Daily Archives: 29 January, 2010

Over the Battlefield: Operation Goodwood by Ian Daglish

Goodwood

After the end of Epsom the front in Normandy solidified, with the British and Canadians being held on the outskirts of Caen while the Americans cleared the Cotentin Pensinsula. Becoming bogged down was a serious fear, particularly among aggressive american commanders and British officers fearing a return to trench warfare. After Epsom ground to a halt and Caen was captured, the next logical step was to attack from the west and consolidate the possession of Caen.

Goodwood has remained one of the most contentious battles of the Second World War. Alongside Arnhem it is probably the one battle that fuels Montgomery’s detractors. The certainly have a point – the use of three armoured divisions in a concerted operation must surely have been aiming for some kind of breakthrough. Monty probably made a rod for his own back by suggesting that Goodwood might lead to a breakout in the direction of Falaise. His orders for the operation merely hinted at this as a possibility, not a certainty. Yet Eisenhower and Tedder seem to have taken it as a given.

It was a logistical achievement just to get the Guards, 7th and 11th Armoured Divisions – over 45,000 men and over 10,000 vehicles – across into the cramped Orne Bridgehead in the first place, a fact which is often ignored. Also, it is unrealistic to view operations in isolation – they were all clearly part of a wider campaign. On their own Epsom and Goodwood might have been disappointing, but seen together they resulted in the capture of Caen and its consolidation. And as Daglish points out, the Germans were very well prepared in defence east of Caen.

The other contentious point surrounding Goodwood is the use of Heavy Bombers in the opening stage. The intention was to ‘soften up’ the German front line to aid an armoured breakthrough. Over 900 British Bombers bombed in daylight on 18 July, shortly followed by their American counterparts. The use of heavy bombers to directly support operations had never been tried before. The shock was numbing, but it also gave away the element of surprise.

An advance of five miles certainly seems scant reward for the use of three Armoured Divisions and thousands of heavy bombers. But the battle had made a huge dent in the Germans ability to hold the line in Normandy. Goodwood is a very difficult battle to get a handle on due to the cotrovresy surrunding it, but the use of aerial photos iluminates a murky history. Scenes of massed tanks and bomb craters give us such a better impression than a map. The attack eventually petered out due to congestion, poor weather and stiff german resistance, and was halted on 20 July.

British losses were heavy, amongst them several Portsmouth men. Flight Sergeant Kenneth Meehan, 20 and from North End, was a Navigator in a 158 Squadron Halifax Bomber that crashed while bombing the German lines on 18 July 1944. He is buried in Banneville la Campagne War Cemetery.

The principal stated goal of Goodwood, as Daglish points out from the start, was to tie up Panzer Divisions in the East. Yet Monty let himself down by allowing his equals and superior to hope for too much. He woud have done far better to accept that he was acting flexibly than to insist that everything went exactly to plan. Personally, I feel that a breakout from Goowood would have over-extended the allied eastern flank and left the bridgehead imblanced – completely out of character for Monty.

Next: we take a look at Operation Bluecoat, the succesful British breakout in Normandy.

Over the Battlefield: Operation Goodwood is published by Pen and Sword

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Filed under Army, Book of the Week, d-day, World War Two

The United Nations: at a crossroads, or beyond?

The Chilcott inquiry into the circumstances of the Iraq War has brought me back to thinking about a subject that I spent some time working on and involved with when I was a lot younger: the United Nations.

When I was 15 I took part in a model UN event at the United Nations HQ in Geneva. It was quite interesting representing Chile at the height of the Pinochet affair! I also chose the effectiveness of the UN as a personal study subject at college. So, hopefully, I have some kind of understanding of the organisation.

The founding principle of the UN is the prevention of armed conflict through collectiveness and discussion. Formed out of the alliances that defeated Germany, Italy and Japan in 1945, in the past 65 years of its existence it has had very mixed results. Whilst a wealth of humanitarian, economic and social activities take place under the UN banner, the UN has become increasingly toothless in the face of serious global problems. Particularly dangerous regimes, such as Iraq and Iran.

That the biggest and most powerful country in the world is willing to not only ignore the UN, but bypass it entirely, undermines the whole process and sets the world on a very dangerous path. Unilateral action creates as many problems as it solves. Any action that takes place in the name of ‘the international community’ will not alienate or radicalise nearly as much as any US Coalition.

But it is a double edged sword. Too many times the UN has been weak on big international crises. In the worlds of Team American, ‘we will write you a letter telling you how angry we are’ is not good enough when dealing with people like Saddam Hussein.

Both ignorance of the UN and its inability and refusal to act decisively has undermined its standing in the world. The two factors are clearly interlinked – all the time the UN is weak on crises, ignoring it will always seem an option. But by marginalising the UN, states make it irrelevant anyway. To change this will probably take a big cultural shift in policy making, particularly in the US.

But also, the Security Council system is increasingly coming under scrutiny. The power of any of the 5 permanent members to veto any resolution has largely hamstrung its ability to act. There are also calls to reform the membership of the Security Council – should Britain and France, for example, have a seat, in view of their declining influence? Why are prominent countries such as Germany, Japan, Brazil and India not permanent members? Personally I am undecided on this issue – but I am positive that size, wealth and strength should not necessarily eclipse responsibility and diplomacy as a factor for world influence.

Clearly the UN has been much more succesful than its predecessor the League of Nations, and it has encouraged a degree of international dialogue unheralded in world history. But it could do much more.

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