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Posted on Oct 30, 2006 in Front Page Features, Stuff We Like

The Practical Art of Moving Armies – On the Computer Screen

By Larry Levandowski

This is a strategy guide for winning the logistics battle in computer wargames. Sadly, and I say this as an avid wargamer and former military logistician, wargames usually represent logistics in abstract terms. Even so, there are still a handful of great games that do require the player to win the “logistics game,” as well as the “combat game.” This logistics puzzle can present even the well seasoned grognard with a battle he does not understand. So, in this article, I will present some key logistics concepts that can make the difference between victory and defeat. To illustrate how these tools apply to actual games, I will give examples from two very diverse offerings, both having strong logistics elements: Sid Meir’s Civilization IV by Firaxis, and 2by3’s, War in the Pacific, published by Matrix Games. Hopefully you will see that playing the logistics game is not one of those areas where only staff officers should “fear to tread.”

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What is “logistics?” In 1836, General Antoine Henri Jomini, who as a young man had impressed the likes of Napoleon and Marshal Ney, wrote a ground-breaking study on the art of war. This book, titled, “Precis de L’art de la Guerre” (Summary of the Art of War), was studied by professional soldiers worldwide, and would have its influence felt during much of the 19th century, including the American Civil War (an English translation of this work is available for free download from guttenberg.org). In this work, Jomini defines logistics as the “practical art of moving armies.” He points out that logistics primarily affects the strategic and operational levels of war, and is not tactical in nature. He states, “strategy decides where to act; logistics brings the troops to this point; grand tactics decides the manner of execution and the employment of the troops.” In other words, once the strategy is set, logistics covers pretty much everything up to the point of combat.

For the first two thousand years of organized warfare, logistics was often ignored or marginalized. Armies, while needing food, and fodder, could mostly forage for their needs. Combat troops carried their weapons, and did not require ammunition (with the exception of missile troops). While the likes of the Spanish Armada, and the Mongol Invasions of Japan, certainly required logistics planning, it was not until the Napoleonic period that logistics was formally organized and studied.

This recognition of logistics as a part of victory was hastened by the introduction of new military technologies in the 19th century. Napoleon’s massed artillery attacks needed efficient transport to feed their tremendous appetite for shot and powder. American Civil War generals quickly learned that the strategic situation could rapidly change when armies moved by railroad from theater to theater. The Franco-Prussian War saw rail lines quickly bring huge concentrations of Prussian artillery and infantry to the siege of Paris. It was also during the 19th century that Great Britain, with a relatively small army, used its navy to transport troops to the far corners of the earth; expanding its borders so that truly the “sun never set on the British Empire.”

log1.jpg
Invasion of Cape Gloucester, New Britain, 24 Dec. 1943. Crammed with
men and material for the invasion, this Coast Guard- manned LST
nears the Japanese held shore. Troops shown in the picture are Marines.
PhoM1c. Don C. Hansen. 26-G-3056

But it was in the 20th century, and the “meat grinder” of industrialized warfare, that made logistics a critical element of combat determining victory or defeat. In the last 100 years, more than any period before, to deprive an army of its logistics tail is to deprive it of its technology. In conventional warfare, ferocity, bravery, and will to win are often of little consequence against a better equipped and supplied enemy. Without ammunition, rifles and machine guns become little better than clumsy clubs. Without food, high concentrations of troops, fighting in barren terrain, see more damage from starvation than enemy fire. To illustrate this, one need only look at the Japanese experience in the Burma Theater in WWII.

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