The sovereign can no longer say, "You shall think as I do on pain of death;" but he says, "You are free to think differently from me, and to retain your life, your property, and all that you possess; but if such be your determination, you are henceforth an alien among your people."

(Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835)

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Interoperability in WWII

I'm currently re-watching the - still excellent - BBC series The World at War from the 1970s. In this day and age of multi-national military alliances and buzzwords like 'interoperability', I was amused to hear this from General Mark Clark, Commander of the US 5th Army, in reference to the campaign in Italy during WWII.
"[The Germans] were well-trained troops, tenacious and well-led... and they were homogenous. They were all of one nationality, they were all equipped with the same weapons and ammunition, they ate the same food, they believed pretty much in the same God.

I had sixteen different nationalities with me, some of whom couldn't eat this and that, some didn't want to fight on Fridays or some other day of the week and then we had the British with their infantry weapons and artillery completely different from ours. You couldn't move with ease from one front to another like the Germans could."
I don't know how much, if anything, we should read into a statement like that (although I'd be curious to know what the sixteen nationalities were). It just struck me as quite ironic when viewed from an early 21st century perspective. I doubt we'll hear an American general (much less a European) say this kind of thing publicly anymore... but I wonder how many of them think this way.


  1. Clark was just making excuses for almost messing up the landings at Salerno and for letting the Germans get away when he entered Rome.

  2. I don't think the situation today is all that very different. It would be interesting to hear what the Commanders have to say, though I think it's those at the tactical level that are more likely to give us the real story. I think we would find that - notwithstanding the shortfalls in equipment compatibility - we are mostly lacking in the basic language and communication skills. From at 21st centuty perspective that is actually quite disconcerting. At the same time, we may be expecting too much to have happened since then by way of developments in this field. Given the current efforts to make our forces more deployable etc etc, we may in for a long haul still.