DESIGNING PLAN 1919 (by John Gorkowski)

Major General John Frederick Charles "Boney" Fuller, (1878 – 1966) a senior British Army officer, military historian, and strategist, was an early theorist of modern armored warfare and the author of "Plan 1919".

When Hollandspiele asked me to design a game covering JFC Fuller’s Plan 1919, I had to peer deep into my foggy memory of this might-have-been campaign. Luckily, I found a great web site that shared Fuller’s plan verbatim. Here are some telling excerpts (with the British use of s in certain words such as “disorganised” converted to a “proper” American z such as in “disorganized”).

The Influence of Tanks on Strategy: Strategy is woven upon communications; hitherto upon roads, railways, rivers and canals. To-day the introduction of a cross country, petrol-driven machine, tank or tractor, has expanded communications to include at least 75 per cent, of the theatre of war over and above communications as we at present know them.

The Present Tank Tactical Theory: Up to the present the theory of the tactical employment of tanks has been based on trying to harmonize their powers with existing methods of fighting, that is, with infantry and artillery tactics. In fact, the tank idea, which carries with it a revolution in the methods of waging war, has been grafted on to a system it is destined to destroy, in place of being given free scope to develop on its own lines.

From this we can deduce the all-important fact that infantry, as at present equipped, will become first a subsidiary and later on a useless arm on all ground over which tanks can move. This fact alone revolutionizes our present conception of war, and introduces a new epoch in tactics.

As our present theory is to destroy 'personnel,' so should our new theory be to destroy 'command,' not after the enemy's personnel has been disorganized, but before it has been attacked, so that it may be found in a state of complete disorganization when attacked. Here we have the highest application of the principle of surprise—surprise by novelty of action, or the impossibility of establishing security even when the unexpected has become the commonplace.

Those theories provided a great scaffold for the game’s rules. From them I derived some “feel” and tactics to develop for game play. In addition to that theory, Fuller’s paper had numerous very practical calculations of the force required to carry out his attack. From them I started to develop the game’s order of battle. Take a look for yourself.

(1) These calculations only take into account the approximate requirements for the Tank Corps, whether British or Allied. They do not include tank transportation for infantry and the other arms.

(2) The frontage of operations is 90 to 100 miles, the frontage attacked being 50 miles.

(3) Calculations are based on the following premises:

(i) Breaking Force—Heavy tanks to break through the entrenched zone (secondary objective) supplemented by Medium D tanks to envelop such parts of the front not attacked and to form offensive flanks.
(ii) Disorganizing Force—Medium D tanks to disorganize the enemy's Command in rear of the entrenched zone (primary objective).
(iii) Pursuing Force—A tank pursuing force composed of all types of Medium tanks.

(4) Breaking Force—The Breaking Force to operate in three echelons. In the first two, one heavy tank to each 100 yards of frontage, in the third, one to every 150 yards:

1st Echelon

880 Heavy tanks.

2nd Echelon

880 Heavy tanks.

3rd Echelon

587 Heavy tanks.

In Reserve

245 Heavy tanks.

2,592 Heavy tanks.

Medium D tanks for offensive flanks


Medium D tanks for enveloping flanks


Total Medium D tanks


(5) Disorganizing Force—The following enemy Headquarters to be disorganized:

4 Army H.Q.s, 20 Medium D tanks each


16 Group H.Q.s 20 Medium D tanks each


70 Divisional H.Q.s, 5 Medium D tanks each


2 Army Group H.Q.s, 20 Medium D tanks each


Total Medium D tanks


(6) Pursuing Force—The pursuing force to consist of 820 Medium D and 400 Medium C tanks.

(7) Number of Battalions comprised in the above:

2.592 Heavy tanks

54 Heavy Battalions.

2,400 Medium tanks

36 Medium Battalions.

In Brigades this means: 18 Heavy and 12 Medium Brigades.

(13) A rough estimate of the personnel required may be arrived at by allotting 20 all ranks to each Heavy tank and 10 to each Medium:

2,502 Heavy tanks

51,840 officers and men.

2,400 Medium tanks

24,000 officers and men.

For Subsidiary, Supply, etc.

14,460 officers and men.


90,300 officers and men.

(14) Battalions might be divided among the Allied Powers as follows:


27 Heavy Battalions

9 Medium Battalions.


13 Heavy Battalions

13 Medium Battalions.


14 Heavy Battalions

14 Medium Battalions.


54 Heavy Battalions

36 Medium Battalions.

So, Fuller left us a wealth of detail with which to model his vision. And, he was not alone. The Soviet concept of deep battle that evolved in the 1920s gave him further support. And of course, the German application of Blitzkrieg in 1940 revealed that the vanquished had learned Fuller’s lessons better than the victors. With those resources, I gradually assembled the current game as follows.

Let’s start with air power. Who ever heard of “contact air"? Fuller, and many of his contemporaries, believed that certain planes should have “under” armor to protect from ground fire. These contact air would provide close support with bombs and machine guns as well as perform liaison duties between disparate ground units. The Sopwith Buffalo was a fine WWI example. With time, however, these separate duties fell to separate planes. By WWII, the Germans meet the requirements of contact air with the Stuka and the Fieseler Storch.

Mark VIII Liberty

The Mark VIII "Liberty" tank, an Anglo-American design, which would have had a large role in Plan 1919 had it been implemented.

Armor also had an interesting evolution. Fuller segregated tanks into two categories: heavy and medium, each with distinct roles. Heavy tanks took responsibility for breaking through enemy lines. Medium tanks followed – with horse cavalry – to exploit the breakthroughs. Indeed, something like that actually happened during the Russian Civil War and the Russo-Polish War immediately after WWI. Although Fuller’s Plan 1919 never went into effect, his thinking affected Allied tank design and deployment into 1940. At the start of WWII, both the British and the French paid close attention to different roles for different tanks. The French B1bis served as the new “heavy” while R35s played the medium role. The British conveyed the same ideas in their male/female versions. The females, as mediums, carried machine guns only while the males, as heavies, had true guns.

How does all of that tie into the design of Fuller’s 1919? We begin with the template for a standard WWI slug fest – lots of similar infantry in trenches that make substantial progress impossible. From there we add medium and heavy tanks. Heavy tanks have the best combat scores and add +1 to the combat die roll which makes them critical to creating breakthroughs. But their high-profile role makes them prime targets for German anti-tank units, including anti-tank aircraft! Medium tanks don’t fight much better than infantry, but they are one of three unit types that can move during the exploitation phase along with cavalry and contact air. So, one must husband those resources to exploit the breakthroughs created by heavy tanks. Above it all you have airpower, on both sides, that can tilt the battle one way or the other. Behind the German front, we have headquarters units that are critical to German supply. We leave similar units out of the Allied order of battle since Allied material abundance meant less dependency on particular HQs and, given a realistic order of battle, the Germans have almost no hope of breaking through the Allied line to threaten their HQs anyway. That’s how the game exhibits the gist of Fuller’s theories.

So, what’s the game about? It’s about Allied preponderance of force crashing into a thin German line backstopped by mobile reserves. Given the theory that we inherited from Fuller, along with the observed experience of the Russian Revolution and Russo-Polish War, we have enough material to feel confident that Plan 1919 is a plausible recreation of what might have been.


Leave a Comment