British/Commonwealth performance

The Allies 1939-1945, and those fighting against Germany.

Moderator: John W. Howard

User avatar
Freiritter
Associate
Posts: 628
Joined: Mon Nov 24, 2003 9:56 am
Location: Missouri, USA

British/Commonwealth performance

Post by Freiritter » Tue Feb 03, 2004 3:47 pm

Now, I'll admit, I don't know much about British or Commonwealth military history of WWII, other than a smattering of the Desert War in North Africa. It seems to me that Montgomery was a cautious fellow. Was this due to differences in British/Commonwealth practices? Example given: that British units rested and refitted by pulling the entire unit off the line to rest and refit as an unit. ( according to Stephen Ambrose's Citizen Soldiers, I think. ) If I'm not mistaken, the Germans did that the same way.

nigelfe
Enthusiast
Posts: 421
Joined: Sat Oct 25, 2003 6:06 am
Contact:

Post by nigelfe » Wed Feb 04, 2004 1:54 am

Not quite sure what the question is. Most armies work roughly the same way, replacements are provided to units in action and periodically units are withdrawn all together to rest, re-train, requip, etc. The differences tend to be in the detail, ie 'dribbling' replacements in as they are needed or less frequent large drafts.

User avatar
Freiritter
Associate
Posts: 628
Joined: Mon Nov 24, 2003 9:56 am
Location: Missouri, USA

Post by Freiritter » Wed Feb 04, 2004 1:53 pm

Well, sorry to confuse. I meant to say, that British/CW performance seemed to be at a slower, more deliberate pace than the Germans or the Americans, especially in NW Europe

John Kilmartin
Contributor
Posts: 297
Joined: Wed Oct 29, 2003 3:50 pm
Location: Regina, Saskatchewan

Post by John Kilmartin » Wed Feb 04, 2004 7:37 pm

I think part of the reason that Commonwealth armies in North West Europe were more deliberate is caused by two main factors.
The first being that most of the staff officers or at least those that instructed them were veterans of the first war and consequently of the mindset that set piece battles are the way to go. This being how they thought the war had been won. The Germans had come away with the idea that the meeting engagement is more important. Personally, and I'm sure someone will correct me the Americans hadn't spent all that much time fighting in WW I and therefore did not use it as a basis for doctrine for fighting WW II.
The second reason might have to do with the fact that by 1944 the Commonwealth armies had been at war with the Germans for 9 years cummulatively during both wars whereas the Americans had been fighting the Germans for less than 4 years over the same period. Canada for example had lost as many men in the first war as the US with only a tenth of the population.
' Strip war of the mantle of its glories and excitement, and it will disclose a gibbering ghost of pain , grief, dissappointment and despair'

Darrin
Contributor
Posts: 371
Joined: Wed Feb 19, 2003 6:04 am

Post by Darrin » Wed Feb 04, 2004 10:27 pm

John Kilmartin wrote:I think part of the reason that Commonwealth armies in North West Europe were more deliberate is caused by two main factors.
The first being that most of the staff officers or at least those that instructed them were veterans of the first war and consequently of the mindset that set piece battles are the way to go. This being how they thought the war had been won. The Germans had come away with the idea that the meeting engagement is more important. Personally, and I'm sure someone will correct me the Americans hadn't spent all that much time fighting in WW I and therefore did not use it as a basis for doctrine for fighting WW II.
The second reason might have to do with the fact that by 1944 the Commonwealth armies had been at war with the Germans for 9 years cummulatively during both wars whereas the Americans had been fighting the Germans for less than 4 years over the same period. Canada for example had lost as many men in the first war as the US with only a tenth of the population.

The CW had been beaten by the ger in WWII quite often and were a bit more weary than the fresh faced US. Also they had been fighting the war since 39 and although thier actual losses were small but they kept one eye on this number as well. If we stop here, refit, plan, bring in more arty sheels, tanks and planes we can win with less cas. Not to say the CW never adv with speed the post normandy breakout got all the way to antwerp and captured the huge port entirly intact.

sid guttridge
on "time out"
Posts: 8055
Joined: Thu Oct 10, 2002 4:54 am

Post by sid guttridge » Thu Feb 05, 2004 7:15 am

Hi Guys,

Dupuy, an American, found in his statistical studies that there was very little difference between British and American performance in 1944-45. He also found that the Germans tended to be better than either. If the Americans are to be lumped with either the British or Germans, their performance was undoubtedly much closer to the British in character.

Montgomery has been discussed ad nauseam on Feldgrau. The fact remains that he was a very successful general who achieved what was required of him with largely citizen armies, both British and American. Nor was he without daring. D-Day, a predominantly British operation, was a phenomenally risky operation. Arnhem was probably more risky than any operation mounted by the Americans in Europe.

The great thing about the Americans seems to have been that they were quick learners. However, this was to some extent aided by being able to learn from bitter British Commonwealth experience earlier in the war and rely on British Commonwealth forces to share the burden in 1943-44 whilst they learnt the ropes.

For all the squabbles, there can seldom have been a more successful integration of co-equal allied forces than that between the Americans and British Commonwealth in WWII.

Cheers,

Sid

Reb
Patron
Posts: 3166
Joined: Mon Jan 19, 2004 4:49 pm
Location: Atlanta, Ga

Post by Reb » Thu Feb 05, 2004 8:24 pm

I'd add that we could separate out the common wealth troops like ANZACs from the Brits, with the Indians having their own domain.

It was no accident that 2 NZ Div was in fact the first allied "panzergrenadier div" (a motorized unit with armour organic)because in my opinion, of their aggression and better grasp of tactics.
They were able to think of themselves as a division rather than as men in individual regiments like the UK troops.

The Brit Army had been held back tactically by their peacetime role as the empire's 'policemen,' fighting in small units and regarding the regiment (battalion in US or German thinking) as their home. This lead to unfortunate consequences, particularly in the desert war where combined arms fighting was critical. Plus, GB had been very badly hurt in WW I to a much great extent than the ANZAC or US troops and their senior officers wanted to avoid a repeat. Hence the caution.

Among commonwealth forces ANZAC were usually regarded as assault troops by both sides.

The Germans never thought much of either the Brits or the Yanks as soldiers due to the caution of the first and the non-professional attitude of the latter. Part of this was due to their fear of Ivan who truly was awesome if not particularly skilled. The other part was sadly, the poor quality of our junior officers (both Brit / Yank). Ours were 'commisioned' but the Germans were 'promoted.' It makes a difference.

We did beat them though!

Reb

nigelfe
Enthusiast
Posts: 421
Joined: Sat Oct 25, 2003 6:06 am
Contact:

Post by nigelfe » Fri Feb 06, 2004 2:41 am

Why does everybody forget NE Africa in 1940? Is it because the enemy was Italian and therefore didn't count? I recommend a bit of study of this campaign, with due respect to the S African elements the key fighting in difficult and disadvanteous circumstancee was fought by British and Indian troops, they demonstrated outstanding tactical and combat capability and at the operational level it was also well conducted.

sid guttridge
on "time out"
Posts: 8055
Joined: Thu Oct 10, 2002 4:54 am

Post by sid guttridge » Fri Feb 06, 2004 5:46 am

Hi Reb,

I accept your point that the dispersed nature of imperial policing meant that standing formations of divisional size were almost non-existent in the Commonwealth forces, even in Britain. At the time of the Munich crisis in 1938 Britain could send only two divisions to the continent. As a result there were almost no senior commanders used to handling divisions, let alone corps or armies.

On the other hand, imperial policing meant that regular infantry battalions were self reliant and tactically well trained.

2nd New Zealand Division was effectively New Zealand's national army and grew much larger than other Commonwealth divisions. It was therefore somewhat different in nature.

Regimental loyalty in no way detracts from divisional identity. It simply gives a strong and distinctive identity lower down than in most other armies.

(It should be explained that a British infantry regiment is not a tactical unit like an American regiment. In Britain it is essentially an administrative unit and depot to which usually two regular battalions belonged. Historically, one was usually on home service and the other on imperial service. As a result it was rare for regular battalions of the same regiment to serve in the same theatre, let alone the same brigade. The three-battalion infantry brigade, drawn from three different regiments, was the tactical unit equivalent to the American infantry regiment).

As far as combined arms fighting is concerned, it should be borne in mind that Commonwealth forces had developed this to a good standard in North Africa before the first US Army units ever met the Germans and that one reason why the American learning curve in this area was so fast was that they were the beneficiaries of hard-earned Commonwealth experience.

I think you will find that proportionate ANZAC losses in WWI were as high as British losses.

The character of the UK and the colonies dictated to a degree what arms they specialised in in both world wars. Britain was highly industrialised The empire outside Canada was not. Britain therefore tended to dominate the technical arms of service, while the empire provided a high proportion of the better quality infantry. This was a pragmatic solution, but it could easily be made to appear that Britain was using colonial troops as cannon fodder.

I think you overstate the German attitude. I think the Germans did think quite a lot of the British and Americans as soldiers. They just didn't think they were their equals. This was probably true. But in view of the fact that, German casualties in the 1944-45 campaigns were heavier than Anglo-American casualties, they would have been foolish to underestimate their opponents' military capacities.

But as you say, "We did beat them though!", which is the single most important point in any war.

Cheers,

Sid.

Reb
Patron
Posts: 3166
Joined: Mon Jan 19, 2004 4:49 pm
Location: Atlanta, Ga

Post by Reb » Fri Feb 06, 2004 6:22 am

In WW I the ANZACs often fought in theatres other than the meat grinding western front which may have helped them retain a bit of tactical flair
and aggression.

Actually, a study after the war concluded that at the tactical level the Germans inflicted greater losses on ANY allied troops regardless of whether they were outnumbered or had superior numbers, and regardless of whether they were attacking or defending.

US doctrine was actually based more upon German than British. After we got over our tank destroyer fantasy our armoured div looked like a pz div organized into battle groups. We of course learned much from the Brits but much on our own too - since in Africa we went and got our feet wet the hard way. And the Brits, while having much to teach us about tac air, managed to forget most of what they knew when they got back to North West Europe where sheer numbers replaced the tactical flexibility of the Desert Air Force.

The Brit regimental org was very handy when fighting a do or die action like TotenSontag (sidi resegh airdrome) but was a stumbling block when integrating into mixed units. I think the word I'm looking for is 'parachiolism.' Throughout the war, and astonishingly, even after the desert fighting had showed conclusively that mixed groups were the way, the Brits continued to fight in big lumps of inf or tanks.

Part of the problem, to me at least, with both US and UK forces was the simple fact that most of them did not like soldiering, and their armies were built up extremely fast which meant they had to invent an officer corps out of thin air. Both starved their infantry and overfed their airforces. Both had superb artillery.

On the positive side, and this is no small thing, we can always ask a civilian in France or Beligium (or Poland!) whose army they would rather see show up on their doorstep! hint - the Heer will not be top of this list!

cheers
reb

sid guttridge
on "time out"
Posts: 8055
Joined: Thu Oct 10, 2002 4:54 am

Post by sid guttridge » Fri Feb 06, 2004 7:19 am

Hi Reb,

Sorry to drag you out of bed so early!

The ANZACS did most of their fighting and lost most of their casualties on the Western Front. Furthermore, the only really expensive action they fought outside it was at Gallipoli, which was another "meat-grinder". They had a role in Allenby's campaigns in Palestine, where movement and flair were easier to display, but these were comparitively minor in terms of total ANZAC forces and casualties.

The study you refer to is probably that by Dupuy, which I have mentioned elsewhere. He does not say that all German troops were superior to any Allied troops in any circumstances. He notes that there were good Allied units and poor German units, but generally speaking the Germans were superior in his area of study.

Parochialism has been a problem in the British Army in the past. For example, one regimental quartermaster reportedly refused to give ammunition from his own stock to another regiment at the annihilatory defeat against the Zulus at Ishandhlwana. But what is the evidence that the regimental system was the obstacle to mixed combat groups in the British Army in WWII? Infantry battalions already always operated in mixed brigades with battalions of other regiments. Cavalry and tank regiments did the same in armoured brigades. The problem you are describing seems to be attributable to different arms not operating together, not units of different regiments.

I generally agree about the common strengths of the Americans and British. It must be remembered that they both expanded from small regular armies with few higher formations into massive citizen armies during the war. Their opponents had large standing armies with dozens of major formations already in existence before the war and peacetime conscription had allowed them to build up trained reserves the Anglo-Americans lacked. Furthermore, by 1944 the Germans must have spent at least ten times more division/months on active battlefronts than the Anglo-Americans and built up a much greater depth of combat experience.

That German formations and combat techniques were generally more effective than Anglo-American formations is not particularly surprising.

Armies tend to reflect national cultures. I am comfortable living in a western liberal democracy like the UK or USA. I would not swap this for the National Socialist system. I am therefore reconciled to the limitations our historically anti-militaristic societies impose on our wartime-raised citizen armies.

Cheers,

Sid.

Reb
Patron
Posts: 3166
Joined: Mon Jan 19, 2004 4:49 pm
Location: Atlanta, Ga

Post by Reb » Fri Feb 06, 2004 7:40 am

Amen to that (living in Western Dem) although I'm one of those old diehard johnny rebs that still believes in the constitutional republic I won't split hairs over it.

I agree wholeheartedly that our armies reflect our national cultures. I once considered writing a monograph on that after my first visit to Aberdeen Proving Ground. I was surprised to find that even had I not known which country developed which tanks, I could have picked them out readily. The Tiger furniture van is so obviously German and the Stalin III so sinister and vaguely oriental, the Sherman so mass produced looking - like a boring office job in steel. And the churchill - what can I say?


The parocholism of which I spoke was a real problem - I agree with your assessment that it was between arms of the service but there had been a lot of conflict between cavalry and RTR for instance. One sad thing that accounted for a lot of burned up armour men was that crazy idea of building a tank and then looking around to find a gun that would fit on it.

My own folks didn't do much better - our Sherman was great in many ways but missed on the ones that counted: hitting power and survivability.

Ultimately though, the Brits never seemed to get a hold of the armoured idea like the Germans did. Yeah, they stuck a halftrack battalion in with the tank bde but in the end, it appears for the most part that infantry and tanks sort of plodded their way to victory in their own little worlds.

I hope it doesn't take a Nazi regime to create a climate where a truly professional army can emerge. Performance of Brit, US and in the first GUlf War, French troops, suggests that may not be the case. But neither were they mass armies in the WW2 sense of the term. In any case, God preserve us from another world war.

I'll have to take your word on ANZAC casualties since I get really depressed when I study WW I and have left it alone for a number of years. I have enjoyed some of the movies made about that era by the folks in Oz but reading about Ypres and Verdun puts me off my feed!
My other interest is the Napoleonic area and seeing those same marvelous armies chopped up like so much hamburger - drowning in a shell hole strips a man of even the feeble notion that it might count for something.

Best
reb[/quote]

User avatar
Freiritter
Associate
Posts: 628
Joined: Mon Nov 24, 2003 9:56 am
Location: Missouri, USA

Post by Freiritter » Fri Feb 06, 2004 8:28 am

I read the book, Panzer Battles by Von Mellenthin and he mentioned that ( In the Desert Campaigns ) the British had excellent artillery, but they lacked the coordination necessary for true combined arms warfare. I heard that the Sherman was primarily for infantry support, not tank-on-tank fighting, also, sadly the Sherman's design was to facilitate easier mass production. I don't study WWI very much, I find it to be a sickening nightmare.

Reb
Patron
Posts: 3166
Joined: Mon Jan 19, 2004 4:49 pm
Location: Atlanta, Ga

Post by Reb » Fri Feb 06, 2004 8:50 am

Actually Sherman was designed as a main battle tank. Paul Carell writes about it as a fearsome new 'super tank' in Foxes of the Desert since it was superior to most German tanks in use with the DAK at that time. Since we didn't have an actual infantry tank like the British churchill Sherman had to do everything. The armour and gun were upgraded a bit as the war went on but not significantly enough or soon enough.

Orginally though, Sherman was our heavy tank with Stuart as the light - very similar to the German org with Mk III and Mk IV. Although I think in the US case grant/lee actually was deployed - by the time sherman was available in any numbers we'd gotten past that thinking.

The Americans faced several huge problem - the most daunting of which was getting their stuff across the ocean. There seems to have been a disconnect between the war fighters and war suppliers as senior american (and Brit too) officers had requested a tank capable of taking on panther and tiger - yet never got it until very late in the war (pershing).

Part of this problem was a failed project (T1 as I recall) to create a super duper heavy tank which was largely a failure. The US had a captured 88 mm by 1942 and our own 90mm Flak was pretty decent - my father in law told me of witnessing a fight between the two which he said was pretty darn intimidating. Yet for some reason America decided not to put a bigger gun on the Sherman or deploy a better tank in time for it to matter.

I've often wondered why we didn't just the Brit design for 17pdr and mass produce it - it seemed to do the job as with Firefly.

Mellinthin is pretty interestint - I read that originally while reading Correlli Barnett's controversial book about the Brit high command called Desert Generals and both were of the same opinion. It's lucky for the Germans the Brits weren't quicker on their feet - their artillery could have negated a lot of German advantages if the generals had moved it around quicker.

cheers
reb

Rich
Associate
Posts: 622
Joined: Sun Nov 17, 2002 9:36 am
Location: Somewhere Else Now

Post by Rich » Fri Feb 06, 2004 9:55 am

Reb wrote:Actually Sherman was designed as a main battle tank.
reb
Not exactly. :D It was actually designed as a "Medium Tank with Gun, 75mm, M3." There was no such term as "Main battle tank" at the time.

It is important to understand why that distinction is made. First, as designed, there was no doctrinal difference between Light and Medium Tanks in the eyes of the US Army. The sole real difference was weight, which affected mobility. But both were intended to fill the two requirements seen for a tank:

1) Direct support of the infantry in the assault.
2) Pursuit and exploitation of a defeated enemy.

This was actually a fusion of the pre-war doctrinal split between the "tanks", which were part of the Infantry Branch and the "combat cars" (actually Light Tanks), which were part of the Cavalry Branch.

Second, as a "Medium Tank" it was not intended doctrinally to be a weapon opposing enemy tanks. That was the role - pre-war - of the Artillery Branch and - in the Infantry - of the .50 Browning HB and later the 37mm AT gun. Experiments during 1940 and 1941 then showed that a more mobile - and powerful - antitank weapon was desired, which became the Tank Destroyer Force.

Basically, each was optomized to its preferred role. Tanks, with their multitude of MGs, 37mm firing canister and 75mm firing an excellent HE round, were best at supporting the infantry. Tank Destroyers, with their 3" guns, firing a high velocity antitank round (but a relatively poorer HE round) were best at killing tanks. The problem came as technology allowed the fusion of the two into one entity, which came about partly due to the accellerated experience levels gained by the Germans and Soviets in the East, a process that left the Western Allies behind the curve until the war ended.

Post Reply