GO NAVY BEAT ARMY

GO NAVY BEAT ARMY

'87 Sir

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

Friday, March 15, 2013

Different look at World War II

So, this book really intrigued me when I first saw it on Amazon...as the splash page says:
The story of World War II is often told as a grand narrative, as if it were fought by supermen or decided by fate. Here Kennedy uncovers the real heroes of the war, highlighting for the first time the creative strategies, tactics, and organizational decisions that made the lofty Allied objectives into a successful reality. In an even more significant way, Engineers of Victory has another claim to our attention, for it restores “the middle level of war” to its rightful place in history.
This was an interesting concept to me...not the who, or what, but the how of eventually allied victory.  Kennedy, who teaches Grand Strategy at Yale University, (and he provides a link to the syllabus to his course...WOW, what a fantastic course...almost makes me want to attend Yale....ALMOST)....breaks down five operational problems the Allies faced in early 1943 at the time of the Casablanca Conference and then shows how all five of them were solved by the time of the D-Day landings 18 months later.  The first two problems, winning the U-boat war and defeating the Luftwaffe were the most fascinating.  Kennedy does an excellent job of laying out how technology, tactics, organization, and industrial might combined with bravery and persistence  to solve the two major problems the Allies faced...getting enough troops and material across the Atlantic to make an invasion of France possible and then destroying the Luftwaffe to ensure air supremacy over the invasion beaches.  Although I knew bits and pieces about each situation, Kennedy taught me a lot...especially the story of how Allied naval and air units were able to defeat the U-boats by fighting their way across the Atlantic using weapons and tactics that didn't exist when World War 2 erupted.  The story of the P-51 Mustang and the evolution of Allied bombing doctrine also shed some additional facts on a tale I was roughly familiar with and showed how one or two persistent and passionate people can change history.

I will say his chapters on defeating the German blitzkrieg tactics and developing amphibious warfare were not as well developed, in my opinion.  On the one hand, Kennedy does lay out how faulty German strategy ultimately rendered their operational prowess moot, particularly when fighting against Britain, Soviet Russia, and the United States, but he doesn't really make a convincing case for how the Allies bested the Wehrmacht operationally, other than in huge set piece battles like Kursk and El Alamein where Allied material preponderance simply ran the Germans over.  In fact, even as late as September 1944, after a crushing defeat in France, the Germans were able to turn back three elite Allied airborne divisions, stop three British corps in their tracks (albeit with a little help from geography), and still launch a devastating, but futile, counter-offensive in the Ardennes in December 1944.  This logical conflict that the Germans were still superior to the Allies tactically, but lost the war is not as well developed by Kennedy, as say, my favorite Wehrmacht author, Robert Citino, in his two outstanding books on the German Army in 1942 and 1943.

The chapter on amphibious warfare does a good job of describing how the Allies developed the command and control to conduct large landings, as well as the tactics and specialized weapons like the British "Hobart's Funnies" tanks, along with specialists like Beach Masters to keep the supplies and troops moving off the beach.  However, the chapter completely glosses over the development of specialized landings ships and craft like the Landing Ship, Tank (LST) and the ubiquitous Higgins Boat, also known as the Landing Craft, Vehicle and Personnel (LCVP) that became the backbone of Allied amphibious operations.  I think this is a major shortcoming, even if the path to operationalizing these weapons was not as fraught with missteps as the P-51.  It would also have been interesting to discuss why in the world the Army never got onboard with the USMC developed Landing Vehicle, Track which came into wide-spread use after the debacle of Tarawa.  It seems to me that having some of those LVTs would have come in real handy for the first couple waves at Omaha Beach to get those troops some cover up to the first draws up the cliffs.  This seems to be an untold story that needs to be explored.

However, even with these shortcomings, the book accomplishes its purpose of telling the tale of how engineers, sailors, airmen, and soldiers developed the means to overcome German and Japanese strengths and win World War II.  A fine addition to any World War II library.

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