by Richard G. Sheffield, Computer Publications ABC: Greensboro, NC 165 pp.
The primary purpose of Sheffield’s book is to teach his readers tactics and strategy for the WW II submarine computer simulation games presently on the market. A second purpose is to show how actual WW II attacks by successful skippers employed these tactics. The author has obviously researched WW II war patrol reports extensively and he presents a short reading list which will certainly be a help to ambitious computer game players who want to learn more about WW II submarining while they are learning how to “beat” the game program.
Old WW II submariners will find many errors which may amuse or anger them, but they must remember the purpose or the book and excuse the author, who is only interpreting what he has read. There are exciting excerpts from war patrol reports or such stalwarts as Red Ramage, Dick O’Kane, Dave White and Red Coe which make the book more interesting and provide authenticity to those readers who don’t examine them too closely. If you are playing any or the four computer games presently on the market, the book is probably well worth reading. In any case, it is well written and won’t bore you. However, the most valuable contribution or the book to submariners, old and new, is its delineation or how the computer simulation works, the assumptions which are cranked into the problem model and how the player can beat them.
During my last three years on active duty (1962-65) I was a member of the Weapons Systems Evaluation Group in DOD. During that period WSEG war-gamed very many different submarine actions against a wide variety or targets and counter action in much the same way as today’s computer war games. The situations were aimed at future warfare and ranged from the prosaic to the wildly imaginative. Authenticity was provided by a team of very capable systems analysts provided by the Institute of Defense Analysis on contract from OSD. We had ready access to information of the highest classification and the latest computational techniques. The results came out in the form of thick reports which were summarized for the “Top Brass” in a series or curves giving the probability of success in the situations simulated.
Although the computer works in nano-seconds, the preparation of a simulation model to put into the computer is a laborious process. At every stage of the conflict the probability of success on both sides is affected by many factors each of which reacts upon the other. The assignment of these detailed, internal probabilities becomes highly subjective and is a matter of dispute among the war-gaming officers (who often have preconceptions of the result) and with the analyst. The result is compromise and the thick reports are full of cautionary statements that the results are significant only under the assumed conditions. If one reads them carefully they are of great value. If you only look at the curves you may be misled. The output is mathematically precise, the input, however, is largely subjective.
An example of this difficulty is portrayed in the account of the first attack Red Coe made on SKIPJACK. Red had come from two successful patrols on the 5-39 shooting straight shots with HK 10 torpedoes using the MK-6 Angle Solver, the “banjo.” On this attack he decided to use the same tactics ignoring the TDC. Remember, in SKIPJACK the TDC was not in ~~e conning tower. So the Captain was working the problem in the conning tower on the banjo and the rest of the fire control party was working it in the control room on the TDC. Red misjudged his speed and when he took a look he was too close to wait for the banjo solution. Changing a banjo solution for an angle shot at close range with a high bearing rate is an impossible task. But the TDC in the control room was grinding away and had a solution. Reg fired at 650 yards, 300 off the track with a 50 right gyro on a 20° track. (Sheffield considers this to be the first “down the throat” shot. Red wouldn’t have called it that.) He got one hit and the target broke in two. At the time of the explosion. the second fish aimed at the MOT had run 20 seconds or about 500 yards. Since it hit amidships, it looked like a perfect solution and Red was right in being impressed by his “magic box.”
The attack occurred in May 1942 and the troubles at the time with the MK 14 torpedo have been widely publicized. What is not so widely known is that the torpedo advance and transfer curves used for input into the TDC were also defective. On a 50° right-gyro, the fish should not have gone where the TDC thought it was. But it sank the target and that’s what counts in war.
I had great admiration for Jim Coe and I wanted to be his second when he took the CISCO out in 1943. That job went to Gus Weinel, the number one man in the class of 1936. Red’s luck ran out and CISCO was lost on her first patrol. All the guts and brains in the world won’t do it all the time.
Old Submariners will be amused to learn that in playing the computer game “Up Periscope,” if one outwits the program, hits the reset button at the right time and then escapes the escorts by shifting to the large scale chart, he can become an “Admiral.” The submarine admiral in WW II had a tough job. He had to pick submarine skippers based on: war patrol reports which were self serving; enemy reports and intelligence which were worse; and dockside gossip among the officers which was worst of all. That the admirals managed so well is a tribute to their wisdom and intuition.
The distinguished historian, Arnold Toynbee in “A Study of History” described the dilemma admirably in a short paragraph which I have treasured for years:
“There is one thing which must remain an unknown quantity to the best-informed onlooker because it is beyond the knowledge of the combatants, or players themselves; and it is the most important term in the equation which the would-be calculator has to solve. This unknown quantity is the reaction of the actors to the ordeal when it actually comes. These psychological moments, which are inherrently impossible to weigh and measure and therefore to estimate scientifically in advance, are the very forces which actually decide the issue when the encounter takes place. And that is why the very greatest military geniuses have admitted an incalculable element in their successes. If religious, they have attributed their victories to God, like Cromwell; if merely superstitious, to the ascendancy of their ‘star,’ like Napoleon.”
Frank Walker, Jr.