Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Art of War - Kasserine Pass

     My older son and I are playing a new game of GDW's Bloody Kasserine wargame. I'm playing the Allied side this time so for eleven days of game time, I have to hold back the Germans & Italians in their drive to hold Kasserine Pass and capture my airfields.
      The game sets victory conditions upon the holding of important towns at the end of the game. Unit losses are not counted, only holding territory. There are three airfields: I hold Tebessa and Le Kef and the Axis holds Kairouan. Five towns are strategically important for victory: Kasserine, Thala, Sbiba, Faid and Feriana. I hold all but Faid at the start.

Photo from http://www.armchairgeneral.com/forums/showthread.php?p=2431604

     The red ovals are the strategic towns, the black rectangles are the Axis setup areas.

       I've played this game before, but this time I'd like to do something a little different. I've been reading Sun Tzu's The Art of War, and I am going to attempt fighting this battle as Sun Tzu would have done, taking what instructions I can from his book. The Art of War is arranged by chapter-and-verse, if you will, so when quoting from the text I will note it as such: Chapter II, verse 4, or (II, 4).

      In chapter one, Sun Tzu establishes five factors that must be considered in planning. They are the Moral Law, Heaven, Earth, the Commander, Method & Discipline (I,4). I think that all five have some representation in the game.

      The Moral Law relates to the soldier's willingness to fight; in game terms, unit morale. This comes least into the game, and is all in the realm of the player.
      Heaven relates to weather. We are using the optional rule for weather this time. Rain affects tactical air support and heavy rain grounds all aircraft, slows movement and affects supply.
      Earth relates to distance and terrain. The Allies start in the hill-and-wadi region and can easily use the terrain to their defensive advantage. The Axis must in the south cross a lot of open ground, and then run into restrictive ground with fewer options for movement.
      The Commander is the player. How clever and daring he is determines how well the armies will move. Knowing when to fight and when not to is critical.
      Method & Discipline relates to supply and the effective use of specialized units such as engineers, air power and artillery.

      As it stands at the beginning, the Allies will win a victory if I give up no Victory Point (VP) cities. The Axis must take at least a few to avoid defeat. This means I will be fighting a defensive battle. Offensive moves should be limited to relief of Allied forces or re-taking of a VP city.

      Sun Tzu said, “The highest form of Generalship is to balk the enemy's plans” (III, 4). So my goal is to prevent the loss of the VP cities. I can cede any other ground or town to the Axis if it will allow me to continue defending the critical locations.

      Sun Tzu said,"all warfare is based on deception" (I,18). Of course, the deception part is harder to do in a tabletop game that has all of the units face-up on the table. To simulate this, I will insist that neither side can pick up and examine enemy counters. So I'd better keep track of what units are stacked where. If I lose track of his flak units, my air support will be in trouble.

      Sun Tzu said, “If equally matched, we can offer battle; if slightly inferior in numbers we can avoid the enemy” (III,9) I will avoid whenever possible fighting at 1:1 odds, where I am least likely to get a Defender Retreat or Defender Eliminated result. Also, I will retreat from 3:1 or worse odds except when defending a VP city.

      Sun Tzu said, “there are five essentials for victory: 1, he will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight” and “4, he will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared (III,17). I will ignore none of my units, even if I do not move them, and look for when the Axis has ignored them. Then I will attack where he does not expect an attack.

     Sun Tzu said, “The skillful fighter puts himself into a position which makes defeat impossible” (IV,14). I will make maximal use of rugged crests and cliff hexsides – I can attack down a cliff, but the enemy cannot attack up, nor does his Zone of Control extend up a cliff face. The heaviest Axis units cannot cross rugged crests either, so I will use them to channel Axis forces.

      Sun Tzu said, “The clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy but does not allow the enemy's will to be imposed on him” (VI,2). In turn two, I used my engineers to sever most of the bridges across the wadis. This does not prevent the Axis from crossing but it does slow them down. I will tie him down with delaying attacks well short of the VP cities.

     I'll write up a gaming report once the battle is over, with observations on how well I applied those lessons, and what I missed.

No comments: