Rocky Reads for #Wargame – The Battle of Arnhem: The Deadliest Airborne Operation of World War II by Antony Beevor (Viking, 2018)


A narrative focused on personal stories of hardship and suffering that accompanies war. This is a story of human tragedy more than a recounting of a military disaster.

A Bridge Too Far

When I was in high school in the 1980’s the video rental fad was full-bore. One of the movies I remember renting is A Bridge Too Far originally released in 1977 with an all-star cast. That movie, based on a book by Cornelius Ryan (who also did The Longest Day) formed my earliest “knowledge” of Operation Market-Garden. As a wargamer, I studied played other World War II airborne operations in games like Air Assault on Crete/Invasion of Malta 1942 (Avalon Hill, 1977) but in all my forty years I’ve never looked at Market-Garden. That is, until I found Antony Beevor’s The Battle of Arnhem: The Deadliest Airborne Operation of World War II (Viking, 2018) in a bargain books store.

Narrate Me a Story

The Battle of Arnhem is written in a very narrative style that Beevor is famous for. For the historian in me this style of book is a bit challenging because I want to see the sources. Putting that aside, I found the early chapters of the book that concern the planning for the operation deeply disturbing. The incredible combination of intelligence failure, group-think and personal hubris that came together is astounding and Beevor shows it all.

The battle scenes in The Battle of Arnhem are also intensely personal. This is another Beevor-like trademark; he digs into the very personal side of a conflict and shows it to you, warts and all. Sometimes it is hard to remember that the Battle of Arnhem is talking about a huge multi-divisional operation as it focuses on some very small, personal moments.

The Battle of Arnhem also gives us the perspective of the Germans and especially the Dutch – both civilians and the Resistance. This latter is a perspective I was not very cognizant of and welcomed reading about here.

At the end of the day, The Battle of Arnhem is more a collection of human-suffering stories than a strict military history. Beevor seemingly lets his early criticism of Field Marshal Montgomery also be his conclusion. It’s hard to tell because this book, which starts out talking about the battle, ends by only talking about the people. Those stories are important to hear, but if you are looking for a book on the history of Operation Market-Garden then you need to look elsewhere.

Wargame Application

In anticipation of reading The Battle of Arnhem, I picked up a copy of Mark Simontitch’s Holland ’44: Operation Market Garden, September 1944 (GMT Games, 2017). I laid out the map while reading the book and eventually set up the game. This was very helpful as the maps in The Battle of Arnhem book are actually not very useful.

As far as playing the game and reading the book I see two possible approaches. You can try to play “pure” as in play before reading to avoid introducing any bias into your decisions from the book. Or you might want to read the early chapters and then play out the operation, followed by reading how the actual battle went and comparing your results to history. A word of warning here; the intensely personal focus of so many parts of The Battle of Arnhem is in some ways mismatched with Holland ’44 which is an operational-level wargame with a focus around the battalion-level. There is also no real Dutch Resistance portrayed in Holland ’44.


Beevor, Antony, The Battle of Arnhem: The Deadliest Airborne Operation of World War II, New York: Viking, 2018.

#RockyReads for #Wargame – War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, 2017)


War by Numbers is a book on modeling warfare. It is a summary of the work of The Dupuy Institute (TDI) and a call out to the wild that their studies of large-scale, conventional, attritional warfare is still relevant even in the age of “Small Wars.”


If you’ve been playing wargames as long as I have then you are undoubtably familiar with a Combat Results Table (CRT). You are also likely familiar with the classic 3:1 combat odds wherein if, as the attacker, you want to guarantee success in combat you always attack with odds of 3:1 or better.

Combat Results Table in Battle for Moscow (C3i Magazine Nr. 25) [Free download]

Where did this CRT come from? Well, you can thank an ORSA.

ORSA Defined

Operations research (also called operational research) began in World War II but really picked up steam in the 1960s under then-Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. He wanted to use systems analysis to make Pentagon decisions on force requirements, weapons systems, etc. This work built upon computerized combat models that had been introduced in the early 1950’s. The need for hard data to build the combat models upon yielded the need for somebody to collect this data. This is where Trevor Dupuy got started, and why today we have an ORSA.

ORSA is the acronym for the scientific field “Operations Research/Systems Analysis,” but ORSA is what many an “ORSA Analyst” simply call themselves. Here is how the US Army defines what an ORSA does:

ORSAs use analytical methods and mathematically based procedures to enable leadership decisions in a constantly changing global environment. [ORSAs] introduce quantitative and qualitative analysis to the military’s decision-making processes by developing an applying probability models, statistical inference, optimization, and economic models.


ORSAs integrate military knowledge and experience with the scientific and managerial fields. They serve as subject matter experts in designing forces, allocating resources, analyzing effects, performing course of action and trade off analysis, and they effectively communicate potential solutions to complex problems to decision makers.

The Deployed Analyst Handbook, CAA-2015094, p. 1-2

Wargamers, especially those engaged in professional wargaming through the design of analytic wargames, certainly sound like ORSAs. I’m sure there are ORSA who are wargamers. Don’t be fooled, however, for ORSAs thrive on building qualitative analysis on the back of a huge body of quantitative analysis. That quantitative analysis is the focus of War by Numbers.

War By the Numbers

War by Numbers is a look at historical conventional combat using the work of Trevor Dupuy (Col. USA (Ret.)) and The Dupuy Institute (TDI). The book showcases TDI’s quantitative analytical efforts by attempting to tie that work to a comprehensive theory of war. Although you will find studies on Force Ratio here that statistically bear out the 3:1 attacker-victorious thinking, the deeper studies look at what Dupuy termed “Human Factors” and how they contribute to the ultimate goal of a combat model; casualty estimation:

What are human factors? Trevor Dupuy listed them as morale, training, experience, leadership, motivation, cohesion, intelligence (including interpretation), momentum, initiative, doctrine, the effects of surprise, logistical systems, organizational habits, and even cultural differences. Human factors are hard to measure, and as such the analytical community often ignores them.

These factors, added together, made up what Dupuy called the combat effectiveness value (CEV). He could add this value to his combat model to try and represent the differences in relative performance of two opposing armies. For example, he used a force multiplier of 1.2 for instances when the German army faced the US Army in World War II in 1943-44. This indicated the German army (which, when lowercased here, indicates a combination of forces and not only the German Army proper) was 20 percent more effective, given that all other factors were equal. For the Eastern Front in World War II, we have tended to use a combat force multiplier of 3.0 to represent the difference between the German army and the Soviet Army in 1943. This is the same combat force multiplier Dupuy used to represent the differences between the Israeli Army in 1967 and 1973 and the various armies opposing it.

For any student of military history, to state that human factors are really important in warfare is stating the obvious. It is what enables attackers to win when outnumbered. It is what allowed the German army in 1943 to succeed in attacks at or greater than 1.91 to 1 while the Soviet Army still failed 44 percent of the time at those odds.

War by Numbers, p. 17

War by Numbers also takes a look at combat models by providing a historical overview and a bit of a deeper dive into TDI’s own QJM (Quantifiable Judgement Model) and TNDM (Tactical Numerical Deterministic Model).

Wargame Applications

War by Numbers is useful to wargamers, both professional and hobby, to better understand models of warfare, and especially to gain a better understanding of the mathematical foundations of combat adjudication models. Beware though, some designers might try to use the Dupuy’s TNDM, or what they see as the outputs of TNDM, as combat results. without fully understanding all the factors that go into the model. Further, there is a danger here in that too much dependence on the combat models advocated by TDI could push your wargames into the Modeling & Simulation arena. At the end of day what do you want to play, a simulation or a war game?


Lawrence, Christopher A., War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat, Lincoln: Potomac Books, 2017