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Posted on Jan 7, 2023 in Books and Movies, Front Page Features

Examining the Critical Role of WW II Logistics in “War of Supply” – Book Review

Examining the Critical Role of WW II Logistics in “War of Supply” – Book Review

Ray Garbee

War of Supply: World War II Allied Logistics in the Mediterranean. Author: David D. Dworak. Publisher: University Press of Kentucky. Price $ 40.00

During World War II, the Allied powers (primarily the United States and the United Kingdom) engaged in a number of campaigns in the Mediterranean region, including the North African campaign, the invasion of Sicily, and the Italian campaign. Logistics played a crucial role in these campaigns, as the Allies had to transport and supply troops, equipment, and supplies over long distances and across difficult terrain.

When you mention military logistics, the first thing that comes to mind is the famous statement that “An army travels on its stomach”. While oft attributed to Napoleon or Fredrick the Great, the fundamental core of the statement remains true – for a military force to operate effectively, it must be supplied. While in the 18th and early 19th Century this mostly referred to food for the troops and fodder for the horses, by the mid-20th Century, technology had transformed warfare into an endeavor that required copious amounts of machinery, spare parts, food, ammunition and various forms of petroleum.


Following the United States active entry into World War Two, the first major land campaign for the United States Army was the Torch landings in North Africa in November, 1942. The Allies campaigned activity across the Mediterranean for the remainder of the war.  During these campaigns, there was the need to coordinate the efforts of multiple countries and military branches, as the Allied forces in the Mediterranean included troops from a variety of nations and included naval, air, and ground units.

Cover of War of Supply

Author David D. Dworak has produced a study of the logistical challenges faced by the Allies in the Mediterranean through the lens of the experience of the United States military. The narrative starts with Operation Torch and carries through the campaigns in Sicily, Italy and into the Operation Dragoon landings in 1944.

Troops unload during the invations of Sicily

Dr. Dworak’s book captures the theme of the United States military’s habit of approaching war as requiring ‘on the job’ training. In North Africa, historically we point at the battles in Algeria and Tunisia around Kasserine as the example of how the untested US soldiers learned hard lessons and became more professional. David Dworak would have us widen our view past the front lines to examine how the logisticians were also committing mistakes that directly impacted operations. Much the front line troops the supply services were also learning valuable lessons from their experiences in supplying an overseas theater. A reason that the battle of Kasserine Pass came to be in the first place was due to the failure of the logisticians and planners to accurately provide a logistical ‘tail’ that could effectively support the drive on Tunis. Dr. Dworak shows how, by the time the logistics were sorted out, the Axis reaction had set the stage for the German counterattack at Kasserine. The narrative demonstrates the central role of logistics in shaping both the operational tempo and objectives of each side.

Another major challenge the Allies faced was the limited capacity of ports and airfields in the region, which made it difficult to bring in sufficient supplies to support the Allied forces. To overcome this, the Allies developed a number of creative solutions, including using smaller ports and harbors that had been captured from the enemy, constructing temporary facilities, and relying on air and sea transport to move supplies from distant locations.

The efforts of the Service of Supply in rehabilitating ports and local railroad lines played a key role in sustaining the flow of food, ammunition and fuel to the front. Starting from ad hoc efforts to solve the immediate crisis, it took multiple landings before an efficient, effective logistics organization developed in the Mediterranean theater. By the time of the Dragoon landings in August, 1944, logistics planners both knew the importance of having a large supply of trucks and – at last – had a large motor pool upon which to draw on. With Operation Dragoon, the supply plan doubled the numbered of trucks allocated to moving supplies. Of course, the rapid advance inland meant that the front lines outstripped even these augmented motor pool, leading to the pivotal battle around Montelimar.

The Mediterranean Theater was far from a side show. Dr. Dworak shines a light on the Operation Dragoon landings in August 1944. Placing the landing in the context of operations in France, War of Supply shows how the Dragoon landings were not just ‘another front’ in France but served as a critical logistical conduit. The capture of Marseille as a major port effectively doubled the ability land supplies in France and allowed for a distinct French Army to join the effort to liberate France. This ‘Southern Line of Communication’ allowed all combat forces in France to function effectively and provided critical redundancy when the German Ardennes offensive threatened the Northern port of Antwerp, a key Allied logistical node.

It took multiple landings before an efficient, effective logistics organization developed in the Mediterranean. But the lessons learned in the Mediterranean were communicated to the forces staging for the D-Day / Western Europe campaign.

Success in the European theater involved the participation of far more than just the front-line troops. The US Army’s segregation policies of the early 1940’s limited combat opportunities for African-Americans, but the roles for both African-Americans and women in support and were critical efforts in bringing the bullets, beans and gasoline to the front-line soldiers.

The book imparts several messages to the reader. Unsurprisingly, a primary theme is that victory is built on a solid logistical foundation. Operational planners must pay as much – or even more! – attention to the logistical aspects of a mission, if they are planning for success. The narrative contains lessons for both planners and logistics practitioners. Key among them is that team work and coordination is vital – logisticians do not just need a seat at the table, they need a voice that carries authority and weight in the planning process.

And planners must have a clear understanding of the requirements and capabilities of the logistical ‘train’. This understanding is vital to understanding the capabilities of units between the beachhead or docks and the front lines. To paraphrase Eisenhower, the bad plan may be nothing, but bad planning will impact everything. 

Overall, the Allied logistics efforts in the Mediterranean were successful in supporting the Allied campaigns in the region, but they were also complex and required significant resources and planning.

“War of Supply” adds value to our knowledge of logistics operations in World War II. Though something of an administrative history, the book is a solid account of the importance of logistics in success of Allied operations in the Mediterranean and European theaters. The book will appeal to those looking for insights into how the logistics services stumbled in North Africa, but picked themselves up and learned from their mistakes. While not rich in personal anecdotes from the conflict, War of Supply, conveys a solid understanding of the foundational importance of logistics that made victory possible.