Heading southeast down Bakalakadaka Street
I can inform you now that it is, without shadow of a doubt, the single greatest movie since Jumpin' Jack Flash.
This is not a value judgement I make lightly.
First, he neglects to mention the biggest reason for why war is on the decline -- there's a global hegemon called the United States right now. Easterbrook acknowledges that "the most powerful factor must be the end of the cold war" but he doesn't understand why it's the most powerful factor. Elsewhere in the piece he talks about the growing comity among the great powers, without discussing the elephant in the room: the reason the "great powers" get along is that the United States is much, much more powerful than anyone else.
"We won the moral argument. They just won the vote."
He took the trouble to read and analyze the great body of tactical and operational literature published by French soldiers and academicians in the interwar period, still relatively neglected in the Anglo-and German-centered approaches that dominate the English-language work in the field. He made a correspondingly useful contribution with a detailed account of the Franco-German combat from the aftermath of the Marne in 1914 to the end of Verdun in 1916. More generally Mosier also called attention to the fact that for most of the war it was the French who held most of the front—and did most of the dying.
The British-based historian David Lowenthal (technically a "geographer") has written about the differences between history and what the British call "heritage": the commemorations of the past found in museums, folklore, pop culture, and the like. When we celebrate the Fourth of July, tour a battlefield, or enjoy presidential trivia, we're not trying to probe the problems of the past—to think hard about whether the Constitution betrayed or affirmed the ideas of the Declaration of Independence, or about the origins of the Civil War. We're looking to reaffirm our national or ethnic identity, to venerate our ancestors, to inspire wonder, or to instill patriotism or a sense of group solidarity. This is what people are looking to do when they read books by David McCullough.
Thus in some sense it is unfair, or at least beside the point, to attack heritage for not being history—like attacking Star Wars for not being 2001: A Space Odyssey. Although we need critics who will expose the perils of the historical blockbuster trend and show us more substantial ways to think about the past, we should also recognize the two modes have different functions, different aims. There ought to be a place in society for both heritage and history, provided that we retain a keen sense of the difference.
I've long felt, as I've already noted, that there are two VDHs; VDH the classicist and ancient military historian and... the other one. Is it that what I'm seeing is a split between history and heritage advocacy?
While serving in Flanders he was shot through the hand and spent 1917 convalescing in a Newcastle hospital but volunteered to return to the front and was back in position by spring 1918, now with the Machine Gun Corps.
After the Armistice he volunteered to serve again, this time in the growing Anglo-Irish conflict.
Here's just a few ideas, in no particular order:
- Follow the strategy proposed by some of pursuing not a cross-channel invasion but a Balkans-based strategy of beating the Soviets to Vienna and then Berlin
- Let either Monty or Patton beat the Russians to Berlin
- Not send a dying man to negotiate with two of the best diplomatic card players in history
- Not be so desperate to get the Russians to attack Japan that you give away the store
- Not let a communist spy (Alger Hiss) be a key advisor
- Give the free Poles and Czechs fighting in the West support.
- Threaten to use the A-bomb
- Keep a viable fighting force in Europe post-1945
- Treat the Berlin crisis as a casus belli rather than a humanitarian problem
- Support the Hungarians in 1956
We would have been better advised, in a strategic sense, to delay the Pacific struggle even further, provide minimal support in North Africa, and invade France in early 1943, before the Panzer V was available in large-enough quantities to make a difference on the Western front. The Panzer IV was a fairly even match with the Sherman; the Panzer V was... not. Further, the blood on the Eastern Front was still in Soviet territory at that time, which both would have allowed substantial airstrikes and interdiction of transferring troops and kept any Soviet victories from being on our doorstep. Well, relatively speaking: Europeans, even Russians, just don't have any real concept of continent-wide war. Remember that it's farther from Memphis to New Orleans than it is from Berlin to Moscow.
invade France in early 1943, before the Panzer V was available in large-enough quantities to make a difference on the Western front. The Panzer IV was a fairly even match with the Sherman; the Panzer V was... not.
The analysis has a strong thesis and conclusion. Speciﬁcally, it argues that in
period after period, and with few exceptions in war after war, the kind
of strategic surprise to which the United States is most at risk, and which
is most damaging to U.S. national security, is the unexpected depth and
pervasiveness of the connection between war and politics. Americans
usually are superior in making war: they are far less superior in making
the peace that they want out of the war that they wage.
The monograph argues that the current military transformation, though
certainly welcome, cannot itself correct the long-standing U.S. weakness in
the proper use of force as an instrument of policy. The discussion claims
that, notwithstanding its probable virtues in the enhancement of military
prowess, the current military transformation bids fair to be irrelevant to
America’s really serious strategic problem or condition. What the global
superpower needs is a military establishment that it can use in ways
conducive to the standards of international order it seeks to uphold, and
with the political consequences that U.S. policy intends. Whether that
establishment is more, or less, network-centric, or has, more or less, on-call
precision ﬁrepower, truly is a matter of less than overwhelming importance.
Politics rules! More accurately phrased, perhaps, policy should rule! War is
political behavior that must serve policy. Since the conduct of war should
not be a self-regarding apolitical activity, preparation for it in peacetime,
as well as its exercise in anger, needs to be suffused with the sense of
purpose that is provided only by the realm of policy. To summarize: this
monograph has taken no issue with the grand design of the transforming
Army, rather the salient topics are the use made of the Army by American
policymakers, and the way that the Army chooses to behave, both in
combat and afterwards.
Why did it take so long for the Allies to defeat the Germans in Normandy? Were the Germans superior to the Allies as all round soldiers?
“This is the damndest country I ever saw.”
- General Omar Bradley
“Tommy is no soldier.”
- Comment in German after action report.
There are a number of reasons why Allied progress in Normandy following the D-Day landings was as slow as it was. Disparity in quality between the Allied forces and the Germans facing them is indeed a key reason. However, it cannot serve as an explanation by itself. The Allies faced a number of challenges during the Normandy operations that would have vexed the finest fighting forces in the world and this must be taken into account. However, the qualitative advantage enjoyed by German troops served to exacerbate the existing challenges facing the British, Canadian and American forces and made an inherently difficult job significantly more costly.
The Allies themselves identified four main impediments to swift progress in Normandy; first, the nature of the terrain; second, the weather; third, the quality of the German army and fourth problems with their own troops at various levels. To this list can be added certain other factors relating to strategic planning and logistics. Although each aspect can be examined separately, the various factors involved fed into each other and it was the combined impact of all of the above that proved so troublesome.
The terrain encountered in much of Normandy, bocage, consisted of a chequerboard effect of small, self-contained fields, separated by high, thick hedgerows. This presented the defender with excellent terrain in which to operate for a number of reasons. In effect, the battlefield was compartmentalised, each field becoming a miniature battle in itself. This served to break down Allied command and control capabilities and resulted in Allied troops feeling isolated and vulnerable with a parallel decline in morale. Combat took place at extremely short ranges – 300 yards or less. This impeded advancing allied troops from bringing up heavy machineguns against already entrenched German positions and effectively served to negate one of the key allied advantages – weight of materiel. Close air support, artillery (one area in which the Allies [especially the Royal Artillery] excelled and upon which they were highly, perhaps excessively, reliant) and mortars were all hampered by the close proximity of the two sides and Allied troops were often denied fire support due to the fact that the Allied and German positions were almost indistinguishable. The situation was worsened by differing approaches between the two sides. The Germans gave priority to weight of fire concentrated on set lines, employing machine and submachine guns to suppress advancing Allied troops, whereas the Americans gave priority to aimed fire over suppression (not something with an especially happy historical pedigree), frequently not firing at all when there was nothing obvious at which to aim – a situation that was the norm in bocage territory. The fact that the Germans possessed superior machineguns was an added problem when a firefight could be decided based on which side could keep its opponents to ground long enough to work around the flanks. In thick bocage terrain it was estimated that four small German defensive teams spread across four individual small fields could expect to tie down an entire US Army battalion and support units.
Bocage territory was also deadly for tanks, given the heavily obscured sight lines and opportunities for infantry to approach tanks unseen. This problem was exacerbated by two factors. The first was the employment by the Germans of the panzerfaust (armoured fist), a highly effective one-shot, man portable anti-tank weapon tipped with a shaped charge. The second was very poor coordination between the infantry and tank arms of both the British and the American armies. The British especially favoured formations that were excessively tank heavy. There were two further reasons for this. The first was faulty training. In the matters of exploiting cover, concealment, dispersion (made more difficult by the nature of the terrain), suppressive fire, combined arms integration and small unit initiative, the British were woefully deficient. Some of this can be explained by the fact that the British army was not an army of regulars, but one of citizen soldiers, facing an enemy of extreme professionalism and ideological zeal, but even so the British failed to make the best of what they had. The second was the fact that Britain was facing an extreme manpower squeeze. By August 1944, only 2,654 trained draft quality infantry were available to plug gaps in the British infantry force. The British could not afford to lose infantry, but they could afford to lose tanks – an early expression of the concept of never sending a man when a bullet can be sent instead. In the case of the Americans the situation was better, but not by a dramatic margin. One key problem that massively hampered co-operation between combat arms was that American infantry and tankers employed radios that operated on different frequencies and were completely incapable of communication with each other except face to face.
It should be noted that not all problems were the result of tactical deficiencies. The Allies went into Normandy expecting a long, attritional slog and their planning made this almost inevitable. Although enormous amounts of petrol were stockpiled, the logistical planners managed to heavily underestimate the rate of ammunition usage and this took some time to rectify. There were problems regarding unity of command, with different contingents harbouring differing priorities and command styles. In the early days of the campaign, several key geographical points were left unsecured. The most notable of these was the Anglo-Canadian failure to secure Caen, a vital transport hub and assembly point, on the first day of the campaign (it ultimately fell a month and a half after D-Day). Later, following the capture of Amsterdam, the British failed to open up the Scheldt estuary to Allied traffic, which resulted in continuing logistical problems (and gave the Germans valuable time to rest and refit). Later, sluggishness on the part of senior British generals resulted in the failure to close the Falaise Gap, permitting in excess of fifty thousand crack German troops to escape – these troops would form a cadre that served as the foundation for continuing German resistance. For their part, the Americans often failed to adapt pre-invasion planning to new realities on the ground. Much time was spent attempting to secure French ports that had already been wrecked beyond all utility. Meanwhile, General Bradley failed to concentrate American forces, distributing them in penny packets, which played into the man-to-man superiority possessed by the Germans. Good old-fashioned bad luck also played a role, especially in the matter of the weather. 1944 having generally been a clement year, the Allied landings were almost immediately succeeded by the worst wind and rain in fifty years. This not only destroyed one of the Mulberry harbours, significantly degrading the Allied logistics effort but it also served to ground large parts of the British and American close air support capability, further hampering the employment of what was among their key trump cards.
In order to establish areas of relative strength and weakness, it is useful to look at the qualities of the three main national forces – American, British and German – engaged in the Normandy campaign in more detail.
The US army, like its British counterpart, underwent a rapid crash expansion in order to fulfil the requirements of global total war. Unlike its German adversary, which had been planning for movement to a war footing for years before 1939, the US Army was not even fully aware of the strategic environment to which it would have to adapt until 1943. As things stood, during the course of the Second World War, the army underwent a staggering increase from 334,000 men in 1939 to 12 million men under arms in 1945 – an increase of 3,500 per cent. This expansion came at significant qualitative cost, a production line analogy being not unapt. US Army training tended to focus on technical competence rather than human factors and the entire system was impersonal and lacked stability. A willingness to turn to technological solutions to perceived problems is a widely perceived keystone of American strategic culture and this tendency was given full rein in this instance. Firepower and weight of materiel was employed as a substitute for high quality human factors. The US Army was highly mechanised which in good terrain and with reliable supply lines resulted in mobility superior to that of the Germans. Unfortunately, as we have already seen, during the early stages of the Normandy campaign the terrain was very far from good, stymieing the largely road-bound US Army transport system, and the logistics train was splitting apart at the seams. Ironies abound. Although the US Army took a somewhat techno-centric approach to war, its equipment was, with the exception of rifles (which, as we have already seen, the Americans did not employ well), largely inferior to that of the Germans. The only combat arm that enjoyed a clear superiority over the enemy in terms of both equipment and competence was that of the artillery, which was unable to showcase its talents in the awkward terrain of bocage country. Additionally, doctrine and reality intersected only through happy coincidence. The US Army’s reliance upon artillery barrages, close air support and infantry of only moderate capability made it naturally effective on the tactical defensive. However, US doctrine stressed not only the operational offensive (understandably, given that the US Army was part of an invading force) but the tactical offensive too. This was not suited to the relatively rigid, brittle capabilities of the American infantry, which lacked initiative and combat motivation. It would be wrong to argue that the Americans did not improve their performance - they did, creditably, all the while having to cope with an extremely steep learning curve. However, the Americans themselves calculated that American attacks against German positions required, at minimum, a four to one manpower advantage in the Americans’ favour. In reality they rarely enjoyed this advantage and the results were predictable.
Painful though it is to note, British performance was, on balance, probably even worse. The British Army had been grossly under-funded in the interwar period and had to undergo an expansion of a similarly traumatic nature to that experienced by the Americans. In spite of this, the British managed to excel in a number of areas. Inter-service co-operation was excellent, at sea thanks to a longstanding strategic culture of maritime expeditionary operations, at land in no small part thanks to the sterling efforts of Air Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder. The Imperial General Staff as a body put in the finest performance of the war at the strategic level. The British were the senior intelligence partner and consistently led the way in this field, running rings around the Germans. British artillery best practice was the finest in the world and British combat engineers, clanking into battle atop bizarre and yet rather effective Heath Robinson-like “funnies”, were highly skilled and put in an outstanding performance. However, the rest of the story is largely dismal. Combat arms integration, notably that of tanks and infantry, was extremely poor. Infantry training lacked rigour and realism in comparison with that of the Germans. Dissemination of doctrine ranged from inconsistent to non-existent. The British regimental system was a double-edged sword. On the one hand it served to sustain morale to a certain degree (though this is a relative judgement - the British suffered from significant morale problems all the same) and gave troops a sense of comradeship and belonging that was largely absent from their American counterparts. On the other, it could result in British troops adopting an actively hostile attitude to co-operation with other units, let alone other combat arms. The British often suffered from weak leadership, perpetuated by the dominance of the class structure. Cliques existed in every army, but it is unlikely that a character such as Neil Ritchie, having failed so signally in the desert war, would have found continued employment at high level in the US or – especially - German armies. Additionally, due to internal army politics, armoured warfare specialists (notably those from the Royal Tank Regiment) were held back or sidelined to training posts far from field command. Contrary to popular belief, social mobility within the British army was probably less flexible in the Second World War than it had been in the First; ironically, the Germans themselves rated British non-commissioned officers with singular respect, but relatively few were commissioned, even in the face of attrition. British operations tended to be characterised by initial success followed by rapid breakdown when British infantry and tankers were required to operate (often separately) beyond pre-planned artillery support. A final problem was that of experience. The British Army was significantly more experienced than its American counterpart and on paper at least, this should have paid dividends. It did not. No soldier can continue to fight indefinitely and it is entirely plausible that many British units were simply outstripping their period of effectiveness, becoming ever more cautious as time progressed. The Americans, largely fresh, harboured no such inhibitions. It is noteworthy that high level US commanders feared that the continuation of military conflict in the Pacific beyond V.E. Day would soon result in American troops relocated East from the European theatre to suffer from a similar malaise. However, this can be taken too far. Most German units had also seen extensive combat experience and did not experience so marked a lack of performance. War-weariness on the part of the British was probably a very real factor in British performance but, as with so many other things, it was exacerbated by very real deficiencies elsewhere – deficiencies that could and should have been rectified, or at least ameliorated.
The Allies themselves recognised that the fighting quality of the German soldier was one of the key factors in their slow progress across North West Europe. German troops were brought up to a very high standard of training. German doctrine emphasised combined arms operations, small unit initiative and decentralised leadership. Self-criticism and an open forum for ideas were also seen as key to training, something that could infrequently be said for British practice. Training was also backed up be ideology – many German soldiers were true believers, in contrast to their more cynical British and American counterparts. This had a major impact in terms of morale, aggressiveness and staying power. The Germans tended to defend in depth, with large mobile reserves and had the flexibility and initiative to react effectively to Allied operations. Promotion on merit was far more strongly entrenched than in either of the two main Allied armies. Although German equipment was largely superior, this cannot be held up as a deterministic explanation for German capability Similarly, while, as noted, the terrain of Normandy largely favoured the Germans as a matter of nature, it was their skill that enabled them to employ it to greatest effect, actively seeking to neutralise where the Allies were strongest. In contrast to the focus on materiel cherished by the Allies, the Germans focused on human factors and on this basis it should come as no surprise to discover that man for man they were superior. Happily, their operational and tactical brilliance was equalled only to the extent that they were also abominably bad strategists. As Colin Gray has pointed out, the Germans were unequalled in the matter of fighting, but not very good at making war.
In conclusion then, it can be seen that a variety of factors conspired to contribute to the slowness of Allied victory in Normandy. The superior quality of German soldiery must be a key plank in the overall explanation. It is not sufficient in and of itself. The Allies faced numerous obstacles, many of them unavoidable, or at least understandable. In warfare, perfection is a chimera, excellence is relative and glory is generally achieved merely by being better than the other man on the day. However, in examining Allied performance, lit though it was by enormous and ultimate success, it is impossible not to conclude that the British and Americans supplemented their already heavy burden with several loads of their own creation. And inevitably – to employ a turn of phrase with some contemporary resonance – they paid the blood price.
Biddle, Stephen (2004), Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press)
Creveld, Martin van (1983), Fighting Power: German and U.S. Army Performance, 1939-1945 (London: Arms and Armour)
Creveld, Martin van (1977), Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)
Doubler, Michael D. (1994), Closing With The Enemy: How GIs Fought The War In Europe, 1944-1945 (Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press)
Doughty, Robert A. and Gruber, Ira D., eds. (1996), Warfare In the Western World (vol.2): Military Operations Since 1871 (Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath)
Gray, Colin S. (1999), Modern Strategy (Oxford: Oxford University Press)
Harrison Place, Timothy (2000), Military Training in the British Army, 1940-1944: From Dunkirk to D-Day (London: Frank Cass)
Holden Reid, Brian, ed. (1997), Military Power: Land Warfare in Theory and Practice (London: Frank Cass)
House, Jonathan M. (2001), Combined Arms Warfare in the Twentieth Century (Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press)
Jensen, Geoffrey and Wiest, Andrew, eds. (2001), War in the Age of Technology (New York: New York University Press)
Keegan, John (1982), Six Armies In Normandy (London: Pimlico)
Megargee, Geoffrey P. (2000), Inside Hitler’s High Command (Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press)
Millett, Allan R. and Murray, Williamson, eds. (1988), Military Effectiveness (vol.2): The Second World War (Winchester, MA: Allen & Unwin)
Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. (2001), A War To Be Won: Fighting the Second World War (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press)
Sheffield, G.D., ed. (2002), Leadership and Command: The Anglo-American Experience Since 1861 (London: Brasseys)
 Doughty & Gruber, eds. (1996), p.789 and Doubler (1994), p.36
 Murray & Millett, eds. (2001), p.417
 Jensen & Wiest, eds. (2001), pp.31-36
 Doubler (1994), p.40
 Doubler (1994), p.39
 Millett & Murray, eds. (1988), pp.110-112
 Harrison Place (2000), pp.128-153
 Biddle (2004), p.121
 Harrison Place (2000)
 Murray and Millett (2001), p.425
 Holden Reid, ed. (1997), pp.142-143
 It may be noteworthy that Montgomery gained early experience on the staff of British Second Army in the Great War, whose motto was “waste metal, not flesh”. It was a good rule to live by and Second Army’s performance was excellent, but the campaign in North West Europe saw this taken to extremes and nowhere was the finely tuned co-ordination inherent to the impressive British advances of summer 1918 in evidence. Sheffield, ed. (2002), p.125 lends weight to this notion.
 House (2001), p.167
 Murray and Millett (2001), pp.419-420
 Murray and Millett (2001), p.416
 Doughty & Gruber, eds. (1996), p.786
 Doughty & Gruber, eds. (1996), p.794
 Doughty & Gruber, eds. (1996), p.791
 Murray & Millett (2001), p.426
 Doubler (1994), p.36
 Millett & Murray, eds. (1988), p.46
 Millet & Murray, eds. (1988), p.47
 Van Creveld (1983), pp.76-79 and Sheffield, ed. (2002), p.123
 Gray (1999), pp.145-146
 Doughty & Gruber, eds. (1996), p.788
 House (2001), pp.138-139
 Millett & Murray, eds. (1988), p.73
 Van Creveld (1983), p.88 and Millett & Murray, eds. (1988), p.83
 Doubler (1994)
 Murray & Millett, eds. (1988), p.61
 Murray & Millett (2001), p.426 and Millett & Murray, eds (1988), p.61
 Millett & Murray, eds. (1988), p.90
 Millett & Murray, eds. (1988), p.107
 Millett & Murray, eds. (1988), p.73
 Harrison Place (2000), pp.128-130
 Harrison Place (2000), pp.40-63, van Creveld (1983), pp.72-74 and Millett & Murray, eds. (1988), pp.112-113
 Harrison Place (2000), pp.8-18
 Holden Reid, ed. (1997), pp.132-133
 Sheffield, ed. (2002), p.123 Harrison Place (2000) notes the incidence of a British armoured officer refusing to serve with Royal Artillery attached to his tank unit because, “the Royal Horse Artillery serves with the cavalry.” This is mind-boggling and would have been unthinkable in the US or German armies.
 Millett & Murray, eds. (1988), p.126
 Biddle (2004), p.121
 Harrison Place (2000), p.3
 Harrison Place (2000), pp.168-177
 Doughty & Gruber, eds. (1996), p.789 and Doubler (1994), p.36
 House (2001), p.179, van Creveld (1983), pp.35-37 and Murray & Millet (2001), p.412
 Millett & Murray, eds. (1988), p.209
 Murray & Millett (2001), p.412
 Sheffield, ed. (2002), p.174
 Van Creveld (1983), pp.25-26
 Biddle (2004), pp.112-113
 Millett & Murray (1988), p.214
 Megargee (2000), pp.230-236
 Gray (1999), p.50