By Tisha Swart-Entwistle, Combined Arms Center Public AffairsMay 17, 2019
From August 1942 to February 1943, Germany and the Axis powers fought Soviet Union forces for control of the city of Stalingrad (now Volgograd) in Southern Russia. What is now known as the Battle of Stalingrad was the largest confrontation of World War II and arguably one of the largest, longest and bloodiest in all of modern warfare.
More than two million troops were engaged in the close-quarters battle for nearly six months. The battle turned the tide of the war in favor of the Allied forces at the cost of nearly two million casualties that included tens of thousands of Russian civilians.
More than 75 years later, Army University Press and the National Simulation Center at Fort Leavenworth have launched the final phase of a partnership project that began more than two years ago - Stalingrad (Red October Factory) VBS3.
If it sounds like the name of a new video game, that's because it pretty much is. Virtual Battlespace 3, or VBS3, is the Army's 'Games for Training' 3D first-person training simulation. The semi-immersive, visually-rich gaming environment was initially made available to the Army in 2009 as VBS2 and in 2014 the Army began using VBS3.
The Stalingrad VBS3, launched May 1, is specifically a terrain development effort that provides users with an online terrain model of the Stalingrad, Red October Factory that is historically accurate for 1942.
By September 1942, much of the fighting in Stalingrad was located in the industrial district in the north part of the city and included the sites of three large factories: the Stalingrad Tractor Factory, the Barrikady Arms Factory and the Red October Steel Factory. In October 1942, the Battle for the Martenovskii Shop took place in the Red October Factory.
"Stalingrad: The Battle for the Martenovskii Shop" was the first in a series of documentaries AUP recently released about the Battle of Stalingrad. The documentaries were produced from the "Stalingrad Virtual Staff Ride" developed and released by AUP in 2017 to illustrate the doctrine of large-scale combat operations from the new Army Field Manual 3-0, "Operations," also released in 2017.
From FM to VSR to Documentary to Video Game
Kevin Kennedy, chief of the staff ride team for Army University Press-Combat Studies Institute, said the whole initiative was at the direction of Lt. Gen. Michael Lundy, Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth Commander.
"He wanted to show, with history, some examples of the doctrine that we are applying today, Kennedy said. "So we built the virtual staff ride and the virtual staff ride then led to the documentaries that we do and then that in turn led to 'hey, we've got a virtual staff ride that people can study… let's take it a step further and let's turn this into what we call a game playable scenario where now units can go out and they can re-fight the battle as they would today' and VBS3 enables them to do that."
Army University was responsible for the virtual staff ride and the documentaries and partnered with the National Simulation Center to build the terrain model for VBS3. The partnership makes sense Kennedy said.
"They (NSC) have a lot of resources that we use in virtual gaming for the Army," Kennedy said. "And what we are doing to help with professional military education, they can be a part of that. So, certainly there is a synergy, if you will, that we can create between the two organizations working together."
The staff ride - from reality to virtualNat
A staff ride is essentially a tour of a battle field with a history lesson attached. Early staff rides from Fort Leavenworth date back to the early 1900s. Kennedy said the staff ride is a long proven tool for professional military education and helps educate leaders by studying the history of the decisions made and the terrain.
"You can read about it but when you see the terrain and actually walk, as we say, 'the blood soaked terrain' you get a better idea for the circumstances that occurred during the battle." Kennedy said. "The virtual staff ride enables us to recreate terrain that no longer exists and Stalingrad is a perfect example of that."
Because of the heavy shelling and toll of the lengthy battle there, the city of Stalingrad looks nothing like it did in 1942. Kennedy said the virtual staff ride is also useful for studying battles that occurred in places that can't be visited, like Iraq, Afghanistan or Korea.
"Stalingrad was used as an example of the classic fight in dense urban terrain, right out of the manual," Kennedy said.
Looking forward, Stalingrad is just the beginning. Kennedy said the combination of the VSR, documentaries and terrain additions to VBS3 as a complete package is the way ahead.
"The staff ride is just part of it, when you bring in the documentaries that can be used by a lot of different people throughout the Army and adding on to that, the game playable scenarios will allow this to go all over the army to let people actually train with the modern equipment," Kennedy said.
For AUP and NSC the next VSR topic is an operation that occurred in France in 1944 known as the Encirclement of Nancy. The VSR will again lead to a terrain effort for VBS3 that is expected to be available in November of this year.
Army Games for Training suites that employ VBS3 can be found at institutions, Mission Training Complexes, and locations across the Army. The Stalingrad terrain can be downloaded from the MilGaming portal at https://milgaming.army.mil/ by users with a CAC card.