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Why Did It So Long For The Allies To Defeat Germany On The Western Front During WW2?

And even today people are reluctant to acknowledge, in a way that knowing soldiers like Field Marshall Lord Carver, whom I used to spend many hours talking to about this, that although bits of the British Army in World War 2 got pretty good towards the end, the British Army as an institution was a disaster in World War 2. It was the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force that earned most of the laurels.
--Max Hastings 

"I saw my enemies in Munich, and they are worms."
--Adolf Hitler

Allied victory in Normandy had more to do with the failings of the Nazi power structure than any magnificent feat of arms displayed on the battlefield, though the Americans certainly demonstrated more willingness to accept losses and risks than their British & Canadian counterparts.

 "There has been too much glorification of the campaign, and too little objective investigation".

Max Hastings, the brilliant British historian, is ruthlessly honest when he says the poor nature of American and British commanders and also the lack of fighting qualities in the general soldier were the reasons.

The Allied soldiers were unwilling to risk their lives. Their motto: "Let metal do the job rather then flesh." In other words, massive artillery bombardment to reduce enemy positions to dust then move forward. Also consider the fact that in 1944 and 1945, the Luftwaffe was no where to be seen and Allied planes ruled the skies.

The conclusion. Poor leadership and poor quality and motivational levels in the soldiers of American and British armies. Why else did it take so long to defeat Germany on the western front?

Max Hastings has dealt with subject in two of his books, Armageddon and Overlord.

David Irving (War Between The Generals) has given some more reasons for the delay in defeating the Germans.

Perhaps 15 years ago, I was watching a documentary on the battle of Stalingrad. During this gruesome broadcast, former German and Soviet soldiers provided running commentary on the savagery of that campaign and also confessed their grudging respect for the ferocity of their adversary on the battlefield. Both Germans and Soviets said their counterparts were brutal fighters.

At which point, the interviewer asked one of the former German soldiers, "And what of the American soldiers? How fearful were you of them?" The German looked at the camera, chuckled, then snarled, "Nobody had any respect for the American soldier."


From David Irving's "War Between the Generals"


A New York newspaper leaked word of the infamous "Morgenthau Plan" -- an outline for a draconian postwar occupation policy for Germany. In the summer of 1944, the U.S. War Department drew up a draft calling for a rather mild postwar occupation policy. Irving reveals that a certain Col. B. Bernstein of SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces) purloined a copy of the draft and, "bypassing regular army channels," sent a copy to Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, who "was outraged by the leniency of the War Department approach." Secretary of War Henry Stimson opposed Morgenthau's Carthaginian occupation program but, as Stimson said, "the Semites" carried the day, with Roosevelt and Churchill approving the Morgenthau Plan on 15 September 1944. Once the Germans got wind of the Morgenthau Plan, it confirmed what the "Unconditional Surrender" announcement of 1943 had already suggested, namely, that defeat by either the Soviets or the Anglo-Americans would lead to the utter destruction of Germany and the German people. Irving points out that, following the disclosure of the Morgenthau Plan, "German resistance, already stiffening, became desperate. The death toll among Allied soldiers increased."


Hastings in "Overlord" says (Page 144),

Earlier in the war Alan Brooke (A senior British commander) wrote gloomily, "half of our corps and divisional commanders are totally unfit for their appointments. If I were to sack them, I could find no better! They lack character, drive and power of leadership.

Famous British historian  Liddell Hart believed that there had been 'a national decline in boldness and initiative'.War-weariness had encouraged an attitude of 'let the machine win the battle'. The British were stubborn in defence, as the Germans acknowledged in their reports. But there was what Liddell Hart termed 'a growing reluctance to make sacrifices in attack'. 'When one goes deeply into the Normandy operations, it is disturbing and depressing to find how poor was the performance of the attacking force in many cases. Time after time they were checked or even induced to withdraw by boldly handled packets of Germans of greatly inferior strength. But for our air superiority, which hampered the Germans at every turn, the results would have been much worse. Our forces seem to have had too little initiative in infiltration, and also too little determination - with certain exceptions . . . Backing up was very poor and very slow.'
From D-Day By Antony Beevor (Page 237)


There was a saying in WW2
When the Germans shoot, The British duck
When the British shoot, the Germans duck
When the Americans shoot, everybody ducks.


The lack of Anglo-American military success came against a Wehrmacht that had already sustained frightful losses on the Eastern Front and in the Mediterranean. "The Russians made a decisive contribution to the Western war by destroying the best of the German army, killing some two million men ... It remains astounding that after three years of devastating losses in the east and the relentless bombing of Hitler's industries, Germany could still produce and equip an army in the west capable of causing the gravest difficulties to the best that Britain and America could throw into the war."

Max Hastings reminds the reader that "it has been the central theme of this book (Overlord) that the inescapable reality of the battle for Normandy was that whenever Allied troops met Germans on anything like equal terms, the Germans nearly always prevailed." This was because "The Allies in Normandy faced the finest fighting army of the war, one of the greatest the world has ever seen. This is a simple truth that some soldiers and writers have been reluctant to acknowledge."


The German Army functioned despite the failing of its leaders. (By 1944 Hitler was increasingly losing touch with reality; his operational interventions invariably made bad situations worse.) Some German soldiers fought because of an unshakable faith in Hitler's leadership or a fanatical commitment to Nazism's racial ideology; others fought out of professional pride or because they were loyal to their comrades; but most of all, Germans fought because they feared both the enemy's wrath and the heavy hand of the SS and military police. Even in the war's final days, with the Allied armies just a few streets away, the regime's agents were hanging alleged deserters and shooting anyone who failed to display sufficient confidence in victory.

In comparison to his admiration for the military qualities of the Wehrmacht, Hastings is much less enthusiastic about the leadership and fighting power of the Allies. He acknowledges Eisenhower's managerial and diplomatic skills, common sense and willingness to take responsibility, but has a low opinion of his abilities as a strategist. Montgomery was, Hastings believes, a superb organizer but an uninspired battlefield commander. Patton, the most creative and aggressive of the lot, had been disqualified from high command by his personal failings. Hastings convincingly argues that the Allied generals' most serious failure was not some individual blunder like the disastrous Arnhem campaign but rather their persistent inability to exploit Germany's military weakness. The result was a six-month stalemate in the west that prolonged the war and greatly enhanced the Soviet Union's strategic advantage in the east.

Hastings recognizes that the generals' failure to knock Germany out of the war in late 1944 reflected the kind of armies they led as much as their own deficiencies as leaders. The British and American armies were composed of citizen soldiers, who were usually prepared to do their duty but were also eager to survive. ''These were,'' Hastings writes, ''citizens of democracies, imbued since birth with all the inhibitions and decencies of their societies.'' Such peacetime virtues are not easily transformed into military effectiveness. James Gavin, whose airborne division was among the finest units in any army, filled his diary with harsh comments about the average soldier's military quality. ''If our infantry would fight,'' he wrote in January 1945, ''this war would be over by now. . . . Everybody wants to live to a ripe old age.'' When Winston Churchill complained to Montgomery about the British Army's lack of initiative, Montgomery replied by recalling the carnage on the Western Front during World War I: ''It was you, Prime Minister, who told me that we must not suffer casualties on the scale of the Somme.''



 Referring to the French town of Carentan, Montgomery wrote to Brooke: "I see SHAEF communique said yesterday that the town had been liberated. Actually, it has been completely flattened and there is hardly a house intact; all the civilians have fled. It is a queer sort of liberation." Irving explains that "French folk saw only the Allied battleships and bombers and tanks pounding their towns into ruins. In a reflexive act of self-preservation, many of them seized arms to aid Rommel's army against the death-dealing newcomers."


Hastings argues that Allied armies (UK and US) fought under conditions that forced caution and an attention to casualties. Being democracies, their militaries operated under different constraints than the German and Red armies which instead relied upon fanaticism and ruthless disregard for the value of an individual's life. That the allies produced no commanders of German or Soviet caliber is explained by the fact that they could not engage in East-front style operations, where a butcher's bill of hundreds of thousands of casualties was "normal." Hastings even states that a general like Zhukov would have been decidedly ordinary had he been forced to adopt the constraints the US and the UK operated under.
Armageddon: Battle for Germany by Max Hastings


Much of the British army spent four years training in England, far from any battlefront, between 1940 and 1944, a situation which roused Stalin's contempt and even caused lifted eyebrows among the more courteous Americans. In private, there were plenty of Americans who were prepared to say to each other in 1942 and 1943 that the British seemed content to do remarkably little militarily to end the war, save wait for the Americans and Russians to do it for them.

The British people, and their leaders, were terribly bruised by the early defeats of Second World War, right through to the disasters in the Far East in the first months of 1942. I believe some historians, in their assessments of the second half of the war, have given too little weight to the impact upon Churchill and Alanbrooke of the British army's failures in 1940, 1941 and 1942. Both these men had been given good reasons to question the effectiveness of the British fighting soldier against his German or Japanese counterpart. Both were cautious- though Alanbrooke less so- in venting openly their doubts. But Churchill and Alanbrooke's strategic views in 1942 and 1943 were greatly influenced by their respect for the German army's record against the British, and indeed after the Torch landings in North Africa in November 1942, against the green Americans also. We should never forget that in 1940 and 1941, the German and Japanese command of the air were widely cited to explain British defeats on the ground. Yet in 1943, and even more in 1944, the Allies possessed air superiority on a scale the Luftwaffe and the Japanese air force never dreamed of. This proved helpful on the battlefield, but it did not prevent the Axis armies from mounting dogged and painfully effective resistance.

50 years on, it may seem to the student of the archives of the Second World War that Allied strategy and tactics were characterized by wariness and caution, in contrast to the extraordinary German and Japanese record of boldness. It may certainly be noted, that when the Allies ventured upon a daring stroke, as at Dieppe and Anzio and Arnhem, they were terribly punished by the German responses. Today, we have long ago parted company with the stereotypes of 1950s war films, which portrayed the German soldier as a square-headed plodder, whose sentries were always prepared to turn their backs to allow the swift British commando to dispose of them. The reality, as a host of scholarly studies have emphasised, is that Hitler's army was one of the finest fighting forces the world has ever seen, however odious the cause in which it fought. Its most noteworthy characteristic in most of its campaigns was speed of response to the unexpected, and a capacity for local initiative far in excess of what was expected of most of its Allied counterparts.

In January 1944, when D-Day was being planned, Hitler deployed 179 divisions on the Eastern front, 26 in south east Europe, 22 in Italy, 16 in Scandinavia, 53 in France and the Low Countries. By 6 June, there were 59 in France and the Low Countries, 28 in Italy and still 165 in Russia. 18 Panzer divisions remained in the east against 15 in the West. These raw figures mask immense differences in strength and fighting power between individual formation. The crude truth remains that the weight of the German army was still in Russia.

Overlord: The Battle of Normandy by Max Hastings (Pages 144, 150)

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Jeff Fefferson said...

Hastings missed the point - we won.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Fefferson --

Yes, the Allies won in spite of themselves.

Jeff Fefferson said...

Please elaborate.

Anonymous said...

He's saying that even though 2/3's of the big 3 were shit at fighting, they were smart enough to be cautious while the soviets did nearly all of the work in Europe.

jke8604 said...

It's easy to say at the tactical level a is better than b. In reality , you have larger considerations than which tank was better then the other. When the Germans built a tank, for instance, they could put it on a train and have it in action in a week. Same with the Soviets. The USA had to ship all it's equipment thousands of miles, protect the equipment and land it on enemy controlled beaches. The industrial capacity to transport the equipment to Europe alone was the equivalent of 20 divisions. The specialized landing equipment built by the Western Allies was and has never been duplicated in numbers or capability. What could have been built with the resources that went into the 24 Essex class fleet carriers? 34 escort carriers?
TEL, look it up, it's why the P-51 ruled the skies over Berlin in 1944, the P-47's and Typhoons made the daylight movement of the Wehrmacht a very risky proposition.
So a tiger tank had a 6:1 kill ratio? Dresden was burned to the ground, Berlin bombed night and day from England, and ME262's had to be towed by horses to the runaway for lack of fuel.
Amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics.

"Get there firstest with the mostest"

ScooterAZ said...

Just because the Americans shipped their equipment in doesnt mean a thing. What is being said in this article is that the American and Brit forces were reticent to keep fighting,while the Germans and Japanese were determined to fight come hell or high water, the death,if need be.
Also,they did it well,despite their lack of rations,lack of time off for rest,and lack of warm clothing in the winter campaigns.They f ought against 27 different enemies all at the same time,on different fronts. Thinned out as they were,it still took 6 years to take them down.
THAT is one hell of an accomplishment on the German's part.To keep that many enemies at bay for that long.If you are unwilling to acknowledge their tenacity,fighting abilities,and dedication,you are a fool.

Jan Tschierschky said...

WW2 56 million death, mainly combat troops. 3.3 Million German, approx 4.8 Axis forces Combat (60% final Year of war), allied losses combat approx 22 million (Europe). When German veterans talk about allies in the west and is abilities. Than is talk about Jabos ( fighterbombers) and artillery. Fighting ability not so much

Anonymous said...

I think one thing that also has to be taken into account is that the Americans were fighting on foreign soil... Not their homelands as were the Germans and Russians at various points in the war. I would think that fighting for your very homes and land would add quite a bit to one's ferocity and willingness to fight and die.

Anonymous said...

"We repeat. WE ARE NOT PRO-NAZI."

This is the assertion at the top of the page... a page that then almost immediately uses David Irving - a convicted Holocaust Denier and Nazi sympathizer - as a source.

It is also of interest that to put forward their argument - inferior fighting ability of the Western Allies - the page utilizes Max Hastings for the most part: more of a writer than a historian

Why not use some professional historians to make an argument, although it would seem that challenge may be too hard since most - while acknowledging the flaws of the Western Allies - highlight their strengths too and highlight the numerous (nearly daily in big operations) occasions were Western troops went hand to hand with their German counterparts.

Artillery may have played an important role in the tactical way the West fought their battles, but artillery alone does not win them: troops on the ground having to clear out foxholes, houses, trenches, ditches, hedgerows is what did.

The simple point is: expand your research to more historians, take an objective look at what happened. It was not all artillery and fighterbombers, that is a myth.

Anonymous said...

It is interesting to see well founded critique of this article (highlighting the problems with using cherry picked and in one case discredited sources), are suppressed by the blog author.

tim ward said...

The land armies of the western allies were not as good as their German opponents. But they were almost as good. Coupled with overwhelming airpower, the effectiveness of which military and civilian German leaders seem to be almost of one mind on, that is, it made all the difference, was enough to do our part in bring down Nazism.

Jeff Fefferson said...


Look at the number of casualties suffered by each combatant. This is the only true measure of who was best.

Jeff Fefferson

tim ward said...

I freely admit the German Army & Waffen SS were the best.
It was, I believe, the late historian John Keegan who talked about one German soldier being the equivalent to three British or American soldiers, and five Russian.
They were unbelievable.
My point about airpower is simply that people like Fritz Thyssen, Herman Goering, Adolf Galland, Gerd von Runstedt, and other military and civilian leaders all seemed to zero in on the air superiority of the allies as being the crucial advantage that was their downfall.

Anonymous said...

This can all be argued until we are blue in the face. But ponder this: 1.) Roosevelt and Churchill faced re-elections; Stalin & Hitler did not. It can be argued that this had a trickle down effect, influencing decisions made by the military. Dead soldiers don't vote, familes of dead soldiers (and sailors) do. 2.) No debate Russia fought the hardest war, but the U.S. truly fought, and won, a two front war. Yes Britain fought a two front war also, but not to the extend of the U.S. 3.) And give the German soldier his due, it took almost the entire world to defeat him, despite his leaders.

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