Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Mediterranean Campaign by Rick Atkinson

[ The tactical competence of the Allied Command in Sicily and Italy was bad. Coordination between the services- army, navy and air force- was poor and resulted in many deaths by friendly fire.  Supply services were chaotic. Landings at Salerno and Anzio poorly conceived and quickly bogged down  in defensive positions. The idiosyncratic personalities of the top generals got in the way of  sound thinking. Undue optimism, thin tolerance for self-criticism  and  under-estimation of the strength and capacity of the enemy  ruled the days.]

 The 608-day campaign to liberate Italy cost 312,000 Allied casualties, equivalent to 40 percent of Allied losses in the decisive campaign for northwest Europe that began at Normandy. Among the three-quarters of a million American troops to serve in Italy, total battle casualties would reach 120,000, including 23,501 killed.

German casualties in Italy remain uncertain, as they were in North Africa. Official U.S. Army history tallied 435,000, including 48,000 enemies killed and 214,000 missing, many of whom were never accounted for. Fifth Army alone reported 121,000 prisoners captured in the campaign. An OSS analysis of obituaries in seventy German newspapers found a steady increase in the number of seventeen- and eighteen-year-old war dead; moreover, by the late summer 1944, nearly one in ten Germans killed in action was said to be over thirty-eight years old.

As the war moved north, Italian refugees returned home to find their towns obliterated and their fields sown with land mines. The Pontine Marshes again became malarial, and nine out of ten acres around Anzio were no longer arable. The ten miles between Ortona and Orsogna held an estimated half million mines; those straggling home carried hepatitis, meningitis, and typhus.  Some who outlived the war died violently from mines, or while trying to disarm live shells to sell the copper and brass for scrap. Two young boys  were killed by a mine along the Rapido River on February 27, 1959.

[All the lessons of combat fatigue and the psychological consequences of killing learned in the Great War had to be relearned during the course of the Italian campaign, though no American soldier was executed for cowardice.]

Was the game worth the candle?

General Alexander thought so. "Any estimate of the value of the campaign must be expressed not in terms of the ground gain," he later wrote, "but in terms of its effect on the war as a whole." By his tally, when Rome fell six of Kesselring's nine "excellent mobile divisions had been severely mauled," and fifty-five German division "were tied down in the Mediterranean by the Allied threat, actual and potential." As the Combined Chiefs commanded, Italy had been knocked from the Axis coalition and hundreds of thousands of Hitler's troops had been "sucked into the vortex of defeat," in the glum phrase of a senior German general in Berlin. Churchill later wrote, "The principal task of our armies ad been to draw off and contain the greatest possible number of Germans. This had been admirably fulfilled."

Yet the Allied strategy seemed designed not to win but to endure. "There is  little doubt that Alexander fulfilled his strategic mission." General Jackson later observed, "[but]there is less certainty about the correctness of that mission." Two distinguished British military historians would voice similar skepticism.  John Keegan saw the campaign as "a strategic diversion on the maritime flank of a continental enemy," while Michael Howard believed the Mediterranean strategy reflected Churchill's desire to divert American combat power from the Pacific.  The British, Howard concluded, "never really knew where they were going in the Mediterranean."

Others would be even harsher. The Mediterranean was a "cul-de-sac," wrote the historian Corelli Barnett, "mere byplay in the conclusion of a war that had been won in mass battles of the Eastern and Western front."(There were 22 German divisions in Italy on June 6,1944; by comparison, 157 fought in the east on that day and almost 60 more in western Europe.) Another British eminence, F.F.C. Fuller, in 1948 would call Italy 'tactically the most absurd and strategically the most senseless campaign of the whole war."  B.H. Liddell Hart concluded that the Italian effort "subtracted very heavily" from Allied war resources, "a much larger subtraction from the total effort than the German had incurred by making a stand in Italy." And the American historian David M. Kennedy decried "a needlessly costly sideshow," a grinding war of attrition whose costs were justified by no defensible military or political purpose."

Even Kesselring, ever cheeky for a man who had lost both the battle and the war, would observe in September 1945 that Anglo-American commanders "appeared bound to their fix plans. Opportunities to strike at my flanks were overlooked or disregarded."  Although "German divisions of the highest fighting quality .  .  . were tied down in Italy at the time when they were urgently needed in the French costal areas," Kesselring later added, the Allies "utterly failed to seize their chances."

True enough, all of it, but perhaps not the whole truth. If "to advance is to conquer," in Fredrick the Great's adage, then the Allies continued in the Mediterranean, albeit slowly. When Rome fell, only eleven German U-boats still operated in the entire Mediterranean, and no Allied merchantman would be sunk there for the rest of the war; controlling the middle sea proved vital in liberating Europe, and in guaranteeing another route for Lend-Lease material to Russia via Persia. The bomber offensive continued apace from Italian fields that crept ever closer to the Rich; a sustained and ultimately fatal campaign against German oil production facilities included sic thousand Fifteenth Air Force sorties in the summer of 1944 that targeted vital refineries around Ploesti, Romania. As the historian Douglas Porch wrote, "One must not lose from view the Mediterranean's importance in breaking the offensive power of German arms, and forcing the Reich onto the defensive, after which any hope of victory eluded them."

Moreover, all criticism of the Italian strategy butts against an inconvenient riposte: if not Italy, where? "Events generate their own momentum, impose their own force, and exert their own influence on the will of men," wrote Martin Blumenson, who spent a lifetime pondering the Mediterranean campaign. We went into Sicily and Italy because we had been in Africa." No oceangoing fleet was available to move a half a million men from the African littoral to England, or anywhere else; nor could British ports, rails and other facilities, already overwhelmed by the American hordes staging for OVERLORD, have handled such a force. Moscow would not have tolerated an idling of Allied armies during the ten months between the conquest of Sicily and the Normandy invasion -a ten-month respite the Germans needed badly. "The Italian campaign," wrote the naval historian Samuel Eliot Morison, "was fought because it had to be fought."

Historical tautology may be suspect, and opportunism lacks the panache of grand strategy. From beginning to end, Allied war-making in the Mediterranean tended to be improvisational. The decision to continue pounding north after the capture of Rome remains especially difficult to justify. Yet the American commander-in-chief had grown comfortable with a campaign that in Italy more than in any other theater resembled the grinding inelegance of World War I. "Our war of attrition is doing its wok," Franklin Roosevelt had said a week after the invasion of Sicily, and he never renounced that strategy.

Certainly lessons learned in Sicily and southern Italy paid dividends later in the war, notably the expertise gained in complex amphibious operations and in fighting as a large, multinational coalition. [ ultimately the sheer material capacities of the Americans was the remedy for all their strategic and tactical shortcomings- JDS]. Many other lessons  were prosaic but sterling, such as the realization that the truck hauling ammunition to the front was no less vital than the gun firing it.

For the U.S. Army, which would shoulder the heaviest burden in western Europe for the balance of the war, there was also the priceless conviction that American soldiers could slug it out with the best German troops, division by division,  and prevail.

[ Exploiting a hitherto unrecognized gap in the German lines, Major General Fred I. Walker's thrust across Monte Artemismo, coming up in the  rear of the enemy's  last redoubt before Rome was an exception to the  usual tactical blunderings of the Allied forces.  Previously, after the attack across the Rapido river turned into a debacle, this disaffected commander had written that "The stupidity of some higher commanders seems to be profound." The gallantry and sacrifice of Polish battalions in finally seizing  Monte Cassino was unsurpassed.]

On Governing an Insula by Don Quixote

Just then Don Quixote came in, and learning what had happened and how quickly Sancho Panza was to leave for his governorship, with permission of the duke he took Sancho by the hand and went with him to his room, intending to advise him on how he was to behave as governor.

When they had entered his bedchamber, Don Quixote closed the door behind him and almost forced Sancho to sit down beside him, and in a tranquil voice he said:

"I give infinite thanks to heaven, Sancho my friend, that before and prior to my having found good luck, Fortune has come out to welcome and receive you. I, who had set aside a portion of my success as payment for your services, find myself at the very beginning of my advancement, and you, before it is time and contrary to the law of reasonable discourse, find yourself rewarded with all your desires. Others bribe, importune, solicit, are early risers, plead, persist, and do not achieve what they long for, and another comes along and without knowing how or why finds himself with the office and position that many others strove for: and here the saying certainly applies and is appropriate: aspirations are ruled by good and bad fortune. You, who in my opinion are undoubtedly a dolt, and who, without rising early or staying up late or making any effort whatsoever, with nothing more than the breath of knight errantry that has touched you, without further ado find yourself governor of an insula as if it were of no consequence. I say all this, O Sancho, so that you do not attribute the kindness you have received to your own merits, but give thanks first to heaven for disposing matters so sweetly, and then to the greatness that lies in the profession of knight errantry.

Now, with your heart disposed to believe what I told you, pay heed, my son, to your Cato, who wishes to advise you and be a polestar and guide that sets your course and leads you to a safe port on the tempestuous sea where you are about to set sail, for offices and great responsibilities are nothing more than a deep gulf of confusions.

First, my son, you must fear God, because in fearing Him lies wisdom, and if you are wise, you cannot err in anything. Second, you must look at who you are and make an effort to know yourself, which is the most difficult knowledge one can imagine. When you know yourself, you will not puff yourself up like the frog who wanted to be the equal of the ox, and if you can do this, the fact that you kept pigs at home will be like the ugly feet beneath the peacock's tail of your foolishness."

"It's true," responded Sancho, "but that's when I was a boy; later, when I was a little older, it was geese that I kept, not pigs. But this seems beside the point; not everybody who governs comes from the lineage of kings."

"That is true," replied Don Quixote, "and for that reason those who are not of noble origin should bring to the gravity of the position they hold a gentle mildness which, guided by prudence, may save them from the malicious gossip that no station in life can escape. Take pride in the humbleness of your lineage, and do not distain to say that you come from peasants, for seeing that you are not ashamed of it, no one will attempt to shame you; take more pride in being a humble virtuous man than in being a noble sinner. Innumerable men born of low family have risen to the highest pontifical and imperial dignity, and I could cite so many examples of his truth that you would grow weary.

Consider, Sancho, if you take virtue as your means, and pride in performing virtuous deeds, there is no reason to envy the means of princes and lords, because blood is inherited, and virtue is acquired, and virtue in an of itself has a value that blood does not. This being so, as it is, if one of your relatives comes to see you while you are on your insula, do not scorn or insult him; on the contrary, you should welcome, receive, and entertain him; in this way you will satisfy heaven, which does not wish anyone to scorn what it has created, and you will respond as you should to a well-ordered nature. If you bring your wife with you (because it is not a good idea for those who attend to governing for a long time to be without their own spouses), teach her, instruct her, and smooth away her natural roughness, because everything a wise governor acquires can be lost and wasted by a crude and foolish wife. If by chance you are widowed, which is something that can happen, and with your position you wish a better wife, do not take one to serve as your lure and fishing rod, and the hood for your I don't want it; because it is true when I tell you that for everything received by the judge's wife her husband will be accountable at the universal reckoning, when he will pay four times over in death for the ledger entries he ignored in life.

Never be guided by arbitrariness in law, which tends to have a good deal of influence on ignorant men who take pride in being clever. Let the tears of the poor find in you more compassion, but not more justice, than the briefs of the wealthy. Try to discover the truth in all the promises and gifts of the rich man, as well as in the poor man's sobs and entreaties. When there can and should be a place for impartiality, do not bring the entire vigor of the law the bear on the offender, for the reputation of the harsh judge is not better than that of the compassionate one. If you happen to bend the staff of justice, let it be with the weight not of a gift, but of mercy. If you judge the case of one of your enemies, put your injury out of your mind and turn your thoughts to the truth of the question.  Do not be blinded by your own passion in another's trial, for most of the time the mistakes you make cannot be remedied, and if they can, it will be to the detriment of your good name and even your fortune.  If a beautiful woman comes to you to plead for justice, turn your eyes from her tears and your ear from her sobs, and consider without haste the substance of what she is asking if you do not want your reason to be drowned in her weeping and your goodness in her sighs. If you must punish a man with deeds, do not abuse him with words, for the pain of punishment is enough for the unfortunate man without the addition of malicious speech. Consider the culprit who falls under your jurisdiction as a fallen man subject to the conditions of our depraved nature, and to the extent that you can, without doing injury to the opposing party, show him compassion and clemency, because although all the attributes of God are equal, in  our view mercy is more brilliant and splendid than justice.

If you follow these precepts and rules, Sancho, your days will be long, your fame eternal, your rewards overflowing, your joy indescribable; you will marry your children as you wish, they and their grandchildren will have titles, you will live in peace and harmony with all people, and in the final moments of your life, in a gentle and ripe old age ,the moment of your death will come and the tender, delicate hands of your great-grandchildren will close your eyes. What I have said to you so far are the teachings that will adorn your soul; now listen to the ones that will serve to adorn your body.  .  ."