June 07, 2004

More on D-Day 

Silent Running has BeebVision, a series of articles reporting the events of Normandy Landing as they were written by today's BBC.

(Here's a sample of today's BBC style:
The Mehdi Army, which also engaged in fighting in Iraq's other holy city Karbala, is thought to have numbered less than 10,000 fighters when the insurgency began.
But now it is much depleted. They have lost many hundreds of fighters in pitched battles with US-led coalition forces.
Observers say the heavy casualty toll will have contributed to Mr Sadr's decision to negotiate a truce.
In light of the MA's set-up the huge disparity between their losses and those of the Americans is unsurprising. Although a few of the militia may be former soldiers, for the most part none of them have ever been trained for war.
"They have no real chain of command, no discipline and no training," said Mr Hiltermann.

Can you guess from this article that the Mahdi Army has been utterly defeated and As-Sadr's political influence dropped to near zero?)

Operation Overlord (the Normandy Landing and associated actions) was also a gamble.
Yes, there were preparations. There had been well crafted intelligence and conter-intelligence operations. But an amphibious landing is always a dodgy business, even against a half-competent enemy. And the Germans were 100% competent.
There was no way to assess reliably the damage inflicted to German fortifications by air and ship bombings, and the first grunts to set foot on the beaches had to assess the situation by themselves, in the hardest way. And there was also a matter of "window of opportunity": the ability to land succesfully was influenced also by weather, moon and tide phase and other factors. If the date of 6 June was missed, the next suitable date would have been months later. And in the meanwhile, the Germans could have strengthened the coastal defences, and/or discovered the real Allies' attack plans. At that point, the would have been no way to land.

Eisenhower judged that the preparations were complete, and the circumstances favourable, and he took the gamble. He won, at great cost, and the end of Nazi Germany began. Yes, the germans were having a difficult time also on the eastern front, but there are two points to make: first, it's not sure that the Red Army alone could have won.
Second, was a Stalinist Europe really that better than a Nazist Europe?

That day, some new technologies were also fielded: the "swimming tanks", light tanks equipped with a sort of floating belt and a propeller, which were supposed to be deployed a few kilometers offshore and then sail to the beach. Those were an abysmal failure: only 3 out of 29 reached the shore; the others sunk. There were other new systems, such as tanks used to deploy "transit bands", onto which other vehicles could ride without bogging down in the sand, and those worked fine.

It is very unusual for military opearations to go exactly as planned. Often there will be surprises, most of them nasty. But it's harmful to cry "Defeat! Quagmire!" if something goes wrong. The only way to overcome adversities is to put the maximum effort in it, rely on training and skills, and on the courage and ingenuity of individuals.
This is what the GIs in the carnage of Omaha Beach did, and they won. The did not complain, or curse the generals for poor planning, but they fought with steel determination for every meter of land.

This is an important lesson to learn, not to fall victim of defeatism, but to keep looking at the final objective, and not be deterred by setbacks.


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