Chestnut Lodge Wargames Group

Getting There Sometime-ish With The Quite-a-lot-really-est


Where The Hell Is 3rd Div…?

A Suggested Mechanism for Reflecting Line of March Efficiency.

We’ve all presumably read loads of stuff about campaigns which develop into clashes/battles in which a key feature is the arrival of units off the line(s) of march. How well this is managed over the centuries seems as much a feature of the commander and the staff which has to implement the Great Plan (and the sub-unit commanders themselves – but I’ll come on to those beauties later).

Many of our systems have used ‘command’ points or their like to denote where the bulk of any given unit may be, but most fail to reflect the time delay and straggling effect of poor (or, more often, poorly-led) units. Taking Napoleon’s classic 1796 and 1814 Campaigns as examples, the huge Allied forces often outnumbered the French by 3:1 or more. But their ‘ponderous’ nature meant that only a proportion could be brought to bear in any given engagement, whereas the French under a dynamic *group* of leaders were everywhere at once!

I tried to reflect this in my take on events in the 1814 campaign by simply having both ‘front’ and ‘tail’ markers for each force. The command/staff points now had to move *both*, and any engagements used the distance between said markers to reduce available sub-unit power. It is my contention therefore (prompted by Nick Luft; thanks Nick) that this sort of system could easily be applied to all manner of armies from antiquity onwards. But there’s more…

Once such a mechanism is adaopted, I suggest that it actually becomes easier to then add-in other key factors which, on their own, are often rejected as too much ‘chrome’ or too much overhead on already burdened players/umpires. These include:

  • quality of the road/route may put a maximum limit (and be adjusted by weather). It’s why the ACW campaigns in the Shenandoah Valley altered radically when rain turned ‘most’ routes to liquid mud.
  • size of force will also adjust the ‘cost’ for the back marker (one bicycle bttln on the road to Smolensk obviously takes-up less space than 3rd Gds Tank heading the other way…)
  • unit status (have they been force-marching already and are thus ‘tired’? Are they ‘green’, not used to it?)
  • if your ‘front’ marker overlaps with the ‘rear’ of another – many can actually co-exist, but the friction soon builds-up, which is where good staffwork comes in (Austro-Hungarian please skip this section). Mind you, in earlier times you may run afoul of cultural limits, i.e. “nobody marches in front of the banner of Lord Elpus” (even if his Lordness is actually still akip in the last camp site)
  • actions of the enemy (air or guerrilla interdiction, making the route/cost increase, if only temporarily)
  • are the sub-cmdrs any good…?

Suddenly the need for multiple roads becomes functionally clear, not just a bit they keep mentioning in the text before the juicy battle reports…

“Apes DO read philosophy, Otto – they just don’t understand it!”

(Jamie Lee-Curtis, A Fish Called Wanda)

OK, we’re going to use elongated units, marshalled by staffwork, but lo! Another aspect of simply getting your b******* units from A to B (let alone fighting when they get there) is the quality of the sub-cmdrs/staffs. This can be simply an adjustment factor on the formula mentioned above – but with slightly more detail there is a golden opportunity for more here, with my beloved ‘NPC’ character charts creating a much more flavoursome command experience…

The NPC character is a set of criteria which describe the key personality attributes non-played sub-cmdrs of your forces, much like (in a simplified form) the stats for encounters with important but unplayed personnel in role-playing adventures. These criteria can include:
– how *aggressive* a cmdr may be (so cost for *front* marker is standard or even reduced, thus encouraging the use of the unit by higher command, and/or force-marching, both of which will wear it out).

– how *efficient* they are is another matter (cost for moving *rear* marker increased – the ‘Custer’ effect)

– how *well supplied* the unit is (leads to straggling as the men attempt to forage, another serious drop in available manpower)

– how a ‘timid/efficient’ cmdr (Little Mac?) might actually reverse these costs, thus ensuring that your gigantic host all arrives more or less together. Eventually. When it moves. Unless we dig-in….

– how lazy they are (transforming ‘march at 07:00’ to ‘march after a nice brunch…’)

You can even include how damned stupid they are, so that there is a potential delay or error for every crossroads on the stated route of march (another couple of ACW incidents had units following the poor map straight into – effectively – a bog, or at Gettysburg Longstreet’s critical flank march on the 2nd day suddenly halting when surprise was lost. The main problem is that the local cmdrs insisted on maintaining their order of precedence, so instead of simply everyone about-faces 180 degrees, they had units trying to counter-march on already clogged roads… so the ‘right of the line’ crap lasted way beyond the medieval period; sad but true. Then again, even Stonewall Jackson almost got lost on the night march at Chancellorsville!).

I’m still trying to work out how to include *really* inept actions like another fave – Russian div cmdr in the Crimea managed to screw-up the pre-Inkerman approach night march by totally confusing the road order; lost critical hours finding him (and his 8,000 men), let alone setting off again…. wonderful lunacy.

Anyways, from this I think we we can immediately appreciate – in a numeric, quantifiable game sense – the importance of a good road network, and the staff who can make use of it… Mind you, all this is when your units are going nicely forwards…. 🙂

  1. Nick Luft

    My idea – not original, I guess – to have front and rear or teeth and tail unit markers was based on my experience as logistics player in several games. My idea was that the higher unit supply column just had to reach the tail of each sub-unit so that the sub-unit integral transport would do the final lift to the fighting troops. So for example if I was playing the Corps supply CO my columns would trace their supply lifts to the tail marker for each Division or independent Brigade in the Corps.

    I had imagined that there would be a maximum distance between the teeth and tail unit markers. Anything further would mean the supplies would not be efficiently reaching the teeth.

    And if we apply your concept that this distance between teeth and tail also reduces combat efficiency I think we have a nice little system!

    I look forward to your next game!

  2. Peter Merritt

    Thanks (again) Nick – nice to know that someone in CLWG is still alive!

    I am now (still) working on ideas for simple/fun logistic systems in various levels of game. It will never be first on a player’s list of ambitions to be the QM of the 1815 campaign or flashy tank drive on , drawing big arrows on the map. But it might just register if the QM leans over and takes the pen away…?! 🙂

  3. I should have mentioned (although the article was already too long) that so-called NPC characters can develop a life of their own…

    We have all probably been prone to grafting ‘real life’ personas to our units and cmdrs on the table top or in map campaigns (Donald Feathersone and Charles Grant mentioned it way when).

    In one of my Balkan Wars non-megagame try-outs, the NPC army cmdrs were selected from a ‘pool’ of possible appointees using profile cards (a bit like ‘Mission Impossible’!!!). Now, the chrs all had attributes included ability, aggression, psychological ‘resilience’ – and political affiliations + influence. The point being that the govt faction which appointed him (and to whom he ‘leaned’), would benefit from any success in the field. Likewise, there would be a political cost at home should the govt seek to remove him!

    Simple enough, yes? But imagine my astonishment when rumours began to circulate about a new, young, ‘thrusting’ cmdr with one army who (with a very good ability rating – oh, and 3:1 odds vs Turks in retreat…). Ayways, I overheard hushed govt/team discussions in which this cmdr – an NPC, remember – was generally assumed to be getting too popular, and would almost certainly soon be plotting to overthrow the govt, Napoleon-wise (I think I have that straight, Mukal, in great ‘Danton’ mode?). Despite my assurances that there was no plan (no mechanism even) for such a move, by game end the three factions in the govt were actively working together to first cripple that army in the field (diverting resources etc), then constructing some pretext to have him recalled………

    Than there was the same thing with an NPC brigade cmdr during my fake ACW ‘Shennandoah Valley’ game. This one was the reverse of the Balkans problem – high aggression but minimal organisational ability, so would attack any Yankees given the chance, irrespective of situation, but tended to create havoc in his divisional line-of-march [part of the inspiration for the title of this piece]. However, was highly thought-of in Richmond, so very difficult to replace and as liable to take umbrige to any perceived slights as Braxton Bragg. Lots of secret dsicussions amongst the Confed teams about not only planning operations, but how to deal with this guy……

    Wonderful paranoia.

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