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Wotan's Workshop

Military Experiments before World War II 

Brian McCue


The resulting lack of understanding of the nature of military experimentation has acted to the detriment of the various efforts now ongoing at the service and joint levels. The outward resemblance of military experiments to the more familiar exercises and field tests, and the outward resemblance of the experiments’ technology surrogates to prototypes, have only served to deepen the misunderstanding. An attempt to better understand military experimentation by detailed examination of some of today’s efforts would be hampered by the need for a considerable background in the technologies that the experiments address. There is also room for concern that discussion of present-day efforts would be seen primarily as praise or criticism of the particular efforts, and thereby rendered useless as a vehicle for discussion of experimentation itself.




The structure of experimentation

Models, modeling, and a paradox



Theory, hypothesis, and serendipity

“All’s fair in love and war”—What about in experimentation?

Three Idiosyncratic Non-Service Efforts

G. F. Gause’s bugs

Hector Bywater’s wind-up ship models

Fletcher Pratt’s naval war game

Observations on the idiosyncratic efforts

The U.S. Prepares for World War II

The Fleet Problems, 1923–1940

The experiments of Billy Mitchell

Major “Pete” Ellis and USMC inter-war experimentation The Army’s Louisiana Maneuvers

Pacific Fleet Fighter Director Officers’ School Observations on the U.S. experiments

Germany Prepares for World War II

The German Army’s experiments with blitzkrieg

The German Navy’s experiments with wolf packs

A Limited Technical Assessment

Observations on the German experiments

Overall Observations

Recapitulating the themes

The experiments’ points of similarity

The paradox of modeling resolved


6 x 9 paperback
72 pages
PDF download

Marine Corps University