Closing with the Enemy: How GI's Fought the War in Europe, 1944-1945

Article excerpt

CLOSING WITH THE ENEMY: How GI's Fought the War in Europe, 1944-1945, by Michael D. Doubler. 354 pages. University of Kansas Press, Lawrence, KS. 1994. $40.00

In 1982, Martin Van Creveld published Fighting Power: German and US Army Performance, 1939-1945. In it, he asserts that the German fighting man produced significantly superior results on the battlefield until virtually the war's end as compared with his US opposite number. He says his conclusions are valid for defensive combat and offensive combat.

According to Van Creveld, US soldiers were poorly led by officers who did not know their profession and were inadequately trained for the demands of combat leadership; they were hesitant in offensive action, which led to poorly coordinated attacks that frequently bogged down in confusion and disorganization; and they too often relied primarily on their superior firepower as a substitute for an aggressive maneuver.

Van Creveld's evidence for his conclusions are primarily based on a "Combat Effectiveness Table" of 78 US and German World War II engagements prepared by writer-historian Trevor Dupuy. Most of the 78 engagements are from the Italian Campaign, where the terrain was as much an enemy as the Germans were. The northwest European battles primarily are from the miserable, rain-soaked battles of attrition in the Lorraine Campaign. The table excludes for the most part, the July-August battles in France and, according to Van Creveld, excludes prisoners from casualty counts. The table does not include any battle after 7 December 1944. Therefore, the Battle of the Bulge-the US Army's greatest battle and the culminating US war engagement in Europe-and subsequent fighting in the Rhineland and central Germany is omitted.

Van Creve]d's conclusions of nearly innate German superiority throughout the war and across the spectrum of combat do not ring true. One feels uncomfortable with the proposal that, somehow, the better, most capable team lost; that Americans blundered and "rumbled" their way to victory on the strength of the world's greatest economy and the backs of millions of sturdy Russian infantrymen with little or no help from their own, supposedly inferior "fighting power."'

At last, after nearly 12 years, Michael D. Doubler articulates what many European Theater students have felt for a long time. He produces a convincing, well-supported counterargument that effectively and decisively challenges Van Creveld's conclusions. His is an outstanding examination of how the US Army not only learned from its early mistakes and gained valuable experience in combined arms tactics, but also was competent enough by 1944's end to decisively defeat German fighting power in head-to-head combat. …