The German effort to reduce Maginot main line fortress failed in 1940 while the Americans were successful in 1944. What conclusions, if any, should one draw from this disparity?
This much is certain. The vaunted German Army made a determined effort and failed. The decision to launch "Operation Tiger", the offensive against the Maginot, was Hitler's. He fully supported the idea and the plan, Hitler, it's driving force. If "Operation Tiger" was unsound, it matters not. Hitler made the call. Battle plans were executed. Half hearted attempts and failure bore dire consequences in the Third Reich. Generals fully obeyed. Soldaten died.
This decision was not a sudden inspiration. Hitler had every reason to expect one more victory. The German army was at the height of its power and without question the most powerful military in the world in 1940. Germany was fighting a single front war. Britain’s army was kicked out of France, defeated, lacking even basic equipment and arms. France demoralized. It's army all but defeated in the prior events. Germany was the master of the Continent, on the ground and in the air. The destruction of the very symbol of French military power, the Maginot, was to be another tribute to Hitler's greatness, the self defined "greatest military mind in history."
Germany held all the cards. The German 1st Army, tasked to reduce the Maginot proper, was eager and well equipped to succeed. Fresh 1st Army troops wanted a piece of the glory, the destruction of the vaunted Maginot Line. Up to this point, the 1st Army held defensive positions. Paris fell, so would the Maginot. And the German 1st Army brought to bear proven and unmatched capabilities to reduce and defeat fortifications.
Earlier, Germany shocked the world at another fortress. The Battle for France began with the coup de main capture of the key and powerful world class Belgium fortification, Fort Eban Emanuel. The fort and defensive lynch pin to the northern flank, fell in a matter of hours. Later, in 1942, Germany demonstrated it's might again, at Sevastopol against the Soviets. At great cost, a mighty Soviet fortress was destroyed and captured by the von Manstein led German Crimean Army.
Germany lavished it's fort busting assets in an attempt to reduce the fixed positions at the Maginot. This included the heavy artillery, superior to the Americans, for this task. Hugh shells from the giant 420mm howitzer promised one-shot knock-out power. Once battered by bombardment, the fearsome armor penetrating capability of the German high velocity 88s came next. The job, blind the fort to allow assault troops to move in for the kill. The method: blind the fort by placing accurate directly aimed 88 artillery fire into the fort's eyes, the hardened apertures. Once blinded, the combined arms assault teams of the superb German infantry and its sappers, armed with flame throwers and explosives, assault and root out the French defenders.
In the air, the German Stuka was ideally suited to fortress reduction. The American P47, the scourge of German ground forces and a superb airplane, was inferior in the specialized mission of destroying hardened fixed targets. The first precision aircraft platform, the Stuka packed superior hitting punch with accuracy. A dedicated dive-bomber, it delivered on target the potent 2,000lb armor piercing bomb at Simserhof and elsewhere. In 1944, only the general purpose 500lb bomb was available to the Yanks.
The outcome of "Operation Tiger" seems automatic. The high morale 1940 German 1st Army, dedicated to victory, armed and motivated versus the already defeated French, foretold of a one-sided German victory.
On June 14, 1940, the German 1st Army went over to the offensive in "Operation Tiger” and attacked the Maginot Line. The result: failure. The French soldiers at the Maginot gros ouvrages forts prevailed. Not even a single French artillery piece was neutralized. The Germans failed to even get close to the mighty forts.
At the armistice, these forts were handed over to the Germans, untouched.
The scholarly book "When Odds were Even" by military historian Keith Bonn eloquently refutes the claim of inferiority of the American versus the German military of the Second World War. In his book, Bonn compares and contrasts the German and American Armies of the Vosges Mountain Campaign of 1944-1945, where the 44th engaged the Germans.
The conclusion is startling. Without the advantage of airpower, numerically inferior, facing terrible weather conditions while the Germans held the advantages of superb defensive terrain and short supply lines, the GI proved superior.
A basic Nazi tenet, the dominance of the Aryan, was effectively and widely employed in German war-time propaganda. The German solider was a ‘Superman.’ And today, the general consensus is the German was the superior soldier of WWII overall, and certainly superior to the American. One cannot deny the obvious. The German was, in large measure, an excellent solider. Yet, except for a few elite American units, the ability and the accomplishments of the common American soldier are underreported, underappreciated and undervalued.
The vintage American GI was an exceptional soldier as well. And, just maybe, German versus Yankee, man on man, the better soldier.