It can be argued that the most potentially decisive wargames of World War II were never played. When Hitler came to power he quickly put a stop to the strategic-level war games played at the Ministry of Defense. He considered them a pseudo-intellectual pursuit. He would make the future strategic decisions for Germany based upon "blood and soil," that is on his own genius and intuition. Germany nevertheless continued to wargame operational and tactical problems. If you consider Germany fought well at the operational level but blundered at the strategic level, the possible impact of allowing these games to be continued can only be guessed at.
Still, there may not have been any effect on history, if Hitler had not listened to the wargame results. In 1938 General Beck, then Chief of the German General Staff, conducted a wargame of a German campaign against Czechoslovakia. While the wargame predicted a German victory, the fight would be so costly that it would weaken Germany to the point she could be conquered by any of her neighbors. Hitler ignored these findings, as he believed the Czechs would not fight.
This should not suggest that wargames did not play an enormous role in the German war effort from start to finish. In early 1939, before the war began, the Germans wargamed their attack on Poland. While they certainly would have won that campaign anyway, the wargame seems to have had some effect in speeding up their victory. More importantly, differences between the wargame's predictions and the Army's actual performance was one of the motivations for the rigorous training regime implemented between the victory over Poland and the offensive in the West.
Also, Hitler was not above sighting a wargame when its outcome confirmed his inclinations. In the Spring of 1940, a then relatively obscure Lieutenant Colonel by the name of Manstein, proposed an innovative plan for the coming offensive. Instead on swinging through Holland and Belgium as Schlieffen had proposed 35 years earlier, Manstein proposed a massive armored thrust through the Ardennes Forest, across the Meuse River, and on to the Channel coast. In so doing he would cut off the British Expeditionary Force and the most modern elements of the French Army. Initially his ideas received a chilly reception by the high command.
He persisted though, wargaming his plan at his headquarters and showing that the plan could work. Well, thought the high command, perhaps there was something wrong with his wargame. His plan was wargamed again at higher headquarters, and again the plan worked. Perhaps, the plan would work on paper but tanks could not actually negotiate the Ardennes. Next, a field wargame was conducted over similar terrain within Germany and again the plan worked. At this point Hitler got involved. He had been wanting some plan that promised a more decisive outcome but, this early in the war, he was still reluctant to overrule his generals. Now, with the endorsement of the wargames, he ordered the change. The result was a French defeat far faster and more complete then would have otherwise been possible.
Wargames could also discourage. German games played before the war on the subject of a strategic bombing campaign against Britain, and war games played after the fall of France on a cross-Channel invasion, both showed how difficult such operations would be. When the actual Battle of Britain proved indecisive as predicted the discouraging predictions of the cross channel invasion wargame were taken even more seriously.
Hence a wargame predicting disaster should the Germans attack the Soviet Union could have had some effect. True, after conquering France Hitler was far more secure politically. Still, many prominent generals did not like the idea of invading the Soviet Union in general and they did not like the plan that came from Hitler's headquarters in particular. Hence, the usual pre-invasion war game was unusually important. Given the massive size and depth of the operation, the Germans conducted what was probably the largest, longest war game to that date, and possibly of all time.
Operation Otto , was conducted over three separate occasions as the Germans attempted to wargame a long campaign through to its conclusion. At the end of their third session, they had only wargamed through to early November. Yet no fourth session was scheduled. One reason was that the war game predicted the destruction of 240 Soviet Divisions, with only 60 remaining, and a front line that stretched from the gates of Leningrad to the edge of Moscow and deep into the Ukraine. Surly the Soviets could not recover at such a point. Those officers who continued to have misgivings about the invasion after the Operation Otto, felt they had no military basis to object.
Ironically, in the actual campaign on the actual "date" that Operation Otto ended the Germans had advanced about as far as predicted by the wargame and had actually destroyed more (248) Soviet divisions. However, instead of the Soviets being down to 60 divisions they still had 220 divisions. How could the war game be so wrong? They got most of the details right as far as the capabilities of individual Soviet divisions and their reconnaissance had given them a very accurate picture of the Soviet order of battle at the beginning of the campaign. It was what they did not depict that misled them. The Soviets had a plan to mobilize entire new divisions upon the beginning of hostilities. The German wargame made no provision for new Soviet divisions. To make matters worse, beyond the time period wargamed the Soviets acquired an old ally, the Russian Winter. Expecting victory, German forces were woefully unprepared for winter fighting. It is intriguing to speculate how history might have been different if the Germans had held a fourth session of Operation Otto.
At about the time of the first phase of the Operation Otto war game, the Red Army was also wargaming a German invasion. Though much shorter, this wargame also shaped the war. The Russian plan for a German invasion was to initially stand on the defensive wearing the Germans down in a fighting retreat. Then, when the Germans were tired, the Soviets would counterattack and drive the invader from Russian territory. While the plan worked – in the wargame – the German side penetrated far deeper into the Soviet Union then anticipated. When Stalin was briefed on the outcome he was outraged.
This exercise appeared to have three impacts. Stalin blamed the deep penetration on the Red Army waiting too long to counterattack. This may help explain the premature counter-attacks made in the actual invasion. The wargame did alert Soviet leaders to the possibility of deep penetrations by a German invasion, so the actual German advance was probably somewhat less of a shock. Finally, Stalin concluded that one of the reasons the Red Army did so poorly was that the young general playing the Germans had done a brilliant job. Already well thought of by Stalin, this increased the general's stature further. This general's name? Zhukov.
The Germans made heavy use of wargaming throughout the war. To describe all of their efforts would require a paper the length of this work. Here is just a sample.
While Operation Bodyguard, the deception plan for the Normandy invasion, had confirmed German suspicions that the main invasion would come at Calais, the Allies were not able to hide all their preparations across the Channel from Normandy. The Germans concluded that these preparations were being made for a feint, an attempt to trick them on the location of real invasion. Still, they conducted a wargame of an Allied landing at Normandy and concluded that an Allied lodgment was probable! This caused considerable concern in the high command. Though they may have joked about the ugly American uniforms, they had come respect the initiative shown up and down the chain of command of the American Army. If the feint was successful the Americans might decide to make the feint their main effort.
The Germans therefore ordered reinforcements into Normandy. The regiment that made Omaha Beach so bloody was one of those reinforcements. So was the 21st Panzer Division, the unit that prevented the British from taking Caen on D-Day. The invasion would have been much more difficult if it had not occurred before two-thirds of the planned reinforcements arrived.
Ironically, while one German war game made D-Day far more costly for the Allies, another actually helped the Allied cause. When the invasion took place many key commanders were away from their headquarters as they were on their way to a second wargame. This wargame would test how well they could meet an invasion of Normandy when all the planned reinforcements were in place. The delays caused by key commanders being away from their command posts actually helped that invasion succeed.
Finally, the Germans' wargame of the "Middle" Battle of the Ardennes may have been the most unusual game of the war. After the German Army was chased across France, resistance began to stiffen. Early in the Fall Field Marshal Model, commander of Army Group B ordered the Fifth Panzer Army, the German formation defending the Ardennes sector, to conduct a wargame of an American attack. On 2 November 1944, while the wargame was going on the Americans actually attacked. Instead of dismissing the game Field Marshal Model (Who was present at the wargame) sent only the commanders of units in contact back to their commands. He then directed that actual American movements be fed into the game. The Germans then wargamed out each of their orders before executing them. Finally, it was time to commit the reserves. The Field Marshal Model called the commander of the reserves over to the wargame map, personally briefed him on his mission and sent him on his way. It is difficult to imagine the leader of a counterattack ever having better situational awareness.
http://www.strategypage.com/articles/de ... eader=long