Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

On the competence of American commanders in World War II

I’ve been reading Peter Schifferle’s America’s School for War: Fort Leavenworth, Officer Education and Victory in World War II. Generally I found it kind of dull, feeling a bit like a biography written only about what a person did between 9 and 5 every day. That said, I was intrigued and persuaded by his basic ...

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I've been reading Peter Schifferle's America's School for War: Fort Leavenworth, Officer Education and Victory in World War II. Generally I found it kind of dull, feeling a bit like a biography written only about what a person did between 9 and 5 every day.

That said, I was intrigued and persuaded by his basic conclusion: Senior American commanders were much more competent in World War II than in World War I, he says, especially in the difficult art of coordinating the combat arms (infantry, artillery, armor, aviation) to break through enemy lines and then exploit that breakthrough. The reason for this competence, he says, was the education they received at Fort Leavenworth in the interwar period. He quotes the comment of German Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, who after being captured in 1945 reportedly said, "We cannot understand the difference in your leadership in the last war and in this. We could understand it if you had produced one superior corps commander, but now we find all of your corps commanders good and of equal superiority."

I’ve been reading Peter Schifferle’s America’s School for War: Fort Leavenworth, Officer Education and Victory in World War II. Generally I found it kind of dull, feeling a bit like a biography written only about what a person did between 9 and 5 every day.

That said, I was intrigued and persuaded by his basic conclusion: Senior American commanders were much more competent in World War II than in World War I, he says, especially in the difficult art of coordinating the combat arms (infantry, artillery, armor, aviation) to break through enemy lines and then exploit that breakthrough. The reason for this competence, he says, was the education they received at Fort Leavenworth in the interwar period. He quotes the comment of German Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, who after being captured in 1945 reportedly said, "We cannot understand the difference in your leadership in the last war and in this. We could understand it if you had produced one superior corps commander, but now we find all of your corps commanders good and of equal superiority."

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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