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September 27, 2022



Casualty Budgets:
applications to both military planning and commercial wargaming.
by
Matthew Caffrey, Lt Col, USAFR
John Tiller, Ph. D., HPS Simulations

"It was crucial that casualties should be kept to a minimum if final victory was to be seen worth the purchase"

The Battle for the Falklands, Hastings and Jenkins, 1983, p. 184.

In military history, there have been similar circumstances arise at very different times. For example, when Lee encountered Union forces on the first day of Gettysburg, he hesitated, not sure if he should commit his army to this particular battle. At Normandy, during the early days of the World War II invasion, the Allies hesitated, not sure if they should advance with more risks or take a more cautious approach to their campaign. At Borodino, during Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812, he failed to commit his entire army to the battle, unsure if he could "afford" the resulting casualties. In more modern times, it is interesting to compare the Vietnam War battles of Ia Drang and Hamburger Hill, one occurring during the early years of the American involvement, and considered a victory for the doctrine of airborne assault, with the second occurring during the later years of the war, and considered a terrible defeat, although tactically it accomplished the destruction of an NVA regiment.

The questions that arise from these situations are twofold:

  • How do we understand how to estimate eventual victory or defeat outcomes in such a way that transcends strictly attrition factors.
  • How do we implement military caution in artificial environments such as commercial wargames.

While the first question concerns primarily serving military strategists while the other is the concern of the recreational wargamer/civilian strategist the approach presented here actually addresses both of these issues. The concept of Casualty Budgets is based on the following:

  • In military situations, the participants are often constrained or influenced by the potential or actual casualties of the current situation in a way that transcends a pure military analysis of the situation.

This concept can be illustrated using the previous examples:

  • When Lee first arrived on the Gettysburg battlefield, he was forced to make decisions in a very uncertain situation. Although he appeared to hold the advantage at the time, there were too many unknowns about the situation for him to be able to commit his forces with certainty. Thus, for a long period during the first day of the battle of Gettysburg, Lee's forces waited for reinforcements before advancing.
  • After the initial success of the Normandy landings, the British forces actually withdrew from their furthest advance at the end of the first day, despite the fact that they were largely unopposed at that point. Likewise, the entire course of the Normandy campaign is made up of short periods of offensive activity followed by periods of inactivity, despite many weaknesses in the German position, in a way that goes far beyond mere logistical concerns at the time. The entire campaign was conducted in a very measured and paced manner despite the result that the Germans were able to prolong the fighting in the Normandy hedgerow.
  • Napoleon failed to deliver a knock-out blow at Borodino and consequently failed to conquer the Russians. He had additional uncommitted forces at Borodino, notably the Imperial Guard, but was uncertain whether he should commit them in that battle. On a purely military basis, he could have decided that the commitment of his entire force might yield a decisive result, but the uncertainty he found himself under compelled him to save a significant portion of his force for a later battle that never happened.
  • The casualties suffered by the American forces at the battles of Ia Drang and Hamburger Hill in Vietnam cannot be compared in an abstract numerical manner. If you did, you might conclude that both of these battles were significant victories for the Americans in terms of the corresponding losses suffered by the NVA. However, historically we view the first of these as a heroic battle demonstrating the new tactic of airborne assault, while the second is viewed as a senseless shedding of blood to no good purpose.

In each case, the concept of Casualty Budgets illustrates the basis for these situations and the decisions associated with them by introducing a concept that transcends the numerical victory/loss accounting that is normally done. In the case of Lee at Gettysburg, he was not in a position to commit his force to a substantial battle just on the basis of the initial clash that first day. By the third day, when it was clear that this battle would significantly determine the outcome of the war, he was prepared to commit his last remaining reserves in an all-or-nothing charge, something that just wasn't justified until then. At Normandy, the Allies and particularly the British were under significant political pressure to avoid what might be viewed as horrendous and unacceptable losses during the campaign. Although the total number of casualties suffered in the historical Normandy campaign was quite large, they were incurred over the course of the campaign and in such a way that they did not occur in such high numbers at any one time so as to invoke a serious political backlash as a result. Likewise, although Napoleon would in the end lose almost all of his force in the campaign, at the time of Borodino the situation was too early and uncertain for him to commit all of his forces to a decisive conclusion. He was compelled by his caution to hold back a certain portion of his force for later eventualities.

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