The War Illustrated No 185 Vol 8 July 21st 1944

THE BATTLEFRONTS isjifiiiiaiiiiiiiiaiaiaiMiaiaaaaaaaaaaaaiiiiaaaaaaiiiiaaitsiaiiadiaiiiiaKiiiaiiiBioiBiiiaaiKiafiiiiiaaiiioiii b y Maj ,-Gen ,Sir Char les G wynn, K .C.B .S.O,,D .The end o f June found the Germans in by far the most serious strategical situation .they had yet to face. The fall o f Cherbourg meant the definite establish­ment o f a western fro n t/an d the rapid col­lapse of their defensive position in White Russia was a disaster which knocked out the kingpin o f their eastern front. Both were strategic disasters o f the first order and both revealed the immense offensive power the Allies had developed. The situation in Italy had also deteriorated so greatly that it had been necessary to send reserves to the German general Kesselring which could ill bo spared from France and yet were insufficient to give him much hope o f stabilizing his front. If C herbourg had stood a prolonged siege, even if it had held out for a month or six weeks, it would have gone far to reduce the value o f the footing the Allies had gained in Normandy. The footing could undoubtedly have been firmly held and possibly have been considerably extended, but no far-reaching offensive operations could have been undertaken from it until an adequate port was secured. tempted to adopt a defensive attitude until conditions were more favourable, and thus have lost the opportunity o f exploiting the initial success o f the landing. That the Germans fully realized the strategic import­ance o f denying C herbourg to the Allies and that they had taken every precaution to enable it to stand along siege cannot be questioned. The mere fact that they entrusted its defence to somewhat inferior troops is proof o f their reliance on its impregnability. The collapse o f the front in White Russia may have more immediately disastrous results. The consequences o f the loss o f C herbourg may not be fully felt for some time, but in Russia the whole structure o f the front is crumbling. I admit that l had afterthought, the Russian successes o f the winter which enabled them to threaten the positions at Vitebsk and on the upper Dnieper from both flanks, that the Germans were only clinging to that inline order to hold the Red siblc io rush up reserves from other sectors in time to attempt to retrieve the situation. Nor can it have been possible to dispute seriously the air superiority the Russians had established, for many o f the German airfields ip the combat zone had been overrun or putout o faction at an early stage. Once air superiority, or anything approaching cq jality, is lost it is difficult to recover and almost impossible when the army which relies on it is in retreat. IZEY -POINT Encirclement Plan Gains Soviet Victories Although the Germans must have envisaged the possibility o f being compelled to with­draw from Vitebsk and the upper Dnieper at some stage, it is quite clear that they havo not voluntarily withdraw anon preconceived plan and that they have suffered an unex­pected and crushing disaster. The Russian plano f encircling each o f the key-points of the front while combining it with a wider pincer attack towards Minsk, which might have provided a rallying pivot in rear, was well designed to breakup attempts <o carryout a well co-ordinated last minute withdrawal. The amazing capture o f Minsk a few hours after the Germans had broadcast that it It is in fact astonishing th a tit was practicable, in spite o f des­perately unfavourable weather, to disembark reinforcements and supplies on the beaches sufficient to maintain the offen­sive operations which led to the capture o f the fortress and pinned down Rom m el’s reserves. It must be 'realised, however, that a general offen­sive and an advance to more distant objectives would have entailed immense and constantly increasing demands which a beach organization could not have met. Only the most per­fect organization could have met requirements during the first three weeks, and we have yet to learn what the effort cost in loss o f stores and landing craft from weather alone, though we know it Army at a distance and to blunt the edge must have been high. o f any offensive delivered against it. The The final assault Con herbourg was position was obviously strong and very large delivered with immense dash and deter- BATTLE FOR CAEN flared up afresh on June 25,1944, when British infantry of the 2nd Army broke out of the Normandy beach-head perimeter, which had been static for two weeks, and drove a salient into enemy positions S.W. of that town. Our armour and infantry crossed the River Odon on a front of two miles on June 28 and established a bridgehead towards the River Orne which withstood several sharp counter-attacks. The approxi­mate position on June 30 is indicated above. m ination coupled with the tactical skill shown in outflanking and by-passing the enem y’s strong points, it is evidence o f the very high standard o f training that has been reached by American troops. The success o f the operation, however, depended largely on whether Rommel could be prevented from intervening with his arm oured reserves. That he was unable to make any counter-attack from outside the ringo f encirclement was entirely due to the vigorous offensive attitude o f the British and Canadian troops in the Caen-Tilly area which pinned all his available reserves to that sector o f his front. That offensive action must, however, have made heavy demands on the reserves o f munitions and material which Montgomery had been able to accum ulate—dem ands which might rapidly have increased if Rommel had been able to launch an attack on a large scale. /C HERB OUR G was Intended to ^Withstand aLong Siege I think it will therefore be recognized that under the conditions o f weather which made the replenishment o f munitions, supplies and full air co-operation uncertain. Generals Eisenhower and Montgomery made a not­ably bold decision when they refused to be deterred from pursuing their offensive policy. Less determined leaders might well have been forces would be needed to capture it, which seemed to make it probable that the Russians would select weaker sections o f the front was apparently taken without severe fighting. B y courtesy of The Times must and would beheld at all costs came as a surprise even to those who realized the state o f demoralization of B usch's troops, o f which the capture and killing o f so many senior generals is convincing proof. The city for their initial offensive. If, however, a major offensive developed here 1 believed that the Germans would resort to elastic delaying defence, and carryout a well-planned co­ordinated withdraw alto a shorter front. T then light o f events it would seem that the Germans were over-confident in the strength o f the position, and, believing that the main Russian offensive would come on Marshal Z h ukov's front towards Lvov, were surprised by the weight o f .the offensive north o f the Pripet and the time o fits delivery. Possibly they considered that the prepara­tions for the offensive, which they must have observed, only indicated a threat designed to draw their reserves northwards. This would explain why they seem to have left the bulk o f their Panzer Divisions with Von M anstcin and to have been weak in the air when the blow fell. Here again tljey may have used too high a proportion o f inferior divisions in what they assumed to be impregnable de­ fences otherwise it is difficult to understand the rapidity with which the Russian victory was achieved. When the danger was fully realized the lack o f good and direct lateral communica­tions must have been felt, making it impos- PAGE 131 in spite o f the arrival o f fresh reinforcements, and its abandonment was evidently due to a panic decision—for although it was bound to fall indue course, the Russians' outflanking thrust could hardly have been strong enough to effect immediate encirclement. We can only conclude that the Russians have again show nan amazing ability to breakthrough the strongest defences, and what is even more surprising, the Germans have again signally failed in defence o f much stronger positions than the Russians have successfully held on other occasions. Com­paring the defence o f Leningrad, Moscow and Stalingrad with the rapid failure of the German defence on the Don, at Orel, in the Crimea and now Cat herbourg and Vitebsk, one wonders if there is something radically wrong with German tactical theories. I sus­pect that when it comes to the attack or defence o f really strongly fortified positions the Germans pay the penalty for over- reliance on armour to the neglect o f develop­ing the full power o f artillery, to which both in attack and defence the Russians have owed their successes. Armour is, o f course, of immense value in mobile operations and as a co-operative weapon, but infantry and artillery are still the dominant arms whey armies are locked inclose combat.
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