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Military Incompetence


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#1 canuck

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 01:45 AM

While I stand in awe of the exploits and sacrifice of our veterans, it is a recurring theme, at least to me, that so many died needlessly from a myriad of ill advised, badly planned or poorly led military actions or campaigns. France 1940, Singapore, Hong Kong, Dieppe, Arnhem, Failure to take Antwerp, strategic bomber offensive and the many small unit actions (Hill 195) where troops were decimated, are but a few examples.



I would be interested to hear what our veterans and those who have served in the military feel about this subject. It is a complex subject with many variables. The disaster at Dunkirk could easily be laid at the feet of the politicians who committed a poorly equipped and unprepared force vs. a pure military explanation. However, some would argue that the military heirarchy can cause this to occur. In his book, On the Psychology of Military Incompetence, Norman F. Dixon notes that nearly every military disaster that was caused by incompetent leadership was because the leader had an authoritarian personality with the following four characteristics:
  • an obsessive attention to neatness and detail and a need for an ordered tidy world with few complexities and complications
  • emotional coldness where they don’t really empathize or warm to colleagues
  • excessive deference to superior authority, which meant that they often reversed this and bullied those who they saw as their inferiors
  • an excessive fear of failure and of getting things wrong, which meant that they were less likely to innovate or do something different or make radical changes.
My own experience suggests that any large organization, military or otherwise, are by their very nature, prone to inefficiency and failures.

Thoughts?
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#2 Drew5233

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 09:24 AM

poorly equipped and unprepared force vs. a pure military explanation.


I'm not so sure that statement is that accurate for 1940. For example the BEF was virtually a mobilized army with very few horses in 1940 -Quite the opposite for the Germans who relied heavily on horses throughout the war not just 1940.

Together the Allies had more men and equipment or at the very least matched the German equivalent and the French had arguably the best tank on the battlefield in 1940 and plenty of them.


I don't think the Germans were really that good in 1940, I think its easy to make someone look good if the opponent is that bad.
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#3 canuck

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 01:13 PM

I'm not so sure that statement is that accurate for 1940. For example the BEF was virtually a mobilized army with very few horses in 1940 -Quite the opposite for the Germans who relied heavily on horses throughout the war not just 1940.

Together the Allies had more men and equipment or at the very least matched the German equivalent and the French had arguably the best tank on the battlefield in 1940 and plenty of them.


I don't think the Germans were really that good in 1940, I think its easy to make someone look good if the opponent is that bad.


So, it was a leadership issue?
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#4 Drew5233

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 01:33 PM

That is my take on things if you include tactics and the fact there was eventually a multiple of countries/nationalities in the coalition so you have the command and control issues of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing etc.
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#5 Smudger Jnr

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 02:04 PM

Good leadership, good training with good equipment plus good communications makes for a good fighting force.

Take away the good communications and everything goes downhill.

Regards
Tom
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#6 HelpTheAged

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 03:38 PM

DD Tanks sinking at Omaha

82nd and 101st misdrops all over Normandy.

Oh, and the 4th Infantry not even landing at Utah.

tbh America made a complete balls up of D-Day.
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#7 Oldman

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 05:29 PM

DD tanks at Omaha were released by the naval forces far to early and got swamped on the run in to the beach.
As already stated on these posts communications and lack of played a major part in the failure of certain actions also the thoughts of generals also got in the way of battle plans.

If you read Tom Canning's posts on the desert war you will come across his thoughts on the tank generals who up until 1943 wanted to fight tanks as cavalry and actually said this to Monty.
Read about 1st El Alamein when Monty held the armour back, Rommel was a little non plussed that the armour did not follow his onto the waiting anti tank gun screen (88's) as normal.

Also deliberate ingnoring of orders to break off action resulting in excessive tank and crew losses by junior officers.
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#8 Tab

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 07:11 PM

What ever you plan it can go tits up in no time flat. Arnhem...had that operation gone in two or three weeks earlier it would have been a great success, but instead a SS Division went there for a bit of R&R and to rearm and we dropped right in the middle of them.
The BEF now it only had the the early Matilda tanks that only had mainly machine guns for troop support some had the the 2 pounder and although well armoured their lack of fire power caused any attacks they launched to fail, mind you they almost killed Rommel and they did kill his No2 standing beside him and it took the 88 mm AA guns to knock them out. Still we were always playing catch up on tank development.

Dieppe......Yes Britain and Canada lost a lot of men on this raid and it was a trail of tactics for the main invasion and the lesson learnt brought success on D.Day
Things that were learnt..Security as soldier were talking all about the Dieppe raid long before it took place.
There was a range of specialised equipment brought out for D Day with a whole range of tanks to do different jobs. There were carpet laying tanks so that all the transport could get of the beach with out getting bogged down. then there were Mulberry Harbours which were a great bit of kit.
Antwerp.....Well that was captured okay but the problem was taking all the little islands along the river that had been turned into fortresses. When the Americans to Cherbourg they found that the Germans had destroyed it and planted booby traps all over the place.
Singapore well what can I say that it was poor leadership and should never happened.
Hong Kong we never had the man power to cover all these places with the numbers required to hold them.

Strategic Bomber Offensive....Well may have lost a lot of men and bombers doing this but it tied up over a million Germans to man all of this, which could have been used else where. Okay at the start of the war we did not have the bombers or the skill to be effective but from late 1942 onwards the tide started to turn. In the finish the RAF could drop a bomb using radio and radar and get it with in 100 feet of its target.


Organisation.....Well the bigger an organisation gets the bigger chance you have of getting an idiot making decisions beyond his capabilities
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#9 Steve Mac

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 08:09 PM

What ever you plan it can go tits up in no time flat. Arnhem...had that operation gone in two or three weeks earlier it would have been a great success, but instead a SS Division went there for a bit of R&R and to rearm and we dropped right in the middle of them.


Monty didn't want to go to Arnhem. His original plan was to go for Wesel, but the RAF declined on the basis of anticipated RAF personnel and materiel losses.

It was six months later that the Airbourne/Monty got to cross the Rhine in Operation Varsity (part of Plunder). Guess where? Wesel and its surrounds!

If his original plan had been supported, maybe the war in Europe would have finished sooner and East Germany, Poland et al wouldn't have been under the heel of the Soviets.

The man was a genius and should have been backed...

Best,

Steve.

Edited by Steve Mac, 10 April 2011 - 08:15 PM.

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#10 WhiskeyGolf

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 08:40 PM

Good leadership, good training with good equipment plus good communications makes for a good fighting force.

Take away the good communications and everything goes downhill.

Regards
Tom


I have to agree with you there Tom.

Many of the books I have read/am reading tend to show that those in 'ultimate command' were in nice warm offices looking at maps and thinking they knew best, when on the ground things were completely different and changing all the time. Goes back to communication, but also a trust in those you have in command on the ground.

W
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#11 Rav4

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 11:12 PM

I once loaded a book to someone about Military Incompetence and it was never returned. Forget the name and author of the book.

One item I remember took place during the Suez Crisis. It seems that some of the British supply ships had their cargo’s loaded with the first items needed in the landings loaded first. This meant that when the time came to supply the troops the items needed first were at the bottom of the cargo. Comes under the category of a “cock-up”.
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#12 Mike L

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 11:16 PM

Rav4, was it a squaddie you lent the book to? That might qualify as military incompetence. Re Suez, a basic 'logistics' problem clearly understood even in WW1 (if not before) obviously lost in the interim.
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#13 A-58

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Posted 11 April 2011 - 12:03 AM

DD Tanks sinking at Omaha

82nd and 101st misdrops all over Normandy.

Oh, and the 4th Infantry not even landing at Utah.

tbh America made a complete balls up of D-Day.

I'm not sure it was a complete "balls up" as you say on D-Day. US forces persevered, got ashore, moved inland and managed to even break out and cause the Germans more than just a little headache in the process. Not everything goes to plan all the time. You must be able to improvise and be flexible don't you think? I think that US forces managed to help out just a little in spite of problems encountered on D-Day.

And keeping with the thread, I believe that the invasions of Tarawa and Peleliu were completely useless in the prosecution of the war in the PTO. Bungling at the highest levels allowed these offensives to go on. There was nothing positive to be gained in those operations. Lots of good men were lost there needlessly.

Edited by A-58, 11 April 2011 - 12:09 AM.

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#14 Mike L

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Posted 11 April 2011 - 12:22 AM

A-58, I have often thought of Tarawa as a sort of American Dieppe - many valuable lessons learned, albeit at the cost of many lives.
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#15 A-58

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Posted 11 April 2011 - 02:01 AM

A-58, I have often thought of Tarawa as a sort of American Dieppe - many valuable lessons learned, albeit at the cost of many lives.

Yes, I've read that many times before, all the lessons learned concerning assaulting a heavily fortified beach frontally. That's a cheap way to pass the blame I believe. To me, that makes about as much sense as the repeated charges from the trenches across no-man's land in WW1. Look at all the lessons learned and learned and learned and learned there at what cost.

I'm not snapping at you Mike L at all, so please don't take it that way. But I like your analogy with Dieppe, never thought of it that way. Good point.

But the lesson wasn't learned, dum-ass'ed mistakes were repeated at the cost of lots of good men. They did it again at Peleliu. The 1st Marine Division was wrecked and unusable for almost 6 months later - at Okinawa, and the US 81st Infantry Division was pretty beat up too, and didn't see action again until July 1945 on Luzon. These assets could have been used properly in the PI, helping with Mac's triumphant return.

It seems that the ones learning the lessons never get the experience first hand. They always learn it from de-briefings and after action reports at a safe distance from the fighting.
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#16 canuck

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Posted 11 April 2011 - 02:34 AM

While a lack of experience was good in the sense that Canadian officers could develop their own tactical methods, the Canadian Army seemed plagued by bad leadership when they first went into action. In the months following D-Day in northwest Europe, a high number of battalion and brigade commanders were sacked. During the long period of preparation in England, many Canadian officers had taken too casual an approach to training their men. Many officers felt that when the time came, the men would be ready for combat, and there wasn't much that could be done to prepare them for it. Unfortunately, many of the poor Canadian officers were often not spotted and removed until after they had been identified in action, sometimes after serious consequences had resulted from their inadequacies. As was the case in the British forces, most of the best and brightest professionals had joined the Air Force, and the Army suffered accordingly. The most able leaders that the Army was able to attract seemed to come from civilian life - by early 1945, of the ten senior staff appointments, not one was a pre-war Regular; of the five Canadian divisions, only two were commanded by pre-war Regulars, and both of the two independent armoured brigades were commanded by citizen-soldiers.
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#17 John Lawson

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Posted 11 April 2011 - 12:51 PM

Hi Canuck,

I beleive I made a similar point with regard to British commanders; in that Montgomery wanted leaders who wanted to get on with the job and not have their decisions/planning confined by worrying about career or promotion. Although, I think Tom Canning may have a difference of opinion with me on that one.

However, as a German General once said, "no plan survives first contact". German equipment wasn't that much better than the Allies (I'm talking 1940 here), in fact sometimes it was worse, they just used it in a more imganitive way. The Germans tended to use the line of dislocation; concentrate mobile forces, hit a weak area, then range around in the rear areas hitting HQs and logistics dumps etc, thus cutting the teeth arms from their command and supply. "A bad plan is one that cannot be changed", who said that?

In certain cicumstances it was the mere fact that an enemy formation turned up unexpectedly in a rear area location that panicked soldiers, not the weight of vehicle or size of ordnance it carried.

Which makes me wonder how the BEF command managed to keep command, control and communication of and with their forces when they were being constantly outflanked by some of the more mobile German forces.

"There are no bad soldiers, only bad generals"
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#18 Oldman

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Posted 11 April 2011 - 06:07 PM

There are and always will be natural leaders who will grasp the moment and lead by shear will or personality the available forces and inspire them to do the impossible, Utah beach is an example of this.

Control of battle disappears with the first shot and is often left to the man on the spot to control its course, the problem therein lies with the officers who do not have the grasp of what is happening around them that time after time they commit the same errors.

Allowing officers to get away with this is incompetence at its worst it breeds more incompetence they cost lives and rise to a high level
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#19 Alan Allport

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Posted 11 April 2011 - 06:17 PM

The most able leaders that the Army was able to attract seemed to come from civilian life - by early 1945, of the ten senior staff appointments, not one was a pre-war Regular; of the five Canadian divisions, only two were commanded by pre-war Regulars, and both of the two independent armoured brigades were commanded by citizen-soldiers.


Interesting, though certainly not reflected in the British Army of 1939 to 1945. Of 160 men of major-general rank or higher who commanded at least a field-force division at some point during the war, only four were not regular officers - and of those four, three were Territorials and one in the Indian Army.

Best, Alan
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#20 Warlord

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Posted 11 April 2011 - 06:43 PM

Two reflections here:

1.- Barrie Pitt writes it down very clearly in the "Crucible" series when he refers to the "Old Boy" mentality which prevailed in the forces fighting in the Western Desert, before Monty's arrival: He who came from a family with military heritage and didn't go against the rules with "outside-the-box" ideas, was a better chap - and as such, better ranked - regardless of martial skills, than your ordinary cockney trying desperately to win a ruthless war.

2.- Western powers went to war in the Far East thinking that the mere presence of the white soldier was enough to beat the myopic, obsoletely-equipped hordes from Nippon; they were in for a deadly surprise...

A racial thing? A social thing?
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#21 sparky34

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Posted 11 April 2011 - 07:13 PM

SINGAPORE must rank as one of the biggest foul-ups of the second world war .
the lack of leadership is breathtaking ..failure to build a proper defensive system
on the north of the island until it was to late shows how incompetent the high
command was .plus pre-war thinking that no enemy could penetrate the jungle of
MALAYA and threaten the island was a disaster in the making ..
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#22 cameronlad

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Posted 11 April 2011 - 07:25 PM

Very well put - except for two points.
1. In 1939-1940 British commanders and their subordinates (no matter how good or bad) were not in command - the French were. Neither were they on control - the Germans were.
2. On balance the German's had better equipment in crucial areas where and when it counted most. Allied tanks are a case in point. Both the quality and quantity of our own military equipment was one of the most hotly contested issues of our own politicians at the time of going to war, prompting protest letters to Chamberlain by his own ministers.
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#23 Tom Canning

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Posted 11 April 2011 - 07:44 PM

John Lawson
Now why do you believe that you will have an arguement with me about Monty culling the dead wood he found when taking over 8th Army - I should remind you that he sent for Three senior officers to take on XXX corps - Oliver Leese - XIII - Brian Horrocks and the Artillery - Sydney Kirkman - and quite a few dead heads of Colonel's - one I am reminded of when asked by Monty who looked after the battalions training- the Colonel assured him that this was the job of the 2i/c - later on meeting the 2.i/c - same question - different answer - the Colonel was fired. The only one he couldn't replace - there was no other - was the Armoured Commander - Lumsden - took him all the way to Medenine to get rid of him- the armour caused the myth of Monty being slow as they insisted on replicating the Balaclava charge - after all Lumsden won the Grand National...to subsequent high losses in Tank Crews- after Medenine and at El Hamma - the NEW Armoured came up with the British Blitzkreig - then again at Tunis- and again at the "BIG SWAN: to Brussels and Antwerp - had Monty been able to sort out the Armour- we might have been in Tripoli much earlier- as it was "Pip" Roberts of 3rd RTR - then jazz piano playing Brigadier of 26th Armoured bde- then Commander 11th Armoured Division in NWE did well after his hard apprenticeship in the desert.....
Cheers
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#24 Tab

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Posted 11 April 2011 - 10:56 PM

Rav 4....I was on the Suez invasion and I never saw a problem with the wrong kit loaded in the wrong part of the ship. I am not saying that it did not happen but it could only have been the odd ship. Many of the people on these landings were old hands from WW2 and had done all this many times before.
When you think that on this invasion we had five through deck aircraft carriers taking part in some form or other it should give you some idea of the size of this operation. Also it was the first time that Helicopters had been used for the attacking force to land large numbers of troops, long before the Americans had tried it.
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#25 canuck

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Posted 11 April 2011 - 11:16 PM

Hi Canuck,

I beleive I made a similar point with regard to British commanders; in that Montgomery wanted leaders who wanted to get on with the job and not have their decisions/planning confined by worrying about career or promotion. Although, I think Tom Canning may have a difference of opinion with me on that one.

However, as a German General once said, "no plan survives first contact". German equipment wasn't that much better than the Allies (I'm talking 1940 here), in fact sometimes it was worse, they just used it in a more imganitive way. The Germans tended to use the line of dislocation; concentrate mobile forces, hit a weak area, then range around in the rear areas hitting HQs and logistics dumps etc, thus cutting the teeth arms from their command and supply. "A bad plan is one that cannot be changed", who said that?

In certain cicumstances it was the mere fact that an enemy formation turned up unexpectedly in a rear area location that panicked soldiers, not the weight of vehicle or size of ordnance it carried.

Which makes me wonder how the BEF command managed to keep command, control and communication of and with their forces when they were being constantly outflanked by some of the more mobile German forces.

"There are no bad soldiers, only bad generals"


Then again, how can you find fault with armoured commanders in Normandy and beyond who had no option but to throw Shermans and Cromwells at the screens of 88mm cannon.
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#26 Rav4

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Posted 12 April 2011 - 02:53 AM

Rav4, was it a squaddie you lent the book to? That might qualify as military incompetence. Re Suez, a basic 'logistics' problem clearly understood even in WW1 (if not before) obviously lost in the interim.


Your right- An ex squaddie:D
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#27 John Lawson

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Posted 12 April 2011 - 10:41 AM

Cheers Tom,

You always come up with good, interesting info with regard to armour and Monty. Experience - you cann't buy it.

All the best,

John
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#28 John Lawson

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Posted 12 April 2011 - 11:01 AM

There's a thing Cannuck,

I cann't find fault with them, sometimes you just have to go with what you've got, what you know or what you're told to do.

With regard to the 88mm, why didn't the British/Allies use the 3.5 inch QF AA gun in the same way as the Germans. Granted in the begining they probably didn't know what was hitting them, but once they did, why not use a similar weapon on the enemy? It would probably have made a mess of any panzer as the earlier version had a similar velocity. Was it just a case of the British not being able "think outside of the box"?

3.5" QF AA Gun
Mk I - III : 2,670 feet per second (810 m/s) (new) 2,598 feet per second (792 m/s) (typical), still enough to do a tank!
Mk VI : 3,425 feet per second (1,044 m/s)

88mm Flak - 820 m/s (2,690 ft/s)

How many were deployed in each Corps or Division in 1940?
Any photos of them destroyed in the withdrawal to Dunkirk?

Edited by John Lawson, 12 April 2011 - 12:29 PM.
thought of something else2

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#29 A-58

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Posted 13 April 2011 - 04:19 AM

I'd like to offer up the biggest bungling that I can offer no reasoning for. In the 1941-42 Philippine Campaign, MacArthur's wavering early on whether to put WPO into play. He then decided to call an audible and change the play after the Japanese landed at the Lingayen Gulf, then second-guessed himself and deciding to go with WPO. He moved his army to the Bataan Peninsula and abandoned Manila according to plan. During the lead up the the opening of hostilities, he made no effort to militarize Bataan. No trenches, no bunkers, no roadways, no evacuating civilians, no pre-placement of supplies, no nothing. In his haste of evacuating Manila, tons of supplies were destroyed in place, and other substantial were left behind. These items could have been put to good use during the siege. Of course I'm not saying that US forces could have held on until help arrived since no relief force was available. My point is that nothing was done to make do with what they had to work with at the time.

And to top it off, FDR gave Mac a Medal of Honor for that crappy performance there.
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#30 Tom Canning

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Posted 13 April 2011 - 04:46 AM

John Lawson
Don't know how many times I have raised this same subject of th 3.7 AA vs the 88mm AA/AT - but the first time it was held that the 3.7 " stood too high off the ground - forgetting that the 88mm stood 11' off the ground - but the War House
wallopers had never had an 19' barrel of an 88mm pointing at them- then when there was 1000 3.7" sitting in various warehouses in the mid East- they were very heavy and needed a very large scammell to pull them through the desert- then - well we have better gun coming up - true- four 17 pounders landed with the Torch Forces Nov '42 - spirited down to Medenine ALONGSIDE some unofficial 3.7AA guns acting as A/T guns- result three panzer Divisions stopped dead after a few hours battle - Rommel was fired - the 17 pounder spirited back to the Uk for a better platform - next time they showed up was with a Canadian battery at Sicily- never saw them on Tanks in Italy although some people who weren't born at the time assure me that there were lots of them in Italy - so I gave up - BUT the 3.7 was finally converted into an A/T and used - go on three guesses - yep BUlGE February 1945-
now That is good timing ......yeah right ...
Cheers
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