Sunday, May 25, 2008

"Montgomery's most serious weakness...stemmed from a refusal to...defer to the overwhelming dominance of the United States"

Wherein Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45 wasn't at the library so I got this one


Max Hastings, Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945 :
American and British historians have expended immense energy in recent years arguing the issue of whether the German soldier was superior to his Allied counterpart. To all save the most dogged nationalists, it must be plain that Hitler's armies performed far more professionally and fought with much greater determination than Eisenhower's men. Allied generals were constantly hampered by the fact that, even when they advanced bold and imaginative plans, these were often incapable of execution by conscientious but never fanatical civilian soldiers, opposed by the most professionally skilful army of modern times. Yet it seems wrong to leave the matter there. There is a vital corollary. If American and British soldiers had been imbued with the ethos which enabled Hitler's soldiers to do what they did, the purpose for which the war was being fought would have been set at naught. All soldiers are in some measure brutalized by the experience of conflict. Some lapses and breaches of humanity on the part of Allied soldiers are recorded in these pages. To an impressive degree, however, the American and British armies preserved in battle the values and decencies, the civilized inhibitions of their societies. It seems appropriate for an historian to offer military judgements upon the failures and shortcomings of the Allies in 1944-45, which were many and various. But there is every reason to cherish and to respect the values that prevaded Eisenhower's armies.

Many individual German soldiers were likewise unwilling warriors, men born and raised with the same instinctive humanity as their Allied counterparts. But they fought within the framework of an army which was institutionally brutalized. Hitler and his generals demanded of Germany's soldiers, on pain of savage punishment, far more than the Western allies expected from their men. American and British officers knew that their citizen soldiers were attempting to fulfil tasks which ran profoundly against the grain of their societies' culture. The Germans and Russians in the Second World War showed themselves better warriors, but worse human beings. This is not a cultural conceit, but a moral truth of the utmost importance to understanding what took place on the battlefield.

Such observations lead in turn, however, to a consideration which might dissuade the democracies from celebrating their own humanity too extravagantly. Western allied scruples made the Americans and British dependent upon the ferocity of their Soviet allies to do the main business of destroying Hitler's armies. If the Russians had not accepted the casualties necessary to inflict a war-winning level of attrition on the Werhmacht, the Western allies would have had to pay a far higher price, and the struggle would have continued for much longer.

Of the French he writes:
The French military contribution was small, and almost entirely symbolic. Their formations suffered chronic problems of indiscipline -- indeed, French colonial units in Italy and later Germany were sometimes responsible for mass rapes on a Russian scale.

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