Monday, May 23, 2011
Battle of Gettysburg
At dawn, on April 1, 1940, the Army of Virginia forced a crossing of the Rappahanock river, thus beginning World War II in North America. General George Patton personally lead the Right Hook of his three-pronged war plan, aiming his army at Philadelphia. His original projections was to storm across Lincoln and Maryland, being in the U.S. Capital within a month. His plans relied too much upon the effectiveness of modern armor, most of which he commanded being imported Panzers. What he failed to calculate was the resolve of American militia and the long-term planning of U.S. General Clive Arnold. Patton drove relentlessly north, battling Lincoln and Maryland National Guard units the whole way. It was no straight-up fight, but rather a prolonged guerilla campaign. Arnold used these units to slow down his enemy, whose only real advantages were speed and surprise. Without either, war would bog down like it did during the previous war.
Arnold moved the 1st Army into place in southern Virginia, at a rail and road junction in the little-known town of Gettysburg. To take Philly, Patton would have to pass through this town. Both the railroad and highways passed through the little valley the town rested upon. Arnold fortified the hills and ridges around the town with bunkers and artillery. Tank traps and trenches were dug at the southern entrance to town, between Cemetery and Seminary Ridges, which in turn were dug in with anti-tank gun. Arnold had the traps camouflaged and relied upon Patton’s aggression to have the Confederate General trap himself. He was not disappointed.
On July 1, more than two months behind schedule, the spearhead of the Army of Virginia ran smack into the traps. Stuck tanks were quickly killed by anti-tank guns. The blunted spearhead upon State Route 76, caused a bottleneck of Confederate armor, a perfect target for the M-18 Badgers. Arnold used the tank destroyers to great effect, and Patton would later say it was those very tank destroyers that cost him the battle. Gettysburg was, at the time, surrounded by orchards, making armored movement precarious and unit cohesion difficult. Patton had little choice but to send in infantry, supported afar by tank guns, to storm each of the hills and ridges around Gettysburg.
Some of the bloodiest fighting was seen on July 2, when an entire regiment of Confederate soldiers was chewed to pieces storming the southern most hill, Round Top, where American artillery gnawed away at Patton’s flanks. Patton was a genius on the offense, but his defensive doctrine left much to desire. Confederate soldiers did take Little Round Top, only to be ejected by a costly American counterattack near dusk. At nightfall, both sides remained in stalemate. Night time attacks by Confederate commandos succeeded in capturing land between Cemetery Ridge and the Round Tops, cutting off the defenders there.
At dawn, Patton ordered the Round Tops suppressed by Confederate artillery and dive-bombers, while a full scale charge on Cemetery Ridge commenced. At the time and in his mind, his choices were limited between withdrawing south or charging forward. Never a man to back down, Patton gave the order to charge. For five hours, Confederate and American units slugged it out for Cemetery Ridge, with Confederates achieving limited gains. Had he another day, Patton may have taken the ridge, even after suffering 20% losses in his armor. That was not to be.
Arnold moved the bulk of his own armor, both tanks and tank destroyers, south. The flanking move took most of July 2, moving nearly thirty miles around Gettysburg. While Patton struggled to take Cemetery Ridge, Arnold’s own armor slammed into Confederate supply lines on the highway south. Arnold’s intent was not just to destroy Patton’s supply lines, but to encircle the Army of Virginia and either force it to surrender or to destroy it. With his supplies threatened, and encirclement imminent, Patton reluctantly gave the order to fall back– he never once uttered the word retreat.
The Army of Virginia’s retreat was less than orderly, with damaged vehicles and weapons forming a wake of litter than American fighters followed. It was the high-water mark of the Confederate invasion, and the beginning of the end of the Confederate States as an independent entity. Patton’s own aggression, inability to advance as fast as he planned, and inability to achieve air superiority over the battlefield that cost him the war at Gettysburg. It was Arnold’s own inability to achieve the same air superiority that failed to end the war then and there. Neither side utilized aircraft to their full effectiveness, but both sides did prove the value of armor and anti-armor weapons at Gettysburg.