Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Guest Post: Monty Remains in Command

This article first appeared on Today in Alternate History, a variant of Jeff Provine's scenario December 8, 1943 - Eisenhower Dies in Jeep Accident.

July 19, 1944

It was tragically ironic that General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, was killed in a non-combat related mechanical accident caused by an equipment malfunction in his signature Willy's 4x4 staff jeep. Rugged, reliable, and highly maneuverable, this famed workhorse of the American military had replaced equines in everything from cavalry units to supply trains and had been hailed by Ike himself as, alongside the Dakota and the Landing Craft, one of the three most important tools in the war.

A staff officer who had never seen combat in his 27-year career, Eisenhower had run Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) off-shore from England. The death of this soldier-statesman was a fateful act of destiny since Ike had been travelling to Tac to relieve General Bernard Law Montgomery of his command of the 21st Army Group, which comprised all Allied ground forces engaged in the Battle of Normandy (Operation Overlord). His mentor, Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS), Alan Brooke was sharply critical, observing that "Ike knows nothing about strategy and is 'quite' unsuited to the post of Supreme Commander. It is no wonder that Monty's real high ability is not always realized. Especially so when 'national' spectacles pervert the perspective of the strategic landscape."

Despite very clear explanations in written briefings, Ike had failed to grasp Monty's strategy. Worse still, Monty's desire to remain withdrawn at Tac created a communication gulf allowing misunderstandings to arise. The historic significance of this tragic event was that Monty was still in command during the American break-out, Operation Cobra. This precious victory was earned by the hard-fought, but woefully under-valued, Operation Goodwood, the frustratingly slow British break-out that had convinced his antagonists, Ike, his British deputy Tedder, and Churchill to sack Monty. In simple military terms, Goodwood had started surprisingly well but stalled at Caen, whereas Cobra started very badly but ended in glory. Misunderstood from the start, Goodwood was the launch platform for Cobra, bought in the heavy cost of British lives that proved Monty was a true coalition soldier in the tradition of Wellington, Marlborough, et. al, who had also commanded Allied forces dominated by non-British nationals.

Ever since the invasion of Sicily, the hero of El Alamein had taken damaging blows to his reputation, mainly due for his abrasive character enraging his superiors. Monty's standard bluff that "his plan was working" had carried him through the worst period of his illustrious career. Regardless of Brooke's observation on "national perspectives," the reality was that American troop count dominated the British who were at the limit of their manpower. Of course, Ike was only a puppet for Roosevelt who sought to sharply diminish British influence in military strategy. However, Monty's destruction of 23 of Hitler's 38 divisions was a towering accomplishment that simply could not be ignored, and so he continued as Allied Ground Forces Commander while the more-humble American General Alexander Patch was appointed to run SHAEF. The only realistic alternative would have been to send US Chief of Staff George Marshall to Europe, and as Roosevelt had told him, "I didn't feel I could sleep at ease if you were out of Washington." Even though Monty lacked the naked unchecked aggression of US generals, it would only be due to his meticulous defensive planning that the German counter-attack through the Ardennes would be anticipated and crushed in December before the line could even bulge.

Author's Note:

In reality, Monty negotiated a temporary relief for his command although Ike took over on September 1st when Churchill promoted him to Field Marshall as a consolation prize. In Generals: Ten British Commanders who Shaped the World, the author Mark Urban offers the perspective that the Battle of the Bulge was caused by Ike's broad front strategy and Monty's intervention was the approach he had been arguing for throughout the Second Battle of France.

Provine's Addendum (with input from comments by Stan Brin and Mike McIlvain):

The death of Eisenhower sent a wave of gloom through the Allied nations, especially the United States, whose propaganda machine worked to ensure Eisenhower was seen as a hero despite dying in a simple vehicular accident. It changed Army protocol, keeping officers out of jeeps and driving in more stable, secured vehicles. Patton himself may have become a casualty, but he lived long after the war as a military adviser for decades into the Cold War. Historians can only postulate how many other commanders lived from what could have been lethal accidents in the Korean War.

Monty's strategies were criticized as leaving much of the western front stuck between Belgium and Holland with the more southerly armies directed by American generals getting no farther than Baden-Wurttemberg before meeting the USSR troops pushing from the east. Still more criticism came that he was protecting English-speaking lives at the cost of Soviet soldiers, while others felt that he had deprived the western Allies of more victory. Monty himself defended his record and became an outspoken conservative as the Cold War expanded, especially in the People's Republic of Austria and the troubled multiple states such as the People's Republic of Bavaria after Germany had been "balkanized" with Soviet insistence.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Guest Post: Western Allies attack the soft underbelly of the Axis without Eisenhower

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History.


May 21, 1944 -

Allied Command undertook a comprehensive re-evaluation of the landing operation for the invasion of France. This successful attempt to regain consensus followed the tragic death of Major General Dwight D. Eisenhower in a jeep accident one day after being unceremoniously appointed Supreme Commander in the coming Operation Overlord.

Having proven himself as supreme commander of a mixed force of Allied nationalities, services, and equipment on the battlefields of North Africa and Italy in 1942 and 1943, Eisenhower's ill-fated, botched appointment in a handwritten note from FDR to Stalin was an advancement over nearly four hundred more senior officers. The reason was that the job was considered largely political, not military tactics, and it was rather telling that his specialty was with logistics and his organizational abilities. Suffering from bad health and a fiery temper, he outwardly displayed confidence and serenity. But the main problem was he had lacked any direct combat experience during his twenty-seven years as an army officer and his broad front approach had been strongly resisted by his commanders. They much preferred a narrow front, a divisive conflict of opinion that brought into question their own vainglorious ambitions for becoming the architect of victory. Selecting a solitary ground forces commander would make matters even worse. The lack of respect for his credentials was self-evident from an argument he had with Bernard Montgomery. Eisenhower put his hand on Montgomery's knee and replied: "Steady, Monty, you can't speak to me like that; I'm your boss."

Rightly or wrongly, this broad v. narrow front circular argument was trapped in the logistical constraints inherent in Northern Europe. Logically, the only way to resolve this problem was to launch the main attack in Southern France through North Africa by an extension of Operation Torch and the invasion of the Italian peninsula. This of course was nothing more than the original logic of Prime Minister Churchill's soft belly strategy. The British had favored a more peripheral strategy that centered in the Mediterranean. As early as the Second Claridge Conference in July of 1942, he was firmly against the idea of an assault on the heavily defended northern shore of France.

Having restored harmony by substituting the broad v. narrow front with an agreed two-front approach, one fresh problem emerged. There were insufficient landing craft to launch both invasions simultaneously. However, the choppy waters of the English Channel would not be suitable until early June. This was the basis of an opportunity for going early in the south and this army group to proceed up the Rhone River and eventually occupy the right flank of the Allied offensive. It was therefore agreed that Normandy would be the second landing when the weather permitted, with Supreme Commander Allied (Expeditionary) Force George Marshall in charge of Montgomery, Patton, and Bradley in command of three separate army groups.

Their revised approach to attacking Fortress Europe had many secondary advantages over the original plan: the flatter beaches of the Côte d'Azur for amphibious assault, calmer weather in the Mediterranean and a side-step of the Atlantic Wall just as the Germans had masterfully taken with the Maginot Line. From a political perspective, Montgomery was given the honor of leading the first assault in Provence with Patton and Bradley in the rear driving the assault in Normandy. It was felt that this separation of command would avoid personality clashes and power struggles between Anglo-British commanders. Their strategic goal for this pincer movement was to make the German occupation of France untenable, forcing a withdrawal that would end the war before Christmas.

The impressive sight of the Royal Navy arriving in considerable force off the southern coast of France was a great delight to Churchill & co. Onboard were Montgomery's Expeditionary Force comprising British and Canadian Forces plus a French Army reluctantly serving under his command on the promise they could liberate Paris. They managed to successfully establish a beachhead, but, characteristically, Monty delayed his drive inland until he had accumulated overwhelming superiority. By this time, the second landing was ready for go-ahead and, following moments of savage fighting on the beaches, was executed at great speed by American forces. An early sign of aggressive intent was signaled by Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr. arriving on Utah Beach as he repeated Pershing's famous words, "Lafayette, we are here!"

Hitler, wrongly believing that the pedestrian landing in Provence must be a feint, launched a furious counter-attack to "throw the Allies back into the English Channel." The centerpiece of the assault was a counter-attack from Mortain towards Avranches to cut off the American breakthrough at its narrowest point. Tragically, Roosevelt would die of a heart attack shortly thereafter; at the time of his death, he had been recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross to recognize his heroism at Normandy. The recommendation was subsequently upgraded, and Roosevelt was a posthumous recipient of the Medal of Honor. Meanwhile, the uniquely American victory at Mortain would be the beginning of the end of the Second Battle of France. Montgomery and de Gaulle were infuriated with this lack of attribution as junior military partners, but they ultimately had fallen victim to their own hubris in being part of the first landing. This maneuver of course was the wily Marshall's plan from the very beginning.

Author's Note:

In reality, although initially designed to be executed in conjunction with Operation Overlord, the Allied landing in Normandy, a lack of available resources led to the delay of the second landing until August.

Provine's Addendum:

Marshall was hailed as the Hero of Europe, again much to the disdain of British military leaders as his fame continued into peacetime with a Nobel Prize for his plan to rebuild postwar Europe. While many hoped he would run for president, Marshall declined, and Omar Bradley instead won the 1952. Montgomery looked to imitate the peacetime political careers of American and French Allies, using his position as commander of the Western Union to tie the UK much more closely to the continent and ultimately shifting the capital of what would become the European Union to London. Patton, meanwhile, continued his service with the military, being among the first advisors in South Vietnam.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Guest Post: Biden VP in '80

This post first appeared on Today in Alternate History with input from Robbie Taylor.

July 12 to July 15, 1976 - Democratic National Convention

Former Governor of Georgia Jimmy Carter arrived in New York City with enough delegates to clinch the Democratic nomination.

A Washington outsider and devout Christian certain of his own position, Carter felt a heavy weight of moral leadership responsibility to create an appearance of party unity, which had been sadly lacking in the 1968 and 1972 Democratic Conventions. This imperative was foremost in his mind, a primary consideration behind his choice of running mate. By inclination, he favored Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale, a "flexible liberal" and a protégé of Hubert Humphrey, as his running mate. Obvious alternatives included Edmund Muskie, Frank Church, Adlai Stevenson III, John Glenn, and Henry M. Jackson. All of these candidates offered regional advantages and other perceived benefits.

Taking soundings at the convention, Carter, a virtue-signaler, was tempted to make a more daring choice. Thirty-three-year-old "Blue Collar" Joe Biden of Delaware was the first senator to endorse Carter's presidential bid when he was a long shot. Certainly he had an inspiring personal story of family-based redemption, hope, and faith that resonated with Carter who was humble and supremely ethical. Like Mondale, Biden was also flexible, liberal on civil rights and liberties, senior citizens' concerns, and healthcare but conservative on other issues. Born in Pennsylvania, a state that was showing unexpectedly close polling figures, Biden offered more potential impact on the 27 electoral college votes. Delaware was smaller in area than Minnesota, but the "First State" was more populous. And finally, he was considered a better conduit for campaign funding.

To Carter's lasting disappointment, Biden was ineligible due to the Twelfth Amendment requirement that a vice president must be constitutionally eligible to the presidency. He would be thirty-four years old in November, so, being below the threshold of thirty-five, he could not fulfil this requirement. Nevertheless, Carter enthusiastically offered him a speaking slot, and Biden delivered a fine, if not somewhat emotional, address to the convention. Thereafter, he helped Carter by vigorously campaigning in the north-east.

Mondale, who delivered a well-received acceptance speech, soon proved his worth. He put in an impressive performance at the first-ever Vice Presidential Debate. Held at the Alley Theatre in Houston, Texas, Mondale was an assured figure to the 43.2 million viewers who tuned in. Due to Ford's gaffe in the second presidential debate, these televised performances played an unusually significant role in the 1976 race.

Mondale was a key participant in the negotiations between Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin that resulted in the Camp David Accords. But tragedy would strike during the Iran hostage crisis when VP Mondale bravely undertook a dangerous mission for his country. He was killed in a plane crash en route to the USS Midway (CV-41) in the Indian Ocean. In the final year of his first term office, Carter desperately needed an inspiring choice of running mate to beat Ronald Reagan. His thoughts immediately returned to Biden. Although much less of an activist vice president than Mondale, he freshened up the campaign much as Gerald Ford had sought to do in replacing Nelson Rockefeller with Bob Dole.

A former lawyer with a sharp mind, Biden distrusted Reagan's hawkish patriotism and exposed his back-channel dialogue with the Iranians. This October Surprise transformed the voting calculations handing Carter-Biden an improbable narrow victory in the polls. In a magnificent gesture, Carter famously sent Biden to meet the embassy hostages when they disembarked from Freedom One, an Air Force Boeing C-137 Stratoliner aircraft, upon their return.

Author's Note:

In reality, Mondale has been credited with shifting the US Vice Presidency into having a more substantive role in an administration as an advisor to the president.

Provine's Alternative Ending:

Unfettered from Carter, Mondale continued his efforts toward the presidency and worked alongside Biden, who was thought still too young to lead the free world in the presidency itself but was applauded as vice president. The Mondale-Biden ticket won in '84, managing to convince the public that they could recover from the second act of the double-dip recession as readily as the Oval Office had in the earlier part. With inflation under control, unemployment low, and wages matching the increased productivity thanks to the Democratic partnership with unions as well as increased automation in industry and offices, American workers in the 1990s came to a four-day workweek as predicted in 1956 by another then-vice-president, and ironically Republican, Richard Nixon.

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