Monday, 28 April 2014

Peter Tann - Book Review Company Commander

Peter gave us an email about whether we would be interested to read some book reviews from him. Naturally we said yes, here is the first of what we hope will be a series of reviews from him.

Not surprisingly, the current conflict in Afghanistan has led to a large number of books being written  about the experience of operations there. The idea behind this post is to share my opinions on those that I have read and looking at how helpful they can be as a resource for a gamer looking to create scenarios for Skirmish Sangin. Before we start I should say that I am based in the UK, so the majority of what I have read covers British operations in Helmand since 2006. Hopefully, gamers based elsewhere will be encouraged to share their views on books covering their own armed forces' experiences.

I am going to kick off with Company Commander, written by Major Russell Lewis, MC. Lewis was a company commander in 2 Para in 2008 and the book is part journal, part reflection on his six month tour and the demands and challenges of leadership. The book (not surprisingly) focuses on the experiences of Russell and his company, and does not examine the wider context of Western involvement in Afghanistan.

I must say that I found this book very engaging. It is well-written, effectively conveying the intense pressure of COIN operations in the difficult conditions of an Afghan summer and a cagey population that has learnt that often 'facing both ways' is necessary for survival. It also gives a very good insight into the tough, often lonely, responsibilities of command. One example that really stood out was Lewis agonising over whether to call in a MEDEVAC helicopter for three soldiers critically wounded by a suicide bomber. Realising that this could be exactly what the Taliban were hoping he would do and that the LZ, whilst perfect for the helicopter, could not be fully secured, Lewis reluctantly orders the chopper to land at the fire base and that he will bring the soldiers there, even though the delay could be lethal. The soldiers subsequently died at the hospital at Camp Bastion, but the following day a patrol found signs of Taliban activity by the proposed LZ, including an RPGS warhead, vindicating Lewis' hard call.


How useful is the book as source material for Skirmish Sangin? Set as it is at company level, the larger actions are really beyond the scope of the game. For one 'platoon' level patrol, Lewis actually has upwards of 80 men out on the ground! However, there are many actions which can be broken down into smaller parts which are suitable. For example, Lewis often took a GPMG-heavy Fire Support Group with him on patrol - this often held a static position in a contact to support his manoeuvre elements, so could be considered off-table support. Another action involved searching for and discovering a weapons cache, a four-hour contact as the Paras made their way back to base, an evacuation of a non-battle casualty by Viking, contact on the vehicles, contact on the base, another casualty in the base, a (non-lethal) mine strike on the vehicles as they evacuated the two casualties to the LZ before finally getting them safely away in a helicopter which decided to risk the incoming fire to pick up the injured! Plenty of food for thought there, either as individual scenarios, or maybe even a different type of 'campaign' which links the events of this one battle into a series of smaller games.


Another aspect of the book is that it throws up many command decisions, which can also be recreated on the tabletop eg do you blast your way into that compound, all guns blazing on Attack State Red? On one patrol, this is exactly what the Paras did. The first two compounds they stormed proved to be empty, so Lewis orders that this be cancelled on the next compound searched. Once inside they discover 13 women and young children! Or do you open fire at the vehicle that is speeding towards your checkpoint? Making the right (or wrong!) decisions in these circumstances could be reflected in the victory points in the scenario, and random events could be introduced, triggered by a dice roll like criticals and fumbles, which the player has to react to.

Five major contacts are described, with useful sketch maps showing the rough layout of the ground and positions of both Taliban and Paras, as well as several smaller ones. One factor that really does emerge is the physically arduous nature of the climate; heat exhaustion really should be considered as a real possibility in a game, and the dreaded D&V as a very unpleasant event in a campaign which can seriously deplete unit strengths and activity!

Overall, I would thoroughly recommend this book. Even though set at company level, there is plenty of information that can, with a little imagination, be adapted for the lower level of Skirmish Sangin. I would also say that the book provides an excellent framework for a campaign, utilising the rules and guidance in Sangin Dispatches No. 1.



  1. Peter, I agree with your views on the book, a good read and there's some very suitable engagements that convert readily to scenarios. Looking forward to your next review.

  2. Great review Peter. Thanks for taking the time to do this - makes me want to buy the book now, which is a good thing.

  3. Great stuff can't wait for the enext one Peter.

  4. Bought a copy based on Peters review and certainly wasn't disappointed. Great read!