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Colin Williams

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  1. The main effect of the bocage was to highlight poor Allied infantry-tank-artillery coordination at the level of small unit tactics. The bocage actually negated some of the advantages of German tanks and SPGs, particularly the longer effective range of their guns. This was brought home to the British in the "good tank country" covered by Operation Goodwood, which gave the Germans some excellent site lines for shooting up Shermans by the hundreds.
  2. Of course, at that point in time a brand new Crusader was probably less reliable than any other tank on the battlefield, worn out or not!
  3. It seems to me that the Central Powers strategy for 1915 was basically correct in concentrating offensive action in the East, bringing in Bulgaria, and knocking out Serbia. The Germans did have a tendency to let the Austro-Hungarians suffer more than necessary. A little more support for all of their allies may have paid dividends in 1918. Where Falkenhayn went off the rails was in taking the offensive in the west in 1916. Keeping the pressure on Russia could have led to an earlier collapse and kept Romania out of the war (or even brought them in as an ally). The Entente strategy for 1915 is more of a puzzle and I will lay it out in a separate post.
  4. This page has a complete list, unfortunately with only a few digitized on the site - http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/UN/UK/index.html Of course for the whole Commonwealth war effort one needs to read the Australian, New Zealand, and Canadian official histories as well as the semi/unofficial South African and Indian. IIRC everything for both Canada and NZ is available online.
  5. Regarding your French/British strategy. Doesnt this leave the Russians staring at defeat by 1916?
  6. It's December, 1914, and whether you are Falkenhayn, Joffre, Kitchener, Conrad, or Grand Duke Nicholas, the grand plans of summer have crumbled into defeat and stalemate. What do you do now to avoid defeat, revolution, or a hollow victory won at the cost of hundreds of thousands of dead soldiers from your country?
  7. I wouldn't say complete fantasy. Even after months of practical experience in NW Europe tank vs tank is still listed 6 out of 8 and qualified with an "if necessary".
  8. What about developing an armor piercing round or even HVAP? The British had an AP round for the 25 pdr that was relatively effective in the 1941-42 time frame. An APHE round from a 105 may have been decent compared to the standard rounds used in the 75mm.
  9. Assuming the Army couldn't go for more diesel engines, how about ditching the half-tracks? There were 500 in each light Armored Division and 733 in the heavies. Would it have weakened the armored divisions much to replace them with trucks? The gas savings would have been significant.
  10. The M46 and M47 could hold 232 gallons of fuel and the M48/M48A1 200 gallons, while the Shermans could hold ~160-175 gallons and M26 183 gallons. They definitely needed the larger fuel capacity. There was nearly an inverse relationship between gas mileage and weight for tanks at this time.
  11. During the exploitation after the victory at Falaise, the inability to provide forward units with sufficient gasoline severely limited the extent of the advance. Apparently an American armored division was supposed to use ~1000 gallons for each mile of an advance but reality was closer to 2000 gallons per mile, primarily because of the extra distance individual vehicles would travel for a given advance for the division as a whole. Estimates are that a tank would travel ~2 miles for each mile the division advanced, with some vehicles (supply trucks, recon, etc.) could travel ~7 miles for the same mile of advance. The non-diesel versions of the M4 averaged about 1 mpg on road and 0.5 mpg cross country. With ~230 tanks and SPs based on the Sherman chassis in each armored division, 1 mile of division advance would require somewhere between 460 and 920 gallons of gas out of the 2000 required for the division, which works out to 23 to 46% of the total. To be conservative, I'll assume 30%. The diesel Sherman averaged about 1.75 mpg on road, which translates to ~60% of fuel required for each mile travel. In theory, use of diesel Shermans would have reduced fuel consumption by each division from 2000 gallons per mile to about 1750 gallons per mile. Would exclusive use of diesel Shermans in NW Europe have enabled Patton to exploit across the Moselle and break the Siegfried Line in erly September?
  12. I don't agree ith the assessment that the BA had "...essentially ceased to exist as a coherent force"; you are equating the BEF with the entire BA which it wasn't. More importantly, I don't see how the pre-war Regulars would have been able to "...conduct far more effective offensive operations in 1915 and 1916". The presence of more pre-war Regulars wouldn't have prevented the shell shortage of 1915 or been able to cope with the tactical constraints & conditions prevailing at Loos etc, and they would not have been able to provide the numbers for the Somme, so you'd still have been dependent on Kitchener's New Armies in any case. BillB I agree it's debatable whether the BEF would have been able to fight with more success in 1915 given the shell and gun shortage, but at the same time there is no question that it helps to have professional, experienced soldiers available to train and lead territorials and new recruits. Did a little bit of background reading and came up with some basic numbers, although there is some disagreement/inconsistency. Casualties - Sources seem to agree that the British suffered ~90,000 to 100,000 casualties in 1914, almost all of which were incurred by the active Army and the replacements that reached the BEF from the Reserve. Given that the BEF lost no major units to encirclement and capture, nor was it's defensive line ever broken to the point that the Germans overran rear areas, the majority of those casualties would have been among the infantry, probably on the order of 70,000 to 80,000. In addition, ~26,000 were evacuated back to Britain due to illness. British Army Strength in 1914 - According to one source, the British Army in 1914 had an active complement of 247,000 men, with approximately 160,000 in the infantry, spread among 157 battalions. According to another, the 1914 Infantry establishment was 134,000 men, with an actual strength of 126,000. For the time being, let's stick with the number of 126,000. The Army Reserve totaled 145,000 men who were liable to be called up upon mobilization. I don't know what fraction were infantry. The total number of Special Reserve troops was established at 77,000 but there was an actual strength of 61,000, with almost all of the shortfall in the infantry arm. Similarly, the Territorial Army had an establishment of 303,000 but only had a strength of 258,000, again with the shortfall in the infantry. Neither the Special Reserve nor Territorial Army played a major role in 1914. Components in 1914 Fighting - If, as with the rest of the Army, the Army Reserve had more than half of its strength in infantry, one can guess ~80,000 infantry available upon mobilization, and since these would presumably be available in Great Britain, than the BEF should have been backed up by a reserve of nearly 100% in infantry. However, reports from the time indicate that units absorbed almost all of their reserve soldiers in order to come up to war establishment. The same source that cites a prewar active infantry strength of 126,000 men indicates that more than 50% of the infantry in the 1914 BEF came from the reserve. I suspect that number may represent the total across the entire year after casualties and replacements are taken into account. Nonetheless, it seems that the BEF's active battalions were significantly understrength at the time war broke out, more than the 126,000 strength vs. 134,000 establishment figures would indicate. Impact on the Army - The bottom line is that the "professional" infantry available to the British Army in 1914 was a total of 126,000 active and some fraction of 145,000 in the Army Reserve. I will assume ~50% as 75,000, giving a total of ~200,000. Of these ~80,000 became casualties, and as a rough estimate ~15,000 were invalided home due to illness. Consequently, on average the infantry had been reduced by something on the order of 50% relative to the entire army. Most of this impact would have been on the "home" battalions, with those on overseas service suffering their share in 1915 on the western front and in Gallipoli. As in other wars, these losses would have fallen disproportionately on the officers and NCOs, the men who were most needed to build the mass army Britain needed for the war effort. An example of this shortage is illustrated by the experience of Winston Churchill, who had seen active service in the cavalry in the 1890s and spent time with the Yeomanry in the decades before the war. With only a short amount of seasoning in the nature of trench warfare, he was assigned to command an infantry battalion in 1915, where he was known for many good qualities but also a near complete inability to give proper commands to the men, calling out incomprehensible cavalry commands during combat. Politics aside, men like Churchill were thrust into their positions because there weren't anything like enough experienced infantry officers to go around. Most of them were dead, wounded or captured at Mons, Le Cateau, or Ypres.
  13. I think all of these generals have been subjected to serious criticism in the standard historical works. Haig simply has the added benefit of having been commander of the BEF, so he gets most of the attention in the English language literature. That being said, there are some important distinctions to be drawn here. It seems to me that one of the most important characteristics of the generals who occupied high level positions for significant periods of time was a certain imperturbability. Simply put, men like Joffre, Haig and Falkenhayn could stand up to the pressure of sending thousands of men to their deaths through decisions that could determine the course of the war and the future of their respective countries. Von Moltke and French couldn't stand up to the pressure. Neither could Nivelle nor, in the end, Ludendorf. Nivelle of course was elevated for political reasons to a position he was not prepared to fill. We shouldn't underestimate the value of his tactical innovations, but unfortunately that led the French government to believe he could handle diverse strategic and operational problems while also standing up to the intense pressure of the position. Joffre's primary failure lay in pursuing large-scale, costly offensives before the army had the weapons and techniques for pursuing them effectively. He was capable of recognizing his mistakes and both ending failed offensives and changing his tactical and operational approach. Unfortunately he cost the French Army far too many casualties in 1914 and 1915 while learning on the job. Falkenhayn made the fundamental mistake of taking on the Verdun offensive when he should have concentrated his efforts on defeating Tsarist Russia. Otherwise his management of the German Army was relatively skillful, and too much credit has been given to Hindenburg and Ludendorf for the accomplishments on the Russian Front. Haig of course lacked the opportunity to act at the level of strategy or grand strategy, except in the negative sense when he would oppose strategies that could only go forward with the cooperation of the BEF. If he had had some political/diplomatic skill he may have been able to have a positive influence on strategy, but that wasn't meant to be. Perhaps his greatest failings as a general were his reluctance to break off offensive operations long after they had become net losses to the British and his tendency to narrow his focus on small-scale objectives as his offensives started to fail. All of these generals suffered to some extent from intelligence failures, but they tended to be intelligence failures amplified by wishful thinking on the part of each general.
  14. Ken, The root problem was that the two war warnings issued simply made no mention of Pearl as a direct target. The 24 November warning only mentioned the Philippines and Guam, while the 27 November warning repeated them while adding only Malaya, Borneo, and American Samoa. That allowed Short and Kimmel - and their staffs - to assume the only threat to the Hawiaan Islands in the event of war would be sabotage. What made it so much worse was that for 12 days they treated the war warning seriously and put everyone in the field, but then decided since there was no threat of direct attack it was okay to slack off for a day. So yes, of course they had to take it, because they deserved it. Not an unreasonable perspective, although of course taking to its logical conclusion means Brereton should have been drawn and quartered.
  15. It's interesting that Brigg's early opinion of the Stuart as only suited for light tank work, despite its far superior reliability, essentially became official opinion within 8th Army through the course of 1942. By the 1st Battle of El Alamein the Stuarts were being segregated into the 4th Light Armoured Brigade, with the Crusaders staying with the Grants in the other armoured brigades. Considering the reliability issue and the shared/similar components between the Stuart and Grant, the Crusader must have proven itself the superior tank. I suspect (but don't know) that the Crusader II, with its 49mm of turret armor, its lower height, and its superior profile (i.e., less exposed vertical armor surfaces, fewer shot traps) was more capable of surviving tank vs. tank combat.
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