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Waddell, Steve R. United States Army Logistics: The Normandy Campaign, 1944. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994.
Acknowledgments; Introduction; photos; maps; charts; tables; Conclusion; Bibliography; index.
If an army travels on its stomach, then the American force landing in Normandy, fighting from beachhead to bocage, and finally breaking out into the interior of France would require enormous amounts of sustenance to fulfill its huge and incessant appetite. Of this the logistical planners of Overlord were well aware. How effectively they solved the supply problems, and the effect of various shortages and distribution bottlenecks on operations, makes for a fascinating study by Steve Waddell. For it was in the unglamorous but absolutely critical arena of logistics that the combat power of the Allied troops in Normandy -- and ultimately the success or failure of the return to the continent -- was decided.
From the beginning the logistical side of Overlord was in some disarray as military bureaucrats battled for ascendancy in controlling the sprawling, complicated supply organization. The author explains how Lt. General J. C. H. "Jesus Christ Himself" Lee eventually came to rule the Services of Supply (later redesignated Communications Zone, or COMZ) more in the manner of medieval merchant prince than twentieth century military technocrat. (His private train and luxurious hotel accommodations in Paris somehow bring to mind a vision of Hermann Goering, although this may be an unfair comparison.) Despite the fact that everyone on the face of the planet knew the Allies would eventually be assaulting the French coast, the actual logistics planning for Overlord and the ensuing operation was compressed into a helter-skelter four-month exercise marked more by guesswork and speculation than on the lessons of amphibious landings learned during Torch, Husky, Avalanche, and the Central Pacific landings.
Waddell also examines the inter-relationship between the planning for the assault landing and the supply requirements of the invasion force. It was, after all, the critical necessity of capturing a functional port at the earliest possible moment that dictated which areas could be considered for the invasion. Further, the tonnages of supplies that needed to be brought ashore to support the assault right from the start constrained the size of the invasion force itself and additionally limited the pace of the build up of combat strength. Every extra fighting man or weapon that came ashore placed heavier strain on the logistics planners to find more shipping, more landing craft, more suitable space for supply dumps along the beaches, more vehicles to distribute the stores, and more supply personnel to run the services of supply-- all of which in turn increased the demand for more of the same.
The book discusses issues such as the inaccurate estimates that led to critical shortages of artillery and mortar ammunition, automatic weapons, and even rifle grenades during the bloody close-in fighting in the hedgerows; the serious impact of the destruction of the American artificial "mulberry" harbor during the great Channel storm and the failure to capture Cherbourg and open its port facilities; the famed Red Ball Express and the less well-known facts of gasoline theft by GIs for sale on the black market, intentional damage to trucks to gain respite from the unrelenting pace of convoy driving, and the highway carnage of sleepy young truck drivers sailing off French roads.
Although much of this same ground has been covered in Ruppenthal's pair of US Army volumes, Van Creveld's Supplying War chapter on France, and even Weigley's more general Eisenhower's Lieutenant's, Waddell offers some fresh insights. I especially liked his explanation of the factors affecting the supply capacity of Cherbourg, and how it was eventually most restricted by the undeveloped road and rail network leading out of the peninsula rather than by berthing space, cranes, or stevedores.
Waddell offers relatively few of his own opinions and conclusions but, in addition to citing facts and figures, the book also compares and contrasts some of the arguments presented in previous works on Normandy (such as Van Creveld, Weigley, and Mack).
The question of whether capturing Quiberon Bay and establishing it as a major port would have eased the American supply situation in late August and September would have enabled the Allies to win the war in the fall of 1944 lay at the center of an often forgotten debate that has continued since 1944. [Harold L.] Mack has most strongly propounded the view that failure to mount Operation Chastity led to the supply difficulties encountered by Patton's Third Army, thus preventing an Allied victory in the fall of 1944. Placing the blame on Eisenhower, Bradley, and Patton himself, Mack argued that the three officers did not pay enough attention to logistics. In criticizing Patton, Mack stressed that his failure to see the importance of Brittany occurred because no one informed him of the strategic necessity of the Chastity port. He pointed out that Robert Allen, historian of the Third Army, had asked why Bradley made no effort to clear the Brittany peninsula. Therefore, according to Mack, had Patton been enlightened about the long term importance of the Quiberon Bay port he would have devoted more time and effort to operations in Brittany.
Don't read this for scintillating man-to-man combat action and tales of personal heroism. However, Waddell has written a scholarly history of this important aspect of the campaign in Normandy and beyond. As an instructor at the US Military Academy, it is clear that he sees much value to today's military in analyzing the successes and failures of amphibious logistics from more than fifty years ago. His concluding quote from the unpublished memoirs of Henry S. Aurand is apropos: "COMZ was the greatest organization to meet emergencies that the world has ever seen. But it should have been the organization which let no emergencies occur."
Available from mail order booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from Greenwood.
Thanks to Greenwood Press for providing this review copy.
Reviewed 12 May 1997
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