This volume pictures the difficulties of small unit commanders and soldiers in executing missions assigned by higher headquarters. Such missions are based at best on educated guesses as to the enemy situation and probable reaction. Success, failure, confusion, outstanding behavior, as pictured here, illustrate battle as it did, and often can, take place. The viewpoint of the participants at the time is hard to re-create in spite of what is known of the circumstances that surrounded the engagement. What now seems to be obvious was then obscure. The participants were continually faced with questions which can be reduced in number only by thorough training: What do I do next? Where shall I fire? Who is now in charge? Shall I fire? Will firing expose my position? Shall I wait for orders? To us who comfortably read accounts of the engagement the answers may seem evident. We must remember that confusion, like fog, envelops the whole battlefield, including the enemy. Initiative, any clear-cut aggressive action, tends to dispel it.
In battle the terrain is the board on which the game is played. The chessmen are the small units of infantry, of armor, and the various supporting weapons each with different capabilities, all designed for the co-ordinated action which makes for victory. No one piece is capable of carrying the entire burden. Each must help the other. Above all, the human mind must comprehend which, for the instant, has the leading role. There is no time out in battle. Teams must be prepared to function in spite of shortages in both personnel and equipment. They must be practiced and drilled in getting and retaining the order necessary to overcome the confusion forever present on the battlefield. This is the outstanding lesson of these pages. If heeded they will have most beneficial effect on our Army.
We, the victors in this war, can ill afford not to examine our training methods continually. Do we drill as we would fight? Do we instill in the soldier discipline and a knowledge of how to get order out of battle confusion? If not, victory will cost too much.
15 November 1951
Maj. Gen., U. S. A.
Chief of Military History
Charles B. MacDonald, compiler of this volume and author of two of the studies, commanded a rifle company in the 2d Infantry Division in World War II and is the author of Company Commander.* He is now on the staff of this office writing a volume on the U. S. Army in Europe. Sidney T. Mathews, author of the third study, was a member of the Historical Section, Fifth Army, during the war, wrote the study entitled "Santa Maria Infante" published in Small Unit Actions* of the series AMERICAN FORCES IN ACTION, and is a Ph.D. in History of the Johns Hopkins University. He is now on the staff of this office, writing a volume on the U. S. Army in Italy.
15 November 1951
|KENT ROBERTS GREENFIELD
* Washington, 1947.
In World War II historians in uniform followed the U. S. Army's combat forces in almost all theaters of operations, their primary duty to interview battle participants in order to enrich and complete the record of the war. Added to the organizational records of the Army units, the combat interviews obtained by these historians produced an unprecedented amount of source material. Rich in detail of small units in action, it provided an opportunity to show what actually happened in battle.
The volumes of UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II dealing with the war in the Pacific are rich in such detail. In those dealing with the war in the European and Mediterranean theaters, the scale of treatment is such that the history can rarely follow the action of small units. One of the objects of this volume is to achieve a microscopic view of battle in those theaters by focusing on the battalions, companies, platoons, and squads that fought in the front lines.
The AMERICAN FORCES IN ACTION* series has already presented fourteen volumes which are primarily small unit actions, but these are concerned almost exclusively with infantry in battle. Another object of this volume is to present actions in which the role of other arms and services can also be presented, providing a better picture of the interrelation of small parts on the battlefield, in as great a variety of tactical situations as possible.
The choice of actions to be included was limited by the kind of source material available for the specific purposes of the volume. Although interviews and unit records are present in abundance, only in a few instances can the small unit level be sustained through an entire operation or to a natural conclusion.
In many respects the actions chosen are representative of scores of battles in their respective theaters, for all three are made up of failures as well as successes. Out of a combination of actions such as these, large-scale victories or defeats are compounded. Squads, platoons, companies, battalions, and even regiments and divisions,
* Published by the Historical Division, War Department Special Staff.
experience local reverses as well as successes to decide the over-all course of war.
Each of the three studies presents an operation that constitutes but one of many in which the units and individuals described took part. Their performance in other engagements may have been more brilliant. It should be kept in mind that one action seldom is the basis for a military reputation. Further, a number of factors that often vitally influence a battle action--some of them unrecognized even by the participants--inevitably remain a mystery. The availability of materials and the type of objectives dictated the choice of actions to be recorded, not the individuals or the units. Their assistance in producing information and criticizing the manuscript is indicative of a loyal desire that others profit from their experiences.
While the authors are aware of the vital contributions supply and administrative units perform in the long-range scale of victory, their story lies in the administrative and logistical histories and in the volumes of the technical services of the series, UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II. Likewise, the story of command decision in higher headquarters lies in the campaign volumes. One of the actions, "River Crossing at Arnaville," has already been described at a higher level in Hugh M. Cole, The Lorraine Campaign;* the two others, "Break-through at Monte Altuzzo" and "Objective: Schmidt," will appear in higher-level accounts, minus the detail of these presentations, in subsequent volumes of UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II.
Both "Objective: Schmidt" and "River Crossing at Arnaville" were written primarily from combat interviews and unit records prepared by persons other than their author. "Break-through at Monte Altuzzo" was written by the historian who obtained the interviews and who made a number of trips to retrace the battle on the ground with surviving participants. Responsibility for editing the Altuzzo study to meet the requirements of this volume, for planning the volume, and for selection of studies to be included was mine.
In preparing this volume, Dr. Mathews and I were assisted immeasurably by the expert professional guidance of the members of the Office of the Chief of Military History. We wish particularly to recognize the contributions of Mr. Joseph R. Friedman, for his highly professional services as editor of the volume; of Mr. Wsevolod Aglaimoff,
* Published by the Historical Division, Special Staff, U. S. Army.
for his maps and for his counsel, based not only on his knowledge of military cartography and European terrain but also on his experience in battle; of Miss Margaret E. Tackley, for her exhaustive research in selection of photographs; of 1st Lt. George L. Frenkel and Mr. Britt Bailey, for considerable assistance with German materials; of Mrs. Pauline Dodd, for her invaluable work as copy editor; and of the following, both in and out of the Office of the Chief of Military History, who did so much to make this volume the cooperative enterprise that it is: Miss Norma E. Faust, Dr. Alfred Goldberg, Lt. Col. John C. Hatlem, Mr. David Jaffe, Mrs. Lois Riley, Mr. Royce L. Thompson, Mr. Ralph H. Vogel, Lt. Col. Charles A. Warner, and Miss Lucy E. Weidman. Additional credits to the officers and men who produced the source materials are to be found in the footnotes and bibliographical notes.
15 November 1951
|CHARLES B. MACDONALD|