Journal of a graduate student in military history and the American Civil War

The GI Offensive in Europe: The Triumph of American Infantry Divisions, 1941-1945

with 7 comments

Peter R. Mansoor. The GI Offensive in Europe: The Triumph of American Infantry Divisions, 1941-1945. The University Press of Kansas, 1999. [See this item on the University Press of Kansas website here.]

Mansoor states as purpose for his study to examine the evolution of combat effectiveness in the American infantry divisions that fought against Germany and Italy during World War II. But an underlying goal is to refute recent arguments that suggest that the Allies won the war “through the sheer weight of materiel they threw at the Wehrmacht in a relatively unskilled manner.” He focuses on the “standard American infantry divisions that formed the bulk of the Western Allied forces by the end of the war.”  Mansoor concludes that sheer numbers could not have alone been responsible for the Allied victory rather, the relative quality of forces fielded by the Allied and Axis powers was crucial to the ultimate outcome. He further concludes that Allied combat effectiveness increased over time while Germany’s declined, a victim of huge casualties and shortages of key resources. Mansoor examines a number of variables impacting combat effectiveness which he breaks into three groups: human, organizational, and technical.

An interesting conclusion is that endurance plays a key role in combat effectiveness which Monsoor defines as the ability of a military force to sustain itself over time. The element of time is an important, albeit often overlooked element of combat effectiveness, he argues, and “political as well as their military advisors tread a fine line between committing forces to combat to achieve the desired ends of policy and allowing those forces the time to develop into effective organizations before doing so.” Late and hasty mobilization plagued the American Army but it adapted, gained experience, and overcame those challenges sufficiently enough by the summer of 1944 to reach a level of effectiveness that enabled defeat of Germany and Japan.

Monsoor structures his work loosely chronologically. He begins with the mobilization of the Army followed by a chapter on pre-combat training. He then dives into the primary campaigns and battles of the war: North Africa and Sicily, the Italian Campaign of 1943-1944, Normandy, the Siegfried Line, the Battle of the Bulge, etc. His final chapter summarizes the path of the American Army toward combat effectiveness.

Peter Mansoor (see full bio here) is a warrior and a scholar. He graduated first in his class from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1982, and received master’s and doctoral degrees in military history from The Ohio State University in 1992 and 1995. He also holds a master’s in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College. He is currently holder of the Mason Chair in Military History at The Ohio State University. At the time of the book’s publication in 2003, he was poised to assume command of the Army’s 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division in Freiburg, Germany. His units went on to receive acclaim in the Iraq War. His star has continued to rise as a person of influence of policy and strategy within America’s war machine.

Mansoor’s book won the Society for Military History Book Award and the Army Historical Foundation Distinguished Book Award. It should be of interest to the serious military historian and both civilian and military leadership.

This work has several features worth special mention including a large number of campaign maps and illustrations, a glossary, and impressive notes section, index, and bibliography. The introduction is a masterful essay that serves as an excellent foundation for the rest of the work but easily stands alone. Mansoor’s conclusions appear fact-based and pull no punches. He is honest about the military’s early mistakes but ability to learn and adapt. This work is an excellent addition to military history.


7 Responses

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  1. Please to see my blog (nikotev.wordpress.com) for military history, military policy and diplomacy!
    With best wishes:
    Nikolay Kotev

    Nickolay Kotev

    October 22, 2008 at 9:40 pm

  2. Hello Nikolay,

    Thanks for stopping by Wig-Wags. I dropped in quickly to your blog and it looks quite interesting. I’ll enjoy reading your posts.

    Very best regards,


    Rene Tyree

    October 22, 2008 at 9:45 pm

  3. interesting blog. I’m going to be adding you into my sidebar. The “weight of materiel theory” has been around for quite awhile going all the way back to Liddell-Hart and S. L. A. Marshall. Terry Copp has put out a couple of books about the Canadian Army in Normandy trying to dispel this.


    October 22, 2008 at 10:33 pm

  4. Unfortunately the sidebar will have to wait. Currently the service that I do it through is experiencing technical difficulties.:(


    October 22, 2008 at 10:36 pm

  5. Hey Jmniman,

    Thanks for dropping by WigWags. I’ll look forward to keeping up with your blog! Always up for reading about good books.


    Rene Tyree

    October 22, 2008 at 10:51 pm

  6. Great post and excellent blog. I found the sentence near the beginning: that the Allies won the war “through the sheer weight of materiel they threw at the Wehrmacht in a relatively unskilled manner.” particularly fascinating. I examine the Lost Cause mythology of the ACW in my blog and one of the fundamental tenets of it, as you know, is that the Union Army did not win the war in the eastern theatre because of any tactical skill on the part of the men or officers (particularly U.S. Grant), but that the sheer numbers of men and materiel the North fed into the war were the difference.
    It’s both fascinating and concerning that this same apologia is seeping its way into WWII historiography. Did it come from a credible source? Anyway, keep up the good work and if you have a chance, take a look at my blog http://www.tipstorian.blogspot.com. I think you’ll enjoy it.


    October 26, 2008 at 8:21 pm

  7. In response to Mark’s comment, the overwhelmed by superior numbers argument originated with the Germans, for WWII. Seems a popular explination for defeated armies and societies. That way nothing you did was the cause.

    steve keating

    October 28, 2008 at 6:24 am

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