War and Social Upheaval: World War II Military Forces

Figure 1.-- Japan after the Meiji Restoration used European models to build a modern military. The Prussian Army served as a model for the Imperial Army and the British Royal Navy was a model for the Imperial Navy. Japan at the onset of World War II was the only industrial power in Asia, but had a fraction of the industrial capacity of America. Even so the Imperial Navy launched the Pacific War. American had limited its defense spending, allowing the Japanese to gain naval superority in the Pacific. Six months after Pearl Harbor, however, the U.S. Navy cut the heart out of the Imperial Navy at Midway (June 1942). A reader believes that the young man here is a naval air cadet, posing with his little brother before the War. Japan trained some of the most capable pilots of the War. They never suceeed in creating a training program that could produce large numbers of capable avitors. After Miday this eventually led tothe Grart Marianas Turkey Shoot (June 1944).

Each of the major beligerants at the outbreak of World War II had substantial military forces. They were almost all located in Europe. Japan was the one outlayer. China had a large army, but poorly equipped and trained. The one democratic country that could the totalitarian powers was the United States which had such a small army and arms industry that it was largely dismissed by the Axis leaders. Ironically, the United states was the only country with the manpower and economic (industrial and agricultural) to wage global warfare. Germany had many fundamental weaknesses, only incredible mistakes by Allies and Soviets and the public desire for peace gave Hitler a real chance to win the War and essentiall the opportunity to destroy Western civilization. As in precious wars there were armies and navies. World War II had a third force, air forces, whiich played a major role in the War. These had begun to evolve as separare forces, although the american air force was still organizationlly prt of the U.S. Army. Air warfare had begun in World War I, but no where near the importance and scope or the power of World War II. There was considerable similarity in the organization of the military forces built up by the important belgerants. There were also important differences. The U.S. Marine Corps (naval infantry) played a key role in the Pacific War, in part because the scale of many island battles was a fraction of the important European battles. And the Waffen-SS, a highy politically motivated force, became an imoprtant part of the German armed fores and German military action in the final 2 years of the War. Several of the beligerants set up commando forces with different names. In the Axis countries, the police/security forces assumed important military or para-military roles. The same was the case in the Soviet Union, often commiting unimaginable war crimes. Only in Japan, however, did the military actually take control of the government and in essencey played the role of a Fascist political party.


Africa was divided into European colonies. Only Liberia was an independent country. Ethiopia had been quickly invaded ans colonized ny Facist Itly (1935). There were thus no African military forces. The only colony with domestic military capability was South Africa, one of the British Dominions. South Africa was divided with many Boars sympahetic to Germany. The Dominion as in World War I stayed loyal to Britain and even with its limited capabilities played an important role in defeating the Italians in East Africa. While there were no important African armies, the Europeans did have small colonial forces and local militia. Some French colonial forces quickly went iver to the Free French. Others remained loyal to Vichy, such as in Senegal and Amadagascar. The most important French forces were in North Africa which we will discuss in more detail in the Middle East and North Africa section. French forces in North Africa were the most important. The Europeans did recruit in their colonies and the men that volunteered played a role on different World War II battlefields.

America, North

North America was in World War I a bastion for democracy. Both the United States and Canada were countries with strong democratic traditions. The primary World War II beligerent in North America was the United States. At the time of World War II, the United States as the only country with the industrial and agricultural capacity to wage a global war. The problen for the Allies (Britain and France) as that the American people had decided that entering World War I had been a great mistake were determined never to enter another European war. And while most thought that Hitler and the NAzIs were repugnant, there was a special concern over fighting Germany. America's primary concern was figting the Depression. Military spending in the inter-War era was sharply cut back. Only amall professional Army was maintained and Army weapons development was also limited. Congress did provide a greater level of naval appropriation within the limits of The washington Naval Treaty (1921). After Japan failed to renew the Treaty limits, Congress expanded naval spending. At the same time, the Germans launched a massive rearmament program. The U.S. Marine Corps again played an importan role in World War II, almost entirely in the Pacific war launched by the Japanese. As the Germans expanded military spending, the Roosevelt Administration began increasing appropriations for the Army Air Corps. The focus was on strategic bombing. The basic strategy was to invest in technology to avoid casualties that might be incurred in another land War. Canada was a country with a much smaller population and economy, but unlike American, immediately joined the British in the critical period when Hitler and Stalin launched the War. The Candians, however, had only a bare bones army and vitually no navy.


The Germans in both World Wars basically discounted the Dominions. Canada was, however, of special importance because of its location close to Britain and its industrial and agricultural capacity beyond the reach of German bombers. Canada proceeded to build an army and the Canadian would fight along side the British throught the War. The country fielded, however, a relatively small number of divisions because of resistance to conscription. French Cananadians were much more reluctant to fight than English-speaking Canadians. The Germants to the extent that they made military assessments, basically considered Britain--but not the Dominions which combined made an important contribution to the Allied war effort. After Dunkirk, with a German invasion looming, the First Canadian Division was the only fully equipped division in Britin . The most remarkable development in Canada wsas the creation of a huge naval force, virtually from scratch. The Royal Canadian Navy would play a critical role in the Battle of the Atlantic. German U-boat commander Admiral Dönitz planned to fight the British Royal Navy and eventually the U.S. The idea of fighting the Royal Canadian Navy or even that Cbada had the industrial capability of building a navy never occurred to him.

United States

The United States except for the Navy virtually disarmed after World War I and even naval apprriations were limited. As the Germans and Japanese moved towardwar in the 1930s, President Rosevelt's focus was on air and naval forces, hoping to win any future war with technology and industrial might rather than massive land warfare. He wanted to avoid possible casualtes that would inevitably occur in anothger land war. Any major rearmament was complicated by the resistance of the Isolationist and pacifist lobby. Most mericans had come to see American involvemnent in World War I as a terrible mistake never to be repeated again. The U.S. Army at the time of World War II was a small, poorly equipped force. Very little had been spent on developing modrn infantry weapons. TheU.S. Army was about the size of the Swedish Army. Only the fall of France began to change minds in a meningful way (June 1940). The develoing danger caused President Roosevelt to take an enormous political risk. The President in the midst of a contentious reelection campaign proposed the first peace time draft in American history (September 1940). The Isolationists with support of the Republican Party resisted the effort. Had they won, America would have entered World war II virtually without an army--as it had in World war I. Although America wanted no part in another war, the United States was the only country with the industrial and agricutural capacity to fight a global war. The striking power of the Pacific fleet was crippled by the Japanese Pearl Harbor attack which brought America into the War (December 1941). Within 6 months, however, the Navy had restored a balance in the Pacifc and 6 months later as new ships and planes began reaching the fleet, the Japanese had to withdraw the Imperial Fleet from combat in the South Pacific. The United Sates began building an army in 1940 and then expanded the pace after Pearl Harbor. The Marines, naval infantry, played a critical role in the Pacific War. The British were a fortuitous ally, helping restrain poorly conceived operations. And when the U.S. Army first met the Germans in Tunisia (January 1943) they found that they were not only not well preared, but much of their equiment, except artillery and the M-1 rifle, was inferior. Following the German example, the U.S. Army trained pratroopers. And followng the British example commando forces were trained called rangers. The Americans proved, however, to be quick studies, copying the German Blitzkrieg tactics. Here the massive expansion of air power help to overcome German professionalism and armaments. Thanks to Hitler commiting the bulk of the Wehermacht in the East, the Americans and British always fought the Germans at a numerical advantage. And American industry insured that American and allied solders were completely mehcanized and well supplied although not always with the most advanced equipment. A major part of the American war effort was the air war. Ground forces after Tunisia were increasingly well supported with close-air support. American planes drove the Luftwaffe from the skies over northern Europe and strategic bombing reduced the Axis ar ecnomies and cities to huge pilles of rubble and cinders. Air commanders before the War were ficused on strategic bombing. And this did not change even after the Germans denonstrated Blitzkrieg with close air support for ground troops. Only after America entered the War did this develop. The U.S. Navy had begun to develop a carrier air arm, but it is only after Pearl Harbor and the sinking of American battleships that carriers became the major American naval striking force.


Only three Asian countries had military forces of any importance--China, India, and Japan. India of course was a British colony, but Britain had begun political reforms giving Indians a role in their government. There thus was an Indian Government and Indian Army. Congress had launched the Quit Indian Campaign, evn so, Indian units played an important often poorly role in the British war effort. China was in the mist of a civil war and thus had two armies. The Nationlist (KMT) Army was the most important and did most of the fightng in sharp contrast to Communist propaganda. China was a largely agricultural socity and thus neither the Nationalists or Communists wre able to properly equip their armies. Most of the Japanese war effort was directed at the Nationalists because the KMT controlled the areas of China that the Japanese wanted. Japan was the only industrial power in Asia and had by far the most poweful military force. The Japanese were, however, not and industrial power on the same level as the United States and European belligerents. Japanese weaponry, with a few exceptions, were poor quality and their military doctrine was virtually suisidal against a competent, well equipped military force. This the Chinese did nithave, but both the Soviets and americans did. The Japanese fighting spirit and poor prepations of American and Britih forces, largely focused on Europe, brought great success and the seizure of a huge empire at the onset of the War, but even in the first year of the war the Japanese advances were stopped..


China was involved n a civil war between the Natiinazlists (KMT) and Communists when the Japanese struck. The bulk of the fighting was conducted by the KMT, although after the first year of intense fighting, the KMT rmy was frced to with draw into the interior where the Japanese had a hard time with brining their superior military capability to bear.



Japan after the Meiji Restoration used European models to build a modern military. The Prussian Army served as a model for the Imperial Army and the British Royal Navy was a model for the Imperial Navy. The Imperial Army earned enormous prestige as a result of its victory over China in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95). And the Imperial Navy in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05). Japan entered the 20th century as a parlimentary democracy, although dominated by highly nationalistic conservative elements. The Japanese military, primarily the Army, proved to be the most poweful and respected institution in society. After the Wall Street crash in America (1928), Japan with its newly developed industrial economy, faced domestic crisis, including spiralling prices, unemployment, falling exports, and social unrest. Prime Minister Hamaguchi Osachi was asasinated by an ultra-nationalist (1930). This ws a turning point in Japanese history as the military bgan to take control of the Government. While civilian politicians continued tohold office,they knew that any pposition to the military would probably lead to assaination. While Japanese political trends at this time are generally termed militarism, it is in fact a form of Fascism, although ed by the military rather than a political party. The Japanese Kwantung Army seized control of Manchuria (1931) and turned it into te puppet state of Manchuko. Civilian politicans did not dare intervene. The same occurred when the Army again on its own initative invaded China proper launching the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937). By ths time, control had completely slipped away from the civilian government and military mmbers began to bappointed to ministerial posts. The Imperial Armny was the senior service because of its size. There was an especially notable rivalry between the Armny and Navy. The military was dominated by theStrike North faction as Europe descended into war. The Japanese eyeing the emense resources of Siberia wanted to join with the Germans in an attack on the Soviet Union. This orientation collapsed when the Soviet Red Army destroyed a Japanese force on the Manchuko-Mongolan border (July 1939) and Germany signed the Non-Agression Pact with the Soviets (August 1939). It was the Strike South faction that came to dominate military thinking. This meant that the Imperial Navy would have a leading role it what became knonn as the Pacific War. The Imperial Navy was the technologically more advanced force and with a cometent ffice corps, but was unable to match the industrial and technological capabiliies of the United States. After initial succcess, the Japanese Army proved to be a poorly prepared force, prone to suisidal Bazai charges rather than well conceived tactics. Japanese soldiers were aggrssive and motivated, but poorly led and wthout the needed logistical support. They also suffered from some of the poorest equipment of any major conbtant country. Both the Army and Navy had ar componnts and surprised the Americans and British with the quality of their planbes nd training of their airmen. They were unable, however, to match the improved high-performance aircraft that the Ameicans introduced to the Pacific War.




Britain enteres the War with the only fully mechanized army in existence, albeit smnall. The French were again expected to provide the bulk of the land force when Germany struck. The bulk of the Brtish Army was rushed to France as the Brtish Expditionary Force (BEF). They were deployed to the left of the French Army along the Belgian-French frontier. The French complained about this and complined that the British were not making an adequate contribution to the Allied war effort. While the British were fully mechanized, tey had not placed the same emphasize on tanks nor had worked out the close-air-support doctrine of what woud became known as Blitzkrieg. The result was military disaster. The BEF was almost lost at Dunkirk which would have left Britain virtually unble to continue the War. Te BEF manage to get bajkto Britain, but left ts arms in Belgium and France. It was left to the Royal Air Force (RAF) to prevent a German invasion which only suceeded by a narrow margin. Britain after delaying rearmament to match the Germans managed to produce only one modern fighter-- the Hawker Hurricane. The high performance fighter, the Spitfire, was just coming into production as the Germans struck in the West. Britain's advanced technological capabilities helped save the country. The Chain Home Net ws a key element in the RAF's victory over the Lufwaffe. With the outbreak of the War, the Royal Navy again moved to blockade Germany. Britain's traditional defense was the Royal Navy which since Trafalgur (1805) had been the world's dominant naval power. The Royal Navy could, however, not prevent a German invasion and as the war progressed and was barely able to keep the sea lanes open from the Uboat nenance. The Admiralty badly miscalculated the capabilities of Asdac in finding submerged U-boats. The Royal Navy required the assistance of the U.S. Navy and a new Canadian Navy virtually built from scratch. In the Pacific the Royal Navy was unable to deploy substantial forces and was totally outclassed by Japanese naval aviation. Ejected from the Continet, Churchill was determined to never repeat the catotrophic land casualties of World War I. Rather the RAF's Bomber Command would become the primary way of striking at Germany This only became possible with arrival of the Avro Lancaster (1942). The British also organized commando forces, now called special foces.


The French Army had been the mainstay of Allied forces on the Western Front untl nearly btken by the Germans at Verdun. The war virtunally destroyed an entire generation. To avoid this in a future war, the French based their military strategy on a static defense structured around a huge fortified position--the Maginot Line. France had a powerful, well equipped Army, Navy, and Air Force when the war broke out. A combination of incompetent military leadership and illconceived miitary doctrine along with the wide-spread pacifist/anti-War feeling led to military disaster and the fall of France (JUne 1940). The French Air Force played almost no role in the fghting because it was deployed too far from the front. As a result, the French Army which played such an important role in World war I, sent the remainder of the War in German internment camps. The powerful French Navy posed amortal danger to Britain. Chrchill moved to iinterthe Frebch shis or allow them to join Britain resulting n the Mers-al-Kavir tragedy (July 1940). The small Vichy Army resisted the British in several colonies. They fought a briet battle with the the Anglo-American Totch invasion (November 1942). The United States armed te Free French forces. After Nrmandy. DeGualle'sProvisional Government moved to reform a French Army which became the right flank of the Allied armies which invaded Germany.


The Army (Heer) or Wehremacht was Germany's dominant military force, as was the case throughtout German history. The Army high command made a pact with Adolf Hitler (1934). Hitler agreed to eliminate the SA as a threat to the Wehrmact and ordered the execultion of Roehm and other close associates. The Wehrmact swore a loyalty oath to Hitler--not to the German nation but to Hitler. In return for their loyalyty they were the beneficiaries of a huge rearmament ptogram in contravention of the Versailles Treaty. The Army had managed to evade many Versailles restrictions and when Hitler came to power the Versailles restrictions became moot and Germany began ro rearm. . The dimensions of the rearmament program far outweiged any level of armament needed for defense. It was patently clear to the Wehrmact general staff that Hitler meant to wage aggressive war. The Wehrmact developed the battle doctrine of Blitzkrieg which in essence is the basic concept of modern warfare. The Versailles Treaty prohibited Germany from having an airforce. Hiter ordered Göring to formally establish the Luftwaffe (1935). In the years right before the War and the early phase of the War, the Luftwaffe played a major role. The new Luftwaffe was staffed by Wehrmacht officers and througout the War was primrily a ground support force. Hitler gave relatively little attention to the Navy and even less to the U-boat fleet. The NAZIs signed a treaty with Britain that removed many of the Versailles limitations (1935). with Britain thaIronically, it was the Navy after defeats in Russia and North Africa and in the skies over Europe that by early 1943 offered the NAZIs the last chance for victory.


The Italians had the three major military services. The largest was the Royal Army, the Regio Esercito (RE). Italy wa a heavily populated country and thus mustered a subtantial army. Mussolini bragged about 8 million bayonets. Fascism prided itself on military prowess. This was for the Fascists a key component of a nation state. And the Irlians Fascists had twice ax long as the NAZIs to build an army and embue it with a mattial spirit. And to accomplish this, the Fascists disbanned the Noy Scours and founded the Balilla, a youth group that was aimed at preoaring young people for military service at an early age. In this effort, the Fascists failed. Of all the principal combatant countries, the RE proved to be the least effective army. This in part reflects the inabikity of Italy with its small indidtrial base to equip its army with effective weaponry. An exceotion was the artillery. Perhaps even more important was the inabikity of the poliical and miklitary lkeadership to energize its conscripts, many if whom were uninterested in fufghting a war. Also the officer class did not tke responsibily for eeing to the needs of the conscripts, but instead eem nore intent on nsuring thrir own personal comforts. Ghus despite Mussolini's bluster, Italy did not have a modern army capble of waging war against a modern European nation. The Regia Marina (Royal Navy--RM) on the other hand was a much more modern force. It hadfast vesseks with heavy guns. The RM also had weakenesses. Its cruisers were fast, but lightly armored. Alsi they lscked both radar abd aircraft carriers. The Germans were developing radar, but apperently did not share their advances with the Italians. And the RM leadershio was largely untested. Some of the most impressive results wee achieved by incredibky brave sailors operating mini-submsrines. The Regia Aeronautica (Royl Air Force--RAl was a substantial force. Its aurcraft were not up to thie deployed by other major combatnt nations.

Soviet Union

Middle East and North Africa


Egypt was a protectorate during Wrld War I. After the War\, Britain move to grant Egypt ndependence, but to maintain a relatins so as to maintain the security of the vital Suez Canal. This prcess was affected by the NAZI seizure of power in Germany. Britain negotated a treary allowing British troops to remain in the country to defend the Canal. Egyptian law provided for compulsory military service for all men between 19-27 years of age. Few men were actully consripted. The actual Army was, however, very limited, only about 23,000 men, in part because of financial constraints. With the outbreak of war, Egypt broke relations with the Axis powers, but did not declare war. Egypt gradually expanded its army to about 100,000 men. Egypt was t first far removed from the fighting. The fall of France radically changed the situation. Italy declared war (June 1940) and the Italian colony of Libya bordered on Egypt and Vicyctroled Lebanon and Syria ly to the northeast. The Egyptian Government cooperated with the Bitish, but remined neutral even after the Italians invaded (Sptember 1940). Britain maintained close relations ith the Egyptian mlitary, providing equipment, instruction, and technicians. Egypt because of the Canal and safe sea connections with India became the principal Brtish base in the Middle East. A large Italian Army invaded (September 1940), but were driven back into Libya by a British offenive (December 1940). Hitler sent in Erwin Rommel and the Afrika Korps to rescue the Italians (March 1941). Rommel agan drive into Egypt. The British Eighth Army with American material support finlly defeated the Afrika Korps at El Alamein (October 1942). The Egyptian military played little role in the fighting in the Western Desert. Some Egyptians pilots flew patrol duty in British planes. Egypt founded a naval service with a few British supplied patrol boats, Te British used the Egyptian Army mostly for guard duty and logistical operations and not combat. (This was a factor in the subsequent Arab-Israeli War as the Egyptian Army had no combat experience.) Some Egyptian officers favored Germany as a way to end Britain's influence in the country. (The British had imprisoned Anwar as Sadat because of his pro-German activities.) One reason the British did not push for Egyptian participation was they were unsure about the loyalties of rhe Egyptian Army. The Young Officers movementwa very impressed with the NAZIs seeing Fascism as a template for moderizing the country. The British were well awate of this. Some officers like Answar Sadat among others were detained. Egypt remained neutral untilthe final month of the War. King Faruk formally declared war against the Axis (February 1945). The sentiment in the Army became apparent after the War when Egypt offered refuge to NAZI war crimials.



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Created: 1:16 PM 2/8/2016
Last updated: 1:16 PM 2/8/2016