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Armor in Normandy and "the usual story"


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Oh, I see. So knowing more about someone reveals that actually they were stuff ups, rather than making it harder to rate them poorly even though they deserve it (as I thought you said the first time)? From an "excellent" unit history for one unit, we can conclude that all was specious gloss for all units? Is an "excellent" unit history one that informs about what happened, or one that misleads and makes one regard the participants as action heros? If we had equally "excellent" unit histories of other units, we would be spun any which way by them too? Finding it "hard to hate" them?

All, as though estimates of the technical military knowledge or something like combined arms warfare, displayed by a given force at a given time, were a question of how much somebody likes them - or something. It must be so comforting to reside in the meta realm where all that is necessary is "fading" silly and sweeping generalizations about the histories of others, instead of figuring out what actually happened and why.

If I am keeping track of the spinning ball, the present iteration of the "fades" of opinions of others (without advancing one of your own directly) is that since post war history was hagiography, probably UK force armor-infantry cooperation was in the basement. Somehow this is less convincing as evidence (to put it charitably) than the results of Goodwood, which are not disputed by anybody.

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<BLOCKQUOTE>quote:</font><HR>In view of the tactical pluralism tolerated in tank-infantry cooperation before Montgomery took over 21 Army Group, the flaws in the doctrine he imposed when he assumed command and the negligible attention to the subject within the armoured divisions, such evidence of interarm misunderstanding is no surprise. The varying approaches to the problem attempted within the 27th Armoured Brigade in Normandy reflect the failure to achieve a well-founded consensus on the matter before D-Day. Criticism of poor tank-infantry co-operation within armoured divisions, while not invalid, is unfair. The Normandy battles were not what the British armoured divisions had trained for because such battles were not the task assigned to them in doctrine. It was all very well for Montgomery to reject that doctrine, but the consequence was that the armoured divisions were set to do work for which they were neither trained nor organised. Whether one blames the War Office for the inflexibility inherent in doctrine, or Montgomery for failing to grasp the limitations the training and organisation of his armoured divisions placed upon the tasks they could reasonably be expected to accomplish, is a matter of personal taste. The armoured divisions themselves were not to blame.

-Timothy Harrison Place in Military Training in the British Army, 1940-1944: From Dunkirk to D-Day<HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

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John Keegan has written a small book called, I think, the Battle for History. The book basically evaluates/reviews/discusses various histories/biographies, etc. about WWII. I don't know that he delves into regimental histories, but he does criticize the British Official Histories as being overly concerned about damaging the reputations of various officers in the brit forces.

I don't recall whether he discusses Canadian material.

The book is a good resource to use if you're interested in buying (or consulting) WWII histories and want an idea about what's good.

It just discusses the top books, though, somewhat skewed toward larger strategic treatments (i.e., Russell Weigley, Chester Wilmot). But it's worth taking a look at.

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<BLOCKQUOTE>quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by Andrew Hedges:

John Keegan has written a small book called, I think, the Battle for History. The book basically evaluates/reviews/discusses various histories/biographies, etc. about WWII. I don't know that he delves into regimental histories, but he does criticize the British Official Histories as being overly concerned about damaging the reputations of various officers in the brit forces.

I don't recall whether he discusses Canadian material.

The book is a good resource to use if you're interested in buying (or consulting) WWII histories and want an idea about what's good.

It just discusses the top books, though, somewhat skewed toward larger strategic treatments (i.e., Russell Weigley, Chester Wilmot). But it's worth taking a look at.<HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Andrew - I am glad someone was able to grasp what I was talking about. Thanks very much for the clear and concise answer, I will have to look into that. I have enjoyed much of Keegan's stuff in the past, and have heard of the one you mention but never got around to tracking it down.

Thanks again.

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<BLOCKQUOTE>quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by Michael Dorosh:

Andrew - I am glad someone was able to grasp what I was talking about. Thanks very much for the clear and concise answer, I will have to look into that. I have enjoyed much of Keegan's stuff in the past, and have heard of the one you mention but never got around to tracking it down.

Thanks again.<HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

Michael, I did grasp what you are on about - I am just puzzled at you raising your point in relation to the regimental history of the South Albertas, which was only written in the late 1990s, unlike the other regimental histories you allude to. I found what you were saying quite correct e.g. WRT Stacey's 'History of the Canadian Army 1939-1945', and also for a lot of Patrick Delaforce's works on UK divisions (provocatively speaking: if the divisions all were that great, why did it take them 11 months to defeat the Germans, and why did they need the Red Army to do the bulk of the work?). There certainly is a tendency to gloss over failures in command and performance. I found the South Alberta history decidedly not tending to do so. On the contrary, it struck me as very frank, reasonably balanced in its assessment, and leaving you as the reader to make up your own mind.

As the reader, you will always have to make a judgement on whether the portrayal of something as qualitative as the performance of a unit in war is 'correct' or not. That is something that different readers will have different opinions about. Looks like this is the case with our opinions on the SAR?

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<BLOCKQUOTE>quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by Germanboy:

Michael, I did grasp what you are on about - I am just puzzled at you raising your point in relation to the regimental history of the South Albertas, which was only written in the late 1990s, unlike the other regimental histories you allude to. I found what you were saying quite correct e.g. WRT Stacey's 'History of the Canadian Army 1939-1945', and also for a lot of Patrick Delaforce's works on UK divisions (provocatively speaking: if the divisions all were that great, why did it take them 11 months to defeat the Germans, and why did they need the Red Army to do the bulk of the work?). There certainly is a tendency to gloss over failures in command and performance. I found the South Alberta history decidedly not tending to do so. On the contrary, it struck me as very frank, reasonably balanced in its assessment, and leaving you as the reader to make up your own mind.

As the reader, you will always have to make a judgement on whether the portrayal of something as qualitative as the performance of a unit in war is 'correct' or not. That is something that different readers will have different opinions about. Looks like this is the case with our opinions on the SAR?<HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

I was throwing it out for general discussion, really. The whole process of history fascinates me; having been published twice myself now, it really strikes me how much meaning can be found in the simplest of sentences, and how easy it is for a writer to make a sweeping generalization without having any clue if it is true or not, or to come to hasty conclusions.

It amuses me that any of us can crib entire posts from secondary sources and all of a sudden we are applauded on our "knowledge" of the subject. Really, we are at the mercy of what others have written, and any regimental historian, even the good ones, have inadvertently led us astray from "truth". The trouble is in all the BAD historians that have been mentioned here - and that you mention, Germanboy.

In the end, we all take it on faith alone that the Second World War ever happened at all. None of us were even alive when it happened and all we have to go on is what other people tell us. Interpretation of evidence, analysis, and in the end, a healthy dose of believing what we want to believe because it fits in with what our concept of "truth" is.

Explains some of the heated arguments here, eh? I think we all, at times, discuss things only to try and support our own suppositions rather than try and find out the interpretations of others.

With regards to the SAR - I was simply making the point that yes, I think it is a great history, because of the detail and obvious attempt to do primary research as far as possible. If the SAR performed poorly in some cases (Kapelsche Veer?) we have an understanding why.

In the case of other histories, who gloss over cases of poor judgement, etc., one is left to conclude that there were no mitigating factors for the poor performance of the unit - because it appears a coverup is in place - and the reader just assumes the worst.

I also wanted to point out that this was simply the way many histories seem to have been written in the middle of the 20th century in many cases - and remind people that many of these references were written by regimental officers who did not want to hurt the feelings of friends (living or dead) or make them look bad. Even those who took an even handed approach were handicapped by the format of the time - no footnotes, little emphasis paid to individual achievements, no way of illustrating these books (or desire to do so) with photos the way the SAR book is done.

So as for the SAR, I was referring to your comment that they were unique in providing extra special support for the infantry. This is a great theme in Graves' book, and the level of detail provided in this book allows us to admire them for this. In other regiments, it is presumed that this level of commitment was not there. But is it possible other regimental historians simply felt this not important, concentrating instead on dates times and places instead? Many regimental histories written by officers right after the war tend to presume a lot of military knowledge on the part of the reader (Graves on the other hand takes the time to provide a "war manual" and detailed info on jargon and procedures, necessary even for modern military people to understand "how it was done" in WW II). In fact, I find many WW II histories written on the spot or in the ten or so years after to be virtually worthless in terms of understanding how a particular unit went about business - they are simple recitations of dates and a few names (mostly of officers). You've probably experienced the same thing.

So my point is that if every regiment was given the Graves' treatment (and with so many veterans gone now, it is far too late) no doubt perceptions of their failings would change (for the worse, possibly). Many units, I think, simply never got a decent day in the court of public opinion. I've seen too many regimental histories weigh in at 100 pages, with a dozen photos (2 or 3 of the officers in studio shots, and perhaps some generic photos in action, or of a bombed out forest 5 years after the war).

That being the case, do we really thing Max Hastings (for example) interviewed surviving vets of every single British, Canadian,m Polish, American and German regiment himself before writing OVERLORD? Hell, no! He relied at least to some degree on these same regimental histories.

[ 08-29-2001: Message edited by: Michael Dorosh ]

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Michael, great post, although I don't agree with all in it. Really I think, that one way of 'knowing' the past is to study it. Use plenty of sources, and you eventually understand it better. In this particular case - how many tanker histories have you read where the tankers said they withdrew to laager at night? 9th RTR, I am sure Tout mentions it too, Keith Jones, and others. How many have you read where the infantry explicity says that they were grateful for the tanks from a particular regiment staying with them since the other regiments did not do that? What was SOP? All these questions can be answered to some degree, and I have answered them for myself. This does not mean that I have answered them correctly, or that we will ever get to the bottom of 'The Truth™' (you could argue that there is no such thing as truth anyway, if you feel so inclined), but we can develop a reasonable certainty (for want of a better expression) about an historical event. The best we can ever do. Research always includes drawing on what has been written before, and using it to arrive at either new questions, or new answers.

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<BLOCKQUOTE>quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by Germanboy:

Michael, great post, although I don't agree with all in it. Really I think, that one way of 'knowing' the past is to study it. Use plenty of sources, and you eventually understand it better. In this particular case - how many tanker histories have you read where the tankers said they withdrew to laager at night? 9th RTR, I am sure Tout mentions it too, Keith Jones, and others. How many have you read where the infantry explicity says that they were grateful for the tanks from a particular regiment staying with them since the other regiments did not do that? What was SOP? All these questions can be answered to some degree, and I have answered them for myself. This does not mean that I have answered them correctly, or that we will ever get to the bottom of 'The Truth™' (you could argue that there is no such thing as truth anyway, if you feel so inclined), but we can develop a reasonable certainty (for want of a better expression) about an historical event. The best we can ever do. Research always includes drawing on what has been written before, and using it to arrive at either new questions, or new answers.<HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

I completely agree.

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Great discussion. It's a shame I only found this discussion today. In answer to the initial questions and the other discussion of historical write ups, I could point you to Carlo D'Este and his book 'Decision in Normandy' subtitled - The unwritten story of Montgomery and the Allied Campaign.

It covers the deployment of German armour mainly opposite the British front. Goes into the questions raised at the time about the British operations, and their perceived failures. (Even though the Germans could never make a reserve of Armoured divisions with which to launch a decisive blow as they wanted. They were used to plug holes in the lines more than once).

Describes in detail how the 'Master Plan' of Montgomery was shaped by events and how the write up of the history was 'shaped' also to fit what happened.

He gives casualties in men and material for the whole battle.

German equipment losses as follows.

Tanks - 1,300

Vehicles - 20,000

Assualt guns - 500

Field guns - 5,500

Aircraft - 3,545

Troop units : Equivalent of five Panzer divisions destroyed, six severely mauled.

Equivalent of 20 Infantry divisions eliminated, and 12 more (including 3 Para severely reduced).

He quotes the Supreme Commanders Report as his source for those figures.

Certainly not much effective German combat forces escaped across the Seine.

If anyone else has read the book I would be interested in their opinion of it as a good or otherwise summary of the Normandy Operations.

Regards, Pat.

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