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Based on a series of fascinating 'What ifs' posed by leading military historians, this compelling new alternate history recontructs the moments during the Battle of the Bulge which could conceivably have altered the entire course of the Second World War and led to a German victory. Based on real battles, actions and characters, each scenario has been carefully constructed to reveal how at points of decision a different choice or minor incident could have set in motion an entirely new train of events altering ...
Based on a series of fascinating 'What ifs' posed by leading military historians, this compelling new alternate history recontructs the moments during the Battle of the Bulge which could conceivably have altered the entire course of the Second World War and led to a German victory. Based on real battles, actions and characters, each scenario has been carefully constructed to reveal how at points of decision a different choice or minor incident could have set in motion an entirely new train of events altering history for ever. What if the Germans successfully prevented Patton from riding to the rescue at Bastogne? Or if the Allies had suffered a major setback at the Battle of the Bulge which allowed the Red Army to overrun Berlin and drive on to the Rhine? What if Hitler had not launched his massive gambit and, instead, the Allies had progressed with the operations plan they had prior to the Bulge? These are some of the intriguing scenarios played out by leading authors.
David C. Isby
It was the combination of the man and the moment. General Bernard Law Montgomery, brought back from command of the victorious Eighth Army in North Africa and Sicily, was now the Allied Ground Forces Commander, directly under General Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. Montgomery was "doubled hatted," also commanding 21st Army Group which included the British and Canadian Armies that were being committed to Operation Overlord, the D-Day invasions that would commence the liberation of the continent.
Montgomery had direct access to Winston Churchill, Britain's wartime prime minister, and as a senior general who had delivered victory where his predecessors had been defeated, his views carried a great deal of weight with the Allied and British political and military leadership. Britain's continued status as a world power, both in its dealings with its wartime U.S. and Soviet allies and in the postwar world, would depend on it being able to continue to demonstrate that its military capabilities were key to both wartime victory and postwar stability.
A great deal was at stake on D-Day, not all of it apparent on the battlefield. The goals were much broader than those shown by the phase lines on the planning maps: the creation of a viable beachhead that would include the liberation of the ancient Norman cities of Bayeux and Caen on D-Day and would set in motion events that would lead to the defeat of the German armies in France and the Allied breakout from Normandy. Montgomery was uniquely positioned to make it happen.
To make the liberation of Bayeux and Caen on D-Day more than a mirage would require more than winning that day's battle on the beaches and moving inland. It would require having the invading forces capable of taking the objective. D-Day was not a wargame to be won by the better commander, it was to be the culmination of years of making decisions and of preparing forces for battle. The results of 6 June were determined by decisions made long before that both empowered and limited commanders and planners alike.
Churchill came to the support of Overlord reluctantly. He believed that Britain's resource shortages mandated a minimum-risk strategy on the battlefield. The Anzio invasion in Italy had demonstrated the risks inherent in an amphibious operation. It had been carried out on a basis of risk-minimization in execution, but in eschewing the risks inherent in a rapid advance on Rome, it accepted those associated with a longer battle of attrition. Churchill carried away from Anzio a reluctance to invade northern Europe. Another lesson was that concentrating on getting ashore was not enough and that forces had to push inland quickly. The need to prevent politically unacceptable defeats in the course of even a victorious campaign in order to maintain Britain's status as a great power and to stave off war-weariness in a country stretched thin by years of rationing, shortages and bad news was seen by Churchill as more important than the absolute cost of the victory in the west.
The politics that limited Montgomery on D-Day were not all of Churchill's or even Britain's making. The British and Canadian forces lacked many of the hard-earned advantages that allowed their predecessors in 1918 to defeat the German Army in the last hundred days of that war. For one thing, there was no ANZAC Corps available to Montgomery. One way to have been more assured of a successful landing and move inland would have been substituting for the two British lead divisions, the 50th and 3d Infantry Divisions, the 2d New Zealand Division (with its organic armored brigade) and the 9th Australian Division. Given time to train together and plan, reinforced with British corps-level assets, that would have been a corps to rock the German defenses. But it was not to be. The 2d New Zealand Division remained in Italy, 9th Australian Division in New Guinea. Their absence weakened British landpower for the invasion.
Compounding the pressure on Montgomery to use his forces effectively was the lack of confidence in the U.S. Army that permeated the British political and military leadership. Based in part on U.S. setbacks in the opening stages of the Tunisia campaign and compounded by what the British saw as a critical lack of combat experience on the part of U.S. senior commanders, it was thought that Montgomery's armies represented the best chance of being able to engage the Germans at anything like parity. The British had noted with concern the deficiencies of U.S. divisions training in Britain, but the rapid learning curve and success of those in combat in Sicily and Italy, being further away, had received less attention.
Some of the decisions that constrained Montgomery on D-Day were those of resource allocation, such as how many landing craft, especially the all-important tank landing ships (LSTs) would be built in the U.S. and Britain. The shortage of LSTs and other key amphibious warfare resources was to limit the force that could be put ashore on D-Day and in the critical weeks of the build-up that followed. There was nothing Montgomery, or any other general, could do in 1944 to create more landing craft even though this was the resource that most directly determined battlefield success.
Britain had put a preponderance of its resources into its part in the combined bomber offensive against Germany. This was seen, in the years before D-Day, as the main British strategic front against Germany and held open the prospects of victory without having to repeat the costly battles of attrition on the Western Front in the First World War that were needed to defeat the German Army. Repeating such costly victories would have been seen as unacceptable, both in Britain and in the eyes of those it needed to convince of its continued viability. R.A.F. Bomber Command absorbed quality personnel and resources that could otherwise have improved the ground forces. Again, there was nothing any general could do in the months before D-Day to change this situation.
Yet Montgomery was able to do a great deal to redress the impact of these long-standing resource allocation decisions. Churchill's (and Montgomery's) successful actions to get U.S. agreement to postpone Operation Anvil, the invasion of southern France, mitigated the landing craft shortage. Originally scheduled to be simultaneous with Overlord and so directly in competition for landing craft and other assets, Anvil was now postponed for some two months.
Montgomery was also able to help push the decisions re-allocating the direction of the bomber offensive. Over the objections of their commanders, the bombers would be used against transport targets in France and occupied Europe in the months preceding D-Day and, after the invasion, would be available for attacks on targets near the front lines. This was reflected in the decision on 25 March 1944 to redirect the bombers onto the transport network in France.
These two examples of many showed that, even while Montgomery could not undo long-standing resource allocation decisions, he had considerable weight in deciding how these resources should be used in assuring the success of Overlord.
Men And Units
Montgomery could change only a few things for D-Day. He could insist on more combined arms training. He could insist that key tactical maneuvers on D-Day, including the liberation of Bayeux and Caen, be rehearsed time and time again in comparable countryside in England. He could insist that effective tactics for the bocage country of Normandy be worked out and rehearsed in parts of England where there were similar hedgerows, transforming farm fields into miniature fortresses. He could sack commanding officers who proved "sticky"-in the euphemistic idiom of 1944-in offensive tactics. Yet the British did not have large numbers of suitable candidates for battlefield command, the Canadians even fewer.
Montgomery could match "horses for courses." Even if he could not have 9th Australian Division in the first wave to move inland, he could choose which troops went ashore and when, to ensure that there would be effective combined-arms mechanized forces moving inland. Again, he could go to Churchill and push for more resources: to deploy more ships offshore for long-range naval gunfire support; to concentrate troop carrier and transport aircraft from the Mediterranean and U.S. training bases to increase the number of airborne forces in the initial invasion; to get the U.S.A.A.F. and R.A.F. bombers to handle some of the resupply mission for the airborne forces.
Montgomery would have to change the way he personally did business and not insist on the rigid top-down control that had allowed him to turn the situation around in North Africa and put his stamp on the Eighth Army. Montgomery's self-confidence was perhaps the one inexhaustible resource available to the British Army on D-Day. But it needed to be big enough to admit of inputs from other sources than the man himself, from the lessons of the Eastern Front, from the recovered lessons of 1918, and ways to maximize them, as Field Marshal William Slim later explained:
"Commanders at all levels had to act more on their own; they were given greater latitude to work out their own plans to achieve what they knew was the Army Commander's intention. In time they developed to a marked degree a flexibility of mind and a firmness of decision that enabled them to act swiftly to take advantage of sudden information or changing circumstances without reference to their superiors."
Thus, faster decision making in response to the faster tempo of war required decentralized control.
While more resources could be made available for Montgomery's actions on D-Day, what could not be changed were the British and Canadian ground forces with which he would have to fight. Both political considerations and the purely military decisions on operations, tactics, training and doctrine limited the effectiveness of these forces. In 1944, the British and Canadian Armies were still paying for 1919-39 and their countries' failures to come to grips with the evolving realities of modern war in those years. The increased tide of materiel and the victories in North Africa, Sicily and Italy had not addressed the root causes of repeated British military failures in the opening years of the conflict.
While the British and Canadian divisions waiting for D-Day in England may have had months or years of pre-combat training more than the German divisions they would have to defeat, they were putting in place flawed solutions. The important thing in determining the outcome in Normandy was training. The commanders could not ask any unit to carry out on D-Day actions they had not performed many times before. This included the invasion, the exit from the beaches, and the marrying up of individual units into combined arms task-organized forces.
British and Canadian training had concentrated on the difficult and highly specialized requirements of the amphibious assault itself. The Canadian 9th Infantry Brigade went so far as to announce that it intended to confine its training to the invasion and not having to fight the remainder of the war. Despite the importance of combined arms tactics demonstrated in North Africa, British and Canadian battalions and, with few exceptions, brigades were single-arm and tended to train that way. Despite many lessons from North Africa recognizing the importance of having tactical commanders able to take charge and fight combined arms battles, in the garrison conditions of wartime England, rigid top-down control by higher level commanders-desperate to keep their jobs-was the rule.
The Germans, despite their crippling shortage of material and human resources, could build on pre-war investment and doctrine improved in combat in the Blitzkrieg years and on the Eastern Front. The German commanders the British and Canadian forces would be opposing on D-Day and in the subsequent weeks had all been trained against them in North Africa, or in the fighting on the Eastern Front. The Germans had one advantage that no other major combatant in the European theater possessed: the ability to train commanders against forces other than Germans. The tactical and equipment inadequacies of their pre-1942 opponents allowed the Germans to build tactical and operational skills and confidence in their leaders, even as the strategic disaster that awaited Germany loomed closer.
The British and Canadian Armies were trying to solve an operational problem-beating the Germans in Normandy and liberating France-by treating it as a tactical problem. Yet, tactically, the British and Canadian Armies did not have the solution to dealing with an intact German defense. This provided a great incentive to gain objectives in Normandy before the German defense was able to solidify, or to take measures, whether through air bombardment or bold and decisive ground maneuver, to prevent the defense from solidifying.
German defensive tactics were good. They had been markedly superior to those of their opponents since at least as far back as 1916 (and were to remain good to the end of the Cold War). Even when carried out by a greatly outnumbered force-including the remnants of units hit by massive artillery or air concentrations-the Germans could slow advancing Allied forces long enough for reserves to be brought up. The lessons of Tunisia, Sicily and Italy had demonstrated that attacking Allied infantry, even when they had the weight of numbers and were supported by excellent and plentiful artillery, could be held to slow rates of advance and heavy casualties by the combination of skillfully positioned and camouflaged general purpose machine-guns with interlocking fields of fire, snipers, and minefields. These were backed up by equally skillfully used AFVs and anti-tank guns that could limit the ability of Allied armor to clear away these defenses. Mortars provided the German defense with a responsive indirect fire capability. The Germans also demonstrated that, even when Allied infantry were able to prevail against these economy-of-force defenses, they were often deprived of their gains by a counterattack before they could consolidate and reorganize. German tactics had been evolving. While the British and Canadian forces in England had been training to defeat a defense based around towed anti-tank guns as their primary tank-killing weapon-as the 88mm gun was in North Africa-the Germans defense was strengthened by an increased reliance on self-propelled anti-tank guns, while their infantry had more hand-held anti-tank weapons such as the Panzerschreck rocket launcher.
German armies were only defeated by pulling them apart.
Excerpted from BATTLE OF THE BULGE Copyright © 2004 by Lionel Leventhal Limited . Excerpted by permission.
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|List of Illustrations||6|
|List of Maps||7|
|Key to Maps||7|
|1.||Monty's D-Day: Caen and Beyond||15|
|2.||"By the Throat": Decision at Falaise||39|
|3.||Patton And the Narrow Thrust: The Ardennes Route into Germany||64|
|4.||A Backdoor Into Germany: Monty Bounces The Rhine||85|
|5.||The Race to Bastogne: Nuts!||126|
|6.||Blunting the Bulge: From the Maas to the Meuse with First Canadian Army||148|
|7.||Go Home, This Is Our Goddam Show!: Monty pulls it off||166|
|8.||Operation Herbstnebel: Smoke Over the Ardennes||183|
|9.||Holding Patton: Seventh Panzer Army and the Battle of Luxembourg||206|
|10.||Ardennes Disaster: The Iron Curtain Falls on the White House||232|
Posted May 25, 2012
I will start this review by saying that I love history and the what ifs aspect of it. I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about WWII. To understand and follow this book you knowledge of the Battle of the Bulge needs to be quite in depth. Several times I found myself wondering if the scenerio he writes about was truth or fiction. Interesting read though.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.