GO NAVY BEAT ARMY

GO NAVY BEAT ARMY

'87 Sir

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

Monday, September 1, 2014

A somewhat defensive view of Monty and his men.

World War 2 history is one of my favorite things...right up with Bacon, John Wayne movies, and eating bacon while watching John Wayne movies.

Recently I have tried to broaden my research to some of those roads less traveled in my library, so to speak, and finally got around to reading this Christmas present...yes, it has been that kind of year.

Mr. Buckley, a true and loyal subject of the Queen, tries to disprove the generally, but not universally, held view among military pundits that the British army was not up to tactical snuff, as it were, when compared to their Wehrmacht counterparts in World War II.  Numerous critiques have been written by highly regarded military historians such as Max Hastings and Carlos D'Este that postulate that the British army was rigid, plodding, and not suited to the high speed mechanized warfare characteristic of World War II.

Mr. Buckley takes strong exception to this, noting quite correctly that the British (and Americans, and Russians) did win the war after all, so they must have been doing a lot right.  However, he seems very defensive in his thesis and quite frankly, has a difficult time making his case.

He makes two interesting observations from the top British leadership that, in his opinion, drove ALL British operational and tactical thinking leading up to June 6, 1944 and beyond...which as he rightly notes, caused a bit of schizophrenia in conducting military operations.  First, Britain had to make a contribution to the Allied victory be engaging and defeating the German military...however, it had to do so with minimal casualties so Britain had an army left after the fighting to keep a seat at the peace table.

By 1944, the American ascendancy in the Western Alliance was pretty much complete, with Ike at the top and the ratio of American to British divisions getting more pronounced every month.  The British, after nearly 5 years of war, were literally running out to troops and needed to preserve as much military power as possible to not only get a seat at the peace table, but ensure the maintenance of the Empire.  This led to an emphasis on firepower over manpower, the dominance of logistics, and the aversion to risky battles that would remind senior leaders of their time at Passchendaele and Ypres in World War One.

AND, of course, there was the influence of Field Marshal Montgomery,  Britain's most influential and notable soldier since Wellington.  Interestingly the author doesn't seem to be enamored with ol' Monty and shows many times how his ego and quest for glory clashed with this American counterparts and put severe strains on the alliance.

Mr. Buckley defends British actions in an interesting manner.  While the British seemed to get bogged down opposite Caen in the weeks following D-Day...launching several futile offensives that usual ended in a bloody slog, he states that the British caused many German casualties (and British ones too) and paved the way for the eventual American breakout and the defeat of the German army in Normandy and subsequent dash across France.  His points about the almost, sorta kinda, successes of attacks such as Operations Goodwood and Epsom seem a little weird, frankly...clearly Monty intended them to be fully successful, not half successful and trying to defend them as anything other than failures seems disingenuous.

Mr. Buckley does offer a blistering critique of Market-Garden which is pithy and well deserved.  The Allies got victory fever in the fall of 1944, and Monty's desire to out-do his American counterparts and march the British into Berlin seems as nuts now as it should have then.  Monty's ego and Ike's wishy-washiness combined to wreck three good airborne divisions and restore German confidence in the fall of 1944.  As Mr. Buckley does correctly point out, logistics alone would have prevented the war from ending in 1944, even before the short-sighted decision to launch Market-Garden instead of clearing the approaches to Antwerp.

Finally, Mr. Buckley tries to offer a balanced assessment of how well the British mastered the modern art of combined arms warfare, with mixed results.  Very often it seems, at least from my reading between the lines, that the British still loved their World War I doctrine of using artillery to clear a path through the enemy for the infantry to follow with their support tanks.  Clearly American generals like Patton understood the cavalry aspects of armored formations as did the Germans, while the British just seemed uncomfortable from departing from their artillery security blanket...so to speak.

As Mr. Buckley points out...Monty could fight a set piece battle better than anyone, and his crossing of the Rhine was probably his magnum opus of the war....yet the Americans hurled themselves headlong over the bridge at Remagen and got over the Rhine with much less fuss.

I actually liked this book, understanding the bi-polar needs of the British army from a political need to minimize casualties versus the military need to win the war makes a lot of decisions more understandable.  I am NOT convinced that the British Army become some tactically adept force, rather I think, as does Mr. Buckley, that the British won through superior firepower and logistics to try and play to their strengths will minimizing their opponents.  While not always elegant or dashing, their army did win and contributed mightily to the final Allied victory.

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