> It struck me today that pretty much all of the most common battles of the
> NW Europe '44 campaign discussed here are unusual in that they were
> nationally joint operations: I daresay that participants in this group,
> over the two decades that I have been posting here, have spent literally
> man-years of time arguing about Anzio, Goodwood-Cobra-
> Falaise/Argentan, and Market-Garden, largely to the exclusion of much
> else in that phase of the war. Those three battles in particular are
> examples where the outcome wasn't what was desired, but what also
> distinguishes them is that they were joint across the US and UK.
> : Yes, technically not NW Europe '44, but just go with it.
> : The NW Europe Campaign from D-Day to V-E Day, this time strictly
> defined so as to exclude Italy, saw approximately half of all American
> casualties in the war. It was most definitely the single most important
> campaign in the war, from the Western Allied perspective, so the
> overall amount of attention it gets makes sense. I'm just questioning
> the distribution of attention within the campaign.
I am not sure I could link Goodwood and Cobra as joint, beyond the
Army group being a UK/US one.
I can understand why Goodwood is mentioned via some pre
attack claims made for it becoming the break out Cobra became
a week later, which have been turned into a nationalist race. Claims
that appear to have been made in part to secure the air support,
hence why some air commanders in particular were unimpressed.
21st Army group spent much of the campaign with a US army under
command, either 1st or 9th. One of the more interesting contributions
would be what General Simpson of 9th Army thought of the arrangement.
One of the main drivers in discussions is the appearance of the
partisans, the ones sure it is others that were the failures and the
opinionated, sure they are right, the rest of humanity wrong. You
can see the same thing in joint operations between army/navy/air
with the preferred arm the one let down by the others.
Those with the strongest opinions tend to keep repeating them
long and loud, those whose opinions are furtherest from the truth
need to keep repeating them long and loud in the hope they
become the perceived truth.
The appearance of partisan opinion generally triggers an increase
in traffic, plenty of people want to correct the record.
Trying to come up with a summary of why some events are more
discussed versus others has the problem so many people have
become involved, which means lots of primary and secondary etc.
reasons are invoked.
> It really does seem to be that that distinguishes them: the Huertgen
> Forrest was a far bigger catastrophe than M-G, but affected the US
> only and from observation of having been here for over 20 years,
> doesn't get discussed nearly as much as Market-Garden does. And
> it's not just any nationally-joint operation, it has to be specifically US
> and UK: the next post on the Colmar Pocket won't quite be the first,
> but would be damn close.
Market Garden was the operation of hope, if it worked the allies ended
up with a bridgehead across the Rhine. Huertgen forest was the grind,
with general agreement it was a mistake. Essentially the claim is
Market Garden was close enough it could have worked, Huertgen had
no real chance, so not surprising some decide if only that unit/attack
had worked in Market Garden and ignore Huertgen.
How about the amount of discussion on say the clearing of the channel
ports, excluding Antwerp?
Note how late the US army history came out on 6th Army Group/
7th Army operations. Even in the US it seems to be treated as a
side line, like it followed the other armies around, or the weak
resistance it faced from southern France to the German border
continued all war.
An English language history of the French First Army?
In terms of published histories the main event was 12th and 21st
Army Groups, within them there are the main event battles, Normandy
(though not necessarily all of it, mostly D-Day, the break outs and
pursuit, including the Falaise pocket and as noted the military politics),
Market-Garden (and Antwerp), the Bulge, things like Remagen Bridge
as a small operation. And remember the Bulge has its Anglo American
controversy over that Montgomery press conference.
With side lines into equipment like tanks.
That is not the whole campaign, histories tend to largely skip
when the lines were static, which was most of the time, the
action and movement draw the eye.
> I think that this goes back to a line I remember from the eminent British
> historian H.P. Willmott, to the effect that most histories of the Western
> Allies in Europe treat the US and UK as the main antagonists, and the
> SHAEF headquarters as the primary battlefront. Instead of focusing on
> how remarkable it is that the Allies went from having no troops north of
> Rome to controlling the Elbe river in 11 months, without any ability to
> stock up and prepare supplies and over the most difficult logistics
> imaginable, all of the attention seems to be directed on how Eisenhower
> supported Patton/Monty (depending on personal perspective) way too
> much, and *that* vainglorious idiot managed to cock up a chance to win
> the war in six months instead of 11, which *our* vainglorious idiot would
> have done, if just given a free hand by the dumb Eisenhower.
I would disagree with Wilmot, in that most histories do not treat
the US/UK as the main antagonists. I would agree it is likely anybody
trying to write the history runs into understanding problems. The UK,
Canada, France and US armies, navies and air forces had and still
have real differences in their cultures and therefore how they work
and even how the define success. Understanding one service's way
of war does not transfer to another's, so each publication draws a
form of counter publication.
Overlaid on this is the British could not maintain their mid 1944
army and navy, while the US was still expanding. So British
army formations were broken up or sent to reserve while US
strength was so large and growing that some US divisions in
Europe saw very little combat.
Also of course the military tends to tell its personnel about how it is
the best, or their unit is the best, after all people are effectively
betting their lives so you want to believe about having the best
chance, and how those beliefs flow through into judgements.
As has been pointed out the logistics of some other campaigns,
like the fight across the New Guinea mountains, were harder, it is
also relative, the allies had to supply 3 army groups and 3 tactical
air forces on the continent, across the sea (Britain) or ocean (US),
plus help feed, clothe and shelter large populations, how that proved
a real strain relative to the transport resources actually available,
the major cost in switching transport modes, and the resources
needed to run and repair the transport system.
> After contemplating this for a while, I wonder why this is. Why is what
> appears to be national score-settling so prevalent? Let me be clear
> that I'm not just talking about this newsgroup, this is true for published
> accounts of the campaign as well.
While there are the clearly partisan accounts consider confirmation
bias, once you start looking for something you tend to find it.
There is also the inevitable problem that things like biographies
tend to have an author who has strong opinions on the subject,
and how that flows through. If you admire/dislike someone that
affects the way they are presented.
In day to day terms imagine two politicians from different parties
saying exactly the same thing and how people interpret them
according to party labels, not just the content. Add the way the
system tries to hang labels (slogans) on parties and people.
Also during the war there were very real differences in strategy
and tactics between the US and UK, and exploring them is
fertile ground for the partisan.
> It just seems odd that the US and UK worked so well
> together during the war- certainly better than, say, the Japanese Army
> worked with the Japanese Navy, both in process and outcome- and
> yet the books, movies, and even kibitzing of random internet strangers
> should be so full of recriminations and national blame assignment.
> What happened during/after the war that led to this state of affairs?
The case study for the real enemy is the other service, not the
people we are at war with, is WWII Japan.
You can turn it around and say it is healthy the UK/US histories
point out the flaws in the commanders and plans.
During the war as far as North West Europe is concerned the personality
of Montgomery looms large, he made it easy for people to dislike him,
that has to feed into histories. The well known move by various mainly
British air commanders to remove him in Normandy was not a US
versus UK but air force versus army.
It is interesting to note how the Overlord supply plan, with its steady
daily advance and neatly marked maps with "here by D+x" has become
some sort of measurement of the Normandy Campaign, that is at least
partly due it being a reason in the push to remove Montgomery. The
saying no plan survives the first encounter with the enemy but the
territorial advances in the Overlord supply plan should have, at least to
D+50 or so. Followed by the disconnect of how the planned D+365
line was reached around D+90.
How about the landing craft allocations? Pacific versus Europe in
strategic terms but usually put as Admiral King or just the USN
versus the rest. Or in historian terms Wilmot versus Morrison,
Wilmot's claim, Morrison's rebuttal.
The human tendency to remember the failures more than the
successes, so those outside the main focus of a given history tend
to be mentioned more when they hurt, not help, before we talk about
offloading responsibility for failures or overclaiming successes.
Publications of diaries, where people often let out their worries and
scathing judgements has fuelled the situation. Once one is published
it tends to result in more in similar style, but with different insults. As
well as that come the memoirs, how self serving they are perceived
to be, how much they criticise others.
The general rule seems to be the further from the front line someone
was the more likely politics, whether with the service, inter service or
inter country became more important as motivation.
Running a military unit in combat takes a real amount of skill, the
bigger the unit the more skill required just to have the unit able to
take part in combat. The difference between the different
commander's performance is real but narrow. As a an analogy
pick the worst performing professional football team of the season
and how badly the team did versus the others in the competition
and then what that worst team would to to a semi professional or
amateur team. I should add the massive amount commentary on
why the professional teams won or lost or better still will win or lose
versus similar opinions in military histories.
> It's extra weird because the US and the UK continued to be close after the
> war ended. The absolutely enormous- and absolutely critical- work done
> by the Soviet Union to defeat the Germans mostly goes ignored in movies,
> books, etc. but that makes sense because the Soviets were our enemies
> in the Cold War and did not release accurate accounts, preferring to
> continue their propaganda, so for most of the next 40 years the majority
> of accounts available in English on the Eastern Front were from the
> German perspective. The US and the UK, however, to this day seem to
> bicker like an old married couple.
As far as I am aware the German Army memoirs tended to put
their disagreements with fellow officers in professional terms,
not personal. They tend to use Hitler as the general purpose
reason for failures. The USSR has Stalin. FDR and Churchill
largely stayed out of military operations, that leaves the various
commanders as the ones how did or did not and so more
likely to have their personality analysed.
I would certainly say some US/UK histories tend to bicker, or are
more open about the way militaries are made up of humans with
flaws and how success and failure can be reduced to was it worth
it? We achieved the mission but note the number of casualties,
success or failure?
Material meant to entertain is the more likely to simplify and stereotype
as well as the tourist accounts are the ones we end up with when we
only have a passing interest in a subject.
Steam trains, most people know they existed, few can say what a
4-6-2 locomotive means, few could name a design. Perhaps the
Flying Scotsman but not the actual locomotive designation, perhaps
how it was so fast and non stop and the way it had a tunnel through
its tender to enable crew relief. How about the special parts of the
line where the engine could scoop up replacement water without
needing to stop? And you can dive into the discussions on who
built the best steam locomotives, or worst, say Francis Webb as
your candidate. Or did you largely skip/discard the information
in this paragraph, because it was not WWII material?
The more the story is simplified the more we end up with good
and bad guy labels, and the human tendency to use us as
examples of good and not us as examples of bad, Overlay that
with a group who are sure they were the best despite what
others or the evidence suggests and the back and forth over
what was a success. Finally add those who want to generate
controversy (it sells) or are partisan.
The histories will concentrate on the "main battles", D-Day, parts
of Normandy, Cobra/Falaise, the pursuit across France (lots
of movement and why did it stop there) Market Garden, Antwerp
and Bulge, hence why 6th Army Group seems ignored. The way
the 1945 battles often seem like they are afterthoughts as the
allies apparently pursued a defeated and depleted Germany army,
ignoring the hard fights to the Rhine setting up what followed.
All the main battles were essentially joint, or at least had enough
of the other country to invite comment. The rest seems to be
human nature given the hundreds of millions able to comment.
After puzzling over this reply for a few days I still do not think it
has come out right, but enough.
Remove the nb for email.