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Posted on Oct 7, 2009 in Carlo D'Este, War College

A Lingering Controversy: Eisenhower’s ‘Broad Front’ Strategy

By Carlo D'Este

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, tours the front lines. (National Archives)

The war of words over the choices by which the war might have been won was, in the end, all but irrelevant. Not only was it politically impossible to have permitted the British to win the war by means of the narrow front, there is ample evidence to question if such a drive, if mounted, could have been logistically sustained beyond the Ruhr.

It has been sixty-five years since Dwight Eisenhower articulated his broad front strategy for ending the war in Europe and the consequences of that decision still linger on to this day. At the time the Allied generals quarreled over Ike’s decision, and from the time the war ended historians have taken sides to praise or condemn it. Some of the war’s most contentious debates have sprung from this decision. For his part, Eisenhower stubbornly never wavered in his belief that he had chosen the correct strategy. This is what it was all about.

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The Normandy campaign ended in late August 1944 in a rout and with the German army in complete disarray. As the Allied armies crossed the Seine and began sweeping into Belgium and Lorraine it seemed to many that the Germans were finished and the war would surely be over by Christmas.

In mid-August, Eisenhower announced his intention to assume command of the Allied land forces on September 1. In the spring of 1944, while most were concentrating on the D-day invasion, a small group of SHAEF planners had for many weeks been busy analyzing Eisenhower’s mandate “to undertake operations aimed at the heart of Germany and the destruction of her armed forces.” On May 3 they presented Eisenhower with alternative courses of action after Normandy to attain that goal. These included the capture of the Ruhr in order to cripple Germany’s war-making capability, and the capture of Berlin. The four options presented for an advance to the Ruhr were all variations of a broad Allied advance both north and south of the rugged Ardennes Forest. Eisenhower rejected Berlin as a military objective and began to study his two options for seizing the Ruhr by either a frontal assault or through an envelopment. On May 27 Eisenhower affirmed the broad front strategy recommended by his planners. This is the only known document that spelled out SHAEF’s post-Normandy strategy.

For Eisenhower, the student of history, the solution was self-evident. Military commanders dream of the double envelopment, of surrounding an objective on two sides by pincer movements and crushing it behind their combined weight as had been intended at Falaise. When he studied the map of Europe in 1944, Eisenhower was drawn by his knowledge of history to one of his boyhood heroes, Hannibal, the Carthaginian general whose masterful defeat of the Romans at Cannae in 216 B.C. is considered one of the classic battles of history. With the Ardennes as an impediment that of necessity had to be bypassed, Eisenhower envisioned a Hannibal-like Cannae by means of a double envelopment of the Ruhr. A force under Montgomery 21st Army Group would advance north of the Ardennes to strike the Ruhr while a second force consisting of Bradley’s 12th Army Group advanced south of the Ardennes through Lorraine, and swung north to Cologne to complete the double envelopment. Moreover, the scheme bore more than a passing likeness to the plan of another general Eisenhower had studied at length: Ulysses S. Grant and his 1864 strategy for defeating the Confederacy.

General Sir Bernard L. Montgomery, commanding general of the Allied Ground Forces in Normandy, is seen here with Lt. Gen. Omar Bradley, commanding general of the First U.S. Army, as they study a situation map in 1944. (National Archives)Both Montgomery and Bradley began to weigh in with plans of their own that would guarantee them a key role in the post-Normandy battles. Each lobbied hard to win Eisenhower’s approval. Although aware that his days as the acting Allied ground commander were numbered, Montgomery not only argued against changing the command set-up at this late date but pressed ahead to influence future Allied strategy. The sudden collapse of German resistance in mid-August gave rise to a proposal for what he called a single “full-blooded” thrust towards the Ruhr with his and Bradley’s army group marching abreast. This force of some forty divisions “would be so strong that it need fear nothing.”

Montgomery was also convinced, not without justification, that Eisenhower and SHAEF were ill-prepared for the task of running the ground war. “The whole command set up was fundamentally wrong. There was no one who could give his complete and undivided attention to the day to day direction of the land battle as a whole,” he told Australian journalist and military historian Chester Wilmot after the war. Eisenhower “had not the experience, the knowledge, the organization, or the time. He should have been devoting himself to questions of overall strategy, to political problems, and to problems of inter-Allied relations and military government . . . Instead he insisted on trying the run the land battle himself. Here he was out of his depth and in trying to do this he neglected his real job on the highest level.”

As the Normandy campaign had progressed, Montgomery found Eisenhower’s presence more distraction than help. Montgomery conducted meetings in a brisk and businesslike manner, but when Eisenhower was present he was critical of what he believed tended to be too much conversation and too little substance. Montgomery also realized that he stood little chance of winning over Eisenhower at any meeting involving members of the SHAEF staff and arranged to have Eisenhower visit his field headquarters on August 23. Either he or Bradley, he said, should control the ground war, and with the growing insufficiency of supplies, the war could not be won in 1944 unless priority were given his proposed offensive which, he argued, must also include the First U.S. Army on his right flank. Eisenhower agreed to give priority of resupply to Lt. Gen. Miles Dempsey’s Second British Army and, “no matter what the command arrangements,” he “would see to it that Montgomery retained “operational coordination” over the northern flank of the Allied advance.”

On September 5 Eisenhower cabled Montgomery to reaffirm his intention to advance on a broad front, pointing out that with the destruction of the bulk of the German Army in the west, “We must immediately exploit our success by promptly breaching the Siegfried Line, crossing the Rhine on a wide front and seizing the Saar and the Ruhr. This I intend to do with all possible speed … [which] will give us a stranglehold on two of Germany’s main industrial areas and likely destroy her capacity to wage war.” He would give priority to the Ruhr to include the allocation of the precious logistical resources.

In a private office memorandum written that same day, Eisenhower summarized his position. “For some days it has been obvious that our military forces can advance almost at will, subject only to the requirement for maintenance . . . The defeat of the German armies is complete, and the only thing now needed to realize the whole conception is speed. Our rapidity of movement will depend upon maintenance, in which we are now stretched to the limit . . . I now deem it important, while supporting the advance eastward through Belgium, to get Patton moving once again so that we may be fully prepared to carry out the original conception for the final stage of the campaign,” i.e., the broad front.

General Bernard Law Montgomery at his first press conference in the field in France. (National Archives)Montgomery was horrified by Eisenhower’s intended strategy believing he was fully capable of ending the war by thrusting clear to Berlin, provided he was allocated the necessary resources. Nor was Montgomery a victim of the “victory disease” sweeping through Allied ranks. His official biographer notes: “If he bombarded Eisenhower with signals daily more urgent in their appeal for a meeting, for concentrated strategy, for priority to be given to one thrust and for all resources to be thrown behind it, it was because he did not consider the war all but won.”

From mid-August until the end of the war disagreements would proliferate over precisely what Eisenhower’s armies ought to be doing and where. In September 1944 they revolved around a single issue: “which way to Germany?” Eisenhower believed that both strategically and logistically Montgomery’s narrow front strategy was impractical and would shut down all other transportation and virtually immobilize the preponderance of American forces east of Paris simply to support Montgomery’s 21st Army Group.

Eisenhower’s penchant for compromise and consensus led him to approve some of Montgomery’s recommendations. “What Eisenhower was unconsciously counting on was a repetition of November 1918, when the Germans signed the armistice while their armies were still well west of the border. Eisenhower had chosen the safe, cautious route,” notes his official biographer, Stephen Ambrose. Priority of resupply was allocated to 21st Army Group, primarily to enable the British and Canadian armies to capture Antwerp and, equally important, the deadly Crossbow V weapon sites which were now launching the more sophisticated V-2 rocket which struck throughout England without warning. Eisenhower also approved the temporary attachment of Lt. Gen. Courtney Hodges’ First Army, to the fury of Bradley who failed to change his friend’s mind.

Their distinctive and disparate personalities and philosophical dissimilarities, and differing styles of leadership separated Eisenhower and Montgomery from one another soon escalated to far more serious proportions. To make his point that a single ground commander was vital, Montgomery even offered to serve under Bradley, never really perceiving Bradley’s total disdain for him. Another misconception is that Montgomery’s sole motivation was to retain the power and prestige of being the Allied ground force commander. Some historians have charged that his offer to serve under Bradley was specious; it was not. Montgomery lacked the guile to make false promises. For all his vanity and at times insufferable insistence on pursuing his own ideas, Montgomery, like Eisenhower, was heartily sick of war and eager to end it quickly. Given the precedent of the independence of the army group commanders, little would have changed with Bradley in command. Eisenhower thus rejected the offer for the same reason he had earlier rebuffed keeping Montgomery: public opinion. The British public, he believed, would not stand for a junior American general in command of a British field marshal and his army group.

Eisenhower’s decision to assume command of the ground war unleashed a tide of emotion. It was greeted by the British press as a national slap in the face that was only partly assuaged when Churchill announced Montgomery’s promotion to field marshal on September 1, the official date Eisenhower assumed command of Allied ground forces. Although the decision had been plainly scripted months in advance, it nevertheless came as “an appalling shock” to Montgomery whose promotion seemed to mollify the British public, but did little to mitigate the disappointment over what he regarded as nothing less than a demotion.

Eisenhower was in a classic no-win quandary. The American press also criticized him but for not taking command and restoring American prestige, which they maintained was being stolen by Montgomery and the British. If Eisenhower was indecisive over the command issue during and after Cobra (July 1944), a telegram from Army chief of staff, Gen. George Marshall on August 19 settled matters. American correspondents were filing increasingly critical stories of Eisenhower that were receiving prominent space in The New York Times and other high profile newspapers across the United States. Through a censor’s mistake, it had been made public that Bradley was now co-equal with Montgomery. Why were British commanders still running the war in Europe? And, why hadn’t Eisenhower assumed control of the ground war? Marshall’s implication was obvious and, not for the first time a prompting from Marshall stiffened his resolve.

Many American officers somewhat cynically viewed Montgomery’s promotion as an unmerited concession by Churchill. Ever the diplomat, Eisenhower smoothed troubled waters at a Whitehall press conference in which he described Montgomery as a “great and personal friend . . . anyone who misinterpreted the transition of command as a demotion for General Montgomery simply did not look the facts in the face . . . Montgomery is one of the great leaders of this or any other war.” Montgomery’s promotion was both a reward for his past successes and also an attempt to keep British prestige from falling any further into the backwash of American supremacy.

With Eisenhower’s assumption of command on September 1, Montgomery’s relationship with him took a downward turn. With the change of command the former honeymoon-like atmosphere between the two men completely unraveled. To the point of obsession, Montgomery suffered from an inability to see the points of view of others or to accept that his beliefs were not always shared. He became overwrought in his refusal to accept the reality that Eisenhower intended to take his job. Instead of accepting what Eisenhower constantly preached, that he and everyone else were members of an allied team, Montgomery could not find it in himself to accept Eisenhower’s way of warfare or his authority. The times had changed, but Montgomery had not changed with them, hence his insistence that the present lines of command remain intact. What made the changeover so bitter was Montgomery’s conviction that Eisenhower was too inexperienced and organizationally ill-prepared to assume the mantle of land force commander.

Men of the 378th Infantry Regiment enter the outskirts of Metz, France as Patton's Third U.S. Army continues its fighting in Lorraine. (U.S. Army Center of Military History)Eisenhower’s problems were not limited to Montgomery. With Third Army soon crippled by a lack of fuel and ammunition, Bradley and Patton aligned themselves against both Montgomery and Eisenhower whom they believed had sold out the U.S. Army to the British. Once, when a convoy of rations arrived, Patton raged to a sympathetic Bradley that he would “shoot the next man who brings me food. Give us gasoline; we can eat our belts.” To correspondent Cornelius Ryan, Patton declared that there were only 5,000-10,000 “Nazi bastards” blocking the advance of Third Army. “Now, if Ike stops holding Monty’s hand and gives me the supplies, I’ll go through the Siegfried Line like shit through a goose.”

Eisenhower was not unresponsive and had there been sufficient supplies forward to increase Third Army’s allocations, he would undoubtedly have turned Patton loose in Lorraine. As it was, before the fuel tap was all but shut off, Eisenhower gave Bradley and Patton fresh hope by allocating 250,000 gallons of fuel to Third Army on September 5 and an additional 1.4 million gallons over the three-day period that followed, before it ground to a halt along the Moselle River, a tantalizing seventy-odd miles from the then unmanned Siegfried Line. Like children squabbling over who gets the last piece of pie, Eisenhower could please no one. His latest generosity on behalf of Patton brought bitter criticism from Montgomery.

Still, Eisenhower’s broad-front decision sent a discernible chill through Patton and his Third Army staff and seemed confirmation of his pro-British bias. Convinced the winning of the war was being squandered on the altar of Allied cooperation, Patton frequently lamented that they were fighting two enemies, the Germans and SHAEF, writing to his wife, Bea, “God deliver us from our friends. We can handle the enemy.”

The decisions made at this critical moment of the war were, as Patton called it, the “unforgiving minute” of history, which, once taken, could not be easily reversed. “No one realizes the terrible value of the ‘unforgiving minute’ except me,” he seethed in frustration.

During the second half of August Bradley and Montgomery took turns lobbying Eisenhower to accept their plan. Eisenhower’s personal relationship with Bradley did not prevent the latter from aggressively entering the fray. His partisan views and his hostility toward Montgomery would at times overwhelm Bradley’s common sense and help fuel Eisenhower’s feelings against the British general. With his increased stature came what he believed should be commensurate clout as an army group commander. Bradley, by his own definition, was “flying high” and in no mood to be relegated to the second string at the expense of his nemesis, Montgomery.

Bradley proposed his own plan, a thrust across central and southern France through the Frankfurt gap, and into the heart of the Third Reich by both the First and Third Armies. Third Army would advance into Lorraine and breach the Maginot and Siegfried Lines in the Saar while First Army advanced on an axis to the north, both routes Bradley argued were the most direct ones into the Reich.

Eisenhower was beset from all sides by unhappy commanders scrapping for an equal share of the logistical pie. Montgomery’s seemingly endless demands for priority were mirrored by Bradley and Patton who conspired to milk the supply system for all its worth. Caught in the middle was Eisenhower whose authority was challenged repeatedly. For once Bradley set aside his dislike of Patton and willingly supported his efforts to keep Third Army on the move.

Patton's men of the 3d Battalion, 317th Infantry Regiment  prepare for an attack across the Moselle River after finally getting their offensive going again. (U.S. Army Center of Military History)

Ike’s grandson, David, argues “the thrust of Eisenhower’s position was military,” and that he believed the Germans, while disorganized, were far from beaten. Moreover, Montgomery’s single-thrust plan would actually have made the German defense of the homeland easier by permitting them to concentrate their opposition to the single-thrust advance. “Thus, Montgomery’s talk of defeating the German army and driving to Berlin with forty Allied divisions was ‘fantastic’ – Eisenhower would not ever consider it.”

Eisenhower’s assertion that his decisions were made solely for military reasons was not completely valid. Stephen Ambrose notes that, “No matter how brilliant or logical Montgomery’s plan for an advance to the Ruhr was (and a good case can be made that it was both), and no matter what Montgomery’s personality was, under no circumstances would Eisenhower agree to give all the glory to the British, any more than he would agree to give it to American forces. But as things stood Eisenhower could not make his decisions solely on military grounds. He could not halt Patton in his tracks, relegate Bradley to a minor administrative role, and in effect tell Marshall that the great army he had raised in the United States was not needed in Europe.” Although Eisenhower may well have convinced himself his broad front decision was primarily military, the political aspects simply could not have been ignored. 1944 was a presidential election year in a war being fought by allies. From the time he took command of Torch in North Africa his role, indeed the very basis of his success, had been unity in a war, which would be won by allies, not by British or Americans, acting singularly. Thus, from Eisenhower’s perspective, the controversy was a tempest in a teapot.

Yet, Montgomery’s single most compelling argument was one which left Eisenhower in a quandary that defied resolution: “If we attempt a compromise solution,” he wrote to the supreme commander on September 4, “and split our maintenance resources so that neither thrust is full-blooded, we will prolong the war.”

His memories still bitter after the war, Montgomery said that Eisenhower’s 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 . . . Eisenhower held conferences to collect ideas; I held conferences to issue orders.” Patton likewise later labeled Eisenhower’s attempts to satisfy everyone by compromise the “momentous error of the war.” Another major point that further muddied the waters was Montgomery’s contention that his offensive encompass forty divisions, a figure wildly beyond the capacity of the logisticians to have supported without the port of Antwerp, which was then still in German hands. The most reasonable figure was a mere twelve divisions. The great argument has focused on whether or not the war would have been shortened had Montgomery’s single thrust strategy prevailed. On this point historians still disagree, as did the logisticians in 1944. Eisenhower questioned, even if given the necessary resources, if Montgomery could have carried out a systematic, aggressive offensive into the Ruhr. He concluded Montgomery could not.

The storm brewing between Eisenhower and Montgomery came to a head on September 10 during a tense face-off between the two men. Montgomery had insisted on a meeting and in keeping with his custom that the senior officer should visit his subordinates, Eisenhower readily agreed. The two met aboard Eisenhower’s aircraft parked on the tarmac at Brussels airport. The meeting began innocently enough until Montgomery pulled from his pocket the signals exchanged between them for the past week. The new field marshal wasted no time launching into perhaps the most intemperate and foolish outburst of his career. In language fit for a drill instructor addressing recruits, Montgomery testily condemned everything about Eisenhower’s plan, and why it would not work. Pulling Eisenhower’s recent signals from his pocket, he exclaimed, “They’re balls, sheer balls, rubbish!” Perhaps only Eisenhower would have the forbearance to sit in stony silence while a subordinate verbally assaulted him. When Montgomery at last paused for breath, Eisenhower put his hand on Montgomery’s knee and gently said, “Steady, Monty! You can’t speak to me like that. I’m your boss.” For one of the few times in his career, Montgomery muttered, “I’m sorry, Ike,” and the meeting concluded in less acrimonious fashion, but with neither general giving in to the other. The broad front advance to the Rhine would continue, declared Eisenhower.

Eisenhower’s refusal to back Montgomery’s single-thrust plan was not only based on philosophical differences, but on intelligence estimates that the Germans were simply too weak to hold the Siegfried Line or to stop an Allied advance on both the Ruhr and the Saar. Privately, Ike was deeply troubled by the rancorous September 10 meeting. Montgomery’s repeated challenges left him openly questioning his loyalty, and he derided Monty’s plan as a “mere pencil-like thrust” inconsistent with his concept that the war would be fought and won by Allies advancing on a “broad front.”

Montgomery’s lack of tact, his frequent letters exhorting Eisenhower to change his mind, and now their face-off in Brussels drove an even deeper wedge in their relations. Montgomery had failed to discern that to attempt to run roughshod over Eisenhower was a waste of time that did more harm than good. Or that behind the calm exterior that permitted free rein to the British field marshal was the unforgiving side of Eisenhower who never forgot the slights and the criticism of his decisions. Montgomery’s pride and his belief in the correctness of his plan left him equally unapologetic. “I’m trying to fight a war, and I can’t help it,” he told his aide.

Two proud men that believed in the validity of their cause was a prescription for an impasse. Eisenhower’s great instinct for compromise influenced his decisions during the most critical weeks of the war. Had the logistical support existed without utterly crippling everyone else, there was a strong case to be made for Montgomery’s bold, single-thrust, the ultimate prize being an end to the war in 1944.

British troops made their first penetration into Germany in the Geilenkirchen sector where a combined Anglo-American offensive under command of the British Second Army was launched on the morning of  November 18, 1944. (National Archives)

The great void between their differing beliefs was never more evident than when, in rejecting Montgomery, Eisenhower said, “The American public would never stand for it; and public opinion wins wars.” To which Montgomery asserted, “Victories win wars. Give people victory and they won’t care who won it.” Both were right but, in the end, the scheme stood no chance in the climate of coalition warfare nurtured by Eisenhower. Not only the months of controversy but also the intrusion of nationalism and outside pressures into the equation brought a certain inevitability to Eisenhower’s decisions.

Chester Wilmot has made the case for the British point of view and it is as compelling as it was politically impossible. As supreme commander, Eisenhower “had shown himself to be the military statesman rather than the generalissimo. . . except for one brief period early in the Tunisian Campaign, he had never attempted to exercise direct operational control over his armies.” Instead, Eisenhower had done what he did best, establishing the conditions under which his field commanders carried out his strategic guidance. Eisenhower commanded by consensus and compromise and made the Allied teamwork by dint of his ability to accommodate multi-national interests. “When he could gather his commanders and advisors around a conference table, he had a remarkable capacity for distilling the counsel of many minds into a single solution, but when his commanders were scattered over France he was open to persuasion by the last strong man to whom he talked.”

Eisenhower’s voluminous responsibilities were an equally effective argument for retaining a ground commander. The demands on his time and the myriad of problems dumped on his desk for resolution on any given day was staggering. The problems and challenges were endless, but with only a finite number of hours available to Eisenhower to address them. Although civil affairs, administrative matters, and stroking visiting political and military egos all possessed varying degrees of necessity, they often had no direct bearing on the day-to-day problems and responsibilities of a ground force commander. Moreover, without a small operational field headquarters of the sort Marshall would have established, the cumbersome organization of SHAEF simply did not lend itself to managing the battlefield or making decisions in a timely manner.

Eisenhower congratulates Montgomery after presenting him with the Distinguished Service Medal at SHAEF headquarters in June 1945. (National Archives)The war of words over the choices by which the war might have been won was, in the end, all but irrelevant. Not only was it politically impossible to have permitted the British to win the war by means of the narrow front, there is ample evidence to question if such a drive, if mounted, could have been logistically sustained beyond the Ruhr. Thus, as a British historian has noted, “There was, therefore, no real alternative to Eisenhower’s broad front advance.” The final word on the matter belonged to Eisenhower. In rejecting Montgomery’s narrow front strategy, he said, “Such an attempt would have played into the hands of the enemy,” and would have resulted in an “inescapable defeat” for the Allies. Equally telling is David Eisenhower’s blunt assessment. “Often overlooked is the fact that Eisenhower never considered the single-thrust idea – only ways to derail it.”

What was evident but unappreciated by Eisenhower and other key players in the Allied high command in the aftermath of Normandy was the example of earlier campaigns. The German Army was repeatedly shown to be at its most dangerous whenever its back was to the wall or the odds against survival the highest. North Africa, Sicily, Salerno, Anzio, Cassino, and now Normandy were all examples of tenaciously fought battles and campaigns that were soon to be repeated in Holland, Lorraine, and in the forests of the Ardennes and the Hürtgen. Place names that would shortly become prominent on the Allied battle maps: Arnhem, Aachen, Metz, the Reichswald, Elsenborn ridge, Bastogne, and Saint-Vith would prove startling illustrations that the war was far from over.

75 Comments

  1. I know this is probably simplistic – but why not follow the Russian doctrine of reinforcing success? In other words, reinforce whichever of the two thrusts had more success. Clearly would require more scrambling with regards to logistics, but wouldn’t it have made sense to have a plan where there some of the supplies would be sent to wherever the troops were getting the best results?

    • It was not question of which success to reinforce, it was a question of logistics. The article barely touches on the potential for an advance by Bradley/Patton south of the Ardennes and through the Saar (another major German industrial area and a traditional invasion route). Or of the US 6th Army Group (with French 1st Army) potential to move cross the Rhine

      The problem the Allies were facing was one of supply distribution. It was over 300 miles back to the supply dumps in Normandy and several divisions had already been stripped of trucks to try to keep the advance supplied and moving.

      And the political concerns Eisenhower had to deal with were real. The Soviets did not have to deal with a proud ally or the press of democratic nations.

  2. I believe that was Patton’s point. Had he been able to keep up his advance on the Rhein, the german defenses there might have been breached easily. But on the other hand – his men were exhausted, the vehicles in need of repair etc.
    What’s that expression about “hindsight”…?

  3. I didn’t word my comment very well. I understand that that was what Patton was advocating. What I should have said, why wasn’t it part of the plan ahead of time to reinforce success? For that matter, why wasn’t it part of American doctrine to do that? As I understood Viktor Suvurov in “Inside the Red Army” Soviet doctrine would be to have units in reserve, and to throw these units into the area of fighting that was showing success, with success defined as making forward progress, without taking casualties into account. In the issue written about here, I don’t believe actual casualties experienced were notably different between Patton’s and Montgomery’s forces.

  4. Several more comments:

    1..As I reread the article, I’m left wondering, what did Roosevelt and Churchill talk about in their meetings? You would think the issue of how to utilize the supplies available would be built into the plan to win the war. Given that it wasn’t in this case, why couldn’t the two leaders and their advisers in their capitals arrive at a decision as to the strategy to follow? Hindsight tells me this shouldn’t have been Eisenhower’s decision.

    2. Did any German Generals after the war say what they would have done? What would German doctrine have called for?

    • If you can buy/loan the book by Liddle-Hart “Over the hill” Liddle-Hart interviewed the German Generals in 1946/7 On their view of WW2.

      After Normandy when they ( the Germans) were in full retreat, a major attack to northern Germany and on to the Rhur was expected. The Generals as explained to the Author were in no position to oppose the attack.
      The book is revealing.Giving the German side of the war.

      • The comments by the German generals were more than a little self serving and Liddel-Hart was also know to edit to suit his position.

        By September 17, 1944, D-Day for Market-Garden, the Germans had enough to stop a single thrust. And it was exactly in this northern area. Maybe you should read Liddel-Hart’s other book, Strategy, and see if an indirect approach by a less obvious (and not as well defended) route would have been a better idea. But that wouldn’t have been under Monty’s command.

    • Alan,

      I do not have any “jingoistic” agenda. As for evidence, read any history of the campaign. incidentally I would not say that Montgomery’s memoirs are the best source for an unbiased view.
      British 11th Armoured Division captured Antwerp on September 4th, but the port was useless without clearing the Scheldt. As I said, Montgomery was following the Overlord outline up until the end of August at which point he thought he saw a great opportunity to jump the Rhine without waiting to clear the Scheldt. It was this time he decided that Br 21st AG could be supported without Antwerp. I believe I also said that Canadian 1st Army didn’t have the resources to clear the Scheldt and the Channel ports, which is the fact and which is what Montgomery said himself. Look it up for yourself, I would suggest “The Battle for Western Europe, Fall 1944: An Operational Assessment
      ” by John Adams.
      I pointed the British generals view (some of them) of the US leadership as something as a counterpoint to those are seem to think that Americans and especially Eisenhower rejected the single thrust story out of politics or spite. The views of the British generals towards the Americans are as well documented as are the anti British views of Bradley and Patton.
      Please note that I have distorted any evidence to suit an jingoistic vies and I haven’t stopped at a point convenient to my views either.
      Two more things:
      1) I think Montgomery was a great general and deserved the praise he earned. Unfortunately, I think that he was incorrect in believing that a single bold thrust could have won in the west by Christmas 1944. I think the record also shows he was quite arrogant, a view shared by many of his contemporaries in the British military and government.
      2) I think you are quite correct in saying the broad front did not originate with Eisenhower. It was essentially the outline developed by COSSAC, which was headed by a British general, Frederick Morgan.

      I hope none of the above is at odds to your non-jingoistic, un-distorted, nationally non-biased view.

      • To use one of Eisenhower’s favourite expressions, it is a shame that contemporary pettifogging observers after the event feel the need to judge a group of different men who are no longer among us to defend their reputations, men from different backgrounds, who despite their inevitable intrigues and disputes were great enough to defeat the evil that is Nazism. And seeing how they are no longer among us, let me give voice to some of their own words …

        Eisenhower to Montgomery July 1945; “Whatever history may relate about the exploits of this Allied Force, and the memory of man is short and fickle, it is only we, at this time, who can fully appreciate the merit and due worth of this great Allied team…… this great experiment of integrated command, whose venture was cavilled at by some and doubted by many, has achieved unqualified success, and this has only been made possible by the sympathetic, unselfish and unwavering support which you and all the other commanders have wholeheartedly given me. Your own brilliant performance is already a matter of history.”

      • I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make Alan, but up to this point it was pretty interesting and educational exchange of views.
        But if this is what you want to a to itdd, good enough.

  5. The Russian operational doctrine was not regarded as the best model to follow for a more maneuverable, logistically heavier and decentralized Western model of war fighting. The Russians used their system because that’s what worked for a set piece battle with artillery lined up wheels to wheels and everything organized by a central committee or general staff, including logistics and who got reinforced. There were no Pattons in the Russian army, if there were, they died in the Gulag years earlier. Even the best Russian commanders were bound by the security apparatus and Stalin’s infamous habit of intefering with strategy and war plans.

  6. There’s one more consideration against Monty’s strategy. At this point in the war, the British were simply out of manpower. It’s unlikely Britain in particular could have mustered the manpower to sustain the single northern thrust, particularly when you consider the point D’Este makes that the Germans could concentrate against it.

    The Bradley strategy through Frankfurt, using US troops, was more feasible from the human capital perspective, although only slightly so due to the problems the US had in moving -infantry- into theater. This came out during the winter when they scrounged the rear area forces for people to man the fighting positions.

    The argument for a single ground HQ is compelling, in my view. But another aspect that doesn’t get covered much is the weaknesses and inefficiencies in the US log tail. Someone needs to do a biography/expose of JCH Lee and the CommZ.

  7. Eisenhower was the conductor, and as so had to allow the virtuosos of his “orchestra”-Patton, Monty and Bradley to perform their solos. As he commanded a multinational force and was staff officer commanding combat officers he had to use the managerial approach that he did us. By this point in time of the war, he could slowly bleed the enemy away, and wait for them to attempt something foolhardy and desperate ( which they did! )

  8. Eisenhour was right! Look at the casualties the Russians took capturing Berlin which they then had to share with US We could not in any way have accepted such figures as the Pacific war showed when we took Tarawa etc. Still one can’t help but side with Patton who need a “few miserable gallons of gasoline”

  9. I am not in the same league as the above commentors. However, I am curious as to how Monty’s Operation Market Garden which was conducted one week after the Ike-Montgomery blow up, and was one of the biggest mistakes of WWII, factors in to Ike’s thinking that Monty’s narrow front approach could work. I wouldn’t give Montgomery the time of day. My dad was a lt col for Omar Bradley and had nothing good to say about the field marshall.

    • The reason for the Failure of Market Garden, was the the Failure of Taking the Nijmegen bridge. The task of taking the bridge was down to the Americans, General Gavin. Gavin failed to understand the principles of attacking a bridge. Which is take both sides at the same time. The bridge should have been taken on D Day September 17th. It took another 36 hours with the help of the xxx corps. Too late for the men in Arnhem.

      • Great job of parroting the Robin Neilland’s “don’t blame the Brits” apologeta.

        This simplistic view of Gavin and the 82nd having the resources to accomplish everything on D-Day is unrealistic. During the planning for the still born Operation Comet, the CG of the 1st Polish Para Brigade pointed out that the tasks in this area called for two Airborne divisions. By the time garden came along there even more to do, the 82nd was tasked with taking multiple bridges, all of them essential. Why was Br 1st Airborne then not dropped on both sides of the Arnhem bridge? Why did they ignore the Driel ferry, the railroad bridge and pontoon bridge as well?

        The road bridge at Nijmegen was not given to Gavin as a D-Day objective by any level of command,from 21 AG (Monty) on down, including: British 2nd Army (Dempsey), British I Airborne Corps (Browning; in commonad of the 82nds operations up to contact with the ground forces), or British XXX Corps (Horrocks, in operational control after contact). The first priority for the 82nd was Groesbeck Heights, something EVERYONE agreed on at the time. Neither the ground nor the defenses made a landing on the north side attractive.
        Gavin, on his own initiative, provided for a battalion to go for the bridge on D-Day. That it was too little was not Gavin’s fault. The optimistic time table for the advance had Br XXX Corps at Arnhem in two days and the pessimistic in four. XXX Corps arrived at Nijmegen in three days and found the 82nd heavily engaged in both Nijmegen and on the Groesbeck Heights. After a long wait for assault boats (without paddles) for the, the bridge was taken from both ends, the north by US paratroopers and the south by the Br Guards Armoured Division. Horrocks was effusive in his praise of the 82nd afterwards. It then took 18 hours for the Guards to resume the advance. And they were then promptly held up by German defenses on the road to Arnhem.

        In any case, the goal of Market-garden was not to relieve Br 1st Airborne and take the southern end of the Arnhem road bridge for them. It was to create a bridge head across the Rhine centered on Apeldorn and resting on the Zuider Zee. Br 21 AG was to then complete the clearing of the Scheldt because there could be no advance to the Ruhr without the shorter supply lines and increased supply capacity provided by Antwerp.

      • Not sure I use those campaigns at a shining example of how to beat an enemy. The Union constantly used logistics as an excuse to do nothing or for their poor performance. The South with little to no logistics constantly outmaneuvered their Northern counterparts and often on their turf. Sherman showed what could be done when he broke free of his railheads and logistics and just smashed through the enemy in force and pretty much went where he pleased.
        Union only won in the end because Grant recognized he was up against a clever foe so he sought to wear them out with his deeper pockets, manpower and and vast amounts of equipment because everything else hadn’t worked.
        Same in Europe it was easy for the US to use logistics as an excuse for their tactics but I think they fell back on their security blanket of industry and money and sought to defeat the Germans by overwhelming them rather than out smarting them. Surely the Germans where under the same pressure with their supplies if not worse yet they still launched a large offensive which only failed because nothing was going to win the war for them by this stage.
        Interesting debate

    • Wouldn’t put to much stock into American brass not liking Montgomery as regards to his generalship. His lt colonel probably didn’t like Bradley. His abrupt manner and no nonsense attitude put American noses out joint on more than few occasions much to the dismay of his seniors. But he was a general in charge of war weary nation and wanted the the thing done and couldn’t stand wasted opportunity. He was to proved right in his concerns on Eisenhowers strategy during the Battle of the Bulge when the only thing thing that saved the situation was the tenacity of the American soldier and Germans own weakness to fully exploit the break through.
      If the Americans had decent reserve As Montgomery had advocated and not thrown everything piecemeal as they did the German attack could of been repulsed much easier than it eventually was.
      In fact the only reason Germans were able to mount the attack in the first place was because the broad front strategy was was easier to defend which meant they could strip divisions from the frontline to form this offensive reserve. Luckily for the allies by this point Germany was too weak to achieve anything more than temporary success. But still the allies should been calling the shots by this stage not on the defensive.

      • Wow this is certainly a Monty-centric view of the world. The infallible Montgomery proven right once again!

        “If the Americans had decent reserve As Montgomery had advocated and not thrown everything piecemeal as they did …”

        The US 12th AG had a very long front to defend, US units were not thrown in piecemeal. The Ardennes was the sector least suitable to offensive operations. Bradley accepted the risk on the US VIII Corps front, reasoning that an attack could be stopped at the Meuse, in which he was proven right. As part of hte risk management, Patton had plans for a rapid move to the sector to help stop such an attack, in which he was proven right.

        One reason there was a shortage of troops at the front was because logistical considerations limited the number of divisions that could be supported. Antwerp was not opened by Br 21st AG until the end of November. The SHAEF strategic reserve, the US 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions, recently released from their attachment to Br 21st AG, played a major role in stopping the offensive.

      • A lot of what you say is true but it does not address the key issue which how the Germans were able to amass such a large reserve. The broad front policy made this possible.
        As for the issue of lack of supplies meaning that the front was thinly manned, your right but that also reinforces exactly why the broad front strategy should of been avoided. If resources are scarce they must focused at one spot at a time to keep the enemy off balance forcing them to move their mobile reserves to each breakthrough, forcing them to use their precious fuel and bringing them out into the open so that the allies air power could inflict even more damage on them.
        But instead they pursued the attack everywhere all at once or Broad front strategy which became bogged down into static warfare which suited the Germans who were largely on foot or horse back by this point. This allowed Hitler the freedom to release his last mobile reserves for this massive counter stroke.
        In the end the Ardennes offensive did two things, firstly showed what concentration of force could do even by a severely weakened foe and secondly forced the allies to rethink what they were doing making them much more potent force.
        In round about way the Germans did the allies a favor by exposing their last mobile reserves to allied airpower thus handing them a situation they had failed to create for themselves.

      • The broad front strategy is not what made it possible for the Germans to “amass such a large reserve”. The Germans had started to hold back reinforcements and replacements at or near the German border from at least mid-August, if not earlier. By the time the Allies arrived the Germans had already had two weeks to plan and start manning a defense. The broad front had nothing to do with it. If “scarce resources are focused at one point” then the enemy needs only to focus on defeating that one point. If you are facing a materially and manpower limited enemy, then the best strategy is to force him to try to fend off multiple simultaneous assaults widely separated in space at the same time. This keep the enemy off balance and forces them to try to rapidly move resources. Allowing the enemy to focus his scarce resources in one place does not force them move or keep them off balance. They only need to be in one spot to fend off an assault on one spot.
        The Germans were able to build a strategic reserve for the Ardennes battles because the Allies lacked the logistical and distribution base required to sustain the forces already on the continent. Nor could they add to them because of the logistical restrictions. At one point during the summer of 1944 six Allied divisions were grounded so their transport could be pressed into supply delivery. Contrary to popular belief, the western allies did not have an overwhelming numerical advantage, especially in terms of formations.
        In the end the Ardennes offensive showed that Bradley’s calculated risk was correct. They Germans were never able to seriously threaten the Allied armies and were initially slowed and then stopped by a small force. Superior Allied mobility, no longer operating under severe logistical constraints, were then able to rapidly concentrate and defeat the Germans on the ground, with the considerable assistance of the air forces.
        The Germans definitely did the allies a favor by expending these resources in a mobile situation, rather than sitting on the defensive and extending the war and increasing the allied casualty lists.

      • I can see we have completely different views on this strategy.
        I still believe a single massive offensive would achieved more.
        The Germans ability to hold up reinforcements at the boarder in my opinion was because the allies weren’t forcing them to commit forces anywhere. By attacking in several spots at once meant that each blow was weak and able to be contained by the local German forces at each spot. This strategy may of made sense if the Russian were doing it with their enormous numerical advantage but for the allies it meant beating their head up against a wall. Each allied field commander was conducting his own offensive operations and Eisenhower who wanted
        keep everyone happy was allowing them to do this. He needed to take his forces firmly in hand allocate resources to one commander, smash through in one spot force the Germans to block the breach with it reserves because local forces would not be sufficient because of the strength of the attack. Once the attack became bogged down, if it bogged down they could using their superior mobility and air cover shift their supplies and forces to a new spot and attack again. The Germans ability to respond would be limited because of allied air power limiting mobility and their mechanized units still being extradited from their previous engagement. In the least it would force the Germans to shift from breakthrough to breakthrough each time consuming resources which could not be replaced and exposing themselves to aerial bombardment.
        This was shown in the Ardennes offensive when the weather cleared the allied air force wrecked havoc on German armored units and supply lines which helped turn the situation back in allies favor.
        Theres my two cents worth but I guess we never know and every thing always seems obvious in retrospect.

      • This is an interesting theoretical approach to operations in the west, but it just wasn’t possible, especially in September 1944.
        Eisenhower had to defend a 500 km front, from the North Sea to the Swiss border. A division was expected to defend 25 km at most, at that in a “quiet” sector with good defensive terrain. So more than 20 divisions would have been required just for defense, out of a total of about 40. The Allies also needed to contain the German garrisons in Brittany, the Bay of Biscay, and on the Channel. The US 9th Army was assigned to capture Brest and the Canadian 1st Army was tasked with taking the channel ports AND clearing the Scheldt and trapping the German 15th Armee as a secondary objective of 21st AG.
        The real problem however remained logistics, particularly transportation. Until Antwerp was usable and the rail lines had been restored, there was no way the Allies could carry out the massive moves you contemplate, nor amass the amount of fuel and ammunition required for your operations. Two corps, six divisions, had already been grounded to free up trucks to move supplies to the front. Something like 5,000 trucks would have been required to move supplies from Normandy to the front. That wouldn’t have left much to move the divisions from one end of the front to the other. And the Germans still would have had the advantage of interior lines and would be able to add more troops faster than the allies. Deteriorating weather and distance to bases was also cutting into the absolute margin of Allied air superiority (as well as a slight Luftwaffe resurgence). It wan’t because of the broad front strategy that the Germans were able to amass the troops for the Ardennes offensive. The men were already present in the German replacement army, and all other sectors were starved of men and equipment, including the Eastern front. As it was the constant bleeding caused by the broad front forced the Germans to delay the offensive by 4 – 6 weeks.
        The broad front was designed to have much the effects you described. Each army group was to conduct simultaneous operations at points the Germans had to defend. History shows it worked.

      • I refer to the 1st Gulf War where the US army smashed through the Iraqi left flank using their superior firepower, mobility and airpower and totally threw the numerically superior Iraqi army off balance and pretty much ended the war then and there. They could of bashed away at the Iraq line and still won but with higher casualties and a longer war.
        Broadfront strategy doesn’t unbalance the opponent and often means your fighting the same enemy troops over and over. It was exactly what the Germans hoped the Allies would do but didn’t expect them to do.
        Memoirs of some of the German front line generals talk of waiting for the massive Allied offensive to materialize not realizing the US was bleeding themselves dry on small operations that never placed the Germans in an awkward position. While I concede it would of been a nuisance for the German high command to keep replacing the leaching of its forces on containing the constant Allied operations up and down its front. But they had proven by this point that they were well versed in this type of warfare having to do it on a much larger scale on the Russian front.

      • In the 1st Gulf War the Coalition had plenty of time to build up supplies and to degrade the Iraqi defenses through an air campaign. The fundamental problem the Allies faced in September 1944 was logistics, they could not move up enough fast enough. The logistic build up for the Gulf War was widley hailed as a major military achievement.
        Eisenhower’s Broad Front strategy was based on the Union campaigns of 1864-65 of the US Civil War. That campaign was fought against a tactically superior enemy, fighting on their home ground with interior lines. Sound familiar? That campaign was also successful in applying pressure at widely separated points at the same time and also ended in success.
        In September 1944 the Allies were logistically unable to pull off the type of campaign you advocate and the Germans would have had the means to concentrate against each thrust.

      • Not sure I use those campaigns at a shining example of how to beat an enemy. The Union constantly used logistics as an excuse to do nothing or for their poor performance. The South with little to no logistics constantly outmaneuvered their Northern counterparts and often on their turf. Sherman showed what could be done when he broke free of his railheads and logistics and just smashed through the enemy in force and pretty much went where he pleased.
        Union only won in the end because Grant recognized he was up against a clever foe so he sought to wear them out with his deeper pockets, manpower and and vast amounts of equipment because everything else hadn’t worked.
        Same in Europe it was easy for the US to use logistics as an excuse for their tactics but I think they fell back on their security blanket of industry and money and sought to defeat the Germans by overwhelming them rather than out smarting them. Surely the Germans where under the same pressure with their supplies if not worse yet they still launched a large offensive which only failed because nothing was going to win the war for them by this stage.
        Interesting debate

      • I still maintain that the Broad Front Strategy wasn’t Eisenhower’s at all, but was forced upon him by the agreements between Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin. In return for agreeing in advance to predetermined occupation zones, the Soviets had been promised that the western allies would take a greater share of the casualties by making Germany fight down a long western front. The Soviets were to have Hungary and Czechoslovakia, while Austria was to come under joint control at the war’s end, which it did. Notice how close Vienna is to Hungary; it explains why Stalin would have thought it a breach of agreement if the western allies advanced from Italy via Slovenia towards Vienna, and instead, the USA made a token and virtually unopposed invasion of southern France; an invasion that undoubtedly deprived the battle on the north of precious resources.

        But as events unfolded, logistics became a key issue in NW Europe, which to me suggests that throwing the Germans out of Dunkirk, Antwerpen, Oostende and Rotterdam were far more important tactics than messing about near Metz and Strasbourg to join up with the (unopposed) advance from Frejus, merely to get at Stuttgart and Munich.

      • Eisenhower based his strategy on the Union campaigns of 1864-65 because he saw the parallels. The Union army under Grant never used logistics as an excuse to do nothing. The difference between Grant and McClellan, Hooker and Burnside was that he did not stop and continued to apply pressure at all times against an enemy he knew couldn’t afford that style of warfare.
        The broad front may have had some political underpinnings, but that wasn’t the reason for Dragoon/Anvil. It had long been planned, originally as a complement to Overlord. The units couldn’t have been used in the north, they would have just added to the logistic problem. As it was, the capture of Marseilles opened a port to rival Antwerp and allowed the Allies to add the US 7th and French 1st Armies to their order of battle.
        A constant to and fro shifting of units along the front could not have been done quickly and would mostly have served to use up the available supplies. Montgomery’s preferred “Colossal Cracks” approach to battle and Eisenhower’s attrition approach both required a tremendous logistical base. It is incorrect to imply that the US army alone used logistics as an excuse for inaction or for “poor tactics”. If anything the US was far more willing to go with a smaller logistical base than the British. One of the reasons the German offensive failed was an inadequate logistic base. They barely had enough to start the offensive and their “plan” counted on capturing Allied supplies.

      • Agree, the Union fought a much under Grant by sticking to its strengths and wearing the enemy out.
        Eisenhower backed by the greatest industrial machine in history thought the same and yes it did work, but for the British who had experience in dealing with the Germans and didn’t have the luxury of time, money and material to wear out the Germans this strategy drove them mad and we never know if their ideas would of worked better because they were never employed after the Normandy breakout and the Brits felt they were being ignored once the Americans became the dominant partner on the continent.

      • The British had been at war with Germany for 60 months by September of 1944, so they had had the luxury of time. Lend lease gave the British plenty of material. What the British didn’t have was manpower. The British had consistently avoided direct confrontation with the Germans, and were reluctant to engage in the invasion almost up to the last minute. This reluctance to engage the Germans was a strategy that drove the US mad, and while we will never know if the US desire to invade in 1943 would have worked better because it was never employed, we do know enough to make an informed guess that the British were probably right to avoid the invasion until 1944. Likewise there is enough data available to conclude that Montgomery’s single thrust strategy would probably not have worked and might even have ended in a disaster. The issue for the Allies in September 1944 was logistics. Monty’s mighty host was an illusion, it would have been impossible support and maintain even a 20 division force for a drive on the Ruhr, much less Berlin. Neglecting the flanks by grounding the rest of the Allied armies to fuel the drive would have been an invitation to disaster. The Allied drive had reached it’s culmination point, and would only continue once the supply situation (Antwerp and the railroads) were working. By the beginning of September 1944 the Germans had pretty effectively recovered from their rout and had fallen back on defensible positions with new reserves of men and material. The German leadership (i.e., Hitler and the Nazi’s) were not going to abdicate as the kaiser did in 1918. There was not going to be any uprising by the General Staff or German people. There was not going to be any repeat of the “Great Swan” in September 1944 as long as the Germans were determined to resist.
        By the fall of 1944 the Americans, including Eisenhower, were tired of British arrogance, contempt, and condescension and, as they were now the dominant partner, were confident of their abilities to lead the Allies to victory their way. Eisenhower as Supreme Commander would do it his way, not Montgomery’s.

      • To say the British were reluctant to fight the Germans is complete nonsense. They were just as keen to fight the Germans if not more so. Their country had been bombed, with daily V1 and V2 rocket attacks. The country was out of time because they had been fighting them for 60 months. Their forces were shrinking and economically they couldn’t maintain the momentum for much longer even with the lend lease, which was very good of the Americans.
        British were not being arrogant except for Monty maybe but simply had a greater strategic grasp of the entire situation not just France. That is why the mediterranean and Italian policy was pursued to draw of German forces to defend those points and free up shipping for the D Day invasion. While they admired the Americans zest for the fight they at times despaired at their lack of understanding of the whole situation which the Americans may have perceived as arrogance. Its not to say the Americans were stupid but simply were less experienced and possibly had their attention focused more on the Pacific theatre of operations.
        Saying that Eisenhower was going to do it his way and not Montgomery’s is arrogant. Montgomery was view was shared by British chiefs of staff who were very concerned with the American approach but went with it even though they disagreed with it for the sake of the Allied cause. Can quite agree that Monty handled his concerns poorly and was reprimanded by his own superiors.

      • Grump, I fully agree with you that it is complete nonsense to say the British were reluctant to fight the Germans, so I am very glad that I wrote nothing of the sort and I certainly didn’t mean to imply such a thing. What I did write is that the British had consistently avoided a direct, head on engagement with the German army, and were reluctant to engage in such a strategy, such as an invasion of France. This was a quite reasonable and rational approach, and had nothing to do with courage or will to fight. It was primarily because of the disparity in the size of the armies, due to a lack of British manpower. No amount of American material could make up for a lack of British manpower. For the British a peripheral strategy seemed the best and had served them well historically, from the 18th century on. Churchill and Brooke did not see the Mediterranean strategy as a diversionary, secondary strategy to aid a main thrust in NW Europe. These top British leaders saw the Mediterranean as a the “correct” strategy and an invasion of France as unnecessary and risky. Even before Pearl Harbor, the US leadership had accepted Germany as the greater threat to be eliminated first, and consistently followed that approach. The Mediterranean was as great a diversion of force from NW Europe as was the Pacific. I do not think that the British had any greater strategic grasp of the situation than did the Americans and I see little evidence to support such a position. The British chiefs did not support Montgomery’s bold thrust scheme. Even Brooke, the ultimate Montgomery supporter, felt that, “for once”, he did not agree with Montgomery’s strategy, and that Antwerp, not bouncing the Rhine, should have been Montgomery’s prime objective. Montgomery’s bold thrust strategy was based on a number of mistaken assumptions: that 21st Army Group could be maintained without Antwerp; that the Germans had no reserve left and held on with only a thin crust; that the rest of the Allied armies could be grounded without risk; that 21st Army Group could be maintained all the way to Berlin (or the Rhur); and that the Germans would collapse and not be able or willing to fight for Berlin (or the Ruhr). At best such a bold thrust would have stalled out, probably short of the Rhur, and at worst it could have resulted in the entire British 2nd Army being cut off and destroyed.
        Unfortunately it was not just Montgomery who had a rather arrogant and condescending attitude towards the Americans. A number of major British players, including Brooke, Griggs and even Alexander (who was a favorite of the Americans) looked down on the Americans, as is evident by their own writings in their diaries. Montgomery may have been unique in that he had difficulty getting along with anyone, be they Canadian, New Zealander or even other British generals. It is certainly an over generalization to say that all British leaders looked down on the Americans, but certainly some of the top key leaders did. If you buy into the political aspect of the broad front strategy, then you should also consider the political objectives of Brooke, who wanted to be Supreme Commander, and Montgomery, who wanted to be ground commander. They certainly had reasons to want to discredit Eisenhower’s strategy and generalship. Montgomery was continued his campaign for ground commander when Brooke should have been telling him to follow the chain of command. Eisenhower was Montgomery’s direct superior in the field, and I doubt Montgomery would have accepted such behavior from his subordinates. Montgomery was rained in by his subordinates, mostly de Guingand, but also Dempsey, not his British administrative superiors. At that only happened when Montgomery was faced with the threat of losing his job.
        I do not want to understate the suffering and sacrifice of the British people, but the V1/V2 attacks were militarily insignificant and would have been a very poor basis for the Anglo-American strategy. The V weapon attacks caused less damage and fewer causalities than the 1940-41 Blitz did. The German people had suffered a far larger aerial bombardment for far longer, resulting in much greater damage and larger casualties and their morale was not broken. I would submit that the British people were just as tough and could take it. Antwerp was a much a V1/V2 target as was London, as well as being the ultimate target for the Ardennes offensive because the Germans realized the importance of Antwerp to the Allied cause. Certainly the Allies had a moral obligation to end the attacks if possible, but the V weapon attacks were unlikely to knock the British out of the war.

      • Instead of empty rhetoric it might be refreshing for some to be brief, and to offer documented evidence.

        Contrary to Tim’s claim above, Montgomery certainly DID build his plans on the capture of Antwerp. See the map in Montgomery’s Memoirs at the start of chapter 15. It clearly shows all the North Sea coast as far as Rotterdam in Allied possession as they reached the Ruhr; and the second page of that chapter reproduces Montgomery’s ideas put to Bradley on 17th August 1944, namely “to clear the Channel coast, the Pas de Calais, West Flanders, and SECURE ANTWERP AND SOUTH HOLLAND”.

      • I think the British commanders called it how they saw it. Brook in particular while being disappointed not to get Eisenhowers job understood it had to go to an American for political reasons.
        He praised US equipment and the quality of the troops leaving their training camps but was worried by the American senior commanders and the decisions they were making. Surely if they were going to be critical of them out of spite they would of been critical of all aspects of US involvement.
        I agree that Brooks didn’t support Monty’s single thrust plan, but he did share his concerns with the US strategy which to him seemed to lack direction and purpose. Now your talking about two very experienced commanders who worried enough that one of them blew up at Eisenhower. To me that would indicate there were some very genuine concerns that were just waived away as British arrogance.

      • Grump, I think you are quite correct in saying Montgomery and Brooke called it as they saw it. As did Eisenhower. It was a genuine professional disagreement, and I also think a difference in leadership and management styles. But Brooke must also have known that the strategy was basically unfolding per the Overlord outline. When you look at the circumsatnces at that time it not difficult to understand the desire to end things quickly and to believe that it was actually possible. I do think that both Brooke and Montgomery thought a great opportunity was slipping away. But that doesn’t automatically mean that they had the best strategy to exploit it.
        My point about some of the British commanders being condescending and arrogant towards the Americans is a counter balance to views that some of the Americans (Bradley and Patton) were disdainful of the British. I did not mean to wave of their strategy as arrogance (or jealousy). Incidentally, I am sure you know that US Gen Marshall also coveted the Supreme Commander post, but was considered indispensable in Washington by FDR. I believe Churchill had a similar opinion of Brooke.
        My opinion is that with 20-20 hindsight, with knowing what was happening on the other side, and with the known Allied logistic problems, that the single thrust strategy would not have worked. I think that there it can be shown that it actually may have resulted in a major disaster. Commenting on Market-Garden, Horrock’s, CG of British XXX Corps, said something to the effect that perhaps it was better that it didn’t succeed, so that only one division was sacrificed instead of a whole army.

    • Alan,

      Check out the rest of the timing and Montgomery’s changing thinking. August 17 was before the Great Swan, at which time Montgomery was fully prepared to carry out the post Overlord plan, which included the capture of Antwerp (and Rotterdam if possible). Around the end of August Montgomery decided that 21st Army group didn’t need Antwerp and gave Canadian 1st Army the task of capturing the Channel ports before clearing the Scheldt. It’s all very well documented. It’s not really a question of if Montgomery planned on clearing the Scheldt, but when. Even if Market-Garden had succeeded, Montgomery planned for a pause to open Antwerp. What was not appreciated by Montgomery was the time and effort required to do the job. Canadian 1st Army just did not have the strength to simultaneously capture the Channel ports, open the Scheldt and support the coastal flank of the 21st AG. As it was Market-Garden diverted the resources needed.

      • Evidence please. What actually happened is quite contrary to your claim. Montgomery’s force in fact occupied Antwerpen on 4th September 1944, which is about one week after the time you claim Montgomery decided they didn’t need Antwerpen, and less than three weeks after Montgomery stressed upon Bradley that 21 Army Group would “clear the Channel ports, the Pas de Calais, West Flanders, and secure Antwerp and southern Holland” (Montgomery’s Memoirs chapter 15).

        Please note I do not distort the evidence to suit what little jingo spirit I might have, and Montgomery goes on to “admit a bad mistake on my part – I underestimated the difficulties of opening up the approaches to Antwerp”. But to put as you did above that in Montgomery’s view “21st Army Group could be maintained without Antwerp” does nothing to raise the quality of debate, for the written evidence consistently shows the opposite.

        While I am on the matter, you also seem to think that the USA was singled out for British condescension. As an ex-British soldier I can assure you that some of the British are equally condescending to their compatriots, and that it is mistaken to believe the USA was particularly a victim of patronizing British public shoolboys.

        I remain fully convinced that the Broad Front Strategy wasn’t Eisenhower’s at all. It was decided at the Tehran conference in 1943 that there would be simultaneous assaults on France from the north and south; and that the east of Poland and parts of Romania would become Soviet territory; that Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia would hold elections according to Soviet constitution without intervention from the West; that East Prussia would become the Russian enclave Kalliningrad. In other words, Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin carved Europe up into communist and bourgeois blocs. Remember that Poland had two exile governments, one in London, the other in Moscow. The Czechs had already shunned the west and were Soviet allies, as were Jugoslavia. Having knocked Italy out of the war, the western allies might easily have passed through Slovenia via Maribo and the mountain gap towards Hungary, but the Tehran conference laid down that was to be Soviet territory. Then consider the dash to the Baltic to head off the Russians from Denmark, and the subsequent Cold War. Germany by this time was not the primary US concern, and the Broad Front Strategy was intended to halt the spread west of communism.

        How sad it is that the tragedy that was WW2 could foster petty differences like the Broad Strategy debate. But perhaps Homo sapiens just cannot resist a good argument for any reason at all.

  10. A concentrated thrust would also mean concentrated casualties.
    Heavy losses confined to the troops of just one nation would be a huge political liability.

  11. Montgomery’s concept was of a concentrated mass of Allied armour, with all available logistical support devoted to it, directed against the Ruhr, a threat which would force the remaining German armour to give battle, and then let the great Allied superiority in armour and air power destroy it.

    When you have that level of superiority, what you need is a large set battle to exploit it. If this basic concept had been applied, the German armour would have been forced to come out and fight for the Ruhr, just as the Japanese navy was forced to come out and fight for Leyte. Once the German armour was finished, the road to Berlin then really would lie open.

    But how to approach the Ruhr, to create this threat? In the east, the country was difficult, with hills and forests. In the west, on the Allied left, lay the Low Countries and the north German plains: that was where to make the flanking move.

    This was the Schlieffen plan in reverse: a wide flanking move to reach round and stab the enemy in his industrial heartland. The appearance of the mass of Allied armour on their west flank heading round towards the Ruhr would inevitably force the German armour to come to meet it. The Allies would then be able to fight their decisive tank and air battle, on those same flat plains.

    It is worth noting that the Germans used the Schlieffen plan, or a variant of it, in each world war. Each time, their idea was an outflanking move in the west, sweeping round through the Low Countries, not a broad front advance. This shows that, in strategic terms, the German General Staff agreed with Monty — or it shows that Monty copied the Germans.

    The Schlieffen plan went wrong in WW1, because while the German right flank advanced through the Low Countries, the left flank failed to play their part, which was to give way on the front of Alsace-Lorraine. That retreat would have drawn the French forward there, reinforcing their “success”, thus leaving no reserves in the centre against the decisive German push coming round from the west.

    In the event, the German left flank fought forward from Alsace-Lorraine, thus compressing and concentrating the French forces, instead of extending and weakening them. This was in effect a political decision by the Germans, who refused, when push came to shove, to let the French advance onto German territory.

    Montgomery’s plan was also defeated politically. Monty’s idea was to halt Patton’s advance in the east, and take all his logistic support to be used for the massive armoured advance in the west. Strategically, this concept was right, but politically, it failed, because the Americans would not accept the grounding of Patton’s forces.

    Thus both the Germans in WW1, and the Allies in WW2, had the correct flanking strategy on the table in front of them, but in each case the political will was not there to follow the military logic through.

    • This is a well reasoned idea but it fails to account for the sizes of the forces involved and the ability of the allies to supply them in a forward combat zone. Any advance without first opening Antwerp was only going to make the situation more difficult to maintain.

      It would appear that 10-20 divisions could have been supported, and that only at the expense of stopping all other movement on the front (and stripping some units of transport), and presenting the Germans with an opportunity to strike at immobile forces. Certainly not the 40 divisions advocated by Montgomery, which incidentally was more than the entire allied force in Normandy up to August.

      If Montgomery had advanced with 20 divisions, into an area full with of barriers, then it is not unreasonable to speculate that the Germans could have stopped it with as little as 7-10 divisions due to the advantages of the defense. There would have been no pressure elsewhere on the front to draw off German reserves. The record of the Western Allies in tank combat, particularly the British cavalry charge doctrine still in evidence as late as Goodwood, was not in favor of an allied success in a single great decisive armored battle.

      The German general staff may not have been totally in accord with Montgomery, the German general staff normally advocated a concentric attack, so they may have preferred Eisenhower’s approach of attacking the Ruhr from north and south.

  12. I think people are confusing Soviet operational and strategic practice. Because while the Soviets did concentrate force on an operational level they did pursue a broad front strategy. In general they staggered their strategic offensives so that important resources such as artillery corps and logistical support would back the current drive. The problem with applying this concept to the Western Front is that the Soviets after 1943 no longer entertained the notion of winning the war in a single blow which an alternative plan in the West had to achieve.

    As for the Schlieffen plan reference I don’t think it applies because the whole point of the plan was to outflank the French positions on a very broad front, not the idea of concentrating force to break through enemy defense but rather extend the front enough so that a frontal attack can be avoided. The decisive factor was not the physical terrain or the distance but the lack of French presence. Considering that the Germans did have defenses in the area I don’t think the considerations apply.

    • I think that when people discuss such things as this they should ask themselves “Am I a military theorist?” And if not “Am I really qualified to make passionate arguments about this strategy or that strategy whose employments effect millions and millions of people” Dwight David Eisenhower was. He spent his entire adult life up to that point in the military (as did the rest of the generals in the war I’m sure). Half of his military career was spent drawing up war plans for the likes of Douglas McArthur and George Marshall neither a sufferer of fools. He also just happened to be the foremost tank theorist in the U.S. army aside from Patton.
      I would say that Bernard Montgomery was qualified to criticize his plan, but most of the people in this thread aren’t.

  13. Montgomery’s intention was that the superior Allied armour should be concentrated and advance before the Germans could properly regroup following the defeat in Normandy. Given the Allied predominance, the need was to bring the remaining German armoured strength to battle as soon as possible and destroy it. Monty maintained there was a window of opportunity for this, but it passed without the necessary decision being made.

    Once Eisenhower had rejected Monty’s approach, and the Germans had regrouped , the opportunity was gone, and it then became a matter of battering through German defences, army by army on a broad front. The Allies now had no concentration of strength anywhere along the line. This dispersed strategy suited the defence.

    A massed force of armour advancing before German defences were organised could have penetrated to the north German plain, and then swung round to attack the Ruhr. This would have forced the German armour to mass against it. The Germans would have had no room for manoeuvre. They would have been compelled to stand in front of the Ruhr in an open set piece battle, and would have been destroyed where they stood by the superior Allied armour and air forces.

    Then not only would the road to Berlin have been open, but the Allies would have taken the Ruhr, bringing much of Germany’s war production to a stop. Montgomery believed this plan could have ended the war in 1944.

    • The opportunity had already passed by September 10, possibly as early as September 5, and Montgomery was not ready to advance any earlier. An advance beyond the Rhine wasn’t going to happen until Antwerp was open. The allies simply could not support a major battle another 100 miles beyond Antwerp. Eisenhower was right, it would have ended in disaster.

    • Agree totally Broadfront played straight into germans hands.
      Some German commanders themselves expressed surprise that the allies didn’t continue to smash their line at one point in overwhelming strength after the initial success of this tactic around Normandy.
      British had hoped to control the military strategy while Eisenhower dealt with the administrative and political considerations but after the breakout from Normandy area Eisenhower took direct control of ground operations and allowed his field commanders to run their own little private wars.
      From what I understand the Brits wanted lord Alanbrooke who would of been a good choice because of his enormous experience as supreme commander but realized early this position would have to be American due to all the manpower, logistics and money they were providing.
      Political and military considerations often clash

  14. While Tom Black’s argument that the allies 199 September 1944 of using a reverse Schlieffen plan in the low countries has some merit, I believe it would have not been a success. The concept is unsound as it fails to take into account a number of factors which would deny overall success for such an operation.

    Firstly, Operation Market Garden clearly showed the problems the massed allied armour would have faced in that geographic region. Historically, that area of operations was poor terrain for free ranging armour, which needs the freedom to manoeuvre and exploit any gaps or weaknesses in the enemy line of battle. This was not available to the allies as evidenced by the failure of 30th Corps push in Market Garden. The single highway that 30 Corps was forced to rely and operate on plus the need to capture 3 crucial bridges over the main rivers meant that the allies would have to look elsewhere for better ground in which to bring the Werhmacht to a decisive armour clash.

    Secondly Operation Goodwood, the British attempt to break out from Caen in July 18 1944, proved to be a disaster for the Brits. Three of the top British armoured Divisions, The Guards, 7th (Desert Rats) & 11th Armour, all lost 469 tanks over 3 days of combat (18 July to 20 July). In addition, VII Corps losing 199 tanks over two days. This showed that the allies did not have superior armour in any form at all as stated by Tom. The Panther, Tiger and the old workhorse, Panzer MkIV had the edge. It also clearly shows that the Germans were masters of defence and limited counter attack. Although numerically outnumbered by allied armour and being vulnerable from allied air attack meant that the Germans gave the allies and specifically Monty, a very bloody nose over those few days of carnage in Normandy.

    Now, take that example and expand it to the reverse Schlieffen plan massed armour plan. If there was a massed armoured thrust attempted by the allies in September 1944, and not necessarily in the low countries, then there is good enough evidence and history to hypothesize that such a battle would have resulted in another Goodwood for the allies, regardless of their numerically superiority in AFV’s or air supremacy.

    Finally the Germans were falling back to pre-prepared positions and although it is often said that the German army in Western Europe after Falaise was in a rout, they were able to quickly redeploy and stand and fight when necessary as shown in Market Garden. Additionally the Germans had better tanks and tactical doctrine which the allies had learned bitterly in Normandy. They would have regrouped, dispersed their resources and used the terrain and given the allies another bloody nose. Also, I seriously doubt they would have done what the allies or Tom Black had hoped, that is concentrate their Panzer reserves into a massed formation for the allies to engage. The old adage is that never expect or rely on the enemy to do as you plan.

    So therefore while it looks sound as a concept, to try to bring a massed German armoured response to a decisive battle via a reverse Schlieffen plan using massed allied armour, I believe such an operation would have ended in a costly failure for the allies. Also, trying to seek a decisive battle is the dream of every commander but such engagements rarely occur and so I think Ike was right in pursuing the broad front approach.

    • Good wood was never seriously meant to be a breakout. It was more a operation to hold german panzer and armoured units on there front so Patton and Bradley could breakout on their front. The Brits could accept large losses of tanks and if it held the Germans in place not to mention it chewed up some of Hitlers best mechanised units which could not be replaced.

      The Russian were to copy this stratedy later on but on a much larger scale.

      • If Goodwood was not meant to be a breakout, but only a holding operation, then it was vastly overdone and used far more resources than it should have. It also did not pin down the German panzers, they were still able to concentrate for the Mortain counter attack.

      • True the Germans were able to counter which shows what well oiled machine their army was but it does not mean the Brits failed. The spectacular success of Patton’s advance in the first instance is proof of this. He could not achieved what he did if those German armored
        units had been available to check his advance.
        Patton’s armored thrusts eventually petered out because his advances were beyond his means and his forces became disjointed and spread out on different missions losing their momentum and ultimately their ability to conduct offensive operations on any large scale.

      • I think you could say that the Goodwood should the danger of a single thrust. The Germans were able to check a powerful advance with relatively smaller forces. And still, at the time the pressure was highest on the Germans with the US 3rd Army breakout, they were able to remove armored units from the Br 2nd Army front and use those units to launch an offensive at Mortain. If Goodwood was intended to be a breakthrough like “Cobra” (and it probably wasn’t) then it was a failure. If it was intended to be a holding operation then it did not have the desired effect and was only partially successful. The Germans were able to release forces to mass for Operation Luttich at Mortain. If Goodwood was intended to kill off Germans and destroy their equipment (and pin some down at the same time) then it might be called a marginal success.

        Patton’s armored thrusts petered out because there was no way to keep his forces adequately supplied. His advances were beyond his logistical means. US 3rd Army lost momentum because they ran out of supplies and the Germans were able to concentrate against the thrusts that were active.

      • If 40 divisions had been put under a single commander that force would have created a bridgehead over the Rhine and cleared the scheldt. The problem is that the US Army was loath to place units under foreign control. Poor show by Ike really. He could have taken credit for a daring aggressive move.

    • The area in which Goodwood was launched was not suitable for offensive operations and the British knew that but they had to hold German divisions on their front while the Americans broke out on much more favorable ground. Militarily I think they were successful in this endeavor but politically they failed due to public perception in America that the US was doing all the work while the Brits did nothing. The American public wanted to see a British breakout not realizing what difficult task this would be. Eisenhower to his credit was quick to defend his British counterparts on this issue which showed his real strengths which were in administrative and political spheres while his knowledge on purely military strategy was limited.

  15. In hindsight, the best course of action might have been to hesitate and NOT use up resources on Market Garden. This would have led to exactly what happened next – Hitler’s overly-optimistic counter-attack through the Ardennes. This, in turn, used up german resources and opened up for the final allied offensive into Germany the next spring.

    There is usually no “quick-fix” in a war – the other guy always proves to be more willing to fight, has better weapons and the terrain is much more difficult in reality than was expected in the plan. Plans, however, needs to be “sold” to superior officers and sometimes politicians, meaning the most be of a positive nature (especially if there are other plans, competing for the same logistical resources).

  16. Broad front — or big left hook?

    Nikolai is surely right to say the Soviet conduct of the eastern front is not directly relevant here. There you had a campaign on a continental scale, with no short route to the enemy’s heartland, over a front far wider and potentially far more elastic.

    The western front was much shorter, its ends closed by the Alps and the Channel. It was on a national scale, and the proximity of France and Germany meant a successful advance could reach the enemy’s vital heart very quickly. The Germans took advantage of this in 1940 to knock France out in a matter of weeks. The Allies, after Normandy, could have done the same to Germany in 1944.

    But how? The basic problem is that if you cover the whole front, then you spread yourself thin and are strong nowhere. Conversely, if you obey the fundamental military rule of concentration in one place, that lets you generate your full strength, but you can no longer cover the whole line.

    This inescapable dilemma hands the advantage to the attacker. The defence must try to be strong enough everywhere (impossible), the offence only has to be strong enough in one place (quite achievable) in order to break through.

    That is the basic reason why Montgomery’s plan for a big left hook was right and the broad front advance was wrong. The imperative of the defensive meant the Germans had no choice but to accept spreading their forces and being strong nowhere. The Allies, however, had the option of massing their force in an overwhelming concentration on one sector of the front, but they chose not to do it.

    • The first thing wrong with this is that the “Broad Front” strategy is misrepresented. As D’Este says, Eisenhower’s plan was based on U.S. Grant’s 1864 campaign plan, whihc could be paraphrased for 1944 as follows:

      To use the greatest number of troops practicable against the armed forces of the enemy, preventing him from using the same force at different times against first one and then another of our armies, and the possibility of [rest] for refitting and producing the necessary supplies for carrying on resistance; second, to hammer continuously against the armed forces of the enemy and his resources, until by mere attrition, if no other way, there should be nothing left for him but to surrender.

      Eisenhower’s plan was not, as it is sometimes presented by some writer’s, a feeble pushing everywhere all the time, but to have each Army Group, and each Army, attack a point that the enemy has to defend. Which is not that difficult when your opponent is Hitler defending everything.

  17. I agree with Tyrone Lambert that it is important to look at The Battle of the Bulge to help understand the situation being discussed. In that case, the Germans were defeated and were still able to hold their western frontier for several more months (Granted it was winter so offensive operations much harder).

    The more I think about I also agree the allies did pursue the correct strategy: they kept fighting on their two axis of attack until they reached the limit of logistics. The way to end the war quicker was not to slow down the advance. Also, they were trying to win before having to face another winter.

    Limit of logistics obviously means petroleum products. It would be interesting to see at what point the allies could have had enough oil to not run out and what course of action. Was it refined products, so if less had been used in Italy or the Pacific would they not have run out? Was it transport to the European shore, was it distribution on the continent, or was the advance so quick the infrastructure could not keep up? Probably in hindsight such a decision would have to have been in 1942, which would have been unrealistic“given the military situation at the time.

  18. I feel several good comments have been made here however Mr Tyrone Lambert’s comment that Operation Goodwood highlights the complete ineffectiveness of the Allied armour is flawed, does not incorporate important factors and has overblown the Allied losses. Latest research conducted, by Simon Trew and co, place total losses around the 150 mark for VIII Corps and around 20 tanks for the support attacks by the Canadians and 3rd Infantry. No one doubts other tanks were damaged but the losses were not of the magnitude described.

    Additionally the Germans knew the attack was coming, had fortified the area extensively and counterattacked with several panzer divisions and lost up to 100 tanks themselves in the process; the attack effectively destroyed several panzer divisions ability to resist while the British divisions were able to continue the offensive several days later with Operation Spring before being redeployed across the front for Bluecoat.

    If anything, Goodwood highlights that the comment of drawing the German tanks into a decisive battle and defeating them was very well much a possibility by the Allied forces. It was achieved at the Second Battle of El Alamein and it was achieved near Caen during Goodwood.

  19. Would logistic problems have defeated Monty’s big left hook?

    If I may put in another word, the question of logistics is often raised. The Allies in autumn 1944 had great strength in manpower, armour and all equipment, but prior to opening up a large Channel port, it was impossible to bring all their strength to bear on the front line.

    Eisenhower stated this problem meant Montgomery’s planned thrust could not have been maintained logistically. Carlo d’Este echoes that view. However, Monty’s plan, if implemented as he intended, would actually have solved the logistic problem more swiftly than any other approach.

    First, you take all the armour and motorised units of four armies (Crerar, Dempsey, Simpson, Hodges) and make one mobile attacking force, under a single commander (Montgomery or Bradley). Secondly, you take the logistic resources (engineers, pioneers, transport, fuel, etc.) of five armies (the above four plus Patton) and use them to support the attack. You send this mighty force driving ahead on the left wing through Belgium and Holland, leaving non-motorised troops behind in static defence.

    The attacking force is now more mobile than ever, because it is 100% motorised, and has more fuel than ever, because it has five armies’ worth of fuel in place of four. At the same time, the combined engineering and pioneer resources of five armies give it the ability to surmount rapidly any and all physical obstacles it may meet. It is also easier to resupply these forces, as they are all in one place, not dispersed on a wide front. In this way, the immediate logistic problems are solved.

    The nub of the matter is this: the amount of fuel and resources initially available under Ike’s plan and Monty’s plan is the same. As events showed, that amount was sufficient to let five entire armies move forward steadily in line abreast along the whole front. If you extract the armour and mass it in one sector, and give it all the fuel and support, you can then drive that smaller but much more powerful force ahead a lot faster and a lot further.

    What can the enemy now do against this fast-striding behemoth? Any German armoured force in or near its path faces a sharp dilemma: either fight where you stand (suicide) or withdraw to concentrate with other units (surrendering territory). The only logical course for the German armoured and mobile units is to withdraw, pull together whatever strength they have and postpone battle until it becomes unavoidable.

    However, it is quite possible that Hitler, initially at least, would have issued non-withdrawal orders. In that case, each Panzer force would have been destroyed in turn as it came up against the Mighty Mobile. Either way, the Allied advance would rapidly clear the Low Countries of German armour. Now Antwerp and other ports could be opened up.

    In this scenario, German occupying troops left stranded by the disappearance of their armour and supplies would no doubt resist for a time and would sabotage and destroy port facilities as much as they could (as happened in the actual event). However, the difference in this case is, first, the time they have available for sabotage is less, because the clearance of the region has been that much quicker, and secondly, the resources the Allies have for repairing facilities are that much greater (five armies’ engineers instead of one or two).

    As a result, Antwerp and other ports would have been in operational use by the Allies a good deal earlier than actually happened, and the Allied thrust would have been reinforced all the more.

    • This is the only place I have seen it argued that Monty’s “Mighty Host” was to be composed entirely of armored divisions.

      As of September 5 there were 12 armored divisions (6 US, 3 British,1 Canadian, 1 Polish and 1 French) on the continent, spread across the continent. To move and assemble them in one group on the 21 AG front would take some time (at least a few days) and use much of the fuel available. And during this assembly time the Germans would be able to rest and refit (as they did before Market-Garden, but without any pressure at all this time). An allied armored division during an advance required something like 300-600 tons a day depending on opposition. This would have required something like 2000 trucks.

      The “Mighty Host” is then to advance 400 miles to Berlin, and to fight a major, climatic battle on the way defeating the strength of the German Army while moving ever further away from Allied air power and leaving the rest of the Allied armies immobile and vulnerable and the supply path of the “Mighty Host” unprotected.

      This somehow improves the supply situation adn ends the war in 1944?

      The Germans never saw bold arrows on a situation map as anything other than an opportunity. If this was Monty’s “full blooded thrust” it probably would have ended in disaster (Eisenhower’s fear) and resulted in meeting the Soviets on the Rhine.

      • Yeah if one of the allied commanders hand been given 40 divisions to command the Scheldt would have been cleared very quickly and bridgeheads over the rhine established rapidly after the breakout.

  20. No one has mentioned 7th army, which later became 6th army group, in southern France. If Eisenhower had allowed it Devers, commanding 6th army group, could have jumped the Rhine in November 1944. There was little organized German defense at that point. Further, Eisenhower was siphoning supplies from 6th AG to support the northern advance. Which implies that Devers could have potentially moved faster than he was able to historically.

  21. It was a bit of a strategic mess really. I think Mage makes a good point about the Southern France invasion.

    Generally speaking I think it points up the deficiencies of the Normandy option – it was such a long way from the Normandy beaches to the heart of German power. Supply issues closed off the options.

  22. One always wonders what geopolitical objectives were in play. The backdrop of the Allied invasion of Western Europe was not to just liberate Europe from the Nazis, but to also keep the Soviet Union from grabbing it. While Ike’s generals might have been focused on the goal of simply knocking Germany out of the war, Ike’s bosses – essentially Roosevelt and Churchill, might have been looking more broadly.

    Things are not so simple at that level. Stalin had already switched sides once in the war and despite the appalling losses, could have arguably declared victory once he had expelled the Germans from Russia. While that was something of a hollow threat against prior to D-Day, once the the US and UK were on the board in Europe, Stalin had had genuine leverage. The mere risk of so many German divisions coming from the East had to have weighed on Russia.

    In a similar vein, whose to say that Stalin’s Red Army would even stop after German? In that sense, a single narrow thrust into Germany from some particularly direction – either by Monty or Patton, might have knocked Germany out of the war, but would have also exposed the Allies to a flanking attack by the Russians. Only a united and broad offensive, with not 40 divisions up against the Soviet frontier, but, ALL of the Allied divisions, with ALL of western europe behind its back, would have prevented that. Do you think Ike could have a press conference of even allow anyone as important as a general to think that the USA and UK were concerned about the possibility of a war with the Soviet Union?

    So yes, if the Soviet Union were a like minded western ally, then Monty or Patton should have been given the gasoline and sent on their way. But the Soviet Union wasn’t, and so Ike’s broad advance was in fact the best way to go.

  23. Ugh lack of sleep… meant to write, so many German divisions freed up from the east had to weigh on the West.

  24. This whole debate is silly, and illustrates exactly what went wrong at the time. Eisenhower’s and Montgomery’s bosses had already decided that Anvil should happen (the invasion of southern France), so it wasn’t even a matter for Eisenhower or Montgomery what strategy to follow. There was to be an advance into Germany on a broad front that extended from the North Sea to The Alps. Basta.

    Montgomery should have realised this was the case, but for some inexplicable reason refused to accept it. In his defence, it has to be said he was pressed time and again to have Eisenhower agree to any strategy at all; this happened in preparation for the invasion of Sicily, and of Italy, and yet again in the preparations for Overlord. For Pete’s sake, you don’t just invade Normandy, have a fight with the Germans, and only only once you are sure to have won decide what to do next. Victory in battle provides a momentum with which to enter the next battle, and Montgomery was right, you must plan two or more battles ahead.

    I think there is too much nationalism in this whole debate. Weren’t Eisenhower’s problems with Patton equally as severe as those with Montgomery? Why isn’t that mentioned? We today lose sight of the horror of WW2, and for my part, I am satisfied merely with the Allies having defeated the evil that was German National Socialism.

    • “I think there is too much nationalism in this whole debate”
      Couldn’t agree with you more!

      “Weren’t Eisenhower’s problems with Patton equally as severe as those with Montgomery?”

      No, in the end Patton was a “good soldier” and followed his orders. He did not have a high opinion of Ike as a commander. He did make his opinions known and advocated other plans. But unlike Montgomery he knew he was on a short list for a trip to the rear if he stepped too far out of line. Being in the US Army, Ike had far fewer political issues with Patton. I would no doubt that much of what went on between them never made it into the histories.

  25. If the allies had gone with monty’s plan, it seems there might have been two problems. First…doesnt it make it easier for the coming German counterattack to succeed? The allies might have run the risk of having their pencil head being cut off. Secondly..was Monty the right guy to lead such a thrust. Such a plan needed to be daring and aggressive and Monty was much more methodical. So when you think about it…Ike would have had to sell a risky plan he didnt have resources for with a leadership option that was impossible…put patton in charge of british soldiers….ike wouldbe thinking thats an automatic no from churchill. So it was a plan that wasnt that great that he couldnt really do anyway and his bosses wouldnt go for. From that perspective its easy to see why Ike thought the way he did.

  26. Another thing that strikes me is that south of Frankfurt – Kassel, the terrain is very hilly in places, ideally suited to static defences. The Ruhr district on the other hand lies in flatter country at the edge of the almost featureless North European Plain. Much German armour had been destroyed in The Battle of Normandy, and given the allies successes with armour, it seems only logical to have pressed very hard across northern Germany where the remainder of the German armour would be finished off in a mobile battle, rather than hull-down in front of hills with artillery placed on top.

    In his memoirs, Montgomery – in his rather brusque manner – highlights the self-contradictory signals he received from Eisenhower late 1944; first it seems there is to be no alteration to the broad front strategy and Montgomery is to act accordingly, next Eisenhower tells Montgomery that The Ruhr offensive is to be his (Montgomery’s) object, only the next day to signal Montgomery that the occupation of Antwerp had priority over everything else.

    The more I reflect on all this, the more it becomes clear that the conduct of WW2′s western front after the Battle of Normandy was the “dog’s breakfast” Montgomery was so keen to avoid. Most likely, influential Allied politicians were anxious to demonstrate that the west could mount a wide assault on Germany exactly as Russia had, for an attack – however successful – over a narrow front could be construed as a lack of resources, thus making the Soviet Union yet more eager to spread communism as far as possible.

    We have to feel sorry for Eienhower. The americans called him “the best General the British have”, while Montgomery wrote “if the planning for the invasion of Sicilly was bad, then the plan to invade the Itlain mainland was even worse”, both damning indictments of Eienhower, the political puppet.

    • Interesting I never considered the possibility that the Broad Front Policy could of been politically motivated. This go along way towards explaining why the Americans stubbornly clung to this strategy even when it became apparent it wasn’t working.
      Im still inclined to believe that they (US) were sticking to their doctrine of engaging the enemy everywhere, all the time policy rather than deferring to their British counterparts considerable hard won experience in dealing with the Germans.
      Probably the best American commanders were in the Pacific (King & MacArthur) and proved remarkable tacticians in dealing with the Japanese. They were quite happy to out maneuver and even avoid engaging (island hopping) the enemy rather than get bogged down in a battle of attrition.
      This is what ended up happening In Europe where the US believed they could “wear” the Germans down. The same army who was showing such fanatical resistance against the Russians.

      • Well Gump, only a few days after Germany’s capitulation in May 1945, Eisenhower and Montgomery travelled to Berlin where they met Marshal Zhukov with the aim of instigating the agreements previously entered into by Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill; only Zhukov flatly refused to discuss the military rule of Germany until the western allies withdrew back to the previously agreed lines of demarkation. For example, the British had fought their way as far forward as Wismar, and subsequently had to pull back to Lubeck, handing that ground over to the Russians. It was a similar situation at Magdeburg, and the British had to withfraw to Braunschwieg.

        What confuses me is that Churchill was all for staying put, thereby having something to bargain with against the Russians, while the USA was apparently keen to observe what had previously been agreed.

        There is little doubt in my mind that the Broad Front Strategy wasn’t Eisenhower’s strategy at all, but the result of haggling between Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill. Montgomery should have known this, and it was wrong of him to repeatedly press Eisenhower on the issue. The correct place to complain was 10 Downing Street.

      • Can certainly agree the Allies axis of advance was towards the end of the war in Europe was being influenced by agreements made with the Russians. The British wanted to shake hands with the Soviets as far east as possible while the Americans were more concerned with mopping up operations.
        Not so sure the strategy employed after the Normandy breakout was politically motivated I can see how this might be considered.
        I think the Brits could see long before the US that the Russians were going to be a problem, but with their country at the end of its tether and the Americans withdrawal from the continent the Red Army proved difficult to resist.
        One language the Soviets understood was force of arms, they understood the power of the Allies air fleets and their nuclear weapons. I think a sound European military policy in defeating the Germans would of only added to this but the Allies poor showing after Normandy I think weakened their position in the eyes of Stalin.

  27. The armies in Belgium should have been given priority of supply after the breakout and rout of the German army. The Scheldt would have been cleared more quickly and a couple of bridges over the Rhine would have been captured. This isn’t rocket science. Half a dozen US divisions could have been detailed to amphibious ops in the estuary and this in turn would have solved Patton’s supply complaints.

    The US Generals come off as spoilt 16 year old girls.

    • “The US Generals come off as spoilt 16 year old girls.”

      Dan, that is just partisan talk. The situation was incredibly complex, and in such chaos power-mad people see their opportunity. Montgomery, for all he was a brilliant general, was thought totally insufferable by most others. Even Churchill is quoted as having said of Montgomery, “in defeat, unbeatable, in victory, unbearable”.

      I happen to agree with Montgomery’s strategy for the northern route attack, but the fact remains it flew in the face of everything agreed between Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill. Montgomery should have known this. Eisenhower must have known it. The US generals ought to have known it. In fact, what happened merely shows how split the allies in fact were, and the limits of leaders surrounded by equally able people. It is almost impossible to lead our equals, and trying to do so ends up in trouble.

      Montgomery had a little poster in his caravan. It said “As the sparks fly, man is born into trouble”. (Job 5, vii). That says it all really.

  28. Monty’s failure to secure Antwerp in furtherance of the logistical advance into Germany can only be viewed as problematic to his one coordinated thrust into the Rurh strategy. His remarkably flawed Market Garden plan showed that his idea of a single narrow front thrust was going to leave a large portion of the Allied land armies unable to react to any German counteroffensive, which they were very adept at in spite of allied air superiority.The same German reserves used in the Ardennes could very well have cut off Monty’s advanced XXX Corps units and made the losses of Market Garden pale in comparison. Bad planning and wishful thinking isn’t a strategy for victory.

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