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Hunker down for a good read

If you have time on your hands during the corona virus lockdown, this book is certainly worth a good read says Maj Gen David Shouesmith

By James Garvey
Farm Publications 2019

This is a story that is long overdue the telling –  of the logistics effort that supported the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943, immediately after the conclusion of the Allies’ North African campaign.  The author contrasts the attention that the invasion of NW Europe (Operation Overlord) and its accompanying logistic effort has received, but Husky was in fact a larger and more complex undertaking, especially logistically.  It comprised 176,000 troops, landing across a hundred mile beachfront, compared to Overlord’s 156,000 troops and a beachfront half the breadth.  It was mounted at much shorter notice (barely five months, compared to Overlord’s sixteen) and amidst considerable operational and strategic uncertainty.   Husky was able to draw on invaluable lessons from the Operation Torch landings in North Africa barely six months previously and Husky provided further lessons without which it is questionable whether Overlord could have succeeded logistically.

There are some themes which the book highlights, which will be familiar to logisticians and which endure to this day.  Firstly, logistic decisions often need to be made in the absence of clear operational plans – and sometimes these are big decisions.  Secondly, logisticians need to have the immutable trust of and credibility with their commander.  In Husky’s case Maj Gen (later Lt Gen) Sir Humfrey Gale was Eisenhower’s trusted chief administrative officer and Eisenhower trusted him to drive the logistic planning around which the operational plan eventually coalesced.  Third, capable logisticians on the ground, empowered to make decisions as events unfold, are critical.  Some things cannot be determined back in HQ, however good the data feed.  Fourth, understanding the logistic and operational plans and having the situational awareness to adjust logistics on the hoof remains a cornerstone of military logistics and Husky is replete with examples of how this was done – from the switching of beach landing sites to the rapid in-country acquisition of alternative transportation means.  And the book makes the reader ponder what skills may have been lost by operating at such (relatively) small scale in recent decades; the ability to plan and execute the movement of huge numbers of people and materiel, the importance of transportation and supply as separate disciplines – discuss!

The book provides plenty of statistics and planning detail, extracted from original sources.  While it is more academic thesis than classic military history, and therefore lacks the prose and penetrating insights of a Max Hastings or Andrew  Roberts, its central thesis – that the success of Husky was due to clear logistic foresight and flexibility based around a robust logistic plan – is difficult to argue with.