Military History – March 2010 – Letters From Readers

1/12/2010 • MH Letters

Folly on the Beach at Dieppe
[Re. “What We Learned from the Dieppe Raid,” by Nigel Jones, January:] What we learned is that poor planning and lousy intelligence leads to disaster. But I thought we had learned that from the Gallipoli landing during the Great War.

What a poor excuse, “blooding of the green Canadians—as well as a useful pre-invasion test of German coastal defenses.” It is said the planners used tourist postal cards and photos in their analysis of coastal “intelligence.” These prewar photos showed a pleasant cemented walk along the beach with a low wall facing the ocean to keep tourists’ feet dry. Wide stairs periodically interrupted the walk so tourists could walk into the water. Wisely, the Germans had removed the stairs and sealed the openings. British Air Intelligence apparently had missed that small, but extremely important, detail.

It is said the Allies did learn from this experience. Supposedly, commando swimmers collected sand samples from the Normandy beaches well in advance of D-Day to ascertain the consistency of the surface sand.

Gerhardt B. Thamm
Fernandina Beach, Fla.

Verdun Forts
Major General Zabecki reveals much about the caprice and cruelty of war in his article “Verdun: Tale of Two Forts” (January). Both Douaumont and Vaux had been defanged by a shortsighted command. They were undergunned and undermanned against the tenacious Teutons.

Zabecki also illustrates the all-too-unknowable elements of combat. To wit: What is the level of resolve of the opponent? His daring? His judgment and decisiveness of action?

A very few entrenched troops can, under determined leadership, hold back a massed enemy for a period out of proportion to the disparate assets engaged.

The Germans lost 3,000 taking Vaux. Did the French within Vaux’s walls lose even 30? Has there ever been a more disproportionate casualty count in the history of warfare? Why, indeed, have we not heard more of Major Raynal and his modern day Spartans?

Erik Johnson
Indianapolis, Ind.

Greatest Raids
Operation Chastise, Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF) bombing of the Möhne, Eder and Sorpe Dams on the night of May 16–17, 1943, earned its place in the “Seven Most Daring Raids Ever” by Stephan Wilkinson [Oct/Nov]. The raid was far more successful than most people realize. The strategy was correct and additional raids on the dams should have been ordered. Had there been an additional raid, the objective of severely damaging the Nazi war machine would have been achieved. Anyone in doubt should read Inside the Third Reich, by Albert Speer, Hitler’s minister of armaments. Speer’s analysis of the damage is most credible, because he observed the damage from the air and on the ground the morning after the attack.

Speer contends the British came close to success, with a few bombers that night, “which would have been greater than anything they had achieved hitherto with a commitment of thousands of its bombers.” According to Speer, “the largest of the dams, Möhne Dam, had been shattered and the reservoir emptied. The power plant at the foot of the shattered dam looked as if it had been erased, along with its heavy turbines. A torrent of water had flooded the Ruhr Valley. That had the seemingly insignificant but grave consequence that the electrical installations were soaked and muddied, so that industry was brought to a standstill and the water supply of the population imperiled.”

Speer reported the British failed to destroy the other three reservoirs. “Had they done so, the Ruhr Valley would have been almost completely deprived of water in the coming summer months.” The Sorpe, the largest of the reservoirs, received “a direct hit on the center of the dam,” but “the bomb hole was slightly higher than the water level. Just a few inches lower, and a small brook would have been transformed into a raging river which would have swept away the stone and earthen dam.” Speer contends the British made a crucial error by dividing their bomber force and attacking the Eder Dam that same night. According to Speer, the Eder “had nothing whatsoever to do with the supply of water to the Ruhr.” However, the RAF targeted the dam because it stored water utilized to produce hydroelectric power.

One often overlooked [aspect of the raid] is the effect it had on construction of the Atlantic Wall. A few days after the attack, Speer ordered 7,000 men who had been working on the Atlantic Wall to the Möhne and Eder areas to repair the dams. Speer contends the British missed their second opportunity to accomplish their objective, right after the dams had been repaired. “A few bombs would have produced cave-ins at the exposed buildup sites, and a few firebombs could have set the wooden scaffolding blazing.”

Edward J. Smitreski
Northampton, Pa.

Being a former member of the U.S. Navy, I could not let it go that the 1804 raid on Tripoli Harbor by Lieutenant Stephen Decatur’s sailors during the First Barbary War was not included. That extraordinary raid, which led to the recapture and burning of the frigate Philadelphia, shows that Decatur had a good head on his shoulders. It’s easy to see why Muslim corsairs would be eager to have that head removed.

Evan Dale Santos
Adelanto, Calif.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the story, I think you missed a beauty: Lieutenant Thomas Norris’ rescue of two downed pilots [in Vietnam] in April 1972—for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor—would rank up there with anyone’s choices.

Kirth W. Steele
Bethlehem, Pa.

Real to Reel
I thoroughly enjoyed your interview with Dale Dye [Oct/Nov]. As a veteran, who served with the 3rd U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard) and as an MP in Afghanistan, I have seen so many flaws in Hollywood movies.

One movie that drives me crazy is A Few Good Men. The opening scene that has Demi Moore’s character walking right up on the Marine Corps Drill Team is so improbable. No person would ever be allowed that close. I spent a short time in the U.S. Army Drill Team, and I know this would never happen.

I look forward to watching any project that has Dale Dye’s name attached to it.

Alan Terrill
Cincinnati, Ohio

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