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Monday, 01 February 2010

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My father thought his German opponents very good soldiers - well trained, including trained to take initiative. He thought the generality of British officers weak, especially those who were professional soldiers. But the worst officer he ran across - or at least the worst he ever mentioned to me - was an American Colonel who sacrificed rather a lot of his infantry in a strategically stupid attack against well-prepared defences, in spite of urgent pleas from his tanks (my father) and his artillery (a Kiwi) not to do it. But he was impressed by the wealth of materiel that the Yanks deployed.

Yes, I'm sure he was right in that instance but there are others which tell a differnt stroy, for example, the so-called advance of the Guards Armoured up the road toward Arnhem in which they stopped every night because their doctrine insisted that tanks should not move at night. I intend to return to this topic tomorrow.

It appears that Chapter 2 of Armageddon comes up with the same conclusions as Beevor's D Day. However, you've stumbled on one of the reasons why British troops might have lost interest in fighting: the idea that after succeeding in establishing a bridgehead in Normandy the war was effectively over. After all, the sheer weight of materiel provided by the Americans, the complete air and naval supremacy, the victories in North Africa and Italy all fed a feeling that it couldn't last much longer and, surely, the Germans would see sense. I suspect they forgot how hard, probably, the British would have fought under Churchill if the Germans had invaded in 1940 - in what also could have been viewed as a hopeless cause.

Both Beevor and (apparently) Hastings mark Monty's card. OTOH and anecdotally, of course, my uncle - a sergeant - who fought all the way from El Alamein to the Elbe said that Monty was liked by the other ranks since, although he might have been viewed as a bit of a prat (like most officers!), he didn't throw away his men's lives like his predecessors in WW1.

Yes, Hastings makes the point about the understandable reluctance of soldiers to risk being killed or wounded in the last few weeks before victory. However, I think there are deeper reasons why the British soldier of WWII failed to fight as well as his German opposite number. I hope to expand on this in my next post. In the meantime I am desperately reading up on my old Nigel Hamilton biography of 'Monty', or at least the passages that tell of the run up to Arnhem.

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