Victor Davis Hanson, at RealClear Politics, on “The Lessons From D-Day.” As he reminds us, war is fraught with bad decisions and human error, and the Normandy campaign was no exception. Paratroopers landed miles from their designated drop zones; Rangers were assigned to attack gun emplacements that were abandoned, or didn’t exist; amphibious tanks sank in heavy seas as they approached landing beaches. All told, scores of Allied soldiers paid for these mistakes with their lives.
And, as Dr. Hanson points out, the situation actually grew worse as the troops moved inland. The hedgerows of northern France provided ideal cover for dug-in German defenders. Allied tanks attempting to penetrate the thick brush were forced to go “over the top” of the hedgerows, exposing their thin bottom armor to enemy tanks and anti-tank fire. As losses of tanks and crews mounted, an Army maintenance specialist, Sergeant Curtis G. Culin, fashioned a “hedge chopper” that could be fitted to the front of tanks and and allow them to punch through. It was an example of ingenuity under fire, although the actual effectiveness of the hedge chopper is arguable.
In the end, the Allies achieved their breakout from Normandy, but only after weeks of bloody fighting that claimed over 30,000 American lives. And the mistakes that helped create such carnage weren’t limited to that campaign. In the months after D-Day, there would be terrible losses at places like Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. My uncle, a member of the 1st Marine Division, died at Peleliu, a landing Admiral William F. Halsey described as totally unnecessary. We lost 7,000 Marines in a single month on Iwo, and casualties were even higher at Okinawa. In each of these battles, bad decisions by military leaders resulted in more losses among Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen.
But there was never any though of giving up the fight. As Hanson writes:
Nevertheless, the Normandy campaign reminds us that war is by nature horrific, fraught with foolish error – and only won by the side that commits the least number of mistakes. Our grandfathers knew that. So they pressed on as best they could, convinced that they needn’t be perfect, only good enough, to win.
The American lesson of D-Day and its aftermath was how to overcome occasional abject stupidity while never giving up in the face of an utterly savage enemy. We need to remember that now more than ever.