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I have heard by some friends, speaking of military history, that Allied commanders were well known for being, at best, mediocre in their performance of fight. They were not able to give precise sources, such as an historian or contemporary people of those generals.

However I got the details below:

  • The usual period for this saying is 1944-1945, so at a time when the Allies were close to victory.
  • Those generals did not hamper the victory, however they managed poorly the campaign for liberating Europa, and lost time and efforts in vain actions such as the battle of Eselborn Ridge, the attack on Arnehm or the closing to the German border.
  • Those generals are usually American and British, mainly army commanders: Montgomery, Patton, Bradley, etc...
  • Those generals got advantage from the huge logistics and the tactical capacities of their armies to avoid defeat or heavy losses.

From my own research, I can't sustain those assumptions:

  • The Allied progression in France during Autumn 1944 was very fast, encircle or killed a lot of German in Falaise and in the North of France.
  • The fights on the german border were overall hampered by logistics issues, and some great moves such as the Arracourt battles were done.

So the question: Does anyone have any information on those assumptions, especially:

  • Arguments in favour of those assumptions?
  • Any link to an author who defends this theory?
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    Let's suppose we can make a comparison. How can we compare allied and axis comanders, if they comanded different armies? How can we take away the effect of air forces and logistics? A general not only has to be a good tactician, but also a good leader, often the latter was more important. Also, you have to remember that USA did not have experience in war. Few generals adquired experience during 1942-1943. – Santiago Oct 2 at 19:27
  • I guess my friends were not meaning a comparison. They were just saying that for each decision, each action made by those supposedly bad commanders, there was a few better options that could have been chosen with the elements they had. I accept that those generals had no experience, but still, they could have been good? – totalMongot Oct 2 at 19:34
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    I'd want to see a detailed argument as to why they were bad before attempting to rebut or confirm it. This question cherry picks exactly two examples, but no military plans are ever perfect, so that's a bit meaningless. At best this smacks of Monday-morning quarterbacking. – Gort the Robot Oct 2 at 19:52
  • Also, what in particular about Elsenborn ridge lost the Allies time? The net effect of the action was to the Allies' advantage and the troops involved weren't advancing. – Gort the Robot Oct 2 at 19:56
  • @StevenBurnap The point of the question is to ask what are the arguments for or against because I was not able to find them – totalMongot Oct 4 at 19:57
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The American and British army commanders made some mistakes that are clear in retrospect (and Mark Clark's error, with respect to winning the war, in going for Rome rather than cutting off and destroying the Germans retreating from Monte Cassino was obvious at the time). They tend to look less competent than the German generals, and there are historical reasons for that.

Being an army officer was definitely more prestigious in pre- and post-WWI Germany than it was in the US or the UK at the time. The German Empire also practiced conscription before WWI which meant that anyone who had military talent would get a chance to develop it. In the US and the UK at the time, you had to volunteer to join the army, and men unaware they had a talent for it rarely did.

During WWI, almost all British and many American men served, but most of them regarded it as an obligation of wartime, and wanted to return to their normal lives. When the very limited German army allowed by the Treaty of Versailles was created, it was only allowed 10,000 officers and 90,000 mem, and it was very selective about who it retained, having a pretty clear idea of how it had lost the war. Staying in the German army after WWI was attractive, both because it was prestigious, and because it was reliable employment in a very unstable Germany.

This meant that the inter-war German army had carefully selected officers and NCOs. It also took good care to train them, not just for the job they had, but for higher ranks, since the army leadership always looked forward to a day when it could expand, and wanted a strong cadre to allow quick and effective expansion. The British and US armies didn't have nearly such a clear vision of what they might need to do.

The captains and majors of the inter-war German Army became the colonels and generals of the Heer. They were better-trained and more experienced than the Allied officers at the start of the war, and they gained experience faster, because Germany was fighting all the time. But the careful selection at the end of WWI was the biggest difference.

Sources: several, but Wheeler-Bennett, The Nemesis of Power has the advantage of having been written by someone who knew many of the participants.

If the Germans had better generals, how did the Allies win WWII? Economic and population advantages, better management of R&D producing new weapons to counter German ones, and political leadership that did not attempt to micro-manage operations, but did pay attention to logistical and technological issues. Hitler interfered with both production and operations continually during 1944-45. Goering, who was the official No.2, and the commander of the Luftwaffe, was lazy and did not understand most technological advances.

  • Mark Clark's error in going for Rome It is generally considered that this was not an error, but a deliberate misinterpretation of directive from his commander (Alexander). Notably the capture of Rome was made two days before D-Day in Normandy and many feel Clark chose to go for glory. There is a in interesting account here. – StephenG Oct 4 at 23:34
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    @StephenG Yes, it was entirely deliberate. It was an error as far as winning the war was concerned. – John Dallman Oct 4 at 23:53
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Recent authors of books about WWII that cover mostly allied point of view, like Anthony Beevor or Rick Atkinson, are quite critic of Allied commanders (like Patton, Montgomery or Clark), specially because they were interested on looking good, get fame or solve personal issues. For example:

  1. Mark Clark forced his army to reach Rome before D-Day, because he knew that after D-Day he will lost all media attention.
  2. Patton sent a force far beyond his lines to reach a prisoner of war camp, where his son-in-law was kept. The operation was a failure.
  3. Montgomery several times disdained american generals and claimed for himself the command of all western Europe forces.

Also, these authors complain that allied generals were not that good as the media during the war said. For example, Montgomery was criticised for being slow or using a lot of resources in operations (Operation Plunder), he never took risks, and when he did, he failed (Marked-Garden). Patton took too many risks, sacrificing forces, like in Metz. Hodges had a strees crisis during the battle of bulge.

About your research, I'll give you a little bit more information.
The Falaise pocket wasn't a full encirclement, germans where able to leave the trap, and most german looses were due to air force attacks. Actually, allies were too slow to close the trap.
While the topic of logistics, that is something that a commander has to take in account, they are guilty for disdain that. Actually, the crisis that allied had with logistics after september 1944, was because Montgomery did not open the harbor of Antwerp and its access (I mean, western Scheldt, including the island, like Walcheren).

Now, in my opinion, these authors realized that these generals were quite normal people compared to other generals. But one has to remember that during the war, they were idols.

Their books are quite good, do not miss them.

  • @PieterGeerkens I rather suspect that's precisely what he's talking about!!!! – C Monsour Oct 3 at 0:03
  • @CMonsour: Antwerp fell on Sept. 4 - at which point in time the Allied armies had outrun their supply lines and stopped advancing across the entire front. On Oct. 2, exactly 4 weeks later, the Canadians began the five week operation to clear all German forces from the Scheldt delta, after which a further three weeks of non-military clearing and prepping of the harbour was performed. Precisely when would you have had Monty clear the Scheldt estuary earlier? Five week ops require planning and supplies. – Pieter Geerkens Oct 3 at 0:47
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    @PieterGeerkens From Sept 4 to 1945 is a heck of a lot longer than 5 weeks, or even than 4 weeks planning plus a 5 week operation... But, yes, I think Santiago's complaint is that the delta remained in German hands for too long. You may think it's an unreasonable complaint, but generally "what are you talking about?" is not a convincing counterargument. At least, it never works for me. YMMV – C Monsour Oct 3 at 1:54
  • @CMonsour: First convoy arrived and began unloading in Antwerp on November 29, 1944. That's 8 weeks after the Oct. 2 start of the campaign to clear the Scheldt. Everything could have been upped by perhaps 2-3 weeks, at most, if Market Garden had not been run - but that operation was successful in securing bridgeheads over three canals and the Maas River - though not the Rhine. Eisenhower approved the ordering of priorities. Market Garden launched on Sept. 17, just 15 days ahead of the Oct. 2 launch of the Scheldt clearing. – Pieter Geerkens Oct 3 at 2:01
  • Indeed @PieterGeerkens I meant the Scheldt. I improved the reference for that. Antwerp harbour was one of the biggest in Europe, and during that time, supplies were comming from french ports, specially Cherbourg. – Santiago Oct 3 at 12:29
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Circumstances more then lack of talent

  • Allied troops and commanders were mostly "green". Vast majority of commanders in France of 1944 never had opportunity to lead large formations (armies, corps, divisions) in the field. Some had experience from Northern Africa and Italy (Omar Bradley, Bernard Montgomery ...) but even that was on different terrain, against much weaker opponent and less strategically important. Lower level officers and troops usually never saw combat before France'44. As such they often had to suffer casualties because of rookie mistakes, and to pay with their own blood price of inexperience. Germans on the other hand also had lot of raw recruits among them, but officers and NCOs were usually veterans of Eastern Front.

  • Germans had superiority in certain weapon types . This is especially true in armored warfare. Not to go into details, but various German tank and anti-tank guns of 7.5 cm and 8.8 cm caliber would relatively easily penetrate armor of M4 Sherman, most ubiquitous tank in Allied arsenal. Reverse was often not the case, anyway since Allies were on the attack, most often then not their tanks would be under fire of aforementioned anti-tank guns and newly developed Panzerfaust. And with tanks knocked out or forced to retreat Allied infantry had a tough job penetrating German lines.

  • Allies depended to much on air power . Allies had aerial superiority and used it as much as they could to break German lines of defense, eventual attack formations, and interdict supplies and reinforcements coming to the front line. This worked well in summer of 1944, with good weather and especially in the open terrain (not so well in bocage) . However, in autumn of 1944 and winter of 1944/45, weather, as expected, grow worse for aerial support. Forested and rugged terrain like for example in Hürtgen Forest also did not help spotting of targets from air. It is also worth mentioning that Siegfried line, although partially obsolete in 1944, did somewhat shield German forces from aerial spotting and attacks, thus further reducing Allied offensive capability.

  • Allied logistical difficulties Often overlooked, but it should be mentioned that while Allies did have plenty of supplies in US and Britain, bringing them to France was not trivial, mostly because of lack of ports. Allies had to use one of Mullberry harbors well into 1945, or land cargo directly at the beaches. Germans either thoroughly wrecked French port facilities or held them until the end of the war. As a consequence, certain supply crisis developed in autumn of 1944, and advance was slowed down allowing Germans to regroup around aforementioned Siegfried line, thus prolonging the war.

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    The armoured mismatch was nowhere like you portray. Check the casualties at Battle of Arracourt Allied losses 25 tanks + 7 tank destroyers compared to 200 lost tanks and assault guns for the Germans - 86 lost and 114 broken down. In a battle where the German forces initially outnumbered the Allied. – Pieter Geerkens Oct 3 at 8:15
  • @PieterGeerkens US claims for that battle are disputed. Anyway, what is not disputed are generally very high losses in tanks for any Allied offensive operation against Germans. – rs.29 Oct 3 at 17:34
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From a U.S. perspective alone, I would conclude that the observation is self-evidently true - just noting how many of its WW2 generals came from the class the stars fell on (Westpoint 1915). Of the 164 graduates that year 59 attained the rank of Brigadier General or higher. From the exigencies of rapid buildup starting in 1940 falling hard on the previous 20 years of disarmament, of course mediocrity was the rule. Yet still, they were "good enough".

Making war is the ultimate example of making do with what one has. However mightily one might wish for different circumstances and material, one must find a way with what one has at hand. Yes, a better trained and more experienced senior command would have been nice - but that wasn't the hand dealt in 1940.

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    This A seems to deal much with 40, while the Q asks for late in war (after 44?). And can't remember precisely, but wasn't some type of management philosophy at work, where many commanders were rotated out of commission based on (bad) performance; some kind of forced 'rapid evolution'? Like hire&fire? – LаngLаngС Oct 2 at 21:26
  • @LangLangC says, the OP is asking how poor the performance of the generals of allies ( or Americans' and the U.K's ) were during 44-45. If I take your opinion, Imperial Japanese Army's generals were disastrously hideous from the very first despite they'd been engaged in war previously about 10 years or more with Chinese forces before Pacific War. – Kentaro Tomono Oct 3 at 11:01
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As with any historical judgment, consider the context of the event.

By 1945, the war was obviously drawing to a conclusion. A lot of commanders saw little point in getting more soldiers killed for a foregone conclusion.

So if the commanders were cautious and slow late in the war, a desire not to lose soldiers for no appreciable alteration of the outcome was probably high on their list of priorities.

Your view of events changes when you get out of a comfortable chair and into a foxhole with bullets coming at you.

Contrast this with Stalin sacrificing over 100,000 Russian lives for the prestige of 'taking Berlin'.

Surround it, pound it, and wait would have worked just fine. If they had dragged that out to July, Berlin could have been the first city to be attacked with a nuclear bomb.

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