WWII: Allied and Axis strategy in Western Europe

Aug 2014
184
New York, USA
#51
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?
If you are referring to the 15th January plan in that graphic, it is not the plan that was implemented in practice. The plan that was eventually carried out on the ground, is much more similar to the 31st October graphic with the encirclement forming at Dunkirk.
This is the actual development:
10-16 May:
File:10May 16May Battle of Belgium.PNG - Wikipedia
16-21 May:
File:16May-21May Battle of Belgium.PNG - Wikipedia
Operational refers to a level of command involved in campaign level warfare.
This is correct in our modern context. However, the Germans used the verb "to operate" to mean "to maneuver" fairly frequently.
When Hitler or any other German officer referred to "operations in the classic style", they mean maneuver warfare exclusively.
Operational level of command is a modern invention. However, for example, to the Germans you were not "operating" when you were dug in with static defense. Althought in modern interpretation you can "operate" even if you are just defending a static line (in fact, in modern sense, you pretty much have 'operational level' officers regardless of what you are doing and any defensive plan is an operation as well).
 
Last edited:
Jul 2016
8,471
USA
#52
If you are referring to the 15th January plan in that graphic, it is not the plan that was implemented in practice. The plan that was eventually carried out on the ground, is much more similar to the 31st October graphic with the encirclement forming at Dunkirk.
This is the actual development:
10-16 May:
File:10May 16May Battle of Belgium.PNG - Wikipedia
16-21 May:
File:16May-21May Battle of Belgium.PNG - Wikipedia
You're not showing the plan, your'e showing what happened, which is completely different, as "no plan survives first contact with the enemy" (von Moltke)

Manstein's far ambitious plan was toned down by Halder and the OKH general staff planners prior to execution. It was not just one large concentric encirlcement, it was numerous armies from numerous army groups, some tasked with concentric operations, others with their own independent objectives, all over Holland, Belgium, and all across France.

Even the possible encirclement of all forces north of Kluge's thrust would have been impossible had Rommel followed orders, Hoth been retrained, Kluge tried to fight the plan and not the enemy.

The point I was making anyway, aside from semantics, is the Germans had the manpower and the supplies to support two army groups in maneuver warfare and managed great success because the enemy was prevented from committing an operational or strategic reserve, which allowed them to capitalize on their success (aka exploitation).

In Normandy there was nothing like that. There was nothing like the weak spot of two category B reserve infantry divisions with barely any heavy weapons holding key terrain that could be bulldozed through with a combined arms ground-air attack to achieve a breakthrough. Every possible escape from Normandy was blocked by capable German divisions often fighting from ground that either gave them great fields of fire (Caen sector), or undeniable terrain advantages (Bocage). The Allies didn't have the ability to simply maneuver around them, they would have to go through them. That is impossible if the second they are through them, operational reserves can be shifted and committed to halt a breakthrough frontally, or hit its flanks to cut it off or possibly encircle it. That meant Allied planners needed to find a way to:

1. Force the Germans to commit their entire operational reserve (done by mid July)
2. Pin it in place (done by mid July)
3. Attrit it to the point a breakthrough would be acceptable and German forces would be severely weakened (achieved by mid July)
4. Have sufficient supplies and reserves on hand to support the manner of fighting in the area, to cause a breakthrough, and to exploit it

All of these preconditions were met. This was not an accident. This was not a coincidence. This was part of a very solid working plan that actually ended up working far better than planners could ever have accounted for. They originally envisioned breaking out sooner from Normandy itself, but they never anticipated the Germans fighting it out in Normandy in positional warfare and not retreating back to the Seine, as it would have made more sense. And after the breakout, nobody envisioned that Army Group B would nearly be encircled and destroyed, forcing it to abandon nearly all its heavy equipment, its wounded, and many of its formed units, in order to flee back to German territory on the Rhine.
 
Aug 2014
184
New York, USA
#53
You're not showing the plan, your'e showing what happened, which is completely different, as "no plan survives first contact with the enemy" (von Moltke)
My quote you were responding to with your wiki map was about what actually happened in real life, not about revisions to plans that were never implemented as designed. Sorry if I didn't make myself clear before.
In Normandy there was nothing like that. There was nothing like the weak spot of two category B reserve infantry divisions with barely any heavy weapons holding key terrain that could be bulldozed through with a combined arms ground-air attack to achieve a breakthrough. Every possible escape from Normandy was blocked by capable German divisions often fighting from ground that either gave them great fields of fire (Caen sector), or undeniable terrain advantages (Bocage). The Allies didn't have the ability to simply maneuver around them, they would have to go through them. That is impossible if the second they are through them, operational reserves can be shifted and committed to halt a breakthrough frontally, or hit its flanks to cut it off or possibly encircle it.
In my opinion, Allies should've forced the capture of Cherbourg much sooner. Those few weeks after around June 12th were key. If allies can breakout even a week earlier, they will be able to coordinate with Bagration simultaneously. The preparations for a breakout, while methodical, are too slow. The Germans simply don't have the reserves to plug in all the holes in the West and the East, don't let 'em rest, overload German high command, demoralize them completely, and don't let them transfer and shuffle any reserves.
 
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Jul 2016
8,471
USA
#54
My quote you were responding to with your wiki map was about what actually happened in real life, not about revisions to plans that were never implemented as designed. Sorry if I didn't make myself clear before.
And previously, when you commented, I was talking about the plan, not what happened.

In my opinion, Allies should've forced the capture of Cherbourg much sooner. Those few weeks after around June 12th were key. If allies can breakout even a week earlier, they will be able to coordinate with Bagration simultaneously. The preparations for a breakout, while methodical, are too slow. The Germans simply don't have the reserves to plug in all the holes in the West and the East, don't let 'em rest, overload German high command, demoralize them completely, and don't let them transfer and shuffle any reserves.
It took almost nothing for the Germans to render Cherbourg's harbor unusable for months. Nothing the Americans could have done could have stopped it.

The Western Allies didn't need to coordinate with Bagration at all, they were completely different theaters. The only thing the W. Allies needed to do was invade France to tie up German forces there. In fact, invading earlier was even better, because two panzer divisions from the Eastern Front were rail headed west, and those could have been used in Bagration and weren't.

The Germans simply don't have the reserves to plug in all the holes in the West and the East, don't let 'em rest, overload German high command, demoralize them completely, and don't let them transfer and shuffle any reserves
That's exactly what happened. And the mindset continued after Cobra breakout, where Ike, Monty, Bradley all thought the Germans were on the ropes and they needed to push, push, push all through winter, regardless of their losses and the logistical situation, to keep them on the ropes.

Unfortunately that wasn't the case. Germany did have reserves to fill the plugs. Model managed to stabilize the Eastern Front's central zone after Army Group Center collapsed. Army Group B was reconstituted from September through December, with numerous new volks grenadier infantry and panzer divisions, and panzer brigades, being cobbled together for both fronts. Between the Luftwaffe and the Kriegsmarine replacements, and those pulled from the Replacement Army, it was close to a million bodies they had to shift to both fronts. Which is why the war didn't end until early spring '45. All those forces needed to be attrited as well through the winter German counter offensives of '44-45, the Allied winter counter offensives, and then the big early spring Allied offensives to breach the German border and get inside and reek havoc on Germany.

But that only happened once the Wehrmacht was a shattered force. Had they tried beforehand to push too far, too fast, the attacks would have failed as utterly as Barbarossa and Market Garden had.
 
Jul 2016
8,471
USA
#55
One thing that always worked against the Germans in battles of attrition was their replacement system, or lack thereof.

While many are quick to jump on and criticize the US Army's replacement system in the ETO (Repple Depple), it was done with the understanding that while it was far from optimal, it was the only method to keep a division in line, in combat, while also combined with the complexities of moving manpower from bases in the US across the Atlantic before they reached their units on the front lines, a months long journey. The "preferred" method by many WW2 aficionados is to have a unit be raised, train together to high degree of skill and ability, go into battle as a cohesive and bonded unit, use them until they are rendered combat ineffective, remove them from the line for R&R, reconstitute with a replacement draft keeping as many veterans in the unit, train with the replacements to include large scale exercises, then reinsert back into the line for combat. This process takes months.

The British did it, the Soviets, and the Germans. The British got away with it because commanders used their infantry sparingly and with great caution. The Soviets did it by creating something like 300 divisions in the war. The Germans did it...

Well the Germans didn't do it very well at all. Their replacement came close to collapsing even in the early parts of the war in the Eastern Front in 41-42. In '43, even by spring-summer, much of the divisions of the Eastern Front were drained of manpower and especially equipment. Its a major misunderstanding to believe that the divisions involved from Army Group Center and South as the schwerpunkt for Kursk were representative of German forces as a whole. Not even close. Germany had stripped Army Group North of most of its panzer divisions, the rest of the OstFront was lucky to have StuG in support. After the massive losses suffered in various places in '43, in North Africa, Sicily and Italy, and especially the Eastern Front, Germany was extremely hard pressed to reconstitute its divisions. It really didn't. The German Heer did the same thing they did all the time. Divisions on the line, once close to 9,000 in mapower at full strength, controlling roughly 10 km of battle space, still had to hold the same amount of ground, but instead only had 4,000 maybe, with most of the losses in their infantry, and not made up.

In '44, this became even more apparent. Germany's best and most ready divisions were either in Army Group B, Panzer Group West, or Army Group North Ukaine. The rest of its army groups were poorly equipped and severely understrenghth, especially Army Group Center, which was hit hard by the Soviets for the same reason the Germans targeted Sedan, and then later the Ardenne in late '44, they knew it was a weak point.

In Normandy, the cream of the German army, especially its panzer and panzer grenadier divisions, was committed to battle as fast as they could reach the sector (piecemeal mostly). Then they were inserted into the line in attempts to counter attack (which all failed), then forced to hold defensively (where they saw success repelling Allied attacks, but still suffered severely). Like later battles in the Huertgen forest, many while discussing the Normandy Campaign talk about Allied losses but usually forget to mention that by the time the Cobra Breakout occurred, German manpower, especially combat troops, was down close to 50% in many divisions, with some panzer divisions only having a score of operational tanks left when they'd started with over a hundred. They barely received any replacement equipment either.

Meanwhile, the US Army, with its supposed horrible replacement system, even after the meat grinder to reach St Lo, still had full strength infantry divisions of men and equipment. Its armored divisions were almost entirely uncommitted. The British had saved their infantry as much as possible by using armor they knew they could replace (who generally only lost one crewman per knocked out tank), so too still had plenty of combat troops left. But the Germans were hurt bad, the soldiers that should have been fed as replacements into their depleted regiments were instead back in Germany being formed into brand new regiments and divisions that would themselves be inserted piecemeal into other battle fronts to be chewed up and not properly replaced at time that mattered.

General Bayerlein, the famous panzer general and commander of Panzer Lehr Division (probably one of the best armored divisions in the war), while in Normandy even he begged for a replacement system similar to the US Army. He needed troops ASAP. They didn't come, and like he a staff officer representing his commander this on the day of Operation Cobra, "You may report to the Field Marshall that Panzer Lehr is annihilated!"

Because that is what happens in full spectrum, high intensity modern warfare. AKA the meat grinder. Where replacement systems aren't accurately measured as which is the best, but which is the least worst.
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
3,847
Sydney
#56
" Allies should've forced the capture of Cherbourg much sooner "

I am under the impression that they did , but the Germans didn't cooperate

" they will be able to coordinate with Bagration simultaneously "

the landing and a subsequent big summer offensive in the East were totally coordinated since the Tehran conference
it was understood that the Wehrmacht would have to shift it's efforts on the landing
Bagration would make their shifting of resources even more problematic ( which it did )

Stalin didn't want to launch an offensive to see the Western allies sitting on their butt eating popcorn
trust didn't abound , he wanted a clear military commitment as a sign of good faith

I've read a couple of times that the US Army replacement system was a bit of a shamble ,
the same units were kept on the front line and simply refilled with newbies straight out of basic training
there was very little units in strategic reserve to provide a rotation for recuperation , retaining , refill
the 82th airborne is mentioned as a light infantry unit used on the front as ground infantry
simply by giving them more company and batallion heavy weapons
 
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Jul 2016
8,471
USA
#57
I've read a couple of times that the US Army replacement system was a bit of a shamble ,
the same units were kept on the front line and simply refilled with newbies straight out of basic training
there was very little units in strategic reserve to provide a rotation for recuperation , retaining , refill
There is definitely truth to this in the ETO, where the much maligned Repple Depple Replacement System was used (it was different in other theaters).

I used to hold it in such disregard I used to suggest that Marshal and Ike should have been tried and executed for implementing it. My opinion softened over time as I learned more about WW2, other types of systems used to replenish divisions, options, justifications, especially when reading the works of the author Robert Rush, who made some extremely valid points in his writing defending the replacement system.

It was designed for two things:

1. Logistics: Movement of troops from training bases in the continental United States to the front line units inside NW Europe in the fastest and simplest manner possible. This was a major problem that most other countries didn't have, as they just needed to stick a full unit on a number of 40/8 train cars and rail them directly to a theater of operations, have them dismount, organize in march columns, walk to the front lines, and then fight. It was quite different for the US, who had to content with the Atlantic Ocean. Even transversing the United States itself was a longer journey than most others had to make in total, and that was the easiest part of the journey. Suffice to say, it was much simpler shipping individuals than intact units that had to maintain cohesion.

2. Attrition: A primary lesson learned by US Army planners in WW1 was their replacement system (which was near identical to that used by Germany, USSR, Great Britain in WW2) didn't work at all in high intensity warfare. It worked when battles weren't very heavy casualty producing, or when times were calm enough that entire regiments, or even full divisions had the chance to be rotated off the line to be rebuild over the course of at least a month, usually more, before being recommitted. But to do that, required a lot more divisions.

Now we're back to the problem with logistics, as more divisions means more divisional assets other than infantry, who make up about 85% of casualties that are commonly accrued in combat by an infantry division. Even in armored divisions, its the infantry that still takes the massive brunt of casualties. Other units, such as headquarters staff involved in administration, operations, logistics, communications, the artillery battalions, the MPs, the reconnaissance battalion, sometimes the engineers (depending on the action, they often get it as bad as the infantry), usually armored units would lost lots of vehicles but only a small portion of their manpower, they all make up a small percentage of the casualties but make up about 1/4-1/3 of the total strength of the division (depending on type). Having more divisions means having more of these units, who when not on the line aren't doing anything. Not only is there more manpower necessary to staff these extra divisions with non-infantry, but there is also the problem that they all need the equipment that goes along with their equivalent of a TO&E. That means lots of small arms, mortars, AT guns, regimental cannons, divisional 105mm and 155mm artillery pieces. More so it means more radios, field phones and other communication equipment, jeeps, trucks, etc. Which brings us back to the problem with logistics.

So to have the luxury of pulling a heavily depleted and combat ineffective regiment or division off the line means either 1. Having the luxury of spare units in the rear that are uncommitted for some reason 2. Having another neighboring unit already on the line (also suffering attrition) having to cover for it, or committing the operational reserve earlier than desired. The Soviet Union often had the luxury of Option 1., the Germans nearly always had to unwillingly accept Option 2. The United States, because of logistics and a desire to keep units on the line up to strength, could do neither., so came up with their system.

Rush's book Hell in Huertgen Forest does a great job to showcase the differences, strengths, and weaknesses of the US Army's ETO system and the German system by using the battle of the Huertgen as the background. In hindsight, a notoriously horrible battle that had little in the way of operational benefits, especially in consideration to what it had done to the US infantry divisions that participated, but few English speaking historians have ever looked at the battle from the perspective of the Germans as well. The conclusions Rush draws show the superiority of the US replacement system in the face of a nasty battle of attrition (one the US didn't even want to fight, they were attempting maneuver warfare), while also showing glaring problems with the German system, that were not just unique to Autumn '44 time period when things started collapsing.

Even previously, in the summer campaigns of '41-43, the German system simply could not withstand heavy casualties. Individuals, especially junior officers and NCOs, who sometimes took years to train, could not be replaced effectively. Units would go into battle at near full strength, and no matter their previous level of training and skill and leadership, quickly their ranks of infantry would be depleted more and more. Units would reconstitute, pulling survivors from different squads together to form new platoons, and do that all the way up to the point that entirely ad hoc divisions would be formed from the remnants of previous divisions, which were at almost battalion strength. Sometimes an infantry regiment would have the strength of a couple companies worth of infantry only, and still responsible for holding the same sector of the line that the full strength division had trouble holding.

Where were the replacements? Far behind the line being constituted into new divisions to be inserted into the lines elsewhere at a later date. Rarely were replacement battalions or regiments sent to the front. When they were, too few arrived and only went to either the most hard hit, or to units deemed the main effort for attack or defense.

The Soviets had a system similar to the Germans, but they pulled it off better. They had the simplest logistics, shorter lines of communication to move bodies, ample manpower (even though it was often not all that well trained), and between their own production and Lend Lease a plethora of equipment, allowing them to shift out battered units with new ones much more effectively than the Germans could. Though like the Germans and the British and the US in other theaters of the war, those reconstitutions nearly always occurred at the end of a campaign, when the unit was rebuilt while waiting to start a new operation, not during it. During the campaign, full strength units kept fighting with depleted power to the point they were depleted, at which point the offensive stalled and successful counterattacks often happened.

A perfect example is Manstein's famous "Back Hand Blow" in early '43. The Soviet units participating had been on the attack all winter, they'd smashed numerous German units and completely destabilized the German lines while driving deeper and deeper. The Red Army exploitation units were themselves heavily depleted and pushing their own logistical situation to the brink. At that same time Manstein was "gifted" with II SS Panzer Corps, consisting of three SS panzer grenadier divisions that had more tanks than a standard panzer division and more mechanized infantry than a standard panzer grenadier division (all in half tracks). Manstein used these divisions, plus others he pulled from other sectors, to cut off the head of the Soviet thrust. Successful, they than launched a more audacious counter attack that eventually allowed Hausser's II SS Panzer Corps to recapture Kharkov. Unfortunately the corps was battered during the counter attack, especially inside Kharkov, suffering horrible casualties and equipment loss, so was in no condition at all to participate in an early planned Kursk offensive, which is why Hitler ordered a pause for some months. II SS Panzer Corps, among other units, needed to be rebuilt before they were combat ready.
 
Likes: sparky

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
3,847
Sydney
#58
Thanks aggienation !
this cover pretty much the set of problem of troops in contact

on the Soviet side , when an operation was planned at the front level ,
it would be reinforced with armies and brigades from the STAVKA reserve ,
usually of better quality or even guard ranking
this involved katiusha regiments , tank armies , whole corps of artillery and air fleet
when the operation was terminated those units were returned to reserve for rest , replenishment an training
while the organic units would be left to be refilled by dribble of new barely trained conscripts

an aside which refer to WW1 on different way of doing things
During the battle of Verdun , the German kept refilling the fighting units with replacement
the French rotated each unit after a few weeks on the front ,
it is estimated that most of the French divisions fought at Verdun at some time or other
 

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