The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst is the home of the British Army Officer and the initial training ground for officers of the British Army, be they Regular or Reserve, Direct Entrant, Late Entrant or Professionally Qualified. It is ranked as one of the best centres of leadership in the World. Its famous motto is “Serve to Lead.”
Captain EC Farren was, until recently, an instructor at the Academy, overseeing the injured cadets of “Lucknow” Platoon. His remit was to help the cadets under his charge recover as soon as practicable, so they could re-join the Regular Commissioning Course. Much of his work is focused on the cadets’ physical state, but he must also try to keep their military skills and minds sharp in the process. As a 2009 Masters graduate of King’s College London, Captain Farren studied under Prof. P Sabin (Simulating War) and has carried his experiences of Phil’s conflict simulation course with him into the Regular Army. He appeared at Connections 2015 to discuss wargaming (link) in officer training and subsequently delivered an update (link) on examples used in his battalion in 2016. Since June 2016 he has instructed at the prestigious British military academy in Camberley and has sought to utilise wargaming to enhance the education of young officers. The extract below is from an article submitted to Sandhurst’s Wish Stream journal covering his platoon’s involvement in a Battlefield Study of Operation Sea Lion.
Anyone who has participated in Ex NORMANDY SCHOLAR can attest to the innate value of a battlefield study to an aspiring Army officer. There is something about standing on the battlefield that concentrates the mind and gives one an appreciation from the combatant’s perspective that no amount of book study can mirror. In previous years Lucknow platoon has been able to tag along with the Reg CC on Ex NORMANDY SCHOLAR, but sadly this was discontinued due to funding restrictions. Undeterred, it was with a sense of optimism and trepidation that I approached Faraday Hall back at the end of 2017 to discuss running a bespoke battlefield study for Lucknow Platoon.
Knowing that I had minimal resources (in the end one War Studies Lecturer, one weapons expert and a minibus) I hit upon the idea of using the planned September 1940 German invasion of Britain—Unternehmen Seelöwe or Operation SEALION— as the subject for the battlefield study. Geographically confined to the Kentish/Sussex coast, the stands would be within easy striking distance from Sandhurst. It also offered a variety of tactical actions for study; air landing, seaborne assault, combined arms manoeuvre, opposed obstacle crossings and urban warfare. Also, because the operation did not progress beyond the planning stage, it gave the staff and cadets greater freedom to offer their opinions and arguments rather than being constrained by ‘what actually happened’. The study would run over two days, the first being classroom-based and the second being centred around three stands in Kent.
Starting in Faraday Hall (a nice break from Lucknow lines) Dr Klaus Schmider started by covering the strategic context of Operation SEALION, and state of the two belligerent’s militaries in the summer of 1940. QMSI Lawson kindly provided a variety of WW2 small arms from the Central Armoury and gave the cadets an excellent hands on feel for the weapons of the period. The cadets learnt about the weapon mix of light machine guns, sub machine guns and rifles that comprised the infantry sections of both armies. The cadets then divided into two groups representing the German and British High Commands. They had around two hours to research and then formulate a back brief of 15 minutes covering the following key themes:
- What are the strategic and operational objectives for your side?
- What forces were assembled/available by your side and their relative strengths and weaknesses?
- What are the terrain/environmental factors that will/may influence the operation?
- What do you believe the operational main effort is, why and is it sufficiently resourced?
- What amendments would you make to the plan and why?
The highlight of the afternoon was a tabletop wargame—one with a nostalgic nod to the 1974 wargame run by senior war studies lecturers at the Academy. Thankfully for the cadets, our variant was much simpler and could be completed in the space of around two hours rather than the week it took for the 1974 wargame to run its course. Two wargames were run by splitting the OKW and GHQ teams in half and assigning them to separate rooms. Cadets role played various Army Group, Luftwaffe/RAF and CinC commanders to add a team dynamic.
Staff and cadets pose for a reconstruction of the 1974 picture. (Image obscured for privacy).
In both wargames the Germans were able to consolidate their initial landing zones after overcoming the British forces stationed on the south coast. However, as German reinforcements dried up and British reserves poured onto the map the Wehrmacht teams struggled to push further inland. The key cities of Dover and Brighton became contested battlegrounds in both wargames. In wargame one the Germans achieved a ‘victory’ as defined by the rules of the wargame by seizing Dover and Brighton – with significant British forces arrayed between them and the next objective, London. In wargame two the British managed to launch a sizeable counterattack into Brighton before the Germans took Dover, thus denying them a victory. In this wargame though, the British had nothing left to throw at the Germans should they go for London. The cadets found the wargame was an excellent way to illustrate the research they had conducted during the day and gave them a wider, strategic overview of the operation before they went into the detail of stands on the second day. The day concluded with the cadets breaking down into their respective groups for the three stands and conducting research and preparation for the field element on the Saturday.
SEALION wargame 1 (left) showing a German victory, and wargame 2 (right) showing a British victory.
An early start saw the cadets and staff head off to Kent for the first stand at Hawkinge.
We were fortunate enough to be able to stand within the original airfield’s perimeter, albeit now largely parcelled up into various private estates. The teams did an excellent job of discussing the importance of Hawkinge to both the RAF and Luftwaffe and the problems inherent with air landings.
Stand 1 Hawkinge on the original airfield site (now just a field). The cadets managed to find the original defence plans (right). (Image obscured for privacy.)
Next we moved to St Mary’s Bay, now doused in glorious sunshine, to discuss a potential sea landing. The sea wall has been significantly heightened since 1940, and the towns of St Mary’s and Dymchurch have sprawled but the groynes and sands were much alike to the era of study. The teams discussed the problems of fighting inshore through obstacle belts and having to clear the two urban areas of defending territorial and regular battalions.
Stand 3 at Bilsington covered opposed obstacle crossings over the Royal Military Canal. The cadets researched and discovered a 1940s era pillbox that made the stand come to life. After much discussion there emerged consensus that the Germans would struggle to cross the canal and therefore the Romney Marsh area would become a giant kill sack for British artillery.
Feedback from the cadets was broadly positive, despite having to work on a sacred Saturday! They really enjoyed being given the responsibility for running the stands themselves which they all agreed kept them more engaged than if it had been entirely staff led. The Faraday Hall element was judged at being concise and to the point, and covering the most important subjects rather than a huge series of lectures. Naturally the cadets wanted more time to plan the stands, and would have liked to study at the lower tactical level (Coy-) rather than the divisional level. Hopefully the exercise has reinforced the benefits of battlefield studies to the cadets of Lucknow platoon and generated support for a successive exercise next term (maybe even outside of the UK!)