Thursday, August 07, 2008

Steel Wave

I just finished Jeff Shaara's "The Steel Wave", a novel about the invasion of Normandy in 1944. It's a breezy read told from the perspective of various participants: Eisenhower, Rommel, a paratrooper non-com, an infantryman, etc. It has lots of maps and is informative about the operation as well as being entertaining.

As with the first book in the series, I was really taken by what backbiting weasels the generals were and how Eisenhower's greatest accomplishment was keeping them from screwing each other over and losing the war out of spite for one another. And in spite of his best efforts huge mistakes that prolonged the war were made apparently just to keep Field Marshall Montgomery from having a hissy fit. The civilian authorities and high command on the Allied side were competent and left the professionals to their jobs for the most part while Hitler and his sycophants in the high command insisted on losing the war. Also, it turns out General de Gaulle was a total self promoting douche of no value to anyone.

Despite Hitler's weak grasp on reality, the Germans made an issue of it after all and might very well have repelled the Allied invaders. According to Shaara, the American infantry wasn't all that capable and the paratroops had to be called upon to lead the way as foot soldiers even though they were exhausted. The Allies made many a blunder and had difficulties coordinating air, land and sea power. Patton was something of a hero in the narrative, albeit an asshole of monumental proportions.

For all I know, this is all baloney, but it seems to jive with what little my kinsman who were in Operation Overlord told me.

The question that bothers me most after reading both of Shaara's WW2 novels is whether the war up until 1944 hadn't been a complete waste of time and resources. The Americans had wanted to invade France from the get go, but the Brits had insisted on coming up through Italy. For nigh on two years, the Allies fought their way through Africa and up into Italy to more or less a stalemate while being no closer to defeating the Germans. And the Allies still had to mount a perilous invasion of France. It could be argued I suppose that the African and Sicilian and Italian campaigns were valuable practice and on the job training, but what a costly education!

Was it concern that the Soviets would get the job done first that finally led the Allies to risk an invasion? Shaara does not suggest this at all. He does suggest that some German officers wanted to treat with the Americans and join with them against Stalin. One of my uncles told me that a lot of the men in his unit expected to continue fighting right into Russia once the Germans were taken care of.

What a different world we might have had if the Allies had sucessfully invaded France in in 1942 or 1943 instead of fighting in Italy. They might have beaten the Soviets to the Baltics and ended the war with no Warsaw Pact states. The invention of the atomic bomb might have been delayed, and the US might have been spared the stain of the terror bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Of course, they might well have failed disastrously.

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