Friday, 1 December 2017

1985: Under an Iron Sky - Designer's Notes, Part 1

As the date of publication is getting near, I want to share a draft of the Designer's Notes. This first part focuses on the global international situation and on each side's efforts to gain the military edge over the other.

Of course, you'll find the final, complete and polished version in the Scenarios and Designer's Notes Booklet. An overview of the game can be found here.

A Changing World

In 1985 world was beginning to change. Nobody really noticed it until four years later, when Berlin Wall suddenly became nothing more than a sad, ugly remain of a failed regime. After that first step had been taken, the whole Communist bloc practically disappeared in a matter of months.

The chain of events leading to this dramatic dissolution has been debated by people more qualified than me, but I wish to highlight some points that influenced the game development and our evaluation of the balance of power in 1985.


In 1979, Soviet Union embarked itself in the ill-conceived invasion of Afghanistan, a nominally allied and communist country.

After six years of war, 30,000 killed or wounded and 200,000 hospitalized for serious diseases, perception of the Red Army as a force capable of crushing dissent under any condition had been mortally eroded.

The cost of war also put an unbearable pressure over an already struggling economy and wore down Soviet capacity to maintain and support an army of three million men, fifty thousand tanks and seven thousand aircrafts.

This is represented in game by the relatively low combat values of Soviet category II and III divisions, by their mobilization time and by the less than optimal readiness of Warsaw Pact’s supply infrastructure.

Solidarnosc and the Growing Unrest

On December 17th, 1980 the first independent trade union not controlled by the Communist Party emerged in Poland, reaching 10 million members in 1981. Unfavorable domestic situation, Afghan war and Pope John Paul II’s open support to Solidarnosc forced Soviet Union to discard the possibility of a direct military intervention, despite secret requests for help by Polish First Secretary General Jaruzelski.

In the end, declaration of Martial Law partially restored Communist Party’s control over the country, but despite that, a fact had emerged: Soviet Union was no longer able to force obedience by military means. The end of the so-called Brezhnev’s Doctrine strengthened dissention in Eastern Europe and weakened the Communist governments of Warsaw Pact, no longer able to count on Soviet intervention should internal problems arise.

In the game, the concrete possibility of some Warsaw Pact’s countries not fully joining the “War of Liberation” and the related Unrest and Revolt rules are based on these events.

Ronald Reagan and the “Evil Empire”

In 1981, Ronald Reagan became President of the United States. Despite being considered by someone as little more than a bad actor with the political knowledge of a cowboy, Reagan had a vision and the inner strength to pursue it.

During his two Presidency terms, he abandoned the so-called Détente policy, labeled Soviet Union as an “Evil Empire” , increased US military spending and forced an already weakened Soviet Union to enter an economically unsustainable arms race.

Reagan’s approach to international policy and increase of military budget has several effects in the game: US reinforcements to European Central Front arrive rather quickly, and their number may easily prove decisive in the conflict. Moreover, US ground and air units are definitely stronger than 10 years before (more on this later).

The End of Gerontocracy and Gorbachev

In 1982, Leonid Brezhnev died, after an eighteen-years term as General Secretary of the Communist Party of Soviet Union. Both his successors, Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko, being of the same age as Brezhnev, died in the following three years.

Possibly out of plausible candidates, the Central Committee elected the reformer Mikhail Gorbachev as General Secretary on March, 11th 1985.

Gorbachev made immediately clear that something had to be changed in Soviet Union, and pushed forward ideas like Perestroika and Glasnost in the sincere attempt to reform the Communist state from within. Unfortunately for him, the sequence of events he put in motion ended with the dissolution of Soviet Union, six years later.

Gorbachev and his announced, and at that time radical, reforms provide the starting point for the game. The real military coup to destitute Gorbachev in August, 1991 has been anticipated to June, 1985 and the result changed from a failure to a successful return to power of Kremlin’s military wing. The events that could have followed this only slightly hypothetical situation are not hard to imagine.

NATO Armed Forces in 1985

Thanks to increased military spending, new technologies and a more aggressive approach to confrontation with the East Bloc, most NATO Armed Forces were quickly recovering from their lowest point of the ‘70s years.

United States

With the beginning of Reagan Presidency in 1981, military expenses increased by 40% and a whole array of new weapon systems started to be fielded. In 1985, US Armed Forces were in a much better shape than only 5 years before.

M1 Abrams MBT and M2 Bradley AFV were gradually replacing the old M60 and M113, giving an impressive boost in offensive and defensive capabilities to Armored and Mechanized Brigades. Stinger missiles offered a better air defense to field troops, and the first Patriot batteries were becoming operational in CENTAG area. M270 MRLS artillery was being introduced, even though not in sufficient number to have a real impact in game.

US Army was in the process of moving to the new “Army of Excellence” organization, a compromise between the old Vietnam structure and the already half-in-place, expensive “Army 86” one. With heavier Armored Divisions and lighter, more transportable Infantry Divisions, the Army of Excellence surely had a positive impact on US capabilities in Central Europe.

The creation of three new POMCUS site in NORTHAG area and the assignment of US III Corps to REFORGER brought to six the total number of US division earmarked for Europe. Several large scale REFORGER exercises allowed a better and more realistic logistical planning.

In the air, F-16 and EF-111 reinforced the already strong US Air Force, and the new AirLand Battle doctrine allowed an approach more tailored to an European conflict. Moreover, strategic airlift capacity was improved by acquiring several dozens of C-5B Galaxy air transport.

US Navy acquired 8 Fast Sealift Ships with Roll-On/Roll-Off capability, giving the capacity to transport an Armored or Mechanized Division to Europe in only 5 days.

United Kingdom

Despite Margaret Thatcher and a renewed Imperial proud resulting from the successful Falkland War, 1985’s British Army Of The Rhine was still struggling with personnel and equipment reductions.

The ill-conceived idea of “Field Forces” had been abandoned three years before, and Armored Divisions were back to the old three brigades structure; this resulted in stronger divisions, but budget constraints forced the relocation of some brigades in the UK.

With only eight armored brigades in Germany, BAOR was barely up to the task of defending the central area of NORTHAG; scarcity of attack helicopters and air defense assets didn’t help to improve the situation.

On the plus side, Falkland war showed once again that training and motivation of British soldiers were above average. Equipment was being updated too, with Challenger MBT and Javelin SAM slowly replacing Chieftain and Blowpipe.

Royal Air Force was in better shape, thanks to the introduction of Tornado GR1 and F-4M Phantom FGR.2 strike squadrons, and ready to challenge Warsaw Pact SAM defenses in the AirLand Battle.

West Germany

During the last two centuries German Army has always been among the most efficient war machines in the world, and 1985 was no exception. With good equipment, realistic training, strongly motivated soldiers and twelve Divisions, Bundeswehr was one the major problems for any Warsaw Pact invasion plan.

The Heer (Army) was reorganized in 1980 and adopted HeerStrutktur IV. Corps Artillery units were disbanded, and the resulting batteries reassigned as independent units to each Division; Brigades structure was also changed from 3 to 4 smaller battalions, in order to gain flexibility and mobility. On the equipment front, Leopard I was being replaced by Leopard II, with approximately half of the Panzer and PanzerGrenadier brigades already equipped.

Mobilization was also revised and strengthened, giving West Germany a notable force of 28 additional reserve Brigades / Regiments within D+8 (Four Game Turns).

Luftwaffe (Air Force) equipped four of its squadrons with Tornado IDS (Interdictor / Strike) aircrafts, a quantum leap from the F-104 and Alphajet previously used in this role.


In 1977 French Army moved from old-style 3 brigades Divisions to “light” Divisions, each having more or less the size of a heavily reinforced Brigade.

Despite the obvious loss in firepower at single unit level, the increased number of available Divisions allowed the constitution of the III Corps, based at Lille (FR) and unofficially earmarked as reinforcement for NORTHAG. This also has a positive in-game effect for NATO: plenty of French ground forces, with each Division able to defend a section of the front better than a Brigade.

Equipment didn’t have really significant upgrades, with the notable exception of the all-weather SAM Roland II.

Warsaw Pact Armed Forces in 1985

Generally speaking, technology gap with the West was increasing and overall Armed Forces quality was decreasing. Despite introducing several new weapon systems in the decade before 1985, Soviet Union failed to field a real game changer comparable to the Mig21, T-64 or BMP-1.

The Armies

T-80 MBT should have replaced T-64 as the backbone of Soviet Tank Divisions, but excessive cost not justified by better performance limited its production. In the end, Soviet Union reverted to the cheaper T-72 or the upgraded T-64B.

On the positive side, Mi24 attack helicopter became an integral part of Warsaw Pact Army structure, giving a powerful boost to offensive capabilities.

The Soviet arsenal was beginning to feel the effects of economic stagnation, as several Category II and III Division didn’t have any significant equipment upgrade since the ‘70s. The mobilization system was also under strain: the initial invasion of Afghanistan was conducted primarily by reservists divisions, but their poor performance forced Soviet Union to send conscripts troops, consequently stripping Cat II and III divisions of their best recruits.

If Soviet Union had difficulties in keeping NATO pace, its Eastern allies were having even bigger problems. With the (partial) exception of East Germany, Warsaw Pact countries’ economy was unable to sustain further modernization of the armed forces. Several Motorized regiments were using Gaz-66 trucks for troops transport, and most Tank Regiments were still equipped with T-54 and T-55. Polish air force still fielded Su7, Mig17 and old Mig21 versions.

As usual, deficiencies in quality were at least partially filled by quantity, with a significant increase in the total number of artillery and ADA weapons available.

One last consideration derives from several studies on US POMCUS sites. Giving the immense parked arsenal for category II and III divisions and the problems US Army encountered in maintaining a much smaller quantity of equipment in controlled-humidity sites in West Germany, it is improbable that Soviet Union did better in keeping efficient tens of thousands of parked vehicles in areas with inclement weather like Byelorussia. Soviet Category II and III division have been penalized accordingly in game.

The Airborne Forces

Airborne Divisions have been another surprise emerged from previously classified documents.
Of the four divisions usually considered available for an offensive against NATO, two did not exist (31st Guards and 102nd Guards), and one (103rd Guards) had been committed to Afghanistan.

This leaves Group of Soviet Forces in Germany with 106th Guards Airborne Division, plus 35th Guards and 37th Air Assault Brigades. This force could be increased with 76th Guards Division and 36th Air Assault Brigade by forfeiting any offensive operation against Norway.

The Air Forces

Modernization of Air Forces encountered several problems too.

Introduction of Su24 was probably the best result obtained, giving Soviet Union a good strike aircraft that could also be used as interceptor.

Mig23 proved itself a valid replacement to Mig21 and became the new backbone of several Warsaw Pact air forces, but failed to reduce the technological gap with newest NATO aircrafts like F-15, F-16 and Mirage.

Mig29, another breakthrough in Soviet aircraft design, was being fielded but in limited numbers. Mig25, after an initial hype and waves of panic in the West, had been relegated to reconnaissance role.

Another unresolved problem was the shorter operational range of Soviet aircraft compared to NATO ones. This is reflected in game by different penalties on the Interception attempts.


  1. Very cool I wonder if there will be a distinct advantage for the NATO player with the state that the russian forces are in.

    1. WP has not an easy task, most depends by its capacity to keep NATO off-balance in the first 8-10 days of war. After that, a simple military victory is still possible if advance in west Germany has been deep enough and NATO is unable to mount a strong counteroffensive.

    2. I think this will really come down to the air war in the first 1-3 turns. With a strong WP showing on that front they can push further afield and deny NATO superiority. Is there the ability to airlift supplies within the rules? I would think with a few SF missions to capture, disrupt key airfields at the beginning of the war WP can turn their "disadvantage" on paper to an advantage.

    3. I usually keep SF as a potential threat until they really have a juicy target, but an immediate utilization at hostilities outbreak is what NATO expected and could work, with a bit of luck.
      Yes, air supply is included, may be denied by enemy air superiority.

  2. Dear Fabrizio,

    I apologize for getting so late on the bandwagon, I did not know you were working on a new version of "1985". As one of the co-designers of LnL's "Honneur & Patrie", a tactical slugfest involving the 1985 French Army, I have a couple of suggestions to make. Let me start by saying that none of the below should be taken as criticism: the French army of the 1980's is very hard to get reliable data on, I got burned pretty good myself (by stating that the French army did not have very short range AA missiles back in 1985 ... only to discover, buried in a French senate report from that year, that in fact the first Mistral SATCP missiles were being deployed).

    My first comment is on the force structure: you mention the 1977 reorganization, but another one took place in 1983, effective 1984, and saw the creation of the Force d'Action Rapide. My peek at the countermix failed to locate the relevant HQ (with 47,000 men, the FAR was a corps-level unit), as well as the 9th Division d'Infanterie de Marine, a mech infantry division (carried on VAB light APCs). These units were, with the 6th light armored division and the 4th airmobile division, the main 'punch' element of the FAR. The 11th parachute division would likely have been used just like ... Soviet paras, you'd probably need regiment-level breakdown units to allow for paradrops (one of these, the 1er RHP, was actually an airborne armor regiment). This is how they were designed to be used - a major exercise took place Incidentally, the 6th armored (FAR) and 12th & 14th armored (Ier corps) should be armored cav divisions: the 6th had mostly AMX 10 RC wheeled AFVs, and the other two were "training" ("école") divisions, each sporting an assortment of tracked and wheeled AFVs, with a predominance of the latter. You can find great data on David Delporte's website. The data covers 1989, so you should assume the most modern hardware was concentrated, in 1985, in the IIe corps, but the force structure is right for 1985. The website: Maybe one should also include the French army's crapulent territorial units (you'll find plenty of data on that website: truck mounted reserve infantry with a smattering of AML 60 and AML 90. Finally, you could include one or two units of Mirage 2000 interceptors: started deployment in Dijon in 1984. Please let me know if I can be of further assistance. Kind regards, Nicolas

    1. Regarding 12th and 14th armored, I think we have different data....If I remember correctly (but cannot verify right now), our main source for that was "Armies of NATO's Central Front", giving the following TO&E for 14th division:
      5000 men
      108 AMX-30
      44 AMX-10P
      340 VAB
      18 155mm SP
      48 AAA
      48 120mm Mortar
      110 LRAC
      59 Armoured Cars
      900 Soft-skin Vehicles

    2. Ah, if you go to Delporte's website the 12e and 14e DBLE (division blindée légère école) are not at all regular armored divisions, but training divisions (pre-1977 these were reserve units), hence the "smorgasbord" quality of same. I think Delporte is the source to follow here, as the "DBLE" acronym suggests these were not regular armored divisions. The link is here:

    3. Yes, that's why they're scheduled to arrive at D+8 and D+12 (more or less). We figured out that French high command would have not left 200 AMX-30 unused in depots in case of a World War Three :)

  3. Hi Nicholas, it's good to meet someone who had the same headaches we got with 1985 OOB :)

    Regarding the FAR, our evaluation has been that it would have been used exactly for that: a rapid deployment force kept in reserve to counter any surprise in Med / North Africa and maybe Norway area. Moreover, in my opinion several FAR units would have not been of any use in a ultra-high intensity conflict such as a Warsaw Pact - NATO war.

    That said, we also decided that after a reasonable period with no surprises, some FAR troops could have been sent to Central Europe. Here's the schedule we used:
    4th Airmobile: NORTHAG reinf
    6th Light Armored: kept in reserve until D+8
    9th Marine: Kept in reserve (very useful for a Norway counterattack)
    11th Airborne: Kept in reserve
    Foreign Legion: Kept in reserve

    Regarding the Mistral, according to my sources it wasn't available until 1988. In an official french senate of November 24, 1987 the Mistral programme is defined "in preparation":

    Je noterai par ailleurs les dotations importantes de crédits sur
    les nouveaux programmes en cours de préparation : le
    char AMX Leclerc, le programme Orchidée, l'hélicoptère de
    combat, le missile sol-air à très courte portée, Mistral, et le
    programme antichars de troisième génération.


    Anyway, we are obviously making personal, debatable evaluations about what would have been actually used in case of a Warsaw Pact invasion.....any hypothesis based on known, solid facts is probably valid :)

    1. (I was looking to an old version of the OOB, in the last one we decided to earmark 9th Marine division as "reserve" too)

    2. I forgot 27th Alpine Division: kept in reserve until D+12

  4. Hello,

    It is really messy indeed ... I have found references to the Mistral (Under the moniker SATCP) both in older Senate documents, and in an official account of the 1984 Manta Operation in Chad .... It could well be that these were more primitive versions of the Mistral - or simply a mistake! Regarding the use of the FAR, my understanding is that the 4th airmobile, 9th marine infantry and 6th light armored were supposed to operate together, to "Blunt" armored attacks and set the stage for a counterblow, with possible help from the other units (notably the 11th para, to be used in a "vertical envelopment" role). This is how the unit was used in the 1987 Moineau Hardi / Kecker Spatz exercise - and how I've used it in Honneur & Patrie. So I think separating the various components is probably not in line with what the French had in mind when they grouped all of these units under the same corps-level HQ.... Do you think you could change the NATO symbol for the 6th, 12th & 14th armored to light armored (that would be closer to what these units were designed to accomplish)? Do you have specific rules for said units (allowing, for instance, for disengagement or hit & run tactics, both of which were what these units were trained to do, and had, to some extent, done against the Libyans in Chad)? If you would like to keep chatting, and if I can help with French language sources, feel free to email me at ncmichon [at] Best, Nicolas


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