An investigation into the influence of seemingly analogous kinematics (plunge versus tow) for rapidly accelerating, low-aspect-ratio plates has been performed. The instantaneous forces and velocity fields were obtained simultaneously using a six-component force/moment sensor together with a three-dimensional particle tracking velocimetry (3D-PTV) system. Despite identical effective shear-layer velocities and effective angles of attack, the force histories are found to vary between the two aforementioned cases (plunge versus tow) once the impulsive motion is complete, as originally reported on by Kriegseis et al. (J. Fluid Mech., vol. 736, 2013, pp. 91–106). In order to uncover the cause for this curious discrepancy between the two analogous cases a vortex force decomposition is implemented. It is shown that the interplay between growth and orientation of the vortical structures significantly affects vortical hydrodynamic impulse and vortex force, and thus the net lift on the body.