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Looking for a good book, WW2, British battles


Jgstrick
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From my reading, I've gotten the idea lately, that the British were a much more professional and well led infantry/armor force, than the US was, in WW2. I'm looking for books that can either support or debunk this new idea of mine.

I know the British had an army with a tradition that was quite old, and the US army was fairly new. It interests me that the South, in the Civil War could outfight the Union, and the generals in WW 1 and 2, especiallly, seem as clueless as the Union generals did in the Civil War. Also, looking at the Vietnam war and the current mini-quagmiraes in Iraq and Afghanistan, I'm looking for examples of better strategy and tactics from our long ago brothers in Britian.

Later, I hope to find some reading on what made the Germans as effective as they were, especially in the latter part of WW 2, when the cream of their armed forces were pretty well spent and they were working with the last of their military able labor pool.

In general, I'm trying to figure out why we, the US, seem to have such an ineffetive officer core (?), general staff (?), or whatever. Or to find out if all armies are 80% fools and our armed forces just seem worse cause I know more about them than other countries armed forces.

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Hmm. Jgstrick, I'm not sure the US does have an ineffective officer corps or general staff, but if your economy is significantly based on the maintenance of Empire and the manufacture and sale of arms (as the British was, as the US is), you can expect the domestic political agenda to lean towards convincing the populace of the worthiness of conducting wars, whether those wars are justly fought or not. This leads you to the point where you're fighting wars you really shouldn't be, on occasion at least.

Most populations are rightfully mistrustful of military rule for themselves - they understand that the incidences of abuse of power are quite likely more frequent and generally terminal in nature: witness Burma and its junta. The populace ends up either in slave-like submission, hardly fertile ground for enterprise or innovation, or in active [armed] opposition. A national culture that doesn't recognise going into the military as the most rewarding of careers is unlikely to attract better than average ability to its officer corps - I think this is why you perceive the US military efforts as below par: people of average ability are being asked to perform with near perfect execution of their duties.

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From my reading, I've gotten the idea lately, that the British were a much more professional and well led infantry/armor force, than the US was, in WW2. I'm looking for books that can either support or debunk this new idea of mine.

Doubler - Closing with the enemy

Harrison Place - Training in the British Army (or something like that)

French - Raising Churchills Armies

Ashley Hart - Montgomery and Colossal Cracks

Bidwell - Firepower

Gooderson - Air power at the battlefront

Reid - No Holding Back

None of them are filled with tales of derring do (except Reid's book). All of them explore the nuts and bolts of how armies - in the list of the above, mostly the British army - went about their business. The abve list is also heavily weighted towards 1944-45 and north West Europe.

Changing tack a bit; A lot UK commanders (and some Americans) were distinclty underwhelmed by the US performance in North West Africa, and that coloured their perceptions for a long time afterwards. I think that it is from there - NWA and the British perceptiosn developed there - that the 'unprofessional' tag got stuck on the US forces.

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Changing tack a bit; A lot UK commanders (and some Americans) were distinclty underwhelmed by the US performance in North West Africa, and that coloured their perceptions for a long time afterwards. I think that it is from there - NWA and the British perceptiosn developed there - that the 'unprofessional' tag got stuck on the US forces.

The US Army performance in the early days of the Pacific campaign was also woeful. Not surprising given the lack of experience and the 'shake and bake' officer corps of 1942.

But to paraphrase someone else, the Americans made mistakes and learned from them, whereas the British made mistakes and kept repeating them again and again.

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From my reading, I've gotten the idea lately, that the British were a much more professional and well led infantry/armor force, than the US was, in WW2. I'm looking for books that can either support or debunk this new idea of mine.

Brute Force - John Ellis

Crucible of War - Barrie Pitt

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I would like to endorse Jon's list and add to it Eisenhower's Lieutenants by Russel E. Weighley. This book analyzes the generals who served under Eisenhower's command in the ETO down to the level of corps commanders. It also devotes some space to how the US Army that fought that campaign was created.

Changing tack a bit; A lot UK commanders (and some Americans) were distinclty underwhelmed by the US performance in North West Africa, and that coloured their perceptions for a long time afterwards. I think that it is from there - NWA and the British perceptiosn developed there - that the 'unprofessional' tag got stuck on the US forces.

I think that is about right too. The British generals had certain behaviors they looked for in deciding whether a soldier was "professional" or not, and for the most part the Americans did things differently. What some of the top British generals could not seem to get their heads around was the idea that for fighting the kind of war they were faced with, the American style of command for the greater part worked, and sometimes worked better than the British style.

A lot of the early criticisms that the Brits had for the Americans was right on, but they failed to note when those criticisms were no longer accurate. In Rommel's words, more or less: "Never a greener army ever took to the field...nor one that learned so quickly."

There were some lessons that the British army never seemed to get or to put into practice. Mostly, their top men were at least as good as any in any army, but the army was much too slow to adopt a doctrine that was adequate to the circumstances they were faced with. Added to that, the best parts of the doctrine they did have was often not sufficiently inculcated in their junior and field grade officers and NCOs. The book by French makes this point over and over. Some of the junior and field grade officers were exceptionally good, and many others could have been if they had been encouraged to be so. Sadly they were not, and the really good ones were often shunted into minor posts.

Well, this is a large and complex question and I can't do it justice here. But if you start in on Jon's list, you may begin to see what I am getting at.

Michael

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[quote=

Changing tack a bit; A lot UK commanders (and some Americans) were distinclty underwhelmed by the US performance in North West Africa, and that coloured their perceptions for a long time afterwards. I think that it is from there - NWA and the British perceptiosn developed there - that the 'unprofessional' tag got stuck on the US forces.

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I would like to endorse Jon's list and add to it Eisenhower's Lieutenants by Russel E. Weighley. This book analyzes the generals who served under Eisenhower's command in the ETO down to the level of corps commanders. It also devotes some space to how the US Army that fought that campaign was created.

I think that is about right too. The British generals had certain behaviors they looked for in deciding whether a soldier was "professional" or not, and for the most part the Americans did things differently. What some of the top British generals could not seem to get their heads around was the idea that for fighting the kind of war they were faced with, the American style of command for the greater part worked, and sometimes worked better than the British style.

A lot of the early criticisms that the Brits had for the Americans was right on, but they failed to note when those criticisms were no longer accurate. In Rommel's words, more or less: "Never a greener army ever took to the field...nor one that learned so quickly."

There were some lessons that the British army never seemed to get or to put into practice. Mostly, their top men were at least as good as any in any army, but the army was much too slow to adopt a doctrine that was adequate to the circumstances they were faced with. Added to that, the best parts of the doctrine they did have was often not sufficiently inculcated in their junior and field grade officers and NCOs. The book by French makes this point over and over. Some of the junior and field grade officers were exceptionally good, and many others could have been if they had been encouraged to be so. Sadly they were not, and the really good ones were often shunted into minor posts.

Well, this is a large and complex question and I can't do it justice here. But if you start in on Jon's list, you may begin to see what I am getting at.

Michael

You all may be right, but I think what I've read about the Battle of the Bulge, you may be to kind.

During the BotB, Hodges, Bradley and Eisenhower all showed they were unable to grasp the magnitude of the breakout, and Hodges and Bradley were just horrid in handling their responsibilties. Patton seemed to at least to have a plan for how he could counterattack, but even he had his divisions fighting on a broad front toward Bastogne instead of using his forces on a narrow front.

During the defensive recovery phase of the battle, neither Hodges, who didn't even know where most of his troops were, or Bradley, who was hiding from German assasination squads had much to do with the battle.

If anything, the BotB showed at least Hodges, Bradley and Eisenhower had learned very little since the N. Africa campaign.

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A lot of the current fashion in writing about the British Army in WW2 proceeds from the assumption that British officers are essentially chinless wonders with bad teeth, promoted on family connections instead of operational competence. This I think follows the fashion curve shown by similar attitudes towards the commanders who won WW1 at a similar remove of time, about half a century after the war, and a wave of writers who lack fundamental sympathy with their subjects and have grown up all unaware of the essential difficulty of conducting continental warfare against a first-class enemy. Monty has replaced Haig as the main hate figure, and the detestation is perhaps a trifle less virulent, but you should have no difficulty in finding "de-bunking" style books, with Ellis' "Brute Force" being a fine example. Probably the original and best "de-bunking" book would be Corelli Barnett's "The Desert Generals".

A couple of books from the older school that I would encourage anyone to read, and which give a rather more favourable picture of British generalship in circumstances of scarce resources and a demanding environment, are Bryant's "The Turn of the Tide" and Slim's "Defeat into Victory".

As to the question of the military efficiency of American leadership as compared to German, I would recommend van Creveld's "Fighting Power". It should, however, always be borne in mind that the American achievement in WW2 -- growing an Army of 175,000 men in 1939 to 8.2 million in 1945, and transporting it across the world's two mightiest oceans to help inflict upon the Axis powers a defeat more thorough than any since the destruction of Carthage -- would be accounted a miracle, but for the fact that it actually happened. It seems a bit silly to criticise any of these men, leaders or led, for being "unprofessional". They were what Stephen Ambrose called "Citizen Soldiers", and Shakespeare called "Warriors for the working day". As George Macdonald Fraser said about his section mates in 14th Army, "They were not professionals; they were experts".

All the best,

John.

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