June 24, 2024

First Impression of Maneuvering to War by High Flying Dice Games

Aaron Danis, 3 June 2024

We didn’t know how soon war would come, but we knew it was coming. We didn’t know when we’d have to fight, but we knew it might come at any time, and we had to get together something of an Army pretty darn fast. We didn’t dare stop for the progressive and logical building of a war machine. As a result, the machine was a little wobbly when it first got going. The men knew it. The officers knew it. Everyone knew it.1

Lt. Gen. Lesley J. McNair
“The brains of the Army”2

Louisiana S1 initial setup
Here is the first Louisiana scenario set up and ready to play. The battle map (there are several) on the left is from the Gabel monograph listed in the endnotes.

click most images to enlarge

Paul Rohrbaugh, the head of High Flying Dice Games, recently sent me a review copy of this new game that covers the 1941 U.S. Army maneuvers in Louisiana and North Carolina commissioned by then U.S. Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall, popularly known as “The Louisiana Maneuvers.” These large-scale exercises are credited with preparing the U.S. Army to confront the Axis war machine only 3 months before Pearl Harbor. Directly coordinated by rising star Brig. Gen. Lesley McNair, then-commandant of the Army’s Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth3, over 350,000 men and 50,000 vehicles “clashed” under the watchful eyes of trained Army umpires in the largest peacetime military exercises held in the United States up to that time.

The 1941 maneuvers were a follow-on to the initial 1940 maneuvers (called an “experiment” by one Army leader4) that featured 70,000 troops. The Army and National Guard were undergoing rapid expansion and fundamental unit reorganizations using an injection of new funding and fresh recruits from a worried Congress eyeing wartime events in Europe5. Other exercises were held at the divisional level in Tennessee before and during the war to prepare them to deploy overseas6.

Louisiana 01
This is the initial actual plan of maneuver for the first Louisiana scenario in shown in Figure 1, from Dr. Robert Citino, “The Louisiana Maneuvers,” The National World War II Museum of New Orleans, accessed 5/29/2024

 

With that background, this game is a two-player operational recreation of those exercises. The game comes with 338 mounted7, one-sided, meaty, and easy-to-read ¾ inch counters representing mostly regiments and brigades, with a few experimental anti-tank battalions and airborne companies. There are six high-quality 11×17” maps (four for Louisiana and two for North Carolina) that are combined – with some trimming – into nicely-sized 26×21” and 21×17” maneuver maps, respectively. There are also a 14-page rulebook (with about 8 pages of real rules, the rest being scenarios and optional rules), a combined terrain effects chart and unit legend (below), a player aide card, and a hardcopy of the addenda that also is available on the CONSIM game website in a living format, updated by Paul when changes are needed. The addenda also has two post-publication variant rules, 14.4 Ambush and 14.5 Retreat Before Combat. The latter applies to the horse and mechanized cavalry units, which have red movement factors to denote this additional screening capability.

TEC cropped

The players are put into the shoes of the notional Blue or Red Army commanders maneuvering over then-rural Louisiana and North Carolina. Each Game-Turn represents 8 hours of real time (with 2 day and one night turn per day); the 4 scenarios each can last 10-13 turns, with the possibility of sudden death victory, or by victory point count if no sudden death victory occurs. The Louisiana map is rendered at 5.5 miles per hex, and Carolina is 4 miles per hex. While it may seem strange (because movement points don’t change between the units in both maneuvers), it really isn’t a big difference figuring the max distances most units are traveling and the Local terrain, which is what you would expect in rural areas of those states: open, forest, hills, swamp, rivers, small towns, roads, and 3 larger cities (roads that cross rivers are assumed to have bridges, and you can emplace pontoons).

Carolina initial setup
Carolina Maneuvers initial set-up. The battle map on the left again is from the Gabel monograph.

 

The sequence of play is as follows:

  1. Activation Marker Phase
  2. Air and Artillery determination Phase
  3. Operations Phase
  4. End Phase
  5. Night Turns

In step 1, the game uses the popular chit pull activation technique, which – along with some special rules – represent the command-and-control fits and starts the young Army experienced during the exercises. Not all unit activation chits are available each turn, and a “Fog of War” random event chit is thrown in for good measure (there are 7 events on a table). Additionally, there are corps-level headquarters units with limited command range that are required to avoid having units placed “Out of Command,” which means the affected unit can only activate in a limited fashion, negatively impacting combat and movement. The same goes for supply, which must be traced to one of two supply depots that the owning player places during setup. Don’t forget to guard them!

Army-level and a couple subordinate leaders are provided, and they can positively affect rally die rolls and headquarters command range. The most notable is the Patton counter, which can only affect the 1st Armored Corps on the Red Team, made up the 1st and 2nd Armored Divisions. He can increase movement and take 1 off the combat die roll (a good thing) for units he is stacked with. He can be captured, as can all leaders, so keep him for important attacks.

Patton Counter Green hornet
It’s all fun and games until the Patton counter shows up; the game has a random event just for him! On the right is a picture of Patton in his pre-war “Green-Hornet” Armor Corps uniform that he designed (with a gold helmet, no less), but it was rejected by the Army for aesthetic reasons.

 

In air and artillery determination, each player rolls on a chart to see how many air units he will receive for the turn. There are 3 types of aircraft, and 4 mission types. The Navy was invited by Gen. Marshall to participate in the games, and the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Stark, sent 3 fighter, 4 dive-bomber, 1 torpedo squadrons to participate in both GHQ maneuvers, and these are represented in the game along with the 600 U.S. Army Air Corps aircraft8. Most notably, light observation aircraft are represented in the game to support spotting for both artillery and air strikes. To encourage experiments with light liaison airplanes, the firms of Piper, Aeronca, and Taylor offered the free use of eleven sport planes for the maneuvers9. They can provide the owning player an additional die-roll modifier. Artillery units are represented by impact markers (there are no physical units on the map), and their use is straightforward.

 

Store is flour bombed
A store is flour-bombed during the 1941 maneuvers. Imagine that in modern exercises! (from Rickey Robertson, “Remembering the Louisiana Maneuvers of 1941,” Stephen F. Austin State University, accessed Jue 1, 2024.)

 

In the operations phase players can move, conduct fire combat, do movement and fire combat (at half-value for each), overrun fire combat, opportunity fire (of an opposing moving unit), and rally. The game combat mechanics are not surprising, as most are standard in many hex-and-counter WWII games at this scale, with some variations. Seeing that the Army was preparing for large-scale combat overseas and learning from observing combat actions in Europe, this is what Army leaders were trying to achieve. “Combat results” (seeing that they were adjudicated by umpires in the maneuvers) are limited to disruption and then a step reduction (both represented by additional counters). A second step reduction results in unit elimination for the remainder of the maneuver unless the unit can be rallied or receive replacements, neither of which is a sure thing.

Specialty units
Some of the special counters from the game, to include supply depots, army and corps-level leaders, anti-tank battalions, and airborne companies.

 

There are special units that each side can use. There is a paratroop battalion (rendered as 4 companies) that can be used by the Blue Army in Louisiana and the Red Army in the Carolinas. While they are somewhat fragile, and only last for the day (umpires removed them each day in the real maneuvers), with a little luck they can take out a bridge, leader, or headquarters unit, which can hurt an opponent’s defense at a key time. Speaking of bridges, they are important chokepoints in both games, and the placement of a pontoon bridge can give a side spare capacity to move troops or replace a demolished bridge. Each side also has two supply depots in each scenario, and they are worth protecting as they count towards victory conditions and supply your troops (you will get fewer artillery strikes, for example). I used the old “square” infantry divisions (with movement allowances of 1) to cover mine, since they were almost useless in fast-moving maneuver.

So how does the game do in simulating maneuvers where no one was killed in combat?10 I think very well, as long as you understand a few key points. The U.S. Army was in transition from a World War I legacy force. The 2 armored divisions were a new construct and far from being the flexible Combat Commands of 1944. The Army was switching from the “square” two-brigade infantry divisions of World War I to triangular infantry divisions based on regimental combat teams. You can see the differences in the differences in mobility (1 MP vs 3 MPs, respectively). This also was the last hurrah for the horse cavalry, as the self-contained combined arms armored cavalry regiments that would become so versatile and indispensable during WWII showed their potential11.

Cav units
Guess which type of cavalry units would be disbanded after the maneuvers?

 

Concentrated anti-tank battalions showed some success in the maneuvers and were a fixation of Brigadier General McNair, who would modify the towed battalions of the 1941 maneuvers into 68 mobile tank destroyer battalions for the European Theater of Operations (ETO) armed with the M-10, M-18, and M-36 tank destroyers. Although they didn’t work out as anticipated and were eliminated after the war, they did provide infantry divisions in the ETO with mobile AT support. As General Devers later stated: “The separate tank destroyer arm is not a practical concept on the battlefield. Defensive AT weapons are essentially artillery. Offensively the weapon to best the tank is a better tank.”12

 

Simulated AT gun
Hopefully it was attacked by a simulated tank. (from Gabel, The U.S. Army GHQ Maneuvers of 1941, p. 76.)

 

Finally, although they were “only” maneuvers, Army leaders were made or broken by their performance in them:

Patton emerged from Louisiana one of the army’s rising stars and would be heard from again. Indeed, the maneuvers determined the cohort of field commanders who would fight the war in Europe. Of the 42 divisional, corps, and army commanders who took part in the fall exercises, US Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall would relieve or push aside 31 to make way for younger officers. 13

The legacy of the maneuvers lives to this day in the Army’s three Combat Training Centers (National Training Center, Joint Readiness Training Center, and the Joint Multinational Readiness Center). It is notable that Fort Johnson started as Camp Polk in the 1941 maneuvers and now is home to the Joint Readiness Training Center14. In 1992, then-Army Chief of Staff General Gordon Sullivan initiated the modern Louisiana Maneuvers that would result in changes to the post-Operation Desert Storm force structure and doctrine15.

In wargame space, Paul’s game has few equals. The first thing that came to mind was Brant Guillory’s self-published simulation of the U.S. Army’s National Training Center, Warfighter 101: Movement to Contact, which lets you write and execute operations orders using the NTC Opposing Forces against U.S. Army combat units. Perhaps more such commercial games would allow gamers to experiment with current emerging technologies. Sebastian Bae’s professionally-oriented Littoral Commander game series (the existing Indo-Pacific and under development Baltic) are such games. He developed a “mirror-image” scenario for Indo-Pacific which lets players use duplicate US Marine Corps forces to duke it out. The sandbox nature of the games encourages experimentation.

If you want to know how the United States developed the ground force structure and doctrine to fight and win World War II, start with High Flying Dice’s Maneuvering to War (and download and read the Gabel monograph!). You also can take game designer Brian Train’s sage advice and use this game as a sandbox to look at other force and doctrine combinations that the U.S. Army could have tried at the operational level. It’s unique and interesting as both a game and history.

Buck Privates poster
This comedy/musical starring Abbott and Costello – which I watched as a kid in the early 1970s – was released in January 1941, after the smaller 1940 Louisiana maneuvers, and was a huge commercial hit. Of note, the film starts off with a short documentary clip of President Franklin D. Roosevelt signing the Draft Bill on September 14, 1940 that established the Selective Service, which sets up the premise for the movie. There also is an umpired maneuver sequence near the end of the film using some newsreel footage. In its own way, this movie popularized and helped prepare America for the coming 1941 large-scale Louisiana maneuvers. (from IMDB Database, Buck Privates, accessed June 1, 2024.)

 


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Footnotes

  1. Eli J. Kahn, McNair; Educator of an Army, (Washington, DC: Infantry Journal Press. 1945), p. 24., as quoted in Christopher R. Gabel, The U.S. Army GHQ Maneuvers of 1941, United States Army Center for Military History, CMH Pub 70-41-1, 1992.
  2. This is the nickname that Gen Marshall gave him, see Mark Perry, “Louisiana Maneuvers (1940-41),” Accessed 5/28/2024. https://www.historynet.com/louisiana-maneuvers-1940-41/
  3. He would later go on to be Commander of Army Ground Forces. McNair became the “unsung architect of the U.S. Army” according to one account. See Mark T. Calhoun, Dissertation, General Lesley J. McNair: Little-Known Architect of the U.S. Army, University of Kansas, April 2012
  4. Perry, ibid.
  5. The author strongly recommends the Gabel monograph linked in footnote 1 as a mandatory pre-read to fully comprehend this amazing time in the history of the US Army.
  6. Frank Burns, “Second Army (Tennessee) Maneuvers,” Tennessee Encyclopedia (online), accessed June 1, 2024
  7. For a nominal fee, otherwise you self-mount them. The game can be ordered here
  8. Gabel, The U.S. Army GHQ Maneuvers of 1941, pp. 55-56.
  9. Gabel, The U.S. Army GHQ Maneuvers of 1941, p. 49.
  10. According to one account, 62 soldiers died during the maneuver period, of which 17 were during the maneuvers themselves, mostly due to accidents. See John G. D’Antoni, The Home Front: The Experience of Soldiers and Civilians in the Louisiana Maneuvers of 1940 and 1941, Dissertation, University of New Orleans, May 18, 2018, pp. 35-36.
  11. Gabel, The U.S. Army GHQ Maneuvers of 1941, p. 189.
  12. Gabel, The U.S. Army GHQ Maneuvers of 1941, p. 192.
  13. Citino, “The Louisiana Maneuvers.”
  14. U.S. Army JRTC and Fort Johnson, “History,” accessed May 25, 2024.
  15. James Yarrison, The Modern Louisiana Maneuvers: Changing The Way We Change, United States Army Center for Military History, no pub number, 1999.

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