Alexander Boot on D-Day

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

Alexander Boot describes D-Day as splendid, glorious, heroic, sacrificial — and terribly wrong:

The resulting triumph of Allied arms could easily have turned into a disaster. In fact, even the most optimistic members of the Allied High Command had rated the chances of success as 50-50 at best.

These weren’t the kind of odds on which Anglo-American generals typically risked potential casualties in the hundreds of thousands. So what made them push the button this time? What dire operational necessity was guiding their finger?

The answer is, there was no operational necessity, dire or otherwise, for the invasion of Northern France. It wasn’t the bellicose god of war that drove the Allies across the Channel, but the shifty god of political chicanery.

Here we ought to remember that the three main Allied powers, Britain, the USA and the USSR, while united in their common goal of defeating Nazi Germany, also pursued aims of their own — and these were at odds.

In the run-up to the war, the Soviets had built up the biggest invasion force known in history, far outstripping the rest of the world’s armies put together in both manpower and materiel.

Stalin had a seven to one superiority in tanks over Germany, with his machines being technologically two generations ahead of the Wehrmacht’s (or anyone else’s). Soviet fighter planes had demonstrated their superiority over their German and Italian analogues during the Spanish Civil War. Stalin boasted more submarines than the rest of the world combined. And as to the human resources, the Soviets could match Germany three times over.

It would be tedious to argue the point that ought to be self-evident to any historian other than fully paid-up apologists for Stalin: that gigantic force, assembled at a cost of millions dead and hundreds of millions enslaved, was put together not to defend Russia but to conquer the world.

The plan was to provoke Hitler’s assault on the West, wait until his troops got mired either in France or, ideally, in Britain and then drive the juggernaut across the central European plains.

The entire Soviet policy from about 1932 onwards is intelligible only in the light of this objective. It’s to achieve it that in a few short years Stalin turned the Soviet Union into a giant military-labour camp, starved millions to death, courted Hitler, first secretly, then — after August 1939 — openly, provided the raw materials without which Nazi Germany couldn’t have attacked the West, invaded Poland from the east 17 days after the Nazis had invaded her from the west, provided the bombs that German planes rained on London.

Two developments prevented Stalin from launching his offensive in 1940, as had been planned (that operation went by the codename THUNDERSTORM). The first was the Winter War of 1939-1940, in which Stalin threw against Finland an army almost outnumbering the entire population of that tiny country.

The Finns heroically fought Stalin’s hordes to a standstill, inflicting 500,000 casualties, against 20,000-odd of their own. Brilliantly led by Marshal Mannerheim, who had learned his trade when serving as Lieutenant-General in the Tsar’s Guards, the Finns gave Stalin a reality check: his army was poorly trained, ineptly led and incompetently supplied.

Still, the Finns could keep up their heroic struggle only for so long: a country whose population was smaller than Leningrad’s was running out of resources. Yet just as Stalin was finally ready to overrun Finland, he was given another reality check.

The British government hinted, not so subtly, that, should Stalin refuse to accept an armistice with a token gain in Finnish territory, the Brits would use the RAF Mosul base in Iraq to take out the Baku oilfields, then the only source of Soviet oil. Stalin took the hint, sued for peace and delayed the planned invasion of Europe.

‘Delayed’ shouldn’t be understood to mean ‘cancelled’: THUNDERSTORM was to go ahead, but a year later than originally planned, around July-August, 1941. When Hitler finally realised what was going on, he took the wild gamble of delivering a pre-emptive strike, thus accepting what every German schoolchild knew would be catastrophic: a two-front war.

What those precocious schoolchildren didn’t know, and some eminent historians still don’t, was that Hitler no longer had a choice. Stalin’s monstrous juggernaut had to be destroyed before it had a chance to roll.

Germany’s pre-emptive strike on 22 June, 1941, effectively destroyed the Soviet regular army, with 4.5 million prisoners (my father, incidentally, among them) taken in the next two months. Many of those prisoners not only surrendered without a fight, with whole regiments marching into Nazi captivity to the sound of brass bands, but at least 1.5 million of them volunteered to fight against Stalin.

Comparing this shocking figure with the number of Russian soldiers bearing arms against their country in the Napoleonic war of 1812 (none), we may begin to realise the depth of hatred the Bolshevik regime had unleashed among its own people.

Few were Soviet soldiers who hadn’t had next of kin shot, tortured or starved to death, sent to concentration camps or imprisoned. The morale in the army, especially after the 1937-1938 purges in which most officers from the level of regimental commander up had been wiped out, was below low.

The terrorist methods used by Stalin and Beria to make the Red Army fight are best described in the book Stalin’s War of Extermination by the late German historian Joachim Hoffmann. But fight the army finally did, losing uncountable and largely uncounted millions on the way to Berlin.

The British and the Americans had very different goals:

Not to cut too fine a point, Churchill wanted to preserve the British Empire, while Roosevelt wanted to destroy it. His aim was for America to supplant Britain as the major Western power, and in this Roosevelt was continuing the American imperialist policy already pursued during the previous war by President Wilson.

Thus Roosevelt’s aims overlapped with Stalin’s who also saw Britain, and Churchill personally, as the main obstacle on the way to achieving his own objectives. This explains why Roosevelt consistently joined forces with Stalin to defeat Churchill’s proposals on war strategy.

A significant factor in Roosevelt’s decision-making was his entourage, densely staffed with Soviet agents, such as Harry Dexter White, who de facto ran Treasury, Alger Hiss, one of Roosevelt’s top diplomats, and especially Harry Hopkins, who effectively led the country during Roosevelt’s last term when the President was increasingly incapacitated.

These men were influential in steering Roosevelt’s policies towards Stalin’s, and away from Allied, interests, but their role must not be exaggerated. Roosevelt was a visceral American supremacist, and as such he knew anyway that his and Churchill’s bread was buttered on opposite sides.

Stalin desperately wanted the Allies to invade Europe through northern France, for this would leave Eastern Europe defenceless against Soviet conquest and subsequent domination. Churchill, on the other hand, was in favour of invading through the south, mainly Italy, cutting Stalin’s hordes off the Balkans and eastern Europe.

Understandably, if illogically, Stalin kept bleating about the need for a second front, refusing to acknowledge that it already existed. It was as if the Anglo-American troops dying in their thousands in North Africa and the Far East weren’t fighting on any front at all (incidentally, this is the impression most Russians have even today, largely thanks to the history books created by Putin’s government).

Most important, a second front had already existed even in Europe since 12 September, 1943, when 200,000 Anglo-American troops landed from Sicily at Salerno on the Italian mainland. Using their established bases in Italy as the beachhead, the logic of the war demanded that the Allies expand their operations from the Aegean and Adriatic Seas into south and central Europe.

This view was shared by Gen. Eisenhower who later said, “Italy was the correct place in which to deploy our main forces and the objective should be the Valley of the Po. In no other area could we so well threaten the whole German structure including France, the Balkans and the Reich itself.”


  1. So, Let’s say you’re in command of the US army. After a year of slogging through the mountains, you’ve smashed the German forces in Italy and taken complete control of the Po Valley/Plain. That’s the light green smudge at the top of Italy in this topographic map.

    As you can see, it’s now a snap to break out into Germany and fin… oh, whoopsie, forgot about being almost completely surrounded by the biggest mountain chain in Europe.

    From there you can try an oblique advance into Yugoslavia and the Balkans (this was Churchill’s plan, IIRC), which I think would work nicely. Except that by the time you’ve sewed up Southeastern Europe Stalin will be enjoying a glass of fine champagne in Paris.

    Strategically, this plan sees the Allies trading away France, the low countries, and half of Germany in exchange for Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and Greece.

    Now, if there was some way to push the US Army of 1944 through the Alps in the face of Wehrmacht opposition, I’m all ears. I know some people say DRAGOON should have been the main landing, but that ignores the insurmountable (as opposed to almost insurmountable for OVERLORD) logistical realities of trying to make a large-scale amphibious assault against Southern France without having G.B. as a base only a few tens of miles away.

  2. Bruce says:

    Compare Inchon with D-Day. You compare MacArthur’s mastery of amphibious landings with Eisenhower getting his elbow jogged. MacArthur would have landed at Kaisershaven, late 1942.

  3. Andrew Cowling says:

    Taking into account the state of the art in 1942, MacArthur landing at Kaisershaven would result in him losing half his troops, and his liberty, in short order.

    (No Marines or tank support, glider troops drowning in the North Sea — the Husky landings indicated that US glider tow pilots tended to release prematurely, and massed E-boats cutting off any retreat does not a pretty picture paint…)

  4. Toddy Cat says:

    Boot seems to buy totally into the ICEBREAKER scenario as outlined by Victor Suvarov. There’s certainly some evidence for it, and there’s little doubt that Stalin planned on intervening in the war sooner or later, to the benefit of the USSR. But Boot is writing as if the ICEBREAKER thesis has been generally accepted, when in fact, most historians are pretty skeptical. There’s no doubt that Hitler feared Stalin’s eventual intervention, but calling BARBAROSSA a “pre-emptive strike” is going a bit far. Hitler’s program was not achievable without smashing the USSR. It was only a matter of when.

  5. Bruce says:

    Hitler still had a battleship or two, and he would have thrown everything he had against any Kaisershaven landing. I’d expect a northern Dieppe, with hot pursuit by the whole Luftwaffe. Except MacArthur’s amphibious attacks always worked. And if he’d won a landing there, he’d have won the war.

  6. Barnabas says:

    Can anyone recommend a good book on Mannerheim and the defense of Finland?

  7. Bruce says:

    William Trotter, A Frozen Hell.

  8. Marc Pisco says:

    Bruce, if MacArthur’s amphibious attacks always worked, he may have known when not to attack.

  9. Lucklucky says:

    Alexander Boot seems not to know the Spanish Civil War air war, the tank industry, or the submarine number at vigil of WW2.

  10. Bruce says:

    Yes, “he may have known when not to attack.” And I don’t say Kaisershaven was the easiest target. And MacArthur wasn’t great at everything — great at military rhetoric, great guy to administer a conquered province, great at amphibious attacks, OK otherwise. But there’s a lot to be said for invading Germany when you are at war with Germany. Invading France or Norway or Greece or Italy or North Africa didn’t always work great. Somewhere on the coast of Germany, I bet there was a weak point.

  11. Holy $hit, this is the only version of events that makes sense. Light bulbs went off in my mind when reading this superb piece. So, basically, WW2 was a successful Soviet ploy to use Western useful idiots to conquer Europe.

  12. Lucklucky says:

    One of the worst things people make — in itself a progressive behavior, not a conservative one &mdahs; is trying to extract meaning or narrative from everything. In itself it is a primitive behavior that gives us the capability to learn and extract conclusions about what happens, but it also opens up the doors of the terrible overreaching that gave us the murderous ideologies of 20th century.

    Many things that happen don’t have meaning or at all. A version of events that makes sense means that all events were controllable and predictable beforehand. They weren’t. WW2 war results doesn’t make sense, because they were unpredictable. In 1940 the World War was just at that time a European War. The atomic bomb in 1942 was just a possibility.

    There is chaos — lots of action, reaction — opportunity, luck. Ideologies and peoples are boats in the ocean of human history.

    This kind of thinking that tries to give meaning to everything is also an extreme political vision of the world where everything is defined and controllable by the political world.

  13. Thank you, Lucklucky. I was about to make the same point.

    “The difference between reality and fiction? Fiction has to make sense.” — Tom Clancy

    Better the ancient mind, which saw the hand of capricious gods in the mad jumble of real events, than the modern mind that must press reality into the procrustean bed of one or another totalizing ideological construct.

  14. Marcus says:

    Scipio, the Allies didn’t enter the Po Valley until Germany collapsed in Spring 1945. The Gothic Line could have held far superior Allied forces at bay for even longer if the homeland hadn’t been under attack from Poland.

  15. Quite so, Marcus. I was applying the Philosophical Principle of Charity to show that even the most generous interpretation of the argument didn’t work.

  16. Lucklucky says:

    Scipio, I think that is the same path. In the past the gods explained everything; now it is a conspiracy theory or a “scientific” theory. There is need of something that explains the whole.

  17. I think there’s a crucial difference, Luckylucky. The gods were believed changeable and beyond the ken of man, as well as to be in constant conflict with each other.

    Modern ideologues’ certainty is their chief vice in comparison. Even the most pious pagan believed the gods might desert them. Communists did not think they could be deserted by the Dialectic; it was, to them, a fundamental part of the universe.

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