Memorializing the Role of Supply Chain Management in American Military Success

“Good logistics alone can’t win a war. Bad logistics alone can lose it.” – Gen. Brehon B Somervell, 1942

As the nation prepares to observe Memorial Day, taking time to remember the estimable bravery, sacrifice and dedication of all those who served in the Armed Forces of the United States of America over the course of 237 years of defense and warfare, Ultra would like to honor the dedicated men and women, in all branches of our armed services. These heroes personify all that is good about American culture: honor, duty, grit, determination, compassion, co-operation, intelligence, valor and dignity. Please join all of us here at the Supply Chain Collaborator in a voicing full-throated “thank you” for all that each successive generation of soldier, sailor, Marine, Air Force pilot and Coast Guard have contributed to the continued success, safety and prosperity of our great nation.

Let’s also ponder the critical role played by logistics in maintaining and projecting the “Arsenal of Democracy” around the world. It boggles the mind to ponder the size, scope and challenges facing military logistics planners operating in the most fraught environments of the modern battlefield; and as were the case in most of the major conflagrations of the 20th Century, without the benefit of the supply chain management software that so greatly aids modern logistics efforts. Contemporary military operations in Afghanistan, the Middle East and other locations are no less challenging, despite the modern military’s extensive use of logistics software and other supply chain management solutions. So it is particularly amazing to consider just how effective our armed forces were in managing the logistics of an invasion such as the Normandy landing of World War II.

Even though the US would not formally enter the War until the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December, 1941, the US had been supplying British and allied forces with huge quantities of materiel for several years. After the US entry into the conflict, planning began immediately for the invasion/liberation of occupied France. Between January of 1942 and the June 6th 1944 D-Day invasion, the US shipped more than 17 million tons of cargo to the UK in preparation, including general supplies and equipment, 800,000 pints of blood plasma, 125 million maps, prefabricated harbors (known as Mulberries), a replacement rail network, cigarettes, and toothbrushes among many other items. The invasion forces landed on 6 June 1944 at five beaches in Normandy: Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno, and Sword. At Omaha and Utah, the two American beaches, only 6,614 of the planned 24,850 tons of cargo were discharged in the first 3 days, which is indicative of the difficulties the Americans experienced in beach resupply operations.

In spite of overwhelming obstacles and fierce German/Axis resistance, the Allied efforts, supported by the gigantic American logistics operation, led to the liberation of France and the ultimate victory over the Axis powers. The logistics lessons learned in WWII were carried forward into subsequent conflicts in Korea, Viet Nam, the Persian Gulf, the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan. All those who served in combat as well as in military logistics in these wars and all American wars deserve our respect, admiration and thanks this Memorial Day.

For those of us practicing logistics and transportation management in the business realm, we’d do well to remember General Somervell’s dictum regarding the critical nature of logistics planning to winning whether it be in the theater of warfare or global business.



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