Monday, 6 January 2014

The Wrinkles of Tactics - First World War tactics

Infantry and artillery tactics in the late part of the First World War were constantly being adjusted to cope with changes made by the enemy, or because of a military defeat or failure. Occasionally there were big changes, like the German elastic defence, early 1917. Most of the time there were small adjustments or responses to tactics, for example the Germans changing their deployment of reserves in response to the British "Bite and Hold" tactic, in 1917.

I want to focus on the tactical adjustments; the wrinkles of tactics. 

This would also reflect another idea I have that the Generals of the First World War had very few real decisions to take during a battle. Most of their decisions were taken in planning and then embedded in the dissemination of the orders.

Synopsis of the Game
The players represent the Army Command running a campaign on a front. For example they could be Plummer's HQ team at Passchendaele, in 1917.

The game would involve the quick resolution of several of battles and the players would learn from each battle and make adjustments accordingly for the next battle.

The players would be provided with the existing tactical doctrine and would have to conform to that. The player teams are provided with a tactical pro-forma that guides them to creating a plan. The pro-forma will conform to the tactical doctrine of the time. So the German elastic defence will have sections indicating the three layers that require resources etc. The umpires can assist with the planning.

Each battle will be resolved by the umpire team very quickly, probably 10 minutes.
The battle would be fought probably more like a mugger game (a discussion) within the umpire team. The opposing plans are examined and the battle resolved.  The umpires then provide a set of reports (verbally) to the teams from the point of view of the Divisional and Corps Commanders.

After listening to the reports and hearing the outcomes the players may wish to modify some aspect of their next operational plan. For example they might opt to have a longer bombardment, or more artillery focus on counter-bombardment etc. Or the Germans might wish to deploy their reserves nearer the front or further away. The main thing is that they cannot alter the overarching existing tactical doctrine.

These tactical changes and counter-changes form the main part of the game. A kind of bluffing game, and kind of guessing game. Will the enemy persist in holding their reserves a long way back?

This part of the game could get complicated by adding rules about Intelligence gathering and deception work. But that is another game. This game is about working within the confines of a tactical scheme the players cannot change. The players can make small adjustments within the scheme. These I think were the main decisions the Commanders had available to them during a campaign.


Changing tactical doctrine
There were only a few occasions when an Army would change its tactical doctrine. It took a lot of resources to re-train the soldiers to implement these changes. The training had to embed the knowledge so that it did not require thinking through, but was part of the standard operating procedures of the units. Thus these big changes were rare.

The only game I can think for this would be the debate amongst the senior commanders each championing their tactical idea, though some evidence might be needed. This would come through after the battle reports.