Normandy Crucible – John Prados

I picked up this book after reading and enjoying his book on the Solomons campaign, Islands of Destiny.  Like that book, this one is a short view of a battle, emphasizing issues of command and military intelligence more than day to day tactics.  It also is well balanced, giving both sides’ view of the situation.

The situation is the Allied invasion of France.  Each side struggled to get sufficient forces into the area to win decisively.  The Germans had to contend with the pervasive Allied air forces attacking any detected movement.  The Allies had to feed troops over the beaches or through a destroyed port of Cherbourg.

It is interesting to see just how much the Allies did know of the German countermoves as they happened, and thus were able to meet them and defeat them.  The breakout was a problem of its own, as the bad terrain of the hedgerow country stifled attacks. Finally, Operation Cobra launched with a devastating air bombardment at St. Lo and the breakout was on.

Aerial view of Saint-Lô, Normandie (France), a...

The discussion of the attempt to form a major pocket is interesting. Prados contends that the estimates of German losses in men are exaggerated.  He notes that the total number hasn’t changed a fraction since 1944.

Another interesting feature was an appendix where he wargamed the breakout using a modified version of the old Cobra game from SPI in the 1970s.  He explored various German alternatives strategies.  For one thing, he found that trying to form a mobile reserve usually led to a faster breakout through the weakened line.  He also examined when an all out retreat could have saved most of the army.  I had that game myself back then, and probably still have it in a box somewhere.  I thought it was a great idea to quantify even in a limited way the results of a changed strategy rather than just assert it as words alone.

A last topic that he introduces (well, to me at least) is that the Germans revamped their replacement system at this time in the face of this invasion. While it couldn’t help this battle, this was a major factor in the recovery of the German army on the borders for the fall campaign and the Battle of the Bulge.

Omaha Beach, A Flawed Victory – Adrian R. Lewis

This book is an interesting departure – it isn’t a history of the attack itself but of the planning process before the invasion and how it failed, resulting in the high casualties and near defeat at Omaha.

Differing Invasion Philosophies

One factor was the different outlook the US and England had on how to conduct an amphibious invasion.  The US tended to not worry about surprise, favoring a huge, daylight naval and air bombardment to work over the beach area.  This worked well in the Pacific, where the defender was an isolated island, but would give time for the Germans to respond.

The British tended to favor surprise, landing at night with minimal bombardment at an undefended spot.  In this case, though, the limited places where a large invasion could take place meant there were no options to ‘sneak into’.

The result was a compromise that probably was worse than either alternative on its own.  The landing would be at dawn, with a short naval and air bombardment.  If it worked, fine, but if the defenses were not destroyed they would have clear shots at the invading troops.

Air power Overconfidence

The invasion planners assumed that the air force could destroy installations on the beach with speed.  As usual, the claims of the air force were not sustained by the result, and the defenses were not appreciably degraded.

Planning Errors

The plan to use half of two divisions in the initial attack, one of them green was probably a mistake.  The corps commander wanted to get the entire 1st Division ashore together.  At a lower level, too, the arrangement of many of the assault craft loading was such that commanders were exposed at the front of the vessels.  A good idea if there was no opposition, not so much if these men were the first ones killed.

The ‘floating tank’ gimmick was used to avoid having to use too many tank carrying craft, but in the conditions of Omaha these tanks sank and were lost.

Conclusion

 

There was also an underestimation of how difficult the invasion was going to be, thus the fact that other considerations than maximizing success tended to take precedence at every level.  The troops on the ground managed to ‘muddle through’ but a better plan and better preparation would have made the invasion a lot easier and less costly.

The War of the Ring – J. R. R. Tolkien

History of the Lord of the Rings, Part Three + History of Middle Earth Volume VIII

Another of the compilations of Tolkien’s notes and drafts of the Lord of the Rings, spanning the time when Minas Tirith was under attack.  This part was started and stopped several times during the years of World War II, and there were several chronoligical shifts as Tolkien tried to get elements of the Frodo storyline and the War storyline to mesh properly.

One interesting feature was that the character of Faramir appeared late relative to the others.  Some other iconic moments, like Eowyn versus the Nazgul King were also late developments.  Otherwise, there isn’t time for the story to drift away from its origins as in the early books – matters are closer to their final form.