Teams of Air Force officers studying military logistics at the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) used simulations to recreate and redesign the supply chains that supported three critical campaigns of World War II.
Those campaigns were: 1) British Army’s campaign against the Italian and German Army in North Africa; 2) German Army’s invasion of Russia; and 3) Japanese Army’s invasion of India. All the teams found ways to improve their supply chains. And one team found dramatic improvements that could have turned a historic defeat into a victory had it been used at the time.
Western Desert War
A military organization is very much a mechanism for moving stupendous amounts of people and supplies from one place to another. This became abundantly clear to the team simulating the supply chains of the Allied and Axis armies fighting in North Africa during the opening years of World War II. Their slide and screenshot below shows the supply chain that supported the Allied army.
This campaign was known as the Western Desert War. The Imperial British Army fought the Italian Army and the German Afrika Korps under General Rommel. The campaign is known for its great tank battles in the desert, yet it was logistics that largely dictated which side would win. Each side depended on long supply chains to deliver the food, fuel, and ammunition they needed, and the British had better logistics. So in the end they prevailed.
Army Group Center’s Drive on Moscow
Another team simulated the supply chain that supported German Army Group Center in its drive on Moscow in the summer of 1941. Their slide and screenshot shows the supply chain supporting the campaign. Simulations showed the truth of an observation from the great military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, “There is nothing more common than to find considerations of supply affecting the strategic lines of a campaign and a war.”
The regional transportation network of railroads and paved highways had three major hubs controlling movement of supplies: Minsk; Smolensk; and Moscow. German strategy was based on blitzkrieg, and that required a steady flow of supplies to keep the mobile combat units operating. This called for optimal use of transportation networks and supply resources. By analyzing simulation data the team found ways to significantly improve the performance of this supply chain, as shown below.
Japanese Invasion of India
A third team discovered a way to use available resources to meet the needs of the Japanese Army’s invasion of India in the spring of 1944. Had their ideas been found and put to use by the Japanese at the time, it could have turned a major defeat into a history-altering victory.
The challenge was to supply 150,000 troops attacking from Burma across some of the most forbidding jungle and mountainous terrain in the world. The campaign was planned to take a month. But by the end of the second month fighting still continued, and the troops were starving. The Japanese Army was unable to meet this logistics challenge. Of the 65,000 troops killed, wounded or disabled, most fell to starvation and disease from lack of supplies, not combat.
Teams working on this simulation in the past had not been able to find a solution. Since this is what actually happened in the real world, it was assumed there was no way to “win” in this case. However, analysis and skilful use of simulations to explore possible alternatives revealed there was a way to do what the Japanese Army had been unable to do. The team made four specific recommendations, the first one is shown in their slide below.
They redeployed transportation assets (trucks, trains, river barges, airplanes, and mules) and redesigned the distribution network to optimize use of existing resources. It was a risky plan, but simulations clearly showed it could work, and showed it was probably the only way as well. The team showed how the Japanese Army could have succeeded in its invasion of India.
They demonstrated what the great Chinese strategist, Sun Tzu, meant when he said, “The line between disorder and order is logistics.”
This course was taught by USAF Lt Col Dr. Jason Anderson, Transportation Systems & Strategic Mobility, LOGM 622, Air Force Institute of Technology.
Dr. Anderson and his students sent this ASAM Class of 2021 coin (and handy bottle opener) as a token of their appreciation for our assistance.