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Short Read

Educational Wargaming Part Three (Strategic level): The War in North West Europe 1944

“I don’t want to get any messages saying, ‘I am holding my position.’ We are not holding a Goddamned thing. Let the Germans do that. We are advancing constantly and we are not interested in holding onto anything, except the enemy’s balls. We are going to twist his balls and kick the living shit out of him all of the time.”

General George S Patton, June 1944

The debt owed to those who liberated Western Europe from Nazi oppression will underpin the D-Day 80 Commemorations. Although D-Day was essential to victory in Europe, it was not an end in itself. Study of the wider war to liberate Northwest Europe places D-Day in context and helps the military professional understand the link between the operational and strategic levels of war. One method of undertaking this study is through educational wargaming which enables learning through active participation, rather than passive receipt of information. This short read, part three of three of this mini-series, will outline how this learning experience can be achieved through use of a COTS wargame.

Cover art. Image from author.

Success on D-Day allowed the Allies to secure a firm bridgehead. The resulting campaign was a brutal attritional struggle that led to the destruction of German forces in Normandy and a dramatic breakout across France. Subsequent attempts for a quick advance into Germany failed in the face of logistical constraints and German resistance – most notably at Arnhem in September 1944. A German winter counter-offensive in the Ardennes followed and achieved surprise but was subsequently defeated. In Spring 1945 a deliberate Allied offensive breached the German defences, crossed the Rhine and the German Army surrender in May 1945. How did the Allies win? Interactive study using the wargame 1944: D-Day To The Rhine offers the military professional the opportunity to answer this question.

The map for 1944: D-Day To The Rhine extends from the French Atlantic coast to Western Germany. Units are armies or corps and turns represent a month. Set-up shows how the Germans attempted to defend the region. The Allies are not committed to invading Normandy. Other options are available but come with commensurate variations in air support and German responsiveness.

The Allied invasion will almost certainly succeed. This illustrates the immense and wide-ranging preparatory effort the Allies devoted to ensuring success. A subsequent breakout can be more problematic and will reflect player decision making. The Allied invasion of southern France – Op DRAGOON – opens up a new area of operation to the south of the game map.

Ends, Ways and Means

 Balancing “Ends, Ways and Means” are integral to success and reflect the game’s strategic level focus. Allied victory is determined by the “End” chosen. These range from the swift capture of Berlin through to securing Western Germany and isolation of the industrial Rhur region. In this way the game confronts the player with the historical choices the Allies faced. Central to the representation of “Means”, is the use of resource points. These provide replacements and enable movement and combat. A fixed amount is given each turn, mirroring the capacity of the invasion beaches. German occupied ports can be captured to increase this amount. The Allied player faces a decision on whether success can be achieved with the fixed capacity available, or if resources must be invested to first liberate ports and increase resources.

The game models “Ways” through the use of resource points for movement and combat. Units can move and fight in any order and this forces the player to think about sequencing of operations. The overall effect of these game mechanisms forces the player to confront the tensions inherent in balancing “Ends, Ways and Means.” Thus the player gains some experiential insight into the historical situation, such as the prioritisation of Op MARKET-GARDEN over clearance of the Scheldt estuary, which occurred in September 1944.

Chance

The “chance” inherent in the nature of war is provided by bespoke combat dice. These work within the bounds of the 1944 operational environment, incorporating the strength of Allied airpower and the tactical prowess of German panzer formations. For the player, this creates dilemmas and pressure. Planned operations can go awry and they must react and re-plan accordingly. In effect, this gives the player some experience of Eisenhower’s adage that “plans are useless but planning is indispensable”.

Allied forces are denoted by Army Group and although they can operate together, it comes an additional resource cost, reflecting the frictions and complexities of inter-allied cooperation. Key Allied capabilities including airborne forces, strategic bombers and naval fire support are provided by additional unit counters. They have constraints and where and when to employ them adds to the Allied player’s planning choices. Patton’s 3rd Army can move slightly faster than any other Allied Army, reflecting the speed at which they executed their breakout from Normandy and responded to the German Ardennes offensive. The game gives the German player an opportunity to launch a counter-offensive during the winter of 1944-45 when poor weather will constrain Allied airpower. With this opportunity, comes the choice to attack early and maximise surprise, or attack later with greater combat power. These are all straightforward game mechanisms. However they provide key historical context and give the player an appreciation of the 1944 contemporary environment.

Game play. Image from author

1944: D-Day To The Rhine provides the military professional with an opportunity to learn about the War in Northwestern Europe through inter-active study. Once the key game mechanisms are understood the game plays quickly. The options of different invasion sites and the choice of different “Ends” allow the student to investigate some of the “what ifs” surrounding the War in Northwest Europe during this period. Playing both sides also enables the student to gain a deeper understanding of the capabilities and constraints unique to each side. Play is possible as teams and the game lends itself to discussion about the strategic level of war. Overall, playing the game provides the military professional with an immersive learning experience. This will help place the D-Day 80 commemorations within the wider War to free Europe from an oppressive dictator.

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