In the last few months - since July - I have been adding to my war games library, the four pictured volumes in order from left to right. It perhaps behoves me to say something about each of them - as resource books, all very different from each other, and all with something new and interesting to say to me.
John Curry(ed) and Paddy Griffith, Paddy Griffith's Wargaming Operation Sealion: The Game that Launched Academic Wargaming, The History of Wargaming Project, (2021).
'I could do with some light bed-time reading,' I remarked when I first heard tell of this volume. Not light reading, I was told. Although I have twice read it from cover to cover, and have given some thought how I might 'do' Operation Sealion as a solo campaign, I'm here to tell you that 'light reading' it ain't.
It is a pretty comprehensive war games campaign resource - all four volumes are - but this one is really an account of a multi-player game conducted in 1974 by the late renowned Paddy Griffith. This was something of an experiment - The Game That Launched Academic Wargaming - to examine a 'what if' campaign, to wit, Operation Sealion, the proposed German invasion of England in the Autumn of 1940.
|Taken from this series of articles beginning|
It seems that in researching, gathering the materials and developing the project, Mr Griffith concluded before the game was actually played, that the invasion really had very little chance of success. Not to put too fine a point on it, it was doomed. Novels that take Operation Sealion as the basis of an 'alternate history' come in for some criticism on account of their underlying assumptions.
Now, it happens that I have a copy of the memoirs of Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, commander of one of the Luftwaffe groups, Luftflotte 2, that were engaged in the bombing attacks on Great Britain during 1940-41. He expressed the view that the thing might, given the right conditions and meticulous planning, have gone ahead to a successful conclusion. At the time, the Luftwaffe overall were enthusiastic about the project; the Wehrmacht rather ambivalent; the Kriegsmarine didn't want a bar of it.
Kesselring also expressed some surprise that the early planning hadn't begun back in 1939, as soon as the invasion of France was determined on. This is possibly hindsight talking, but it seems not unreasonable to suppose that some such plan might have been begun, as a contingency upon France being overrun or forced to surrender (the value of a contingency plan - or the consequences of the lack of one - must have been brought home to the UK in recent years, with the Tory government permitting itself to become committed to Brexit with neither plan nor policy. Amazing) . The moment it was clear France was defeated, measures ought to have been set in motion.
Again, this may be hindsight, but Kesselring allowed that the moment the bombing switched to what he candidly called 'terror bombing' of cities, he knew Operation Sealion was 'off' the agenda. Interestingly enough, Griffith allowed that in the context of the Operation itself, London, qua communications nexus, would have been a legitimate military target, to disrupt the transfer of reinforcements and supplies from north of the Thames.
Now, before the change of bombing policy, the Luftwaffe had engaged in an attritional battle against the RAF. It appears that the German Army and Navy insisted upon total air domination as the sine qua non of the seaborne invasion. This was of course an impossible demand, as Griffith and Kesselring would have agreed. About half of the UK was simply not reachable by the Luftwaffe; if the situation became sufficiently desperate, the RAF could have withdrawn north of the limit of Luftwaffe's range, and still been in a position to attack the beach landings and the Channel as well.
As far as Kesselring was concerned, he thought air domination or even simple superiority were too much to ask for. Rather he thought it sufficient for the success of the invasion that the Luftwaffe could contest the air above the invasion, and maintain that contestability until such time as airfields might be established on English soil.
I could bang on even further about this, but I found that the assumptions behind the war games project interesting in the light of Kesselring's own recollections. But with one or two little tweaks (to give the invaders a fighting chance) Paddy Griffith's Operation Sealion is based upon conditions as they actually were. To take just one small element, Admiral Raeder would not risk his capital ships in such an operation in such enclosed waters. It has to be admitted, one battleship (Bismarck) and two battlecruisers (Scharnhorst and Gneisenau) weren't a whole lot to throw in against the numbers of major units the Royal Navy could show! Perhaps had the navy been prepared to risk the entire fleet of major units down to light cruisers...?
Now, I haven't said all that much about the John Curry edited book! I hope readers will infer from this, though, that I found it a fascinating read: I read it through twice, cover to cover, within a fortnight. If you want to run such a campaign, it's all there, up to and including the tides at two locations where landings might have occurred, weather conditions, phases of the moon, availability of military forces - all arms - and, in the British side, their states of readiness. It really is a major project; a project for professionals.
But the editor has included two other, much briefer sections to follow the 1974 project run by Paddy Griffith (some of whose participants included persons who were involved in the 1940 operations, including the Luftwaffe ace, Adolf Galland). One is a Wargame Developments game at COW 2008, designed by John Curry, among others. If the Paddy Griffith operation was designed for something beyond the scope of a club project (though I think the resources offered could so be used), the COW version would be considerably more in a club's reach.
The book concludes with an Appendix account of a 2009 Sealion game at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford. These are Paddy Griffith's own 'debrief notes' of that event. It's less than 5 pages long but an amusing read - an after dinner mint to round off a vast meal.
I do have one complaint, though: the thing could have stood a lot more editing than it got. There is something definitely not right about the September 1940 tables on page 54, which had me looking up current tide times to get a better bearing on what they ought to have been. There are other typos and glitches scattered throughout - always an irritant to me.
This ...erm ... review having taken up more space than I anticipated, I have added the other three volumes by way of foreshadowing future postings about each in turn.
Andrew Rolph, Kharkov, May 1942: The Last Disaster, Self published? (2021).
Graham Evans (aka "Trebian"), Taiping Era: Tabletop Wargame Rules for land conflict in mid-19th Century China, Wargaming for Grownups Publications, (2020).
Bob Cordery, The Balkan League: A Matrix Game campaign including the Portable Balkan Wars Wargame rules, Eglinton Books, London (2021).