APL Colloquium

January 12, 2018

Colloquium Topic: A Battle Badly Fought: How Wargaming and Human Factors Lost the Battle of the River Plate

In late 1939 the German Pocket Battleship Admiral Graf Spee encountered a hunting group of three British cruisers.  After exchanging fire for 83 minutes the British broke off and watched while the Graf Spee retired into the neutral port of Montevideo.  A few days later, Graf Spee scuttled and her captain committed suicide. 

British propaganda depicted the battle as a victorious “British David v. German Goliath” encounter, an interpretation that historians have accepted to this day.  However, contemporary modeling and simulation tools used at the US Naval War College and Royal Naval College indicate that the British force had twice the combat power of the German, and predict the German’s destruction after about 20 minutes of combat. 

Why, then, the indecisive result?  Two factors came into play: erroneous tactics developed from British wargaming, and human factors interference with British decision making.

This presentation will look at the myth of the Battle of the River Plate, examine how British tactics were developed, and step through the battle to point out where cognitive decisionmaking biases caused the British to lose the Battle of the River Plate.  We will look at “lessons learned” that are particularly relevant to modeling and simulation efforts at APL.

Colloquium Speaker: Alan Zimm

Dr. Alan D. Zimm (Commander, USN, Retired) has degrees in Physics, Operations Research, and Public Administration/Policy Analysis from UCLA, the Naval Postgraduate School, and USC.  He served in the US Navy as a nuclear power qualified surface warfare officer, and currently is an Aviation Strike Systems Analyst at the Applied Physics Laboratory.  He is the author of The Attack on Pearl Harbor: Strategy, Combat, Myths, Deceptions.  He has been awarded the Arleigh Burke Award from the US Naval Institute and the Distinguished Citation Award from the University of Southern California.