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Subject: Worst U.S. Defeat of World War 2 rss

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I was thinking about Kasserine Pass earlier today, and how in the grand scheme of defeats, it really wasn't that bad. So it led me to want to post this topic.

What was the worst U.S. defeat of World War 2?

Some possibilities:

-Pearl Harbor

-Kasserine Pass

-The fall of the Philippines?

-Convoy losses?

-the initial stages of the Bulge.


I am discounting the loss of islands like Wake, mostly because they weren't priorities in the event of war with Japan.

What do you guys think?
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Steve Willows
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I'd have to go with the loss of the Philippines as General Wainwright surrendered the largest force in US history to the enemy and also became a POW himself.
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Robb Minneman
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Jackasses? You let a whole column get stalled and strafed on account of a couple of jackasses? What the hell's the matter with you?
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That's an interesting question. The first thing I'd do would be to try and frame the question. I don't think the outcome of the Second World War was ever in doubt; at least not after American entry. Japan didn't have the industrial base to stand up to the USA, and Germany and Italy were beset on two fronts (three if you count the Med) and not equipped for a long struggle.

In that case, I'd have to say that the worst US defeat was the one that set back American victory the farthest. A couple of notable points:

(1) The earlier in the war you have a divergence, the greater the impact will be.

(2) In any event, after early setbacks the US didn't lose that many confrontations (at least on a large scale).

Kasserine Pass wasn't all that bad for the United States. It's not like defeat at Kasserine set the war back by a few years, or even months. Heck, something like Kasserine was necessary to the successful prosecution of the war. The US Army needed to get stuck in, take their licks, and learn from the process. And, oh boy, they learned their lessons very well indeed.

And while Pearl Harbor was a very bad lick, indeed, it didn't cost the US their valuable carrier force and experienced pilots. And the Japanese didn't even put the naval base out of commission. Most of the infrastructure to keep the Pacific Fleet in operation was left in place.

Looking at it in that light, I have to think that the loss of the Phillipines is the worst thing that happened. It blew out any chance of having a forward naval base against the Japanese, and cost us thousands of men, a great deal of equipment, and a huge morale loss. If, by some miracle, the US hangs on to the Phillipines, the war is over in months, not years. That said, I don't see a realistic way for the USA to keep the Phillipines in 1942.

A dramatically shortened Pacific War allows the USA to focus even more men, material, and ships on the European Theater. The consequences of which would be quite obvious.
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Jim Ransom
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Thanks for the thought-provoking question. It's important to understand at what level of war you are looking. By definition, a strategic defeat is probably far worse than an operational or tactical defeat. This would tend to make the loss of the Philippines worse than, say, the crushing tactical defeat at the Battle of Savo Island.

At the strategic level, I agree that the loss of the Philippines had the biggest impact on the U.S. war effort. I'd be interested in what folks thought was the worst U.S. defeat at the tactical level too.
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Michael Dorosh
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wmd8tc wrote:
I was thinking about Kasserine Pass earlier today, and how in the grand scheme of defeats, it really wasn't that bad. So it led me to want to post this topic.

What was the worst U.S. defeat of World War 2?

Some possibilities:

-Pearl Harbor

-Kasserine Pass

-The fall of the Philippines?

-Convoy losses?

-the initial stages of the Bulge.


I am discounting the loss of islands like Wake, mostly because they weren't priorities in the event of war with Japan.

What do you guys think?


In terms of what?

Territory?

Lives?

Prestige?

Failing a strict definition of the question, I'd suggest yielding Berlin to the Soviet Union at the end of the war, or failing to negotiate more strongly with the Soviets, as a defeat far greater than any of the ones you mentioned. Pearl Harbor was nothing in terms of manpower - those sailors were replaced in a matter of weeks. The battleships were old, slow, and in the event, weren't really necessary for the new style of warfare in the Pacific.

Kasserine Pass? Was a blow to prestige, but the Americans quickly recovered.

Yielding Berlin was costlier politically. Forget the necessity for the Berlin Airlift three years later; the long and costly need for garrisons in West Germany followed. A NATO presence in western Europe would always have been necessary after the war but one wonders what things would have been like with a larger western Allied presence in Germany.
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Adam Siler
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The fall of the Philippines for sure. For America to ever have abandoned its men to an enemy like that was a low point in our history.

Worst tactical defeat was Savo Island.

The early days of the Ardennes offensive are only the beginning of a story. To overemphasize the low points in a single battle reminds me of Max Hastings, who almost seems resentful that we weren't defeated in the European campaign.
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Warren Bruhn
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Pearl Harbor hurt. So did Kasserine Pass. So did the Battle of the Bulge. But my vote would be for:

Anzio

Should not have gotten pinned down on that beach for so long.
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LgRangeContactPatrol wrote:
The fall of the Philippines for sure. For America to ever have abandoned its men to an enemy like that was a low point in our history.

Worst tactical defeat was Savo Island.

The early days of the Ardennes offensive are only the beginning of a story. To overemphasize the low points in a single battle reminds me of Max Hastings, who almost seems resentful that we weren't defeated in the European campaign.


Savo Island!

Good call on remembering the Navy. The actions around Guadalcanal get forgotten all too often.

I would probably agree about worst tactical defeat.
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Warren Bruhn wrote:
Pearl Harbor hurt. So did Kasserine Pass. So did the Battle of the Bulge. But my vote would be for:

Anzio

Should not have gotten pinned down on that beach for so long.


I like this option too, not because I think it outweighs the loss of the Philippines, but because I like the repositioning of "defeat".
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Michael Dorosh wrote:
wmd8tc wrote:
I was thinking about Kasserine Pass earlier today, and how in the grand scheme of defeats, it really wasn't that bad. So it led me to want to post this topic.

What was the worst U.S. defeat of World War 2?

Some possibilities:

-Pearl Harbor

-Kasserine Pass

-The fall of the Philippines?

-Convoy losses?

-the initial stages of the Bulge.


I am discounting the loss of islands like Wake, mostly because they weren't priorities in the event of war with Japan.

What do you guys think?


In terms of what?

Territory?

Lives?

Prestige?

Failing a strict definition of the question, I'd suggest yielding Berlin to the Soviet Union at the end of the war, or failing to negotiate more strongly with the Soviets, as a defeat far greater than any of the ones you mentioned. Pearl Harbor was nothing in terms of manpower - those sailors were replaced in a matter of weeks. The battleships were old, slow, and in the event, weren't really necessary for the new style of warfare in the Pacific.

Kasserine Pass? Was a blow to prestige, but the Americans quickly recovered.

Yielding Berlin was costlier politically. Forget the necessity for the Berlin Airlift three years later; the long and costly need for garrisons in West Germany followed. A NATO presence in western Europe would always have been necessary after the war but one wonders what things would have been like with a larger western Allied presence in Germany.


I left the definition open on purpose.

Not to get too sidetracked, but what did the US lose by ceding Berlin to the Soviets?
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In the alternative, on the ceding Berlin to the Soviets question: what did the Soviets win?
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Michael Dorosh
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wmd8tc wrote:
Michael Dorosh wrote:
wmd8tc wrote:
I was thinking about Kasserine Pass earlier today, and how in the grand scheme of defeats, it really wasn't that bad. So it led me to want to post this topic.

What was the worst U.S. defeat of World War 2?

Some possibilities:

-Pearl Harbor

-Kasserine Pass

-The fall of the Philippines?

-Convoy losses?

-the initial stages of the Bulge.


I am discounting the loss of islands like Wake, mostly because they weren't priorities in the event of war with Japan.

What do you guys think?


In terms of what?

Territory?

Lives?

Prestige?

Failing a strict definition of the question, I'd suggest yielding Berlin to the Soviet Union at the end of the war, or failing to negotiate more strongly with the Soviets, as a defeat far greater than any of the ones you mentioned. Pearl Harbor was nothing in terms of manpower - those sailors were replaced in a matter of weeks. The battleships were old, slow, and in the event, weren't really necessary for the new style of warfare in the Pacific.

Kasserine Pass? Was a blow to prestige, but the Americans quickly recovered.

Yielding Berlin was costlier politically. Forget the necessity for the Berlin Airlift three years later; the long and costly need for garrisons in West Germany followed. A NATO presence in western Europe would always have been necessary after the war but one wonders what things would have been like with a larger western Allied presence in Germany.


I left the definition open on purpose.

Not to get too sidetracked, but what did the US lose by ceding Berlin to the Soviets?


Years of treasure, is what I was thinking of mainly, if one presupposes that showing that much weakness in 1945 emboldened the "evil empire" from the start. Not necessarily Stalin, but those who might have stood up to him in the years following him. A small club, perhaps.

Realistically, what did the Americans lose at Anzio, Pearl Harbor, or the Bulge? The 106th Infantry Division? Some peacetime sailors and a bunch of slow battleships that couldn't accompany the fast carrier battle groups?

Militarily, I'd look at something like Schweinfurt/Regensburg - where trained aircrew were lost, along with the implications it had on the strategic front and the CBO. The second Schweinfurt raid, and the losses, were so bad, the USAAF suspended deep penetration raids into Germany for five months.

The line was restored after the Ardennes offensive in a few weeks with little disruption, and even the major British-Canadian offensive into the Rhineland was only delayed by a month IIRC.
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An interesting question, as it is rather open ended in terms of the scope / scale you're considering, as well as the specific definition of 'defeat'.

A couple that haven't really been touched on thus far

1. German u-boat campaign off in US waters for the first 6 months or so after the DoW against the US. The US shipping defenses were not well prepared and it was referred to as the 'second happy time' by the u-boaters, as heavy losses were inflicted on Allied shipping with relatively light losses in u-boats.

2. American daylight bombing campaign 1943. Losses to unescorted bombers became so prohibitive that the campaign had to effectively be called off until the long range fight escorts (Mustangs) became available early the following year.
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Michael Dorosh
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deadkenny wrote:
2. American daylight bombing campaign 1943. Losses to unescorted bombers became so prohibitive that the campaign had to effectively be called off until the long range fight escorts (Mustangs) became available early the following year.


You couldn't agree more.
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Oh my God They Banned Kenny
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wmd8tc wrote:
Not to get too sidetracked, but what did the US lose by ceding Berlin to the Soviets?


wmd8tc wrote:
In the alternative, on the ceding Berlin to the Soviets question: what did the Soviets win?


Berlin as an American 'defeat'? Lol. Somebody has been reading too much Churchill and taking it too much to heart. If one is looking for an American 'political' defeat during WWII, I would think Yalta would be more fertile soil. There the 'west' basically made concession for Stalin's 'good will', and later found out exactly what that was worth.

Regarding Berlin - first the occupation zones had been previously agreed to. They had been drawn up, largely on Churchill's initiative, at a time when it wasn't clear that the Allies would actually be in a position to get to theirs prior to Germany's defeat. As things played out, the Allies could easily have occupied 'their' occupation zone, plus alot more. However, Ike realised that those sorts of 'political' questions were not his to answer. So he stuck to the military mission, tried to avoid unnecessary Allied losses and minimised the risks of an unintentional clash with the Soviets. I would also point out that the Allies in fact got 'half' of Berlin, while the Soviets paid the price for Berlin in terms of massive losses.



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Robb Minneman
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Jackasses? You let a whole column get stalled and strafed on account of a couple of jackasses? What the hell's the matter with you?
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deadkenny wrote:
An interesting question, as it is rather open ended in terms of the scope / scale you're considering, as well as the specific definition of 'defeat'.

A couple that haven't really been touched on thus far

1. German u-boat campaign off in US waters for the first 6 months or so after the DoW against the US. The US shipping defenses were not well prepared and it was referred to as the 'second happy time' by the u-boaters, as heavy losses were inflicted on Allied shipping with relatively light losses in u-boats.

2. American daylight bombing campaign 1943. Losses to unescorted bombers became so prohibitive that the campaign had to effectively be called off until the long range fight escorts (Mustangs) became available early the following year.


I agree that the early u-boat campaign was a disaster for the United States. Realistically, however, that shipping was all replaced within the first twelve months of the war. (Ain't industrical capacity great?) How much did that set the war effort back?

And the same question goes for daylight bombing. How much did the bombing campaign contribute to ultimate victory, and how much did those 1943 losses set back the war?
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deadkenny wrote:
Berlin as an American 'defeat'? Lol. Somebody has been reading too much Churchill and taking it too much to heart. If one is looking for an American 'political' defeat during WWII, I would think Yalta would be more fertile soil.


Berlin and Yalta are the same thing.

Where do you think the decision was made?

Like I said.

You couldn't agree more.
 
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robbbbbb wrote:
And the same question goes for daylight bombing. How much did the bombing campaign contribute to ultimate victory, and how much did those 1943 losses set back the war?


Those four-engined bombers were of value tactically, not just strategically. They proved it during Operation COBRA, at Calais in 1944 during Canadian land operations, Operation TOTALIZE, etc. Yet the bomber commands continued to resist giving over their prerogative to the Army commanders, in the belief they were winning the war strategically.

Even if you dismiss out of hand the notion that a single Allied bomb did a single thing strategically, the act of them dropping those bombs and flying those missions kept them from doing good work tactically.

Ask anyone who was in Panzer Lehr the two times they were bombed at the start of COBRA, how effective they were. It was far from perfect, given they were still learning how to do the thing, and ended up killing or injuring a lot of Allied troops by accident (including at least two general officers), and using medium and heavy bombers didn't always go so well (Caen, Cassino, etc.).
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Oh my God They Banned Kenny
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robbbbbb wrote:
I agree that the early u-boat campaign was a disaster for the United States. Realistically, however, that shipping was all replaced within the first twelve months of the war. (Ain't industrical capacity great?) How much did that set the war effort back?

And the same question goes for daylight bombing. How much did the bombing campaign contribute to ultimate victory, and how much did those 1943 losses set back the war?


Hard to quantify how much the 'war was setback' by those 'defeats'. The u-boat campaign probably had a much greater effect, and no doubt played a role in the fact that the US took almost a year to project land forces into the ETO to any significant degree. There is still debate regarding how much impact the strategic bombing campaign had. It was disruptive, however, the greater impact was probably in the pressure it applied (or relieved when ceased) on German defenses. Once the long range fighter escorts were available in numbers, the Luftwaffe was shot out of the sky trying to intercept the bombers. There were also other resources committed in significant numbers. A large number of 88mm flak guns, for example, released for duty on the fronts could have had an impact.
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