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Saturday, December 26, 2015


Steve Cole's thoughts on the many ways that World War II could have taken a very different direction during 1944-45.

1944, January, the US stops the Italian War: The US never wanted to invade Italy, and once we did, wanted to stop as soon as the fighting got tough, turning the theater into a static front. The US could (and arguably should) have refused to take part in the fiasco at Anzio, forcing the British to abandon the plan. New divisions from the US should have gone to France instead. The war might not have ended any sooner but the massive casualties of the Gothic Line battles and Anzio would have been avoided.
1944, June, Operation Overlord fails: The failure of the landings could have come from any of a number of factors, and the definition of failure could range from withdrawing the troops, a massive surrender, or an indefinite slugging match in a much narrower beachhead. If Hitler had relented and allowed the available tank divisions to be based right behind the only two plausible beaches (Normandy and Calais) a counter-attack by hundreds of tanks at dawn on 6 June would have destroyed Omaha and Sword beaches, trapped the forces landing on Utah beach to a narrow coastal strip (by destroying the two parachute divisions and blocking the exits to the huge swamp behind the beaches), and trapped the British and Canadian divisions at Gold and Juno in a narrow beachhead (defined by the range of naval gunfire). This would have left any attempt to land new troops and supplies within range of German artillery.
1944, August, the Germans are trapped: Twice in the late summer of 1944 massive German armies escaped from certain destruction, in both cases because British units did not  push through the last few miles to cork the bottle. At Falaise, the US Army (from the south) had reached the designated meeting point to cut off and trap the entire German force that had been fighting in Normandy for two months. The British tried again and again, but (British, Canadian, and Polish divisions) failed to break through. There is no doubt that the US units south of the trap could have pushed across the map line and closed the bottle, trapping 100,000 surviving Germans and virtually all of their armored divisions in the West. Eisenhower granted Montgomery more time to do the British attack, but instead, Monty attacked the west end of the pocket, pushing the Germans out of the trap instead of closing it. Without those troops (including the key cadres of the shattered armored divisions) Germany's western front could not have been saved. Then again, a month later, Montgomery stopped General Horrocks from closing the trap on the Scheldt Estuary, allowing 92,000 Germans to escape; it was those troops that established the defense line that slowed Operation Market Garden to a crawl and caused its failure. With those troops trapped and forced to surrender, nothing could have stopped Montgomery short of the Rhine. Pulling German troops from the Russian Front would have collapsed it (June 1944 was when half of the German divisions on that front were wiped out) and the war would have ended by November 1944, saving a few hundred thousand lives.
1944, September, Eisenhower rejects Market-Garden: While the infamous failure of Market-Garden (a bridge too far and all that) is well known, lesser known is that this operation was conducted instead of the one Montgomery was ordered to have already done: clear the German troops away from the Scheldt Estuary and allow the port of Antwerp to be opened. The allies were desperately starved for supplies from the August breakout through the first of December, a problem only solved when Antwerp was opened in late November. Clearing Antwerp earlier would have allowed the allies to end the war six months earlier with the US holding Berlin.
1944, November, 7th Army crosses the Rhine: Troops of the US Seventh Army were ready to cross the Rhine against a massive German bunker complex that was held by only a hundred police and invalid troops. Eisenhower not only refused to allow the attack but threatened to relieve the commanders of the 7th Army and 6th Army Group if they tried. This was a major mistake. Given a bridgehead (which Patton's tanks were in a position to exploit) the German western front would have collapsed and all of those Battle of the Bulge secret reserves that Hitler had assembled would have been sent south to try to stop the disaster. Months later, 7th Army made the crossing against bunkers stuffed with German soldiers at a considerable cost in blood.
1945, September, the US invades Japan: Without nuclear bombs, the US would have had to invade Japan. This would have involved 800,000 or more American dead (plus 410,000 allied prisoners held in Japan who would have been executed on the first day), ten million Japanese dead, and Russian control over the northern third of Japan.