I am struck by the extent to which American victory, at least in North Africa, was almost entirely a function of volume of materiel.
At least, that’s what Rommel thought:
“In the long run neither Libya nor Tunisia could be held, for the African war was being decided by the battle of the Atlantic. From the moment that the overwhelming industrial capacity of the United States could make itself felt in any theater of war, there was no longer any chance of ultimate victory in that theater. Even if we had overrun the whole of the African continent, with the exception of a small strip of territory providing the enemy with good operational possibilities and permitting the Americans to bring their material, we were bound to lose in the end. Tactical skill could only postpone the collapse, it could not avert the ultimate fate of the theater.”Orr Kelly, Meeting the Fox: The Allied Invasion of Africa, From Operation Torch, to Kasserine Pass, to Victory in Tunisia 153 (2002).
And indeed the Germans had better technology:
When the 9th Division men did manage to capture an enemy position, they found that during the brief time the Germans had held the hill mass, their engineers had brought up jackhammers and construction equipment to dig foxholes in the rock and construct heavily fortified machine gun positions. At this point in the war, Americans had no such help from their engineers.Orr Kelly, Meeting the Fox: The Allied Invasion of Africa, From Operation Torch, to Kasserine Pass, to Victory in Tunisia 277 (2002).
As soon as it went into combat, the gasoline-powered Sherman became notorious for burning when hit.Orr Kelly, Meeting the Fox: The Allied Invasion of Africa, From Operation Torch, to Kasserine Pass, to Victory in Tunisia 198 (2002).
Cochran explained the difference between the performance of the German and American planes: “People say the Germans use the sun more than we do, that they have more sense than we have, that they are better hunters. It is not true. They have an airplane that can get to the sun quicker than we can get to the sun. Therefore, who uses it? He does!”Orr Kelly, Meeting the Fox: The Allied Invasion of Africa, From Operation Torch, to Kasserine Pass, to Victory in Tunisia 125 (2002).
And the Germans were far better at collective action:
As dawn broke, the Americans saw what they later learned was the 10th Panzer Division — some 125 tanks. The German tanks, arrayed in a square box formation, came slowly forward. Infantry, interspersed among the tanks and out in front, moving just behind the rolling barrage, advanced with them. The attacking formation, seeming to react to a prearranged signal, split up into three columns, one moving northwest, one following along the road, and the third — apparently the main column with some 30 tanks — headed south of the road . . . quickly overrunning the screening force . . . . [Carter] later described the scene: “For the first hour we sat in awe watching the attack of the 10th Panzer Division. The precision and timing of the huge iron forts moving down the valley was a thing of magnificent beauty . . . .”Orr Kelly, Meeting the Fox: The Allied Invasion of Africa, From Operation Torch, to Kasserine Pass, to Victory in Tunisia 273-274 (2002).
[T]he Allied command structure was so confused that troops in the field had trouble finding out who they were supposed to take orders from and sometimes received conflicting orders from two or more sources. They wondered, with considerable justification and not just in that normal soldier way, if anyone was in charge up there.Orr Kelly, Meeting the Fox: The Allied Invasion of Africa, From Operation Torch, to Kasserine Pass, to Victory in Tunisia 149 (2002).
When I got back from patrol, I went to sleep up in the top of [the command post]. When I woke up, there were [Maj. Gen. Terry de la Mesa] Allen and [Brigadier General Theodore] Roosevelt [Jr., son of the former President,] directing this battle and I was very unimpressed by their conversation. Neither one of them knew what the hell they were doing.Orr Kelly, Meeting the Fox: The Allied Invasion of Africa, From Operation Torch, to Kasserine Pass, to Victory in Tunisia 275-276 (2002).
Today, as then, we lack advantages over our adversaries in both technology and unity. Here is the National Defense Strategy Commission in November (via the Times):
America’s edge is diminishing or has disappeared in many key technologies that underpin U.S. military superiority.Providing for the Common Defense: The Assessment and Recommendations of the National Defense Strategy Commission viii (Nov. 2018).
Many of the skills necessary to plan for and conduct military operations against a capable adversary, such as command and control of large forces and logistical support of large, high-intensity operations, have also deteriorated.Providing for the Common Defense: The Assessment and Recommendations of the National Defense Strategy Commission 25 (Nov. 2018).
(In the present political climate I don’t think that even so much as that need be said regarding the insufficiency of our unity.)
Given our lack of technological or command superiority, the question whether we are capable of prevailing today, as we did in North Africa in 1943, back when we also lacked both those things, depends crucially on whether we would have an advantage in materiel.
Is that still true today? Would we be able to outproduce a Russia/China axis today?
No. America’s postwar economic story is the death of her manufacturing. Rommel’s “overwhelming industrial capacity of the United States” is a thing of the past.
The free traders didn’t just create a crisis in the distribution of wealth (and undermine national unity in the process).
They destroyed our only proven strategic advantage.