Pursuit of Rommel to Tunisia

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Aber
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Re: Pursuit of Rommel to Tunisia

Postby Aber » 14 May 2017 22:11

MarkN wrote:
Michael Kenny wrote:What were the TORCH objectives prior to the landings? I ask because their is a large minority (largely souced by Hollywood) that claim Monty's pursuit of Rommel after Alamein was 'slow' and he missed an opportunity to cut-off and capture DAK because of his 'caution.

Struggling to understand the premise of the complaints against Montgomery or the logic behind the 'Hollywood' narrative.

Do you really need documents to dismiss incoherent and illogical babbling?


IIRC Montgomery's advance is described as 'pachydermal' in US Army histories. That's enough for many people.

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Re: Pursuit of Rommel to Tunisia

Postby Michael Kenny » 14 May 2017 22:47

Aber wrote:

IIRC Montgomery's advance is described as 'pachydermal' in US Army histories. That's enough for many people.


Without looking into that I believe the original 'pachydermal' reference was nothing to do with the speed of the advance and was an alusion to how unstoppable the advance was.

OHara
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Re: Pursuit of Rommel to Tunisia

Postby OHara » 15 May 2017 04:18

Torch planning was rushed. Eisenhower's final outline plan was submitted to the Combined Chiefs of Staff on August 25, 1942. Ike defined the immediate objective in this plan as follows:

"A combined land, sea, and air assault against the Mediterranean Coast of Algeria, with a view to the earliest possible occupation of Tunisia, and the establishment in French Morocco of a striking force which can insure control of the Straits of Gibraltar, by moving rapidly, if necessary, into Spanish Morocco."

Note that the plan ultimately adopted was not as aggressive as this one was about striking east. There is brief mention of building up a striking force in Tunisia but no mention of moving into Libya (I'd guess that was in the back of everyone's mind given that the ultimate objective was to drive the Axis out of North Africa).

Here is Eisenhower's concluding paragraph of his plan:

"Torch is conceived as essentially an amphibious operation, in which the eastward advance along the Mediterranean will be possible only through the employment of effective Naval craft for the protection of ports, convoys, landing craft and beaches, as well as counteraction to prevent interference with land movements along the coast by hostile Naval forces."

Look for CCS 103.

Regarding the speed of the 8th Army's advance, I. S. O. Playfair in The Mediterranean and the Middle East vol IV (the official British history) say, "the escape of German formations that had been in contract with the British until dark on 4th November is remarkable. . ." (pg 95). On page 96 he says the opportunity to trap the Axis forces was not firmly grasped. On page 97 he characterizes Montgomery's advance as methodical ("in no circumstances would he expose himself to a counterstroke.)"

Also consider that Montgomery's advance was facilitated by the fact that after 8 November all Axis reinforcements when to Tunisia, not Libya. On 8 November the Axis high command was planning to make a stand at El Agheila and to ship new divisions over to reinforce this position. This intention they quickly abandoned.

Finally, about the Torch advance, the initial speed of the advance east by mostly British forces involved in the landings at Algiers was 360 miles as the crow flies in a week and a day. This includes paratroop drops and amphibious landings but also troops using very poor roads. There was no opposition until 17 November.

Vince

Michael Kenny
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Re: Pursuit of Rommel to Tunisia

Postby Michael Kenny » 15 May 2017 04:49

OHara wrote:Regarding the speed of the 8th Army's advance, I. S. O. Playfair in The Mediterranean and the Middle East vol IV (the official British history) say, "the escape of German formations that had been in contract with the British until dark on 4th November is remarkable. . ." (pg 95). On page 96 he says the opportunity to trap the Axis forces was not firmly grasped. On page 97 he characterizes Montgomery's advance as methodical ("in no circumstances would he expose himself to a counterstroke.)"


The first can be explained by the motor-less Italians. Stripped of their transport and left to their fate in the panic-stricken retreat of DAK.
The reluctance to expose himself to a counter-stroke was maybe because Rommel was waiting for just such a move so he could repeat the Yo-Yo advance and retreat that both sides practised. This advance was for real and there was nothing left to chance.
Rommel had supplies in place in his rear and unless he was living hand-to mouth so he should. He simply left all this behind in his many hasty retreats and he also got 22 replacement tanks in December. He must also have picked up a lot of 'damaged' tanks that were sitting in workshops as he retreated
And then there were Italian troops and tanks in place but no one ever bothers counting them.
I also recall reading that one of the (later) objectives of the Torch Armies was to cut off/prevent Rommel getting in to Tunisia and linking up with the Germans there. That were a couple of attempts to do that but all failed.

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Re: Pursuit of Rommel to Tunisia

Postby Gooner1 » 15 May 2017 16:45

In a letter to Alexander on the 18th November, Monty wrote:

"It is obvious, from the communication point of view alone, that the capture of Tripoli should be undertaken from the west.
They have a short sea route to the ports in N. Africa; and they have a good railway and road system which stretches nearly to the Tripolitanian border.
We have the long sea route via the Cape to Egypt, the small railway terminating at Tobruk, the indifferent port of Benghazi, and the 760 miles of road from Benghazi to Tripoli which would have to be our main channel of maintenance."

Aber
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Re: Pursuit of Rommel to Tunisia

Postby Aber » 15 May 2017 20:14

Michael Kenny wrote:
Aber wrote:

IIRC Montgomery's advance is described as 'pachydermal' in US Army histories. That's enough for many people.


Without looking into that I believe the original 'pachydermal' reference was nothing to do with the speed of the advance and was an alusion to how unstoppable the advance was.


Maybe, but that's not how I've seen it used. :D

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Re: Pursuit of Rommel to Tunisia

Postby Richard Anderson » 15 May 2017 21:40

Aber wrote:
Michael Kenny wrote:
Aber wrote:

IIRC Montgomery's advance is described as 'pachydermal' in US Army histories. That's enough for many people.


Without looking into that I believe the original 'pachydermal' reference was nothing to do with the speed of the advance and was an alusion to how unstoppable the advance was.


Maybe, but that's not how I've seen it used. :D


The actual phrase is in Howe's Northwest Africa: Seizing the Initiative in the West, pp. 521-522 and is in context, referring to the period in February leading up to the battles of Mareth.

The main test of Allied strength and Axis
power in March was the battle for the
Mareth Position. The British First Army
and the Fifth Panzer Army were contending,
to be sure, at several points in northern
Tunisia, where the aggressiveness of General
von Arnim was unremitting, but the basic
objective of each army there was simply to
pin down opposing troops and to prevent
their direct contribution to a victory or a
defeat in southern Tunisia. It became the
purpose of Fifth Panzer Army to free the defenders
of the Mareth Position as much as
possible from Allied pressure. The British
First Army, for its part, aimed at holding in
the north Axis men and materiel which
could otherwise be sent to reinforce the
Italian First Army at Mareth. During these
preliminaries, the Eighth Army proceeded
to the crucial battle with the majestic deliberation
of a pachyderm.
Its base was
shifted westward to Tripoli, where harbor
debris and port wreckage resulting from
Allied bombing and Axis sabotage was expeditiously
removed or repaired.

Aber
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Re: Pursuit of Rommel to Tunisia

Postby Aber » 15 May 2017 23:03

While tracking down pachydermal references I found that we'd had much the same discussion on this board 3 years ago, when I posted the same extract; in the meantime I've managed to forget both the discussion and source document. :oops:

Michael Kenny
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Re: Pursuit of Rommel to Tunisia

Postby Michael Kenny » 15 May 2017 23:41

Aber wrote:While tracking down pachydermal references I found that we'd had much the same discussion on this board 3 years ago, when I posted the same extract; in the meantime I've managed to forget both the discussion and source document. :oops:


I thought pachyderms never forget.......


viewtopic.php?f=56&t=204529&

Carl Schwamberger
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Re: Pursuit of Rommel to Tunisia

Postby Carl Schwamberger » 13 Jul 2017 08:27

My take is Eisenhower was not one for drawing big blue arrows on the maps. The goals outlined above may be all you get.

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Re: Pursuit of Rommel to Tunisia

Postby jwsleser » 13 Jul 2017 14:33

Urmel

>Well no. Capture Tripoli and you destroy the logistical base of the Axis forces. It's game, set, and match.

I actually don't believe this is true. If you examine the Diario Storico del Comando Supremo and Verbali delle riunioni tenute dal Capo di SM Generale as well as Montanari's works, the Italians consistently pushed for the occupation of Tunisia to help ease/resolve the logistical situation in A.S.

The Pursuit.

I have always took the comments about the slow advance in the context of the earlier campaigns. Cutting-off and destroying the enemy had been the hallmark of the previous operations. The Benghasi Stakes with its mad dashes across the desert to cut the coastal road were the regular headlines for two years. These types of operations were noticeably lacking in the pursuit after Alamein, and the pursuit as executed didn't have the outward appearance of the major victory he had gained.

Once you actually research the pursuit, Montgomery had many good reasons for the nature of his advance. I am not a Montgomery fan, but I do give him what he earned. Given the difficulties of the logistical support and the uncertainty of Italo-German Army's actual capabilities, the speed of his advance was quite good and more importantly it was effective. Could he have tried some risky maneuver that might have destroyed the remainder of the Italo-German Army in the Cyrenaica? We know from hindsight that any victory by Rommel at that time would have been unlikely. More importantly, it would have been meaningless given the overall operational situation. But why try it. In many ways, he knew he had the enemy 'in the bag'.

Just my thoughts.

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Sheldrake
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Re: Pursuit of Rommel to Tunisia

Postby Sheldrake » 13 Jul 2017 20:09

Montgomery was not in the business of gambling. One of his challenges was to restore morale and confidence in the army command.

You can hear an address to his officers here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n8TlQVHRhyA He said that the break out from El Alamein would lead to the end of Rommel in Africa.

It was much harder to completely surround and destroy armies in WW2 than it appears on paper. A rear guard can be sacrificed, mines and booby traps impose delay and newly arrived reinforcements and rear area troops can strengthen a withdrawing force. Air forces could not prevent movement.

Sure, a co-operative enemy can surrender, or lack the transport to escape, but the cadre of a force with mobility could escape. Even if it wasn't the same people and tanks as at El Alamein there would be an Afrika Korps to fight. Indeed even after Tunisia the 15th & 90th PG and 21PZ Divs were reformed around a cadre of veterans.

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Re: Pursuit of Rommel to Tunisia

Postby xsli » 14 Jul 2017 17:23

I remember seeing a number of times referring to Monty's cautiousness/slowness from US side books. As for whether his cautiousness/slowness or errors let Rommel escaped unscathingly, it should be good to check "Brute Force" by John Ellis, later part of Chapter 5.

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Re: Pursuit of Rommel to Tunisia

Postby JonS2 » 13 Aug 2017 00:50

@jwsleser
I actually don't believe this is true. If you examine the Diario Storico del Comando Supremo and Verbali delle riunioni tenute dal Capo di SM Generale as well as Montanari's works, the Italians consistently pushed for the occupation of Tunisia to help ease/resolve the logistical situation in A.S.

This is true enough, and I believe several German studies also recommended using Tunis as the logistical base. However, that is beside the point I understand Urmel to be making. For better or worse, Tripoli was PAA's main logistical base. Tunis may have made for a better base, but Tripoli was the actual base. With Tripoli gone, the PAA's logistical position in NA becomes untenable. (At least it would have, until they rapidly occupied and developed Tunis after TORCH.)

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Don Juan
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Re: Pursuit of Rommel to Tunisia

Postby Don Juan » 13 Aug 2017 12:04

I suspect a lot of the criticism of Montgomery comes down to the usual problem that military historians are invariably obsessed with encirclements, but are completely ignorant of engineering, and know nothing of the severe limitations of the tanks of the era.

I don't think you could undertake a rapid armoured advance during WW2 without significantly burning out your tank force. This is why e.g. entire panzer divisions were sitting around waiting for refits after the first month of Barbarossa. A long advance along the coast of North Africa had to be deliberately paced so that the tanks involved could last the distance. You might get a large initial "bag" from a quick thrust, but then you'll be waiting around, possibly for months, until sufficient new or overhauled tanks are available.

The almost total ignorance of the importance of tank durability and overhaul life has perverted the understanding of WW2, imo.
"The demonstration, as a demonstration, was a failure. The sunshield would not fit the tank. Altogether it was rather typically Middle Easty."
- 7th Armoured Brigade War Diary, 30th August 1941


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