Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Second front now

I finally located a secondhand copy of Crockatt, The Fifty Years War. It arrived yesterday, and last night I curled up with it and a glass of wine. I was struck, as often before, by the innocence of historians when they step outside their chosen niche. On page 44 I read: "Despite Stalin's praise for the Allied landings in Normandy when they came in June 1944, the damage to the alliance caused by the repeated postponements was enormous."

But there were no postponements: only one landing was planned, and it went off more or less on schedule. If Britain and the US had yielded to Stalin's entreaties for a 1943 landing, the results would almost certainly have been ruinous. The US Army was still unfit to fight when it met the Heer at Kasserine Pass in February 1943, and even by June 1944 it was still only on a numerical par with the British/Canadian forces at Normandy. (Pace Max Hastings, it was by my reckoning a more formidable fighting force.) Not until the western allies crossed the Rhine--in 1945!--did the US have a really impressive land army to deploy.

In truth, the US and Britain had long since provided not one but two second fronts, the first in North Africa and Italy, the second in the air over Germany. According to Murray and Millett, A War To Be Won (p316), "a young German in 1942 had a better chance of surviving the war by joining the Waffen SS and fighting on the Eastern Front than by becoming a fighter pilot" defending the Reich against Allied bombers. Germany allocated 10,000 flak guns and 500,000 men and women to stop the Allied raids--resources that would have made a considerable impact on the eastern front. (p332) They exacted a toll of 56,000 Allied aircrew, the equivalent of three divisions, every man killed or captured.

As for North Africa, as many Axis troops were captured at Tunis as Stalingrad. Yet no one seems to remember Tunis.


At 10:32 AM, Blogger Tom said...

Dan, just wanted to say that I have enhoyed reading these posts on when the cold war began and also the second front, particularly since I have tended to assume myself that was a justified gripe of Stalin's against his alliance partners.

Your "start of the Cold War" blog entry also got me to thinking: my natural instinct to assume that the cold war was not inevitable is crumbling the more I read...



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