Logistics and the Broad-Front

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Chapter 18

Logistics and the Broad-Front Strategy

by Roland G. Ruppenthal

(See end of file for information on author.)

Of all decisions made at the level of the Supreme Allied Commander in western Europe during World War II, perhaps none has excited more polemics than that which raised the "one-thrust-broad front" controversy. This has revolved about the decision that General Dwight D. Eisenhower made in September 1944 to build up his forces along the Rhine through the whole length of the Western Front, from the North Sea to Switzerland, before launching a final drive into the heart of Germany. It embodied what has come to be known as the "broad-front strategy."

There are those who endorse the view held by the top British commander in the theater, Field Marshal Sir Bernard L. Montgomery, that had General Eisenhower decided-preferably several weeks earlier, say, in mid-August-to concentrate all available resources in the north and halt all other offensive operations, the Allies with one bold, powerful thrust deep into Germany might have ended the war in late summer or early fall. Others maintain that the same end might have been accomplished had General Eisenhower banked all on a single thrust by the 12th U.S. Army Group, or even by the Third Army.

The factor that adherents to both these theories have neglected or underestimated is logistics. Seldom a subject for news headlines, logistic considerations nevertheless exert a strong influence not only on strategic planning but also on the conduct of operations once the battle has begun. What is not always recognized is that General

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Eisenhower's decision in mid-September 1944 was a decision based in large measure on logistic factors. [1]

By mid-September 1944 the Allied armies, having driven the Germans from Normandy and then pursued them across northern France and Belgium, stood at the German border in the north and at the Moselle River in the south. (See Map VIII, inside back cover.) The enemy was building up a capacity for increased resistance in the frontier defenses of the West Wall (Siegfried Line) and along the Moselle. But even before this had made itself felt, the Allies' triumphant pursuit was slowed down and, in some sectors, brought to a temporary halt by supply shortages. These were the more exasperating because they occurred in the midst of spectacular successes and because they contributed so strongly to frustrating a short-lived hope that the war might be brought quickly to an end. The supply situation which set the stage for General Eisenhower's decision was indeed all but desperate, but the reasons for it should not have been difficult to see. It is hardly surprising that combat commanders, in their exasperation over the denial to them of the means to continue the pursuit or to launch one bold thrust into Germany, should, on the American front, have immediately vented their annoyance on the Communications Zone, the organization responsible for their support. But their annoyance reflected both an unawareness of the impact of pursuit on supply capabilities and conveniently short memories concerning the invasion plan and the expected course of operations.

On its operational side, OVERLORD, the plan for the invasion of the European continent, had been 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 River, a line that would not be reached until D plus 90. Furthermore, plans had contemplated a fairly steady rate of advance and not the pursuit of a disorganized enemy. While such a forecast of progress admittedly was

[1] The present article was first published, in a similar form, in 

Military Review, XXXI, No. 5 (August, 1951), under the title "Logistic 

Limitations on Tactical Decisions." A full account of the logistical 

story in the European theater may be found in Roland G. Ruppenthal, 

Logistical Support of the Armies, Volume I, UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD 

WAR II (Washington, 1953), and Volume II (Washington, 1959), specifically 

Volume II, Chapter I. See also Forrest C. Pogue, The Supreme Command 

(Washington, 1954), in the same series; and Field Marshal Viscount 

Montgomery, Normandy to the Baltic (London: Hutchinson & Co., Ltd., 1947); 

Chester Wilmot, The Struggle for Europe (New York: Harper & Brothers, 

1952); George S. Patton, Jr., War As I Knew It (Boston: Houghton Mifflin 

Company, 1947); Dwight D. Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe (New York: 

Doubleday and Company, 1948); and Omar N. Bradley, A Soldier's Story (New 

York: Henry Holt and Company, 1951).

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conjectural, it formed, necessarily, the basis of logistic preparations. In the belief, for example, that the Seine ports would not become available quickly, great emphasis was placed on the development of the Brittany area, including the port of Brest. In addition, at least a month's pause 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 on the OVERLORD logistic plan was believed to be nonexistent. [2]

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 beachhead. From the viewpoint of logistical support, the lag in operations was not immediately serious, for it resulted in short lines of communications and gave the service forces added time to develop the port of Cherbourg, whose capture had been delayed.

Whatever temporary advantage accrued from this situation 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, the spectacular drive of early August brought definite advantages, for it resulted in the almost complete destruction of the German Seventh Army, and it greatly accelerated the advance to the enemy's border. From the point of view of logistic support, however, the rapid advance to the Seine foreshadowed serious complications. The fact that the OVERLORD objective was reached on D plus 79 rather than D plus 90 was, in itself, not too serious, for the supply structure was sufficiently flexible to accommodate itself to a variation of eleven days. The departure from the scheduled advance actually had been more serious. Because of the initial lag in operations, American forces were still at the D plus 20 line at D plus 49, and between D plus 49 and D plus 79, a period of thirty days, actually had advanced a distance which, by plan, was to have taken seventy days. The lines of communications could not be developed at the speed with which tanks and other combat vehicles were able to race forward. The result was that the armies already had used up their operational reserves by the time they reached the Seine.

Since rail and pipelines could not be pushed forward quickly enough, motor transport facilities were strained to the breaking point to meet even the minimum needs of the armies. The Communications Zone, consequently, found it impossible to establish stocks in

[2] Ruppenthal, Logistical Support of the Armies, I, Chs. IV, VII; II, 

Ch. I. 

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advance depots. Furthermore, none of the Brittany ports had as yet been captured, and only one major port-Cherbourg-was operational.

The arrival at the Seine marked only the beginning of supply difficulties. Despite the logistic complications which the rapid advance had already foreshadowed, decisions now were made to establish a bridgehead across the Seine; then to encircle Paris; and, finally, to continue the pursuit without pause all along the front. On purely tactical grounds these decisions were logically indicated, for the Allies now enjoyed a definite superiority, and the disintegration of enemy resistance offered opportunities that it would have been folly to ignore. From the point of view of logistics, however, these decisions carried with them a supply task out of all proportion to planned capabilities. With the supply structure already severely strained, these decisions entailed the risk of a complete breakdown. [3]

The continued advance, 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 now were further aggravated. The main problem, as before, was the deficiency in transport. 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 the forward movement of supplies, and it was unable to deliver even daily needs, to say nothing of stocking 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 United States divisions would have to be supported at the Seine. Not until D plus 120 was it thought feasible to support these divisions in their first offensive action beyond that barrier. In actuality at D plus 90 (4 September) sixteen divisions already were being supported at a distance of 150 miles beyond the Seine, and, within another week, First U.S. Army forces were operating at the German border in the vicinity of Aachen, well over 200 miles beyond Paris. By D plus 98 (12 September) the armies had advanced to a line which forecasts had indicated would not be reached until D plus 350. Between 25 August and 12 September they had advanced from

[3] See Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF) 

Planning Staff Studies, Post-NEPTUNE, 17 Jun and 17 Aug 44, in SHAEF G-3 

SHAEF/18008/Plans 44; Administrative Staff Study 14, The Logistical 

Implications of a Rapid Advance by AEF Beyond the Seine, 23 Aug 44, in 

SHAEF G-4 381 War Plans General, I, 44, Planning Paper, Logistical 

Implications of a Rapid Thrust to Berlin, Sep 44, SHAEF G-4 Logistical 

Forecasts, Folder 13.

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the D plus 90 to the D plus 350 phase line, thus covering 260 phaseline days in 19 days. The record actually was more phenomenal than these figures indicate, because, in the earlier dash to the Seine, the armies had overcome an initial lag of 30 days. The city of Paris also had become an additional supply liability because of its liberation 55 days ahead of schedule.

Contrary to plan, therefore, and as a direct consequence of the August decisions, considerably greater forces were being maintained at much greater distances than contemplated. This was accomplished despite an insufficiency of motor transport (which had been predicted even before D Day), despite the failure to open the Brittany ports, and despite the premature assumption of responsibilities in connection with the civil relief of Paris.

The probability that logistic limitations might straitjacket tactical operations had been realized as early as 24 August, when General Eisenhower expressed anxiety over the Allies' inability to undertake, simultaneously, the various operations which appeared desirable. Flushed with success, however, the Allies had begun to develop ambitions which they had not dared consider a month earlier. The uninterrupted advance in the next two weeks continued to nourish the hope that strong offensives, both north and south of the Ardennes, might be sustained. In the first week of September, General Eisenhower decided that such simultaneous drives to both the Ruhr and the Saar were still within Allied capabilities, and on 10 September he accordingly authorized an advance across the West Wall by both United States armies. [5] He admitted that the supply organization already was stretched to the breaking point, but he believed the operation was a gamble worth taking in order to profit fully by the disorganized state of the German forces.

The maintenance of the armies was a touch-and-go matter at this time, however, and it was necessary to keep a constant finger on the logistic pulse. Supply capabilities clearly were unequal to the support of sustained operations by both armies against determined opposition, for deliveries were being made at the rate of only 3,300 tons a day to the First Army and 2,500 tons to the Third-about one half of what they required. The dual offensive was supportable only if it could achieve quick success. Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., Third Army commander, was informed, therefore, that unless he was able

[4] Cbl, Eisenhower to Marshall, 24 Aug 44, Operations Division Executive 

Office File 9; see also Eisenhower to Montgomery, 24 Aug 44, and 

Eisenhower to CCS, 9 Sep, both in SHAEF SGS 381 Post OVERLORD Planning, 


[5] Tedder's (Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder) Notes on Meeting at 

Brussels, 10 Sep 44, OCMH files.

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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. [6]

Within the next ten days increasing resistance in both the First and Third Army sectors forced General Eisenhower to make the decision which he had hoped to avoid. A survey of supply capabilities at this time showed that United States port discharge was averaging less than 35,000 tons a day, several thousand tons below requirements. Even this was more than could be cleared from the ports, for the number of truck companies had been greatly reduced as a result of the demands for line-of-communications hauling. The net effect of these basic deficiencies was inescapable: a restriction on the number of divisions that could be supported in active operations and, consequently, a limitation in the scale of combat operations. As early as the middle of August it had become impossible to maintain in combat all the divisions which were available. By early September three had been immobilized and their motor transportation used to form provisional truck companies. Two more divisions arrived in the middle of the month, and it was thought that their motor vehicles might have to be utilized in the same way. Logistic planners estimated that there would be twenty-nine divisions in the 12th Army Group by 1 October, but thought it unlikely, on the basis of the current logistic outlook, that more than twenty could be maintained in combat as far forward as the Rhine at that date. [7]

This gloomy forecast served to underscore two conclusions which already had been accepted at Supreme Headquarters: 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 that it would be absolutely imperative to develop additional logistic capacity before attempting a power thrust deep into Germany. [8]

The situation in mid-September clearly indicated an urgent need both to shorten the lines of communications and to secure additional port capacity. The maximum force which could be supported through Cherbourg and the beaches was being reached rapidly. In fact, the capacity of the beaches was certain to decrease with the advent of bad weather, and new capacity also was required to compensate for

[6] Bradley Ltr of Instr to Comdrs, 10 Sep 44, in SHAEF SGS 381 Post \

OVERLORD Planning, I; see also, Ltr, Whipple to CAO, U.S. Troop Flow to 

Support a Maximum Effort [early Sep 44], SHAEF G-4 Logistical Forecasts, 

Folder 13.

[7] Whipple Ltr, cited n. 6; Memo, Moses for CofS 12th A Gp, Use of 

Divisions on Line of Comms, 5 Sep 44, 12th A Gp G-4 Memos 1944, Folder 

56, Drawer 11.

[8] Ltr, Eisenhower to Marshall, 14 Sep 44, OPD Exec Office File 9; See 

also Cbl, Eisenhower to Marshall, 4 Sep 44, OPD Cable Files.

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that lost in Brittany. The obvious solution to this dual requirement lay in the development of the Seine ports and Antwerp. [9]

In the light of these circumstances, General Eisenhower, in mid-September, considered two possible courses of action: the concentration of all resources behind a single blow on a narrow front directed toward the center of Germany (the proposal favored by Field Marshal Montgomery); or an advance along the entire front with the aim of seizing suitable positions on the German frontier where the Allied forces could regroup, establish maintenance facilities, and mount a broad drive into Germany. [10] The first course, often referred to as a "knife-like thrust" to Berlin, was rejected on both tactical and administrative grounds. Logistic resources likewise were lacking for the full implementation of the second course. The Supreme Commander, nevertheless, decided in favor of the second plan, which provided that the Allies push forward to the Rhine, secure bridgeheads over the river, seize the Ruhr, and concentrate on preparations for the final nonstop drive into Germany. Because of the limited logistic capabilities, however, the timing of the Allies' efforts toward the attainment of immediate objectives now became of utmost importance. The implementation of this plan, consequently, required a succession of attacks, first by the 21 Army Group, then by the First Army, and, finally, by the Third Army, with supply priorities shifting as necessary.

Future logistic needs also were a major factor in the assignment of missions, for General Eisenhower specified that additional ports must be secured simultaneously with the attacks eastward. Accordingly, Field Marshal Montgomery's 21 Army Group was given the mission of securing the approaches to Antwerp or Rotterdam and capturing additional Channel ports; Lt. Gen. Omar N. Bradley's 12th Army Group was to reduce Brest as quickly as possible and make physical junction with the Allied forces from the south, so that the supply lines leading from Marseille might assist in the support of the 12th Army Group. [11]

On 17 September, Montgomery had launched a combined United States-British airborne operation in Holland to secure a bridgehead over the Rhine and to turn the enemy's flank in the north. General Eisenhower had conceived of this operation as having only a limited objective, however, and he emphasized this point to his top commanders and staff officers, stating that he wanted general acceptance

[9] Cbl, Eisenhower to Marshall, 24 Aug 44.

[10] A detailed discussion is found in Pogue, Supreme Command, pp. 

249ff., 288-98.

[11] Eisenhower to Army Comdrs, 13 Sep, and Eisenhower to A Gp Comdrs. 15 

Sep in SHAEF SGS 381 Post OVERLORD Planning, I; Eisenhower to Montgomery, 

20 Sep, in OCMH files.

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of the fact that the possession of an additional major deep-water port on the north flank was an indispensable prerequisite for the final drive into Germany. He considered even the present operation in the north a bold bid for a big prize in view of the current maintenance situation. He considered the operation amply worth the risk. But he stressed repeatedly the conviction that a large-scale drive into the "enemy's heart" was unthinkable without building up additional administrative capacity, and this meant the opening of Antwerp. [12] He was, in effect, reiterating his decision, based in large measure on the logistical situation, to make no "one-thrust" push into Germany, but to advance on a broad front once adequate logistic support was ensured.

The dilemma in which the Allies found themselves at this time was, as previously noted, a direct outcome of the earlier decisions by which logistic considerations had been subordinated repeatedly to the enticing prospects which beckoned eastward. General Eisenhower himself admitted that he had been willing to defer the capture of ports in favor of the bolder actions which had taken the Allied armies to the German border. The first such deferment had been made on 3 August, when the bulk of the Third Army was turned eastward rather than into Brittany as originally planned. Two weeks later the Supreme Commander had again subordinated logistic considerations when he decided to cross the Seine and continue to drive eastward. Such deferments were no longer permissible. [13]

Though the British had captured Antwerp early in September, estimates made later in the month indicated that the port might not begin operating before 1 November. As a result, there was every prospect that United States forces would have to depend on lines of communications reaching all the way back to Normandy. Because of this, the total tonnages which the Communications Zone could guarantee to deliver were sufficient to support an attack by one American army and only if all the other United States forces reverted to the defensive. Even such a commitment would require the postponement of many essential administrative measures such as building advance airfields, winterizing troops and equipment, and replacing worn-out materiel. Since the Ruhr rather than the Saar was the most important objective, it was inevitable that the burden of the sacrifice should be borne by those 12th Army Group forces operating south of the Ardennes in the direction of the Saar-General Patton's Third Army. [14]

[12] Min, Mtg SHAEF War Room, 22 Sep 44, and Ltr, Eisenhower to 

Montgomery, 24 Sep 44, SHAEF SGS 381 Post OVERLORD Planning.

[13] See Ltr, Eisenhower to Marshall, 14 Sep 44.

[14] Ltr, Bradley to Patton, 23 Sep 44, 12th A Gp 371.3, Mil Objs, I, 

Memo, Moses for Barringer, Confirmation of Telephone Conversation This 

Date, 9 Sep 44, 12th A Gp G-4 Memos 1944, Folder 56.

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The developments of the next few weeks produced little cause for altering the conclusions reached in mid-September. At the very end of the month the Communications Zone presented figures on its delivery capabilities which revealed even more clearly the impossibility of supporting large-scale operations east of the Rhine. The 12th Army Group had indicated, on the basis of daily maintenance needs of 650 tons a division, that its requirements would total 19,000 tons a day during the first half of October, assuming the employment of twenty-two divisions, and 23,000 tons a day by 1 November, when the strength of the army group would reach twenty-eight divisions. In addition, however, the army group requested that the Communications Zone deliver 100,000 tons of supplies over and above these daily requirements in order to meet deficiencies in equipment and establish minimum reserves. The Communications Zone's reply was discouraging indeed. It announced that it would be approximately sixty days before any substantial tonnages could be built up in the forward area. September deliveries had averaged only 8,000 to 10,000 tons a day to the forward areas, and for the entire month of October deliveries would not even meet daily maintenance needs. Not until mid-November did the Communications Zone expect its port and transportation situation to improve sufficiently to permit the build-up of reserves, over and above daily needs, in all the army areas. The outlook for the next six to eight weeks was, therefore, a depressing one, for 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 that had characterized their support for the past several weeks. [15]

It also was 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 operations of the 21 and 12th Army Groups, consequently, were to be dominated throughout the fall of 1944 by the necessity of developing a new administrative base in closer proximity to the front lines.

Tactical operations, to paraphrase an old maxim, had definitely become the art of the logistically feasible.

[15] SHAEF G-3 Appreciation, Factors Affecting Advance into Germany After 

Occupation of the Ruhr, 24 Sep 44; Memo by Planning Staff, 24 Sep 44, 

SHAEF SGS 381 Post OVERLORD Planning; Memos, Moses for Stratton, Supply

Estimate, 25 Sep 44 and 1 Oct 44 SHAEF G-4 Allocation of Tonnages, 1, 8

Oct 44-SHAEF G-4 400 Supplies General 44, IV, Memo, Ravenhill for G-4, 10

Oct 44, SHAEF G-4 Maintenance of British and U.S. Forces 153/2/GDP-1, Box

1, Folder 42, Cable, SHAEF to Bradley, 11 Oct 44, SHAEF AG 381-3 SHAEF to


ROLAND G. RUPPENTHAL, Staff Member, Operations Research Office, The Johns Hopkins University. Ph.D. in history, University of Wisconsin. Taught at Akron University. Historical officer and assistant theater historian, European theater, World War II. Lieutenant Colonel, USAR. Historian, OCMH, 1946-53. Author: Utah Beach to Cherbourg (Washington, 1948), AMERICAN FORCES IN ACTION; Logistical Support of the Armies, Volume I (Washington, 1953) and Logistical Support of the Armies, Volume II (Washington, 1959), UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II.