Archive for the ‘Military History’ Category

Elements of Battle Quiz

Saturday, July 5th, 2008

When you examine military conflicts you come to recognize that what we call “battles” are often a unique crystallization of a combination of geography, forces, leaders, strategies/tactics, and chance. Here is a quiz to test your MHIQ (Military History Intelligence Quotient). I’ll list some elements from a battle and you name it. Answers are at the bottom.

Herr Ridge
Devils Den
The Angle

Mamayev Kurgan

Mount Aegaleo

Gebhard von Blücher
Old Guard

Sir Douglas Haig
Bazentin Ridge
Debut of The Tank

Chard and Bromhead
The Hospital

Iron Bottom Sound
Canberra and Chicago
Admiral Mikawa

Saint Crispin’s Day
Henry V

Captain H.R. McMaster
Tawakalna Division
M1 Abrams

Julius Caesar
River Enipeus


1. Gettysburg 2. Stalingrad 3. Salamis 4. Waterloo 5. The Somme 6. Rorke’s Drift 7. Savo Island 8. Agincourt 9. 73 Easting 10. Pharsalus

Great Moments in Deception

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

One of the cleverest and most successful operational deception plans of all time has got to be operation “Mincemeat” carried out by British Intelligence during WW II. It was performed in preparation for Operation “Huskey” the Allied invasion of Sicily. This link here has the a complete description of the operation and you really do need to read the whole thing if you aren’t familiar with it. There will be a quiz.

If this theatre of WW II interests you then I’d also recommend you check out this book “The Day of Battle” by Rick Atkinson… and you better pick up the prequel “An Army at Dawn” and read it first. These two books are some of the finest military history that I have ever read.

Assertion: Turn based strategy games need to have mechanisms to pull off operations like “Mincemeat.” How can this be done? I’m exploring that right now with Brimstone. The key I think like many other aspects of game design is to formalize it so that it exits within the “state” of the game and not just the opponents’ heads. What I mean by that is the signaling of false information is channeled/instantiated by some concrete mechanism in the game. Opponents will always try and infer things from the state of the game or by analyzing your demeanor, play style and verbal/written communications. But what about letting players set up “operations’ which were really merely Potemkin villages or elaborate ruses designed to distract opponents. In Brimstone at the beginning of every new turn you are presented with a turn log of all the events that happened during the last processed turn that affect you. The temptation is to view everything as completely factual since the authority of the computer presents these events as “facts.” But what if false information could be seeded into the turn log by opponents willing to spend resources to do that? It’s something that I think is worth trying to pursue. It’s also something that needs to be handled carefully. More later……..

Quiz Question: Where was the man who never existed buried?

Real Audacity

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

I’m not sure if you have come across these two images circulating around the web. I don’t think they are photoshopped. Just a salute to US service members out there demonstrating real audacity every day…calculated risk vs. reward and outside the box thinking.

Mountain Resolve

Rooftop Landing

Just a small personal aside. I flew in one of these things during my Marine Week training when I was a midshipman way back in the Summer of 85. I never felt so sick. The whole thing vibrates. I just sat there in my seat staring at the floor hoping I wouldn’t be the first one to throw up. I made it through the whole flight but it was close.

The Strategy of Audacity III

Friday, February 1st, 2008

When we last left our heroes they were crunching the calculus of Risk versus Reward in ways that made us call them Audacious. The second aspect of Audacity as a leadership trait is what I have labeled “Flaunting Convention.” It’s also commonly called “thinking outside the box” and was a very popular catch phrase in the 90’s management circles and may be even today but I haven’t managed or lead anything for over a decade so I wouldn’t know. Although, seeing how popular and cyclical some of these phrases are I wouldn’t bet money against it being in vogue.

It is a good phrase though when it comes down to it. There is a connection to Risk versus Reward as well. The strategies that tend to occupy the box are often the result of common human assumptions on what maximizes reward for any given set of risks. The assumptions are the results of years of human trial and error and collective experience. They are the conventions of the day. If the system never changed then following a plan outside the box would be folly. But the world is in flux. Sometimes the change is more rapid than other times. But when a strategist can see the new opportunity outside of the box and seize it then the result is Audacity.

As an example, I offer a brief examination of the Vicksburg Campaign of 1863 during the American Civil War. 1863 was a momentous year in the course of the war. It was a turning point very similar to 1942. Ulysses S. Grant led the Army of the Tennessee in the West. His opponent was Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton commanding some 30,000 troops. The war along the Mississippi was stalemated going into 1863. The Confederacy held a series of strong points along the mighty river the most formidable being Vicksburg. The Union war plan was to control the river thus splitting the Confederacy and squeezing the remaining rump. New Orleans had fallen in April of 1862 placing the mouth of the river firmly in Union hands. The prime obstacle to controlling the river was Vicksburg, which sat on a hair pin bend in the river and bristled with large caliber cannon….ship killing 10 inch guns hauled inland from coastal batteries.

Grant immediately put his aggressive and ingenious military mind to work. Later in the war he would be given the Nome de Guerre “Grant the Butcher” because of the costly and single minded direct assaults he orchestrated against Robert E. Lee in the Eastern Theatre during 1864/65. The Wilderness, Spotsylvania Courthouse and Cold Harbor were bloody sledgehammer blows meant to batter the Army of Northern Virginia into submission and the butcher’s bill was horrendous. It was a bill the Union could afford to pay but not the Confederacy. In contrast to this later defining campaign that crystallized Grant’s reputation as a dull bully, the Vicksburg Campaign stands as a brilliant accomplishment of maneuver warfare, and strategic deception and manipulation.

The signs were there from the beginning when Grant creatively made attempts to simply bypass Vicksburg by finding forgotten swamp trails or imaginatively attempting to “engineer” a change in the course of the river known as the Father of Waters. When these probing operations failed Grant struck upon an “Outside the Box” solution that once launched, so firmly won the initiative that Pemberton’s characteristically cautious response sealed the fate for the 30,000 men of the Army of Vicksburg. The key issue as in many military operations was logistics. The ground to the North of Vicksburg was impossible to exploit and the Confederate control of the Chickasaw bluffs would prevent any supply of a Union army that might attempt to approach Vicksburg. The swift current and impressive batteries of Vicksburg meant that even if ships could “run” the batteries they would not be able to return back up river. Many thought that the down river passage itself would be suicidal. Iron clad riverboats might make it but wooden supply steamers were thought to be a long shot. In short, supply was problematic and the approach to Vicksburg was difficult from any direction.

Grant’s stroke of genius was to test what he believed to be false assumptions. First he would march his army down the Mississippi river to a point below Vicksburg. Then proceeding past the bend at Hard Times he would ferry his troops across the river by means of Admiral Porter’s Iron Clads and transport/supply ships. Porters flotilla would run the Vicksburg batteries in a daring night time passage on two separate nights. Two key assumptions were being probed. First that an army could operate without secure logistical supply lines and second that Union ships would hazard the Vicksburg batteries.

The Audacity paid off handsomely. I won’t describe the entire campaign but you can see an outline of it here below on the map. Pemberton was paralyzed. Grant had sent his work horse Sherman to demonstrate with a large force against the Chickasaw Bluffs to the North of Vicksburg. Confederate General John S. Bowen recognized the danger but with such a small force he could not hold Grant at Port Gibson which would have been the equivalent of stopping him on the beaches at Normandy. Eventually, Grant would fight a string of battles driving inland away from Vicksburg while living off the land and what limited supplies Porter could manage in his transports. Securing Jackson, the State Capital, Grant swung back towards his primary objective and a belated sally by Pemberton was crushed decisively at Champions Hill. Vicksburg was invested and the Chickasaw Bluffs were abandoned leaving the Union with a vital intact supply line North via the Mississippi. Vicksburg was doomed and would fall on July 4th, 1863, a day after Pickett’s Charge decided the battle of Gettysburg.

Vicksburg Campaign

Lakes of Armor

Monday, January 14th, 2008

Part of me has always wished I had joined the Armor corps. When I built plastic models as a kid it was either German panzers or some type of WW II aircraft. When I got out of the Navy I even toyed around with joining the Army reserves and seeing if I could get hooked up with an armor unit in Kentucky. The problem is of course that you just don’t get a tank to play around with. You are a leader first and “tank lover” somewhere else way down the list. Anyway, I still have a strong fascination with these steel beasts. Here are two photos from Estonia at a location along what was the Narva front during WW II when the German lines were collapsing against the Soviet onslaught…..

“On 19 September 1944, German troops began an organized retreat along the Narva front. It is suspected that the tank was then purposefully driven into the lake, abandoning it when its captors left the area.

At that time, a local boy walking by the lake Kurtna Matasjarv noticed tank tracks leading into the lake, but not coming out anywhere For two months he saw air bubbles emerging from the lake. This gave him reason to believe that there must be an armored vehicle at the lake’s bottom A few years ago, he told the story to the leader of the local war history club ‘Otsing’. Together with other club members, Mr. Igor Shedunov initiated diving expeditions to the bottom of the lake about a year ago. At the depth of 7 metres they discovered the tank resting under a 3-metre layer of peat.”

Almost Out!  What is it?

All Out!  A Captured T-34!

And the treasure buried in the bog is a captured T-34 with German markings. Apparently it was also almost perfectly preserved. The email I got telling me about this claimed that the diesel engine started up after some basic cleaning. Now if only there was a tiger sitting down there as well.