WWII: Allied and Axis strategy in Western Europe

Oct 2015
720
Virginia
#41
Apparently, the SHAEF logisticians (G-4) estimated in early September that three corps (9 divisions) could be logistically sustained in a drive on Berlin IF:
2000 tons of supplies a day could be provided via airlift (a dubious assumption based on previous performance)
10 US divisions were completely immobilized and 12 "quiescent"
6 supporting divisions were "grounded" around Bremen-Hamburg and Magdeburg
Railheads were advanced to Brussels and Chalons-sur -Marne
Antwerp was discharging 1500 tons a day by 15 September
Of course logistical staffs tend to be cautious in their estimates (they had not believed the exploitation to the Seine logistically possible) Realistically, it was probably possible, the Germans aside, to logistically support 9 divisions as far as the Ruhr.
 
Jul 2016
8,471
USA
#42
Can I infer from this that even if Market-Garden was successful that it wouldn't have made much of a difference in the grand scheme of things? Even if all the bridges were captured and they had a bridgehead across the Rhine, could the logistical situation support further advances into German territory in late September?
Monty had two permanent armies under his command in September '44, British Second Army and First Canadian Army (not counting First Allied Airborne Army). Only one corps of the former were involved in Market Garden (XXX), the latter were busy elsewhere, while the Canadians were still working around the Scheldt Estuary to clear it (Opening Antwerp had the highest priorities). So Monty didn't really have more than a corps he could use to advance into Germany. He probably could have peeled another to exploit, but then he's robbing Peter to pay Paul.

They might have pulled an army from Bradley's 12th Army Group to be attached to Monty, like they did after the Battle of the Bulge began (due to communication reasons), but even those would have been hard pressed to be properly supplied inside Germany. The Ruhr is a large industrial area, rather large collection of various towns and cities, to take it would have required a large amount of troops, well supplied, especially since Army Group B and other forces would have defended it tenaciously, and counter attacked using that growing reserve that Hitler had initially set aside for a counterattack in September but didn't actually use until December with Operations Watch on the Rhine and Winter Awakening. Those units were partially being reconstituted, partially stuck on the line, but there were still large numbers of various regiments and even divisions being formed that had yet to be placed in the line, who could have responded. Any Allied plan to drive deep into Germany in Autumn '44 needed to account for them (especially the Panzer divisions and brigades), failing to do so could have led to a disaster.

The biggest problems in September 1944 was definitely supplies. That and the danger that, unbeknownst to the Allies, the Germans were already fervently working to reconstitute the battered Army Group B, rebuilding old divisions, creating new ones, rearming everyone, and putting them in newly revamped and heavily fortified defensive lines (West Stellung/Siegfried Line). This was a far cry from the assumption that the Germans were a broken force with no reserve left. This failure to address led to the Sept-early Dec debacles throughout the ETO, like at Aachen, Huertgen, Metz, etc., where US commanders threw divisions against Germans thinking their defenses were hair thin only to realize after failure upon failure, that their assumptions were wrong (which naturally took tens of thousands of casualties for a 3-4 star general to sink in).
 
Jul 2016
8,471
USA
#43
Following the Wehrmacht utter disaster of Bagration and the attempted coup against Hitler
a sudden shattering of Germany fighting forces was a distinct possibility
The opposite happened with the 20 July Plot. It shored up Hitler's control over the Army, as every field marshal and general not involved (which was most) pledged their total fealty to him, as they, and the lower level ranks of the Heer and other branches, were disgusted by what they saw as an act of betrayal by the officer class in the middle of a hard fought war.

Immediately afterwards to the next few months, Hitler finally took drastic steps regarding the German economy and society for total war. More unnecessary positions within the govt and military bureaucracy were scrapped to conscript more. Factories ramped up shifts. More material was allocated to war industry and extremely strict rationing finally took hold. A more concise chain of command was established, which Hitler had been wary of authorizing before. The SS took a larger role in military decision making, which worked for Hitler since their loyalty was assured. New division types (the Volks Sturm) were being formed, which were much more capable of operating defensively. The Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine, because of the loss of Romanian oil in August '44, transferred hundreds of thousands of enlisted personnel no longer necessary and transferred them to the Heer and Waffen SS for ground operations, primarily as infantry, who were used to fluff up replacement regiments to rebuild the battered army grounds of both the Eastern and Western Fronts.

Times weren't good, but Germany was far from beat. The war was simply not going to be over by Christmas.
 
Aug 2014
184
New York, USA
#44
A common misconception. After all, what was the point of all those all those armored divisions if maneuver warfare wasn't favored?

British and Americans were never as infatuated with maneuver warfare as the Germans, who saw their high mobility as a major force multiplier to cover up for other weaknesses, while the Western Allies generally preferred firepower and firm logistics as their primary force multipliers.

A keen study of battles where the consensus is attrition warfare was preferred is usually the case where the Allies were purposely fixing the Germans in place through consecutive or dual corps sized attacks with limited objectives, largely to wear them down to the point their operational reserve was committed and fixed as well (like Normandy).

Once that occurred a set piece break out operation would be planned and executed, at which point positional warfare ends and maneuver begins again, this time without the Germans capable of stopping it easily. Otherwise you make a breakthrough and then run smack into the reserve, or worse the exploitation force itself has its flank and line of communication cut, causing a pocket.
This is a "high class" strategy though. Hey, just have superior logistics, and overwhelm your opponent with your manpower, industrial output, and abundant resources and fuel. This is like saying my strategy to combat starvation is "just eat filet mignon and cake". Having purely mechanized forces with trucks and tanks instead of horses is not a "strategy". Attrition warfare, or grinding down your opponent until they commit reserves, only works as a strategy when you are facing smaller, weaker opponents (like what the allies faced on the Western front). When you face an army that has some sort of parity, or when you want to win fast with less casualties, you have to concentrate forces at specific points, otherwise you will lose.
 
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Jul 2016
8,471
USA
#45
This is a "high class" strategy though. Hey, just have superior logistics, and overwhelm your opponent with your manpower, industrial output, and abundant resources and fuel. This is like saying my strategy to combat starvation is "just eat filet mignon and cake". Attrition warfare, or grinding down your opponent until they commit reserves, only works as a strategy when you are facing smaller, weaker opponents. When you face an army that has some sort of parity, you have to concentrate forces at specific points, otherwise you will lose.
This stinks to one of those "Its not fair" arguments.

Germans did the exact same thing. Look at Kursk. They sent in their very best units, lots of infantry and engineers supported by large numbers of assault guns and panzerjaeger, with ample tube artillery and rockets, plus panzer divisions, with massive support from Luftwaffe bombers, to chew up the Soviet forces. Not just trying to create two breakthroughs for a concentric encirclement of Kursk, but specifically (and this is confirmed by the planning of both Model and Hoth), their goal was to force the Red Army to commit its reserve front (especially Hoth, who planned to destroy the reserve in the Prokhorovka area, leading to that massive battle).

Soviets did the exact same thing throughout the '43-45 offensives, when they would perform massive consecutive offensives, one right after another in different sectors of the Eastern Front, with the first couple designed for no other purpose than to capture limited objectives but firmly to pull German reserves, to fix and attrit them, in order for follow on offensives to be performed more easily in other sectors. This is visible most easy in Bagration, who first used operational deception to trick the Germans into thinking the larger offensive would attack into the area held by the Army Group Northern Ukraine in Ukraine (which contained almost all of the panzer and panzer grenadier divisions, 18 of them, held back from the lines in an operational reserve), and instead focused its main effort on Army Group Center and Belorussia, which was poorly defended (I believe they had no panzer divisions in the entire army group). When the battle started, the Red Army also launched offensives against Army Group North Ukraine and forced it to commit its reserve, thus temporarily robbing them of their ability to be transferred to support Army Group Center, which was essentially annihilated.

So what are the differences between the Germans who used that high class strategy and the Red Army, and then the Western Allies? The latter had the industrial might to support it, the knowledge that they should use whatever advantages they had, and then the ability to take those assets and use them in the most effective manner possible.

Attrition warfare is a term used largely inappropriately to describe what is better referred to as positional warfare, when forces, for reasons often outside of their control, are stuck in one place and unable to maneuver, usually because one side is performing a tenacious defense using trenches, etc. When the term is used properly, it describes an operational method to grind down an enemy force using means that contribute to heavy casualties. Such as the US in the Peninsula in the American Civil War (victory) , the German approach to Verdun in WW1 (failure), the Allies in Normandy (victory), the US in Vietnam (failure).

Tactical and operational massing isn't to be confused with positional warfare, maneuver warfare, or attrition warfare. You can concentrate forces in all of those. For example, the British had more armor available than the US did in July 1944 in Normandy, and were facing the main effort forces of Army Group B in the fight for Caen. Monty absolutely was massing his forces. He was also knowingly fighting a battle of attrition to cause as much damage to Army Group B's panzer divisions, setting them up for future set piece battles where a breakout was planned.
 
Jul 2016
8,471
USA
#46
Just to add another example by the Red Army, the Mius River front offensive in summer '43 just before the giant Kursk counterattack committed Manstein's operational reserve of panzer divisions, preventing them from being moved quick enough to stop the juggernaut of consecutive operations that ended up retaking most of eastern Ukraine. Now, had the Soviets the ability to have ground those panzer and panzer grenadier divisions down while committed, then that would have been much better as they would not have been able to be eventually pulled from the line (replaced by standard infantry divisions pulling back to new defensive lines), railheaded to more troubled sectors, and allowed to perform the counterattacks that ended up halting the '43 offensives in the sector. Nor would those divisions had been in good shape for '44, be they still in the Eastern Front or transferred to France in anticipation of resisting an Allied landing.
 
Aug 2014
184
New York, USA
#47
Just to add another example by the Red Army, the Mius River front offensive in summer '43 just before the giant Kursk counterattack committed Manstein's operational reserve of panzer divisions, preventing them from being moved quick enough to stop the juggernaut of consecutive operations that ended up retaking most of eastern Ukraine. Now, had the Soviets the ability to have ground those panzer and panzer grenadier divisions down while committed, then that would have been much better as they would not have been able to be eventually pulled from the line (replaced by standard infantry divisions pulling back to new defensive lines), railheaded to more troubled sectors, and allowed to perform the counterattacks that ended up halting the '43 offensives in the sector. Nor would those divisions had been in good shape for '44, be they still in the Eastern Front or transferred to France in anticipation of resisting an Allied landing.
I don't think you want to use the Red Army as an exemplar of how multiple offensive, attrition style, "going blow for blow" strategy is good. Soviet generals, just like the majority of generals in WW1 (on both sides) were not concerned with human casualties much. Verdun is a great example of that, a strategy which boiled down to "hey lets attack this point on a map and then let both sides pound each other with artillery. Whoever runs out of humans first - wins!" WW1 was a terrible war precisely because it rapidly devolved from operational to positional warfare. It eventually got resolved after use of tanks on the Allied side and Sturmtruppen on the German side that restored some operational maneuver back to purely attritional positional war. I am not saying this tactic hasn't been tried before, it has. But it only works if you are fighting an inferior opponent and comes at a much greater cost. Notice how all your other examples of this strategy came at a relatively high cost in casualties.
 
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Jul 2016
8,471
USA
#48
I don't think you want to use the Red Army as an exemplar of how multiple offensive, attrition style, "going blow for blow" strategy is good. Soviet generals, just like the majority of generals in WW1 (on both sides) were not concerned with human casualties much. Verdun is a great example of that, a strategy which boiled down to "hey lets attack this point on a map and then let both sides pound each other with artillery. Whoever runs out of humans first - wins!" I am not saying this tactic hasn't been tried before, it has. But it only works if you are fighting an inferior opponent and comes at a much greater cost. Notice how all your other examples of this strategy came at a high cost in casualties.
Verdun was a conscious decision by von Falkenhayn by forcing a battle on the French in an important area that would force them to relentlessly counterattack to the point they destroy their army. Sure, it didn't go as planned, but it wasn't a haphazardly planned and executed operation of "Let's see who runs out of humans first!"

Furthermore, Red Army offensive operations in '43-45 were actually very well planned and even executed. They weren't just throwing away lives, they were using them up as assets no different than tanks and artillery pieces. The Soviets did not value the human life the same way other nations/cultures/govt did, so had no qualms about spending them up at a higher rate than others, as long as they had more to replace them (which they did). Meanwhile, they were able to routinely trick the Germans to mass forces in the wrong areas, they were able to supply numerous consecutive offenses throughout massive portions of the Eastern Front, one after another, each working on the success of the last, each one hitting a different point of the German line, which usually after the first blow had no operational reserve left to stop the rest.

This is similar to what the Germans did to the French and British in 1940. They used a broad front attack, using three separate army groups to tie down all French and British units to the point they barely had an operational reserve when the fighting started, and had no real strategic reserve at all. When the Germans made their breakthrough at Sedan and crossed the Meuse, there was almost nothing left to counter them. But what if they did have an operational reserve? Then it could have responded and contained Guderian's thrust, which would have halted the grander offensive until something decisive and new happened elsewhere. Which means that reserve MUST BE DEALT WITH.

If a force has the means to engage the enemy in attrition warfare to commit the reserve and then render them Hors de combat, all the better. If not, simply forcing the enemy to commit their reserve and then fixing it in place is often just as valuable, as it then nearly guarantees later unhindered maneuver in the exploitation phase.

Another example of this is Barbarossa. Germany grossly underestimated the size of the Red Army's reserve, so always believed they were one breakthrough, one encirclement away from an open back field. The reality is the Soviets continued to be able to either get front line units to retreat to escape or breakout of encirclements, or else replace them quickly with more reserves, which meant the Germans could never fully exploit maneuver and win.

In Normandy, in mid summer of 1944, the Allies did not have the logistics to exploit a massive breakthrough (as shown as by what happened in August-Oct). They initially didn't even want to, they only wanted to break out of Normandy itself to take Paris, the Channel ports, Brittany, and to link up with 6th Army Group heading up from Marsailles to Alsace Lorraine. It was only the completely collapse of Army Group B after Cobra and Falaise that changed the plan, causing the rout of German forces in OB West and the race to the Rhine. Before Cobra, once the foothold was secure, and minus a few weeks when supply offloading moved to a crawl because of storms, the British and Americans were able to build up a sizeable reserve of infantry and armored divisions in Normandy. Even Monty launched the controversial Operation Goodwood knowing that he had armor to spare but not so much of infantry, with a key objective of the operation being to pin down German panzer divisions and to attrit them. Why could they do it and the Germans not? Because the Allies had bothered to create a reserve and then wait for the right time to exploit them, while Hitler committed his reserve within weeks of the Normandy landing.

Which is still seen by many as taking too long, as many believe even the few hours after the initial beach landings where OB West commanders were waiting on OKW and Hitler's permission to move Panzer Group West divisions meant a lot of difference.

So look at that situation. You have people complaining that German failed at Normandy because of a 4 hour delay in releasing the panzer reserve from D+1 minute. Meanwhile, the Allied reserve wasn't even really committed until Goodwood and Cobra, in mid to late July, D+40.
 
Aug 2014
184
New York, USA
#49
Verdun was a conscious decision by von Falkenhayn by forcing a battle on the French in an important area that would force them to relentlessly counterattack to the point they destroy their army. Sure, it didn't go as planned, but it wasn't a haphazardly planned and executed operation of "Let's see who runs out of humans first!"
Von Falkenhayn's initial plan was not even to take Verdun, but to attack Verdun forcing the French to concentrate their defenses there. Once all of the French gathered there, then the Germans would pound them with artillery. Literally the plan was to see who will run out of manpower first ( spoiler alert: it was not the French...). It rapidly devolved into the classic positional warfare grind. An attack, followed by counter-attack, followed by counter-counter-attack, etc.
Furthermore, Red Army offensive operations in '43-45 were actually very well planned and even executed.
Yes you can plan and execute all kinds of strategies very well. That is not an argument.
This is similar to what the Germans did to the French and British in 1940. They used a broad front attack, using three separate army groups to tie down all French and British units to the point they barely had an operational reserve when the fighting started, and had no real strategic reserve at all.
No, operational and positional warfare are not similar in that way. The attack was not "broad front". The main panzer concentrations (I believe 7 out of 10 divisions) were with von Rundstedt/Guderian while von Bock's job was to make a big show invading the Netherlands, fooling the Allies into thinking it is the repeat of the Schlieffen plan, and to lure the Allies into a pocket for encirclement in Belgium for the Guderian's flanking maneuver. This is a classic encirclement maneuver, where one force is used to pin the enemy in place, while the main force goes around and strikes in the flank/rear. This is different from the positional approach, where von Bock's job would have been to simply grind down the Allies, not merely to pin them in place. (Side note: the positional approach of von Bock simply battling the Allies in the Low Countries in an attrition war was the initial plan for the invasion of France, before the riskier, operational approach of going through the Ardennes was chosen instead). The difference between the two approaches can easily be seen when you see where the schwerpunkt is for the two different plans.
 
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Jul 2016
8,471
USA
#50
Von Falkenhayn's initial plan was not even to take Verdun, but to attack Verdun forcing the French to concentrate their defenses there. Once all of the French gathered there, then the Germans would pound them with artillery. Literally the plan was to see who will run out of manpower first ( spoiler alert: it was not the French...). It rapidly devolved into the classic positional warfare grind. An attack, followed by counter-attack, followed by counter-counter-attack, etc.
No, the plan was not to see who would run out of manpower, the Germans weren't expecting for themselves to be hurt as badly as they did. Had they, they'd not have done it. It just ended up that way because French resistance was far more than they believed and Murphy's Law interfered with the concept of operations.

Yes you can plan and execute all kinds of strategies very well. That is not an argument.
It is the argument, because if one can plan the strategies, operations, and tactics, and execute them successfully, then they win and the other side loses.

No, operational and positional warfare are not similar in that way.
Your use of definitions pertaining to warfare is lax:

Operational refers to a level of command involved in campaign level warfare.

Positional warfare, aka trench warfare, is when mobile warfare slows or stops because forces begin digging in.

Maneuver warfare is when a military force uses mobility purposely to defeat the enemy for tactical (winning battles), operational (winning campaigns), and strategic (winning wars) purposes.

Attrition warfare is when the purpose of operations is to wear down the enemy by producing casualties and destroying equipment for tactical, operational, and strategic purposes, such as to attrit an enemy to later exploit with a breakthrough (Normandy), or to attrit as a way of forcing the enemy to sue for peace (Vietnam).

A tactical reserve is one that local commanders build from within their own units in order to deal with typical day to day battlefield responses, expounded most in the traditional "Two Up, One Back" usage favored by many nations, including Germany (who scrapped the WW1 era square division to the triangular due to the latter's ability to more easily move the rearward regimental reserve), as well as the US Army too.

An operational reserve is a force held back from the overall line of completely separate divisions, corps, even armies, for the purpose of either responding to a crisis (German fire brigades), or for further exploitation (Soviet 2nd and 3rd Echelon Fronts).

A strategic reserve is one in which there is a substantial force held in reserve, that hasn't been committed, that can be shifted from theater to theater. Such as, in 1944 Germany committed its strategic reserve to serve as the operational reserve for OB West, with the intention that it quickly defeat an Allied landing in France, then be recommitted to the Eastern Front, where it be added to a decisive ongoing operation to turn the tide in a manner that Hitler, the OKW, the OKH believed could force the Soviets to sue for peace.

A campaign can be conducted at the operational level, using positional warfare for the purpose of attrition in order to force the enemy to commit its tactical and operational reserves and then grinding them up, in order to force a condition to later perform a set piece battle to create a breakthrough to restart tactical and operational maneuver, using it own operational reserve as an exploitation force, which ends up forcing the enemy to commit their strategic reserve, which once pinned, the entire process is repeated, afterwards leading to total victory.

No, operational and positional warfare are not similar in that way. The attack was not "broad front". The main panzer concentrations (I believe 7 out of 10 divisions) were with von Rundstedt/Guderian while von Bock's job was to make a big show invading the Netherlands, fooling the Allies into thinking it is the repeat of the Schlieffen plan, and to lure the Allies into a pocket for encirclement in Belgium for the Guderian's flanking maneuver. This is a classic encirclement maneuver, where one force is used to pin the enemy in place, while the main force goes around and strikes in the flank/rear. This is different from the positional approach, where von Bock's job would have been to simply grind down the Allies, not merely to pin them in place.
Does the bottom right of this map look like what you're describing, or does it look like different units having different objectives, all along a large frontage?

Had von Bock had the means to further grind down the Allies in front of his Army Group, I'm sure he would have. But in 1940, Germany lacked the means. In 1944, the Allies had them. Last I checked, being able to call on entire wings of B-17s and B-24s, normally reserved for strategic bombing, as well as hundreds of artillery batteries who have a round allocation about 10x what the Germans can compete with, to support a corps sized operation, is quite a bit more than a few squadrons of Stukas and some horse drawn 105mm guns, with barely any panzer divisions. Bock didn't annihilate his opponents because he had no means to do so. Times changed later in the war when it was not just the Germans who knew how to mass firepower.
 

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