The Biggest Mistakes in World War II

The alternative decisions which could dramatically change the course of the war.

This essay explores some of the greatest decision making mistakes of World War II. It does not discuss miraculous alternative history events such as “what if Hitler had a heart attack”, only reasonable and realistic alternative decisions which were not made, with or without proper discussion by decision makers, which could dramatically change the course of the war. Some of these alternatives could end the war significantly sooner, with less bloodshed in both sides.

Too few submarines – Germany

The German Navy’s main task at war was to cut Britain’s maritime lifeline by a maritime blockade. Since Britain is an island, without fuel, metals, other materials, all imported by merchant ships, its military production will stop, its Air Force, Navy, and mobile ground forces will be immobilized, and it will no longer be able to defend against a devastating air bombardment campaign that will reduce its war effort to futile suffering of single-sided mass destruction, and it will have to surrender. This was true against Britain and also against Japan, both island nations.

In World War I, German submarines almost succeeded in cutting Britain’s maritime life line by sinking a huge number of British merchant ships in the Atlantic Ocean. Despite this fact, the new German Navy built for World War II was similar to the old one. Most of its resources were invested in mighty battleships and heavy cruisers, which were a serious headache to the large Royal Navy, but not anywhere near the threat posed by the German submarines. The German surface Navy could not achieve its goal, only die trying, and Admiral Roeder, head of the German Navy, said so himself. Doenitz, head of the German submarine force, pleaded repeatedly for producing more submarines, but his arguments were irresponsibly dismissed by Roeder, who said that Royal Navy claims that it solved the submarine problem with ASDIC, a new device which could detect submarines underwater. There was no serious attempt to properly evaluate the change, if any, to the proven ability of a large force of submarines to defeat Britain.

As a result, when the war started in 1939, the German Navy had 3 mighty battleships and 8 heavy cruisers, and more in construction, and only 12 submarines capable of Atlantic operations (there were also 43 smaller submarines for coastal and training duties). It was a tiny fraction of the 300 Atlantic submarines Doenitz asked for (in order to always have 100 in position).

The events of the war soon proved that Doenitz was right. Under his brilliant leadership, German submarines were the greatest danger to Britain although they were so few. Their number increased slowly, but this gave Britain enough time to adapt to the threat and survive, with enormous effort and horrible losses. By mid-1943 Germany had about 400 submarines, but it was too late, because by then they faced a gigantic and fully developed anti-submarine force which defeated them.

It’s important to state that with the resources and manpower needed to build and operate a single battleship, about 50 Atlantic submarines could be built and operated, so if Roeder or Hitler had supported Doenitz before the war, and for example built 150 more submarines by 1940 instead of the 3 almost useless battleships, Britain could be decisively defeated at sea by 1941, before the US and Russia were at war, and Hitler could win the war.

Too few submarines – America

It is well known that the tremendous American war production since 1942 was a major factor in its victory. The US Navy grew rapidly to a giant, but only a small fraction of resources and manpower were invested in submarines. With a total of only 288 submarines (the Germans built 1170), this force sunk most of Japan’s merchant fleet, causing severe shortages of fuel and other war materials. If more resources were invested in submarines (and 30-40 large Pacific submarines could be built and operated with the resources used to build and operate a single battleship), Japan could be immobilized and defeated much sooner. Instead of just 288 submarines, the US Navy could easily deploy 1000 submarines, or 2000, or more. They could quickly sink the entire Japanese merchant fleet, cut Japan’s oil and materials supply lines, stop its military production, and immobilize its Air Force and Navy, so that it could be defeated about two years earlier.

The neglected North Pacific

The devastating strategic bombing campaign which burned Japan’s cities one by one and forced it to surrender, started only in late 1944, after three years of a costly war that was required to push the Japanese back in the South and central Pacific, until finally long range heavy bombers could be deployed in Pacific islands close enough to reach and bomb Japan. Instead, American bombers could strike Japan from North. The potential was demonstrated in the 1942 Doolittle Raid, when Tokyo was bombed for the first time, but it remained a single event.

Until April 1941, Russia was at war with Japan in the Far East, and in 1941-1942 it fought desperately against the German invasion. But since the end of the battle of Stalingrad in Feb. 1943, Russia knew that it was going to win the war, and that Germany and Japan were losing it. It was convenient for Russia to focus entirely on defeating Germany and leave the war against Japan entirely to the US, which also provided Russia with enormous material support. During the war, Russia provided air bases for British heavy bombers which bombed Germany, but refused to provide such bases for American bombers in the Russian far East, apparently in return for a quiet Japanese agreement not to attack American supply convoys sailing to Russia’s far East ports.

US air bases in Alaska and the Aleutian islands were too far to bomb Japan, but there is a vast territory in the Russian Far East, North of Japan and West of Alaska, that was out of reach for Japan’s army and Navy. Given the enormous cost, human and material, of the long American campaign to defeat Japan in the Pacific, surely the US could make the Russians a very generous offer they would accept, in return for providing air bases for American heavy bombers in the Russian far East. From such bases, American bombers could reach Japan since 1943 and force it to surrender at least a year earlier.

The rejected superior bomber

Since 1942 the British Air Force was using a bomber with performance and combat achievements far superior to all other British and American day and night bombers. It was the Mosquito, a bomber designed to survive by using superior speed and agility to avoid being intercepted, instead of carrying gun turrets and gunners to fire back at enemy interceptors. It was also truly capable of precision bombing, unlike all the heavy bombers, which were very inaccurate and therefore relatively ineffective.

The Mosquito’s advantages were not theoretical; they were repeatedly proven in combat over Europe. It was much faster than German night fighters, and hard to intercept by day fighters. Its relative loss rate was 10 times lower than that of heavy bombers, and if lost, a Mosquito carried a crew of two, not seven or more as a heavy bomber. And it cost a third of a heavy bomber’s price. When a Mosquito group commander said “It’s quite clear that the value of the Mosquito to the war effort is significantly greater than that of any other aircraft” it was not an overstatement.

Bomber Command was aware of the Mosquito’s combat proven advantages, and used this fantastic bomber, in small numbers, in roles designed to increase the accuracy and reduce the losses of the other bombers. It was also used in large numbers as a bomber interceptor, night fighter, and other roles. But Bomber Command stubbornly rejected the proposed alternative of using the Mosquito not to help the slow and inaccurate heavy bombers but to replace them as the main bomber. Instead of very inaccurately dropping over a million tons of bombs (British only, not including American bombs) all over Germany from thousands of slow heavy bombers and suffering very heavy losses in doing so, a large force of Mosquito bombers, with significantly lower losses and significantly higher precision, could crush the German military industry much sooner, and Germany could be defeated at least a year earlier.

Hitler’s total war – but not in the home front

Hitler, the Nazi dictator, said that Germany is fighting a total war. This was true in battle, where the German military fought ferociously, and with the German occupation, which brutally exploited occupied countries and committed planned genocide against the peoples of Eastern Europe. But while The Allies performed a successful total effort to increase and optimize military production, in Germany there was no such effort until 1944, when it was too late. Allied factories produced 24 hours/day, and millions of women became production workers. In Nazi Germany, starved prisoners were used instead, and German women remained at home.

While The Allies produced enormous numbers of just a few types of simple, reliable, and combat proven products (weapons, aircraft, tanks, vehicles, engines, etc), the German military used a very large number of types, which not only reduced production rates but also required mobilizing inventories of spare parts for all. The German military and the enthusiast Hitler demanded the most advanced weapons, even when not fully developed, and endlessly demanded improvements and special variants in their constant quest for the ultimate weapons, and this further reduced German weapons production rate and the reliability of some new types. German development and production were also seriously hampered by the political rivalries and organizational chaos of Hitler’s regime. Eventually Hitler nominated Albert Speer, an organizational genius, to manage military production, but it was too late, and even then Speer was not given full authority.

With the obsession for advanced weapons, the German leaders and Generals also neglected less glorious but critical items such as trucks, infantry vehicles, and winter readiness, so beside its formidable tank divisions, the German army was still a large infantry army which had to walk great distances and relied heavily on horses, and it was not equipped for the harsh Russian winter. The German military was one of the most capable and formidable armies in history, but it was imbalanced, and its domination over the military industry reduced its efficiency, and often led it to develop and produce, too little and too late, very impressive but often immature or relatively ineffective advanced weapons, instead of large amounts of greatly needed mature weapons and other equipment.

In Japan there was a similar chaos and imbalance, caused by the endless army-Navy rivalry and the fanatic belief that courage and determination can fully compensate for ever increasing material shortages.

The great personal mistakes of the totalitarian dictators

In World War II, Hitler and Stalin, two of the most brutal dictators ever, commanded total control and led murderous terror regimes, in which fear of extreme punishment made it almost impossible to criticize or even to offer unfavorable advice, or even to awake the dictator late at night in case of emergency. In such regimes, one man makes all key decisions, and too many lesser decisions, and it’s almost impossible to change his mind before or after he makes a major mistake. Here are some examples.

In the invasion of Russia in the summer of 1941, instead of focusing on the objective of destroying the Russian army and taking Moscow before winter, Hitler diverted to other directions which caused significant delays, and re-focused in the direction of Moscow only in September, when he realized that winter was too close, and indeed it was too late, and it cost him the entire war. His Generals argued a lot against this mistake, but in vain.

In the invasion of Russia, German propaganda directed at the Russian population presented the invasion as an opportunity for them to liberate themselves from Stalin’s terribly cruel regime. Stalin’s regime was indeed monstrous, but Hitler’s strict directive to the German forces to use “maximum cruelty” (based on his racist ideology), quickly made it clear to the Russian people that no matter how bad Stalin was, the Germans were much worse, and it forced them to fight back one of the toughest wars ever. Hitler could wait with the cruelty until after the victory, but he was too eager.

In 1940 Hitler missed two major opportunities to defeat Britain when it was weakest. In June, when allied defences in France and Belgium collapsed, he ordered his tanks not to attack the British force of 338,000 soldiers besieged on the beach at Dunkirk. He never explained this decision, but it is believed that he quietly accepted Goering’s request to let “his” bombers destroy them from above (Goering was both Hitler’s political deputy and commander of the Air Force). So the most powerful units of the German army had to idly watch from short distance as the core of the British army was allowed to escape from a hopeless situation. Three months later, in the peak of the Battle of Britain, when the German Air Force was getting close to breaking the smaller British Air Force, Hitler changed the objective of the German Air Force from defeating the British Air Force to killing the people of London in an air bombardment campaign. The result was that the British Air Force could then recover, keep fighting effectively, and win the battle, keeping Britain from invasion, and denying Hitler victory in the West.

In 1941, Stalin received a stream of information from military intelligence and spies, that Germany is going to invade Russia, as Hitler promised since the 1920s. After discussions, Stalin decided that the information was inconclusive and perhaps deliberate disinformation, and decided that there will be no invasion. As the invasion came nearer, the stream of information indicating invasion intensified, but then Stalin forbid his advisors from further disturbing him with it. Anyone who still suggested that there might be a German invasion, risked execution. Fear was such that when the invasion started, no one dared to wake up Stalin and tell him about it, until Zhukov, the deputy supreme commander, told Stalin’s bodyguards that he takes responsibility for awakening the dictator and telling him the bad news.

Hitler had a powerful and aggressive ally, Japan. He knew that Japan was considering attacking either to the North (they had an undeclared border war with Russia then in the Far East), or to the South (against South East Asia and the US). He didn’t bother to try to coordinate his invasion of Russia with Japan or even inform it. If he did, Japan could stay at war with Russia for 8 more months, and that alone was enough to keep large Russian forces in the Far East until the German army advanced all the way to Moscow by December 1941. Instead, the uninformed Japan signed a non-aggression pact with Russia just two month before Hitler invaded it, and as a result, when the exhausted and frozen German invaders reached Moscow, and thought that Russia had no more reserves, they were massively attacked by fresh Russian units which were transferred from the Japanese border in the Far East.

Both Hitler and Stalin refused to allow retreats, as a matter of principle and regardless of the military situation. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers in each side died in vain because they were not allowed to retreat when was necessary. Russia almost lost the war because of that in 1941, and Hitler’s army suffered horrible losses because of that, mainly in the winter of 1942 and in Stalingrad a year later.

Hitler, as supreme commander, also made himself commander of the German army since the end of 1941, and later spent most of his time acting as commander of the eastern front, obviously neglecting his other roles. Churchill and Stalin replaced Generals with other Generals, but Hitler, considering himself a military genius, decided to do a General’s job by himself. He also dismissed some of his best Generals mostly because they argued with him. Only in July 1944, when losing in all fronts, he appointed the formerly dismissed General Guderian, one of Germany’s greatest military talents, to commander of the army, but then he ignored his good advice, with obvious consequences.

Ploesti – the most important target

Since the beginning of World War II, allied military planners knew that the German military is critically dependent on a single source of oil, the oil fields and refineries in Ploesti, Romania. Aware of this vulnerability, the Germans developed and used an expensive industrial process to produce alternative fuel from coal and other materials, but even so, the German military, especially the Air Force, was always critically dependent on Ploesti’s oil, and British and Russian military planners knew it. Since October 1940, Ploesti was directly protected by German army and Air Force units. Eventually Ploesti’s oil industry was systematically destroyed by a series of air bombardments in mid-1944, followed by Russian occupation, and indeed since then the German military suffered a paralyzing shortage of fuel. But Ploesti, the most important target in Hitler’s Europe, could be destroyed much earlier.

Between the German invasion of Poland in 1939 and the invasion of Russia in 1941, Russia knew that eventually it will be Hitler’s next target in the East, as he declared many times in the past. During these 21 months, Stalin’s Russia acted both to delay Hitler’s attack and to prepare for it. In addition to military build-up, it signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler, provided him with war materials he wanted, and ceased its anti-German propaganda. It also created a buffer zone that allowed it to move its defense lines further West. To do so, Russia invaded Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, and Finland, and also in June 1940, a week after France surrendered to Hitler, Russia annexed the Bessarabia and Bucovina border regions of Romania, which gave them without a fight to avoid a full Russian invasion.

In the following four months, with most of the German military far away in France and busy with the Battle of Britain, very large Russian forces were positioned just 100 miles from Ploesti, with ready operational plans to get there, and nothing to stop them from quickly doing so if given the order, but Stalin hesitated. Hitler responded only four months later, and sent large German units into Romania, which particularly protected Ploesti. Nine months later he invaded Russia. If Stalin had decided to exploit the opportunity and take Ploesti in 1940, World War II could be very different, and shorter.

In April 1941, British forces evacuated from mainland Greece to the large Greek island Crete in the Mediterranean. A month later Crete was invaded by German paratroopers. Although numerically superior, the British troops were defeated and evacuated Crete too. The main reason was that the British force in Crete lost to the Germans in a test of determination. While the German paratroopers were elite troops who fought desperately for their life against the larger and better positioned British force, the British wanted more to preserve themselves. In such dire time to Britain, which then fought alone against Germany and Italy, the British force was not given a reason to defend Crete at all cost, and acted accordingly.

But Ploesti was such a reason. Ploesti is about 700 miles North of Crete, across the Aegean sea. Britain already had then operational bombers (Halifax, and later Lancaster) capable of reaching Ploesti from Crete’s air bases. Crete could be held just like the tiny island of Malta was, despite all attacks. If only Bomber Command had alerted Churchill in April/May 1941 that Crete is the only place from which their bombers can strike Hitler’s oil supply, Churchill could order to hold Crete at all cost, and it could remain in British hands, and used to bombard and destroy Ploesti’s oil industry and paralyze Hitler’s military much sooner than in 1944.

After the German invasion of Russia, a large part of the Russian Air Force was destroyed, but its bomber command kept a large and increasing force of Ilyushin 4 long range bombers, which during the war bombed targets all over Eastern Europe and also bombed Berlin. They bombed Ploesti, which always remained within their attack radius, but they never concentrated a major effort to destroy it as the American bombers did in 1944, and as they should have done. Instead, 80% of Russian bombing targets were within 10km from the war front, since almost the entire activity of both the Russian Air Force and Navy was tactical, and closely supported front line ground warfare.

If the Russian bomber command had concentrated its efforts on destroying Ploesti, the German army in Russia could be paralyzed not just by the Russian winter but also by severe fuel shortage, and could be defeated much sooner.


The appeasement of Hitler by Britain and France in 1935-1939 was a huge mistake. Hitler’s Germany was initially weak, and gradually became more aggressive as it became stronger. Hitler, the ultimate aggressor who wanted the entire world and said so clearly, could be stopped sooner. But instead, these countries turned to appeasement and to great unilateral reduction of their own military forces. The result was that when Hitler invaded France in 1940, their armies were weak and not modern, while his modern army used not only German weapons, but also the arsenal of the dismantled Czech army, enough to equip 40 divisions. Sacrificing Czechoslovakia to appease Hitler just gave him much more power to defeat the western allies.

War against America

Despite America’s help to Britain against Germany, and its tense relations with Japan, in 1941 the American public wanted to stay out of war. The militarists in Tokyo, who assumed that the US Navy will interfere with their plans to invade the entire South East Asia, made a huge mistake. Instead of letting the US hesitate and perhaps act in a limited way, they attacked the world’s most powerful nation in a way which ensured that it will destroy them with all its enormous strength. A few days after Pearl Harbor, Mussolini and Hitler, already in serious trouble with their own war against Russia and Britain which consumed all their national resources, decided to also declare war against America. This just ended America’s hesitation about them and ensured their defeat too.

By Uri Noy


Panzer Production Costs

As a stopgap measure pending the Panthers’ design, production, and delivery, Guderian’s commission had recommended upgrading the army’s assault guns. About 120 of the Model IIIF with a 75mm L/43 had entered service in 1942, prefiguring the assault gun’s development from an infantry support vehicle into a tank destroyer. As a rule of thumb, the longer a gun, the less effective its high-explosive round. From the infantry’s perspective, however, the tradeoff was acceptable, and the Sturmgeschütz IIIG was even more welcome because of its 75mm L/48 main armament. The effective range of this adapted Pak 43 was more than 7,000 feet. It could penetrate almost 100mm of 30-degree sloped armor at half that distance. The IIIG took the original assault gun design to the peak of its development by retaining the low silhouette and improving frontal armor to 80mm by bolting on extra plates, all within a weight of less than 25 tons. The family was completed, ideally at least, with the addition of a 105mm howitzer version in one of the battalion’s three ten-gun batteries to sustain the infantry support role.

The one-time redheaded stepchild of the armored force now had a place at the head table. There had been 19 independent assault gun battalions in May 1941. In 1943 that number would double. Constantly shifted among infantry commands, their loyalty was to no larger formation. Continuously in action, they developed a wealth of specialized battle experience that led infantry officers to follow the assault gunners’ lead when it came to destroying tanks and mounting counterattacks. Assault guns cost less than tanks. Lacking complex revolving turrets, they were easier to manufacture, and correspondingly attractive in an armaments industry whose workforce skill and will were declining with the addition of more and more foreign and forced labor and the repeated comb-outs of Germans destined for the Wehrmacht.

Meanwhile, tank production was in the doldrums. The Panzer III was so clearly obsolete as a battle tank that its assembly lines had been converted to providing chassis for assault guns. By October 1942, production of the Panzer IV was down to 100 a month. The General Staff recommended a leap in the dark: canceling Panzer IVs and concentrating exclusively on Panthers and Tigers. Previous outsiders like Porsche, and a new generation of subcontractors turning out assault guns, were jostling and challenging established firms. But the German automotive industry, managers and engineers alike, had from its inception been labor-intensive and conservative in its approaches to production. As late as 1925 the US Ford Motor Company needed the equivalent of five and three-quarters days’ labor by a single worker to produce a car. Daimler needed 1,750 worker days to construct one of its top-line models. When it came to design, focus was on the top end of the market and emphasis was on customizing as far as possible by multiplying variants. It was a far cry from Henry Ford’s philosophy that customers could have any color they wanted as long as it was black.

For their part, the civilian tank designers were disproportionately intrigued by the technical challenges Panthers and Tigers offered. They took apparent delight in solving engineering problems in ways that in turn stretched unit mechanics to limits often developed originally in village blacksmith shops.

One might suggest that by 1942 a negative synergy was developing between an armored force and an automobile industry, each in its own way dedicated to an elite ethos and incorporating an elite self image. The designers were correspondingly susceptible to the dabblings of Adolf Hitler. Previously, his direct involvement in the issue had been limited, his demands negotiable, his recommendations and suggestions reasonable. The Hornet, for example, combined the Hummel’s armored open-topped superstructure with the 88mm L/71 gun Hitler had wanted for the Tiger. The vehicle’s bulky chassis made it too much of a target to render feasible stalking tanks in the fashion of the Marder and the assault guns. But its long-range, high-velocity gun was welcome to the half dozen independent heavy antitank battalions that absorbed most of the 500 Hornets first introduced in 1943.

The Ferdinand, later called the Elephant, was a waste-not/want-not response to the Porsche drives and hulls prepared in anticipation of the Tiger contract that went to Henschel. Hitler saw them as ideal mounts for a heavily armored tank destroyer mounting the same 88mm gun as the Hornet. Ninety were rushed into production in spring 1943 and organized into an independent panzer regiment. Without rotating turrets, at best they were Tigers manqué, with all the teething troubles and maintenance problems accompanying the type and no significant advantages. At 65 tons, any differences in height were immaterial. And the omission of close-defense machine guns as unnecessary would too often prove fatal for vehicles whose sheer size made them targets for every antitank weapon in the Red Army’s substantial inventory when they were sent into action at Kursk.

The Hornet and the Elephant were mere preliminaries. Since adolescence the Führer had liked his architecture grandiose, his music molto pomposo, and his cars high-powered. In June 1942, he authorized Ferdinand Porsche to develop a super-heavy tank: the Maus (“Mouse”—and yes, the name was ironic). The vehicle carried almost ten inches of frontal armor, mounted a six-inch gun whose rounds weighed more than 150 pounds each, and weighed 188 tons. Its road speed was given as 12.5 miles per hour—presumably downhill with a tail wind. It took more than a year to complete two prototypes. To apply a famous line from the classic board game PanzerBlitz, “The only natural enemies of the Maus were small mammals that ate the eggs.”

The complete worthlessness of the Maus as a fighting vehicle in the context of World War II needs no elaboration. Neither does the total waste of material resources and engineering skill devoted to the project. The Maus was nevertheless a signifier for Germany’s panzer force during the rest of the war. Apart from its direct support by Hitler, the Maus opened the door to a comprehensive emphasis on technical virtuosity for its own sake, in near-abstraction from field requirements. The resulting increases in size at the expense of mobility and reliability were secondary consequences, reflecting the contemporary state of automotive, armor, and gun design. After 1943, German technicians turned from engineering to alchemy, searching for a philosopher’s stone that would bring a technical solution to the armored force’s operational problems. Hubris, idealism—or another example of the mixture of both that characterized so many aspects of the Third Reich’s final years?

The Maus thread, however, takes the story a few months ahead of itself. Its antecedent combination of institutional infighting, production imbroglios, and declining combat power led an increasing number of Hitler’s military entourage to urge the appointment of a plenipotentiary troubleshooter—specifically Heinz Guderian. Guderian describes meeting privately on February 20, 1943, with a chastened Führer who regretted their “numerous misunderstandings.” Guderian set his terms. Hitler temporized. He was given the appointment of Inspector-General of Panzer Troops, reporting directly to Hitler; with inspection rights over armored units in the Luftwaffe and the Waffen SS, and control of organization, doctrine, training, and replacement. That was a lot of power in the hands of one officer.

There was also a back story. Guderian had spent most of 1942 restoring his stress-shaken health, which centered on heart problems, and looking for an estate suitable to his status, to be purchased with the cash grant of a million and a quarter marks Hitler awarded him in the spring of 1942. Norman Goda establishes in scathing detail that once Guderian became a landed gentleman on an estate stolen from its Polish owners, his reservations about Hitler as supreme warlord significantly diminished. Cash payments, often many times a salary and pension, were made to a broad spectrum of officers and civilians in the Third Reich—birthdays were a typical justification. Since August 1940, Guderian had been receiving, tax-free, 2,000 Reichsmarks a month—as much as his regular salary. Similar lavish gifts were so widely made to senior officers that Gerhard Weinberg cites simple bribery as a possible factor in sustaining the army’s cohesion in the war’s final stages.

The image of an evil regime’s uniformed servants proclaiming their “soldierly honor” while simultaneously being bought and paid for is so compelling that attempting its nuancing invites charges of revisionism. Nevertheless there were contexts. A kept woman is not compensated in the same fashion as a streetwalker. Dotation, douceur, “golden parachute,” hush money, conscience money, or bribe—direct financial rec ognitions of services rendered the Reich were too common to be exactly a state secret. Guderian and his military colleagues were more than sufficiently egoistic to rationalize the cash as earned income, as recognition of achievement and sacrifice in the way that milk and apples are necessary to the health of the pigs in George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

The appointment Hitler signed on February 28, 1943, ostensibly gave Guderian what he requested. But lest any doubt might remain as to who was in charge, only the heavy assault guns, still in development stages, came under Guderian’s command. The rest, whose importance was increasing by the week, remained with the artillery. It was a relatively small thing. But Guderian’s complaint that “somebody” played a “trick” on him belies his own shrewd intelligence and low cunning. The desirability of trust between the head of state and the general in such a central position was overshadowed in Hitler’s mind by Lenin’s question: “Kto, kogo?” (Who, whom?): the question of who was to be master. Guderian had spent a year in the wilderness. Now he was back on top. Omitting the assault guns was a reminder that what had been given could be withdrawn at a chieftain’s whim. It might well make even a principled man think twice before deciding and thrice before speaking. And Hitler’s army was increasingly commanded by pragmatists.

From the Führer’s perspective, Guderian’s appointment was one of the heaviest blows he had struck against the High Command. The ground forces’ key element, the panzers, were now under his personal authority—at one remove, to be sure, but Guderian was the kind of person whose ego and energy would focus him on the job at hand, and whose temperament was certain to lead to the same kinds of personal and jurisdictional clashes that had characterized his early career. Hitler would have all the opportunities he needed either to muddy the waters or to resolve controversies, as circumstances indicated.

Albert Speer’s appointment as Minister of Armaments in February 1942 brought no immediate, revolutionary change to Germany’s war industry. But Speer had Hitler’s confidence, as much as anyone could ever possess it. He was an optimist at a time when that was a declining quality at high Reich levels. He concentrated on short-term fixes: rationalizing administration, improving use of material, addressing immediate crises. And he faced a major one in tank production.

In September 1942 Hitler called for the manufacture of 800 tanks, 600 assault guns, and 600 self-propelled guns a month by the spring of 1944. In April 1944 the army’s panzer divisions had fewer than 1,700 of their total authorized strength of 4,600 main battle tanks: Panthers and Panzer IVs. That gap could not be bridged by admonitions to take better care of equipment and report losses more accurately. The long obsolete Panzer II was upgraded into a state-of-the-art tracked reconnaissance vehicle. But a glamorous renaming as Luchs, or Lynx, could not camouflage an operational value so limited that production was canceled after the first hundred. Other resources were also diverted to the development of a family of tracked and half-tracked logistics vehicles and increased numbers of armored recovery vehicles, both in their own ways necessary under Russian conditions. The growing effectiveness of the Soviet air force led to the conversion or rebuilding of an increasing number of chassis into antiaircraft tanks with small- caliber armaments. The continued manufacture of early designs—again necessary to maintain even limited frontline strength—further impeded production. Between May and December 1942, tank production actually declined despite constant encouragement and repeated threats from the Reich’s highest quarters.

One positive result of the slowdown was the ability to address the Panther’s shortcomings. The original Model D received improved track and wheel systems. Das Reich received a battalion of them in August, 23rd Panzer Division in October, and 16th Panzer in December. All played crucial roles in Army Group South’s fight for survival. The D’s successor, the Model A, had a new turret with quicker rotation time and a commander’s cupola. Both were important in the target-rich but high-risk environment of the Eastern Front. Engine reliability remained a problem, in part because of quality control difficulties in the homeland, and in part defined by the tank’s low power-to-weight ratio. Improvements to the transmission and gear systems nevertheless reduced the number of engine breakdowns. Modifications to the cooling system cut back on the number of engine fires.

Soft ground, deep mud, and heavy snow continued to put a premium on driving skill. One Panther battalion reported having to blow up 28 tanks it was unable to evacuate. Fifty-six more were in various stages of repair. Eleven remained operational. But during the same period Leibstandarte’s Panther battalion reported only seven combat losses—all from hits to the sides and rear. Of the 54 mechanical breakdowns, almost half could be ready within a week. On the whole the improved Panther was regarded as excellent: consistently able to hit, survive hits, and bring its crews back.

Toward the end of 1943 the High Command began rotating battalions officially equipped with Panzer IIIs—the old workhorse was still pulling its load—back to Germany for retraining on Panther Model As. The reorganized battalions were impressive on paper: 4 companies each of 22 or 17 tanks, plus 8 more in battalion headquarters. First Panzer Division welcomed its new vehicles in November. Others followed, army and SS, the order depending on which division could best spare a battalion cadre. By the end of January 1944 about 900 Panther As had reached the Russian front, in complete battalions or as individual replacements.

As good as they were, the Panthers were a drop in the bucket compared to the mass of Soviet armor facing them. As compensation the High Command began considering a Panther II. Beginning as an up-armored Model D, during 1943 the concept metamorphosed—or better said, metastasized—into a lighter version of the Tiger. Weighing in at over 50 tons, it was originally scheduled to enter service in September 1943, but was put on permanent hold in favor of its less impressive, more reliable forebear.

The same might have been better applied to another armored mammoth. The Panzer VIB, the “King Tiger” or “Royal Tiger,” could trace its conceptual roots all the way to the spring of 1941. Prototypes emerged in 1943; the first production models appeared in January 1944. The VIB was best distinguished by a redesigned turret with a rounded front and a cupola for the commander. Its second characteristic feature was an 88mm L/71 gun (that translates as 19 feet long!) that could take out any allied tank at extreme ranges. Its frontal armor, more than seven inches in places, was never confirmed as having been penetrated by any tank or antitank gun. Its Maybach 700 horsepower engine gave it a reasonable road speed of 24 miles per hour. But if the King was dipped in the River Styx for strength, it was also left with an Achilles heel. Its weight was immobilizing. Only major road bridges could support it. The tonnage increased fuel consumption when fuel supplies were a growing problem, and also overstrained the drive system to a point where breakdowns were the norm.

The point was initially moot, since only five VIBs were in service by March 1944. But the situation was replicated in other end-of-the-war designs. The Jagdtiger was a tank destroyer version of the VIB carrying a 128mm gun—not only the heaviest weapon mounted on a German AFV, but an excellent design in its own right. At over 70 tons, however, and with only 20 degrees traverse for its main armament, the vehicle was only dangerous to anything unfortunate enough to pass directly in front of it.

The Panther’s tank destroyer spin-off was far more promising. Indeed the Jagdpanther is widely and legitimately considered the best vehicle of its kind during World War II. An 88mm L/71 gun, well-sloped armor, and solid cross-country capacity on a 45-ton chassis made the Jagdpanther a dominant chess piece wherever it appeared. Predictably, preproduction difficulties and declining production capacity kept its numbers limited.

For all the print devoted to the Panthers, the Tigers, and their variants, the backbone of the armored force through 1945 remained the Panzer IV. Its final versions had little enough in common with the “cigar butts” of 1940. The Model H officially became the main production version in March 1942. Its armor protection included side panels and grew to a maximum of 3.2 inches in front, at the price of increased weight (25 tons) that cut the road speed to a bit over 20 miles per hour. A later J version incorporated such minor modifications as wider tracks and wire-mesh side skirts just as effective as armor plate in deflecting infantry-fired antitank rockets.

Guderian in particular considered the new version of a well-tried system a practical response to the chronic frontline shortfalls in tank strength in the East. The Panzer IV was relatively easy to maintain -and relatively easy to evacuate when damaged. Over 3,000 of them would be produced in 1943, and standard equipment of the army panzer divisions was set at a battalion each of Panthers and Panzer IVs.

Guderian’s opposition to the assault gun had eroded with experience. Not only was its frontline utility indisputable, it could be manufactured faster and in larger numbers by less experienced enterprises than the more complex turreted tanks. Guderian correspondingly advocated restoring the panzer regiments’ third battalions and giving them assault guns as a working compromise.

The vehicles he intended were significantly different from the original assault guns and their underlying concept. The mission of supporting infantry attacks had become secondary at best. What was now vital was holding off Soviet armor. The self-propelled Marders, with their light armor and open tops, were well into the zone of dangerous obsolescence. In 1943 the Weapons Office ordered the development of a smaller vehicle mounting a scaled-down 75mm gun on the chassis of the old reliable 38(t). The 16-ton Hetzer (Baiter) was useful and economical, and continues to delight armor buffs and modelers. It was, however, intended for the infantry’s antitank battalions, and did not appear in combat until 1944—one more example of diffused effort that characterized the Reich’s war effort.

On the other hand, the Sturmgeschütz IIIG, with its 75mm L/48 gun, seemed highly suited to tank destruction and was readily available—until Allied bombing intervened. The factory manufacturing the bulk of IIIGs was heavily damaged in late 1943. To compensate, Hitler ordered the available hulls to be fitted to Panzer IV chassis. The result proved practical enough to encourage the production of over 1700 Jagdpanzer IVs by November 1944, despite Guderian’s protest at the corresponding fallout of turreted tanks. The new name of “tank destroyer” suited the vehicles’ new purpose, though their predecessors continued in service under the original title, creating confusion during and after the war that remains exacerbated by the vehicles’ close resemblance.

The Jagdpanzer IVs were intended for the panzer divisions and the assault gun battalions, whose number grew to over three dozen during 1943. A slightly heavier version with a 75mm L/70 gun like the Panther’s and the unflattering nickname of “Guderian’s Duck” began entering service in August 1944. It proved first-rate against armor in Russia and the West; almost a thousand were produced during the war. The “Duck’s” long gun made it uncomfortably nose-heavy (the source of its sobriquet), but by then that was among the least of the panzers’ problems.

Apart from a few emergency variations churned out in the war’s final months, the technical lineup of Hitler’s panzers was complete. As a footnote the design staffs, after years of work, finally developed the war’s best armored car. The SdKfz 234/2 Puma had it all: high speed, a low silhouette, and a 50mm L39 still effective against tanks in an emergency. Unfortunately, by the time the Puma and its variants entered production, the panzers’ need for a long-range reconnaissance vehicle was itself long past. Now their enemies all too often found them.

Lend-Lease Redux I

The Western Allies began supporting the Soviet Union with a wide variety of military equipment beginning in November 1941. Among the items supplied were many tanks and other types of armoured fighting vehicles. Although the countries that comprised the Western Allies found the Communist ideology as distasteful as the Nazis’ National Socialism, they embraced the old proverb that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’. By supplying the Red Army with as much military equipment as could be spared, the Western Allies knew they would help keep the Soviet Union in the fight and would, in turn, tie down the bulk of the German military ground forces till the end of the war in Europe.

It would be America’s factories that supplied the bulk of the tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles that went to the Red Army during the Second World War. Under a programme referred to as ‘Lend-Lease’, a cross-section of American-designed and built tanks would be shipped overseas in varying numbers through German submarine-infested waters to Russian seaports in the early war period.

Under Lend-Lease, the Red Army would receive 1,336 units of the American-designed and built light tank M3. It was armed with a 37mm main gun and up to five 7.62mm machine guns, albeit firing different types of ammunition to that of their Soviet counterparts. Also sent were 340 units of the slightly-improved light tank M3A1. Both vehicles weighed about 24,000lb (11mt), were powered by gasoline engines and manned by a crew of four. Maximum armour thickness on the front of the turrets of the light tanks M3 and M3A1 was 50mm.

Among the American-designed and built medium tanks that entered into Red Army service were 1,386 units of the diesel-engine-powered M3. The vehicle had a crew of either six or seven men and weighed 61,500lb (28mt). It was armed with a hull-mounted 75mm gun and a turret-mounted 37mm gun plus three 7.62mm machine guns. Maximum armour thickness on the vehicle’s front turret was 50mm.

In addition, under Lend-Lease the Red Army took into service 1,990 units of the diesel-engine-powered medium tank M4A2. The 70,200-lb (32mt) vehicle had a crew of five men and was armed with a 75mm main gun and three machine guns; a single 12.7mm and two 7.62mm. Maximum armour thickness on the front of the M4A2 turret was 88mm. Red Army tankers nicknamed the M4 series tanks they received as Emcha, which was a Russian shortening of M4.

The Red Army also received 2,073 units of the improved up-gunned second-generation medium tank M4A2, designated M4A2(76)W. The suffix ‘W’ represented a main gun storage arrangement that incorporated water to quench propellant fires. The 73,400-lb (33mt) M4A2(76)W had a crew of five men and was armed with a 76mm main gun and three machine guns; as before, a single 12.7mm and two 7.62mm. Maximum armour thickness on the vehicle was 88mm on the turret front.

Fifty-two units of the diesel-engine-powered 3-inch Gun Motor Carriage M10 were also taken into service. This 65,200-lb (30mt) vehicle had a crew of five men. Armament consisted of a 3-inch main gun and a single 12.7mm machine gun. Maximum armour thickness on the vehicle’s turret front was 56mm.

In parallel with the various tanks supplied to the Red Army under the Lend-Lease Act there was a wide range of wheeled and half-track armoured vehicles shipped to the Soviet Union. These would include 3,310 units of the gasoline-engine-powered scout car M3A1. This vehicle weighed 12,400lb (5.6mt) and had a crew of six to eight men. Standard United States army armament consisted of a 12.7mm and a 7.62mm machine gun. Maximum armour protection on the M3A1 was 13mm.

The Red Army would also receive 1,158 American-designed and built open-topped armoured half-tracks. These gasoline-engine-powered vehicles would include 342 units of the half-track car M2 and 603 units of the half-track car M9A1. These open-topped vehicles weighed up to 21,200lb (9.6mt) and had a maximum armour of 16mm on their front hull and a crew of ten men in United States army service, with an armament of a single 12.7mm (.50 calibre) machine gun and up to two 7.62mm (.30 calibre) machine guns.

Also shipped to the Red Army were two examples of the half-track personnel carrier M3 and 401 units of the half-track M5. These vehicles had a twelve-man crew in United States army service and weighed up to 21,500lb (9.7mt). Maximum armour thickness on the M3/M3A1 and the M5 version front hulls was 16mm. Typically, the various versions of these half-track personnel carriers were armed with a single 7.62mm (.30 calibre) or a single 12.7mm (.50 calibre) machine gun. The half-track personnel carriers supplied to the Red Army were typically employed as command vehicles in armoured units.

There was also a half-track-based tank destroyer provided to the Red Army, the Gun Motor Carriage T48. It was based on the chassis of the half-track personnel carrier M3 and armed with a British-designed, American-built 57mm gun. It was mounted in the rear of a modified M3 half-track on a conical structure, designated the 57mm gun mount T5.

Of the 962 T-48s built by the Diamond T Motor Car Company between December 1942 and May 1943, only thirty went to the British army, with 650 going to the Red Army. Of the remaining vehicles, most were eventually converted to the half-track personnel M3A1 configuration for use by the United States army. In Red Army service the T48 was referred to as the SU-57 and would remain in service through to the conclusion of the war in Europe.

The Anti-aircraft Artillery Board of the United States army had a vehicle developed based upon the chassis of the half-track personnel carrier M3. It was armed with a 37mm automatic cannon and two 12.7mm (.50 calibre) air-cooled machine guns. It was referred to as the Multiple Gun Motor Carriage M15A1 and had an open-topped armoured shield around the front and sides of the weapons to protect the gun crew. Some 100 units of the M15A1 were supplied to the Red Army under Lend-Lease.

Another anti-aircraft vehicle known as the Half-Track Multiple Gun Motor Carriage M17 was also supplied to the Red Army under Lend-Lease. It was armed with a power-operated turret designated the M33 that mounted four 12.7mm (.50 calibre) air-cooled machine guns in the open-topped rear hull of the vehicle. Rather than being mounted on the chassis of the half-track personnel carrier M3 as was the M15A1, it was mounted on the chassis of the half-track personnel carrier M5 built by the International Harvester Company for foreign aid use only. The entire production run of 1,000 units of the M17 was shipped to the Soviet Union.

The British government also decided early on that it was in their best interests to keep the Red Army in action and supplied it with 3,782 units (of various versions) of the Infantry Tank Mark III, officially nicknamed the ‘Valentine’. Armed with either a 40mm or 57mm main gun and a single 7.92mm machine gun, the vehicle weighed approximately 36,000lb (16mt). The tank started off with a crew of three that was pushed up to four men in later production versions. While the initial version of the Valentine had a gasoline-powered engine, subsequent models supplied to the Red Army all had diesel engines. Maximum armour protection on the Valentine series turret front was 65mm.

In addition to the Valentine series, the Red Army received 1,084 units of the Infantry Tank Mark II, officially nicknamed the ‘Matilda II’. The four-man vehicle was armed with a 40mm main gun and either one or two 7.92mm machine guns. Weighing in at about 60,000lb (27mt), the tank was powered by a diesel engine and had a maximum armour thickness of 78mm on its turret front.

Another infantry support tank that the British government would supply to the Red Army was officially nicknamed the ‘Churchill’. Models provided were the Mark III and Mark IV, both armed with a 57mm main gun. Both gasoline-engine-powered versions were also fitted with two 7.92mm machine guns. The Mark III version of the five-man Churchill tank weighed approximately 87,000lb (39.5mt). Maximum armour thickness on the Churchill Mark III and IV was 102mm on their turret front.

There was also a small shipment of twenty British light tanks designated the Mark VII sent to the Red Army. In British army service the vehicle was officially nicknamed the ‘Tetrarch’. The three-man vehicle was armed with a 40mm main gun and a single 7.92mm machine gun. Weighing in at 16,800lb (7.6mt), the maximum armour thickness on the vehicle’s front turret was 16mm.

Besides tanks, the British government sent to the Red Army 2,500 units of the Universal Carrier in whose service they often saw use as a reconnaissance vehicle. The 8,848-lb (4mt) vehicle had crew of four to five men and in British army service was armed with either a 7.7mm light machine gun or a 14.3mm Boys anti-tank rifle. Armour protection on the open-topped Universal Carrier was no more than 10mm.


When Stalin met them on September 13 1942 he was livid with rage at his British ally for arguing over military aid. ‘Tens, hundreds of thousands of Soviet people are giving their lives in the struggle against fascism, and Churchill is haggling over twenty Hurricanes.’ It was over a year since Britain and the United States had pledged to send the Soviet Union the military and economic aid necessary to keep the Soviet front from collapsing. Though there was popular hostility in both Western states to co-operation with Communism, the alternative of a German victory in the East was regarded as even less palatable, since it would leave Britain at the mercy of a military giant and the United States with little realistic prospect of fighting a major war 3,000 miles distant from its shores. Yet for all the importance attached to Soviet resistance, neither Western power contributed enough during 1942 to ensure Soviet survival. Churchill candidly told the Soviet ambassador, Ivan Maisky, that all Britain could offer was ‘a drop in the ocean’. The American Lend-Lease aid programme, begun in March 1941 for the British Empire and extended to cover the Soviet Union in August that year, provided $5.8 billion of goods for Britain by the end of 1942 but only $1.4 billion for the Soviet Union. Throughout the year Stalin had pressed Britain and the United States to provide direct assistance by opening a ‘second front’ in Europe to divert German forces away from the Eastern campaign. The war with Japan and the immature state of American rearmament made it difficult for the West to do more. The British army was hard pressed to keep a small Italian-German force from conquering Egypt, and the Royal Navy was fighting the Battle of the Atlantic, on which the future of any Western war effort depended. The only direct pressure Britain applied came from a long-range bombing offensive against Germany’s western industrial cities, which because of its modest scale had achieved only meagre results by the end of 1942.

The most serious gap in the Soviet armoury at the start of the war was in radio communication and intelligence. In the early months of war there were desperate shortages of radio equipment, which made effective command and control of large numbers of aircraft and tanks impossible and made it difficult to hold together a regular infantry division. And when radio was used German interceptors caught the messages and dispatched air or tank strikes against the unfortunate command post that had relayed them. Soviet commanders soon grew uncomfortable with using radio once they realized it could betray their whereabouts. The system was disrupted in the fast-moving defensive battles of 1941 and 1942, as one communications post after another was overrun by the enemy. The effort to provide effective communication in 1942 was central to the final successes of Soviet mass operations in 1943 and 1944.

It could not have been achieved without supplies from the United States and the British Commonwealth. Under the Lend-Lease agreements drawn up with America and Britain in 1941, the Soviet Union was supplied with 35,000 radio stations, 380,000 field telephones and 956,000 miles of telephone cable. The air force was able by 1943 to establish a network of radio control stations about one and a half miles behind the front, from which aircraft could be quickly directed to targets on the battlefield. Tank armies used the new radios to hold the tank units together, increasing their fighting effectiveness by the simplest of innovations. Finally, the Red Army began to organize its own radio interception service in 1942. By 1943 five specialized radio battalions had been raised; their function was to listen in on German radio, jam their frequencies and spread disinformation over the air waves. In the battles of summer 1943 the battalions claimed to have reduced the transmission of German operational radiograms by two-thirds. In the last years of the war Soviet signals-intelligence underwent an exceptional and necessary improvement. The systems for evaluating intelligence from radio interception, spies and air reconnaissance were overhauled by the spring of 1943, and a much clearer picture of German dispositions and intentions could be constructed. Moreover, radio came to play a major part in the evolution of sophisticated tactics of deception and disinformation, which on numerous occasions left the enemy quite unable even to guess the size, the whereabouts or the intentions of Soviet forces.

It was true that the quantity of armaments sent was not great when compared with the remarkable revival of Soviet mass production. The raw statistics show that Western aid supplied only 4 per cent of Soviet munitions over the whole war period, but the aid that mattered did not come in the form of weapons. In addition to radio equipment the United States supplied more than half a million vehicles: 77,900 jeeps, 151,000 light trucks and over 200,000 Studebaker army trucks. One-third of all Soviet vehicles came from abroad and were generally of higher quality and durability, though most came in 1943 and 1944. At the time of Stalingrad only 5 per cent of the Soviet military vehicle park came from imported stocks. Imports, however, gave the Red Army supply system a vital mobility that was by 1944 better than the enemy’s. The Studebaker became a favourite with the Soviet forces. The letters ‘USA’ stencilled on the side were translated as ‘Ubit sukina syna Adolfa’ – ‘to kill that son-of-a-bitch Adolf!’ The list of other supplies, equally vital to the Soviet supply effort, is impressive – 57.8 per cent of aviation fuel requirements, 53 per cent of all explosives, almost half the wartime supply of copper, aluminium and rubber tyres. Arguably the most decisive contribution was supplies for the strained Soviet rail network, much of which was in the occupied areas in 1941. From America came not only 56.6 per cent of all the rails used during the war but 1,900 locomotives to supplement the meagre Soviet output of just 92, and 11,075 railway cars to add to the 1,087 produced domestically. Almost half the supplies, by weight, came in the form of food, enough to provide an estimated half-pound of concentrated nourishment for every Soviet soldier, every day of the war. The shiny tins of Spam, stiff, pink compressed meat, were universally known as ‘second fronts’.

Lend-Lease Redux II

The USA, Britain and Canada supplied 22,800 armoured vehicles to the USSR during World War II. Of these, 1981 were lost at sea on the hazardous Arctic convoys to Murmansk. The shipments that did arrive were the equivalent of 16 per cent of Soviet tank production, 12 per cent of self-propelled gun production, and all of the armoured personnel carrier (APC) production. The first shipment in 1941 totalled 487 Matildas, Valentines and Tetrachs from Britain, and 182 M3A1 Light Tanks and M3 Medium Tanks from the USA. A year later, these figures had risen to 2487 from Britain and 3023 from the USA.

Despite being pressed in North Africa, Britain committed 14 per cent of her tank production to Lend-Lease supplies. Though Lend-Lease tanks helped the USSR while it was under serious pressure between 1941 and 1942 after it had suffered huge tank losses, in the long run, US trucks were the real war winners. The USA supplied 501,660 tactical wheeled and tracked vehicles: 77,972 Jeeps, 151,053 1.01 tonne (1 ton) trucks and 200,662 2.03 tonne (2 ton) trucks. These gave the infantry and logistic troops working with them a tactical mobility. The initials ‘USA’ stencilled on these vehicles were in the USSR taken to stand for the slogan’ Ubiyat Sukinsyna Adolfa’ – . ‘Kill that son of a whore Adolf’.

In the Cold War period, it was common for Soviet historians to denigrate the quality of the Lend-Lease tanks supplied by Britain and the USA. It is true that their medium tanks did not compare well against the T-34. However, the M3Al light tank was comparable or superior to the T-60 and T-70 light tanks, and the M4A2 Sherman was more durable and reliable than the T-34. Interestingly, in post-war encounters between the Sherman and T-34 in Korea and the Middle East, the M4 often came off the winner, even though it was theoretically an inferior design. The first unit to go into action with Lend-Lease armour was in the Staraya Russa and Valdai areas, fielding Valentines, Matildas and captured German tanks.


The White Motor Company was an important American truck manufacturer before the war. To meet the Army’s requirement for a high-speed scouting vehicle, the company offered an armoured version of one of its commercial truck chassis designs. This was tested as the T-7, accepted in 1938, and standardized as the M3 Scout Car in June 1939. Nearly 21,000 were built and 3340 of the M3s, widely known as the White Scout Car, were supplied to the USSR.

The White Motor Company was also responsible for producing the first US-designed half-track used during the war. Based on a White commercial truck chassis, it had the body of the M3 Scout Car. This was tested as the T-14 in 1939 and standardized as the Half-Track Car M2 and the Half-Track Personnel Carrier M3 in September 1940.

The USSR would eventually receive 342 M2 Half-tracks, 2 M3s, 421 M5s, and 413 M9s. The most popular of these was the M17 Multiple Gun Motor Carriage, which was armed with quad 0.50 calibre (12.7mm) Brownings, and the M15Al armed with a 37mm (1.46in) automatic cannon and twin Brownings. The USSR was sent 1000 M17s and 100 M15Als. These vehicles were very popular during World War II because they had no indigenous armoured self-propelled antiaircraft gun.


The provision of Lend-Lease supplies was slow in the early stages of the war, but from late 1942 it became a steady flow through the Soviet eastern provinces via Vladivostok, by the overland route from the Persian Gulf and the more dangerous and inhospitable convoy journeys from British ports to Murmansk or Archangel. Foreign aid on such a scale permitted the Soviet Union to concentrate its own production on the supply of battlefront equipment rather than on machinery, materials or consumer goods. Without Western aid, the narrower post-invasion economy could not have produced the remarkable output of tanks, guns and aircraft, which exceeded anything the wealthier German economy achieved throughout the war. Without the railway equipment, vehicles and fuel the Soviet war effort would almost certainly have foundered on poor mobility and an anaemic transport system. Without the technical and scientific aid – during the war 15,000 Soviet officials and engineers visited American factories and military installations technological progress in the Soviet Union would have come much more slowly. This is not to denigrate the extraordinary performance of the Soviet economy during the war, which was made possible only by the use of crude mass-production techniques, by skilful improvisation in planning and through the greater independence and initiative allowed plant managers and engineers. As a result of the improvements in production, the Red Army faced the German enemy in 1943 on more equal terms than at any time since 1941. The modernization of Soviet fighting power was an essential element in the equation. The gap in organization and technology between the two sides was narrowed to the point where the Red Army was prepared to confront German forces during the summer campaigning season in the sort of pitched battle of manoeuvre and firepower at which German commanders had hitherto excelled.

Soviet reaction to Allied aid during the war was mixed. While sending out extravagant shopping lists to the Western powers, the Soviet authorities complained constantly about delays in supply and the quality of some of the weaponry they were sent. Offers by British and American engineers and officers to follow up the deliveries with advice on how to use and repair the equipment were met with a stony refusal. It was true that aid deliveries were slow to materialize in the fifteen months after the promise was made in August of 1941, due partly to the difficulties in establishing effective supply lines, partly to the demands of America’s own rearmament. But neither Roosevelt nor Churchill were in any doubt that aid for the Soviet Union was vital to the anti-Axis coalition; they bore Soviet complaints without a serious rupture. When the first aid programme was finally settled in October 1941, Maxim Litvinov, by then the ambassador to Washington, leaped to his feet and shouted out, ‘Now we shall win the war!’ Yet after 1945 Lend-Lease was treated in the official Soviet histories of the war as a minor factor in the revival of Soviet fortunes. The story of Lend-Lease became a victim of the Cold War. Even in the late 1980s it was still a subject of which the regime would not permit open discussion. The significance of Western supplies for the Soviet war effort was admitted by Khrushchev in the taped interviews used for his memoirs, but the following passage was published only in the 1990s: ‘Several times I heard Stalin acknowledge [Lend-Lease] within the small circle of people around him. He said that… if we had had to deal with Germany one-to-one we would not have been able to cope because we lost so much of our industry.’ Marshal Zhukov, in a bugged conversation in 1963 whose contents were released only thirty years later, endorsed the view that without aid the Soviet Union ‘could not have continued the war’. All this was a far cry from the official history of the Great Patriotic War, which concluded that Lend-Lease was ‘in no way meaningful’ and had ‘no decisive influence’ on the outcome of the war.

The Soviet Union would not have been able to “fight their fight without allied support.”  However, the contribution of U. S. production and Lend-Lease to the Soviet effort has often been exaggerated.

“Left to their own devices,” as one contemporary source puts it, “Stalin and his commanders might have taken 12 to 18 months longer to finish off the Wehrmacht.” (David M. Glantz & Jonathan House, ‘When Titans Clashed’, 1995, p. 285)

Glantz and House noted (pp. 150-151, 285) the Soviet economy would have been more heavily burdened without Lend-Lease trucks, the implements of war, and raw materials including clothing.  Ultimately, the authors conclude, the result would have been the same, “except that Soviet soldiers could have waded at France’s Atlantic beaches.”

The authors point out, Lend-Lease equipment did not arrive in sufficient quantities in 1941-42 to make a difference.  “That achievement must be attributed solely to the Soviet people and to the nerve of Stalin” and others.  Lend-Lease trucks enabled the Soviets to keep their mobile forces moving, especially after March 1943.  But combat vehicles and aircraft proved less satisfactory.  The Valentine and Matilda tank turrets could not be upgunned.  And the Soviets wanted close air support ground aircraft and low altitude fighters, not fighter interceptors and long-range bombers.

According to Glantz and House (p. 340 n1), from October1941 to May 1942 the Allies delivered 4700 aircraft and 2600 armored vehicles.  In 1941 and 1942, the Soviets produced 8200 and 21,700 combat aircraft respectively, as well as 4700 and 24,500 tanks.  The Soviets lost 17,900 aircraft in 1941 and 12,100 aircraft in 1942 while tank losses were 20,500 and 15,100 for those years. (p. 306).

By mid to late 1942 the 1500 factories moved east of the Urals between July and November 1941 were beginning to meet much of the Soviet Union’s needs. Standardization of equipment and increased use of labor, especially women and teenagers, allowed tank production for example to rise 38% over 1941. Industrial production in the Urals increased 180% in 1942 over 1940, 140% in Western Siberia, 200% in the Volga region, 36% in Eastern Siberia and 19% in Central Asia and Kazakstan. (Source: Colonel G. S. Kravchenko, specialist in military economics, History of the Second World War, 1973, pp. 975-980).

Kravchenko points out that the smallest amounts of deliveries came at the beginning, the hardest period of war while the second front had not yet been opened. Lend-Lease, while important in providing locomotives, rail wagons, jeeps, trucks, raw materials such as aluminum, machine tools, food and medical supplies, only accounted for 10% of tanks and 12% of aircraft. Soviet soldiers appreciated the 15 million pair of boots the U.S. provided.

According to Alexander Werth (Russia at War: 1941-1945) Lend-Lease contributed to the Soviet army’s diet and to its mobility.   Between June 1941 and April 1944, Werth states (p. 567), the US delivered 6430 planes, 3734 tanks and 210,000 automobiles; the British 5800 planes and 4292 tanks; the Canadians 1188 tanks and 842 armored cars.  Given the Soviet attrition rate, (June 1941 to June 1943 – 23,000 planes and 30,000 tanks – Werth – FN p. 610), Allied contributions hardly covered Soviet losses.

The Road to Rome

By late spring 1943, the Americans and British and their Commonwealth and colonial Allies had won the war in North Africa. The opening of a Second Front in northwest Europe was still a distant possibility, and the victory in Africa left the Allies in the Mediterranean with a choice of where next to fight the Germans. Italy? The Balkans? Greece and the Aegean? The war had to be fought somewhere: Allied planners estimated that a possible D-day in France was still a year away. The triumvirate of leaders—Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill—were at odds over where to fight next. The Russian victory at Stalingrad in February 1943, and the British triumph at El Alamein, had proved to be turning points. The preceding year in the Pacific, the Americans’ aircraft carrier groups had broken the invincibility of the Japanese navy at the Battle of Midway, only six months after Pearl Harbor.

Churchill argued that control of the Mediterranean meant control of Europe, and he wanted England, its armies, and the Royal Navy to have it. In the telegrams that the three leaders exchanged daily, early summer 1943 was devoted to deciding how the war in south and southeastern Europe would be fought. Control of Italy, with its 4,750 miles of coastline commanding every shipping lane in the middle of the Mediterranean, and thus access to the Suez Canal and India, was crucial for the British. It would also decide how military operations in neighboring countries in southern Europe, like Yugoslavia, Austria, and southern France, could be carried out. These in turn would dictate the postwar map of the northern Mediterranean.

A liberated Sicily and Italy would enable the Allies to dominate the Mediterranean sea-lanes and the air bases within striking distance of Germany and the whole of southern Europe. The Allies had three possible courses of action. First, invade  Sicily and the Italian mainland, and fight from bottom to top, thus tying down hundreds of thousands of German troops who could otherwise be deployed against a forthcoming invasion of northwestern Europe, or else used in Russia. Second, they could stage seaborne landings at the very top of Italy, on the Mediterranean and Adriatic coasts, fight across the country, and cut off the whole mainland and the German and Italian forces in it. Third, they could negotiate an armistice and surrender with the Italians, move fast, and invade and occupy the country before the Germans had time to reinforce it from the north. Having occupied Italy, the Allies could then race up the spine of the country toward the Alps, outflanking and trapping German divisions by a series of leapfrogging amphibious landings on both Adriatic and Mediterranean coastlines. They chose the first option. And at first it all went according to plan.

Meeting at Casablanca in January 1943, the Americans and British argued about whether Sicily or Sardinia should be the first target. Sicily won. In Operation Husky, begun on the night of July 9, 1943, the British 8th Army under General Bernard Montgomery and the American 7th Army under Lieutenant General George S. Patton launched amphibious and airborne assaults across the southern and eastern coasts of Sicily. It was the largest venture of its kind in the war to date, and was successful, although many of the problems that could beset a combined amphibious, naval, and airborne operation did so. Husky was preceded by a series of diversions, the most imaginative of which was code-named “Operation Mincemeat.” The Allies were obviously desperate to persuade the Germans and Italians the landings were planned elsewhere, for as Winston Churchill had said after the success of the North Africa campaign, “Everyone but a bloody fool would know it’s Sicily next.”

So the Allies devised a cunning plan. The dead body of a homeless Welshman from north London was painstakingly disguised to resemble the corpse of a British Royal Marines officer. The scheme pretended that he had drowned after an air crash while carrying secret documents destined for General Harold Alexander, commander in chief of the Mediterranean theater. The body, with a fictitious identity—“Major Martin”—was dumped overboard by a British Royal Navy submarine off the southern coast of neutral Spain. A leather briefcase was chained to it, containing papers purporting to show that the Allies intended to invade Sardinia or Greece. A local fisherman found the body after it washed ashore, and it was passed to the Spanish navy, which in turn allowed German military intelligence in Madrid to copy the documents. Hitler fell for it. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was transferred to Greece to command German operations there against the supposed Allied invasion and, most important, three German tank divisions were transferred from Russia and France to Greece, just before the strategically crucial armored battle at Kursk in the southern Ukraine in 1943.

But the actual invasion of Sicily, which began on the night of July 9, got off to a discouraging start. Because of strong winds and inexperienced pilots of the 147 gliders carrying the first wave of British airborne assault teams, only 12 reached their correct targets and 69 crashed into the sea. American paratroopers were scattered across southeastern Sicily. The initial landings were almost unopposed, but within hours the Germans and Italians counterattacked with tanks. The Italian army fought much harder than expected, and the British, overconfident after beating them in North Africa, found themselves out-fought by them, albeit briefly, on two occasions. But then the weather swung in the Allies’ favor: the Italians and Germans had assumed that nobody would attack in the bad weather that prevailed before the attack, and so they were slow to react. The enormous dominance in Allied air power hindered the German tanks’ ability to move easily in the open Sicilian countryside. Using their infantry and tanks together, the Allies—who were numerically outnumbered almost two to one—swung north, west, and east across Sicily, pushing the Germans into the northeastern corner toward the Strait of Messina. The Germans fought a series of bitter rearguard actions as they withdrew toward the port of Messina, from where they could rescue their troops back onto the toe of the mainland.

For the Allies, the fighting was characterized by several factors they would encounter on the mainland. The combat was dominated by the physical terrain and the Germans’ exemplary command of the fighting withdrawal. Both sides effectively deployed armor and infantry together: the Germans used lightning counterattacks to keep the Allies off guard as their main force withdrew from one defensive position to the next. It was to prove a precursor to the fighting on the mainland. There was also the heat, dust, mosquitoes, the lack of water, the beauty of the countryside, the two-thousand-year history, and the rural poverty.

The fighting in Sicily introduced the Allied soldiers and their commanders to a new German opponent, which was to dominate the strategic and operational dictats of their lives for the next eighteen months. Luftwaffe Feldmarschall Albert Kesselring was in charge of the German Army Command South. He was a fifty-eight-year-old veteran of the First World War who had commanded the German air forces during the invasion of Poland and France, and during Operation Barbarossa in Russia. He made several decisive observations in Sicily. Without German support, the Italians would collapse, although they were around 230,000 in number. So he decided to evacuate his 60,000 Germans back to the mainland and save them for the defense of southern Italy. He did this in a series of tactically brilliant fighting withdrawals, using the geography on land and sea to his advantage. More than 50,000 Germans escaped from Sicily by August, including two elite paratroop divisions, along with nearly 4,500 vehicles. Kesselring achieved this despite the fact that the Allies had command of land, sea, and air.

The campaign lasted four weeks. The British and Americans lost around 25,000 killed, wounded, missing, or captured, and the Germans some 20,000. The Italians surrendered and lost around 140,000, the majority of whom were taken prisoner. Fighting was brutal. But after a morning spent observing combat in a peach orchard, a British war artist said that he couldn’t decide which was more compelling: the physical beauty of the island or the visceral violence of infantry fighting. The combat casualties on the American side were exceeded only by the number of soldiers who caught malaria, from the Anopheles gambiae mosquito, breeding in the ponds, swamps, and drainage ditches that crisscrossed Sicily.

The Allies ran head-on into the world of Sicilian organized crime, and into la dolce vita too. In one key town, American troops fought alongside Italian Mafia gunmen masquerading as partisans, after their battalion commander agreed with the local capo that political and material control of the area would revert to him once the Germans had retreated. The geography was new too. Suddenly, after the throat-scorching heat and arid lack of compromise that were the sand and rocks of North Africa, here were the southern gardens of the old Roman Empire. The idiosyncratic color of war was also far from absent.

A unit of British special forces was the first to liberate the eastern port of Augusta. They outfought and outmaneuvered a numerically superior German unit, which withdrew toward a viaduct above the town. The British soldiers then liberated not just the bar in the local brothel but also the wardrobes of the prostitutes who worked in it. When an English company of soldiers arrived to link up with the Special Raiding Squadron, they found a small group of rugged, ragged men in special forces berets, captured German weapons slung over their shoulders, some wearing a mix of combat uniforms and women’s negligees and underwear. One was playing an upright piano under the orange trees in the town square, surrounded by the others, who were drinking Campari and singing.

But then the Italians made a move that very nearly caught the Germans by surprise. In secret, they had negotiated an armistice with the British and Americans: it was signed on September 3 at a military base at Cassibile outside Syracuse in southern Sicily. Italy’s Fascist infrastructure, under the twenty-year dictatorship of Il Duce, Benito Mussolini, was by now on the ropes. The country, badly defeated in North Africa and at sea in the Mediterranean, was exhausted by war. Il Duce’s lavish architectural designs, feckless colonial wars, and huge public spending had bankrupted Italy. His cloying, sycophantic allegiance with Hitler had motivated him to dispatch 235,000 Italian troops of the 8th Army to fight alongside the Germans, Romanians, and Hungarians around Stalingrad. They were badly equipped, with weapons that, at best, semifunctioned in the Russian winter, and they had no suitable clothing for the subzero temperatures. In seven months, from August 1942 to February 1943, 88,000 were killed or went missing; 34,000 were wounded, many of them with extreme frostbite. And by July 1943, the Italian mainland was already being bombed by the Allies. The country’s predominantly Catholic population was at risk of reprisals if Pope Pius XII spoke out too vociferously about the Germans’ treatment of Europe’s Jews.

So the end, when it came, was draconian. Mussolini was told by the Grand Council of Fascism on July 25, 1943, that not only would his powers be curtailed, but control of the armed forces would be handed over to King Victor Emmanuel and Prime Minister Pietro Badoglio. The former was considered ineffectual; the latter, with a shameful record in World War I, was thought little better than Il Duce. So the next day Mussolini was arrested at Villa Savoia in Rome. The signature of the armistice was effectively a total capitulation of the country’s armed forces. For the Germans, who by chance had intercepted an Allied radio conversation from Sicily about the negotiations, it was a confirmation of what they had feared and expected all along. Their capricious and militarily lackluster allies had done a deal behind their backs.

Fearing that with the Italian army incapacitated, the British and Americans would quickly occupy Italy, the Germans moved as fast as they could and launched Operation Alarich, their plan to occupy Italy. If the Allies had been prepared to cooperate in full with the antifascist Italian resistance before Mussolini was deposed, the British landings in mainland Italy could have taken place unopposed. But British foreign secretary Anthony Eden insisted on a full and unconditional surrender by the Italians. During the 1935 Abyssinian crisis, Mussolini had described Eden, then an undersecretary of state at the Office of Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, as “the best dressed fool in Europe.” Eden remembered and smarted at this, and demanded a full and unconditional surrender.

Badoglio was timid and terrified of offending the Germans, so the chance to provide muscular military leadership to the many Italians who would be prepared to resist both Fascists and Germans was lost, and the Allies’ opportunity to join forces with the antifascist partisans was squandered. The Germans’ speedy reaction paid off: while the Allies were still negotiating final terms, and arguing about what should become of Italy’s monarchy, Hitler dispatched nine extra divisions down through the Brenner Pass, eastward from southern France and westward from Yugoslavia. After a short-lived defense by Italians loyal to the king, Rome was occupied by the Germans on September 9, 1943. The Italian army collapsed into three pieces.

Italy Falls Apart

As an Italian army officer, Arrigo Paladini had volunteered for service in Russia in 1941 and fought near Stalingrad. But unlike 88,000 other Italian soldiers in Russia who were killed or taken prisoner, Paladini made it home alive, with nothing worse than a bad case of frostbite in one foot. It meant that for the rest of his life he could hardly run. When the armistice was signed at Cassibile in September 1943, Arrigo Paladini was still a twenty-six-year-old second lieutenant in an artillery unit of the Italian army, based near Padua in northern Italy.

As soon as he heard news of the armistice, broadcast from Allied-occupied Algeria by the American major general Dwight Eisenhower, and then on the BBC and Radio Italy, Paladini quickly decided which side he was on. Fellow soldiers in the Italian army faced four choices: desert and go home; follow the orders of superior officers and face detention in squalid camps to await the eventual arrival of the Allies, or possible execution by the Germans; remain loyal to the deposed Mussolini and his Fascist regime; or join a partisan group. As a confirmed antifascist, he felt his only choice was to move south and enlist with a group operating in the Abruzzo region, which lies between the Apennines and the country’s eastern seaboard on the Adriatic.

Tens of thousands of former Italian soldiers, accompanied by civilians who hated the German occupation of their country, formed partisan groups. Loosely aligned along political lines, they were looking to the future while fighting in the present. The Germans were the immediate enemy, their defeat the immediate goal. But regional political control at the end of the war was the ultimate objective. Paladini’s group was allied to the Christian Democrats: its main rivals in the Abruzzo area were Communists. It started life at a meeting in an ilex grove above a village, and at the very beginning had around twenty men, with four Carcano rifles, two submachine guns, and a few Beretta pistols, captured from the police, among them. Paladini took the code name of “Eugene.”

After being deposed, Mussolini had been put under the guard of a force of two hundred carabinieri, Italian paramilitary police officers who had remained loyal to the king. They hid the former dictator and his mistress, Clara Petacci, on the small Mediterranean island of La Maddalena, off Sardinia. After the Germans infiltrated an Italian-speaking agent onto the island, and then flew over it in a Heinkel He 111 taking aerial photographs, Mussolini was hurriedly moved.

They took him to the Hotel Campo Imperatore, a skiing resort in the Apennine mountains, high up on the plateau of the Gran Sasso and accessible only by cable car. Here he spent his time in his bedroom, eating in the deserted restaurant surrounded by carabinieri guards, and taking walks on the bare, deserted mountainside outside the hotel. Hitler, meanwhile, had been planning.

In September 1943, he ordered an Austrian colonel in the Waffen-SS, Otto Skorzeny, to come up with a plan to rescue Mussolini, and to assemble a group of men to do it. Thus was born Operation Eiche, or Oak. Skorzeny was colorful, charismatic, and austere, and one of Germany’s foremost practitioners of commando and antiguerrilla warfare. As a teenager growing up in Vienna in the 1920s depression, he once complained to his father that he had never tasted butter. Best get used to going without, replied his father. Skorzeny was a skilled fencer too, and one cheek bore the scar of a dueling schmiss, or blow from an opponent’s blade.5 By 1943 he was an officer in the Waffen-SS with a hard-earned reputation for success in counterinsurgency operations in France, Holland, the Balkans, and Russia. He commanded the newly formed SS commando unit Sonderverband Friedenthal, and with paratroopers from the German Luftwaffe, he rescued Mussolini without firing a shot.

The two hundred Italian carabinieri protecting Il Duce surrendered after Skorzeny and his assault team landed by glider on the top of the plateau next to the Imperatore. Mussolini, in a black homburg and overcoated against the autumnal Apennine chill, was flown to Rome—with a stop in Berlin to be greeted by Hitler—in a light aircraft. Then he returned to northern Italy, where he created the Italian Socialist Republic, a puppet Fascist state that the Germans drew out within the territory they occupied. It became known as the Salò Republic, from the northern Italian town in which it was headquartered. So with Mussolini now in his small Fascist statelet, Germany occupying Italy, and the Allies arriving on the mainland, Paladini and his small band got to work.

The Arguing Allies

By the time the Americans landed on the beaches at Salerno, south of Rome, in September 1943, the Allies had just lost one of their more capable generals. The irascible, direct, but tactically effective battlefield commander Lieutenant General George Patton had led the U.S. 7th Army in the invasion of Sicily. He had no time for soldiers under his command who complained of suffering from “battle fatigue,” or any form of neuropsychiatric combat-related stress. At the beginning of August 1943, visiting American military hospitals in Sicily, he assaulted and abused two soldiers who were claiming to be affected by fatigue. Army medical corpsmen had diagnosed at least one, if not both, of them to be in the early stages of malaria, alternating between high fever and shivering fits, with attendant paranoia, hallucinations, nausea, and vomiting. It is questionable that either of them knew what he was saying.6 Patton slapped both of them, kicked one in the behind, and threatened to shoot the other. News of the incident mushroomed, and despite there being as much support for Patton as criticism over the incident, he was sidelined from combat command for several months as the 7th Army was split up. His successor was a general who would influence the Allies’ strategy as much as Albert Kesselring, though in different ways.

Generals Mark Clark and Harold Alexander

Lieutenant General Mark Clark was a brave and ambitious staff commander who had risen fast through the ranks of the American officer corps. Born in 1896, his father was a career soldier in the U.S. Army; his mother, an army wife, was the daughter of Romanian Jews. He grew up on a series of army posts, joined the army in 1913 at age seventeen, and graduated from West Point in 1917 as a second lieutenant, 110th out of a class of 139. In the manner in which promotion often works in wartime, he was a captain five months later, before being wounded in France later that year fighting in the Vosges mountains. He remained in the military between the wars, holding a variety of staff appointments, at which he excelled, and was quickly promoted. By 1942, he was a major general and deputy commander in chief under Eisenhower in North Africa. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal by his friend and superior, General Eisenhower, after the successful completion of Operation Flagpole in October 1942.

The Allies were determined that the French army in Tunisia and Algeria not oppose the landings code-named “Operation Torch,” the invasion of North Africa. A group of pro-Allied senior officers from the pro-German Vichy French government, based in Tunisia, had indicated that they would be able to persuade the French forces in that country not to resist an Allied invasion. Along with a group of senior officers and three British commandos, Clark was sent to meet them. The group flew by B-17 Flying Fortress to Gibraltar and then boarded the British Royal Navy submarine HMS Seraph. (This vessel would later drop the fake body of “Major Martin” off the coast of southern Spain during Operation Mincemeat.) Clark spent three days ashore in Tunisia, the mission was a success, and senior French officers announced that when Allied troops came ashore in North Africa, they, the French, would arrange a cease-fire. Eisenhower was delighted. It showed Mark Clark’s diplomatic flexibility and powers of persuasion and command, and added to his staff capability. By November 1942, Clark was the youngest lieutenant general in the U.S. military.

In January 1943, he took over command of America’s first field army of World War II—the 5th Army in Italy. Eisenhower was an admirer, and Clark was certainly brave in a mildly reckless way, but he had a reputation for being vainglorious and ambitious. Neither of these were unnatural or surprising qualities in a West Point cadet who had finished near the bottom of his class yet had risen so quickly in the military. Clark was also a classic product of the political economics of 1930s America, a country that was becoming a world superpower and where post-Depression industrial strength restored much of the people’s confidence. It was a country where merit, personal drive, and ambition went hand in hand. Clark was not lacking in of any of these, and he found that war and high command provided the fuse for this volatile trio of qualities.

The commander of the 15th Army Group, which contained the British 8th and American 5th Armies, was General Harold Alexander. The son of an earl, he was educated at Harrow, one of England’s leading private schools. He joined the Irish Guards in 1911, after briefly considering becoming an artist. Unlike so many of his generation, he survived the First World War, where he fought on the Somme, and was decorated for gallantry three times. Britain’s leading balladeer of Empire, Rudyard Kipling, arranged for his severely nearsighted son, John, to serve in Alexander’s battalion at the Battle of Loos in 1915, where he was killed. Afterward, he wrote that “it is undeniable that Colonel Alexander had the gift of handling the men on the lines to which they most readily responded … His subordinates loved him, even when he fell upon them blisteringly for their shortcomings; and his men were all his own.”

Alexander served in India between the wars, and in 1937 was promoted to major general, the youngest in the British Army. After Dunkirk in 1940 and service in England, in 1942 he was dispatched to Burma to lead the army’s retreat to India. Recalled to the Western Desert by Churchill, he led the Allied advance across North Africa after the battle of El Alamein, and then took command of the 15th Army Group, reporting to Eisenhower. The British diplomat David Hunt, who served as an intelligence officer in North Africa, Italy, and Greece, was, after the war, on the British Committee of Historians of the Second World War. He considered Alexander the leading Allied general of the war. He quotes the American general Omar Bradley as saying that he was “the outstanding general’s general of the European war.” But despite this, he had an uneasy relationship with Mark Clark, who found him too reserved.

In September 1943, the main body of the two Allied armies landed at Salerno, south of Naples, on Operation Avalanche. Two other British landings took place in Calabria and at Taranto, on the toe and heel, respectively, of Italy. A deception operation code-named “Boardman” coincided with it, in which the British Special Operations Executive leaked faked plans to invade the Balkans via the Dalmatian Adriatic coast. The plan was successful, and these fell into the hands of the Germans in Yugoslavia. Winston Churchill was, in the words of an American staff officer, “obsessed with invading the Balkans,” part of his master plan to preempt a postwar Russian occupation of territory in southern Europe that Churchill saw as rightfully European, not Soviet.

Salerno was as far north as the Allies could land in Italy while still retaining fighter cover from Sicily. The advance bogged down. American troops that managed to break out of the Salerno bridgehead headed eastward instead of north; they tried to link up with American, British, Polish, Canadian, and Indian troops that were advancing northwest toward Rome from their landing grounds at the bottom of Italy. The linkup failed. The mountainous geography of the southern Apennines dictated that an advance to seize the main access routes into the outskirts Rome would have to cross three key rivers, then force its way up the valley of a fourth, the Liri, flowing from the mountains that lay to the south of the capital. Kesselring had anticipated this. The high ground that dominated these river crossings and the main roads were controlled by German artillery, antitank weapons, and infantry. Looming over the entrance to the Liri valley itself was a huge mountain, which had a large ancient Benedictine monastery on top of it. It was called Monte Cassino.

Trying to push northward and break the gridlock at Salerno, the Allies made a crucial strategic decision that turned into a tactical error. They carried out a huge amphibious landing north of Salerno, on the Mediterranean coast, at a small fishing port called Anzio. It was only thirty miles south of Rome. When 35,000 British and American troops landed there on January 10, 1944, they found themselves completely unopposed, and they took the Germans by surprise. They could have marched on the capital. But the querulous, disagreeing Allied generalship—“the Arguing Allies,” as they were known—came to the Germans’ rescue. Mark Clark placed the operation ashore under the command of an overhesitant American general. The British and Americans were then trapped for five months in an area where German gunners on the surrounding Alban Hills had every square mile mapped onto their fire plans. The fighting for both sides resembled the trench warfare of the Western Front, and one German officer described it as being worse than Stalingrad.

British General Harold Alexander’s 15th Army Group comprised Mark Clark’s 5th Army, with English General Oliver Leese commanding the 8th Army. The Allies’ command structure then took another blow: Montgomery had left for England in December 1943 to help lead the Allied invasion of Normandy. He left behind him what he saw as a situation of strategic and tactical disorganization, particularly by the Americans, that he was subsequently to describe as a “dog’s breakfast.”

Clark’s dislike of Alexander was compounded by his frustration at being the U.S. general who had to implement Alexander’s decision to bomb the monastery of Cassino—although Clark personally furiously disagreed with the order. The British in turn blamed Clark for the near failure of the landings at Salerno. Into this goulash of mutual dissatisfaction, they also stirred another ingredient. Clark had personally assigned the overcautious American major-general John Lucas to command the Anzio bridgehead, and the British, who took enormous casualties there, blamed Lucas for not breaking out of the isolated enclave.

The landing at Anzio had been designed to solve Salerno and the Cassino quagmire. It did neither. What it did do was give Field Marshal Albert Kesselring plenty of time to prepare successive defensive lines north of Rome, to which he could fall back one by one in a series of tactical withdrawals. It allowed him to reinforce the north of the country and establish a major defensive line that led diagonally across north-central Italy exactly where the Apeninne mountains and the Po River valley perfectly suited defensive warfare. It allowed him months to focus his capabilities and to build a string of mutually supporting positions all along this line, which led from the Adriatic coast on the east to the Mediterranean on the west. It was the strongest German defensive position in southern Europe. Kesselring called it Gotenstellung, the Gothic Line.

Italy was now a land of several opposing and cooperating forces. There were the Americans and British, with their multinational corps and divisions from India, Canada, and countries such as South Africa; there were the Germans; there were the Italian partisan groups, with their myriad political allegiances; and there were Italian Fascists loyal to Hitler and Mussolini. The list of protagonists in the fight for one of Western civilization’s oldest lands was as complex and tricky as the terrain and the history of Italy itself.


The military hegemony of France in Europe and in many regions overseas began on 19 May 1643 with the destruction of the Spanish Netherlands Army at Rocroi by a French army led by the 21-year-old Duke of Enghien (later Prince of Conde, the “Great Conde”). The young duke’s remarkable victory over Spain’s hardened veterans signaled the end of Spain’s military predominance (which dated from the sixteenth century) and represented the fruition of the military reorganization initiated by King Louis XIII’s premier, Armand Jean du Plessis, cardinal-duke of Richelieu.

On the foundation laid by Richelieu, talented military leaders like Conde, Turenne, Luxembourg, Vauban, Catinat, Villars, Vendome, Boufflers, and Saxe, and a succession of accomplished royal ministers, like Colbert and Louvois, built the edifice of France’s military greatness.

France was ruled during its ascendancy by the “Sun King,” Louis XIV (reigned 1643-1715), whose ambition and territorial designs caused many of the great wars that wracked Europe during the last decades of the seventeenth century. French hegemony was first checked by coalitions led by England and Holland and finally ended by Great Britain in the Seven Years’ War (1756-63), a true world war in which France lost most of its great colonial empire.

Henry IV (“le Grand”)

The end of the long period of religious-civil wars in France (Edict of Nantes, 1598) was also the end of the latest French struggle with Hapsburg Spain (Treaty of Vervins), with which France had been at war more or less continually since the beginning of the sixteenth century. The new French king, Henry IV, had triumphed over his enemies, foreign and domestic, but was shrewd enough to recognize that he had gained as much by compromise and cynical accommodation as by military prowess. The conflict with the Spanish Hapsburgs (and their Austrian cousins) was more suspended than resolved. The debilitating domestic religious question was solved temporarily by permitting the Huguenots to erect a kind of independent republic based on their centers of influence, chiefly in the south and southwest of France. But, fundamentally, the religious question had been deferred, not settled. Much depended on the king’s political skills and vision, not only for France, but for Europe.

At this time, the kingdom’s energies were directed toward re-establishing order and rebuilding the economy, as the Memoires of the Duke of Sully recount. In foreign affairs, the king conceived a fantastic project for a “United States of Europe,” a precursor of the present-day European Union. But how serious he was, and what the results of his various schemes might have been, remain subjects for conjecture: Henry IV was assassinated by a fanatic in 1610. He was succeeded by his son, Louis XIII (reigned 1610-43), who was 9 years old.

Louis XIII (“le Juste”)

Internal Conflicts

Louis’s reign was troubled by internal division, conspiracy, and conflict. In part this was due to the king’s youth and the constant jockeying for power and influence at court among regents, favorites, advisers, and councilors; in part it was due to the renewed outbreak of religious and civil wars, as the problems left unresolved at the accession of Henry IV resurfaced.

It is remarkable that, at this time, France was virtually bereft of armed forces. The “peace dividend” attendant to the accession of Henry IV was manifest in the purposeful neglect of the army and navy. In particular, Henry had allowed the ancient companies of gendarmes (regular heavy cavalry) to dwindle to nothing, since they had been arrayed against him in the civil wars. Even the royal household troops, the fabled Maison du Roi, had been cut back severely, and some units existed only as sinecures for Henry’s old comrades in arms.

Louis XIII, his favorites, and his ministers gradually rebuilt the Maison, adding new units and reinforcing the old ones, so that the Royal Army always had a well-drilled, professional core. In the dizzying succession of internal wars that beset the country until the final defeat of the Huguenots (1628), the professionalism of the Royal Army made the difference.

Louis’s enemies did not want for armed men, nor for enthusiastic amateurs to lead them, but the armies of the nobles (les grands) and the Huguenots could not stand up to the Royal Army in the field. The wars were characterized by sieges-in particular, the epic siege of the Huguenot stronghold of La Rochelle (1627-28). At the end of the wars, the king’s chief minister, Cardinal Richelieu, stood in triumph over his enemies. Henceforward until his death (1642), he was effectively France’s ruler.


The conclusion of the internal wars allowed Richelieu to turn his attention to foreign affairs, his true metier. In Richelieu’s eyes, France’s principal enemy was the House of Hapsburg, and particularly the Spanish Hapsburgs, whose domains or dependents confronted France on all its land frontiers. Thus, from 1629 until 1659, France was almost continually at war with Spain, either at first-hand or by proxy.

These wars included the War of the Mantuan Succession (1629-32) and the Franco-Spanish War (1635-59), which just preceded open French involvement in the Thirty Years’ War (French phase, 1636-48) and continued long afterward. In this series of conflicts, France was ultimately successful, despite political divisions manifested by the various civil wars of the antiministerial Fronde (1648-53) and the treason of Conde, who threw in with the Spanish after his defeat as the leader of the Frondeurs (he served as a Spanish generalissimo until 1659).

France’s success in this period may be attributed almost entirely to the policies of Richelieu. He reformed and reorganized the army, eliminating some of the worst abuses of the oligarchic spoils system by subordinating the entirely aristocratic officer corps to central authority. He achieved some success in enlarging and professionalizing the native French forces and ending the Crown’s dependence on the superb but not always reliable mercenary contingents that historically had constituted the fighting core of the French army.

Richelieu also virtually founded the French navy, which had hardly existed as a permanent force before his ministry. For a brief (and remarkable) period the navy won several victories against the Spanish. The greatest French admiral of the period was the cardinal’s brilliant nephew, Maille-Breze (1619-49).

But Richelieu’s achievements did not long outlast him. His successor, Cardinal Mazarin (Giuilo Mazarini, premier 1642-61), allowed the navy to sink into decline, and it was of little military value until its true foundation as a professional service around 1669 by the great navy minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-83). The army, however, retained a measure of efficiency, and its greatest moments were ahead of it.

Louis XIV (“le Roi Soleil”)

The Sun King’s reign had begun in 1643, but in fact Mazarin ruled France until he died in 1661, when Louis proclaimed that henceforth he would be his own chief minister. The next 54 years were a period of splendor and magnificence for France, not only in the arts but also in military affairs. France was at the zenith of its power.

In the military sphere, France was organized for war so thoroughly that no one power could long hope to withstand it. And Louis’s ambition for territorial aggrandizement might have startled even his more aggressive ancestors.


While Colbert reorganized the financial structure of the nation and launched an ambitious naval building program, his bitter enemy, the equally remarkable war minister Francois Michel Le Tellier, marquis de Louvois (1641-91), reorganized the army. Louvois was assisted in this work by Turenne, who was made marshal-general in 1660 to give him authority over all his redoubtable contemporaries in the marshalate. Turenne in turn was assisted by three brilliant but largely forgotten subordinates-Martinet, Fourilles, and Du Metz-each responsible for the reorganization of a single combat arm: infantry, cavalry, and artillery, respectively. The result of this immense effort was the first truly modern army: a permanent professional force, well organized, trained to a relatively high degree of efficiency, and subordinated to a powerful minister supported by a large, proficient civilian bureaucracy.

Logistical support of field armies was facilitated by the magazine system created by the great engineer Vauban. The rationalization of logistics, combined with the centralized control and direction of the marshaled human and material resources of the nation-state, made larger armies possible. Whereas, during the Thirty Years’ War, the average field army had numbered about 19,000 men, the late-seventeenth-century wars of Louis XIV were fought by field armies two to three times larger. To compound France’s advantages in this period, the magnificent armies created by Louvois were led by perhaps the greatest galaxy of military talent ever assembled.

The Wars of Louis XIV

Louis’s wars of aggression, conducted between 1667 and 1714, involved his blatant and barely rationalized attempts to expand France’s frontiers, particularly in the northeast (Flanders) and east (along the Rhine), at the expense of the moribund Spanish Empire and the hopelessly divided, invitingly weak Holy Roman Empire. These expansionist wars began in earnest with the War of Devolution (1667-68) and the Dutch War (1672-79), in which France gained Franche-Comte and many strong places along the frontiers. France’s principal enemy was Holland, the architect of strong coalitions which alone could hope to oppose France. Indeed, in this period, France was virtually isolated diplomatically. The French armies, led by Turenne and Conde, won brilliant victories in the field, notably at Seneffe (11 August 1674), where Conde defeated a Dutch-Spanish army led by William of Orange, the Dutch stadtholder, and at Sinzheim (16 June 1674), Enzheim (4 October 1674), and Turckheim (5 January 1675), in which Turenne gained a trio of remarkable victories against the coalition armies along the Rhine.

The period following the Treaty of Nijmegen (6 February 1679) was marked by French bullying along the Rhine and further French expansion as Louis’s “Chambers of Reunion” decreed several territories and towns “French” (since at one time or another they had belonged to any of several recent French territorial acquisitions). French troops promptly moved in to enforce the decisions of these courts, and the German emperor was forced to accede to this latest aggression. Louis followed up by revoking the Edict of Nantes, which had guaranteed freedom of worship to the Huguenots (1685). Europe was appalled, and France was much weakened by the emigration of thousands of her most industrious people.

Further French threats and aggressions along the Rhine led to the formation of the Dutch-inspired anti-French League of Augsburg, which consisted of virtually all the powers of Europe except for England (9 July 1686). But the English Revolution of 1688 led to the exile of the English king James II. When William of Orange and his wife, Mary, James’s daughter, took the English throne, England joined the League, which became the Grand Alliance (12 May 1689).

Meanwhile, the War of the League of Augsburg (1688-97) had broken out, and France confronted the coalition on land and sea. A new generation of French military leaders soon proved their mettle. In Flanders, the Marshal Duke of Luxembourg, Conde’s protege, won great victories over the coalition at Fleurus (1 July 1690), Steenkerke (3 August 1692), and Neerwinden (1 August 1693). In Italy, Marshal Catinat knocked Savoy out of the war after winning the decisive Battle of Marsaglia (4 October 1693). At sea. however, the French were beaten badly at Cap La Hogue (May 1692).

This war was also a true “world war.”‘ since it involved the American and Indian-subcontinent colonies of the belligerents. In America, it was known as King William s War and involved fighting between the French and English and each side s Indian allies. The Treaty of Ryswick (1697) that ended the war was unremarkable. In the complex territorial provisions. France gained Alsace and Strasbourg.

The imminent extinction of the Spanish Hapsburg dynasty preoccupied Europe in the years following the Treaty of Ryswick. When Charles II. Spain’s feeble-minded, childless king, finally died in 1700. Louis advanced the claim of his grandson. Philip of Anjou, to the Spanish throne. Since the European powers could not countenance a union of Spain and France, this brought on the War of the Spanish Succession 1701-1714. in which France once again squared off against an all-European coalition.

In this war, France for once was decidedly deficient in military talent. Against the genius of the great allied commanders Marlborough and Eugene of Savoy. France had mostly second-rate marshals and generals (Luxembourg had died in 1695). The allies won a succession of striking victories: Blenheim (1704), Ramillies (1706), Turin (1706), and Oudenarde (1708). The French gained some successes in Italy and prevailed in Spain. The allies won the bloody Battle of Malplaquet (11 September 1709) at tremendous cost, and England retreated from the war effort in revulsion at the casualties. The French cause was helped immeasurably by the brilliant Marshal Villars. whose victories improved France’s negotiating position as the war wound down.

In 1713 and 1714. the exhausted belligerents negotiated treaties ending the war. Philip of Anjou was recognized as king of Spain, but the crowns of France and Spain were permanently separated. Louis XIV died in 1715 and was succeeded by his great-grandson. Louis XV.

Louis XV (“le Bien-Aime”)

The reign of Louis XV 1715-74 was marked by the gradual decline of the military machine created by Louvois and Turenne. The officer corps grew alarmingly, until by mid-century the proportion of officers to enlisted men was 1 to 15. Moreover, the quality of the officer corps deteriorated: many were weak, incompetent, venal, or amateurish. Inevitably, discipline suffered, and the once-proud army became the object of contempt-an ‘”unqualified mediocrity” in the eyes of many.

The reign was marked by the complete reversal of Louis XIV’s foreign policy, but France’s military commitments did not diminish appreciably, as Europe’s coalition wars continued undiminished. France was allied with recent enemies Britain. Holland, and Austria against its former ally Spain in the War of the Quadruple Alliance (1718-20). In the War of the Polish Succession (1733-38). France supported the claim of Stanislas Leszczynski (Louis XV’s father-in-law) to the Polish crown against Saxony, Austria, and Russia. France’s most distinguished soldier during this period was James Fitzjames, duke of Berwick and marshal of France. Berwick, an illegitimate son of England’s King James II, was killed in action at the Siege of Philippsburg (12 June 1734). The Philippsburg campaign was also the last for a long-time antagonist of France, Prince Eugene of Savoy.

The War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48)

Although a guarantor of the Pragmatic Sanction, in this war France was allied with Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony, Savoy, and Sweden against Austria, Russia, and Britain. France did not officially enter the war until 1744, but French “volunteers” served from 1741-a decidedly modern piece of disingenuousness.

The war marked the emergence of one of France’s greatest soldiers, Maurice, comte de Saxe (1696-1750), a German by birth-one of 300-odd illegitimate children of Augustus II “the Strong, ” elector of Saxony-a military genius and himself a prodigious womanizer. Campaigning in Flanders, the Austrian Netherlands, and Holland, Saxe won victories against the allies at Fontenoy (10 May 1745), Rocourt (11 October 1746), and Lauffeld (2 July 1747).

Saxe’s success in the Low Countries was not matched by his contemporaries in other major theaters-Italy and Germany. At sea, the British had the upper hand against the French and Spanish fleets. In North America (King George’s War), France fared miserably, incurring serious defeats by the British and British colonials and native American allies. In India, however, Dupleix was successful at Madras and in the Carnatic.

The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748), ending the war, restored all colonial conquests to their prewar status. France gained nothing by the European provisions; essentially, the war had been a failure.

The Seven Years’ War (1756-63): The Nadir

In the Seven Years’ War in Europe, France and its principal allies, Austria (the Empire) and Russia, contended against the numerically inferior forces of Prussia and Great Britain. The allied powers, operating on exterior lines, made several poorly coordinated attempts to crush King Frederick the Great of Prussia by convergent invasions of Hanover and Prussia. Initially, the French, under Marshal Louis d’Estrees, were successful against the British-Hanoverian army led by the son of King George II, William Augustus, duke of Cumberland-whom Saxe had beaten at Fontenoy (despite the splendid bravery of the British- Hanoverian infantry).

Defeated at Hastenbeck (26 July 1757), Cumberland was trapped at KlosterZeven (Zeven) and forced to concede Hanover to the French. The Convention of Kloster-Zeven was the worst British surrender until Dunkirk (1940), not excepting Yorktown. D’Estrees’ replacement, the Marshal-Duke Louis de Richelieu, failed to cooperate with Charles de Rohan, prince de Soubise, and the prince of Saxe-Hildburghausen at the head of the Franco-Reichs army. Despite great numerical superiority, the allies were defeated badly by Frederick at Rossbach (5 November 1757).

The great victory at Rossbach eliminated one of two French armies committed to German) and effectively allowed Frederick to concentrate his energies on the Austrians and Russians. Henceforth, the French were opposed on the Rhine front by the gifted Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick. Louis, marquis de Contades. was defeated by Ferdinand at Minden (1 August 1759) and the French were driven back to the Rhine. Subsequently, Ferdinand contended successfully against the French (1760-62), finally driving them across the Rhine.

In the New World, the French, led by the brilliant Louis Joseph, marquis de Montcalm-Gozon. were initially successful (French and Indian War), but Montcalm was defeated by James Wolfe at Quebec (13 September 1759), and the British conquest of Canada was completed within a year. Both Montcalm and Wolfe died in the battle that decided the fate of a continent.

In India, weak French forces were led by Count Thomas Arthur Lally, a distinguished veteran of Irish descent, who was beaten as much by the ineptitude and machinations of his officers as by the genius of the British soldier Sir Eyre Coote. Lally lost India and went to the scaffold for it, a miscarriage of justice memorialized by Voltaire in Fragments of India.

The French navy was no match for the British at sea. British naval superiority contributed to the relative isolation of French colonial forces and the disparity in strategic mobility, numbers, and resources wherever the two powers confronted one another.

The Treaty of Paris (1763) marked the political and military humiliation of France and the ascendancy of Britain in Europe and overseas. France lost most of its North American and Caribbean empire, including Canada, and French India was practically dismantled. In Europe, France had sunk so low that it was almost eclipsed by a resurgent Spain, led by King Charles III (reigned 1759-88).

Military Reform and Rebirth

France had always been a congenial environment for military thinkers-and not a few eccentrics. Among the great theorists of the eighteenth century were Jean Charles, chevalier de Folard (1669-1752), and Marshal Saxe, whose Mes reveries is still read and admired today. During the Seven Years’ War, the innovative Marshal-Duke Victor-Francois de Broglie, victor over Brunswick at Bergen (13 April 1759), had introduced the all-arms division organization, a necessary precursor of the larger Napoleonic army corps.

Thus, despite the stagnation and enervation so pronounced at midcentury, it is not surprising that the French armed forces were reformed and modernized during the reign of Louis XVI 1774-92 . The principal agent of reform was the war minister. Claude Louis, comte de St. Germain (1707-78), who was assisted in his work by Jacques Antoine Hippolyte. comte de Guibert (1743-90; tactics and doctrine), Jean Baptiste Vaquette de Gribeauval (1715-89; artillery materiel and organization), and Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau (1725-1807; tactics and infantry organization).

Although the old army was swept away in the Revolution (1789), these reformers were directly responsible for creating the professional core of the successful Revolutionary armies. However, the fine quality of the reformed French army was already evident in 1780 in the small but magnificent expeditionary corps that Rochambeau led to America and that played such an important part in the Yorktown campaign.

Bibliography Aumale, H. E. P. L. 1867. Les institutions militaires de France: Louvois-Carnot- Saint Cyr. Paris: Levy. Dollinger, P. 1966. Histoire universelle des armees. Vol. 2. Paris: Laffont. Kennett, L. 1967. The French armies in the Seven Years’ War. Durham, N. C.: Duke Univ. Press. Susane, L. A. V. V. 1974. Histoire de la cavalerie frangaise. 3 vols. Paris: Hetzel. . 1874. Histoire de Vartillerie frangaise. Paris: Hetzel. . 1876. Histoire de Vinfanterie frangaise. 5 vols. Paris: Dumaine. Weygand, M. 1953. Histoire de Varmee frangaise. Paris: Flammarion.

A Final Solution to the Soviet Problem

Montage of submerged submarine launch to the reentry of the multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles of a Trident missile

The first concrete, and perhaps most benign, result of the RAND influence in the Kennedy administration was a change in the nation’s general nuclear war plan—called the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP).

President Eisenhower had ordered SIOP during the last year of his administration as a response to the uncoordinated proliferation of nuclear weapons in the U.S. Armed Forces. Although it centralized command of all the nuclear weapons—the Navy’s Polaris missiles, and the other nuclear arsenal of the Navy fleet and of the Army units—the SIOP strategy was nothing less than the old Sunday punch of the 1950s. Labeled SIOP-62, for the first year in which it would become operational, the plan contemplated responding to an impending Soviet invasion of Western Europe with a U.S. nuclear force of 1,459 bombs, packing a total of 2,164 megatons—even if the Soviets did not employ any nuclear weapons. They would be directed at 654 targets, military and urban, in the Soviet Union, China, and Eastern Europe. If the United States fired a preemptive first attack, as was official policy in case of a perceived Soviet threat, then the entire American nuclear arsenal force would be unleashed. That would mean 3,423 nuclear weapons, totaling 7,847 megatons. It was estimated that 285 million Russians and Chinese would die in this holocaust and that perhaps 40 million more would be severely injured.

Nor was that the limit of the carnage. The Joint Chiefs of Staff estimated that another 100 million or more would die in Eastern Europe. Fallout also would claim 100 million lives in neutral countries surrounding the attacks—places like Finland, Austria, and Afghanistan. Ultimately, there could be yet another 100 million deaths in NATO countries, depending on which way the nuclear fallout blew. In total, up to 600 million people—the just and the sinners, the bystanders and the ignorant—would perish because of an automatic response to a perceived threat. Needless to say, no thought was given to the effect such massive bombing would have on the global climate.

Strategic Air Command briefed McNamara on SIOP-62 on February 3, 1961, just two weeks after John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. General Thomas White, the Air Force Chief of Staff, led the presentation to McNamara; his deputy secretary, Roswell Gilpatric; and a retinue of other top Department of Defense civilians. The SAC officers had hoped to impress McNamara with their dazzling display of charts, numbers, and statistics, but McNamara was far from pleased with what he saw. He was able not only to comprehend instantly the gist of any presentation but to synthesize, analyze, and compare the given data to previous analyses, and he immediately pointed out the enormous duplication of destruction in the plan, with some targets destined to be hit four to ten times; he also openly criticized the underestimation of Soviet casualties and industrial destruction.

McNamara was particularly aghast when General White, in a semihumorous aside, said, “Well, Mr. Secretary, I hope you don’t have any friends or relations in Albania, because we’re just going to have to wipe it out.” That is, the Albanians, like hundreds of millions of people in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, and China, would be annihilated merely because they happened to live under Communist rule.

McNamara left SAC headquarters determined to change the nation’s nuclear policy. He convinced President Kennedy to forswear initiating a nuclear war. Yet some other kind of plan had to be drawn up in case the nuclear specter became a dreadful eventuality. But what? His answer came a few weeks later, when he received a crucial briefing by RAND analyst William Kaufmann on counter-force, a concept new to McNamara.

Alain Enthoven and Charles Hitch arranged for the talk by Kaufmann on February 10, 1961. A former student of Bernard Brodie’s at Princeton and a colleague of Albert Wohlstetter’s, Kaufmann had elaborated on Brodie’s original concept of a no-cities targeting plan. Essentially, the plan called for delivering nuclear weapons to known Soviet military targets instead of population centers. Kaufmann also built on Wohlstetter’s second-strike concept by proposing a calculated response—the American nuclear counterattack would be carried out in steps, gradually increasing in intensity so as to give the Soviets a chance to halt before further escalation occurred. The briefing was one that Kaufmann had given to the Air Force dozens of times over the previous years, without much consequence. He had prepared charts, tables, and graphics for a four-hour conference, but McNamara grasped the concepts so quickly Kaufmann was done within an hour.

McNamara seized on Kaufmann’s proposal incorporating counterforce and second-strike capability, believing it offered a new way to utilize the nation’s nuclear arsenal by giving the president flexibility in response to Soviet moves. Atop a to-do list of 96 items that came to be known as the 96 Trombones—a conflation of the idea of McNamara’s aides being known as his band, the lyrics to an old operetta song, and the “76 Trombones” number from The Music Man—McNamara ordered his assistants to prepare “a draft memorandum revising the basic national security policies and assumptions, including the assumptions relating to ‘counterforce’ strikes . . .” Their work, with Kaufmann as consultant, would form the basis of the new nuclear policy.

McNamara turned over Project Number 1 of his 96 Trombones to Paul Nitze, who then handed it over to Harry Rowen. Rowen in turn gave it to Daniel Ellsberg, since the former marine was one of a handful of civilians who had closely studied the military’s war plans. Ellsberg saw this as his chance to make the nation’s nuclear response more precise and effective, not to mention more rational, for to him the general nuclear plan in existence seemed ludicrous and insanely murderous, even in the face of Soviet aggression.

Kaufmann’s plan had assumed that the call to pull the nuclear trigger was a considered decision, made at the highest level of government—by the president or the secretary of defense. Ellsberg knew better. In the late 1950s, RAND had loaned Ellsberg to the forces of the Commander in Chief Pacific to study the problems of nuclear control and command. He learned then that in spite of all public declarations to the contrary, Eisenhower had delegated to commanders in major theaters the authority to start a nuclear attack under certain circumstances, such as a communications breakdown with Washington (which happened frequently back then) or the incapacitation of the president (which had occurred twice when Eisenhower suffered heart attacks). Not only that, some of the four-star commanders who had this authority had in turn delegated it to their subordinates, which meant that the capability to order a nuclear attack was much more widespread and susceptible to possible error or abuse than suspected. The nightmare of a deranged local commander calling in a nuclear strike, the basis of so many science-fiction movies and thrillers, was not far from reality after all—especially before Wohlstetter came up with the concept of fail-safe. (All the same, Kennedy later reauthorized this delegation of power, which was reaffirmed by President Johnson in 1964.)

In his draft, Ellsberg repeatedly emphasized that the United States would not hold the people of Russia, China, or Eastern Europe responsible for the actions of their governments. Therefore, the American response in case of war would seek to minimize the number of civilian casualties. The plan called for refraining from indiscriminate attacks on population centers “while retaining U.S. ready residual forces to threaten those targets” if needed. Ellsberg also emphasized the absolute necessity of a continuing command control center for U.S. forces, as well as the need for weapons to be held in reserve for a counterattack, both of which had been omitted in the extant nuclear war plan.

In May of 1961, the month before SIOP-62 was to be adopted as official policy, McNamara sent Ellsberg’s plan to the Joint Chiefs of Staff as the basis of a new operational plan for 1963. Ellsberg meanwhile repeatedly urged the national security leaders in the administration—McGeorge Bundy at the National Security Council, Walt Rostow of the State Department, and Gilpatric—to rewrite the definition of a general war so that a conflict with the Soviet Union did not degenerate into nuclear war. Ellsberg’s efforts met with success, and early in 1962, McNamara made the new counterforce policy public in a speech at the University of Michigan.

This new measure for facing crises would be put to the test soon enough—in fact, within weeks. In the summer of 1961, all of the RAND ideas of counterforce versus massive retaliation faced a real-life challenge when, for a brief interval, the American government gave serious consideration to unleashing preemptively the nation’s nuclear arsenal on the Soviet Union. The springboard was that most contested of cities, Berlin.

An island of American influence in a sea of Communist oppression, the former capital of Germany had been divided into a Communist East and a democratic West after World War II, mirroring the division of Germany. Mass defections from East Germany to West Germany plagued the East German authorities for years. By 1958, two million people had migrated to the West, with close to 10,000 still escaping every month—many of those through Berlin. Stalin had blockaded the city in 1948 to force the U.S. allies out, but after a massive 300-day airlift thwarted his plan, the Soviet Union signed an agreement allowing free access to Berlin. Before Kennedy’s election, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev had been making noises about restricting the movement of troops and supplies to Berlin again, under the pretext of signing a final peace treaty with East Germany and making the Communist regime there responsible for all traffic in and out of Berlin—therefore choking the Western-controlled part of the city.

Khrushchev repeated the threat at a June 1961 meeting in Vienna with President Kennedy. At the time, Kennedy was still trying to find his legs politically following the debacle of the Bay of Pigs. Originally authorized by Eisenhower as a CIA undercover operation, the April 1961 invasion had aimed at deposing Fidel Castro’s Communist regime with a force of 1,200 American-trained Cuban exiles. When confronted by superior Cuban forces and a refusal by President Kennedy to provide needed U.S. military support, the exile invaders went down to defeat, giving Castro his first major victory against the United States and a gigantic black eye to the Kennedy administration.

That failure, compounded by Kennedy’s youth and inexperience in world affairs, made the Crimean peasant that lurked within Khrushchev believe the American president was in way over his head. Khrushchev proceeded to lecture Kennedy, warning of war if the United States and its allies did not withdraw from West Berlin by December. Kennedy responded defiantly, “Then there will be war, Mr. Chairman. It’s going to be a very cold winter.”

One thing that did not much concern Kennedy was the size of Khrushchev’s much-vaunted atomic arsenal. Just weeks after the inauguration, the CIA had informed McNamara of the secret U-2 spy plane conclusions: the so-called missile gap favoring the Russians did not exist. When McNamara blurted out at one of his first press conferences that if there was a gap, it was actually in favor of the United States, an immediate scandal ensued. The New York Times ran the story on page one and newspaper editorials across the country excoriated the new administration for its deceit, while in Congress there were calls for McNamara’s resignation and a rerun of the presidential election. McNamara offered to resign but Kennedy refused the offer, telling him, “We all put our foot in our mouth once in a while. Just forget it. It’ll blow over.”

However, while the Kennedy administration knew that the Soviet boasts of nuclear superiority were a Potemkin village, it was painfully aware that Soviet combat strength superiority in East Germany was the real thing. Several Soviet divisions surrounded Berlin, and U.S. military forces there had just enough ammo and provisions to withstand a conventional conflict for eighteen days. If the Russians decided to blockade West Berlin, the plan by the Joint Chiefs of Staff was for the United States to send a handful of brigades down the autobahn from West Germany to break the Soviet stranglehold. If the Soviets or their Warsaw Pact allies resisted, the next step was the all-out nuclear strike of SIOP-62.

Back in Washington, Kennedy received sharp advice from Truman’s secretary of state, Dean Acheson (Kennedy had appointed career diplomat and Rockefeller Foundation president Dean Rusk to preside over Foggy Bottom). In Acheson’s view, the Berlin crisis was nothing less than an excuse by Russia to test America’s will. If Kennedy backed down on Berlin, the Soviets would feel that they could attack American interests elsewhere with impunity. The United States would be seen as incapable of or unwilling to honor its commitments to other countries, for fear of using its nuclear forces. Acheson suggested that Kennedy order a massive buildup of conventional forces to send a message to the Soviets that America would not be pushed around—although Acheson ruefully acknowledged this move might result in a nuclear war. Secretary of State Rusk, who had accompanied Kennedy to Vienna, seconded his predecessor’s recommendation, and made plans to meet with European foreign ministers and the NATO Permanent Council later that summer.

On July 25, 1961, Kennedy followed Acheson’s advice, asking Congress for a $3.3 billion supplement to the appropriations bill, with half of the money earmarked for an increase in conventional forces; he also upped the Army’s strength from 875,000 to 1,000,000 troops and ordered an array of other measures to augment the nation’s war readiness. To avoid the possibility that a confrontation over Berlin might lead to a nuclear war for which the country would be unprepared, Rowen ordered a contingency memorandum to be drafted, elaborating on the Kaufmann counterforce/no-cities ideas that Ellsberg proposed for SIOP-63.

The memo, written by National Security Adviser Carl Kaysen, offered the new and dismayingly tantalizing possibility of eliminating the Soviet nuclear arsenal altogether. Analysis of photographs taken by reconnaissance satellites had disclosed that the once-feared Soviet missile force was even smaller than anyone had dared to hope. The National Security Council deduced that the Soviets actually had only four land-based operational intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking the United States. A preemptive counter-force first strike against Soviet installations would therefore most likely result in the permanent destruction of the Russian nuclear land-based missile threat, at a cost of a few million Soviet lives. The memo warned, however, that if some Soviet bombers and submarine-based missiles survived the attack and the Soviets struck back, from two to fifteen million Americans might die.

The memo inflamed tempers throughout the administration. Ted Sorenson, Kennedy’s main speechwriter and chief White House counsel, screamed at Rowen’s assistant, who brought him the memo, “You’re crazy! We shouldn’t let guys like you around here.” A leftist staffer on the National Security Council, Marcus Raskin, who would found the Institute for Policy Studies and go on to renown as a fierce opponent of the Vietnam War, asked, “How does this make us any better than those who measured the gas ovens or the engineers who built the tracks for the death trains in Nazi Germany?”

Even Paul Nitze vetoed the proposal. What if all the weapons were not taken out? he asked. What if they were aimed at Washington or New York? Could the country really afford to lose those cities and what they meant to civilization? Moreover, the study recognized that there was no certainty as to the location of all the short- and medium-range Soviet missiles, of which there were hundreds, which could rain down on American allies. The number of European casualties could be in the tens of millions. No, the plan was not acceptable. Besides, the Soviets had already acted in their own inimitable way to bring the crisis under control: in August 1961, they had built the Berlin Wall and effectively halted the mass migration that created the problem.

The crisis gradually defused, thanks in no small part to Kennedy’s tough but flexible posture—a lesson that would serve him well in later negotiations with Khrushchev. In October, after he established direct communications with Kennedy seeking accommodation on the issue, Khrushchev waived his self-imposed deadline on Berlin. To reinforce the need for negotiations, Gilpatric gave a speech in late October 1962 hinting that the United States knew the limits of Soviet missile strength. He cautioned that any enemy move that brought American nuclear retaliatory power into play would constitute a death sentence for the Soviet Union.

Cowed by the American firmness, Khrushchev allowed the movement of troops and supplies into West Berlin to return to normal. Nevertheless, if ever there was a moment when the RAND theories of counterforce could have had their optimum real-life application, it was during the Berlin crisis. Even during the Cuban Missile Crisis a year later, when the Kennedy administration found Russian SS-4 and SS-5 medium-range nuclear-armed missiles pointed straight at the mainland, there was no thought of a preemptive nuclear strike on the Soviet Union. True, at one point, there was talk of a U.S. invasion of the island, and a possible air strike on the Cuban nuclear missile sites to disable them beforehand, but even then no one in Kennedy’s inner circle gave serious consideration to the kind of full-fledged nuclear wipeout envisioned by the Kaysen memo. Instead, Kennedy imposed an embargo blocking further Soviet weapon deliveries to the island. After a tense standoff with Khrushchev, Kennedy pledged not to invade Cuba and, in exchange for the withdrawal of the Soviet missiles, withdrew some obsolete NATO missiles from Turkey so Khrushchev could save face before the Politburo. As in so many RAND war games, nobody in the U.S. government had the gumption, madness, or suicidal urge to pull the nuclear trigger.

Vietnam, however, was another madness altogether.


The Chinese fleet review, April 2018 in the South China Sea. More than 10,000 service personnel, 48 vessels and 76 aircraft took part in the review, including the Liaoning aircraft carrier, high-tech submarines and warships as well as advanced fighter jets. More than half of the vessels were commissioned after the Communist Party’s National Congress in 2012, when Xi became the party’s general secretary.

Naval fleets 2011

Designing and implementing an effective strategy for China will be an especially demanding task for U.S. policymakers. Almost every dimension of the problem adds difficulty and complexity to the challenge.

Within a decade, China’s economy, and the potential for that economy to support military power, will constitute a rival the size of which the United States has not faced since it emerged as a global player over a century ago. Comparisons with recent large military competitions reveal the size of the looming challenge. World War II required the United States to mobilize for a global war effort. But once it did so, its production, combined with that of its allies, including the Soviet Union, easily swamped that of the Axis powers. By 1944 success in that war was not in doubt. During the Cold War, U.S. economic and technical advantages over the Soviet bloc permitted a military competition that little strained the United States but bankrupted the Soviet Union.

With China, by contrast, the United States could by next decade face a rival with substantially equal economic output and potentially comparable military spending. Unlike the Soviet Union, China, with a much larger economy, will very likely be capable of sustaining an arms race on roughly equal terms for as long as it chooses. For the security balance in East Asia, China, as we have seen, gets much more out of its military spending because it is the “home team.” The effectiveness of U.S. military investment by contrast is diluted both by U.S. global security responsibilities and by the nation’s need to project its military power to a far-off “away game” in East Asia. The United States will be able to add the military potential of its partners in the region to its side of the ledger. But others in the region may bandwagon with China. The result is a security challenge in East Asia the potential magnitude of which U.S. policymakers have not faced in the modern era.

Second, as much of this book has sought to explain, the structure of the military problem in East Asia seems only now to be dawning on policymakers in Washington responsible for the design of U.S. military forces. Overconfidence in an assumed lead in U.S. military technology and attention drawn to nearly two decades of small wars have led policymakers and planners to lose sight of technological developments—most of them ironically first developed by the United States—that are now nullifying previous U.S. military advantages in power projection and strategic mobility. With the PLA’s military strategy now placing much of America’s tremendous investment in naval and aerospace power at risk of irrelevance, U.S. military planners and commanders must now cobble together new ways of performing basic missions in a region they previously took for granted.

America’s allies in the Asia-Pacific region are its most valuable asset; but they are also an especially challenging lot for U.S. diplomats. In Western Europe during the Cold War, former enemies were able to put the past behind them and coalesce around NATO and the concept of collective security. The bald Soviet threat, the brashness of which China has yet to fully replicate, certainly provided much of NATO’s glue. France’s early obstreperous behavior toward NATO is just one example that not all was harmonious inside the Atlantic alliance. But today’s American diplomats would surely welcome that relative unity of purpose compared to what they must wrestle with in East Asia.

Unlike Europe, bitter memories in Asia from last century and before remain unforgotten, with multilateral security cooperation suffering as a result. Moral hazard, the temptation by allies to let America do the heavy work, remains strong; for all of the talk about China’s military modernization, defense spending in frontline places such as Taiwan, the Philippines, and Japan is shockingly slight. Schizophrenia over either U.S. abandonment or entrapment in a military misadventure still plagues many of America’s allies in the region. With little prospect of any permanent and effective security institutions developing in the region, U.S. diplomats will continue to face uncertainty and ambiguity; partners may plead for U.S. protection while simultaneously hedging to keep their options open.

At home, the American public and policymakers have yet to sort out just what to make of the new China. A poll conducted in 2012 by Pew Research showed that while 52 percent of the U.S. general public viewed the emergence of China as a major threat, the concern centered on China’s economy rather than its military potential; only 28 percent of the public rated China’s military might as the greatest concern. A parallel poll of government executive and legislative branch officials found just 31 percent perceived China as a major threat. A 2013 Pew poll asked respondents from the general public to rate various international security issues. While 59 percent assessed North Korea’s nuclear program a major threat, 56 percent said the same of Islamic extremist groups; China’s power and influence, number five on the list, was rated a major threat by 44 percent of the respondents. With economic anxiety lingering in the United States in the wake of the recent economic recession, many in the U.S. public register more concern about China’s economic competitiveness than its military modernization, a topic which has received scant media attention. So although we have argued in this book for major reforms to U.S. security strategy in Asia, most of the U.S. public seems unaware of the need for a change.

Adopting a more assertive stance toward China is also likely to create frictions inside the United States. The 2012 Pew poll showed a broad disparity of views between the general public and some elites regarding China. For example, 71 percent of the general public perceived a loss of U.S. jobs to China as a very serious problem, a view held by only 15 percent of the business and trade leaders Pew interviewed.

Even as a security competition between China and the United States continues to grow, trade and financial linkages will continue to deepen. Commercial and financial interaction with China creates winners and losers inside the United States. Although overall economic welfare benefits from this trade, those losing from trade with China—say workers and investors in some industries—might view a more assertive stance against China favorably. By contrast, those who currently benefit—those with large exports and investments in China—may argue against a more assertive U.S. security strategy in the Asia-Pacific region. Because of the deepening trade and financial linkages between the two countries, a debate over U.S. security strategy in the region could pit many domestic interests against each other.

It has been two centuries since the United States last faced a country that was simultaneously a potential adversary and a large and vital trade and financial partner. The misbegotten War of 1812 divided the southern and western states, which saw the war as a chance to expand the country into Florida and farther west, against the New England states that had deep commercial and financial ties with Great Britain and that therefore strongly opposed President James Madison’s war policy.8 Strong economic ties to an adversary, concentrated in mainly one region of the country, resulted in a deep internal split over foreign policy. Should the security competition between China and the United States accelerate in the years ahead, we should expect to see interests and factions inside the United States clash over America’s China policy. An internal competition over China policy will only increase the subject’s complexity for political leaders responsible for fashioning that policy.

Finally, the gravity of U.S. interests at stake in the Asia-Pacific region will magnify the stress on America’s policymakers. No less than America’s standard of living, the future of its relationships around the world, and its status as a great power are in the balance. The Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia” is both a reflection of this gravity and an antecedent for follow-on actions in the region by his successors. With the China security competition, U.S. policymakers will be forced to deal with a true peer competitor, a confounding military challenge, quarrelsome yet vital allies, clashing domestic interests, and a public that is understandably conflicted about the issues in play. Because the stakes are so large, no security issue will be more consequential for American interests. China policy will be a great challenge for a long time to come.

The United States Needs a New Approach

For the United States and its allies, the current trends are too dangerous to be allowed to continue. By early next decade, China’s leaders could conclude that they, and not the United States and its partners, possess escalation dominance. Those leaders could perceive that China’s leverage would improve during a crisis in the western Pacific, the more that crisis escalated. During such escalation, the PLA could put into readiness, and perhaps into action, more and more of its land-based access-denial air and missile power. Under these conditions, U.S. commanders would not relish the prospect of sending their naval and airpower into such tactically unfavorable circumstances. They would presumably have to report this analysis to policymakers in Washington, who would similarly have to ponder the consequences of a visible and substantial military setback. For the policymakers, attention would inevitably shift to face-saving de-escalation of the crisis, done with a lack of negotiating leverage.

Needless to say, such a scenario would be unfamiliar ground for U.S. policymakers and commanders who have held, in most cases since World War II, the advantage of escalation dominance. Policymakers in the Lyndon Johnson administration believed (incorrectly as it turned out) that escalating the employment of airpower and ground forces would compel North Vietnam to end its military operations in South Vietnam and its support for the Viet Cong resistance. In the 1991 Persian Gulf War, President George H. W. Bush resisted attempts to arrange a negotiated settlement even after the monthlong preparatory air war had begun; Bush and his advisers wanted more escalation, with the employment of U.S. and coalition ground combat power against Iraqi forces.10 In 2002 and 2003 President George W. Bush and his advisers again favored escalation in order to achieve the employment of what they believed was U.S. military superiority over Iraq.

Perhaps the most interesting and, for current U.S. planners, the most disturbing parallel, is the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. In that case, President John Kennedy and his team employed conventional military escalation—the visible buildup of air, naval, and amphibious forces opposite Cuba—to persuade Soviet leaders that a military clash in the Caribbean was hopeless for Soviet plans. In this case, Soviet forces, in the role of the expeditionary power, faced poor odds against the American and continental “home team.” The result was a withdrawal of the Soviet missiles from Cuba.

An adversary’s possession of escalation dominance will be strange territory for U.S. policymakers, one that could lead to either costly miscalculation or an embarrassing climbdown in a crisis. Most dangerous of all would be a situation in which each side perceived it would benefit from escalation. In that case, a conflict would be virtually certain. By next decade, such a disturbing scenario in East Asia is plausible. By that time, PLA commanders might have great confidence in the missile and aerospace power they will have built. On the other side, the confidence of U.S. policymakers in a crisis could rest on comforting, but possibly mistaken, memories of military dominance. Needless to say, it can’t be the case that both sides will benefit from escalation. We can hope that it won’t take a clash of arms to prove this point.

Should U.S. policymakers and military planners take little effective action to change the current trajectory, we should expect other players at risk in the region to take their own actions, with unpredictable consequences. For example, in July 2013 the Japanese government, led by the nationalist prime minister Shinzo Abe, released a new defense policy white paper. Reflecting a trend of increasing Japanese anxiety about the regional security situation, the white paper called attention to China’s “dangerous acts,” including intrusions by Chinese air and naval forces into Japan’s territory. Perhaps most notable was the white paper’s call for Japan to develop the ability to execute preemptive attacks on enemy bases abroad and an amphibious assault capability, presumably with the clashes over the Senkaku Islands in mind. As a result, the Japanese government increased defense spending in 2013 and directed more of Japan’s defense resources toward the Chinese threat to the Japan’s southwest.

U.S. policymakers should obviously be pleased that Japan is doing more for its own defense. The much more assertive content of Japan’s 2013 defense white paper is largely a response to China’s own military assertions, even into Japanese territory. As a consequence, Japan’s defense policy is now much more hawkish, a substantial change in policy and military latitude from just a few years ago. This trajectory is likely to keep going should the security situation in the region continue to deteriorate. Without a new American strategy, the still-modest defense buildup now under way in Japan could metastasize into a much more intense regional arms race, with destabilizing consequences to follow. Indeed non-Chinese defense spending in the region is expected to leap 55 percent in the five years ending in 2018. This budding arms race could turn dangerous should players conclude that they need more nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles or should they perceive that adverse trends and time pressure are eroding their strategic positions.

It matters who runs the western Pacific. Because the United States is an outsider, most countries in the region trust it to be the region’s dominant security provider, a role they will not trust to a local great power like China. As a corollary, it is very unlikely, and indeed too risky, to contemplate East Asia finding a stable balance of power on its own. The Asia-Pacific is the globe’s economic dynamo and the direct source of nearly a tenth of America’s economic output; the consequences of a large conflict in the region would be disastrous. Thus, the United States needs to maintain its security presence. But it also needs a new and better way to do so.

Sustaining an Effective Peacetime Competition

The goal of America’s strategy for the region should be to preserve the region’s security while also maintaining the existing rules-based international order. With China’s interests and those of the United States and its partners increasingly coming into conflict, a successful strategy must first attempt to persuade China’s leaders to accept—to China’s benefit—the existing order and to dissuade China’s leaders from attempting to replace it with an alternative that privileges China over its neighbors. Developing effective persuasive and dissuasive leverage will require a much deeper understanding of Chinese decision making. It will also require assembling a full range of political, diplomatic, economic, and military tools that can both provide rewards for favorable Chinese behavior while also threatening to impose costs for unfavorable actions. China has interests and vulnerabilities that can be sources of leverage for a competitive coalition strategy. U.S. and allied policymakers and planners need to understand these sources of leverage and design a strategy that takes advantage of them.

The first and most important element of an effective American strategy is America’s partners in the region. In most respects, the security interests of the United States and its partners are in alignment; China’s rising military power and its territorial assertions are a common concern. These partners in the region, especially those on the front line such as the Philippines, Japan, India, and Vietnam, add political legitimacy to the effort of resisting China’s assertions in the region. The larger the partnership network, the greater its overall legitimacy and the more difficult the task for China’s decision makers. No U.S. strategy can hope to succeed without the participation of these partners. For these reasons, the partnership network should be the key pillar of any U.S. strategy for the region. This means that all other elements should support this pillar. And in order to do that, U.S. policymakers and diplomats must listen carefully to the interests and concerns of the partners.

The United States and its partners face an open-ended competition with China. All the players have an interest in avoiding conflict. But that outcome will not happen without active “preventive maintenance” by policymakers. For the United States, that means creating persuasive and dissuasive leverage designed to influence Chinese strategic behavior along a favorable path. An effective and sustainable U.S. strategy will engage the partners to contribute to this effort.

Persuasive and dissuasive leverage comes in many forms. China’s breathtaking economic growth over the past three decades should be evidence enough to China’s leaders of the rewards for cooperating with the existing international system. That success has resulted in more diplomatic power for China and greatly increased prestige for the CCP. China’s continued access to these benefits should be persuasive.

China’s military modernization now hangs like a cloud over this universally beneficial success. This means the United States and its partners need to develop dissuasive tools that could impose costs on China and that would promise to negate much of the large investment China has made in its military strategy. The coalition’s dissuasive tools should hold at risk those assets and conditions China’s leaders value most. These dissuasive tools should encompass a very broad range, from political and economic pressure up through potential military options. As we have seen throughout history, the more the United States and its partners are prepared to employ these tools, the greater will be their credibility and thus the less likely their need to be used.

Much of the recent discussion inside Washington defense circles regarding China and the Pacific has focused on Navy and Air Force programs and plans. But regarding the peacetime security competition in the region and bolstering deterrence, the contribution made by U.S. ground forces—the Army, Marine Corps, and special operations forces—may be the most valuable. These services will have the lead role in assisting America’s security partners in the region as they build their own capabilities to resist China’s pressure and assertions. The actions of China’s neighbors to defend their sovereignty will enjoy increasing political legitimacy and will be key to preserving the existing rules-based order.

U.S. ground forces can provide assistance with internal defense, building conventional combat power, air defenses, antiship missile systems, command and control, intelligence gathering and sharing, amphibious capability, and many other important military functions. Ground forces will also have an important role preparing for various forms of defensive and offensive irregular warfare, which could occur as the security competition intensifies. The assistance provided by U.S. ground forces will boost the confidence of America’s partners while displaying to China’s leaders the rising costs for potentially bad behavior. Such an outcome would bolster deterrence and improve regional security.

The U.S. Navy and Air Force naturally must prepare as well for a security environment in the western Pacific that now challenges the operating practices these services have long taken for granted. China’s land-based air and missile power, and a “reconnaissance-strike complex” with ever-increasing range and targeting ability, have resulted in bleak prospects for the U.S. Navy’s surface forces in the region, at least until advanced missile defense technology arrives at the end of the next decade. The Navy will thus increasingly rely on its submarines to hold China’s navy at risk; the Navy must make sure that this remains the case.

Meanwhile the United States needs to ensure that it has enough long-range strike capacity to hold at risk those targets China’s leaders value most. High on this list should be China’s land-based “anti-navy” capabilities. The U.S. Navy will not be able to maintain freedom of navigation in the western Pacific without the capacity to suppress these forces. In addition U.S. long-range strike capacity should hold at risk targets and assets valued most by China’s leaders. Creating these capabilities will be technically challenging and will not be cheap. Suspending the purchase of systems such as aircraft carriers and short-range tactical aircraft that don’t have much use in the region could help pay the bills. Meanwhile, expanding America’s long-range strike capacity will be an important dissuasive tool and will be critical to maintaining deterrence.