Obama, Romney, and the British Debacle at El Alamein

In an article entitled “Hitler’s Second Front,” that appeared in the November 1942 issue of the Atlantic Review, one T. H. Thomas confidently predicted disaster for the British forces in North Africa.  In his words,

Roughly speaking, Rommel is sixty miles or so away from winning the war.  There looms up close at hand the prospect of a decisive victory – one which would involve an irreparable disaster to the Allied conduct of the war.

In the mustering of forces for this battle, the enemy has now the advantage of position.  At one time British convoys could still take the direct sea route to Alexandria, but German dive bombers then appeared over the central Mediterranean.  By now it has actually become Mare Nostrum.  The British forces in Africa and the British fleets had no planes with which to strike back in kind.  British factories do not produce them.

British tanks were hopelessly outclassed by the Germans:

These actions (earlier fighting in north Africa) also brought into the field German medium tanks armed with 75’s (i.e., 15 pounders) against British tanks carrying nothing larger than 2-pounders.  The effective range of the German guns is said to be over three times that of the 2-pounders.  This contrast has dominated the fighting in Egypt since that day.  The British 2-pounder is an excellent tank against infantry positions.  In the naked landscape of Libya, mechanized warfare develops the situation of duels between tank and tank, or tanks against anti-tank artillery.  On this footing, the heaviest British tanks were hopelessly outranged.

Victory, was out of the question for the British.  It was merely a question of hanging on for dear life until the various nostrums proposed by Mr. Thomas could be applied:

The narrow front at El Alamein has become the keystone of the whole arch of Allied resistance east of Suez.  Here, as on every other front, the pressing task is to avoid defeat – the question as to how the war is to be won does not yet arise.

As it happens, on this day 70 years ago, just as Thomas’ prophecy of doom was appearing on the newstands, the question of how the war was to be won did arise.  Rommel’s “hopelessly superior” forces had been smashed by a British offensive after nearly two weeks of brutal fighting.  The remnant was in speedy retreat, leaving Hitler’s Italian allies, who had fought well at El Alamein, helplessly mired in the desert without food, ammunition or fuel.  Quoting from the Wiki article on the battle:

It had not been the first time that the Allies had had numerical superiority in men and equipment in the Western Desert, but never had it been so complete and across all arms. Furthermore, in the past—except in field artillery—they had struggled with the quality of their equipment. But with the arrival of Sherman tanks, 6-pounder anti-tank guns and Spitfires in the Western Desert, the Allies at last had the ability to match the opposition.

Allied artillery was superbly handled. Allied air support was excellent in contrast to the Luftwaffe and Regia Aeronautica which offered little or no support to ground forces, preferring to engage in air-to-air combat. This overwhelming air superiority had a huge effect on the battle…

In the end, the Allies’ victory was all but total. Axis casualties of 37,000 amounted to over 30% of their total force. Allied casualties of 13,500 were by comparison a remarkably small proportion of their total force. The effective strength of Panzer Army Africa after the battle amounted to some 5,000 troops, 20 tanks, 20 anti-tank guns and 50 field guns.

So much for Mr. Thomas’ prophecies of doom.  The Atlantic described him as follows:

A military hitorian who served with distinction on the staff at GHQ in the First World War, T. H. Thomas is well qualified to appraise the developments of the war.

I have no information on what became of him after he penned the article, although I didn’t put a great deal of Google time in searching for him.  If he had written the same stuff in Germany or the Soviet Union, no doubt he would have been shot as a defeatist.  However, the Allies were remarkably tolerant of pacifists and defeatists during the war.  I suspect that such tolerance played a major role in the rapid collapse of France, and may have cost Hitler’s other enemies dearly if he had not been so completely outmatched by the forces arrayed against him.  Be that as it may, there were many other T. H. Thomases writing similar disinformation about Hitler and the phenomenon of Naziism, the likelihood of war, the probable outcome of the war, etc., during the 30’s and 40’s.  I know of none whose careers suffered significantly as a result.  Apparently they just swept their past mistakes under the rug, and kept writing more of the same.

Fast forward 70 years, and a new generation of pundits has been busily enlightening readers as to the reasons why either Mr. Obama or Mr. Romney will inevitably win the election.  Half of them, more or less, will be wrong, and the other half, more or less, will be lucky.  Given the number of pundits and the laws of probability, a random few will be very lucky, predicting not only the outcome, but the exact tally of votes in the electoral college.  No doubt these lucky ones will be celebrated as geniuses, at least until the next election.  Except for Cassandra, successful fortune tellers have always prospered.  However, those who put too much faith in them would do well to recall the example of Mr. Thomas.

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