Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Ten World War Two Allied military blunders (Part 2)

with 4 comments

This is the second part of ten Allied military blunders of World War Two. The comments I made at the beginning of the first article still apply. The only thing I would add is that I have tried to select lesser known blunders, especially ones that made for an interesting story. With no further ado:

6. The British campaign in Norway. This one is complicated. Basically at the beginning of World War Two Germany invaded Norway to secure important bases and transport routes for Swedish iron ore. The British (and French) hastily assembled forces to prevent the Germans from occupying all of Norway. Carefully laid plan vs hasty slapdash plan, guess who won? While the Germans lost ships they could ill afford to lose, British losses were significant too. And, basically, pointless. Wikipedia: Allied Campaign in Norway

7. The sinking of the HMS Glorious. This one is still a mystery. The British Aircraft Carrier Glorious was ferrying planes out of Norway after the failed British intervention there, and was given permission to travel essentially alone back to Britain through an area where German surface ships might be operating, no convincing explanation of why this was allowed has ever surfaced. More puzzling, even though visibility was excellent, the Glorious had no planes in the air, and didn’t even have anyone in its crow’s nest to scan the horizon! And as a result, they were caught completely by surprise by the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. The two escorting British destroyers made basically suicidal attacks to lay smoke screens and delay the Germans so that the Glorious could get some planes in the air, they were both blown out of the water as destroyers are simply no match for battlecruisers. And the Scharnhorst’s gunner then made a direct hit on the Glorious at a distance of nearly 15 miles, one of the longest range hits ever made with naval guns, destroying the two planes that were being readied and blowing a big hole in the carrier’s flight deck and making it impossible to launch planes. Within two ours of sighting the Germans, the Glorious and its escorts ere sunk, with a loss of over 1500 men, fewer than 50 survived. As one last clusterfuck, either the Glorious didn’t radio for help, or no one received the message, because the British didn’t know the Glorious had been sunk until they heard it on German news broadcasts. Wikipedia: The sinking of the HMS Glorious

8. Operation Menace. After the fall of France one of the major issues was where would France’s colonies go, with the Free French or with the German installed Vichy government in France. Dakar, an important West African port in the now nation of Senegal went with the Vichy government. De Gaulle insisted that the French forces there would quickly come over to the Free French if he showed up, Churchill believed him, and a hastily assembled force was sent to Dakar: Operation Menace. It was a comedy of errors from the beginning, secrecy as so poorly kept that African natives in fishing boats called out “You’re going to Dakar?” to the fleet as it passed by. When they arrived, it turned out their maps were hopelessly out of date and the French defenders were far better armed than had been thought. And they had no intention of surrendering to a British fleet, De Gaulle, or anyone. Even after the British had arrived, a small fleet of French ships was able to slip by and reinforce the defenders! For several days the British tried to knock out the French shore batteries and a French battleship that was operating as a floating gun battery in the harbour. Several small ships and a few French subs were sunk, but the French defenders kept fighting. An invasion force landed, but in the face of strong resistence it as withdrawn, as De Gaulle wisely didn’t want Frenchmen killing Frenchmen. The fight ended when a French sub managed to torpedo and heavily damage a key British ship, a heavy cruiser. De Gaulle’s reputation was badly tarnished by the whole pointless affair. Wikipedia: Operation Menace

As an aside to this story, a few years later the captain of the French submarine, now fighting for the Allies, was personally decorated by the captain of the British cruiser he had torpedoed at Dakar. He mentioned this during the ceremony, and in a wonderful example of British aplomb, the cruiser captain’s reply was “Good shot!”

9. The British intervention in Greece. One would think that the failure of the intervention in Norway would have taught the British a lesson. Nope. When Germany and Italy invaded Greece, Churchill insisted that the bulk of forces in North Africa be rushed to Greece. Yes, a handful of British troops would stop the by then massive German armies; it was, basically nuts. The British forces in Greece were routed, and large numbers of them captured. And worse, the British forces in North Africa had just routed the Italians and were poised to capture all of Italian North Africa. Instead, their withdrawal meant the Germans had time to send Rommel and the Afrika Corps to Libya, and the rest is history. Wikipedia: Operation Lustre

10. Exercise Tiger. OK, four mistakes where Churchill was partly (or wholly) responsible for is enough, now one where Churchill wasn’t involved, Exercise Tiger. This took place in April 1944, and a was full scale practice run for the D-Day landing on Utah Beach two months later, as Eisenhower thought that the troops needed realistic training. Well, they got it. Blunders were made from the start. The British and Americans were using different radio frequencies for one, and communication between the two sides was compromised. So that when one of the two British warships escorting the invasion convoy broke down, the American troop ships weren’t informed. The other British ship led the convoy in a line, making them an easy target for German torpedo boats, or E-boats as they were called. One reference even states that when the E-boats were sighted, they were mistaken for friendlies. The E-boats attacked, and sank several troop ships. It gets worse, of the nearly seven hundred men who died, hundreds drowned becasue they hadn’t been trained on how to properly wear their life vests, so that when they inflated their vests, they were flipped upside down and drowned. The exercise continued, and as part of the realism, Eisenhower had ships using live fire shelling the beach past where the invading troops were supposed to go. There was some confusion at this point, because another nearly 300 men were killed by this fire. Basically nearly a thousand men died rehearsing the landing on Utah beach … where only about 200 men died. There’s a rumour that the survivors were sworn to secrecy forever, which isn’t true. They were sworn to secrecy for the duration of the war, but the news was quietly released even before the end of the war. The whole embarrassing mess isn’t very well documented, but the reasons for that seem pretty obvious to me. No one wants to remember a world class screw up. Wikipedia: Exercise Tiger.

And that’s that. No, I didn’t get all my information from Wikipedia, I just provided those links so people curious to know more have a place to start. As always when talking about historical events, they are subject to interpretation and debate. I’ve noticed that sometimes historians weigh in and correct or add information my history posts, such comments are welcome and appreciated.

(The above image is Public Domain under US copyright law as far as I can tell. It’s the HMS Glorious under fire taken from the deck f the Scharnhorst. People are dying in this photo, an aspect of wars that isn’t appreciated enough.)

4 Responses

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  1. This is a primarily Canadian blunder but the Dieppe raid in 1942 was a big blunder. Not achieving a single objective and losses of about 60% made it a sore point for the predominately Canadian raid.

    Daryl Gilroy

    February 24, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    • Oh yes, Dieppe. I plan to do a dedicated post on it someday. While it was a catastrophic failure, the whole operation was conceived as a test of Allied amphibious capabilities, and in that it was complete uccess. —Doug

      unitedcats

      February 28, 2011 at 8:12 pm

      • Very true, and unlike many other blunders you mentioned lessons were leaned and successfully applied to future operations.

        Daryl Gilroy

        March 3, 2011 at 9:55 am

  2. You need to add Montgomery’s catastrophic failure to capture not just Antwerp but the Scheldt Estuary that HAD to be taken to make the port operative. Add two months to the war and the enticemnet for Hitler’s Ardennes Offensive (and perhaps throw in the delayed deployment of Pershing tanks) and you have one of the biggest Allied mistakes of the European Theater in WWII. This and several other instances makes Montgomery the most overrated general on the Allied side – even taking MacArthur into account.

    Dr. David S. Hardin

    February 26, 2012 at 3:32 pm


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