Last week we touched on the subject of the Mediterranean Campaign, and the general disrespect it continues to endure in both the popular and historical mind. A lot of you posted some very good thoughts on the blog in the past week, and I can’t disagree with any of the things you said. The necessity to secure the Foggia air complex in Southern Italy for raids on the Ploesti oilfields; the need to give the US Army some badly needed combat experience before it fought the “main event” in Western Europe, as it were; a way to relieve some pressure on the Soviets, then battling it out with the cream of the German armored forces at Kursk; a need to keep inter-Allied peace–folks have justified the Mediterranean campaign on all of these counts and more.
I just don’t think any of them was the main reason we operated in the Med.
In fact, I think the real reason is easy to explain. The brain trust of the US Army, led by Chief of Staff extraordinaire General George C. Marshall, had a fairly simple strategy for this war. Assemble massive force. Invade Europe. Destroy the Wehrmacht. The cross-channel invasion was the heart of it, and Marshall had plans drawn up for emergency invasions of the continent in 1942 (Operation Sledgehammer) and 1943 (Operation Roundup). But staff studies had shown him that ANY cross-channel op was going to be one of innumerable problems and bewildering complexity. It required not only detailed intelligence about the Germans, but precise knowledge of such arcana as the weather patterns and tides along the coast of the Cotentin or the Pas de Calais, hardly common knowledge in US military circles. It also required a great deal of specialized equipment, LSI’s and LST’s, as well as duplex drive tanks and engineering vehicles of every description. They hadn’t even been invented yet, let alone produced
In other words, it wasn’t going to happen soon. Not in 1942, and not in 1943. Stalin could and did complain about that, be he was just going to have to wait.
So, let’s say you’re the President of the United States, and you’ve been at war nearly a year without firing a single anti-Axis shot in Europe. The heck with Stalin’s complaints. The press at home is screaming for some action, hollering the two most frightening words in the US political lexicon if you happen to be an elected official: “Do Something!”
Moreover, you want to do something. The country needs it, and so does the army. So, what do you do? You look around at the available options, and… you invade North Africa. And when that’s done (successfully, with thousands of German and Italian POWs), in early 1943, then what do you do? You look around and survey the realistic opportunities–and you invade Sicily. You sure aren’t going to be fighting the Germans anywhere else for a while. And when that’s done? What’s next? Just look at the map.
We like to think of ourselves as free agents, doing what we wish to do. All too often, however, circumstances force our hand. Never is this more true than it is in war.
The Mediterranean campaign was unavoidable.
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