From: Cologne, Germany
WWII in Europe was fought and won in Russia; the participation of the Western Allies was peripheral and of minor importance. The German forces left in the west before 1943 were litttle more than garrisons -- the British posed no real threat (only slightly more than if Britian had been driven to its knees in 40-41). By the time there was a true two front war, the turning point had been reached in Russia and the outcome was already decided. As much as it offends American pride, the participation of the US in Europe only helped speed up a Russian victory (though it was decisivie in keeping Western Europe free of Russian domination in the post-war period).
+1 And IMO I beleive the only reason the Allies launched D-Day was to prevent the Soviets from over running all of Europe which they would have done.
Ppl who favor these 2 theories seem to forget that it was Stalin himself who urged the Western Allies to establish a second front in the West. There were messages going back and forth between Stalin, Churchill and FDR, with Stalin pushing them (1941 and 1942) to "do something because Russia had to bear the brunt" and because Russia lost men and equipment with breakneck speed. Some of these messages were almost whiny.
In their speeches on public events, US artists in Hollywood emphasized the need for the shipment of American aid to Russia and urged to buy war bonds, where the former fired back on quite some of them during the McCarthy era.
The Western Allies were just not ready to undertake a landing in France, so they decided to bring the fight to the Enemy at places where the amount of troops/resources seemed to be sufficient (Africa, Italy). You also have to keep in mind that the buildup for the Normandy invasion took more than a year (establishment and training of units in the US, shipping to the UK, training in the UK, development and relocation of tools and equipment).
But even the US landings in NA could have gone terribly wrong, if the Germans would have had a tick more resources (incl. one or another tank division, some more manpower and fuel), as the US units were inexperienced, lacked proper coordination in quite some units and because overall-planning was more a learning process than a fully professional procedure. One result of the NA operation was that the US discovered and then tried to solve what I'd call the "optics-crisis", when they found the Sherman's optics to be way inferior to the German ones, regarding quality and range (in terms of providing more blur at medium and long range than comparable German optics). They could not reach the German quality level until the end of the war in Europe, but - as a result of the encounters in NA - they gradually upgraded the optics in ordnance depots, which then provided a magnification level of 5x at least. This gave the Shermans even a theoretical advantage over Mark IV tanks, which used ~2.5x magnification at the time, IIRC, but the US optics still provided a disadvantageous amount of blur, as the Germans successfully employed 2 processes to reduce the amount of blur (which usually increases with each lense added, without proper coating).
So in many respects pre-Normandy operations were field tests, where equipment and tactics could be verified, but they also helped to bind enemy resources (ie. Italy). Ppl seem to underestimate that. For the Italian theater, German units had to be either pulled away from the Russian front or from the French coast (where the Germans expected an invasion for a while).
Units like the 16. PzDiv (which perished in the Stalingrad pocket), were re-established in France (April-May 1943) and not sent back to Russia, but (fully operable) to Salerno instead.
The German Kursk offensive had been halted, as the upper pincer seriously stalled but also due to the Russian counterattacks at Orel AND the Allied landings on Sicily.
I never read Churchill's works (from after the war) about his thinking during that time, but he had a vital interest in gaining or securing a British foothold in the Mediterannean, especially in the Balkans (IIRC, he favored a landing in the Balkans instead of Sicily + Italy, first, probably to mark Western claims against Stalin), I'm convinced Churchill saw the Mediterranean as an exclusive sphere of British interests (traditionally, and especially for the future).
The real race for Berlin, thus the attempt of the Western Allies to secure as much of the German territory as possible, did not start before 1945, and was rather triggered by some nonspecific concerns that Stalin may not stick to former agreements. It seems that Eisenhower wanted to preserve Western manpower/resources, so he let the Russians do the job. It was also not necessary to race for Berlin, as FDR, Stalin and Churchill had detailed the spheres of interest during the several conferences already, and Russian and Allied troops were pulled back to the zones after hostilities, just as agreed upon, anyways.
D-Day in Normandy was a (delayed) fulfillment of the promises the Western Allies had made to Stalin. When it materialized, the Russians had the upper hand for a year, already. The Italian engagement was driven by Churchill, it was probably a rather "selfish" turn, and it was also against the advice (in the main) of many US advocates of a second front in France. The Italian theater proved to be a long and atricious campaign, too, unable to hit the Germans where it really hurt (industrial capacity, manpower, etc), as it took the Germans less effort to muster successful defensive or delaying actions than in Russia.
Actually, I do believe that the massive American and the British deliveries (Grant tanks, Stuart tanks, fuel, halftracks, trucks) helped Russia to survive the period when they (temporarily) lost the oil wells in the Crimea and when they relocated steel and armament production to the Ural (outside the range of German medium bombers). If the Brits wouldn't have invaded Iran, to make sure deliveries could be shipped across the Caspian Sea, Russia would have faced serious trouble, as the Northern shipping route around Norway (to Murmansk) was contested by the Germans (airforce, Tirpitz raids).
Even though the fresh Russian troops (from Siberia), committed to push back the stalled Germans near Moscow in 1941, were successful, this set of units was basically Stalin's last ace, before the reorganisation of the Soviet Army showed some effect.
That said, without Allied help, it's not sure whether the Russians would have survived the period between early 1942 and early 1943, at all. The German territorial gains in 1942 were compelling.
My 2 cents.
Wow, I never knew heavy tanks did not have machine guns!
I hope that was meant to be an ironic comment.
< Message edited by GoodGuy -- 3/8/2010 1:00:18 PM >
General Anthony McAuliffe
December 22nd, 1944
"I've always felt that the AA (Alied Assault engine) had the potential to be [....] big."
8th of August, 2006