Clash of Arms: How the Allies Won in Normandy. (Book Reviews).Clash of Arms This article or section needs sources or references that appear in reliable, third-party publications. Alone, primary sources and sources affiliated with the subject of this article are not sufficient for an accurate encyclopedia article. : How the Allies Won in Normandy. By Russell A. Hart. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2001.469 pages. $79.95. Reviewed by Dr. Samuel Newland (LTC LTC
lieutenant colonel , ARNG Ret.), Professor, Department of Distance Education, US Army War College.
Sometimes when a student of military history picks up his latest purchase and delves into its contents, he finds that the book will cover precisely what the title describes. In other cases, the book surprises the reader by delivering far more. Clash of Arms is one of those that provides the reader far more than the title suggests. This book is not so much how the Allies won at Normandy, but rather how armies prepare for war and adapt during a war, as seen through the Allies' performance in the European Campaign.
The author, an Assistant Professor in modern military history at Hawaii Pacific University, begins with a clear thesis for what he wishes to accomplish. At issue is the question of how armies adapt and implement change in wartime, with the focal point focal point
See focus. being the performance of four armies in the summer of 1944. To accomplish this task, the author must digress di·gress
intr.v. di·gressed, di·gress·ing, di·gress·es
To turn aside, especially from the main subject in writing or speaking; stray. See Synonyms at swerve. and discuss both the interwar interwar
of or happening in the period between World War I and World War II and the early war periods, reviewing what the armies did to integrate the lessons of the Great War into their training and doctrine. To make his task manageable, the author focuses his attention on the four nations involved in the campaign in Western Europe--the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area. , Germany, Canada, and Great Britain Great Britain, officially United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, constitutional monarchy (2005 est. pop. 60,441,000), 94,226 sq mi (244,044 sq km), on the British Isles, off W Europe. The country is often referred to simply as Britain. . The book is divided into two sections: first, how the armies of these four powers prepared for the campaign in the years from 1919 to 1944; and second, how well the armies fought and adapted during the Normandy campaign. The narrative covers events beyond the establishment of the initial lodgment lodg·ment also lodge·ment
a. The act of lodging.
b. The state of being lodged.
2. A place for lodging.
3. An accumulation or a deposit.
4. through the breakout and pursuit phase, ending in early August 1944.
Of the armies studied, the military forces fielded by the United States and Germany receive the highest praise. The German army initially receives high marks because in the post-World War I era, it seriously studied the lessons of that war and integrated them into its training and doctrine. Furthermore, when World War II started, the German army distinguished itself by its ability to learn--to change training, doctrine, and even weapon systems, based on critical self-appraisal immediately following battles and campaigns. Although the US Army did not study the lessons of the First World War nearly as well as the Germans, once World War II started, the American Army, though unprepared for the war, showed itself capable of learning quickly and integrating lessons-learned into methods for fighting the next battle. Thus, both the German and US armies are assessed as adaptable and innovative, although the Americans failed to adapt with regard to basic weapon systems once the European campaign began.
For the British forces, however, the author finds the opposite to be true. Whereas the American and the German cultures are depicted as encouraging innovation, the British are characterized as being excessively cautious, a factor that was exacerbated in the early campaigns of the war, when they were faced with repeated defeats. In the author's opinion, the British failed to prepare for war, their culture failed to encourage innovation, and this together with a class-oriented, tradition-bound society caused the British approach to war to be lackluster.
The Canadians are characterized as being more adaptable in combat than their British peers, but they too were unprepared for the war and had failed to study and properly integrate lessons of the First World War. Even though the Normandy campaign showed the Canadians to be flexible and adaptable, their lack of a systematic method to coordinate the collection of after-action reports and to integrate the lessons into new tactics doomed them to adapt at a lesser rate than the US and German armies.
The book possesses several strengths. A reader should take the time to review, if only in a cursory fashion, the depth of the author's research. The book is based on excellent sources, using solid, up-to-date secondary works and archival materials from the four nations outlined. To a historian, the research is impressive. The book is also a good read for military personnel, because it provides one more example of a current scholar documenting the exceptional performance of the US Army during the Second World War.
There are some shortcomings in the book as well, particularly for the military reader, For example, this reviewer is not altogether certain that the author clearly understands the difference between the tactical, operational, and strategic levels of war, although he uses those terms. For example, he concludes that the US Army showed "its growing operational flexibility" and "recognize[d] its flaws in the operational art." But, the operational art was not spoken of at that time, and most writers on the period bemoan be·moan
tr.v. be·moaned, be·moan·ing, be·moans
1. To express grief over; lament.
2. To express disapproval of or regret for; deplore: the lack of operational thinking in American campaigns. In fact, the examples used seem distinctly tactical.
There are also minor errors in details which will bother World War II historians. For example, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, when appointed Commander of the Afrika Korps, is described as a young officer. He was 50. A picture caption describes a dead German general in Leipzig; however, the officer is not a German general, but a member of the Volkstrum. Such minor errors may cause peers to wonder about the factual underpinning of the book.
Still, the small flaws are outweighed by the author's exemplary research and the overall content of the book. Clash of Arms permits the reader to consider four armies and their ability to adapt to the demands of World War II.