Grognard Wargamer Thread!


It’s somewhat interesting that both Axis powers (who counts Italy), not just Japan, are commonly described as suffering from overly elaborate (and unrealistic) planning as well, with an inability to speak truth to power when things were breaking down. I was reading something involving Leyte Gulf (cannot remember the exact source), which noted that the Japanese very frequently used very complex, intricate plans, where many things had to come together perfectly for the plan to work. When an element broke down, the entire scheme seemed to crumble.

It feels like similar elements are present with Germany, with the unrealistic complexity/overreaching nature of things like the Bulge (though admittedly, at that point they were pretty much knowingly just rolling the dice hoping to hit a two four times in a row in ASL terms). Likewise, the unwillingness to recognize the situation for what it was, leading to repeated ridiculous stand your ground orders (and the infamous moving of imaginary armies at the end).

Much of this may be obvious - I suppose one could argue, “Yes, it’s a dictatorship. It promotes a culture of fear of speaking up or individually questioning the status quo.”

I do wonder how much of that is victors’ history, though - perhaps a bit of justification/retaliation for the previous generations’ history that the Germans were master planning supermen, only defeated through Slavic hordes throwing inexhaustible manpower into the meatgrinder and American artillery. I imagine that stings a little, and could see an overreaction in the other direction to “the other side tried to be too clever by half, and we just punched them in the mouth real good while they were making their over-elaborate plans.”


Links still work when there is no preview ;-)

Another book I sort of recommend is Implacable Foes mostly because it highlights how much outcry there was about the high casualties in the Pacific that I think gets lost in the general triumphalism about the war. It gives more basis for Mark Herman’s controversial-at-the-time US Political Will track. Makes for a plausible game-loss condition that forces the players to work within the confines of the understanding of the conflict at that time.

That said, there was zero (ha!) chance of the US losing the war, Zero or no Zero. The Zero was an excellent plane for its time and purpose, but was quickly outclassed and had zero (I kill me!) chance of causing an Allied defeat.


The IJN was guilty of this, but all Naval staffs generally over-rely on Detailed Planning, and rush to it from Conceptual Planning. They also frequently can be out of their comfort zones wrt Effects-Based Planning.

The IJA was notorious for the opposite (sometimes logistical considerations were almost laughable in their near-fictional nature in Army plans).


“Killing” is the right term.


Sure. I would also add, to be fair, that I was being very generalized about the level of planning that was overly complicated (strategic versus operational versus tactical, etc.). And overly complicated plans are literally made to ignore any logistical considerations. That’s the point - it’s no fun planning your armored invasion through Egypt into the Middle East and India if you actually have to think about fuel. ;)


That’s an interesting comparison— the quotation from Slim is from soon after the war, though, so it’s really a contemporary view of the conflict.

I think the German supermen/Slavic hordes interpretation was very much a result of the postwar situation: a defeated Germany in which many officers returned to society in the West, wrote memoirs, and developed the “not my fault - Hitler was crazy - how can you defeat millions of Rooskies?!” meme at a time when those same Rooskies were our geopolitical enemies, their archives were closed, and anything they published was in an atmosphere of political repression and propaganda such that you really couldn’t credit it. Time has been the best antidote: the Russians archives were opened, the postwar German memoirists died, and now we can have some sort of more informed reckoning.


I wonder if the fact that the Japanese had no strategic hope and, increasingly as the war went on, little tactical hope meant that ridiculously complex plans were the only way to have a chance of a battlefield victory, and thus (in some sense) rational.

(I’m stating that much more strongly than I think it is merited.)


Yeah, the German Generals’ post-war “Crazy Hitler” thesis always conveniently ignores that the fatal flaw of the OKH staff was their inability to Jointly plan with the other services. Which bit them in the ass in the Black Sea follies (minor) and wrt Luftwaffe capabilities (a big f****** deal) when it came to the East. Der Furher’s stamping of his foot and trying to put OKW in the driver’s seat (not OKH) is perfectly understandable from that perspective. You *never want to let one branch or service “run a theater”. It’s a recipe for disaster. Why the US has Combatant Commands today.


IIRC the Japanese structure also pitted the different military arms against each other and there was a lot of effort from each to try to out-shine the other branches and claim a greater share of the glory.

That probably also led to its leaders desperately wanting a “brilliant victory” to gloat over their peers vs. solely focused on winning the immediate battle.


IMO not so much. Naval planning does have cascading cause and effect elements that get convoluted at times in comparison to ground planning, even when branching off from a relatively simple Joint plan, so I’ll be more forgiving of Naval Staffs now after being a little judgy earlier.

Specifically as well, the Leyte Plan, also, by nature of geography and pre-plan disposition of friendly forces, had to be very complex to have any chance to succeed.


The tl;dr version for me has always been the Germans were very good at fighting battles, but very bad at fighting wars.Works for both world wars, really.


Yeah, OKH loved to have that great, detailed initial plan with a lot of ¯\ (ツ)/¯ fluff for contingencies later in the timeline if things went wrong. By they aren’t that different from the US Army planning culture in that regard.

The IJA were all about writing an awesome conceptual plan and then figuring out the details while executing it. ;)

This led to things like Adachi’s IJA 18th Army HQ issuing orders to troops in New Guinea to plant crops to supplement rations so they all wouldn’t starve to death.

You know you are in dead and in hell when you wake up in the morning, go to the daily briefing, and receive word that HQ has ordered you to grow crops.


Brexit certainly won’t be as disastrous an outcome as the Japanese had it, but the casualness with which the decision is being pursued by people who do clearly know better has uncomfortable parallels.

I’m a bit cautious about ascribing national characteristics, but the Japanese armed forces definitely seemed to have a culture of making up for material deficiencies by surprise front-loaded aggression, not out of any bushido spirit (quite the opposite in terms of causation!) , but a rather sharp-eyed cynical analysis of where Japan was in relation to other countries in the late nineteenth century. After all, looking at how Western powers were treating China and South-East Asia must have come as a pointed reminder of the consequences of failure.


I’m cautious too as “national characteristics” aren’t far from stereotypes, but Staffs absolutely do have cultures. I think your description suits the IJA Staff planning culture to a T…less so the IJN.


Yeah, these are not really national or ethnic stereotypes; they are stereotypes of particular military cultures, Now, one can argue all day long about where such cultures come from, but no one is saying German people or Japanese people per se do X or Y. But it’s hard to argue that their military staffs didn’t have some rather predictable (in hindsight at least) quirks…


I think your point about the Leyte plan is agreeing with my speculation?


Yeah, but I 'm not blaming the staffs. Staffs write plans to accomplish goals within left-right limits. If you have to execute an incredibly difficult plan to even succeed, you go to higher hq and give them the risk/gain analysis and they say “Drive On”…well…if it all falls apart, it’s the fault of the political leadership. You basically said “I can execute this plan, but it likely won’t succeed, it is very complex.” They then said “Hold the Philippines at all cost.”

Well…ok then…

This sort of thing usually gets you shot:

“Why in the world are you laughing?”


Yeah I got that idea as well.



I am making a distinction between the staff’s planning efforts and the national political leadership’s political constraints on those efforts. To me that is a significant distinction.


There is a great scene in Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers where Col. Matthieu I think it is is holding a press conference to show off the capture of Ben M’hidi, After M’hidi is led away (having nearly stolen the show), the colonel addresses the reporters, who are peppering him with questions about torture. He bluntly says something to the effect of “There is really only one question. Do you wish to retain Algeria? If you do, you have to agree to the cost, which includes torture. It’s up to you (meaning France). We (the military) will do what you tell us to, but you should not have any illusions about what your’e asking us to do.”

Of course, I rather doubt that the senior French military leadership was anywhere close to as open and realistic as this semi-fictional regimental commander.