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Ex SEA LION CADET at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst

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 BritainUnternehmen 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.

Day 1

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:

  1. What are the strategic and operational objectives for your side?
  2. What forces were assembled/available by your side and their relative strengths and weaknesses?
  3. What are the terrain/environmental factors that will/may influence the operation?
  4. What do you believe the operational main effort is, why and is it sufficiently resourced?
  5. 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.

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The 1974 Operation SEALION game at Sandhurst.

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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.

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SEALION wargame 1 (left) showing a German victory, and wargame 2 (right) showing a British victory.

Day 2

An early start saw the cadets and staff head off to Kent for the first stand at Hawkinge.

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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.

 

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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.

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Stand 2 (left) at Dymchurch St. Mary’s Bay and Stand 3 (right) at Bilsington on the Royal Military Canal. The cadest researched and found a genuine WWII-era pillbox in the background. (Image obscured for privacy.)

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!)

Sandhurst Kriegsspiel

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The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst has recently reintroduced manual wargaming into the curriculum—part of a slow renaissance of manual wargaming methods at a few professional military education institutions in the UK, US, and elsewhere.

Tom Mouat has placed the files for the Sandhurst Kriegsspiel online, where they can be viewed and downloaded. The game–conducted in conjunction with a prior TEWT (“tactical exercise without troops”) field visit to the scenario locations—is a relatively simple one, designed to encourage students to think in critical and thoughtful ways about fire, maneuver, terrain, enemy capabilities, commanders intent, and course of action analysis.

The idea is to encourage original thought and a manoeuvrist approach. Students should propose ideas and different approaches to the problem and come to a consensus as to the viability of their ideas. The time for experimentation is in a wargame where they can fail and learn in a safe environment. If you dismiss some wild idea too early, it can have a lasting negative effect on original thought, whereas students coming to their own conclusions whether a novel idea is practical or not, will have lasting benefit.

When considering student actions there are a few guidelines that may be useful:

  • Time and Space. Students frequently believe that actions can be carried out more quickly than is possible – particularly communicating instructions, or designating targets. Their understanding about how quickly personnel cover distance in a combat situation and recover from suppressive fire, it also frequently underestimated.
  • Risk and Evidence. When a student is about to carry out an action that has a chance of failure they should be encouraged to consider the risk and the consequences – and then ways they could mitigate that risk such as using smoke or suppressive fire. When they elect an action with a number of unstated assumptions, such as a section engaging the enemy effectively at 600m they should be challenged as to on what they base their evidence. Have they ever fired at that distance? If so, how good were they? How often will their men have engaged at that range?
  • Realities of War. Finally, students should be reminded of the myriad of smaller things that go wrong with a plan. You are an experience military DS and you can draw analogies from your own experience.

Two platoon-level scenarios are provided.

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Tom also provides some useful suggestions on how the game should be used to stimulate discussion and learning:

Running the Game

Students should be encouraged to work out any questions they have as to “the rules of the game” among themselves. A Kriegsspiel is simple military common sense and students should feel confident that they could be able to run them themselves unsupervised. If they don’t know things like weapon ranges, they should look them up in their TAM. If they are unfamiliar with enemy weapon systems, they should be encouraged to research them on- line using Wikipedia and other sources (and discuss the reliability and accuracy of such sources).

In some cases students will want to try something that has a significant chance of failure, such as trying to “shoot down a UAV”. A discussion of these types of actions is often very useful. How likely is it that they will succeed? What evidence do they have for that assumption? What is the likely penalty for failure? Attempting to shoot down a competently handled UAV is extremely unlikely and attempting it is likely to give away your position. Alternatively, if you are certain the UAV has spotted you, what have you got to lose?

As a DS [Directing Staff] you should decide the outcome that best meets the training objectives of the session, but in some cases it will not materially affect the overall result. In which case you should suggest that the students “flip a coin” or even “roll a dice” to obtain a result based on their assessment of the likely chance of success – but before you do, ask them if they are comfortable in doing so. If they are happy, they are gambling with their men’s lives – if they are not, they don’t understand the nature of risk. They should be looking at the risk of failure and doing everything in their power to mitigate it – only then should they take the chance.

It is useful for students to gain an understanding of risk at an early stage. Nothing is ever certain in war and if their plan is unable to cope with any setbacks, it is not a robust plan.

The student plans

Following the Kriegsspiel it is always worth asking the Blue Force students how closely their plan in the Kreigsspiel followed the plan they had decided was the best course of action following the TEWT. In almost all cases it is completely different.

When challenged on this, students will normally point to the enemy players and explain it is because they “know our plan”. You should point out that all the students playing the enemy have done is consider the tactical situation from the opposing point of view – so that if the students modified their plan because of this, they had made the assumption that the enemy were incapable of doing so. They are assuming the enemy is stupid.

This latter point in particular underscores a key value of adversarial wargaming: the existence of an adaptive enemy trying to out-think and kill you.

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The game will debut at Sandhurst in February 2016.

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UPDATE: The Sandhurst Kriegspiel has generated quite an interesting discussion at BoardGameGaeek on the use of manual wargames in military training and education. You’ll find it here.

 

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