Inside the Nazi War Machine

nazi-war-machineThis book by Bevin Alexander has a subtitle, “How Three Generals Unleashed Blitzkrieg Upon the World,” and is an excellent book for people interested in military history. The three generals were Erich von Manstein, Heinz Guderian, and Erwin Rommel, and they developed a military strategy that opposed that of the German high command and Hitler. My simplistic summary is that they refused to fight battles on a wide front. They led with concentrated panzer attacks against the widely-spread “penny packets” of French tanks. They almost always outpaced the infantry divisions that followed. They refused to slow the assault to allow consolidation of the flanks, which the high command believed would be vulnerable to counterattack. The conventional thinking was that the French army, which was “…the most formidable and best-equipped army in Europe…” with their British, Holland, and Belgian allies would pinch in from the sides and capture the tanks and soldiers in the deep penetration. The remarkable outcome was that the massive French army mostly just surrendered at the shock of how quickly the center of their front had been destroyed by Nazi fire power. The Luftwaffe supported the attacks with old and slow Stuka dive bombers that could precisely target French tanks or other forces that stood in the way. Static warfare that had been the norm throughout World War I was replaced by “maneuver warfare,” or Blitzkrieg.

The book portrays how the German generals continually successfully implemented their concentrated assaults and refused to acknowledge orders from the high command to stop and allow the supporting troops to catch up. Overall military organization is also described as being valuable to the Germans and paralyzing to the French. German commanders believed they should lead from the front where they could quickly recognize situations presented by opposing forces and terrain and make immediate adjustments. French units couldn’t deviate from existing orders without written orders, which often took days to be prepared and delivered. The German commanders also had the admiration and support of their soldiers, which resulted in achieving sometimes incredible results. Rommel was said to insist on being in the first vehicle going forward in an assault. Once he insisted on standing on the middle of a bridge important to a planned attack that was under bombardment by British bombers. He wanted it known how valuable the bridge was to German plans and risked his life to demonstrate it. Continue reading

America’s Plans for War Against the Soviet Union, 1945-1950

I’ve mentioned that I have been working on a book to explain the decision to build the Rocky Flats Plant where nuclear weapon components were manufactured from 1953 until 1989. The 15 volume set edited by Steven T. Ross and David Alan Rosenberg contains a wealth of information about the war plans created by the military that helps explain that decision. First and foremost is the belief that the objective of the Soviet Union was to select a time when they could invade Western Europe to begin the process of imposing Communist control of the world. The set, which consists of oversized books, “…reproduces in facsimile 98 plans and studies created by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”

The JCS in 1945 believed that Moscow was not ready to launch a Third World War until they had rebuilt their war machine, but as prudent planners they had to prepare for armed conflict on a global scale earlier than expected. The plans, which were all classified Top Secret or Secret and occasionally were also marked to contain Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) restricted data, were of course all declassified before the series was published. I will warn that you won’t find the volumes on Amazon, or at least I didn’t. My local public library was able to find several of them on interlibrary loan. I’ll give all the detail I know about Volume 1 at the end of this review if a reader wants to try to obtain the volume by the same process.

American war plans included:

  • Emergency War Plans for a conflict during the next fiscal year
  • Mid-Range War Plans for a war two to five years in the future
  • Long Range War Plans for a war five to ten years in the future
  • Industrial Mobilization Plans describing a general war to provide guidance for military and economic mobilization planning
  • Special studies, which describe a global conflict in order to guide long range fiscal planning

Supporting papers included:

  • Estimates of Soviet power (and their overwhelming advantage in men under arms)
  • Logistic feasibility studies of American war plans (which were often  found to not be feasible)
  • Examinations of the impact of atomic weapons on the future of modern warfare (which were not encouraging for the protection of American cities and offensive capabilities)

America and Allies no match for Soviet army:

All of the war plans recognized that the huge Soviet and Satellite armies would be able to overwhelm the relatively small allied forces. Earlier plans listed “…the possession and, until 1949, a presumed monopoly of atomic weapons…” and a large and expanding industrial base to be the main advantages of America and its allies. The plans virtually conceded that the Soviet armies could decisively and quickly take Western Europe and most of the Middle East. The allies hoped to be able to establish and maintain “…bases in Great Britain, Egypt, Japan, and possibly northern India and Greenland, from which to launch the strategic air offensive…The liberation of Western Europe would not be the result of direct military operations, but rather a function of the presumed Soviet collapse under the combined weight of the atomic and conventional aerial attack and the counteroffensive against the southern regions of the USSR…the United States would not seek to defend or recover any positions on the Asian mainland, a position that remained unchanged even after the start of the Korean War.”

As an example of an individual plan, the first was “JIS 80/7, 23 October 1945, Russian Capabilities.” The Joint Intelligence Staff prepared this report “To estimate the Russian political situation with particular emphasis on aims and potentialities for expansion of her sphere of influence by means short of war, by 1 January 1948…” World War II had left the Soviets at a high level of political prestige, but weakened by massive destruction and loss of life. A major weakness was the lack of an atomic bomb capability.

I’ll give you a flavor of what the plans included by summarizing “JCS 1477/1 30 October 1945, Over-All Effect of Atomic Bomb on Wartime Organizations.”

The plan states that the greatest effect of development of the atomic bomb was the security of the United States after another country acquires that weapon. It was noted that an aggressor nation with atomic weapons could “…achieve the effects of Pearl Harbor on a vast and relatively complete scale.”The risk presented by another country acquiring the weapons “…emphasizes the importance not only of readiness for immediate defense, but also for striking first, if necessary, against the source of threatened attack.” The only defense against atomic attack is by destroying the carriers in flight, and lessons from World War II indicated that defense cannot be total. Some planes would get through and cities would be destroyed. It was estimated at the time of the report (30 October 1945), that, “…the United States has a head start which is roughly estimated as the equivalent of five years of technological advantage.” (That estimate wasn’t far off.) It was also stated that the U.S. had control of “…major sources of uranium and other essential ores.” (That statement turned out to be incorrect.) It was recommended that there be an accumulation of a “…stockpile of atomic bombs and other new weapons sufficient to implement United States strategic war plans.” That last statement is an example of why the series goes a long way in supporting the decision to build Rocky Flats.  

I may post reviews of some other volumes, but you’ll have to wait for me to finish the book before you see my full assessment of what is include.

Information on the series:

Steven T. Ross and David Alan Rosenberg, editors, America’s Plans for War Against the Soviet Union 1945-1950, A 15 volume set reproducing in facsimile 98 plans and studies created by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, A Garland Series, 1989-1990. The information in this posting is from Volume 1, which has a subtitle of The Strategic Environment.

America’s Plans for War Against the Soviet Union, 1945-1950, Vol. 14, Long Range Planning, Dropshot

A review was posted last week of Vol. 13 in the series of books edited by Steven T. Ross and David Alan Rosenberg. That book evaluated the military plan called “OFFTACKLE,” which called for being prepared to engage in war with the Soviet Union in the late 1940s to early 1950s with 220 atomic bombs dropped on Soviet targets followed by conventional bombing. Volume 14 carries the plan into the future with the Soviet attack into Europe expected to occur in 1957. The extra time allowed the planners to produce the war plan with the code name “DROPSHOT,” which expanded the scale of the attacks. DROPSHOT was being prepared when NSC-68 was written, which was a planning document calling for an extensive U.S. rearmament plan. The Korean War and the fall of China to the Communists reinforced belief that World War III with the Soviets was inevitable. This volume1 contains the declassified (from top secret) facsimiles of the Joint Chiefs of Staff document JCS 1950/5 prepared in three sections. The basic assumption is that “…war against the USSR has been forced upon the United States by an act of aggression of the USSR and/or her satellites.”

It was believed that the massive Soviet conventional forces would sweep into and through Europe when the Soviet leaders decided that war would be to their advantage. Their armies were expected to be in control of Western Europe in twenty days. The report indicates that there was more confidence in intelligence about Soviet capabilities that in previous war plans. For example, “The committee is now informed that the Joint Intelligence Committee has available a revised estimate of the 1957 Soviet atomic bomb stock pile.” One aspect of planning that didn’t change was that it was considered strategically important to hold the oil producing areas of the Near and Middle East. Continue reading

America’s Plans for War Against the Soviet Union, 1945-1950, Vol. 13, Evaluating the Air Offensive

This book 1, edited by Stephen R. Ross and David Alan Rosenberg, is an unusual book to be reviewed this web site. The book is listed as unavailable and out of print on Amazon. I obtained a copy on interlibrary loan from the “Center for Naval Analysis” in Arlington, VA. For those who might wonder why I would be interested in such an obscure book, I worked at the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant in Colorado, and have been researching why the nation believed we needed such a facility to be built in the early 1950s. I had motivation to obtain the book, but I’ll warn others that the book is very large. It has in excess of 400 8 ½ X 11 pages, even though it only contains the declassified information from the original top secret report. A quick summary is that the report describes an evaluation of “War Plan OFFTACKLE,” which called for a strike with atomic bombs on 220 Soviet industrial site followed by massive conventional bombing.

I’ve read much about the negative effects on military planning created by the competition between the military services in the late 1940s. There was also a lack of cooperation between the civilian Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and the military planners. The AEC felt they were prevented by the Atomic Energy Act from revealing physical characteristics of the atomic bombs (which was crucial to determining how the weapons could be carried and delivered) or even the number of weapons in the stockpile. This report discusses the stark fact that the military didn’t have the capability to carry out the full war plan and also clearly emphasizes the even more depressing reality of the nearly complete lack of effective intelligence about the Soviet Union, its military capabilities, and its intentions. The only thing that seemed a certainty to the planners was that a World War with the Soviet Union was inevitable.   Continue reading

Refugee Ethics

A reader and frequent commenter sent me an article by Richard D. Lamm that appeared in the Denver Post. The story is told of Martin of Tours finding a starving beggar during a 13th Century ride and dividing his cloak and dinner with the desperate man. The question is asked “What if instead of one cold and starving beggar, there are 100?” Considering the world situation, what if there are thousands or millions? There is another report that ISIS has slaughtered another several hundred people after taking a city in Iraq, and thousands or hundreds of thousands of people are being displaced. I have difficulty imagining there is anyone remaining in Syria other than the various fighting organizations or a place for an “ordinary citizen” to live. Thousands of people are taking the perilous trip across the Mediterranean to escape the anarchy and terror of Libya (and perhaps wishing Gaddafi could return). Lamm mentions increasing population “…and political unrest in most of the Middle East and Africa guarantee continued massive migration from that volatile area. Is Europe’s only ethical response to take them all in?”

Lamm mentions that “…the U.S. has its own substantial pressure from south of its boarder (sic).” He then poses the ethical dilemma. “A moral response to an individual or manageable group might not make sense if there are hundreds of thousands. Sheer numbers can totally change the ethical implications.” “The maximum generosity of the developed world cannot absorb the staggering numbers fleeing political chaos, war, violence, and lack of economic opportunity.” Later in the article he writes, “No nation can be expected to commit social and cultural suicide. No ethics can demand what the ecosystem or social fabric of a society cannot support.”

I have fretted since the first reports of ISIS slaughters in Iraq that we as a nation should feel ashamed. Regardless of your beliefs about the justification of the second Iraq War, we did overthrow Saddam Hussein and established a fledgling democracy. We then decided we were “war weary” and withdrew our soldiers. The situation that evolved was predictable. There was an opportunity, perhaps a slim opportunity, to assist in establishing a stable and perhaps even prosperous country where people wouldn’t be slaughtered because they practiced the wrong religion. We instead chose to fulfill a political promise. Is there anyone out there who continues to believe withdrawing was the right thing to do? We also helped “decapitate” the dictatorship in Libya and then sat behind our comfortable borders while terrorists took over.

Perhaps we should be asking whether we’ve learned anything. Are we going to repeat what we did to Iraq in Afghanistan?   I understand the Taliban developed a motto after the announcements that we were going to withdraw on a schedule. “You have the watch and we have the time.”

Dead Wake

dead-wakeMy wife recommended this excellent book by Erik Larson, and I’m glad I read it. The Lusitania was a luxury ocean liner, and considered to be a “greyhound,” the fastest liner in service. It sailed out of New York harbor carrying a record number of children and infants despite a German warning that the seas around Britain were a war zone. (My wife wondered why there were so many families travelling to Britain in a time of war.)  Captain William Turner was said to have placed faith in “…the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that had for a century kept civilian ships safe from attack.” Germany and Walther Schwieger, the captain of the Unterseeboot-20 was determined to change the rules of the game. The book presents meticulous details of the hunted and the hunter to the point of their historical connection. Detailed descriptions are given of numerous Lusitania passengers, and I found it eerie wondering whether the people being described in very human terms survived or died. I actually found myself hoping that some of the many accidents of history that brought U-20 within torpedo range of the Lusitania would somehow magically change and cause the torpedo to not be fired or miss. I knew I was hopelessly wrong thinking such thoughts, but I couldn’t seem to stop myself from wanting history to change. Larsen in a note to readers preceding the book must have had some of the same thoughts. He wrote that in his research, “What I learned both charmed and horrified me…”

Most, or at least many, of the passengers on the Lusitania had read notices placed by the German Embassy in Washington on the shipping pages of New York newspapers that “…vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or any of her allies, are liable to destruction and that passengers sailing on such ships ‘do so at their own risk’.” Captain Turner had told passengers that he had received warning of fresh submarine activity off the Irish coast, but “…assured the audience there was no need for alarm.” The Cunard Company that owned the ship issued an official response to the German warning. “The truth is that the Lusitania is the safest boat on the sea. She is too fast for any submarine. No German war vessel can get her or near her.” One Greek carpet merchant apparently wasn’t reassured. He put on a life jacket and spent the night in a lifeboat. Another passenger took comfort from the revolver he always carried. Continue reading