Home Forums Modern Dupuy's Understanding Defeat – Any good?

This topic contains 6 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by John D Salt John D Salt 2 weeks, 3 days ago.

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  • #72458
    Whirlwind
    Whirlwind
    Participant

    I just noticed this book for the first time today https://www.amazon.co.uk/Understanding-Defeat-Recover-Battle-Victory/dp/1557780994/ref=sr_1_fkmr1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1506499453&sr=8-1-fkmr1&keywords=dupuy+recovering+from+defeat – has anyone read it and is it any good?

    • This topic was modified 1 month, 3 weeks ago by Whirlwind Whirlwind.
    #72519
    John D Salt
    John D Salt
    Participant

    Dammit, more expense.

    I’ve just ordered myself a copy, so I’ll let you know when I’ve read it.

    All the best,

    John.

    #75332
    John D Salt
    John D Salt
    Participant

    I finally polished the thing off a few days ago, and have just found this thread again to resurrect it.

    Yeah, it’s a good book, I don’t begrudge the £20 it cost me. A lot of the stuff won’t be new to Dupuy fans, and a lot of the book is taken up with some (pretty lightweight) military history on the campaigns of the “great captains”. As so often, it’s a shame they didn’t get a bigger budget to carry the work on in more depth, so the main result is really just a shopping list of factors that appear to affect defeat, with no quantitatve estimate of their relative or absolute contribution. But at least they did the work, and what’s more rooted out a fair few combat experienced soldiers across the spectrum of ranks to contribute their views — there just isn’t enough work of this kind done, I reckon, probably because it isn’t an easy subject to study. I was a bit suprised that fatigue and logistic limitations did not feature more prominently, but the cynic might argue that US soldiers in WW2 were more likely to be well-supplied and well-rested than those of other nations. The appendices list some reports that are likely to be familiar to people who spend too long rootling around in DTIC, and the Ardennes-based model on forced posture changes I seem to recall implementing in Python a few years ago.

    The headline results, for wargamers too busy or idle to read the book for themselves, are, first, that it appears that defeat causes casualties, rather than casualties causing defeat; and, second, that there is no partcular level of casualties that can generally be said to force a posture change or act as a “breakpoint”, so all those armchair experts pontificating about how a unit that suffers 30% casualties is no longer combat effective are just talking tosh. Most wargamers probably know this stuff anyway; I wouldn’t count on all military analysts knowing it. Concentrating on casualties as the main effect of battle is, Dupuy rightly points out, not terrribly sensible; but he does seem to fall into the trap himself in a few places, and understandably so, because casualties are easy to count, and defeat just isn’t.

    I found it interesting to compare Dupuy’s offerings on the topic of defeat and morale with a couplle of books I’ve recently read — one on the Folgore Division, and Kippenberger’s “Infantry Brigadier”, both about units with very high combat morale, who sometimes were on opposite sides of the same battle — and one I’m reading at the moment, “Killer Butterflies”, whose subtitle “Combat, Psychology And Morale In The British 19Th (Western) Division 1915-18” gives a pretty clear idea what it’s about. It bears some of the stigmata of being a bookified PhD thesis, but it’s interesting stuff, and, again, the kind of thing we could do with a lot more of.

    All the best,

    John.

    #75334
    Whirlwind
    Whirlwind
    Participant

    Very interesting John, many thanks.  How did Dupuy compare with the stuff on the Folgore Division and Kippenberger – were they broadly saying the same thing?

    #75400

    Nick Riggs
    Participant

    This is a bit of a conundrum in current tactical wargaming then, isn’t it John? You’ve cited Dupuy who says that casualties don’t correlate to the state of a unit’s effectiveness. SLA Marshall (and subsequent authors) have questioned how many individuals are active participants (arguably these are two sides of the same coin) – where does this leave the typical tactical wargame, where by and large all units can act, move, shoot etc. within a ‘turn’? It sounds like we need to start again from scratch.

    • This reply was modified 2 weeks, 4 days ago by  Nick Riggs.
    #75480
    John D Salt
    John D Salt
    Participant

    How did Dupuy compare with the stuff on the Folgore Division and Kippenberger – were they broadly saying the same thing?

    They weren’t really trying to say the same thing, as Dupuy is analytic history and the other two were narrative history. But at least they didn’t seem to contradict each other. For both the Folgore and the Kiwis, they seemed to be able continue through what I would consider worryingly high casualties. The Folgore seemed to have more in the way of logistical difficulties, sometimes being forced to pack in because ammunition was exhausted.

    All the best,

    John.

    #75485
    John D Salt
    John D Salt
    Participant

    This is a bit of a conundrum in current tactical wargaming then, isn’t it John? You’ve cited Dupuy who says that casualties don’t correlate to the state of a unit’s effectiveness. SLA Marshall (and subsequent authors) have questioned how many individuals are active participants (arguably these are two sides of the same coin) – where does this leave the typical tactical wargame, where by and large all units can act, move, shoot etc. within a ‘turn’? It sounds like we need to start again from scratch.

    Well, yes.

    Of course there have been game mechanisms that try to reflect these things. “Activation mechanisms” of various kinds seem to be popular currently, and I have seen some people argue that these reflect combat participation. In particular I remember this claim from the AH boardgame “Fire Power”, which used a chit-picking system. Such systems can work brilliantly, as I think they did in VG’s “Panzer Command” and AH’s “Platoon”, but in “Fire Power” the amount of activity per chit seems wrong, and overall the game strikes me as bearing as much resemblance to infantry minor tactics as it does to ballroom dancing. One could also use the chits to activate any soldier — to reflect the S L A Marshall distinction between “fighter” and “non-fighter” types, you would need chits related to individual soldiers (Sergeant Rock is a fire-breather, so has four chits; Private McMimsy has only one chit, and cannot use it for aimed fire) or categories of soldiers (some chits can be used only to activate “gutful men”, other for “sheep” as well).

    I have also seen a mechanism to model the variability of breakpoints, in SPI’s “Patrol”. Here, each side had a “preservation level” that, once exceeded, obliged it to withdraw from combat. Preservation chits were numbered 1 to 6, and were pciked when casualties were suffered, so the “casualties cause defeat” mistake was still arguably being made, but at least there was a strong degree of variation in the level of loss that would trigger withdrawal.

    The classic old-school mechanism to model these things is the WRG-style reaction test, and that can account for a lot of known psychological factors of shock, surprise, terror weapons, leadership and so forth. They fell out of fashion many years ago; as I have no idea what goes on in rules sets such as “Bolt Action” or “Panzer Marsch” or “Chain of Command” or “Flames of War” or “Kampfgruppe Jursk”, or anything else the kids might be playing these dayys, I do not know whether they have come back into fashion yet.

    One of the things I noticed both from Kippenberger’s “Infantry Brigadier” and as I plough on through “Killer Butterflies” is the pernicious effect of not allowing sufficient time for orders to filter down from top to bottom. Junior leaders are known to have a strong effect on combat performance, but if there is no time to tell anyone in the platoon what the plan is, apart from the chap in charge, then as soon as Sir stops a bullet, everything goes for a ball of chalk because nobody else knows what they are supposed to be doing. I have often previously moaned, and shall doubtless moan again, about the way no wargames rules I have ever met attempt to represent the basic business of ‘R’ groups, ‘O’ groups, and the extraction of orders. Wargamers typically hate planning, and expect their tin soldiers to be able to respond instantly to whatever they decide is a good idea for this turn — the “telepathic heroes” decried in the WRG’s magazine adverts from the 1970s. This means that the adage “Order, counter-order, disorder” finds no equivalent on the wargames table, where the commander’s wishes are transmitted instantly and infallibly, and the soldiers are never confused by the commander’s ever-changing intentions. I can’t remember which of my recent reads contained a wonderful allusion to “what officers call poor staff work, and the men call being buggered about”, but it will be familiar with anyone who has ever been in, or even fairly near, the armed forces, and heard expressions such as “hurry up and wait” or “on the wagons, off the wagons, different set of wagons”.

    It occurs to me that a set of rules that could handle the way a plan is diffused to the troops coould also perhaps show the difference between “ditigiste” and “Auftragstaktik” approaches to command control — another thing I never see reflected in wargames, beyond the traditional “+1 for being German”. A dirigiste command would have to maintain continuous command (as in Russian C2 doctrine) so that everyone can be told what to do (although the Russians at higher levels would have a bunch of options worked out in advance). The Auftragstaktik commanders would accept that comms are going to be disrupted and the chain of command is going to be interrupted, but rely on the local commanders being able to do something useful off their own bat in accordance with the commander’s desired end state (always assuming he doesn’t change his mind about that).

    The great difficulty with attempting these things outside a computer game lies, I think, in trying to keep track of who has been told what.

    That seems to have taken us a long way from Whirlwind’s original question, so I hope none of us mind a bit of high-speed thread-drift.

    All the best,

    John.

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