In the July 2020 issue of Naval History magazine, CDR Thomas Dixon who recently completed a tour as Executive Officer (Blue Crew) aboard USS Ohio (SSGN-726) relates a wargame played in the wardroom “designed to stress the critical thinking and innovation among the officers.” He describes the game as this:
First, the executive officer develops a scenario appropriate to the submarine’s upcoming operations, including the nations involved, the geographic location of the game, orders-of-battle, and victory criteria. The two senior department heads are assigned as leaders of the Blue (United States and allies) and Red (opposition) forces….The executive officer then informs the Blue and Red leaders of the game’s specific geographic location, assigns the Blue and Red teams their orders-of-battle, and explains the campaign objectives and victory criteria.
Dixon, T. T. (2020). Introduce Wargaming to Wardrooms. Naval History, 82–83.
Dixon goes on to explain why a wargame is needed in the wardroom:
First, it focuses wardroom training on the capabilities of U.S. and regional partner orders-of-battle against those of the rival nations. Second, it focuses study on U.S. and rival national objectives and doctrine. Finally, the wardroom learns what defines victory for each side and contemplates how their specific platform fits into achieving victory in a major campaign.
Dixon, T. T. (2020). Introduce Wargaming to Wardrooms. Naval History, 82–83.
Actual game execution is simple. To be honest, this sounds more like a structured tabletop exercise (TTX) than a wargame. Materials used appears quite minimal.
The required materials…consist of an appropriate chart of the region, several game pieces, and notepads with pens. The game is conducted in approximately eight hours (one training day) and consists of several turns. At the start, all Blue and Red land-based, surface, and aviation assets are placed on the chart in the locations chosen by each team. This assumes that both forces had time to position units in strategically appropriate locations, realizing hostilities were about to commence. The locations of undersea assets are known only to friendly team members, and notes with those locations are shown to the commanding officer and executive officer.
Dixon, T. T. (2020). Introduce Wargaming to Wardrooms. Naval History, 82–83.
The Commanding and Executive Officer are the judges. I wonder what sort of adjudication aids are available or if this is just a “that’s about right” sort of resolution system.
The first turn commences hostilities. Both teams confer among themselves and determine their movements and actions for the turn, and this consists of everything each team desires to accomplish for that turn….These moves are written down by each team and when they are concluded are shown to the commanding officer and executive officer. Using this method, both teams execute maneuvers simultaneously. The commanding officer and executive officer then adjudicate any action that would take place-for example, the success of an air raid, undersea combat if two submarines cross paths, or the extent of damage from a missile attack. Once adjudication is complete, the second turn commences and is adjudicated.
The game concludes when victory objectives are reached by one of the sides….The commanding officer and executive officer decide which team is closer to the preestablished victory criteria.
Dixon, T. T. (2020). Introduce Wargaming to Wardrooms. Naval History, 82–83.
This sounds like a very free-form type of game that focuses more on the decisions that must be made vice operating gadgets like wargames Harpoon or Command: Modern Air/Naval Operations bring to the table (or video screen). I hope that organizations like the Center for Naval Analysis in Arlington, VA are assisting in this effort by providing basic materials (especially guides to adjudication) and scenario development. I also hope this effort is not just done at the initiative of the CO and XO; it needs to be part of a broader initiative like the UK Fight Club (@UKFightClub1 on Twitter) that has the great motto “Think-Fight-Learn-Repeat.”
Feature image: PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (Oct. 22, 2007) – USS Ohio (SSGN 726) arrives at Naval Station Pearl Harbor to take on supplies before continuing on their maiden deployment to the Western Pacific following their recent guided-missile overhaul. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Luciano Marano
Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, activity in eastern Ukraine, saber rattling regarding the Baltics, deployment to Syria, and more assertive behavior along its border have piqued interest in the Russian Armed Forces. This increased interest has caused much speculation about their structure, capabilities, and future development. Interestingly, this speculation has created many different, and often contradictory, narratives about these issues. At any given time, assessments of the Russian Armed Forces vary between the idea of an incompetent and corrupt conscript army manning decrepit Soviet equipment and relying solely on brute force, to the idea of an elite military filled with Special Operations Forces (SOF) who were the “polite people” or “little green army men” seen on the streets in Crimea. This book will attempt to split the difference between these radically different ideas by shedding some light on what exactly the Russian Ground Forces consist of, how they are structured, how they fight, and how they are modernizing.
As an added bonus for wargame graphic designers, check out the last part of the book on Russian Military Symbology. What better way to make your Russian forces, uh, Russian?
Army Training Publication (ATP) 7-100.2 describes North Korean tactics for use in Army training, professional education, and leader development. This document is part of the ATP 7-100 series that addresses a nation-state’s military doctrine with a focus on army ground forces and tactical operations in offense, defense, and related mission sets. Other foundational topics include task organization, capabilities, and limitations related to military mission and support functions. ATP 7-100.2 serves as a foundation for understanding how North Korean ground forces think and act in tactical operations. This publication presents multiple examples of functional tactics in dynamic operational environment conditions. The tactics in this ATP are descriptive, and provide an orientation to tactics gathered from North Korean doctrine, translated literature, and observations from recent historical events.
The principal audience for ATP 7-100.2 is all members of the profession of arms. Commanders and staffs of Army headquarters serving as joint task force or multinational headquarters should also refer to applicable joint or multinational doctrine concerning the range of military operations and joint or multinational forces. Trainers and educators throughout the Army will also use this publication.
What’s in this manual. Much more than you expect!
ATP 7-100.2 addresses the tactics, organization, and activities of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s ground forces. Part one of this document focuses on the strategic and operational levels, and includes North Korea’s military structure, organizational philosophy, and an introduction to functional tactics. Part two focuses on the tactical level, and describes Korean People’s Army Ground Forces (KPAGF) offensive and defensive tactics in detail. Several appendixes provide additional information on specific military functions and their use in tactical actions.
There is alot to unpack here. Even if you are not playing a modern Korean War game there is still much that can be learned from studying this potential adversary.
Feature image “North Korean military conducts a ‘strike drill’ for multiple launchers and tactical guided weapon into the East Sea during a military drill in North Korea.” (Reuters/KCNA pic).
This year’s report highlights the links between China’s national strategy and developments within China’s armed forces.
Under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, the strategy calls for “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” by 2049, including the transformation of the People’s Liberation Army into a “world-class” military.
The report comes at a time when the world is witnessing the aggressive assertion of that strategy in the Indo-Pacific and beyond, where China continues to undermine the international rules-based order to advance their own interests.
This report accounts for the PRC’s national strategy and the drivers of China’s security behavior and military strategy, covers key developments in China’s military modernization and reform, and provides new insights into China’s strategic ambitions in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.
The report also discusses China’s views of strategic competition, the broader purposes of its Military-Civil Fusion Development Strategy, and its ambitions for the PLA as a political entity of the party.
Although there are some order-of-battle type numbers in here, this is not really suitable for development of tactical scenarios. That said, if you are looking to frame an operational or strategic-level game then it is very likely you will find something of value within these pages.
Feature image “Chinese Cops Trained in Posture by Pins and Crosses” courtesy chinauncensored.tv
Although the Chinese seem to be calling Nanchang a ‘destroyer,’ it almost anywhere else it would be a cruiser. Here is a datasheet on the ship that accompanied the commissioning ceremony:
In South China Sea, designer John Gorkowski identifies this class of ships as ‘CG TYPE 55.’ Here is the counter for the ship in the game:
The Quick Reference Card in South China Sea tells us how to decode the counter. It is also useful as we can compare the CG TYPE 55 to the US Navy ‘CG TICONDEROGA.’ Fair warning here – I did not assist in the development of South China Sea so I actually do not have any ‘official’ insight into how the various factors were decided upon. What follows is my interpretation of the factors in South China Sea and how they relate to the announced capabilities of the Type 055 destroyer.
Let’s first start by looking across the bottom of the CG TYPE 55 counter. The first factor is Gun – rated a 2. The Type 055 has a single 130mm gun forward. The Ticonderoga has 2x Mk45 5″/45 caliber lightweight guns. Although the guns are somewhat similar there are no half-factors in SCS so 2 seems fair.
U (Underwater) – 2: Very similar to the US TICO-class, the Type 055 is credited with a bow-mounted High/Medium-frequency sonar and a towed Variable Depth Sonar (VDS) as well as two helicopters. While Ticonderoga’s have torpedo tubes, the Type 055 carries the ‘CJ-5″ ASW rocket/missile. The U rating of 2 seems fair.
A/S (Anti-Surface) – 4 Range 6. The Type 055 is credited with carrying the YJ-18 anti-ship missile. According to US government sources, the YJ-18 has a range of 290nm, or 6.4 hexes in South China Sea. Although the missile is subsonic, the warhead of between 140-300kg mass is delivered by a supersonic sprint vehicle. A lethality rating of4seems fair although I worry that it may be underrated as compared to the Harpoon (4 Range 5) used by the US Navy. Recommendation: CHANGE the A/S rating to 5 Range 6 (Optional).
A/G (Anti-Ground) – 4 Range 10. The Type 055 is supposed to carry the CJ-10 cruise missile. Most sources give this missile a range of 1,500+ kilometers (809nm). In South China Sea-terms this would be a range of 17.7 hexes – well in excess of the 10 shown on the ship counter. The US Navy TLAM missile flies between 700-900nm – 15.5 to 20 hexes in SCS – but is only credited with a range of 12 (~2/3rds of max range?). Using that very rough rule, the CJ-10 could be range 12. As for lethality; the CJ-10 appears comparable to the Tomahawk so a lethality rating of 4 again appears reasonable. Recommendation: CHANGE ‘CG Type 55’ A/G rating to 4 Range 12.
Let us now turn to the combat factors on the upper right, Missile Defense and Torpedo. In South China Sea the CG TYPE 55 is given a Torpedo rating of 2. Yet, on the factsheet, no torpedo tubes appear. An oversight in the datasheet? Look for other sources….
The CG TYPE 55 is rated a 9 for Missile Defense. This is in part because of the 4-panel S-Band AESA multifunction radar with X-Band rotating AESA radars supporting the HHQ-9 anti-air missile. Note the color of the Missile Defense rating – black. In South China Sea, ships with a Missile Defense rating in RED, like US Navy Aegis-equipped ships, are capable of Area Missile Defense:
5.81 Units with MD scores printed in red have Area Missile Defense (AMD). AMD functions like MD (missile defense) but can also protect other friendly units while also threatening enemy air units in the same and adjacent hexes. Air units in air to air combat are the one exception; they are not protected by an AMD score.
5.82 Therefore, with the exception of air units in air to air combat, a targeted friendly unit can always cite the red AMD score of a friendly AMD-capable unit that is in the same or an adjacent hex and engaged in the current engagement. Any number of units can call on the same AMD any number of times.
These newer ships use modern combat management systems and air surveillance sensors, such as the Sea Eagle and Dragon Eye phased-array radars. These new units allow the PLAN surface force to operate outside shore-based air defense systems because one or two ships are equipped to provide air defense for the entire task group. (p. 70)
This makes a good case that the MD rating of the CG TYPE 55 should be a red AMD factor. As far as the lethality number? A factor of 9 seems a good place to start. Recommendation: CHANGE the MD factor to RED.
The numbers to the upper left of the counter are Move and Stealth. The Move factor is in line with what is expected of ships like this so we will leave that be. In South China Sea, Stealth is used to evade contact. When a unit enters the Illumination Range of a unit (5 hexes for a surface naval unit) the unit must stop and make an evasion roll (2d6 + Stealth). If the roll is greater than 11 the unit has evaded detection and can continue movement. In the case of the CG TYPE 55 a Stealth rating of 3 is very good, even better than the Stealth rating of 2 for US Arleigh Burke-class DDGs. Indeed, the much smaller Freedom-class has a Stealth factor of 3. Looking at the pictures of the Nanchang, there is some radar shaping but there are also some good radar-bouncing areas. To my (untrained) eye it looks more like an Arleigh Burke. Recommendation: CHANGE the Stealth rating of the CG TYPE 55 to 2.
There is one last ‘factor’ I want point out; the number of Steps for the CG TYPE 55. See those three boxes between the Move/Stealth and Missile Defense/Torpedo? The CG TYPE 55 is a three Step unit, more so than the CG TICONDEROGA with two-Steps. A multi-step unit is flipped on the first hit and destroyed when the number of hits equals the number of Steps. At full load a Ticonderoga weighs in at 9,600 tons, a bit smaller than the 13,000 full load tons of the Type 055 destroyer. Is that extra 30% worth an entire extra Step? Another consideration is the state of damage control training in the PLAN. When I see a Step in SCS I don’t just see how many ‘hit points’ the ship has but also how well the crew is trained to save the ship. The US Navy is amongst the best in the world and, to be frank, there are questions as to the real technical competence of the average PLAN sailor. My gut tells me that giving the CG TYPE 55 three Steps is too generous. Recommendation: CHANGE the number of Steps on the CG TYPE 55 to 2.
I want to be very clear that in making this ‘reassessment’ of the CG TYPE 55 in South China Sea I am categorically NOT saying the original version is flawed. Mr. Gorkowski, in taking on a modern subject like South China Sea, is at the mercy of publicly available information. Even in the few short years since South China Sea was first published, the information available has changed significantly. You can play a scenario with the out-of-the-box CG TYPE 55 or, if you want, look at my attempt to update. Whatever way you chose to play just make sure you are having fun while you do it!
The goal is to collapse an adversary’s system into confusion and disorder causing him to over and under react to an activity that appears simultaneously menacing as well as ambiguous, chaotic, or misleading.
First off, what exactly do I mean when I say “professional wargaming?” In my working life I dabble in defense wargaming. This is why I try to attend the CONNECTIONS wargaming conference every year. I also recall Jim Dunnigan’s description of a wargame found in his Wargames Handbook:
A wargame is an attempt to get a jump on the future by obtaining a better understanding of the past. A wargame is a combination of ‘game,’ history and science. It is a paper time-machine. (Wargames Handbook, Third Edition, 1)
Dunnigan goes on to state:
The object of any wargame (historical or otherwise) is to enable the player to recreate a specific event and, more importantly, to be able to explore what might have been if the player decides to do things differently.
To be a wargame, in our sense of the word, the game must be realistic. And in some cases, they are extremely realistic, realistic to the point where some wargames are actually used for professional purposes (primarily the military, but also business and teaching). (Wargames Handbook, 3e, 1)
In many cases, realism in professional wargaming is a double-edged sword. Realism can often lead to an unplayable design. A perennial question at CONNECTIONS is “how realistic should my wargame be?” Philip Sabin, in his book Simulating War, describes this as accuracy vs. simplicity:
Perhaps the most pervasive trade-off affecting all human attempts to understand the worlds in which we live is that between accurately capturing the almost infinite complexities of reality and keeping our models simple enough to be grasped by ordinary minds and used as a practical guide for action. (Simulating War, 2)
Wargames are particularly severely affected by this trade-off between accuracy and simplicity, for two principle reasons. First…wargames have the virtue of combining most other modelling approaches into one, the downside of this eclecticism is that the complexity of each component approach is even further constrained if the overall complexity of the entire wargame model is not to exceed tolerable limits. Second, whereas some modelling techniques need only be understood properly by experts, with their conclusions being at least to some extent ‘taken on trust’ by lesser mortals, wargames are by their very nature participatory devices in which users need to have a certain understanding of the mechanics in order to benefit from the model at all. (Simulating War, 2)
A recent RAND study titled Next-Generation Wargaming for the U.S. Marine Corps points out how commercial wargames are addressing the accuracy vs. simplicity problem:
Closely related to this trend is a focus on increasing the playability of games while maintaining high levels of detail and dynamic gameplay. In the past, one of the key dilemmas of manual-style games was the inverse relationship between complexity and playability. As the level of detail increases in a game, rules typically grow increasingly complex, ultimately reducing playability. Many games from the “golden age” of the 1970s hobby gaming required hours merely to read the rules–a trend taken to parody in Campaign for North Africa (1979). Such games were highly accurate, but required players to learn complicated rules that included many exceptions. These were difficult to track even for experienced players. In response, designers began to experiment with different presentations of game rules to make play more intuitive….Commercial developers argue this will help manual games achieve higher levels of complexity while simultaneously enhancing playability. (Next-Generation Wargaming for the U.S. Marine Corps, 23-24)
OODA in a Wargame
The Less Than 60 Miles (LT60M) model is a different look at the (potential) European battlefields of the 1980’s. Instead of focusing on the equipment (like so many wargames often do) the rules present a look at the battlefield through the lens of John Boyd, retired US Air Force officer and the father of the OODA Loop. Here is how LT60M first describes itself:
Less Than 60 Miles is a Regiment / Battalion simulation of a hypothetical conflict between North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Warsaw Pact (WP) in 1985. The map covers the central part of West and East Germany, including the whole US V Corps Area of Responsibility and its surrounding areas. Players take the role of US V Corps Commander for NATO, and Soviet Central Front Commander for Warsaw Pact. (Rules of Play, 1. Introduction)
After this very vanilla overview, the differences are then called out:
Rules are centered on the problems of Command, Control & Communications (C3), and will force the players to fight against three equally dangerous foes: the enemy, their own plans and time.
Players will find that even simple actions could be quite challenging and need to be planned and correctly executed. Players will also find that their own troops may move and act quickly while following the initial plan, but reacting to contingencies or unexpected events could be painfully slow and might seal the fate of the entire campaign if poorly managed.
Another key element, not explicitly in the rules but interconnecting them, is the OODA cycle (Observe-Orient-Decide, Act) theorized by John Boyd in “Patterns of Conflict” and used as basis for the “AirLand Battle” doctrine adopted by US Armed Forces during the last years of the Cold War.
In the end, being able to get “inside” the enemy’s OODA cycle, short-circuiting the opponent’s thinking processes, will produce opportunities for the opponents to react inappropriately.
In the Designer’s Notes to LT60M, Mr. Vianello expands on his approach:
As probably any other Grognard, I’ve been reading a devastating number of books about military campaigns and operations.
In almost all of them, I’ve found descriptions of apparently simple plans turning into a disaster due to poor planning, wrong orders or bad execution. Even when planning, orders and execution goes smooth as silk, the plan is sometimes outmaneuvered or outsmarted by the enemy.
In most operational and strategic wargames, replicating this kind of events is very difficult. Players have almost complete control, and units react instantly to new directives. During years, several solutions have been developed (random events, variable initiative, command points and similar), but the basic problems remained:
The typical time frame of a game turn is tailored to allow execution of almost any desired action within a single phase, thus leaving the enemy no possibility to react.
The distance covered in a single turn by a unit could be considerable, thus forcing players to adopt a continuous line of units and zones of control as the only solution to avoid being bypassed or encircled during the enemy’s movement phase.
Any decided course of action has no inertia and can be rapidly modified should the need arise. You don’t need a real plan, and you’re not taking anyone really by surprise unless the rules decide so.
Less Than 60 Miles tries to convey a realistic approach to the above problems by giving the correct importance and impact to four basic elements: Time, Posture, Orders and Command Chain.
In the end, the interaction between these four elements will force players to confront the underlying concept: the OODA Cycle.…By using the four elements above better and faster than the opponent, the player will get inside the OODA Loop of the enemy, undermining its capability to react in an appropriate and timely manner to the unfolding events. (Scenarios & Designer’s Notes, Designer’s Notes, 21)
Here is how Mr. Vianello describes using those elements to challenge players of LT60M:
“Probably the most important factor in war is Time. Every action needs to be executed within a certain time frame and become useless or even dangerous if carried out later.”
“…most actions cannot be completed during a single game turn. A dug-in mechanized battalion that successfully defended a town will not be able to instantly launch a counterattack against the attacker, except when using specific tactics like NATO’s Active Defense. It will need to change to an attack formation, leaving itself vulnerable to enemy reactions for the time needed to change its posture.”
“Posture defines the current tactical formation of a unit and has a heavy impact on its movement and combat capabilities.”
“A unit’s Posture is the result of the last orders received and limits the tactical choices available. No unit can do everything at its best at the same time.”
“Changing a Unit’s Posture will require time, and during the transition the unit will be more vulnerable to enemy actions.”
“Ordering large formations to move out or attack is a complicated business, usually more complicated than expected. Even the over-celebrated 90 degrees turn of Patton’s III Army at the Ardennes took 72 hours.”
“In Less Than 60 Miles, most orders will require more time than desired to be carried out. Players will be forced to prepare and execute a real plan, as changing the course of action once things started moving could be problematic.”
CHAIN OF COMMAND
“In order to issue and execute orders in a timely manner, you will need a Command Chain starting from a higher-level Headquarters and going down to the units executing the order.”
“Command Chain is not a abstract concept you’ll worry about only occasionally. Each side will have to balance the advantage of having Headquarters near the Forward Edge of the Battle Area and directly influencing the battle, with the disadvantage of making them targets for enemy air, missile and artillery strikes.”
Yesterday is today…and tomorrow?
Design-wise, LT60M finds success by drawing from tried and proven designs of the past wrapped in a game system that emphasizes OODA. Mr. Vianello tells us, “In order to handle attrition, Less Than 60 Miles refines one of the most interesting and innovating concepts of SPI’s “Central Front” series: Friction Points, here renamed Attrition Points” (Designer’s Notes, 23). The combat system is, as Fabrizio puts it, “inspired by NATO: Division Commander, in my opinion one of the most realistic portraits of modern mechanized warfare” (Designer’s Notes, 25).
Lest you think that OODA is best in a wargame of the past, US Marine Corps officer Ian T. Brown, in his book A New Conception of War: John Boyd, the U.S. Marines, and Maneuver Warfare, points out that Boyd’s OODA Loop is highly relevant today. He observes that, “[Boyd] viewed both blitzkrieg and counterinsurgency through the same lens, aimed at the same objective–the adversary’s mind–and implemented with the same tenets of orientation, tempo, ambiguity, deception, and asymmetric application of strength against weakness.” (p. 192) Although LT60M is set in the 1980s, the design is both relevant and easily portable to the modern wargaming battlefield.
Looking at the larger picture, the OODA Loop is not only useful as a basis for the design of LT60M, but for professional wargaming as a whole. Matt Caffrey in his book On Wargaming includes the OODA Loop as one of the three theories or models that explain why wargames writ large work. Caffrey writes:
In time, Boyd realized the F-86’s more-experienced pilots, bubble canopy, and hydraulically boosted controls allowed its pilots to observe, orient, decide, and act (OODA) faster than their adversaries. That, not top speed, made all the difference. In time he realized that staying a move ahead of your adversaries was at least as important at the operational and strategic levels of war also. This lead to the gradual development of his “Discourse on Winning and Losing” (a presentation available on-line). This final theoretical work goes as much beyond his ‘OODA Loop” as Einstein’s general theory of relativity goes beyond E = mc2.
A fundamental reason why wargames “work” is that the side that makes more-effective use of them (all other things being equal) complete OODA loops more quickly than an adversary that does not use wargaming effectively or at all.
The synthetic experience derived from all types of wargames can create virtual veterans far faster than actual combat creates real ones–and at a fraction of the cost in lives, time, and treasure. (On Wargaming, 285-286)
Not a perfect game but once you Observe, Orient, Decide, & Act….
In order to accomplish all the above LT60M can turn fiddly. Units will be stacked with markers for posture and time and maybe more. The map hexes are sized a bit small and the many colors can be confusing (each hex has a Terrain Type and may have Terrain Features). But if you work your way through the fiddling you find a ‘game’ that really makes you think. For some ‘casual’ wargamers the challenges of Time, Posture,Orders, and Command Chain may not be exciting enough and the rules too fiddly. But for a professional wargamer, using the OODA Loop to frame a game design creates insights into the modern battlefield like few other designs deliver.
Less Than 60 Miles is not a perfect game, but it does a very good job of creating a playable version of the 1980s battlefield framed though the lens of the John Boyd’s Patterns of Conflict. I would very much like to see this design pulled forward into today, particularly in a Baltic scenario. I hope the game finds an audience not only with professional gamers, but with ‘casual’ wargamers as well.
(Unless otherwise noted, annotations are shamelessly stolen from Matt Caffrey in his book On Wargaming)
Brown, Ian T. A New Conception of War: John Boyd, the U.S. Marines, and Maneuver Warfare. Quantico, VA: Marine Corps University Press, 2018. (Download for free online)
Caffrey Jr, Matthew B. On Wargaming: How Wargames Have Shaped History and How They May Shape the Future (Newport Paper; no. 43). Newport, RI: Naval War College Press, 2019. (Download for free online)
Dunnigan, James. Wargames Handbook, Third Edition: How to Play and Design Commercial and Professional Wargames. Bloomington, IN: Writer’s Club Press, 2000. (Easy to read, all-around guide to wargame history, design, and application.)
Sabin, Phillip. Simulating War: Studying Conflict through Simulation Games. London: Continuum, 2012; repr London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014. (Though the book’s focus is designing and developing wargames as a way to understand a given conflict deeply, it is also the best contemporary book on wargame design.)
Shlapak, David A.; Michael W. Johnson. Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank: Wargaming the Defense of the Baltics. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2016. (Download for free online)
Wong, Yuna Huh; Sebastian Joon Bae, Elizabeth M. Bartels, Benjamin Smith. Next-Generation Wargaming for the U.S. Marine Corps. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2019. (Download for free online)
Although we didn’t go to all the same sessions, Major Tom Mouat (British Army) captures many important points of the recent CONNECTIONS 2019 professional wargame conference. Worthwhile reading for professional and hobby gamers alike.
One item in the AHEC collection is an Apparatus for Demonstrating Upton’s U.S. Infantry Tactics. Emory Upton was one of the most influential military thinkers to emerge from the American Civil War. During the war in addition to leading units from all three branches (infantry, artillery, and calvary) he also innovated new tactics:
However, Upton’s most significant contribution did not come until Grant’s Overland Campaign in May of 1864. Facing the firmly entrenched Army of Northern Virginia, Upton petitioned his superiors to lead a brigade against the enemy’s fortifications. The young colonel believed that swiftly advancing in a narrow, compact formation without halting to fire would greatly enhance the assault’s probability of success. Though this approach was contrary to the tactics then in use, his superiors trusted his judgment. On May 10, 1864, Upton led a small force against the “Mule Shoe” salient (now the “Bloody Angle”) at Spotsylvania Court House. Though Upton’s charge lacked sufficient support to be decisive, the initial success of his new tactic inspired Ulysses S. Grant to implement it in an assault two days later—this time with General Winfield S. Hancock‘s entire corps. Similar tactics would later be used against trenches in the First World War. This bravery and ingenuity earned Upton a much-anticipated promotion to brigadier general.
In 1867 Upton’s tactics were officially adopted by the U.S. Army and printed in a book titled “A New System of Infantry Tactics.” From 1870 to 1875 he also taught infantry, cavalry, and artillery tactics at West Point and served as Commandant of Cadets.
The wargaming connection is explained in this army.mil article:
In 1878, New York State National Guard Col. William H. Brownell patented an “Upton Tactics Set” to help with instruction. These miniature wooden blocks, some replete with small painted metal flags, simulated units and individual soldiers. They could readily be positioned on tables and in sandboxes to demonstrate the principles of Upton’s tactics. Very few actual Upton-Brownell Tactical Sets are known to exist today. One of them, however, is held by the Army Heritage and Education Center at Carlisle Barracks. After considerable conservation work by the AHEC professional staff and a graduate student volunteer, pieces of that set are now on display in the office reception area of the Commandant of the U.S. Army War College at Carlisle Barracks. Although they are a far cry from the computer simulations that our troops use to understand the tactics of battle today, they symbolize the Army’s ongoing efforts to learn from experience and to share those lessons throughout our Total Force.
I was fortunate enough to view the Upton-Brownell Tactical Set. Although no longer on display to this wargamer it was no-less inspiring. The AHEC staff admits they don’t know for sure what a fully operational set looks like.
I really want to thank AHEC for the wonderful opportunity to view the Tactical Set. When wargamers think of 19th Century wargames they tend to focus on Kriegspiel at the expense of everything else. It was good to see that wargames in the 1800’s was more than just that.
Feature image – End Results: the conserved tactics set pieces are shown here on display, in Root Hall, at the Army War College. (Conservation Department, USAHEC). (Photo Credit: AHEC, 2010)
I HAVE BEEN WARGAMING SINCE 1979 but I have to admit that the Eastern Front of World War II is not really my thing. I have a few Eastern Front wargames, but most of my historical games are actually naval or air combat. If I have a World War II land combat game it probably is the Western Desert or the Western Front. This is a bit surprising since my very first wargame ever was Jim Day’s Panzer (First Edition) from Yaquinto publishing in 1979.
To better prepare myself for the game I turned to my in-house library to do a bit of some research. My library was almost as bare as my game shelf! I had the 1978 printing of the 1956 Panzer Battles by Maj. Gen F.W.Von Mellenthin (1). I also had The Battle of the Tanks: Kursk, 1943 by Lloyd Clark (2). As luck would have it, I saw an advertisement for a brand new book by Christopher A . Lawrence of The Dupuy Institute titled The Battle of Prokhorovka: The Tank Battle at Kursk, the Largest Clash of Armor in History (3).
The battle of Prokhorovka was not the largest tank battle on a single day in history. It did not mark the death ride of Germany’s panzer forces, nor was it (as is also the case for Operation Citadel in general) a battle that potentially decided the fate of the entire war on the Eastern Front. Undoubtedly, though, it was a very significant engagement and, for the Soviet 5thGuards Tank Army, a disaster. The myths surrounding the battle largely stem from General Rotmistrov’s need to justify to Stalin his 5thGuards Tank Army’s heavy losses. Soviet armoured losses were indeed very severe while German armoured losses were negligible in the extreme. Thanks to excellent post-soviet era research by Niklas Zetterling & Anders Frankson, Karl-Heinz Frieser, Roman Töppeland, and Valeriy Zamulin amongst others (which are based on official reports, losses and testimonies) this is now beyond dispute.
For wargamers, the Battle of Prokharovka took place in such a small area it should also be easily gamable:
The chief protagonists of the Battle of Prokhorovka, the 5th Guards Tank Army’s 29th Tank Corps and 18th Tank Corps and the German SS Panzergrenadier Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, fought over a battlefront of no more than 3km between the river Psel and the Storozhevoye Woods.
Three kilometers in Panzer is only 30 hexes (100m/hex). A play area 30 hexes wide by maybe 60-90 hexes long could cover the entire battle!
Putting all this together, I figured I had a collection of good source material to study and get in the right mindset for playing games of Panzer or Storms of Steel. That is, until I really dug into the readings and discovered “the myth of Prokhorovka.” Getting to the “truth” is challenging and makes recreating the battle in wargames even more difficult.
The Myth of Prokhorovka
The World Almanac Book of World War II describes the Battle of Prokhorovka on 12 July 1943 this way:
In the Battle of Kursk the Fourth Panzer Army, led by the II SS Panzer Corps, makes one final effort in the direction of Prokhorovka but cannot break through the fresh Soviet forces. Army group South is now being threatened near Taganrog and Stalino, and in the north of the salient a Soviet counter-offensive begins toward Orel even as Kluge orders Model to withdraw some of his panzers to meet such a threat. At the end of the day Hitler orders that the battle be discontinued. The new Soviet attack involves troops of the West and Bryansk Fronts in two thrusts west from Novosil and the south between Kozelsk and Sukhinichi.
In this battle the Germans have conceded the strategic initiative to the Soviets for good. The shortage of manpower has compelled them to attack on a limited front and to commit almost all of their tank force to one effort. The Soviet losses in the battle so far have probably been greater than the German’s but they can afford it. The Luftwaffe losses have been severe and its dominance is now over. The Germans must also send troops to Italy but Hitler still forbids his Generals to make necessary withdrawals.
The World Almanac Book of World War II (New York: World Almanac Publications, 1981), 218.
You see, even today, 75 years after the battle, we actually don’t know that much. Von Mellenthin doesn’t even mention Prokhorovka; indeed, reading Panzer Battles one might even think there was little fighting at all on July 12, 1943. Overall, he definitely doesn’t see Kursk as any sort of glorious event:
By the evening of 14 July it was obvious that the time table of the German attack had been completely upset. At the very beginning of the offensive, the piercing of the forward Russian lines, deeply and heavily mined as they were, had proven much more difficult than we anticipated. The terrific Russian counterattacks, with masses of men and material ruthlessly thrown in, were also an unpleasant surprise. German casualties had not been light, while our tanks losses were staggering. The Panthers did not come up to expectations; they were easily set ablaze, the oil and gasoline feeding systems were inadequately protected, and the crews were insufficiently trained. Of the eighty Panthers available when the battle was joined only a few were left on 14 July. The S.S. Panzer Corps was no better off, while on the southern flank the Ninth Army had never penetrated more than seven miles and was now at a complete standstill. Fourth Panzer Army had indeed reached a depth of twelve miles, but there were another sixty miles to cover before we could join hands with Model.
Panzer Battles, 276-277.
Maybe more recent scholarship, like Lloyd Clark, would shed more light on the battle. The Battle of the Tanks is written at a much more tactical, even personal, level. It certainly portrays the huge scale of the battle:
In front of him were 294 fighting machines of the II SS Panzer Corps and 616 of his own tanks. On that day, just over half of Rotmistrov’s tanks were T-34s and most of the remainder were T-70s.
The Battle of the Tanks, 344.
Clark goes on to show how Soviet perceptions of German armor superiority drove their tactics:
Soviet tactics continued to emphasize the need to close with the enemy’s armor as quickly as possible for fear of the Germans’ powerful 88mm guns smashing them at long range. Rotmistrov was adamant that ‘successful struggle with [Tigers and Ferdinands] is possible only in circumstances of close-in combat”, and by exploiting the T-34’s greater maneuverability and by flanking fire against the [weaker] side armor of the Germans’ machines. Tigers were capable of disabling a T-34 at a range of over 4000 yards, but the Soviets seem to have massively overestimated the number that were available to Hausser. The reality was that II SS Panzer Corps had 15 – Totenkopf had 10, LAH had four and Das Reich just one. There were no Ferdinands or Panthers on the Prokhorovka battlefield.
The Battle of the Tanks, 346.
Clark points out that nobody can agree on the numbers of tanks destroyed:
The Soviets had suffered heavy losses in the successful attempt to defend Prokhorovka, and he [Vatutuin] still had to achieve his aim of forcing Hoth back and regaining lost territory. Stalin was particularly concerned at reports, subsequently proved erroneous, of the 5th Guards Tank Army losing around 650 tanks on that day for the total loss of a mere 17 German armored fighting vehicles.
The Clash of Tanks, 370-371.
Having started down this rabbit-hole of history, I asked myself, “So just how many tanks were destroyed? For that answer I turned first to Christopher Lawrence.
The Dupuy Institute approach
Christopher Lawrence is the President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute is best known for their Tactical, Numerical, Deterministic Model (TNDM):
The Tactical Numerical Deterministic Model (TNDM) is an empirically based combat model with a database derived from historical research. It was developed by Colonel Trevor N. Dupuy, (USA, Ret.), from his concept, the Quantified Judgement Method of Analysis (QJMA), as presented in his two books, Numbers, Predictions and War (1979) and Understanding War: History and Theory of Combat (1987). The QJMA has two elements:
1. Determination of quantified combat outcome trends based upon modern historical combat experience in more than 200 examples of 20th Century combat, mostly World War II and the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli Wars, and
2. Extrapolation of historical trends to contemporary and future combat on the basis of developments and changes in firepower and mobility technology.
In developing the TNDM as a refinement of an earlier model based upon the QJMA, Col. Dupuy had the collaborative assistance of Dr. James G. Taylor (noted author of works concerning modern Lanchester-type models) in developing a new differential equation attrition methodology based on historical data. By a mathematical process akin to that of the Lanchester Equations, the TNDM attrition methodology provides results consistent with those which occurred in historical engagements. By being historically based, the methodology is more scientifically justified than any methodology not consistent with historical experience.
What this means is that Christopher Lawrence’s The Battle of Prokharovka is data-heavy. The main battle is covered in “Chapter Nine: The Tank Fields at Prokhorovka, 12 July 1943.” Even then, Lawrence warns us that the data can be suspect:
The XLVIII Panzer Corps with its chief of Staff, Colonel von Mellenthin, having been an officer of the general staff, had good detailed records throughout its operations, including useful daily summaries of the action. The record-keeping of the SS Panzer Corps, on the other hand, suffered when the fighting got intense. While they kept good status reports, their daily reports of activity almost seemed to disappear when the fighting got toughest. As a result, on the day of greatest drama, the record keeping for one of the major players almost disappeared.
The Battle of Prokhorovka, 306.
What we can see is that the battle of 12 July 1943 near Prokhorovka was maybe the most interesting of the war, and ripe for wargaming. Lawrence describes (and editorializes about) the engagement this way:
Perhaps the strangest attack the Soviets conducted this day was done by the XVIII Tank Corps. This attack required the two leading Soviet tank brigades [each with about 40 tanks – half T-34 and half T-70] to move along the Psel River to the southwest. The 170th Tank Brigade ended up attacking the Oktyabrskii Sovkhoz, which constricted its attack area, effectively attacking uphill towards height 252.2. Meanwhile, the 181st Tank Brigade continued to push southwest down the Psel into the area between the two SS divisions. These attacks could also be fired upon by Totenkopf’s forces on the other side of the Psel. The attack was essentially through a shallow valley flanked by enemy forces. It was a scenario reminiscent of the famous British charge of the light brigade from the Crimean War, and with similar results.
The Battle of Prokhorovka, 315-316.
So what were the losses? According to Lawrence, the Soviet XVIII Tank Corps lost 45 T-34s, 25 T-70s, and 11 Churchills on 12 July. The XXIX Tank Corps, thrown into the fray in the same area later in the day lost 105 T-34s, 42 T-70s, 9 SU-122s, and 3 SU-76s (4). The defending Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler Division lost maybe 19 tanks (5).
Seeing is Believing
Ben Wheatley thinks he has the answer, and it’s the Luftwaffe:
However, by using previously neglected archival sources it has still been possible to make a significant research breakthrough and provide the first visual confirmation of the fate of the 5thGuards Tank Army’s 29th Tank Corps and 18th Tank Corps. Significantly the article includes the first published photographs of the notorious anti-tank ditch (in which the 29th Tank Corps’ 31st & 32nd Tank Brigades were largely destroyed) whilst still in German hands – masses of Soviet tank wrecks being clearly visible. For a battle which was wrapped in myth for so many years this is particularly important. Without this final visual evidence the above mentioned authors’ battle narratives, if not their statistical findings, was still open to debate. This is no longer the case.
Therefore the location of one of the most famous battles of the Second World War was able to be photographed by the Luftwaffe in a single shot. Specifically and importantly photographs are available from 14 and 16 July when the battlefield was still in German hands (the Germans chose to withdraw from the area on 17 July). The battlefield remained largely unaltered from 12 July. As a result these photographs depict the Soviet armoured disaster (the entire 5th Guards Tank Army lost around 235 fighting vehicles written off) with absolute clarity. The large number of destroyed Soviet tanks of the 29th Tank Corps visible in and around the anti-tank ditch is astonishing. There are also important photographs from 7 August, which although three weeks later, further highlight the scale of the Soviet disaster. Comparisons made between the July and the August photographs are highly revealing. Destroyed tanks visible in both July and August indicate that they were in all probability lost on 12 July. We know this as in the main attack sectors from 13 July, the Soviets went onto the defensive as a result of the extremely heavy losses they sustained the previous day. Equally the Germans, having recaptured their forward positions on 12 July, were content to await developments on their flanks before resuming the advance. These factors are of real importance. As a result the front lines of 16 July were virtually identical to those of 12 July. German tank losses were minuscule by comparison, with just five battle tanks ultimately being written off (including the four Pz IVs close to Hill 252.2). All other damaged tanks were located in secure firing positions (i.e. behind the line of the anti-tank ditch) and were recovered before 16 July and later repaired.
Based on photographic analysis, Wheatley believes the German losses were very slight:
As a direct consequence of the fighting on 12 July the Leibstandarte division lost just five tanks. No German tanks were reported as ‘write-off’s on the 12 July. However, five tanks that were left immobilized on the battlefield could not subsequently be recovered because of enemy fire; so the write-off figures had to be adjusted later. Four of the five tanks in question were Pz IVs belonging to Ribbentrop’s 6th Company, 1st SS Panzer Regiment, the other was the Tiger belonging to the panzer regiment’s heavy panzer company. No StuG assault guns or Marder tank destroyers were reported as being lost on 12 July.
Ben Wheatley (2019) A visual examination of the battle of Prokhorovka, Journal of Intelligence History, 18:2, 115-163, DOI: 10.1080/16161262.2019.1606545 (6)
Wheatley admits that Soviet losses are so numerous that he can’t rely on the photos alone and must rely on other research:
The Soviet losses are slightly harder to detail precisely but all reliable accounts of the battle indicate that well in excess of 200 Soviet tanks were written-off. Frieser using Russian archival material reaches the figure of around 235 vehicles as write-offs for 12 July….The Russian historian Valeriy Zamulin comes to the conclusion, that at least 207 of Rotmistrov’s fighting vehicles were ‘burned’ on that day. As the Germans had succeeded in pushing back the Soviet attacking forces to their starting positions, the battlefield was in the Germans hands. On the evening of 12 July, damaged Soviet tanks were totally destroyed by special squads. It was only on 17 July, when the II SS Panzer Korps was withdrawn from the front, that the approaching Soviet troops were able to see the extent of the debacle that had taken place. Thus, the first reliable report of losses also bears that date. It is a statement of fighting vehicles lost from 12 to 16 July, signed by the chief of staff of 5th Guards Tank Army, according to which the army had written off 222 T-34s. 89 T-70s, 12 Churchill Tanks and 11 assault guns for a total of 334 tanks and assault guns. However, almost all those losses must have occurred on 12 July, since immediately afterwards the hard-hit 5th Guards Tank Army was largely withdrawn and, as is also evident from the German reports, took hardly any further part in the fighting.
Ben Wheatley (2019)
Mr. Wheatley rightly gives himself praise for his work:
In conclusion, given our knowledge of the relative losses incurred by both sides and the locations of the tanks on the battlefield, it is clear that the photographic evidence contained in this article support Frieser’s description of the battle – i.e. that the Soviets suffered a major defeat and incurred vast numbers of written off tanks in the process. The location of the mass destruction of the 29th Tank Corps armour is clear to see with 32nd & 31st Tank Brigades demise in (or near to) the anti-tank ditch and 25th Tank Brigade’s defeat between the railway embankment, Stalinsk state farm and the Storozhevoye Woods also being clearly visible in the photographs provided. Regarding the halting of 18th Tank Corps – we can see from the photographs available to us that the Soviet attempt to outflank the Leibstandarte was also met with a major defeat. The demise of the 170th & 181st Tank Brigades is clearly highlighted behind the left flank of the anti-tank ditch and the 2nd SS Panzergrenadier Regiment’s position. The defeat of 181st Tank Brigade’s subsequent effort to advance up from the ribbon village of Andreyevka is also depicted. The fact that only four Tiger tanks repelled both of these armoured advances is testament to the tanks’ prowess at that stage of the war.
This article has therefore verified the demise of the majority of the attacking components of the 5th Guards Tank Army during the battle of Prokhorovka on 12 July 1943. As has been shown above, the level of detailed information now available to us means it is entirely possible that individual lost German tanks can be located on the battlefield photographs amongst the mass of Soviet tank losses. It is remarkable that the historiography of the battle has evolved so radically over the last 20–30 years from an era when it was believed the Germans had suffered a major war-defining defeat with the loss of as many as 400 tanks (including 70 Tigers), to one that recognizes (with respect) that a Soviet catastrophe took place and that this catastrophe can be visually verified. If the myth of Prokhorovka is still given any credence around the world then the photographs contained in this article will surely bring this myth to an end.
Ben Wheatley (2019)
On to Gaming Prokhorovka
As a wargamer, I can see few battles as interesting as Prokhorovka. The fact that four Tiger tanks held off two entire Soviet tank brigades is incredibly dramatic and certainly deserves a scenario. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the wealth of available scenarios is lacking.
Why are there so few scenarios? Is it that the “myth of Prokhorovka” scares designers away? Since everyone “knows” the battle was at first a crushing German defeat, then a Soviet disaster, does it get passed over because it “lacks excitement?” That’s too bad. Rarely do wargamers get a chance to portray a single battlefield and array a large set of forces. Nor do many games contain the high drama of four heavy tanks holding off two entire tank brigades. That’s a game!
(1) Von Mellenthin, Maj. Gen. F.W. Panzer Battles (New York: Ballantine, 1956), First Ballantine Books Edition, Fourth Printing, 1978.
(2) Clark, Lloyd. The Battle of the Tanks: Kursk, 1943 (New York: Grove Press, 2011).
(3) Lawrence, Christopher A. The Battle of Prokhorovka: The Tank Battle at Kursk, the Largest Clash of Armor in History (Guilford: Stackpole Books abridged edition 2019).
(4) ibid, 342.
(5) ibid, 346.
(6) Ben Wheatley (2019) A visual examination of the battle of Prokhorovka, Journal of Intelligence History, 18:2, 115-163, DOI: 10.1080/16161262.2019.1606545
Feature image from Wheatley, Figure 2. GX-3734-SK-61 16 July – Battlefield of 29th Tank Corps