SLIDE RULES AND SUBMARINES: AMERICAN SCIENTISTS AND SUBSURFACE WARFARE IN WORLD WAR II
by Montgomerey C. Meigs
Washington, DC: National Defense University Press, 1990
Pp. 220, 74 photographs
reviewed by LT Daphne Kapolka, USN
Naval Postgraduate School
In March of 1943, “U-boats ravaged merchant ships crossing the Atlantic in a manner not seen since World War I: 42 ships in convoy and 16 stragglers, more than a half-million tons of shipping, went down. These losses represented one-twentieth of the ships attempting the round-trip across the Atlantic.”
Meigs’ book, Slide Rules and Submarines, is the compelling story of the race to slow these catastrophic losses of World War II and to form our own offensive capabilities in the Pacific theater. The heroes of the story are the scientists, whose objectivity cut through the traditional Navy paradigms to form innovative, effective solutions to subsurface warfare. In the preface, Meigs declares that his objective is, “to gain insights about how scientific developments became military capabilities in the campaign of subsurface warfare in World War II,” and, in particular, to answer three questions:
- How were scientists best able to contribute to the development of new military capabilities that proved significant at the operational level of command?
- What institutional factors aided or abetted this process?
- Once technological innovations became operational capabilities, how did they influence the campaign in terms of their psychological, operational, and tactical effect on the battle?
He provides answers to all these questions throughout the book by giving us a detailed look at the personalities, institutions, and events which shaped the course of subsurface warfare.
Meigs sets the stage for his analysis with a look at the post World War I mindset In spite of the devastating campaign the German U-boats launched against Allied shipping in the First World War, little was done in the postwar period to develop either the technology for subsurface warfare or a doctrine for such warfare. Maritime strategy focused on surface forces, and the potential of the airplane as an ASW platform was ignored, even though the terms of the Anglo-German Naval Treaty allowed the Germans to build a submarine force equal to 45% of the British submarine force by tonnage, as opposed to only 35% of the surface fleet.
Consequently, the start of the Second World War caught us unprepared to defend against the aggressive Rudeltaktik or “Wolf Pack” tactics employed by German Admiral Karl Doenitz. Institutional biases in favor of the traditional approach, particularly as reflected in the unyielding personality of the Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Fleet (COMINCH), Admiral Ernest J. King, impeded progress in our subsurface capabilities. Nevertheless, scientists began to organize themselves to contribute to the war effort Dr. Vannevar Bush formed the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC) in June of 1940.
Unfortunately, the resistance of the Navy to what they saw as the interference of outsiders limited the effectiveness of the scientists’ contributions during the beginning stages of the war. They had to force their way into the command structure gradually. In April of 1941, scientists in Section C-4 of NDRC, the section devoted to subsurface warfare, published their “Plan for Handling of a Comprehensive Investigation of Submarine Detection.” In it they expressed their desire to apply the scientific method to all aspects of subsurface warfare, not merely to technological advances. But it was not until May of 1943 that COMINCH relinquished his tight control and created the Tenth Fleet as the organization devoted to subsurface warfare. This is portrayed as the crucial organizational step in increasing our effectiveness to coordinate subsurface warfare. With this institution the Chief of Staff for the Tenth Fleet, Rear Admiral F. S. Low, acquired the authority, resources, and focus necessary to take full advantage of the scientists’ work. This work ran the gamut from operational analysis of tactics designed to maximize kill probabilities, to the development of new equipment and the training programs to ensure their effective use.
In his development Meigs includes the influence of intelligence gathering, most notably the cryptologic successes of both sides. He also describes the dynamic changes in tactics engendered both by technological advances and the psychological effects of the changing situation. This helps to flesh out the picture of the factors which ultimately led to our victories in World War II. The closeness of the contest is especially striking and leads one to worry about the course of future conflicts.
The greatest benefit to be derived from this book is the insight it gives into the factors which work against us in our own bureaucracies. It is perhaps for the best that this book, about the rigidity of Navy command structure and warfighting doctrine, was written by an Army Colonel. Certainly, we cannot claim that institutional bias and rigidity of thinking are totally a thing of the past. And, although we can rightly argue that we have learned from the mistakes of World War ll (our on-going efforts to improve joint operations is an example), this book presents a timely reminder that we must be continuously on guard not to let past, traditional answers preclude better, innovative solutions.
Anyone aspiring to the upper levels of military command should have a keen interest in the message of this book. And for those having an interest in the early development and deployment of ASW equipment, this is an especially interesting account of the whole spectrum of ASW technology and its impact on tactical and strategic issues. I was disappointed with the brevity of the treatment of the Pacific theater. (It received only twenty out of 220 pages.) But this is a minor flaw in an otherwise fascinating and extremely well-written book.
THE ART OF WARGAMING
by Peter P. Perla
published by Naval Institute Press 1990
Reviewed by CAPT James H. Patton, Jr., USN(Ret.)
It quickly becomes apparent in the book that, in what he describes as “Hobby Gaming”, Mr. Perla is a true and acknowledged expert with a great deal of experience. In fact, his articulation of the background and refinement of that particular pastime, as well as a parallel effort for “Professional Gaming”, is perhaps the single most valuable aspect of the book as a reference volume in the library of anyone involved in simulation and gaming for research, education or entertainment.
After the documentation of gaming’s history, the central theme of The Art of Wargaming is the extent to which Hobby Gaming and Professional Gaming relate to one another. Early in the book, Mr. Perla identifies two terms, “War Gaming’ and “Wargaming”, that generate expectations that they would be used as a marvelous vehicle by which the overlap and mutual support of hobby and professional efforts could be compared and discussed. This is not the case, however, and it would appear that an excellent journalistic opportunity is missed.
Mr. Perla manages to nicely capture some key elements of the gaming process, both from the aspect of professional gaming and from that of hobby gaming, that are not necessarily intuitive to those who have not been formally involved in the process. These elements include:
- The pros and cons of deterministic (expected values) versus stochastic (random values) determination of engagement results.
- The critical nature of defining the “objective” of a “game” before determining the means and methodology thereof.
- The misconception that greater “detail” of a “model” yields greater “accuracy” of its output.
- The deleterious effect when the nature of game structure permits (or even encourages) participants to engage in “gaming the game”.
- The magnitude of the spectrum of “games” from purely educational to purely research, and the different methodologies used across this spectrum.
- The importance of clearly identifying which of a vast number of possible “variables” for a given application are truly “critical” and which must be represented with an appropriate degree of fidelity.
- The often adverse impact of excessive “realism” when applied past the point of that required for credibility and the meeting of the game’s objectives.
Mr. Perla does not treat the War College’s Naval War Gaming System (NWGS) or its predecessor, the Enhanced Naval war Gaming Systems (ENWGS), very gently as a useable device – it having been designed to be all things to all people. Having been nominally “in charge” of the device for a year and a half in 1984-85, I can only state that Mr. Perla significantly understates NWGS inadequacies — violating all of the above bulleted critical elements and more. On the other hand, the effect and impact of the GLOBAL War Game series under “Bud” Hay is understated as a generator of key national military and geo-political issues.
As nice a compilation of people, facts and anecdotes that The Art of Ware;amine; is, it cannot completely escape criticism. It is a difficult book to read (the “fog of wargaming”?); is significantly redundant in many parts (reference is made on 5% of the books pages to a clear Guru of hobby games, Mr. James F. Dunnigan) and significantly overestimates the commonality of interests and motivations between that which is basically intended to entertain and that which must successfully train or extract valid issues for further investigation. Mr Perla shows an understandable bias, considering his documented devotion to the subject, in favor of hobby games and garners. The very strong undercurrent sensed is that all professional games and garners are but subsets of the “purer” hobby genre, and that the professional would do well to step aside and let the hobbyists solve their problems. The continuing reference to the “shortcomings” of senior military personnel wore a little thin after awhile, and was somewhat out of place — especially considering the glowing foreword by retired CNO Admiral Tom Hayward. A critical segment of the entire professional spectrum of “gaming” was left out by not addressing the different needs and forcing functions of such unit-level training devices as Submarine School’s Attack Centers — where the necessity of training specific operational “truths” completely override any requirement for stochastic “fairness” on the instructor’s (umpire’s?) part. Fire a torpedo at a target from short range and with no own ship protection, and the “Dungeon Master” will see to it that the computer target is “turned off” after weapon acquisition, and (a Ia RED OCTOBER) the reattacking weapon will see and eat up own ship.
Mr. Perla, with whom this reviewer worked for a period in 1984 at the Naval War College, has done a remarkable job in researching the genesis and subsequent development of his subject In fact, a more appropriate title for his work might be The History o[ Wargaming. Shortcomings aside, The Art of Wargamin~t represents a valuable addition to the reference library of anyone involved in tactics, technology or training of military forces – a large proportion of the Naval Submarine League’s membership.