One of the pleasures of a real in-depth military simulation such as Phase Line Smash is the insight it can provide into actual historical events.
PLS is, perhaps, the most ambitious solitaire manual wargame ever attempted. The basic game has 55 pages of rules, in small type! A good chunk of the other 55-page book in the game also has rules.
But a large portion of the second book is a detailed battle history of the portion of the Gulf War fought by the VII Corps. The roughly 44 pages of history-related material would probably be a 100+ page book if published in the usual format for hardcover history books, so this is no simple set of designer's notes.
One of the facts depicted in PLS is the differing employments of the two armored cavalry regiments deployed for Desert Storm. Both were storied formations with long and distinguished histories.
The 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment assigned to VII Corps is the longest continuously serving regimental-sized unit on active service, dating back to the original 2nd Dragoons from 1836, which was renamed the 2nd U.S. Cavalry during the Civil War.
The 3rd ACR assigned to XVIII Airborne Corps started its organizational existence as Regiment of Mounted Rifles in 1846, (hence it's nickname of "Brave Rifles") and was later renamed as the 3rd. U.S. Cavalry during the general reorganization of the mounted branch on Aug. 3rd, 1861.
Almost 130 years later the two venerable regiments were in the Arabian desert preparing to take part in the largest armored battle in history.
The game designer notes, however, that the two regiments were employed quite differently even though organized the same.
The 2nd ACR operated independently, under VII Corps control, as an advance element of the corps. It was reinforced with an entire brigade of field artillery (the 210th FA Bde), which was a very unusual subordination of a colonel-level command to another colonel-level command. It's a testimony to the professionalism of the late 2oth Century (and early 21st Century) U.S. Army that it could make this kind of command relationship work smoothly without the kind of drama about ranks and date of rank one is used to seeing in military history. Certainly the 1861 U.S. Army could never have tried something like that! The unconventional reinforcement aside, the 2nd ACR was fulfilling a very conventional role as the advance element for a heavy armored corps.
The 3rd ACR, on the other hand, was assigned directly to the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division, in effect becoming a fourth maneuver brigade for that heavy division. The 3rd ACR wasn't even much weaker than the 2nd ACR. It didn't have an FA Bde in support, it did have an attached FA battalion, to in total it was merely 24-guns smaller. Why the different treatment?
The game doesn't say, and I don't know if any of the commanders ever explicitly explained their decisions. It could have simply been due to the personal preferences of the respective corp commanders, and if Lt. Gen. Gary E. Luck had commanded VII Corps instead of XVIII Airborne, and Lt. Gen. Frederick M. Franks Jr. headed XVIII Corps instead of VII Corps maybe things would have been done differently.
But analyzing the situation by the Army method known as METT suggests that the decision might well have been the same even if the corps commanders had been switched because there were significant differences in the conditions facing the two corps.
The M in METT stands for Mission, the the mission of the XVIII Airborne Corps was to act as the flank guard for the entire Coalition army assembled for the offensive to liberate Kuwait. The corps was supposed to prevent any Iraqi forces from interfering with Coalition plans.
The E stands foe the Enemy. In the XVIII Corps zone Iraqi forces were sparse and deployed in widely separated strong points. They were not strong, but they were located in many distinct positions that would have to be neutralized.
The first T stands for terrain. For the airborne corps there were miles and miles of trackless desert to cross. The corps area of operations was very spread out.
The final T is Troops Available. For the XVIII Airborne Corps there was the problem of coordinating different nationalities and troops with very different capabilities. There was a very light, ground mobile force based around the small French division reinforced by a brigade of truck-borne U.S. paratroopers. There was an airmobile force comprised mostly of the 101st Airmobile Division and there was a heavy mechanized force built around the 24th Mechanized Division.
Given the dispersed enemy, huge distances and disparate capabilities of his units Luck evidently decided that the best approach would be to decentralize control as much as possible. Thus it made sense to subordinate the 3rd ACR directly to the 24th Mech instead of trying to coordinate their actions remotely at corps level.
On the VII Corps front things couldn't be more different.
The Mission of VII Corps was to engage the most powerful enemy armored force and destroy it in direct combat.
That Enemy force was the six-division Republican Guard (reinforced by several divisions worth of regular Iraqi troops). While the course of the war revealed the limitations of the Iraqi forces, pre-war planning had to give them the benefit of the doubt. It was a substantial enemy force.
The terrain was still trackless, but it was constrained by unit boundaries on both left and right which meant that the VII Corps would be operating in a fairly constricted space given its size.
And that size was considerable, as the Troops Available comprised five heavy armored divisions. While there were some variations in equipment and size, all five divisions were large, very heavily armored extremely mobile ground forces. Orchestrating their movement, let alone their fighting, would require close supervision by the corps headquarters, tremendous synchronization and adherence to strict timetables.
And helping those armored divisions keep their timetables was the responsibility of the 2nd ACR, which raced ahead of the corps to clear the way and make sure that no Iraqi forces of any size was able to act as a speed bump to slow down any part of the VII Corps. Franks planned to wheel the entire corps and smash into the flank of the Republican Guards with annihilating force. It wouldn't have taken much to throw the whole schedule off kilter.
So given the realities of METT the different employment strategies for the 2nd ACR and 3rd ACR make perfect sense, and are even reflected in the game. Consider how much more difficult coordinating the boundary issues between the XVIII Corps and VII Corps would be if extra levels of command were included. Instead the player (who represents VII Corps commander Franks) can deal with the 24th Mech alone on his flank, instead of multiple units.
Phase Line Smash is an amazing study of this singular campaign and even unplayed it's is worth having.