Friday, March 13, 2020

Normandy 1944: German Military Organization, Combat Power and Organizational Effectiveness by Niklas Zetterling

Niklas Zetterling has written a few volumes on the Second World War and most, if not all, of them rely on some type of combat effectiveness analysis.  Whether it's looking at the Battle of Kursk or the allies fighting in Normandy, the author consistently relies on the numbers to do the talking.  Such an analysis can be a very helpful companion to the other literature that is available on these popular and important topics.  In the case of "Normandy 1944," Zetterling makes it a point to address some of the myths that have been built up over time with respect to the allied war effort and the German performance in France.  Allied air superiority, while acknowledged by both sides as impactful on the war overall, Zetterling argues had a limited impact on German forces overall but did impede the movement of troops and materials due to damage inflicted on the French railways.  Similarly, allied manpower and material superiority was very much evident within a matter of weeks if not days compared to their German counterparts.  In fact, the allies overall enjoyed a better force ratio against German forces in France than the Soviets did against Army Group Center during Operation Bagration.  When tackling these topics, Zetterling relies on German archival documentation and makes a compelling case for a need to rely on primary source material rather than simply trust secondary source literature, even if written by acclaimed historians, scholars, or journalists.  However, a reliance on numbers, figures, and statistics, can also make one miss the forest for the trees.  In one instance, when discussing combat effectiveness, Zetterling asserts the Germans continually performed better than the allies, both on the defense and the offensive.  As one example, he uses the Battle of Kursk, where the Germans were on the offensive and sustained fewer casualties than the Soviets, who were on the defensive (thus invalidating the usual idea that the defender will take fewer casualties than the attacker).  What Zetterling fails to mention is that the Soviet defense consisted of numerous counterattacks throughout the 'defensive' phase of the battle, hence the meeting engagement at Prokhorovka.  While such a minor issue can be overlooked, it does point to the inherent limits of these type of studies, which rely on dry numbers and statistics and can at times fail to take into account extenuating circumstances or the greater context of the event(s) in question.  Consequently, as the author states, this is a starting point for a better understanding of the Normandy campaign and a worthwhile contribution to WWII literature.  However, while it's filled with interesting information that in some ways recasts our understanding of the allied invasion of France, more research remains to be done for a fuller understanding of the events in question.

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