Posts tagged ‘Korean War’

Omaha Beach: Not Just Bravery, but Intelligence and Initiative Won the Day

Like many commenters, the hell the soldiers faced on Omaha beach  when the ramps dropped on the landing craft is simply beyond my imagination.  Everyone talks about the bravery of the men that day, which is beyond question.  But the ultimate success at Omaha Beach, which was far from assured after the first hour, required more than bravery.

Virtually the entire plan for the Omaha Beach landing was moot from the first minutes of the battle:  the naval and air bombardment was completely ineffective, the tanks that were to support the landing never made it, and many of the landing craft landed in the wrong places.  But the carefully coordinated waves of landings were fairly robust to these sorts of problems.

In my mind the number one planning problem is that the whole invasion plan and all the training was geared to getting off the beach from a limited number of draws that led inland through the beachfront hills and cliffs.  These draws, however, were absurdly well defended by concentrations of troops and hard fortifications.  It was virtually impossible to advance through these draws as was planned.

The success at Omaha was based on a few (mostly junior) men, under murderous fire, having the brains to recognize the plan was bad and improvising a new plan on the spot.  Eventually, these men began to lead others up the steep hills to the top (most of the heavily defended draws were only taken later from the rear).

The participants in the (often unsuccessful) North Korean human wave attacks in the Korean War were undoubtedly brave.  But these men were not allowed to exercise any initiative or use their intelligence to formulate a better plan than being thrown uselessly in masses directly into the teeth of fortified positions.

So yes, its appropriate to celebrate the bravery of the troops.  But bravery alone would have led to slaughter with waves of men mindlessly trying to storm up the fortified draws.  Omaha Beach was ultimately won with intelligence and initiative of junior officers and enlisted men.

Postscript #1: If there was a failure at Omaha Beach, it again went back to the organizers and planners.  They spent so much time training men in the landing itself, they did not spend any time training or even planning well on what to do next.  As a result, instead of expanding the bridgehead, most of the troops stopped not far from the top of the beach escarpments.  In the following weeks, troops were to spend miserable days in the hedgerow (bocage) country, without any training or fighting doctrine of how to deal with this beautiful defensive terrain.  Again, it was often the initiative of the frontline troops, rather than the planners, that ultimately developed fighting doctrine to deal with the hedgerows.

Postscript #2: Tomorrow I will have my usual day-after-D-Day post on why the Normandy landings were magnificent but not necessarily what actually defeated Germany.

Postscript #3:  Americans, particularly after the movie Patton, love to dump on British General Montgomery.  But D-Day was essentially his plan, and for all that went wrong, it was a magnificent plan.  Montgomery caught a lot of flak from Americans then and now for being too slow and cautious at times when daring and speed were required.  But the flip side of this is that he was an undoubted master of the set-piece, highly planned major attack -- better at this than anyone I can think of on  the Allied side in Europe.

Bad Television

I walked in on my wife watching Oprah interview Tania Harding.  Eeeeeeyuk.   I thought -- could there be any TV show I would want to watch less?

Well, actually, it turns out there was:  A three day royal funeral and ongoing slobbery kiss for Ted Kennedy, a man who literally got away with murder and dedicated his life to trying to hide his poor impulse control better than the rest of his family hides theirs.  I watched about 5 minutes of the spectacle and all I could see was a man being revered for, uh, being related to people folks really liked a lot.  What's next, a public funeral for John Lennon's brother?  It is just so weird to me that people revere this family not in spite of, but actually because, they are so relentless in trying to exercise power over us all.

Postscript: I am confused on the military service qualifications to be buried in Arlington, as was Ted Kennedy.  My sense is that Arlington is pretty full, and that being buried there is reserved as a special honor for those with unique or heroic service (like that of Ted's brother).  I am having a  hard time in this Wikipedia description of Ted Kennedy's military service finding what put him over the top for burial at Arlington:

Kennedy enlisted in the United States Army in June 1951.   Following basic training at Fort Dix, he requested assignment to Fort Holabird for Army Intelligence training, but was dropped after a few weeks without explanation. He went to Camp Gordon for training in the Military Police Corps.  In June 1952, he was assigned to the honor guard at SHAPE headquarters in Paris.His father's political connections ensured he was not deployed to the ongoing Korean War.  While stationed in Europe he travelled extensively on weekends and climbed the Matterhorn.  He was discharged in March 1953 as a private first class.

I suppose that managing not to get oneself killed pursuing a rich-kid hobby like mountain climbing is an accomplishment within the Kennedy family, but I am not sure it merits an Arlington burial.