The G.I. Offensive in Europe, The Triumph of American Infantry Divisions, 1941-1945, by Peter R. Mansoor
The University Press of Kansas, 1999. 346 pp. . $35.00. ISBN:070060958X.
In this, his first book, Peter R. Mansoor conducts a direct assault against some of the strongest assertions of modern American military history. He does so in a deliberate and methodical manner generally succeeds in illustrating that U.S. Army infantry divisions were effective combat forces throughout the European theater during the Second World War. This is no mean feat because in doing so Mansoor confronts some of the all-time heavyweights of American military history.
Taking on the still significant historical legacy a man such as S.L.A. Marshall, not to mention historians Trevor N. Dupuy, Martin Van Crevald, and Russell Weigley is not something one attempts lightly. Mansoor does so with skill and an obvious attention to detail. In this well researched and documented book he illustrates not only the logical inconsistencies of the previous works, but simultaneously paints a comprehensive and intellectually satisfying picture of his own. In doing so Mansoor links together some of the best new works on the ETO with his own extensive primary source research to resuscitate the reputation of the infantry divisions in Europe.
Mansoor’s central thesis is that the "plain vanilla" infantry divisions of the European Theater of Operations (ETO) were more effective than their German counterparts. His thesis attempts to prove that while these divisions were often ham-strung by an inefficient mobilization and training process, once they entered combat the American's ability to learn and modify based upon the hard lessons of combat allowed them to become efficient combat forces. Secondary to their effectiveness was the American Army's ability to sustain their relatively few infantry divisions for extended periods, although this particular ability had both benefits and drawbacks.
It is in the qualification of the scope of his study that Mansoor makes much of his money. Prior to this study many of the general and even academic works on the ETO focused an inordinate amount of attention upon these specialized units. This is, perhaps, one of the most damning elements of his critique of the previous historiography. Dupuy, for example, found the Germans an average of 20% more effective when using his quantitative analysis formula on 81 engagements. These fights, Monsoor points out, often pitted an "elite" German division against a "vanilla" U.S. division. In effect comparing apples and oranges. By excluding the specially trained or equipped airborne and armored divisions of both sides he has arrived at the heart of the matter. Mansoor is comparing apples and apples, and here the American "apples" come out ahead.
Although I strongly recommend this work as one of the new defining books on the topic of tactical combat effectiveness in Europe during the Second World War I feel that in at least one respect Mansoor slightly missed his mark.
In his defense of the American Infantry Division he neglected to defend the G.I. himself. I expected something slightly more revisionist when I read the title. After all, the book is titled The G.I. Offensive in Europe,” yet in his analysis he focused on the division level. Unfortunately this is not where most of the criticism of the American forces has historically been focused. It is the combat skills of the lowest level, the soldier, squad, platoon and company that have traditionally borne the brunt of historians condemnation. Mansoor lightly dances around this by addressing the critics for the faults in their own works while using the majority of his text to address the readiness and abilities of the American Army at the division level. Thus, although the text is extremely well researched and credibly presented, I feel that the title is somewhat misleading. This does not, however, significantly detract from the value of the text. Buy the book and decide for yourself. In any event you will learn massive amounts about how a nation transitions from peace to war and the a
Reviewer: Robert L. Bateman
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