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Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 3968
Joined: 2004
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
10/15/2021 7:10:13 PM
This term is tossed around a lot, but is nearly always attributed to WSC.

I’m trying to find out when he said it, what he meant by it, where he applied it to, and why it remains an issue. And if anybody has evidence that WSC never said it, I’d love to her about that too.

I think the concept is important because it is cited so often in the FDR/SC debates over Italy, and has been implied to be proof that WSC was strategically inept.

I’m not a WSC fan by any means. But I’m beginning to sense that the term itself may not apply to Italy at ll.

Cheers. And stay safe.
Brian G
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"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.
George
Centre Hastings ON Canada
Posts: 11980
Joined: 2009
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
10/15/2021 9:03:13 PM
Hi Brian,

Winston used the "soft underbelly" theme many times. Perhaps the first use of a variation of those words apparently occurred in Moscow in August of 1942.

Churchill was discussing the progress of the war with Stalin and Winston drew a picture of a crocodile and said, "We should rip open the soft underbelly in the Mediterranean".

Now US Ambassador to the USSR, Averell Harriman, also described the meeting between Stalin and Churchill and said that it was difficult as Churchill was trying to explain why there would be no second front in France in 1942. Harriman said that Churchill did not use the phrase, "the soft underbelly of the Axis", in those words.

Harriman did confirm that as WSC struggled to placate Stalin, he did draw the picture of a crocodile but said, "It was as well to attack the belly as the snout."

I have not been able to discover when that specific phrase was first used but it seems that, as I have said, Winston liked to describe an attack in the Mediterranean using similar phrases.

So it seems that Churchill modified the variations on the same underbelly theme.

Gen. Mark Clark who commanded US forces in Italy recalled a meeting in which Churchill was trying to explain to the Americans the reasons why Italy was the best choice for the Anglo-American forces. Churchill was pointing to a map of Gibraltar, Italy, Sicily and North Africa and said, "We should slit the soft belly of the Mediterranean".

Still, the phrase does not appear in any of his writings, I don't believe.

His personal secretary during the war, Elizabeth Nel, had written in her book, Winston Churchill by His Personal Secretary: Recollections of the Great Man ... that he used the phrase, "soft underbelly" regularly when speaking.

[Read More]

Cheers,

George
Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 3968
Joined: 2004
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
10/16/2021 6:38:36 PM
Thanks, George. Much of that jibes with my most recent information (from Eleanor and Hick, (Penguin, 2017, pp 264-5):
“Stalin, whose troops were holding off the Germans at Stalingrad at an enormous human cost, was desperate for an invasion that would draw the Nazis into battle on second front. Churchill and U.S. ambassador Averell Harriman went to Moscow to present FDR’s plan to the surly dictator, who listened warily. Churchill used a vivid analogy to explain the strategy to Stalin. Rather that attacking the head of the crocodile, with all its teeth and armor, the Allies would go after the “soft underbelly” of the beast in North Africa.”

What this suggests, at least in part, is that much of the crap heaped on WSC for his description of Italy as “the soft underbelly of Europe” may be misplaced. Seems he might have been talking about the weakest defensive point of the enemy, which at the time was probably North Africa. Yes, WSC pushed for the invasion of Italy while IIUC FDR was less than excited by the idea. When discussing the invasion of Italy, part of WSC’s argument, whether tacit or explicit, would have been linked to easing pressure on Malta and re-opening trans-Suez trade routes. That would not necessarily sit well with FDR, who was never a great supporter of WSC’s empire-based vision. But there were also issues such as Nazi occupation of Italy once Il Duce’s regime collapsed, the question of what to do with the combined forces sitting on Sicily until Overlord might commence, and the very real need for more “blooding” of US forces against sophisticated and battle-hardened troops of the Reich.

Stalin had been furious and rude to the messengers at first, when he learned that the cross-Channel invasion was off. But once he understood that the decision had been made, he reluctantly gave his blessing to their new proposal. ‘May God help this enterprise to succeed,’ the Communist leader told Churchill and Harriman as they went on their way.”

I like that last touch – Stalin invoking God’s help – because it fits a man who could invoke “Russian people” rather than “Soviet citizens” in the defence of the USSR, and supports the argument that Stalin was not just the most brutish of the brutish, but was also a rather cynical politician in his own right.

Cheers. And stay safe.
Brian G
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"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 5271
Joined: 2004
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
10/17/2021 4:37:45 AM
The folklore surrounding Churchill gives plenty of evidence that he loved animal analogies.

He and his wife referred to each other as dog and cat respectively.

He enjoyed contemplating animals and comparing them with people : pigs especially, I believe.

I’m sure he’s supposed to have ranted against his rival Halifax that trying to treat with Hitler was like hoping that the crocodile - or was it a tiger ? - would eat everyone else, and that the appeasers would escape : whereas in reality they too would end up in the beast’s jaws.

Perhaps I’ve been watching too many screen dramas, but it does seem very likely that Churchill would have been keen to deploy the crocodile analogy, especially for the contemplation of Stalin - a man who was all too recognisable as an arch predator.

Regards, Phil

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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
mikecmaps
CAMARILLO CA USA
Posts: 125
Joined: 2020
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
10/21/2021 12:38:47 PM
Phil, Brian, George

Just rereading this post.
If Italy “soft under belly” why did it take so long to take?
Normandy landing June 1944 covered about 600 miles to Stuttgart, Germany by Apr 45; about 10 months. Italian Salerno landing 9 Sep 1943. Cover about 500 miles to Venice by Apr 45; about 20 mos. Front width in France only very marginally wider about 350 mi France vs 320 mi Italy. Of course terrain in Italy much better for defense. WSC appears to have been fixed on med as area of major British/empire interest/objective; France not so much? WSC again opposed the So. France landing in Aug 44 arguing strongly with FDR for landing in Balkans area. If not ready for cross channel attack Sep 43 why not southern France? (maybe topic covered before?) ( note not a WW2 specialist)

Thanks, Mike_C
mikecmaps
George
Centre Hastings ON Canada
Posts: 11980
Joined: 2009
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
10/21/2021 2:54:16 PM
Quote:
Phil, Brian, George

Just rereading this post.
If Italy “soft under belly” why did it take so long to take?
Normandy landing June 1944 covered about 600 miles to Stuttgart, Germany by Apr 45; about 10 months. Italian Salerno landing 9 Sep 1943. Cover about 500 miles to Venice by Apr 45; about 20 mos. Front width in France only very marginally wider about 350 mi France vs 320 mi Italy. Of course terrain in Italy much better for defense. WSC appears to have been fixed on med as area of major British/empire interest/objective; France not so much? WSC again opposed the So. France landing in Aug 44 arguing strongly with FDR for landing in Balkans area. If not ready for cross channel attack Sep 43 why not southern France? (maybe topic covered before?) ( note not a WW2 specialist)

Thanks, Mike_C
mikecmaps


Thanks Mike. The Italian rivers certainly gave the Germans natural obstacles that had to be defended. As well, they had spent a lot of effort in building multiple lines of defence across the width of Italy. Once the allies breached one line, the German forces would withdraw to the next. If the "D-day Dodgers" were keeping many German divisions busy while D-day was being planned and executed, the Germans were also keeping the allied forces busy.

You have suggested a southern France invasion in 1943. That is a long way from Britain where all the troops were waiting for the big landing on D-day. Even if the transports existed in '43 to land thousands of men in southern France, I think that the operation just to get them there from Britain would be difficult. If you are suggesting an Operation Dragoon type landing in '43, were there sufficient numbers of troops in Italy to make that effective?

You posed some good questions. Perhaps others will weigh in.

Cheers,

Georsge
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 5271
Joined: 2004
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
10/21/2021 3:52:39 PM
Very controversial, that Italian Campaign ....soft underbelly turned out to be a tough old gut.

Dreadful shenanigans between rival commanders and some very unedifying conduct.

Exemplar of the direct versus the indirect approach to war : quest for exploiting the periphery being an obsession of Churchill’s. Trying to vindicate Gallipoli ? Even an attempt to replicate the achievements of his ancestor, Duke of Marlborough, who sought to take warfare away from Flanders and strike into the Danube basin, with startlingly successful results ?

Hitler was worried enough by Allied invasion of Italy to divert troops from Operation Citadel, giving the Russians a better chance to stem German advance at Kursk.

It's arguable that the Allies got quite a lot of bang for their buck in the Mediterranean Theatre of the war : it wasn’t called “ Tunisgrad” for nothing in May 1943, and the ensuing invasion of Italy was reasonable as a form of exploitation.

I feel diffident in pressing the point, and very aware of how fragile the argument might appear, but interpretations are bound to differ.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 3968
Joined: 2004
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
10/21/2021 7:56:05 PM
Mike_C, you raise some good points indeed. They’ve been raised before; they’ll be raised again, as they should be.

Part of the problem, at least IMHO, hinges on exactly where WSC was talking about in describing “the soft underbelly”. Was it the underbelly of Europe, or the underbelly of Axis-controlled territory? Was he referring to Torch, which was FDR’s baby (against almost unanimous disagreement)? Was he using rhetoric to persuade Stalin to accept the validity of Torch, or did he believe Torch would become the first operation in a major front of the war?

These questions must be conflated – again, IMHO – with at least two other issues. These are:
1. WSC’s historical links with bad military decisions, going back at least to the Dardanelles campaign, but including Norway, Greece. He would go on to advocate for the Italian campaign, which is often seen to be a consolation prize given WSC by Roosevelt to soothe his nerves after his virtual exclusion from the Big-Three meetings in Tehran. Later, he would talk about invading “Festung Europa” through Norway, which – thank God – nobody took seriously.

2. The logic of logistics (Part 1). “Torch” left a lot of troops with no war to fight, with an enemy 90 miles or so north. US forces had proved to be ineffective at times against Germany’s “Afrika Korps”; they were green, unblooded, and still had much to learn about warfare. They has landing ships and support vessels in abundance, they had landing barges and other amphibious vehicles, all of which could either be used, shipped home, or destroyed. Hello, Sicily! Hello, the fall of fascist Italy! Hello, opportunity! Nobody believed that Germany could in effect simply take over Italy and be prepared to fight for the entire length of the boot.
The logic of logistics (Part 2). Part of the understanding between the US and UK was that the Italian Campaign would not be allowed to draw down troops or supplies created for what would become Overlord. Another part was, IIUC, that once the invasions of France began, Italy would be wound down and its troops committed to the main western effort.

3. The troop crisis. The US had a relatively untouched cohort of young mean of suitable age to be fed to the war. To be sure, they were being winnowed in the Pacific with every assault. But British and Commonwealth recruitment numbers were beginning to drop as these nations entered their fourth year at war. At the same time, WSC was loathe to lose importance or equality as a war partner. Where could his armies fight with less risk of severe casualties. At the moment the Italian Campaign was given a green light, Italy was clearly on the point of surrender. It must have seemed that here was an invasion which would be a triumphal march north to the cheers of a non-fascist Italian population. That, I submit, would have been a “soft underbelly”! Except it didn’t happen that way.

Did the Allies gain anything by the Italian Campaign they participated in? Phil notes the number of German troops committed to Italy which may have been better deployed elsewhere. I will wave a flag for breaking the siege of Malta and the opening of the Gib-Med-Suez route to Oz and NZ. I think too that the establishment of the USAAC 15th in Italy brought the increased assault on Nazi war facilities in southern Germany as well as in the former Austria, Czechoslovakia, and other middle- and eastern-European states.

I’m probably only half-way through my comment, but I’ve gotta stop for now.

Thanks for raising the issues you did, Mike_C.

Cheers. And stay safe.
Brian G

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"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 5271
Joined: 2004
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
10/22/2021 4:16:10 AM
Brian,

You allude to WSC’s history of bad decisions, going back to the Dardanelles.
Might it be fair to suggest that the Dardanelles strategy was a good decision, but that it was fouled up in implementation ?


Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
mikecmaps
CAMARILLO CA USA
Posts: 125
Joined: 2020
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
10/22/2021 5:44:04 PM
Brian, George, Phil

I think most of our generation even here in US have been brought up to see WSC as great leader. Guess I am questioning that, at least in Strategy? I know all you all know more than me so I am really asking questions I don’t know - even if formed as statements.

Phil
“You allude to WSC’s history of bad decisions, going back to the Dardanelles.
Might it be fair to suggest that the Dardanelles strategy was a good decision, but that it was fouled up in implementation ?”

IIRC, Dardanelles strategy was WSC’s baby, don’t let him off cause bad execution. Part of strategy is idea, planning and execution. Its not good strategy if cant be carried out effectively.

George,
“If the "D-day Dodgers" were keeping many German divisions busy while D-day was being planned and executed, the Germans were also keeping the allied forces busy.”

Yes, that’s my question seems like Italy was more distraction to allies. Example, why fight all the way up the boot. More of distraction to Germans if stop/slow part way up, maybe rome, & simply maintain line holding max Germans with min Allies, didn’t need to fight whole way to do that??

Brian, Thanks so much for your response, what I was looking for. But . . .

“breaking the siege of Malta and the opening of the Gib-Med-Suez route to Oz and NZ”

makes it look less like strategy & more like political policy, which of course may be valid, and necessary.

“Italian Campaign would not be allowed to draw down troops or supplies created for what would become Overlord”

But didn’t it? Allies maintain good sized force fighting in Italy Sep 43- Apr 45. So must appear that those same resources may have been put to use in So France instead.

“Torch” left a lot of troops with no war to fight, with an enemy 90 miles or so north”

Germans were ready and waiting, rarely good strategy.

“Italian Campaign was given a green light, Italy was clearly on the point of surrender. It must have seemed that here was an invasion which would be a triumphal march north to the cheers of a non-fascist Italian population. That, I submit, would have been a “soft underbelly”! Except it didn’t happen that way. “

And I think this is what I am saying? Didn’t happen, turned into slow slog but didn’t really contribute much strategically.

It took 1 month to move 400 mi in So France 44. Took 8-9 months in Italy with heavy casualties. And certainly by apr-may 44 So France invasion possible (no Italy) would have kept Germans guessing So France or Italy?
My basic notion is that the forces and logistical resources may have been put in in So France and have been far better support for main attack in France, which Italy didn’t contribute to.
Of course 20/20 is easy but maybe lesson somewhere. Guess I am basically saying was very obvious and direct campaign that didn’t give much advantage.

Guess I will go ahead and show my age with reference to old (now mostly seen as out dated) principles or war - Economy of Force; not sure allies got economy they hoped for in Italy?
Thanks guys, very useful info here. Again I am questioning & trying to learn.
Mike_C.
mikecmaps
(admit to being out of my depth here)
George
Centre Hastings ON Canada
Posts: 11980
Joined: 2009
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
10/22/2021 9:40:18 PM
Quote:
George,
“If the "D-day Dodgers" were keeping many German divisions busy while D-day was being planned and executed, the Germans were also keeping the allied forces busy.”

Yes, that’s my question seems like Italy was more distraction to allies. Example, why fight all the way up the boot. More of distraction to Germans if stop/slow part way up, maybe rome, & simply maintain line holding max Germans with min Allies, didn’t need to fight whole way to do that??


Mike, my comment didn't fully reflect what I meant. When I said that the Germans were keeping the allies busy, I meant that they proved to be formidable in Italy.

However I do think we have to ask where all those German divisions, many of them excellent ones, would have been deployed had they not been sent to Italy. Could those divisions have made a difference at Normandy or against the Soviets?

As well, it was important to knock one axis member, Italy, out of the war. That was accomplished. How secure would the Mediterranean have been if the Italians and the Germans had been able to operate freely out of Sicily and Italy? Winning the Battle of the Mediterranean was important as it kept the British supply lines open through the Suez Canal. If Germany and Italy had control of the Med., I wonder what would have happened in Burma and India.

As I understand it, there was no way that an invasion of France could have succeeded in 1943. The US wanted an earlier invasion but I think that the British were wise to talk them out of it. More time was needed to amass the assets needed for an invasion. It took time to transport 1.5 million Americans to Britain.

With the USN heavily committed in the Pacific, it fell to the RN and Commonwealth navies to build and collect sufficient numbers and types of vessels to carry all of the men and supplies to Normandy. And that doesn't mean that the USN wasn't represented in great numbers but the bulk of naval assets came from Britain and the Commonwealth I believe.

Cheers,

George
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 5271
Joined: 2004
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
10/23/2021 6:04:22 AM
Mike,

The war in North Africa culminated in a very significant Axis defeat. There’s some doubt about the claim that a quarter of a million German and Italian troops were captured in Tunis, but I think it’s true that the best part of one hundred thousand Germans went “ into the bag” there, which rivalled Stalingrad in terms of captives. Wasn’t it incumbent on the Allied High Command to turn such a triumph to account ? To have failed to exploit it by not going into Italy would have been tantamount to wasting it. I agree with George about the prospects of a cross channel invasion in 1943. Remember that Dieppe was all too recent and sanguinary a warning of what might happen.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 3968
Joined: 2004
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
10/23/2021 7:43:28 PM
Mike_C, you note: Quote:
More of distraction to Germans if stop/slow part way up, maybe rome, & simply maintain line holding max Germans with min Allies, didn’t need to fight whole way to do that??

Interesting point. IMHO, perhaps not entirely the alternative that would have occurred. German troops were excellent in defense. I’ve read – sorry, can’t give a source – that military initiative was encouraged in the smallest of units, which enhanced their response to attacks. There is also the question of whether Germany would have simply kept pace with an allied slowdown or freeze. They didn’t really give a hoot about Italy; they simply simply weren’t about to gift the Allies an access to France, Ostreich or Yugoslavia. I don’t think they would have gone on the offensive, but reduced their troops in response. That, of course, might have created a reality for “D-Day dodgers”.

I sometime think that winning the war has made comprehending the history more difficult for the Allies. We tend, as victors, to assume we did everything right rather than accept we won despite hosts of errors and controversial decisions. I believe we owe it to military history to try to be in two places at once: we should be living with the reality of a specific time; we should be assessing events not by the outcome but by an assessment of events. Your questions, at least for me, touch on “the emperor’s new clothes”. Thanks for taking on that role, and – at least from a personal perspective – asking questions at least some folks feel have been answered.

Cheers. And stay safe.
Brian G
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"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.
Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 3968
Joined: 2004
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
10/23/2021 10:08:47 PM
Phil, you say: Quote:
The war in North Africa culminated in a very significant Axis defeat. There’s some doubt about the claim that a quarter of a million German and Italian troops were captured in Tunis, but I think it’s true that the best part of one hundred thousand Germans went “ into the bag” there, which rivalled Stalingrad in terms of captives. Wasn’t it incumbent on the Allied High Command to turn such a triumph to account ? To have failed to exploit it by not going into Italy would have been tantamount to wasting it.

I agree. Ultimately, this was a significant defeat. It was a three-year battle, beginning on 10 June 40 and ending on 13 May 43. I get your caution re captured; it depends, IIUC, on whether you talk about Operation Torch as the war in North Africa, or talk about the longer war. IMHO, there was a previous victory assumed to be decisive though incomplete, associated with Sidi Barani and spanning 3 months between 8 Dec 40 and 9 Feb 41, which led to a decisive defeat of the Italians, and included the capture of some 115,000 Italian troops. This highly successful campaign (Operation Compass) was terminated before completion, thanks largely to WSCs' decisions concerning Greece. The BEF stripped from NA and sent to Greece allowed the Axis – largely German troops of the “Afrika Korps” – to offer sufficient reinforcements to prolong the war for an additional couple of years. And I have not yet found one positive thing gained by the British switch from North Africa to Greece. In this case, make sure you have won before pulling troops out, and make sure you’ll be using the pulled troops to advantage. I would argue that the transfer of troops to Greece was a political decision argued to be a military requirement.
Quote:
I agree with George about the prospects of a cross channel invasion in 1943. Remember that Dieppe was all too recent and sanguinary a warning of what might happen.

So do I. I seem to associate Admiral King with the 1943 invasion concept, but it would have been a disaster. The US was muscle-flexing. I think they were underestimating German military capabilities almost as fully as they underestimated the capabilities of Japan. With all its allies, the US didn’t have the trained troops, the equipment, the amphibious capability, the aircraft or the experience to undertake such an assault. Tradition has argued that the British, arguing their experience dealing with “Jerry”. talked the US around. But there were enough sane officers in the US to realize they weren’t capable of a 1943 invasion of Europe.

Dieppe was all kinds of things, of course. You want conspiracy theories concerning Allied actions in WW2? Start with Dieppe. It did act as a demonstration of how tough an invasion might be. No doubt. And it was an increasingly watered-down raid, which meant with every subtraction its chances of success diminished. After its first cancellation, it was open knowledge that such an assault was contemplated, so security was wildly compromised. Hell, there are still rumours that Canucks were chosen for the attack because it was designed to fail, and in failing wouldn’t destroy British troops. IMHO, Dieppe simply demonstrated that landing men on an enemy beach was the least of an invasion’s problems. And for the real movers and shakers, it demonstrated by each and every failure what needed to be created to make a landing a possible success.

Gotta go. Food calls.

Cheers. And stay safe.
Brian G
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"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.
Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 3968
Joined: 2004
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
10/25/2021 12:17:11 AM
George, you say: Quote:
… I do think we have to ask where all those German divisions, many of them excellent ones, would have been deployed had they not been sent to Italy. Could those divisions have made a difference at Normandy or against the Soviets?

Fair question, of course. But remember that the Allied invasion of Italy came 9 full months before Overlord. So they wouldn’t be heading to support “Festung Europa”. Quote:
As well, it was important to knock one axis member, Italy, out of the war. That was accomplished.

True, but it was all but accomplished long before the invasion of the Italian mainland. Keep in mind the growing distaste for Mussolini’s Fascist state, combined with increased bombing of northern Italian manufacturing centres by RAF Bomber Command designed to undermine the already weak Italian desire to continue to fight. Quote:
How secure would the Mediterranean have been if the Italians and the Germans had been able to operate freely out of Sicily and Italy? Winning the Battle of the Mediterranean was important as it kept the British supply lines open through the Suez Canal. If Germany and Italy had control of the Med., I wonder what would have happened in Burma and India.

This was certainly the British argument; how much weight that carried with their growing dominant partner (US) is a different matter. While Iagree that closing Axis operations in the Med was important to GB, it was becoming less vital to the US as the supply route through Iran waned in urgency. And while I recognize that Italy sticks like a malignant finger into the Med, Germany had total control of the southern French coast. the eastern side of the Adriatic, of Greece, and of Crete. Had Germany wanted to continue to contest control of the Med, it could have done so from Corsica, Greece, Crete, or other small island holdings in the eastern Med. Invading Italy didn’t make a bit of difference. And IMHO, Germany lost the ability to control the Med when it lost North Africa. Not when it lost Sicily, or when the Allies assaulted The Boot.

As to any talk of “keeping supply lines open” through the Suez, I think that can be challenged. IIUC, the Med was closed to British supply ships for at least two years. All one has to look at is the vast cost of supplying Malta to realize that this was not a safe zone for convoys.

The Italian Campaign had an impact on the conduct of the war, I agree. But that doesn’t mean it was a well-considered action, or a necessary action. I guess I worry that we are prone to justify it because we did it. Allied troops gained a great deal from those months of combat. And they needed it: neither US nor Canadian troops had experience of battle. For the former, Torch was a rude awakening, even if they won. For the latter, Dieppe was about the sum of combat experience, and it was both catastrophic and too short-termed to draw conclusions about fighting capabilities from.

This is not an attack against Canadian troops, George. In whatever situation they found themselves in, I think they fought capably and to the limit of their capabilities. Italy was a campaign with Canadians, and a lot of Canucks died. If the validity of the battle can be questioned, well, damnit, the battles still occurred. Men still fought and killed and died.

I’m just exploring whether Italy was necessary. My various posts on this thread suggest how confused my understanding of the compulsions, reasons or strategic arguments concerning the campaign.

Cheers. And stay safe.
Brian G
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"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 5271
Joined: 2004
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
10/25/2021 4:35:12 AM
Ciao a tutti !

There were some very visceral impulses involved here : quite appropriate when we’re dealing with soft underbellies !

From the Churchillian point of view - and I think this accords in large measure with the Commonwealth generally - there was an understandable aversion to anything that might revive the nightmare of 1914-18 in France and Flanders. It’s no use ! You’re arguing against the casualties of the Somme . This is paraphrasing a British response to their American counterparts who advocated a cross channel onslaught in 1943.

Ironically, some of the fighting in Italy itself is said to have had a horrible “ Passchendaele” feeling to it : Monte Casino, above all, but also Anzio and who can imagine anything much more harrowing than what Canadians experienced at Ortona ? That said, the casualty figures for Italy were on a much, much smaller scale than those experienced a generation earlier on the Somme and around Ypres, even if the relatively small number of men at the sharp end in 1943-45 were, sometimes , undergoing an equally lethal experience.

What, I wonder, did the Germans think ? Do we have testimony from them that they felt themselves lucky to have western foes who were distracted by their Mediterranean strategy ? Did they dread the prospect of the Allies coming at them across the Channel in 1943 , and see the Italian campaign as a blessed respite ? I doubt it.

There was at least one high ranking German officer who went on the record stating that the Allied thrust into Italy represented a deadly threat to the Reich. He was very active at Monte Casino, and was, IIRC, commanding the elite German paratroopers there. I wish I could remember his name. I keep thinking of Siegfried Westphal as high profile in this view, but I’ll stand corrected.

At the highest level, and this is a function of those “ visceral” susceptibilities , I reckon that Adolph Hitler was very much trapped in his own soft underbelly. He was - at least, in the earlier days of the war - under the spell of Mussolini. Il Duce had taken a leading role in the Munich settlement, and whenever Italians ran into trouble in North Africa, or Greece and the Balkans, German forces rescued them. It’s been suggested that Hitler, born an Austrian, had a greater sensitivity about the Balkans and the Mediterranean , than his Prussian counterparts. I must stop here before I’m timed out. Let me save this and return immediately.

Editing allows me back again !

To resume.....Hitler was determined to rescue Mussolini . Not just in the early part of the war, but even towards its close. Think of that daring German commando raid that got Il Duce out of prison. Why would Hitler insist on doing that when his world was collapsing East and West ? When Hitler killed himself on April 30 1945, it was shorty after he had seen photographs of Mussolini’s corpse strung up from a lamppost in Milan. This is a tentative argument, but I really do feel that Hitler had a lot of ideological and emotional capital invested here, and that this attribute was a weakness to be exploited. I’ll repeat my allusion to the withdrawal of German forces from the Kursk battles when the Allies struck out in Operation Husky.

Something to think about....what do you reckon ?

Ci Vediamo !

Regards, Phil

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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
Lightning
Glasgow  UK
Posts: 802
Joined: 2005
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
10/25/2021 6:48:27 AM
Quote:
This highly successful campaign (Operation Compass) was terminated before completion, thanks largely to WSCs' decisions concerning Greece. The BEF stripped from NA and sent to Greece allowed the Axis – largely German troops of the “Afrika Korps” – to offer sufficient reinforcements to prolong the war for an additional couple of years. And I have not yet found one positive thing gained by the British switch from North Africa to Greece. In this case, make sure you have won before pulling troops out, and make sure you’ll be using the pulled troops to advantage. I would argue that the transfer of troops to Greece was a political decision argued to be a military requirement.
Brian G


Hi Brian et al,

I think this is a key point. The North African campaign should have been wrapped up long before the Germans even considered sending an Afrika Korps. To divert resources to Greece was folly - I think you're correct, Brian, in that the only consideration for this intervention was political; the British wanted to materially show their support for the enemies of Nazi Germany. I can't imagine many senior British officers were advocating sending some of their best veteran units to Greece when the Italians were still in the field of battle (albeit rolling back).

That said, once the victory in North Africa was complete, it does make strategic sense to me to continue to press on all fronts where feasible. The jump from North Africa into Sicily and Italy was an easier undertaking for the Allies than leaving a garrison in North Africa and bringing those troops to the UK for an assault on northern France. The progress into Italy was a natural progression of the campaign in North Africa. German forces were tied down that could have been used elsewhere, including some crack 1st line units that would have been mightily handy in Russia. One could argue that the lives of Allied soldiers who fell in Italy bought some space for Soviet forces elsewhere to exploit. We must also be clear in recognising that the fighting in Italy became bogged down into an attritional slugfest should have proved no surprise to any contemporary officer who was student of military history. Campaigns of conquest in Italy have seldom been quick and easy. Why should the Allies have expected a better time of it than Hannibal or Belisarius?

Brian asks whether we assume, as the victors, that every decision the Allied command made during the war was correct? Quite honestly, I think our generals and political leaders get plenty of criticism; for example, Churchill takes credit for fighting on in 1940, and also loses marks for the disastrous planning of the Dardanelles campaign in 1915, amongst some other very bad calls he made during his political life.

Back on point, had the Allies decided to leave Italy and focus on retaking France, we would probably be arguing that an attack on Italy would have paid dividends, it being the obvious target after removing the Axis powers from North Africa. Indeed, I think it would have been a glaring error to have failed to bring Italy to heel once we had them firmly on the ropes and heading for the canvas. Whether the furious attacks in Italy were worth it is up for debate. Would it have been enough to make a demonstration in Italy with a sizeable force, tie down Axis troops and focus on plans for France?

The British & Commonwealth wanted to avoid another bloodbath a la 1914-18. The US wanted quick results. It was an alliance of compromises and I think the resulting strategy - the D-Day landings in 1944 - was as good as it was going to get. Any invasion of France carried out earlier was probably doomed to failure and anything later may have led to a softening of resolve from the Soviet Union in its relentless push west.

Cheers,

Colin
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"There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end."
George
Centre Hastings ON Canada
Posts: 11980
Joined: 2009
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
10/25/2021 9:53:26 AM
Good points made by all. Brian G. has suggested that we have a discussion about the importance and validity of the Sicilian and Italian campaigns. I agree.

But if not Italy and if not securing the Mediterranean, then where? The allies were gathering assets in Britain. I believe that there would have been serious consequences to not using them in force even if Britain felt that smaller raids would test the German defences. The Dieppe raid while larger in scope than most other raids, was a disastrous waste of human resources. Raids of this nature would not defeat Germany and certainly would not placate Stalin.

What would have been the result if the western allies had not engaged in some meaningful action somewhere? Were all these troops to simply wait in Britain while Germany completed its defences in Normandy and handed a defeat to the Soviets?

What of Stalin who was demanding that something be done to pressure Germany to remove troops from the Russian front?

If not Italy, then where? Mike has suggested that southern France could and perhaps should have been the objective of choice.

If so, why? And more importantly, how in 1943? The Dragoon landings were augmented by troops from Italy and that action may have destroyed any chance that the Italian campaign could have come to a close any earlier with a possible attempt to attack through Austria. As events unfolded, the Soviets were able to occupy a good portion of Austria including the capital near the end of the war. They exacted reparations and took industrial assets including rolling stock. Austrian women suffered a similar fate to German women at the hands of Soviet soldiers until the Red Army called off the dogs. The Soviets were present in Austria until 1955.

Churchill's plan to take Italy and then head through the mountain passes to Austria may have helped push the iron curtain farther to the east. I realize that many consider an attack from Trieste into Austria through the Ljubljana gap as folly. Was it possible? If possible could it have hastened the defeat of Germany?

Could Dragoon even without the troops arriving from Italy have succeeded without allied control of the Mediterranean?

A lot of "what iffing" on my part I realize. It is difficult for me to accept or understand that operations in the Mediterranean and Italy and Greece and the Middle East were not strategically important. I do not know whether the defeat of Germany was possible with a concentration only on France and western Germany, by the western allies.

Pardon my amateur strategizing please.

EDIT: An interesting essay by the now deceased and former Chief Historian of the US Army, Maurice Matloff that describes the conflict between Britain and the US on how to proceed. He offers arguments to explain that Churchill's preference to finish the Italian campaign and then attack Austria and Germany from there were preferences that the US could not support. He does not necessarily dismiss the British belief that the US was militarily and politically naive at the time but he does argue that Roosevelt could not afford to support Churchill and states the reasons why.

The Anvil Decision

[Read More]

Cheers,

George
mikecmaps
CAMARILLO CA USA
Posts: 125
Joined: 2020
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
10/25/2021 2:47:45 PM

Brian, George, Phil, Colin & all,

Thanks – great stuff & learning a lot!

Maybe I go backwards.

“Churchill's plan to take Italy and then head through the mountain passes to Austria may have helped push the iron curtain farther to the east. I realize that many consider an attack from Trieste”

But it didn’t – didn’t get to Trieste till Apr 45."

“If so, why? And more importantly, how in 1943? The Dragoon landings were augmented by troops from Italy and that action may have destroyed any chance that the Italian campaign could have come to a close any earlier with a possible attempt to attack through Austria.”

“including some crack 1st line units that would have been mightily handy in Russia.”

Again but it didn’t. slogging up the boot didn’t (directly) aid or slow down Russians. I am suggesting So france1943 or spring 44 before Normandy a better investment in lives by more directly support. I am saying whatever gain was in Italy would have been better committed to so France sooner. The resources spent in Italy 43-45 may have been better spent in So France. While there were good German divisions in Italy, they were a small fraction of the forces in the East, likely not had big effect. So France terrain not so formidable.

“What would have been the result if the western allies had not engaged in some meaningful action somewhere? Were all these troops to simply wait in Britain while Germany completed its defences in Normandy and handed a defeat to the Soviets?”

Larger and earlier invasion in So France. No mainland Italian campaign. Troops and logistics to France not Italy. Certainly possible by spring 44.

“The British & Commonwealth wanted to avoid another bloodbath a la 1914-18”

This Idea repeated a couple of times, and its telling. Italy mainly to avoid france? But poor strategy. After the war WSC lamented Ussr occupation of east Europe. Only way to prevent would have been earlier and more rapid invasion of France. Spending 20 mos in Italy helped ensure USSR occupation of East.

“it being the obvious target after removing the Axis powers from North Africa. Indeed, I think it would have been a glaring error to have failed to bring Italy to heel once we had them firmly on the ropes”

Can we ever say that doing whats obvious is good strategy? the enemy likes it. even with the cross channel attack being pretty obvious eventually, allies did all they could to create doubt and confusion where and when, not make it so obvious.

“Invading Italy didn’t make a bit of difference. And IMHO, Germany lost the ability to control the Med when it lost North Africa. Not when it lost Sicily, or when the Allies assaulted The Boot”

Brian_G – Yes this is what I am saying. And 20/20 is easy. And we cant know for sure. I think discussion here largely shows what was obvious then was not necessarily the good strategy.

One lesson; Political and military leaders need to be very careful in how they spend the lives of troops. Its too easy to be sucked into doing the obvious easy thing.
Quinctilius Varus et al.

“Pardon my amateur strategizing please. Cheers, George”

And me too. And good whatiffing too. Thanks all great stuff.

Thanks, Mike_C
mikecmaps






George
Centre Hastings ON Canada
Posts: 11980
Joined: 2009
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
10/25/2021 9:09:49 PM
Hello Mike,

Even the US waffled somewhat on Operation Anvil (later Dragoon). There were only so many troop transports available and it would have been impossible to run Dragoon at the same time as Operation Overlord, I think.

I also think that there were political considerations that Churchill appreciated as a European that may have been less relevant to the Americans. WSC was worried about the balance of power in Europe and certainly about future access to the far flung outposts of the Empire. Now we know that the US had little concern for the maintenance of the British Empire and so less reason to support actions in the middle east or the Balkans.

Stalin did support the Italian campaign at first but he gradually came to support the southern France landing. And so the vote, if I may call it that, was 2-1 with Churchill on the losing end. I am often suspicious of Stalin's motives. So would he have strategic reasons to prefer a second front in France rather than allied troops advancing through the Ljubliana Pass and heading toward Austria?

You're correct that the allies, actually it was the New Zealanders, that reached Trieste in May of 1945. But I wonder whether that was because Operation Dragoon had hamstrung the Italian campaign.

Cheers,

George
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 5271
Joined: 2004
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
10/26/2021 4:10:19 AM
Brian makes a good point, I think, when he draws attention to the way we might ascribe an “ All’s Well that Ends Well “ interpretation to our assessment of the war’s narrative.

Have we also failed to appreciate how dangerous the situation of the Soviet Union was at the time when these strategic alternatives were being discussed in the 1942-43 period ?

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 3968
Joined: 2004
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
10/26/2021 7:26:19 PM
George, you note: Quote:
Even the US waffled somewhat on Operation Anvil (later Dragoon). There were only so many troop transports available and it would have been impossible to run Dragoon at the same time as Operation Overlord, I think.
.
While I agree with your larger point concerning both transportation and landing craft (and, mayhap, troops), “even the US waffled…” confuses me. IIRC, this was not a US decision, but an allied one. And I have trouble seeing this as “waffling”, but maybe I miss your meaning.
Quote:
I also think that there were political considerations that Churchill appreciated as a European that may have been less relevant to the Americans. WSC was worried about the balance of power in Europe and certainly about future access to the far flung outposts of the Empire. Now we know that the US had little concern for the maintenance of the British Empire and so less reason to support actions in the middle east or the Balkans.
.
The year is 1943, damnit. Churchill had two jobs: to work as one with his Allies to defeat the Axis; and to act as leader to GB and its colonies.

Taking Italy out of the war was a sound war aim, IMHO; Bomber Harris probably did more to cause that than WSC until the invasion from Sicily at Churchill’s insistence. I think Italians were by this point tired of both war and Fascist/Nazi values, and needed little more than a nudge to oust Il Duce. Let’s face it, German troops weren’t in Sicily just for Summer Camp or RnR! And they weren’t welcomed universally when they occupied the boot.

You also say: “there were political considerations that Churchill appreciated as a European that may have been less relevant to the Americans. WSC was worried about the balance of power in Europe and certainly about future access to the far flung outposts of the Empire. Now we know that the US had little concern for the maintenance of the British Empire and so less reason to support actions in the middle east or the Balkans.”

IMHO, herein lies a tale. I do think you’re probably correct concerning WSC’s thinking. But let’s not dress this up in fancy clothes. It is true that, between the wars, GB was a major player from Hungary through to Egypt. In Romania, in Bulgaria, in Greece and in Egypt, GB attempted t maintain influence through cultural, educational, economic and diplomatic means. This was not part of “Empiah”, but an extension of the techniques by which Europe maintained an unstable stasis for a couple of centuries.

WSC may have believed that an Allied thrust into this area, either from Trieste towards Austria or through Greece into Bulgaria, would be welcomed by those nations’ nationals. But the road from Sicily to Trieste was long and enemy held; the road from Cairo to the Greek/Bulgarian border was the same. I sense that neither approach would have received Uncle Joe’s blessings; he had his own goals, which included some control over much of the territory over which GB held sway. But I think the concept – an assault through those nations – might be worth consideration. Certainly, it was a strategy worthy of consideration

BUT. If WSC was thinking this way simply to attempt to reconfirm the British “status quo ante”, then he was simply demonstrating once again that he too often confused his own desires with the requirements of the war. Those are political fantasies based on traditional (and, let it be added, twice-failed) British foreign policy. I believe WSC himself argues in his writings that he was concerned with protecting those Eastern European states from communist control. Does that make his comments gospel? Not in my world. He’s already told the world he would write the history. I would argue: swallow it whole at your peril.

As to the US attitude, let’s be honest. The last thing the was concerned about was the British Empire. They left it. They still to this day see George III as a typical monarch. Even in 1943, I think the US would balk at fighting to maintain or reinstate the British Empire. In the same year, there are indications that the Brits didn’t understand that simple fact. I would argue that there was even a tacit understanding amongst US power brokers that WSC’s arguments were in support of GB’s Imperial past, his arguments would be doomed to failure.

Just the tip of thoughts regarding this rather interesting topic.

Cheers. And stay safe.
Brian G



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"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 5271
Joined: 2004
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
10/27/2021 3:37:03 AM
Chester Wilmot’s The Struggle for Europe gives a superb rendition on the topic we’re discussing.

It’s a dated account, written in 1952, but I reckon it stands the test of time.

Wilmot was Australian, and saw frontline service as a war correspondent in North Africa, New Guinea and NW Europe.

A quick survey of his book , pages 120 to 145, provides a superb summary of our topic.

Regards, Phil

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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 3968
Joined: 2004
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
10/27/2021 8:38:03 PM
Phil, thank you for that reference. I have seen Wilmot’s book on a number of occasions, but have never read it. From what you say, I’ve had a completely distorted view of the book. For some reason, I had it in mind that it was a “toadying” tribute to US forces, so have passed it by for years. Must have been suggested as good reading by a teacher I disliked!

Off to my local used bookshop tomorrow to hunt down a copy. That means one pint fewer tomorrow afternoon. God, the sacrifices we make to the gods of history!

Cheers. And stay safe.
Brian G
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"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.
Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 3968
Joined: 2004
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
10/27/2021 9:41:47 PM
Colin, sorry to be so late in my response to your post, which reads in part:Quote:
I think this [the movement of troops from NA to Greece, my insert] is a key point. The North African campaign should have been wrapped up long before the Germans even considered sending an Afrika Korps. To divert resources to Greece was folly - I think you're correct, Brian, in that the only consideration for this intervention was political; the British wanted to materially show their support for the enemies of Nazi Germany. I can't imagine many senior British officers were advocating sending some of their best veteran units to Greece when the Italians were still in the field of battle (albeit rolling back).

Promises were made to Greece, of course, as part of GB’s diplomatic and cultural policies of the inter-war years. I will admit I don’t know whether blood links between the Greek and UK Royals may have played a role. Either way, I agree that introducing the Afrika Korps probably delayed war gains in the Med for some years. It happened; I think it was a mistake – political meddling in wartime. Had the BEF stopped the Nazis in Greece, the move would have been seen a brilliant military planning. Oddly, it may have made the eastern version of the “soft underbelly” much more possible. But at the time GB sent a BEF into Greece, British armies had not yet a single victory against German arms. Nor would they have for some time to come.

This doesn’t do credit to your post, or course. Sorry – time is not a friend on this thread.

God knows, there is more to talk about!

Cheers. And stay safe.
Brian G
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"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 5271
Joined: 2004
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
10/28/2021 4:40:44 AM
Quote:
Phil, thank you for that reference. I have seen Wilmot’s book on a number of occasions, but have never read it. From what you say, I’ve had a completely distorted view of the book. For some reason, I had it in mind that it was a “toadying” tribute to US forces, so have passed it by for years. Must have been suggested as good reading by a teacher I disliked!

Off to my local used bookshop tomorrow to hunt down a copy. That means one pint fewer tomorrow afternoon. God, the sacrifices we make to the gods of history!

Cheers. And stay safe.
Brian G


Brian,

You will, I think, be pleasantly surprised by this book.

It was also my opinion - before I had read parts of it - that it would be a sycophantic distortion : far from it !

It's a terrible shame that Wilmot was killed in a civilian air crash in 1954. Had he lived, I reckon he might have proved a thorn in the flesh of the " Establishment".

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
GaryNJ
Cumberland NJ USA
Posts: 142
Joined: 2010
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
10/28/2021 11:21:04 AM
It has been literally half a century since I read Chester Wilmot's book, but I believe it must be severely dated at this point. If I remember correctly he was a correspondent for both the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the BBC. Also, he was attached to the 21st Army Group headquarters and was close to Montgomery. Should be a good read as long as one understands its limitations.

Gary
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 5271
Joined: 2004
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
10/28/2021 3:35:17 PM
Quote:
It has been literally half a century since I read Chester Wilmot's book, but I believe it must be severely dated at this point. If I remember correctly he was a correspondent for both the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the BBC. Also, he was attached to the 21st Army Group headquarters and was close to Montgomery. Should be a good read as long as one understands its limitations.

Gary



Gary,

You’re very discerning here.

There are limitations ; it’s a darned good read.

It was written seventy years ago, and it does give a rather unflattering assessment of US strategic priorities, written under the aegis of British and Commonwealth perspective. This can make one cringe a bit : OTOH, he also gives unflinching criticism of British endeavours, and he was bearing witness to the truth, as he saw it.

He saw a lot.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 3968
Joined: 2004
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
10/28/2021 8:39:05 PM
Gary, Phil, I agree wholeheartedly that one must beware of the limitations of studies over time. I think you for mentioning that concern. But surely, that applies to studies written much more recently as well.

One aspect of military history I enjoy, particularly when dealing with WW2, is contemporary responses to the war.

Example: at the conclusion of the Dunkirk evacuation, Germany was seen as triumphant. France was all but under German control; the BEF had been routed, almost without fighting. Germany, Italy and certain important US voices (I’m thinking Joe Kennedy) though the war was either over or should be negotiated to some kind of truce or peace treaty.

It didn’t end that way, of course. But not one person, from WSC to the local char, knew that. Hence my interest in contemporary writings of the war, whether from published diaries or works from Mass-Observation or diaries or recollections from professional reporters. Volumes like My First War: An Army Officer’s Journal for May 1940 through Belgium to Dunkirk, (Capt Sir Basil Bartlett, Bt.), e.g., with it’s rather clever wit combined with it’s discussion of the Officers’ Mess wine cellar, tells me a great deal I can’t get from a history of the great retreat. Berlin Diary, (William Shirer) remains a day-to-day window on Berlin until shortly before the US entered the war; it is particularly fine because it shows a fine mind assessing matters of consequence daily.

I assume Wilmot is offering something more closely aligned to assessment after the fact. But he’s already written his columns or made his broadcasts, so he is probably reflecting his comments across all aspects of the war he covered. I get the same thing from Matthew Halton’s Ten Years to Alamein. Halton was attached to the British 8th Army through North Africa, which creates an isolated view but an intensely personal evaluation by f trained mind.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t particularly get warm fuzzies over WSC. But when he became PM on 10 May 1940, he became through his speeches and writings a focal point the British needed. Whether that was a lasting or effective thing, the fact is that WSC – at the time! – a direction giver. The British people needed such a person.

Take these immediate interactions and you have a sense, at least, of how important WSC’s rather turgid rhetoric was to Brits at large.

I don’t think I’ll get sucked in by Chester Wilmot. From what you all suggest, I think I might enjoy his perspective.

Cheers. And stay save.
Brian G



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"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 5271
Joined: 2004
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
10/31/2021 7:50:04 PM
Quote:


I don’t think I’ll get sucked in by Chester Wilmot. From what you all suggest, I think I might enjoy his perspective.






Brian,

There is one aspect of his perspective that I take profound exception to : on the second page of his book, in the preface, he writes :

It was the refusal of the British to admit defeat and the frustration of the German invasion plan in 1940 that drove Hitler into attacking Russia.

That, to my mind, is an incredible distortion. My interpretation is that Hitler sought the destruction of the Bolshevik state to the East as a principal objective, and that, against this, the British were a nuisance which had to be supressed. Wilmot implies things were the other way round. Rather an act of Anglo centric aggrandisement !

That said, I still consider his depiction of the strategic dilemmas in those pages of Chapter VI - The Grand Design - to be concise, cogent and, to a large degree, convincing.

Regards, Phil




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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
scoucer
Berlin  Germany
Posts: 2924
Joined: 2010
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
12/14/2021 12:20:37 PM
Quote:
To resume.....Hitler was determined to rescue Mussolini . Not just in the early part of the war, but even towards its close. Think of that daring German commando raid that got Il Duce out of prison. Why would Hitler insist on doing that when his world was collapsing East and West ? When Hitler killed himself on April 30 1945, it was shorty after he had seen photographs of Mussolini’s corpse strung up from a lamppost in Milan. This is a tentative argument, but I really do feel that Hitler had a lot of ideological and emotional capital invested here, and that this attribute was a weakness to be exploited. I’ll repeat my allusion to the withdrawal of German forces from the Kursk battles when the Allies struck out in Operation Husky.

Something to think about....what do you reckon ?

Ci Vediamo ! Regards, Phil


Phil,

Hitler greatly admired Mussolini. The 1923 Münich Putsch was inspired by the Mussolini 1922 Blackshirt March on Rome. It was only as Hitler was in Landsberg Prison, although imprisoned would not really be the right word, that Hitler decided that a Putsch would not work and that power could only be reached through the ballot box.

Trevor
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`Hey don´t the wars come easy and don´t the peace come hard`- Buffy Sainte-Marie Some swim with the stream. Some swim against the stream. Me - I´m stuck somewhere in the woods and can´t even find the stupid stream.
Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 3968
Joined: 2004
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
12/15/2021 9:00:35 PM
Phil, didn’t see your Hallowe’en post until yesterday, when the thread was re-awakened by Trevor’s post. (Trevor, wonderful to see your commentary! ) Fell asleep writing the reply, so lost it. So here’s another try.

You say: Quote:
There is one aspect of his perspective that I take profound exception to : on the second page of his book, in the preface, he writes :

It was the refusal of the British to admit defeat and the frustration of the German invasion plan in 1940 that drove Hitler into attacking Russia.

That, to my mind, is an incredible distortion. My interpretation is that Hitler sought the destruction of the Bolshevik state to the East as a principal objective, and that, against this, the British were a nuisance which had to be supressed. Wilmot implies things were the other way round. Rather an act of Anglo centric aggrandisement !
I agree; his comment is a load of codswallop. Well, at least he wrote that in the preface, rather than the main body of text!

In truth, I think you’re being a bit dismissive of the British in your counter-assessment. Britain and France were the only two nations which – however shamefully; Munich was just the most public disaster – were a threat to Germany or at least Hitler’s vision of a germanic homeland centred in the Reich. The Polish “guarantees” proved meaningless, and the phony war suggested France – at the time, the greatest standing military force in he world – was unprepared to challenge a nation which had beaten her 70 years ago and spend four years in French territory before being declared losers in “the war to end wars”. When Hitler turned his military to the west, France fell in six short weeks.

Britain (yes, with her colonies and the Commonwealth nations, yada yada yada) left the field of engagement without engaging. But also without most of its armour, mobility, artillery, and ordnance. But it was not beaten. And through the Battle of Britain, and the cancellation of Seelöwe in mid-September, and the months (literally, 8 months) of the Blitz, it remained unbeaten. I don’t think that qualifies as a nuisance; an undefeated enemy remains a potential threat.

In truth, British aggression appeared to be distinctly non-threatening in the months leading up to Barbarossa. Malta was under seige; the Med was all but closed to British convoys; BEF in Greece were being driven into the sea (again). At sea, the RN had had success with the Graf Spee, but the U-boats’ kill counts were off-setting that loss.

And all this misses the central point. Hitler was, IMHO, fully prepared to sign a truce, or non-aggression pact, or agreement of understanding to bring settlement to Germany’s war with Britain. He might not be prepared to respect any truce, pact or treaty, and I’m certain he was unable to understand the concept of moral outrage or social repugnance nurtured in the British public by that highly vocal pesky nuisance, WSC.

IMHO, from 1925 at the latest, with the publication of the first edition of Mein Kampf, Hitler didn’t see Britain as the same kind of enemy that Soviet Russia would always remain. In Hitler’s world-vocabulary, bolshevism was anathema. Godless, internationalist, culturally mixed, worker- rather than land-based: these were some bases for Hitler’s distaste of Bolshevism. And that’s without exploring the fantasy of “Lebensraum” and the ability to ascribe Untermenschen as an unfortunate loss to advance the species.

I could go on. But the point is this, IMHO. Hitler would have liked to bludgeon Britain into submission, and Goering’s bomber assault (aka “The Blitz”) was simply not up to the task. Wrong aircraft; wrong ordnance; less than effective direction. The Luftwaffe was not an effective independent bomber force. It had proved, however, to be a splendidly effective adjunct to Germany’s ground forces. (Think Poland. Think (to some extent at least) Norway. Think the attack on the west and the fall of Holland, Belgium and France.).

The German model for military offense relied on the ground use of the Luftwaffe. Since it had not worked separately against Britain, it was reeled back from the ongoing assault on Britain and directed toward the class-religious-social-cultural enemy. With all that land.

IMHO, it wasn’t withdrawn from Britain because Britain was a nuisance, but because it hadn’t provided a British civilian collapse (that old Douhet stuff again!). It was withdrawn from Britain because the German-Soviet pact of August 1939 was wearing thin, and Hitler’s only possible hope of defeating European Soviet troops depended on surprise and overwhelming power.

Was Hitler risking a two-front war by unleashing Barbarossa? Yes, quite clearly. He had done it before, with his one month offset assaults on Scandanavia and western Europe. But he had gauged his control over his enemies. The only one I think he got so very wrong is the Soviet Union.

Cheers. And stay safe.
Brian G

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"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 5271
Joined: 2004
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
12/16/2021 4:23:55 AM
Quote:

In truth, I think you’re being a bit dismissive of the British in your counter-assessment.



Brian,

You're right : in my endeavour to emphasise the good parts of Chester Wilmot's book, my dismay at his suggestion regarding British resistance being the determinant of Operation Barbarossa made me recoil, and over react !

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
Lightning
Glasgow  UK
Posts: 802
Joined: 2005
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
12/16/2021 10:33:14 AM
Quote:


The German model for military offense relied on the ground use of the Luftwaffe.



Hi Brian,

A very apt assessment.

Germany's rearmament had been based around quick victories using overwhelming firepower in armour and ground attack aircraft; smashing the enemy's frontlines, their morale and thereby forcing a peace relatively quickly. The western allies had geared up for a re-run of the Great War; initial (largely French) deployments to hold the enemy (Germany) in place whilst the British built up her expeditionary force and imposed the naval blockade. In all fairness, the Nazi war machine wasn't initially set up for a long war, and had the allies been able to hold back the German blitzkrieg in 1940 they may well have found success into 1941 and beyond as the British war industry truly got going. The breakout attempt at Arras shows how vulnerable the German army in 1940 was to measured counter-attacks.

The long war came, as you point out, in Russia and the war machine adapted quite well. However, the seemingly limitless Soviet manpower and hardware resources (helpfully funded partly by the US and Britain) meant that in a war of attrition there would only be one winner if the Soviets could only find the stomach to take the losses, which they did.

Htiler called it right in the early part of the war; the allies were morally vacuous and their heart was not in it. A million or so French soldiers dawdled around the Rhine whilst the Poles were cut down. Britain only had a handful of lagrely immobile infantry divisions ready to deploy, as well as the formidable navy and some questionable air assets, the latter of which were annihilated during the summer of 1940. Thank heavens Fighter Command won the argument with Churchill over sending any more of the Hurricanes over to France, they would be sorely needed in the weeks and months to come after France fell.

The events from Munich - 1940 were a catalogue of missed opportunities to stop Nazism before it truly got going. We should not forget that.

Cheers,

Colin
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"There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end."
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 5271
Joined: 2004
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
12/16/2021 12:08:17 PM
Quote:
and had the allies been able to hold back the German blitzkrieg in 1940 they may well have found success into 1941 and beyond as the British war industry truly got going.



Colin,

Do you think that, if the German attack in the West had been contained, the Anglo French armies would have been condemned to a repeat performance of the nightmare of the earlier war ?

In the Second World War, the British army suffered only one fifth the number of deaths it had suffered in 1914-18. I often wonder how many British lives were saved by that catastrophic defeat and expulsion from the continent in 1940.

OTOH, how many jewish lives might have been saved if the Allies had held firm in the West, and Barbarossa been suspended ?

Regards, Phil
----------------------------------
"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
Lightning
Glasgow  UK
Posts: 802
Joined: 2005
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
12/16/2021 1:45:42 PM
Phil,

Intriguing question. My hunch is that the German officer class would have removed Hitler and the Nazis from power if it looked like a rerun of 1914-18 was on the cards. The allies had deeper pockets, a stronger naval force and the overt support of the President of the United States. Germany in 1940 was set up for the quick win and Hitler did not yet have the undying support of much of the military, which came after the miracle win over France, Britain and the Low Countries in 1940.

Cheers,

Colin
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"There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end."
Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 3968
Joined: 2004
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
12/17/2021 7:10:56 PM
Trevor, you said, a couple of days ago: Quote:
Hitler greatly admired Mussolini. The 1923 Münich Putsch was inspired by the Mussolini 1922 Blackshirt March on Rome. It was only as Hitler was in Landsberg Prison, although imprisoned would not really be the right word, that Hitler decided that a Putsch would not work and that power could only be reached through the ballot box.
You raise a host of issues those three sentences!

I may be a bit thick, but I had never considered the Munich Putsch of 1923 to be modelled on Italy’s 1922 March on Rome. I had always felt it was a clear mis-reading of existing political realities, that mistook volatility for weakness, which drove this early Nazi attempt at power. I had also assumed that it was the ridiculous leniency of Hitler’s sentence which suggested to him that there was other support for his party that offered a more democratic-appearing route to power than insurrection. He would not gain much by overthrowing a judiciary, e.g., that clearly supported his aims.

One of the anomalies I have always sensed about Hitler is his ability to make treaties with the intention of violating them, appoint lieutenants with the preparedness of destroying them, but of choosing allies to whom he remained faithful beyond what some would see reasons. Mussolini was one, but let’s think of Spain’s Franco as well. Nobody cocked his snoot at Hitler quite so clearly as Franco in 1940, but though Franco’s decisions made Hitler’s war more difficult – the loss of Gibraltar would have created havoc for the Brits both in the Med and on the African convoy routes – Franco went unpunished and Spanish Falangists (was it the “Blue Brigade?”) fought for Germany on the Eastern Front.

IIRC, Musso was of two minds even after 31 Jan 1933 about whether he saw any value in meetng Hitler, Germany’s new Chancellor. In truth, the two dictators didn’t meet for over 16 months (June 14-15, 1934) after Hitler’s ascent to power, and that was a disaster, with each leader having a different agenda. They would not meet again until early 1938, to discuss Hitler’s interests in Austria, and then again as a clearly united force during the Munich conference which contrasted so totally with the vacant blether of the Franco-British alliance.

Had Italy’s armed forces been even half as mighty as Mussolini believed, Hitler may have had no complaint. Italy had come out of WW1 battered but on the side of the victors; moving forward from the 1920s it had a large army, a sophisticated navy, and a rapidly expanding airforce. But other than Ethiopia, which Italy lost on itself to the British/Commonwealth, and North Africa, which it nearly lost on its own to the same enemy, Germany was repeatedly sent in to kick ass after the Italians had proved unequal to the tasks they set themselves.

Yet Hitler remained loyal the the great Italian wreckage to the end. In the same way, of course, he committed Germany against the US, and at least some believe this was because of his own rather bizarre code of honour.

Lots more to chat about, including the ballot box issue. Would love to know your opinions, as you feel you can offer them.

Cheers. And stay safe.
Brian G
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"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.
Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 3968
Joined: 2004
The “soft underbelly of Europe”
12/18/2021 9:47:49 PM
Colin and Phil, I wish I shared your love of “what ifs”.

Phil writes: Quote:
Do you think that, if the German attack in the West had been contained, the Anglo French armies would have been condemned to a repeat performance of the nightmare of the earlier war ?

In the Second World War, the British army suffered only one fifth the number of deaths it had suffered in 1914-18. I often wonder how many British lives were saved by that catastrophic defeat and expulsion from the continent in 1940.

OTOH, how many jewish lives might have been saved if the Allies had held firm in the West, and Barbarossa been suspended ?

Colin replies (?): Quote:
My hunch is that the German officer class would have removed Hitler and the Nazis from power if it looked like a rerun of 1914-18 was on the cards. The allies had deeper pockets, a stronger naval force and the overt support of the President of the United States. Germany in 1940 was set up for the quick win and Hitler did not yet have the undying support of much of the military, which came after the miracle win over France, Britain and the Low Countries in 1940.

Neither scenario occurred. France collapsed in spectacular fashion in six weeks, and the British were behind their walls of oak even more quickly.

But. Phil, even if the Anglo-French had stalled the German assault, I don’t think they could have contained it. Sadly, I see no indication that there were senior officers in the Anglo-French armies of sufficient capability to co-ordinate counter attacks sufficiently effective to drive the Germans into accepting a static front over a long period. German strategy far outdid either French or British strategy; German flexibility was much greater than that of their Anglo-French (-Belgian-Dutch) opposition. Perhaps even more meaningfully, I’ve been reading recently (I’ve mentioned Martin Davidson’s The Perfect Nazi: Uncovering my Grandfathers Secret Past) that while Britain and France saw WW1 as a pyrrhic victory, the Germans supported the concept of the warrior, whose function was to fight for the glory of either winning or dying. Win and you’re a hero; die and you’re a martyr. Much mocking commentary has been said about the Italian Army. The same could be argued about the French Army – the largest standing army in the pre-war period. They quit wanting to fight. And the BEF, once more a contemptibly small army by European standards, had not a single hope of halting Germany on its own.

I’ll not offer a comment on “how many jewish lives might have been saved if the Allies had held firm in the West”. That leads to very dark waters indeed.

Colin, I have a certain amount of admiration for the German officer class at the beginning of the war. But I’m not sure which group of German officer classes you are considering. And I might raise whether the German officer command was in any position to challenge Hitler, whatever he outcome of the invasion of the west might bring.

I’d raise two (maybe three) issues here:
• Some years before Poland, let alone the assault west, Hitler created a pretext by which he demanded his Wehrmacht officers to swear an oath of allegiance to him. Personally. in the trials after the war, many senior members of the Army, including General Staff, offered this oath in defense of their conduct.
• As early as January 31, 1933, the German Army was vastly outnumbered by Nazi paramilitary groups. I’m dredging these numbers from memory, so its more the differences than the precise percentages I’m getting at. But the army had something like 20,000 regulars, while the SA and SS, between them had some 80,000 troops. Those numbers would change as 1939 approached, but by then soldiers were also swearing their personal oath to Der Fuhrer. I have a sense that, by 1939, any attempted overthrow would be a failed coup.
• Some of the most aggressive emerging commanders in the Wehrmacht were not members of the traditional Officer Class (mainly junkers and hereditary militarists), but arose because they had proven their capabilities within the Nazi system. Rommel is, of course, the most prominent name that comes to mind. I have massive problems seeing Rommel supporting a coup against Hitler in the early forties.

Those issues aside, I think you overestimate the potential allied support, except perhaps in hindsight. FDR may have been in support of Britain, but there is not one indication that the US public was. Joe Kennedy, Ambassador to the UK, was vocal in saying the UK was finished; he seemed to delight in the thought. The US general public may not have enjoyed the idea of the collapse of what they continued to see as the British Empire, but they were overwhelmingly against sending assistance or joining forces with an empire.

Take that a step further. As a land military power, in 1939 the US ranked behind Uruguay in power and capability. Just think about that for a moment. The US did, of course, have potential production capabilities, and a couple of years after the German success in France it would kick in.

Gotta go for now. Got a huge tub of soup waiting for me!

Cheers. And stay safe: omicron isn’t just a label.
Brian G
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"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.

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