The necessary qualities of high military command manifestly are administrative skill and diligence, strategical and logistical sense, military imagination, initiative, resourcefulness, boldness coupled with a grasp of practicality, ability to elicit the best of men, and the more personal qualities of character, endurance, courage, and nervous control.
D. S. Freemam, Lee’s Lieutentants
GaruPan is all about command. In the 12 episodes, we get to see five different command styles. Due to the limitations of time, character development, and focus on the Ōarai team, we don’t get an in-depth look at all the teams, but what we see is interesting. I’m going to go through each school in turn, and talk about how well their leader exercises the various command functions.
Saint Gloriana. We don’t get to see much of Darjeeling’s management style. Her troops are well-trained: all the tank maneuvers start simultaneously, and the individual tanks automatically provide front and side security. Their shooting is terrible, but that’s true of everybody in this series, they’re as bad as storm troopers. Darjeeling fields a balanced force of four Matildas and a Churchill. Caught in one frame after the match was a Crusader tank, so she evidently made decisions about what part of her resources to deploy. In the battle itself, her commands were calm and clear (“Engage the IV to our front“), even though she spent most of her time buttoned up inside the tank. Tactically, she saw through Ōarai kill zone strategy, but still drove into the trap. She was quick to start the pursuit, but we don’t get to see how she directed her tanks inside the city. Her little homily when she had Ōarai cornered can be put down as a personal quirk.
Saunders. Kei appears to be good at inspiration and management, but bad at battle management. She’s obviously running a big operation at Saunders — the preview at the end of episode 4 shows possibly as many as 60 Shermans (and doesn’t show any of the sand-painted M4A6’s). She keeps the troops informed at all hands meetings before the match, but she doesn’t seem to have told them very much. Infiltrating Ōaraian Akiyama Yukari has to ask about how the flag tank will be protected, and what the platoon organization will be. Kei is also supremely confident in her plan, because she doesn’t appear to have changed anything after realizing that Ōarai now knows her planned OB and strategy.
In the match itself, Kei abdicates command decisions to Arisa, depending on her “woman’s intuition” to order the positioning of her units. But she shows her high ethical standards when she reduces the number of tanks on her side after finding out that the intuition was really Arisa’s unsportsmanlike radio intercept operation. That kind of ethical action, even when it hurts, is the sort of thing that inspires people to be better people, in any field. When she does give orders, they are crisp and clear.
Pravda. Kachūsha appears to be a typical Russian general of the old school. Arrogant, self-indulgent, sloppy, supremely confident that Kachūsha’s plans are perfect; the only thing she lacks is fat. Her initial tactical deployment was good (and typically Russian) and sucked Ōarai into a trap. Kachūsha then threw her advantage away by granting a three-hour delay while she ate and slept. As an aside, I’m not sure why the game judges allowed that, because in any other sport she’d have been penalized for delay of game. Of course, the delay was a dramatic requirement, so that the Ōarai backstory could be told.
Her combat orders were flowery and susceptible to misinterpretation (“Stay quiet, like a brown bear hibernating in the wintertime“). Overall, probably the worst of the commanders we’ve encountered.
Kuromorimine. Maho, trained in the dark, icy halls of the Nishizumi family, is probably the best combat commander in the program. Most of her failings are due to the rigidity of the Nishizumi approach to Sensha-Dō. Once again, we know little of her skills as a manager, except that, like St. Gloriana, she’s fielded a balanced force of heavy tanks. An interesting side note here. Darjeeling says that Kuro fielded heavy tanks to deal with Pravda. That implies that the teams are set from the beginning, and the commander has to look ahead to see what she might face in later matches.
Maho is firm, in a way that Miho is not, and is constantly restraining her second in command from thoughtlessly dashing off, or from wasting ammunition. However, that tight-reined firmess doesn’t keep her from losing control of the urban battle, with half her force off chasing single Ōarai tanks just because they were irritated by them.
Maho’s initial deployment is good, emulating the unexpected German attack through the Ardennes at the start of WWII. Once the battle starts, her commands are clear, and often include a reason, so that her subordinates know not only what’s expected, but why, something that’s been described as a command concept. That way, if things go wrong, subordinates will be able to improvise.
Unfortunately, Kuro tank commanders are bad at improvisation. They’ve become so good at executing well laid plans, that when the situation becomes fluid they tend to panic. This is a failure of the training side of command responsibilities. That’s even true of Maho herself when, in the final match, she allowed herself to be isolated in a position where she couldn’t use her overwhelming numbers. The rigid Nishizumi doctrine of never running away prevented her from giving her second in command time to come to her aid.
Ōarai. Nishizumi Miho is the most problematic of all the commanders. She’s emotionally flawed (shaky left hand, collection of wounded bears), to the point where one commentator suggested she was suffering from PTSD. She constantly requires support from her tank crew — even as late as episode 11, it’s Saori who tells her to go rescue the first-years in the M3. And yet, she inspires great loyalty, has superb battle management skills, and that combination of military imagination, initiative, resourcefulness, and boldness that Freeman talks about.
At a high level, she’s a good manager. She doesn’t object to the other tanks being painted in bright colors, letting the experience of the first match show the girls the folly of that approach. From a strategy and planning standpoint, even though she keeps good notes and thinks things out ahead in the quiet of her apartment, she’s not the best of the commanders out there. She objects to the kill zone plan for their first match, with St. Gloriana, but then does nothing to change it. In the match with Pravda, she lets herself be stampeded by her team’s enthusiasm for an all-out attack against a larger force and abandons her initial, more cautious, plan, ending up suckered in by the obvious antics of the Pravda flag tank. In the match against Kuromorimine she fails to plan for an attack out of the forest (Napoleon said that a commander should always be prepared for an attack from any direction). On the other hand, she did plan out the first engagement with Kuromorimine, including the use of smoke, towing the Porsche-Tiger up to a defendable position that allowed Ōarai to attrit the other side, as well as detaching the Hetzer tank for disruptive attacks on their rear. Every one of her matches involved the skillful use of reconnaissance.
Tactics is where Miho shines. Her urban warfare tactics almost win against St. Gloriana. In the match against Saunders she uses reconnaissance to find the enemy, and deception to run them around in circles and pull them into ambushes. Against Pravda, once she overcomes her initial error, she skillfully employs her faster tanks to disrupt the Pravda formations, and chases their flag tank into an ambush.
In the final battle, against Kuromorimine, it’s hard to tell if the bridge-busting, urban combat, and showdown in the high school were pre-planned or not. What’s obvious is that the attack on the Maus certainly was spur of the moment. In addition, after being surprised by the attack out of the forest, she kept her command together, and kept them executing the plan. When the M3 was stuck in the river, she’s the one who came up with the plan for extricating it. Before coming up with the plan for attacking the Maus, she led a skillful, if ineffective, set of ambushes to try to kill the monster conventionally.
Conclusions: Girls und Panzer does many things well: character development, plotting, maintaining tension. One of the surprising elements is how well it portrays different command styles. It obviously was not written as a command primer, but it’s also obvious that one can learn much from the mistakes of the various commanders. As in the first practice scrimmage in episode 2, Miho didn’t win so much as the other commanders lost.