Friday, 19 July 2019

The United States Naval War College 1936 Wargame Rules

I've always had a great interest in naval wargaming, and when John Curry announced that he was going to add THE UNITED STATES NAVAL WAR COLLEGE 1936 WARGAME RULES to the list of titles published by the 'History of Wargaming' Project, I just had to have a copy!

This is first volume of what will be a two-part series, and its contents include chapters entitled as follows:
  • Acknowledgements
  • Biographies of Editors
  • Foreword by Read Admiral Jeffrey Hartley, USN
  • Introduction
  • The Training Value of the Wargame
  • Summary of the Rules (1922)
  • Maneuver Rules 1936
  • Theory and Purpose of Fighting Strength Comparisons
  • Section A: General Rules
  • Section B: Conduct of Maneuver
  • Section C: Speed and Fuel
  • Section D: Visibility, Audibility and Smoke Screens
  • Section E: Communications
  • Section F: Gunfire
  • Section G: Torpedo Fire
  • Section H: Mines
  • Section I: Submarines
  • Section J: Aircraft
  • Further Reading
  • Appendix: Sample Fire Effect Tables (1935)
    • Fire Effect Blue 16"/45
    • Fire Effect Blue 8"/55
    • Fire Effect Blue 5"/38
    • Fire Effect Orange 16"/45
    • Fire Effect Orange 8"/50
    • Fire Effect Orange 5.1"/50
    • Torpedo Fire Cards (1935, reprinted 1944)
  • Appendix: Sample Fleet Data (1936)
This book is a positive cornucopia of information for anyone interested in naval warfare and naval wargaming from the period between the two World Wars ... and into the early 1940s. Even if you don't use the rules (which after a little practice are much quicker and easier to use than Fred Janes' and Fletcher Pratt's naval wargames ... even though the latter's rules were in some ways based on the rules in this book!), the book gives an insight into US Navy thinking. As Admiral Chester Nimitz said in 1950 of the per-war wargames at the US Naval War College
'The war with Japan had been re-enacted in the game rooms here by so many people and in so many different ways that nothing that happened during the war was a surprise — absolutely nothing except the kamikaze tactics towards the end of the war; we had not visualized those'.
Whilst the wargames did not actually predict how the war would be fought, they did give a whole generation of leading US Navy officers experience in working together, in sharing knowledge and understanding, in looking at complex problems and developing solutions to those problems, in making mistakes in a safe environment, and looking at any potential conflict from the perspective of their likely opponents (i.e. Orange in the games, who were – of course – the Japanese).

I highly recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in naval wargaming and the history of naval warfare.

THE UNITED STATES NAVAL WAR COLLEGE 1936 WARGAME RULES: USN WARGAMING BEFORE WWII VOLUME 1 was edited by John Curry and Chris Carlson, and published in 2019 by The 'History of Wargaming' Project (ISBN 978 0 244 12872 2).


  1. Hi Bob,
    If the American Navy had not won the Battle of The Corel Sea- our existence here in Australia would have been very threatened by the Japanese. The Americans saved us! Regards. KEV.

    1. Kev Robertson (Kev),

      It was a very important battle, although I suspect that its importance is less well known to the general public than the Battles of Midway or Leyte Gulf.

      All the best,


  2. I'm not sure why people in Australia, and New Zealand, too, believed the Coral Sea battle prevented the invasion of Australia (or New Zealand). The invasion fleet was actually headed for Port Moresby.

    The interesting bit, from an historian's point of view, is that it was something of a tactical victory for the Japanese. But it wasn't quite the annihilating victory planned and hoped for. So far less than decisive was the outcome, that the commander of the invasion fleet abandoned the enterprise, whilst still some 300 miles short of the objective: Port Moresby in New Guinea.

    The impression I get, looking at the time lines, was that the invasion fleet commander made huis decision too soon, and that it might well have got through, though the Australian Task Force 44 was still operational and patrolling south of the New Guinea coast.

    The other point is that the main Japanese carrier fleet was 'covering' TWO invasion operations: the Port Moresby, but also the Tulagi invasion fleet, headed for an island north of Guadalcanal in the Solomons. The latter, less exposed to Allied interference, successfully landed.

    Had the Japanese invasion force (some 5,500 troops, that's all there were) landed around Port Moresby, maybe that would have led to the fall of New Guinea to Japanese control. Though the Port Moresby garrison was similar in size, qualitatively (training, equipment) it would have been outmatched.

    What might have happened after that is anyone's guess. But I seriously doubt that fewer than 6,000 troops could have conquered one of New Zealand's main islands, let alone Australia!

    1. Archduke Piccolo,

      You make a powerful argument regarding the possibility of a Japanese invasion of New Zealand and/or Australia, but from my perspective, I always saw the importance of the Battle of the Coral Sea being in the fact that this was the first major sea battle where the protagonists never saw each other. As such it was a precursor of much that was to follow, but doesn't seem to be remembered for that.

      The battle also showed that what had seemed like an inexorable Japanese advance could be stopped, and the fact that two Japanese carriers were unable to take part in the Battle of Midway as a result, probably helped to ensure the US victory.

      All the best,


  3. Oh, I forgot, though I planned, to mention that the Japanese High Command must have thought the Port Moresby invasion fleet commander acted prematurely. I read somewhere he was court martialled and sacked in consequence of it.

    1. Archduke Piccolo,

      The overall commander of the Japanese forces that took part in the Battle of the Coral Sea was Vice Admiral Shigeyoshi Inoue. He was a major advocate of naval air power and returned to Japan after the battle to become head of the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy. Later in the war he was Vice Minister of the Navy and was promoted to the rank of full admiral.

      All the best,



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