Hell in Hurtgen Forest: The Ordeal and Triumph of an American Infantry Regiment by Robert Sterling Rush. University Press of Kansas (http:// www.kansaspress.ku.edu), 2501 West 15th Street, Lawrence, Kansas 66049-3905, 2001, 400 pages, $34.95.
The guns had barely cooled from World War II when the US Army's performance came under scrutiny. Historian S. L. A. Marshall set the tone in 1947 with his Alen against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command in Future War, which argued that, at best, only 25 percent of soldiers had fired their weapons-and these men were elite troops, like rangers and paratroopers! Later studies such as Col Trevor N. Dupuy's Numbers, Prediction, and Wary: Using History to Evaluate Combat Factors and Predict the Outcome of Battles (1979), Russell F. Weigh ley's Eisenhower's Lieutenants: The Campaign of France and Germany, 1944-1945 (1981), Martin van Creveld's Fighting Power: German and US Army Performance, 1939-1945 (1982), and John Ellis's Brute Force: Allied Strategy and Tactics in the Second World War (1990) argued that the Allies bludgeoned their way to victory with superior numbers.
Nearly all of these authors criticize the US Army for its replacement system and the number of divisions fielded. Known as the 90-division gamble, the plan involved creating a small number of divisions but keeping them at full strength with a huge replacement pool. In theory this was a great idea, but in practice it did not work well. Fighting on four fronts (Italy, France, the Central Pacific, and the Southwest Pacific) forced commanders to keep units there too long, and the latter rarely had the opportunity to pull back for rest and refit. Consequently, as the argument goes, replacements went directly into combat with little opportunity to acclimate themselves either to the unit or to combat conditions, resulting in a reduction of effectiveness.
With the publication of Keith E. Bonn's When the Odds Were Even: The Vosges Mountains Campaign, October 1944-January 1945 in 1994, this image has undergone reevaluation. The terrain, weather, and enemy strength favored the Germans, yet US troops successfully overcame these disadvantages to defeat a battle-hardened and tenacious foe. Besides Bonn's work, the University Press of Kansas has published a trilogy that directly challenges the Army's detractors. Michael D. Doubler's Closing with the Enemy: How GIs Fought the War in Europe, 1944-1945 (1994) argues that the US Army entered France on D day as a green, untested force, but its ingenuity, imagination, and flexibility enabled it to adapt to new and unforeseen situations quickly and defeat the Germans. Instead of exhibiting a "how stupid they were attitude," Doubler presents an army that expanded from roughly 160,000 men in 1940 to over 8 million by 1944, successfully invaded France, and within 11 months destroyed the German army in the west.
Peter R. Mansoor's The GI Offensive in Europe: The Triumph of American Infantry Divisions, 1941-- 1945 (1999) takes Doubler's work a step further by examining the performance of US infantry divisions. Contrary to the stance of van Creveld and others, Mansoor maintains that the American Army was more effective than the armies of its adversaries. He agrees that the replacement system was not ideal but argues that the Army took steps to mitigate its disadvantages and generate the combat power necessary to defeat the enemy. …