Following the disaster at Kasserine Pass, US Army Intelligence conducted extensive interviews among the surviving US troops. Again and again, individual soldiers admitted to falling back under he initial German attack and finding themselves unable to re-enter the fight. Entire squads simply melted away from the point of contact and surrendered all initiative to the Germans. When investigated further, it was found that American first line leadership was not only lacking, but is some cases entirely absent from the front.
In short, squad level commanders failed their men in the heat of battle. As a result, the American troops at Kasserine Pass were unable to rally and re-engage with the enemy. This in turn allowed the Germans to fully exploit their victory and rout the Americans from the battlefield.
Since, the American Civil War, the need for officers to rally men to hold, advance or charge was universally understood. But somehow, the US Army of the 1930's and early 1940's was missing this key battlefield understanding. Jr. Officers were proving to be woefully unprepared to lead and keep their men in the fight after first contact with the enemy.
Following Kasserine, General Eisenhower tasked Omar Bradley with finding a solution. Bradley, in turn, looked to US Army Intelligence for ideas. US Army Intelligence suggested that Bradley confer with their premier expert on military games simulations....a man known simply as Professor Rollright.
Professor Rollright had long advocated the use of highly detailed wargames to stimulate and promote sound leadership principles for Jr. Officers prior to their first experience of combat. Bradley met with the Professor at secret military installation on the outskirts of Kansas City, Missouri. Nestled in a secluded valley surrounded on all sides by wooded hills, the area known simply as "Hollis" was the location for the US Army's newest Combat Leadership training facility.
Professor Rollright, working together with the head of Army Game Simulations, Lt. General Hill, completed a comprehensive training program that introduced Jr. Officers to wargaming as a means of honing their battlefield leadership skills.
The Advanced Squad Leadership course was initially derided by long time US Officers and West Point Professors as a cardboard based folly. Generals like Patton felt only battlefield experience could achieve results. But Bradley trusted Professor Rollright and recognized that officers learning on the job often did so as the expense of their men's lives. Bradley embraced the idea that the bloodless losses of the sand table were preferable to the bloody losses of the sandy passes of Kasserine.
So, with Eisenhower's approval, Bradley gave Professor Rollright the greenlight to begin training all squad level US Officers using the Advanced Squad Leadership program. The results would be spectacular.
Young Officers funneled from Forts Riley, Benning and Leavenworth to be processed through the games simulation program at Hollis. The young officers first impressions were that they were going to have a bit of R n R in the secluded woods of Hollis. But the intensity of the games simulation were beyond anything they had imagined. Professor Rollright's program proved highly successful in two key areas of squad level leadership. The first of these was quick decisive action. Officers were programmed to quickly take in a tactical situation and act decisively as quickly as possible. Secondly, the officers learned the need to lead by example and to ensure the morale of the men under their command and ensure that they were engaged and kept engaged with the enemy.
Bradley's instincts had been right. And in the Sicily and Italy Campaigns, the squad level leadership of American troops in combat was not only markedly improved, but so much so that the Germans had begun to take note.
The secret of Hollis had reached the eyes and ears of the Abwehr.
Admiral Canaris, head of the German Abwehr realizes that the Germans must find some way to counter the Hollis Program. With American units in the field already exhibiting more resilience in combat, something had to be done. But first, the Germans had to find the location of the Hollis Program.
At this stage of the war, Canaris had decided to work towards ending the Third Reich and saw no need to pursue anything against the Hollis Center. He gave strict orders that all documents related to the Hollis Center be destroyed, lest they fall into the hands of other German Intelligence Agencies.
But Canaris had made a grave error. The Wehrmacht staff, which he had entrusted to find the Hollis Center were perplexed by Abwehr Chief's stand down order. They therefore decided to find another sponsor for action against the Hollis Center. Within days, they would find themselves in the office of the Reichsfuehrer SS. And the Reichsfuehrer knew exactly what action to be taken to eliminate the Americans secret program at Hollis.
As the summer progressed, the best German spy in America, code-named "Büffel" was already in position.. Unknown, even to the Abwehr, Büffel had already penetrated the Hollis Center and simply awaited receipt of his codeword for action: "Tot kommen".
So it was as Fall 1944 began...a German Agent..code-named "Büffel" was already the Officer of Communications, Markus DeVries at the Hollis Center...and the fate of the Hollis Program would soon be determined.
Stay tuned for Part II of the annual Halloween Scenario backstory...