Saturday, 16 March 2013

Fiasco - John Dean Potter

Safety lies forward.                                                                                             
                             Military Maxim

Title: Fiasco
Author: John Deane Potter
Publisher: Stein and Day
Pages: 235

Content: Potters book is a fascinating example of how luck and effective operational planning can overcome the longest odds. In 1942, the Germans and British were stalemated along the English Channel; however, operations in Russia had resulted in significant German Luftwaffe units being deployed east. This in turn led to increased capability of the British to launch air-raids on French ports where German surface raiders such as the Gneisenau and Scharnhorst sheltered. This fact, combined with Hitler’s belief that the Allies would be attempting an invasion of Norway, resulted in his ordering these capital ships north to German waters and safety. The most direct route was north through the Straits of Dover; however this held the greatest peril as the Germans would be exposed for 36 hours to the combined threat of the RAF and the Royal Navy. It also held the greatest opportunity as the Germans felt that this would be the route that would be least expected and therefore planned against by the British. German planning was hallmarked by extremely effective liaison between the Luftwaffe and the Navy, audacity (they planned the passage through the Straits of Dover for daytime), tight secrecy and noteworthy operational planning that included incorporation of deception and meteorological plans. The British response to the German breakout was disorganised and piecemeal. The reasons for this included a mindset that insisted that the Germans would never attempt a daylight passage through the Straits, ineffective passage of information, lack of coordination of effort between Coastal, Fighter and Bomber Command as well as the RN and an overall failure to plan/practice for this contingency. As a result, not only did the Germans breakout successfully, they did so while sustaining no damage from the British attacks that did materialize. The takeaway from this operation emphasizes the importance of planning, audacity and a willingness to accept risk in order to attain objectives. Lessons that never lose their importance.

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