One example that I've gleaned from this website accounts a Japanese war game for the Battle of Midway:

In the tabletop manoeuvres, for example, a situation developed in which the Nagumo Force underwent a bombing attack by enemy land-based aircraft while its own planes were off attacking Midway. In accordance with the rules, Lieutenant Commander Okumiya, Carrier Division 4 staff officer who was acting as an umpire, cast dice to determine the bombing results and ruled that there had been nine enemy hits on the Japanese carriers...

I would like to know how such war games were played in this era. Did they alternate turns or take both turns simultaneously? How were the odds calculated, e.g., that a carrier strike would succeed? Did they keep track of things like remaining fuel and munitions? Was weather simulated?

I'm interested in land, sea, and air battles, and from all of the major belligerents (not just Japan). But I could not find mentionings of other war games or military exercises played by, e.g., Patton, Manstein, Zhukov, Dowding, etc. Sadly it's nigh impossible to google, as every keyword seems to be interpreted as if I wanted a modern computer "war game" like Hearts of Iron 4 or something. That's not what I want. I want to know the rules of a real war game played before and during WW2, that real generals played. What were the rules of those games?


3 Answers 3


It seems hard to find good information on the web. There is an old report by John P. Young, A Survey of Historical Developments in Wargames, ORO-SP-98 (1959), and there is a German report available in English translation from the US National Archives: Rudolf Hofmann, War Games, MS P-094 (1952). Both contain a fair amount of the information you seem to want, including (IIRC) the Midway game. Google gives a bunch of hits but I could not find PDF copies.

Another good source is McHugh, Fundamentals of War Gaming, but it is not only history.


You might have better luck checking terms like "staff college exercise" since that was the context of most "war games".

There was one such game completed 'inter-college' with the specific idea of turning it into a book; (Sea Lion, ed. Richard Cox, Futura, 1974). The game appears to have taken place in the late 1960s, but since most of the participants and umpires were junior officers in 1940 who were curious about what would have happened, they used WW2-era technology for the game. To quote from the Foreword;

The Kriegspiel or War Game is a Prussian invention, and a highly practical one at that. Early in 1940 the German High Command did a Game on the invasion of Franxce, and then obeyed its lessons in the real attack of 1940... The scenario of our Sealion Game started with the known plans of each side. German and British officers played the respective German and British naval, army and air commanders, with Hitler and Churchill also represented,. Each side had a commmand room at the Staff College from which decisions were telephoned to the main room and shown as moves on a large landscape model of South Eastern England and the Channel, specially made at the School of Infantry and laid out at the Staff College. The resultant battles were umpired by a panel of generals, admirals and air marshals, with disputes over exact losses resolved by cutting cards - the traditional way- ... It says much for the authenticity of the War Game that these six umpires agreed unanimously on the final outcome.

It would also be worth checking out Man of War, by John Masters, which includes a chapter on an Indian Army Staff College war game in the 1930s. There is some dispute over how autobiographical the (fiction) book is, but undoubtedly Masters did pass Staff College at that time, and went through several such games.


Just to add to your info - there was a Military Channel/AHC program where the question of US Fleet getting enough warning to put to sea during the Pearl Harbor attack. They had a bunch of military "experts" who took sides but they didn't discuss the details of how they came to their conclusions - at least not that I recall. Some thought the Japanese would have sunk most of the BBs at a greater loss of life since they weren't easily rescued. Others disagreed suggesting the Torpedo Planes would likely be shot down as in the US at Midway. I know you're looking for the details of how they determine success or failure in a pre-computer world and while I suspect it might be up to a roll of the dice I can't say for sure. Sorry.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.