Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Posts Tagged ‘Germany

Ten World War Two Allied military blunders (Part 2)

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This is the second part of ten Allied military blunders of World War Two. The comments I made at the beginning of the first article still apply. The only thing I would add is that I have tried to select lesser known blunders, especially ones that made for an interesting story. With no further ado:

6. The British campaign in Norway. This one is complicated. Basically at the beginning of World War Two Germany invaded Norway to secure important bases and transport routes for Swedish iron ore. The British (and French) hastily assembled forces to prevent the Germans from occupying all of Norway. Carefully laid plan vs hasty slapdash plan, guess who won? While the Germans lost ships they could ill afford to lose, British losses were significant too. And, basically, pointless. Wikipedia: Allied Campaign in Norway

7. The sinking of the HMS Glorious. This one is still a mystery. The British Aircraft Carrier Glorious was ferrying planes out of Norway after the failed British intervention there, and was given permission to travel essentially alone back to Britain through an area where German surface ships might be operating, no convincing explanation of why this was allowed has ever surfaced. More puzzling, even though visibility was excellent, the Glorious had no planes in the air, and didn’t even have anyone in its crow’s nest to scan the horizon! And as a result, they were caught completely by surprise by the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. The two escorting British destroyers made basically suicidal attacks to lay smoke screens and delay the Germans so that the Glorious could get some planes in the air, they were both blown out of the water as destroyers are simply no match for battlecruisers. And the Scharnhorst’s gunner then made a direct hit on the Glorious at a distance of nearly 15 miles, one of the longest range hits ever made with naval guns, destroying the two planes that were being readied and blowing a big hole in the carrier’s flight deck and making it impossible to launch planes. Within two ours of sighting the Germans, the Glorious and its escorts ere sunk, with a loss of over 1500 men, fewer than 50 survived. As one last clusterfuck, either the Glorious didn’t radio for help, or no one received the message, because the British didn’t know the Glorious had been sunk until they heard it on German news broadcasts. Wikipedia: The sinking of the HMS Glorious

8. Operation Menace. After the fall of France one of the major issues was where would France’s colonies go, with the Free French or with the German installed Vichy government in France. Dakar, an important West African port in the now nation of Senegal went with the Vichy government. De Gaulle insisted that the French forces there would quickly come over to the Free French if he showed up, Churchill believed him, and a hastily assembled force was sent to Dakar: Operation Menace. It was a comedy of errors from the beginning, secrecy as so poorly kept that African natives in fishing boats called out “You’re going to Dakar?” to the fleet as it passed by. When they arrived, it turned out their maps were hopelessly out of date and the French defenders were far better armed than had been thought. And they had no intention of surrendering to a British fleet, De Gaulle, or anyone. Even after the British had arrived, a small fleet of French ships was able to slip by and reinforce the defenders! For several days the British tried to knock out the French shore batteries and a French battleship that was operating as a floating gun battery in the harbour. Several small ships and a few French subs were sunk, but the French defenders kept fighting. An invasion force landed, but in the face of strong resistence it as withdrawn, as De Gaulle wisely didn’t want Frenchmen killing Frenchmen. The fight ended when a French sub managed to torpedo and heavily damage a key British ship, a heavy cruiser. De Gaulle’s reputation was badly tarnished by the whole pointless affair. Wikipedia: Operation Menace

As an aside to this story, a few years later the captain of the French submarine, now fighting for the Allies, was personally decorated by the captain of the British cruiser he had torpedoed at Dakar. He mentioned this during the ceremony, and in a wonderful example of British aplomb, the cruiser captain’s reply was “Good shot!”

9. The British intervention in Greece. One would think that the failure of the intervention in Norway would have taught the British a lesson. Nope. When Germany and Italy invaded Greece, Churchill insisted that the bulk of forces in North Africa be rushed to Greece. Yes, a handful of British troops would stop the by then massive German armies; it was, basically nuts. The British forces in Greece were routed, and large numbers of them captured. And worse, the British forces in North Africa had just routed the Italians and were poised to capture all of Italian North Africa. Instead, their withdrawal meant the Germans had time to send Rommel and the Afrika Corps to Libya, and the rest is history. Wikipedia: Operation Lustre

10. Exercise Tiger. OK, four mistakes where Churchill was partly (or wholly) responsible for is enough, now one where Churchill wasn’t involved, Exercise Tiger. This took place in April 1944, and a was full scale practice run for the D-Day landing on Utah Beach two months later, as Eisenhower thought that the troops needed realistic training. Well, they got it. Blunders were made from the start. The British and Americans were using different radio frequencies for one, and communication between the two sides was compromised. So that when one of the two British warships escorting the invasion convoy broke down, the American troop ships weren’t informed. The other British ship led the convoy in a line, making them an easy target for German torpedo boats, or E-boats as they were called. One reference even states that when the E-boats were sighted, they were mistaken for friendlies. The E-boats attacked, and sank several troop ships. It gets worse, of the nearly seven hundred men who died, hundreds drowned becasue they hadn’t been trained on how to properly wear their life vests, so that when they inflated their vests, they were flipped upside down and drowned. The exercise continued, and as part of the realism, Eisenhower had ships using live fire shelling the beach past where the invading troops were supposed to go. There was some confusion at this point, because another nearly 300 men were killed by this fire. Basically nearly a thousand men died rehearsing the landing on Utah beach … where only about 200 men died. There’s a rumour that the survivors were sworn to secrecy forever, which isn’t true. They were sworn to secrecy for the duration of the war, but the news was quietly released even before the end of the war. The whole embarrassing mess isn’t very well documented, but the reasons for that seem pretty obvious to me. No one wants to remember a world class screw up. Wikipedia: Exercise Tiger.

And that’s that. No, I didn’t get all my information from Wikipedia, I just provided those links so people curious to know more have a place to start. As always when talking about historical events, they are subject to interpretation and debate. I’ve noticed that sometimes historians weigh in and correct or add information my history posts, such comments are welcome and appreciated.

(The above image is Public Domain under US copyright law as far as I can tell. It’s the HMS Glorious under fire taken from the deck f the Scharnhorst. People are dying in this photo, an aspect of wars that isn’t appreciated enough.)

The Last Days of World War One

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German A7V Tank, 1918

World War One, the War to End All Wars, lasted from 1914-1918. This is how it ended. In 1917 the Russian war effort against Germany and Austria collapsed and Russia sued for peace. In March 1918 the Rusians surrendered to Germany by signing the treaty of Brest-Litovsk. It ended the war in the east, ceded huge amounts of territory to Germany and its’ allies, and best of all for Germany, freed up more than 50 German divisions to use on the Western Front against France and Britain. That’s over 500,000 troops.

With these new troops and copious amounts of artillery the Germans launched their first offensive against France and Britain since 1914. And best of all, they had a “secret weapon.” Three years of bloody trench warfare on the Western Front had shown that massed artillery barrages followed by human wave attacks were pointless. The Germans had figured out a better way. Instead of massed artillery attacks against the front line trenches, there would be much more widespread artillery attacks against enemy HQ, supply, communication, and transport facilities located behind enemy lines. And instead of mass human wave attacks, there would be much smaller sneakier attacks by crack troops trained to go around enemy strong points, isolating them, and making them easy for following units to capture.

On 21 March 1918 the German attack got underway against the British Fifth Army and elements of the British Third Army. Operation Michael it was called. In the first five hours over one million artillery shells were fired, the largest artillery bombardment of the war. The British were caught by surprise, and in some cases hadn’t even fully dug in as they had recently taken over parts of the front line from their French allies. At the end of the first day the British had over 20,000 dead and 35,000 wounded and the Germans had broken through their lines in several places. At the end of the second day the British Fifth Army was in full retreat, and the greatest breakthrough on the Western Front since 1914 was well underway as fast moving German Shock Troops (Stoßtruppen) wreaked havoc behind Allied lines.

The rest, as they say, is history. The French commander, General Petain, underestimated the gravity of the situation and was slow to send troops north to aid the British. The British failed to adapt to the new German tactics, and their defensives positions quickly fell before they could get fully dug in. In a week the key town of Amiens fell to the rapidly advancing Germans, effectively cutting off the British from their French allies. Simultaneously the British Third Army failed to fall back fast enough, and was flanked by the Germans. British losses mounted as tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands of surrounded British troops surrendered.

As  shattered British armies fell back toward the channel ports, the second hammer blow fell on 9 April, the German Operation Georgette. This time the blow fell on the French. The French forces were demoralized before the British disaster at Amiens, and were even less prepared to cope with the new German infiltration tactics. By the end of the first day of Georgette the Germans had made even more progress than in operation Michael, with a forty mile section of the French line penetrated in multiple places.

The French Fourth Army fell back in disarray toward Paris, the German Stoßtruppen hard on their heals. It didn’t help that many of the German Stoßtruppen were using some of the hundreds of allied tanks they had captured during Operation Michael. The speed of the German advance surprised even the Germans, and by June the Germans were on the outskirts of Paris. General Petain bravely and personality led the defence of Paris but the French High command knew the game was over. The British troops that hadn’t been able to flee had been captured, there were over a million allied POWs in two months of fighting. Worse, the loss of the channel ports slowed the flow of supplies and ammunition to France to a trickle. And made it almost impossible for American troops to arrive in any numbers.  Not that there was much chance of troops or supplies getting to Paris in any event as the roads were clogged with millions of fleeing French civilians.

On June sixth the German “Final Offensive” began. The French fought bravely, even heroically in places. There weren’t enough of them, they had no tanks, little artillery, and no idea how to counter the German infiltration tactics. The Germans had all three, and tens of thousands of crack Stoßtruppen. In a  few weeks of bitter but scattered fighting it was over, and the Germans were doing what they had hoped to do in 1914, marching triumphantly through the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

On July 1st 1918 the last French positions in Paris fell. On July 4th the French  and British formally asked the Germans for an armistice. In some ways it was a formality, French troops were surrendering or deserting en masse, and the British had lost over half of their army and virtually all of their artillery and equipment. On July 5th 1918, Germany accepted their surrender, the War to End All Wars was over.

(The above image is Public Domain under US copyright law, as it predates 1927. It’s a picture of a German A7V tank, one of only fifteen tanks Germany field in World War One. They did field and use over 100 captured Allied tanks just as the post states. In fact a surprising amount of the above post is true, but Germany did not win the war. That part didn’t happen. This is the introduction post for my next post: “What would have happened if Germany had won World War One?”)

Written by unitedcats

July 14, 2010 at 9:46 am