Historians Have Been To Quick To Criticise the Allied Armies

I’ve been thinking for a long time that too many historians have been unduly critical of the performance of the Allied armies in the Second World War, and perhaps the British Army in particular.  They were slow, drank too much tea, lacked commitment, had rubbish kit etc etc.  I just don’t buy that at all, not least because the British – and other Allied armies – were mostly conscripts or civilians in uniform from a democracy.  Soviet generals could clear minefields by ordering men across them, but Allied generals could do no such thing.  If a British soldier decided not to fight anymore, he would be letting down his mates and would be court martialled with a spell in the glasshouse, but he would not be shot for desertion as would happen in the German or Russian armies.  And as we have discovered in Afghanistan over the past ten years, it does not take a huge amount of AK47s or explosives to hold up a force of far greater firepower.  That the Allies won the war against Germany – a vast war that ranged over sea, land and in the air – in less than six years, is, in fact, quite an achievement.

Lt-Gen Ashley Truluck has just called in and made another very good point that I’d not thought of before.  He suggested that even if we had had a highly motivated militarised army in the Second World War, would have wanted that?  What would such a force have done to society once the fighting was over?  Wasn’t Britain, ultimately, better served by a civilian conscript army than by a highly professional one?  It’s a very interesting thought…

2 replies
  1. hellinik
    hellinik says:

    I think that the lack of commitment that was claimed, came mostly from the US Generals and mainly as a result of the initial Normandy campaign, who felt that Monty was holding them back and the Commonwealth forces were not making adequate progress. There was an issue with 7th Armoured Division, some of whose regiments had quite frankly fought from Dunkirk, through the Western Desert, Sicily, Italy and then onto D-Day and were coming to the end of their tether. They were ‘reorganised’. Another issue was that, according to Colossal Cracks by S. Hart, the British Army reserves was literally down to 100,000 men because of casualties and fighting on many fronts, so Monty could not afford to throw men away in ill-conceived attacks. Nor, I think, would he want to after fighting in the trenches in WW1. Having said this, the Commonwealth forces did have the bulk of the German forces on their front and soaked up a lot of punishment to allow the US forces to break through and after Normandy, do not believe there was much criticism of British performance.

  2. James Holland
    James Holland says:

    Thanks for this, John. I’ve read Colossal Cracks and it’s certainly a very interesting piece of work, but we shouldn’t think Britain was short of manpower – only the British Army was by the late summer of 1944. Not a lot of people know this, but the British priority for manpower until the spring of 1944 was the Ministry of Aircraft Production. In August 1944, Britain formed the Pacific Fleet; we continued to man territories and airfields all around the globe as well as pump men into the air force, armaments and God knows what else. We were also fighting on three fronts in the land war: France, Italy and the Far East, so it’s not surprising we were running a little dry by then!

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