The Northwest European Theatre: General Eisenhower I

Ike, Monty, and Bradley outside of Ike’s offices.

Eisenhower proved to be a mediocre practitioner of operational art in the summer of 1944. This was hardly surprising, given that he had spent his military career as a staff officer, with a brief spell commanding a battalion and no combat experience at all before being catapulted into theatre command in 1942. He had studied military theory and history assiduously, but no amount of study can give a feel for battle or adequately prepare one for it—both essential for the practical problems of command. Nor was Leavenworth’s interwar teaching a wholly reliable guide to fighting the Wehrmacht in 1944. Although it was certainly biased toward victory through attritional employment of superior firepower, it did not preclude operational maneuver. This was plainly what was required in the late summer of 1944, when an all but total enemy collapse afforded opportunities for the victors that were limited only by their logistic constraints—a situation never anticipated by the doctrine writers. Like all doctrine, Leavenworth’s should have been considered a guide to action without being prescriptive, but over time, it became unthinking dogma.

The dominant Allied problem in post-Normandy operations was logistics. It was especially acute for the Americans. Unlike the British, they would be moving farther away from their source of supply, while their ally took ports in the course of the advance on Germany. Eisenhower understood this from the day he decided against an operational pause on the Seine. However, the answers he found were inadequate. He stressed from the time of the Cobra breakout that the Breton ports were urgently needed, but he did not press his commanders with sufficient force or even logic. Several times he reiterated his requirement for the reduction of Brest, the last time on 13 September. He wrote: “We never counted on [Brest] as much as we had from Quiberon Bay. . . . experience of the past proved that we were likely to be vastly disappointed in the usefulness of the Brittany ports. Not only did we expect them to be stubbornly defended but we were certain that they would be effectively destroyed once we captured them.” Yet on 3 September he accepted the abandonment of the Quiberon Bay project while persisting with Brest—only to accept on 14 September that Brest would not be utilized. Despite this decision, he allowed attacks to continue at great expense in casualties and ammunition until the port’s fall five days later.

Of course, the progressive ditching of the Breton ports as the armies’ lines of communication stretched beyond the breaking point made sense if alternatives were becoming available. The investment of Le Havre at the beginning of September was promising, but it would be over a month before it could be opened for even minimal discharges. Of vastly more importance was the seizure, on 4 September, of Antwerp with its facilities intact. Eisenhower had been warned in the clearest of terms that this windfall would be useless without the clearance of the Scheldt estuary. He repeated, several times, his injunction to Montgomery to make this a priority, but in such terms that the field marshal felt the need to do nothing more than issue vague reassurances while overtasking First Canadian Army. Moreover, Eisenhower critically weakened his demand by acknowledging the primacy of the Market Garden offensive. He had succumbed to victory disease, as his office memo of 5 September illustrates: “The defeat of the German armies is complete and the only thing now needed to realize the whole conception is speed.” By 15 September, he was writing to Montgomery about a rapid march on Berlin. It was not until 9 October, after the failure of the venture and following a warning by Ramsay that Canadian operations were being hamstrung by an ammunition shortage, that he returned to the Antwerp issue and addressed it in blunt terms in a telegram:

I must repeat, we are now squarely up against the situation which we have anticipated for months; our intake into Continent will not support our battle. All operations will come to a standstill unless Antwerp is producing by middle of November. I must emphasize that I consider Antwerp of first importance of all our endeavors on entire front from Switzerland to Channel. I believe your personal attention is required in operation to clear entrance.

Even that injunction did not convince Montgomery to shift his priority from Second Army operations to clear the west bank of the Meuse. It took another blistering rebuke in a letter of 13 October to force Montgomery to take Eisenhower seriously.

By early September, the Supreme Commander knew that polite suggestions and reminders would be insufficient to deflect Montgomery from his chosen course. Only an unpolished, explicit order would suffice for an issue of such paramount importance as the opening of Antwerp. Eisenhower should have given such an order the moment he realized that bland assurances were not being matched by immediate action on the ground following his first, tactful directive of 5 September. Of course, he should have thought the problem through and offered troops—VIII Corps, which was now pointlessly besieging Brest, was the obvious choice—to help the overstretched 21 Army Group accomplish this vital task. It was too important and too urgent for anything but decisive action, and Eisenhower was the only man who could take it. Unfortunately, his thinking about Antwerp was neither clear nor consistent. During the critical period when the Germans were adjusting to the unexpected loss of the port and starting to organize their defense of the estuary, Eisenhower was apparently seduced into gambling on the Arnhem operation precipitating a German collapse that would make Antwerp unnecessary. He apparently failed to understand that if the gamble did not pay off, critical time would be lost. Too late, he realized that the end of Market Garden would find Montgomery’s command overextended and scattered, unable to make up for time lost in clearing the Scheldt. His belated provision of two American divisions to 21 Army Group was too little too late to prevent the full flowering of the logistic crisis that was paralyzing Bradley’s forces.

In deciding on his theatre’s operational formation and form of action, Eisenhower automatically followed the Leavenworth teaching and opted for an advance all along the front with only the airborne army as a reserve. The enemy would be kept under continuous pressure everywhere and ground down by superior firepower, with no opportunity to rest his formations, form a reserve to contest the initiative, or shift resources from one sector to another. Sooner or later he would crack somewhere, and this would enable the more mobile and flexible Americans, aided by air supremacy, to destroy him in pursuit. Normandy was seen as a vindication of this approach. Given the short frontage the Germans had to defend and the consequent density and depth of the defense, only relentless attrition could break their front, and this was finally achieved in Operation Cobra. There was, perhaps, a tendency to forget that Cobra’s success was due in large measure to First Army’s unusual concentration and deployment in depth for the attack. At any rate, none of the American armies would achieve similar concentration and depth in the autumn offensives, when there was a somewhat similar semi-stalemate.

In an advance against a withdrawing enemy, especially given superior mobility and armor and command of the air, there is much to be said for the broad-front concept. As the line of contact widens after the breakout, the enemy’s ability to hold strongly everywhere diminishes; attacks can be mounted against weak spots, penetrations can be achieved and exploited, and further ground can be gained before the defense is restored. Then rapid regrouping can enable fresh blows on weakened sectors, and the process is repeated until the enemy’s cohesion disintegrates. Once this happens, the advance becomes a pursuit as the enemy becomes a more or less helpless victim, reacting ever more belatedly and ineffectually to thrusts that can become bolder with impunity. Unless and until he can muster fresh forces to restore the situation, the size of this problem will become progressively more daunting; he may win the occasional tactical battle, but any elements that do so will be engulfed in a spreading operational catastrophe. In this way, the defeat of a corps may end in the disintegration of an army group.

One major argument adduced for the broad-front approach does not carry much weight in the circumstances of September 1944. The fear that halting Third Army would allow the enemy to reinforce against First Army or even mount a counteroffensive can be discounted. The Germans’ divertible strength in Lorraine was meager and lacking mobility; they had to take seriously the possibility of Patton renewing his drive at any time; and the Dragoon forces advancing rapidly up the Rhône valley were a looming threat to southern Lorraine and Alsace.

However theoretically desirable, an effective offensive on a broad front requires the right conditions to be set. One of these conditions is the establishment of some operational reserves, at least at army level. Without them, it is usually difficult to exploit rapidly and turn tactical into operational success or to switch axes in good time to prevent the defense from solidifying. The American operational-level commanders generally neglected this precaution, and their offensives suffered in consequence, especially when they compounded the problem by persisting in unprofitable attacks such as Hodges’s in the Hürtgen Forest and Patton’s on Metz. Eisenhower did nothing to correct this. Another precondition is the creation of a logistic system that can sustain the forces involved to the planned depth of the operation. This did not exist as US forces began their exploitation over the Seine in August, aiming for objectives about 1,000 km (620 miles) from their source of supply; this was due to the unexpected way operations had developed and the design of the system—Eisenhower’s fault in only a small way. The Supreme Commander had been worried about American logistic constraints as early as 24 August. Nevertheless, he was determined that both First and Third Armies should force the West Wall and cross the Rhine in a simultaneous advance. He knew that COMZ could maintain only ten to twelve divisions in the advance, even on reduced scales, and that this figure would decline even further. A general offensive would overstretch the enemy, but it would also inevitably overstretch his own forces; however, he persevered in the hope that the enemy would undergo political and/or military implosion before his own offensive culminated. It was a gamble, but one he believed worth taking. It was also a gamble that enabled him to avoid, or at least postpone, making a decision to halt a major formation and thus antagonize some influential players. Military logic—the importance of prioritizing the main effort and the greater effectiveness of fewer properly supported divisions in pursuit versus many inadequately supplied ones forced into an unpredictable stop-and-go pattern of activity—was lost to sight. An operational concept without sufficient means to implement it is a concept that should not be pursued.

It is clear that Eisenhower did not think through the implications of his directives, particularly for 12 Army Group, to the depth of his proposed operations. This was not the only example of his lack of operational-strategic foresight. He had consistently championed Operation Anvil/Dragoon in the teeth of British opposition. Yet he developed no concept for use of the forces coming up the Rhône corridor beyond tying down Nineteenth Army while the battle for Normandy was going on. When the newly designated 6 Army Group came under SHAEF control on 15 September, on Eisenhower’s insistence, its forward troops had reached the Epinal-Belfort line, skirting the High Vosges mountains. Eisenhower had assigned it, in essence, two tasks: destroy enemy forces within boundaries (the linkup with Third Army had been too late to trap the retreating Germans), and cross the Rhine–West Wall from Strasbourg southward. On 15 September he speculated in a letter to Montgomery that Devers would execute a thrust eastward, aimed at the Augsburg-Munich area. This mission would involve not only forcing the Rhine and its fortifications but also pushing through 50 km (30 miles) of the all but impenetrable Black Forest to seize objectives almost 400 km (250 miles) distant and of negligible importance to the German war effort. Little thought went into finding a useful role for 6 Army Group, even though it had its own supply chain from the Mediterranean ports. Eisenhower’s ideas never went beyond expressing a hope to Bradley that supply for Third Army’s operations in Lorraine could be eased by Devers’s logisticians and that his actions would support Patton’s right; later in September he transferred XV Corps to Seventh Army to relieve COMZ of the burden of supplying it, thus shifting the army group boundary north. The Supreme Commander seems never to have considered continuing an offensive north on the Epinal-Saarbrücken axis (about 160 km [100 miles]) to envelop the enemy facing Patton, or a more promising deep turning movement Epinal-Strasbourg-Mainz (about 360 km [225 miles], skirting the High Vosges). Eisenhower may have thought the latter move unworthy of consideration, as it could not commence until October, by which time he hoped victory would be clinched further north. He may have seen 6 Army Group as too marginal a force to contribute meaningfully to the campaign; it comprised five French, mostly colonial, divisions and only three American divisions, although more could and would be sent to it. He may have been influenced by his deep antipathy toward Devers. Whatever the excuses, he showed a lack of vision in his employment of a far from negligible asset when he confined it to Alsace, a strategic backwater.


The Northwest European Theatre: General Eisenhower II

Senior Allied commanders celebrate at Rheims shortly after General Eisenhower had addressed the German mission who had just signed the unconditional surrender document. Present are (left to right): General Ivan Susloparov (Soviet Union), Lieutenant General Frederick E. Morgan (British Army), Lieutenant General Walter Bedell Smith (US Army), Captain Kay Summersby (US Army) (obscured), Captain Harry C. Butcher (US Navy), General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower (US Army), Air Chief Marshal Arthur Tedder (Royal Air Force).

Eisenhower had an aim: to destroy the enemy west of the Rhine. But he neglected the harder part of strategic decision making—choosing what not to do. Nor did he explain how or where his aim was to be accomplished, confining himself to directions of advance and geographic objectives. There was no master plan other than a general desire to advance on all axes at the same time and somehow, somewhere destroy the German army. There was no single, developed concept under which both (later three) army groups worked synergistically to achieve an operationally significant result. In consequence, there was no meaningful prioritization of operations. Despite the centralization of command in his hands, operations became increasingly decentralized and fragmented as personalities, pride, politics, and doctrinal differences hampered their efficient development. This lacuna seemed to stem from a lack of foresight and flexibility in the operational sphere and a reluctance to make hard choices that might antagonize important people, in anticipation of problems to come. The result was a tendency toward opportunism and improvisation as the campaign progressed. Eisenhower was inclined to switcher between courses of action, despite the advice of his clear-sighted chief of staff, Major General Bedell Smith. This led to an ever-changing emphasis in the stream of directives emanating from SHAEF and contradictory statements made to Marshall and to each of the army group commanders. Lack of consistency caused a dissipation of effort at a time when limited logistic resources demanded that objectives be limited as well, or at least that their achievement be sequenced in order of importance, with the lesser ones being tackled as and when resources allowed. As a result, there was no economy of effort in the secondary sector to achieve something decisive in the direction of the main effort, and the Allied offensive culminated short of achieving anything of critical importance anywhere.

In his role as commander of land forces, a mantle he had assumed under pressure from the top of the US military and political hierarchy, Eisenhower did not display great skill in applying the principles of operational art in the unusual circumstances of post-Normandy operations. The situation called for more foresight, judgment, decisiveness, and boldness in decision making than he could muster under the enormous pressure of events and responsibilities and a lack of time for reflection. Eisenhower was also the theatre Supreme Commander, and in this role he was much more successful, a fact recognized by even his detractors. However, the very skills that made him effective in this position—political rather than military—were those that contributed significantly to his uninspired operational leadership.

Eisenhower’s primary responsibility in his more important job was to keep the military side of the Anglo-American alliance together and working in harmony toward a common aim through a mutually agreed (or at least accepted) operational-strategic concept. He had been chosen for the top job because of his political skill as an alliance manager. This was a task beset by extraordinary difficulties. He had to satisfy the US government, Marshall, and the British. These elements were pulling in divergent strategic directions, and the British obstinately refused to recognize that they were now junior partners to an increasingly self-confident United States. Within his theatre, he had to keep together an Allied team that was increasingly sundered by doctrinal differences, mutual incomprehension, nationalistic prejudices, and consequent dislike and distrust. Virtually all the characters he had to deal with had strong opinions, wills, and self-belief; they were competitive with one another, and many of them had inflated egos. Most of them, both Americans and British, believed that they knew better than their boss and that Eisenhower was favoring or even kowtowing to their rivals. The job of Supreme Commander required more than a soldier who knew the purely military-technical aspects of soldiering; it needed a consummate politician who also understood operations.

Brooke’s “main impression” of Eisenhower was that of “a swinger and no real director of thought, plans, energy or direction! Just a coordinator—a good mixer, a champion of inter-allied cooperation, and in those respects few can hold a candle to him. But is that enough? Or can we not find all qualities of a commander in one man? . . . I doubt it.”66 Brooke’s answer to his own rhetorical question was correct, and no other country, much less an alliance, had found such a paragon—at least not in modern times. Later, when the strains of the campaign were beginning to tell, Brooke amplified the thought:

There is no doubt that Ike is all out to do all he can to maintain the best of relations between British and Americans, but it is equally clear that Ike knows nothing about strategy and is quite unsuited to the post of Supreme Commander as far as running the strategy of the war is concerned! . . . With the Supreme Command set up as it is no wonder that Monty’s real high ability is not always realized. Especially when “national” spectacles pervert the perspective of the strategic landscape.

Unwittingly, of course, Brooke’s last sentence revealed his bias. If someone disagreed with him and Montgomery, they were, by definition, wrong and revealed their inadequacies in doing so. To him, national viewpoints were valid only if they were British.

Talking to a war correspondent and historian after the war, Montgomery complained:

The trouble was that Eisenhower did not know what he should do. He had no experience and no philosophy of battle by which to judge the rival plans. His method was to talk to everyone and then try to work out a compromise solution which would please everyone. He had no plan of his own. He was a sociable chap who liked talking, and he used to go from one HQ to another finding out what his various subordinates thought, instead of going to them and saying—here is the plan, you will do this, and so and so will do that. Eisenhower had conferences to collect ideas; I had conferences to issue orders.

There is some foundation for these criticisms, but they also demonstrate how little Montgomery understood about the highest levels of command and how unsuited he was to fill them. Making one’s allies feel valued and being prepared to compromise with them is part and parcel of alliance operations. The commander who ignores this elementary fact of coalition life not only will fail to secure their willing cooperation but also may unconsciously goad them into sabotaging his plans—as Montgomery had done with his high-handed treatment of Patton and Bradley in Sicily the year before.

From the start, Eisenhower knew he had to be much more a statesman than a straightforward issuer of arbitrary orders. His position was more akin to that of the chairman of an increasingly fractious board than a military autocrat. He wanted to—indeed, needed to—command through persuasion, consensus, and, when necessary to maintain harmony, through compromise. This was, he realized, the only way to keep the alliance working together:

No written agreement for the establishment of an Allied Command can hold up against nationalistic considerations. . . . Every commander in the field possesses direct disciplinary power over all subordinates of his own nationality . . .; any disobedience or other offence is punishable. . . . But such authority and power cannot be given by any country to an individual of another nation. Only trust and confidence can establish the authority of an Allied commander-in-chief so firmly that he need never fear the absence of this legal power.

If necessary, Eisenhower could compel obedience from unwilling American generals, as long as he was sure of Marshall’s backing. But Montgomery was not just another army group commander. As the foremost British field commander and the principal champion of British views on operational-strategic issues, and given his intimate relations with the CIGS and the War Office and his massive popularity and prestige in the United Kingdom, he could not simply be ordered about. National considerations were as real a limit on Eisenhower’s freedom of action as they had been for Montgomery when he contemplated getting rid of Crerar.

This role as coordinator, coaxer, and arbiter became increasingly difficult as national differences and personal rivalries and prejudices intensified at the top, to the detriment of military priorities. The temptation to challenge, selectively interpret, or simply ignore the wishes of the Supreme Commander grew with the feeling that the war was all but won and that glory (and the chance for promotion) had to be seized before it was too late and competitors hogged it all. Faced with these divisive tendencies, Eisenhower found that his style of command proved less and less effective. Careful qualifications, circumlocution, and tactful wording in directives were taken as signs of weakness, and their recipients searched for get-out phrases that would enable them to follow their own pet schemes in conscious (if unadmitted) disregard for their commander’s intent. The more mutable and open to compromise and interpretation these directives were, the more they became the subject of debate and negotiation and the less force they carried. The problem was exacerbated by Eisenhower’s tendency to equivocate and delay decisions in the hope of avoiding stark choices. Though sometimes an appropriate response, this was injurious at a time when speed and decisiveness were paramount. Of course, had the keenly anticipated German collapse actually happened, his methods would not have been questioned. In the event, the campaign lost its coherence as army groups and armies increasingly followed their own inclinations, to the detriment of both focus and synergy. In the end, the initiative was lost, and with it the opportunity to achieve an early end to the war.

Eisenhower’s approach to the Supreme Command was correct in its essence, but he permitted his subordinates too much leeway and wound up losing considerable authority and control. Whether through his strong desire to be liked, his natural predisposition to compromise and avoid confrontation, his inexperience, or his sheer unfamiliarity with operational art, he failed to assert himself sufficiently in exercising command of the land forces. It was a slippery slope from liberty to license, and he allowed his senior commanders to slide too far down that slope before recognizing the error. The estimable Bedell Smith, watching the erosion of SHAEF’s credibility, observed: “The trouble with Ike, instead of giving direct and clear orders, [he] dresses them up in polite language; and that is why our senior American commanders take advantage.” Montgomery, who needed to be kept on a much tighter rein, did likewise. When clear, unambiguous decisions had to be made and adhered to, even if unpopular in some quarters, Eisenhower delayed or equivocated. He need not have done so. He had the authority, underpinned by Marshall, to keep Bradley and Patton in line. On issues he deemed of fundamental importance, he could have gripped Montgomery and told him the period for discussion was over, and the time for implementation without dissent had come. On the occasions when he actually did so, Montgomery obeyed like the good, disciplined soldier he was. Of course, the longer Eisenhower let things slide, the more difficult it became to convince his subordinates that he was serious.

Eisenhower’s main problems were linked. One was the lack of a well-thought-out plan to accomplish the aim: destruction of the enemy’s forces. Absent this, the concept of operations became too generalized and, critically, mutable; without a clear idea of how the armies should act synergistically to achieve the desired end, it was difficult to see how each development in the campaign should be turned to the Allies’ advantage. Foresight is difficult if the direction of travel is ill defined. Improvisation is necessary in the conduct of any operation, but it is unsatisfactory as the sole method. If actions are not set in context, there is danger of losing direction, fragmenting efforts, and reacting to rather than shaping events—the very problems that beset the Allies as September gave way to October. Eisenhower’s difficulties were exacerbated by his lack of decisiveness. As Brooke observed in his diary, the strictly military requirements of Supreme Command are incompatible with the political. A politician, in most circumstances, finds that temporizing and compromise are prime virtues. When these are exercised in the context of command in fast-developing operations, they are likely to result in drift. Eisenhower saw his most important endeavor as keeping the alliance working synergistically toward the common end. The fact that it was not functioning harmoniously was not his fault, as he strove to preserve amity or, failing that, at least understanding.

Several factors combined to undermine Eisenhower’s prospects of success. In taking on both Supreme Command and land command (in which he had no choice), he overextended himself. The multifarious tasks involved were all important to someone of consequence, even if they were sometimes tangential to victory. The enormous pressures allowed the Supreme Commander little time for the quiet reflection that is essential to judgment and creativity. For the critical period in September, he was semi-incommunicado. The base at Granville, which his HQ occupied for the first fortnight, was remote and poorly served by its communications; this was followed by the disruption of the weeklong move to Versailles. Eisenhower found it difficult to keep his finger on the pulse of operations, and his lack of practical command experience exacerbated the problem. This made it easier for his principal subordinates to deceive him about their implementation of his directives and their logistic states. Such behavior was symptomatic of the worst of his problems: the attitude of his army group commanders. Of his experience in Tunisia, Eisenhower wrote later:

It is easy to minimize the obstacles that always obstruct progress in developing efficient command mechanisms for large allied forces. Some are easy to recognize, such as those relating to differences in equipment, training and tactical doctrine, staff procedures and methods of organization. But these are overshadowed by national prides and prejudices. In modern war, with its great facilities for quickly informing populations of battlefield developments, every little difference is magnified . . . but success in allied ventures can be achieved if the chief figures in the government and in the field see the necessities of the situation and refuse to violate the basic principle of unity, either in public or in the confidence of the personal contacts with subordinates and staffs. Immediate and continuous loyalty to the concept of unity and to allied commanders is basic to victory.

Neither Montgomery nor Bradley showed him much loyalty. They ignored the spirit of his directives, and occasionally the letter. They undermined his authority with their disparaging comments to their staffs and army commanders. Their mutual lack of understanding, born of personal and national rivalries, was inimical to cooperation. Eisenhower wanted a good working relationship with his subordinates, but however hard he worked for it, however much he sought compromises to achieve it, he could not overcome the corrosive and ultimately campaign-destructive animus between his principal lieutenants. Ultimately, his endless patience, tact, and compromise preserved only a veneer of united effort and a merely generalized sense of common purpose.

Who Is to Have Berlin? I

“This is the brass that did it. Seated are Simpson, Patton (as if you didn’t know), Spaatz, Ike himself, Bradley, Hodges and Gerow. Standing are Stearley, Vandenberg, Smith, Weyland and Nugent.” Ca. 1945. Army. (OWI)
Exact Date Shot Unknown
NARA FILE #: 208-YE-182

One of the attributes most valued in a military commander is calm. It was not one in which Hitler excelled. Rather the contrary, as was illustrated by a Führer Conference in the Berlin Chancellory on 13 February 1945. Before we see what happened there, it should be understood that by January, one month earlier, the Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht had so disposed his armies that the most vulnerable front of all, both militarily and politically, the front in Poland and East Prussia, was in comparative terms the most weakly held, the one least likely to be capable of withstanding the knock it was about to receive. In the west were 76 divisions, in Italy 24, 10 were in Yugoslavia, 17 in Scandinavia – in short, 127 divisions were deployed elsewhere than on the Eastern Front; only a few more, 133, were in the east. In the same month of January 300 divisions and twenty-five tank armies of the Red Army were getting ready to end the war; in the north two groups of armies under Chernyakhovsky and Rokossovsky were to converge on East Prussia; Zhukov’s and Konev’s groups in the centre would aim at Berlin and Upper Silesia; further south two more groups would clear Slovakia, take Budapest and Vienna; finally, Petrov was to reoccupy the Northern Carpathians.

Whereas the Russians with their seemingly limitless resources of men and material could afford to operate over such broad fronts, the number of German divisions facing them was quite inadequate to constitute an effective defence. The vital central area of East Prussia and Poland was some 600 miles wide and here only seventy-five German divisions were deployed. Against them Stalin launched 180 divisions, including four tank armies each of which contained 1,200 tanks, so that it was hardly surprising when Konev’s Army Group rapidly broke out of its bridgehead on the Upper Vistula and heralded a series of disasters which engulfed the Eastern Front. Guderian had warned the Führer that this front was like a house of cards and that if it were broken anywhere it would collapse everywhere. Even so, Guderian, never one to despair, set to work in forming a new Army Group Vistula to stem the Russian advance. Its front would stretch from Poznan to Graudenz, and Guderian intended to give this Army Group all the reserves he was mustering from the west, including Sepp Dietrich’s 6th SS Panzer Army. Intending to direct its operations himself – and it would have been difficult to find any general more qualified or more able to make telling used of it – Guderian proposed von Weichs as a nominal Army Group Commander. But Hitler was so disillusioned by the professional soldiers’ handling of affairs, a disillusionment brought about by virtue of his own unrealistic mishandling of them, that he appointed Himmler, who had never commanded armies in the field and was already contemplating treachery against his master.

Guderian was so appalled by this appointment that on 26 January he suggested to von Ribbentrop1 that the two of them should speak to the Führer and seek his agreement to securing an armistice on one front or the other. Von Ribbentrop lacked either the character or the courage to stand up to Hitler and refused, but was himself aghast when Guderian asked how he would feel when he found that the Russians had reached Berlin in a few weeks’ time. Von Ribbentrop then asked Guderian if he really believed such a thing was possible, and was hardly comforted by the reply that because of Hitler’s leadership it was not just possible, but certain. The conversation was duly reported to Hitler, who in Guderian’s presence referred to it as treason, but the great Panzer Leader never lacked the courage of his convictions and tried to argue the strategic issues there and then. Hitler refused to discuss the matter.

As the first two weeks of February went by, the disagreements between Guderian, still Chief of the Army General Staff, and the Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht concerning the conduct of the war in general and the campaign on the Eastern Front in particular grew ever more bitter and violent. At one point when Guderian counselled withdrawal and Hitler refused to give up an inch of territory, the Führer’s rage and vituperation reached an absolute crescendo. Guderian’s assertion that he was not being obstinate but simply thinking of Germany precipitated a furious bellow from Hitler that his whole life had been a struggle for Germany. It was all he had been fighting for. Guderian’s adjutant was so alarmed by Hitler’s shaking fists that he took hold of his General’s tunic and pulled him back out of range. The whole sorry scene was re-enacted at the 13 February Führer Conference. This time the principal issue concerned the conduct of a counter-attack by Army Group Vistula against Zhukov’s extended and vulnerable right flank. Those present included Hitler himself, Keitel, Jodl, Himmler, still in command of the Army Group, Sepp Dietrich and Wenck, whom Guderian had brought with him. Guderian was insisting that the counter-attack should be launched at once, before the Russians had time to bring up their reserves, and moreover that command should be entrusted to Wenck, not to Himmler. Hitler contested every point made by Guderian, who just as steadily contradicted him and who later recorded what occurred:

And so it went on for two hours. His fists raised, his cheeks flushed with rage, his whole body trembling, the man stood there in front of me, beside himself with fury and having lost all self-control. After each outburst of rage Hitler would stride up and down the carpet edge, then suddenly stop immediately before me and hurl his next accusation in my face. He was almost screaming, his eyes seemed about to pop out of his head and the veins stood out on his temples.

Military decisions are best taken after calmly reviewing the circumstances, weighing the odds, determining the likely enemy action, keeping an eye firmly on the immediate objective and the consequences of attaining it, and then ensuring that the second great strategic rule – that of so disposing resources as to maximize the chances of success – is adhered to. Shrieking, shouting matches between senior commanders, decisions flawed by intrigue, lack of men and material, in short thoroughly bad leadership, were improbable preliminaries to taking the path of glory. They were much more likely to lead to the grave. Despite Hitler’s ravings on 13 February Guderian gained his point. With his most charming smile, the Führer announced that the General Staff had won a battle that day. Guderian’s subsequent comment was that it was the last battle he was to win and that in any case it came too late. The counter-attack, last of all offensives waged by the German army, petered out in failure after a few days. But was Guderian right in predicting to von Ribbentrop that the Russians would reach Berlin in a few weeks’ time? Could the British and American armies have got there first? The answer is almost certainly yes, but for the procrastination of one man – Eisenhower. For it was he who followed the example of so many military commanders before him. He changed his mind.

On 15 September 1944, after the great victory in Normandy, he had sent a letter to his two Army Group commanders, Bradley and Montgomery, in which he outlined his views as to future operations and asked for theirs. At this time it was clear from his letter that he regarded Berlin as a primary objective. Having assumed that the Ruhr, the Saar and Frankfurt would before long be in Allied hands, he then designated Berlin as the main prize. ‘There is no doubt whatsoever, in my mind, that we should concentrate on a rapid thrust to Berlin.’ There would, of course, have to be some coordination with the Russians, but precise objectives could not be selected until later.

At this point, therefore, it was clear that Berlin was the goal. In his reply to Eisenhower Montgomery urged the Supreme Commander to decide there and then what forces were necessary to go to Berlin, and so reach agreement as to both the plan and the objectives. Moreover, these matters had to be agreed at once, not decided on later. Montgomery also stressed that all other considerations must be secondary to the main aim and objective. The trouble was that there was no absolutely clear and clearly understood policy as to what Eisenhower was required to do after crossing the Rhine. Indeed, in spite of his reference to Berlin, Eisenhower’s strategy had consistently been to advance on a broad front with primary and secondary thrusts, and then, having linked up the two advancing forces in the general area of Kassel, make one great thrust to the eastward. But where to? Lack of decision here meant that on crossing the Rhine and moving eastward, the aim of the Allied armies was far from clear.

One of the ironies of the situation was that whatever objectives the Western Allies might care to choose, they were almost certainly attainable, for the German forces in the west – now under Field-Marshal Kesselring – could no longer fight a coordinated defensive battle, however determined individual pockets of resistance might be. Although on paper there were still sixty-five German divisions on the Western Front, for practicable purposes they were only small battle groups and a few headquarter staffs, dispersed and without either proper communications or logistic support. Such penny packets would not be able to resist a firm Allied drive. Eisenhower’s plan, such as it was, laid down that the Ruhr would be encircled by Montgomery’s 21st Army Group plus US 9th Army to the north, while Bradley’s 12th Army Group would break out from the Remagen bridgehead and link up with Montgomery. The whole area east of the Rhine would be occupied and a further advance into Germany would proceed. Montgomery’s orders were for his forces to advance with all speed to the Elbe from Hamburg to Magdeburg, with great emphasis on ‘getting the whips out’ so that fast-moving armoured spearheads could capture airfields to ensure continuous close air support. These orders were given on 27 March, but the following day everything was changed. Eisenhower did an absolute volte-face, abandoned the idea of going for Berlin, and communicated directly with Stalin in order to coordinate his operations with those of the Red Army. Having informed Stalin of his intention to encircle the Ruhr and mop up the enemy there, Eisenhower went on to define his next task as ‘joining hands with your forces’ and suggesting that the junction should be Erfurt–Leipzig–Dresden. Nothing could have been more acceptable to Stalin or unacceptable to Churchill and Montgomery. Indeed, Eisenhower had signalled to Montgomery that the US 9th Army would be removed from him after his joining hands with Bradley in the Kassel–Paderborn area, and that the main Allied thrust would be not to Berlin, but to Leipzig and Dresden. Montgomery’s appeal not to change either the plan or the command arrangements was not heeded. Eisenhower reiterated his intention to divide and destroy the enemy forces and to join hands with the Russian army. He added significantly:

You will see that in none of this do I mention Berlin. So far as I am concerned, that place has become nothing but a geographical location; I have never been interested in those. My purpose is to destroy the enemy forces and his power to resist.

Why did Eisenhower change his mind? Previously he had emphasized that Berlin was the main prize, and that the Allies should concentrate everything on a rapid thrust there no matter how this was to be done. He had repeated that all his plans ultimately boiled down to exactly this – ‘to move on Berlin by the most direct and expeditious route’. Now he was dismissing the city as a mere geographical location. Why? Was it that he regarded its capture as no longer feasible in that whereas 21st Army Group was still 300 miles from Berlin, the Russians on the Oder were a mere forty miles away? Was it that he was fearful that Model’s Army Group in the Ruhr might even now form some formidable defensive front or that the stories about Hitler’s retiring to a National Redoubt in the Bavarian and Austrian mountains, there to conduct some desperate last stand, might have some foundation and involve some further great effort? Doubts of this sort may be comprehended. What is not easy to understand in view of Eisenhower’s insistence on the whole purpose of military operations being in pursuit of political aims, and the undisputed importance of Berlin as a political objective, is that he should suddenly have turned fully 180 degrees about and pronounced it to be of no significance. And the supreme irony of it all in view of Eisenhower’s reiteration that what he was after was the destruction of the enemy’s will to resist is that up to the very last Berlin, leaving aside its weight in the political game, contained the one military objective without whose seizure or demise the enemy’s will to resist would never be broken and the war itself would never end – the person of Adolf Hitler himself. Nor is it easy to understand why Eisenhower should have chucked away the possibility of taking Berlin with his own armies before it had become plain that he could not do it. Subsequent events were to show that he could.

The reaction in Moscow to Eisenhower’s change of plan could hardly have differed more from that in London. Stalin agreed with what Eisenhower had proposed and in his reply made four points: first, he confirmed the Erfurt–Leipzig–Dresden juncture for the two converging armies; second, he maintained that only secondary Soviet forces would be directed on Berlin, which had lost its former strategic importance (Churchill’s comment on this point was that it was not borne out by events); third, that the main Soviet attack would begin in the second half of May (it actually began a month earlier, on 16 April, which had a strong bearing on whether or not the Western Allies could have got to Berlin first); fourth, that the Germans were further reinforcing the Eastern Front. As a result of Stalin’s positive response, Eisenhower issued orders to execute his plan.

In London, Churchill took a very different view of things. As was customary with him, when it came to the big issues, his strategic instinct did not forsake him. In this case it concerned not only the final stages of one great struggle, but the seeds of another. The Russians’ behaviour at Yalta had given him pause when weighing up the likely course of Soviet policy. He was anxious that the Allied armies should do all they could to put the West in the best possible position for subsequent confrontation with the Russians if such circumstances should come about. Churchill signalled to Roosevelt that he was in no doubt that the rapid advance by their armies had both surprised and displeased the Russian leaders, that their joint armies should meet the Russian armies as far east as possible, and that they should enter Berlin. But Roosevelt was a dying man and the American military hierarchy fully supported Eisenhower. There was then a further exchange of messages, Eisenhower attempting to justify his action to Churchill, and Churchill summarizing his misgivings to Roosevelt. Churchill deplored the switch of axis from that which aimed at Berlin to one further south, and also the decision to rob 21st Army Group of the 9th US Army, thus restricting its ability to push beyond the Elbe. Berlin was still of high strategic importance. ‘Nothing will exert a psychological effect of despair upon all German forces or resistance equal to that of the fall of Berlin.’ The Russians would get Vienna in any case. Were they to be allowed to have Berlin too? If Berlin were within the Western armies’ grasp, Churchill concluded, they should take it.

Was it within their grasp in April 1945? Before answering the question we may perhaps take a look at the one obstacle to making peace there and then, a peace which so many of the senior Wehrmacht commanders and even the Führer’s henchmen, like Albert Speer, who repeatedly told his master that the war was lost, ardently desired. In other words, we should look at the Supreme War Lord of the Third Reich, which he had both created and destroyed, at genius in the Bunker. On 6 April 1945, a few weeks before the end, Hitler sent for General Wenck and appointed him to command the 12th Army. The various tasks that Wenck was given underlined the absolute absurdity to which Hitler’s conduct of war had deteriorated. First of all Wenck, with just one army, and little more than a phantom army at that, was required to restore the Wehrmacht’s fortunes on the Western Front, which was being overwhelmed by three Allied Army Groups. Then later he was to reverse the inevitable on the Eastern Front and relieve Berlin.

It was clear from the very outset that the first task alone was totally beyond him. His forces were inadequate in every way – in numbers, preparation, cohesion, training, concentration. The divisions theoretically under his command simply did not exist. He had no tanks, no self-propelled assault guns, no anti-aircraft artillery. And with this skeleton of an army Wenck was supposed to do what von Rundstedt and Model had already failed to do with far larger forces – stop the Western Allies from advancing. The whole thing was a non-starter. None the less, Wenck did made a start and tried to slow down the advancing American forces. Except for one small pocket in the Halle–Leipzig area, his army never got west of the Mulde–Elbe line, but by mid-April something became plain to Wenck, something so significant that it made him think again about how to employ his troops. This was that the Americans seemed to be consolidating their positions on the Elbe, without any clear intention of pushing further east. This discovery, together with the Red Army’s attack across the Oder, made up his mind. He would use the 12th Army to assist on the Eastern Front. His decision to do so was powerfully supported by a visit from Field-Marshal Keitel, during one of his extremely rare absences from Hitler’s side, who gave Wenck some dramatic instructions: ‘Free Berlin. Turn and advance with all available strength. Link up with the 9th Army. Rescue the Führer. His fate is Germany’s fate. You, Wenck, have it in your power to save Germany.’ Good stirring stuff, which was almost at once confirmed and reinforced by a message from the Führer himself, calling upon the soldiers of Wenck’s army to turn east and defeat the Bolsheviks in their battle for the German capital, whose defenders had taken heart from the news of Wenck’s fast approach and were fighting doggedly in the belief that the thunder of his guns would soon be heard. ‘The Führer has called you. You have, as in old times, started on the road to victory. Berlin waits for you. Berlin yearns for you here, with warm hearts.’


Who Is to Have Berlin? II

There were not many warm hearts in the Bunker on 20 April when Hitler celebrated his fifty-sixth birthday. To those who attended he presented a picture of a man in the last stages of bodily and mental decay. While the will-power which had exercised so great and enduring an influence on those about him could still be summoned up, while the dull grey-blue eyes, which often now were glazed over with a film of sheer exhaustion, still seemed able to hypnotize, fascinate and compel, the actual physical state of the man was more an object of pity than of fear. The Führer’s shuffling steps, weak handshake, wobbling head, trembling hands and slack left arm were the movements and appearance of a man prematurely senile. Yet his hesitancy and indecisiveness while confirming the completeness of his disintegration were still at odds with the ‘indescribable, flickering glow in his eyes, creating a fearsome and wholly unnatural effect’.

On the following day, 21 April, Hitler was giving orders for making a last stand in Berlin. There was not much time left for, by then, Marshal Zhukov’s armies had got as far as Berlin’s eastern suburbs, while his fellow Marshal, Konev, was nearing Dresden. Nevertheless the Supreme Commander was detailing to Göring’s Chief of Staff, General Koller, an elderly, scrupulous fusspot, exactly which troops would be withdrawn from the north of the city to counter-attack the Russians in the southern suburbs. Every tank, every aircraft that could be mustered, everything and everybody would make an all-out, final, desperate effort to throw back the enemy. Obergruppenführer Steiner of the SS would command the attack. Any commanding officer who did not thrust home would answer for it with his head. It was all in vain. The attack never came off, did not even get under way; withdrawal of units from the north simply allowed the Russians to surge through there and sweep on to the city’s centre. It hardly seemed possible that the military situation could worsen, yet it was just such cold comfort that Hitler was obliged to stomach.

He did not do so lightly. At the military conference the following day, when the facts were presented to him, he completely lost control of himself. One more shrieking, shouting match – a wholly one-sided affair – was duly played out. The Generals and the Staff were then treated to three hours of denunciation. Hitler had been betrayed and deserted. The army had failed him. There was nothing but lies, deceit, cowardly incompetence. It was the end. His great mission, the Third Reich itself, had come to nothing, and indeed nothing was left but for him to stay in Berlin and die. This conference, if conference it could be called, may have left his listeners bewildered and exhausted, yet its effect on Hitler himself was quite different. Decision calmed him. He seemed able to face the future, however limited it might be, serenely. Yet at the very moment of resigning himself to failure and death, he took the unwarranted, unforgivable step of resigning too from that great position which he had so long coveted and relished – command of the German army. He refused to delegate. He gave no orders to his principal military assistants, Field-Marshal Keitel and General Jodl. He simply abdicated all responsibility. From the former position of directing the entire war machine, personally, continuously and arbitrarily, he swung fully about and would have nothing more to do with it. He declared that he would stay in Berlin, lead its defence and then at the last moment shoot himself. His physical state did not allow him to take part in the fight personally and in any case he could not risk falling into enemy hands. It was not until 30 April that Hitler actually shot himself, and by then the Russians were only a few streets away from the Berlin Chancellory and the Bunker. What would have happened if the Western armies had got there first?

On 1 April 1945 Stalin was conferring in Moscow with some of his most senior commanders – Zhukov and Konev, respectively commanding the 1st Belorussian and 1st Ukraine fronts, and Antonov and Shtemenko, both of the General Staff. A telegram was read out with the unexpected information that the Anglo-American command was preparing to launch a drive to capture Berlin, the principal spearhead under Montgomery’s direction. The axis would be north of the Ruhr, the shortest route, and the telegram ended by saying that Allied plans were such that they would certainly reach Berlin before the Red Army. It must be assumed that Stalin had fabricated this telegram or that it was a thoroughly bad piece of intelligence. When the Soviet leader then asked his commanders, ‘Who is going to take Berlin, we or the Allies?’ there was unanimous agreement that it would be themselves. The only question was whether Zhukov’s or Konev’s front would be charged with the task. Stalin then instructed the two commanders to prepare their ideas and two days later gave orders that whichever of the two reached a certain line between the river Neisse and the river Spree first would go on to take Berlin.

During the first week of April 1945, therefore, we have the spectacle of two Russian Army Group commanders planning how they would take Berlin, while on the Allied side Eisenhower is being pressed by the British to do so and resisting this pressure with the aid of his own countrymen. Bradley, for example, always hostile to and a rival of Montgomery, made the extraordinary estimate, quite unsupported by military considerations, that an advance from the Elbe to Berlin would cost them 100,000 men, which he regarded as too high a price to pay for a ‘prestige objective’. He could not have been unaware that any such drive would be conducted by Montgomery’s Army Group rather than his own, purely because of their respective deployment. He echoed Eisenhower by declaiming that postwar political alignments were less important than destroying what remained of the German army. He eschewed the idea of complicating matters with political foresight and what he called non-military objectives. Yet what are military operations for but to determine political circumstances? And it has always to be borne in mind that the German army and indeed the German people as a whole, given the option, would have infinitely preferred occupation of their country by the Anglo-American armies than the Russians.

Yet Eisenhower received further support from the US Chiefs of Staff. Speaking on their behalf, General Marshall reiterated Bradley’s contention that any political or psychological advantages resulting from the capture of Berlin ahead of the Russians should not override the imperative military consideration of the dismemberment of Germany’s armed forces. In reply Eisenhower, while adhering to the orders he had already given, and insisting that there would be no drive on Berlin until he had joined forces with the Russians, as already agreed, none the less commented:

I am the first to admit that a war is waged in pursuance of political aims, and if the Combined Chiefs of Staff should decide that the Allied effort to take Berlin outweighs military considerations in this theatre, I would cheerfully readjust my plans.

This signal to Marshall was dated 7 April. If the Combined Chiefs of Staff had decided to order Eisenhower to go full steam ahead for Berlin there and then, could he have got there first? On the very next day, 8 April, we find Eisenhower telling Montgomery: ‘If I get an opportunity to capture Berlin cheaply, I will take it.’ He was hardly as good as his word. Even Bradley, finding three days later that his armies had secured a bridgehead over the Elbe at Magdeburg and were only fifty miles from Berlin, admitted: ‘At that time we could probably have pushed on to Berlin had we been willing to take the casualties Berlin would have cost us. Zhukov had not yet crossed the Oder and Berlin now lay about midway between our forces.’

Chester Wilmot was in no doubt. He pointed out that there were no prepared defences to prevent Eisenhower reaching Berlin first, no serious obstacles, ‘nor any resistance that could not be brusquely swept aside by the 60 divisions available for his next offensive’. What is more, there were no logistic objections.

Politically, too, the way was clear for, though the German capital lay in the centre of that area which was to be occupied by the Soviet Union after the war, it had never been suggested that the military forces of one power should not enter the occupation zone of another in pursuit of the common enemy.

Indeed, there had been no discussion between the Soviet Union and the Western Allies, still less an agreement, as to who was to take Berlin. At Yalta the question did not arise. Certainly there was no understanding that the city was to be reserved for the Red Army. Since Yalta the relative freedom of movement by the two converging armies had changed dramatically. Formerly the Allies had been bogged down, the Russians advancing everywhere. Now, in April 1945, the position was reversed: the Red Army halted, Eisenhower’s armies free to advance. Leaving aside for a moment whether these latter armies could have reached Berlin first, if they had attempted to do so from mid-April onwards, would the German commanders in the field – notwithstanding anything the Führer or OKW might have had to say, for their orders were negligible – have allowed the Western armies to have made their way to the capital virtually unopposed? There might have been fanatical and scattered resistance from ill-organized groups, but if a decision of this sort had been left to such men as Guderian, Wenck, Busse, Kesselring, Manteuffel, Speer, Dönitz – even Himmler – the answer would in all likelihood have been yes.

Bearing in mind now that the Russian offensive across the Oder did not start until 16 April and that five days later the armies of Zhukov’s front reached the outskirts of the city, any Allied attempt to take Berlin would have had to succeed before this. Given that Montgomery’s Army Group, having reached the Elbe during the first weeks of April was then charged with so many tasks – to clear Schleswig-Holstein, take Wismar, Lübeck, Emden, Wilhelmshaven, Cuxhaven and Bremen – that it had to be reinforced by a US Airborne Corps, it would have been impossible for Montgomery’s forces to have got to Berlin before the Russians. On Bradley’s front, however, it was a different story. His elimination of Model’s group of armies in the Ruhr encirclement had been so successful that by 10 April the German soldiers were surrendering en masse. A total of 320,000 were captured with all their weapons and equipment, a significant pointer to what might have happened on the road to Berlin. Bradley had been instructed to seize bridgeheads over the Elbe and be prepared to continue the advance. On 11 April Simpson’s 9th US Army reached the Elbe astride Magdeburg and was across it the following day. On the same day, 12 April, it reached Tangemünde, just over fifty miles from Berlin. Everywhere the US armies were advancing rapidly, and by 15 April Hodges’ 1st Army reached the Mulde and Patton’s 3rd Army had got to Plauen, Hof and Bayreuth. On that very day Simpson proposed to Bradley that his army should expand its Elbe bridgehead and push on in force and with all speed to Berlin: this, it must be noted, on the day before the Red Army’s attack began.

Eisenhower vetoed the suggestion. We may hazard a guess that had Patton been there instead of Simpson he would have pushed on anyway and asked for permission later. That Simpson could have got on seems more or less certain for in the whole of his advance up to the Elbe, his army had suffered very few casualties. Indeed, all that had opposed him – ill-equipped and unpractised divisions of Wenck’s 12th Army, which had no air support at all – had been scattered. Wenck’s own comment on it all was: ‘If the Americans launch a major attack they’ll crack our positions with ease. After all what’s to stop them? There’s nothing between here and Berlin.’ If we assume therefore that on 15 April Simpson had despatched powerful armoured columns down the Autobahn to Berlin, with motorized infantry, artillery and engineers in support, and the Allies’ unchallenged air supremacy to deal with any pockets of resistance, we may suppose that the American armies could have reached and occupied Berlin on 15 and 16 April, so anticipating the arrival of the Russians by several days. Of one thing we may be sure. They would have been welcomed by the Berliners with the most profound relief.

What about Hitler himself? Would he still have committed suicide when the information was brought to him that the American forces were in Berlin? There could presumably be no surrender, conditional or unconditional, while he still lived. Would he still have married Eva Braun, who arrived in the Bunker on 15 April? There would just have been time. Whom would the Führer have nominated as his successor? Would it still have been Dönitz? There are innumerable questions of this sort. But having assumed that Simpson’s 9th Army, rapidly reinforced by elements from the US 1st, 3rd and 15th Armies, did reach, occupy and even extend eastwards beyond Berlin, we may allow ourselves further speculation. Once it was known that Hitler was dead, his nominated successor, provided it were someone like Dönitz, and not Göring, Himmler, Goebbels or Keitel, would have initiated some approach to the Western Allies to negotiate a cessation of hostilities. In view of the proximity of the Red Army, the Western negotiators would have insisted that the Soviet Union be involved in the surrender conditions. There would have to be a newly agreed junction between the two converging armies, possibly the arterial roads to the east of Berlin or the broadly defined eastern outskirts of the city. It must be assumed here too that the Red Army has been ordered not to contest occupation of Berlin.

Who would have been the principal negotiator on behalf of the Western Allies? Eisenhower, as Supreme Allied Commander, might have been a candidate, provided he were furnished with the necessary political guidance from Truman and Churchill. But such delegated authority would have been limited to surrender terms, and would not have changed what had been agreed at Yalta in February. We may be sure that at least three men would have wanted to make their presence known when it came to detailed discussions with Stalin: Truman, Churchill and de Gaulle. One other man would somehow or other have contrived not only to be involved himself, but to ensure a substantial role for the soldiers he commanded: Field-Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery. How he would have longed to organize some sort of victory parade or celebration in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium! If Churchill had been given the chance, he would no doubt have arranged for his quarters to have been at Frederick the Great’s Potsdam palace, Sans Souci, and indeed had there been a Potsdam conference in April 1945, instead of July, with the Western Allies in a far more powerful bargaining position than was in reality the case, Churchill might never have experienced his subsequent disappointment and dismay as to what actually emerged in July, when he was out of power:

The line of the Oder and the Eastern Neisse had already been recognized as the Polish compensation for retiring to the Curzon Line, but the overrunning by the Russian armies of the territory up to and even beyond the Western Neisse was never and never would have been agreed to by any Government of which I was the head . . .

The real time to deal with these issues was . . . when the fronts of the mighty Allies faced each other in the field, and before the Americans, and to a lesser extent, the British, made their vast retirement on a 400-mile front to a depth in some places of 120 miles, thus giving the heart and a great mass of Germany over to the Russians . . .

The heart: what if Churchill had had his way earlier and the Western armies had met the Russians not on the line of the Elbe–Mulde rivers, but on the Oder–Neisse line, with Berlin in their own hands? What then? How different a Potsdam conference might have been. Churchill’s fundamental antipathy towards allowing the Russians to occupy great chunks of Central Europe was that he could see no future for these areas unless it was acceptable to – that is, controlled by – the Soviet Government. And that to him was no future at all. Yet all this apart, the American view, at a time when American counsels carried great weight, was that the Western Allies were committed to a definite line of occupation and that this commitment must be honoured. Churchill, too, was in favour of honouring commitments provided all of them were equally honoured, in other words, provided the Western Allies could be satisfied that the entire European future was being properly settled. At Potsdam in July 1945 American support for such a notion was not to hand. Would the situation have differed if Potsdam had instead taken place in April, with Berlin occupied by American and British forces and the Red Army still some way off to the east? We may be sure that Churchill, still at that point wielding much influence and power, would have moved mountains to reach a satisfactory solution.

As for Berlin itself, there would still have been quadripartite control of the city, but how different might have been its initial occupation. We have to recall that in April 1945 Berlin was kaputt, a bombed ruin of a city, as described by a correspondent of the Red Army, Lieutenant-Colonel Troyanovsky, who saw for himself what happened between 21 and 25 April as the battle raged:

From one end of the horizon to the other stretched houses, gardens, factory buildings, and many churches. Volumes of smoke arose from all quarters and hung like a pall over the city. The German capital was burning. The thunder of the artillery bombardment shook the air, the houses and the ground. And Berlin replied with thousands of shells and bombs. It seemed as though we were confronted not by a town, but by a nightmare of fire and steel. Every house appeared to have been converted into a fortress. There were no squares, but only gun positions for artillery and mine throwers. From house to house and street to street, from one district to another, mowing their way through gun fire and hot steel, went our infantrymen, artillery, sappers and tanks. On 25 April the German capital was completely encircled and cut off from the rest of the country. At the height of the street fighting Berlin was without water, without light, without landing fields, without radio stations. The city ceased to resemble Berlin.

‘How pitiful is their Berlin!’ observed Zhukov.

How pitiful too was the plight of the Berliners, particularly the women. The Red Army ran riot. Rape, looting, burning and murder were rife. Hitler’s very last War Directive of 15 April had made it clear what fate threatened a defeated Germany: ‘While the old men and children will be murdered, the women and girls will be reduced to barrack-room whores.’ Antony Beevor, while doing his research into the fall of Berlin, was shocked by what he discovered about the depravity of the Russian soldiers. This research, says a newspaper report, ‘revealed that the Russians raped hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of Germans; the troops even raped the Russian and Polish women prisoners they freed from German camps. In some towns every female, young and old, was violated.’

The British and Americans would have behaved better. There might have been seduction, even barter, for cigarettes were treasured currency then, but rape would have been rare. When the British did enter Berlin later, they were greeted as liberators rather than conquerors. What must have been the consequence if Berlin had initially been wholly occupied by the Western armies, before its division into the four sectors, British, American, French and Russian? Is it not possible that as soon as the boundaries were made known and before the barriers and barbed wire went up, every Berliner able to do so would have quitted the Russian zone to find refuge in one of the other three? Even as things were, Germans who found themselves in the Soviet-controlled part of the former Third Reich and in East Berlin flocked to the west in their thousands until the Berlin Wall and the boundary minefields deterred such abundant emigration and denied those seeking refuge from the oppressor’s wrong, the whips and scorns of uniformed bullies, the spurns of the unworthy, the insolence of jack-booted officials, the chance to do so.

It had all been brought about by one man, whom Speer called ‘a demonic figure’, whose ‘person determined the fate of a nation. He alone placed it, and kept it, upon the path which has led to this dreadful ending. The nation was spellbound by him as a people has rarely been in the whole of history.’ Was it all by chance?

Strategic consequences of the Ceylon attack and British reinforcement. I

HMS WARSPITE recovers her Walrus as oilers and tenders cluster about FORMIDABLE and other ships of the Eastern Fleet.

The strategic consequences of the IJN attack on Ceylon, and the resulting exposure of the Eastern Fleet, were addressed in two joint planning staff papers dated 18 and 21 April. These drew on an updated Joint Intelligence Committee assessment, which anticipated further IJN raids and the continuing risk of a full-scale invasion of Ceylon as well as simultaneous pressure on northeast India. The key lesson the planning staff drew was that Royal Navy ship-borne air strength was greatly inferior to that of the IJN. The IJN could, therefore, exercise air superiority to command sea communications where it wished, and the Eastern Fleet was powerless to intervene. The planners judged that the first Japanese priority was to consolidate their hold on Southeast Asia and Burma, but a rapid move to drive Britain out of the war by disrupting supplies to the Middle East and India, and of Persian oil, must be tempting. SIGINT seemed to support this judgement. On 13 April, the Japanese foreign minister told the German ambassador in Tokyo that Japan was thrusting towards Ceylon and the area north of it. This thrust would extend ‘step by step’ into the western Indian Ocean. To achieve this goal, the planning staff argued, the Japanese must take Ceylon and destroy the Eastern Fleet. Safeguarding the fleet was paramount, and took precedence over holding Ceylon. The Eastern Fleet must, therefore, retreat to East Africa until it could be reinforced sufficiently to contest the central Indian Ocean on acceptable terms. The ideal target strength was five modern capital ships and seven fleet carriers, of which five and four were planned by August. In the meantime, defence of Ceylon must rely on air power.

Churchill, meanwhile, highlighted the grave risks in the Indian Ocean in letters to President Roosevelt dated 7 and 15 April. His second letter emphasised that Britain for some months could not match the naval forces the Japanese had demonstrated they were willing to deploy in the Indian Ocean. The loss of Ceylon and invasion of northeast India were real possibilities, but this would only be the beginning. There was little to stop the Japanese dominating the western Indian Ocean and undermining Britain’s whole position in the Middle East. He stressed here the consequences of losing Persian oil and the supply line to Russia. Overall, the situation was ‘more than we can bear’. He sought United States support through diversionary action in the Pacific, further reinforcement in the Atlantic to release Royal Navy units, or direct naval support in the Indian Ocean itself. This letter reflected discussion at the Defence Committee the previous day, at which General Marshall and Harry Hopkins were present.

The outcome of this Defence Committee meeting has proved controversial. The British endorsed Marshall’s proposals for an early invasion of western Europe. However, the prime minister and Brooke insisted that it was still essential to hold the Middle East, India and Australasia. A second front in Europe must not compromise these interests. The justification for their caveat has since been questioned. Brooke is accused of exaggerating the consequences that would follow Japanese control of the Indian Ocean, and demanding an open-ended commitment from the United States to prevent collapse in the Indian Ocean and Middle East. The implication is that the British leadership was engaged in deliberate deception. They had no real intention of committing to a second front at this time, but sought to keep the United States focused on ‘Germany first’, while they pursued their own interests.

It is important to look dispassionately at the threat to the Indian Ocean as it appeared at the time. Charging Brooke with exaggeration reflects hindsight, rather than a fair appraisal of the risks as Brooke must have seen them. In the wake of Nagumo’s raid, a return operation by Japan to seize Ceylon looked entirely credible. So did a concerted IJN effort across the rest of 1942, by raiders, submarines and select use of carrier task forces, to cut effective communication in the western Indian Ocean. If the Japanese pursued this option all-out, there was little the US Navy could do in the Pacific during 1942 to prevent them. From the British perspective, an IJN offensive might, at a minimum, eliminate the prospect of a British Empire material advantage in the North African campaign by the autumn. It could also drastically reduce oil supplies across the eastern theatre, with major consequences for the empire war effort, and for any United States operations mounted from India and Australia. Finally, it would severely disrupt aid on what was becoming the primary military lend-lease route to Russia, with unknowable consequences for Russia’s survival. Japan might achieve even more. Countering these risks had to be a top priority.

Nor was Britain seeking an ‘open-ended commitment’. Britain wanted American support for a limited period of two and a half months, while sufficient reinforcements were gathered to make the Eastern Fleet reasonably competitive with the maximum force the Japanese were likely to deploy. In effect, Britain’s war planners must bridge a period while key Royal Navy units were under repair, or working up, and before new construction became available. Valiant was under repair in Durban following her damage at Alexandria in December and expected to complete in June. Nelson and Rodney were working up after repair and refit. The carriers Eagle and Furious were in refit. The new battleships Anson and Howe were expected to be operational in August and October respectively. By the time the Defence Committee met again just a week later on 22 April, a target date of 30 June had been set for assembling the enhanced Eastern Fleet and the relevant forces earmarked. This fleet would have been significantly stronger than the forces available to the US Navy to hold Hawaii.

The British leadership may well have been privately doubtful that Marshall’s vision for an early second front reflected realistic understanding of the logistics and the quality of enemy opposition. Hindsight suggests they were right. They inevitably prioritised the protection of the wider empire, because it defined Britain’s status as a world power but, more important, because it provided essential war resources. Many in the United States leadership also supported Churchill’s emphasis on the Middle East, India and Australasia, for their own reasons.

In response to British pleas, the United States judged it could not help in the Indian Ocean, but it did offer limited support in the Atlantic and, most important, diversionary action was underway in the Pacific. This was the bombing raid on Tokyo led by Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle. This raid by a small force of B-25 bombers launched from the US Navy carriers Enterprise and Hornet took place on 18 April. The military impact was negligible, but the psychological effect on the Japanese military leadership was profound. It did not initiate the Midway operation, which had already been approved two weeks previously. However, it underlined Yamamoto’s conviction that the US Navy carrier force must be eliminated before other options, including further offensive action in the Indian Ocean, were contemplated. Crucially, it also caused the Japanese to add a second Midway objective – the occupation of the island. The resulting conflict of priorities would have fatal consequences. Pound, meanwhile, underlined British anxieties during a visit to Washington in late April, and received sufficient assurances from Admiral King, the new Chief of Naval Operations, to confirm the feasibility of giving significant reinforcements to Somerville.

The chiefs of staff copied the latest joint planning staff assessment to Somerville on 23 April. Its conclusion encapsulated how London saw the position in the East at this time:

If the Japanese press boldly westwards, without pause for consolidation and are not deterred by offensive activities or threats by the Eastern Fleet or American Fleet, nor by the rapid reinforcement of our air forces in North-East India, then the Indian Empire is in grave danger. The security of the Middle East and its essential supply lines will be threatened. The Middle East and India are inter-dependent.

Somerville, shocked by the ferocity of the IJN strike on the Dorsetshire force, and now aware how close he had come to disaster, agreed with the London view. He reinforced the disparity in air power in a sharp exchange with the Admiralty at the beginning of May. For daytime air strike, the Royal Navy was ‘completely outclassed’ by the Japanese, though Somerville judged that in low cloud or at night it had an advantage. He hoped by now it was appreciated that the Fleet Air Arm, ‘suffering from arrested development for many years’, could not compete successfully with an IJN carrier arm, ‘which had devoted itself to producing aircraft fit for sailors to fly in’. Pending the arrival of better aircraft, he proposed a substantial increase in fighter complement, employing deck parking and outriggers where necessary. The prime minister took a personal interest in Somerville’s proposals, which were broadly agreed, though it was recognised that achieving an adequate supply of Martlets would require high-level political lobbying in the United States.

Fleet Air Arm aircraft deficiencies were not easily solved. Despite constant British lobbying at the highest level, the flow of Martlet fighters from the United States remained barely adequate through most of 1942. It was well into 1943 before the first new strike aircraft arrived. In the meantime, Somerville’s belief that the IJN had deployed fighter-bombers led the Admiralty briefly to contemplate employing unsuitable Hurricane IIs in a similar role. Some in the Royal Navy leadership, including Pound, still struggled to understand the revolutionary nature of carrier warfare as practised by the IJN, and shortly by the US Navy. This was partly poor intelligence assessment, which continued to underestimate the number and quality of IJN aircraft deployed in their carriers and, therefore, their lead over an equivalent Royal Navy force. It also reflected their persistent belief that the IJN would deploy capital ship raiders against trade on the German Atlantic model. This led to over-emphasis on comparative capital ship strength when measuring the effectiveness of the Eastern Fleet.210 Churchill also still defaulted to the battleship as the ultimate arbiter of strength.

Nevertheless, it is wrong to imply that the Royal Navy downplayed the role of the carrier in its future force planning, and its importance in bringing the eastern war to a successful conclusion. Its commitment to the carrier as a fleet unit is evident in the extraordinary total of sixteen new light carriers of the Colossus and Majestic classes ordered in the single year 1942, when British war resources, not least shipbuilding capacity, were stretched to the limit. These highly successful ships provided two-thirds of the aircraft capacity at two-thirds of the cost of the latest Illustrious units. More important, by adopting commercial standards of construction and using commercial shipyards, they were completed much more quickly, with the first units commissioned in an average of twenty-seven months. Before the end of the year, the newly appointed Deputy First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Charles Kennedy-Purvis, was powerfully arguing that carriers represented ‘the core of the future fleet’, although Pound, still attached to the battleship, preferred the formula, ‘the carrier is indispensable’.

The few accounts of the Indian Ocean theatre in 1942 describe the Eastern Fleet, which collected at Kilindini in Kenya during April after the Ceylon raid, as an ineffective force incapable of contesting further serious IJN incursions. Its survival depended on keeping its distance until the US Navy victories at the Coral Sea and Midway rendered its existence largely irrelevant. Its status is seen, therefore, as confirmation of chronic British over-stretch, and Royal Navy inability to meet the demands of modern air warfare at sea. This picture is misleading. Kilindini did, indeed, become the primary base for the Eastern Fleet for the rest of 1942. However, Somerville continued to deploy a fast carrier force, broadly equivalent to the Force A of early April, to the central Indian Ocean on a regular basis over the next six months. He operated from, or around, Ceylon for almost 50 per cent of this period.

Furthermore, during April and May, in line with the joint planning staff recommendations on 18 April and the subsequent Defence Committee discussions, and the promises of indirect support from Washington, the Admiralty redoubled its efforts to send significant reinforcements to the Indian Ocean. By September at the latest, it intended to return an enhanced Eastern Fleet to Ceylon, with six modern or modernised capital ships and four fleet carriers. This was broadly the force planned in Moore’s December 1941 paper, but with additions. Three-quarters of the Royal Navy’s major units would be in the Indian Ocean. The Home Fleet would be reduced to a minimum, while defence of the Mediterranean would rest on air power and light forces. The Ceylon bases were to be upgraded in the interim, with a Ceylon air group of nine Royal Air Force squadrons, including a Beaufort torpedo force.

These were, by any standard, serious forces, which demonstrated the continuing naval priority accorded to the eastern theatre. Both the initial fast carrier force and the Ceylon air group available in May took time to achieve what Somerville felt was an acceptable operational standard, but the enhanced fleet planned for the autumn could have contested the central Indian Ocean with every prospect of success. The Admiralty also recognised that this enhanced Eastern Fleet would be a sustained commitment with first call on aircraft carriers for the foreseeable future. At the end of 1943, it planned four fleet carriers and six escort carriers deployed in the Indian Ocean, with one fleet carrier and sixteen escort carriers allocated to the Home Fleet, and no carriers at all in the Mediterranean.

The Fleet Air Arm aircraft limitations highlighted by Somerville would have persisted in the enhanced Eastern Fleet carrier force. However, the Royal Navy technological lead in radar and VHF radio, and their exploitation, substantially compensated for the continuing disparity in aircraft numbers and quality. The training and experience shortfall so evident to Somerville in April would also have been addressed. If Indomitable, Formidable and Illustrious had all remained in the Indian Ocean through 1942, these three carriers alone would have deployed some eighty fighters and sixty strike aircraft between them in September. The fighters would have included fifty Martlets. This Royal Navy fighter strength would be comparable to that deployed by the three US Navy carriers at Midway in June, but the Royal Navy had better radar detection and direction. It would have posed a formidable defence to any likely IJN air strike. Sixty ASV-equipped Albacores and Swordfish would have been an equally formidable night strike force. Furthermore, the disparity between IJN and Royal Navy numbers was reducing through 1942, owing to the increasing difficulty the IJN had in maintaining its frontline strength. The IJN Midway strike force only had 151 aircraft.

Proof that the Royal Navy could conduct advanced multi-carrier operations against the most sophisticated air opposition by the second half of 1942 is demonstrated by its performance in Operation Pedestal, the convoy run to relieve Malta in August. Pedestal involved four carriers, including Somerville’s Indomitable, transferred from the Indian Ocean. The three carriers charged with air defence deployed seventy-two fighters against an estimated Axis force of 650 aircraft employed against the convoy during a three-day running battle between 11 and 14 August. Although convoy losses, both merchant vessels and naval escort, were high, the majority were caused by submarine and E-boat action, not air attack, where the defence proved effective. The two most intense days of air attack on 11 and 12 August only damaged one of the merchant vessels, their primary target, although they achieved minor damage to Victorious and more serious damage to Indomitable. This reflected excellent fighter defence from the carriers, with sophisticated use of radar and aircraft direction, and intense anti-aircraft fire from a well-constructed screen. Indeed, on the morning of 12 August, 117 Italian aircraft and fifty-eight German achieved just the one ineffective hit on the carrier Victorious. Never before had the Axis air forces used so many aircraft for so little result. Despite the losses, the convoy was a strategic success. Enough supplies got through to enable Malta to survive, with important implications for the eastern theatre. As noted previously, it is doubtful whether either the IJN or US Navy could have carried out a comparable operation, and in such a complex multi-threat environment, against an equivalent level of air attack at this time.

While established history has underestimated the true potential of the Royal Navy in the Indian Ocean during 1942, it has overestimated that of the IJN. Joint planning staff assessments of mid-April, arguing that the IJN could achieve air superiority where it wished, at least in the eastern half of the Indian Ocean but potentially further west too, were only true within narrow limits. It was one thing to conduct raids like Operation C. It was another to mount the sustained aerial effort necessary to capture Ceylon, or to provide the logistic back-up required for deep operations to challenge the Eastern Fleet and disrupt communications along the African coast and into the Persian Gulf. The First Air Fleet was not capable of any immediate follow up to Operation C. After six months of intense operations, it required maintenance and replenishment. More seriously, the IJN was struggling to maintain its frontline air strength. Six months into the war, and immediately before the Midway campaign, IJN aircraft complements, especially in the carrier force, were not just ‘fraying around the edges’, but were ‘downright awful’.

On 7 December 1941 aircraft strength within the overall carrier force was 473, with just twenty-two reserves. By the end of May, naval fighter production had kept pace with losses, with a net gain over this period of 121. However, production of the two main carrier attack aircraft, the Nakajima B5N2 Type 97 torpedo bomber and Aichi D3A1 Type 99 dive-bomber, was woeful, with just 143 aircraft built against losses of 273, a net deficit of 130. Incredibly, no Type 99s were produced during the four months December 1941 to March 1942. The available frontline carrier attack force by the time of Midway had therefore declined a staggering 40 per cent. Neither Nakajima nor Aichi had adequately prepared for wartime output, and both companies were focusing their attention on successor aircraft at the expense of existing types. IJN land bomber strength was better. Production almost kept pace with losses over the first six months of the war, with a net deficit of just seventeen, easily covered by reserves. However, total IJN land bomber strength at the start of the war was just 339 aircraft with 106 reserves. This was a small force to cover the numerous commitments the IJN faced in mid-1942.

Strategic consequences of the Ceylon attack and British reinforcement. II

Pilot Officer Jimmy Whalen, RCAF, one of the RAF 30 Squadron defenders of Ceylon.

To mount a successful invasion of Ceylon, the Japanese had to eliminate any British air threat, and generate sufficient air support for their landing forces to overcome a defence force of two Australian brigades. The necessary air effort could only come from a carrier force. Although, in theory, the Japanese could also have deployed land-based bombers from the Andaman Islands, these were 650 miles away. The navigation challenges were formidable, and the aircraft vulnerable to Royal Air Force radar-directed fighters. The Japanese could have attacked Ceylon in place of Midway at the beginning of June and with a similar force. This is the scale of attack the joint planning staff anticipated when preparing the ‘Revised Defence Plan for Ceylon’ at the end of April. They assumed attack by 250 aircraft, bombardment by a capital ship force, and a large invasion force. The Royal Air Force reinforcements in place by June would have made the outcome much more finely balanced than in April. The Japanese would have risked unacceptable levels of attrition, leaving them wide open to harassment by the more effective Eastern Fleet, and through American intervention elsewhere.

By June, an IJN carrier force would have faced three Hurricane squadrons, comprising sixty-four aircraft and a further 50 per cent reserves, and three strike squadrons, also with 50 per cent reserves, one of which had Beaufort torpedo bombers. Radar coverage and anti-aircraft defences had significantly improved. Unless the Japanese could use Ceylon as a base, sustained operations in the western Indian Ocean were problematic. Even a limited raid would be difficult. Japan’s shortage of aircraft also demonstrates that British fears regarding their use of Madagascar were exaggerated. It might have been possible to base a small submarine force there, but there was little prospect of sparing aircraft to deploy there during 1942. Such aircraft could only have been flown in from carriers with the necessary support personnel coming by ship, all deployed under cover of a substantial task force.

Neither the British nor the Americans had intelligence at this stage to enlighten them on the specific problems faced by the First Air Fleet. However, Churchill’s view of prospects in the Indian Ocean underwent a remarkable turnaround within weeks of his gloomy letter of 15 April to the president. As early as 24 April, he advised the president of Eastern Fleet reinforcement plans, which he hoped would complete by the end of June. The Royal Navy would then be capable of dealing with a ‘very heavy IJN detachment’. By mid-May he was confident that the capture of Madagascar was beyond Japan’s power and that the reinforced Eastern Fleet, comprising four modernised battleships (Warspite, Valiant, Nelson, Rodney), the four ‘R’ class and three carriers (Indomitable, Formidable, Illustrious), would be re-established in Ceylon by July. He confirmed these reinforcements to Field Marshal Smuts, who had stressed the critical importance of holding the Indian Ocean, at the end of May. During May he also increasingly badgered the chiefs of staff, joint planning staff, and indirectly Somerville, to consider offensive operations in the eastern Indian Ocean in the autumn.

The prime minister’s confidence that the Eastern Fleet with its planned reinforcements, together with the Royal Air Force additions in Ceylon and India, could meet further Japanese attacks went beyond that of the naval staff and, indeed, Somerville. Where did this confidence come from? It was partly no doubt over-simplistic ‘bean counting’ – his belief that a Royal Navy force of four modernised capital ships and three modern fleet carriers should be able to deal with an equivalent IJN force. The passage of time helped – he intuitively realised the Japanese had a limited window for operations in the west before increasing United States strength made these too risky. This time factor applied to the Germans also. At the end of May the prime minister acknowledged the risk of a German drive southward into the Middle East from the Caucasus, also highlighted by Smuts, but noted: ‘The year is advancing and the Germans have a long way to go …’. Above all, he retained faith in the ability of the US Navy to pose a threat in the Pacific, which the Doolittle raid and Coral Sea action at the beginning of May amply confirmed.

The evolving intelligence picture also probably encouraged the prime minister. NID reported (correctly) on 19 April that the bulk of the IJN forces deployed in the Indian Ocean were returning to Japan, although the carriers Zuikaku and Shokaku might be redeployed for operations in the southwest Pacific. Successive NID assessments over the next month confirmed the IJN was conducting a major redeployment back to Japan, probably aimed at future operations in the central Pacific. Naval forces in the southern area would be sharply reduced. The Joint Intelligence Committee assessed in mid-May that the bulk of the Japanese fleet was deployed between the Mandates and New Guinea, with no indication that significant forces were being earmarked for the Indian Ocean.

At the end of May 1942, the joint planning staff considered how the war against Japan should be prosecuted. They correctly identified two significant Japanese vulnerabilities, which were relevant to its ability to conduct sustained operations in the Indian Ocean. They judged that Japan’s frontline air strength was small in relation to the commitments it had now acquired, and that aircraft production was too low to sustain even this frontline if it undertook major operations. They also emphasised Japan’s dependence on Netherlands East Indies oil. In exploiting this, it faced long sea routes, an acute shortage of tankers, and quite inadequate anti-submarine forces. In mid-June the Joint Intelligence Committee produced a more detailed assessment of Japan’s air capability after six months of war. Although it admitted its figures for aircraft losses were of variable quality, and it had no precise intelligence on production rates, its estimates for frontline strength were accurate. It correctly forecast that production was struggling to keep up with losses, as the planning staff had already suggested.

In their look ahead, the joint planning staff also reviewed the concept of a joint British-American fleet taking the offensive in the Pacific. Redeploying the bulk of Royal Navy major units to the Pacific meant carrying risk in the Indian Ocean. This transfer could only be considered when retained defences were adequate, when reinforcements had made Australasia secure, and when the arrival of US Navy new build ensured adequate superiority over the IJN. This thinking reflected that conveyed to eastern theatre commanders and Joint Staff Mission Washington some six weeks earlier on 15 April. They had then argued that it was currently impossible to cover Allied interests across two oceans from a single base. It was essential, on the one hand, to cover India, the Middle East and Persian oil, and, on the other, the United States west coast, Hawaii, and communications across the Pacific to Australasia. The Indian Ocean was critical to the British Empire, but it covered no comparable interests for Japan. It consequently offered no offensive potential. To defeat Japan, a strategic offensive in the Pacific would be necessary, but this was only possible once vital interests elsewhere were secure.

In parallel with the latest joint planning staff deliberations, Pound received requests from Admiral King for more immediate help to the US Navy, which had seen its effective carrier strength cut by half following the Coral Sea action. King would accept a diversion operation by the Eastern Fleet, but would prefer the transfer of one or more Royal Navy carriers to the southwest Pacific. Theoretically, Britain had an opportunity here to take an early stake in the Pacific campaign and buy significant influence for minimal investment. She also risked lasting resentment from King and the US Navy if she refused to help and Midway turned out badly. Pound was reluctant to weaken the Eastern Fleet while a major IJN attack in the Indian Ocean remained possible, and King failed to make a persuasive case that Royal Navy intervention in the Pacific would make sufficient difference to compensate. Time and distance, and the difficulty arranging logistic support, also argued against the transfer, which was not therefore pursued.

The first significant reinforcements reached Somerville at the beginning of May, part of the forces allocated to seize Madagascar (Operation Ironclad). These were a third fleet carrier, Illustrious, and the heavy cruiser Devonshire. Three other modern cruisers reached him from new build or refit during the next two months. The Eastern Fleet was still planned to reach a strength by the autumn of four modernised battleships, three fleet carriers, one 8in cruiser, five to six modern 6in cruisers, two older 6in cruisers, sixteen modern destroyers, and nine to twelve submarines. In addition, the four ‘R’ class, with six to seven older cruisers and nine old destroyers, would be retained for trade protection duties. This fleet was comparable in size to the ‘maximum Eastern Fleet’ of August 1939.

In the event, the strength of the Eastern Fleet peaked in early July. By then it had two modernised battleships, Warspite and Valiant (the latter about to work up, following damage repair at Durban), two fleet carriers Formidable and Illustrious (Indomitable had departed a week earlier for Pedestal), two ‘R’-class battleships, Royal Sovereign and Resolution (Ramillies had been damaged by IJN submarine attack), one heavy cruiser, three modern 6in cruisers, six older cruisers and nine destroyers. The fleet now had a more modern core than in April, and was better trained and more cohesive as a fighting force. It remained weak in destroyers, which would constrain Somerville’s mobility in the coming months.

The further reinforcements proposed during April and May never arrived. From early July, Eastern Fleet strength rapidly declined. By the autumn, Somerville was down to one modernised battleship and one carrier. He did not recover the mid-1942 strength until early 1944. There were two related reasons for this reduction: the crippling of the IJN carrier arm at Midway on 4 June, and the demands of the Mediterranean. Once the scale of the US Navy achievement at Midway was evident, it appeared to the British that IJN ability to intervene in the western Indian Ocean with anything more than occasional surface raiders or submarines had been eliminated. By early September, the Joint Intelligence Committee judged that Japan now lacked the resources to pursue major new commitments and would adopt a defensive perimeter strategy. The threat to Persian oil would remain a British anxiety into the autumn, but post-Midway, the primary risk was from German attack in the west or north. Ironically, at the moment Midway took place, the Japanese Army general staff revived the idea of major operations in the Indian Ocean, including the seizure of Ceylon, to which they had been distinctly lukewarm in February. Planning continued during June and an Army Directive (No 1196) was produced on 29 June. The reason for this new enthusiasm was the perceived success of the German drive towards Egypt, which resurrected the prospect of an Axis ‘junction’ in the Middle East, and for knocking Britain out of the war. The IJN endorsed the concept, but had to defer to resource realities, especially as the Guadalcanal campaign got underway.

The British war leadership were clear during the first five months of 1942 that the Indian Ocean took priority over the Mediterranean. Actual and planned naval reinforcements, largely at Mediterranean expense, reflected that. This raised the difficult question of sustaining Malta. Experience demonstrated that supply convoys were only possible with substantial naval cover. If Somerville was to receive his planned reinforcements, such cover was not possible. A proposal was therefore developed during April for a major part of the Eastern Fleet to deploy through the Suez Canal for the two weeks necessary to run a convoy to Malta from Alexandria. This risky plan was put on hold when it was assessed Malta could hold out until August. However, an August convoy was essential if Malta was to survive. It meant either resurrecting the Eastern Fleet option, or running a convoy from the west, which required Somerville to release one of his three carriers to reinforce Force H. The western option was militarily more attractive, and Midway made the release of Indomitable in mid-July possible.

By the time this western convoy operation (Pedestal) took place, the wider strategic context had further evolved and the major Anglo-American landing in northwest Africa, codenamed Torch, was planned for November. The political and strategic debates that led to Torch, and the campaign itself, are outside the scope of this book. However, it is important to underline how Torch linked with, and influenced, the naval defence of the eastern empire. The most obvious impact lay in the substantial resources required to execute Torch, for which the Royal Navy provided about two-thirds of the naval forces. They included two battleships, Rodney and Duke of York, the battlecruiser Renown, three fleet carriers (Victorious, Formidable and Furious), the light carrier Argus, three escort carriers, nine cruisers and forty-three destroyers. To help generate these forces it was necessary not only to abandon the planned buildup of the Eastern Fleet, but to make substantial further withdrawals from Somerville, including one of his remaining two carriers, Formidable. She was required because Indomitable had been badly damaged in the Pedestal convoy and was therefore not available for Torch. As the prime minister emphasised to his deputy Clement Attlee, this was neither a permanent withdrawal from the East, nor a sign that the East was unimportant. It was a deliberate strategic choice to apply Britain’s scarce naval resources where they had most effect. If the Japanese threat in the Indian Ocean had sharply reduced after Midway, Britain again had options.

Churchill apparently hoped that the reduction of the Eastern Fleet would be for a few months. In the event, in the absence of any new Japanese threat in the Indian Ocean, successive Mediterranean demands following Torch left the Eastern Fleet in a Cinderella state throughout 1943. However, the 1943 Mediterranean campaign was a staged affair, and the successive Royal Navy commitments here were not inevitable. If the Japanese threat had resumed, the Royal Navy could have redeployed to the Indian Ocean earlier than it did. The Royal Navy Torch force, including its three capital ships, three fleet carriers, and three escort carriers, was the force that would have gone to Somerville in place of Torch if the Japanese had pursued a major offensive into the western half of the Indian Ocean in the second half of 1942.

The success of Torch influenced Britain’s eastern defence problem in crucial ways. It removed any possibility of the Germans securing new Atlantic bases at a critical stage in the U-boat war. It also secured the eastern empire irrevocably from any Axis threat on its western boundary. These two threats had continued to exercise British planners through the summer, as they contemplated the possibility of Russian defeat. In July the joint planners anticipated that if Russia collapsed, Germany would embark on a strategy to seize Atlantic bases and Middle East oil, which almost exactly mirrored the OKW strategic survey of August 1941. As late as October, the planners judged – ‘we are not yet out of the dangerous period of the war: a major false step may still jeopardise our prospects of victory’.

It took longer to clear the Axis from North Africa than the Allies hoped, but after Torch the result was not in doubt. Allied mastery of North Africa then opened up the Mediterranean to Allied shipping, and from there via the Suez Canal to the Indian Ocean, with the first through cargo convoy from Gibraltar to Suez running in May 1943. Reopening Mediterranean transit made it much easier to move reinforcements to secure the Indian front against Japan, and to boost supplies to Russia through the Persian Gulf. In the long run it saved substantial shipping resources. Supplies on the Persian route to Russia in the second half of 1943 were approximately double those in the first half, and more than double those delivered by the Arctic convoys. The Persian route was by far the most important route for supplies delivered to Russia under the Third Protocol from October 1943 to end June 1944, and always had spare capacity if other routes had failed.

Finally, the Torch campaign was catastrophic for the German air force. The Luftwaffe lost 2422 aircraft in the Mediterranean over the seven months from November 1942 to end May 1943. This represented 40 per cent of its overall frontline strength in all theatres at the beginning of November. The Mediterranean losses broadly equalled those on the Russian front in the same period, although in some categories, notably fighters, they were much higher. The German response to Torch also absorbed large numbers of transport aircraft to build up their forces in Tunisia;  Ju52s were deployed in November and December, of which half had been lost by end January. The despatch of these precious heavy transport aircraft to the Mediterranean significantly reduced German airlift capacity at Stalingrad. By reducing German air power, Torch therefore made a direct and important contribution to the Stalingrad battle, and then severely hampered German prospects for any lasting recovery in the East. This contribution to Stalingrad and its aftermath must be weighed alongside the simultaneous lend-lease aid delivered through Persia, the impact of which was highlighted earlier. Even if the Germans had achieved a more successful outcome to their 1942 southern offensive in Russia, the air losses suffered in the Torch campaign would have left them insufficient air support to contemplate the early invasion of the Middle East from the north, which the British so feared.

President Roosevelt anticipated these Torch achievements in the instructions he gave to Marshall and King prior to their visit to London in July 1942. He stressed the need to maintain a ‘Germany first’ strategy, and not to be diverted by Japan. He emphasised his continuing commitment to a cross-channel invasion (Roundup) in 1943, while noting that its feasibility would depend on events in Russia. Less recognised is the importance he placed on holding the Middle East. Losing the Middle East meant losing Egypt and the Suez Canal, and thereafter potentially Syria, Iraq oil and access to Persian oil. This would permit a junction between Germany and Japan, and result in the probable loss of the Indian Ocean. There was also a continuing risk of a German move into northwest Africa, with severe consequences for Atlantic communications. Holding the Middle East required continuing American support on existing fronts, but he commended the advantages of a landing on the Atlantic coast against Germany’s back door. Roosevelt’s arguments here, notably his stress on the Atlantic trade war, the importance of Persian oil and the Persian supply route, precisely echoed those deployed by Churchill a year earlier in May 1941.

In the autumn of 1942 the naval defence of the eastern empire had come full circle. The Indian Ocean, so critical not just to Britain’s position in the East, but to the whole Allied war effort in the first half of that year, had reverted to a calm backwater. Meanwhile, the need and opportunity to remove the western Axis threat to the Middle East had moved centre stage. Priorities had changed, and Royal Navy resources, in the view of the British war leadership, were now better deployed elsewhere than with Somerville. That meant the Mediterranean during 1943, but it also included deploying the fleet carrier Victorious to help the US Navy Pacific Fleet for much of that year, as well.

Nineteenth-Century Military Theory-Clausewitz and de Jomini

Napoleon on Military Education Napoleon was a great believer in a formal military education and, unlike most of his contemporaries, believed that it went beyond the mechanics of laying guns or building fortifications. Whereas most nations were content to focus on the technical skills in their service schools, Napoleon stated: “Tactics, the evolutions, the science of the engineer and of the artillerist can be learned in treatises, much like geometry, but the higher art of war is acquired only through the study of history of the wars and battles of the Great Captains, and from experience.” The formal study of military history thus became a central theme in the service academies of the empire.

HIS695160 Helmuth Carl Bernhard Graf von Moltke, 1898 (oil on canvas) by Lenbach, Franz Seraph von (1836-1904); 85.5×69.5 cm; Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin, Germany; ( Helmuth Carl Bernhard Graf von Moltke (1800-1891)
); © DHM; German, out of copyright

Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke the Elder Helmuth von Moltke the Elder (1800-1891), chief of the Prussian General Staff during 1857-1888, organized and oversaw the German triumph over France. His preparations for war in the late 1860s, which gave the Prussian army strategic and tactical command methods to fight on broad fronts, enabled Prussia and its German allies to mobilize with an unprecedented speed and efficiency in the war with France. This combined with superior tactics and artillery provided an advantage that the French could not overcome. Von Moltke also oversaw actual field operations, including the siege of Paris. His clashes with Bismarck about the actual role of the civilian leadership in wartime offered a foreshadowing of far more serious civil-military clashes among German leaders during World War I.

In the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, military theorists attempted to unlock the secrets of Napoleon’s success and to understand the nature of war in light of the changes that those years had wrought. If Napoleon’s genius could be understood, it was hoped, it could be emulated, and future generals could achieve the same victories. Explanations for Napoleon’s success came to be broadly divided into two groups, whose leading theorists were Antoine-Henri de Jomini (1779-1869) and Karl von Clausewitz (1780-1831).

Jomini, born in Switzerland, served in Napoleon’s army as a staff officer under French Marshal Michel Ney from 1802 until 1813, when he defected to the Russian army and was given the rank of lieutenant general prior to the Battle of Leipzig. Jomini’s theories on war were distilled in his most famous work, Précis de l’Art de la Guerre (Summary on the Art of War), published in 1838, although his ideas had changed little from his first writings on military strategy in 1803. He argued that wars could be explained rationally and that they could be understood by a simple formula that he felt was derived from Napoleon’s methods of warfare. The key to victory was offensive action to combine superior forces against weaker enemy forces at a decisive point. For Jomini, war was a scientific enterprise best understood on scientific principles. Such a focus excluded social, political, and logistical factors and also ignored the human component of war, such as the potential for human error. For Jomini, war was a limited exercise that would be decided by simple decisive actions in battle. Thus, any country could match Napoleon’s success simply by adopting his methods on the battlefield. Jomini’s theories had an appeal to the conservative states that reasserted themselves after 1815, as they were eager to learn the secrets of Napoleon’s military success without having to also adopt the social and political changes that the French Revolution had set in motion.

Clausewitz was a Prussian officer who, after a series of Prussian defeats at the hands of Napoleon, was a leading reformer of the Prussian army between 1807 and 1811. When King Fredrick William III of Prussia bowed to Napoleon’s demands for assistance with his invasion of Russia, Clausewitz and other reformers resigned their commissions to assist the Russians. After aiding the liberation of Prussia, Clausewitz was made the director of the Prussian war academy, a post he held until 1830, a year before his death in 1831. His most famous work, Vom Kriege (On War), was published posthumously by his widow in 1832.

Clausewitz’s theories were in many ways fundamentally opposed to those of Jomini. Whereas Jomini narrowly focused on the battlefield, Clausewitz argued that war could not be separated from social, political, and cultural factors. No longer could war be the exclusive preserve of a narrow band of professionals. The Napoleonic Wars had shown that war would now involve the common people of the country as well through nationalist enthusiasm and mass recruitment. Since war now had a greater capacity for escalation and involved entire populations clashing with each other, it was imperative that political leaders enter into war with specific objectives. War itself was not to be seen as an end but rather as the means to the achievement of political goals. Moreover, in contrast to Jomini’s scientific and rational principles, Clausewitz emphasized modern war’s chaotic nature. Wars and battles were uncertain and unpredictable and were waged by men who were subject to the full range of human flaws, to say nothing of the fog of war itself. Thus the morale of soldiers and officers was vital in order to push forward to victory despite the human errors and confusion that could occur on the battlefield. According to Clausewitz, although war should only be entered into with specific objectives, once it began it had to be waged thoroughly and ruthlessly. The enemy’s armies had to be confronted and destroyed, the enemy’s capital occupied, and its government and people brought to their knees. In essence, modern warfare involved unlimited means to limited ends.

In the first decades after the Napoleonic Wars, Jomini’s theories held sway over military strategists, influencing the generalship in such conflicts as the American Civil War. However, the string of Prussian victories in the late 1860s and early 1870s, culminating in the triumph over France in 1870-1871, saw the emergence of Clausewitz. Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke (1800-1891), the Prussian chief of the General Staff and the architect of Prussia’s victories, had been a student of Clausewitz at the Prussian war academy and had adopted Clausewitz’s theories in his strategies and in his reorganization of the Prussian army. By training officers to think independently and to act as they felt appropriate to further the overall strategic aim, each element of the army would be able to coordinate actions without explicit direction from the high command. This decentralization of the command structure was a means by which the disorder of the battlefield could be overcome. The other major powers were eager to unlock the key of the Prussian victories and turned to Clausewitz’s theories on war. Thus since the 1870s Jomini’s theories have been almost entirely forgotten, while Clausewitz has remained at the forefront of thinking on war into the twenty-first century.

Bibliography Gat, Azar. The Development of Military Thought: The Nineteenth Century. Oxford, UK: Claren- don, 1992. Paret, Peter. Clausewitz and the State. Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1976.


On September 4, the day the Allies captured the city of Antwerp, Hitler reinstated Rundstedt as commander in chief in the West. His steady hand would now compound Ramsay’s worst fears as Rundstedt immediately sought to deprive the Allies of port facilities in France and Belgium, thus swinging the tide of war in Germany’s favor. By securing the north and south shores of the Scheldt, while simultaneously defending the English Channel fortresses of Le Havre, Boulogne, Calais, and Dunkirk, Rundstedt would starve the Allies of the logistical support needed for the advance into Germany. This would give Rundstedt time to gather forces to reman the Siegfried Line and frustrate a rapid invasion of Germany.

Rundstedt expected Montgomery on September 4 to advance immediately and seal off Walcheren Island and the South Beveland Peninsula from the mainland. If Monty had done so, the German Fifteenth Army would have been trapped and eliminated. The Allied halt enabled Rundstedt to rescue the remains of General Hans von Zangen’s encircled Fifteenth Army under the cover of darkness. A scratch fleet of two ancient Dutch freighters, Rhine river barges, small craft, and even rafts evacuated over 100,000 troops, artillery, vehicles, and even horses across the three-mile mouth of the Scheldt Estuary into the South Beveland Peninsula. The Germans were surprised that the convoy met with no Allied naval force interference. Stiffened by fresh troops, the Germans regrouped around strong positions along both sides of the river. The causeway on South Beveland connecting it to the mainland could be defended by a small number of troops. Across from Beveland, Walcheren Island was very heavily fortified with nearly thirty batteries of powerful coastal guns, from nine-inch to three-inch in caliber, as well as other strongholds.

The German navy laid a variety of mines and put other deadly obstacles in place. The ship channel leading to the Port of Antwerp would have to be thoroughly cleared before freighters could use it. As the channel is seventy-three miles long and varies in width from 300 to 1,400 yards, this presented a clearance task of great magnitude and complexity. Port access between Antwerp and the sea was locked up tight.

The initial Allied response to this German buildup was insufficient. It began on September 13, nine days after Antwerp’s capture, and included Crerar’s First Canadian Army and the First and Fourth Polish Armored Divisions. Their tanks were largely useless for canal attacks. Canadian infantry support was ineffective. This first attack met with disaster. The Canadians abandoned the initial bridgehead across the Leopold Canal due to heavy German fire. As it was decided that the Canadians needed additional forces, the Scheldt operation was abandoned in favor of clearing French ports. For three additional weeks no opposition was offered to the continued German additional fortification of the estuary.

During these critical weeks the Allies’ attention was focused elsewhere. It was placed on the rushed planning, execution, and recovery from Montgomery’s “full-blooded thrust” to the northeast, Operation MARKET GARDEN.


Montgomery’s recent rapid advances culminating in the capture of Brussels and Antwerp had created considerable optimism in the Second Army. This lightning drive showed that British armor could match Patton’s tanks. Monty was fixated on bypassing what was left of the German Fifteenth Army and dashing nonstop over the Rhine to the Ruhr and beyond. If he had continued his push on September 4 for about thirty-six hours, the British armor could have raced through almost undefended country between Antwerp and the Rhine.

Montgomery’s Operation MARKET GARDEN called for a quick thrust to the Reich through a sixty-mile corridor. The “MARKET” component of the operation would involve the use of the First Airborne Corps comprising the American Eighty-Second and 101st and the British First Airborne Divisions, commanded by the British lieutenant general Frederick Browning. These forces would land at three drop zones running from west to east: Eindhoven (101st US), Nijmegen (Eighty-Second US), and Arnhem (First British). This airborne operation was monumental in scope, deploying about five thousand fighters, bombers, transports, and over 2,500 gliders. This huge air army was deployed in an unprecedented daylight attack complete with their equipment and vehicles. Owing to a shortage of aircraft to carry paratroops, these landings would be conducted over a three-day period, thus giving German defenders advance warning that a major offensive was in progress. These divisions would then link up with the “GARDEN” component, the ground force, the British XXX Corps, and part of Montgomery’s Second Army, led by Lieutenant General Brian Horrocks, which would advance from their present positions into Holland.

MARKET GARDEN had two major objectives. First, the British Twenty-First Army with the airborne army was to cross the two branches of the Rhine at Nijmegen and Arnhem. Second, Hodges’s American First Army was to drive on Aachen and reach the Rhine at Cologne.

The aim of MARKET GARDEN was an advance beyond the Rhine to surround the Ruhr industrial region. This advance would clear the west bank of the Rhine and outflank the German forces on the Siegfried Line, rendering it useless. Finally, the British could advance from Arnhem and capture the port of Rotterdam.

Due to recent Allied successes, optimism was running high. Eisenhower was both intrigued and impressed with Montgomery’s bold, imaginative plan. This was the kind of innovative mass attack he had been looking for. In a September 14 letter to Marshall, Eisenhower was extremely optimistic that MARKET GARDEN would carry the Allies up to and across the Rhine.

The daring nature of the MARKET GARDEN operation was strangely out of character for Montgomery. Indeed he was later to admit that MARKET GARDEN was his greatest mistake as a commander. He was well-known for his detailed planning of future operations and was quite successful in staging set-piece battles. However, he had been criticized for unnecessary caution due to his failure to deploy armored divisions in situations where they had the potential to strike rapidly and effectively. Uncharacteristically Montgomery conceived and rushed through the planning of MARKET GARDEN in a matter of weeks.

Critically, Montgomery ignored vital intelligence on the feasibility of this operation. Ultra decrypts and reports from the local Dutch resistance forces indicated that two SS panzer divisions had been sent to Arnhem to refit. Also the Fifteenth Panzer Army had been moved into Holland and was well positioned to attack the left of the advancing Allied land forces. The Ninth and Tenth SS Panzer Divisions were fanned out to the north, east, and south of Arnhem. Also deployed around Eindhoven were the thirty thousand paratroops and Luftwaffe troops that formed the core of General Kurt Student’s First Parachute Army.

Montgomery’s plan produced a shock wave at his Twenty-First Army Group headquarters. After he received the go-ahead for MARKET GARDEN from Eisenhower on September 10, he outlined the operation on a map for one of Britain’s pioneer airborne experts, Lieutenant General Frederick Browning who would command the operation. The paratroops and glider-borne forces were to secure five major bridges along a sixty-four-mile invasion corridor. They would hold the corridor open until they were relieved by British armored forces. This unsettled Browning. Pointing to Arnhem, he asked Montgomery, “How long will it take the armor to reach us?” Monty answered, “Two days.” Still studying the map, Browning responded, “We can hold it for four. But sir, I think we might be going a bridge too far.” Montgomery did not want to hear it.

Other objections followed. The Dutch underground information and Ultra intercepts so worried Major Brian Urquhart, the First Airborne Corps’ intelligence officer, that he called for the information to be confirmed again by British aerial photographs. The air reconnaissance pictures clearly identified numerous German panzers in the Arnhem air drop zones or nearby. Urquhart relayed all of this damaging information to both Eisenhower and Montgomery. Ike was so alarmed that he sent Smith to discuss this with Montgomery, but Monty lightly dismissed it all.

Montgomery chose to ignore this potentially cataclysmic information and treated it as a peripheral matter rather than as a reason to cancel MARKET GARDEN. Moreover, he now took extraordinary steps to discredit Urquhart’s intelligence effort. Monty sent a senior staff medical officer, Colonel Arthur Eagger, to confirm reports that Urquhart had become “hysterical.” Urquhart told the medical officer that the intelligence reports made it clear that the proposed MARKET GARDEN operation was “madness.” Eagger immediately diagnosed Urquhart as suffering from exhaustion and sent him on medical leave, thus removing him far from the immediate scene.

But the intelligence question would not go away. A distinguished air intelligence officer, Wing Commander Asher Lee, also deeply investigated the Ultra information. His findings were conclusive regarding the presence of substantial German armored units at Arnhem. He personally conveyed his report to Montgomery’s headquarters. But he only was seen by junior staff officers, thus again dismissing the importance of this vital intelligence.

General Brian Horrocks, the commander of the XXX Corps in the MARKET GARDEN operation later lamented, “Why did I receive no information about the German formations which were being rushed daily to our front? For me, this has always been the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question.” Elizabeth Coble states, “It is unforgiveable for intelligence of this magnitude to be withheld from subordinate commanders. Without all available intelligence, subordinate commands could not plan and equip their forces properly.”

Even before the operation began on September 9, General Dempsey, commander of the Second Army, had grave doubts, as he wrote in his diary,

It is clear that the enemy is bringing up all the reinforcements he can get his hands on for the defense of the ALBERT Canal, and that he appreciates the importance of the area ARNHEM-NIJMEGAN. It looks as though he is going to do all he can to hold it. This being the case, any question of a rapid advance to the North-East seems unlikely…. Are we right to direct Second Army to ARNHEM?

We do not know if Dempsey challenged Montgomery on the intelligence issue. However, it is important to note that this was the only diary entry from the onset of the Normandy invasion in which he questioned an order.

Eisenhower also was receiving further information casting doubt on the soundness of this operation. Bradley warned him that the terrain for Montgomery’s drive was unsuitable for a rapid advance as the Netherlands had numerous canals and waterways that the Germans would defend. Bradley later stated, “My opposition…was not confined to the British diversion of effort. I feared also that Monty in his eagerness to get around Model’s flank might have underestimated German capabilities on the lower Rhine.” Eisenhower, however, did not exercise his authority to cancel MARKET GARDEN. Smith lamented, “Having authorized him [Montgomery] to proceed, Eisenhower did not feel he could now instruct him not to do so, even though the head of his intelligence staff predicted a defeat.”

Brooke, the one man who might have convinced Montgomery to cancel MARKET GARDEN, had left London with Churchill and the other chiefs of staff on the morning of September 5 for the Quebec Conference, five days before Eisenhower authorized Monty to proceed with MARKET GARDEN. He did not return until September 23 by which time the operation was being wound down. It is interesting to note that MARKET GARDEN is not mentioned in his war diary.

MARKET GARDEN is another example of Montgomery’s inflexibility in altering his plans. He also failed to provide subordinate commanders with relevant intelligence. On D-Day, invasion commanders did not know that the Twenty-First Panzer Division was deployed to oppose their seizure of Caen. The failure to seize Caen seriously impeded the progress of the Normandy campaign and cost lives. This time it would take even more lives.

On September 17, MARKET GARDEN operations were launched with a massive airborne assault. German general Kurt Student, paratroop commander, and his chief of staff stood on the balcony of Student’s cottage in Holland as this massive air armada went past. Student remembered they “simply stared, stunned, like fools…everywhere we looked, we saw chain of planes—fighters, troop carriers and cargo planes—flying over us…. This mighty spectacle deeply impressed me.”

Montgomery’s plan relied on the accelerated progress of Horrocks’s XXX Corps’ tank and infantry forces down one main highway to link up the invasion corridor and relieve the paratroop divisions. The progress of the Allied armies was slower than expected, as they encountered a fierce and well-conducted German resistance. As a result, it took longer than expected to capture their first objective, Eindhoven. The Germans fought stoutly for Nijmegen and its vitally important bridge, which eventually fell to a determined attack by infantry units of the Guards Armored Division. The road to MARKET GARDEN’s final objective, Arnhem, was theoretically open.

A defect in the planning was the task given to the land forces to advance over the polders (fields lying close to or below sea level) that were too marshy to support the weight of tanks. Once the Nijmegen bridge was secured the tanks and infantry of the Guards Armored Division were forced to advance in single file on the road to Arnhem, meeting determined German resistance along the way.

This check of the XXX Corps’ advance doomed the First Airborne Division at Arnhem. They valiantly defended their isolated position for ten days rather than the two that Montgomery had planned. On September 25, they were forced to surrender. About six thousand Allied soldiers were captured, half of them wounded; 1,174 died. At night 1,900 paratroopers were evacuated across the lower Rhine. The British First Airborne and Polish First Parachute Brigade were effectively destroyed as fighting units. Total Allied MARKET GARDEN killed, wounded, and missing exceeded seven thousand, five thousand more than on D-Day.

Afterward, Montgomery insisted that the operation had been a justifiable risk. Although Montgomery described himself as “bitterly disappointed” by Arnhem and admitting mistakes were made for which he bore responsibility, he proclaimed in his memoirs, “I remain MARKET GARDEN’s unrepentant advocate,” noting, “In my—prejudiced—view, if the operation had been properly backed from its inception…it would have succeeded in spite of my mistakes.”

Military historians, however, have roundly criticized many facets of the MARKET GARDEN operation. Nigel Hamilton, Montgomery’s chief biographer, stated that in every military dimension, “strategic, tactical, intelligence, logistical, personal…it was…a complete disaster…[a road] that led nowhere.” Arnhem was a completely avoidable disaster. Norman Davies concludes that “it was not an act of responsible generalship.” Alun Chalfont agrees that “Arnhem…showed a serious error of judgement on Montgomery’s part.” The lightly armed airborne troops were no match for the heavily equipped SS panzer corps. Funneling the British supporting armor down narrow roads through marshland was a disaster waiting to happen.

David Bennett offers this summary judgment of MARKET GARDEN: “The truth was that the operation was too ambitious. In launching it with a tenuous supply line, no reserve build-up of supplies, a shortage of ground transport, and both VIII and XII Corps [support units to XXX Corps] unready at the start, Montgomery’s professionalism had deserted him.”

At this juncture in the campaign, everyone on the Allied side was frustrated, angry, and depressed. The MARKET GARDEN debacle had cured the earlier “victory disease.” “There was a change of mood after Arnhem,” a British captain remembers. “One just didn’t feel the same. We were getting rather tired.” Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands lamented, “My country can never again afford the luxury of another Montgomery success.”

Clearly Eisenhower had backed the wrong offensive. He had not backed Patton’s southern thrust to the Ruhr while forcing Montgomery to seize both banks of the Scheldt Estuary to open up the Port of Antwerp. Long after the war Eisenhower admitted, “I not only approved MARKET GARDEN, I insisted upon it. What we needed was a bridgehead over the Rhine. If that could be accomplished, I was quite willing to wait on all other operations. What this action proved was that the idea of ‘one full-blooded thrust’ to Berlin was silly.”

For both Eisenhower and Montgomery, Arnhem was a major mistake that served to diminish them. For Eisenhower, it was a vain attempt to masterfully end the war in 1944 as the successful supreme commander of a difficult Allied coalition. As for Montgomery, it ended his dream of being the commander of a victorious British-led drive to Berlin, securing the restoration of British prestige, and marking the capstone of his military reputation. Only Montgomery’s unrestrained ego remained, which continued to plague Eisenhower to the war’s last act and even afterward.

Alan Moorehead summed up the situation well when he wrote, “For the Allied army now no hopeful alternatives remained. There was only one way—the hard way. The immediate essential for all this was the opening up of Antwerp.”