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.

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