Wednesday, July 7, 2010

"Dad, you killed the zombie Flanders!" "He was a zombie?"

Over at my play by email game (plug!, click on the link to join today! We're awesome!) we were discussing the Battle of Yonkers from World War Z. Tim gave me an advance reader's copy of World War Z a couple years back

I said that I liked almost everything about the book, except for the Battle of Yonkers, which fills me with untrammeled NERDRAGE!!!

Bob said that he liked it because it was so true to the military way of thinking and that it sounded just like something he'd have seen as an enlisted man.

We talked about it a little further, and since I don't post enough on my blog, I thought I'd put this up here. This post is revised from an email exchange with the Lord a while back.

Zombie fiction works best on a small scale like in Night of the Living Dead, or if you have a plague/comet/what-have-you wipe out 90% of the human race, devastating the infrastructure and leaving the zombies outnumbering the living. As All Flesh Must Be Eaten tells us, if you can't beat a bunch of slow moving stupid undead things in a straight up fight, then you deserved to die.

If you have a bunch of rednecks beat a ton of zombies in Night of the Living Dead, then the army can do it. The US military has its flaws, but that's true of any large organization. I think they're pretty good at what they do, and modern weapons are absolutely devastating. I think they might lose the first several engagements, but once they comprehend what they're dealing with, they'll be able to hit back with overwhelming force while taking almost no casualties. With a couple exceptions, the US military has generally done well at adapting to changing situations and circumstances, and we've already established at this point that they're familiar with the zombies.

Mostly it comes down to this: Zombies are essentially humans who keep shambling at you until they are so damaged to be incapable of doing so. Those are their assets. The also lack assets human beings have. Range, instincts of self-preservation, tool use, mobility, tactics and planning, for starters. On the whole, their liabilities significantly outweigh their assets. They're certainly in worse shape structurally than a healthy adult human (they're dead after all), but the thing is, they don't stop moving until they're unable to move. And they move, in a slow, steady, straight line, directly at their targets. People say "how do you kill something that's already dead", but if it's still bound by the laws of physics, it needs its bones and muscles to move. Damage slows them down, and it's not they're Steve Prefountaine to begin with. If the knee bone is no longer connected to the thigh bone, it's going to move even slower.

I logged on to one of the message boards I frequent to find that this topic was already being debated. They were talking specifically about the Battle of Yonkers in the novel World War Z, with "full military might of the United States Army" against a couple million zombies. The zombies won, and those with actual military experience cried foul. Since they express my points better than I can, and have broader experience with these matters. I've included some of their comments, italicized below.

Air Burst Fuses: If you're going after soft targets, like infantry, light armor, supply convoys, etc., you use airburst fuses to increase the efficiency. 155mm HE artillery rounds with airburst fuses set at a 50m altitude will pretty much guarantee a lethal headshot on every last zombie withing 120 meters of the point of detonation. And with a range topping 11,000 meters, they could have parked a half dozen batteries of Army and USMC artillery on the north side of Yonkers and walked the fire right down the damned highway into the heart of freaking Manhattan, easily annihilating all 4 million of whatever zombies that were clogging the highways. Forget zombies, the damned highway wouldn't have survived as anything recognizable.

Not only that, the 270mm artillery rocket systems (HIMARS and MRLS) Have their lovely M326 rockets which explode in the air and scatter 644 submunitions each of which sprays fragments in a lethal radius of 4 meters. I'll let you figure out the coverage they get when a single MLRS launches its full load of 12 rockets. A full artillery battery of M270's can launch 108 rockets simultaneously. That's 69,552 little bombs covering 4 meters each. And it doesn't matter if the zombies are full packed. Those bombs go off when they impact something, which means the 'ground zero' zombie gets a shaped charge burning a hole through it from brain down to crotch, while easily a dozen or more zombies right around it take head shots from nickel-sized fragments of steel travelling in excess of 3600 feet per second.

I went to the effort of digging up that youtube video of a 155mm shell exploding again. VT fuzes (the kind that expode before impact) have been in use since the later half of WW2 and before then we tried to get the same effect with mechanical timing. Artillery shooting at people does not use impact fuzes. Fragments would be coming from the top down, hitting heads and shoulders before anything else. The kill radius is commonly quoted at 50 meters and a causualty radius of 100m. Zombies not caring about how scary artillery is would only increase the casualties because they wouldn't do common sense things like dispersing.

For a 155mm shell, that "very center" where things pretty much vanish or get reduced to gobs is pretty decent sized. And when fired into a shoulder-to-shoulder mass of bodies?

If one shell hits a spot with densely packed zombies, there will be dozens surely "destroyed" with possibly dozens more destroyed or at the very least greatly reduced in threat.

Multiply this a thousand-fold and keep the shells coming at a steady pace and the Infantry shouldn't have had to fire a single shot.

That's discounting shrapnel removing heads, arms, legs etc. Yeah, a zombie with only 1 arm is still coming at you, but he'll at least have a harder time grabbing on to you.

Any shells that actually strike the ground will also create nice big craters that the shamblers will have a hard time negotiating. If they move around it, that creates additional choke points to pick them off with marksmen.

It's unlikely that the military would do something they have rarely done since Korea.. dig in and conduct a static defense. Why no hit and run or methodical withdrawal as the shamblers came closer ?

A unit that looks remote close to be overrun can be evacced by vehicle or chopper, redeployed 300 yards down the street and resume firing trivially.

The reason why artillery is not such a great Infantry-killer as it was in WWI? Modern Tactics. Squads tend to disperse and not walk in close formation. Guess what a few million brainless Zombies will not posses?

This should have been a turkey-shot, even with 4 million zombies walking.

Hell, they could've done it with a couple of C-130 gunships.

Damn, why not, rig a few steam-rollers to head on forward and let 'em roll forward!

Also, as others have pointed out: Artillery will create trenches, destroy bridges and generally distort the landscape to a modern-art sculpture look-a-like. This will slow down the horde immensely!

Everyone should be carrying at least 180 rounds in their pockets and the enemy is giving them all the time in the world to aim. Then if there seems to be any danger of getting overrun, the scenario we are presented with allows the men to escape easily by walking away.

You don't have to think very mobile warfare to just keep backup up/avoiding close combat with a foe with nothing else.

Tanks, APCs, IFVs, etc. are immune to zombies, save via starvation/dehydration of the crew if they're trapped in there for too long.

If you did firebombing with aerial units it'd also do quite a lot of damage.

I think that in a straight up engagement, the army would win, and win overwhelmingly. The whole book was a critique of policy the author didn't approve, and the chapter assumes the worst possible mix of leadership, tactics, and weaponry and presents it as if this was the only possible outcome of the encounter.

I get the idea of the chapter is that they let Lieutenant "Flame units only. I want rifles slung." Gorman run a Dog and Pony Show for the cameras, but the contortions Max Brooks goes through to justify a zombie victory (digging trenches for tanks? Really?) cross the line from poor decisions to outright absurdity. And there is something clearly wrong with me in that this is the part of a zombie book that I'm complaining about, but there it is.

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