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Normandy Was Preceded By North Africa

To continue with the World War II series, I'm going to start at the beginning of the Atlantic Campaign, with North Africa, the successful conquest of which led to Normandy. The story is perhaps best told in Rick Atkinson's "An Army at Dawn."

Few, other than Roosevelt, saw the need for what was seen as a diversionary campaign that was by no means a slam dunk. In fact, it had very much that aspect and role. Because of what was going on elsewhere in the war.

"What was going on elsewhere in the war" was the battle of Stalingrad in the Soviet Union. After a long summer's advance, the Germans were finally stopped at the city of Stalingrad on the Volga River, which guarded the main transport route of oil and other supplies, from the southern part of the Soviet Union to further north. The Soviets saw a chance to "snap off" a major German force, the Sixth Army, which had done them perhaps the most damage so far in the war.

A force of about 70,000 Americans, plus an equivalent number of British landed at, yes, Casablanca, and some Algerian cities. (Hollywood, which had somehow anticipated the Allied War plan, rushed its film into production.) In so doing, the Allies had created a "Morton's Fork" situation that favored them.

In order to understand why, it is important to note that the Allies at the time had about three-quarters of the world's industrial capacity, to one quarter for the Axis. But the latter had the momentum. Like a gambling poker player in the no limit version of the game, the Axis powers had "doubled up" over the previous few years, and were looking to do so again. We can take as given the likelihood that they would have won the war if they had succeeded at any time in obtaining half of the world's industrial capacity.

On the other hand, the Axis could not sustain two such campaigns at once, while the Alllies could. The only way that the Axis could win the war was to win one battle and conquer one opponent at a time. The invasion of North Africa created an "overloaded" (from chess) situation, that assured that this wouldn't happen. With the benefit of hindsight, the Allies won both campaigns, but that result might not obtain in a (hypothetical) "replay" such as a Monte Carlo simulation.

After Eisenhower's invasion of North Africa, Hitler sent a quarter of a million men to North Africa, stripped from other Mediterranean theaters. These were mostly Italians, although there were a few Germans, including armored units. More to the point, he diverted two-thirds of the available aircraft from the Russian front to North Africa. Most of these faced Eisenhower, although some were sent east, where Britain's Montgomery had beaten the Desert Fox, Rommel.

A few days later, the Russians sprang their trap, surrounding a third of a million men in Stalingrad. Hitler organized a rescue attempt, with crack armored divisions, that failed narrowly to break the ring when the troops in Stalingrad failed to come out of the city to meet their rescuers.

If those Panzer divisions had been sent to North Africa, Eisenhower's outnumbered forces might have been driven back to their ships in a second "Dunkirk." But then, there would have been NO chance for the troops trapped in Stalingrad.

Take the quarter million men sent to North Africa and send them instead to Stalingrad, and the rescue would almost certainly have succeeded. But then Germany would have lost North Africa (an equivalent prize), without a fight.

In the end, North Africa presented  a "fielder's choice" for the Germans. Which was all the Allies needed not to lose. Because of their greater resources, the Allies enjoyed "draw odds" (from chess) in 1942: A draw in that year would suffice for victory. And in the end, the Germans got neither Allied "runner," resulting in pair of Allied victories. Sometimes what seems to be a "side show" may be very relevant.