Evaluation of the Performance of the U.S. Army

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Benoit Douville
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Evaluation of the Performance of the U.S. Army

Post by Benoit Douville » 29 May 2005 05:02

How would you evaluate the performance of the U.S. Army on the Western Front and including North Africa if you considered the fact that their first Battle at Kasserine Pass was a pretty tough defeat, the bloody Omaha beach at Normandy on D-Day, the defeat at Market-Garden, the tough Battle of the Hürtgen Forest, the first part of the Battle of the Bulge were they were badly beaten, the difficulty they had on the Italian Front against the Germans. It just seems to me that it was very tough for them. I know that Colonel Trevor H. Dupuis have made an exhaustive comparaison between the German and the American soldier in his work "The Battle of the Bulge" and he came to the conclusion that the average German soldier was better. Of course, the overall picture demonstrated that the U.S. Army conquered Western Europe with the help of the Western Allies, they did had great Generals like Patton, Bradley and McAuliffe and maybe the inexperience of a lot of young recruits against Germans veterans was difficut. I would like to hear your toughts on that fascinating subject.
Last edited by Benoit Douville on 29 May 2005 18:12, edited 1 time in total.

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Michael Emrys
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Post by Michael Emrys » 29 May 2005 09:56

This won't do justice to the subject...but very briefly:

They began as very green at nearly all levels, from raw privates right up to several of their generals, but they learned fast. Even before the end of the Tunisian campaign, they had improved their performance markedly (well, they could have hardly have gotten worse, could they?). By the time of Sicily they were, as some observers have noted, an army transformed.

This didn't mean that all the poor leadership had been weeded out, witness much of the Italian campaign or Hürtgen Forest. But I think you are mistaken to include Market Garden in their list of defeats. The performance of the only two American divisions in that battle was outstanding. The failure lay in launching this operation in the first place, and the blame for that lies with Montgomery and Eisenhower.

Omaha Beach was not a defeat, but a victory, albeit one gained at a heartbreaking cost. I think a more serious criticism is the lack of preparation for fighting in the hedgerow country after they got off the beach. This to me is inexplicable and inexcusable. But even here, the men on the ground soon worked out on their own the proper tactics and equipment to use, and the commanders saw to it that these lessons were quickly disseminated throughout 1st. Army.

Closing With the Enemy, by Michael D. Doubler, gives good accounts of how the US Army learned some of the lessons of battle and applied them.

Finally, WW II, perhaps more than any previous war, was a war of logistics and the Americans proved themselves masters of that from fairly early on, as much so and perhaps more so than any.

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Post by Larry D. » 29 May 2005 16:06

The only way a fair assessment could have been made would have been to pit a German division against an American division where everything was equal: exactly the same number of men, exactly the same weapons and equipment, exactly the same degree of training and experience, etc. Unleash them and see who prevails. That's the way gladiatorial contests were staged and a victor determined. Otherwise, any comparison is purely subjective with the loser justifiably complaining about an uneven playing field: "The Americans had more men than we did;" The Germans were more experienced;" The Americans had better air support;" The Germans had better tanks than we did;" etc., etc. I haven't read the Trevor Dupuy book, but he uses a quantitative method of analysis that takes into account many or most of the inequalities between two opposing sides, so perhaps his conclusion is about as fair and balanced as we can expect.

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Post by Michael Emrys » 29 May 2005 20:31

Except that war is not a game, and the question was not how did individual divisions stack up against each other, but how good was the American army. Someone has said that the art of strategy is never having to fight fair. I claim that over all the Allies were much better at this than the Axis, and that's why they won the war.

Each nation, on whichever side, had its strengths and weaknesses, and the different services belonging to each of those nations also had their strengths and weaknesses. The Allies won because they were better able to capitalize on their strengths and reduce their weaknesses.

I think that, at least up until the last six months of the war, the average German rifle company fought better than its American counterpart...if neither of them had any support. But by and large that's not how the war was fought. Both sides did their best to support their infantry, and when it came right down to it, the American company could usually call on more support than the German one. As I say, the Allies, and the US as part of that alliance, put together a winning combination. The Axis didn't.

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genstab
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analysis of US Army performance

Post by genstab » 30 May 2005 12:58

I was a sailor, not a soldier, but have read extensively on the land war and personalities on both sides and am currently compiling a German O/B manuscript for publication. I like the ideas and analysis you posted. I agree that the Germans were more experienced- and as a people liked the outdoor life that war entails more, which makes a big difference. The Allies won because of overwhelming production resulting in number of tanks and planes and availability of fuel as well as by getting better at strategy and tactics- as well as the supreme advantage of having the Soviet Union as an ally which (with an unconquered England as a base) probably was the only reason the Normandy invasion was possible.

An interesting book comparing the two armies in a more or less equal battle is Keith Bonn's "When the Odds Were Even" about the 1944 Vosges Mountain campaign. The US Army's disadvantage is it only had one mountain division (which was used in Italy) but the infantry divisions did okay. And as mentioned concerning the Arnhem operation, the US paratroop divisions were truly elite units- as good as the absent Marines.

Best regards,
Genstab

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Post by JonS » 30 May 2005 20:09

There are a few problems with "When the odds were even"

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Post by Larry D. » 30 May 2005 22:04

Mythos revisited: American Historians and German Fighting Power in WWII
by Thomas E. Nutter

Chapter Nine - Part I
KEITH BONN AND THE LEVEL PLAYING FIELD

I rest my case. Any attempt to make a comparison will be nit-picking to death by others. The entire process is subjective unless you can quantify the 1,000+ independent variables involved and then construct the world's biggest multiple regression equation and go lease a 100-hour time block on a mainframe somewhere to run it.

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When the Odds Were Even

Post by genstab » 31 May 2005 01:05

Huh? I'm not sure I speak Larry D's language, not having a M.Sc- but would you please elaborate, Jon S?

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Genstab (sailor, remember?)

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Post by JonS » 31 May 2005 11:12

Erm. I'm not quite sure what you want elaborated. I'll draw out a timeline though, that might help.
1) you referenced "When the odds were even" as an eponymous example.
2) I indicated that "WTOWE" isn't quite what it's cracked up to be, and gave a link to a fairly detailed, point-by-point, demolition of Bonn's work*
3) Larry D quoted the opening passage of that link, pointing out that it supports his earlier statement, to wit; comparing armed forces is a fraught topic, primarily because one mans fair fight is anothers easy peasy walkover. The bit about independant variables and regression is tongue in cheek (I think), but is exactly the kind of thing that's required before meaningful comparisons can be made.

That is, in fact, exactly the kind of thing that TDI have tried to do, and they've acheived some success. Although even there there is room to quibble over the way the samples were selected and analysed, and the conclusions drawn from it (or, perhaps, the way those conclusions are sometimes interpreted).

Hopefully that clarifies things.

Regards
JonS

* FWIW, I think that Nutters article gets far far too bound up in demonstrating just how much time he's spent in the German archives, and in other ways misses the woods for the trees, but is overall an ok look at - to quote from the introduction - "the historiography surrounding a controversial and emotionally charged subject, namely the comparative combat performance of the United States and German armies in the European Theatre in World War II." At the very least the overall article is a useful reality check.

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Post by Larry D. » 31 May 2005 12:23

An OUTSTANDING summation, JonS. You addressed all of the salient points.

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genstab
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When The Odds Were Even

Post by genstab » 31 May 2005 13:08

Okay, thanks, Larry and Jon. I didn't understand that was a link or where to find it but I have it now. I'll reply as soon as I've read it. Have a bunch of stuff to do this morning..

Genstab

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When the Odds Were Even

Post by genstab » 31 May 2005 17:41

Okay, guys, I see what you mean after reading Mr. Nutter's monograph. I have to agree.

I'm really appreciative that this work- and website- was called to my attention. As per Mr. Nutter's critique, I checked out particularly well the references to Dr. Bonn's varying from the OKH Kgl. of 13/10 and 5/11 as I am currently working on the reformatting of an exhaustive O/B manuscript and wanted to make sure that using "When the Odds Were Even" as an authority wasn't throwing me off. If anyone out there is doing O/B work you may be interested to know that he still may have been accurate with his O/Bs. I will cover each point Mr. Nutter makes with what I found:

1) He says that the 13/10 Kgl shows 58th Pz Korps (numbers are easier to work with than Roman numerals here) under 5th Pz Army, not 1st Army. I have Macdonald in "Siegfried Line Campaign" (US Army in WW2 series) saying 58th Pz Korps went to 1st Army on 16 Oct.

2) He says that 553. VGD was shown by Bonn in 58th Pz Korps but the Kgl said it wasn't. Clarke and Smith in "Riviera to the Rhine" (another in the US Army in WW2 series) say 553. VGD went to 58th Pz Korps on 17 Oct (by inference) when it replaced 15th Pz Gren.

3) HQ 47th Pz Korps was transferred to Army Group B on 17 Oct (Macdonald, "Siegfried Line Campaign" again) ending up in 1st Parachute Army (Altes & Veld, "Forgotten Battle: Overloon and the Maas Salient 1944-45" and Steiger, "Campaign in North-West Europe: Information From German Sourdces, Part III: German Defense Operations in the Sphere of First Canadian Army, 23 Aug- 8 Nov 44), Report # 69" by the Canadian Army Historical Section. With the departure of HQ 47th Pz Korps, 16th Pz Gren and 21st Pz Divs went to 89th AK, 19th Army (Clarke & Smith, "Riviera to the Rhine").

4) 89th AK went to 19th Army on 17 Oct (Macdonald, "Siegfried Line Campaign")

5) Mr. Nutter also mentions the Kgl. dated 5 Nov. This one is known not to be an original German Army General Staff Kgl. but created by the Bundsarchiv after the war. So we have to be careful here.

6) As for the 716th ID (static), Madeja's "German Army Order of Battle: Field Army and Officer Corps" (a reprinted 1945 US Army Military Intelligence compilation) says in its history that it was redesignated VGD in February 1945. Even if true, it was past the time Dr. Bonn's study addressed. Tessin doesn't refer to it as being redesignated though. Incidentally, Mr. Nutter errs when he initially refers to 716th as one of the coast defense (kuestenverteidigungs) divisions- there were only four of those and they were all in Norway- 210, 230, 270 and 280). None "guarded the French coasts". 716th was a static (bodenstaendige- Mr. Nutter misspelled it) Infantry division.

Now I'm not saying that Dr. Bonn was right or wrong in saying certain divisions or Corps were under certain Armies on the dates in contention. To be honest I didn't have time to get his book out of my basement storage as I am working on a manuscript myself. I just checked my O/Bs to see if they corresponded with reality per Mr. Nutter. As my O/Bs use periods of months and not exact dates they were in line with both authors. Anyone needing precise dates may get a bit of help from the ones I gave above or consult those sources for the exact info.

Again, thanks very much for putting this info on the Forum.

Best regards,
Genstab

PS- I just went back to the website and saw that Mr. Nutter continues in part B of Chapter 9 with Dr. Bonn and the 26/11/44 Kgl. That one wasn't an official German Army General Staff issued Kgl either. It's better to use the one of the same date from the OKW War Diary (KTB-OKW) for what it's worth.

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Post by Two Litre » 06 Jun 2005 10:25

Finally, WW II, perhaps more than any previous war, was a war of logistics and the Americans proved themselves masters of that from fairly early on, as much so and perhaps more so than any.
Just want to point out what was said about the 8th Army, North Africa:

Its advance from El Alamein to Tunisia was one of the greatest military logistical feats of all time

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Post by col. klink » 09 Jun 2005 15:55

There is a three volume set put out by the Mershon Center series on International Security and Foreign Policy called Military Effectiveness edited by Allan R. Millett and Williamson Murray. Each volume covers a different era; volume I covers WWI, volume II the interwar period 1919-1940 and volume III the Second WWII. Unfortunately, I only have the last volume. That volume contains an individual essay on the military effectiveness of each major military participant (the one major power lacking an essay is China) that examines their tactical, operational, strategic and political actions in the war. At the end of the third volume are a few essays that review some of the points made over the entire three volumes. One of these essays titled Challenge and Response at the Operational and Tactical Levels,1914-45 by Lt. Gen. John Cushman, US Army, Retired says that they asked the 21 authors of the essays in all three volumes to assign a grade to each of the major powers to evaluate their performance on the operational and tactical levels for each of the three periods discussed. Using the A-F grades as used in schools the US received the following grades for the Second World War; a B for tactical performance and an A for operational performance. Seeing as how the US military did not seem to stress the importance of the Operational level until after WWII, I find it interesting that the US seems to have done well in improvising an Operational doctrine. I also realize that these evaluations are of the complete armed forces and not just the ground forces if you are limiting the subject to just the Army ground forces and not the Army Air Force

I think it is hard to compare the US and German military against each other because with a few exceptions when they confronted each other, the Germans were usually on the defensive which does seem to have some advantages.

I've found DePuy's qualitative models interesting. I liked his book on the Battle of the Bulge but found his evaluation of the divisions in Italy interesting. There was only one allied division that he listed in his "top ten" divisions list. It was either the 85th or 88th Infantry Division. The other nine divisions he listed were german. These evaluations included reports by the Germans which treated the division as an elite unit though it was one of the Army "reserve" divisions raised during the mobilization and expansion. DePuy credited this division's greater effectiveness to the leadership and command of the unit and the fact that when out of the line the commander would order continuous training and exercises

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Post by Delta Tank » 09 Jun 2005 20:50

To all,
How would you evaluate the performance of the U.S. Army on the Western Front and including North Africa if you considered the fact that their first Battle at Kasserine Pass was a pretty tough defeat,
IIRC the Americans were busted up into regimental packages and placed under British command for the Battle at Kasserine Pass. The design of the US Army Infantry Division was that the entire division fought as a team, not as separate regiments. I don't have the facts in front of me but the 1st Division Commander, Major General Terry de la Mesa Allen was not even in command of anything when the battle occurred. Apparently breaking divisions up into regimental size units was in vogue during this period of the war in the British Army. I found when reading Monty by Hamilton that FM Montgomery put an end to that when he took over 8th Army. I think the big thing is that it is very hard to coordinate and mass your artillery when you don't have a DIVARTY to control the fires of the organic division and any supporting assets.
Oh, yes, I know there were other problems at Kasserine Pass, but please consider this one above as significant.
Mike

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