Paddy Griffith 1947-2010
Dr. Paddy Griffith was a leading historian on battlefield tactics. What made his contribution almost unique was his use of wargaming as a serious tool to develop academic understanding of the history of warfare.
Until the early 1990s, post–World War II military historians explored every aspect of war and society, but most avoided the study of the actual battle. It was no longer fashionable to comment on how the battles were actually fought and won. Paddy challenged this view and was instrumental in changing the practice of a generation of military historians by making tactics a valid academic subject. He became a well-recognized military historian, who commented on military organization, tactics and leadership on the battlefield. What was less well-known was his extensive use of games to help develop his understanding of battlefield tactics, military culture, and command decisions.
His careful analysis of contemporary letters and memoirs, supported by his wargames, led him to challenge the orthodox explanation—proposed by Sir Charles Oman in his History of the Peninsular War and subsequently repeated by numerous popular military historians—that the greater volume of musketry delivered by British lines in repeated volleys had defeated the French columns in Portugal and Spain. Paddy argued that British officers aimed to keep their men in check until they could deliver one or two shattering volleys at the enemy, then ordered them to give a rousing cheer and charge with the bayonet to drive the enemy off in disorder, and his conclusions are now widely accepted and may be said to have completely supplanted the earlier “firepower” theories.
Paddy Griffith was one of a team of academics who were recruited to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst by Brigadier Peter Young and David Chandler in the early 1970s. Peter Young knew Paddy through Donald Featherstone and the emerging hobby of wargaming. Paddy’s main job was lecturing on military history as part of the 2-year commissioning course and at the Camberley staff college. Always an innovative thinker, he introduced wargaming as part of the curriculum. He believed adults learnt by playing just as children did.
At the staff college, Dr Griffith’s role was umpiring secret U.K. wargames and those of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Sometimes he participated as a member or leader of a Warsaw Pact command because of his recognized understanding of the doctrine of those Soviet Union–dominated forces. His wargames had a direct input into NATO policy. One of his key strategic views became public with the book Not Over by Christmas (1981) with the foreword by Field Marshal Lord Carver and cowritten with Colonel Elmar Dinter. The book was a critical, wargame-based analysis of NATO’s forward defense policy on the West German border against the threat of the Russian-led Warsaw Pact. The book suggested that a more flexible defense, involving falling back, would be more successful. It is interesting to note that NATO’s tactics did alter to the sounder “defense-in-depth” strategy that he and others advocated. However, it is for others to assess what part his book (and the wargames) played in this policy change.
While at Sandhurst, he was a prolific writer of military history books, with a smat- tering of wargaming publications as well. The Wikipedia entry for Paddy lists 34 books; perhaps the most significant books were the following:
• Forward Into Battle: Fighting Tactics From Waterloo to the Near Future (1981)
• Rally Once Again; Battle Tactics of the American Civil War (1987)
• Battle Tactics of the Western Front: The British Army’s Art of Attack 1916- 1918 (1984)
What was not obvious was the input of wargaming to support the scholarship of these books.
In addition to the professional games, he took the opportunity to run some high-profile historical wargames, to analyze key points in history. Probably the most well-known of these was on Operation Sealion, the planned German Invasion of England in 1940. The assembled team of players and umpires included senior officers from the British and German armed forces who took part in the preparations for the actual operation. The out- come of this game was written up by Richard Cox in his book Operation Sea Lion (1977). Paddy recently continued these “mega-games” at education events at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford with games on Operation Sea Lion, the Invasion of Crete, and the 1940 Norwegian Campaign. While in his hospital bed suffering from cancer, he was working on final preparations for his “what if” game of the Axis invasion of Malta in 1942.
In 1980, while he was still a lecturer in War Studies at RMA Sandhurst, Paddy Griffith organized a conference titled New Directions in WarGaming. He was dissatisfied that hobby wargaming was not developing because of its focus on using toy soldiers and gained a reputation as a maverick in the hobby precisely because of his rejection of toy soldiers. He strongly believed that if hobby wargaming was going to be more than just entertainment, then it should reflect the cultural imperatives of the period being represented, the command perspective of the time, and the particular roles being taken by the players. Perhaps his favorite type of wargame was a modification of the military com mand postexercise, derived from the early 19th-century Prussian kriegsspiel training game for officers, where the players work in isolated cells with maps, limited communications and the “fog of war,” just like the real thing, as used in the Channel Four television series Game of War.
The first conference was held at Moor Park College near Farnham, lasted over the weekend of 23 to 25, May 1980, and set the pattern for a series of subsequent conferences. Sessions consisted of lectures, workshops, papers, and practical experiments.
At this conference, Dr Griffith was the primary force behind the foundation of Wargame Developments, a group consisting of professional military personnel, civil servants, educators, and both professional and amateur wargame designers. Since 1981, these conferences—the Conference of Wargamers (COW)—have been held in Northamptonshire, United Kingdom.
Paddy Griffith’s legacy in establishing the conference lives on. The COW continues to be attended by professional military personnel, professional simulation designers, military historians, and amateur wargame enthusiasts. They all share a keen interest in developing accurate simulations of historical events and command problems as well as studying current events and foreseeable future situations from the perspective of simula- tion. They are not afraid to ask difficult moral and ethical questions, something that Paddy Griffith encouraged with what he termed black wargames.
Paddy will never be remembered for devising a particular set of wargame rules—unlike H. G. Wells (Little Wars), Brigadier Peter Young (Charge), or Charles Grant senior (The War Game)—nor for one particular genre of wargame, in the way that Donald Featherstone will always be linked to the face-to-face, tabletop toy soldier game.
Paddy was never interested in developing and perfecting one style of game or set of rules—he was far more concerned with the underlying structure of games than with the minutiae of mechanisms of rules. He will be remembered for proposing and experimenting with a wide variety of game designs, both in person at COW and in print in numerous articles in amateur and commercial wargame magazines and in his three wargame books.
In Napoleonic Wargaming for Fun (1980), he presented not one but a variety of rules for wargaming different aspects of the Napoleonic Wars, ranging from fairly conventional toy soldier games portraying skirmishes between parties of light infantrymen and battle- field encounters between brigades, divisions, or army corps, via a siege kriegsspiel, to a highly stylized combined map and board game recreating an army commander’s daily routine while on campaign.
In A Book of Sandhurst War Games (1982), he published four board games covering an expedition in medieval France by the Black Prince; battlefield tactics in Napoleon’s campaign in France against the Russians in 1814; a two-player naval game highlight- ing the problems encountered by Arctic convoys in the Second World War, and a role-playing skirmish based on S. L. A. Marshall’s analysis of infantry combat in the Pacific campaign.
His final book, Sprawling Wargames Multiplayer Wargaming (2009), described his mega-games of various Second World War operations and other free–kriegsspiel style umpire-controlled games.
While striding through military history and wargaming, Paddy “marched to the sounds of the drum he could hear” and so was not shy at challenging currently established methods, views, and understanding. This made him a lively character to deal with, but an engaging one.
Many wargamers have been content to continue moving toy soldiers across a tabletop in sociable, entertaining wargames that are loosely based on military history. Paddy recognized that style of wargaming as a valid personal choice but believed wargaming had the potential to be more than that. For him the experimentation was, perhaps, more stimulating and important than the individual games. It is clear that he demonstrated to many the value of games to understanding of history. Others, such as Professor Phil Sabin with his book Ancient Battles Reconstructing the Great Clashes of the Ancient World (2008) or Andrew Roberts with The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War (2010), have openly used wargaming as part of their scholarship. To what extent Paddy has influenced the general wargaming hobby may become apparent in future years—it is too early to say yet.
Paddy died unexpectedly while recovering from cancer. He is survived by his wife Geneviève and his son Robert.
The History of Wargaming Project, Bristol, UK
Reflections by Donald Featherstone
Paddy Griffith, history lecturer at the Royal Military Academy Camberley, came as a guest to an April Dinner of the Wessex Military Dining Club, staying overnight with me to avoid the perennial fear of drinking and driving. Returning to my home at near midnight, sated with good food and quite sufficient quantities of drink, we discussed a pet theory recently discovered to be a shared interest. It revolved around realism on the wargames table and whether the antics our armies got up to really simulated, even coin- cidentally, what actually takes place on the battlefield. We both strongly felt that there was much to be desired in the habits and activities permitted by the rules on wargames tables, particularly during the Napoleonic period that was under discussion. Despite the late hour, we retired to the wargames room where we stood around the table posing formations in belligerent attitudes as we sought solutions to our problems.
Paddy (or Patrick as he wrote for his first article in August 1965 in my Wargamer’s Newsletter) believed that the British won their victories by firing a single volley, then charging. The French columns wavered and fell back in disarray. So we set up the figures on the table top in my attic to represent a particular battle (I do not remember which after 40 years) and talked through the sequence of events. I read from the various memoirs while he moved the figures. Time and time again, he sent me down the loft ladder to my study to retrieve another memoir from the Napoleonic Wars. (I had a large collection of the army historical journal and so had many relatively unknown accounts of these wars.) Again and again he laid the figures out and we studied the climatic encounters of the past. Eventually my wife grew tired of berating us to retire to our beds and she withdrew gracefully to hers.
Years later, I was pleased to see his write-up of his theory of battle and British feat of arms (Forward Into Battle: Fighting Tactics From Waterloo to the Near Future, 1981). I wish I had asked him to present it to the Wessex Military Dining Club.
I remember the evening (and the long night) as it showed me that, although made of plastic and metal, the small warriors on the table top could speak to us about the past.