Volume 9 Number 3
Published by The WW II History Roundtable
Edited by Jim and Jon Gerber
Welcome to the November meeting of the Dr. Harold C. Deutsch World War Two History Roundtable. Tonight is the next in the annual Dr. Harold C. Deutsch Lecture Series: An Investigative Journalist Attempts to Storm the Beaches of History. Our speaker, Louis Kilzer is a two time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author of two WW II books: Churchill’s Deception and Hitler’s Traitor.We hope that you will enjoy tonight’s lecture.
The First Rule
In early 1943 an ace reporter for the Associated Press named Ruth Baldwin Gowan arrived in North Africa. There were a number of people who objected to her presence, feeling that women would not make good war correspondents. Shortly after arriving in North Africa, Ms. Gowan happened to run into General George S. Patton, the ultimate no-nonsense soldier. After an introduction, Patton gave her the once-over and then asked her, “What is the first law of war?” Ms. Gowen replied, “You kill him before he kills you.” “She stays,” replied Patton, much to the disappointment of those who expected him to send her packing with an earful of Patton profanity. Ms. Gowan was one of about 800 correspondents from all nations who covered the operations of the Western Allies during the war, some of them spending literally years on the fighting fronts. Operation Overlord, which involved nearly 3 million military personnel was covered by about 300 Allied reporters (180 US and 120 Allied), or about 1 reporter for every 10,000 troops. Fewer than 50 reporters (including Ernest Hemingway) landed on D-Day, about 1 for every 3100 men. In contrast, the 1991 Gulf War was covered by about 1300 journalists on the Allied side, although only about 700,000 troops were involved, about 1 reporter for every 540 troops.
The French Way
During WW I, the biggest influence on US Army organization was the French Army. US troops frequently used French organization, tactics and equipment. The American armies were sent to Europe in 1917 to “save France” and the French were eager to help them in any way they could. While the United States did not create a clone of the French Army, France was its major influence during WW I and for over a decade after.
Some of its influence carried over into WW II with unfortunate results. The infantry platoons were organized in an almost identical fashion to those of the 1940 French Army (the one the Germans rolled right over). Thus the US entered the war with squads that were too large for the squad leader to control in battle, with too little fire power (only automatic rifles rather than machine guns), and without the tactics capable of dealing with the better trained, organized and equipped Germans. These deficiencies were noted by many senior officers in 1940, but change came slowly until the US was in the war. By then it was late in 1941 and it wasn't until 1943 that a lot of the US infantry units began to adopt (often unofficially) organizational, tactical, and equipment changes to better deal with the Germans and the Japanese.
This attachment to French military practices was not so much because US officers thought it was the best, but because coming out of WW I, it was all that they had. As was the American custom, after WW I, the military was drastically cut back. There wasn’t much money for defense in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Most of the military innovations during that period of time were directed at high-tech items such as aircraft and tanks, not infantry.
Only one mechanized foreign army has operated in Russia and it was a disastrous and sobering experience. The Russians have always relied on “General Mud” and “Marshall Winter” to assist their armed forces in repelling the enemy. The mud in the spring was extremely difficult. Russia had few hard surfaced roads in WW II; most were dirt tracks. During the spring rains and melting snow of winter, these dirt roads turned into deep mud. The Russians were accustomed to dealing with the problem, although even they tended to just not travel until the mud dried out. Horse-drawn vehicles were specially designed (lightweight and with the axle high off of the ground) to better traverse the mud and Russian drivers knew from experience where the mud was shallow and thus more drivable.
The Germans got quite a shock during the spring of 1942, and by 1943 had stolen all the Russian horse-drawn vehicles that they could find. German motor vehicles were another matter, and an ingenious solution was devised. The rear wheels of trucks were replaced with a track-laying mechanism (like on a bulldozer). This was similar to the armored “half-track” personnel carriers the Germans and Americans used in large quantities for their mechanized infantry. The German half-track trucks accounted for one third of their truck production in 1943.
Surrender in Italy
The following was written by A.J. Liebling, a soldier in Italy, to The New Yorker magazine in June of 1945: “Mollie was the biggest popoff and the biggest foul-up I ever saw, and he wasn’t afraid of nothing. Some fellows get brave with experience, I guess, but Mollie never had any fear to begin with. Like one time on the road to Maknassy, the battalion was trying to take some hills and we were getting no place...Mollie stands right up... ‘I bet those Italians would surrender if somebody asked them to. What the hell do they want to fight for?’ he says. So he walks across the minefield and up the hill to the Italians, waving his arms and making funny motions, and they shoot at him for a while and then stop, thinking he is crazy...When he gets to the Italians he finds a soldier who was a barber in Astoria but went home on a visit and got drafted in the Italian Army, so the barber translates for him and the Italians say sure, they would like to surrender, and Mollie comes back to the lines with 569 Prisoners.”
Thoughts from Ernie
“A soldier who has been a long time in the line does have a ‘look’ in his eyes that anyone with practice can discern. It’s a look of dullness, eyes that look without seeing, eyes that see without transferring any response to the mind. It’s a look that is the display room for the thoughts that lie behind it - exhaustion, lack of sleep, tension for too long, weariness that is too great, fear beyond fear, misery to the point of numbness, a look of surpassing indifference to anything anybody can do to you. It’s a look I dread to see on men.”
-Ernie Pyle, April 5, 1944
More reading on tonight’s topic:
Hitler’s Traitor: Martin Borman and the Defeat of the Reich
by Louis C. Kilzer
Novato, Calif. 2000
Churchill’s Deception: The Dark Secret That Destroyed Nazis Germany
by Louis C. Kilzer
Simon and Schuster
New York, New York 1994
Day of Deceit
by Robert B. Stinnett
Simon and Schuster
New York, New York 2000
Betrayal at Pearl Harbor
by James Rusbridger and Eric Nave
Simon and Schuster
New York, New York 1991
What If? Strategic Alternatives of WW II
edited by Harold Deutsch and Dennis Showalter
Chicago, Ill. 1997
Blood, Tears and Folly; An Objective Look at WW II
by Len Deighton
Edison, N.J. 1993
See You Next Month