in the front. This is super convenient to adjust, but it means the fixed point of reference for the belt attached items is at your spine, in the back. As you adjust, items move to or away from your centerline.

For chest rigs, split at the front or not, the adjustment is in the back. While it can seem like you are wasting space with this gap, generally you can fill it with back panels — the hydro carrier is a common one. Anyway, on a chest rig, since the adjustment is to the rear, when your diameter changes, the front-relative position remains the same. When you reach for stuff, you find your snacks, pens, lightsticks, and magazines always at the same place.

Again, these are not bad things. Just choices. Your choice may very well be different from mine, and that is just fine. 

SplitMinus

Being a cheapskate, I was thrilled to find the Blue Force Gear discontinued page, and immediately got a SplitMinus, and a few pouches. And over the past few weeks I have put together… this:



Because of the video I noticed the back upper straps weren't adjusted right, have fixed those. And the IFAK pouch is being replaced with something smaller.

For the record, as shown it is (my left to right):
  • 10-speed 7.62. Gray for some reason I cannot recall, but once assembled I hit it with some Rapco Khaki paint. Works great. Carries anything at all. Can dump the mags when transporting the rig, so I added elastic cord, simply woven through the back of the rig cutouts and molle webbing. Knotting at each tension needed, so no noise from cordlocs. 
  • Folding pouch from some UK pack. Roll top and velcro. Using it for pens, lightsticks, squinchers, etc. 
  • SAW pouch. Also UK issue. On my other rig I have SpecOps X6, and ideally I'll get some Helium Whisper SAW pouches but at $80 a pop, not eager to do that. Left one here has velcro sewn to the top to hold the patch indicating that it has a (home-sewn) IFAK pullout. 
  • Mayflower Jungle Buttpack (empty here and the straps stupidly hanging down) woven through the back 1" belt of the rig, and the D rings attach via the little velcro tab things to...
  • ... a First Spear hydro pouch. Accidentally got the small one, but in the end, perfect as I get a little stowage below, and less weight in water above. A lot of times I wear an assault pack it's just to have backup bottled water and rain gear. Buttpack can handle those duties I think, lightening me up. 
  • Another SAW pouch, empty. This is my Mission Specific Stuff pouch. Day optics, LRF, thermal, batteries, food, small water bottles, gloves, etc. It varies, but is a great solution for that, been using for years. Where the idea of the SAW sized pullout came from.
  • Bang pouch. I have none of those, but a few mini-smokes, and if those dry up will turn it into something else. Previously was on the shoulder so this is probably better use of the space.  
  • And back around to the matching 10-speed 7.62
Not visible is: Nothing. A big benefit of these modern rigs is that there are fewer features! There is no inside pocket for example. I have never been able to use these properly. They are too small, only work with flat things, never have loops to keep pens and lightsticks upright, etc. And they do add weight, bulk, and trap water even when made of mesh. So good riddance.

I also did mod it to have tubes. The laminate they are using is NOT hypalon, so hypalon or vinyl glue techniques do not work. The tubes are in vinyl (either Tempur door scraps or FMTV cargo bed scraps… I cannot recall which) I tried some good glues and techniques and it was meh. Holding, but not trustworthy. So ended up sewing, and it sews like gangbusters.

The cordura (?) finish layer is nice for glare and noise, but it does soak up water pretty good. There’s not much of it, so it doesn’t get super heavy, but if was doing jungle or maritime stuff full time, I’d give the whole rig a waterproofing soak (stupidly, I just spent the weekend doing that to a bunch of other stuff of mine, forgot to do this…)

The laminate is very shape-supporting. It doesn’t compress and fold up and squish like fabrics. Putting the repair tubes into the slots I glued/sewed was a bear. Very doesn’t work like fabric/webbing loops. Even more so, when you just wear it around; the SR-attached front was nothing to write home about, but with the tubes, the whole mountable panel is rock solid. The rig is now not hanging off me, but as I have always liked (and gotten my home-sewn ones to do especially) is practically bolted to me. Nothing wobbles, and everything is where I expect it to be every time I reach down.



So, who is ready to ditch ALICE, cotton canvas, and old "bombproof" cordura things? What rigs are you running, and how are they going?

Monday, May 28, 2018

More on Cateyes

The amazing amount of moonlight at Swift Fox ruined my plans to try out some of my night sighting equipment, and some other operational night stuff, like glow in the dark notebooks, signalling gear and cateyes on everything.

But the other day I was out shooting in a very dark night, and noticed some gaps in capability. Glow tapes were hidden because I was on the other side, new items were hard to find, and I couldn't take notes without breaking out a flashlight, which isn't exactly super sneaky.

So, have now fixed it. Here's how everything looks now in my precision rifle setup. Look close, it's only worth looking at in the dark:


My solutions are mine, and many of you won't have much of this gear. But you should be able to use the ideas to think through solutions to some of your problems before they arise.

Pack

I totally have velcro on the outside of the pack, and a cateye, but... when I am using the pack the lid is flopped open so you cannot see it.

So, I added a small glow in the dark tag to the webbing on the inside of the lid. You can see it here centered in the lid at the bottom of where it is when halfway flipped open.

Similarly, I'll also note that I flipped over my magazine carriers. You want them right side up of course, but I made them "right side up" when the pack is upright, as though worn. But I never pull mags out when wearing it, but laying on the ground. So, I flipped them over. Just like the cateyes, think about everything in the context you will actually use it.

Expensive Things

Really, this is "loose things" and much of the immediate value is finding them without bumping into other stuff as you brush your hand around the terrain.

But what freaked me out while packing in the dark was finding the very expensive LRF and Kestrel. So they got various labels with my name, a reminder the LRF is in yards (not meters) and also some glow tapes.


Importantly again for context, note where I put them: on the flat sides. The kestrel gets to be right below the screen—and on the back, on the windvane cover—as it lays on one side or the other.

The laser rangefinder gets them on the sides. Which seems nonsensical when using it, but when you lay the unit down, those are the sides facing up.

Ammo Box

Most ammo is in magazines, but I also keep a spare 50 in a plastic MTM box. It has a little glow tag, and appropriate day labels, on the lid. But again when used it is open. So I added a nice large chunk of glow sheet to the inside of the lid.


This much sheet will shine light onto things, so if it's really, really dark you can see the ammo itself.

Also note, I wrote on it. You can write on the glow sheets to label items. Here, I've labeled the type of ammo in case I forget and need to write it down. I get forgetful.

Data Book

I used the weird heat-sensitive glow sheet I got the right way finally, and ironed it onto the divider in my notebook holder, as a sort of sheet lifter. Now it's smooth, so I don't need to keep several sheets of paper under it to write on it.


Not sure my eyes are good enough to read this anymore, especially as I use pencil, but at least it glows enough to find the book and then if I use a light I am swinging it around a lot less to find things.

Scope Adjustments

Windage and elevation knobs have little glow triangles.


These are not so much to be used to adjust, and with a zero stop there's no direct need to have it on the elevation knob except for one issue:

I am terrible at this. I forget to adjust properly, reset knobs between ranges or even range days. I spent a whole range session the other month wondering what was wrong with the rifle. Gave up, and once I got home looked and yup I had leftover windage dialed in.

These, day or night, help remind me to start at zero.

Clip On

This is probably the simplest. I have a simple glow tape on the back of the PVS-30.


It provides an orientation mark to the gun, which I would otherwise put on the rifle but I don't need it when the clip on is not attached.

I have similar tags on the back of the tripod (not shown) and some other modular rails that I use at night.

Again here I wrote on the tag, the amount you dial for offset.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

TTPs for Ad Hoc Teams

One of the key things that makes teams work in tactical settings is working as a team. Teams that train and work together for a long time establish—formally or informally—TTPs, Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures.

This means that everyone is on the same page. From radio codes, to react to contact, an order or observation means the same thing to everyone. Even better, you end up talking less, as you just know where everyone is, and what everyone is likely to do next.

Ad Hoc Teams

The real world is more complex than this. Far too often in critical tactical situations, you will find yourself suddenly attached to another team, that your team has attachments, that you've merged units, or are cooperating closely with an adjacent unit or agency.

After an engagement, a team is formed from the remaining elements, and the leader quickly briefs everyone on the new plan. 

I have a lot of experience with this in instructional, and other war gaming and simulation environments. Very rarely do entire units show up for training or other events, or there is a serious mismatch in unit sizes, and we have to split your team for the exercise to work properly. We end up creating ad hoc units, and forcing them to work together, sometimes to solve fairly complex tactical situations, or do actually dangerous things, by relying on surface-level operational and organizational skills, and instructor oversight also. No TTPs to fall back on.

Except, that is not entirely true. Teams can add a handful of them to the mix, all by using the basic methods we all already use for instructional settings. Think of a safety briefing. We tell everyone the same thing, repeat it (in summary) as needed, and make sure everyone understands what is being said.

Set Standards

As the team leader, you cannot be effective in a tactical environment if every time something happens you have to be giving orders to each individual. This is slow, and maybe dangerously ineffective. You need a few basic tactics that everyone can follow.

But just a few. Enough that you can get them out to everyone in the time available. It could be several minutes if planning for an exercise or mission, it could be seconds if reacting to an active shooter. But talk to the team.

Pick 1-3 things to say. No more. What you pick is mission dependent, but good categories are:
  • Marching order, environmental dangers (cliffs, waterways), and any key actions or hand gestures you expect to give: "This means freeze in place, this means get down."
  • Define the objective. You can consider this part of the mission brief, but it also establishes what everyone focuses on, and therefore what you don't worry about. 
  • Actions on contact. If, for example, contact is not your objective then maybe you withdraw and go around in order to make sure your objective is met. 
Without these being clearly stated, even briefly, you could get distracted, bogged down, or have different people do different things as they react to situations on the ground. 

I've seen team leaders go too far with this. If there's suddenly half an hour to kill, they add a few more tactics, and we do shoulder-to-shoulder training. This is too much for the little time available. Too much information in too short a time means the team will fail to absorb any of it. Keep it brief, and keep it to a verbal briefing only.  

Repeat, and Confirm

Whatever you say, say it again, every time you brief the team. If you've been walking through the woods for an hour, now the objective is in sight, and you give a final briefing about the attack, first re-state the basics.

Sometimes this is because your plans have changed. The movement orders may be entirely different so you need to give new ones for this phase. But even if everything stays the same, reinforcing it helps make sure everyone is on the same page.

Make sure everyone understands their role. Ideally, by getting a verbal readback from everyone. If the team is too big or there's not enough time, just spot check with the guys who don't seem to be paying attention. It helps make sure your orders will be followed, and everyone will know it better hearing another person say the same thing.

Use Plain Language

It also confirms they understood properly. Because, they might not. If the team members don't have experience with your tactics, they may not understand your jargon. If they repeat it wrong or sound quizzical, make sure they understand what you are saying.

If part of your team are foreigners, they may not understand your accent, abbreviations, or your colloquial language. Make especially sure at least one of them understand, and in the worst case he can explain to the others in their native language.

Break Contact! 

I'll use a relatively recent CWG force-on-force event as an example. The team I led was very small, and had a mission to survey, not to fight. So I briefed most of all that our react to contact drill was "run away."

More specifically, I said:
  • This drill is for when they see us and there's no way out but to shoot our way out. If we see them first, we just freeze, get low, and generally hide or move away so they do not see us. 
  • If contact is unavailable, whoever sees the contact will alert everyone else, loudly, to direction, distance, and appx strength. 
  • Everyone fire at them. A lot. Keep talking, so we can direct each other's fires.  
  • Throw smoke AT them. 
  • Then fall back one by one, while firing. A few seconds of movement to the rear each time, then turn, drop and return fire to cover the others falling back. 
  • When I say "break contact," turn and move without continuing to return fire.
And this actually worked. I wish I had it on video because it was really well executed, and in the AAR the opposing force thought we were amazingly quick, a larger force than we actually were, and could not figure out where we'd gone. 
An ad hoc team reacts to unexpected contact. Their actions-on-contact briefing takes hold and they are able to move from having lunch to combat success with minimal casualties.

Now, it partly worked because everyone was briefed to the same level. I was entirely distracted, in the middle of navigating and my first thought was to secure the map and documents. So I failed miserably as a team leader, and didn't call out the action to take. But someone else did, which got is all in gear, so I tossed the smoke, and everyone started moving.

Know Your Limits

This basic tactic didn't work when we tried to reverse it. A situation developed so that we felt it was important to stage a quick deliberate attack—more of a spoiling attack to just displace them—upon the opposing force. Thinking that we had a solid plan that worked, I thought: reverse it. Smoke, bound forward, sweep the objective. Easy!

Nope. It did not, for many reasons. But most of all because it exceeded the brief. 

When you have to work with ad hoc teams, keep things simple, and as a combat leader recognize your limits. Actions you might perform normally may be too dangerous with the limited TTPs the whole team you have with you knows. 

Most of all, plan ahead, think before you get into trouble, and tell everyone what you expect of them within the time and tactical situation presented.

Come Try it Out

In five weeks CWG will be hosting our next force-on-force event, where you can try out this technique, and all the tactics and equipment in a realistic, day/night, all-weather combat setting.

Sign up today for operation Swift Fox 18, 27 - 29 April 2018 in north-east Oklahoma.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Cateyes



For most of the history of warfare, night vision meant letting your eyes acclimate to the darkness, and night combat would have been met with blank stares as it simply was not done. In only the past half century or so, as the industrial era moved to the technological era, have we gotten the technical capabilities to do things like see better at night.

Not all new technology can or should supplant old methods, and for night fighting in many cases the earlier, ones are still very applicable. We should understand how to keep our eyes acclimated for darkness, and we should use cateyes.

The cateye is a common name for glow in the dark tapes worn on the back of the helmet, hat, ruck, or rig. Glow in the dark technologies were ready for the consumer market in the 1950s, and mostly were used for toys and other novelties, Remember, we had radium for serious uses!

By the early 1970s glow in the dark tapes were available, and began to be used by individuals and on a unit by unit basis in some armies, such as the US in Vietnam. In May of 1981, the previously experimental addition of two panels of glow tape to the issue helmet band became standardized.

How Glow In the Dark Works

Phosphorescent, or "glow in the dark" paints, inks and dyes absorb UV radiation, and covert it to visible light. The transition between these states is, conveniently for us, very slow, so you can "charge up" the glow in the dark cateye, or your compass, watch, etc. and it will remain glowing for many hours, though it slowly gets dimmer over time.

Note I said they use UV light, not white light. Just a few years ago, this was unimportant, as incandescent light bulbs are a mess, so put out lots of heat, and light in frequencies we don't use including UV. LEDs, on the other hand, are very narrowly focused so have no spare frequencies they emit. Charging a cateye with a white light today is pretty ineffective.

So, you shou also have at least one UV light—a keychain light will be plenty—for each fire team or squad, to make sure everyone's cateyes are charged every few hours.

Cateyes Are Not For You

Some use of glow in the dark patches is for you, and works well even if working alone. It is common to stick small pieces of glow tape to key parts of radios, handsets, tent openings and the like. Then you can find them in the dark, and orient yourself to your location, without turning on the lights. I even have some glow tape on an Army issue typewriter, though it is hard to imagine night typing being a thing. The Army even issues a 2x2" velcro glow patch for placing on your rucksack, so you can find it when returning to a cache point, OP, or patrol base.

But the primary tactical use of cateyes is when moving as a team at night. Generally, you follow each other in a long line. Without night vision it is very common to be arm's reach away from each other at night, and when you cannot see them even that close, you simply grab onto the back of their rig or ruck. Cateyes allow you to move much, much more easily.

Cateyes glowing (slightly) on a helmet in dim light.

With night vision, cateyes still work, just the same way. It is often still very, very dark, so hard to pick out where the guy you are following is, so the cateye in front of you is much easier to follow. And easier is safer. When that part is easier, you can spend more time making sure you step safely, don't get snagged by branches, and looking out for the enemy.

Night vision doesn't eliminate the value of cateyes.


Cateyes on the back of a 3-day assault pack, viewed under night vision

Cateyes, Two of Them, Not Just One

Note the term, cateyes. Plural. And look at the helmet bands. There are two, not one. Why is that?

Some of this is for the usual two is one, one is none, (in case one is obscured, damaged, or destroyed) but the real reason is about the smallest perceptible difference. It would be very hard to follow a tiny pinpoint of light, as you would have no idea if you are following the proper person, or some distant bright light, and where they are going.


Giving the cateyes dimensionality with two distinct glowing panels allows you to tell how far away you are following, and to tell if they are turning (or at least turning their head as in the example above), so in true darkness you get a heads up about where the trail goes.

Larger things like the custom name tapes we're ordering are fine also, as they have a similar dimensionality. At close range, like when hiking in a line, you can read the name (or at least tell that it's a wide shape), and notice when the aspect ratio changes so determine when the person you are following is likely turning.


Pragmatic Light Discipline

One of the things many soldiers have been taught is to turn their helmet bands inward when closing with the enemy, because of light discipline.
Sniper candidates from 2nd Cavalry Regiment of Battle Group Poland have used the flap on the back of their helmet covers to obscure their cateyes, in 2018

However, cateyes are not that bright, and as we well know, light falls off with distance, until you cannot see a light at all far enough away.

Cateyes are very dim, so are invisible even through night vision just a couple hundred yards away.

Light discipline is important, but it's hard to come up with situations where something as small as the cateye, usually facing away from the enemy anyway, is at all likely to give away your position. In fact, covering up identifiers like your cateyes it's more likely to cause issues of unit coordination, communication, and identification; I've been shot in the back (in FoF exercises!) by my own team when we had problems with identifiers like this.

Cateyes on Everything

So, I've convinced you to go out and buy a helmet band with cateyes on it, or to install some on your hat if not a helmet guy. But what about when the hood of your rain jacket is up? Or you are moving with your ruck, and the top is so tall it blocks your head?

You need to think of the cateyes as a system, and plan for them to always be visible. I like to put cateyes on the back of my:
  • Helmet, hat, and nightcap
  • LBE/LBV
  • Assault pack
  • Rucksack
Hell, we even got glow in the dark patches silkscreened into our CWG base layers.

This way, at least one is always visible, no matter what I wear. When I tried wearing a poncho again a couple years ago, I glued a few to the back of the neck of the poncho also.

What you'll figure out pretty soon is not everything will take a helmet band, or has velcro. So, you have to make your own cateyes. Glow in the dark tape is easily obtained, cheaply, and self-adhesive tapes seem to make it easy.

But not so fast. The adhesive is not great, on any of these. They will fall off eventually. The material itself is somewhat rigid, so sewing is messy, and will eventually cause the material to crack and fall off again.

My favorite method is glue. Get a strong contact cement, apply to the cateye, stick it on, pull it off, let it dry for a few seconds, and put it back. Once cured, it won't come off. I have done this on ponchos, webgear, pouches, patrol caps, and more.

Already bought some self-adhesive ones? No problem. The adhesive isn't glue, but is double-sided sticky tape. Just cut off a piece, and peel it off or rub firmly and it will start to peel away. Remove it and you have a clean back to applying your glue.

Another favorite of mine is to attach to small bits of velcro to make re-positionable glow tabs. For larger pieces, the self-adhesive velcro plus self-adhesive glow tape will usually work well.
Two pieces of glow tape attached to velcro to simulate twin cateyes on an assault pack.


Learn More About Night Operations and Night Fighting

Try out marching with cateyes, using IRR panels, night sights, NODs, thermal, and learn much, much more about working at night at our training event, coming up in less than one month!

Night Team Operations Training10 - 11 March 2018
Farmington, Missouri

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http://centralwar.com/events/TrainingMar18.shtml



Monday, August 14, 2017

Backup Compasses

The more fully-featured your compass is, the more ungainly and heavy it tends to be. You may then leave it on your pack, in your in web gear, or at home.

When you really need a compass on your body is any time you are more than a few feet from the car, camp, or the rest of your team. So, there's some value in not just having a backup compass, but in having one you trust.

All Compasses Must be Good Compasses

First, everything I said in the article about buying compasses still applies. A small, inexpensive, or low-featured compass cannot also be a cheap or bad compass.

I didn't outline it before, but let's be clear what a bad compass can do:
  • Not be calibrated – The needle is magnetized, but has to be done so properly or it won't point precisely north
  • Dampen poorly – It can be too dampened and then doesn't allow the needle to settle right so it doesn't point north, or it can be not dampened enough and the needle wanders back and forth so long you can't tell where it points
  • Drag – If the geographic calibration is off, or it has bad bearings or any number of other things go wrong, it won't spin well enough so it won't point north accurately, and it won't fail the same way repeatedly so you can't even walk a straight line

So, ignore all those who say you can get one Just As Good for whatever fraction of the price of a good one. Bad compasses will get you killed when you really need them.

If anything, quality of small compasses must be better, due to the size. They are harder to use precisely because of the small distance to sight, and other issues related to the size such as a smaller number of graduations.

Fewer features doesn't mean it's bad, but do get name brand compasses that everyone says work well. Compasses that come free on the butt of a knife, carabiner, zipper pull, or stock of your official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot, range model air rifle, are not to be trusted.

Suggested Backup Compasses

So what to get? Well, it's hard to say now. The gold standard used to be the Silva model 9. This is the compass shown at the top of the article. Usually sold as the  Carabiner 9, Companion 9 and so on (there's also one with marks to find Mecca), I've had one for about 35 years and it works great. Small circle with a keyring hole on one side, 5° graduations, sometimes sold with a carabiner, etc.

But naturally, the old ones work, the new ones have quality issues. So, get one and try it but do make sure it works before trusting.

Other options:

  • Silva Model 10 - Similar to the 9 but smaller and with a thermometer. Feels a bit gimmicky but doesn't seem ruined with the thermometer which can be useful as well.  
  • Silva Model 40 - A watch compass, but often sold by them as another carabiner compass, with no watch band. Seems fine. Quite small.
  • Silva Metro - Now we're getting too small. Forget the quality, it only has cardinal directions so is not very useful for emergency uses.
  • Suunto has a couple sizes of watchband compass which also can be used alone or strapped to a clip
  • Brunton ZIP - Similar to the Model 9, a smallish, round 5° graduation compass with no features but a lash point to hang it from things. 
  • K&R Orion – Reputed to be a good German brand, they make a small one that folds up (no mirror though) which looks to be a good idea as a backup. Around $20 so not bad but not the under $10 most other backups are. 
  • County Comm Navigator – Watch band compass made by who knows. County Comm is a purported manufacturer, but mostly dealer in products that maybe are government issue but regardless are mostly pretty good and generally for very good prices.
No, we have no special arrangement with any manufacturer or dealer, so no links are provided above for where to buy them that get CWG a kickback. If you find a great deal, share the link in the comments or on the Facebook group. 


Test Them

Really, no compass should be trusted until tested. Now, you have to have a good compass first and assume it works, but as you wouldn't buy a backup compass without a primary, we'll assume you have one.

How to test? Well first, don't put them next to each other. You can try it and see. They interfere with each other. But you can easily sight on something, then see if your two measurements agree.

And, you must check for functional interference aside from other compasses. A compass on a key ring cannot be factory calibrated for all the keys and rings and doodads on your keychain, so will certainly be off.


Full Featured, or Extra-featured Backups

The other thing you can sometimes get out of a backup compass is having a second compass. For example, I also own a Cammenga wrist compass, because it has good tritium at the cardinal directions and on the north needle.

It's not very good to navigate in any other way, but at night I can glance at it to tell approximate direction without tediously using any other night compass. And even the best night compass is pretty slow to use at night. This is easy.


I do also carry a real backup compass. It's in a bag of other little supplies like tapes, wire ties, batteries and goes with me on airplanes and other trips. A true backup. And it's a Silva Model 27.


Yes, it's a tiny mirror compass. It is my backup now because it's so tiny, but also because I know how to use it, and it is pretty full featured. In fact, I used this when I did my outdoorsy times, and I climbed mountains while wearing it.

This one has another feature rarely found, in that it has a safety pin on it. You clip it open to your pack strap and can look down to see your heading. It works.

I also carry this because I had a DEET explosion and sorta ruined my old mountaineering version of the same one. I cleaned it enough it works and is in my other backup bag. The one I actually carry is a Brunton sort of knockoff of it and not as good as the old one. It's called the 27 LU Compact Pin-On Mirrored Compass or the Trooper and when you can find it isn't too expensive ($25), but in addition to being not perfectly awesome, can be hard to find.

There are other small, ruggedized compasses like the matchbox style that may also make you happy. Skulk around and see what is out there.


Now, Learn How To Use It

A tool like a compass is no good without training, and practical experience using it. CWG can get you that. Start planning for CWG's day/night land nav training course in October.

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We will also bring a selection of compasses to the the training weekend, so you can try out some of the others and see if anything else thrills you.



Saturday, August 5, 2017

Buying a Compass

The first thing you need to land nav in any useful way is a magnetic compass. Simply being able to orient yourself to where north is, or keep yourself on track no matter the terrain and lighting gets you way ahead of the game.

Squad leaders are briefed, with a map and protractor out during the brief. Consistent, well-communicated position information is critical to operational planning and actions.

Compatibility

The first thing to consider is that you likely work with others. You all want to be speaking the same language, and to be able to brief in things like declination changes to everyone at the same time.

Speaking the same language is basically one of mils vs degrees. A circle can be broken up any number of ways, and a number of them are not useful for our purposes so we shall not speak of them. Degrees are very common, well-understood, but not used by most military forces.

Instead, they use mils, which is just short for milliradian. That's an SI-derived unit of angular measure which is a thousandth of a radian. A radian is the angle subtended at the center of a circle by an arc that is equal in length to the radius of the circle. Yeah, don't worry about that, as you don't need to know. There are about 6283 milliradians in a circle, but again, you don't need to know that, exactly.

Because it's an inconvenient number. Instead, armies have standardized on various other rounded off versions. The WARPAC generally agreed to call it 6000, the Swedish Army (they make the best compasses, so we care) had 6300, someone had 6280, and many others. This does matter because NATO settled on a nice easily-divisible 6400 a while back, so many good military surplus "mil" compasses are surplus because they are some other weird, antiquated number.

That matters for compatibility. If you are in a team and they say to march at a certain heading until you reach a road, your 6000 mil compass is pointing a different direction than their 6400 mil one.

Ask Someone

If you work with a team of people who probably carry compasses, start with asking them what they suggest. Then, read carefully, and check my last section. Because if they say "you can get it at WalMart" then be really, really careful.

Types of Compasses

There are lots and lots and lots of types of compasses. But there are really only about 2-1/2 kinds that are in common use these days for land navigation in the west. 

Baseplate

Clearly, most compasses can be considered a capsule attached to a baseplate but here we mean a particular style of compass which is:
  • A base with marks for alignment and plotting. You want a clear base with scales included for typical maps
  • A rotating, liquid-dampened capsule
This is a very general category. There are many, many sub-variants with additional features. The basic baseplate we're talking about has no additional sighting features, so practically is only capable of moderate precision, or takes additional skill by the user.

Benefits

  • Huge selection of styles, sizes and features
  • Light weight, compact
  • Extremely simple to use. Almost anyone can figure out the basic operation with little or no instruction
  • Low cost; even expensive models are only relatively expensive
  • All in one. The baseplate includes the features of a roamer or "protractor" with scales and plotting aids

Gotchas

  • There are almost no good night capable baseplate compasses. There are a number with tritium, but not very robustly employed so they are hard to fully use. Most do have plenty of phosphorescent bits, so you can use a tiny UV light to make them glow enough to navigate at night. 
  • They are plastic so can be broken under extreme conditions; I've seen them break
  • Not all features are implemented the same way, so it can be hard to train a group who all have different baseplate compass models
  • Most have only degrees or mils, not both; the few with both usually have one prioritized; in the photo above, it is hard to get accurate readings off the degree scale, for example
  • Many surplus compasses with mils are not 6400 so are hard to use properly in a team environment or with conventional training materials

Notes about Fluid Damped Compasses

Dampening is critical. Without it, the needle would wobble back and forth around the direction it wants to point and you would have to set the compass down and come back a few minutes later. 
  • Most are regional compasses. The shallow capsule requires the needle to be balanced for certain parts of the world, and going somewhere else can make it drag and read wrong
  • Some may get bubbles from large elevation changes. Bubbles can interfere with accurate readings, but generally go away if it is left alone at the use altitude for a few days or weeks

Mirror

The mirror or Ranger compass is basically a Baseplate compass with a mirror. The mirror generally acts as a cover for the compass, but when erected is used to give a sighting line and reflect the capsule position for use in sighting and measuring angles with much more precision.
Yeah, most people think the mirror is for putting on your makeup or signaling airplanes but that's not what it is for. The mirror is a key part of making the compass work better. The top is brought up so you can use the mirror to see the capsule.
You then use the sight notch and the line on the mirror (not all have the line) to sight precisely to the target, while you keep the capsule in view to make sure it is level and so on. When reading a locked in bearing, to find a point to walk to or so on, you can turn your body slowly to move the compass until the needle lines up with the capsule marks, then see what is over the sight notch. So, helpful both ways.

Benefits

  • Same as baseplate and can be used like a baseplate, but also... 
  • Higher precision
  • Protected capsule, so overall stronger and less prone to damage when stowed

Gotchas

  • Same as baseplate but generally not as fragile
  • No better on night use that I've seen
  • No freebies for precision; it takes time to take those better sightings

Lensatic

By this we only mean the post-war USGI issue compass and commercial versions of it. It is a folding, metal bodied compass with a magnetically dampened, globally-capable capsule.


There is a simple scale along one side, the lid can fold up halfway as a sighting system not unlike the mirror compass, and there's a lens (lensatic!) that allows you to place the compass close to your eye, and both sight into the distance, and glance down to read the numbers on the capsule.

Benefits

  • Standard. Everyone who' been in the military should know how to use one, though practically it's not taught a lot anymore
  • Very sturdy
  • Fits into compass pouches
  • Tritium models are by far the best night-usable compasses

Gotchas

  • Heavy, bulky, pokey. Needs to be in a compass pouch as it's not going in a top pocket or anything else
  • Requires additional materials (a roamer or "protractor") for plotting on maps; the way the compass operates simply does not account for this without orienting the map, and there are no scales on the base
  • Issued for a long time so many are very old; be careful buying used
  • Lowest bidder, so quality is hit and miss. Some broken, flawed in various ways which is bad for a precision instrument
  • Scale on the side of the compass is very coarse so hard to use
  • Features are complex so requires training to understand and use properly


Knockoffs, Mergers, and Lies

We nailed the technology of compasses long ago, so there is infinite selection of them. First, avoid anything with no name, or a name you haven't heard of.

Funny Foreign Military Issue Compasses

Many of you may have a funny foreign compass, or run across one at a surplus store. They may be nice, but often these are like the USGI compass in that they have neat features which... we won't know about. Collect them, but I'd avoid using one.

Big Names and Mergers

Then there's the big names, and even there things are a bit troubled. The big names (at least in baseplates and mirror compasses) have been Silva, Brunton and, Suunto. Now I've lost track of all the intrigue, but various weird corporate mergers and stuff means that there are no Silvas imported into the US.

Oh, you say you can find some? They are Brunton-made (east-Asia low cost imported, mostly) compasses, with the Silva name.

Often, they are Brunton-designed and purchased, sold in the US market, but only have the Silva name and model number. They are often made in cheap overseas factories, or modified from the original design. Sometimes horribly so. Some of my favorite Ranger compasses are no longer available officially as the Brunton-ized version has a plastic hinge.

I don't mean plastic cased with a pin like a hinge is on a door. I mean the top and bottom cases are one piece, then they just fold it. Fold too many times, it breaks into two pieces.

Brunton even sells compasses they do not build and maybe didn't design. There's one branded by them that appears to be a nice version of the USGI lensatic. It indeed only appears that way. Cheap, liquid dampened, and so poorly made it is often several degrees off. Be careful what you buy.

So, while those three brand names are still about the only good ones, be careful what you buy from them. In general, I wouldn't buy from WalMart or Target, but go to a serious camping store. Even then, I'd keep in mind all the risks and bad stories shared here, and look closely at it. If you buy online, make sure you can return for free if its not what was advertised. Yes, Amazon was selling photos of real-hinged Silva Rangers and the reviews warned they were actually plastic hinged US made knockoffs with many other issues.

There are a few other brands which are either old so you are buying used, or are not much or officially imported to the US. K&R seems to be a very good maker, but has few mil compasses and I've never seen one. Recta made Swiss and French military issue compasses, but got bought by someone so doesn't really exist anymore. And so on. Ask if you have a known brand and want to find out our thoughts. 

Tritium vs Phosphorescent

Lastly, let's talk about night use, and tritium in the USGI compasses. At night, your compass must glow. It can do that one of two ways:


  1. Phosphorescent – Or "glow in the dark" paints, inks and dyes are applied to the numbers, needles or backing of them. They absorb UV radiation and covert it to visible light, but transition between these states very slowly. 
    • Note they use UV light, not white light. LEDs are very narrowly focused so have no spare frequencies they emit, so you will need a UV keychain light to "charge" your phosphorescent compass, cateyes, etc.
    • Someone at Cammenga, the maker of the USGI compass for some years is a bit stupid, and no one else cares so they have for decades clearly labeled their phosphorescent compasses "Phosphorus." 
    • Radioluminescent – A radioactive source emits radiation during decay which is converted by materials much like those in phosophorescent systems to emit visible light.
      • Radium clock dials did this in a very convenient way, painted on only, but long before anyone cared about not killing their workers in truly horrible ways, so those are long banned. 
      • Today we use tritium, which is a radioactive gas, in tiny tubes. The inside walls are coated in powders that emit visible light. 
      • Tritium has a half life of (about) 10 years. Not a life, a half life. Half the tritium decays every ten years. So the tritium vial is half as bright after 10 years, half again as bright after another 10, etc. It never dies, just gets very dim. 
      • Tritium sources are VERY BRIGHT for a compass when new. 10-15 year old ones are a nice brightness, and will last you about 10 years before they get anything like too dim. 
      • Date codes for Cammenga compasses (most other USGI makers are probably too old now) are stamped on the inside of the lid of the compass. It's three numbers, but un-obviously: Year, Month, Lot. So "09 04 71" is made April 2009 and you ignore the last two digits. They are a bit unclear, but we tend to assume they use fresh tritium vials. 
      • Tritium is not at all dangerous. It is a tiny, tiny, tiny amount of a not particularly poisonous or radioactive material. Someone I know who works with this stuff had the math done: you would have to break 10,000 of them, at once, in a sealed phone booth and breath deeply to maybe, possibly become sick from it. 
      • Many, many, many seller of USGI compasses claim they are all Tritium. They are not. Be sure it is before you pay Tritium prices. 
      • It is hard to get the very good tritium illuminated European compasses as importation of even minorly radioactive stuff is full of paperwork. Most don't bother, so official, new models of these simply do not exist for us. Some pop up on eBay, or you can fly to Europe. 

    So where Do I Buy From? 

    Just knowing what to watch out for makes you a smart shopper and you can probably safely buy from anywhere, or walk away when you see nothing good. But good stores are nice because they rarely have garbage and you can trust anything.

    There aren't a lot of these. REI, EMS, MEC, CampMor and the like are not bad, but are mass market enough (selling workout clothes and so on) they sometimes have crappy compasses alongside the good ones.

    The only one I really know to be good now is Ben Meadows. They are a supplier of products for forestry and professional outdoorsy types, and have a wide range of prices, though most or all are in degrees if that matters to you.

    While I have never bought from them, Forestry Tools has some of the rare, cool and very expensive Silva Expedition compasses. Note the "6400" in the name should make you excited if you actually read this whole article.

    I buy a lot from the usual places I buy everything, Amazon and eBay. Surplus stores can also be good, but are the same for compasses as everything: un-knowledgable, often sell knockoffs, and sometimes overpriced. But sometimes you can find a deal because they don't, for example, get the difference between tritium and not or because they think a Rothco knockoff the USGI is worth more than any plastic frenchy compass so you can get something odd but awesome for a steal.

    Now, Learn How To Use It

    A tool like a compass is no good without training, and practical experience using it. CWG can get you that. Start planning for CWG's day/night land nav training course in October.

    Sign up now





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