by Charles J. Dick
Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2016. Pp. xiv, 465.
Maps, notes, biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 0700622934
Why the War in the West Didn't End by Christmas
From Victory to Stalemate is an examination of American and British military operations in Northwest Europe over the late summer and early fall of 1944; with a specific focus on the Allied conduct of operations, and how Allied campaign decisions contributed to – or detracted from – final victory over the German army on the Western Front. A companion volume, From Defeat to Victory, The Eastern Front, Summer 1944. Decisive and Indecisive Military Operations, Volume 2; contrasts Western Allied performance with that of the Soviets over the same period of World War II.
C. J. Dick has been a British army officer, the former director of the Soviet Studies Research Centre, and a Senior Fellow at the Defense Academy of the United Kingdom – rendering him well qualified to rigorously analyze Western Allied and Soviet military operations in World War II. This book, the first of two volumes, explores one of the most volatile periods of that conflict: Western Allied operations in France, Germany and the Low Countries between the end of July and the beginning of October, 1944. Volume II covers Soviet operations on the Eastern front over much the same period.
Readers should first understand that Dick’s aim is not to provide a detailed, comprehensive history of the campaign. While he provides enough of a narrative for readers to follow the course of events, he spends most of his time analyzing the decisions made by the Allied top commanders: Eisenhower; his two army group commanders Bradley and Montgomery, as well as several of the army commanders, among them George Patton, Courtney Hodges, Miles Dempsey and H. G. D. Crerar. Numerous corps commanders also merit comment, but Dick’s primary focus remains unswervingly on the top tier of command.
Dick contends that because neither the American or British armies had an articulated understanding of the operational level of war (Operational Art, as it were) western military efforts fell short of winning the war in Western Europe in 1944. Dick argues that an army with a deep understanding of the Operational Art understands that every effort should contribute to the ultimate goal; without that focus peripheral or secondary operations too easily distract field commanders from their primary objectives.
Accordingly, Dick is at times harshly critical of the Allied generals. He faults Eisenhower for wasted American efforts in Brittany, for example, attempting to capture ports that ultimately never significantly contributed to Allied supply needs. He similarly faults Montgomery for paying too little attention to clearing the approaches to the massive port of Antwerp, instead gambling on the Market-Garden operation to bounce the Rhine River at Arnhem. The Antwerp docks were captured intact on September 4, but the first Allied supply vessel didn’t dock there until November 29, because for the intervening weeks the German 15th Army was permitted to control Antwerp’s access to the sea via the Scheldt estuary, until dug out by stubborn fighting in October and November.
Many of Dick’s specific observations aren’t especially new; over the ensuing decades there have been many books written on the campaign, and few have been stinting with their criticism. From Victory to Stalemate, however, is among the most cogently organized and argued analyses of the campaign this author has ever read. Dick provides just enough tactical and - most welcome - logistical detail to make his points without becoming lost in the proverbial weeds. His criticism avoids partisanship, treating all nationalities even-handedly. He also makes the effort to weigh the pros and cons of each decision, not just pass judgment and move on. Dick strives to bring the reader into the process and develop a real understanding of the underlying military logic of each point.
Clearly this is half a book. As noted, volume 2 addresses the Eastern Front, exploring the Soviet Army’s deep understanding of the Operational art. Only by tackling it will readers gain a full appreciation of Dick’s thesis. And to reiterate, this work is not a definitive operational history of the pursuit phase of the 1944 Campaign in France – any reader will benefit from a solid pre-existing understanding of the campaign before reading this book. For example, the German side of the hill is barely discussed; Dick interjects only enough detail on Axis actions to provide context for the important Allied decisions. Dick likens this work to that of an armchair staff ride, written primarily for a professional military audience, with the intent of imparting lessons learned. As such, I think it succeeds.
Note: From Victory to Stalemate, a volume in the University Press of Kansas “Modern War Studies” series is also available in several e-editions.
Our Reviewer: David A. Powell is a 1983 graduate of the Virginia Military Institute, with a BA in History. He has owned and managed courier companies in Chicago; formerly President of CBS Messenger, and now Vice President of Airsped, Inc. A long-time student of military history and the American Civil War, he is the author of a number of books and articles about the Civil War; most notably, his trilogy on the second largest battle of the war, The Chickamauga Campaign, and the award winning Failure in the Saddle . He has also designed a number of board wargames on various subjects.