Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Brute Force

In his classic Why the Allies Won, Richard Overy argues that that Allies beat the Germans because they did a better job of mobilizing their resources and the superior use of air power. In his decidedly bleaker Brute Force, John Ellis argues that the material superiority of the Allies allowed them to adopt an attrition strategy that was wasteful, overly violent and likely lengthened the war.

Ellis is disdainful of the operational and tactical skills of the Allies, noting that in North Africa, the British consistently failed to apply combined arms tactics and lost against the materially inferior Afrika Korps. Only the constant reinforcement of the British, and the long supply lines of the Germans, prevented defeat. Finally at El Alamein, Montgomery, one of the great villains of the book, pummeled the Germans with artillery. Having done so, he failed to destroy the beaten Germans. Patton by the way doesn't come out wonderfully either. His backhand compliment is that Patton was probably the greatest military traffic coordinator, but not very good at fighting.

It is this failure to complete the job that infuriates Ellis. German forces escaped destruction in Egypt, in Tunisia, in Sicily, in Italy and in Northern France. Unlike the Russians in cataclysmic battles like Operation Bagration (also known as the Destruction of Army Group Center,) the Allies focused on hammering the Germans and then gaining ground, which allowed a relatively small group of German divisions to slow Allied progress in West.

Ellis is equally disdainful of the air wars against Germany and Japan. He argues that the Allies became enamored of the destructive power of bombers but eventually just focused on burning down cities and killing civilians.

Ellis is not saying that these tactics weren't successful, they were. He does argue that focusing on destroying the German Army would have saved more lives in the long run and perhaps avoided many civilian deaths. More importantly, one can see a starting point for the disastrous tactics employed in Vietnam, where the US used free fire zones and airpower in an attempt to defeat an insurgency.

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