Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by T24D, Dec 16, 2012.

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  1. Gentlemen

    I've just finished reading Max Hastings 'All Hell Let Loose' - The World at War 1939-1945 which is his take on that war, it's causes and effect.

    Now overall it's an interesting read but there is a statement in the conclusion that has taken me by suprise. I know very little about the Second War other than the usual Battle of Britain, D Day and Arnheim stuff. I am much more up to speed on the First War being fairly well read and having visited battlefields there a few times.

    But I know what it meant to my Dad who was in it, and a couple of the old and bold I've met along the way and the following from the final (concluisions) chapter has made me a tad uncomfortable.

    'The Royal Navy and the RAF did many things bravely and well, though always straining to match their strengths to their commitments. The British Army's overall performance, however, seldom surpassed adequacy, and often fell short of it. Alan Brooke readily acknowledged, it was deficient in competent commanders, imagination, appropriate transport and armour, energy and professional skill.....It's shortcomings would have been even more cruelly exposed had it been obliged to bear a larger share of the burden of beating the Wehrmacht.'

    I don't wish to argue for or against this statement but seek enlightenment. Was the Army really (as the author seems to be saying) pants in World War Two? I understand that it was the Eastern front that bore the brunt of the German military might and broke the back of the Wehrmacht, but was the Army really that bad in our own spheres of operations?

    As I said I really don't know the period, so I ask the historians of ARRSE. Is Hastings and Idiot well wide of the mark, or is this a fair estimation of the Army in the Second World War?
  2. Have read in other well researched tomes that the British Army lacked offensive spirit in '44/45 - willing to let heavy arty/airpower do the job etc and go firm at the earliest exposure to serious resistance. However, this may have been an unconscious decision by commanders due to pressure on above regarding depletion of the available manpower for Inf units - they were combing out AA units etc to suppliment Inf/Tanks towards the end if I remember correctly.
  3. Hastings has said as much in other books too. Post-war studies of comparative fighting qualities of the Western Allies (not just the British) show that their performances generally were inferior to the German equivalent.

    Hastings saw professional British forces at work in the Falklands and his subsequent look at the conscript army of WWII brought the differences into focus.

    It may be harsh but I think his summary is generally accurate.
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  4. Similar was said about US Infantry as well of course - in the interests of balance. Airborne troops, being all volunteer, performed much more aggressively, both US & UK (and thus opening the flood gates to our be-winged bretheren).
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  5. maguire

    maguire LE Book Reviewer

    I'm sure I've heard hastings make mention in 'Armageddon' about the psychology of the germans situation (the fact that they were defending their homeland, as the battle lines moved towards and into germany) giving them the will to fight that bit harder and towards the latter stages of the European campaign, when the writing began to appear on the wall, no one wanted to be the one to cop it so close to the final whistle.
  6. That doesn't explain why Jerry fought so well in the desert and in Italy etc. or why the comparative performances of the Western Allies was not as good.
  7. Cold_Collation

    Cold_Collation LE Book Reviewer

    My father's battalion of the DLI still had a few veterans of WWII when he got there in the early 60s. Among them was a former army commando, whom he described as the best soldier he'd ever seen. There are always exceptional people and exceptional units but based on conversations he had at the time, and which he related to me, there was a general feeling that on average the German soldier of WWII was better than the British.
  8. Wordsmith

    Wordsmith LE Book Reviewer

    Hastings echoes similar thoughts in his book on D-Day for instance. The British army laboured under a number of disadvantages in WW2.

    -- The training given to the 'teeth' arms was generally inferior to the German equivalent, so units new to the battlefield had a longer learning curve.

    -- Weapons and equipment for land forces were generally inferior. Sherman v Panther or Sten v Schmeisser were generally no contest.

    -- German tactics were generally better, giving them a further battlefield advantage. It's generally recognised that the Wehrmacht inflicted 50% more casualties than it received in any given engagement.

    -- The senior command of the British army (not least Brooke/Montgomery) realised that the UK was coming to the end of its manpower resources and heavy casualties were to be avoided.

    -- By mid/late 1944 most sensible people realised Germany was destined for defeat, so it was better to advance more slowly and blast the Germans out with artillery and bombers than to waste lives.

    Finally, if you were at the sharp end as an infantryman, you had about a 75% chance of being killed or getting at least one wound. In that situation it takes massive guts to attack and keep on attacking.

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  9. I would say generally accurate.

    At the start of the war the British seemed to go back to dated colonial soldiering.
    Armour, vehicles, and small arms design stagnated. It was only really in 1938 that Britain started gearing up for war.
    New vehicle design including armour was held up by un imaginative brass set in their ways, lots of red tape, and massive financial constraints. This lasted into the war when crap tanks were gradually up graded through various marks. The Germans were a lot better. The Russains were the best, somehow just copying it and even making improvements. The only thing Britian had better than the Germans during the war is that it had a fully motorised army.

    The British did lack intiative, look at Rommel, Manstien, Model etc, I think we only had O'Connor.
    Germans used skilled NCO's rather than officers and made usse of Kamfgruppe's with whatever troops were available.

    During the war there were many disasters (the men on the ground thought bravely most of the time so it's not aimed at them)

    Dunkirk, Norway, Greece, Crete, Singapore, Arnhem.

    The German mindset was different between the wars there were brilliant people who realised that they'd be fighting to the end so fanactical not just plodding along, they had a clean sheet to start from.
  10. Nice post
    Beevor echos the thought.
    Personally, from what I have read, I also think the Officer Corps was not up to the task.
    The enlisted ranks just wanted to go home and has been stated in several books were no longer motivated to fight to the death for the UK.

    On the whole, I would blame bad officership and leadership; plus ça change.
  11. The evolution of the English language continues, but we know what you mean.
  12. davidflies

    davidflies War Hero Book Reviewer

    I am working at the moment on a book which will look at German Infantry training from ca 1935 to 1941. From my preliminary research there is little doubt that the German Infantry (cannot yet speak for armour etc) was both more intensive and longer than the equivalent for British and US troops. The basic training was done over a period of 16 weeks and their day started at 0530.
    Certainly from the despatches of the US Military Attaché in Berlin the Germans generally had better training.
    Morale was another factor and I also have to agree with Wordsmith's last post.
    I hope to get this finished some time next year - but by then you will all have forgotten about this anyway!
  13. Spelling was never my strong point.
  14. I don't know if this is relevant and it is from memory in a book about D-Day, I cannot remember the book title and a few other details so please bear with me.

    Following fierce fighting near Caen the CO of a Tank Regiment (I think it was tankies*) sent in a report to Division as to the state of his command.

    He stated that he had lost every one of his officers and the 2iC had been killed along with his remaining Sqn Commander only hours previously.

    Replacements weren't up to the mark, both officers and ORs and he finally stated (I do remember this bit) "The Regiment is not fit for purpose and I strongly recommend that it be pulled out of the line".

    It was pulled from the line when the Div Commander sent it up to Monty.

    The Regiment was broken up, dispersed and the CO was court martialed the poor sod.
    The book gave no idea as to what happened to this chap but it does maybe give a snapshot of the reality in the British Army around this period.

    * NB ; Apologies to any tankies if I have got the Regiment wrong.
  15. Wordsmith

    Wordsmith LE Book Reviewer

    The book is Max Hastings: Overlord, p148 - 149.

    The regiment is 6th Duke of Wellington's regiment.

    The officer (a regular) must have been a very fine one indeed because he was willing to sacrifice his career to stop unnecessary loss of life in a regiment he had only just taken over command of and which he did not consider battle worthy.

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