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History's Verdict: The summers of 1944 and 2004

Victor Davis Hanson

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About this time 60 years ago, six weeks after the Normandy beach landings, Americans were dying in droves in France. We think of the 76-day Normandy campaign of summer and autumn 1944 as an astounding American success -- and indeed it was, as Anglo-American forces cleared much of France of its Nazi occupiers in less than three months. But the outcome was not at all preordained, and more often was the stuff of great tragedy. Blunders were daily occurrences -- resulting in 2,500 Allied casualties a day. In any average three-day period, more were killed, wounded, or missing than there have been in over a year in Iraq.

Pre-invasion intelligence -- despite ULTRA and a variety of brilliant analysts who had done so well to facilitate our amphibious landings -- had no idea of what war in the hedgerows would be like. How can you spend months spying out everything from beach sand to tidal currents and not invest a second into investigating the nature of the tank terrain a few miles from the beach? The horrific result was that the Allies were utterly unprepared for the disaster to come -- and died by the thousands in the bocage of June and July.

Everything went wrong in the days after June 6, and 60 years later the carnage should still make us weep. The army soon learned that their light Sherman tanks were no match for Nazi Panthers and Tigers. Hundreds of their "Ronson-lighters" -- crews and all -- went up in smoke. Indeed, 60 percent of all lost Shermans were torched by single shots from enemy Panzers. In contrast, only one in three of the Americans' salvos even penetrated German armor.

Prewar America had the know-how to build big, well-armored tanks, with diesel engines, wide tracks, and low silhouettes. Yet General George Marshall had deliberately chosen lighter, cheaper designs -- the idea being that thousands of mass-produced, easily maintained 32-ton Shermans could run over enemy infantry before encountering a rarer, superior 43-ton Panther or 56-ton Tiger. Should he have been removed for such naiveté, which led to thousands of American dead? Whom to blame?

Read the entire article on the National Review Online website.

Posted: 7/31/04



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