Assessing wargaming in Turkey

Assessing wargaming in Turkey

M. Fatih BAS is a lecturer in the Department of History at the Turkish Military Academy in Ankara, Turkey.  He is currently pursuing a PhD in modern military history at Gazi University and can be found on Twitter @mefaba.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessing Wargaming in Turkey

Date Originally Written:  June 7, 2021.

Date Originally Published:  June 21, 2021. 

Sourcedivergentoptions.org

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The author is a lecturer of military history in the Turkish Military Academy. The author believes that the absence of a wargaming culture in Turkey can be overcome by a close cooperation between the Turkish military and the academia.

Summary:  Wargaming in Turkey has a long history but it has always been confined to military circles. Wargaming was never a civilian hobby or educational tool for academics. Even in the military, wargaming is reserved almost exclusively for staff officers and higher echelons. Civilian-military cooperation to establish a wargaming community will improve the wargaming capacity of Turkish military and academia.

Text:  When the young Prussian Captain Helmuth von Moltke arrived in Istanbul as a military advisor in 1835, he was received by the Ottoman Minister of War Hüsrev Pasha who showed him a wargame kit and asked for his help with the rules. Hüsrev Pasha’s game was almost definitely a copy of Kriegsspiel designed by von Reisswitz the younger[1]. Hüsrev Pasha, being apparently enthusiastic about this new tactical training tool, could never have implemented it in the Ottoman Army at the time. The army was already going through a massive reform and the quality of the officer corps was far from ideal. 

It would take nearly half a century for the Ottoman professional military education to produce officers who would appreciate wargaming as a useful tool for training. Ottoman re-discovery of wargaming came soon after the first large-scale German military mission’s arrival in Istanbul, in 1882. The same year, Senior Captain Ömer Kâmil Efendi translated and published Colonel Verdy du Vernois’s wargame rules, which was the first appearance of wargaming in Turkish military literature[2]. 

During the Ottoman military modernization under German supervision, wargaming entrenched itself in Ottoman military regulations and manuals which were mostly word-by-word translations of the German ones. With the implementation of the so-called application method of the German professional military education, wargaming became an important part of the Army War College curriculum[3]. Meanwhile, the Ottoman Navy seemed not to be interested in wargaming, as the first ever mention of wargames in the Ottoman naval literature appeared in 1916 when Lieutenant Nail Efendi translated and published the wargaming conferences delivered in 1887 by William McCarty Little in the U.S. Naval War College[4]. 

Though the Ottoman Army tried to implement wargaming as a valid training tool, this never went beyond the classroom exercises in the War College, and does not seem to have been adopted by regular officers. Staff rides -another Prussian tradition- are known to have been regularly held with the attendance of staff officers from all ranks but there is no mention of wargames conducted by army headquarters or by the Ottoman Ministry of War. 

Things did not quite change after the proclamation of the Turkish Republic in 1923. But still, the first ever recorded large-scale Turkish wargame was conducted in 1924. The Turkish General Staff, with the attendance of army commanders and President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, tested various strategies to be employed in case of a joint aggression by Italy and Greece in Western Anatolia and Thrace[5]. In the modern Turkish Army, just like it was the case with its Ottoman predecessor, wargaming was confined to the halls of the War College. Wargaming remained an integral part of staff officer training and army regulations recommended it to staff officers as a useful training tool but the rest of the officer corps remained almost entirely oblivious to wargaming[6]. 

Wargaming habits of the Turkish Army changed very little in the past hundred years. While wargaming solutions developed by the government agencies such as the Presidency of Defense Industries (SSB), government affiliated corporations such as HAVELSAN or private software companies appear regularly in defense news[7], references to wargaming in Turkish military journals and official documents have always been extremely limited. Army field exercises regularly make the headlines of major national news outlets[8] but there is almost no open access information about regular wargaming activities of any branch of the Turkish Armed Forces. Currently, wargaming seems to remain almost exclusively as a training activity for staff officer candidates in the War College which has its own wargaming center in its campus. 

According to current military exercise regulation, each army headquarters of the Turkish Army is required to conduct wargames regularly[9]. Strategic-level political-military wargames seldomly take place and they are widely reported by the media when they do[10]. Also, every operational and tactical level headquarters is required to conduct regular command post exercises which are simulated with various software[11]. Such exercises are held exclusively as a headquarters readiness tests, rather than tactical training exercises. So, it is debatable if these exercises count as wargames. It is safe to assume that the majority of the Turkish officer corps complete their careers without participating in any kind of wargaming activity. 

Despite all its shortcomings, a tradition of professional wargaming exists in Turkey. One cannot say the same about hobby wargaming. Apart from a small minority who mostly play fantasy themed tabletop games, there is no wargaming hobby society known to have ever existed in Turkey. Strategy themed video games have always been popular, but realistic military simulations which can be categorized as wargames are virtually unknown to the Turkish gamers. The main reason for that is the language barrier. The need to digest lengthy rule sets written in English is not an appealing feature for the average Turkish gamer, even for the ones who are interested in military matters. 

Today, wargaming is creating its own academic field and it surely is not entirely a military activity any more[12]. Wargaming societies in academia are known to benefit initially from commercial wargames and hobby wargaming base in their respected countries[13]. The absence of the hobby aspect of wargaming in Turkey, naturally hinders wargaming in academia, and the academics remain mostly unaware of wargaming activities conducted by their colleagues in other countries. 

Developing a wargaming culture in Turkey would definitely be an uphill struggle. But a civilian-military cooperation may overcome this challenge. The current situation in Turkey is quite suitable for civilian-military cooperation in various subjects, and wargaming can be one of them. A jointly established wargaming community would be the first step in developing a wargaming culture that would benefit both the military and the academia. If this community receives adequate support, it would also be an excellent solution for increasing wargaming capabilities of the Turkish Armed Forces. 


Endnotes:

[1] Von Moltke, H. (1969). Moltkenin Türkiye Mektupları. (H. Örs, Translator). İstanbul: Remzi Kitabevi, p. 29.

[2] İhsanoğlu,E. et al. (2004). Osmanlı Askerlik Literatürü Tarihi, I. Cilt. İstanbul: İslam Tarih, Sanat ve Kültür Araştırma Merkezi, p. 195.

[3] İskora, M. M. (1944). Türk Ordusu Kurmaylık (Erkânıharbiye) Tarihçesi. Ankara: Harp Akademisi Matbaası, p. 57.

[4] Kıdemli Yüzbaşı Nail. (1916). “Sevkülceyşî Harb Oyunu Yahud Harita Manevrası”, Risâle-i Mevkute-i Bahriye 2/6, p. 273-288.

[5] Özkurt, F. (2017). Gazi Mustafa Kemal Atatürk ve Askerî Manevra ve Tatbikatlar (1909-1938) Ankara: Genelkurmay Basımevi, p. 71-81.

[6] Mehmed Nihad. (1925). Zabitin Harb Çantası Üçüncü Cüz’ü. İstanbul: Matbaa-i Askerî, p. 183-185. İskora, M. M. (1966). Harp Akademileri Tarihçesi 1846-1965 1inci Cilt. Ankara: Genelkurmay Basımevi, p. 80.

[7] For a piece on HAVELSAN’s Joint Wargame and Education Center see: MSI. (2019, June 11). HAVELSAN Müşterek Harp Oyunu ve Eğitim Merkezi. Retrieved June 5, 2021, from https://www.savunmahaber.com/havelsan-musterek-harp-oyunu-ve-egitim-merkezi-2/. For a piece on Turkish private corporation JEY Defense’s Joint Wargame Simulation see: Görgülü, E. (2018, October 19). TSK için ürettiler! Tatbikatlarda bir ilk. Retrieved June 5, 2021, from https://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/tsk-icin-urettiler-tatbikatlarda-bir-ilk-40991754.

[8] For a piece on recent joint exercise conducted with Azerbaijani Army see: Rehimov, R. (2021, May 22). Azerbaycan ve Türk askerleri ortak tatbikat yaptı. Retrieved June 5, 2021, from https://www.aa.com.tr/tr/dunya/azerbaycan-ve-turk-askerleri-ortak-tatbikat-yapti/2250886

[9] Kara Kuvvetleri Komutanlığı. (2010). KKT 190-1 (B) Tatbikatların Sevk ve İdaresi. Ankara: KK Basımevi ve Basılı Evrak Depo Müdürlüğü, 3. Bölüm. 

[10] For a piece on the Joint/Combined Wargame conducted in İstanbul, in 2016 see: DHA. (2016, May 17). Yıldız 2016 Harp Oyunu. Retrieved June 5, 2021, from https://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/yildiz-2016-harp-oyunu-40105395

[11] Akkaya, S. (2003). “MUHSİMLEM Komutanlığının Görev ve Fonksiyonları”, Kara Kuvvetleri Dergisi Sayı: 5, p. 54-57.

[12] Brynen, R. (2019, 8 May). Wargaming as an academic discipline. Retrieved June 5, 2021, from https://paxsims.wordpress.com/2019/08/05/wargaming-as-an-academic-discipline/

[13] Sabin, P. (2012). Simulating War: Studying Conflict Through Simulation Games. London: Bloomsbury, Introduction.

 

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