World War II: Allied Broad-Front Strategy (September 1944)

Figure 1.--

After the Allied breakout from Normandy, the German collpse was so sudden that there was really so sudden that there was no real strategy other than a relentless push forward against an ememny that had no real interest, but to to get back to the Reich and the presumed safety of the West Wall as soon as possible. Overlord planners predicated that the Germans would attempt make successive stands on the major water barriers across France and Belgium. A major stand was forseen at the Seine River. None of this occurred. The German West Wall or Siegfried Line had, however, been stripped of its armment to build the Atlantic Wall. As the Allied armies moved through France, the Germans moved to build up the West Wall defenses. The Normandy and southern France invasions forces joined up and headed toward the Reich. The French began buiding a new army. The failure of Market Garden and supply shortages bought the Germans the time that they needed to harden the West Wall. Gen. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, was thus faced with devising a strategy to invade the Reich and destroy the German armies. Some commanders, most notably Montgomery and Patton, argued for powerful, bold narrow thrust, of course commanded by them, deep into the Reich defeat the Germans by seizing Berlin. Gen. Eisenhower decided on a broad-front approach (September 1944). Montgomery in particular was so sure of his own brilliance and openly critical that Eisehower came very closely to firing him. (Only an abject apology saved him.) Patton ws also sure of his brilliance, but not openly insubordinate. The only diversion from the Broad-Front decision was Market Garden which was prompted in part by the German V-2 attackson London. Montgomery's failure only cemented Eisenhower's commitment to broad-front strategy. In this regard, Montgomery's fixation on Market Garden led to him overlooking the Scheldt Estuary, and as a result the Allies were unable to use the critical port of Antwerp for several months. Eisenhower began building up the Allied forces and moving toward the Rhine through the whole length of the Western Front, from the North Sea to Switzerland in preparation for the final drive into the Reich. The debate over the different approches continues to this day. Often neglected in the debate are two salient issues--logistics and the effectiveness of the Allied soldiers. First, logistics was a factor and as is often the case not adequately assed by World War II historians. The Germans had efficently destroyed French ports and as a result the Aliies were still usung the Normndy beaches. And thanks to Montgomery, the port of Antwerp which was recovered in tact was unusable because the Germans in the Scheldt Estuary were bipassed. Supply shortages would limit Allied opertions for several months. Eisenhower's decision was in large measure based on logistic factors. [Ruppenthal1] Second is the quality of the Allies soldiers. This is an issue most Western historians do not want to address, because it is seen as demeaning to the brave men who defeated the NAZI tyranny, but it is was a factor in Eisenhower's thinking. The Allied armies simply weren't proficient enough to justify the risks associated with a narrow thrust into Germany's vitals. The Germans were experinced and battle hardened and they had infantry weponry which except for the M-1 Garand, was superior to those of the Allied infantry. The German soldier was also more ideolgically steeled than Allied soldiers, especially the Americans. Most of the Americn soldiers had no military experience and often only a few months of training. This German superiority in arms was especually strong in armor. To present the battle-hardened Wehrmacht with an exposed Allied flank was to invite trouble. The Germans could not stop a relentless Broad Front drive. A narrow front drive, on the other hand, while offering the prospect for spectacular sucess, also presented the Germans with the opportunity to deal the Allies a stinging reversal.


Ruppenthal, Roland G. United States Army in World War II: Logistical Support of the Armies, Volume II (Washington, 1959). See Chapter I.


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Last updated: 10:58 PM 10/3/2015