Battlefield Leadership – The Heart of I Ain’t Been Shot Mum
Anyone who has read first-hand accounts of the men who served during the Second World War cannot fail to be impressed by the importance of leadership on the battlefield. With the millions that donned uniforms to fight the core of professional officers and NCOs were rapidly expanded to incorporate men for whom the military had not been their chosen career, but who through an accident of history found themselves with a rifle in their hands.
These mass, civilian armies were probably the least prepared for the type of warfare they were to encounter. In previous centuries the inexperienced man could simply join the serried ranks and learn “on the job” under the watchful eye of his officers and NCOs. Indeed such had been the case through until the open warfare of the 100 days campaign in 1918 when modern infantry tactics were truly introduced.
Now warfare was different. Men were relied upon to exercise initiative at the lowest level of command, the rifle section or squad. The responsibility of command laid upon the shoulders of leaders with little or no experience themselves and with limited life expectancy. Sidney Jary recalls his own arrival in France in July of 1944:
“Gentlemen, your life expectancy from the day you join your battalion will be precisely three weeks”. The florid, moustached major who addressed us at the small reinforcement camp, a few miles from Bayeux, obviously had a misplaced sense of humour or he should have been sacked. On second thoughts he definitely should have been sacked.”
Men similar to Jary would briefly lead their platoons and companies at the sharp end of warfare and would learn on the job, or they would die trying. Success was naturally variable. Field Marshall Viscount Montgomery wrote in his Memoirs in 1958:
“The first thing a young officer must do when he joins the Army is to fight a battle, and that battle is for the hearts of his men. If he wins that battle and subsequent similar ones, his men will follow him anywhere; if he loses it he will never be any real good.”
And in doing so simply echoed a great General from nearly a hundred years previous. Robert E. Lee wrote to President Jefferson Davis in 1863:
“No matter what may be the ability of the officer, if he loses the confidence of his troops, disaster must surely follow.”
It is simple for use to view an army as a homogenous force of heroes. As I write this on Remembrance Sunday in the United Kingdom it is easy to be persuaded that all soldiers were “Lions” even if one is disinclined to believe the insidious companion that all officers were “Donkeys”. Yet to do so would be to ignore the fact that military organisations since the birth of civilisation have divided themselves, in simple terms, into leaders and followers; and for good reason.
It is not necessary to accept the false premises presented by S.L.A. Marshall in his 1947 Men Against Fire to believe that men are not automatons, capable of absolute efficiency in every situation. Marshall’s work is seriously flawed, to the point where it cannot be considered as anything other than his own personal opinion, however it is almost universally accepted, even among scholars such as Roger J Spiller who was the prime mover in exposing Marshall’s failings, that we cannot simply discount everything that Marshall claimed. John Keegan in his defining work The Face of Battle produced in 1976 at the height of his career, wrote:
“Infantrymen, however well trained and well-armed, however resolute , however ready to kill, remain erratic agents of death.”
Erwin Rommel in 1931 wrote in his Infantry Tactics that “War makes extremely heavy demands on the soldier’s strength and nerves” for us to expect them to operate under those circumstances in the fashion that they would on the parade ground is to demand more than is possible. Human nature will, in most stressful circumstances, dictate that for the average man self-preservation will be his chief motivator, and sadly this flies in the face of military efficiency. But there is a solution. Rommel continues:
“Winning men’s confidence requires much of a commander…but once he has their confidence his men will follow him through Hell and high water.”
General “Black Jack” Pershing in his Experiences in the World War, penned in 1931 was equally certain that leadership was the key. He stated that “A competent leader can get efficient service from poor troops” but went on to say that “on the contrary an incapable leader can demoralise the best of troops.”
In fact it is impossible to read accounts of military history where leadership, at all levels, does not play a central part. To magnify the importance of this leadership the battlefield tactics of the first half of the twentieth century placed more responsibility on the shoulders of junior leaders as the concept of the “empty battlefield” emerged. Now decisions that would have been taken by senior officers a hundred years previous had devolved down to platoon or even section level. It is little wonder that success was mixed.
C3 in I Ain’t Been Shot Mum
When developing any set of rules it is undoubtedly the area of C3, command, control and communication, that has the greatest influence on how the game plays. I am convinced that this is the element of any game that determines whether the individual player decides he likes or dislikes the rules as a whole; this is where we find out whether the rule developer and his audience are actually on the same wavelength.
What we wanted to do from the outset was to remove a level of abstraction from the rules. Rather than simply allocate troops a command rating that somehow was wrapped up with their troop quality, we wanted to actually see our commanders, or at least the key ones who had passed the basic challenge of being respected by their men. Let’s take a look how that works within the framework of the card driven system.
Play Your Cards Right
Unlike a game of poker or pontoon, the card deck in I Ain’t Been Shot Mum does not have a fixed number of cards. For each game the deck can be tailor made to suit the specific scenario, thereby allowing us huge variety within one simple system.
At its most basic the system depends on unit cards and the Tea Break card. The Game Deck is shuffled each turn and the cards dealt out one at a time. Here’s that basic deck below.
When one of your platoons’ cards is dealt all of the sections or squads within it are activated. They can move, shoot, spot or any combination of all three depending on their basic quality and their level of losses. The cards then keep getting dealt until the Tea Break card comes out. Once that happens the turn ends. Any platoons that haven’t been activated can now fire at any enemy within short range or spot any enemy who is glaringly obvious, but they don’t get to move or try to spot better concealed opponents. Any platoons who have no enemy at short range or within obvious line of site do nothing, they lose their turn. The law of probability says that any one platoon will be activated in half of the turns in the game, in the other half they will do nothing or just engage any close range enemy.
This is where some gamers begin to jump up and down and start using words like chaos. And they are right, of course it’s chaos! What we have is basically all of our troops on the board but no officers and NCOs present. Kind of like a war where anyone that knows the plan doesn’t turn up. Our troops are being circumspect and advancing cautiously, and then tend to get stuck in firefights. What we need in there is some leadership to get things moving.
So, let’s look at the Game Deck once we take into account our key leaders. Remember, not all officers and NCOs are represented, just those larger than life characters that inspire those around them. What we’ll do is just focus on the Allied first platoon in order to keep this simple.
Now we see that for just this first platoon we are adding two “Big Men”, they are the key leaders. This is officers and NCOs, from Corporal upwards. Sidney Jary was candid when he said “Good soldiers and particularly NCOs can influence young officers as much as they themselves can influence their soldiers”, so we want both in there if they are up to the job. In this example let’s assume Big Man One is Lieutenant Ian MacLeish, and Big Man Two is Sergeant Angus McBride. MacLeish is a Level III Big Man, meaning he can do three things when his card is dealt, whereas McBride is Level II so can only do two things.
Now we can see that adding these two chaps to the Game Deck all of a sudden makes Allied Platoon One a much more dynamic force. If MacLeish’s card is dealt he can use his three initiatives to activate three sections within his command range, 9”, so that allows him to lead all three rifle sections forward each time his card is dealt. Units don’t get activated twice in a turn, but suddenly probability is telling is that Allied Platoon One is now likely to be activated two turns in every three. If we add Sergeant McBride with his we find that the chances of most of this platoon doing something in this turn are enhanced even further. What is more we can look at the two leaders doing some clever fire and movement stuff. Imaging leaving McBride with one section and the platoon 2” mortar as a base of fire while Lieutenant MacLeish leads the other two rifles sections to outflank the enemy. Both groups have a good chance of being activated in each turn, 66% probability across the course of the game. Not a bad start for our platoon.
Of course the only job for our key leaders is not just getting troops to activate. They can also do things like spot the enemy and rally units to keep them combat effective. We can even add cards to assist them in this if the quality of the unit warrants it. So we could add a Dynamic Commander card which allows the Key leaders to move more efficiently among their troops to rally them when things get tough. We could even as a Rally cards to allow them to do that even more effectively, but that would be for a really top quality unit. Here we’ll limit it to the Dynamic Leaders card, but we’ll also add a Mortar Bonus card to increase their rate of fire as this company is pretty effective with their light mortars. Allied Platoon One will have to share this with the rest ot the company but if they are at the forefront of the action then the company commander will no doubt be choosing to use it for them. So the cards in the final deck that Allied Platoon One can utilise looks like this.
As can be seen what originally looked like chaos with just the platoon card and the Tea Break card looks a lot more organised and efficient now. Of course there will always be an element of chance in warfare, you may well want Platoon One to rush across that field but the run of the cards mean that they sit tight for this turn. That, I am afraid is the friction of war. Not everything goes to plan all of the time. Sometimes troops get spooked by movement in a hedgerow that is actually nothing more than a few starlings or a gust of wind. What you do know is that next turn your key leaders are stacking the Game Deck in your favour and allowing you to work towards achieving victory.
By using the Game Deck to reflect the ability of our forces we can really fine-tune each scenario to replicate real units from the pages of memoirs and the real leaders who led those brave men to victory. Far better, we think, than simply “Elite Troops, Leadership Rating 3”.