The GI Offensive in Europe: The Triumph of American Infantry Divisions, 1941-1945

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Peter R. Mansoor. The GI Offensive in Europe: The Triumph of American Infantry Divisions, 1941-1945. The University Press of Kansas, 1999. [See this item on the University Press of Kansas website here.]


Mansoor states as purpose for his study to examine the evolution of combat effectiveness in the American infantry divisions that fought against Germany and Italy during World War II. But an underlying goal is to refute recent arguments that suggest that the Allies won the war “through the sheer weight of materiel they threw at the Wehrmacht in a relatively unskilled manner.” He focuses on the “standard American infantry divisions that formed the bulk of the Western Allied forces by the end of the war.”  Mansoor concludes that sheer numbers could not have alone been responsible for the Allied victory rather, the relative quality of forces fielded by the Allied and Axis powers was crucial to the ultimate outcome. He further concludes that Allied combat effectiveness increased over time while Germany’s declined, a victim of huge casualties and shortages of key resources. Mansoor examines a number of variables impacting combat effectiveness which he breaks into three groups: human, organizational, and technical.

An interesting conclusion is that endurance plays a key role in combat effectiveness which Monsoor defines as the ability of a military force to sustain itself over time. The element of time is an important, albeit often overlooked element of combat effectiveness, he argues, and “political as well as their military advisors tread a fine line between committing forces to combat to achieve the desired ends of policy and allowing those forces the time to develop into effective organizations before doing so.” Late and hasty mobilization plagued the American Army but it adapted, gained experience, and overcame those challenges sufficiently enough by the summer of 1944 to reach a level of effectiveness that enabled defeat of Germany and Japan.

Monsoor structures his work loosely chronologically. He begins with the mobilization of the Army followed by a chapter on pre-combat training. He then dives into the primary campaigns and battles of the war: North Africa and Sicily, the Italian Campaign of 1943-1944, Normandy, the Siegfried Line, the Battle of the Bulge, etc. His final chapter summarizes the path of the American Army toward combat effectiveness.

Peter Mansoor (see full bio here) is a warrior and a scholar. He graduated first in his class from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1982, and received master’s and doctoral degrees in military history from The Ohio State University in 1992 and 1995. He also holds a master’s in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College. He is currently holder of the Mason Chair in Military History at The Ohio State University. At the time of the book’s publication in 2003, he was poised to assume command of the Army’s 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division in Freiburg, Germany. His units went on to receive acclaim in the Iraq War. His star has continued to rise as a person of influence of policy and strategy within America’s war machine.

Mansoor’s book won the Society for Military History Book Award and the Army Historical Foundation Distinguished Book Award. It should be of interest to the serious military historian and both civilian and military leadership.

This work has several features worth special mention including a large number of campaign maps and illustrations, a glossary, and impressive notes section, index, and bibliography. The introduction is a masterful essay that serves as an excellent foundation for the rest of the work but easily stands alone. Mansoor’s conclusions appear fact-based and pull no punches. He is honest about the military’s early mistakes but ability to learn and adapt. This work is an excellent addition to military history.

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Manet and the American Civil War – 2 The Artist

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Continuing from post 1 here, in this post I explore the life of Edouard Manet, the artist. Born in 1832 to upper-middle class parents, Manet’s father was a magistrate who had hopes that his oldest son would follow him in his profession. But young Edouard had no interest in law and though attracted to art, decided to go to sea. But he couldn’t pass the French Navy’s entrance exam. Authors Wilson-Bareau and Degener provide a fascinating glimpse into the system by which young men could qualify for careers in the French Navy in their book Manet and the American Civil War which provides the reference for this series. A sixteen year old Manet would spend several months aboard the vessel, Le Havre et Guadeloupe on a trip for the sons of the wealthy who had failed the exam and could qualify to retake it if they sailed across the equator. The ship was staffed with teachers tasked with drilling the boys in the topics required for the naval exam. Manet failed the test again regardless but was exposed to the sea to a greater extent than most Frenchmen. (Wilson-Bareau and Degener, 12-13)

Manet had another tie to the military. His interest in drawing and art was sparked by an uncle who was “attached to the [Army] artillery school who spent a lot of his time sketching…” (Wilson-Bareau and Degener, 13-14)

“The schoolboy soon fell under the spell of blended lines and blurred cross-hatching. [Note: For a great glimpse of crosshatching, see a post at the blog, Big Time Attic here.) From that moment on, he had only one calling. He neglected his compositions and translations and filled the blank pages of his notebooks not with schoolwork but with portraits, landscapes, and fantasies.” (Ibid)

This diversion would lead Manet to produce arguably one of the most famous paintings of the naval engagement between the U.S.S. Kearsarge and the C.S.S. Alabama, that took place in June of 1864 off France’s Normandy coast.

The Battle of U.S.S Kearsarge and C.S.S. Alabama

Juliet Wilson-Bareau with David C. Degener, Manet and the American Civil War, (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003).

In the next post, the ships engaged in the battle.

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