Did the American capture of hill 609 and Mateur earn the respect of the British?

Hello Indy!

You talked before about how the British did not see the Americans as equal to themselves in combat capability, even looking down on them, and that this was worsened by the defeat at Kasserine Pass.

So, did the American capture of hill 609 and Mateur earn the respect of the British? As far as I could tell, the capture not only led to the successful capture of Bizerta, but also to the ability of British forces to continue their stalling attacks.

If I am correct in my analysis, I would think that this would warrant recognition from the British, at least for Omar Bradly.

Thank you and keep going strong!
José Nicanor

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I can’t say as to this particular battle but for much of the War the British Military considered the Americans valuable allies but considered their skills on the battlefield average at best. The British considered themselves as a professional army but considered the Americans as crude and non professional.

There was a certain amount of truth to this as most of the American military never saw actual combat(only about 40% of the US military saw actual combat versus 70% of the British seeing combat) and many officers were fresh out of officer school and little to no actual combat field experience which did lead to high casualties amongst the American soldiers and most of the soldiers were volunteers with no combat experience.

On the British side many of their officers were arrogant and felt they were far superior to American commanders(Montgomery is a prime example) and many of their soldiers were battle tested and had gotten overall better basic training than the Americans However British high command arrogance also cost many soldiers lives because they felt their soldiers were superior on the battlefield.

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Mateur and Hill 609 (end of April 1943 and beginning of May 1943) were too late for to effect the outcome of African campaign. For many British and Commonwealth officers and generals , unfortunetely the rout at Sidi Bou Zid and Kasserine Pass remained an example (and a bad one for sure) for combat effectiveness of US Army. Mind you several points in their critique of US Army in 1942 - 1943 winter and spring were true. Just like British themselves (in Western Desert -Libya , Egypt against Panzer Army Afrika between 1941-43) US Arrmy was learning from hard way , from pure combat experience since professional army in both countries were small to non existent compared to Axis land armies during pre war , inter war years.

That said US Army (with also a decent bit of luck of engaging enemy in small deployments in Tunisia initially in 1942-43 and with help of Allies like British or French aiding them in operations and covering flanks and retreats like Battle of Thala after Kasserine Pass etc ) was learning quickly , faster than British or Commonwealth forces though British had the misfortune of appointing bad commanders (yes Claude Auchinleck I am looking at you , screwing Burma Theater now) and strategic interfarence from Churchill and Japanese entry to war in December 1941 when Commonwealth resources were stretched and diverted to Far East etc…these factors were not affecting US Army in 1943 as they handicapped British in 1941-42. But it is also true that US Armed forces were quicker in relieving bad commanders or learning and applying tactical lessons. The moment they impressed British generals first time in Patton’s famous “Palermo Dash” during Sicilian Campaign. When Patton captured Palarmo quickly in July 1943 , General Harold Alexander 15th Army Group commander personally congragulated him in person. Before that 7th US Army was delegated to auxilary , support or flank protection role in Sicily

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I think if anything changed British opinion it was a whole series of events, including the successful movements of II Corps at the south end of 1st British Army after the Kasserine battle. Not all US units were drubbed at Kasserine, and Rommel’s attempt to capitalize on it was stopped cold by US units.

However

I’d agree that the British were in a curious position; believing themselves superior militarily, but needing the US because the Brits didn’t have the troops. Montgomery, in particular, was of the opinion that he should do the general-ing, and the US should do what he told 'em. Near as I can tell, he kept that opinion all his days. As the leading general of the Brits (according to them), we can presume Montgomery spoke for all of them.

Montgomery was the finest general a good public-relations organization could buy. He won Alamein by simply waiting until his opponent was incapable of stopping him (and still almost didn’t break through), pursued an Army whose tininess was well known to him via Enigma at a speed that was intended to not catch up to them.

After that, he went 0-for-4; Sicily, Caen, Antwerp, Market-Garden. To avoid going 0-5, he used the old solution - massive superiority; he re-Alameined for “operation Plunder”, while not one but two of the hated US Armies to his south did the same thing without all the artillery in the world and divisions of airborne units.

So, I’m not sure the British - led by Montgomery, and Alan Brooke - ever gave up the idea that the US military wasn’t “professional”, even though they depended on exactly that to get things done.

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It is always much harder to prove yourself to someone with an already low opinion of you than to disprove yourself. People will always focus on your failings and dismiss your successes, unless it is more convenient for them to do so.

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Its not like the start of the war was so succesfull for the british in europe , africa , or asia.

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But Montgomery was not in charge then. It would have all been different.

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Britain needed the Americans for the economic power they wielded and the ability to mass produce weapons of war quickly.

The Americans needed the British as remember right up until the end of WW2 Britain was considered a “superpower” as they still had a massive navy and the commonwealth’s resources at its beck and call and thus had a lot of sway with European allies and other countries throughout Asia and Africa which the Americans did not have.

For both it was a matter of convenience and neither had a high opinion of the other politically or militarily however most importantly despite how they felt about each other they had shown they could swallow their pride and work with each other which was a major factor in itself.

That still didn’t change the fact that on the battlefield they still had squabbles like school children in the locker room trying to outdo the other.

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And I quote Patton, the movie because I’m not sure this is an actual quote:

“Hell I know I’m a pain in the ass but what bothers me is that Montgomery won’t admit it!”

All sides had figures who stood out by their own ego’s. That is a tradition as old as warfare itself.

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Americans are used to this sort of thing, they had the same disposition before Saratoga, Yorktown, Baltimore and New Orleans.

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Patton did say a lot of things in the movie - though generally not at the time or situation presented. He was also a lot dirtier than the movie presented. The closest they got was “well, I shoveled shit in Louisiana” – and that is bleeped out on some US television to this day.

I think it takes rather a lot of ego to be a commander, right from lieutenant on up. You have the lives of men in your hands. You tell them to attack, and they do, some are going to die, by your command. You better act like you know what you’re doing, or nobody is going to do anything you tell them to.

But there are two types of ego: one that improvises, and one that doesn’t. Montgomery didn’t improvise well; if his first plan didn’t work, he’d just keep plugging away until it did; he was utterly convinced that his plan was the right one, and if it didn’t work, well, that was someone else’s fault. I also don’t think casualties bothered him, especially non-British casualties.

Bradley, Alexander, Patton and Nimitz were commanders who watched what was happening and improvised. No strategy survives contact, and all that.

Patton did say: “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.” That is, give it your best shot, then improvise.

And “Never Tell People How to Do Things. Tell Them What to Do, and They Will Surprise You with Their Ingenuity.” That is, you’re not the only smart one here.

“If Everybody Is Thinking Alike, Then Somebody Isn’t Thinking.” Might have been a perfect description of what would later be called ‘groupthink.’

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Lol someone should have told Hitler this at Kursk.

I think your answer is spot on and applies to any endeavor where great responsibility is involved. My father was a surgeon. After studying him growing up I decided I didn’t want that responsibility. You have to believe you are the one to make a decision about someone else’s life. The same is even more true of military leaders.

Patton was a good commander. Made some truly awful decisions but in the scheme of things he destroyed the enemy at a far greater rate than he destroyed his own army. In the calculus of war that makes him good. I have no beef for Montgomery. He was good but you said it right when you said he was inflexible.

Good thoughts well expressed! Thank you.

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Why do you say this?

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Well, let’s see:

  1. Alamein: part 1: attack in September? Nope, gotta have ducks in a proper military line (Ackinlect’s plan: attack in September. Montgomery’s plan: attack in late October.)

part 2: Rommel attacks (Montgomery knows via Enigma). Montgomery defends, but does not counterattack - when Rommel’s men are exhausted and almost out of fuel.

part 3: Montgomery attacks when Rommel is away (October 23d.) 8th doesn’t break through. Monty shouts, and orders the same attacks again (24th).
Then Monty orders the same attacks, this time with his tanks, because the infantry isn’t doing the job. He’s not improvising, he’s just throwing more troops at the same attack. He’ll keep doing that for a week.

part 4: Monty follows his plan to cut off the Africa Korps. The problem is, it’s already gone. Montgomery will conduct a liesurely ‘pursuit’, one intended to not bring what’s left of Rommel’s men to battle, it seems. By the mid November, Rommel is down to 7,500 infantry and 21 tanks - the rest lost due to lack of fuel. Nevertheless, Montgomery will ‘pursue’ all the way to El Agheila. When he discovers Rommel is defending the place, he takes three weeks to plan an attack. By the time he gets around to it, Rommel has retreated again. This happens several more times.

Caen: Monty attacks 6 times. 'Nuff said.

Antwerp: Ordered to take and open the port of Antwerp, Monty ignores direct orders to do it. He takes the town September 4, but ignores that it cannot be used until the Scheldt is cleared, which will not be done for a month. Then, and only then can mines (many laid after the town falls) be cleared. Three more weeks. Meanwhile, Monty whines that smaller ports (which are not taken yet) can be used instead. After the Scheldt falls, Montgomery blames Canadians for the whole fiasco. Why all this delay? Monty’s working on Market-Garden, and can’t be bothered.

Market-Garden: Covered already, really. Monty’s plan was divorced from reality. When XXX was slow, he just kept the Irish Guards grinding up the road. When the Germans didn’t cooperate by cutting the road repeatedly, the lead units XXX Corps had to turn around to clear it. The inevitable traffic jam happened, because the plan didn’t have any provisions. The lead units were issued four days of supplies, which ran out - unanticipated truck traffic to resupply.

Landing 1st Airborne 8 miles away from their objective and when it didn’t work out, Monty just kept right on doing what the plan said, so resupply airdrops made great presents for the Germans. Einhoven? The Germans blow up the bridge before that (Wilhelmina Canal) before the 101st can get to it. Nijmegen? Give 82nd 6 objectives before the actual objective. Land 1/3 of it the first day. Reinforce 1st with the Poles? Oops, weather. Doesn’t matter, just wait four days for the weather and drop them anyway, after their use is pointless.

Face it, Market-Garden was a poor plan, that made sure there was no mechanism for improvisation. Why? Because the boss couldn’t. He wanted to be ‘first across the Rhine’, and couldn’t conceive of a way for an improvisational mechanism to do it. Did he come up with an improvisation knowing what he knew the day before - about crossings already made further south? Nope. Did he, for instance, cancel the landing of 1st Airborne and use the rest of the plan to pin the Germans in place? Nope. Did he allocate supplies in the traffic flow? Nope. Did he improvise to locate troops as the advance progressed to keep the road clear? Nope. Did he hold an airborne unit, say, the 1st in reserve for contingencies? Nope.

As for who leads (and so takes the most casualties):

Alamein: leading attack unit: 30th Corps - Australians, Scots, New Zealanders, South Africans, Indians.

Caen: Canadians

Antwerp: Canadians

Market-Garden: Irish, US (mostly; 1st Airborne is tagged to get the credit. Lucky them.)

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In Canada Montgomery is a very dirty word to say even today as he treated anyone who was not British as cannon fodder and then would blame the cannon fodder for his folly.

Patton gets the same treatment but at least he would admit when he was wrong it still didn’t change the fact he was a conniving bastard willing to get to the top by throwing anyone under the bus even admitting as much but he still wasn’t liked by the Canadians due to his treatment of us.

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You know I think you are right, Patton was an asshole in many ways but he was good at killing Germans which is why he was tolerated.

I would rather have an asshole at the helm than anyone who would think attacking through the Hurtgen forest was a good idea. If I were Marshall, I would have demanded a head on the platter for that wholly American stupidity.
Fortunately for us, the other side has as many bad generals

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The Hurtgen commander was Hodges, but the strategy was Eisenhower’s (and various others, but them’s the two with direct responsibility.)

Hurtgen should have been a simple holding action; pinning the Germans in place while other things happened. But somehow or other it became a test of wills, with the huge casualties that were entirely unnecessary.

It kind of reminds me of Jerome at Waterloo, turning the fight for Hougemont - what should have been a masking operation - into a corp-level effort to take the farmhouse complex, taking an entire corps out of Napoleon’s forces.

Eisenhower shouldn’t have ordered the forest taken in the first place; Hodges should have seen that the forest wasn’t worth taking; it was better bypassing, and told Eisenhower. As it was, the fight became a kind of trainwreck that neither side could stop.

Marshall was not going to replace Eisenhower. If he had, the British would have insisted on Montgomery (who had been scheming to do exactly that for months), which would have been worse.

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The WWII soldiers I have seen interviewed either loved Patton or hated him, but no one was lukewarm. My impression is if you fought hard to win, Patton had your back, and if you did not fullfil your responsibility you heard about it immediately and directly. The common soldier and up to the general officers from all allied country militaries had to learn to work together regardless of their history and culture. As a result, it is no surprise that there were conflicts, but it appears the Allies had worked hard to establish positive, open relationships and strived to respect each other compared to the Axis.

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I’m not holding Eisenhower blameless. Clearly he couldn’t be fired at that point. It was just a tragedy of poor generalship because it threw away every advantage the Allies had and killed thousands. It is hard to fathom the decision making but I’m sure proper research might show the reports that progress was being made. Just like I’m sure that at Rzhev, the soviets thought they were accomplishing something.

Good commanders know when the change plans. They make mistakes but then they change course. Poor commanders just yell louder and stick to the same plan. Bad commanders then blame failure on somebody else. I know there is no evidence I have to make that statement true but it/s how I feel.

The really sad thing is that we hold commanders up for criticism. The governments behind them tend to get off easy. We all jump all over Hitler for interfering but Stalin was at least as bad and Churchill seemed to tinker and push constantly. I like to think Roosevelt was better as he was more hands off. He also had it easier because he wasn’t losing the war as long as others. But this is way off topic.

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I quite agree.

Once a commander gets “down in the weeds” as Hodges did, for instance, the world turns into a tunnel of I-must-do-this (or, as I describe it in a variety of situations, “putting yourself in a box and then announcing there are no exits.”)

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