The other day I irritated some of my American friends by suggesting that in certain respects their WWII Military High Command was less than brilliant. I should have emphasised that many of ours were equally dumb! Beginning with 'our glorious leader', Winston Churchill, who was a drunken, erratic genius in some respects - and a drunken, erratic fool in other respects. It is a miracle beyond explanation that he did not tear the Anglo-American partnership to shreds. My feeling is that one man deserves the credit for preserving it - President Roosevelt.
I am slowly but steadily ploughing my way through Nigel Hamilton's superb second volume entitled Commander in Chief: FDR's Battle with Churchill, 1943. A great deal of it is concerned with the internecine 'warfare' between the American High Command (but not FDR!) who were pushing and straining to invade northern France in 1942(!) or at the latest in 1943. Churchill, and his CIGS, Alan Brooke, insisted that once North Africa was taken the next major operation must be aimed at Sicily. So far, so sensible because it would provide further experience in mass sea-borne invasions and provide the American forces with direct experience of fighting the German army.
The fact is that the German way of war was far superior to anything the allies could muster. To remind myself I found my copy of a truly excellent and scholarly book by Col. T. N. Dupuy, an American officer who after the war investigated the history of the German way of war from Frederick the Great to WWII. The uncomfortable fact is that the Germans took war seriously, they studied it, analysed it, tested it, altered it when weaponry changed - and we did not! Perhaps the daftest example of the ridiculous amateur way of war pursued by the British is that, having invented the tank during WWI, several of the older, snootier cavalry regiments insisted on returning to horses when the war was over! Perhaps a key finding that Col. Dupuy deploys is that during WWII:
On the average, a force of 100 Germans was the combat equivalent of 120 American or British troops. Further refinements in the model began to reveal that in terms of casualties the differential was even greater, with German soldiers on the average inflicting three casualties on the Allies for every two they incurred.
That differential continued up until December 1944. The fact is that we were amateurs taking on pros! To be fair to Churchill, I think he realised this, perhaps not least because as a front-line commander he had experienced it at first-hand during WWI. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that he strove mightily to avoid any direct invasion of northern France, and the fact that he had a dim view of the abilities of many of his senior generals only re-enforced his reluctance. The Americans, on the other hand, full of gung-ho enthusiasm had little idea of what they were about to face.
Even so, Churchill's deliberate prevarication, almost amounting to mutiny, as he tried by hook or by crook to avoid a cross-Channel invasion and instead 'mess about in the Mediterranean' came exceedingly close to causing a major rift with America. It is to FDR's steadfast and patient forbearance that Churchill was eventually - albeit reluctantly - forced to accept the inevitable. Churchill was a great man but a deeply flawed one as well!