Monday, December 19, 2005

Bucking the Conventional Wisdom

As I flit from book to book in my library, I was struck by Chapter XII of Adm. Samuel Eliot Morrison's "The Two-Ocean War". That chapter covers the landings at Salerno and Anzio.

I've heard repeatedly that Hitler bungled his response to Overlord, by refusing to let Rommel hurl the panzers at our Normandy beaches immediately.

Yet if you read Morrison's account of our Italian landings, Kesselring did have armor fighting at the beaches, and it failed to break our landings. The best Kesselring, who would later prove himself a very capable commander was able to do was contain the initial landing force. Naval gunfire, directed by fighters, enabled US and British destroyers to destroy gun emplacements and disrupt panzer formations. The Germans weren't able to carry out blitzkreig against the beaches-- Morrison notes one example of a panzer unit of 35 tanks routed with 7 tanks lost to 6" guns--very light mounts for naval weapons. As Morrison points out, this was when the Allies didn't have effective reconnaisance of their road or rail transports, didn't mount paratrooper raids in the interior, and didn't have total control of the air.

At Normandy we had whole airborne divisions beyond the beaches, extensive air recon of the whole region, air supremacy, more troops, more planes, more ships, and an additional year's experience at close naval support fire.

It would take a graduate thesis to prove or disprove, but we can surely speculate that Hitler's refusal to expend his panzers against British and American battleships was no blunder, but a sensible marshalling of resources.


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francois said...

That's good thoughts. Although Rommel was really the best of the best and I'd take his advice over Hitler's any day. Rommel knew that the only chance Germany had, however slim, was to throw all they had at the landing force when it was most vulnerable. By holding back the resources, they delayed the Allies eventual victory, but also cost themselves any shot at winning the war.