May 21, 2024

Draft history in The Battle of Kyiv: The Fight for Ukraine’s Capital by Christopher A. Lawrence

RockyMountainNavy, 5 February 2024

Bottom Line Up Front: A “first-draft of history” written by a historian and analyst with a solid foundation in historical military analysis that unfortunately is limited to sources the author recognizes as “far from complete, and far from properly researched.” While mostly a historical compilation of events, for wargamers the valuable parts of the book are where the author discusses the forces on the eve of the invasion and where they apply historical analysis models developed by The Dupuy Institute to offer an evaluation of the combatants and the war.


First draft book meets first draft wargame

As I start writing this post in late January 2024 it has been nearly two years since Russia invaded Ukraine. One of the latest published book on the subject to is The Battle for Kyiv: The Fight for Ukraine’s Capital by Christopher A. Lawrence of The Dupuy Institute.[efn_npte]Lawrence, Christopher A. The Battle for Kyiv: The Fight for Ukraine’s Capital. Barnsley: Frontline Books, 2023.[/efn_note] My goal in reading The Battle of Kyiv was two-fold: On my historian’s hand I wanted to better understand the lead up to the war and the events of the early days; on my other wargamer hand I wanted to gain some insight into the tactical and operational military “lessons learned” from the early days of the war.

Just two months before The Battle of Kyiv was released, wargame designers D. B. Dockter and Mark Herman posted an article on the GMT Games website about their in-development project called Defiance: 2nd Russo-Ukrainian War 2022-? (now available on P500). The article, titled “First Draft of History: Designing a Military Simulation of the Russo-Ukraine War 2022-2023,” discussed not only the game design approach behind the title but also some of the controversy over even attempting to design a wargame covering an on-going conflict. In “First Draft of History,” Dockter and Herman note six challenges they face:

  1. PREMATURE LESSONS: Lessons drawn reflect what has been learned up to that point, which may prove to be actually the wrong inferences drawn from the conflict six months/six years/six decades from now.
  2. FOG: Data/facts are incomplete; that fog of war thing thickens as proximity to conflict increases.
  3. CHANGE: War has apparently changed, again!…[snip]
  4. PROXIMITY: The Russo-Ukrainian War is playing out every day and will likely continue until a dramatic, possibly horrific, conclusion occurs. This war ends in the bunker (mad tsar deposed) or battlefield (Russian army mutinies yet again). Negotiating with a fascist dictator on the march has historically proven to be a poor choice (see Munich 1938). So, the war is in our face reminding us of the horrors of WW2 and what could have happened not long ago (a cold war going hot…that The Day After thing).
  5. MODEL: What is a decent strategic operational model of this particular conflict? Who has that? What existing models can be tweaked? Is there anything we can beg, borrow, or steal?
  6. EVOLUTION of this CONFLICT: The war began with a mad dash to Kyiv, Kharkiv, Kherson, and Mariupol. Ukraine routed Russia in the Kyiv and Kharkiv campaigns, but Russia captured and held the other two locations. In the fall of 2022, Ukraine routed Russian forces in the Kharkiv oblast. Later, Ukraine liberated Kherson in grinding operational campaign. During the winter of 2023, Russia conducted a WW1 type trench warfare combat to capture Bakhmut. Since then, Ukraine initiated a slow, firm, smart operational push in on the southern front, while Russia began a push in the east in October 2023. Each operational campaign has been quite different. (“First Draft of History”)

The six challenges Dockter and Herman face in writing “First Draft of History” are the same Lawrence faces when writing The Battle of Kyiv. While we can read Lawrence’s book now to see how those challenges are addressed, it will be interesting to see how Dockter and Herman address them if Defiance is ever released1.


The source of knowledge

Christopher A. Lawrence, the author of The Battle for Kyiv, is the first to admit they are not the expert on the Ukrainian War. Lawrence openly acknowledges that, “I have not spent the last few years wandering around Ukraine or Russia examining their armies” nor do they have, “an extensive collection of friends in the Russian or Ukrainian armies, or the U.S. or UK intelligence services who are keeping me up to date with the latest information” (xi). Unlike when Lawrence wrote his 1600+ page magnum opus work Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka2 they have “no exhaustive collection of unit records” nor a “research team, translators, and several people helping me” (xii). As Lawrence tells: “For this book, I have none of that. I do not have access to hardly any unit records. I do not have access to participants…I do not have access to other accounts or memoirs, I do not have a staff, I do not have translators” (xii). Lawrence writes of the sources they do have: “All I had was the newspaper accounts, Ukrainian and Russian general staff statements, reporter interviews, YouTube videos, and all the other noise that gets published in the middle of an on-going war” (xii).


TDI guy

If the author of The Battle of Kyiv bases their book on sources they call, “public domain ‘ash and trash’ material” (xii) then what real value does the author bring to the table?

I personally selected this book amongst the many titles now coming available exactly because it was written by Lawrence, an acquaintance I have bent elbows with when sharing drinks with in the past. More relevantly, Lawrence is the heart of The Dupuy Institute. As both a hobby wargamer and wargame practitioner I take great interest in the mission of The Dupuy Institute:

“The Dupuy Institute is an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military campaigns.”

“In tribute to what Colonel Trevor N. Dupuy pioneered, and in an effort to pursue his goals, The Dupuy Institute continues to amass historical data and strives to refine their understanding of the complexities of modern warfare. The Dupuy Institute is committed to the original goals of the founders of operational research – the accumulation of recorded, detailed data from actual battlefield experience – and the utilization of actual battlefield experience to understand all dimensions of combat, including technological and human factors.” (About TDI)

While Lawrence may not have access to the best sources, they bring plenty of experience. As Lawrence writes, “What I do bring to the table is a basic understanding of conventional warfare drawn from decades of experience working for the U.S. Army, Trevor Dupuy and The Dupuy Institute, and an actual demonstrated track record for predicting losses, durations and result of operations in Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan (see my book America’s Modern Wars), and some knowledge and understanding of the environment (see my various books on the Battle of Kursk)” (xii).


Historical analysis used forward

The Battle of Kyiv addresses the challenges of being a first draft of history by limiting its focus to the lead up to the invasion and ending on 2 April 2022. This allows Lawrence to tailor the evaluation of the combatants and war to the events in that relatively narrow window of time in order to address the challenges laid out by Dockter and Herman:

  • The Battle for Kyiv addresses the challenge of Premature Lessons by not making sweeping statements for the whole war, but assessments supported by historical analysis and results from proven models that cover the war through 2 April 2022 where the book ends.
  • The Battle for Kyiv addresses the challenge of Fog by openly acknowledging the sources used are not the same “accumulation of recorded, detailed data from actual battlefield experience” that usually underpin models developed by The Dupuy Institute but at the same time try to sort what is available for useful data while always being wary of disinformation.
  • Drawing on their experiences and knowledge informed by historical analysis, Lawrence concludes that while the War in Ukraine has seen Change, it is as new a phenomenon as some in the media portray.
  • Though there is certainly much more to be written, The Battle of Kyiv has a relatively narrow focus; it attempts to avoid being seen as too proximate to the war (i.e. Proximity) by ending the book with the events of 2 April 2022.
  • In much the same way Dockter and Herman are using the 1991 Victory Games title Flashpoint: Golan: The Fifth Arab-Israeli War as the basis for Defiance, Lawrence uses proven models, especially those used in the book War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat3 to show that historical analysis can be applied to Model the War in Ukraine.
  • The Battle of Kyiv covers the early days of the War in Ukraine (through 2 April 2022) and thus limits how much of the Evolution of this Conflict is covered.


Open history explained by TNDM

As Lawrence relates in The Battle for Kyiv, the core business of The Dupuy Institute is using their Tactical Numerical Deterministic Model (TNDM). The Dupuy Institute site describes the TNDM thusly:

“The Tactical Numerical Deterministic Model (TNDM) is an empirically based combat model with a database derived from historical research. It was developed by Colonel Trevor N. Dupuy, (USA, Ret.), from his concept, the Quantified Judgement Method of Analysis (QJMA), as presented in his two books, Numbers, Predictions and War (1979) and Understanding War: History and Theory of Combat (1987). The QJMA has two elements:

    1. Determination of quantified combat outcome trends based upon modern historical combat experience in more than 200 examples of 20th Century combat, mostly World War II and the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli Wars, and
    2. Extrapolation of historical trends to contemporary and future combat on the basis of developments and changes in firepower and mobility technology.” (TNDM and QJM)

In evaluating the armies in The Battle for Kyiv, Lawrence focuses on the relative Combat Effectiveness Value (CEV) input into the TNDM. The CEV of a force is derived in part by, “looking at their casualty effectiveness, mission accomplishment and spatial effective (how far they advance in combat)” (182). As Lawrence further explains:

“The main point is that one can compare the performance of individual armies, and even individual units, relative to each other by looking at their casualty exchange ratios, mission accomplishment and spatial effectiveness over the course of a preferably large number of battalion-, brigade- and division-level actions. To date, this has not been possible to to for this war. Therefore, one is forced to guess a little as to the relative effectiveness of each army.” (Lawrence, 182)

Though Lawrence is “forced to guess a little” in The Battle for Kyiv that guesswork is offset by a deep understanding of the strengths—and limitations of—TNDM and how CEV is derived. The openness of Lawrence’s explanations of the modeling behind the evaluation of the two armies and the war builds confidence in the results.


Fool’s Errand

Dockter and Herman in their “First Draft of History” talk of the “Fool’s Errand” in developing a wargame on a current-events topic:

“Historical military simulations (“wargames”) seek to provide students of them with a sandbox to better understand what happened and why. Or “What could have happened if different choices had been made?”: you be the judge. Designers of such simulations benefit from perspective (distance from the conflict) and being able to understand what actually happened using data/facts/stories, assuming that conflict is firmly buried in the past. Additionally, some of the immediate rawness of the conflict has passed/healed with time, so dispassionate perspective can be gained.”

“Modeling a hypothetical simulation gets a free emotional pass: the designer invents a story and the audience has little emotional attachment to the conflict. Modeling a conflict currently underway—headlines screaming with a daily litany of war crimes (such as Bucha)—blood on the streets…well, a designer tackling that subject gets no free pass. Tread carefully.” (“First Draft of History”)

Like Dockter and Herman, Lawrence too must tread carefully. In The Battle for Kyiv that care can be seen in Lawrence’s acknowledgement of the weaknesses of their sources and the careful application of the TNDM. While the limits of sources and models might be seen by some as fatal flaws and an excuse to set The Battle for Kyiv aside, it is exactly that acknowledgment of weaknesses—offset by the tradecraft of military historical analysis that is foundational to The Dupuy Institute—that makes The Battle for Kyiv a book worthy of attention and closer study.


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  1. As of the writing of this post Defiance is at “Not There Yet” status in the GMT Games P500 program.
  2. Lawrence, Christopher A. Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka. Sheridan, CO: Aberdeen Books, 2015.
  3. Lawrence, Christopher A. War by Numbers – Understanding Conventional Combat. Potomac Books Inc, 2017

2 thoughts on “Draft history in The Battle of Kyiv: The Fight for Ukraine’s Capital by Christopher A. Lawrence

  1. That’s complete bullshit and Kiev’s propaganda.
    Hopefully, by the time the game is released, Ukraine has got the licking it deserves and the war is ended.

  2. Rocky,

    Thanks for the write-up; I had not seen this book.

    No one ever has all the information they would like when writing history (even in Lawrence’s 1600+ page Kursk book). There always will be unknowns, and assumptions need to be made to fill gaps. As I like to point out, many wargamers happily play out battles from over two thousand of years ago where “accurate sourcing” is largely based on a single author who wrote about a battle years after the war ended, or did so second hand based on stories passed down. Certainly our understanding of the Russo-Ukrainian War will improve over time, when it ever ends, but I can’t wait until after I’m dead to try and simulate a conflict that U.S., NATO, Ukrainian, and Russian military planners are already gaming.

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