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Subject: If military experts decided to create a hypothetical game about WWII in the 1930s… rss

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Pete Belli
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While reading a BGG discussion of hypothetical wargames from a couple of years ago this interesting comment from prolific Wargame Forum contributor TedW caught my attention:

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TedW wrote:
An interesting exercise would be to pretend the year is 1938 and you are designing a future game on WWII. What factors would you as a designer have foreseen?


The subject of hypothetical conflicts has always been fascinating. After conducting some “quickie” research in the BGG database and jotting down a couple of notes, I decided to create this discussion thread and share a few ideas with the BGG hive-mind.





Several of the military strategy games published in the 1930s appear to reflect professional military theories popular at the time. An extremely innovative design called Le Grandi Manovre (1937) featured many common perceptions about how the land campaign would be fought in the next war. The map included an extensive network of trenches. The formations depicted tanks, cavalry, infantry, artillery, and aircraft.

Here are a few ideas that a 1930s wargame designer might accept as conventional wisdom about land warfare in a potential conflict:

-- Fortifications would play a crucial role.

-- Light tanks would perform the functions of armored cavalry.

-- Heavy tanks would support the infantry.

-- The pace of operations might be similar to the combat envisioned in “Plan 1919” developed at the end of WWI.





The writing of airpower theorists had a tremendous impact during the inter-war period. Even a simple strategy game for children like Adler Luftkampfspiel (1935) reflected the decisive results expected from bombing campaigns in the next war. Since many experts predicted the use of poison gas by aircraft targeting urban areas the hideous potential for massive civilian casualties was recognized… and the possibility was probably wished away with crossed fingers and lucky talismans by fearful government leaders.

A few ideas which might be relevant to the 1930s wargame design:

-- Bombing raids will have a direct and decisive result on the enemy population’s will to resist.

-- The industrial capacity of the enemy will be destroyed after a series of successful missions.

-- The bomber will always get through.

-- Heavily armed bombers can defend themselves, but perhaps a few twin-engine fighters with enough speed to keep up with the mission could be useful.





The complex interaction of naval forces is also represented in titles from the 1930s. Strategy games like Blockade (1939) offered an interesting analysis of the logistical problems faced by an island nation attempting to maintain naval supremacy. Like a number of army generals and air commanders, many officers serving in the fleets of the major powers resisted the changes technology had brought to naval maneuvers based on battleship combat.

These concepts might have appeared in a hypothetical WWII game:

-- The battleship will remain the decisive naval weapon system.

-- Submarines will be useful for reconnaissance and a limited amount of commerce raiding.

-- Aircraft carriers will also perform a combined reconnaissance/combat role, but primarily as a prelude to the engagement of the battleship fleets.

-- All amphibious operations against enemy territory will require the control of a port.



What about the intangibles? Several ideas that might seem questionable today were often accepted as conventional wisdom in the 1930s:

-- Japanese aviators can’t become effective combat pilots.

-- Men from the decadent United States lack the fortitude to fight on in the face of sustained heavy losses.

-- France has the world’s most powerful military machine.

-- The military potential of the Soviet Union is limited.



Even assumptions about grand strategy frequently proved to be flawed:

-- Japan lacks the capacity to conduct operations deep in the Pacific region.

-- The defenses of the Maginot Line will protect France from an attack by Germany.

-- Germany will halt all aggressive moves… right after Hitler’s next seizure of territory.

-- Each colonial empire will support its European masters, loyally providing men and raw materials to maintain the conflict in Europe during the lengthy campaign expected along the frontiers.

-- Japan will wait patiently while the United States marshals its forces for a drive across the Pacific Ocean, leading to a Jutland-style battleship showdown.



Comments are welcome.
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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Generals have shown throughout history that they are prepared to fight battles from the previous war, but precious few of them have demonstrated the ability to foresee the changes necessary for future wars with much accuracy.
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Pete Belli
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Sphere wrote:
Generals have shown throughout history that they are prepared to fight battles from the previous war, but precious few of them have demonstrated the able to foresee the changes necessary for future wars with much accuracy.


Absolutely correct.

How many game designers (in 1938 or 2012) have the imagination to see the shape of things to come?
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Wendell
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Depending on whether the game is designed in the early or late 1930s, a designer might have had Italy on the same side as Britain and France.
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All good period issues, Pete. Many of those assumptions die hard with the men trained and ordered to execute the doctrines.

I would also add the overconfidence in collective defense. Britain and France strategy was to contain rising threats from Germany and the USSR by constructing mutual defense treaties with smaller European states, particularly countries that had emerged/reemerged since 1919. France, for example, created the Little Entente to deter aggression in Central/Eastern Euorpe.

What they couldn't anticipate was the lack of political will to honor all the treaties. In the name of preserving peace at all costs, they threw Czechoslovakia under the bus, for instance.

On your naval points, many still believed in the Mahan-esque decisive battle at sea, with battleships remaining the kings of the sea.
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pete belli wrote:
Sphere wrote:
Generals have shown throughout history that they are prepared to fight battles from the previous war, but precious few of them have demonstrated the able to foresee the changes necessary for future wars with much accuracy.


Absolutely correct.

How many game designers (in 1938 or 2012) have the imagination to see the shape of things to come?


How many people really expect them to?
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It would be interesting to see a new wargame(s) developed with this mindset. I have a feeling it could create some interesting scenerios.
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Nathan James
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I myself wonder if tanks aren't already obsolete and no one quite realizes it yet.

--

Correct me if I'm wrong, but weren't there a number of people who did predict the importance and proper use of tanks prior to WWII? There are a few of comments in B.H. Liddell Hart's book "History of the Second World War" that lead me to that conclusion. But I couldn't tell you who they were.
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I mentioned before somewhere upon a BOOK written and published right upon the eve of WW2, wherein they 'got' it pretty much WRONGRY "big time"!whistle
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M Hellyer
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WW II wasn't in the 30s.

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A nice bit of research. Many of us, I'm sure, are familiar with most of the maxims you've listed. But seeing so many collected in one place is kind of fascinating. It would be an interesting thought experiment to actually design a game based on these precepts, and fight out the war that the generals expected to fight.

I think what you'd end up with would be WWI, with armored cavalry regiments careening around the battlefield. Fleets of Battleships that would be unable to hide from each other because of the carrier based scouts - so more big gun engagements, or fleets chasing each other around the oceans. Fortified ports and cities - a return of siege warfare. Dispersion of industry and underground factories, and true flying fortresses (bomber-size aircraft armed with dozens of guns) circling over cities to engage enemy bomber forces.

Could be interesting, in a Steampunk sort of way.cool
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Robert Wesley
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PlayMe1 wrote:
WW II wasn't in the 30s.

well, 'moi' HAD quite the 'chuckle' there!
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The Honorable Mayor McCheese
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PlayMe1 wrote:
WW II wasn't in the 30s.

For the United States at least.
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Re: If military experts decided to create a hypothetical game about WWII Pacific WAR in the 1930s…
Sorrellbo wrote:
It would be interesting to see a new wargame(s) developed with this mindset. I have a feeling it could create some interesting scenerios.
There WERE within this The Eagle & the Sun for Pacific WAR version, and MAKE your own 'rules' to use, or just 'configure' theirs until it shall! whistle
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It actually shouldn’t be too hard to build up some scenarios to play out some of the ‘30s mindset using existing titles.

The Avalanche Press Great War at Sea/Second World War at Sea have a number of speculative ’20-‘30s modules that reflect such thinking. Adding some additional restrictions on the types and roles of carriers and their air groups to reflect the old fashioned doctrine would be simple enough.

As for the land campaigns, again Avalanche Press’s Panzer Grenadier series has plenty of early WWII games in the series and rules mods could be formulated to favor the sort of trench and fortress defensive doctrine and the armored doctrine, which the Allied armies were pretty much using. If the German were restricted to using only PzI & II as cavalry and tying the IVe more tightly to its Infantry support role, things would be different. It seems like just eliminating the Pz III would have a huge effect.

If I had been a conventional French officer, bound to the doctrine of the day, it would seem to me that it would have been prudent to entrench my troops WWI-style along the length of the border at the first saber rattles, and surely following the invasion of Poland. Given the thinking that the Dutch and Belgian armies would have been sufficient to significantly delay a German invasion through their territory, and that the British were present in force to back them up, I can imagine the trench lines being less elaborate on the French left, where they existed at all. I do know that the Maginot line held the Germans up in the South, when they bothered to attack it, but that it was just a matter of time before it was rendered ineffective. So here are a couple of questions for my BGG friends.

I’m not an expert on early WWII in the West, can someone tell me if such a trench line defense system was indeed the case?

In my games of PanzerBlitz/Panzer Leader, and now Panzer Grenadier: 1940 – The Fall of France, I often find that the German self-propelled artillery are the key to breaking a defensive position in a mobile attack. Were SPAs much of a factor in early France?

What other sort of weapon system and doctrine mods would need to be included? Not many on the Allied side, I expect.

EDIT: Grammer blush
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GHQ (1940) is an interesting portrayal of WW2 as it was being fought. It probably reflects some lingering 30s ideas regarding warfare. That map certainly seems to anticipate a re-fight of WW1.

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Wendell
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The Grinch wrote:

GHQ (1940) is an interesting portrayal of WW2 as it was being fought. It probably reflects some lingering 30s ideas regarding warfare. That map certainly seems to anticipate a re-fight of WW1.



Wait, they have spaces in Switzerland. Everybody knows you can't invade Switzerland in a WW2 game!
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Here's an interesting article about how the US seriously considered Britain to be a potential WWII adversary (and vice versa) in 1930.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2039453/How-America-...

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schmanthony wrote:
Here's an interesting article about how the US seriously considered Britain to be a potential WWII adversary (and vice versa) in 1930.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2039453/How-America-...



And the accompanying (modern) games: War Plan: Crimson, Great War at Sea: U.S. Navy Plan Crimson, Great War at Sea: U.S. Navy Plan Red. I am not aware of any games from the 20s or 30s on this topic.
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The Spanish Civil War was quite good at teaching many tactical lessons to the countries that used the war as a "battle lab". Some were right, some were wrong.

Soviet advisors and observers came away from Spain having learned lessons in the tactical employment of tanks (for example, changing the number of tanks in a platoon from three to five, and forming many independent tank battalions and regiments into larger, harder-hitting brigades), but there had been no opportunities to test the 'deep battle' theories that had been debated within the Red Army until the beginning of the purges in 1937. Many Soviet advisors were also used as instructors for (and on occasion, leaders of) guerrilla groups operating behind Nationalist lines, and there learned or reinforced valuable lessons in conducting partisan warfare.

Spain was a useful testing ground for many of the new weapon systems and tactics the Germans were developing. Lessons learned and put to good use in the early years of World War Two included: the value of good air-ground liaison to produce effective precision bombing, especially dive bombing, and the use of trained Forward Air Controllers; that tanks should be used concentrated in a Schwerpunkt (strongpoint) rather than evenly distributed among attacking units (though this was the method preferred by the Spanish commanders); and that superiority in mechanization or motorization, as well as standardization of vehicle systems, was crucially important. Though they did learn that their tanks needed to be upgunned drastically (the Nationalists used captured Soviet T-26 and BT-5 tanks, which carried 45mm guns, whenever they could), the good performance of the 37mm anti-tank gun against the light Republican armor convinced them that they did not need to develop heavier anti-tank weapons, so they entered the war with large numbers of guns that proved inadequate against the more heavily armoured French and British tanks.
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I'd also note that one of the first games to take a 1930s period setting and develop military technology through a sort of "technology tree" was Speed and Steel from 1983. It's largely a ground warfare game but your forces during the pre-war phase can improve - stronger tanks, second movement phase, paratroops, etc. Worth a look for an early take on the subject.
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dawn_cherri wrote:
Sphere wrote:
Generals have shown throughout history that they are prepared to fight battles from the previous war, but precious few of them have demonstrated the able to foresee the changes necessary for future wars with much accuracy.

....
German genrals before WWII were training to fight world war 1??
Really? Guess that's what Guderians book was all a bout??
and what about Marshall? and Liddell Hart?
The US fought Vietnam like Korea and Desert Storm like Vietnam?
In Iraq they used 4 divisions but in 1991 they used what? 20???


In your haste to be the first to respond and to thrasher on generals and military professionals you used that old tired worn out canard about the last war?

Is it no mystery way no historians and military pros read this board anymore.


Speaking of hasty responses...whistle

I believe he said "generals", not "all generals", and he goes on to speak of the few that were able to think outside the box. I also think the "worn out canard" (not truly a canard, since there is some basis for fact) applies particularly to the French prior to WW2, a point of particular significance since the French Army represented the largest Western land force and essentially shaped the West's initial strategy for WW2. Therefore the comment seems apt to the discussion, however imprecisely it may have been phrased.

Furthermore, I'm not sure what evidence you use to base your assertion that "no historians and military pros read this board anymore." Who exactly do you count as a historian or a military pro?

Sorry, but neither your response nor your avatar strike me as bespeaking the standard of thoughtfulness that you demand of others.shake
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Sphere wrote:
Generals have shown throughout history that they are prepared to fight battles from the previous war, but precious few of them have demonstrated the able to foresee the changes necessary for future wars with much accuracy.

Oh, so that's why Stalin wanted to reorganize the command structure of the Soviet army before WW2...
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dawn_cherri wrote:

Is it no mystery way no historians and military pros read this board anymore.

Speak for yourself. Also: I respect your opinion, but there are nicer and more constructive ways to state ones opinion.
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