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Tonight I’m at @RUSI_org attending Reflections on #DDay The Battle for Normandy. I’ll try and LT as much as I can!
First up Sir Antony Beevor. Setting the scene. First major strategic factor was failure of Hitler to destroy the Red Army in 1941 and declaration of war on the US. Story of 1942 is overstretch of Germany and Japan.
The cross channel operation owed much to the Eastern front - opening of a second front to relieve pressure on Red Army. But in mid period of the war there were no troops available in the UK to conduct an invasion.
Fear that Brits were looking at bite and hold small invasions and diversionary attacks. This is not surprising given the Brit tradition of peripheral strategy vs US tradition of continental strategy - large clash of decisive battle.
Stalingrad and the blood tax of the Eastern front made the USSR a super power and positioned Roosevelt to demand a continental invasion.
Yet in 1943 the U Boat war has not been won, the large armies requires had not been generated or bloodied. Despite stereotypes it was the US that could learn and adapt quicker than the ultra conservative British Army.
Stalin believed he had the right to demand a second front. Found it hard that in late 43 there was still no joint commander. Roosevelt appointed Eike and Churchill has to swallow pride and accept Operation Overlord.
On the German side the high command were convinced an allied invasion could be easily defeated. Resources often diverted away from the “Atlantic Wall”. More like a bluff. The only chance to defeat the Allies was in the first 24 hours.
Rommel’s determination to have Panzer Divisions close to the beach was resisted by others - it was Hitler who decided to personally control them - and his staff who would not wake him in that first 24hrs.
The Panzer Divisions could not move (undermanned, lack of transport). Penny packeted into the infantry turning the battle into attrition not manoeuvre. There would be no massive counter attack. Rommel’s decisive blow on the first day would not come.
Monty. Planned to tie down the Germans on the left and allow manoeuvre for the Americans to the west and south. Caen hugely controversial- did Monty expect to take Caen? Was it rubblised on purpose to prevent reinforcement? We’re objectives intentionally over ambitious?
DDay undoubtedly the most multi-national operation in the history of the war. Both on the Allied side and German side through captured personnel, or re-purposed occupied territories. We should remember this when considering the conflict and it’s legacy.
Next up @MungoMelvin on doctrine organisation and equipment but also morale and Montgomery.
The British Army was well served with high level doctrine - but neither side had the detail of the necessary Armoured and infantry integration for the current fight. The German concept of the Kampfgruppe was nascent but existing. The Brits has not started.
It took painful offensives and setbacks to confirm that the Infantry Beigades needed more tanks and the Armoured Brigades needed more infantry. The Germans knocked out 300 tanks in just three days.
The British Army erroneously uses the term Battle Group to form a combined arms group around a single Armoured or infantry battalion or regiment. That was not what was done in war.
In war these units were paired. A Brigade was two paired battalions (Armoured and infantry) and flexible to the need. The Armoured division pamphlet, written when ideas were fresh, is probably more compelling than the structures of today.
Equipment. We lacked a hard hitting tanks. Well Armoured Churchill’s packed too low a punch. Sherman Firefly was powerful but thinly Armoured. This birthed firepower, protection and mobility trinity in that order and stated the procession to the tank of today.
Two big success stories were Royal Engineer vehicles and artillery. This was manoeuvre support and fire support. The ability to switch and mass fires was unparalleled. Hobart’s funnies helped unpick mobility challenges.
Goodwood would survive through to the 1980s as an effective tool for teaching and operationalising the defence of NE Europe.
The adoption of Goodwood was unstitched in 1984 by Bagnell which foregrounded mobile defence, combined arms counter attacks and Armoured forces.
A word on morale. “In war it is the man that counts and not the machine.” Monty did achieve success in Normandy based on hard fought battles but also rigourous selection, training and investment in the people who made up the Army.
The British Army failed to codify and enshrine the flexible system that won in Europe. We remain built on Units and Battalions with BGs commanded by LtCols rather than the pairing system commanded by Brigadiers.
Now Prof David Reynolds. The Soviet Union. There were 2 D Days - 6th June for us 22 June Red Army offensive in Belarussia. As agreed between the major powers - but was Stalin holding his end of the deal up.
The Red Army slammed through the German Central Army, removing a number of Divisions and advancing as far west as Warsaw. A hammer blow to the Wehrmacht.
Triumph and tragedy. The foreshadowing of post-war world order has its roots in this period. Stalin holding off Warsaw, allowing uprising to fail, as Poland key to Soviet Union post war security policy.
The Special Relationship is forged in the period too. More even in 1940, less so by 1943/44. One sided due to growth of American power and UK increasingly reliant on US security guarantees.
The French collapse in a matter of weeks - not years as was in 1914-18. Roosevelt writes off France as a super power. De Gaulle summoned about the plan - he and Churchill row. De Gaulle “we will always choose the open sea”. Always opt for the Americans not the UK.
UK had made a mistake by not guaranteeing French security in 1940. FCO convinced of the need for UK/Fr as a “single unit” in post war order. Yet this falls away by 1949. We must have “limited liability” so we are not so weak we are not a reliable partner to the US.
Sovereignty was key to our survival. For France and Germany this was the end of centuries of war making between each other. Which is why Fr/Ger integration is central to European politics.
By the time we join in the 1970s, after two vetoes from De Gaulle, who had not forgotten his row with Churchill in ‘44, had set the relationship in Europe, without us.
The UK alone could not have defeated Hitler. We needed the Soviet Union, US that enormous multi-national alliance. We were never alone. 2 Canadian Divisions stood by to repel German invasion in 1940.
The liberation of Europe could not have happened without the crucible of nations who come together for a common purpose. Prof Reynolds hopes this is a longer legacy of the current commemorations.
This was a really interesting take on Brexit. In the same vein as Rory Stewart’s comments about patriotism and ‘Britain alone’ not being enough. We’ve always needed others.
Good question on DDay vs VE Day. Reynolds responds that occupation and unconditional surrender was essential to ‘the end’ of the war. Beevor comments that the misreading of the July plot was also important.
Beevor makes the point that UK felt any Army trying to kill their CinC must be in disarray. In fact when plot fails the SS and Hitler take complete control of the Army - of anything firming it up - and secondly guaranteeing a longer war.
Lord Dannat now on the Normandy Trust and the new memorial in France. But first some summing up. 1. We are the junior partner in US coalitions. 2. Monty gave campaign planning a very bad name through Caen. We forgot ‘art’ until Bagnall. Campaign planning, sequencing and art.
3. We sometimes learn very poor lessons. Especially adoption of German static defence. Rather than out manoeuvring and out thinking the enemy. 4. All these campaigns were fought by people.
We don’t remember in a joined up way. We’re a ‘family history’ or Regiemnts, Divisions but we don’t have a national memorial - which is why the Normandy Memorial Trust was formed and the memorial will be unveiled next week at £29 million.
The memorial should be finished by next year, including all the names of the fallen, positioned between GOLD and SWORD. “No more fitting place for a memorial”.
As a comment whenever I hear General Sir Lord Dannatt speak - especially about people or benevolence - you really know he means it. From the heart. More importantly if you’re in the room you really feel it. That’s a great great trait.
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