Random Thoughts on WWII and replacement policy in the ETO

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Langenator
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Random Thoughts on WWII and replacement policy in the ETO

Post by Langenator » Tue Jun 19, 2018 3:10 pm

So I'm re-reading Ambrose's Citizen Soldiers, and I came to the section where he writes about the horrific mess that was the replacement system in the ETO. Ambrose writes about how the U.S. Army fed individual replacements into combat divisions still on the front line, rather than pulling battle-worn divisions out of the line to refit and absorb replacements.

What Ambrose doesn't discuss is the biggest reason why Eisenhower didn't pull those divisions out of the line – because he didn't have enough divisions to allow it. Ike couldn't pull divisions out of the line without spreading the remaining divisions too thinly.

This got me to thinking – the official strategy of the United States and our British allies was Germany First. This strategy was first outlined in Admiral Stark's Plan Dog memo, and then confirmed by the ABC conferences and in the Rainbow 5 plans. The Germany First strategy called for remaining on the strategic defensive in the Pacific until Germany was defeated.

But the United States didn't follow that plan. Instead, the Americans started on the strategic offensive in late 1943. The twin offensives began with MacArthur's Huon Peninsula campaign in September and Nimitz's landings at Tarawa in November and met in the Philippines in October of 1944. (Note that late summer and fall of 1944 was also when Eisenhower's armies were pushing up against the Seigfried Line on the German border.)

Eisenhower had 49 U.S. Army divisions in northwest Europe. 21 U.S. Army divisions fought in the Pacific, plus 6 divisions of Marines. (This count does not include the Philippine Division, which effectively fell of the order of battle in the spring of 1942.) In fact, as Russell Weigley pointed out, until early 1944, the U.S. actually had more men deployed to the Pacific theater than Europe, including Italy and the Mediterranean. Had the U.S. remained on the strategic defensive, many of those divisions, maybe as many as two thirds of the Army divisions, could have been employed in Europe.

(As an aside, the term 'strategic defensive' does not necessarily preclude any and all offensive action. Indeed, some offensive actions – namely, the seizure of Guadalcanal and the rest of the Solomons campaign under Operation Cartwheel, as well as the early stages of MacArthur's New Guinea campaign would probably have been necessary as part of the strategic defense, in order to secure the SLOCs to Australia, and establish a defensible perimeter for the Land Down Under. So the strategic defensive still probably would have required 10 divisions or so, for those limited offensive operations, plus the defense of Alaska, Midway, Hawaii, and Panama.)

A true strategic defensive in the Pacific might have allowed from 10 to 13 more infantry divisions to be shipped to Europe. (I'm just SWAGging the numbers; I haven't done any serious troop-to-task analysis.) Those numbers might well have allowed the U.S. Army in northwest Europe to pull divisions off the front line for rest and refit, and allowed replacements to be sent to units that way.

But political considerations – i.e. the fact that the Japanese had started the war, and the United States couldn't, for domestic political reasons, just allow them to hang out in the Pacific largely unmolested. The political need for the strategic offensive in the Pacific would have become even more pronounced as the U.S. Navy built it strength in 1943 and 1944 to the point where it could sail almost unchallenged throughout most of the central Pacific

And thus the Army in northwest Europe got put in the unfortunate position, at least with regards to replacements, that it did.
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MiddleAgedKen
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Re: Random Thoughts on WWII and replacement policy in the ETO

Post by MiddleAgedKen » Tue Jun 19, 2018 8:48 pm

Interesting thoughts. I enjoyed Citizen Soldiers, and you add context to Ambrose's contention.

For additional perspective on events in the Pacific that helped contribute to the situation you described above, I recommend If Mahan Ran the Great Pacific War, by John A. Adams (ISBN 9780253351050).
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Jered
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Re: Random Thoughts on WWII and replacement policy in the ETO

Post by Jered » Wed Jun 20, 2018 5:06 am

The Japanese occupied more US territory than the Germans.
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Re: Random Thoughts on WWII and replacement policy in the ETO

Post by BDK » Wed Jun 20, 2018 11:12 am

Also, I think the Germans were entrenched, but in much of the Pacific, I don't think the Japanese had done so. In the places they had, there were very high casualties.

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Re: Random Thoughts on WWII and replacement policy in the ETO

Post by Langenator » Wed Jun 20, 2018 1:28 pm

The Pacific and European theaters tend to be considered in isolation. The one place where any inter-connectedness does seem to get mentioned is the issue of landing craft. Honestly, I've read Citizen Soldiers several times now, along with other works that discussed the replacement policy issue, and this is the first time that the factor of the number of divisions in the Pacific occurred to me. (The same thing can happen in other areas of history, too - like did you ever stop to think that the second Siege of Vienna happened six decades AFTER the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts?)

In northwest Europe, the Germans really only had prepared fortifications in two places - the Atlantic Wall, and the Siegfried Line/West Wall The hedgerows of Normandy were fantastic defensive terrain that the Germans took full advantage of, but they were not prepared positions.

One of the reasons the Japanese were able to inflict so many casualties is that, after things reached a certain point, inflicting as many casualties as possible became Japan's strategy. They knew they couldn't stop us, they could only hope to make the cost so high that we would settle for something less than unconditional surrender. Some of the early battles were quite costly to the U.S. - Guadalcanal, Buna-Gona, and Tarawa come to mind - but that was mainly due to the fact that the Army and Marines were still getting themselves sorted out and learning how to fight. (Guadalcanal was also extremely costly to the Navy - two carriers (Hornet and Wasp) sunk, along with a whole passel of cruisers and destroyers, Saratoga crippled and sent to drydock for repair, Enterprise maimed and only staying in the combat zone because there literally were no other fleet carriers available.)

But once the Essex class carriers began making their way to the fleet (and after Guadalcanal and the Solomons campaign had further bloodied the IJN after the disaster at Midway and ground down Japanese air power), Nimitz and MacArthur started their westward marches, and BuOrd (fianlly) got the sub force's torpedo problem sorted out, the result was inevitable. The only question was how long, and how many lives, it would require.
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Vonz90
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Re: Random Thoughts on WWII and replacement policy in the ETO

Post by Vonz90 » Wed Jun 20, 2018 5:37 pm

The other point to mention was that we (and the Brits) consistently underestimated how much resistance we would get from the Germans. The Germans were extremely outnumbered, and we knew that, and therefore we assumed (at several points) in the Western conflict that it was all over but the shouting.

In a strategic sense, we were more or less correct as Germans were very much beyond being able to go on the strategic offensive. However, that did not translate into them not being able to conduct an effective defense and going on operational level offensives at some points. We really should have known that, but we were overly cocky.

At NWC, we studied the actual intel that the allies had leading up to the Battle of Ardennes but without info as to which side was which (or even if it was notional or historical). It was obvious that the defenders (Germans) were preparing a major offensive operation, but the commanders at the time were convinced that the Germans did not have the capability to do so, therefore they never reached that conclusion and we were surprised. We basically did that going all the way back to Operation Torch and we just kept doing it.

If you look at the Russians, they also kept making similar mistakes which led both to several disastrous defeats and/or massive unnecessary casualties in their victories.

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Re: Random Thoughts on WWII and replacement policy in the ETO

Post by BDK » Wed Jun 20, 2018 9:19 pm

I’m not sure the Soviets didn’t view massive casualties as a plus.

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Mike OTDP
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Re: Random Thoughts on WWII and replacement policy in the ETO

Post by Mike OTDP » Fri Jun 22, 2018 2:23 am

Vonz90 wrote:
Wed Jun 20, 2018 5:37 pm
At NWC, we studied the actual intel that the allies had leading up to the Battle of Ardennes but without info as to which side was which (or even if it was notional or historical). It was obvious that the defenders (Germans) were preparing a major offensive operation, but the commanders at the time were convinced that the Germans did not have the capability to do so, therefore they never reached that conclusion and we were surprised.
Except for Patton. His G2 told him there were German divisions unaccounted for, and Patton correctly concluded that the Germans were about to mount a counterattack - then predicted correctly that it would fall on VIII Corps (which was not moving). And had his staff working on three contingency plans to strike north before the Germans jumped off.

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Jered
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Re: Random Thoughts on WWII and replacement policy in the ETO

Post by Jered » Fri Jun 22, 2018 3:25 am

Langenator wrote:
Wed Jun 20, 2018 1:28 pm
But once the Essex class carriers began making their way to the fleet (and after Guadalcanal and the Solomons campaign had further bloodied the IJN after the disaster at Midway and ground down Japanese air power), Nimitz and MacArthur started their westward marches, and BuOrd (fianlly) got the sub force's torpedo problem sorted out, the result was inevitable. The only question was how long, and how many lives, it would require.
The result was probably inevitable once Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Even if we didn't have the Essex Class carriers, we probably could still have outproduced them and won the war with the Yorktown Class. We probably could even have done it with Lexington Class carriers.

Once they started a fight with half the world, the Japanese were done. The only reason they got as far as the did was because they had the advantages of surprise and relatively incompetent enemies. They didn't have the institutional knowledge to train large numbers of replacements and they didn't have the capability of creating a fleet. After the war started, I think that they commissioned one or two carriers for the first three years.

Had the Japanese made their amphibious assaults over defended beaches, they'd probably have taken severe casualties and not been able to advance as rapidly. See Wake Island for an example of how they fared in opposed landings.
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Re: Random Thoughts on WWII and replacement policy in the ETO

Post by Langenator » Fri Jun 22, 2018 12:46 pm

Really, the only part of the "half the world" that mattered was the United States, and maybe Australia. The rest of the countries involved were strategically irrelevant, other than the fact that it was Japanese predation on French Indo-China which brought about the U.S. embargo which ultimately led Japan to attack Pearl Harbor.

France and the Netherlands were occupied by Germany, and made no contribution to the war against Japan. England was fighting for survival against Hitler, and not able to make any major contribution to the war in the Pacific. Though the China-Burma-India theater did see large scale fighting (and, IMHO, Field Marshall Slim was England's best general), it was a strategic sideshow. Even if the a-bombs had not precluded the need for DOWNFALL, Slim's drive to re-conquer the former British colonies of southeast Asia would still not have mattered much in the big picture.

So, in a way, you're probably right - the decisive point was when the United States decided they were willing to fight a long war, which Japan lacked the resources to win. Japan's only hope (accurately foreseen by Yamamoto) lay in striking a heavy blow at the outset, and then creating defensive barriers which would cost more blood and treasure to breach than America was willing to spend. Japan fatally underestimated the willpower of the fury of an aroused democracy.

(As a side note, those Essex-class carriers? The first 10 or so had actually been ordered in 1941, before Pearl Harbor. Ships that size take time to build.)
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