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Saturday, March 08, 2014


Steve Cole's thoughts on the biggest mistakes the Allies made during World War II (in chronological order).
1. The failure to take seriously that war was coming: The British and French disarmament movements of the 1920s had left an opening for Hitler, which the rearmament programs of the 1930s were not enough to overcome. One can include here the failure to give the Germans an equitable peace at Versailles. (Instead, the French insisted on crippling reparations and on ignoring Wilson's 14 points which were the basis of the armistice. The Germans felt betrayed, and they were.)
2. The failure to attack Germany in September 1939: The French were just not ready for a war and used as an excuse inflated reports of lots of German troops on their border. Even the unprepared French could probably have hurt the Germans enough to force them to stop the war. One might argue that they should have been prepared as the primary cause of war is not being strong enough to guard your border against the nasty neighbor who wants to steal your stuff.
3. Getting surprised by the attack through the Ardennes in May 1940: The French just assumed that the Germans were going around the north end of the forest, probably because they captured a set of real German plans saying that was the plan. The Germans, who knew the plans had been captured, reluctantly switched to what had been their backup plan.
4. America's delay in adopting a convoy system: This let the German submarines have their "happy time" on the US coast. In the end, it cost hundreds of ships and thousands of lives.
5. The War with Japan: US economic pressure on Japan backfired, and the US just assumed that they were so powerful that the Japanese would be idiots to attack. Well, the US failed to take the next step in the thought process: If Japan cannot beat the US in the war the US expects, what else might Japan do, perhaps a surprise attack to wipe out the US fleet? So, in the end, we lost most of the fleet and the Philippines, and of course the British lost a couple of battleships off Malaya.
6. The Raid on Dieppe: This was a disaster of an attempt to raid the French coast and experiment with amphibious warfare. Hindsight would show it was never going to work, but maybe they had to try it to realize it. No lessons were learned that should not have been obvious ahead of time.
7. The failure to break out after the Anzio landings: The Allies were scared when their Salerno landing almost failed and decided to "go slow" in the Anzio invasion, making sure everything was in place before moving. The problem is that in war, the slow guy finishes dead, and the Germans had time to move troops to contain the beachhead. Had the troops moved out to their original objectives, Anzio would have been a brilliant success.
8. Island hopping: The US Navy and Marines insisted on attacking the most heavily defended Japanese-held islands so as to seize existing bases. The Army landed where the Japanese were not and quickly built new bases, then bombed and blockaded the Japanese bases into irrelevance. Very few of the islands the Navy took were not close to empty islands they could have taken far more easily.
9. The Normandy Invasion: The invasion itself worked, but there were several key failures that almost added up to disaster. The airborne drops were scattered badly, and the troops could have been trained how to handle such a situation instead of being told that everything was going to be swell and entire battalions would quickly assemble and attack their targets. The aerial bombardment was completely wasted due to bad weather; nobody had the sense to call off the wasted attacks. The overly ambitious schedule shoved too many men onto crowded beaches, and the exhausted troops stopped moving inland halfway to their objectives. (Omaha was a mess because of Allied intelligence failures, but not really a mistake and even with that the defenses cracked in 12 hours.) Nobody planned ahead for the hedgerow country (despite a hundred thousand British tourists who had seen it before the war). The British just would not spend the casualties needed to break out of the bottle at Caen and flubbed plans to take it on the first day. Once Patton broke out, the British would not close the Argentan-Falaise gap and would not allow the Americans to close it, allowing 100,000 German troops to escape (and keep the war going months longer). For that matter, the trap could have been much bigger if Eisenhower had seen Patton's vision and let him run for Paris and follow the Seine to the ocean, trapping the entire German western army group.
10. The failure to keep the German troops on Dutch islands trapped there. By refusing to drive forward a few more miles, the Allied troops left the gate open for another 100,000 German troops to escape and form a new defense line. Not pushing those British tanks a few extra miles lengthened the war by months.
11. Market-Garden: This insane plan to use paratroops to open a highway into Germany could never have worked. It was the wrong route (crossing several major rivers). There were other, more direct routes.
12. The American failure to deploy an adequate tank: It was very late in the war before the latest versions of the Sherman equaled the versions of the Mark-IV that the Germans had two years earlier. By the time the improved Shermans were available, Panthers and Tigers made them obsolete (and flaming wrecks). And let's not assume that any of the British tanks were any good either.
13. The American replacement system, which sent green troops directly into front-line foxholes: The Americans had too far to go (and that ocean in the way) to use the European system of building a lot of divisions and rotating them into and out of combat. The Americans devised a system where a division spent months in the front line, absorbing green replacements every day. The new guys never had a chance to learn the basic tricks to avoid getting killed, and casualties were horrendous. A system that could have been done was to have every soldier spend his first two days in the division at a replacement battalion where a veteran from the squad he will be assigned to comes back and shows him how to stay alive until he learns the rest of the nasty job of infantryman. Then the replacement goes forward with his new buddy.
14. The failure of the US Army to provide a proper squad machinegun: The US Army was in love with its Browning Automatic Rifle which was a really swell automatic rifle but could not match the firepower of the German MG34 and MG42. (The British Bren was no better.) A German squad was built around their machinegun; the American squad was a mass of (superior) riflemen. Captured MG34s could have been copied and issued to US troops. The US rifle squad did not have its own machinegun until the 1990s. For that matter, Americans never did adopt or employ mortars with the passion that the Germans did.
15. Eisenhower's attempt to keep both Montgomery and Patton happy and moving forward by dividing the supplies between them instead of picking one. (Patton had an easier route with fewer rivers to cross, and a history for attacking while Montgomery had a habit of insisting on months of preparation for any attack.) The failure to clear the Scheld estuary and open the port of Antwerp caused the supply problems. At least Eisenhower kept Montgomery and Patton from attacking each other!
The Minor Mistakes: The US failure to adopt British armored carrier flight decks would have saved ships and lives. Strategic bombing had some impact (it needed more focus) but the area bombing campaign against civilians and major cities was a waste of time and allied lives. (London was bombed more often than Berlin and its people never broke and stormed Parliament. Why did the Allies think the Germans could be bombed into getting rid of Hitler?) Bombing Monte Casino was a mistake. (The Germans never used it as a fortress -- until it was reduced to a pile of rubble.) The Allies could not imagine that Hitler could launch an offensive (the Battle of the Bulge) at so late a date (Dec 1945).