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John Kettler

Reassessment of Italian Combat Prowess

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Torch succeeded because covert operations (diplomacy and espionage) incapacitated or neutralised a good proportion of Vichy French fighting power.

I'm sure that's what Mark Clark would like you to believe. I'm not sure it's true though. Whereever the VF forces failed to get the memo about not fighting, the resistance they put varied from risable to ineffective.

Except for ...

the real fight only began when the Germans reacted, the Allies having got all the way to Tunisia ...

Which only happened because the VF govenor turned out to have all the spine of a jellyfish.

... the "we wuz robbed" school of military history, I agree about the American Civil War ...

Which immediately negates the 'only the victors write the history' meme

... When you speak of WWII Eastern Front and WWI, I presume you are talking mainly of German revisionist narratives.

Yeah. Not much insight required there, though, eh?

These were important in Germany during the inter war years and in West Germany during the cold war

Oh no. Nonononono. It went much furhter than that. There are whole swathes of folk who totally buy into the lions-led-by-donkeys/Bruckmuller-was-a-god nonsense and believe that Germany won every battle between Stalingrad and Berlin and then sportingly gave up when they ran out of bullets. "Lost Victories" is part of the reason there, and so is v.Mellenthin, and Guderian, and v.Luck, and Rudel. See chapter 4. of The Myth of the Eastern Front: The Nazi-Soviet War in American Popular Culture by Smelser and Davies, for example. Heck, you don't even need to read it - just look at the reviews to get a sense of how deeply ingrained the meme is.

It also had a not inconsiderable effect on the US Army, which actually was on the winning side in WWII, but still let the losers write the history.

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Maybe that's when you heard them, but assure you I knew them much earlier

Heck, when my buddy told me his fiance was French - this is well before the GW - I told French jokes for at least half an hour. And I *like* the French.

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I'm not sure what we are arguing about. Things may look and sound different 53 miles west of Venus than where I grew up.

West Europeans (and within that, each nationality), Americans, Russians or Japanese, our perceptions of history will be heavily influenced by different factors and according to how much interest we have in the subject (in my case, one helluva-lot), how much reading we have done about the subject (again, large amounts), whether we keep up with new writings and how we process all that information to draw our own conclusions.

When I grew up, in Europe, the French were generally given an easier ride than the Italians. The grown ups I knew who had lived during the war and observed it from Switzerland spoke in ways that reflected their sympathies and the spin that the British had initiated.

Germans generally kept very quiet (except among themselves, as you well know), the French were schizophrenic and every Italian you met had done something in the Resistance (and probably worn black shirts at an earlier time). People from the Low Countries did not like the Germans or the French much. Everybody loved the Americans, except Communists (and there were lots of them).

From most people's perspective in Western Europe, the British were the lions that stood up to Hitler alone (the French would argue with that), the Americans were their tall, strong, well nourished and even better armed cousins from over the ocean who came over and made the liberation of Europe possible; very little was said about the Russian contribution (only after years of interest and study was I able to understand that, compared to what went on on the eastern front, the rest of the war in the West was pretty much a side-show).

An embarrassed silence reigned over the issue of how millions of people (including those in whose name the hot conflict had started) ended up trading occupation and plunder by one tyranny for occupation and plunder by another.

The morphing of the shooting 2nd World War into the Cold War distorted narratives and available materials in Europe for decades.

I expect something similar happened in America.

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Most of those jokes were circulated by americans after France refused to dance to their tune at the time of the second Gulf war.

Circulated, perhaps. Originated? Oh, so much earlier. We Rosbif have been "waving two fingers"* at our trans-Channelian cousins since, oo, about 1346.

* Yes, yes, I know the "We archers still have our fingers, so ner," origin is a myth.

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...very little was said about the Russian contribution (only after years of interest and study was I able to understand that, compared to what went on on the eastern front, the rest of the war in the West was pretty much a side-show).

It was a bit more than a side show, albeit a majority of the killing and dying took place in the East.

The morphing of the shooting 2nd World War into the Cold War distorted narratives and available materials in Europe for decades.

I expect something similar happened in America.

Indeed it did. The end of the Cold War and the opening of the Russian archives to Western historians has done wonders. For the first half-century after the war, we were largely dependent on the accounts written by Germans. And they had a satchel of axes to grind. Add to that tons of wishful thinking on the one hand and rampant paranoia on the other among the defense establishment, and History was not well served in those years.

Michael

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Forget France 1940, what about America 1941? More specifically America getting thoroughly routed in the Phillipines and losing much of its Pacific fleet in one blow. The French and Italians got nothing on us when it comes to a history of getting our butts kicked in a most embarrassing fashion. Our primary advantage has always been logistical rather than tactical. We can lose every tactical engagement yet still win the war. All those untouched war plants on U.S. soil churning out tank after tank, ship after ship, rifle after rifle.

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Michael - it didn't help that all the Russian history offerings until oh about the 1980s were the most transparent nonsense since PT Barnum. The silliest German fish story was a monument to objectivity in comparison. "Then the glorious shock workers destroyed all the evil fascist invaders by looking at them crossly, and marched forward in brotherhood under the exalted banners of the invincible Party". It was easy to believe a von Mellenthin or a Raus when that was all they were up against.

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Forget France 1940, what about America 1941? More specifically America getting thoroughly routed in the Phillipines and losing much of its Pacific fleet in one blow. The French and Italians got nothing on us when it comes to a history of getting our butts kicked in a most embarrassing fashion. Our primary advantage has always been logistical rather than tactical. We can lose every tactical engagement yet still win the war. All those untouched war plants on U.S. soil churning out tank after tank, ship after ship, rifle after rifle.

I don't think so. We certainly have never won a war in which we lost every battle. I don't think we've ever fought a war in which we lost every battle.

Britain was "thoroughly routed" in France in 1940, and probably would have lost the entire Expeditionary Force had Hitler not got cold feet at the end. The Soviets were thoroughly routed countless times. But they didn't surrender, and went on to win many other battles. Just like we did.

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The UK never had a big standing Army..never had an Army designed for huge European battles where as the countries on the Continent have. Our Army was always designed for small colonial bush wars. Thats why in WW1 and WW2 our force wa tiny compared to the other Nations until conscription got going. SO it isn't surprising really that in WW1 though we gave the Germans a bloody nose at Mons we still had to hit the back foot and our BEF was to all purposes wiped out after the battle of Ypres. Again in WW2 the BEF wasn't a huge force..not one that could keep France going anyway.

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Forget France 1940, what about America 1941? More specifically America getting thoroughly routed in the Phillipines and losing much of its Pacific fleet in one blow.

We, like the other democracies, were not fully prepared for war when it came to us. This was at least as true psychologically as physically. The Japanese "caught us on the hop" as you might say, and it took a while to catch up to them.

Our primary advantage has always been logistical rather than tactical. We can lose every tactical engagement yet still win the war. All those untouched war plants on U.S. soil churning out tank after tank, ship after ship, rifle after rifle.

Yeah, but all that stuff would have counted for little if we hadn't worked out how to use it effectively. It took us a while, but in a number of cases, we worked out tactics that were even better than the Axis. This was especially true in the air and naval wars.

Michael

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Michael - it didn't help that all the Russian history offerings until oh about the 1980s were the most transparent nonsense since PT Barnum. The silliest German fish story was a monument to objectivity in comparison. "Then the glorious shock workers destroyed all the evil fascist invaders by looking at them crossly, and marched forward in brotherhood under the exalted banners of the invincible Party". It was easy to believe a von Mellenthin or a Raus when that was all they were up against.

Absolutely. I refrained from mentioning this in my post for reasons of brevity, but you are certainly correct.

Michael

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Of course the war in the West was important in bringing down Hitler's Germany. Nobody understood that better than Stalin, who bitched and moaned at his allies since 1941 about what they were doing to get the Second Front going.

The landings in Sicily were instrumental in bringing about the end of the German effort at Kursk, where they finally lost the initiative on the Eastern Front. Having the elite of their armored forces busy in Normandy repulsing the landings and later trying to destroy the bridgehead deprived the Germans of resources crucial to counterattacking Soviet breakthroughs in Bielorussia.

I was mainly referring to the share of the butcher's bill, particularly with reference to casualties inflicted in men and material on the German forces, but also the cost in casualties to the Soviets compared to the other allies.

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I was mainly referring to the share of the butcher's bill, particularly with reference to casualties inflicted in men and material on the German forces, but also the cost in casualties to the Soviets compared to the other allies.

Sure. IMO one of the preconditions for the success of the Normandy invasion was the German army being already bled white in the East. If it had been anywhere near its strength immediately before Barbarossa, the campaign in the West would have looked very different.

Michael

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"The landings in Sicily were instrumental in bringing about the end of the German effort at Kursk"

This is mostly utter hoakum. The attack was falling, and the Russian offensive against the Orel salient required the immediate cessation of the north front attempt and move of all its mobile forces to defensive roles within that salient. The narrowing attack in the south had no strategic point as a direct result.

But the German high command didn't like admitting that they had just had their heads handed to them, and used the western stuff as an excuse for why they lost. The divisions they earmarked to send to the west in response nearly all wound up going to the Mius sector (southeastern Russian front) instead.

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Michael - the German army was vastly stronger in June of 1944 than it was in June of 1941. So were its enemies, of course. But the force of 1941 had about 3000 tanks, a third of them already obsolete in 1941, and another third that would be toys in 1944. Both tech and force strengths were moving way too fast for their army of 1941 to have been any threat to any of the major Allied powers of 1944.

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A few thoughts...

My late father - 3rd County of London Yeomanry - fought in both Africa and Italy and I recall that he was very dismissive of the Italians. I never came across them in my much more modest military service, but one British Army saying that I was taught sums it up perfectly. "There are no bad soldiers, there are only bad officers."

According to pretty much all of the reference books I have studied, the Italian Army was atrociously led. Throw inferior kit into the mix and it's hardly surprising that overall they performed so badly. I should add that this is no reflection at all on their courage.

I think that CMFI has got the balance about right. Trying to win when playing Italian is one of the harder challenges in the game.

SLR

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A few thoughts...

My late father - 3rd County of London Yeomanry - fought in both Africa and Italy and I recall that he was very dismissive of the Italians. I never came across them in my much more modest military service, but one British Army saying that I was taught sums it up perfectly. "There are no bad soldiers, there are only bad officers."

According to pretty much all of the reference books I have studied, the Italian Army was atrociously led. Throw inferior kit into the mix and it's hardly surprising that overall they performed so badly. I should add that this is no reflection at all on their courage.

I think that CMFI has got the balance about right. Trying to win when playing Italian is one of the harder challenges in the game.

SLR

To add to this, wouldn't a good example on the German side be the Luftwaffe field formations? I remember reading a book by a German army officer (was it Panzer Battles?) where the author lamented the "first rate human material" given to the Luftwaffe ground forces, only to have it receive poor leadership, training and inadequate supply.

And, of course, the Luftwaffe field troops got chewed up and spit out with a quickness, right?

So, like others have said, CM has it right in not putting the blame at the feet of the Italian grunt in and of himself.

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Michael - the German army was vastly stronger in June of 1944 than it was in June of 1941. So were its enemies, of course. But the force of 1941 had about 3000 tanks, a third of them already obsolete in 1941, and another third that would be toys in 1944. Both tech and force strengths were moving way too fast for their army of 1941 to have been any threat to any of the major Allied powers of 1944.

Uh, I believe you misunderstood my premise. I was not suggesting pitting the German army of 1941 against the Allied armies of 1944. What I was trying to say is that the experienced and confident soldiers of 1941 were mostly dead or crippled and the succeeding classes of soldiers were spread too thin to be regarded as having equal strength. That is, compare the number of men in the '41 division establishment vs. the '44 division. And also consider the effects of the war on the average division in France in '44 compared to '41. Most of the divisions in France in '44 were either second or third rate static or semi-mobile formations or normal field divisions in the process of being rebuilt after having been gutted in the East. Consider the number of divisions in Normandy having to be fleshed out with Ost battalions, or having to make do with captured equipment and other improvisations. And so on. All the newer tanks and Nebelwerfers couldn't make up for that.

Michael

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...the experienced and confident soldiers of 1941...

I'll grant "confident" in a hearbeat. Well trained and led, too. How much of the Heer in '41 was actually "experienced", though? Poland took 5 weeks, France 6. Yugoslavia, Norway and Denmark hardly took any effort at all... Is eleven weeks' serious combat enough to produce a broadly "Veteran" or "Crack" army?

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The early war blitzkriegs were no walkovers and certainly casualties were high. 100000 in Poland for example. The divisions who had seen service in these campaigns would certainly be experienced and in some cases veteran particularly the Panzers. However I don't thnk the German army reached its peak until the late summer of 1941 or even summer 1942 and then began a decline.

Certain Waffen SS Divisions such as Das Reich and Liebstandarte I would only give elite ratings for late 1442 and early 1943 until the end of 3rd Kharkov. At Kursk I would probably only give their Panzers such hgh experience ratngs as their Panzergrenadiers took on large numbers f replacements prior to Kursk though there was time to train them up and incorporate them into their units. I would give them very good leaders and very high morale at this time though.

In Normandy I would start Hitler Jugend off with high morale and good leaders but only experienced as they were well trained but lacking combat experience. After the first couple of weeks I would bump up the experience and keep morale high but reduce strengths.

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"This is mostly utter hokum".

I beg to differ. That may be your opinion, to which you are entitled, but it is not fact.

Zitadelle was failing, no doubt about it. The Germans had no surprise, frequent delays had allowed the Soviets who were well informed about German intentions to strengthen their defenses. German armor was committed piecemeal in places. The Soviets had got better at defense. I could go on.

The events in Sicily weighed heavily on Hitler's mind when he decided to call the offensive off. Von Manstein did not agree, and got three more days before Hitler made his mind up and ordered the whole of the SS Panzekorps transferred to Italy.

In the end, only the Leibstandarte went there, minus its equipment, the other divisions being needed to resist the Soviet counterattack at Belgorod.

We cannot rerun history to see what the German High command would have done had the landings in Sicily not taken place. I said they were instrumental, not decisive: German timing, lack of surprise and Soviet operational improvements were.

You are clearly well informed and competent but you do not have a monopoly on truth on this subject.

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usgubgub - I don't need to rerun history and what the German high command would have done is largely beside the point. The Russian army was kicking their backside, and gave them no outs or good options in the matter. It is like the armless and legless knight in the Holy Grail blaming his defeat on a distracting tweetie bird. When the Red Army just ripped his arms off...

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Michael - I know what you were saying, I actually disagree with it. The early war formations were often quite green. They were much less lavishly equipped. The army was smaller, not larger - yes that size was spread over more formations, but that meant the individual front line fighter actually had more artillery and other support weapons behind him than his early war counterparts.

The Germans had 7 panzer divisions in France and the median tank was a Panzer II with 20mm main armament. They were able to send 50% more than that number to Normandy even with their main weight in the east, in 1944, and not only had better tanks, had a better match up against the types opposite in gun and armor terms.

Was the late war manpower junk? I deny it. Formations like 6th FJ or 12SS or 17SS were entirely composed of green troops, beyond small command cadres, but they still fought well. Many a 1944 VG division gave an excellent account of itself at the westwall. Sure training time had declined, but I maintain the average quality difference was much less than you pretend, and that the notion mostly just reflects the rose colored lenses of battlefield success. Everyone is a genuis and a hero when the operations are successful.

What was making them successful was not any great superiority in the quality of the army or its manpower, and certainly not in its armament. It faced much weaker enemies who did not (yet) know what they were doing, that is the biggest single difference. And it was also led by better leaders, selected for merit rather than optimism or political loyalty, who were dismissed by midwar (though some came back in different capacities). Guderian, von Bock, Halder, Rundstadt, Manstein - those were the chess players who designed the early war victories, and they were dismissed when they didn't win the war on schedule. Some of their replacements were competent, but not all. German operational "play" was clearly inferior to that of their opponents from mid 1942 on.

Even the effect of dumber command due to dismissal of the brains of the army, however, is smaller than the improvement on the part of the opponents. The Poles of 1939, the French of 1940, the Russians of 1941, are a parade of the unready. That, and not any great superiority of the average German formation of 1941 over that of 1943-4, was the difference in operational performance. Then that operational performance difference and the self conceits it supported, are believed by third parties and projected back onto the early war formations, as imaginary intangibles or quality levels.

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Kursk was ill conceived strategically. After two years of terrible reverses the Soviet Army was upping its game. It had much stronger reserves than the Germans ever suspected. It was getting Ultra intelligence from its spy in Bletchley Park. Hitler should have updated his respect for his foe, but he went on the basis of "one last kick and they'll fold for good". Thinking like a corporal.

What you describe, though (the black knight in Monty Python and the holy grail) is not a good analogy forthe German Army at Kursk. It fits Bagration, a year later better. At Kursk the Germans had plenty of fight left in them. A quick look at the relative casualty figures bears that out.

The Soviet Army could replenish their resources, the Germans could not, so in relative terms the result was catastrophic for the Germans and strategically beneficial for the Soviets. But the Germans still had 22 moths of fight left in them, and casualties for the Soviets in those months were not the sort suffered when facing a lame adversary who's had all its limbs cut off.

Another very important element after Kursk is that Hitler took even greater charge of the conduct of operations, whereas Stalin came to trust his staff more and interfered much less. Thus, the relative quality of the leaderships reversed.

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