Monday, May 25, 2009
In The GI Offensive, recently retired Colonel Peter Monsoor examines how the U.S. infantry divisions created virtually from scratch after Pearl Harbor became the citizen army that won World War II in the European Theater of Operations (ETO). This volume is not a traditional campaign or battle history, but a carefully balanced and critical look at how the U.S. Army created, manned, trained, equipped and deployed into combat the forces needed to defeat Hitler’s Wehrmacht. In the process, Monsoor attempts to refute the inclination of some historians to denigrate the fighting capability of American soldiers versus their German counterparts.
Monsoor makes excellent use of the voluminous primary sources available, particularly after-action reports, lessons learned and actual German analyses of the fighting capabilities of American troops. His critique pulls no punches and offers a fairly harsh analysis of the army’s individual replacement depot system and the practice of gutting divisions during their mobilization to form cadres for new divisions. He is especially critical of the Army’s decision to limit the Army Ground Forces (AGF) to 90 divisions, which left a severe shortage of not only infantry replacements but overall divisions in the ETO, forcing General Eisenhower to commit two airborne divisions, his entire strategic reserve on the Continent, to help stem the German Ardennes Offensive in 1944. The allocation of a significant number of infantry divisions to the Pacific is also criticized, although it seems highly unlikely that the Army’s commitment to operations in the Central and Southwestern Pacific Theaters prior to the invasion of the Philippines would have been postponed to provide more infantry replacements for the ETO. However, Mansoor does note that for all its shortcomings, the infantry replacement system allowed the Army to essentially rebuild many infantry divisions that suffered over 100% turnover in the lengthy campaigns of 1944-1945, keeping them in the front lines.
Overall, Monsoor lays out a convincing case that infantry divisions which were well trained, well led and had a chance to gain combat experience prior to the Normandy invasion performed well in combat and built a solid reputation. Those divisions that had poor leadership, suffered constant personnel turnover prior to deployment and were thrown straight into combat in the campaigns of 1944 had a much tougher time. In the process, Monsoor puts to rest the notion that American forces simply overran their opponents with superior amounts of men and material. He highlights the Seventh Army’s Vosages Mountains campaign as a clear example of how American troops with numerical parity defeated the Germans without extensive air or artillery support in both offensive and defensive operations.
This book is highly recommended for anyone wanting to understand how American GIs prepared for and performed in combat. It is truly an eye-opening look at how thin the actual margin for victory was in World War II in terms of infantry division strength and how decisions made early in America’s war effort had long-term implications for the crucial campaigns of 1944-1945. As an active duty officer who recently commanded a brigade in Iraq, Colonel Monsoor, who now holds the Raymond E. Mason Jr. Chair in Military History at Ohio State University, is well qualified to examine the good, bad, and ugly aspects of American infantry divisions that helped win the war in the European Theater of Operations.