Monday, January 17, 2011

Rating General’s Fredendall, Dawley and Lucas

Any discussion of failed Allied generals in the Second World War will throw up the names of the British commanders who failed in North Africa and Malaya (Cunningham, Ritchie and Percival will be covered in another posts), and the three American Corps commanders who were sacked at Kasserine, Salerno and Anzio. This post will look at the Americans.

In some ways the comparisons are ridiculous. The characters of the three were completely different. Major General Lloyd Fredendall was a pompous egotistical braggart in the Patton mould, but without Patton’s redeeming features of leadership and battlefield nouse. After failing appallingly at Kasserine, he was sent home to a training command.

Major General Ernest Dawley was supposed to be a good reliable leader, but Patton at 7th Army had asked to exchange him for Bradley (whom he trusted), and so he was left to 5th Army. His superior there, General Clarke, hovered over him like a mother hen at Salerno, but to little effect. Alexander called him a ‘broken reed’, and Eisenhower expressed frustration at Clarke’s unwillingness to sack him. He went home to a training command.

Major General John Lucas was a calm, quiet, fatherly and extremely cautious man, who was also indecisive and lacked any notable battlefield leadership skills. He was sacked in the middle of the battle. He went home to a training command.

Truthfully, the three men had very different personalities, and very different approaches to leading men. Looking for a common theme in why they were promoted to positions they all proved completely unsuitable for leads to only one result. General George Marshall. He thought they were all going to be excellent. (In fact his phrasing goes considerable beyond that. “I like that man, he’s a fighter”, was his comment on Fredendall, who front line generals later branded a moral and physical coward.)

Eisenhower, who was responsible for appointing actual combat commanders in the European Theatre of Operations, was unfortunately willing to take whoever Marshall sent him at the start of the war. Sometimes this worked out, as in the cases of Patton and Bradley, and sometimes it failed dismally, as in these three cases. Unfortunately Eisenhower was not willing to think for himself at this point, and just parroted Marshall’s opinions of men like Lucas, even if he came to regret doing so later. (Which only demonstrates the ingenousness of Eisenhower wondering why Clark was reluctant to sack men sent to him by the Marshall/Eisenhower team.) It was only as Eisenhower gained confidence later in the war - and gained experience of how often Marshall was wrong about men and situations - that he started acting with more caution. Often too late.

This is not to suggest that none of the three could have made a competent general. They all suffered from being promoted to high command with no, or extremely little, combat experience. Although Fredendall probably lacked the ability to be a real leader, the other two might have done better had they had any experience of leading Battalions or Regiments first, then Divisions for a few months, before being exposed to the role of a corps commander. Judging by their performances they may never have made dashing battlefield leaders, but they might have made what Montgomery called a ‘good plain cook’… if they had been given a chance to develop slowly.

However they suffered the fate of most generals in democracies thrown into a war for which their countries were not prepared. They had to fill roles for which they were not suited. They lacked any experience in battle, let alone experience at leading large formations. Leading large formations against the counter-attacks of high quality veteran German troops was certainly not something for which they had any real preparation. (It makes very clear the unreality of Marshall’s fantasy that untried American troops led by such untried leaders could have successfully invaded France in 1942 or 1943! As Alanbrooke commented later, Marshall’s plan would certainly have ended the war earlier, but probably not the way the Allies would have preferred.)

It should be noted however that all three, having failed at the front, were sent to training commands at home. Every army has a tendency to do this, but most also provide a few good leaders with proven ideas as well. The American fixation with putting failed leaders in charge of training was one commented on by many American generals later in the war as they continued to receive battlefield replacements that were ill prepared for the environment they were entering. Again, we see the fell hand of Marshall’s preferential treatment, and of Eisenhower’s unwillingness to disabuse his boss of his illusions.

No one would rate any of these three as good generals, but I imagine many are not as willing to concede that Dawley and Lucas were merely unfortunate to be revealed so obviously. My contention would be that many other generals were thrown unprepared into situations beyond their experience or abilities, but that most were lucky enough not to face such immediate and devastating counter-strikes that revealed their weaknesses to the whole world. Dozens of other Division, Corps and even Army leaders in the Allied ranks, possibly only did better than Dawley and Lucas in the history books because they faced much weaker opponents later in the war. Their reversals were hidden by the far larger scale of operations, that allowed their mistakes to be lost in the morass.

Even the best generals cannot be expected to be magically ready for that most dangerous of circumstances – defending against an unexpected and powerful offensive. Skills that look good using superior numbers in attack, can be shown inadequate against even inferior numbers of good troops in a well led counter-attack. Such skills take painfully learned experience to develop, and many otherwise successful generals never achieve them. (Cunningham and Hodges spring to mind – more posts later.) Most generals were never even tested at this. (Even Patton may well have been lucky that he only ever led attacks or counter-attacks, not defences. Only Montgomery amongst Allied generals repeatedly demonstrated mastery of both.)

Personality is a crucial part of being a general, but so is training, experience, competent superiors, and luck. These three lacked the personality to overcome the problem that the other factors were conspiring against them. But how many equally bad candidates managed to hide in their weaknesses in the overwhelming Allied numerical superiority at the end of the war?

23 comments:

  1. Please rate the contribution of the leading war correspondents of the war. Won't give any names of who I think leads the list; interested in your take.

    Thanks

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    1. Dear Jim, I am afraid I am not a great expert on war correspondents… though I have some strong opinions on who couldn't be trusted.

      my personal favorite is the australian born Alan Moorehead, but even there I disagree with a significant number of his conclusions.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Moorehead

      Interested in your thoughts though?

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  2. Davies may have hit the nail on the head about the three above mentioned Generals but to say Montgomery was the only Allied General to master both offense and defense is absurd.

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    1. Dear Rod, thanks for the comment.

      What does 'mastery' mean? To me mastery of both defense and attack means to have on several occasions and in various conditions to have succeeded. This conditions include both inferior and superior resources, new and experienced troops, time to prepare, and times caught off guard, and any other varieties I can think of.

      Montgomery was a master in that he fought defensive engagements with a division in France, a corps in Egypt, an Army in Libya, an Army Group in France and Germany, and even as Allied ground forces Commander of two Army Groups in Normandy. The terrains included desert, mountains, forests, plains, and river delta's. The weather included everything from desert to snow. The troops included everything from inexperienced conscripts in their first battle to professional troops with years of experience.

      Montgomery was a master in that he commanded a similar range of offensive operations (though the advance of his division in Belgium was not against opposition). Only the higher formations included successful attacks.

      Now, who can we similarly call a master?

      Zhukov certainly. He commanded on the Asian steps against Japan as well as on the Russian snowfields and in the Balkan mountain ranges. He commanded defense and attack with equal success. He and a handful of Russians, like a handful of Germans, were masters of both defense and attack.

      But who else in the Western Armies?

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    2. The best Australians saw action in North African desert, Greek mountains, and Asian jungles. some of them succeeded in both defense and attack, but usually only with a single size units. Some were very good. Masters? Perhaps given more chances they could have demonstrated such skills?

      Canadians fought in Italian mountains and French fields. A couple of divisional commanders had to defend as well as attack, but the higher ups had less chances, particularly in defense. Masters?

      New Zealand's single important general led a division in defense and attack in Egypt/Libya, and a Corps in attack in both Tunisia and Italy. He was successful in Tunisia, but his major attack in Italy - at Monte Cassino - is a definite example of what NOT to do. Not a Master.

      Other British?

      Alexander led a division in the BEF with reasonable aplomb, and commanded an Army in the retreat through Burma. His next efforts were Army Groups in Tunisia, Sicily and Italy, with very mixed reviews. He never really got on top of his Allied commands, and only one of the Italian operations he planned - the last - could be considered really successful. A Master?

      Slims efforts are also a bit varied. He had mixed results as a divisional commander in Africa and then the Middle East. He led the Burma Corps in retreat, and then finally the 14th army in both defense and attack. With 14th army he was quite successful, but the Japanese were in serious decline by the time he hit his game. His record with inferior resources or unskilled troops was more iffy. A Master of defense and attack?

      Moving on to the Americans.

      Patton was an expert at exploitation attacks with either Corps or Armies. His one minor defensive operation was with a Corps after the Germans had decided not to extend the Kasserine operation any further anyway. The one time he came up against serious German resistance a the Metz forts, he made several suicidal frontal attacks, and then went to sulk in Paris for several weeks. Every time he had immensely greater resources than the enemy. A master of BOTH defense and attack? Not really.

      Bradley led a corps in a flanking maneouvre in Sicily for a few weeks, and an army in a crumbling attack in Normandy for a couple of months, before being made an Army Group Commander. His only defensive operation was the Battle of the Bulge, where he and Hodges were caught completely flat footed and were rescued by a couple of stubborn divisions, and well designed counter-operations by Patton and Montgomery. He always had immensely greater resources for his attacks than his opponents. A master of defense and attack? Not at all.

      Who else? Clarke? A very long list of failures. Stillwell? You use be joking. Eisenhower? Ridiculous. MacArthur? Lets just consider the Philippines, and I mean both in 1941-2 and in 1944-5.

      My best bet for an American who mastered both defense and attack is Truscott (who incidentally I have prepared another post on). He led divisions, corps, and armies, in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and France. He also fought off real German counter-attacks as well as organizing his own attacks. He even sometimes did it with inferior resources! He was probably as close as the Americans got to a master of both defense and attack. but he never got the chance to demonstrate his abilities in the range of environments and conditions as Montgomery. But still I would back him as the best American.

      I would be interested to hear other people's opinions of which generals could be considered masters of both defense and attack?

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    3. Hi again Nigel

      ND: "To me mastery of both defense and attack means to have on several occasions and in various conditions to have succeeded. This conditions include..." (etc., etc.)

      You may be in thrall to some odd ideas about "success", but as I mentioned elsewhere: "an army's mission statement in its own orders sets the parameters of success and failure". You should check that out in routine military post-exercise, post-operation, and performance-evaluation reports, for example.

      Therefore, failure to achieve objectives at - most conspicuously - Dieppe, Mareth, Sicily (repeatedly), Caen (repeatedly), Antwerp, and the Rhine (twice) would all depict Monty as a great military loser kept in place for devious political-imperial expediency. We could discuss also Monty's speech problems and bizarre personal relationships as other aspects of failure too, but his purely military record and associated definitions alone would demolish your claim.

      I don't really mind seeing your fantasies get around though, because the longer such bizarreness propagates as respectable "history" the more likely its systemic feudal-imperial basis will self-destruct. Some yanks I notified get a great laugh out of it too.

      Best regards

      Matt Davies

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    4. Hi Matt, I have only done research work at the Australian Officer Training establishments (Duntroon and ADFA), while teaching with the professors at Deakins Strategic Studies program and writing for the Australian National Universities Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, or as part of my own Masters in Strategic History, so I wouldn't claim to be an expert on what is taught everywhere.

      But I am going to have a quiet disagreement about 'an army's mission statement' setting parameters of success. Personally I am a follower of Warren Buffet's approach to proper management: you give a good manager a one page summary of what you want achieved, and trust the person to achieve it.

      My own researches have given me to understand that if a government micro manages from afar, disaster is in the offing. And any senior general who thinks they can plan a whole campaign in advance, deserves what they get. That goes double for the desk officers and chateau generals trying to manage their fronts without ever looking at the reality in the front lines.

      Frankly if the enemy is so poor that the plan goes faultlessly (say Iraq invasions), then the enemy is too pathetic to classify as a serious opponent.

      If the enemy is remotely good, then they will attempt something to upset your plans. That is when a campaign becomes a battle of wits. That is the test of the better general.

      Moving on to success vs failure. (And I will use US generals to make the points, just to avoid further confusion in reception).

      In the Philippines, Wainright did not fail. He carried out his orders to the best of his abilities, and everyone knew that he was only fighting a delaying action. The main problem he had - inadequate troops, inadequately equipped - was only partially in his control. He lost, but did not fail (regardless of mission statement).

      MacArthur did fail. In the Philippines he too was only sensibly offering a delaying action, but his entire strategy and tactics were dismal. (At least as bad as Percival in Malaya, and with less excuse as he was supposedly a far more experienced officer who had been in charge far longer and with less inter service competition). In New Guinea he completely ignored what was really happening at the front, just making stupid and unrealistic demands from a distance. He won, but as a general in the field, he was a failure.

      Truscott was a brilliant success. He held on by the skin of his teeth in both the Salerno and Anzio campaigns against heavy counter-attacks (apparent failure by your standards), rebuilt collapsing units (that repeatedly hit your failure targets), and had the last laugh over the enemy. The plans insisted the Germans should not do what they did, and he survived it anyway. That makes him a much better general than if the Germans had followed the script written in Eisenhowers HQ!

      At the Metz forts Patton failed. He tried to blitzkrieg past (correct), then when held up he tried a couple of hard pushes (correct), but them instead of outflanking as Truscott (or Montgomery) would have at that point, he left the troops to do repeated frontal attacks while he went to Paris for a few weeks. (There are times when frontal attacks are necessary, and other times when they might work, but there are times - Cassino under Clarke and then Freyberg - where they are criminally stupid.)

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    5. Now personally I don't think Monty was a very nice person, and like everyone, he made plenty of mistakes, but against the enemy he succeeded... Every time. (Even in retreat.) As Rommel told his son, no matter what his opponents tried, he "never made a mistake". (That is obviously incorrect in Monty's whole career, but Rommel never experienced a mistake that gave him a chance to achieve something that would fundamentally alter the outcome. Nor did any other German general.)

      I do not think the failure attack at Dieppe - a suicidal test of heavy fortifications - can be blamed on any mid or lower rank designer or participant. The fault lies with the people who issued the orders to try it. Those who took part and failed, are hardly to blame for 'not reaching mission parameters'. As a test, it was very useful, and (according to Truscott) greatly assisted future invasions. Failure by Montgomery?

      At Mareth Monty tried the sequence I just discussed for Metz. Successfully. It was the correct thing to do. (Monty's instructions for North Afirca were "clear North Africa". Did he fail that mission parameter?)

      In fact it was exactly the same tactic he used in the next two campaigns. You tie down the best enemy troops, and then send mobile troops around the flank.

      Of course in Sicily he still didn't trust the American troops, and tried to steal some roads. Bradley - in his best campaign of the war - and Truscott showed him he was wrong. But as usual he learned from the experience. (His instructions in Sicily "in conjunction with Patton, clear Sicily". Failure?)

      In Normandy (where he was ground forces commander), the Germans didn't give up and run as expected, but fought on until almost complete destruction. Still Monty used the same tactics. You take the first part at the run; mount heavy attacks to see if that will work; and then concentrate on the conditions to fix the best of the enemy's troops and then outflank them. I know many British and Americans don't (or say they don't) understand what he was doing, but it was in his written 'parameters' from the start. (His instruction was 'get the armies ashore and break out'. He was left to work out how.)

      Unlike most, I don't think Antwerp was a bad idea. It was defeated by bad weather more than anything else. It came close enough that it was certainly worth a shot. (If you want to have a go at Monty in this period you need to look at his concentrating on the advance too much, and not keeping his eye on the Canadian Army that seized Antwerp but didn't exploit and clear the estuary. That was a bad lapse of concentration. By far his worst mistake of the war.)

      Failure at the Rhine? What failure? It was Eisenhower who prevented the allies crossing before winter, and the weather that made crossing in spring almost impossible. You cannot blame any of the front line generals for the delays after Eisenhower set up his chateau. (Particulalry not those like Patton and Montgomery who did everything they could to finish the war despite Eisenhower.)

      I have been to many staff college lectures that pretend things will always go to the supreme plan. And many more history lectures that point out that flexibility, and compensating for the enemy's responses, is far, far, FAR more important for a good general than following 'the plan'. Despite his propaganda that 'it all goes to plan, Monty's great success was that his plan was really just an outline that he would stretch any way necessary any time the opposition made it necessary, or offered an opportunity.

      Patton demonstrated a similar ability sometimes, particularly at the Bulge.

      I will always back the smart flexible person against the person who not only has 'a plan', but actually sticks to it regardless of what the enemy does to upset it.

      In fact I think I'll finish with Dr Phil's line.. "So how's that working out for you?"

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  3. Thanks for the reply Nigel,

    The most conspicuous problems first.

    ND: "...Dieppe - a suicidal test of heavy fortifications..."
    Nigel: why this British endorsement of large-scale and very bloody military experimentation, and your calm acceptance of such insanity? A simple wargame would've sufficed instead, thus saving over 3,500 mostly Canadian troops from death, maiming and captivity.

    It's as if a science teacher tasked teenagers with a train-surfing activity in order to make a "suicidal test" of the heights of railway tunnels. Then, during the hearing for manslaughter charges against said science teacher, referees for the defence speak of the teacher's "humane concern to prevent train-surfing fatalities" by showing some horrific, mutilated corpses from the experiment.

    ND: "You take the first part at the run; mount heavy attacks to see if that will work; and then concentrate on the conditions to fix the best of the enemy's troops and then outflank them"

    The same problem again i.e., "mount heavy attacks to see if that will work". That seems an entirely irresponsible attitude to soldiers' lives, not to mention the less direct effects of operations on such things as nation, civilization, and both allied and enemy non-combatants. As a matter of leadership it would be deemed callous disrespect to all under command, even infantile mischievousness, to just launch an offensive "to see if that will work". Such commitment of others to mortal danger does not invoke the spirits of Marborough or Wellington at all but rather, more a Stalin or even a Mengele.

    But your own insights there seem useful, Nigel, at least in confirming Ike's apparent conclusion that Monty was psycopathic. Monty's vast and cryptic dishonesty too would take - and has taken - enough volumes to back Ike's response.

    Nigel, if you can't revise your beliefs on this you should at least try to deal with the serious cases made against Monty, rather than just perpetuate the myths.

    Matt Davies

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  4. Dear Matt, A comment on Dieppe.

    Dieppe was a bad idea. The British COS knew it, and were not keen on that nutter Mountbatten (foisted on them by Churchill) trying it, even after assigning Monty and others to try and clean it up a bit. You are correct to think that any idiot should have known it was not clever.

    However many idiots were claiming it was possible, and that new landing craft and tanks would make it fairly easy, and pushing for a new front in France right away.

    Chief amongst these idiots were Stalin, Roosevelt, Marshall and Eisenhower.

    Dieppe was done, reluctantly, to:
    1) test new techniques... results, useful research (according to Truscott, the only American there).
    2) help define what would be needed (leading to different landing craft and Hobart's funnies).
    3) prove that attacking a fortified port was unrealistic (BCOS keen to convince Americans of this).
    4) 'blood' the Canadians (done at Canadian insistence, and NOT the preference of BCOS).
    5) prove that Marshall was an idiot (BCOS absolutely convinced invasion in 1942 suicidal).

    Truscott (and others) claim it was useful research. (I think more limited research was pretty much achieved at Madagascar and other places at less cost.) But as he was there, and he led several Allied invasions afterwards, including against significant opposition: I will accept that he knew what he was talking about.

    But that does not stop it from being bad in other ways. Apart from the sheer waste, it had absolutely no effect on Stalin or Marshall's perspectives. (Though apparently Roosevelt understood the message a little more clearly. Eisenhower possibly understood a bit, but he remained Marshall's parrot until he became designated CIC D-Day, when he finally started disputing Marshall's more foolish ideas).

    Worse, it gave Churchill repeated nightmares about D-Day being as bad, and led to a hesitance on his part which the USCOS later assumed applied to the BCOS. (it didn't, they were keen to go whenever practical, but had a different definition to that than Marshall).

    What is Dieppe's place in military history? A bloody research program of dubious value?

    What is Dieppe's place in the history of the Allies? A ruthless proof of concept that failed to achieve the desired results?

    I would consider the former more of a successful result than the latter.

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    1. Dear Nigel,

      Dieppe: seems from your response that you shouldn't have gone there. I merely cited your (new) mention of Dieppe as "a suicidal test" in order to highlight what I regard as your odd tactical notions and their (correctly) associated brand known as "Monty". So I questioned your "Dieppe-as-test" concept in the context of your more general comment in another Monty-ism i.e., "mount heavy attacks to see if that will work".

      But your reply rather reinforces my point about many British chiefs' "irresponsible attitude to soldiers' lives", and irresponsibility towards much else too. For the Dieppe raid's British initiative, British plan, and its ensuing British-Canadian disaster, yet again you assign blame to non-British leaders who had absolutely no involvement in Dieppe's conception or execution. You suggest also no small Canadian fault for their general trust and enthusiastic courage in volunteering for the only major action the British offered them.

      Ultimately, your argumentative approach would replicate the bizarre deliberate frontal assault of a Monty push; it seems here you're just "testing to see if it will work". Well, it did not, because it could not: we know that Bolero-Sledgehammer-Roundup bore no resemblance whatsoever to the petulant, mischievous sabotage in Jubilee / Dieppe.

      However, your focus on Dieppe shows how remiss I was in omitting that Monty was not the only psychopath in that part of the Alliance.

      Matt Davies

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  5. I'll nominate Patch, he did well in the South of France and in the Pacific...

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  6. I think Monty's problem was ego and arrogance over and above the necessary confidence in his own ability a commander ought to have. He was good at the set-piece assaults that were absolutely necessary at various stages in the war (El Alamein, Rhine crossings). However, his grasp of combined arms warfare was poor, as was his ability to exploit success. His ability to blame others for failure was distasteful. His handling of Op MARKET GARDEN was indifferent, indeed I suspect once it became apparent that the narrow front approach was failing he made sure he distanced himself from the operation. I think much of his understanding of war was too firmly rooted in World War One - he was no great military intellect and this had an impact on the post war British Army. Helen

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    1. Dear Helen,

      that is a fairly just assessment in most parts. I particularly agree about his post war role as CIGS being awful (though his role in NATO was closer to his skill set).

      I think you underestimate his exploitation skills, which were defined by a range between not taking risks with troops he didn't think were up to it (El Alemein), to 2nd Army advancing further and faster than any other allied army per day once the Germans collapsed in France.

      But the key element of your comment is correct. Allied generals were usually middle class non-entities who had not had the gumption to leave and do something more profitable when peace time conditions made it clear their societies despised them (laying it on a bit here, but you get the point). Most of them reacted to eventual hero status in embarrassing and undignified ways - Patton, Hodges, Bradley, Eisenhower and many others being just as bad at this as Montgomery.

      It is interesting that in Montgomery and Patton's case they knew that establishing a PR profile of superiority and lack of concern, and the idea that it was all going fine, don't panic: was vital to their troops trusting them. (Both of them had to revitalise badly beaten armies in North Africa, and both took the lesson far to excess. Embarrassingly so. But I don't blame either of them for good command skills approach to their problems.)

      I think I will stick with Rommel's comment that Montgomery never made a mistake, and Bradley's later confession that the Allies were very lucky to have Montgomery in command in Normandy, over the personal antipathy I feel for his style and presentation. After all, it worked, and he had eventual success in more circumstances and climates and with more varied resources than almost anyone else, and never lost the trust of his men. Very few other WWII generals - except Zhukov - could say the same.

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    2. Helen,
      Your points on "ego and arrogance", excessive "confidence in his own ability", and blaming others for his own failures all head straight towards very common, clinical diagnoses of psychopathy or, at least, more recently assessed and related Narcissistic Personality Disorder. As for the operations you mention, the many lives lost in utter futility would further support such diagnosis in this case:

      - 2nd Alamein was not necessary at all considering the effect of the impending Torch landings on the tenuous Italo-German lines of communication from Tripoli; Rommel had no choice but flight from Egypt.
      - Rhine crossings/PLUNDER was possibly the War's most-telegraphed punch into a soft pillow, especially when compared with the much earlier and more economical American Rhine crossings. Sure, it was very necessary for Monty's 21AG to make crossings, but not in the form of that near-D-Day-scale operation, which covered also the appalling VARSITY airborne drops with over 500 Allied paras killed for no military purpose.
      - Market-Garden is well known and thoroughly documented for its outrageous dismissal of validated, multi-source intelligence information which well indicated how the enemy response would be a relatively comfortable reduction of the Arnhem bridgeheads (even if they had not been so dispersed as they were). To pursue Market-Garden instead of securing Antwerp (despite clear and specific SHAEF direction) demonstrated classic traits of the attention-seeking, lack of empathy and, later, lack of remorse so conspicuous in the psychopathic type.

      Norman Dixon, in his much-celebrated 'On the Psychology of Military Incompetence', went to great lengths covering Monty's reputation with strenuous doubts and excuses. But Dixon used little more than some Freudian and Frankfurt School interpretations, such as Monty's endorsement of troop brothels and condoms as somehow proof of a humane commander. Oh well, it was written in the Sex n'Drugs 'Counter-Culture' era after all.

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    3. Nigel,
      like many of your comment the4y contain undisputed facts, unfortunately they then encase total rubbish. Your comment above is a good example.

      The US Torch landings did take place at the same time as the battle of El Alamein, Fact. Unfortunately your statement that the Torch landings threatened Rommel's lines of communication is total rubbish. The RN, RAF and Malta threatened Rommel's lines of communication not the US forces 1000miles away in Algeria. Torch was more about getting the US into the European theatre, controlling the Mediterranean and removing Vichy France. At this stage the US army was not in a position to threaten the Africa Korps and to suggest that they could have removed AK from North Africa is hysterical and a total misrepresentation of the facts. Rommel would probably have had to withdraw but this would have been an orderly one under his terms and not a fighting withdraw with the AK having to destroy equipment they could not move.

      Your comment on Op Plunder is another example of your encasing rubbish in facts to fit your point of view and mislead the unwary.

      “Rhine crossings/PLUNDER was possibly the War's most-telegraphed punch into a soft pillow, especially when compared with the much earlier and more economical American Rhine crossings.”

      Yes, every man and his dog knew that they were going to cross the Rhine, fact, but soft pillow? And much earlier American Rhine crossings! Another case of you encasing rubbish in fact.

      Op Plunder was was formulated as a deliberate attack and so required much planning and accumulation of stores to ensure that enough troops could make what was expected to be an opposed crossing. The much earlier crossings you refer to are the very unexpected capture of the Remagen bridge and Patton’s lightning dash into southern Germany. Would these two crossing have been all that was needed? Although the capture of the bridge was important it was not decisive. It did enable a bridge head to be built and ensure the construction of pontoon bridges it was not that important particularly as it collapsed shortly after capture. Could you have got the whole of the allied forces across at this point, not a hope in hell. They would still need other crossing.

      Patton's much earlier unopposed crossing the day before op Plunder, again fact wrapped around rubbish. Strategically the Third Army's crossing that far south was no great threat to the German army which is why it was unopposed. Why, well to have an effect the Third Army would have to turn north and then cross another river to threaten the German heart lands. So your much earlier Rhine crossings were not desisive and in the wrong place. Other crossing would still need to take place.

      “appalling VARSITY airborne drops with over 500 Allied paras killed for no military purpose.”

      Again fact wrapping rubbish. Varsity is an excellent example of the good use of airborne forces. They are dropped on clearly defined objective that they have the ability to take. Although the Germans knew the crossings had taken place, having two infantry divisions quickly appear unsettled the Germans particularly as airborne dropped normally proceed an assault not expand on it.

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    4. Dear Fred,

      You seem to think some of Matt and Helen's comments are mine?

      By all means have a go at them, just pay attention to whose ideas they are?

      In fact I agree with most of what you said here, except for the bit about North African invasions not threatening Rommel's supply lines. It was air bases within spitting distance of Malta that decide the Med war . When the Allies had some, they were winning, when they had none, the Axis were. That simple. The deadlock see-sawing was possibly broken by converting it to a two front campaign.

      Now if you want to say that landings on the Atlantic coast were a waste of time, go for it. The original British plan had landings in Tunisia (take advantage of surprise, and operating in waters the RN had fought dozens of convoys through), not in bloody Morocco.

      The Americans insisted on the change a thousand miles westward because they thought it was too dangerous to be so close to German airpower and reinforcements. (Mind you these were the same Americans who wanted to invade France in 1943... can't understand the distinctions in what passes for their minds there...)

      In the end the delay in North Africa sucked in more Axis troops to eventually surrender than the Germans lost at Stalingrad, and gave the Americans a few home truths about what was needed before considering an army fit for frontal assaults on Germans, so it served a useful purpose I suppose.

      Enjoy.

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    5. My apologizes Nigel, I knew I was aiming at Matt but put your name for some reason.

      The landings that far west were not a direct threat until they started moving east. I do accept that having land based, easily supplied airfield within range of Rommel's supply route would have been a greater threat. If the 8th Army had not won at El Alamein then there would have been no great pressure on Rommel. But with the AK in retreat the landing took on more of a threat. I do feel at this point they should have seen the writing on the wall and had an orderly withdraw to Italy. Fortunately Hitler would not accept retreat and so re-enforced failure with dire results.

      I also feel that the Torch landings gave the US an enemy that was not too strong (Vichy France) and the opportunity to shake out the commanders. The US had had a massive expansion and untested tactics and these landing and slow advance gave an excellent opportunity to fix any problems. You always have commanders who have risen in peace time a lot higher than they should and some who have not had the opportunity or political cunning to move up. As you say, reality bites.

      If you consider the landing a training exercise under fire then it was worthwhile, but a bold stroke to cut off Rommel it was pointless.

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  7. Rommel what?

    Here's an actual Rommel quote about Monty:

    "Montgomery would never take the risk of following up boldly and overrunning us, as he could have done without any danger to himself. Indeed, such a course would have cost him fewer losses in the long run than his methodical insistence on overwhelming superiority in each tactical action, which he could only obtain at the cost of his speed"
    Source: 'The Rommel Papers' Ed. Liddel Hart, pp 360--1.

    Of course, Rommel had no access to Monty's documented orders, which offer much more damning assessment.

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  8. I am sorry but I disagree Matt. German-Italian Panzer Armee Africa took huge casaulties (59.000 total including 34.000 prisoners captured plus 430 tanks and 350 guns destroyed or captured ) in Second Battle of Alamein. Now consider that Rommel took all of this force intact and retreated undisturbed (there is no reason that a shaken and non confident 8th Army after its previous experiences in desert would follow it agressively when they did not even do it after winning in Alamein) all the way back Tunis. What would be the chances of 1st Army or green untested 2nd US Corps in Tunisia during January or February battles like Kasserine ? Hell If Afrikakorps retreated intact with its original personel and equipment from Alamein and used by Rommel in Kasserine pass they could easily capture Allied supply dumps in Thala , get Algeria and say "Hi" to Eisenhower in breakfast. Montgomery's victory no matter how much advantage he had saved Torch , 1st Army and Allied situation in NA. Not only that British desperately needed airfields around Derna to cover Allied supply convoys bound to Malta. Since Pedestal convoy on August 1942 no supply ships arrived there and there was a serious starvation threat on Malta. Only way to do that was to pull entire Axis air and naval forces to Egypt destroy them and capture Axis airfields on Cyreneica.

    Aside from all these British Army needed a battlefield success to restore its confidence after Gazala-Tobruk-First Alamein battles. Alamein victory made that possible.

    Can

    Istanbul Turkey

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  9. Dieppe ? What are you talking about. Montgomery left UK and gave the command of South East District in 12th August 1942 and went to Egypt. Dieepe raid Operation Jubilee happened on 19th August ! How the hell Montgomery can be responsible for some operation he was not involved in execution ? Not only that he sent two reports to CIS and Combined Operations prior to raid and objecting the Operation Jubilee once its scale and lax security became appereant before going to Middle East.

    Can
    Istaanbul-Turkey

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  10. That the likes of Montgomery, Macarthur and Patton were such insufferably egotistical, self-serving big-noting pains in the arse is a pity. In the absence of an epoch such as WWII, little, if anything would be known or thought of them. But, they all had major roles in the conflict and the problem for so many in assessing their worth as generals is having to suspend or ignore their personal deficiencies and behaviour. The trick is to objectively, in purely military terms, assess their respective performances. In addition, some people find it difficult to leave nationalist sentiment in the locker. The outcomes of WWII were achieved by the combined efforts of a grand and massive alliance where each contributor, almost without exception, did their utmost to achieve the common end. I try to regard them in two respects, militarily and personally.
    The conceit and deceit practised by all three leads me to harbour contempt for the lot of them - in personal terms.. It should always be borne in mind that they all remained in command according to the dictates of their respective civillian elected leaders and everyone else had to endure them and fight under their command.
    One commander for whom I have very little regard and respect was Lord Louis Mountbatten. How 'bout rating him, Nigel?


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    1. Well I do plan to rate Mountbatten, and it won't be very flattering. Like those above he is overrated, but unlike MacArthur he lacked geopolitical or strategic sense to compensate. His one great ability was detail, and I acknowledge that he did more to control malaria in combat troops than anyone else. (Similarly his role as a naval captain is way overrated, but his radar work in is way underestimated!)

      In fact although I agree with most of your comments on the 3, i will qualify. Patton and Monty took over beaten and demoralised groups and built them up, as much with propaganda as with resources. They both convinced their men that 'their general' was better and more trustworthy and would get them across the line.

      In fact this is one reason Monty was so cautious not to advance too fast and fall into Rommel's preferred traps. he didn't think his troops were skilled enough yet, and there was no way he was going to undermine their confidence in him by offering opportunities to Rommel.

      On whether anyone would remember them, MacArthur was pretty infamous for the Washington riots already, and you simply cannot underestimate what Monty did to control revolt and defeat terrorism in Ireland in the 1920's and Palestine in the 1930's. Even if there was no second world war, Monty would still be quoted as THE sample of how things should have been done in Iraq or Afghanistan recently!

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