Week Six Reading

Stokesbury (217-260, 275-309)

This is a time to explore whether the Allied victory or Axis defeat was inevitable based on the numbers game. The questions this week will lead to a selection of decisions that have occurred from 1936-1942 that affected the end result

Ron’s Responses 
2. Stalingrad is the turning point on the Eastern Front. Why would a military commander try to avoid fighting in a city like this one?           

Urban combat is one of the most difficult undertakings of a military using traditional tactics because those tactics were designed for field warfare. In an urban setting, there are an infinite number of bunkers, shelters, ambush points along with numerous elevated positions. It’s much easier to defend a city than it is to conquer a city, however, and the people of Stalingrad proved this to be the case. As Stokesbury puts it, ““City fighting is a nightmare for troops and commanders alike; for the troops all the skills developed in open country are negated. The need for constant alertness saps vitality, and even perpetual caution is not proof against sudden surprise, the sniper, the mine, the booby-trap, the man who leaps around the corner and shoots first, the grenade that comes sailing in out of nowhere. Commanders lose control of their battles and watch their forces disappear into a choked mess that defies description.” Something that made Stalingrad especially difficult was the fact that it was laid out along several rivers with numerous natural features preventing a solid attack. The surrounding countryside also proved to bring problems for the Germans.  

3. In hindsight, an Allied victory looks inevitable. The production capabilities, the manpower, and the geographic locations of the Allies proved too much for the goals of the Axis Powers. Yet we know that history is not inevitable. Choices play a role. Choices in policy, choices in military strategy, and choices in industry all played a role in reaching the “equilibrium” of late-1942. What three choices by any of the individuals we have read about so far have helped bring us to this point? Explain.

I think an Axis defeat looks inevitable but an Allied victory is not necessarily the case. As we have seen in modern times, and throughout history, defeat is easier to achieve than victory and it still astonishes me that after all those civilian deaths, after all that animosity and intense bloodshed, the leading nations of World War II can sit down and have a guarded peace with one another. I think that the only one who holds the title for “impactful choices” has to be Adolf Hitler. His bumbling on the German side with logistics, military movements and domestic work clearly led to the defeat of the Axis powers. Numerous tactical errors made during the assaults on Moscow and Stalingrad stick out in my mind as turning the tide of the war. The Soviets were on their heels as Hitler drove east but then held back at considerable cost to both sides. Similarly, Hitler’s inability to trust his senior generals and pure ego that forced him to micromanage every situation, was a choice that led to this tilt in the equilibrium. As a civilian leader, Hitler should have stuck with these affairs because then he might not have made his third and, in my opinion, his most crucial mistake in shifting the tide of the ear. A lack of long-term economic development in a time of economic stress and, potentially, economic strength, reflects poor leadership and foresight. Hitler clearly did not foresee the war lasting as long as it did otherwise why would he have not been prepared to keep it well supplied.

Favorite quotes for the week…

“One of the remarkable aspects of wartime planning was that governments seldom seemed to apply their own experience to their enemies’ situations. The British knew they had not broken under the German bombing but they assumed the Germans would break under their bombing.”

Speaks to a lot of elements of the human psyche.

“The Americans, committed to precision bombing, became preoccupied with a search for the magic target. Surely, they told themselves, there must be one vital, vulnerable spot in the enemy war machine. Knock out that one specific component, and the Germans would come tumbling down.”

Why does it seem like the Americans are always up to this? I know I have a tendency to try and find a silver bullet, in the absence of one I keep working.

Matti’s Responses
2. Stalingrad is the turning point on the Eastern Front. Why would a military commander try to avoid fighting in a city like this one?           

Fighting in a city is like throwing a tennis ball at your sibling in car, if you get lucky you hit them, if not it could come right back in your face bouncing off of everything in sight. There are many reasons why military officers avoid fighting in places such as Stalingrad. Firstly Stalingrad was a major industrial city. Being a major city meant that not only would there be countless soldiers stationed there to protect it but that they would be well supplied given the city’s ability to readily create weapons, ammunitions etc… Secondly the location of Stalingrad atop a hill made attacking the city more difficult given the fact that it’s not only harder to run up a hill but that it is easier to shoot down one as well. The Russian military also had the upper hand given the fact that they were familiar with the location, if your sneaking around corners with your life on the line it helps if you know where you’re going. The overall savage nature of the Eastern front at this time is another reason why generals would want to avoid battles such as Stalingrad. When the army you are facing is not afraid of carnage, the people are throwing grenades out of windows and you know you are outnumbered from the very beginning there is very much a reason to be concerned. 


3. In hindsight, an Allied victory looks inevitable. The production capabilities, the manpower, and the geographic locations of the Allies proved too much for the goals of the Axis Powers. Yet we know that history is not inevitable. Choices play a role. Choices in policy, choices in military strategy, and choices in industry all played a role in reaching the “equilibrium” of late-1942. What three choices by any of the individuals we have read about so far have helped bring us to this point? Explain.

While there are many successful decisions made by Allied personnel one could argue got us to the point of equilibrium thus far in the war there are three distinct poor decisions that helped to get us there. These poor decisions none the less were made by Hitler, the first of which being his poor decision in strategy when it came to the Battle of Britain. The Battle of Britain is often argued as what could have been the end of the war all together, the French had for the most part been dealt with and all that remained was the need to deal with Britain. Had Hitler achieved victory here the entire conflict might have been settled thus never allowing us to reach the equilibrium point we have reached in our research thus far. Another poor decision by Hitler was the decision to invade Russia. Two front wars historically (especially for the Germans) don’t end well. The attacking of Russia in and of itself was an optimistic idea in the first place, but to do so when another front was active in the west was a terrible strategic blunder. However it was this blunder that allowed for the spreading out of German forces and was a major contributor to the capping off ( and eventual decline) of the German empire. The third blunder that Hitler made was the decision to declare war on the United States just after Pearl Harbor. The US might have eventually declared war on Hitler but declaring war on them was essentially inviting them to come fight the Germans when they already were busy with a two front war. Had Hitler not declared war it is arguable that the US might have been more focused on the Pacific theater but the US’s direct involvement in the European theater would largely aid in the reaching of the equilibrium point we are currently discussing.

 


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