The Tyranny of Logistics
September 1944-February 1945


Chapter I
Logistics Limitations As the Arbiter of Tactical Planning

(1) The Pursuit's Effect on Logistic Plans

Three months after the landings in Normandy, the Allied armies, having pursued a disorganized enemy across northern France and up the Rhône valley, stood at the Dutch and German borders in the north, at the Moselle River in the center, and at the entrance to the Belfort gap in the south. That they were stopped there in mid-September was due in part to the increasing resistance which a reorganized enemy was able to offer from the prepared defenses of the West Wall and along the Moselle, and in part to supply shortages.

The supply shortages were the more exasperating because they occurred in the midst of spectacular advances and because they helped frustrate a short-lived hope that the war might quickly be brought to an end. Within a matter of days the deteriorating logistic situation led to one of the most reluctantly made, and most debated, decisions of the war. This was the decision which General Dwight D. Eisenhower made late in September to halt offensive operations on a large part of the front and to concentrate the bulk of the Allied resources on a relatively narrow front in the north.

The shortages which forced this decision were only a foretaste of a prolonged supply famine. For a period of almost three months logistic limitations largely dominated tactical planning, and U.S. forces learned to their dismay how supply, instead of holding her rightful position as the handmaiden of battle, could become war's mistress.

The inability to continue the pursuit of the shaken enemy forces was exasperating to combat commanders, and it was not to be expected that they would react calmly and objectively to the restrictions imposed by logistic difficulties. The necessity to halt the advance has been variously ascribed to the shortage of gasoline, to shortcomings within the Communications Zone (including the alleged preoccupation of service troops with luxurious living and black-market activities), to "high level politics," to undue favoritism toward the British, and, according to a British view, to the excessive strain on transport caused by Third Army's advanced position. It is not within the province of this volume to weigh all these charges. But the acrimonious debate which attended the supply difficulties early in September makes


it appropriate to consider the larger question of the reasons why the Communications Zone was unable to meet the demands placed upon it, and to consider the purely logistic aspects of the various operational plans for which the field commands now claimed priority.

The reasons for the so-called "supply failure" become apparent enough when one recalls the invasion plan and compares the expected with the actual course of the operation. The predicted development of the OVERLORD operation was based on both tactical and logistical considerations. On its operational side the plan was predicated on an estimate that the enemy would make successive stands on the major water barriers across France and Belgium. In accord with this assumption it was expected that he would make a stand at the Seine and that that line would not be reached until D plus 90. Furthermore, plans had contemplated a fairly steady rate of advance rather than the pursuit of a disorganized enemy. While such a forecast of progress was admittedly conjectural, it necessarily formed the basis of logistic preparations. In the belief, for example, that the Seine ports would not quickly become available, great emphasis was placed on the development of the Brittany area, and a pause of at least a month at the Seine was expected to be necessary to develop an administrative base capable of supporting further offensives.

Even on these assumptions the margin of safety of the OVERLORD logistic plan was believed to be nonexistent. In an administrative appreciation prepared early in June, SHAEF planners had concluded that port capacity would suffice to support the planned build-up provided only that the ports were captured on the dates forecast, and then only by the narrowest margin. In fact, deficits in port discharge capacity were predicted beginning in the fifth month (October). They admitted that there were certain hidden assets, such as supply by air and other possible expedients. But there was also the possibility of additional liabilities. Any material variation in logistical planning factors, such as a higher rate of demolitions, or tonnage requirements larger than estimated, would impinge directly on the rate of build-up and capability of support. By the same token any unexpected acceleration in the advance would have a like effect in creating additional port discharge and transportation liabilities.1

Since the OVERLORD operation developed quite differently from what had been expected, the assumptions on which the schedules had been based were largely voided. For the first seven weeks the advance was much slower than anticipated, and the Allied forces were confined to a shallow Normandy bridgehead. From the viewpoint of logistic support, the lag in operations was not immediately serious, for it resulted in short lines of communication and gave the service forces added time to develop the port facilities at Cherbourg, whose capture had been delayed. But the long restriction to this area promised serious consequences for the future, for the port capacity of Cherbourg and the beaches severely limited the force which could be maintained during the fall and winter months.

Whatever temporary advantage accrued


from the short lines of communication and low maintenance scales in Normandy quickly disappeared after the breakout at the end of July. By D plus 79 (24 August) Allied forces had closed to the Seine eleven days ahead of schedule despite a lag of approximately thirty days at the beginning of the breakout. Tactically, and to some extent logistically, the spectacular encircling drive of early August brought definite advantages to the Allied forces. It resulted in the almost complete destruction of the German Seventh Army and thus eliminated a large enemy force which later might have delayed the Allied advance to the Seine; it greatly accelerated the whole campaign and helped ensure a rapid advance to the enemy's border; and it facilitated the early capture of the Seine ports and Antwerp, making it possible to cancel plans for the capture of Quiberon Bay and southern Brittany ports.

From the point of view of logistic support the rapid advance to the Seine also had its less favorable aspects, and even at this early date (D plus 79) foreshadowed serious complications. The fact that the OVERLORD objective was reached on D plus 79 rather than D plus 90 was in itself not serious, for the supply structure was sufficiently flexible to accommodate itself to a variation of eleven days. The departure from the scheduled advance had actually been more serious. Because of the initial lag in operations, U.S. forces had been at the D plus 20 line at D plus 49, and between D plus 49 and D plus 79, a period of thirty days, had actually advanced a distance which by plan was to have been covered in seventy days. The lines of communication obviously could not be developed beyond St. Lô in the period before the breakout, and in the subsequent period could not be developed at the speed with which tanks and other combat vehicles were able to race to the Seine. The result was that the armies had already used up their operational reserves by the time they reached the Seine. Since rail lines and pipelines could not be pushed forward quickly enough, motor transport facilities were strained to the breaking point attempting to meet even the barest maintenance needs of the armies. The Communications Zone consequently found it impossible to establish stocks in advance depots. Furthermore, none of the Brittany ports had as yet been captured, and only one major port--Cherbourg--was operational. It remained to be seen whether compensation could be gained by the earlier opening of either Le Havre or Antwerp.

But the arrival at the Seine marked only the beginning of supply difficulties. Despite the logistic complications which the rapid advance had already clearly foreshadowed, the decision was now made to cross the Seine, and a few days later to encircle Paris and to continue the pursuit without pause. On purely tactical grounds such decisions were logically indicated. The decisive victory in the Falaise-Argentan pocket and the disintegration of enemy resistance offered opportunities which it would have been folly to ignore. Furthermore, with forty-six divisions on the Continent, the Allies enjoyed a definite superiority in both armor and infantry, as well as in air power, and could move in almost any direction against a weakened enemy.

The situation in northern France, coupled with the Seventh Army's successful


drive from the south, appeared so favorable, in fact, as to afford an opportunity to broaden the entire scope of the drive into Germany. Post-OVERLORD plans (beyond D plus 90) had contemplated only a secondary effort south of the Ardennes along the axis Reims-Verdun-Metz by a relatively small force. This force was to have the mission of diverting enemy resistance from the main thrust in the north and preventing the escape of enemy troops from southwest France by linking up with Seventh Army forces moving up the valley of the Rhône. This plan was now modified to provide for an attack along the subsidiary axis in greater strength than originally contemplated, although the main effort was still to be made in the north.

From the point of view of logistics these decisions to cross the Seine and continue the pursuit, and to augment the forces employed south of the Ardennes, constituted a radical departure from earlier plans. They carried with them a supply task out of all proportion to planned capabilities. They were much more far-reaching in their effects than the alteration in plans of early August by which the bulk of the Third Army's forces had been directed eastward rather than into Brittany. With the supply structure already severely strained by the speed with which the last 200 miles had been covered, these decisions entailed the risk of a complete breakdown.

The continued advances late in August and at the beginning of September consequently brought hectic days and sleepless nights to supply officers. All the difficulties which had already begun to appear during the approach to the Seine were now further aggravated. The main problem, as before, was the deficiency in transport, which only worsened as the lines of communication extended farther and farther eastward. Despite great efforts, rail reconstruction was unable to keep pace with the advance. Air supply repeatedly failed to match its predicted capacity. Motor transport therefore continued to bear the principal burden of forward movement and was unable to deliver daily maintenance needs, to say nothing of stocking intermediate or advance supply depots.

The unbearable supply task which the continued advance created can best be appreciated by comparing planned with actual developments. At D plus 90 it had been assumed that no more than twelve U.S. divisions would have to be supported at the Seine. Not until D plus 120 was it thought feasible to support twelve divisions in their first offensive action beyond that barrier, and not until D plus 150 was it contemplated that a "minor advance" might be supported from the Aisne River as a line of departure, seventy-five miles beyond the Seine.2 At D plus 90 (4 September), however, the Communications Zone was already supporting sixteen divisions at a distance of 150 miles beyond the Seine. Within another ten days (mid-September) First Army forces were operating at the German border in the vicinity of Aachen, well over 200 miles beyond Paris. Since plans had not contemplated reaching that area until D plus 330 (May 1945), it was necessary to support U.S. forces at this distance approximately 230 days earlier than expected. Moreover, the city


of Paris had become an additional supply liability as the result of its liberation on D plus 80, 55 days earlier than expected. U.S. supply lines were now 450 miles long, leading exclusively from Cherbourg and the beaches, still the only points of intake.

In addition to overtaxing transport facilities, this extension of the lines of communication made unbearable demands on all types of service troop units. The service troop basis, like transportation facilities, was based on the more conservative rate of advance envisaged in the OVERLORD plan. When the tempo of operations accelerated in August, requiring the leapfrogging of depots and dumps and a high degree of mobility for supply stocks, available depot units were soon distributed thinly over most of northern France, and were unequal to the task.

At least some of the difficulties stemmed from the delay in capturing the Brittany ports, for port discharge and port clearance capacity were already proving inadequate. Scheduled to develop a discharge capacity of nearly 14,000 tons per day by D plus 90, the Brittany ports, with the exception of St. Malo, were still in enemy hands at this date. As a result, the entire capacity of the Brittany area, which had been counted on so heavily in logistic planning, was still unavailable to U.S. forces.

The delay in the capture of the Brittany ports was at least partially the fruit of the decision of early August by which the largest possible force was devoted to the exploitation of the breakthrough to the east. This decision almost inescapably involved postponement in the capture of the Brittany ports and was a decision for which the Communications Zone bore no responsibility. In fact, it was only because of the pressure of logistical planners that a full corps was devoted to the task. In the view of the chief of the G-4 Logistical Plans Branch at SHAEF, there was an element of poetic justice in the fact that the Third Army, whose mission it was to clear Brittany, later felt so acutely the shortage of supplies which resulted in part from the failure to acquire the Brittany ports.3

Contrary to plan, therefore, and as a direct consequence of the late August decisions, the Communications Zone within a matter of days suddenly had been faced with the task of supplying considerably greater forces at much greater distances than contemplated. This, despite a motor transport deficiency which had been predicted before D Day on the basis of even the conservative schedules of the OVERLORD plan; despite the failure to develop the port discharge capacity of the Brittany area, which had been regarded as essential to the administrative support of U.S. forces; and despite the premature assumption of responsibilities in connection with the civil relief of Paris.

In view of the Communications Zone's performances far in excess of what was believed feasible in the OVERLORD plan, it might be argued that estimates of logistic capabilities had been far too conservative. But these performances did not represent full-scale support, and were accomplished only by resorting to such expedients as immobilizing incoming divisions and other combat elements


in order to provide additional truck companies, using army transportation for line-of-communications hauling, curtailing port clearance, and largely neglecting the armies' needs for replacement equipment and supplies. These were obviously makeshift arrangements which could not be continued indefinitely, and later exacted a big price. They were expedients, moreover, which were attended by such practices as hijacking supplies and "diverting" entire truck companies, and involved many other irregular practices which prevented an orderly and businesslike organization of the Communications Zone. They left deep scars and had a prolonged effect on its efficiency and on its ability to serve the armies.

According to a belief commonly held at the time, the armies might have rolled on had they only had sufficient gasoline. Such a view ignored the many other requirements of a modern army on wheels. By mid-September ordnance equipment--particularly combat vehicles and trucks--was already badly worn. Both armies had entered the Continent with new equipment, and in the first weeks maintenance had been a relatively simple matter. For six weeks following the breakout from Normandy, weather, terrain, and the disorganization and weakness of the enemy had presented ideal conditions for a gasoline-powered army. In that period the two armies made a grueling run across northern France without adequate maintenance. Forward reserves of major items and of spare parts were practically nonexistent.4 It had been impossible to establish an adequate depot system, and the great bulk of all supplies on the Continent were still in the Normandy base area.

The whirlwind advances of August and early September thus left the Communications Zone in the condition of an immature athlete who has overexerted himself in his first test of endurance. And there was no time for true recovery. The task of delivering the increasing daily needs of the combat forces remained. At the same time the Communications Zone had to adjust itself to circumstances wholly unexpected a few weeks earlier, and try to build the muscle required to meet the strain of future extensions of the supply lines.

(2) Competing Tactical Plans

Although exasperated by the increasing difficulties over supply, field commanders did not immediately appreciate the full implications of the worsening logistic situation. A heady optimism still pervaded the Allied forces in the first days of September, and in at least two of the major field headquarters--Third Army and 21 Army Group--there were strong convictions that the war could be shortened if they were afforded priority in supply.5

The possibility of a quick drive across the Rhine by the Third Army was carefully investigated at Supreme Headquarters late in August. At the time there appeared little in the way of enemy forces to prevent such an advance, and it was believed by some that a bold thrust would induce an immediate surrender.


Planners of 12th Army Group admitted that it could be carried out only by sacrificing the mobility of other forces, for transportation was already sorely strained. The Third Army by this proposal would be given priority on all available supplies. With a strength of not more than ten or twelve divisions, it was argued, this force could be maintained if other armies were held inactive; if bombers, in addition to troop carrier planes, were used for the transport of supplies; and if British forces were held at the Seine or shortly beyond that river. Even by these measures the advocates of the plan agreed that the force probably could be supported only a short distance beyond the Rhine, possibly as far as Frankfurt.

From both the strategic and logistic standpoints the plan had several weaknesses. A force of 10 or 12 divisions constituted but a small portion of the Allied forces then on the Continent (47 divisions at the end of August). It was also a relatively small force compared with the still-existing German Army in the west. A narrow thrust to the Rhine would not have impaired the strength of that force materially, and an advance in the center of the western front would have created exposed flanks of great length to both the north and south. In the north this flank would have extended approximately 300 miles through enemy territory, and would have rendered the Third Army lines of communication especially vulnerable to attack, particularly in view of the forced immobility of "quiescent" Allied divisions operating at reduced maintenance scales in the rear. Fighter cover would also be difficult to establish as far forward as the Rhine, for the establishment of advance fields required precious supplies and transportation.6 Furthermore, Frankfurt was not an objective of prime importance, and the area which the advance would have occupied included neither the political nor economic heart of Germany.

Most important of all was the great gamble which such an undertaking would have entailed from the point of view of future logistic support. The concentration of all resources into a single thrust in the Third Army area would certainly have required indefinite postponement of any attempt to capture Antwerp. Without this port there was little hope of receiving, staging, and employing the new divisions arriving each month, and no possibility that the logistic potential would be great enough to allow the extension of the Third Army's operations beyond Frankfurt.

Finally, the entire proposal was predicated on the conviction that the enemy could be frightened into immediate capitulation. Herein lay the crux of the whole matter. Such a result was by no means assured at this time. While the enemy was badly disorganized at the moment, there was no certainty as to what was transpiring inside Germany despite the attempted assassination of Hitler in July. Should the enemy refuse to be shocked into immediate surrender, the operation, in the view of the logistic planners, would bring the Allied forces to the brink of administrative disaster.


The chance of success was a long one, therefore, and the possibility of failure too serious in its implications for future operations.7 In general, this view represented informal staff reaction at Supreme Headquarters at the time, and General Eisenhower decided against the drive by the Third Army.

The proposed operation was not only hazardous; it ran counter to all the conclusions reached concerning the course to follow in the final drive into Germany. Allied planners had long ago decided that the major effort should be made in the north. Strategic, tactical, and logistical considerations had all favored such a plan of action. The northern route led most directly to the principal objectives in the enemy homeland--the industrial Ruhr and the governmental seat at Berlin. Tactically the terrain in the north was far more suitable than the southern approach for the employment of tanks. Logistically it was favored by close proximity to the channel ports and by excellent road and rail networks. The Combined Chiefs of Staff as well as the theater planners had long since favored this avenue for the main effort in the final advance into Germany.

Even in the north, however, Allied operations were being restricted by the means available. Early in September consideration was given to a 21 Army Group proposal for a rapid thrust to Berlin, a plan even more ambitious than the one just rejected. A study of the logistic implications of such an operation led the SHAEF G-4 staff to conclude that it could be carried out. But its conclusions were based on assumptions which soon proved completely unrealistic. The study assumed, for example, that the main forces of both army groups would have reached the Rhine by 15 September and that the thrust to Berlin could develop at that date. It established as a prerequisite, moreover, that by that date the Allies would already be discharging cargo at Antwerp to the extent of 1,500 tons per day. Other assumptions were made regarding the use of railheads at Brussels, Châlons-sur-Marne, and Paris, and the reduction of maintenance scales and port clearance to save transportation. But the overriding need was for transportation, and to obtain sufficient lift, the study concluded, would require the widest possible use of air transport and the most thoroughgoing marshaling of motor transport yet attempted.

It was estimated that the thrust could be made by three British and two U.S. corps. The support of such a force required the equivalent of 489 truck companies. At the moment there were only 347 available, leaving a shortage of 142. This deficit, it was proposed, might be made up in part by air transport, which was believed capable of achieving a lift of 2,000 tons per day, the equivalent of 60 truck companies. But the largest part of the deficit was to be met by the wholesale grounding of divisions. By diverting their organic truck companies and by forming provisional companies from both U.S. and British units it was estimated that 181 companies could be made available. Combined with the airlift, an equivalent of 241 companies was thus believed attainable. By these measures it was thought possible to support five corps in the operation, three driving to


Berlin, one British corps to the Bremen-Hamburg area, and one U.S. corps to the area of Frankfurt-Magdeburg. Ten U.S. divisions (1 in Paris, 9 in the Cotentin) would have to be grounded, and an additional 12 U.S. divisions relegated to a "quiescent" state (6 in Brittany, 3 in the Frankfurt-Metz area, and 3 in the area of Ruhr-Koblenz). Only one U.S. corps of three divisions could actually be supported as far forward as Berlin, and even these divisions on reduced maintenance.

Only on the basis of the optimum conditions outlined above was the operation considered at all possible. Since the assumptions on which the plan was based--reaching the Rhine and using Antwerp by 15 September--proved invalid, it appears that such an operation was quite infeasible.8

Logistic limitations at the beginning of September thus made it inadvisable to attempt either of the two schemes outlined above. While the thrust in the south was logistically feasible, its reward was uncertain and even of dubious value, and the operation was most hazardous from the point of view of future needs. The thrust in the north, while in accord with long-range plans, for the moment was clearly beyond available means.

(3) The September Decisions

While reluctantly concluding that any effort involving a major extension of the lines of communication was out of the question, SHAEF nevertheless had continued to examine alternative possibilities of maintaining the offensive. Specifically, General Eisenhower had hoped that a force might be built up east of Paris for an additional drive on the subsidiary axis south of the Ardennes. As early as 24 August the Supreme Commander had tentatively concluded that such a project appeared impossible and decided on the necessity to push northeastward in accordance with long-standing strategic plans, meanwhile completing the conquest of Brittany so as to provide the ports required for the accelerated flow of divisions.9

The uninterrupted success of the Allied armies in the following weeks continued to nourish the hope that a two-pronged offensive might yet be carried out. In the first week of September General Eisenhower decided that such simultaneous drives to both the Ruhr and the Saar were still within the Allies' capabilities, and he accordingly authorized an advance across the Siegfried Line by both U.S. armies. He admitted that the supply organization by this time was stretched to the breaking point, and that such an operation therefore involved a gamble. But he believed it was a gamble worth taking in order to profit fully by the disorganized state of the German armies in the west.10 On 10 September Lt. Gen. Omar N. Bradley gave the First and Third Armies equal priority for supply for the operation, subject only to the higher priority accorded the capture of Brest.

Supply of the armies was touch and go at this time, and it was necessary to keep a constant finger on the logistic pulse to


determine whether operations could continue on the scale desired. On 12 September General Bradley met with his army commanders and their G-4's, and with the Commanding General, Advance Section, and the G-4 of the Communications Zone to discuss the relation between the supply situation and the tactical moves then in progress. Both armies at this time reported sufficient ammunition and gasoline to carry them to the Rhine. In view of the current tactical commitments and the relatively good state of supply at the moment, General Bradley decided to permit the simultaneous attacks by the two armies to continue. Supply capabilities were clearly unequal to the support of sustained operations by both armies against determined opposition, however, for deliveries were being made at the rate of only about 3,300 tons per day to the First Army and 2,500 tons to the Third. The dual offensive was supportable, therefore, only if it could continue at its previous pace and achieve quick success. Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., Commanding General, Third Army, accordingly was told that unless he was able to force a crossing of the Moselle with the mass of his forces within the next few days he was to discontinue the attacks and assume the defensive along his southern flank.

This condition could not be met. Within the next ten days increasing resistance in both the First and Third Army sectors brought about a shift of effort and of available resources to the north, as was suspected might be necessary.

By mid-September, then, the Allied forces had definitely become the victims of their own success; logistic limitations had clearly come to dominate operational plans. Indeed, a survey of supply capabilities at this time indicated that logistic restrictions might determine the scale of the Allies' efforts for some time to come. U.S. cargo discharge was averaging less than 35,000 tons daily. This was insufficient to clear the arriving shipping, with the result that over a hundred Liberty ships were already awaiting discharge early in September.

Even this tonnage was more than could be cleared from the ports by the available personnel and transport. The number of truck companies available for port clearance had dropped to sixteen and sometimes less as a result of the demands for line-of-communications hauling, and supplies were accumulating in the ports and in the beach areas. Inadequate transportation plus the deficit in port discharge capacity thus threatened to create a bad congestion both offshore and in the Normandy base area.11

These basic deficiencies were bound to restrict the number of divisions supportable in active operations and hence limit the scale of combat. At D plus 90 (4 September) the build-up of U.S. divisions on the Continent totaled twenty-one as planned (plus the southern forces), despite the acceleration of July. After the middle of August, however, it had been impossible to maintain all divisions adequately. By early September three had been immobilized and their motor transport used to form provisional truck companies. Two new divisions--the 94th and 95th--were to begin arriving on 10 September. But Brig. Gen. Raymond


G. Moses, the army group G-4, doubted whether they could be supported east of the Seine, and surmised that they might also have to remain in the lodgment area and be made available to the Communications Zone in order to increase the latter's hauling capacity.12

Logistic planners estimated that there would be twenty-nine divisions on the Continent by 1 October (in addition to the DRAGOON forces in southern France) but thought it unlikely that more than twenty of these could be maintained in combat as far forward as the Rhine at that date on the basis of the current logistic outlook. Any extension of the lines of communication beyond the Rhine promised to reduce further the number of divisions supportable in combat.13

This concern over the size of the forces which could be supported beyond the Rhine reflected the optimism which still pervaded the higher headquarters in mid-September and which proved quite unrealistic. But while crossing the Rhine and seizing the vital Ruhr objective in the north were still considered feasible, the gloomy logistic forecasts served to underscore one conclusion which had already been accepted by Supreme Headquarters if not the lower echelons. This was that, even should it prove possible to capture both the Saar and Ruhr objectives, these areas were at the absolute maximum distance at which Allied forces could be supported for the time being and it would be absolutely imperative to develop additional logistic capacity before attempting a power thrust deep into Germany. General Eisenhower felt that the supply organization was now stretched to its absolute limit both as to port intake and inland distribution. He believed that the line at which administrative difficulties were expected to impose a period of relative inaction, originally expected to be the Seine, had certainly now been reached.14

The situation in mid-September clearly indicated an urgent need to shorten the lines of communication. The problem was actually a dual one, for there was a parallel need for additional port capacity. The maximum force which could be supported through Cherbourg and the beaches was rapidly being reached, and new capacity was required to compensate for that lost in Brittany.

The obvious solution to this dual requirement lay in the development of the Seine ports and Antwerp. Even at the time the Allied forces were crossing the Seine, when the capture of the Brittany ports was still considered of prime importance, General Eisenhower had emphasized the imperative necessity in the drive to the northeast to secure a "permanent and adequate base at Antwerp."15

The further extension of the lines of communication in the next few weeks served to enhance the importance of Antwerp even more. Conferences with his top commanders between 9 and 11 September sustained the Supreme Commander in his previous conviction that the early seizure of deepwater ports and the improvement of base facilities were essential prerequisites to a final drive


into Germany. His analysis of the situation is clearly revealed in cables which he addressed to both the army group commanders and the Combined Chiefs of Staff on 13 September. In the Supreme Commander's view the port position at this time was such that a stretch of a week or ten days of bad Channel weather--a condition which became more and more probable with the aproaching fall months--would paralyze Allied activities and make the maintenance of the armies even in a defensive role exceedingly difficult. Distribution of supplies on the Continent was approaching solution, he felt, through the improvement in the railway system. But the most immediate objective, and one which had been foreseen as essential from the very inception of the OVERLORD plan, was winning deepwater ports and improving communications.16

The Allied forces at this time had before them two possible courses of action. (1) They could concentrate all resources behind a single blow on a narrow front directed toward the center of Germany (a proposal favored by the 21 Army Group commander). (2) They could advance along the entire front with the aim of seizing suitable positions on the German frontier where they could regroup, establish maintenance facilities, and mount a broad drive into Germany. The first course, conceived of as a "knife-like thrust" to Berlin, had already been rejected by the Supreme Commander on both tactical and administrative grounds.17

Logistic resources were likewise lacking for the full implementation of the second course, for they were not sufficient to permit simultaneous attacks along the entire front. The decision, as announced by the Supreme Commander, provided that the Allies were to push forward to the Rhine, securing bridgeheads over that river, seize the Ruhr, and concentrate in preparation for a final nonstop drive into Germany. Because of the limited logistic capabilities available, the timing of the Allies' efforts toward the attainment of immediate objectives along the entire front now became of the utmost importance. Implementation of this plan consequently required a succession of attacks, first by the 21 Army Group, then by First Army, and then by the Third Army, with supply priority shifting as necessary. Tactical operations, to paraphrase an old maxim, had now definitely become the art of the logistically possible.18

The paramount influence which logistic considerations were to have in any operations undertaken in the near future went beyond the determination of the scale and timing of attacks. Future logistic needs also figured large in the determination of immediate objectives, for General Eisenhower specified that additional bases must be secured simultaneously with the attacks eastward. Accordingly, the Supreme Commander


gave Field Marshal Sir Bernard L. Montgomery, the 21 Army Group commander, the mission of securing the approaches to Antwerp or Rotterdam and the capture of additional Channel ports; and he ordered General Bradley to reduce Brest as quickly as possible in order to accommodate the staging of additional divisions, and to make physical junction with the forces from the south so that the supply lines leading from Marseille might assist in the support of the 12th Army Group as soon as any surplus capacity could be developed.19

It was in accord with the above decisions that the 21 Army Group was given preference in the allocation of the available administrative means for the combined US.-British airborne operation known as MARKET-GARDEN, which was launched on 17 September with the intention of winning a bridgehead over the Rhine and turning the flank of the enemy's fortified defense line in the north. MARKET-GARDEN was a limited objective operation, however, as General Eisenhower later found it necessary to re-emphasize. At a meeting with his principal staff officers and top commanders held on 22 September he took pains to make clear his desire that all concerned "differentiate clearly between the logistic requirements for attaining objectives covered by present directives, including the seizure of the Ruhr and breaching the Siegfried Line, and the requirements for the final drive on Berlin." In this connection he demanded general acceptance of the fact that the possession of an additional major deepwater port on the north flank was an indispensable prerequisite for the final drive into Germany.20 Even the present operation in the north, he noted in a separate communication to Field Marshal Montgomery, was a bold bid for a big prize in view of the current maintenance situation. The Supreme Commander considered the operation amply worth the risk. But he took this additional opportunity to stress once again the conviction that a large-scale drive into the "enemy's heart" was unthinkable without building up additional logistic potential. He indicated that this desideratum was now taken for granted in his own mind by closing with the remark, "Of course, we need Antwerp."21

The dilemma in which the Allies found themselves at this time was a direct outcome of the August and early September decisions by which logistic considerations had been repeatedly subordinated to the enticing prospects which beckoned eastward. General Eisenhower himself admitted that he had repeatedly been willing to defer the capture of ports (referring obviously to Brittany) in favor of the bolder actions which had taken the Allied armies to the German border. But such deferments could no longer be made in view of the approaching bad weather and the resistance the enemy was beginning to offer in fortress defense.22

The necessity for building up the logistic potential before attempting major offensives was more and more widely accepted toward the end of September. Since the overriding necessity was for a shortening of the lines of communication


and additional port capacity, the development of Antwerp offered the best possible solution of the problem. The effect which the pursuit and the decisions of early September had on the logistic structure was therefore momentous, for it rendered earlier plans largely obsolete by necessitating the shift of the main administrative base northeastward months earlier than had been anticipated.

Logistic planners realized early that these developments would require a complete recasting of administrative plans.23 Tactical operations had been supported all the way across northern France and Belgium without the Brittany ports, and with the front lines now 400 to 500 miles distant, the value of these ports greatly diminished. By 9 September the Supreme Commander had decided that Quiberon Bay and the ports of Lorient, St. Nazaire, and Nantes were no longer essential for the support of U.S. forces, and he informed the 12th Army Group commander that it would not be necessary to reduce these ports by force of arms, and that the enemy garrisons might simply be contained.24 At this time the capture of Brest still held the highest priority, but that port was also destined to be abandoned before long. Logistic planners, foreseeing this possibility, suggested in the first days of September that U.S. port development resources be used to supplement British units in developing the ports north of the Seine.25

The speed with which the northern ports could be brought into operation was to have an important bearing on the employment of Allied, and particularly U.S., forces. Estimates made late in September indicated that Antwerp might not begin operating before 1 November. There was every prospect, therefore, that U.S. forces would have to depend on lines of communication reaching all the way back to Normandy, aided somewhat by the capacity of the Seine ports. As General Bradley noted to the Third Army commander in explaining the reasons for the decisions of mid-September, the total tonnages which the Communications Zone could guarantee to deliver were sufficient to support the attacks of only one of the American armies if all the other U.S. forces reverted to the defensive. Even such commitments required the postponement of many essential administrative measures, such as moving air units and replacements forward, building advance airfields, winterizing troops and equipment, and replacing worn-out equipment.26 The priority now held by operations aimed at the Ruhr inevitably placed the burden of the sacrifice on the 12th Army Group forces operating south of the Ardennes--that is, the Third Army.

Fortunately, it was possible to relieve the strain on the attenuated lines of the 12th Army Group somewhat by shifting a portion of the burden to the south. The 6th Army Group, commanded by Lt. Gen. Jacob L. Devers and now embracing all the forces which had built up in the southern lodgment, possessed an independent


line of communications. In the decisions which the Supreme Commander had just announced it was authorized to continue its operations northward into Alsace without restriction since its operations did not divert resources from the north. In fact, the southern line of communications possessed surplus capacity, and measures had already been taken to divert through Marseille three divisions coming from the United States in October.27

General Eisenhower was most anxious to take advantage of the logistic potentialities of the southern line of communications, and when General Devers reported at the 22 September meeting at SHAEF that the 6th Army Group could immediately maintain three additional divisions, the Supreme Commander promptly directed the 12th Army Group to release the XV Corps, then operating under the Third Army and consisting of the 2d French Armored and 79th Infantry Divisions, to the southern army group. Seventh Army accordingly took over the XV Corps, along with the sector it then occupied, before the end of the month.28 A few days earlier another division--the 7th Armored--was taken from the Third Army to strengthen the forces in the north. By these various actions, as General Eisenhower admitted, "things were being stretched thin in the middle."29 Additional measures taken to relieve the strain on the 12th Army Group supply lines included diverting shipping lying off the Normandy beaches to Marseille and allotting to U.S. forces certain port capacity in excess of British needs at Le Havre. Preparations were also made to discharge LST's on the Pas-de-Calais beaches as an emergency measure.30

The decisions of mid-September thus reflect a full realization of the extent to which logistic limitations had come to straitjacket tactical plans. The Supreme Commander's directives on the 13th reveal a determination to maintain the offensive in accordance with earlier strategic plans, but such plans now had to be tailored to severely restricted logistic capabilities. Any thought of carrying out a power thrust aimed at objectives deep inside Germany was definitely abandoned with the realization that any sustained drives would require a major orientation of the entire logistic structure--that is, a shift to shorter lines of communication based on the northern ports.

(4) Prospects at the End of September

Detailed studies of logistical capabilities made at both SHAEF and Headquarters, Communications Zone, toward the end of September confirmed the earlier doubts regarding the scale on which combat operations could be conducted in the near future. Their gloomy forecasts stemmed directly from the poor prospects with regard to port discharge and inland transportation.

SHAEF planners had little hope that any material advantage would be gained from the use of ports in the low countries by early October, and predicted that both the 21 and 12th Army Groups would


be operating on very extended lines of communication for some time to come. For administrative reasons, therefore, they concluded that it would be desirable to withhold an advance into Germany beyond the Ruhr until late October in order to permit the development of the Antwerp-Rotterdam port capacity and to ensure the establishment of secure advance bases near Antwerp for 21 Army Group and in the region of Metz-Nancy for 12th Army Group. In considering several alternative courses the planners estimated that it would be possible to support "limited forces" in an advance in October, but only on the basis of conditions which were unlikely to be met: if infantry divisions were not motorized; if air supply were made available to the extent of 2,000 tons per day or some thirty truck companies were withdrawn from quiescent divisions to assist in the forward movement of supplies; if opposition were slight; if forward reserves were accumulated at about half normal rates; if not more than twenty-five divisions were employed forward on the Rhine; and if objectives were reached within about a fortnight.31

At the end of the month the Communications Zone, in response to an inquiry from the army group G-4, General Moses, presented figures on its delivery capabilities which revealed even more clearly the impossibility of supporting large-scale operations east of the Rhine. General Moses had indicated to Brig. Gen. James H. Stratton, the theater G-4, that the field forces should be able to count on daily maintenance at the rate of 650 tons per division slice. Added to the needs of the Ninth Air Force and the Advance Section, this brought the total maintenance requirements in the forward areas to 18,800 tons per day in the first half of October, assuming the employment of 22 divisions, 20,750 tons per day in the second half of the month, with 25 divisions, and 22,700 tons by 1 November, when the strength of the 12th Army Group would reach 28 divisions. General Moses estimated, however, that the field forces would require the delivery of approximately 100,000 tons of supplies over and above these daily maintenance requirements in order to meet deficiencies in equipment and establish minimum reserves of about three days in all classes of supply. He used 1 November as a target date for the beginning of discharge operations at Antwerp. On the assumption that the daily maintenance requirements could be met, he requested the Communications Zone to estimate the time necessary to deliver the additional 100,000 tons and also to establish depots in the Advance Section.32

The COMZ reply was discouraging indeed. General Stratton was even less optimistic about the prospects of quick dividends from the port of Antwerp. He did not believe that discharge there could be counted on before the middle of November, although he estimated that


some tonnage would begin to move forward from Le Havre and Rouen by mid-October and might average 3,000 tons per day in the last half of the month. On this basis he estimated that it would be approximately sixty days before any substantial tonnages could be built up in the forward areas. In fact, he pointed out that for the entire month of October COMZ deliveries would not even meet daily maintenance requirements.

The Communications Zone planned to build small reserves--totaling about 11,000 tons--in the First Army area in the last two weeks of October, but this was to be accomplished only at the expense of falling short of the daily maintenance needs of the other armies. Delivery capacity was expected to exceed daily needs by a few hundred tons early in November, but the build-up of reserves was contemplated in only one area--the First Army's--and even then at the sacrifice of some of the Ninth Army's daily requirements. Less than 30,000 tons of reserves were expected to be built up--all in the First Army area--by mid-November. Not until then did the Communications Zone expect its port and transportation situation to improve sufficiently to begin building reserves over and above daily needs in the Third and Ninth Army areas and in the depots of the Ninth Air Force and the Advance Section. In the last two weeks of November it hoped to deliver approximately 100,000 tons of reserve supplies to the forward areas. These stocks it planned to set down in the Huy-Aachen area for the First Army, in the Longwy-Metz-Nancy area for Third and Ninth Armies, and initially at Reims for the Ninth Air Force. The Advance Section's dumps were to be distributed between the two army areas.33

The outlook for the next six to eight weeks was thus a depressing one. There appeared no escaping the prospect that the forces which the 12th Army Group could maintain actively operational would either have to be reduced in size or continue on the starvation scales which had characterized their support for the past several weeks. At the beginning of October the 12th Army Group comprised 20 divisions (10 in First Army, 8 in Third, and 2 in Ninth). In addition, there were in the Cotentin and Brittany a total of 7 divisions, of which 1 was engaged in a tactical mission and the remaining 6 were either grounded or in the process of marrying up with their equipment. By mid-October, it was estimated, 25 divisions could be made operationally available to the 12th Army Group. The army group commander naturally wanted to use the additional units becoming available, and General Bradley in fact indicated his intention of moving 6 divisions forward from the Cotentin between 10 and 20 October. Allowing for the transfer of 1 division (the 44th) to the 6th Army Group, this would result in a net increase of 5 divisions and raise the strength of the group to 25 divisions.34

G-4 planners at SHAEF had estimated that the provision of daily maintenance for this number of divisions and the building of a reasonable minimum of reserves


would require deliveries of more than 22,000 tons of supplies per day.35 The forwarding of such tonnages was obviously out of the question in view of the Communications Zone's announced capabilities. Deliveries in September had averaged only 8,000-10,000 tons per day, and the maximum tonnage which the Communications Zone estimated it might deliver in the last half of October was 20,000. With this tonnage it was estimated that all twenty-five divisions could be maintained only if scales of maintenance were kept below those considered sound. The support of the 12th Army Group would therefore be on a hand-to-mouth basis and without the accumulation of any reserves. This was a risk that was unacceptable to supply officers in view of the imminence of winter weather (which would require the forward movement of substantial tonnages of heavy clothing and winterization equipment), the need to build up bridging equipment for the expected river crossing operations, the heavier requirements for ammunition, and the accomplishment of higher echelon repair of vehicles which had already been long delayed. On the basis of the COMZ estimates the SHAEF G-4 planners concluded that logistic limitations would not permit the employment of more than twenty divisions in the 12th Army Group. Even this allowed the "mobile" engagement of only two thirds of the total, and the accumulation of reserves for only the one army having first priority for its effort--that is, First Army, with ten divisions.36

On 11 October SHAEF informed General Bradley of this limitation on the size of the maintainable force, noting that his proposal to move additional divisions forward from Normandy consequently would be feasible only if a corresponding number of divisions was withdrawn from the line and rested.37 Within the next ten days, nevertheless, additional units were moved forward and committed, bringing the line strength of the 12th Army Group to twenty-three divisions.

Meanwhile, supply deliveries had actually been sufficient to support only thirteen divisions adequately, to say nothing of maintaining the twenty on which recent plans had been based.38 The prospect of providing adequate support to the growing number of divisions thus appeared even more dismal toward the end of October, providing abundant proof of the necessity for a strict rationing of the meager resources available. In the course of the month Supreme Headquarters therefore prepared to institute


a detailed allocation of supplies, specifying the scale of maintenance and reserves build-up for each army and distributing available tonnages to each army in line with the expected scale of activity of its divisions, depending on the missions assigned.

The full effect of the strain which the overextension of the lines of communication had imposed on the logistic structure now became apparent. It was also clear that the maintenance of large-scale operations would remain unsatisfactory until the port of Antwerp and adequate rail lines of communications were made available. The opening and development of that port consequently remained a matter of transcendent importance.39 For the next few months the military operations of the 21 and 12th Army Groups were to be dominated by the necessity to develop a new administrative base in closer proximity to the theater of action.


Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (Foreword) * Next Chapter (II)


1. Adm Appreciation, SHAEF G-4 Post-NEPTUNE Opns, 17 Jun 44, SHAEF, 12 A Gp 370.2.

2. Ibid., Annexure M.

3. Col. William Whipple, "Logistical Bottleneck," The Infantry Journal, LXII (March, 1948), 14.

4. FUSA Rpt of Opns, Bk. IV, p. 2.

5. See Forrest C. Pogue, The Supreme Command, UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II (Washington, 1954), pages 250-60, for a fuller discussion.

6. Competition was already keen for the use of advance fields for tactical use and the reception of air-transported cargo. See Roland G. Ruppenthal, Logistical Support of the Armies, Volume I: May 1941-September 1944, UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II (Washington, 1953), pp. 576-77. (Hereafter cited as Logistical Support I.)

7. Whipple, op. cit., p. 12.

8. Plng Paper, Logistical Implications of a Rapid Thrust to Berlin, Sep 44, SHAEF G-4 Logistical Forecasts, Folder 13.

9. Cbl, Eisenhower to Marshall, 24 Aug 44, OPD Exec Office File 9.

10. Cbl FWD-14376, Eisenhower to CCS, 9 Sep 44, SHAEF SGS 381 Post-OVERLORD Planning.

11. Ltr, Whipple to CAO, sub: U.S. Troop Flow To Support a Maximum Effort, n.d. [early Sep], SHAEF G-4 Logistical Forecasts, Folder 13.

12. Memo, Moses for CofS 12 A Gp, sub: Use of Divs on Line of Communications, 5 Sep 44, 12 A Gp G-4 Memos 1944, Folder 56, Drawer 11.

13. Ltr, Whipple to CAO (early Sep).

14. Ltr, Eisenhower to Marshall, 14 Sep 44, OPD Exec Office File 9; Cbl FWD-13792, OPD Cbl Files.

15. Cbl, Eisenhower to Marshall, 24 Aug 44.

16. Cbl FWD-14764, Eisenhower to CCS and Major Comds, 13 Sep 44, 12 A Gp 371.3 Mil Objectives, and SHAEF AG 381-3 SHAEF to AGWAR Rpts on OVERLORD.

17. Cbl FWD-13889, Eisenhower to Montgomery, 5 Sep 44, Eyes Only Cbls, Smith Papers, Dept of Army Library.

18. For a fuller discussion of the debate on strategy in September see Pogue, The Supreme Command, pp. 288-98.

19. Cbl, Eisenhower to CCS and Major Comds, 13 Sep 44.

20. Min, Mtg SHAEF War Room, 22 Sep 44, SHAEF SGS 381 Post-OVERLORD Planning.

21. Ltr, Eisenhower to Montgomery, 24 Sep 44, SHAEF SGS 381 Post-OVERLORD Planning.

22. Ltr, Eisenhower to Marshall, 14 Sep 44.

23. Memo, Whipple for CAO, sub: Latest Log Devs, 3 Sep 44, SHAEF G-4 381 War Plans General I.

24. Cbl FWD-14376, Eisenhower to CCS, 9 Sep 44.

25. Memo, Whipple for CAO, 3 Sep 44.

26. Ltr, Bradley to Patton, 23 Sep 44, 12 A Gp 371.3 Mil Objectives I; Memo, Moses for Col William L. Barriger, sub: Confirmation of Telephone Conversation This Date, 9 Sep 44, 12 A Gp G-4 Memos 1944, Folder 56.

27. See below, Ch X, Sec. I.

28. Min, Mtg SHAEF War Room, 22 Sep 44, and Ltr, Eisenhower to Montgomery, 24 Sep 44.

29. Ltr, Eisenhower to Montgomery, 24 Sep 44.

30. 12 A Gp AAR, Sep 44.

31. SHAEF G-3 Appreciation, Factors Affecting Advance into Germany After Occupation of the Ruhr, 24 Sep 44, and Memo by Plng Stf, summarizing above, same date, SHAEF SGS 381 Post-OVERLORD Planning.

32. Memo, Moses for Stratton, sub: Supply Estimate, 25 Sep 44, SHAEF G-4 400 Supplies General 44 III.

33. Memo, Stratton for Moses, sub: Supply Estimate, 1 Oct 44, ADSEC AG 400 Supplies General, or SHAEF G-4 400 Supplies General 44 III.

34. Memo, Col C. Ravenhill, Deputy Chief Log Plans, for G-4, 10 Oct 44, SHAEF G-4 Maintenance of British and U.S. Forces 153/2/GDP-1, Box 1, Folder 42.

35. On the basis of 560 tons of maintenance per division slice at regular scales, 280 tons of reserves build-up per day (one half day per day), totaling 840 tons per division per day or 21,000 tons for the three armies. In addition, the army group would require civil affairs supplies, raising the total to more than 22,000 tons. SHAEF G-4 Allocation of Tonnages I, for period 15-28 Oct, 8 Oct 44, SHAEF G-4 400 Supplies General 44 III.

36. SHAEF G-4 Allocation of Tonnages I for Period 15-28 Oct, 8 Oct 44, and covering Ltr, Whipple to Crawford, sub: Tonnage Allocations, 8 Oct 44, SHAEF G-4 400 Supplies General 44 III; Memo, Whipple for G-3 Plng Stf, sub: Advance Across the Rhine, 14 Oct 44, SHAEF G-4 381 War Plans General II.

37. Cbl S-61798, SHAEF to Bradley, 11 Oct 44, SHAEF AG 381-3 SHAEF to AGWAR Reports on OVERLORD.

38. Memo, Whipple for G-3 Plans, sub: Maintenance of 12 A Gp Divs, 21 Oct 44, SHAEF G-4 Maintenance General, Box 1, Folder 47.

39. Cbl FWD-16181, Eisenhower to CCS, 29 Sep 44, SHAEF SGS 381 Post-OVERLORD Planning; Cbl S-64375, Eisenhower to Major Comds, 23 Oct 44, SHAEF AG 381-3 SHAEF to AGWAR Reports on OVERLORD; Memo, Whipple for G-3 Plng Stf, 14 Oct 44.

Transcribed and formatted by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation