“Our greatest triumph lies in the fact that we achieved the impossible, Allied military unity of action.” – General George C. Marshall in 1945

22 Jan

General George C. Marshall felt that the “impossible unity” was the Allies greatest achievement; knowing the difficult path to victory with such a broad alliance. Richard Overy notes in Why the Allies Won: “Marshall’s ‘impossible unity’ was maintained through to unconditional surrender on 8 May. The willingness to fight in a common coalition for so long Marshall regarded as the single greatest achievement of the war.”[1] Marshall realized that the Allied leaders and commanders rarely saw the management of the war the same. His statement is rhetorical; overly dramatic to highlight the incredible achievement of the Allied victory.

The US, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union all had their eyes on what the post-WWII world would look like in each other’s view of geo-political and economic reality (the “Cold War” was already taking shape in late 1945). Great Britain, while surviving the midst of the war thanks to the “Lend Lease” program, needed help from the United States after the war, as noted by Gerhard Weinberg in in A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II. This already strained relationship between America and Great Britain was further challenged by the Soviet Union and the overall management of the Allied Alliance during the war.

Each theater had its challenges of cooperation: The European Theater of Operations became of war of wills between FDR and Churchill. FDR’s focus on a “Germany First” strategy via France conflicted with Churchill’s strategy of attacking the “soft underbelly of Europe” through the Mediterranean.[1] Although Italy would tie-up German divisions, that peninsula was ultimately a dead-end. British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery was difficult to get along with in Italy and after the subsequent invasion of France in 1944. The disaster of operation “Market Garden” was pinned on Monty and his flawed strategy within the operation itself. He lack of diplomacy noted by Weinberg: “… the prior experience of the Americans with Montgomery as a commander who had troubles leading the armies of two nations in harmony, to say nothing of the three – British, Canadian, and United States …”[2] On Sicily, a clash of leadership egos kept the invasion from being more successful than it could have been. Montgomery split his 8th Army forces and US General George Patton made an unnecessary push northwest to Palermo; both moves allowing the Germans to leave the island across the Straits of Messina.[3]

US General Mark Clark, already a questionable military commander more suited for administrative and training duties, commanded and led the Allied invasion of mainland Italy’s eastern coast. His unsound and deadly decisions overshadowed his penchant for ego and the inability to get along with his British counterparts: “As, in Clark’s opinion, Kirkman was to prove as great a disappointment as had McCreery and Freyberg earlier in the year, and there mutual incapability was to prove a stumbling block in the operations that followed, it is necessary to explain and, we emphasize, understand their opposing points of view.”[4]

The Five-Star sideshow in the Pacific Theater, MacArthur, looked down upon his British and Australian counterparts and realigned his staff mid-stream, replacing commanders as the war progressed.[5] MacArthur even had great difficulty in cooperating with his own Allied counterpart US Navy Admiral Halsey during Operation “Cartwheel”, the challenges of the “split-command” in the Southwest Pacific.[6]

1 Richard Overy, Why the Allies Won (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1995) 280.
2 Gerhard L. Weinberg, A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994) 723.
3 Ibid., 699.
4 Ibid., 594-595.
5 Dominick Graham and Shelford Bidwell, Tug of War: The Battle for Italy 1946-45 (South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military Classics, 1986) 370.
6 Ronald H. Spector, Eagle Against the Sun: The American War with Japan. (New York: Vintage Books, 1985) 159.
7 Ibid., 223-224.

Graham, Dominick and Shelford Bidwell. Tug of War: The Battle for Italy 1943-45. South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military Classics, 1986. Page references are to the 2004 edition.
Overy, Richard. Why the Allies Won. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1995. Page references are to the 1997 edition.
Spector, Ronald H. Eagle Against the Sun: The American War with Japan. New York: Vintage Books, 1985.
Weinberg, Gerhard L. A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II, 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Page references are to the 2005 edition.

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Posted by on January 22, 2012 in World War II - General


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