Section 4: Conclusions

Main purpose:

In this section, van Creveld sums up his discussion of Allied logistics, and examines why Eisenhower failed to realize that Montgomery's plan was feasible. Long story short, it was more Montgomery's fault than Eisenhower's.

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Van Creveld begins by admitting that, even though he feels he's comfortably shown that enough transport could have been found to make the "knifelike thrust" plan work, there are other important concerns that have to be considered. Van Creveld now reviews these concerns one at a time.

First, the relatively small size of the forces involved needs to be looked at. However, van Creveld thinks 18 divisions would definitely have been enough to punch through the decimated German forces.

Second, the distance of the push and the nature of the terrain need to be looked at for their effect on mobility and the availability of air support. Van Creveld notes that there was an excellent road network, and that air cover for the drive's vulnerable flanks was certainly possible. Also, the campaign would have required only two river crossings, a much simpler proposition than, say, the four crossings required by Operation Market Garden. But van Creveld's most compelling evidence that the Allies could support over such a large distance is that they actually did he notes "the distance from Bayeux to Dortmund is no longer than that which Patton covered from Cherbourg to Metz."

Third, the requirement to operate from supply bases far in the rear needs to be looked at, especially given what we now know about Rommel's operations in Africa. However, the real issue with this arrangement would just be delays from requisition to receipt, so only pull logistics would be affected (as opposed to Rommel's supply chain, which was lucky when it could even manage push logistics). As such, van Creveld notes that this system was most vulnerable to an unexpected emergency shortfall that would require pull logistics...for reference, it would take something on the order of our critical battery shortfalls in OIF 2003 (or any of our other previous or subsequent critical battery shortfalls). That being said, van Creveld thinks this problem wouldn't be a show-stopper, because the system's capacity was historically improved very quickly, even in the case of railroads, and the Luftwaffe didn't have enough aircraft to seriously disrupt its operations. In any case, van Creveld notes that our estimates for the divisions' supply requirements were very generous, which makes it even less likely that an emergency shortfall would occur in the first place. Having reviewed these three serious concerns, van Creveld reviews two concerns which ended up not being concerns at all...political bickering over control of forces between the Americans and the British, and Allied control of the port at Antwerp.

As far as control of forces, it turns out the plan didn't require that Patton and Hodges' American trucks be put in direct support of the British, which any of you with joint operations experience can understand would have been a pain in the ass to agree upon, much less actually execute. Lord knows that just telling Patton to stop advancing would have been about as effective as telling Rommel to stop advancing, never mind telling him to give all his trucks to another American general. Taking Patton's trucks and giving them to Montgomery would have probably required disarming and physically restraining him.

As far as Antwerp, neither the British nor the Americans needed it. As van Creveld points out, the British were already supporting themselves well from ports on the Seine and the English Channel. As for the Americans, Eisenhower's need for Antwerp was only caused by his refusal to halt Patton and give his transport to Hodges.

Having shown reasonably well that Field Marshal Montgomery's proposed attack on the Ruhr was possible, van Creveld reveals the one show-stopping concern that absolves Eisenhower for not doing it. That concern was Field Marshal Montgomery. To start with, Montgomery telling Eisenhower he could press the Germans harder by halting Patton is kind of like a hot air balloonist saying he can get you across the country faster than a commercial jet. And as van Creveld has already said, the fact that Montgomery insisted on talking about a thrust at Berlin didn't help his case. That's like the same hot air balloonist telling you he can get to China faster than the jet, and without refueling. To illustrate what Eisenhower was probably thinking when he rejected Montgomery's plan, van Creveld uses numbers for capabilities and requirements to demonstrate just how impossible it would have been to support an actual drive at Berlin.

All that being said, van Creveld concludes that, while the drive at the Ruhr was physically possible, it still wasn't a viable option (primarily because of Montgomery). However, van Creveld notes that, even if Montgomery had somehow convinced Eisenhower against all odds, we can't seriously believe those same timid Allied logisticians that we read about in sections 2 and 3 were capable of suddenly rearranging the entire Allied logistic apparatus at the drop of a hat to support this operation in the first place. Always circumspect, van Creveld closes by saying that for all the flaws we've seen in those SHAEF logisticians, when we look at Operation Overlord compared to Operation Barbarossa or Napoleon's invasion of Russia, we do need to keep in mind that these guys won WW2 in the end, even if they didn't do it just a little bit faster.

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Capt Palmer's favorite quote:

"If Eisenhower must therefore be held responsible for failing to realize where the centre of gravity lay and adjusting his priorities accordingly, it cannot be denied that to have done so would have required almost superhuman foresight. At the time when the idea of a change in the Allies' fundamental strategy was first voiced, Patton was marching at full steam whereas Montgomery - even though the distances he had to cover were much smaller - was merely inching his way forward towards the Seine. By no stretch of the imagination was it possible to foresee that, during the next two weeks, this normally so cautious commander would suddenly surpass himself and advance 200 miles to the German border."