Between the two world wars, there were key military developments that lead to a more destructive war on land, air, and in the sea. Superior manpower and material resources on the Allied side led to eventual victory. The war in the air was more significant than previous wars. Naval warfare saw new developments which greatly influenced the outcome of the war. Even technology experienced advancement during the war. The combination of all these things pushed the war in a more destructive and total manner; especially with the development of the nuclear bombs. Many civilians lost their lives during World War II. It was also one of the most costly wars in American history. With more money available and the study of new technology wars continued to become more destructive and more deadly. Military strategists from all over the world study all types of wars-their strategies, weapons, leaders, successes, and failures. By knowing what is good and improving what is not good, war grows meaner and meaner.
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All hopes of a quick war ended with the retreat behind the Marne in 1914. Between 1914 and 1915, Germany's hybrid form of authoritarian regime crumbled before all of Germany's eyes. However, the Germans are very determined people. They experienced a collapse in the world economic crisis, the birth and death of a National Socialist state, and continually gained and lost territories during combat. Although blow after blow came, the Germans scratched and clawed their way back to a dominate force. Military advancements were made and technology improved during the years of 1920-1930s. War did not have to rely on marching armies quite so much. Soldiers could use engine powered machines instead of horses as a means of transportation. Tanks which were nearly indestructible became very popular in combat.
Very early in World War II, Hitler and his men had the luxury of fighting only one country at a time-usually a country they had chosen to take over. Although German troops knew all eyes were watching them they still were not engaged in a multitude of battles with other nations. Hitler had raised a nation to reverence their military. Men were educated and trained in chemicals, technology, and engineering and applied this knowledge to military strategies. As boys grew from childhood they knew there would be a time when they could be soldiers just like other men in their families. This constant preparation allowed rag-tag armies to be thrown together and experience success. During most battles, German troops would attack swiftly and very aggressively. American, British, and Russian troops would move in and wait to see how the enemy responded.
Facing numbers much larger than their own, the German army still experienced success on a regular basis. Superior tactics, superior military leaders, and sometimes superior armor gave the Nazi army an advantage over their opposing forces. While planes were flying overhead bombing strategic targets, the front lines were fighting and pounding away at their opponents. There was always a steady stream of supplies pouring in and readily available for their men.
The technology that Hitler had available and was using was considered to be the most modern at that time. In 1936, Hitler was able to test his expertise during the Spanish Civil War. The Luftwaffe flew plans armed with 20mm canons and could travel at 200 miles per hour. Other European nations could only manage to fight air battles in biplanes. Hitler's intelligence encouraged him to venture away from the way traditional European military leaders fought. Hitler targeted the countries that were considered neutral, Low Countries. Hitler watched and studied other wars and the military tactics used. Sometimes this led to his attacking that country. In the Winter War of 1939-1940, Hitler's men defeated Russia after watching Finland repeatedly hold Russia off. Assuming that with a much larger army than Finland had, he could overtake Russia-and he did.
Airpower had become a huge part of military operations in North America and Europe. In industrialized nations the airplane as a weapon grew as a major playing card in foreign policy and the way wars were planned strategically. So much hype arose; the hype grew bigger than the capabilities of the aircrafts. Somewhere around the mid 1930s aerial technology had been revamped. In the early part of the war, the Luftwaffe dabbed in strategic bombing. Through continued support, persistence, and lessons learned at the Spanish Civil War, the Luftwaffe became more capable of strategically bombing specific targets than the British. A major strength was the flexibility of German air power at the start of World War II but toward the end of WWII was a major downfall.
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At the beginning of major air use during the war, the Germans focused their efforts on becoming superior over the Polish air force. The Poles had about 800 planes so the Germans built a supply of nearly 2,000 planes. These 2,000 planes were very modern and could fly at top speeds. This was not true with the Polish planes. When faced in battle and only two weeks into the war, the Polish plane supply was reduced by 75% of its frontline planes. Romania became the refuge for the Polish air force. The Luftwaffe remained the dominate air power. The success of the Germans was due to their ability to achieve surprise along with a remarkable breakthrough speed and relying on the support of the Luftwaffe.
As powerful and brilliant as they were the Germans had weaknesses that were discovered during the Dunkirk evacuation of May 25 to June 2, 1940. The Royal Air Force prevented the Luftwaffe from bashing the fleeing British on the Dunkirk beaches and in the English Channel. The RAF had better plans than the Germans. On paper the Germans should have won this match up because of the numbers of men and troops. However, the Luftwaffe lost 240 airplanes and the RAF gave up only 177. This was a devastating blow considering the German aero-industry had limited powers in recovering their losses. Before any of this had happened the Germans had discussed a plan that was rejected by the German Air Ministry. However, the Air Ministry knew that controlling the air was essential and at this point the British RAF had the upper hand. The Luftwaffe had always used the strategy of supporting enemy air force very early in battle.
The Luftwaffe could not hold their own against the RAF. The prewar intelligence they had gathered greatly underestimated their enemies' abilities and supplies. The British on the other hand were gathering their own intelligence concerning the Germans. They overestimated the German power and eventually decoded Enigma. The Luftwaffe did not plan very well concerning where they wanted to fight. A strategic suicide, the Germans lured the RAF fighters to come to them. The RAF took their fighters too far north for the Luftwaffe. It was a very different story though in 1942-43. The United States Air Force bombers challenged the Germans for control of the air over Germany. There was no way to shut down German air power. In 1943, the Allies were prepared and dealt with the situation. There were just too many losses to recover. The key to this success of air power was the destruction of the Luftwaffe from mid 1943 onward.
The Allied forces knew they had to gain air supremacy or the tactical air forces would have faced some rather costly battles. The outcome of Operation Overlord might not have come out the same. The Allied air powers provided major support for all operations going on below. Often times the air powers could cripple or halt anything happening on land. By the constant presence of Allied planes, the effectiveness of the Luftwaffe army was greatly reduced and hardly posed a threat to the Allied forces as they swept across France.
Other than the tactical support that the air powers provided to ground troops, a great help that cannot be overlooked is the use of satellite balloons. From very early on tethered balloons were used in reconnaissance missions. Before the terminology was coined, the "spying missions" were proposed to Napoleon as early back as 1803. Not giving the thought much consideration, most skeptics thought the balloon idea would never work. They will only go as fast as the wind is blowing, they are easy targets and they are almost impossible to steer. However, they played an important part in World War II for the United States.
Toward the end of the 1920s, the United States Navy showed interested in and acquired a metal-clad airship. The only metal-clad airship, it was built by the Aircraft Development Corporation and delivered to the Navy on September 12, 1929. During its 12 year lifespan it gained 2,200 hours of airtime. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company attracted the Navy's interest during the 1930s with their advertisement blimps. As Goodyear worked to build the K-1 envelope, the Naval Aircraft Factory built the control car that would hang underneath. This blimp, fueled by a new fuel, remained in use after its initial testing for nine years.
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Eventually, the airships found their way into the war. During World War II, only the United States used the strange aircrafts. Since airships could stay in the air for as much as 60 hours at a time, they often escorted civilian and military ships across the ocean. These airships could search for enemy submarines, scouting missions, minesweeping, photographic reconnaissance, escorting convoys, and search and rescue missions. During this time approximately 89,000 ships were escorted by the United States Navy airships-not a single one was lost to enemy action.
Military technology expanded, changed and advanced rapidly during World War II. Not a single area of military technology was left unchanged at the end of the war. It seems as if every nation involved had different focuses, at different times, which left no stones unturned. No two countries were on level playing fields as far as equivalent abilities go. The movement toward new technology actually started during the period between the two great wars.
As a first, World War II was the first major conflict that used motor powered means of transportation. However, it did not start out this way. Germany understood how crucial motor vehicles were in gaining supremacy but lacked the necessary equipment to employ the idea to its full potential. The German Panzer forces used more traditional means of support and flank units. The United States and Great Britain also knew the untapped potential. The British had limited manpower and knew this was a way to compensate for that deficiency. Although American troop numbers were not limited, they did not have a large enough industry that could support the cost or production.
The greatest advance in motorized vehicles was the tank. This slow moving, iron clad mode of transportation was equipped with precise firepower when used correctly. Since tanks could cross a diverse terrain, no roads were necessary to get where they needed to be. They offered superior protection to the men inside and had enough room to store a large supply of food, water, and ammunition. At the beginning of the war, Germany had a flimsy fleet of tanks compared to their enemies. The armor on their tanks was not very strong and their firepower was weak. Like everything else, they strived to be the best in this area. What the tanks lacked in armor and firepower, the Luftwaffe made up for in tactics. Another thing that made German tanks so successful was the radio. Through use of radios, the Germans were able to coordinate ground forces, tanks, and other strategies. French tanks lacked this valuable communication device.
Ships also received upgrades and improvements during the war. One thing that helped naval warfare was the aircraft carrier. From on board ships in the middle of the ocean, bombers could take off and reach their targets quicker. This allowed better protection to ships and ground forces. Submarines were odd vessels that could steal through the water and wreak havoc on enemy ships without their targets knowing what was going on. Although there were only about two percent of submarines in all of the naval fleets, they dealt their fair share of damage. About thirty percent of the Japanese navy went down as a result of submarine fire. The United States dealt the Japanese economy a huge blow by sinking about sixty percent of the Japanese merchant ships. At this time, submarines could not stay under water for very long before having to resurface to charge their batteries. However, their radars and firepower made them crucial to the war. Just after attack on Pearl Harbor, Admiral R. Stark ordered unrestricted air and submarine warfare against Japan.
Planes improved from bi-planes to stealthy fighter jets. Depending upon the type of mission being ordered, various types of planes were used. At the start of the war, bi-planes could be seen participating in combat, but the need for faster engines and better guns saw the rise for changes. Many of the planes were flown in the experimental stages. The Americans are credited with producing the greatest number of superior planes. The Spitfire was revamped over twenty times while the Bf-109 was given serious improvements eleven different times. Each country tried to create better armor, faster engines, larger fuel tanks and more weaponry to keep their planes a step ahead of everyone else.
Weaponry, like the plane seemed to always be receiving improvements. Guns, bombs, artillery and mortars were extremely unique and countries were always studying for improvements. After the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, fear choked every nation. Each country raced to create their stockpile. Throughout the Cold War (and basically every war since World War II) the threat of atomic weaponry was used whenever possible. After witnessing first hand the destruction and power of nuclear weapons, all nations gained new respect for this powerful device. Chemical weapons changed and improved throughout the war as well as biological warfare. Tank warfare made great gains in the areas of weaponry advances. With their impeccable armor and precise shooting capabilities, tanks were a huge improvement in the way wars were fought. Snipers were used during World War II. With better guns that could shoot longer distances, snipers could take out a single person without anyone knowing they were being targeted.
Electronics improved, which in turn, improved our communication abilities. Cellular phones and radio type "walkie talkie" devices allowed news to travel to and from the battlefield, orders passed to field armies, and changes of plans implemented. The United States and the United Kingdom were frontrunners in the field of electronics. Both nations had code-breaking and ballistics capabilities beyond other countries. Cryptology helped the Allied forces shorten the war as much as two years possibly. The United States Army confused German troops by having Choctaw Indians send crucial messages in their native language. Along about the middle of World War II radars were produced and improved. This valuable tool improved air, ground, and naval combat. It also made the difference in several of the battles. The British had superior radar capabilities. Their system was extremely effective and it only failed once at a crucial time. During "Operation Cerberus" in February 1942, the Germans were able to jam all coastal radars. Some reports show this was merely luck on the German's part. The Russians probably had the least advancements and use from their radar since their borders were so large. Telegraph machines received improvements and just as with modern e-mail, there was a steady attempt to interpret and decode the messages being sent.
Industrial technology was one key to battles being fought. New pieces of equipment were being invented and improved rapidly but getting these intentions to the soldiers depended on how quickly they could be manufactured. Nations that had quick turn around time could equip their men with better weapons, armor and supplies. The ability to produce synthetic rubber was greatly helpful and cut down on the time it took to produce certain items. This alone gave the United States a significant advantage during the war. The wide spread use of penicillin was one of the most helpful medical advances. Penicillin was used to treat bacterial diseases and wounds. The Germans experimented with the use of alternative fuels such as hydrogen peroxide. These ideas led to the development of synthetic fuel technology.
Naval warfare helped advance the Allied victory. It was during the Second World War that the aircraft carrier and the submarine were established as the most powerful weapon in water. The aircraft carrier proved to be the most useful. During this time, the Soviet Union created no carriers. France and Germany never completed theirs. The British had a total of 70 ships while the Japanese had only 4. The United States dominated the numbers with 106 total ships that could provide landing strips and storage to almost 4,000 planes of various types. The British wisely created armored decks to reduce the amount of damage during attacks. The United States advanced the most in the area of naval warfare. Strategically, the United States Navy sent cruisers and destroyers to escort a couple of aircraft carriers. This strategy gradually led to the demise of the Japanese navy. Whenever Allied aircraft was needed, United States ships could easily deliver or collect about 100 planes in one trip. Japanese war leader, Tojo, credits an equal portion of America's victory to its submarines. He said without the work of the tiny sinking ships naval victory may not have come to the Allied navies. Although the Japanese surrendered to nuclear powers, many speculate that it would have eventually caved to the United States Navy. Without naval warfare, the Allied forces might not have won the war.
The Manhattan Project changed the way war was fought drastically. When it first began, United States scientists knew Germany had the best understanding of theoretical physics and they were afraid of what would happen as a result. So, the Manhattan Project was organized to create our own nuclear devices. Routine raids on Germany's heavy water production facilities and uranium mines revealed they were not as advanced as first thought. United States Army General Leslie Groves and civilian scientist Robert Oppenheimer worked together to create this deadly weapon. When the creation of the bomb was complete, scientists suddenly realized how powerful it was and questioned if it was needed at all. Those questions arose again as testing time approached. Regardless, plans were being made to use this massive device against Japan.
When the team of scientists gathered they all predictions of how explosive this device would be. No one was really sure. The pilots used in testing were sworn to secrecy. In a New Mexico desert on July 14, 1945, one of the greatest and most deadly advancements in military history was tried out. Light from the blast was reportedly seen miles away. A proposed list of targets had already been compiled and Hiroshima seemed to jump out as the best choice. "Enola Gay," a B-29 piloted by squadron commander, Col. Paul Tibbets delivered "Little Boy" to Hiroshima-a package they did not want.
Atomic and nuclear weaponry played key roles in victory for the Allied powers. Just as the war seemed to get a little bit out of control, America used the atomic bomb on Japan which led to surrender. The atomic bomb was a powerful weapon; not to be taken lightly. At 8:16 a.m. Hiroshima time, the first atomic bomb ever used against an enemy exploded approximately 2,000 feet above Shima Hospital. The bomb was no respecter of persons. People of all ages, gender, and professions were killed. 140,000 people died from the horrific blast; some suffering for months before doing so. There were many more that were harmed and more people continued to die. 60,000 more people died within five years of bomb related injuries or sicknesses.
Hiroshima was probably a target because it was home to the 2nd Army headquarters. This headquarters was command central to the defense of Southern Japan. Although many of the buildings were constructed of wood, some in the middle were made of concrete and were earthquake proof. Some of these structures survived the blast. During the war, the government of Japan had ordered an evacuation of Hiroshima. Of its 380,000 citizens, only 255,000 remained when the bomb was dropped. About an hour before the bomb was dropped, radars had detected American plans heading for Hiroshima. A warning had been sounded all over the city. After seeing only about three American planes on radar, the alert was canceled. Radio signals had been lost and despite some calls from the railway system reporting the bombing, officials in Tokyo did not think the city had been hit. After Japanese pilots confirmed the blast and the damage, Tokyo officials gained their greatest pieces of information from a United States White House report.
The significant sea port city of Nagasaki was targeted three days after Hiroshima. On August 10, 1945 at 11:02 a.m., the "Fat Man" was dropped, landing approximately one mile off target. This city was home to factories and industries that produced ships, military equipment, and war materials. The overcrowded city housed buildings and homes made primarily from wood which allowed fire to spread rapidly upon the atomic bomb's explosion. On August 1, 1945, Nagasaki had received several highly explosive bombs; some of which hit the shipyard and docks. Not a lot of damage was done but it raised concern among the citizens. Some had left the city or sent their children out of the area which reduced the number of causalities and injuries when the Fat Man dropped. Of Nagasaki's 240,000 citizens, it is estimated that around 75,000 were killed and many more died from injuries or radiation relation deaths.
World War II was the grandest of "total wars." Each country that participated had to use its moral, scientific and industrial resources. With more than 40 million victims, entire countries devastated, and European order greatly shaken, World War II deserves the title of the largest total war. Another fact that helps to correctly label it as a total war is the diverse nature of the fighting. Air power really grew to maturity during this time. It was air power that contributed most greatly to the amount of destruction. Economies were greatly affected by this total war. Some nations sunk more than they could afford into the cause, not to mention the cost of rebuilding and restoring nations as close to prewar conditions as possible. The United States had all the great advantage that other nations did not have. Some nations like Germany and Japan, did not expect the kind of war they fought which led to their demise. War had reached new heights with total destruction at our fingertips.
If any country is credited with fighting a "more total" war, the crown would rest upon Great Britain. The British had set limited goals which they would fight for. Britain had to fend off attacks to its own self and regain status quo. The Soviet Union ran a close second to Great Britain for the title of "total war" combatant. All participants of the war basically fought for the same objective; establish a new national and international order by destroying or subordinating the enemy. Germany had a somewhat different mission and they fought a truly apocalyptic war.
The British actually lured the United States deeper into their efforts after the Battle of Dunkirk. Great Britain can be tagged with drawing the world together to stand against the Germans. Although early on Germany experienced success, it actually was not ready for a total war. Japan was not either. Germany lagged behind at the moment its power was the greatest. The normal pattern of military weakness is countered with economic strength and support by a superior nation such as Russia or the United States. However, this time Germany stood along facing the global community.
With all of the technological changes including trench warfare, the use of tanks, better guns and ammunition, better military leaders, better strategies, and finally the use of the atomic bomb; war spiraled more and more destructive in nature. This particular war covered a wide land range as well. Battles were fought all across Europe and Asia. A large amount of fighting was going on in Africa. Australia and North America received very little battle time but did not go unharmed. Somewhere around 70 nations took part in the most deadly and most expensive war in history. It is estimated that approximately 70 million people served in the various militaries-17 million of which died. The civilians took the hardest hits. 35 million civilians fell victim to this global war. During bombing raids civilians were targeted by British bombing exercises hitting many German places that civilians were likely to be at all times of the day. The United States claimed to have been more accurate so that civilians were not the target but if they got in the way bombing raids went on. The Jews were heavily targeted by the Germans and many were executed, tortured and held prisoner. Russians also saw large numbers of their civilians killed during this war.
When the United States entered World War II, did our military and national leaders know how deadly and destructive this war would be? My guess is no. We knew we had sat back long enough and let the reign of terror go on long enough in Germany. Something had to be done. All eyes were on the United States. When the United States entered the war, did our military and national leaders have a clear picture of who our enemies actually were? Did those enemies change somewhat during the course of the war? Americans worked hard in various areas to help the advancement of many of the changes in the way was fought, the weapons it would be fought with, and most of all the atomic bomb. Without the atomic bomb, I am not sure the war would have ended as quickly as it did. Would Japan have come back to target other areas in America just as we targeted Nagasaki after bombing Hiroshima? During the course of America's tenure in World War II, our military strengths and weaknesses were exposed to the world. Our military worked feverishly to improve the areas that we had fallen behind other nations. All and all, by the end of the war, America had earned the status quo that we had hoped for-global leader.