#Wargame Wednesday – Don’t count it unless you can see it: Studying then gaming The Battle of Prokhorovka using @academygames & @gmtgames

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.

Today in 2019 I still like Panzer, and especially love the GMT Games Second Edition even more. A few years back I picked up another Eastern Front game, Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear, Operation Barbarossa 1941 (Academy Games, 2012) and fell in love with that game. So much so that I ordered the new Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel – Kursk 1943 3rd Edition (forthcoming in 2019).

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).

Best of all, Ben Wheatley, former of the Defence Studies Department at King’s College London, published his new research in the the April 2019 Volume 18, Issue 2 of the Journal of Intelligence History. His study, “A visual examination of the battle of Prokhorovka,” looks at the battle using Luftwaffe reconnaissance photos. Mr. Wheatley describe Prokhorovka as:

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.

In Pursuit of Prokhorovka, defenceindepth.co, accessed 08 June 2019

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. 

In Pursuit of Prokhorovka, defenceindepth.co, accessed 08 June 2019

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.

http://www.dupuyinstitute.org/tndm.htm, accessed 08 Jun 2019

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.

In Pursuit of Prokhorovka, defenceindepth.co, accessed 08 June 2019

He goes on to claim:

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.

In Pursuit of Prokhorovka, defenceindepth.co, accessed 08 June 2019

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 Figure 25. GX-3942-SD-124 7 August – Close up image of the knocked out Pz IV – L48 barrel can be seen facing enemy to its left.

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.

Interestingly, there is only one published scenario in Panzer (2nd Edition) for the Battle of Prokhorovka. Appearing in Panzer Expansion #1: The Shape of Battle on the Eastern Front is “Scenario 16 – The Southern Exposure – Kursk, 12 July 1943.” I cannot rectify the units listed in the scenario to reality so I think the scenario is “representative” of the history vice being strictly historical. In the first edition Firefight Book of Storms of Steel is “Firefight 12 – Rotmistrov’s Red Dawn” which is the right day but wrong area of the battle. I anxiously await the new edition to see if there is a better scenario included.

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

#Boardgame to #Wargame – or – Professional training with Catan (@catan, 1995)

YOU CAN’T TEACH AN OLD DOG NEW TRICKS is the saying. Or an old game. As I continue my 2019 challenge series one of the next games up is Catan (1995). This game won the Origins Award in 1996 for “Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Board Game.”


I mean, Catan is a decent game. It is most famous not for the game but what the game represents; the true arrival of Eurogames in North America. It was a genre-making product. The RockyMountainNavy family occasionally plays Catan; we still pull it out as a gateway game for new gamers (especially younger gamers) but it mostly goes unplayed as our tastes have changed over the years.

Since Catan is so famous it is inevitable that players will tinker with the design. Catan has doubtlessly inspired many other games directly and indirectly. Interestingly, players not only look at what other games Catan inspires, but also at the game thesis behind Catan and look for other applications.

A “professional” example is found at The Wavell Room. The article is “The ‘Settlers of Catan’ as a Model for Post-Conflict Development.” Here the authors explore using Catan to focus on restarting of industrial production, developing infrastructure, investing in innovation, and planning for insurgency. As the authors point out:

The victorious player in Catan is the one who successfully balances these four priorities to the best effect throughout the game. There will be significant debate to be had between the best strategies for both initial stability and also long-term development. Resolving the interface between these strategies will enable a player to tie together a coherent plan through the short, medium and long term. This will prove to be excellent training for the more challenging task of doing so in a real life situation.

Professional wargamers in policy or defense fields should take note. Even “old dog” games an be used for training. It might take a bit of imagination to make the connection but once there you can’t unsee it.

Perfect excuse to take Catan to the office; it’s professional education! Think the boss will buy it?

Feature image BoardGameGeek. Caption was “Conqueror” – how fitting….

#Wargame #OSINT – 2019 China Military Power Report & Reuter’s Special Reports on China

OSINT – Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) is data collected from publicly available sources to be used in an intelligence context. In the intelligence community, the term “open” refers to publicly available sources. It is not related to open-source software or public intelligence. (Wikipedia)

EVEN in these days of the internet, wargamers can still benefit from official government publications. For wargamers of the Cold War, the Defense Intelligence Agency Military Power series was amongst the first, and arguable the best, publicly released unclassified intelligence on the threat.

DIA still publishes their Military Power series, but the Department of Defense is directed by Congress to also submit an annual report to Congress. The Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Concerning the People’s Republic of China 2019 was publicly released on 02 May. To accompany the release the Department also held a press conference (transcript here) to discuss the document.

As useful as the DoD document is for wargamers, I also direct your attention to a series of Reuter’s interactive Special Reports on China that wargamers may also find insightful:

All the Reuter’s reports are done with very nice interactive graphics; lots of good information to draw upon for a modern wargame in Asia.

Feature image Defense Intelligence Agency

Personal Moments – Last EA-6B Prowler Flight

I hate to admit it, but I am getting old. Another reminder literally flew past me the other day. The last EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare aircraft for the US Navy and US Marine Corps was transferred to the National Air & Space Museum in Dulles, VA this week.

I went to war in Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron (VAQ) 137 “Rooks” aboard USS America/CV-66 in 1991 during Operation DESERT STORM. It was my first assignment in the Navy. It was my first deployment. It was my first war. The squadron flew many combat missions from the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf. Best of all, we all came home.


Feature image EA-6B from VAQ-137 Rooks in 1991.

#ThreatTuesday – #Wargame Library: 2019 China Military Power Report from @DefenseIntel

This past week, the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) publicly released the 2019 edition of it’s China Military Power Report. With a subtitle of “Modernizing a Force to Fight and Win,” this report compliments the Pentagons’s Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China in 2018 released in August. I previously wrote how the Annual Report is a useful tool for wargamers; the new China Military Power Report is probably even more useful for game designers looking to portray the Chinese military in a modern wargame. The chapter Core Chinese Military Capabilities and the various appendixes give a useful broad outline of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

Flying under the radar is a second report recently published by the US Department of Defense. Assessment on U.S. Defense Implications of China’s Expanding Global Access is a supplement to the August Annual Report. For wargamers long focused on scenarios across the Taiwan Strait or in the South China Sea, there is more to think about:

China’s expanding global activities in some of the areas listed above present military force posture, access, training, and logistics implications for the United States and China. The PLA’s first overseas military base in Djibouti and probable follow-on bases will increase China’s ability to deter use of conventional military force, sustain operations abroad, and hold strategic economic corridors at risk. The PLA’s expanding global capabilities provide military options to observe or complicate adversary activities in the event of a conflict. (p. 4)

The Annual Report, the new Assessment, and Military Power Report are good for the broad strokes and a top-level view of few key platforms but a naval wargamer (like me) looking for more tactical depth will find the publications wanting. In 2015 the US Navy Office of Naval Intelligence published The PLA Navy: New Capabilities and Missions for the 21st Century which shows many ships but unfortunately lacks individual ship details. Oh, but do note the two other products available from ONI, Iranian Naval Forces: A Tale of Two Navies and The Russian Navy: A Historic Transition.

For a wargamer, this abundance of “official” open source information is a real boon for designing your own games or scenarios. Now if we could only get similar items for US forces. I note that the last Naval Institute Guide to Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet was published in 1993!

Feature image  – Type 055 Renhai-class guided missile destroyer from Chinese internet via thediplomat.com

#ThreatTuesday – #Wargame update needed in South China Sea: Modern Naval Conflict in the South Pacific (@compassgamesllc, 2017)

The Chinese militarization of the South China Sea was certainly a lively topic for milbloggers and the OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) community online in 2018. One item that caught my attention because it feeds into modern wargame scenarios was the deployment of the YJ-12 anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM) to several of locations in the South China Sea. As first reported in May 2018:

China has installed anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems on three outposts in the South China Sea according to several media outlets (the first one being U.S. news network CNBC), citing U.S. intelligence sources.

According to the reports, the land-based anti-ship cruise missile is the YJ-12B with a range of 295 nautical miles (545 Km). The HQ-9B is a surface-to-air missile that can engage aircraft out to a distance of 160 nautical miles (300 Km). Note that these range figures may be over estimated (more details below). The missiles are on Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef and Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands. The missiles were moved to the outposts within the past 30 days. China has also deployed jamming equipment to the islands. (navyrecognition.com)

The same site added a link to this handy tweet, complete with a map of coverage (the YJ-12 is in RED):

Updating South China Sea from Compass Games is the first game that comes to mind. I think the YJ-12 already appears in the game but is very limited in where it deploys. Adding a few more; well, that would be a real THREAT.


Take a look at the Admiralty Trilogy Games and their product on China’s Maritime Forces. At the rate the Chinese seem to be building ships I don’t know it its the most updated product available but it is available…as a pdf download for $50!

Feature image courtesy navyrecognition.com.

#Wargame Professional – Fighting Next War (@gmtgames) using Army Multi-Domain Operations

In Next War: Poland from GMT Games (2017) the players are challenged to fight a a near-future conflict in Eastern Europe. It asks,

GMT Games

Can you, as the Russian player, enforce your will on the West and regain your former status in world affairs? Or will you, as SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) successfully use the assets at your disposal to blunt the Russian attack and save Poland?

In December 2018, the US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) publicly released their new warfare concept, Army Multi-Domain Operations in 2028The pamphlet…

…describes how the Army contributes to the Joint Force’s principal task as defined in the unclassified Summary of the National Defense Strategy: deter and defeat Chinese and Russian aggression in both competition and conflict. The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations concept proposes detailed solutions to the specific problems posed by the militaries of post-industrial, information-based states like China and Russia. Although this concept focuses on China and Russia, the ideas also apply to other threats. (p. vi)

The Boogeymen in this document is the Bear and Dragon:

The Chinese and Russian militaries are powerful, but they also have vulnerabilities that MDO seek to exploit. Both China and Russia are fielding mutually supporting systems designed to be effective against the well-understood patterns, posture, and capabilities of the current Joint Force. Altering Joint Force operational patterns and force posture will mitigate existing capacity and capability gaps and create opportunities to exploit Chinese and Russian operational shortfalls. The militaries of China and Russia have and will continue to have finite capacity of critical capabilities. The Joint Force’s demonstrated capability to destroy or defeat these critical capabilities would prevent China and Russia from accomplishing objectives in competition, succeeding in armed conflict, or effectively transitioning to consolidation operations. (p. 15)

As a wargamer, either a player or designer, there is alot of fodder within. Although I am sure many veteran players of Next War will think they know how to do better, an interesting challenge is to try and use Army Multi-Domain Operations (MNO) in the game. This might necessitate a few house rules or tweaks to adjust the game engine to support the concept of Penetrate, dis-integrate, and exploit.

Penetrate, dis-integrate, and exploit. In the event of armed conflict, Army forward presence and expeditionary forces enable the rapid defeat of aggression through a combination of calibrated force posture, multi-domain formations, and convergence to immediately contest an enemy attack in depth. Army long-range fires converge with joint multi-domain capabilities to penetrate and dis-integrate enemy anti-access and area denial systems to enable Joint Force freedom of strategic and operational maneuver. Within the theater, Army forces converge capabilities to optimize the employment of capabilities from across multiple domains against critical components of the enemy’s anti-access and area denial systems, specifically long-range air defense and fires systems. Convergence against the enemy’s long-range systems enables the initial penetration. This sets the conditions for a quick transition to joint air-ground operations in which maneuver enables strike and strike enables maneuver. MDO in the Close and Deep Areas combine fires, maneuver, and deception to dislocate the enemy defense by physically, virtually, and cognitively isolating its subordinate elements, thereby allowing friendly forces to achieve local superiority and favorable force ratios. Army forces, having penetrated and begun the dis-integration of the enemy’s anti-access and area denial systems, exploit vulnerable enemy units and systems to defeat enemy forces and achieve friendly campaign objectives. As part of the Joint Force, Army forces rapidly achieve given strategic objectives (win) and consolidate gains. (p. 25)

I am sure there have been many wargames using this concept, probably in classified settings. Publicly, we have seen the RAND study of wargaming the defense of the Baltics. But you don’t need a clearance to take a wargame, some warfare concepts, and mix the two together. Just call it “professional fun.”

Feature image courtesy army.mil

Thoughts on commercial wargames in RAND report “Will to Fight”

IMG_0056Will to Fight: Analyzing, Modeling, and Simulating the Will to Fight of Military Units. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2018.

Will to Fight is a 2018 RAND Corporation study undertaken on behalf of the US Army G3/5/7 “to explain the will to fight at the unit level and develop a model designed to support assessment of partner forces and analysis of adversary forces” (iii). Within the report, the authors offer a model of Tactical-Operational Will to Fight. Of particular interest to me, as both a hobbyist and part-time professional wargamer, is the report’s use of commercial wargames. Reading these sorts of studies is always interesting because I get to see how others, often outsiders, view the wargaming hobby. In the case of Will to Fight, the view is definitely mixed with some good for the hobby…and some continued (negative?) stereotyping.

Here is how the authors describe war games (note the use of two words):

War games and simulations are approximations of combat intended to help people think about the nature of war, to help people understand complex military problems without actually fighting, to reduce uncertainty in decision making, and to forecast and analyze notional combat outcomes. War games are played between people, usually across a table, and usually across a flat two-dimensional map. Some war games use three-dimensional terrain and figures to represent soldiers and vehicles. (p. 113)

The study defines simulations as, “computer representations of combat” (p. 113). The footnote to this section makes mention of other types of games, specifically matrix games and card games.

On the positive side, the study makes the point that commercial tabletop games and computer simulations are “generally more effective at representing will to fight, but focus varies” (p. 126). This conclusion is based in great part on a nonrandom sample of 62 commercial products and military games and simulations drawn from a pool of 75 products (p. 126). The study broke this sample into four categories (p. 127-130)

  1. Commercial tabletop games using hexagon maps or model terrain, counters, or figures
  2. Commercial simulation, or computer games from platoon level to the battalion level
  3. US military tabletop games typically using hexagon maps and counters
  4. US military simulation from the squad level to the corps level

As much as I want to commend the authors for taking the time to actually learn about commercial wargames, I also feel they missed an opportunity to experience many great wargames that are out there. By narrowly defining commercial wargames as only “hex map” (hex & counter) or “tabletop” (miniatures) they actually exclude many great games that could help their research. Further, the study group actually reveals a bias against many of these games with comments like this footnote talking about Advanced Squad Leader:

Some commercial game players would argue that rules are always fixed. For example, many hard-core players of the game Advanced Squad Leader would never consider bending a rule to speed game play or to account for an unusual situation. Official military tabletop gaming tends to allow for greater flexibility to account for the messy realities of combat to ensure the purpose of the games not lost at the expense of hidebound conformity (footnote 4, p. 113)

There are other little examples, like the seemingly off-hand comments such as, “Complex commercial tabletop war games like Lock ‘n Load Tactical Modern Core Rules 4.1” (p. 130) that show a belief that commercial tabletop wargames are by nature complex. As an long time grognard, I understand I have a different definition of complexity but have to wonder just how much of the study typing is based on “wall-o-text” reading versus actually playing a game.

Looking a bit closer at the commercial tabletop war games chosen for study shows a mix of old and new games and a variety of designers and publishers. Taking games typed as “Hex map” only from Table 3.5 War Games and Simulations Assessed and Coded (p. 128-129) we find:

This is the point where I am supposed to say that there are better, more representative games out there that could be used for this study. I personally missed my favorite Conflict of Heroes series or Panzer / MBT. I am sure there are many games that could of been used. I can only wonder if this “nonrandom sample” is actually someones game collection (and if it is, it’s a great collection…just not mine!).

All that said, the study reports that commercial games are better than military games at depicting will to fight. The authors define this advantage using a near-formula expression:

  1. Will to fight (not) relevant to combat outcomes + will to fight (not) relevant to victory conditions + game or simulation type – US military simulation
  2. Culture affects will to fight (yes) + training affects will to fight (yes) + veterancy affects will to fight (yes) + cohesion affects will to fight (yes + game or simulation type – commercial (p. 130)

I found it disheartening to read the contention that “none of the military war games or simulations…gave priority to will to fight as the most or even one of the most important factors in war” (p. 133). Indeed, military war games and simulations are, in the words of National Defense analyst Michael Peck in 2003, “firepower-fetish attrition models that award victory to whoever has the biggest guns, rather than giving equal weight to soft factors such as morale, fatigue, and cohesion” (p. 133).

So it looks like military war games need to take their cue from the commercial sector. The strongest accolades are given to a tabletop (miniatures) game, GHQ’s WWII Micro Squad rules:

…GHQ’s WWII Micro Squad, place will to fight at the center of the game. GHQ created a cohesion system that rolls together leadership, morale, and other aspects of will to fight. This meta-cohesion system applies at each tactical fight, and it clearly influences the outcome of the game. WWII Micro Squad and a handful of other tabletop games represent the kind of aggressive adoption of will-to-fight modeling that might help make military simulation more realistic (p. 130)

Wargame designers may benefit from the Will-to-Fight Model (p. xx) presented in this study. It certainly provides a different way of looking at those factors that affect a soldier on the battlefield.

My own reaction to the study is mixed; I like the model but shake my head ruefully at the games selected for study. If nothing else, maybe Will to Fight will give another generation of wargame designers and publishers a chance to assist the military and create a better war fighting force. I can only wonder what designers and publishers like Mark Herman or Uwe Eickert or Volko Ruhnke, or even small start-up companies like Covert Intervention Games think as all in the past or presently support government or military gaming.

Random Gaming Thoughts (Good & Bad) on the First Weekend in May 2018

Sort of a hodgepodge post today. More a collection of random gaming (and beyond) thoughts than anything in particular.

Travel Gaming – Took along several solo games to play while on the road this week. Only got to play one – Merrill’s Marauders: Commandos in Burma 1943-1944 (Decision Games, 2016).

RPG Gaming – Gypsy Knight Games had their May the Fourth Sale going on so I picked up the new Manhunters: Bounty Hunters in the Clement Sector (2018). This has a very Classic Traveller RPG and Firefly-like vibe to it. I also picked up Uranium Fever: Asteroid Mining Rules for the Cepheus Engine (Stellagama Publishing, 2018). I really need to get back into RPGs. I am still awaiting my now-delayed Cortex Prime: A Multi-Genre Roleplaying Game by Cam Banks from Kickstarter. As much as I like Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars: Edge of the Empire RPG I probably should pick up the “generic” Genesys RPG.

Speaking of Star Wars – I hear that FFG is going to be publishing X-Wing Second Edition. This one will be app-enabled.

I think I’ll wait for Ares Games and their Battlestar Galactica version instead.

Speaking of Kickstarter – In April I backed No Motherland Without, a 2-player card game about North Korea since 1953. It really looked interesting. I had really high hopes. It was cancelled – for all the right reasons I am sure. I hope they come back and try again, maybe with a stronger publicity campaign. Personally I watched The Players Aid review and was sold:

Veterans in The Expanse (very mild spoilers for S3E4) – I like The Expanse TV series but one line got me going last week. Alex states he has done his time and is an honorably discharged veteran. His implication is that he is special. As an honorably discharged veteran myself I resent this attitude. Unfortunately, I see it everyday – too many veterans who believe that since they served they have a special privilege above “mere” civilians. They grouse when a place does not offer a veterans discount or the like. Being a veteran does not make you a special citizen. This is not the world of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (the book, not the horrible movie) where only veterans are citizens. Veterans get many privileges; be humble not an entitlement baby!

Visions of VERA (C-GVRA Lancaster Heavy Bomber) from Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum (@CWHM)

fullsizeoutput_5b5Flying over the house today was C-GVRA “Vera,” a Lancaster Heavy Bomber belonging to the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum. The plane is in town for the Great British Fly-In celebrating the 100th Anniversary Celebration of the Royal Air Force at the Smithsonian Udvar-Hazy Center on Sunday, April 15.

The weather forecast for Sunday is not good so the organizers decided to fly the airplanes in Saturday. I was thinking about going with the RockyMountainNavy Boys to the events but may not; fighting crowds inside will be bad enough and with thunderstorms forecast going out to the flightline to see the airplanes up close may not be an option. In some ways we don’t have to go because we saw Vera today the way she’s supposed to be seen, in flight. Oh yeah, we got to hear Vera too. I have never before heard the sound of four Merlin engines purring along, and it will be a long time before that sound will be forgotten.

The RMN Boys were outside and lucky enough to see and hear Vera as she flew almost directly overhead. Some neighbor boys were stunned; both by the airplane and by the casual way the Youngest RMN Boy explained what it was. In some ways that was the best part – both RMN Boys were absolutely excited to see this piece of flying history. They understand what Vera is and what she represents; the heroic actions of so many in World War II.

It is one thing to see a plane on the ground but so much more to see it in flight. Thanks to the CWHM we enjoyed a great show from Vera today.