Week Ten reading

“Tonight is the Night of Nights. Tomorrow throughout the whole of our homeland and the Allied world the bells will ring out the tidings that you have arrived, and the invasion for liberation has begun.”          
 -- Colonel Robert F. Sink, message to the 506th Regiment, June 5, 1944
Band of Brothers, 56-88
D-Day, 51-73

Choose two:
-- What was the mission of the airborne on D-Day? Why were their missions important?
-- British Brigadier James Hill told his troops “do not be daunted if chaos reigns. It undoubtedly will.” (55) What role did chaos and confusion play in the airborne drops?
-- What were the key factors in the success of the Allied airborne on D-Day?
-- British Air Marshal Leigh-Mallory was afraid the airborne troops would be slaughtered and he begged Eisenhower to cancel the drop. If the drops had been canceled, how might D-Day have been different?
Ron's Response
What were the key factors in the success of the Allied airborne on D-Day?
Preparation, intelligence, training, air/water superiority, and luck are the key factors in the success of the Allied airborne on D-Day. Even with such an extensive list, success in the invasion was hardly a pre-determined outcome. Every ground soldier on up to Eisenhower knew that success would not be known for weeks after D-Day but that failure would probably come relatively soon and would have harsher consequences. It would be possible to win the first phase of the battle only to lose it later. The preparation in throughly training soldiers, even if it didn’t always work out, so they’d be able to focus on the situation rather than their actions. Intelligence was amazing, as we’ve discussed before, and the Allied maps showing soldiers so much more than the Germans expected them to know. It is also worth noting that these soldiers of the 101st, 82nd and others were highly trained, specialized soldiers who were strongly conditioned and given a lot of preparation. The Germans they were fighting were well seasoned, but their ferocity was subdued even if their lethality was finely tuned. Had a European invasion taken place earlier, the Allies lacked enough superiority in the air and sea—troops would have been more susceptible to hostile fire and paratroopers might not have even been used for their primary objective–secure the peninsula and go after German guns/armor that would be used to repel the invasion. The paratroopers were the flank to the amphibious front. My final factor is luck, specifically dumb luck and, especially, good luck. All the variables in the world can stack against you and while it’s true you make your own luck, bad things happen to good plans and Eisenhower knew that and felt it more than anybody.

British Brigadier James Hill told his troops “do not be daunted if chaos reigns. It undoubtedly will.” (55) What role did chaos and confusion play in the airborne drops?
Part of me wants to say that chaos and confusion was the role of the airborne drops. To the German forces on the ground, the transition in a few hours from a peninsula devoid of British and Americans, to one literally crawling with them was indicative of a change in the works. It was not meant for the drops to be all over the place, but because of the chaos that reigned in the air that night, that’s how it worked out. “Another airborne officer, however, observed that the unintended dispersal of units during the chaotic drop had proved an unexpected advantage in one way: ‘The Germans thought we were all over creation.’” (p. 66). The British and American troops were well trained, they were mostly well equipped with the major deficiencies coming because of the chaos during the drops with lost equipment. A lot of paratroopers/gliders lost their lives that night and in the days to come because of the chaos and confusion, but I believe the benefits outweigh the liabilities from a long-range standpoint. I’ve made this point before and I’ll make it again–when soldiers know how to problem solve, when they know how to work together to overcome adversity, when they know how to conduct business on their own as well as they know how to follow orders you have a solid unit. Ambrose’s words about democracies making excellent armies comes to mind. Chaos and confusion are the name of the game in a system of government like a democracy/republic. This is the system in which these soldiers grew up and it prepared them, as did living through the depression, for having to shift on the fly and play the cards they were dealt rather than the ones they wanted.

Matti's Response
British Brigadier James Hill told his troops “do not be daunted if chaos reigns. It undoubtedly will.” (55) What role did chaos and confusion play in the airborne drops?
Chaos and confusion are usually words we typically associate with their negative connotations but when one looks at the airborne drops, it is chaos and confusion that proved to be the key to success. The scattering of troops that night created chaos, it was literally raining men! The complete 180 degree flip flop from a country void of British and Americans to one crawling with them created an aura of utter chaos. While for some soldiers the inability for things to go as planned lead to their untimely deaths one cannot help but see the advantage that the chaos allowed the allies to obtain. Another way to visualize this is when you are playing dodge ball, when it’s us versus them in a straight line and you can see what’s going on you are much better able to function and it is truly a match of skill. But if you were playing dodge ball and suddenly people started falling from the rafters, coming in the side doors and up through the floor boards, well then you might be able to understand how the Germans felt.

What were the key factors in the success of the Allied airborne on D-Day?
The key factors that made the Allied airborne invasion on D-Day success really come down to a person to person basis. One can look at the broad terms and say that it was the intense training and preparation that prepared the soldiers and the strategies laid forth by the Generals that allowed for a successful invasion but the fact of the matter is it is each soldier that allowed for the success. When you are fighting in the midst of absolute chaos, dropped miles from your intended drop sight no amount of training and strategy plans is going to determine how well you do. The deciding factors therefore were sheer luck and the way individual soldiers responded to the adverse conditions.


Week Nine Reading

Consider the reality of the young men who were "getting ready" to launch this invasion. What is their emotional state? Can you connect this to another experience or historical event? 

Band of Brothers, pages 42 to 55
The Bedford Boys, pages 67 to 110
Ron's Response

It would be absolutely nerve-racking to go through this experience of waiting, training, and trying not to think about what all the waiting and training was really all about. I would imagine that there would be an extreme sense of urgency to just get on with it and get over it, but impending doom is also something easy to try and put off.  I think the emotional state of each man depends on his personality, his life situation, his age and his disposition with the other men. Because the vast majority of them are young men, I think that it still has the feeling of being an adventure. The distractions of youth are all around in England including the excesses of youth. Still, whether angry or depressed, eager or fearful, the state of purgatory is not an easy one to sit through. 

Connecting this to another experience or historical event is tough to do because of the circumstances. On a superficial level, it's just like men in most every war prior and most wars since. A state of waiting just goes with the territory in preparing for war. In each case the age of the men is similar, distractions exist, preparations occupy the time, emotions are all over the board. 

The closest thing I can think of this being like is the experience of a good friend who battled brain cancer for three years before it finally took his life. The seizure he had that made the problem apparent was like his own version of Pearl Harbor. A previously unknown problem suddenly came up and the enemy was then identified. An assessment of resources was taken, plans made for attack, and then he proceeded to receive treatment. The tumor was operated on, irradiated, shrunk and blasted with chemo but it still remained. Each new treatment had the same pattern: learn about it, learn the risks, spend time considering it, make the appointment and then wait for that date to come. The period of time from making the appointment to showing up for the appointment is probably what it felt like for the soldiers pre-D-Day. You know that this could be the end, you feel prepared but for what you aren't sure so how do you handle it? Live like life is almost over? Live like life is going to have another chance? Seeing it was not easy because there was nothing that could be done except for help from the sideline. I'd believe that the experiences of me and most of his friends was similar to those of soldiers' loved ones. Focus on preparation and support knowing that the final battles are out of your control and not your fight to make.

Matti's Response--A slightly different prompt than the teacher prompt this week....you'll see that first then Matti's response to it.
Discipline can be defined many different ways; “training to act in accordance with rules “ , “activity, exercise, or a regimen that develops or improves a skill; training” , “punishment inflicted by way of correction and training.” In both of the readings from this week multiple examples exist for each of these definitions. The intense discipline involved in the preparation of Operation Overlord is much more than the standard idea we have of “military discipline” or organization.

The soldiers themselves experienced first hand multiple forms of discipline. They were expected to follow orders to the nth degree and even when small things such as failure to inspect the latrine occurred, harsh reparations often followed. Yet this discipline was not always bad, when describing his first encounter with tanks in Band of Brothers, Webster hinted at how had it not been for the discipline he had encountered he would have quite possibly been squashed by a tank.

Another example of the theme of discipline can be seen in the precautions taken by the government officials. The strict secrecy through censored letters, and cover ups of incidents such as that at Slapton Sands shows extreme discipline. Not only was every outgoing letter read and censored but every letter leaving the US as well, in addition to the fact men of the 4th Division Infantry were not even permitted to speak to cooks shows just how committed all parties involved were to war effort.

Discipline in all of these situations is crucial because when everything hits the fan and everything is happening for real, it is discipline that will hold a unit together. When the time to live or die comes, it is those who are prepared, who have trained and who show discipline that ultimately come out on top. Discipline allows you to function when everything else is crumbling. The brass knew that Normandy was going to be a blood bath and weren’t entirely sure it would be successful. Troops had to be disciplined to tough it out no matter what, to reorganize and problem solve no matter what and to maintain order when it was not clear who their commander was after all the officers were dead. Had it not been for the extreme discipline, there is no certainty that the landing could have been achieved.