In Defense of FDR
Thank you for Joseph E. Persico’s excellent article “Did Roosevelt Doom Us to a Longer War?” [Spring 2012]. In all the “what ifs” of World War II, the timing of the Allied invasion of France still generates interesting arguments. Persico has made a good case that Roosevelt’s decisions added “at least a year” to the war.
But there are other factors to consider. First, Allied success in 1944 wasn’t a sure thing: It was a pretty close call on June 6. And the Allies were incredibly lucky. The weather was so horrible that German naval patrols never put to sea the night of June 5, General Erwin Rommel had left Normandy for Germany to attend his wife’s birthday, and many German generals had left their posts the evening of June 5, because of the bad weather, to get an early start on a war games conference in Rennes, France, the following day.
The Allied deception plan Fortitude confused the Germans about the place of the landings. There were still nearly 100,000 Germans on the Pas de Calais awaiting an invasion in September when Montgomery drove past them on his way to Antwerp. Would the Allies have been this lucky if they invaded in 1943?
Two other factors: The P-51 Mustang fighter was not available with its great Merlin engine until late 1943. Air control over France was still contested until the spring of 1944. Second, all those German Mark V Panther and Mark VI Tiger tanks that appeared at Kursk in July 1943 against the Russians could just as easily have been shipped west to counter the Allied invasion in the spring of 1943. The Allies could probably have forced a successful landing in France in 1943. Then the question becomes, Could they have survived the inevitable German armor counterattacks led by Panther and Tiger tanks without the complete control of the air that they enjoyed in 1944? I am not as convinced as Persico that they would have succeeded.
Grand Junction, Colo.
Beware Propaganda (and Newfangled Carriers)
In “Payback” [Spring 2012], Alistair Horne’s assertion that “it was rapidly becoming clear that the true queens of the chess game at sea were the newfangled aircraft carriers” is laughable. It was certainly not embraced by the leadership of either the U.S. Navy or the Imperial Japanese Navy, but rather, each practiced expediency in the face of necessity. After their brilliant raid on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese blundered into the Midway campaign while operating their carriers in classic fashion—as the “cavalry of the sea.” Gross operational incompetence by a leadership married to battleships sealed Japan’s fate in the Pacific War.
The Doolittle Raid was American propaganda-making at its finest, probably second only to the notion of the “sneak attack” at Pearl Harbor. The risks to achieve what was wholly a political and propaganda objective turned out to be acceptable. Besides the loss of face, any physical damage to the Japanese by the raid itself or effects on future operations were of no practical consequence.
Perhaps the most important lesson history can teach us is the danger of believing one’s own propaganda. The idea that the United States was fighting with one hand tied behind its proverbial back was a useful propaganda tactic to invigorate the response of the American people in 1941 and 1942, but it doesn’t excuse the lack of preparedness or poor performance of American forces at the outset of the Pacific War.
Nor should it foster the belief in “miracles” or qualities that result in seemingly miraculous outcomes (like that at Midway). Frequently, major turns of events in history come down to cold calculated odds—and the guts to take a chance.
Mark R. Owen
More Top Tank Commanders
Print and online readers suggested several additions to our Spring 2012 War List on top tank commanders:
Commanding a tank regiment at the Battle of 73 Easting in Desert Storm in 1991, H. R. McMaster destroyed some 80 Iraqi tanks and other vehicles without losing any of his nine tanks, in arguably one of the greatest tank battles ever fought.
Dr. Robert W. Hauer
Trophy Club, Tex.
During World War II, Sergeant Lafayette Poole destroyed 258 enemy vehicles in only 83 days, commanding three different Shermans, all named In The Mood and all of which were shot out from under him. The only reason he wasn’t in combat longer is because he lost one of his legs in a German ambush. Even that didn’t stop his military career; he served in Korea and stayed in the army until 1960.
Alan Hamby via MHQmag.com
How about René Prioux, the commander of France’s Corps de Cavalerie? On May 12–13, 1940, he stopped the 680 tanks of XVI Panzer Corps with his 380 (albeit generally superior) tanks. This was the first tank versus tank battle, and each side saw itself as an elite force.
Pierre Corbeill via MHQmag.com
George Patton could have easily kicked all of their asses.
Jes Lewis via MHQmag.com
Editor’s note: For a spirited discussion of top tankers, go to MHQmag.com
In “Payback” (Spring 2012), our caption on page 32 states “all the crew members” in the Doolittle Raid survived. As the story makes clear, several died or were executed by the Japanese.
We stated on page 28 of that story that the United States had only two carriers to cover the entire Pacific. Sharp-eyed readers are correct in noting that in addition to the Enterprise and the Lexington, the Saratoga was, technically, stationed in the Pacific. But immediately after Pearl Harbor, the Saratoga was in San Diego, in no position to engage Japanese carriers and other ships in the Western Pacific, the true theater of operations. The carriers Wasp, Yorktown, Ranger, and Hornet were all in the Atlantic at that time.
Originally published in the Summer 2012 issue of Military History Quarterly. To subscribe, click here.