Battle Outcomes: Casualty Rates As a Measure of Defeat

This third article in the box I was about to trash was also written by someone I knew, Robert McQuie. It was a five-page article published in Army magazine in November 1987 (pages 30-34) called “Battle Outcomes: Casualty Rates As a Measure of Defeat.” I was an article I was aware of, but had not seen for probably around three decades. It was based upon data assembled by HERO (Trevor Dupuy). It was part of the lead-in to the Breakpoints Project that we later did.

The by-line of the article is “A study of data from mid-twentieth century warfare suggest that casualties–whether the reality or the perception of them—are only occasionally a factor in command decisions to break off unsuccessful battles.” 

The analysis was based upon 80 engagements from 1941-1982. Of those 52 were used to create the table below (from page 34):

Reasons for a Force Abandoning An Attack or Defense:

Maneuver by Enemy…………………………..Percent

  Envelopment, encirclement, penetration……..33

  Adjacent friendly unit withdrew………………..13

  Enemy occupied key terrain…………………….6

  Enemy achieved surprise……………………….8

  Enemy reinforced………………………………..4

Total………………………………………………64

 

Firepower by Enemy

  Casualty or equipment losses……………………10

  Heavy artillery or air attacks by enemy…………..2

Total…………………………………………………12

 

Other Reasons

  No reserves left……………………………………….12

  Supply shortage………………………………………..2

  Truce or surrender…………………………………….6

  Change in weather…………………………………….2

  Orders to withdraw…………………………………….2

Total…………………………………………………….24

 

He then goes on in the article to question the utility of Lanchester equations, ending with the statement “It appears as well that Mr. Lanchester’s equations present a drastic misstatement of what drives the outcome of combat.” He also points out that many wargames and simulations terminate simulated battles at 15% to 30% casualties a day, ending with the statement that “The evidence indicated that in most cases, a force has quit when its casualties reached less than ten percent per battle. In most battles, moreover, defeat has not been caused by casualties.”

Robert McQuie was a senior operations research analyst for U.S. Army’s CAA (Concepts Analysis Agency). In 1987 I was working at HERO and considering heading back to school to get a graduate degree in Operations Research (OR). At Trevor Dupuy’s recommendation, I discussed it with Robert McQuie, who stated strongly not to do so because it was a “waste of time.” His argument was that while Operations Research was good at answering questions where the results could be optimized, it was incapable of answering the bigger questions. He basically felt the discipline had reached a dead end.

Anyhow, another keeper.

 

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Christopher A. Lawrence
Christopher A. Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence is a professional historian and military analyst. He is the Executive Director and President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military experience.
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Mr. Lawrence was the program manager for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, the Kursk Data Base, the Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets and for a number of other smaller combat data bases. He has participated in casualty estimation studies (including estimates for Bosnia and Iraq) and studies of air campaign modeling, enemy prisoner of war capture rates, medium weight armor, urban warfare, situational awareness, counterinsurgency and other subjects for the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Air Force. He has also directed a number of studies related to the military impact of banning antipersonnel mines for the Joint Staff, Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation.
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His published works include papers and monographs for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, in addition to over 40 articles written for limited-distribution newsletters and over 60 analytical reports prepared for the Defense Department. He is the author of Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015), America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015), War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, Lincoln, NE., 2017) , The Battle of Prokhorovka (Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT., 2019), The Battle for Kyiv (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2023), Aces at Kursk (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024), Hunting Falcon: The Story of WWI German Ace Hans-Joachim Buddecke (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024) and The Siege of Mariupol (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2024).
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Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

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2 Comments

  1. I am very interested in learning more from reading McQuie’s original article. It seems this article is lost to the internet except for the author’s name and good comments like yours. I work for an organization which tracks casualties in simulations. But tracking numbers does not seem to invoke an accompanying analysis. I would like to provide the analysis. How can I get access to the original, complete article?

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