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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

When evaluating the quality of routes, capacity, transit time, and enemy ability to interdict the route all need to be considered. Taking a muddy forest trail may be shorter as the proverbial “crow flies,” but can actually take more travel time than a much longer segment of good highway. And, unless you have extra transports to spare, there is little benefit to taking routes that allow the enemy to attack your supplies and transport units. Even a great route can become worthless if under enemy threat.

On the offensive, difficult terrain, serviced by bad transit routes should be avoided. Routes must be scouted well into enemy held territory, so that like Patton, you can “see” into the future, where each battle will be fought. If routes do not exist, and the game mechanics allow, each offensive spearhead should be closely followed by engineer units working feverishly to improve the road / rail net just behind the offensive spearhead.


As the offensive matures, and routes back to supply sources lengthen, appropriate security measures must be taken to protect the routes from enemy interdiction. These protection measures could take the form of a squadron of fighters stationed to protect a sea lane, or a fort built on a hill overlooking a key crossroads. But be careful not to over-react to enemy capabilities. Getting supplies to the troops faster, may be more important than protecting yourself from every enemy threat. In War in the Pacific’s, 1941 scenario for example, Japanese invasion convoys in the Java Sea, must often sail unescorted, and endure a gauntlet of air attacks from British and Dutch forces. But the Allies aren’t great at air-naval attack early in the war, and these attempts only sink a few ships here and there. In the final calculation, it is better to lose these few ships and keep the attack rolling, than to delay and wait for the availability of one of the small number of escort carriers.

On the defensive, a good transport net allows you to take an active strategy. With a good network, you can defend more territory with less forces. Instead of stationing a thick line of relatively static units, you can locate forces at central points, with good routes along the line of defense. As the enemy attack develops, you use the routes to rapidly concentrate against the enemy spearhead. If you are defending a line of three cities for example, ensure good transport nets between them; then station troops in the central city. As the enemy attack matures, shift your forces to meet them. To make an active defense work, it is absolutely necessary to have good reconnaissance and visibility of enemy movements.

If retreat is required, make certain to destroy the transport network as you leave (game mechanics allowing of course). Also as you retreat, your shortened interior lines of communication become a defensive advantage. A “Russian” strategy that lets the enemy advance, stretching their supply lines and shortening yours with retreat, has worked throughout history.

For the offensive or defensive, do everything you can to interdict key enemy routes. Fast moving, disposable, raiding forces can have a far reaching effect here; tactical airpower, light cavalry, guerilla forces, espionage units, and PT boats are all great in this role. At worst, the enemy will have to peel-off frontline combat forces to protect their supply routes from your light forces. At best, your raiders might actually cut off the enemy’s ability to move or re-supply at critical moments in the conflict.

Victory cargo ships are lined up at a U.S. west coast shipyard for
final outfitting before they are loaded with supplies for Navy depots and
advance bases in the Pacific." Ca. 1944. 208-YE-2B-7


Capacity is the concept that while good transport networks may be available, they are often constrained by their ability to handle transport over the dimension of time. If you think of your supply route as a pipeline, capacity would be represented by the size of the pipe. The bigger the pipe, the more supplies that can be moved through it. A super-highway, and a small asphalt road are just as good for a single truck on the move. However, the highway has a much greater capacity, and can support hundreds of more trucks per hour than the two lane road. So if you are moving an armored division, you definitely want a super-highway. It is no accident that General Eisenhower, after seeing the German Autobahn, pushed hard as President to establish the US Interstate Highway network.

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