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  •  Patton ate his words at Metz. (37+ / 0-)

    In the battles on the French-German frontier in the autumn of 1944, U.S. forces under Patton chased the shattered remnants of the Wehrmacht east into the Metz fortified region. The grossly outnumbered German forces managed to reoccupy some of the fortresses they had built in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian war, most notably Fort Driant. The disastrous results are chronicled here. The anemic and under-equipped German forces stopped Patton's over-confident forces cold in their tracks due to the huge 'force multiplier' effect of strong fortifications. Compounded by growing supply shortages and a very rainy autumn, this led to a bloody stalemate and halted U.S. forces from any further significant advance, and paved the way for the subsequent massive German counter-offensive through the Ardennes, popularly known as the Battle of the Bulge. One can argue persuasively that effective use of these fortifications by the Germans in late 1944 pushed the eventual border between U.S./Western and Soviet occupation zones about 100 miles further west than it would otherwise have been, with immense ramifications up to the fall of the Berlin wall.

    George S. Patton is known by contemporary folks mostly via George C. Scott's vivid but substantially inaccurate movie portrayal. The impression the movie gives is of a brilliant but mercurial commander champing at the bit, being unfairly held back by less capable superiors.

    The reality was a lot less sanguine. Patton was very fortunate in several of his campaigns. His greatest victory, at Falaise, was largely achieved through the brutal sacrifice of thousands of British & American tank and infantry soldiers who bled the German forces in Normandy white, until the front collapsed at the first push of Operation Cobra, making Patton look a lot better than he was. And more thoroughly professional American combat generals like Omar Bradley and Matthew Ridgeway had a justifiably skeptical view of Patton's combat skills. Patton had an unprofessional disdain for the tedious but critical details of logistics and disposition that were less glamorous than swashbuckling maneuvers, but more decisive at the end of the day.

    •  Interesting (18+ / 0-)

      I never knew that.

      My dad had Patton Jr. for an instructor at armor school, but he refused to talk about his father. He would just say "The museum's over there...."

      If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

      by Major Kong on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 07:01:43 PM PST

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    •  My father was involved in a battle in the Voges (20+ / 0-)

      foa a town and fortress called Bitche. It was the first time in history, I believe, the place had actually been captured by an opposing force (in this case the Germans were defending). His division had cards made up calling them all Honorary Sons of Bitche....I always found that funny as a kid!

      •  44th Infantry Division? (7+ / 0-)

        All things in the sky are pure to those who have no telescopes. – Charles Fort

        by subtropolis on Thu Dec 20, 2012 at 11:30:42 PM PST

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        •  French Built the World's Greatest Forts (14+ / 0-)

          Too few Americans appreciate the high art French miitary planners have always taken fortress design to.  One has only to think of the lines of forts which defended the French northeastern frontier as far back as the Thirty Years War during the times of the musketeers to Vauban under Louis XIV to the Rivieres Line of which the Verdun fortress was one site to the Maginot Line.  They expend money for blood and buy time in war.  Worse investments have been made.

          "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

          by PrahaPartizan on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 05:58:52 AM PST

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          •  Don't forget Carillon. (8+ / 0-)

            although you may know it better as Ticonderoga.


            •  World's Most Heavily Fortified Region (8+ / 0-)

              Ask anyone what the world's most heavily fortified region (or at least the most expensively fortified) was - in the mid-18th century.  I suspect almost no one would say the borders between New France and the British colonies on the eastern American seaboard, but it was.  Carillon was merely one of the more notable examples.  Of course, the world's first real world war (known in the US as the French & Indian War and elsewhere as the Seven Year's War) started because George Washington blundered into the French and opened fire, acting as the spark to light the powder keg of long simmering disputes between the British and the French to turn into a globe-spanning conflagration.  

              "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

              by PrahaPartizan on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 02:30:40 PM PST

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          •  The whole "French are lousy fighters" ignores (8+ / 0-)

            the amazing military establishment the French had in the 17th and 18th centuries. French military engineers basically invented modern siege warfare.

            Every 17th century to early 19th century fort you see crumbling on the shores of the U.S. or some Caribbean island, from Jamestown to Jamaica,  was based on French designs.

          •  Maginot line is routinely derided now, but... (5+ / 0-)

            the French really had little choice. WWI inflicted horrific casualties, which greatly depressed France's birth rate in the following decades. Add Germany's much larger population, and the French were looking at a severe manpower disadvantage. The apparent lesson of WWI was that attrition and weight of numbers tell in the end. It's easy to criticize the Maginot defense line in hindsight, asserting that the French should have spent the money on more tanks, but the same imbalance in troop strength would still apply.

            The French regarded the Maginot fortifications as a way to limit their casualties, with French troops protected under meters of concrete while German forces broke their strength against the line, redressing the imbalance in numbers. The failure of the French in 1940 resulted from a rashly conceived defensive plan that pushed their best mobile units far into Belgium, incompetence on the part of several divisional commanders in the Ardennes region, and some very bad luck, more than failure of the Maginot defenses per se. A more dynamic commander than the lethargic Gamelin would also have helped a lot.

            •  The Hollow Years (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Massconfusion, Jay C, devtob

              Indeed the depleted classes of men available to the French in the period just before the start of WW2 always lay heavy on French planners.  One does need to recognize that they realized in the mid-1920s that they would face that challenge and begin the process 15 years before the crisis period to try to solve it successfully.  Except for command mistakes, they actually achieved those aims.

              One could argue that, rather than a more dynamic commander than Gamelin, the French would have benefited from a less dynamic commander.  Gamelin bet France's future on that very risky rush into Belgium, mostly be choosing to use the one reserve army available to form part of the active defensive line.  That left the French with no strategic reserve in case the German offensive plan for the campaign differed from what the French though they were facing.  That is precisely what happened when the Germans came through the Ardennes and surprised the French totally.

              Corap did not lead the 9th Army very well, and Huntzinger, despite his reputed brilliance, did not do a very good job with the 2nd Army either.  The Germans hitting the seam between those two French armies at Sedan was good luck, as was the fact that the absolute best German units (1st and 2nd Panzer) struck some of the worst French Class B divisions made up of out-of-shape reservists armed with obsolescent weapons (lighter artillery than current) or lacking anti-tank and anti-aircraft artillery altogether.  Once the panzer tore a twenty-mile wide hole in French line, no reserve existed to put it back together.

              Interestingly, in my reading on this campaign, I've seen where the French planners who had examined a potential advance through the Ardennes predicted almost to the hour just how long it would take the Germans to be on the Meuse.  Unfortunately, the stove pipes were strong in the French army during that period.  

              "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

              by PrahaPartizan on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 08:06:12 PM PST

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              •  French troops in Belgium fought quite well; (0+ / 0-)

                the French cavalry commander Rene Prioulx was very competent, and in fact stopped the German armored advance cold with heavy losses. This despite commanding a force with very little experience in large scale mobile operations compared to the highly trained German units.

                The tragedy is that by sheer luck the very best German commanders (Guderian, Rommel) faced the very worst French commanders in the Ardennes, and the French response to the German breakthrough at Sedan fatally sluggish. Almost everything went right for the Germans, and everything wrong for the French. It easily could have gone the other way. Only in retrospect does it seem inevitable.

        •  100th...the Century (1+ / 0-)
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    •  And don't forget Patton's secret weapon (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      MPociask, ybruti, devtob

      General Patton profited well from the Allies breaking the German code.  As he broke out of Falaise and across France, he used the detailed information of German troop concentrations and tactics to foil the enemy time again.

    •  I Once Read Some of Patton's Writing (8+ / 0-)

      On the subject of infantry combat. He argued that "crawling on their bellies" was not how American soldiers should advance under fire. They should be standing, moving forward steadily, firing all the while. I came away thinking "this guy was batshit insane."

      It was a long time ago, but ISTR it was in one of the appendixes to an edition of his book War As I Knew It.

      My books, both e- and tree:

      by JDRhoades on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 05:17:11 AM PST

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    •  Patton: The Updated Cavalry General (5+ / 0-)

      Eisenhower kept Patton around because he knew that the Allies would need a cavalry general able to exploit a breakthrough in the German lines and chivvy them to their defeat.  Patton's clear specialty was exploitation.  His success in an assault battle was the standard for the American commanders of the time.

      "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

      by PrahaPartizan on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 06:05:34 AM PST

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    •  Patton is never liked (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Jay C, PinHole, mightymouse, devtob

      either hated or loved.  My uncle served with 3rd Army in the 50's.  The old timers there still swore up and down that he'd been killed by the OSS to keep him from cleaning up the Soviets.

      Probably it was his talent for pushing green soldiers to unbelievable limits that was his legacy.

      It's said that military schools are the places where we teach the officers of tomorrow how to win the battles of yesterday.  Patton and many other US generals had been schooled deeply in the American Civil War.  That may well be why he used his cavalry (armor) so well.

      “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” Thomas Jefferson

      by markdd on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 08:34:40 AM PST

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    •  There were approximately (difficult to be.. (7+ / 0-)

      ..accurate due to attrition) 11 German armoured formations facing the British and Canadian armies on the Caen Front, versus 2 opposite the American this stage there were no more reserves available to Britain, and understrength armoured regiments were being broken up and the survivors distributed to the rest (see, 'Mailed Fist', John Foley)

      This lack of manpower can, in part be attributed to 'Bomber' Harris's insane attempt to win the war by area bombing Germany, and 'consuming' (either dead or PoW) enormous numbers of military-age youth. The only fighting force which had a higher casualty rate than RAF Bomber Command was the German U-Boat force!

      Precision NIGHT attacks, as practised by No 5 Group Lancasters, and marked at low-level by the Mosquitoes of No 627 Sqn and others, finally showed the way it should have been done, but by the time this technique was perfected, the war was virtually over.

      Harris refused to go for choke-point industries, or do more than give some of his effort to bombing oil targets.

      As you can gather I am NOT a supporter of Harris!

      'Per Ardua Ad Astra'

      by shortfinals on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 09:24:23 AM PST

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      •  Harris regarded civilian mass murder as... (6+ / 0-)

        a feature, not a bug. He was delighted by the firestorm that destroyed Hamburg, and tried without success to repeat the effect over and over, until Dresden late in the war.

        The allied air war on Germany basically achieved two things: it diverted a massive amount of German war production & manpower into otherwise useless anti-aircraft guns, and it ground the lethally skillful Luftwaffe into mincemeat, leaving the German army defenseless against air attack.

        This limited accomplishment was at enormous financial and manpower cost, and it had almost no effect on German industrial production until the end of 1944, partly due to the mind-bogging failure to specifically target Germany's very vulnerable oil production. As it was, the tiny fraction of the bombing effort aimed at oil production virtually paralyzed the Wehrmacht by late 1944.

        •  The Soviets capturing the Romanian oil fields (4+ / 0-)

          in August 1944 did far more to paralyze the German Armed Forces than the bombing, in my view.

          -8.38, -7.74 My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world. - Jack Layton

          by Wreck Smurfy on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 03:05:10 PM PST

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          •  It's tragic, really. (6+ / 0-)

            At the end of WWII, the U.S. armed forces analyzed their performance and that of their opponents in the just concluded conflict. It's fascinating reading. The U.S. Army ground forces were brutally candid and forthright in their analysis, accurately noting that German ground forces were roughly twice as effective per man, with the exception of highly trained airborne divisions and a handful of extremely well led armored units. Part of the immense combat effectiveness of current U.S. ground forces is a result of absorbing some of the German lessons about unit cohesion and training.

            The U.S. Army Air Force, by contrast, analyzed its own performance through rose-colored glasses, grossy exaggerating the effectiveness of aerial bombing in general and strategic bombing in particular. This was intentional, part of a successful campaign to become a separate branch of the armed forces. They were aided by the scary new reality of nuclear weapons. The truth was that the U.S. strategic bombing campaign was relatively ineffectual in hampering German war production. This was partly due to poor bombing accuracy, partly due to German success at dispersing and concealing factories, and partly due to grossly incompetent target selection. (Example: huge losses were sustained in futile attacks on ball-bearing factories, when Germany could easily buy ball bearings from Sweden & Switzerland to replace any lost production). The air campaign did succeed in destroying the effectiveness of the Luftwaffe through grinding attrition, easily its greatest accomplishment. And bombing greatly reduced German oil production in the last 6 months of the war, but this could actually have been decisive if a concerted attempt to destroy
            Germany's extremely vulnerable petroleum industry had been undertaken. Giant, fragile, impossible-to-conceal oil refineries would have been quite easy to destroy compared to ball bearing factories. Yet no concentrated effort to do so was undertaken until very near the end of the war, by which time it was increasingly irrelevant.

             But the exaggerated assessment of strategic bombing led directly to U.S. folly in Vietnam.

            •  Great reply. The thing is, though, that oil (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              PrahaPartizan, devtob

              refineries weren't actually all that vulnerable to bombing, for three reasons:
              1) The engineers that designed them recognized the day-to-day risk of fire, so built them out of non-flammable materials, mostly concrete and steel. Containment ponds and other features were standard due to ordinary risks, let alone bombing;
              2) Large and effective fire-fighting infrastructures were, again, SOP. This included weed and brush control, on-site fire-fighting equipment, and other measures both passive and aggressive;
              3) High explosive bombs rely on blast effect to do damage, and refineries offered few possibilities of blast containment. They were open to the sky, large networks of pipes and girders and such, where blast could dissipate easily. Much the same effect as when the Germans tried to bomb the radar towers in England in 1940.

              Nearly all the leaders in WWII just assumed that oil fields and oil refineries would be easy targets for bombers because they contained large amounts of volatile substances. This assumption led to some of the strategic directions the war took (like Hitler trying to hold on to the Crimea because the Soviets could use it to bomb the Romanian oil refineries.)

              But they were mistaken. Refineries were hardened targets, by their very nature. Oil fields, even more so.

              -8.38, -7.74 My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world. - Jack Layton

              by Wreck Smurfy on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 08:23:41 PM PST

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      •  Denied Post-War Peerage (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        devtob, Jay C

        I recall reading in a history of the RAF Bomber Command that Harris was the only high-ranking military commander who was denied a post-war peerage as an honor for having commanded in war.  The futility of how Bomber Command had been led apparently had seeped into the British leadership's understanding even by shortly after the fighting stopped.  One can understand just how the loss in available personnel was affecting even Bomber Command as the commanders kept trying to reduce the number of airmen aboard each aircraft by eliminating one position after another as the war progressed.  I suspect that if Harris could have figured out to reduce the necessary crew size for a Lancaster/Halifax down to two (pilot and bombardier/navigator/flight engineer) he would have done it.

        "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

        by PrahaPartizan on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 02:51:00 PM PST

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        •  If he had wanted to do that (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          he would have advocated for a vast fleet of Mosquito bombers. There was nothing that a Lanc could do that 3 Mosquitoes couldn't do, faster, safer, and with one less crewman overall.

          But no, Harris was wedded to the four-engine heavies. Bigger was better. I strongly suspect the man has penis issues.

          -8.38, -7.74 My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world. - Jack Layton

          by Wreck Smurfy on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 07:53:51 PM PST

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    •  When I saw that Patton quote (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      devtob, Ralphdog, commonscribe

      I immediately thought of Metz. Thanks for your detailed comment. The popular image of Patton is mostly false.

      -8.38, -7.74 My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world. - Jack Layton

      by Wreck Smurfy on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 03:07:13 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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