'87 Sir

Thirty years of service ----USNA Class of 1987 '87 Sir

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Did the Marines win at Guadalcanal on their own? I don't think so.

I really, really like it when a book teaches me something I flat out didn't know.  Neptune's Inferno, by James D. Hornfischer is such a book.  I thought I knew quite a bit about the bloody six month struggle for Guadalcanal, certainly I know the mythology...the last stand of the Marines after the Navy left them on the beach...etc, etc.

This book lays to rest some of that mythology (not to take away the bravery of the Marines, I have too many jarhead friends) by the simple fact that more sailors died fighting over Guadalcanal than Marines..about 5,000 sailors versus about 1,500 Marines.

Hornfischer's book is an excellent amalgamation of Tom Clancy and Samuel Eliot Morrison.  He does an excellent job of describing how the U.S. Navy took some serious beatings by the Imperial Japanese Navy, even though the U.S. had radar and the Japanese did not. 

What's more interesting is that both navies were fighting with the escort ships, or what I call the little targets so to speak, cruisers and destroyers, because both sides had taken such a beating in the massive naval battles of summer 1942 and literally had no battleships or aircraft carriers they were willing to risk in the nasty knifefights that occurred in 'Ironbottom Sound' or 'the Slot', as the waters around Guadalcanal came to be called.

These nasty little knife fights are described in great detail, as well as the command decisions by both sides and their effect on the overall naval battle.  Once the Americans mastered the new technology of radar, the odds evened up a little bit and the Japanese were driven off after huge sacrifices, but the Americans never truly developed a countermeasure to Japan's awesome Long Lance Torpedoes.

If you enjoy naval history or just want to learn something entirely new about America's first real offensive of World War II, then this book is highly recommended.

Monday, June 6, 2011

D-Day as it might have been

There have been lots of blogs and Facebook pages about the 67th anniversary of D-Day, the monumental invasion of Normandy that led to Allied victory in Europe.
However, as always, I believe it is important to remember that there was NOTHING inevitable about the success of D-Day. 

Prior amphibious operations were not overwhelming triumphs for the Allies.  The invasion of Salerno, Italy in Sept 1943, had nearly ended with the German Army pushing the invasion force back into the Mediterranean.  The invasion of Anzio just six months before had resulted in a stuck beachhead that was surrounded and besieged by the Germans and only relieved by the Allied offensive on Rome. 

Peter Tsouras makes a very compelling case in his counter factual history Disaster at D-Day, that just a couple of small changes to schedules, weather, and unit locations could have made all the difference in the world, literally, in how World War II ended.  The most compelling argument he makes is that one regiment, or even a panzer or panzergrenadier battalion located in a position to launch an immediate counterattack could have driven the Americans in Omaha Beach back into the Channel.  The Allies then would have been left with two separated and isolated beachheads instead of a continuous front, making the German defensive problem much easier.

In fact,  the German 21st Panzer Division did counterattack the British beachheads on the evening of the 6th, but the attacks were weak and uncoordinated and were defeated.  A full-fledged attack by multiple Panzer Divisions may have been a different story.

A chance intelligence windfall convinces Hitler the Normandy invasion is the real thing and you have a very different campaign when the Wehrmacht rushes reinforcements to the beachheads, in effect winning the crucial 'build-up' after the invasion.  The massive Channel storm of June 19th played a crucial role in the real-life Allied build-up and its effect could have been even worse if the Allied beachhead had been split.  Combine this with ineffective British generalship by Monty and his subordinates versus a rejuvenated Rommel who does NOT leave the front to visit his wife right before the invasion and you have the 'disaster' that Tsouras so vividly describes.

So, thanks be to those soldiers and sailors that prevailed on Omaha Beach, it was probably more important that they made it up those bluffs than we can possibly imagine today.