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"Hcon 18: Al Nofi Lecture - Wargames by Military 1898-1973" Topic

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Russ Lockwood25 Jul 2018 9:14 a.m. PST

I copied and pasted my H'con 2018 report from my AAR (a PDF) here. No photos, just the text about games I umpired and played in, observations, and other items of interest. The full PDF ran to 23 pages, so I split it up depending on the topic. This is a recap of Al Nofi's lecture about military-run wargames 1898-1973. --RL

Al Nofi, he of wargaming company SPI back in the 1970s and 80s, gave a number of lectures at the show. I attended his first one called Curiosities of Wargaming. When he said wargaming, he meant military wargames and staff rides, not our tabletop versions.

He started with Major General Redver Buller at the British Army Maneuvers in 1898, where Buller lost every battle as the 'invading corps commander' and was then promoted to Lt. Gen and sent to South Africa to fight the Boers, where he lost every battle and retired as a full general.

Next up was the pre-WWI Russian wargame that showed the 1st Army and 2nd Army could not jump off at the same time and meet up as planned, so the recommendation of the Russian staff was to delay the march of the nearer army by 6 days to allow the farther army time to move up. Alas, such advice was ignored and the result was Tannenberg.

By the way, the Russian staff work was quite good, but Russian noblemen who ran the higher echelons of the military did not take staff courses and the non-noblemen who did could not rise high enough to implement any learning.

WWI Schlieffen Plan: Italians in France

Pity poor von Schlieffen: His plan gets all the blame for the German failure to knock out France in WWI. According to Nofi, and you have to remember that Italy, Germany, and Austria-Hungary were supposed to be allies, von Schlieffen's plan envisioned 10 Italian divisions to show up and cover the German left flank. When Italy pulled out from the alliance and declared neutrality at the beginning of WWI, those 10 divisions had to come from somewhere, which is why the big right hook missed having 10 German divisions to the detriment of the attack.

The Germans under von Schlieffen ran a variety of scenarios for their wargames, the oddest being that the Netherlands allied with Germany. They didn't wargame the idea that the French had interior lines, the use of an extensive railroad system, or that the French would do something with the 100,000 troops in the 'Camp of Paris' (75 forts and 490 square miles -- an area 30% larger than New York City). One low-ranking German officer, in charge of the Camp of Paris during one wargame, did send out some forces to harass the victorious German army as it swung around Paris, but that was it. On September 5, 1914, the French attacked using the troops in the Camp with success, or at least enough success to give the Germans a bloody nose.

On the plus side of putting wargaming lessons into practice, von Moltke, von Schlieffen's successor, held a wargame in 1906 that found German forces on the right wing running out of ammo and provisions due to the distance from the railheads. This led to von Moltke to create motorized supply columns to keep up with the troops.

On the Allied side, Sir Henry Wilson, as Chief of the Imperial General Staff, puttered around the front in January 1918 and thought that the Germans might use a million troops transferred from Russia in an attack. He wargamed a German attack of 100 divisions that hit the seam between the British and French troops near the Somme, resulting in a breakthrough and the capture of several Channel ports.

Wilson suggested Field Marshall Haig shift some troops, but Haig did not. The real German attack in March 1918 hit about the same area and almost duplicated the wargame.

Lessons from US Navy Fleet Problems

Nofi started with an anecdote. In the 1920s, the BB USS Arizona was anchored at 125th street. Her sailors met a hooker who wanted to go to Hollywood and be a star, but needed a way to get there. No problem, the sailors smuggled her onboard, the ship sailed, participated in gunnery exercises in the Caribbean Sea off Puerto Rico, and then the ship headed for the Panama Canal. Alas, the hooker was found at the entrance of the Canal and removed from the ship. He didn't tell of her fate.

Keep this in mind as US Navy Fleet Problem 1 postulated the Japanese Navy running rampant in the Pacific Ocean and the US Navy in the Atlantic Ocean had to go through the canal to get into the Pacific. The problem was to get the fleet through and consider what steps Japan would do to stop it.

Apparently, sailors knew that if they missed their ship when it sailed from Panama through the Canal, they could 'catch' the ship at a lock, sliding down to the deck when the deck was fairly even with the top of the lock.

So, an enterprising officer sent an Ensign, cosplaying a saboteur while disguised as a regular sailor, complete with sea bag, to slide onto the deck. He changed back into his uniform and walked down to a magazine and knocked. The Petty Officer opened up the magazine and let our intrepid Ensign in, whereupon the Ensign presented the PO with a letter that essentially said "Honey, I just blew up the ship" -- and presumably took the lock with it.

The Admiral on the Arizona was furious, locked up the Ensign, and wouldn't let him out until a direct intervention by superior officers ordered the release.

In Fleet Problem 20, a 1939 wargame in the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean to test radar on the USS Texas and USS New York, the radar worked great. The Navy installed the sets on ships that fought in the Battle of Savo Island in 1942, where the radar didn't perform as well.

Why not? The 1938 radar operators were the scientific technicians who helped build and refine the radar while the 1942 operators were not as well trained or familiar with the sets -- especially to account for the effects of Savo and other islands.

The 1938 French and Ardennes

A 1938 French wargame tested the idea of the Germans coming through the Ardennes and found that it was simple to bottleneck the invaders. Thus came the quote that the Ardennes was impenetrable to armored forces.

Nofi pointed out that the full quote is something to the effect that the Ardennes was impenetrable to armored forces if we put enough troops to defend the area.

In the wargame, the French had two divisions and the Germans drove through and crossed the Meuse River near Sedan. The conclusion: Add two more divisions.

In 1940, two divisions were defending and the Germans drove through and crossed the Meuse River near Sedan -- though it cost them 3/4 of tactical strength of the lead division. Imagine if the French had added the two divisions as the wargame suggested…

A Word of Caution

To generate ideas from wargaming requires honesty, a willingness to learn, and a carefully crafted scenario. The 'Midway' wargame, where the umpires ruled the Japanese Navy lost four carriers and were overruled so that two carriers were put back in the game, is an example of intellectual dishonesty.

A wargame is a tool for training, not predictive of actual results. Designing a wargame of any type means understanding the lessons is as important as the game outcome itself. You have to keep thinking, "What about? What about?…" all the while investing in time to discover nuances in the battlefields (transportation difficulties), numbers, and other aspects (personalities of commanders). Designing a wargame can provide insight into a particular scenario. Like any tool, you have to act on a wargame outcome to affect a potential future war event.

Finally, war has no rules. Wargames do, but unexpected events occur -- think General Patton's maneuvers outside set boundaries during the Louisiana maneuvers. For our wargames, you start with a historical event and work backwards.

Sealion: Paddy Griffith

Nofi ended with an account of a 1970s wargame of Operation Sealion, a hypothetical 1940 invasion of Britain by the Germans, put on by Sandhurst lecturer Paddy Griffth. It included many ex-WWII commanders, including Adolf Galland (umpire), and used all available published documents.

The Germans landed 90,000 airborne and seaborne troops, but lost about 25% of their sea transport. Over the next 48 hours, as the German army pushed inland, the Navy lost most of their sea transport -- much on a 'feint' from Norway to land in Scotland that was intercepted. The Royal Navy had 126 cruisers and destroyers fit for defense and only lost eight ships sunk and nine severely damaged.

Land casualties were heavy on both sides. As the Germans started to run out of supplies by the fifth day, they started to pull back and do a Dunkirk of their own -- evacuating 15,400 troops of the 90,000+. A reserve Canadian division had not even been involved in combat. The participants agreed that the outcome was an accurate assessment and probable result of an actual German invasion in 1940.

Nofi noted that the participants had access to all published documents circa early 1970s -- but in the 1980s, the British released more documents related to the defensive measures taken in 1940. They proved to be more extensive than represented, including lots of sabotage teams. He believed the outcome could have been worse.

This was the last point Nofi made: wargames don't include all the data and variables, just what was known at the time.

Tom D125 Jul 2018 9:26 a.m. PST

I was fortunate enough to attend this lecture. Al Nofi is a very engaging speaker.

Russ Lockwood25 Jul 2018 9:48 a.m. PST

Sure was. After the lecture, after he autographed my dog-eared copy of Dirty Little Secrets of WWII, he handed me a paper copy of his presentation so I could doublecheck the numbers and so forth.

Mark 125 Jul 2018 10:12 a.m. PST

Thank you for taking the time to write-up and post this. Fascinating stuff!

(aka: Mk 1)

47Ronin25 Jul 2018 3:29 p.m. PST

Thanks for sharing, Russ.
Great report for those of us who missed the lecture.

Yankees Supporting Member of TMP25 Jul 2018 6:16 p.m. PST

Next time dunnigan will be there

Russ Lockwood25 Jul 2018 6:57 p.m. PST

>Next time dunnigan will be there

I had planned to get his autograph on the Dirty Little Secrets of WWII book (co-written with Nofi). I just finished re-reading it and it's still a great source of info.

Marc33594 Supporting Member of TMP26 Jul 2018 4:42 a.m. PST

I was really sorry, when I saw a number of the "old SPI gang" as speakers, I would not be able to attend. Thank you very much Russ for giving such a terrific summary of this lecture, makes me feel even worse about missing the show :)

holien26 Jul 2018 5:57 a.m. PST

Thanks for the write up, just too many great events / games at HCon to go to all, nice to read about what I missed and would have loved to have attended.

DaleWill Supporting Member of TMP26 Jul 2018 8:57 a.m. PST

The SPI gang talk was great. It was suppose to last from 8-9pm and went from 8-10:30pm! Someone taped the whole thing and hopefully it will be posted online. I did get them to autograph my copy of S&T with 'Fall of Rome'.

catavar26 Jul 2018 1:03 p.m. PST

Thanks for posting this. I found it very interesting.

Fred Cartwright26 Jul 2018 2:46 p.m. PST

Great stuff. Many years ago I read an account of a US exercise which was a carrier based attack on Pearl Harbour and demonstrated how effective it could be. Another of those interesting prewar Wargames which showed the way along with Fletcher Pratt's prediction of the outcome of the Battle of the River Plate. I would really like to find that article again, but have been unable to track it down.

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