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In WW2, why did Germany sink allied supply convoys instead of capturing them?

In WW2, why did Germany sink allied supply convoys instead of capturing them?

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When reading about naval warfare in WW2, it suddenly struck me that sinking supply convoys was a huge waste of resources, especially in the later years when Germany was desperate for oil and other supplies. Why didn't the German navy try to capture them instead?

Would love if anyone knows of actual military or government discussions on this topic, weighing the pros and cons of each method.

My guess:

  1. The main goal is to deny the enemy of the supply rather than to supply your own nation.

  2. It requires a bigger force to actually capture a convoy and lead it to safety in your nation's docks.

The options that submarines had were, in practice, limited to sinking Allied shipping and leaving the area as quickly as possible to avoid detection. U-boats had a disadvantage compared to destroyers (not to mention airplanes) when it came to speed, especially when submerged. They were also poorly equipped to fight surface warships as their deck guns were no match for those of a destroyer, and lining up a torpedo took time. U-boats could not store captured cargo, unlike Armed merchantman such as the Atlantis which operated in the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean.

Although, as the OP correctly implies, the vast majority of Allied cargo ships were sunk (for reasons already given by Orangesandlemons and Laetus), some were captured using armed merchantman. Unlike submarines, these had space aboard to store the captured cargo as well as captured crewmen.

These were 'disguised as neutral or friendly vessels which would capture Allied merchant vessels and seize their cargo for the Axis powers'. The article Return of the Clandestine Merchant Raider? notes:

In World War II nine German Merchant raiders, Atlantis, Komet, Kormoran, Michel, Orion, Pinguin, Stier, Thor, and Widder, sank or captured 129 ships, totaling 800,661 tons.

The English Wikipedia article on Atlantis gives an example of ships where the cargo was taken:

Atlantis sank Athelking, Benarty, and Commissaire Ramel. All of these were sunk only after supplies, documents, and POWs were taken.

It is far easier to sink than capture, especially when your main tool is the submarine. If you go further back in history, capture was indeed often the name of the game. But in a WW2 context Germany could not go head-to-head with the Royal Navy, hence submarines being the primary tool. Beyond this, ships were far more traceable and could be avoided; once more making submarines the better choice.

The general answer, "It's easier to sink than capture," has already been given. Now consider the specifics.

In the early stages of the war:

In two words - "Prize crew".

Having captured a ship, it is necessary to plant on it a sufficiently large crew to either operate it by themselves or to oversee the original crew and keep them in line. This means the prize crew must be vigilant 24 hours a day to avoid an insurrection by the original crew. At a minimum, let's say 6 men, two shifts of 3 to man the bridge, hoping that there are no weapons hidden on the ship. And note that this is actually an impractically small number, but it will serve as a starting point.

The most common U-boat type in the North Atlantic was the Type VII, with a normal crew of 42 to 52, depending on model. If the sub were set up to handle 20 captures in a cruise, this would require an additional 120 men be carried, along with provisions, and the subs simply didn't have the space. Even a projection of 10 captures would more than double the departure loading, and was completely impractical.

In the later stages of the war:

"Convoy system"

With virtually all of the shipping organized into convoys with armed escorts, capture was effectively impossible. U-boats were extremely effective against unarmed merchantmen, but a pack of destroyers was just not in the cards.

The allies blockaded Germany in WW2. Even if the Kriegsmarine could capture ships (and Orangesandlemons's answer correctly explains that this was unlikely) - there was no way to actually bring them to German ports.

The British navy would just re-capture/sink them on the way.

When German Raiders Did Use Captured Ships

In addition to the other answers, there were a few examples of German raiders sending captured ships back early in the war. These were auxiliary cruisers, fast, long ranged merchantmen fitted with enough hidden weapons to overpower lone merchant ships. If they encountered a warship they'd disguise themselves as a neutral merchant. Many began the war outside of Germany and raided until destroyed. Germany had ten at the start of the war and they sunk hundreds of thousands of tons of shipping in the early war. As the war progressed, there were fewer German-held or friendly ports they could provision at, the tightening blockade made breaking out more and more difficult for a slow merchant ship, and increased Allied patrols made it more difficult to operate at sea.

Captured ships were rarely returned just to supply Germany, but rather to offload POWs and send captured documents home. Each came at a cost: a prize crew. A raider only had so many crewmen it could send to guard and man the captured ship. Each prize they sent home meant less crew for raiding. Eventually they'd run out of crew and have to return, likely never to raid again. A raider was more valuable staying at sea, tying up the enemy's resources looking for them, and sinking the enemy's supplies.

In addition, capturing a vessel took time; time when the raider would be vulnerable. The crew would have to be subdued. The ship surveyed. The machinery worked out and possibly repaired. All this time the raider is sitting stopped next to the merchant that possibly got a distress call off. A auxiliary cruiser's greatest strength is looking like an innocent merchant ship. If a warship or aircraft comes along and sees two ships stopped in the ocean where raider activity has been reported there is no question what is happening. It's safer to smash and grab: disable the ship, grab what you can, sink it, and exit the scene.

Instead, the supplies were used by the raider themselves, fuel and food being the most precious. Sometimes a raider would capture a merchant ship and use it as a floating supply dump until it was empty, then they'd scuttle it. Sometimes they'd supply other raiders and submarines as in the case of the tanker Ketty Brøvig which supplied not only Atlantis who captured her, but also the heavy cruiser Admiral Scheer, and the Italian submarine Perla.

Pinguin and Storstad

One of the most creative uses of a captured vessel was the Norwegian tanker Storstad by Pinguin, the most successful German raider of WWII. Pinguin captured the Storstad and found a nice remote spot to convert her to a mine layer (one of the astonishing things you learn in these histories is just how much work you can do on a ship while at sea) and commission her into the German Navy as the Passat. At the point in the war the Germans were still following the rules of warfare at sea and to use Storstad as a mine layer it had to be commissioned as a warship lest they be considered pirates. Together they quite effectively laid mines off South Australia, the two ships being able to cover more ocean.

With that job done, they returned her to her original merchant ship form and decommissioned her. She was crewed by German prize crew and Norwegian volunteers. Now she was a nice, innocent "Norwegian" merchant to scout for Pinguin, which she did effectively. A merchant ship that happened to be radioing position reports of nearby vessels that a warship might pick up was fine.

After sinking 11 ships Pinguin found herself with 405 POWs aboard. They were loaded onto Storstad and after using her to refuel other German raiders they were sent on their way back to France.

Pinguin and the Norwegian Whaling Fleet

Pinguin had a grand time with the Norwegians, capturing a whaling fleet intact was her greatest coup. This whaling fleet was operating for the British and Pinguin picked up their radio chatter. She waited until the factory ship Ole Wegger was transferring oil to the tanker Solglimt and then slipped alongside and quietly captured both and most of her whalers. Pinguin then quietly captured another factory ship, Pelagos and her whalers.

Rather than sink them the Norwegians were told to continue their work. They were working for Germany now and would be paid. At this point in the war Norway was occupied by Germany, and whalers like to be paid, so they did.

Pinguin then ran north-west at high speed for five days brazenly broadcasting signals home. The British, as expected, picked this up and, as expected, began searching along this new course. Her ruse complete, Pinguin returned to the whaling fleet who had been diligently working meantime, rounded them up, and headed off in the opposite direction.

Lacking prize crews for all 15 ships, but whale oil being extremely valuable, the oil was transferred to two ships and they were sent to France. The rest rendezvoused with the tanker Nordmark, supply ship Alstertor, and the captured refrigerated ship Herzogin. One whaler was converted to a minelayer, and the rest were sent to France with prize crews from Nordmark.

Pinguin was resupplied with ammunition from Alstertor and food from Herzogin. The captured Herzogin had been supplying a good portion of the German navy with fresh meat and eggs, but was running out of things to burn to keep her refrigeration plant running. Her bridge, lifeboats, masts and decks had all been torn up and burnt. After supplying Pinguin she was scuttled.


Examining the cases where Atlantis, the second most successful German raider, sent captured vessels back or used them for extended periods, gives an idea of the reasons they would do so.

  • Tirranna - sent to France with supplies
  • Durmitor - sent to Italian Mogadishu with POWs and captured documents
  • Ole Jacob - sent to Japan with SS Automedon's secret cargo
  • Speybank - sent to France, converted to a minelayer
  • Ketty Brøvig - used to supply other German and Italian ships

How do you imagine that's gonna to happen?

You are talking about convoys, not single and unarmed merchant ships etc. which have been in fact captured by German raiders like Schwern answered in detail.

A British convoy is surrounded by destroyers/frigates and several columns of ships transporting goods, the most valuable (most volume and expensive cargo) in the middle. Germany had no power to challenge Britain's warship superiority on the sea. Worse, many convoys were armed to the teeth and had planes for reconnaissance/hunting.

So the only way to attack convoys were German submarines. Those were extremely weak on the surface, even one well-armed merchant was capable to destroy a submarine by weaponry or ramming. Trying to capture a ship from a convoy was suicide. So the only way was attacking and sinking ships with torpedoes. Even if there were only unarmed freighters, you can only capture one of the targets because they will disperse immediately and alarm every warship in the vicinity.

All in all, you could not capture enemy surface ships with a submarine without extreme risk.

But even in the unlikely case that the submarine could surprise a freighter and force them to give up, what now?

  • Sending a force to capture and imprison the crew means that once a British warship appears on the horizon (and you must expect it because the radio operator send a distress call), your force must return to the submarine as fast as possible, endangering the submarine.

  • Disabling the freighter's machines (so it could not ram the submarine) and tethering it to the submarine is also not recommendable. The most dangerous enemy of the German submarine was the plane, the only means of escape is diving as fast as possible (They tried later to fight planes on the surface with flaks, with disastrous results). Tethering means that the pilot has a perfect target.

  • The submarine has no room. There were only beds for a part of the crew because there were continous shift changes. It was strictly forbidden to allow survivors on boards, the only exception were allied pilots because their knowledge was extremely valuable for the German command. So you cannot move the freighter crew to the submarine.

This was because of Germany's reliance on submarines in World War II. It had perhaps 10-20 surface vessels capable of capturing enemy ships (and most of these were soon sunk), but fielded some 1200 submarines.

Submarines were "assassin" vessels. They were typically half the size of the merchantmen that they sank, and they carried crews half the size of merchant crews.

A surfaced submarine was no match for any surface warship, or even a reasonably well-armed merchantman. Submarines were basically too small and "weak" to fight a conventional battle and capture ships.

What gave submarines their power was their ability to "hit and run" while underwater. This, together with an "assassin" weapon such as torpedoes (as opposed to gunfire) made it possible for submarines to sink, but not capture enemy ships.

The English navy/airforce was way more powerful and plentiful, yet Germany had a few powerful ships but they where hidden away in Norwegian fjords under heavy AAA protection.

Germany always had the supply problem and was planning to get it from the east (Russia, Poland, etc). Germany broke the truce with Russia for that reason. Everything went well until winter set in.

Germany had to use submarines to even make a dent, surface ships simply would have been blown out the water.

The German campaign was about isolating and subduing the English, basically to starve them into submission.

You should read the story about the Bismark (one of the two most powerfull battleships ever made) and how it came to its end. Even by today's standard the Bismarck was a monster.

Atlantic Theater aircraft carrier operations during World War II

Naval historians such as Evan Mawdsley, Richard Overy, and Craig Symonds concluded that World War II's decisive victories on land could not have been won without decisive victories at sea. [1] [2] [3] Naval battles to keep shipping lanes open for combatant's movement of troops, guns, ammunition, tanks, warships, aircraft, raw materials, and food largely determined the outcome of land battles. Without the Allied victory in keeping shipping lanes open during the Battle of the Atlantic, Britain could not have fed her people or withstood Axis offensives in Europe and North Africa. [4] Without Britain's survival and without Allied shipments of food and industrial equipment to the Soviet Union, [a] her military and economic power would likely not have rebounded in time for Russian soldiers to prevail at Stalingrad and Kursk. [5] [1] [6] [7] [8]

Without victories at sea in the Pacific theater, the Allies could not have mounted amphibious assaults on or maintained land forces on Guadalcanal, New Guinea, Saipan, The Philippines, Iwo Jima, or Okinawa. Allied operations in the Atlantic and Pacific war theaters were interconnected because they frequently competed for scarce naval resources for everything from aircraft carriers to transports and landing craft. [9] Effective transport of troops and military supplies between the two war theaters required naval protection for shipping routes around the Cape of Good Hope, through the Suez canal, and through the Panama Canal. In both theaters, maritime dominance enabled combatants to use the sea for their own purposes and deprive its use by adversaries. As naval historian Admiral Herbert Richmond stated, "Sea power did not win the war itself: it enabled the war to be won". [10]

Aircraft carriers played a major role in winning decisive naval battles, [11] supporting key amphibious landings, and keeping critical merchant shipping lanes open for transporting military personnel and their equipment to land battle zones. This article is part of a series that covers World War II from the vantage point of aircraft carrier operations and is focused upon operations in the Atlantic Theater.

To Nazi Germany, Winning the North African Campaign Was the Key to Defeating Britain

Kriegsmarine Grand Admiral Erich Raeder weighed in on the Mediterranean strategy during September 1940 as he showed Hitler, step by step, how Germany could defeat Britain without crossing the English Channel and maintained that doing so would put Germany in a commanding position against the Soviet Union as well.

Raeder argued that the Axis should capture the Suez Canal and then advance through Palestine and Syria as far as Turkey. “If we reach that point, Turkey will be in our power,” Raeder emphasized. “The Russian problem will then appear in a different light. It is doubtful whether an advance against Russia from the north (Poland and Romania) will be necessary.”

An advance on the southern frontier of Turkey would place the Turks in an impossible position. With Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria already allied to Germany, Turkey would be forced to join the Axis or at least to provide passage for Axis forces and supplies.

Even Churchill recognized the situation in a message to President Roosevelt, asserting that if Egypt and the Middle East were lost, continuation of the war “would be a hard, long, and a bleak proposition,” even if the United States was to enter the war. Many now cite this is the main significance of WWII’s North African Campaign.

However, although OKH and OKW advised Hitler to send troops to North Africa, their proposals lacked Raeder’s urgency. Hitler was fixed on destroying the Soviet Union and gaining Lebensraum (living space) in the east.

An Axis victory in the Middle East could place German forces in Iran, blocking supplies to the Soviet Union from Britain and the United States. Russia would be left with only Murmansk and Archangel in the north—ports exposed to Arctic weather, U-boats, and the Luftwaffe. Even more than that, the Soviet Union’s major oil fields in the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea could be threatened. A German position in Iran would also pose a threat to British India.

But opening the road to the Middle East depended on achieving victory in North Africa. And the outcome in North Africa was dependent on logistics. In time Axis operations in Libya would expose several key issues.

What events does Greyhound dramatize?

Greyhound takes place at a critical moment in the Battle of the Atlantic, which began in September 1939 and only ended with the Germans’ surrender on May 8, 1945. As Blazich explains, the conflict was centered chiefly on supplies: An island nation, the United Kingdom required a steady flow of imported goods and raw materials, many of which originated in the U.S. The Soviet Union, besieged by the Nazis’ Operation Barbarossa, was also in dire need of food, oil and other essential supplies, which arrived via seaports on the Arctic Ocean.

“Had the Atlantic been lost, so too would have Britain,” writes historian James Holland for History Extra. “There would have been no Mediterranean campaign, no D-Day, no VE or VJ Days. The vast, global supply chain upon which the Allies depended … would have been cut, and with it the lifeline.”

Winston Churchill coined the phrase “Battle of the Atlantic” in March 1941, “deliberately echoing the Battle of Britain to emphasize its importance,” according to the Imperial War Museum. Later in life, the prime minister famously claimed that the “only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril.” (It’s worth noting, however, that modern historians have since questioned Churchill’s handling of the Atlantic campaign.)

The Allies’ main strategy for ensuring cargo’s safe arrival in Europe was sending merchant ships in convoys, or groups escorted by warships and, if possible, aircraft. Though this approach saved many Allied vessels from destruction, the logistical nightmare of moving 40 ships as a cohesive unit greatly reduced individual units’ efficiency, leaving them vulnerable to U-boat hunting squads known as wolf packs.

An Allied convoy crosses the Atlantic Ocean in November 1942. (U.S. Navy via Wikimedia Commons)

In the early years of the battle, Germany held the naval advantage, easily picking off weakly defended merchant ships, albeit while sustaining heavy losses of its own. After the U.S. entered the conflict in December 1941, U-boats enjoyed great success off the East Coast: Between January and July 1942, 90 ships (including four U-boats) sank off the coast of North Carolina, and more than 1,100 merchant seamen died, according to the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. This tenuous period serves as the backdrop to Greyhound, whose trailer declares, “The only thing more dangerous than the front lines was the fight to get there.”

A submarine-versus-destroyer duel hinted at in the clip and depicted in The Good Shepherd shares similarities with a real-life clash between the U.S.S. Borie and U-boat U-405. On November 1, 1943, the American destroyer was attempting to ram the German submarine when a wave sent its bow crashing down on top of the submarine, trapping the ships in a “lethal embrace,” wrote Howard R. Simkin for Naval History magazine in 2019. For the next ten minutes, crew members unable to properly aim the destroyer’s guns at such close proximity barraged the U-boat with “every rifle, submachine gun [and] machine gun they could find,” says Blazich. U-405 sank that night the badly damaged Borie was scuttled the following day.

Such close encounters were rare during the Battle of the Atlantic, which was more often fought with torpedoes and depth charges. Still, Blazich notes, “There were one or two of these freak incidents where the hunter and the hunted were [so] close that they could literally see each other.”

Advances in Allied technology—juxtaposed with the “increasing obsolescence” of standard U-boat designs, in the words of historian G.H. Bennett—shifted the tide of battle as the conflict stretched on, and by May 1943, victory was all but guaranteed.

A surfaced German U-boat under attack by American B-25 Mitchell and B-24 Liberator bombers (Getty Images)

Though the Germans were losing the Battle of the Atlantic, they still managed to stop a sizable amount of supplies from reaching the Allies, says Blazich. “It gives Hitler time, if nothing else,” he adds. “It becomes a delaying action for the Germans, as they essentially fight the Soviet Union, and then later the American and British forces.”

Over the course of the six-year battle, as many as 80,000 Allied sailors, merchant mariners and airmen were killed. An estimated 28,000 to 30,000 U-boat crewmen died—a staggering rate amounting to roughly 70 percent of the 41,000 German sailors who fought in the campaign.

In addition to the high cost in human lives, both sides suffered significant material losses. Between 1939 and 1945, the Allies lost more than 2,700 merchant ships in that same time, around 800 of Germany’s 1,100 U-boats sank.

The Battle of the Atlantic wasn’t the most “glamorous” campaign, says Blazich. Instead, it was “a very complicated battle that require[d] massive amounts of coordination, the development of new weapons technologies, tactics [and] science.” Among other tasks, crew members worked to improve radar and sonar, finetune the use of explosives, and intercept enemy intelligence.

“Logistics,” notes the curator, “are one of the most critical components of war.”

Nazi Victory in World War II

World War II was a conflict involving all the major global powers of the time and lasted from 1st September 1939 to 12th October 1953. The war was broken up into two major theatres of action: a Pan-Eurasian war and a conflict around the Pacific rim. The war in Europe officially ended on 8th December 1949. However, further fighting between the German Wehrmacht and pro-Soviet Russian rebels continued until the early 1950s. The war in the Pacific ended with one of the most bloody battles in history as American expeditionary forces invaded mainland Japan. The decisive campaign that brought the contest to a close was the encirclement and wholesale destruction of Tokyo from December 1952 until October 1953. The war is estimated to have cost the lives of 100 million combatants (mainly Soviet and Japanese) and a further 100 million Jews and Slav civilians as a result of atrocities by the German state on a level never seen before or since in history. The conflict caused a dramatic redrawing of the world's political and economic landscape as the Soviet Union and the Japanese empire both ceased to exist entirely and the once all powerful British Empire was reduced to a client state of Nazi Germany. By the war's end the two remaining super powers were The United States of America and The Greater Germanic Reich. Relations between the two nations remained tense and hostile for almost five decades until the Nazi Party gradually liberalised Germany and sought to improve relations with its great rival across the Atlantic.

Origins of the Conflict

World War I radically altered the political map, with the defeat of the Central Powers, including Austria-Hungary, Germany and the Ottoman Empire and the 1917 Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia. Meanwhile, existing victorious Allies such as France, Belgium, Italy, Greece and Romania gained territories, while new states were created out of the collapse of Austria-Hungary and the Russian and Ottoman Empires.

Despite the pacific movement in the aftermath of the war, the losses still caused irredentist and revanchist nationalism to became important in a number of European states. Irredentism and revanchism were strong in Germany because of the significant territorial, colonial, and financial losses incurred by the Treaty of Versailles. Under the treaty, Germany lost around 13 percent of its home territory and all of its overseas colonies, while German annexation of other states was prohibited, reparations were imposed, and limits were placed on the size and capability of the country's armed forces.Meanwhile, the Russian Civil War had led to the creation of the Soviet Union.

The German Empire was dissolved in the German Revolution of 1918–1919, and a democratic government, later known as the Weimar Republic, was created. The interwar period saw strife between supporters of the new republic and hardline opponents on both the right and left. Although Italy as an Entente ally made some territorial gains, Italian nationalists were angered that the promises made by Britain and France to secure Italian entrance into the war were not fulfilled with the peace settlement. From 1922 to 1925, the Fascist movement led by Benito Mussolini seized power in Italy with a nationalist, totalitarian, and class collaborationist agenda that abolished representative democracy, repressed socialist, left wing and liberal forces, and pursued an aggressive foreign policy aimed at forcefully forging Italy as a world power—a "New Roman Empire". In Germany, the Nazi Party led by Adolf Hitler sought to establish a fascist government in Germany. With the onset of the Great Depression, domestic support for the Nazis rose and, in 1933, Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany. In the aftermath of the Reichstag fire, Hitler created a totalitarian single-party state led by the Nazis.

The Kuomintang (KMT) party in China launched a unification campaign against regional warlords and nominally unified China in the mid-1920s, but was soon embroiled in a civil war against its former Chinese communist allies. In 1931, an increasingly militaristic Japanese Empire, which had long sought influence in China as the first step of what its government saw as the country's right to rule Asia, used the Mukden Incident as a pretext to launch an invasion of Manchuria and establish the puppet state of Manchukuo. Too weak to resist Japan, China appealed to the League of Nations for help. Japan withdrew from the League of Nations after being condemned for its incursion into Manchuria. The two nations then fought several battles, in Shanghai, Rehe and Hebei, until the Tanggu Truce was signed in 1933. Thereafter, Chinese volunteer forces continued the resistance to Japanese aggression in Manchuria, and Chahar and Suiyuan.

Adolf Hitler, after an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the German government in 1923, became the Chancellor of Germany in 1933. He abolished democracy, espousing a radical, racially motivated revision of the world order, and soon began a massive rearmament campaign.[19] Meanwhile, France, to secure its alliance, allowed Italy a free hand in Ethiopia, which Italy desired as a colonial possession. The situation was aggravated in early 1935 when the Territory of the Saar Basin was legally reunited with Germany and Hitler repudiated the Treaty of Versailles, accelerated his rearmament programme and introduced conscription.

Hoping to contain Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Italy formed the Stresa Front. The Soviet Union, concerned due to Germany's goals of capturing vast areas of eastern Europe, wrote a treaty of mutual assistance with France. Before taking effect though, the Franco-Soviet pact was required to go through the bureaucracy of the League of Nations, which rendered it essentially toothless. However, in June 1935, the United Kingdom made an independent naval agreement with Germany, easing prior restrictions. The United States, concerned with events in Europe and Asia, passed the Neutrality Act in August.In October, Italy invaded Ethiopia, and Germany was the only major European nation to support the invasion. Italy subsequently dropped its objections to Germany's goal of absorbing Austria.

Hitler defied the Versailles and Locarno treaties by remilitarizing the Rhineland in March 1936. He received little response from other European powers. When the Spanish Civil War broke out in July, Hitler and Mussolini supported the fascist and authoritarian Nationalist forces in their civil war against the Soviet-supported Spanish Republic. Both sides used the conflict to test new weapons and methods of warfare, with the Nationalists winning the war in early 1939. In October 1936, Germany and Italy formed the Rome-Berlin Axis. A month later, Germany and Japan signed the Anti-Comintern Pact, which Italy would join in the following year. In China, after the Xi'an Incident the Kuomintang and communist forces agreed on a ceasefire in order to present a united front to oppose Japan.

The Second Italo–Abyssinian War was a brief colonial war that began in October 1935 and ended in May 1936. The war was fought between the armed forces of the Kingdom of Italy (Regno d'Italia) and the armed forces of the Ethiopian Empire (also known as Abyssinia). The war resulted in the military occupation of Ethiopia and its annexation into the newly created colony of Italian East Africa (Africa Orientale Italiana, or AOI) in addition, it exposed the weakness of the League of Nations as a force to preserve peace. Both Italy and Ethiopia were member nations, but the League did nothing when the former clearly violated the League's own Article X.

Germany and Italy lent support to the Nationalist insurrection led by general Francisco Franco in Spain. The Soviet Union supported the existing government, the Spanish Republic, which showed leftist tendencies. Both Germany and the USSR used this proxy war as an opportunity to test improved weapons and tactics. The deliberate Bombing of Guernica by the German Condor Legion in April 1937 contributed to widespread concerns that the next major war would include extensive terror bombing attacks on civilians.

Japanese invasion of China

In July 1937, Japan captured the former Chinese imperial capital of Beijing after instigating the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, which culminated in the Japanese campaign to invade all of China. The Soviets quickly signed a non-aggression pact with China to lend materiel support, effectively ending China's prior cooperation with Germany. Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek deployed his best army to defend Shanghai, but after three months of fighting, Shanghai fell. The Japanese continued to push the Chinese forces back, capturing the capital Nanking in December 1937 and committed the Nanking Massacre.

In June 1938, Chinese forces stalled the Japanese advance by flooding the Yellow River this maneuver bought time for the Chinese to prepare their defenses at Wuhan, but the city was taken by October. Japanese military victories did not bring about the collapse of Chinese resistance that Japan had hoped to achieve, instead the Chinese government relocated inland to Chongqing and continued the war.

Japanese invasion of the Soviet Union and Mongolia

On 29 July 1938, the Japanese invaded the USSR and were checked at the Battle of Lake Khasan. Although the battle was a Soviet victory, the Japanese dismissed it as an inconclusive draw, and on 11 May 1939 decided to move the Japanese-Mongolian border up to the Khalkhin Gol River by force. After initial successes the Japanese assault on Mongolia was checked by the Red Army that inflicted the first major defeat on the Japanese Kwantung Army.

These clashes convinced some factions in the Japanese government that they should focus on conciliating the Soviet government to avoid interference in the war against China and instead turn their military attention southward, towards the US and European holdings in the Pacific, and also prevented the sacking of experienced Soviet military leaders such as Georgy Zhukov, who would later play a vital role in the defence of Moscow.

European occupations and agreements

In Europe, Germany and Italy were becoming bolder. In March 1938, Germany annexed Austria, again provoking little response from other European powers. Encouraged, Hitler began pressing German claims on the Sudetenland, an area of Czechoslovakia with a predominantly ethnic German population and soon France and Britain conceded this territory to Germany in the Munich Agreement, which was made against the wishes of the Czechoslovak government, in exchange for a promise of no further territorial demands. Soon after that, however, Germany and Italy forced Czechoslovakia to cede additional territory to Hungary and Poland. In March 1939, Germany invaded the remainder of Czechoslovakia and subsequently split it into the German Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and the pro-German client state, the Slovak Republic.

Alarmed, and with Hitler making further demands on Danzig, France and Britain guaranteed their support for Polish independence when Italy conquered Albania in April 1939, the same guarantee was extended to Romania and Greece. Shortly after the Franco-British pledge to Poland, Germany and Italy formalised their own alliance with the Pact of Steel.

In August 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, a non-aggression treaty with a secret protocol. The parties gave each other rights, "in the event of a territorial and political rearrangement," to "spheres of influence" (western Poland and Lithuania for Germany, and eastern Poland, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Bessarabia for the USSR). It also raised the question of continuing Polish independence.

Death of Hermann Goring and rise of Albert Speer

On March 14th 1938 Hermann Goring was struck down by meningitis and died seven days later in Munich. In the days following his death Himmler, Göbbles and Keitel all vied for the vacant position of Reichsmarschall, but Hitler surprised everyone by appointing his Minister of Armament, Albert Speer to the role. Only twelve months before Speer had merely been Hitler's architect. However after the death of Fritz Todt in a car accident during the spring of 1937, Speer had been promoted to the role and excelled from the outset. A highly skilled administrator, Speer had been able to double German production during the remainder of 1937 and early 1938. With approval from Hitler, he had unified all the areas that had previously held jurisdiction over industrial output into his office.

So outstanding had his achievements been that Hitler famously said "I'll sign anything that comes from you, Speer!" indicating his complete trust in him. Despite having no military experience, his natural ability to get things done proved to be a decisive factor in making Germany victorious during World War II. He also quickly won the approval and support of the Wehrmacht high command and proved to be the vital link between Hitler and the military. Whereas previously Hitler had always been skeptical of the views and opinion of the Prussian Generals, he had conviction in Speer's beliefs and views.

Speer proved instrumental in talking Hitler out of using the Blitzkrieg tactics that had worked so well in Western Europe against the Soviet Union. He convinced the Führer that the way to defeat both Britain and Russia outright was a campaign in the Middle East before hand to give Nazi forces access to both oil from the Arabian Peninsula and raw materials from India, via a subjugated Britain and the Suez canal. This vital decision allowed Germany to achieve parity with many of the Soviet Union's natural resources and to engage in sustained, lower risk warfare with the communist state.

Course of the war War breaks out in Europe

On 1 September 1939, Germany and Slovakia — a client state in 1939—attacked Poland. On 3 September France and Britain, followed by the countries of the Commonwealth, declared war on Germany but provided little support to Poland other than a small French attack into the Saarland. Britain and France also began a naval blockade of Germany on 3 September which aimed to damage the country's economy and war effort. On 17 September, after signing a cease-fire with Japan, the Soviets also invaded Poland. Poland's territory was divided between Germany and the Soviet Union, with Lithuania and Slovakia also receiving small shares. The Poles did not surrender they established a Polish Underground State and an underground Home Army, and continued to fight with the Allies on all fronts outside Poland.About 100,000 Polish military personnel were evacuated to Romania and the Baltic countries many of these soldiers later fought against the Germans in other theatres of the war. Poland's Enigma code breakers were also evacuated to France. During this time, Japan launched its first attack against Changsha, a strategically important Chinese city, but was repulsed by late September.

Following the invasion of Poland and a German-Soviet treaty governing Lithuania, the Soviet Union forced the Baltic countries to allow it to station Soviet troops in their countries under pacts of "mutual assistance." Finland rejected territorial demands and was invaded by the Soviet Union in November 1939. The resulting conflict ended in March 1940 with Finnish concessions. France and the United Kingdom, treating the Soviet attack on Finland as tantamount to entering the war on the side of the Germans, responded to the Soviet invasion by supporting the USSR's expulsion from the League of Nations.

In Western Europe, British troops deployed to the Continent, but in a phase nicknamed the Phoney War by the British and "Sitzkrieg" (sitting war) by the Germans, neither side launched major operations against the other until April 1940. The Soviet Union and Germany entered a trade pact in February 1940, pursuant to which the Soviets received German military and industrial equipment in exchange for supplying raw materials to Germany to help circumvent the Allied blockade.

In April 1940, Germany invaded Denmark and Norway to secure shipments of iron ore from Sweden, which the Allies were about to disrupt. Denmark immediately capitulated, and despite Allied support, Norway was conquered within two months. In May 1940 Britain invaded Iceland to preempt a possible German invasion of the island. British discontent over the Norwegian campaign led to the replacement of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain with Winston Churchill on 10 May 1940.

Germany invaded France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg on 10 May 1940. The Netherlands and Belgium were overrun using blitzkrieg tactics in a few days and weeks, respectively. The French-fortified Maginot Line and the Allied forces in Belgium were circumvented by a flanking movement through the thickly wooded Ardennes region, mistakenly perceived by French planners as an impenetrable natural barrier against armoured vehicles. An attempt was made by British troops to evacuate the European mainland at Dunkirk, but they were chased to the coast and massacred by General Heinz Guderian. Over one million died or were taken prisoner and all their heavy equipment seized. This effectively finished Britain as serious threat to the Nazi regime in mainland Europe. On 10 June, Italy invaded France, declaring war on both France and the United Kingdom twelve days later France surrendered and was soon divided into German and Italian occupation zones, and an unoccupied rump state under the Vichy Regime. On 3 July, the British attacked the French fleet in Algeria to prevent its possible seizure by Germany. The German navy continued its attacks on cross Atlantic shipping in an attempt to further weaken Britain's position.

In June, during the last days of the Battle of France, the Soviet Union forcibly annexed Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and then annexed the disputed Romanian region of Bessarabia. Meanwhile, Nazi-Soviet political rapprochement and economic cooperation gradually stalled, and both states began preparations for war.

With France and Britain neutralized the Axis powers in Europe began to look to the Middle East and its supplies of oil to fuel their war machine. Italy began operations in the Mediterranean, initiating a siege of Malta in June, conquering British Somaliland in August, and making an incursion into British-held Egypt in September 1940. Japan increased its blockade of China in September by seizing several bases in the northern part of the now-isolated French Indochina.

Throughout this period, the neutral United States took measures to assist China and the Western Allies. In November 1939, the American Neutrality Act was amended to allow "cash and carry" purchases by the Allies. In 1940, following the German capture of Paris, the size of the United States Navy was significantly increased and, after the Japanese incursion into Indochina, the United States embargoed iron, steel and mechanical parts against Japan. In September, the United States further agreed to a trade of American destroyers for British bases. Still, a large majority of the American public continued to oppose any direct military intervention into the conflict well into 1941, with Britain viewed as lost cause, despite the fact it had not yet formally been defeated.

At the end of September 1940, the Tripartite Pact united Japan, Italy and Germany to formalize the Axis Powers. The Tripartite Pact stipulated that any country, with the exception of the Soviet Union, not in the war which attacked any Axis Power would be forced to go to war against all three. During this time, the United States continued to support the United Kingdom and China by introducing the Lend-Lease policy authorizing the provision of material and other items and creating a security zone spanning roughly half of the Atlantic Ocean where the United States Navy protected British convoys. As a result, Germany and the United States found themselves engaged in sustained naval warfare in the North and Central Atlantic by October 1941, even though the United States remained officially neutral.

The Axis expanded in November 1940 when Hungary, Slovakia and Romania joined the Tripartite Pact. In October 1940, Italy invaded Greece but within days was repulsed and pushed back into Albania, where a stalemate soon occurred. In December 1940, British Commonwealth forces began counter-offensives against Italian forces in Egypt and Italian East Africa. By early 1941, with Italian forces having been pushed back into Libya by the Commonwealth, Churchill ordered a dispatch of troops from Africa to bolster the Greeks. The Italian Navy also suffered significant defeats, with the Royal Navy putting three Italian battleships out of commission by a carrier attack at Taranto, and neutralising several more warships at the Battle of Cape Matapan.

The Germans soon intervened to assist Italy. Hitler sent German forces to Libya in February, and by the end of March they had launched an offensive against the diminished Commonwealth forces. In under a month, Commonwealth forces were pushed back into Egypt with the exception of the besieged port of Tobruk. The Commonwealth attempted to dislodge Axis forces in May and again in June, but failed on both occasions. In early April, following Bulgaria's signing of the Tripartite Pact, the Germans intervened in the Balkans by invading Greece and Yugoslavia following a coup here too they made rapid progress, eventually forcing the Allies to evacuate after Germany conquered the Greek island of Crete by the end of May.

The Allies did have some successes during this time. In the Middle East, Commonwealth forces first quashed a coup in Iraq which had been supported by German aircraft from bases within Vichy-controlled Syria, then, with the assistance of the Free French, invaded Syria and Lebanon to prevent further such occurrences. In the Atlantic, the British scored a much-needed public morale boost by sinking the German flagship Bismarck.

In Asia, despite several offensives by both sides, the war between China and Japan was stalemated by 1940. In order to increase pressure on China by blocking supply routes, and to better position Japanese forces in the event of a war with the Western powers, Japan had seized military control of southern Indochina In August of that year, Chinese communists launched an offensive in Central China in retaliation, Japan instituted harsh measures (the Three Alls Policy) in occupied areas to reduce human and material resources for the communists.[106] Continued antipathy between Chinese communist and nationalist forces culminated in armed clashes in January 1941, effectively ending their co-operation. With the situation in Europe and Asia relatively stable, Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union made preparations. With the Soviets wary of mounting tensions with Germany and the Japanese planning to take advantage of the European War by seizing resource-rich European possessions in Southeast Asia, the two powers signed the Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact in April 1941. The Wehrmacht meanwhile prepared for its assault on the Middle East.

The war in the Middle East

On 1st April 1941 German forces under the command of Heinz Guderian invaded the neutral country of Turkey to form a bridgehead into the British Occupied Near East. With the Wehrmacht's right flank now secure after the taking of Greece and Yugoslavia the German army were also able to send significant reinforcements to North Africa in a bid to begin a pincer movement on the Suez canal.

Due to its close proximity to the Greek border and the poorly armed and organised Turkish army, Constantinople surrendered in less than a week. It took just two more weeks for German troops to reach the border with Iraq to the south. Here British troops who were low on arms and equipment due to the UK's perilous war time situation post Dunkirk were no match for their adversaries. They were rapidly driven into a retreat across the border into Syria and finally Lebanon, where a second massacre at the hands of the Germans occurred during evacuation attempts at the Battle of Beirut.

By mid July 1941 German forces had complete control of the whole Levant area, cutting off and isolating the remaining British troops in the Arabian Peninsula and Persia. These troops were only able to remain in a combat ready state because of supplies sent from Britain via the Suez Canal. Removing the last remaining British Army presence in the area would give the German economy complete control of the oil resources of the Middle East. This would remove a key Achilles heal of the German economy (its dependence on foreign oil) and give the Third Reich the capability to maintain sustained warfare during an assault on the Soviet Union which was planned for sometime in early 1943.

To this end, the armies commanded by two of the all time great German Generals (Guderian and Erwin Rommel) began a final two front assault on Egypt and its vital canal link. Rommel's reinforced troops crushed British resistance during the battle of El Alamein near the city of Alexandra on August 18th 1941 and began to push towards Cairo. Guderian's forces halted on Jordan's border with Egypt to allow supply lines to catch up with the front and to allow the Africa Core to take Cairo and begin the final assault on Suez.

On September 11th 1941, Guderian's forces resumed their advance on Suez from the east, Five days later the British forces attempting to hold the canal were completely surrounded. After a week of intense fighting during which the British sustained heavy losses the remaining forces surrendered. Cut off from vital supplies from its crown jewel colony of India and with most of its land based armed forces wiped out, the British High Command were left with little choice but to sue for peace.

German Foreign Minister Von Rippentrop arrived in London on the 28th of September and offered the British very generous surrender terms. The British were to retain all of their empire intact and would be allowed to continue to receive supplies from India via a German controlled Suez. The Germans would also continue their policy of not interfering with or attacking supply convoys from America across the Atlantic, providing these supplies were not of military nature. Germany also gave assurances that no German troops would be present on mainland Britain. However a key condition of the surrender was that all remaining British naval vessels and RAF aircraft were to be handed over to the German Wehrmacht, with no attempt made to destroy any of these assets. The terms of surrender were formally signed in the grounds of Buckingham palace on October 4th 1941, thus (officially at least) bringing the war in Europe to an end.

After the surrender of the British the USA suspended all lend lease agreements and provision of all aid to the UK, with the exception of food, clothing and medical supplies. Europe was now considered a lost cause to the Americans, although they did continue to their lend lease agreement with the Soviet Union in an effort to check the expansion and power of Nazi Germany. They also sent troops into neighbouring Canada to prevent any possibility of German troops being stationed along their own borders.

With war on the Western Front now formally over, Germany was able to free up nearly a million men, 20 Panzer divisions and around 45% of its air force for a planned offensive on European Russia. With the remaining British forces on the Arabian Peninsula evacuated after the Anglo-German peace settlement, German military forces now had total control of the oil resources of the Middle East (with the exception of Iran, which was occupied during the summer of 1943). Combined with their now having access to supplies from India after Britain became a client state the Nazi leadership were now well equipped to fight a sustained war with their ultimate target of the Soviet Union.

Preparations for an attack on the USSR

With war in Europe now appearing to be over during the winter of 1941-42 extensive efforts had to be made to provide cover for the build of troops and equipment along with Russian border. The Wehrmacht attempted to do this by explaining troop buildups in Central and Eastern Europe as a means of suppressing resistance by the local population and to conduct military exercises now that the war was supposedly over in Eurasia. Stalin was not fooled by this ruse however and intensified the completion of the Soviet Union's preparations for a war with Germany sometime in 1942.

Although the USSR was much better prepared than it had been if an attack had taken place in 1941, the Soviets were now also facing an attack from a much stronger German armed forces than it had been a year earlier. As well, as their chronic fuel and supply shortages now resolved, the Nazi regime had been able to free up a quarter of its total fighting force from operations in western Europe and position them so that a gigantic pincer movement was now possible against all of the Russian forces by launching a simultaneous massive attack from both the north and the south.

No longer under pressure to capture fuel and materials from the Soviets as a high priority, there was now much less requirement for the Wehrmacht to over extend itself by having to achieve numerous and conflicting objectives simultaneously. Also the fact that preparations had been underway for nearly six months to establish adequate supply lines for an attack on the Red Army's southern flank via the middle east turned the tables onto Stalin's forcing them to achieve simultaneous, conflicting objectives to achieve victory.

The presence of German troops in huge numbers and with short supply lines near the Caucasus put the USSR's only well developed supply of oil at that point in imminent danger. As a result Stalin began a huge buildup of military forces in this region during the winter of 1942.

The troops freed up from Britain's capitulation and the end of hostilities on the Western Front were a welcome addition to the invasion force massing to the east. Around 200,000 troops were sent to bolster Army Group North based in East Prussia, 300,000 to Army Group Centre based in Poland and the Balkans and 500,000 went to Army Group South based on Turkey's borders with Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Wehrmacht were also able to raise around 5,000 fighters and short and medium range bombers. A vital capacity the Luftwaffe still lacked at this stage was long range bombing capacity. The limitation of this however were largely negated by having a large number of forward air bases near the Soviet border that were well protected and over which the German forces largely maintained air superiority. Operation Barbarossa began on the 1st May 1942 after the codeword 'Dortmund' was transmitted to all front line troops, signalling the commencement of war on the Eastern Front.

The war on the Southern Front

Although the USSR was by this stage beginning to feel the benefits of the American Lend Lease program, there still was not enough current military hardware in their arsenal to adequately defend a three front assault from German forces. As a result compromises had to be made. Anticipating the imminent danger the oil fields of the Caucasus were under, Stalin sent three million men to defend them. He also sent around 70% of the total number of the cutting edge T-34 tanks that were available to the Red Army at the time to provide support to the infantry. Virtually all of the Red Air force's fleet of current aircraft were reserved for the defense of Moscow however, which granted the Luftwaffe almost immediate air superiority against opposition that was rarely more substantial than pre-war biplanes.

The Mk3 and Mk4 Panzer tanks that were available to the German military at this stage were no match for the T-34 in a straight fight, but the presence of large numbers of Stuka Dive Bombers largely negated this weakness by being able to accurately bomb Soviet tank forces and allowing Panzer divisions to bypass them altogether.

Once war against the USSR was under way on the Southern Front thirty five units of the Wehrmacht's total of one hundred and forty five available Panzer divisions raced deep into the Caucasus region. Of these thirty five, five units headed south of the Armenian city of Yerevan. A further headed north of the city, whilst all 15 units raced towards the border with Azerbaijan and the ultimate target of the oilfields of Baku. The remaining twenty units headed further north, crossing the Armenian border into Georgia and passing north west of the capital Tbilisi on 12th May as part of a drive towards the oilfields of Grozny in Chechnya.

With the threat of the T-34s largely neutralised by air cover and as infantry units began followed in the Panzer's wake, the three million men deployed to defend the oilfields of the southern Caucasus region were in serious danger of being cut off and surrounded by German forces. The more northerly twenty Panzer units reached Grozny on 21st May and seized the oilfields near by after brief, but heavy fighting in which the Soviets incurred severe losses. These divisions then pressed on for the Caspian sea coast, reaching it just five days later.

The fifteen German tank units further south crossed the Armenian-Azerbaijani border on 11th May and began a rapid advance towards Baku. A repeat of the fierce fighting in an around Grozny occurred when the Wehrmacht reached the capital of Azerbaijan on 1st June, with Soviet forces again suffering heavy losses. The northern and southern Caucasus Panzer division forces met up near the Azerbaijan-Dagestan border on 11th June completing the encirclement of Soviet forces in the area. Under heavy aerial bombardment and without fuel or heavy weapons the three million Red Army troops in the region were able to hold out for a little over a month before formally surrendering on 15th July 1942.

Whilst the loss of oil production from the Caucasus region ultimately proved to be a mortal wound for the Soviet Union, thanks to the US Lend Lease program and the hasty discovery and pressing into production of newly discovered oilfield in places such as Kazakhstan the Soviet Union were not knocked out of the war in one punch by this loss. They were able to press on until 1949 as a coherent force, but were fighting a rearguard action from this point onwards and at no point during the conflict were they able to seize the initiative from the Wehrmacht.

The war on the Northern Front:

Of all the fronts involved with the Germany-USSR conflict, the Northern Front was the one that was the the most poorly defended by the overstretched red army. Lacking the key strategic targets of the Central and Southern Fronts vast stretches of land all the way into the Russian interior were defended with little more than conscript infantry and obsolete tanks. The one exception to this was the crucial Baltic Sea port city of Murmansk which was extensively protected behind well constructed defensive positions and fortifications, heavy artillery and around 200 T-34 tanks. The problem for the defenders of the port however was the fact that its geographic location made it at extreme danger of being cut off and starved into submission from the very beginning of hostilities.

Once Operation Barbarossa was underway German forces in East Prussia made a rapid advance into Belarus. Local Red Army resistance was poorly organised, equipped and led. Soviet troops suffered appalling losses as German troops advanced on the capital Minsk, which was seized in less than three weeks after a brief siege of the city. Once the capitulation of the Belorussian capital was complete the rest of the Soviet state had fallen by late July of 1942. A drive into the Russian interior was halted 50 miles north of Novgorod to allow completion of a link up with the much delayed forces attempting to take Murmansk and Leningrad, before a combined assault on Moscow from the north could begin.

Meanwhile, forces advancing into the Baltic after the war on Eastern Front began reached the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius within just five days. Air superiority was rapidly achieved and the twenty Panzer divisions assigned to the Northern Front were able to cut a deep gash into enemy lines whilst driving through first Lithuania, then Latvia, Estonia, Leningrad and Murmansk, before a final assault on Moscow from the north.

Resistance from the Red Army rapidly crumbled. Despite the fact that they had a million men more than the Wehrmacht on the front, they were woefully under equipped to fend off a battle hardened and mechanised German advance. The local population also initially viewed the Nazis as liberators and assisted them in their assault on Russian forces, fighting guerrilla warfare in and around the front.

Panzer divisions had reached the port city and capital of Latvia, Riga by 12th of May. Infantry divisions met with several pockets of determined resistance during the advance eastward that slowed their progress, however in the main Russian forces (against Stalin's orders) were in full retreat across the Baltic region. The first of a series of huge encircling by the Werhmacht was completed when 50% of the total Panzer forces that had taken a more south easterly route into Latvia met up with the other half of the German tank divisions just outside Riga, trapping over one million men in a pocket and cut off from supplies. These forces surrendered on 16th of May and Riga itself a week later on 23rd May 1942.

The entire Northern Front was by this stage in danger of total collapse for the Soviets. On 2nd June German forces crossed the border in Estonia and drove directly for the capital city Tallinn. Due to the initially dire situation on the strategically more important Central Front no reserves could be brought up by the Red Army to shore up the situation. Due to its close proximity to Leningrad resistance was much fiercer in and around the Estonian capital than the Germans had encountered thus far. The troops defending the city were better equipped, better trained and supplied with more extensive artillery than their counterparts in Lithuania and Latvia. As a result the Nazi advance was slowed markedly for a period of almost a month as their troops battled towards the gates of Tallinn.

A tactic that the Wehrmacht deployed throughout the war on the Eastern Front (until the Battle of Moscow) as a whole was to never commit infantry to taking a city that had not surrendered. This kept troops losses to a minimum and also overcame the massive man power advantage that Soviet forces had. They were forced to commit large numbers of troops to defend cities that were almost always rapidly surrounded, starved and bombed into submission. Stalin's policy of 'Not a step back' and no surrender under any circumstances was harder to enforce the further from Moscow those cities were and as the Soviet position continued to deteriorate. With virtually no support from the local population and with no support or supplies forthcoming the Red Army in Tallinn finally surrendered on August 8th, just over two months after the city was surrounded.

Resistance in the Baltic countries had been expected to be less intense than in other parts of the Soviet Union and those countries had fallen more or less in accordance with the time table laid out by Speer before Operation Barbarossa began. The lack of long range aircraft available to the Luftwaffe started become ever more of a hindrance to the German's the further they advanced into the northern Soviet Union. After the campaign in the Middle East and Caucasus the Wehrmacht had large supplies of oil available to them, however at this stage of the war their manufacturing and transportation capacity had not yet caught up with the natural resources available to them. As a result, despite forces on the Central and Southern Fronts having all the fuel they needed, logistics prevented the full benefit of this reaching the Luftwaffe on the Northern Front. Relying on longer supply lines to fuel short range aircraft at forward air bases proved much less efficient than direct raids launched from West and East Prussia and caused the German advance to slow still further as they crossed the border into Russia and headed for vital city of Leningrad.

The siege of Leningrad that began on September 15th was not be the short term affair that had been seen so far in the campaign across the Baltic. The siege which began after a heavy assault from forward Panzer divisions and heavy artillery was not to end for a further eight months, when the Murmansk finally fell, cutting off the last remaining supply line to Leningrad. By that time the city had been reduced to rubble from continued shelling and air strikes and 40% of its population starved to death.

With Leningrad cut off and the forces within it neutralised by the ongoing encirclement, a huge Wehrmacht mechanised force was able to press on to the north to assist their Finnish counterparts who had made little significant progress in capturing Murmansk and where in serious danger of being pushed back across their own border.

German reinforcements arrived outside Murmansk on October 2nd, their advance slowed by heavy rainfall that had started in late September. Unlike the campaign in the Central Front where German forces were advancing much more slowly due to heavy Soviet resistance, the forces on the Northern Front had advanced rapidly and deep into Russia. This meant the supplying of troops with full winter equipment had been held up by the length of their supply lines and a significant (but reducing) shortage of capacity in German industrial output to supply full support to all of the forces along all of the fronts. Winter clothing, antifreeze and low temperature oil for weapons all began to be airlifted to the Northern Front in early December, long after the Russian winter had set in. This again slowed the advance on Murmansk and a significant effort to break the siege was not begun until January 2nd 1943.

After this point the port city was subjected to a massive, sustained assault from heavy artillery and air strikes from the Luftwaffe that reduced it to rubble within a matter of weeks. Resistance in the city held out for until March 15th, after which the Soviet forces within the city surrendered. The surrender of Murmansk triggered the subsequent surrender of Leningrad on May 20th 1943. After this point the Wehrmacht forces on the Northern Front were able to drive south to form the northern flank of an attempted encirclement of Moscow.

Once the Northern Front forces from the Baltic had linked up with their colleagues from the Belorussian campaign, the combined forces on northern flank of Moscow could begin their assault on the last remaining obstacle between them and Moscow, the city of Novgorod.

Alfred Jodl ca. 1892 - 10/16/1946

Alfred Jodl (ca. 1892-1946) was a top German military officer during World War II and part of the leadership cadre around Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. For his military strategies and orders that led to deaths of enemy troops and civilians throughout Europe, Jodl was arrested in 1945 and hanged a year later with several other top Nazis as a war criminal.

Sources place Alfred Jodl's date of birth around 1892, and there is little information about his life prior to his military career. Jodl's official public record began with his service during World War I in the Bavarian Army, where he was an artillery expert. At the war's end, imperial Germany was soundly defeated, and the Treaty of Versailles dictated that its armed forces would be limited to 100,000 men the treaty also curtailed Germany's use of heavy artillery, tanks, submarines, and the famed Luftwaffe (air force). Jodl remained in the service of the military, though a leadership vacuum and a near-revolution had made mutinies quite common among the demoralized armed forces in the final months of the war.

Advanced Through Ranks

During the 1920s Jodl served the newly-created Weimar Republic in Germany's Ministry of War and in the intelligence service. He was perhaps fortunate to have a steady post, for the country's economy was in ruins and the unemployment rate was dangerously high. Such conditions gave rise to a political movement called National Socialism, a right-wing fascist movement led by another World War I veteran, Adolf Hitler. By 1932 Jodl had returned to service in the Army itself and was head of its Operations Department. Hitler became German Chancellor early the next year.

Jodl served as head of Army operations until 1935. During this period Hitler was consolidating power and winning support for an economic course that brought some measure of stability and prosperity. Yet the Nazi political platform blamed its Jewish citizens for many of Germany's economic woes, and imposed an increasingly drastic series of laws that restricted the civil rights of German Jews. Hitler also began violating the terms of the Versailles treaty by re-arming. By 1936 Jodl had advanced to the rank of colonel and to the post of head of the National Defense Section in the High Command of the Armed Forces.

Outbreak of War

In 1938 the German border to be defended widened considerably when Austria was annexed and became part of the country--an act that took place with almost no resistance. From 1938 to August of 1939 Jodl served as Artillery Commander of the 44th Division, and was posted in both Vienna, the Austrian capital, and Brno, a city in the former Czechoslovakia. In the late summer of 1938 German troops were massing on Germany's border with Czechoslovakia. Jodl had planned the specifics of the invasion, but alarmed European leaders signed a peace agreement with Germany a few weeks later that allowed Hitler to simply annex part of Czechoslovakia. A year later, an increasingly bellicose Germany invaded Poland, an act that launched World War II. Hitler had signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union, and with his eastern flank protected--as well as a standing alliance with a fascist dictatorship in Italy--Germany launched air attacks on Britain. German troops successfully invaded France, Norway--which Jodl himself strategized--Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Yugoslavia, and Greece.

At this point Jodl began to take on an even more decisive role in Germany military matters. In August of 1939, now a general major, he became Chief of Operation Staff of the High Command of the Armed Forces, essentially Hitler's liaison between the Wehrmacht, or armed forces, and the puppet Nazi Cabinet. One of the youngest among Hitler's inner circle, Jodl was the German officer in charge of negotiations at Salonika regarding Greece's capitulation to Nazi forces in the spring of 1941. Later that spring, Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Troops marched though Poland, where many of the concentration camps constructed to annihilate European Jewry were located meanwhile, the outside world had little idea of the extermination policies that had been signed into action by Hitler and Jodl's colleagues at the top levels.

Germany's invasion of Russia proved its fatal error, however. Wehrmacht troops made it as far as Moscow and Leningrad by the end of 1941, but the Soviet army proved a tough foe. On an order dated October 7, 1941, Jodl's signature appears under the directive that Hitler would reject Russia's possible surrender of Moscow and Leningrad in the event of a negotiation it declared that the cities should be leveled. Furthermore, problems among his top aides and advisors plagued Hitler during the war years. This dissension led to an assassination attempt on his life in July of 1944, and Jodl was wounded by the bomb. A secret landing of American troops in France and successful routing of the Germans spelled the end of the war. In April of 1945 Russian and American troops took Berlin (the German capital), and Hitler committed suicide. He passed on his command to Karl Doenitz, the admiral of the German Navy.

Signed Surrender

The Wehrmacht's official surrender came in the northeast French city of Reims. Jodl was sent on Doenitz's behalf, and over two days in early May of 1945, Jodl stalled with Allied negotiators from the staff of American General Dwight D. Eisenhower, commander of the Allied forces in Europe. Eisenhower himself refused to negotiate with Jodl personally. Doenitz had given orders to delay the signing as long as possible to enable German soldiers in the east of Europe to turn back and surrender to Allied forces instead of Russians, who were inflicting dire retribution upon their vanquished. Eventually Eisenhower became incensed at Jodl's tactics, and threatened to close the front in the West, which would leave the retreating German troops stranded in the east. Jodl signed the surrender at 2:38 a.m. on May 7, 1945. It was estimated that because of the delay almost a million Germans were able to evade the Russians.

Jodl then went to the north German city of Flensburg, where Doenitz was. Jodl was arrested there with his superior on May 23. In October of 1945, an International Military Tribunal (IMT) in Nuremberg issued an indictment against Jodl and several other top Nazi leaders, including Doenitz Minister of Armaments and War Production Albert Speer Luftwaffe chief Hermann Goering Fritz Sauckel, head of the Nazis' forced labor operations and foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. The Russians had demanded that Jodl's name be included on the War Criminals list in part for his stalling at Reims and for once issuing an order of Hitler's that German units in Russia could act with heedless brutality.

Tried at Nuremberg

Other evidence that survived the end of World War II linked Jodl to serious transgressions, including a plan of action regarding the destruction of the United States and Britain. Jodl also had made a speech on November 7, 1943, about slave labor--for which the genocidal camps, such as Auschwitz and Treblinka, were ostensibly designed--asserting that "remorseless vigor and resolution" was critical regarding German actions in Denmark, France, and Belgium, according to Alfred D. Low's The Men Around Hitler: The Nazi Elite and Its Collaborators. That same year Jodl gave orders that citizens should be evacuated in the north of Norway and their homes burned so that they could not provide assistance to an imminent Russian invasion. Other documents show that Jodl knew that thousands of civilians had been forcibly deported from France to work in German munitions factories.

The trial for Jodl and the nineteen other defendants began in November of 1945. In contrast to some of the other defendants, such as the visibly unstable Sauckel and the eloquent, repentant Speer, Jodl was known for his stoic demeanor on the stand. His wife left flowers for him on the witness box at the start of his testimony on June 3, 1946. Luise Jodl, once a secretary at the offices of the German High Command, had married Jodl after the death of his first wife, Anneliese, in 1944. She walked to Nuremberg from Berchtesgaden, and her interventions helped Jodl obtain the services of a well-known attorney, Franz Exner from the University of Munich.

Among the many incidents about which Jodl was questioned were his orders to bomb the Dutch city of Rotterdam. In his defense, Jodl asserted that this and other actions that he ordered were not "criminal" in the sense that they violated international standards of military conduct during warfare. On the stand, he also hinted that much of the blame for the war lay in the maneuvers of German politicians, not the actions of loyal officers. He claimed to have known nothing of the death camps at which nearly six million European Jews met their death. In his cell, he spoke with Gustave Gilbert, the prison psychiatrist at Nuremberg who later wrote a book on his experiences. Jodl told Gilbert that he had sometimes hated Hitler, because of "his contempt for the middle class, with which I identified myself, his suspicion and contempt for the nobility, to which I was married, and his hatred of the General Staff, of which I was a member," Gilbert reported in Nuremberg Diary.

Last-Minute Appeal

During this time, Luise Jodl sent telegrams to England's wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, attempting to appeal to his own sense of military duty and the officers' code of conduct to carry out orders, that he might intervene on her husband's behalf. She asked that Churchill "give your voice of support to my husband, Colonel General Jodl, who, like yourself, did nothing but fight for his country to the last," according to Joseph Persico's Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial. She also sent similarly worded missives to English Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery and General Eisenhower. None stepped in, however, and unlike a few of the other defendants, the IMT did not find any "mitigating factors" regarding Jodl's actions during the war, and sentenced him to death.

Jodl was hanged in a gymnasium at the Nuremberg prison on October 16, 1946. He was cremated, and his ashes later taken to the Munich suburb of Solln, and then scattered into a tributary of the Isar, which in turn carried them to the Danube and then out to sea. According to Persico's Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial, in his cell at Nuremberg Jodl kept a timeworn picture of a woman holding an infant. When a prisoner of war came in to give him a shave and inquired as to who the two were, Jodl said that it was his mother and himself as a baby, and then reflected, "it's too bad I didn't die then. Look how much grief I would have been spared. Frankly I don't know why I lived anyway."

"Alfred Jodl." Encyclopedia of World Biography. Vol. 18. Detroit: Gale, 1998. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 2 Apr. 2012.

Chapter 1 First Period Submerged Daylight Attacks on Independents September 1939-June 1940

1.1 U-Boat Offensive

T HIS first phase of U-boat warfare a was greatly influenced by the rapidly changing overall military situation. Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, and England and France declared war on Germany on September 3. Some U-boats had left Germany early in August and when the war began there were about six at sea, ready to start an offensive in the Northeast Atlantic in the Western Approaches to England.

According to statements of early prisoners of war, the commanding officers of U-boats had been ordered to observe International Law, which forbade U-boats to sink merchant vessels without having first placed the passengers and crew in a place of safety. At the beginning of September, these instructions seem to have been generally obeyed, with the notable exception of the Athenia, which was torpedoed without warning on September 3. However, this situation did not last long and, toward the end of September, even neutral ships were being torpedoed without warning.

Anticipating unrestricted U-boat warfare, the British had prepared plans before the war for the immediate establishment of the convoy system and the first trade convoy sailed on September 6. As the British defenses against the U-boat attacks were based on the needs of protecting primarily the fleet and secondarily merchant shipping, the limited number of antisubmarine vessels available for convoy escort was inadequate to provide direct protection to the convoys. Nevertheless, it was believed that the British antisubmarine measures were sufficiently effective to ensure that no U-boat could betray her presence by attacking a convoy without running a severe danger of subsequent destruction by the escorting craft.

The experience during September tended to justify these expectations, as over 900 ships were convoyed during the month without the loss of a single ship while in convoy. In addition, two U-boats were sunk during the month by British surface aircraft. The Germans apparently had no knowledge of British Asdic and still believed that they could counter underwater detection by reducing internal noises.

The lack of knowledge of British Asdic probably accounted for the early U-boat tactics. The U-boats preferred attacking their targets during the daylight, believing themselves relatively invisible because of their powers of submergence, while they could observe the targets through their periscopes. The U-boat attacks were generally made by torpedo from periscope depth, but if the target was an unarmed merchant vessel, the U-boat usually surfaced and attempted to sink the ship by gunfire.

During September, while the convoy system was still not fully established, there was a sufficient number of unescorted targets at sea to enable the U-boats to sink 39 ships of 151,000 gross tons. Ten of these ships were sunk by gunfire alone, from surfaced U-boats, and this lead the British to take immediate steps to arm as many merchant ships as possible to defend themselves against such attacks.

At the start of the war antisubmarine forces in the Western Approaches were augmented by aircraft carriers, but after HMS Courageous was sunk by U-boat torpedos on September 17, the carriers were withdrawn. However, shore-based aircraft of the Coastal Command helped considerably by flying over 100,000 miles in September, sighting some 50 U-boats or supposed U-boats, and attacking over 30 of them. Although none of the aircraft attacks were very effective, they did cause the U-boats to submerge and thereby reduced their effective operating period.

The September U-boat campaign was followed by a lull during the first ten days of October during which, although U-boats were at sea, hardly any ships were attacked. This lull seemed to reflect the political situation at the time, as it was accompanied by Hitler's offer of peace on October 6. U-boat activity flared up again on October 12, and by the end of the

month 28 ships of 136,000 gross tons had been sunk by U-boats. In addition Kapitän-leutnant Prien, in command of U-47, penetrated the harbor of Scapa Flow in the middle of October, and sank HMS Royal Oak, a British battleship. This served to direct British attention to the necessity of protecting harbors against U-boats by means of fixed defenses, such as booms, indicator loops, mine fields, and harbor defense Asdics.

During November and December the main effort of the German U-boats seem to have centered upon a mine-laying campaign on the east coast of England, particularly in the Thames Estuary. The mains laid were both the old type of contact mine and a new type of magnetic mine, which at first proved rather difficult to sweep. Monthly losses due directly to U-boats (torpedos and gunfire) fell to 18 ships of about 65,000 gross tons and were exceeded by the 100,000 gross tons of shipping sunk by mines during each of these months.

U-boat activity began increasing again in the second week of January 1940 and by the end of the month there were as many U-boats at sea as at the start of the war. In February, the U-boat effort was greater than during any previous period and 35 ships of 135,000 gross tons were sunk. The U-boats continued to follow a policy of attacking Allied and neutral ships without warning. They preferred attacking single ships or stragglers from convoys, thus making it difficult for the antisubmarine ships to conduct an effective search and counterattack. The respect the U-boats had been showing for the British convoys is indicated by the fact that only 7 of the 169 ships sunk by U-boats during the first six months of the war were in convoy when sunk, although roughly half the shipping sailed in convoy at this time.

Losses due to mines fell off during January and February as better methods of sweeping the magnetic mines were developed and more ships were degaussed (magnetic field of ship changed to protect it against magnetic mines).

There was a marked lull in U-boat activity throughout March, featured by the complete absence of U-boats from Atlantic waters after about the 12th of the month. Early in April, every available U-boat left Germany to take up patrol positions in the North Sea to help in the impending military operations against Norway. The average number of U-boats at sea reached a peak of about 15 during the second week of April, when Germany invaded Norway. Despite the large concentration of U-boats, the damage done by them was remarkably small. No British capital ship was even attacked by U-boats and only six ships of 31,000 gross tones were sunk by the U-boats during the whole month of April, a new low for the war. In addition, the Germans lost six U-boats during the month, a new high for the war.

There was very little U-boat activity during the first half of May as Germany started her invasion of Holland and Belgium on May 10. It is believed that during May no U-boat proceeded to the Western Approaches until the 21st and only 10 ships of 48,000 gross tons were sunk by U-boats during the month. Shipping losses to U-boats were exceeded for the first time during the war by the 154,000 gross tons sunk by aircraft. These losses were incurred largely in connection with the operation and evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force, which left Dunkerque on May 29.

The Germans announced on May 29 that the U-boat warfare was about to recommence and warned neutrals not to enter the protection of British convoys. This threat was followed by a period of intense U-boat activity as convoys were attacked with greater boldness than in earlier periods, advantage being taken of the paucity of escorts, rendered inevitable by the demands of the military evacuation and the Home Fleet. The losses for June were the highest of the war, with 56 ships of 267,000 gross tons being sunk by U-boats. The German ace, Klt. Prien, contributed his share by sinking ten ships of about 67,000 gross tons during one cruise. By the end of June, France was out of the war and Italy had entered the war with over 100 U-boats, about 60 of which were ocean-going (650 tons and over).

1.2 Countermeasures to the U-Boat

1.2.1 Convoys

The convoy system was by far the most effective countermeasure in keeping down shipping losses to U-boats during this first period, just as it had been during World War I. This was still true, even though the number of antisubmarine vessels suitable for ocean escort was insufficient to provide direct protection to the convoys. The British met this problem by keeping their convoy system flexible, changing the number of escorts and the distances for which convoys

were escorted in accordance with U-boat activity. It should be noted that the Germans made this problem more difficult by sending U-boats out in waves, so that peaks of U-boat activity occured in September 1939 and in February and June of 1940.

Although the first convoys sailed early in September 1939, the convoy system was not fully in force until the beginning of October. The designations of the main convoy routes that were set up then were:

OB Outward bound from England to America and Africa.
HX Homeward bound to England from Halifax.
SL Homeward bound to England from Sierra Leone

In order to illustrate some of the problems involved in setting up the convoy system a detailed acount is presented of the changes made in the HX convoy route during this period. On October 7, 1939, it was decided to discontinue the convoys from Kingston, Jamaica and all ships in the West Atlantic were routed independantly to Halifax, taking advantage of U.S. waters as far as possible. Convoys were divided into slow (9- to 12-knot) and fast (12- to 15-knots) convoys, which left Halifax together at about the same time in order to arrive four days apart at the rendezvous point. At this point, located at about 15° west longitude, the convoys were met by one or two destroyers which provided antisubmarine escort to England. The ocean escort, provided between Halifax and the rendezvous point primarily for protection against surface raiders, consisted of a battleship, cruiser, or armed merchant cruiser, and one or two submarines when available.

The first of these convoys, HX 6 and HFX 6, consisted of 62 and 6 ships, respectively. The dividing line was then altered to 11 knots to equalize the number of ships, and during November 1939 the number of ships in these sections averaged 32 and 12. On February 12, 1940, the fast convoys were discontinued, and all HX convoys sailed at 9 knots, at 3- and 5-day intervals. These convoys consisted of ships with speeds between 9 and 15 knots ships of higher speeds sailing independently. At the beginning of April, in order to equalize the size of the convoys, 4-day intervals were started.

Early in May 1940 Bermuda began to be used as an assembly point for vessels from the West Indies and other points in that vicinity, and HX 41 was the first combined Bermuda and Halifax convoy. The sections formed at sea, as arranged, at about 41° north latitude and 43° west longitude, and the Bermuda escort then returned to base. This change enabled about 60 per cent of the ships that formerly sailed from Halifax to cut down their voyage by 500 miles and to avoid the fog off Newfoundland. The average number of ships in these HX convoys had risen to 46 by May 1940.

In addition to the above mentioned convoys, the British also sailed coastal convoys to protect shipping on short trips around the English coast and Scandinavian convoys too and from Norway. The main energies of the French light craft were also devoted to the protection of merchant shipping. They were fitted with Asdic as soon as possible after the opening of the war and provided escorts for purely French convoys, helped escort the Gibralter convoys for most of the way, and assisted in covering the military cross-Channel convoys.

The extreme value of the British convoy system may best be appreciated by noting that during this period about 2500 ships were being convoyed monthly, while only about 5 of these were being sunk monthly by U-boats (2 1 /2 in escorted convoys, 1 1 /2 in unescorted convoys, and 1 straggler). The rate at which independent merchant vessels were being sunk by U-boats was roughly about four times as high.

1.2.2 Aircraft

Another important countermeasure to the U-boat was the use of aircraft. These had seen very little use against U-boats during World War I and consequently it took some time before the problems of how to use aircraft most efficiently against U-boats were solved. In addition, the aircraft were still armed only with bombs. Consequently the direct contribution of aircraft toward sinking U-boats was negligible during this period.

Nevertheless, aircraft performed a defensive function of greater value in helping to protect shipping. Coastal Command aircraft flew, on the average, about 4500 hours monthly on purely antisubmarine work. About 20 U-boats were sighted monthly and 12 of these were attacked, with about 10 per cent of the attacks resulting in some damage to the U-boat. This effort reached a peak of 9500 hours during June 1940, when about 2800 hours were spent on antisubmarine patrol and 6700 hours on convoy escort duty.

The main value of this flying was in causing the U-boats to submerge, thus preventing them from shadowing or approaching convoys on the surface. It also helped to discourage them from operating close to the shores of England where the flying was heaviest. U-boats at this time were under orders to submerge as soon as they sighted a plane and the British took advantage of this by starting to use, in November 1939, light aircraft of the Moth type to patrol around the coast. These aircraft were known as "scarecrows," carried no bombs, and were used soley to sight and report U-boats, and to make them submerge. These flying hours and sightings also helped considerably in keeping an accurate U-boat plot.

1.2.3 Scientific and Technical

  1. Development of an Asdic receiver-amplifier with automatic sensitivity control so that both long and short range echoes would be clearly recorded.

  2. Theoretical investigation of improved methods of carrying out antisubmarine attacks and of the best type of depth-charge pattern to ensure destruction of the submarine.

  3. Assistance to antisubmarine personnel in distinguishing between submarine and non-submarine targets, as a great amount of effort and a large number of depth charges were being expended on wrecks, whales, and other non-submarine targets.

1.2.4 Sinking of U-Boats

Surface craft, equipped with Asdic and depth charges, were by far the most potent enemy of the U-boat during this first phase of U-boat warfare. Twenty-one German U-boats are known to have been sunk b as a result of allied action during this 10-month period 15 were sunk by surface craft, one by the coordinated action of two ships and one plane, one by a plane from a British battleship, two were torpedoed by submarines, and two were mined in attempting to pass throug the Dover Barrage in October. Two other German U-boats were sunk under unknown circumstances while one is known to have been sunk in the Baltic after being rammed accidentally.

In addition to the 24 German U-boats mentioned above, 10 Italian U-boats were sunk in the Mediterranean, Red Sea, and Indian Ocean between June 10, when Italy entered the war, and the end of the month.

1. Survey of Results

1.2. From the U-boat Point of View

The average number of U-boats at sea in the Atlantic during this first phase of the U-boat war was about six. The average number of ships sunk monthly by them was 26 of about 106,000 gross tons, so that about four ships of about 18,000 gross tons were being sunk per U-boat month at sea. However, about two out of the six U-boats at sea were being sunk each month, so that the average life of a U-boat at sea was only about three months. This relative rate of loss of U-boats was extremely high, much higher than at any stage of the First World War, and makes readily understandable the fact that they preferred attacking unescorted ships to attacking convoys, lightly escorted as they were. It also helps to explain why the German U-boats felt it neccessary to change their tactics during the next phase of the U-boat war this despite the fact that the overall exchange rate (i.e. 13 ships of about 53,000 gross tons sunk for each U-boat sunk) might be considered satisfactory for the U-boats. The rate of loss of U-boats simply was higher than the Germans could afford.

The fact can be clearly seen from another approach. The Germans started the war with about 30 ocean-going U-boats (i.e., 500 tons or larger). By the end of June 1940, 18 of these had been sunk while only about 15 new ones had been commissioned, so that the Germans only had about 27 ocean-going U-boats available at the start of the second period of the U-boat war.

1.2. From the Allies' Point of View

At the end of June 1940 England was left alone in the war against Germany and her ability to carry on the war was dependend on her keeping her sea lanes open. Total shipping losses of the Allied and neutral

nations were about 280,000 gross tons monthly as compared to a building rate of only about 88,000 gross tons monthly, for a total net loss of 1,920,000 gross tons due to all causes during this 10-month period out of a total of about 40,000,000 gross tons of shipping at the start of the war. It appeared that shipping losses were still on the upgrade and the only hope of keeping the rate of net loss down was a large increase in shipbuilding.

Of the 280,000 gross tons of shipping lost monthly, about 223,000 gross tons were lost by enemy action, with U-boats accounting for 106,000 gross tons or 48 per cent of the total lost by enemy action. Mines accounted for 58,000 or 26 per cent, aircraft for 27,000 or 13 per cent, surface craft for 14,000 or 6 per cent, and other and unknown causes for the other 7 per cent of the losses.

The U-boat appeared definitely to be the main threat to Allied shipping. The convoy system had been the main factor in keeping the shipping losses due to U-boats down to a moderate level. Although the number of British Asdic-fitted antisubmarine vessels increased from about 220 at the beginning of the war to about 450 at the end of June 1940, most of the increase took place in trawlers and other small ships. The 450 ships consisted of about 180 destroyers, about 55 patrol craft, and about 215 trawlers and other small craft. However, the number of these ships that could be spared for escort duty was still insufficient to provide adequate protection to the convoys. The British had been fortunate during the first period that the enemy had onlyu a small number of U-boats available and these had operated in alimited area, almost all the sinking of ships occuring in the Northeast Atlantic (east of 20° west longitude and north of 30° north latitude). This had helped to make the escort problem easier during the first period.

First main breaks of naval Enigma

Hut 8 could not read Dolphin traffic without delay until June and July 1941, when it used keys captured from the weather ships München and Lauenburg. Decrypts were translated by Hut 4, which then sent their full text by teleprinter to the Admiralty's Operational Intelligence Centre (OIC) in London. Intelligence from the decrypts enabled the OIC to re-route many convoys past the few U-boats (about 20) then in the North Atlantic. Re-routeing convoys on the basis of 'Ultra' saved many lives and hundreds of thousands of tons of vital shipping.

Hut 8 broke Dolphin cryptanalytically from August 1941 onwards. It was helped because the order in which the rotors were inserted in Enigma changed only every two days. If a crib was available, a bombe run on the second day could therefore find the day's settings in under 20 minutes, saving much precious bombe time.

Manual weather ciphers broken by Bletchley's weather section in Hut 10 provided many cribs. The Atlantic U-boats made numerous weather reports, encoded on the Wetterkurzschlüssel before encipherment. From February 1941 on, Hut 10 broke general weather signals, enciphered with the naval manual meteorological cipher, which incorporated the U-boats' weather reports. In early May 1941, Bletchley received a copy of the 1940 edition of the Wetterkurzschlüssel from München and U-110. This enabled Hut 8 to reconstruct the U-boats' weather signals, and so obtain a second source of cribs. In addition, identical signals on subjects such as mine-clearing were sometimes sent using naval Enigma and another manual cipher, the Werftschlüssel ('dockyard cipher'). When Hut 4 broke the signals using Werftschlüssel, Hut 8 had more cribs.

Hut 8 suffered a massive reverse on 1 February 1942 when a new Enigma machine (M4) came into service on Triton (codenamed Shark by Hut 8), a special cipher for the Atlantic and Mediterranean U-boats. The combination of M4, Shark and a second edition of the Wetterkurzschlüssel proved devastating. Bletchley Park became blind against Shark for over 10 months. Fortunately, M4's fourth rotor (beta) was not interchangeable with rotors I to VIII. Beta increased M4's power by a factor of 26, but rotors could still only be mixed in 336 (8x7x6) different ways - not 3,024 (9x8x7x6).

At one setting of beta, M4 emulated M3, which was M4's undoing. Three members of the British destroyer HMS Petard seized the second edition of the Wetterkurzschlüssel from U-559 on 30 October 1942, before it sank near Port Said. Hut 8 once again had cribs, which it could run on three-rotor bombes, the only type available. The U-boats were using M4 in M3 mode when enciphering the short weather reports. A three-rotor bombe run on 60 rotor combinations therefore took only about 17 hours instead of the 442 hours (18 days) required if M4 had used its full potential.

On 13 December 1942, Bletchley teleprinted the OIC the positions of over 12 Atlantic U-boats, on dates from 5 to 7 December, as established from Shark weather signals. Hut 8 had penetrated M4 Shark with the help of the weather broadcasts broken by Hut 10. Intelligence from Shark, although sometimes badly delayed, played a critical part in the Battle of the Atlantic, perhaps saving from 500,000 to 750,000 tons of shipping in December 1942 and January 1943 alone.

Hut 8's use of the Wetterkurzschlüssel against Shark was short-lived. A third edition of the weather short signal book took effect on 10 March 1943, depriving Hut 8 of cribs. Bletchley had feared that the change would blind it for several months, but by using short signal sighting reports (made by U-boats in contact with convoys and encoded from the Kurzsignalheft) as cribs, Hut 8 re-entered Shark again on 19 March and broke it for 90 out of 112 days before 30 June. Kurzsignalheft short sighting reports also used M4 in M3 mode - and the Kurzsignalheft had also been recovered from U-559.

British and US Navy four-rotor bombes entered service in June and August 1943, respectively, but some July and August Shark keys took up to 26 days to solve. However, from September on, Shark was generally broken within 24 hours. At the end of 1943, work on Shark was transferred to the US Navy's Op-20-G codebreaking unit in Nebraska Avenue, Washington, DC, because the US Navy had over 50 bombes by mid-November.

The main role for naval Ultra was probably in re-routeing convoys, but it was used in many different ways. The US Navy employed Ultra offensively in 1943 and 1944 to sink many of the important supply U-boats (Types XB and XIV, such as U-118, U-233 and U-460), which applied a multiplier effect to the U-boats by replenishing them at sea.

The Wetterkurzschlüssel and Kurzsignalheft were retrieved from U-559 by Lieutenant Anthony Fasson, Able Seaman Colin Grazier (both were posthumously awarded the George Cross - Britain's second highest award for gallantry) and 16 year-old Tommy Brown (who survived to receive the George Medal). Without their bravery, Shark would not have been broken before four-rotor bombes came into service, if at all. The Allies (Britain, Canada and the United States) would not then have established naval supremacy in the Atlantic until the second half of 1943 at the earliest, which would have probably delayed the D-Day Normandy landings until 1945. Few acts of courage by three individuals can ever have had so far-reaching consequences. Without Ultra, the U-boats would still have been defeated in the long run, but the cost in human life in the global conflict would have been even more terrible than it was.

Dolphin was broken throughout the war
but the cipher was not used by U-boats after Oct 5, 1941.


  • Ralph Erskine, Naval Enigma: The Breaking of Heimisch and Triton,
    Intelligence and National Security
    [Frank Cass], 3(1) (1988) 162-183.

Further reading,

David Kahn, Seizing the Enigma: The Race to Break the U-Boat Codes.

In WW2, why did Germany sink allied supply convoys instead of capturing them? - History

The Third Army in World War II by Charles M. Province

The United States Third Army enjoyed an impressive history of glory and victory during it's lifetime. The Third Army was at it's best and most famous when it was commanded by the great combat general, George Smith Patton, Jr.

One of the thousands of battle hardened veterans of the Second World War who served under Patton's command said of the fighting unit, "The Third under Patton, was probably the cleanest, neatest army that ever fought a war. Patton saw to that. And I've always believed that was one of the reasons it was such a fine army. We hated the rules, but we never lost a battle."

It was under the command of General Patton that the Third Army saw it's only period of actual combat.

1918 - 1941 The Early Years

The Third Army was officially created on the 15th of November, 1918, four days after the First World War Armistice was signed in Europe. It was moved from Ligny-En-Barrios, France to Koblenz, Germany where it was officially the American's army of occupation. On the 2nd of July, the Third Army was deactivated and it's units and personnel were renamed to American Forces Germany.

The Third Army's job in Europe after World War I helped to create the design of it's shoulder patch. The patch is a white A on a round, blue background with a red circle around the A. The meaning of the patch was originally Army (white A) of Occupation (red O).

Thirteen years later, in 1932, the Army reorganized it's forces within the continental United States. There were only 48 states at that time, Hawaii and Alaska being added in the late 1950's.

This reorganization divided the United States into four sections with one army in each section. Third Army was located in the Southeast section. It's headquarters alternated between Atlanta, Georgia and Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

1941 - 1943 Lt. Gen. Walter Kreuger

From 1941 until 1943, the Third Army was commanded by Lieutenant General Walter Kreuger. General Kreuger made the Third Army the best training army in the United States. He was born in Germany and was only a child when his parents brought him to America, the land of opportunity. He had seen army life from both sides of command. He had served several years in the enlisted ranks as a doughboy before he was given an officer's commission in 1901. He had combat experience in World War I and he was known as an officer who was fair with his men even though he was tough on them.

Kreuger had in his Third Army two men who would become famous in World War II. One of these men was his Chief of Staff, a new brigadier general, named Dwight D. Eisenhower. General Eisenhower would later be elected to two terms as President of the United States. The other man was a flamboyant cavalry major general who was the leader of Kreuger's Hell On Wheels 2nd Armored Division. His name was George S. Patton, Jr.

Although Kreuger did a fine job of training troops, he really wanted a combat command. One problem in his way was his age. He was sixty-four, one year away from the mandatory age of retirement. Luckily, an old friend of his came to his aid. General Douglas MacArthur, Commander in Chief of Pacific Forces, personally requested that Kreuger be given command of the Sixth Army. In January of 1943, Kreuger reported to MacArthur and took command of his new army.

1943 - 1944 Lt. Gen. Courtney H. Hodges

Lieutenant General Courtney H. Hodges commanded the Third Army from 1943 until 1944. Like Kreuger, Hodges had been an enlisted man before he had received a commission as an officer. He had combat experience as an Infantry Battalion Commander during World War I. Hodges, like both Eisenhower and Patton, had also served under Kreuger's command at Third Army. By the year 1940, he had gained the status of Chief of Infantry when the Department of the Army decided to reorganize the entire United States army. After the reorganization, the office of Chief of Infantry had been abolished so Hodges was given command of a corps in Kreuger's Third Army. After Kreuger left for the Pacific Theater of Operations, Hodges was made commanding general of the Third Army.

Unfortunately, Hodges was not as much interested in training and maneuvers as General Kreuger was. He left much of his duties to his subordinates, especially his Chief of Staff.

Hodges did not keep a firm hand on policies or decisions. He left most of the administrative duties to his Chief of Staff. Because of this situation, the Chief of Staff actually became the commanding general of the Third Army. Because of the power of the Chief of Staff and his abrasive personality, there were some sore feelings among the rest of the general's staff. It was most probably this demonstrated lack of command ability which caused Hodges to be removed from command of the Third Army.

It was during Hodges period of command that the Third Army trained the first three Negro divisions in the United States Army the 92nd and 93rd Infantry Divisions and the 2nd Cavalry Division.

Officially, the Third Army was changed from a training army to a combat army on December 31, 1943.

1944 - 1945 Gen. George S. Patton, Jr.

On New Year's Eve 1943, the Third Army was put on alert for overseas movement. They would travel to England where they would train for participation in the coming European invasions. The members of the Third Army would make their journey aboard three ships of an English steamship line. The ships were the Ile De France, the Queen Elizabeth, and the Queen Mary. In 1967 the Queen Mary was sold to the city of Long Beach, California. It was converted into a Hotel and Floating Museum. The Queen Mary was sold for $3.45 million dollars.

When the staff of the Third Army docked at Glasgow, Scotland, they were met by their new commanding general, Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr. He explained to them, "I'm your new commander. I'm glad to meet you. I hope it's mutual. There's a lot of work to be done and there's little time to do it. There's a special train waiting on the dock to take you to our Command Post. We will leave in one hour."

The day after the staff were safely in their guarded billets, all of the men, enlisted and officers, were assembled on the large terrace in front of Peover Hall, Patton's headquarters. Peover Hall was a private residence near Knutsford, England which had been turned over to the military for the duration of the war.

Patton stood before his men, wearing a tailored, form-fitting, brass buttoned battle jacket with four rows of battle ribbons and decorations. He also wore whipcord riding breeches, and polished, high-topped cavalry boots with spurs. Around his waist he wore a wide, hand-tooled leather belt which had a large, shiny brass buckle with the metal letters U.S. embossed on it. It was the old style cavalry buckle Patton had worn as a young lieutenant. He held in his hand a long riding crop with a hidden sword in it. On his shoulders, his shirt collar, and on his helmet, were a total of fifteen large stars.

As usual, General Patton gave a short talk. He never talked too long if he could help it. He said, "I've been given command of the Third Army for reasons which will become clear later on (he was referring to Operation Overlord, the code name for the D-Day invasion on the Normandy beaches). I'm here because of the confidence of two men the President of the United States and the Theater Commander. They have confidence in me because they don't believe a lot of lies that have been printed about me and also because they know I mean business when I fight. I don't fight for fun and I won't tolerate anyone on my staff who does."

"You're here to fight. Ahead of you lies battle. That means one thing. You can't afford to be a fool, because in battle fools mean dead men. It's inevitable for men to be killed and wounded in battle. But, there's no reason why such losses should be increased because of the incompetence and carelessness of some stupid S.O.B. I don't tolerate such men on my staff."

"We're here because some crazy Germans decided they were supermen and that they had a right to rule the world. They've been pushing people around all over the world, looting, killing, and abusing millions of innocent men, women, and children. They were getting ready to do the same thing to us. We have to fight to protect ourselves."

"Another reason we're here is to defeat and wipe out the Nazis who started all of this trouble. If you don't like to fight, I don't want you around. You had better get out before I kick you out. There's one thing you have to remember. In war, it takes more than the desire to fight to win. You've got to have more than guts to lick the enemy. You also must have brains. It takes brains and guts to win wars. A man with guts but no brains is only half a soldier. We whipped the Germans in Africa and Sicily because we had brains as well as guts. We're going to lick them in Europe for that same reason."

Blitzkrieg - American Style

Third Army's battle record began on August 1st, 1944 at 1200 hours. That was when the Third Army was officially operational as a combat army.

In nine months and eight days of fighting, the Third Army compiled a great record. Not only did the Third Army astonish the world, but it's deeds, in terms of statistics, challenged the imagination. The Third Army gave a new meaning to fluid warfare. The Third had only one general order from Patton "Seek out the enemy, trap him, and destroy him."

The Germans never knew what to expect from Patton. His methods of operation were very different from British General Montgomery and the more conventional American generals. Patton's Third Army tore open the German lines of defense and trapped thousands of German soldiers. Most of them were either killed or they surrendered.

The history of the Third Army is a story of constant attack. They drove on in fair weather or foul, across favorable terrain or across mud, ice, and snow.

The soldiers in the Third Army knew the value of teamwork. Aircraft and artillery teamed with infantry and armor to a perfection that amazed not only the enemy but other Allied Armies. The XIX Tactical Air Command's bombing and air cover, coupled with the Artillery's timed, precision barrages, wrecked all enemy hopes to profit by American inexperience.

The Third Army was an army on wheels. Thousands of trucks driven by soldiers who called themselves the Red Ball Express carried tons of supplies to the army to keep it fighting and on the move. The Red Ball Express also set up special convoys that carried nothing but gasoline just to keep Patton's tanks rolling toward Germany.

One of the Third Army's greatest assets was American ingenuity. American soldiers were creating new instruments of war on the spot to overcome new problems encountered day after day.

Third Army had an excellent command structure. Each level of command had a special job and each did the best job they could. The planners who told the soldiers what to do also made every effort to help them do it.

Of course, a war cannot be won without hard fighting and personal courage. The Third Army had more than its share of courageous front-line fighting men infantry, tankers, tank destroyers, engineers, all of them were soldiers who met every new challenge with courage and endless endurance.

Not all soldiers were part of combat teams, though. Many important jobs were done by administrative soldiers. It was these soldiers who backed up the front-line soldier, making sure he had the tools he needed to fight food, weapons, ammunition, gasoline, and clothing. As General Patton once said, "No matter how small your job might seem, it's important in the vast scheme of things. Every job is important."

It was this type of teamwork which enabled each single squad to capture and hold a piece of ground taken from the enemy.

In terms of speed of advance, in amount of ground liberated or captured, and in terms of losses inflicted upon a powerful enemy there was never before anything like the Third Army's lightning quick sweep across France.

After Lieutenant General Courtney H. Hodges' First Army punched a hole in the German defenses at a French town called St. Lo, the Third Army began roaring through the hole with their Sherman tanks. They began an attacking advance that moved in every direction on the compass north, south, east, and west, all at the same time. There was no stopping them once they got started.

They went east toward Le Mans, south and southwest through Laval, west toward Brest, and north toward St. Malo.

Third Army was not a defensive army. General Patton didn't believe in defensive tactics, he believed in attacking. He often told his soldiers, "When in doubt, attack." They knew that to defeat the Germans, they had to be on the offensive at all times. Like a boxer, they understood that once you got your opponent on the ropes, you had to keep at him until he went down. You couldn't let up and give him a chance to rest.

The soldiers of the Third Army took the fight to the enemy. They swept over the Brittany Peninsula before the enemy knew what was happening. Two tank columns of the Sixth Armored Division, commanded by Major General R.W. Grow, forced the Germans to withdraw into the fortified ports of St. Malo, Lorient, St. Nazaire, and Brest.

Threatened with a severed supply line where it narrowed to a ten mile wide strip at Avranches, the soldiers of the Third Army delivered those needed supplies despite nightly air attacks. At the same time they repulsed a vicious German counter-attack at Mortain.

Facing complete encirclement, the Germans quickly withdrew to the east. Although the Third Army had almost surrounded the German Seventh Army, they were not allowed to close a gap that existed between the towns of Argentan and Falaise. They were told to wait and let General Bernard L. Montgomery close the gap with his British Second Army.

Montgomery moved too slowly. He failed to close the gap until almost a week later. Because of this the Germans were able to continue their retreat from this pocket and they managed to save a large portion of their armor. They did, however, suffer a great loss of men and materials.

This Argentan-Falaise Pocket later became a very controversial issue. Many people claimed that the Third Army could have closed the gap themselves and they could have destroyed the complete German Seventh Army. If this had happened, the war might have been won much sooner than it was.

The Germans desperately raced toward the Seine River while being chased by the Third Army's spearhead units. Fearing a second encirclement west of the Seine River, the Germans fought to save their dwindling escape routes. All during their escape, they were hit with a never ending barrage of air and artillery bombardment which took a fearful toll of their lives and material.

With their fast moving armored columns racing toward Paris and to the northeast of the French capital, the Third Army had to give up control of the XV Corps commanded by Lieutenant General Wade H. Haislip. Along with the Corps, the Third Army relinquished the Corps area to command of First Army. Always on the move, the Third Army continued to advance to the south, southeast, and southwest of Paris while continuing to fight.

The enemy was under continuous attack by both the Third Army's infantry and tank forces and Brigadier General O.P. Weyland's XIX Tactical Air Command's fighter-bombers. At this point, the enemy lost all hope of regaining the initiative.

The speed of the Third Army's advance forced the Germans to break into a hap-hazard, hasty retreat. The Third Army gave the Germans no time to occupy any natural defense lines or strong-points. It just kept punching it's way toward victory.

The German's retreat continued until only the Moselle River and the German built Siegfried Line lay between the Third Army and German soil. As the month of August drew near to a close, there was much evidence that the Third would have to actually slow down it's advance so that the other Allied armies could catch up with them.

Amazingly, despite shattered communications and huge losses, the Germans had not collapsed. They remained to be good soldiers and hard fighting professionals.

In September 1944, General Eisenhower decided to let British General Montgomery put together a massive attack called Operation Market Garden. Because of this, a large part of all available supplies were diverted to the British Second Army. This included supplies that should have gone to the Third Army.

Eisenhower's decision created a shortage of gasoline and other necessary supplies that were badly needed by the Third Army to keep up its fast-paced advance. Without these supplies the Third Army was forced to slow down and finally to halt its rapid advance.

This was another decision made by Eisenhower and his officers at SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) that would become very controversial later. Many people thought, and still think, that if the Third Army had not been stopped when it was, it might have been able to bring the war to a close by the end of 1944, instead of the middle of 1945.

One thing was for certain General Montgomery's plan was a failure. It not only failed to encircle and trap the Germans, it also failed in that it lost and wasted thousands of tons of supplies that could have been used by other armies (especially the Third Army) to continue their successful attacks. Because none of the plans were accomplished, it was also a waste of many soldier's lives. Lastly, it caused unnecessary destruction in the Netherlands. After it was all over, Prince Bernard of the Netherlands said, "My country can never again afford the luxury of another Montgomery success."

Since the Germans opposing General Patton's soldiers were not stupid, they were took full advantage of the opportunity given to them by Eisenhower's orders to stop the Third Army.

Without the Third Army chasing them, destroying their equipment, and killing them, German soldiers now had enough time to reinforce their battle lines with hastily reorganized units. The reorganization included non-battle tested, untrained troops who had never before performed non-combatant duties.

The Germans dug in and entrenched themselves in a frantic effort to stabilize their front lines. One counter attack followed another as the Germans sought to gain valuable time to strengthen the favorable terrain with fortifications. Even with all of their efforts, however, they failed to stop the Third Army from forcing the line of the Moselle River.

Helped by the greatest possible use of artillery, Third Army units pushed across the Meurthe River and then established important bridgeheads across the Moselle River. Progress was slow and costly because of the shortage of supplies, but at least it was positive. Even though the Third Army wasn't gaining ground at the speed it had been just weeks before, at least they weren't losing ground. Some terrible and vicious battles were fought along the Moselle River as the Third Army battled to break through the outer defenses of the city of Metz.

Even though German losses in personnel and materiel were high they did manage to firm up their front lines after the Third Army was ordered to hold it's positions. During this period there was not only a shortage of gasoline, but also a shortage of ammunition.

As usual, the Third Army refused to waste their time by doing nothing. As General Patton often told them, "There's always something you can do. There's never any excuse for being lazy." Bridgeheads over the Moselle River were improved so that when they got their badly needed supplies they would be ready to immediately start their offensive again.

Although the Third Army was expected to do nothing but patrol their lines during Operation Market-Garden, they always patrolled aggressively. This was one of General Patton's terms for a lot of small attacks. This aggressive patrolling kept the soldiers sharp and kept the Third Army moving forward.

Third Army continued to build up supplies, ammunition, and much needed winter clothing. This forced rest period and buildup continued through October and the first week of November.

Finally, on November 8th, the waiting was over. The Third Army once again had been given a green light from Eisenhower. That is just what Patton and his soldiers had been waiting for. The soldiers of the Third Army knew that, as Patton had told them, "The road home is through Berlin." After their long delay, they started their first big fight by attacking the German city of Metz.

Patton had gone through the ordeal of a trench war in World War One. He knew how bad the effects of a stalemate could be. It was exactly that type of trench warfare he wanted to avoid with his rapid, motorized war of continual advance. "Never let the enemy rest," he told his men, "once you have them on the run, keep them on the run."

Major General Walton H. Walker, commander of the XX Corps, and Major General Manton S. Eddy, commander of the XII Corps, managed to establish bridgeheads across the Saar River because of bold attacks. Both of these generals knew how important it is to surprise the enemy so they started battles during weather so bad the Germans didn't think it was possible to attack.

As usual, because of their boldness, the Third Army achieved a tactical surprise. They were becoming famous for being able to do the impossible.

During these attacks, heavy rains left the terrain muddy and the rivers at a record flood level. These conditions called for more than average performance by the bridge building engineers.

The wet and cold weather caused a trenchfoot epidemic among Third Army troops, but a program of individual foot care was ordered personally by General Patton. This lowered the casualty rate and broke the epidemic.

The severe weather helped the Germans to prevent a complete breakthrough, but they still had to withdraw into Germany and take defensive positions behind the Siegfried Line. In spite of fanatic German resistance, Metz was captured for the first time since 451 A.D. The Third Army entered the city on November 18th after it was completely encircled.

The Battle of the Bulge

After capturing Metz, General Patton ordered a powerful drive into the Siegfried Line, which he called, "A monument to the stupidity of mankind." Using this attack, he planned on fighting its way into the coal mining region of Germany. The Third Army was forced to give up this attack because of a problem that developed in the First Army's area to the north.

German General Von Rundstedt started an attack against the First Army's VII and VIII Corps on the 16th of December. Von Rundstedt's forces hit quickly and gained the element of surprise. Because of this, his soldiers were making excellent progress.

Eisenhower and his staff at SHAEF began to worry that they had underestimated the ability of the Germans. They feared that the Germans might be able to use this massive offensive to go to the north and west to capture the cities of Liege and Antwerp.

Liege was extremely important because the Allies had large supply dumps there. If the Germans managed to seize those supplies, they could possibly push the Allies back to the coastline, causing them to lose all the ground they had gained.

Antwerp was important because it was a port city. If captured, the Germans could use it to bring in badly needed supplies.

At a special meeting of all the highest ranking generals in the American, British, and Canadian armies, it was decided that the toughest job would go to General Patton and his Third Army. They would have to relieve the soldiers who had been surrounded by the Germans at the Belgian city of Bastogne.

After the meeting, Eisenhower, who had just been promoted to the five-star rank of General of the Army, was talking with General Patton. He remarked, "George, every time I get promoted I get attacked." Patton shot back with the comment, "And every time you get attacked, I pull you out!"

The 101st Airborne Division, commanded by Major General Maxwell D. Taylor, was holding out and fighting off the fierce attempts by the Germans to overrun Bastogne.

The Third Army had to stop a full scale attack they had started to the east, pull back the entire army, swing around ninety degrees to the north, and then begin another full scale attack on the southern flank of the German forces. Nothing like that had ever been done in the history of warfare. Everyone thought it was impossible except General Patton. He knew his men could do the impossible.

It only took three days for the Third army to perform that massive maneuver. Today, military historians readily admit that only Patton's Third Army could have accomplished a maneuver like that and make it look easy. Patton always demanded more from his soldiers than other commanders did and they never let him down.

One of the reasons the Third Army performed so well is because they expected the German attack. While Eisenhower and his friends were playing cards in London and the First Army turned part of their area into a R & R (Rest and Recuperation) area, Patton's intelligence officers were hard at work.

The events leading up to the Battle of the Bulge have, like the Falaise Gap and Operation Market-Garden, become controversial issues. Many people believe that Eisenhower's staff at SHAEF made poor decisions when they ignored Third Army reports about a possible German offensive in the Ardennes.

Colonel Oscar Koch, head of Third Army's G-2 Intelligence department, had sent intelligence reports warning SHAEF that the Germans were probably planning a major attack against the First Army's R&R area. His report was ignored. They refused to believe the Germans could collect the mass of weapons, men, and material to launch a large attack. It was a classic case of under-estimating the enemy. At Colonel Koch's suggestion, General Patton gave the order for his staff to design two separate plans in the event of a German attack. General Patton believed Colonel Koch and considered him to be the best G-2 in the European Theater of Operations.

When Patton attended the meeting with the other Allied commanders he told them he could attack in two days with at least two divisions. Everyone thought he was crazy, but he told them that he had already set plans in motion before he left his headquarters. All he had to was place a phone call. When it was finally decided that he should attack as soon as possible, he phoned his headquarters and said, "Nickel." The attack was on.

The General never returned to his headquarters. Instead, he and his driver, Sergeant Mims, began traveling along the roads where he knew he would meet his soldiers heading north. He gave orders on the spot and told everyone he met to head north and kill Germans. Sergeant Mims once said to Patton, "General, the army is wasting a lot of money on your staff officers. You and I can run the whole war from your jeep."

While watching his men heading toward the Germans surrounding Bastogne, he said, "No other army in the world could do this. No other soldiers could do what these men are doing. By God, I'm proud of them."

On the 26th of December a 4th Armored Division Task Force, commanded by Major General H.J. Gaffey, made contact with the soldiers at Bastogne.

By this time, urgently needed snow camouflage for both troops and vehicles was being quickly supplied. Because of the problem of tanks slipping on the icy terrain, supply troops had installed special cleats on the treads of the tanks, much like the cleats on athlete's shoes.

The Germans threw everything they had into the attack against Bastogne. It was their last chance against the Allies. They made every attempt to smash and close the corridor the 4th Armored Division had opened to Bastogne. When failure was certain they began to withdraw their armor behind the Siegfried line for the second and final time. Badly hurt by the beating they had taken, the Germans used what was left of their infantry to screen their movements.

Although they were handicapped by bitterly cold weather, ice, and snow, the Third Army continued it's pressure on the south flank of the enemy penetration. By the end of December, the enemy had succeeded in saving what armor had not been destroyed. The bulge slowly became a wedge and the wedge finally disappeared. Finally, another bulge appeared except this time it was on the German side of the front lines.

Officially, on the 28th of January, the Battle of the Bulge was over and Von Rundstedt's Ardennes Offensive (as the Germans called it) had lost all of the ground that it had originally won. The enemy was now completely pushed back into German territory.

The soldiers of the First Army had fought gallantly and bravely throughout the entire Battle of the Bulge. Although they were to be commended for their courage and fighting ability, the truth is that they would have lost the battle without the help of the Third Army.

It was General Patton's Third Army that performed the most crucial role in stopping the Germans. Without their quick and decisive maneuver and attack, the Battle of the Bulge would have been a massive disaster for the Allies.

What cannot be understood was General Eisenhower's attitude toward General Patton and the Third Army. General Bradley, 12th Army Group Commander, and General Hodges, First Army commander, received Distinguished Service Medals for their poor leadership. It was also partly due to their lack of discipline among their soldiers that the Germans were able to get so far in their attack. Yet, General Patton, whose Third Army was mostly responsible for saving they day, was never even thanked by Eisenhower.

Patton, however, didn't have time to worry about such small things. He was getting ready for another drive into Germany. After The Bulge became history, the Third Army began a powerful advance to the Kyll River. It was during this advance that the Third Army captured the German city of Trier.

The Beginning Of The End

There's a funny story about the capture of Trier that shows the differences between General Patton and General Bradley and their ability to judge a military situation. After the battle was already won and the Third Army had taken the city, General Patton received a message from General Bradley. The message said, "Bypass Trier. It would take too many divisions to capture it." Patton's humorous reply to Bradley was, "Have already taken city, do you want me to give it back?"

By this time, Germany's manpower problem was becoming very evident to the Allies. All units of the Third Army was meeting great numbers of rear echelon German troops. Among these were many Volkssturm (German militia) troops.

After their defeat at Bastogne, the Germans were now totally incapable of stopping the Third Army in it's sweep across the Rhine River. Parts of eleven German divisions were trapped between the Third Army in the south and the First Army in the north. They were being chopped to pieces with only a very few of them managing to escape. The enemy was all but whipped and they knew it. They were becoming more demoralized as each day passed.

By driving quickly to the Rhine River, the Third Army exposed the enemy's right flank. This created the opportunity for Patton's men to reopen a devastating war of movement for the first time since the fighting they had done in France. This was Patton's favorite kind of war. He liked to hit hard and fast. He never stopped to regroup his forces the way General Montgomery did with his British 2nd Army.

After crossing the Moselle River south of Koblenz, Third Army's 4th Armored Division ripped across the enemy's rear. They were followed closely by XII Corps Infantry units who did the mopping up. Shortly afterwards, XX Corps armored units plunged through the Siegfried Line and they, too, raced toward the Rhine River. When the XX Corps linked up with the XII Corps units, they had trapped the remaining Germans in the Hunsruck Mountains.

While the Third Army was busy cleaning out the Hunsruck Mountains, the American Seventh Army, commanded by Lieutenant General Alexander Patch, attacked to their north through the Siegfried Line. There was no safe place for the Germans and there was no place for them to hide.

By now, the Germans were panic-stricken. They tried, but failed, to hold a line of defense against the Third Army's unstoppable armor west of Mainz and Mannheim.

Third Army's 4th Armored Division penetrated deeply into Germany territory and into the Seventh Army's zone of operations. Major General W.H.H. Morris' 10th Armored Division and Major General R.R. Allen's 12th Armored Division pushed the enemy eastward toward the Rhine.

The German withdrawal was completely disorganized and confused. It was quickly becoming a complete rout. The enemy was making a mad dash for the city of Speyer. It was the only city they could get to that still had an open crossing to the Rhine River.

During this period, the enemy lost the greater part of two entire armies. They were chopped to pieces by the powerful armor rushing on him from three different directions.

From the air, the XIX Tactical Air Command, commanded by General O.P. (Opie) Weyland, attacked the Germans relentlessly with their P-47 and P-51 fighter-bombers. On the ground, they were pursued closely by Third Army infantry. In addition to losing a large part of two armies, more than 81,000 German soldiers were captured as prisoners of war during this campaign.

To the north, at Remagen, General Montgomery was planning a major assault. Montgomery never believed in attacking unless he had such overwhelming odds in his favor that he was assured of victory simply by the weight of his attack. His massive preparations for crossing the Rhine River included landing craft, air support, artillery, and large numbers of troops. All of the materials, supplies, and manpower he planned on using was almost equal to that used by the Allies during their landings in Normandy on D-Day.

Montgomery's crossing of the Rhine was supposed to be a spectacular invasion of Germany. It was meant to be an earth-shaking event that would be broadcast throughout England over the BBC radio network. Monty had even invited the Prime Minister of England, Winston S. Churchill, to be present at the crossing.

Meanwhile, very quietly, and without any great fanfare or massive preparations, Patton's Third Army was already crossing the Rhine and driving toward the heart of Nazi Germany.

Patton's men were just following his basic order to, "Kill the enemy before they kill you." The soldiers of the Third Army gave the Germans no chance to recover from the beating they were taking.

Third Army quickly moved two bridgeheads over the Rhine River within five days. Patton had often warned his men that, "Many battles have been lost because of an army stopping on the wrong side of a river."

The 5th Infantry Division, under Major General S. Leroy Irwin, made a perfectly executed assault crossing of the Rhine early on the morning of March 23rd. They had received no artillery or air support and the Germans offered little or no resistance at all.

Third Army's VIII Corps made a second assault crossing of the Rhine south of Koblenz on the 26th of March. The Third Army's bridgeheads were expanded rapidly. The enemy's high losses and his concern over First Army's bridgehead at Remagen left him with totally inadequate forces to contain the Third Army. Advancing to the Main River, the Third Army seized bridgeheads over that river in the vicinity of Hanau and Aschaffenburg on the 25th of March. The enemy's attempt to contain the Main River bridgeheads ended in utter failure. The Third Army broke through and by March 28th, the 4th Armored Division had swiftly driven thirty miles northward to join forces with the First Army. Their movement had again trapped thousands of German troops in the Wiesbaden and Bingen area.

When General Patton was ready to cross the Rhine, he did it on foot. He got out of his jeep and walked across the river on a pontoon bridge built by his Third Army Engineers. When he reached the half-way point he stopped and urinated into the German river. He then continued his walk to the other side of the bridge and got back into his jeep. Patton always enjoyed being dramatic.

Advancing as quickly as their tracks could carry them, the Third Army again gave the enemy no time to build defense lines. Armor and troops drove swiftly down both sides of the Werra River, across the Fulda River, and twenty miles beyond, ruining any hope the enemy had of making a strong stand.

They met strong enemy resistance only at the town of Kassel. By the 10th of April, the Third Army was pushing toward the Mulde River in a five day drive that gained them eighty miles. This campaign ended on the 21st of March. While the Third Army was getting ready to advance east of the Mulde River, they once again were ordered by Eisenhower to halt

After four days of preparation and regrouping (which Patton called the curse of warfare) the Third Army was given a new mission. On the 22nd of March they were to advance to the southeast into Bavaria to attack what SHAEF called the National Redoubt area. Patton protested this order claiming that the National Redoubt existed only in General Eisenhower's imagination. As it turned out, Patton was right again.

Patton had wanted to turn his Third Army north and head for Berlin before the Russians got there. Eisenhower, however, failed to understand the importance of the German Capital and he refused permission.

It was later discovered that Eisenhower had sent unauthorized messages to some Russian generals. He had taken upon himself the authority to make strategic decisions which were not his to make.

By now, enemy resistance appeared to be on the point of total collapse. Final victory was in the air. On the 4th of May, the 11th German Panzer Division surrendered unconditionally to the Third Army.

It became very clear that the Germans had no desire at all to defend the so-called Redoubt area. Germans were surrendering in ever increasing numbers.

Third Army's final campaign across the Danube River, into Czechoslovakia and Austria, was halted with the official end of the war in Europe at 0001 hours (one minute after midnight) on May 9th, 1945.

The Germans had officially surrendered all of Germany on May 8th, 1945, a date which would become known as V.E. Day or Victory In Europe Day.

1944 - 1945 Facts and Figures

Reduced to cold, statistical figures, the feats of the Third Army were astonishing. The Army liberated or captured 81,522 square miles of territory. An estimated 12,000 cities, towns, and communities were liberated or captured, including 27 cities of more than 50,000 in population.

Third Army captured 765,483 prisoners of war. 515,205 of the enemy surrendered during the last week of the war to make a total of 1,280,688 POW's processed.

The enemy lost an estimated 1,280,688 captured, 144,500 killed, and 386,200 wounded, adding up to 1,811,388. By comparison, the Third Army suffered 16,596 killed, 96,241 wounded, and 26,809 missing in action for a total of 139,646 casualties. Third Army's losses were only 12.97 percent of the German losses. That is only about 13 American soldiers for every 100 German soldiers.

Third Army aircraft and artillery dropped or dispersed by shell 31,552,700 psychological warfare leaflets to enemy troops.

XIX Tactical Air Command completed 1,767 tactical reconnaissance missions and 77 photo reconnaissance missions which resulted in 3,205,670 aerial photographic prints being distributed.

XIX Tactical Air Command flew 7,326 missions and 74,447 sorties during the 281 days of fighting.

Third Army's air support dropped 17,486 tons of bombs, 3,205 napalm tanks, and launched 4,599 rockets.

The Air Command destroyed 1,640 enemy planes and only lost 582 of it's own from all causes.

Targets destroyed or damaged by the XIX Tactical Air Command included:

Tanks and armored cars 3,833

Military installations 1,730

Highway and railroad bridges 285

Miscellaneous naval vessels 654

Miscellaneous targets 3,010

Third Army artillery fired 5,870,843 rounds of ammunition during the fighting.

Tank destroyers with the Third Army knocked out 648 enemy tanks and 211 self propelled guns. At the Maginot Line and the Siegfried Line, they eliminated 801 pillboxes. They fired a total of 101,178 rounds of ammunition on direct fire missions and 231,998 rounds on indirect fire missions.

Within the Army area, 2,186,792 tons of supplies were transported a total of 141,081,336 miles by trucks in the transportation pool. A total of 2,092 miles of railway track was reconstructed and placed into operation.

The Army repaired 99,114 general purpose vehicles, 21,761 combat vehicles, 11,613 artillery pieces, 125,083 small arms, and 32,740 instruments.

Third Army Engineers constructed 2,498 bridges with a total footage of 255,520 feet, almost 48 and one half miles of bridging. They built or maintained an average of 2,240 miles of road.

Third Army's nine chemical mortar companies expended 349,097 rounds of 4.2 inch mortars, including 189,095 rounds of high explosive and 160,002 rounds of white phosphorous. Chemical warfare supplies included 32,454 gallons of flame thrower fuel and 335,944 grenades.

Third Army Signal Corps personnel laid 3,747 miles of telephone wire. The Third Army message center handled a total of 7,220,261 code groups and switchboard operators handled an average of 13,968 telephone calls daily.

Military personnel in the Third Army were paid a total of $240,539,569 from the 1st of August, 1944 until the 30th of April, 1945.

The forward echelon of the Third Army (code named Lucky Forward by General Patton) traveled 1,225 miles while making 19 complete moves during combat.

The decorations awarded to soldiers of the Third Army were:

Distinguished Service Medal 44

Distinguished Service Cross 291

Normal promotions numbered 6,464 battlefield promotions totaled 1,817 and combat appointments totaled 848.

The correspondents of the Third Army and soldier correspondents wrote 30,326 stories totaling 7,010,963 words. They submitted 7,129 photographs about the Third Army's combat fighting.

A total of 11,230,000 soldiers attended motion picture shows at the Third Army. The USO shows played to 650,000 soldiers, and the soldier talent shows played to a total of 625,000 soldiers.

General Patton was right when he said, "It sure takes a lot to kill a German."

In this way, the Third Army played it's proud part in helping to crush the Nazi war machine. When men talk of the Second World War the name of the Third U.S. Army and of it's commander will awaken a special thrill of courage and adventure.

Perhaps more than any other group of soldiers in the European Theater, the soldiers of the Third Army deserved the praise of the Supreme Allied Commander Eisenhower when he said, "Working and fighting together in a single indestructible partnership you have achieved perfection in unification of air, ground, and naval power that will stand as a model in our time."

General Patton's Prayer

On December 17th, 1944 General Patton gave the order to swing the Third Army from an eastward attack to a northward attack. At the time his order was issued, a blizzard was raging in the Ardennes. Because of the added difficulty faced by this bad weather, Patton called for his Chaplain, Colonel James H. O'Neill. When O'Neill arrived, he was ordered by the General to write a prayer asking for good weather to fight the Germans. O'Neill was concerned about this, saying, "Sir, surely you don't want me to ask for divine assistance in killing people." General Patton replied, "I want a prayer for good weather and I want it now." The Chaplain left the General's office and wrote the prayer.

General Patton had both the prayer and a special Christmas greeting printed on thousands of wallet-sized card that were given to every soldier in the Third Army. Patton believed the prayer must have worked because on the 20th of December the sky cleared and the XIX Tactical Air Command's planes began flying and raising havoc with the Germans. Third Army's soldiers could now get on with their job of winning the war.

To show his appreciation, General Patton awarded the Bronze Star Medal to Chaplain O'Neill. The full text of the Prayer and General Patton's Christmas Message is as follows:


To each officer and soldier in the Third United States Army, I wish a Merry Christmas. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. We march in our might to complete victory. May God's blessing rest upon each of you on this Christmas Day.

Lieutenant General, Commanding,

ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech of Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies, and establish Thy justice among men and nations. Amen.

In September of 1945, General Patton turned over command of the Third Army to an old friend of his, Lieutenant General Lucien K. Truscott.

After the Third Army's return to the continental United States, it resumed it's pre-war role of training army.

Eventually, the Third Army was phased out of existence. In 1947, the Third Army returned to the United States and occupied the military installation which is today Fort McPherson, located in Georgia. In 1973 the Third Army was inactivated, the official date being 1 October, 1973.

General Patton's Final General Orders HEADQUARTERS THIRD UNITED STATES ARMY APO 403



During the 281 days of incessant and victorious combat, your penetrations have advanced farther in less time than any other army in history. You have fought your way across 24 major rivers and innumerable lesser streams. You have liberated or conquered more than 82,000 square miles of territory, including 1,500 cities and towns, and some 12,000 inhabited places. Prior to the termination of active hostilities, you had captured in battle 956,000 enemy soldiers and killed or wounded at least 500,000 others France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia bear witness to your exploits.

All men and women of the six corps and thirty-nine divisions that have at different times been members of this Army have done their duty. Each deserves credit. The enduring valor of the combat troops has been paralleled and made possible by the often unpublicized activities of the supply, administrative, and medical services of this Army and of the Communications Zone troops supporting it. Nor should we forget our comrades of the other armies and of the Air Force, particularly of the XIX Tactical Air Command, by whose side or under whose wings we have had the honor to fight.

In proudly contemplating our achievements, let us never forget our heroic dead whose graves mark the course of our victorious advances, nor our wounded whose sacrifices aided so much in our success.

I should be both ungrateful and wanting in candor if I failed to acknowledge the debt we owe to our Chiefs of Staff, Generals Gaffey and Gay, and to the officers and men of the General and Special Staff Sections of Army Headquarters. Without their loyalty, intelligence, and unremitting labors, success would have been impossible.

The termination of fighting in Europe does not remove the opportunities for other outstanding and equally difficult achievements in the days which are to come. In some ways the immediate future will demand of you more fortitude than has the past because, without the inspiration of combat, you must maintain - by your dress, deportment, and efficiency - not only the prestige of the Third Army but also the honor of the United States. I have complete confidence that you will not fail.

During the course of this war I have received promotions and decorations far above and beyond my individual merit. You won them I as your representative wear them. The one honor which is mine and mine alone is that of having commanded such an incomparable group of Americans, the record of whose fortitude, audacity, and valor will endure as long as history lasts.

General Patton's Leadership Secrets

"A good solution applied with vigor now is better than a perfect solution applied ten minutes later."

"Do everything you ask of those you command."

"Do more than is required of you."

"Do not make excuses, whether it's your fault or not."

"Do not take counsel of your fears."

"Give credit where it's due."

"It's the unconquerable soul of man, and not the nature of the weapon he uses, that insures victory."

"Lack of orders is no excuse for inaction."

"Make your plans to fit the circumstances."

"Moral courage is the most valuable and usually the most absent characteristic in men."

"Say what you mean and mean what you say."

"The duties of an officer are the safety, honor, and welfare of your country first the honor, welfare, and comfort of the men in your command second and the officer's own ease, comfort, and safety last."

"There is only one tactical principle which is not subject to change it is, 'To use the means at hand to inflict the maximum amount of wounds, death, and destruction on the enemy in the minimum amount of time.' "

"There is only one type of discipline, perfect discipline."

"There's a great deal of talk about loyalty from the bottom to the top. Loyalty from the top down is even more necessary and is much less prevalent. One of the most frequently noted characteristics of great men who have remained great is loyalty to their subordinates."

"You're never beaten until you admit it."

Third Army Commanders

7 Nov 1918 - 19 Apr 1919 MG Joseph T. Dickman

20 Apr 1919 - 2 Jul 1919 LTG Hunter Liggett

15 Sep 1932 - 30 Sep 1933 MG Edwin B. Winans

4 Oct 1933 - 27 Feb 1936 MG Johnson Hagood

4 Apr 1936 - 30 Sep 1936 MG Frank Parker

1 Oct 1936 - 30 Sep 1938 MG George Van Horn Moseley

1 Oct 1938 - 30 Sep 1940 MG Stanley D. Emdick

1 Oct 1940 - 15 May 1941 LTG Herbert J. Brees

16 May 1941 - 2 Feb 1943 LTG Walter Kreuger

16 Feb 1943 - 25 Jan 1944 LTG Courtney H. Hodges

26 Jan 1944 - 7 Oct 1945 GEN George S. Patton, Jr.

8 Oct 1945 - 15 Apr 1946 LTG Lucien K. Truscott, Jr.

16 Apr 1946 - 9 Jan 1947 LTG Geoffrey Keyes

10 Jan 1947 - 14 Mar 1947 MG Ernest N. Harmon

15 Mar 1947 - 14 Apr 1947 LTG Oscar W. Griswold

15 Apr 1947 - 18 Jun 1947 LTG Edward H. Brooks*

19 Jun 1947 - 31 Aug 1950 LTG Alvan C. Gillem, Jr.

1 Sep 1950 - 7 May 1952 LTG John R. Hodge

8 May 1952 - 21 Aug 1952 MG William A. Beiderlinden*

22 Aug 1952 - 31 Jul 1955 LTG Alexander R. Bolling

1 Aug 1955 - 30 Apr 1958 LTG Thomas F. Hickey

1 May 1958 - 17 Feb 1960 LTG Clark L. Ruffner

18 Feb 1960 - 4 Mar 1960 LTG Robert F. Sink*

5 Mar 1960 - 30 Sep 1960 LTG Herbert B. Powell

1 Oct 1960 - 16 Oct 1960 LTG Thomas J. H. Trapnell*

17 Oct 1960 - 2 Oct 1961 LTG Paul D. Adams

3 Oct 1961 - 30 Nov 1962 LTG Thomas J. H. Trapnell

1 Dec 1962 - 1 Feb 1963 LTG Hamilton H. Howze*

2 Feb 1963 - 15 Jul 1964 LTG Albert Watson, II

16 Jul 1964 - 31 Jul 1964 LTG John W. Bowen*

1 Aug 1964 - 23 Jun 1965 LTG Charles W. G. Rich

24 Jun 1965 - 14 Jul 1965 MG William C. Bullock*

15 Jul 1965 - 31 Jul 1967 LTG Louis W. Truman

1 Aug 1967 - 31 Jul 1969 LTG John L. Throckmorton

1 Aug 1969 - 19 Jun 1972 LTG Albert O. Connor

20 Jun 1972 - 14 Jun 1973 LTG Melvin Zais

15 Jun 1973 - 30 Jun 1973 LTG John H. Hay*

1 Jul 1973 - 1 Oct 1973 MG Warren K. Bennet

Source Material Third Army After-Action Report, United States Army, 1945 Lucky Forward, Robert S. Allen Patton And His Third Army, Brenton G. Wallace Patton's Third Army, Charles M. Province Patton's Third Army At War, George Forty Life Magazine, July 7, 1941

1 Little Bighorn (US-Indian Wars)

Custer&rsquos Last Stand &ndash or, rather, the recklessness that necessitated such a futile finale &ndash earns its namesake first place on this list of battlefield buffoonery.

Notably, 13 years earlier Custer was at Gettysburg where, a month after becoming the Union Army&rsquos youngest general, he helped turn back Confederate cavalry in an engagement overshadowed by Pickett&rsquos Charge. Still, evidenced by his graduating dead last in his West Point class, Custer was more bravado than brains. And on June 25, 1876, his brainless bravery would get him and his entourage &ndash 267 other US soldiers &ndash senselessly killed.

So complete was the disaster that details of the battle are unverifiable, because no soldier survived to report on it. What is known is that, after dividing his initial force of 600 into several groups, Custer mounted a full-scale frontal attack on more than 2,000 battle-ready Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne warriors.

Custer charged the center of an enemy at least EIGHT TIMES his strength with no escape route. Like a guppy swimming into a shark&rsquos mouth, the Indian flanks collapsed around Custer, and the US soldiers were simply swallowed and slaughtered.

Worse, Custer did this even after noticing what he admitted was a surprisingly large Indian encampment nearby. In fact, this hastened his attack, under the ludicrous logic that, despite being severely outmanned, he had to strike before the town disbanded and escaped in smaller groups. It was the height of military hubris and a disgraceful dereliction of duty.


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