The American Way of War?

American forces boasted an impressive repertoire of skills in World War II. Strategic and tactical bombing, submarine and fleet actions, large scale mechanized land operations—it was a formidable array. For my money, though, all of these pale next to the signal American achievement of the war: the amphibious landing.

Traditionally labeled the “most complex” of all military undertakings, amphibious ops require a huge amount of advanced planning. Weeks are better than days, but it’s probably better to have months. They also require material abundance. The more ships, men, planes, and guns, the better. Trying to do one ad-hoc or on a shoestring is asking for trouble. Just ask Winston Churchill about what happened at Gallipoli in 1915, or about Dieppe in 1942, for that matter. There are a 1001 things that can go wrong: either in the sea-borne approach, with its incredibly intricate dance of hundreds of ships, often in the dark; or during the landing itself, with squads of sea-sick grunts stumbling out of their landing craft and wading ashore under enemy fire; or in the ensuing few days, where a minor defeat of the landed force might lead to disaster, since there is no possibility of even a tactical retreat.

And that is precisely why we should remember the American military achievement in this area. By mid-1944, the U.S. military had come as close as humanly possible to “perfecting” amphibious operations. Meticulous planning by a vast bureaucracy of highly trained staff officers? Check. A thousand ship armada blanketing the ocean, with thousands of aircraft prowling overhead? Check and check. Enough firepower to turn any enemy defense into a parking lot? Check. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers and marines willing to do their duty at the sharp end? Check. By 1944, no one did these things better; indeed, no one else did them at all. We’d cornered the market. Amphibious operations had become a new American way of war, and no enemy in this war ever managed to devise an effective defense against it.

And oh yes, one more thing: in June of 1944, we were actually doing two of these things. At the same time. On opposite sides of the globe. At virtually the same moment that American soldiers were landing in Normandy, our soldiers and marines were heading for their rendezvous with destiny at Saipan, accompanied by an invasion fleet nearly as large as the European one. It was an amazing—indeed, an unparalleled—show of military force, the moment that World War II became the American war, and the instant when we can say that the United States of America became the most powerful nation in history.

I don’t know if the twentieth was the “American century” or not, but 1944 was a hell of a year.

5 Responses

  1. Paul Schultz

    Thank you for an interesting article! I know it focuses on 1944, but MacArthur’s Inchon operation in Korea six years later must rank up there as one of the most daring and successful amphibious landings of all time. Despite his later falling out with Truman, there is no doubt MacArthur’s brilliant stroke saved the U.N. forces from almost certain defeat in that conflict. As a Canadian, I am glad that you mention the disastrous Dieppe raid of ’42. It is remembered as one of our country’s most painful wartime episodes. Many believe, however, that the catastrophe made D-Day’s success possible by teaching how (or how NOT) to launch an invasion of the coast of France. WWII buffs might want to check out my new novel, THE FUHRER VIRUS. It is a fictional spy/conspiracy/thriller for adult readers and can be found at http://www.eloquentbooks.com/TheFuhrerVirus.html, http://www.amazon.com, http://www.barnesandnoble.com, and http://www.booksamillion.com.

    Thanks!

    Paul Schultz

    Reply
  2. Robert M. Citino

    Thanks, Paul. Let me just say: Inchon was an amazing op! Despite certain unsavory aspects of his personality, there was nothing wrong with MacArthur’s operational skills.

    Reply
  3. Rob Hancock

    Rob – you sound like a Hollywood movie. How could you overlook the fact that two-thirds of the Normandy landings consisted of British and Canadians? Not to mention that the staging post for the invasion was Britain itself, and that we had held out alone in the west against the Axis powers since 1940. No staging grounds – no invasion. Shame on you.
    R

    Reply
  4. Rob Citino

    Rob–

    Point taken. I’ll state it out: the British and Commonwealth forces were essential to Allied victory in WWII.

    The point I was making, however, was that this wasn’t just happening in Normandy. It was also happening a half a world away at the same time–and the other one was an American show.

    –RC

    Reply
  5. americangoy

    “Just ask Winston Churchill about what happened at Gallipoli in 1915, or about Dieppe in 1942, for that matter.”

    Why not ask the deceased Mr. Churchill about the Mediterranean in 1943, for example the island of Kos.

    Reply

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