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Here we continue from Part I of our series on Citizen Soldiers by Stephen E. Ambrose.
When last we left off, the Allies were battling the Germans and inching their way through hedgerows as best they could with tankers and vehicles designed for open space. Individuals with ingenuity were adapting the tanks for the landscape and improving ground-to-air and tank-to-infantry communication daily. In these next chapters, the soldiers will emerge from the shadowy lanes of the hedgerows and attempt to take advantage of the Allies' superiority in mobility, airpower, and their ability to supply a steady flow of fresh troops. Attention shifts from the concerns of managing tactics, men and machinery in an unexpected terrain to mobilizing armies through occupied nations and maintaining supply lines as the front moves further inland. As military historian Russell Weigley wrote, "The soldier's battle of Normandy was about to become the generals' battle of France."
Continue reading for questions and ideas for learning about and teaching WW II.
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Things to Think About While Reading
Chapter 3: Breakout and Encirclement (July 25 -August 25, 1944)
- What had transpired between D-day and July 24, 1944, that caused Bradley’s men to be better equipped in both “weapons and tactics"? What group of people deserved the credit for these improvements? (See Chapter 3, pg. 80)
Read the quote by Ernie Pyle on page 83 and answer the following:
- What word or words would you use to describe the experience of intense bombing described by Ernie Pyle on page 83?
- Do you think this is common in contemporary warfare? Try to find examples about men and women serving today to explain your answer. Use newspaper article, magazines, blogs, etc. This is a link to the award winning Bouhammer's Afghanistan and Military Blog--it's an excellent choice of the millions out there.
After reading the quote by Major Barth (German) regarding lance corporals in the German army (Chapter 3, pg. 85), consider the following:
- Was the role of lance corporals in the German army similar to that of NCOs (corporals and sergeants) in the American army?
- Did the German lance corporals and American NCOs receive the same type of affection and respect from their men? Be able to back up your answer by explaining the similarities or dissimilarities.
- While all military units experience a sense of comradeship, German soldiers seem to have had a more powerful feeling of brotherhood. What created this intense comradeship for the Germans? (See Chapter 3, pg. 88)
Hindsight creates a notion of certainty quite different from the doubt that comes with making decisions in the moment. Do you think Eisenhower and Bradley are unfairly criticized about their decision to concentrate on taking Brittany and its ports, or do you agree with Ambrose's assessment? (See Chapter 3, pp. 88 - 90)
- Teacher Tip: Patton's desire to forego Brittany and crush the Germans in France is compared to a "roundhouse right" by Ambrose while the mission Patton was given was called a "short right hook". (See Chapter 3, pg. 90) For fun, see if there's a boxing expert in the class and have him (or her) explain the difference. It might help to clarify the strategies and break up the routine a little.
- Hitler's generals disagreed with his plan to counterattack and try to drive the Allies to the west. His generals were right and eventually the German army was forced into a disorderly retreat. In what way was the fight for Hill 317 significant in proving the generals' point of view correct? (Chapter 3, pp. 91 - 100)
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Chapter 4: To the Siegfried Line (August 26 - September 30, 1944)
- In terms of their ties to World War I, what did German and American soldiers have in common? (Chapter 4, pg. 111)
- As the Americans headed toward the Siegfried Line, what warning of trouble ahead did they discover? (Chapter 4, pg. 112)
- Name two causes of the supply crises in the ETO. (Chapter 4, pp. 112-113)
- Reconsider your answer to question 5 from Chapter 3 in light of the supply crises. Does this information change your answer? Explain.
- Did the average German soldier’s attitude towards fighting change as they got to the Siegfried line? If so, what caused the change? (Chapter 4, pg. 114)
- The supply situation changed for the Germans as well. How so? Was it improved or worsened? (Chapter 4, pp. 113 - 115)
- Veterans of combat began to develop varying attitudes towards the war and their role in fighting it. Note the three different quotes regarding fighting on page 120 and describe the attitudes they reveal.
Chapter 5: The Siegfried Line (October 1944)
- Read the excerpt of Lt. Fred Hall’s letter to his mother on page 140 and answer the following: What caused the different points of view on the progress of the war between those who planned the strategy and those who actually carried out the execution of those plans? (Chapter 5, pg. 146)
- Overall, tactics and strategy began to change for both sides. In what way did warfare change for the American Army at this time? (See Chapter 5, pp. 142 – 146)
- Why was Lt. Borgert so happy to be back in Germany even though he was retreating? What does this reveal about the attitude of the general German population toward the Nazis? (Chapter 5, p. 147)
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Key Facts and Terms
- The Siegfried Line - Also known as the West Wall, the Siegfried Line was a fortified stretch of pillboxes and guns created to defend Germany on its western frontier. Built in the 1930s, Hitler reinforced it in 1944 and German soldiers held this line following their retreat from France.
- Pillbox - Basically a bunker made of reinforced concrete and used to hold men and machine-guns.
- General Bradley - Dubbed the “GI General" by journalist Ernie Pyle, General Omar Bradley commanded the US First Army on D-Day and was later given lead of the Twelfth Army Group.
- Panzer-Lehr - an elite German armored unit.
- St.-Lo-Periers Road - Highway running east-to-west along the front lines in France in July 1944.
- Cobra - Code name for an operation meant to get the Americans out of the hedgerows and expose the German lines in the area between St. Lo and Lessay. Heavy air bombardment was to be followed by artillery, tanks, and infantry creating a breach in the lines that could be exploited by Patton’s waiting army. It was designed to get the troops further east and south.
- Ernie Pyle - A famous, widely-read war correspondent who had great respect for infantrymen.Working for the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain, he covered World War II in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France and the Pacific where he was killed by a sniper on the island, Ie Shima.
- Brittany - region in western France.
- Market–Garden – A plan by Montgomery to end the war early. It called for coordinated airborne attacks in Holland and the taking of bridges from Eindhoven to Arnhem. The British Guards armored division was to lead the way for the British Second Army across the Rhine. The objective was to get across the lower Rhine River and eventually reach Berlin. (Episode 4 of the mini-series Band of Brothers is an excellent teaching tool about Market-Garden and incorporates many of the topics covered in Citizen Soldiers.)
Study Guide for Citizen Soldiers (Chapters 3-5)
Study guides written for use with Citizen Soldiers, and linked lesson plans. These study guides concentrate on the contrasts and similarities between the military and homefront cultures of the Allies and Axis nations. Lesson plans use quotes to achieve the last. Includes key terms and facts.