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Tuesday, 18 July 2017


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"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."
Sorry, David, but that is a disingenuous claim. You did not "suggest" but explicitly stated that "... the majority of [FDR's] somewhat dim-witted military commanders." Shame on you.

Well that is an interesting opinion. It seems to ignore the fact that all major powers had War Colleges where the subject of war is taken rather seriously.

Now about this assertion that the Germans take technology more seriously than anyone else. First let me say tanks and WW1. Secondly let me point out that for a country that operationally took the war of maneuver seriously they relied rather suspiciously on horseflesh more than one would have thought advisable. In point of fact the German high command did not take the advice of Generals like Guderian and opposed the Ardennes offensive as logistically unworkable until Hitler overruled them. But Guderian's wasn't a particularity uncommon opinion among the rising generation of generals when it comes to the proper use of armor. You had Liddle-Hart, the Americans had Patton, the French had Colonel De Gaulle. The Russians took the subject so seriously that they developed arguably the best tank of the second world war, the T-34, based as we doubtless all know on the Christie design for a fast maneuverable low hulled assault tank with wide tracks to deal with those awkward periods of mud and snow.

We also know that the Germans lagged abysmally in many key war fighting technologies to their great detriment. Like radar.

Was Dupuy factually incorrect in his assessment of battalion level action? Probably not but that was almost entirely due to the German adoption of superior machine gun technology and portable crew served anti-armor weapons. But seeing as the Americans, those wizards of logistics, managed to put two hundred men where they needed 120 to balance the Germans things worked out nicely. The Americans had lots of trucks.

To be honest I do not think much of your historian. He cherry picks facts that suit his argument and doesn't seem to have a very deep knowledge of the subject he writes about.

The purpose for study of history is to learn from the mistakes of the past. Granted, ten or eleven year olds might be studying their country's history to build their patriotism, but, once past that age, especially in a republic, which expects that every student in school is being fitted to be a participating citizen, and needs to know those mistakes very well, because the responsibility for correction will fall upon them, it's all about mistakes. You can not hurt our feelings by noting the MacArthur, for example, seriously f****d up, leaving planes on the ground in the Philippines, to be demolished so conveniently by Japanese bombers, rather than dispersing them, or even sending some out to bomb the Japanese aircraft carriers that had launched the bombers.

In hindsight, invading North Africa, and then fighting their way up the Italian peninsula, looks pretty smart. It is to Roosevelt's and Churchill's credit that they could see the advantages in real time.Returning to my original point, you just can't hurt our feelings. Analysis is more important to us, as rulers and fathers of rulers, than flattering our leaders.

I don't know about that Mr Adams say I, ironically. Personally I would have thought it a kindness to torch those P35s and P40s on the ground rather than send them up against Mitsubishi Zeros. The Americans got to keep more of the pilots by allowing the planes to be wiped out on the ground. The B17's were useless against ships of course, as they proved at Midway. You'd have thought they'd have learned something from Pearl Harbor but MacArthur wasn't much of an aviation guy.

Henry, you seem determined to take offence when none was intended. I hope you are not seriously suggesting that Stimson, Knox, Marshall, King and their staffs, to say nothing of MacArthur and Patton, were without fault! I say again, the majority of the American High Command was in favour, nay, pressing for, an invasion of northern France in 1942 and then again in 1943. They were wrong! No ifs or buts, they were wrong as FDR understood. Undertaken then by inexperienced officers and troops it would almost certainly have been a disaster. The probable end result would then have been an even greater surge in American public opinion in favour of a 'Japan first' policy.

Peter, I would urge you to study the various histories of the Prussian, then German, General Staff system. If you seriously believe that West Point and Sandhurst came anywhere near you are sadly mistaken. As to your notion that leaving American planes neatly lined up on the ground for the enemy to utterly destroy indicates to me that you would have extreme difficulty achieving even my less than exalted rank of Corporal!

Michael, you are entirely right to insist that military history and analysis is crucial in the training of officers which is why it was such an important element in the training of Prussian/German staff officers. I cannot emphasise it strongly enough, the Germans were 'pros' and we were 'ams'!

What is the matter with you, David? I object to you stating that the majority of American military commanders were dim-witted. Do you not understand English? I am not suggesting that those whom you name were without fault. You keep telling me what their faults were, but you ignore the fact that you said "the majority are dim-witted". The majority of American commanders in World War II were most definitely and emphatically not dim-witted.

Do you really not understand what I am saying? Can you not comprehend what you read? Can not take personal accountability for a hyperbolical disparagement of the American High Command who, together with the Russian Marshals, led the Allies to Victory over Nazi Germany?


Perhaps a look at it from a different direction.

Russel Weigley, a prominent historian of the US Army, noted in his book “The American Way of War,” that the American way of war, when the situation permits, is to destroy the enemy’s ability to make war. That accomplished it is turned over to the politicians to set up the peace terms. While predating Wigley this is basically what the US War and Staff Collages taught.

The US generals saw that the only way to destroy Germany’s ability to wage war was to occupy German industries, which meant a cross channel attack to capture them.

The thought the Mediterranean operation proposals were:

A waste of good men for no purpose.
A waste of supplies for no purpose.
Possibly a black hole that would suck an infinite amount of war effort accomplishing nothing except making a cross channel offensive impossible.

Or simply put: totally wrong headed. Hence the vehemence of the discussion that you noted.

FDR was nothing if not a politician. There were good political reasons for Operation Torch and Sicily. Italy, I am not too sure about. You are right, he did an excellent job keeping a tenuous alliance working together.

If Churchill’s “Soft underbelly” fantasies had held the day the UK and US would have been trapped in a number inclusive and costly mountain campaigns in Italy and the Balkans while perhaps the Russians marched for Brest-Litovsk to Brest in Bretagne.

Why yes David I seriously suggest that. Almost all War Colleges are modeled on the Prussian design. And if you knew what you were talking about you would know that the American's War College isn't at Westpoint. It's at Carlisle Barracks in Carlisle Pennsylvania. Just as the the American's Naval War College is not in Annapolis, it is in Newport Rhode Island. You may have heard of one of its eminent Presidents, A T Mayan. He's the fellow who wrote all the books that the Germans had translated into German.

Now prior to the First World War, the main concentration of staff college exercises everywhere was the logistics necessary to get troops into the field. Hence those exquisitely complex railroad timetables that once activated the could not stop. Just like all their opponents. But you know who proved to be better at logistics than the Germans? Yep, it was those Yanks. You should read more.

Now if you'd like to know where to get some good books on the subject, you could visit the museum at the Naval War College. They not only have a hell of a library, they have a well stocked book store. But, be warned, you have to pass a security check months in advance to get in the gate. It's well worth the effort.

I forgot to add that the US Army Heritage and Educational Center in Carlisle is not on the War College campus so you don't need a security clearance to visit the largest collection of military historical research documents in the world. I recommend it too.

Hank I heartily recommend Budianskiy's book Air Power. It is an excellent historical work on the development of military air power. And it has much to say on the proper application thereof and what mistakes were made in the Second World War.

I would concur with critiques of the Italian campaign by the way. Other than distracting a few German divisions it is difficult to see the point of fighting your way up a country with unbelievable natural defensive barriers where the advantage lay always with the defense and required far more resources than it was worth.

As a graduate of our Staff College and with an abiding interest in studying the past to anticipate the future I like to think I can look objectively at issues of conflict. Firstly I apologise for the length of this but it cannot be dealt with in two paragraphs. All this “actually we won the war” stuff is rather pointless. It was a combined effort from three main allied powers the absence of any of which would have probably seen a different and unknown result.

Britain and the Commonwealth/Empire.

When Britain declared war on Nazi Germany in 1939 it controlled to varying degrees numerous crown colonies, protectorates and the Indian Empire. It also maintained unique political ties to four independent Dominions—Australia, Canada, South Africa, and New Zealand as part of the Commonwealth. In 1939 the British Commonwealth was a global superpower, with direct or de facto political and economic control of 25% of the world's population, and 30% of its land mass.

The contribution of the British Empire and Commonwealth in terms of manpower and materiel was critical to the Allied war effort. From September 1939 to mid-1942 Britain led Allied efforts in almost every global military theatre. Commonwealth forces totalled close to 15 million serving men and women who fought the German, Italian, Japanese and other Axis armies, air forces and navies across Europe, Africa, Asia, and in the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic, Indian, Pacific and Arctic Oceans. Commonwealth forces fought in Britain, and across Northwestern Europe in the effort to slow or stop the German advance. Commonwealth air forces fought the Luftwaffe to a standstill over Britain, and its armies fought and destroyed Italian forces in North and East Africa and occupied several overseas colonies of German-occupied European nations. Following successful engagements against Axis forces, Commonwealth troops invaded and occupied Libya, Italian Somaliland, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and Madagascar.

The Commonwealth defeated, held back or slowed the Axis powers for three years while mobilizing their globally integrated economy, military, and industrial infrastructure to build what became, by 1942, the most extensive military apparatus of the war. The cost? 150,000 military deaths, 400,000 wounded, 100,000 prisoners, over 300,000 civilian deaths, and the loss of 70 major warships, 39 submarines, 3,500 aircraft, 1,100 tanks and 65,000 vehicles. During this period the Commonwealth built an enormous military and industrial capacity. Britain became the nucleus of the Allied war effort in Europe, and hosted governments in exile in London to rally support in occupied Europe for the Allied effort. Canada delivered almost $4 billion in direct financial aid to the United Kingdom, and Australia and New Zealand began shifting to domestic industrial production to provide material aid to US forces in the Pacific. Following the US entry into the war in December 1941, the Commonwealth and United States coordinated their military efforts and resources globally. As the scale of the US military involvement and industrial production increased, the US undertook command of many theatres, relieving Commonwealth forces for duty elsewhere, and expanding the scope and intensity of Allied military efforts.

An often overlooked campaign when the war against Japan is considered is the Burma campaign. It was fought in the British colony of Burma primarily between the forces of the British Empire and China, with support from the United States, against the invading forces of Imperial Japan, Thailand, and the Indian National Army. British Empire forces peaked at around 1,000,000 land, naval and air forces, and were drawn primarily from British India, with British Army forces (equivalent to 8 regular infantry divisions and 6 tank regiments), 100,000 East and West African colonial troops, and smaller numbers of land and air forces from several other Dominions and Colonies. The Burmese Independence Army was trained by the Japanese and spearheaded the initial attacks against British Empire forces.

United States.

The military history of the United States in World War II involves the war against Germany, Italy, Japan and starting with the 7 December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. During the first two years of World War II, the United States had maintained formal neutrality while supplying Britain, the Soviet Union, and China with war material through the Lend-Lease Act as well as deploying the U.S. military to replace the British invasion forces in Iceland. In the Pacific Theater, there was unofficial early U.S. combat activity such as the Flying Tigers. U.S. economic sanctions on Japan as part of the effort to deter Japanese military aggression in Asia and the Pacific. This is cited as the major cause of Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. During the war, over 16 million Americans served in the United States Armed Forces, with 405,399 killed in action and 671,278 wounded. There were also 130,201 American prisoners of war, of whom 116,129 returned home after the war. Overall priorities were set by Roosevelt and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, chaired by William Leahy. Highest priority went to the defeat of Germany in Europe, but first the war against Japan in the Pacific was more urgent after the sinking of the main battleship fleet at Pearl Harbor.

Admiral King put Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, based in Hawaii, in charge of the Pacific War against Japan. The result was a series of some of the most famous naval battles in history. The Imperial Japanese Navy had the advantage, taking the Philippines as well as British and Dutch possessions, and threatening Australia. The southward push by the Japanese was stopped on the Kokoda Track and Milne Bay in New Guinea by the Australians and in the Coral Sea by the US. In June 1942, Japans main carriers were sunk during the Battle of Midway, and the Americans seized the initiative. The Pacific War became one of island hopping, so as to move air bases closer and closer to Japan. The Army, based in Australia under General Douglas MacArthur, steadily advanced to the Philippines, with plans to invade the Japanese home islands in late 1945. Strategic bombing directed by General Curtis Lemay destroyed all the major Japanese cities, as the U.S. captured Okinawa after heavy losses in spring 1945. With the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and an invasion and Soviet intervention imminent, Japan surrendered.

The United States war against Germany involved aid to Britain, her allies, and the Soviet Union, with the U.S. supplying munitions until it could ready an invasion force. U.S. forces were first tested to a limited degree in the North African Campaign and then employed more significantly with British Forces in Italy in 1943–45, where U.S. forces, represented approximately a third of the Allied forces deployed. The main invasion of France in June 1944, under General Dwight D. Eisenhower consisted of twenty-two American Divisions, twelve British, three Canadian, one Polish, and one French,. Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Air Forces and the British Royal Air Force engaged in the area bombardment of German cities and systematically targeted German transportation links and synthetic oil plants, as it knocked out what was left of the Luftwaffe post Battle of Britain in 1944.


When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, in Operation Barbarossa, the Red Army's ground forces had 303 divisions and 22 separate brigades (6.8 million soldiers), including 166 divisions and 9 brigades (3.2 million soldiers) garrisoned in the western military districts. The Axis forces deployed on the Eastern Front consisted of 181 divisions and 18 brigades (3 million soldiers). Three Fronts, the Northwestern, Western, and Southwestern conducted the defence of the western borders of the USSR. In the first weeks of the Great Patriotic War the Wehrmacht defeated many Red Army units. The Red Army lost millions of men as prisoners and lost much of its pre-war matériel. Stalin increased mobilization, and by 1 August 1941, despite 46 divisions lost in combat, the Red Army's strength was 401 divisions.

The Soviet forces were apparently unprepared despite numerous warnings from a variety of sources. They suffered much damage in the field because of mediocre officers, partial mobilization, and an incomplete reorganization. The hasty pre-war forces expansion and the over-promotion of inexperienced officers (owing to the purging of experienced officers) favoured the Wehrmacht in combat. The Axis's numeric superiority rendered the combatants' divisional strength approximately equal. A generation of Soviet commanders (notably Georgy Zhukov) learned from the defeats, and Soviet victories in the Battle of Moscow, at Stalingrad, Kursk and later in Operation Bagration proved decisive.
Ivan Konev after Prague Offensive, May 1945

In 1941, the Soviet government raised the bloodied Red Army's esprit de corps with propaganda stressing the defence of Motherland and nation, employing historic exemplars of Russian courage and bravery against foreign aggressors.

To encourage the initiative of Red Army commanders, the CPSU temporarily abolished political commissars, reintroduced formal military ranks and decorations, and introduced the Guards unit concept. Exceptionally heroic or high-performing units earned the Guards title (for example 1st Guards Special Rifle Corps, 6th Guards Tank Army), an elite designation denoting superior training, materiel, and pay.

During the Great Patriotic War, the Red Army conscripted 29,574,900 men in addition to the 4,826,907 in service at the beginning of the war. Of this total of 34,401,807 it lost 6,329,600 killed in action , 555,400 deaths by disease and 4,559,000 missing in action . Of these 11,444,000, however, 939,700 rejoined the ranks in the subsequently liberated Soviet territory, and a further 1,836,000 returned from German captivity. The grand total of losses amounted to 8,668,400. This is the official total dead, but other estimates give the number of total dead up to almost 11 million men, including 7.7 million killed or missing in action and 2.6 million POW dead (out of 5.2 million total POWs), plus 400,000 paramilitary and Soviet partisan losses. The majority of the losses, excluding POWs, were ethnic Russians (5,756,000), followed by ethnic Ukrainians (1,377,400). However, as many as 8 million of the 34 million mobilized were non-Slavic minority soldiers, and around 45 divisions formed from national minorities served from 1941 to 1943.

Each of the three powers brought its own concept of how to wage war with it and this is mirrored in their approach to the conflict.

After such an outpouring of informed and mostly intelligent comment I don't know if i relly have much to add, but that never stopped me.

I think the idea about Germans' tactical superiority comes back too often to be ignored. The first thing to emphasise is that that is not a reflection on the moral intellectual or physical attributes of allied soldiers, but rather derives from how they were trained and how they were equipped. From well before the first world war the Germans had maintained vast armies and enormous reserves of well trained and well equipped men. The best of British units were certainly a match for them but they weren't very many of them. In true British style the same situation preaviled in the second. However as AussieD says the sheer size and resilience of the empire enabled it to roll with the punches shored up by supplies from the US.

I think PeterG is right to mention the Ardennes as being symbolic of where German strategic thinking, once put under pressure, collapsed. Their soldiers fought magnificently to the end.

He is quite right too about their patchy adoption of war-winning technology. What that tells us about them as a nation is what we can see today in the economic field. they are very good at taking the technology of the previous war and making it work for them. They are less good at genuine innovation and thinking out of the box.

PeterG's comment on logistics is valid also. To the extent they could the Germans managed brilliantly with the resources at their disposition. But the war was really won by America's industrial might rather than logistical skill, it was simply a question of with so many new ships, trucks aircraft bombs jeeps and shells and combined with an increasing flow of fresh well equipped young men combined with the pressure the Russians were still able to apply despite the losses caused by Stalin's stupidity at the start (made possible also by American kit, the heroic arctic convoys and supplies through Persia), by the end victory was inevitable, and only a question of time.

The Hank's point about the Italy campaign is well made. However having won in North Africa, Sicily was strategically important at a choke point of the Mediterranean. I think David is right to insist that an attack on Northern France too early would have been disastrous. Much better to wait for the Russians to do the heavy lifting of bleeding the Germans white first.

Soldiers on all sides were let down by their high commands, none more so than the Russians.

In one desperate, last attempt to placate my e-pal, Henry, I withdraw the word "dim-witted" as applied in my words "to the majority of his [FDR's] somewhat dim-witted military commanders". Instead, I offer the alternatives of 'wrong' or 'mistaken' or perhaps just 'naive'. If Henry, or anyone else, objects to those words then they will have to convince me that a cross-channel invasion in 1942 or 1943 was more likely to have succeeded than failed.

Duffers, another aspect you haven't touched on was the slightly over-inflated opinion certain commanders had of their own abilities over those of their allied colleagues. General Clark for example, who took Rome rather than following orders from his British superior officer. His vanity project allowed a German force to escape and had serious consequences later. Vinegar Joe, Patton. The list goes on.

Alas, Timbo, that seems to be part of the job description for many Generals. Was anyone more bumptious and unpleasant than Monty? Well, Patton maybe, with his ridiculous pearl-handled revolvers!

"with his ridiculous pearl-handled revolvers!" As anyone who saw the movie "Patton" knows...these revolvers are designed to shoot down low flying German aircraft.

with his ridiculous pearl-handled revolvers!

Calling his sidearms pearl handled would bring forth, and in no uncertain terms, a chilly response "that they were in fact ivory, and that, only a New Orleans pimp would carry a pearl-handled gun!"

Duffers - I gather that Monty was indeed bumptious and unpleasant (to his peers and superiors) but his men loved him, so he got that the right way round, and he was by and large a brilliant general.

Operation Market Garden anyone? If Monty was a brilliant general he had an odd way of displaying it. He had a particularly nasty habit of blaming his failures on everyone else. I doubt anyone outside Britain considers Monty a brilliant general and certainly the Germans did not. He was inordinately fond of the Pee Wee Hermann defense (I meant to do that!) to justify such events as unfolded at Caen. He never won a victory without overwhelming superiority in materiel and manpower and was known for both his detailed planning and failure to adapt when those plans did not work our. I give him a meh!

Thank you Peter for for your inestimably valuable opinion as usual.

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