World War II Technology: Land Warfare Weapons


Figure 1.--The M4 Sherman tank was the iconic American tank of World War II. This particular Sherman was an early one--M4A. Notice the small size of the gun. It saw service in the North Sfrican campaign. Here in 1943, some of the actual tankers, Allied servicemen, and Scouts are using a Sherman in the Third War Bond Drive. Scenes like this played out in frot of court houses all over the country. The Sherman was far from the best tank of the War. It was highly mobile, but it had a high profile, weak armor, and an under-powered gun. American tankers, however, developoed effective tactics for the Sherman and the numbers conmibed with air support helped overwealm dogged German defences. Put your cursor n the image for a closerview of the Scouts helping out.

World War I began as a war of movement, but after the Miracle on the Marne became a static war of attrition as the Aliies and Germans built a parallel system of trenches from the Swiss border to the English Channel. New weapons such as the machine gun, poison gas, tanks, and airplanes appeared, but the war was largely an infantry war, decided by the superior resources of the Allies and the arrival of the American infantry. Not fully realized at the time was the importance of a new weapon--the tank. It was a British creation and helped crack open the German defensive lines. The horrors of trench warfare caused military planners to focus on new weapons to restore mobility and to avoid a future war resulting in mass losses of foot soldiers. It was the Allies that developed tanks and won the World War I air war. It was the Germans, however, that after the War gave the greatest attention to developing new weapns, especially the tanks and air planes that would dominate the World War II battlefield. All the major countries worked on moderizing werapons, but the NAZIs after seizing power (1933) launched upon a massive military spending program that provided them for a time the world's most poweful air force and most competent armored force. Here the effective tactics adopted were the key to their earlky successes. Although not often conceived as a a makor weapon system, the truck proved to be along with the tank, played a critical role in the allied victory. Germany did not have the capacity to out produce the enenies it created. Hitler had no ideal of the productive capacity of the Soviet Union. And the productive capacity of the United States amazed its Allies and were beyond the imagination of Axis leaders. Germany developed many of the highest quality, most techically weapons used during the War. The problem for the Germans was that many of their weapons were complicated and difficult to mass produce. In addition, Germany did not have the same industrial capacity as the Allies (America, Britain, and the Soviet Union). And the NAZIs found to their horror that other countries could develop effective military weapons and in far greater quantities than Germany.

Industrial Capacity

All the major countries during the inter-War era worked on moderizing weapons. These programs were poorly financed in all democratic countries, but well financed in Japan and the Soviet Union. The German military during the Weimar era, adopted a range of programs aimed at evading the restructions of the Versailles Treatty. The NAZIs after seizing power (1933) and launched upon a massive military spending program. The massive spending thus after only a few years led to a military that was more modern than any other country. It provided them for a time the world's most poweful air force and most competent armored force. Here the effective tactics adopted were the key to their early successes. World War II would be a war of movement in which industry would play a more important vrole than ny other war in history. Germany did not have the capacity to out produce the enemies it created which would have given a normal leader pause. His plan was defeat his enemies one by one. Hitler seemed to think that his targets like his domestic opponednts would not figure this out or have the will to fight. He also had no ideal of the productive capacity of the Soviet Union or of the ability of the United States to convert its industry for war. The productive capacity of the United States amazed its Allies nd were beyond the imagination ofAxis leaders. Germany developed many of the highest quality, most techically weapons used during the War. The problem for the Germans was that many of their weapons were complicated and difficult to mass produce. In addition, Germany did not have the same industrial capacity as the Allies (America, Britain, and the Soviet Union). And the NAZIs found to their horror that other countries with greater industrial capacity could develop effective military weapons and in far greater quantities than Germany. The British by the time of the Battle of Britain has significantly expanded arms production. Germany had a greater industrial capacity than Britain. But American industry changed everything. German indusdtrial production as impressive as it was was only a fraction of American industrial output. And even worse for the German war effort, the Germans did not gear up for total war until the War had already been decided in the East. Soviet arms production waa impaired by having to move plants east, but by 1943 the Soviets alone were outproducung the Germans.

Tactics

World War I began as a war of movement, but after the Miracle on the Marne became a static war of attrition as the Aliies and Germans built a parallel system of trenches from the Swiss border to the English Channel. New weapons such as the machine gun, poison gas, tanks, and airplanes appeared, but the war was largely an infantry war, decided by the superior resources of the Allies and the arrival of the American infantry. These weapon systems were vastly improved during the inter-War system. The French concluded that these improvements meant that movement would be even more restricted. The Maginot Line was a monument to this view of warfare. The German also assessed World War I to determine why the traditional Prussian war of movement mailed. And they saw the new wepons development as enhancing rather than restricting movement. The result was the developmdnt of Blitzkreieg--essentially modern warfare. It was the German tactical doctrine rather than the weapons themselves that resulted in stunning German victories against poorly prepared adversaries at the onset of the War. France would be defeafted and only the Channel saved the British. It would take nearly 2 yeats for the British to adopt the German tactics. The Americans proved to be much quicker studies and America industry had the capacity not only to fully mnechanize its own forces, but also Allied forces. The Soviets were also almost defeated, but With vastly superior resources, superb tanks, and the mobility supplied by American Lemnd Lease trucks, the Red Army suceeded in not only stopping the Whermact, but bsdly weakening it in well executed winter offenses (1941 and 42) and finally smashing the Whermacht in a series of offenses (1944).

Tanks and Other Tracked Vehicles

Not fully realized in the inter-War era was the importance of a new weapon--the tank. The tank was a British creation and helped crack open the German defensive lines. It was not a very glanerous weapon at the time. It was slow and ungainly. The Germans never suceeded in building an effective tank in World War I. They were, however, on the receiving end of the British tank and were more aware than anyone that this was a weapon of the future. The horrors of trench warfare caused military planners to focus on new weapons to restore mobility and to avoid a future war resulting in mass losses of foot soldiers. While it was the Allies that developed tanks, it was the Germans, however, that after the War gave the greatest attention to developing new weapns. The Germans signed the Rapollo Treaty (1922) with the Soviet Union that allowed them to evadethe Versailles Peace Treaty and work with the Soviets on tanks and tank tactics in Russia. Hitler was impressed with General Guederian and gave cosiderable enophasis on armor in the NAZI rearmament campaign. One of the several benefits of seizing Czechoslovakia (March 1939) was control of the Skoda arms complex. The Germnans hen they began the War did not have a huge superority in tanks, rather it was their tactics that made a difference in the battle for France (May-June 1940). Military expers debate what the best tanks of the War were. Here it is sometimes lost on experts that you can not just compare the characteristics of each tank. Some of the German tanks were very effective indeed. They also tend to be complicated and difficult to build on an assembly line in large numbers. They also tended to be more difficult to maintain in the field. The American Sherman was deficient in firing power and armor, but was hughly maneurabe, easy to build, and maintain. Many experts believe that the T-34 was the most effective combinantion of gun, speed, and armor. It shocked the Germans when they first encounteed it. The German Panther was the German response. The Panther was also an extremnely effective tank. The Soviet T-34, hoewever, was much easier to build and maintain in the field. And the Soviet built it in numbers the Germans could only dream about. A major development in the later phase of the war was the development of light anti-tank weapons like the bazooka and Panzefaust that gave the infantryman the capability of stopping tanks.

Artillery

Artillery, as was the case since the 16th century, one of the primary weapons of World War II. The advances in motorized vehicles gave the artillery unpecedented mobility. The tank was essentially motorized artillery and there were a range of self-propelled guns. The Germans began the War,however, still dependent on horses to move artillery. This impeded their mobility and was a factor in the failure of Barbarossa. German draft animals were unable to withsand the rigors of the Russian winter. Artillery was a strong point of both the Soviet and American armies. Rommel noted the effectiveness of the American artillery in his initial confrontation with the U.S. Army at Kaserine. It allowed the Americans to quickly recover. The expansion of air power to an extent cut into artillery operations. At the beginning of the War, the Germans used the Stuka as mobile artillery. The Allies beginning in North Africa followed the German example and won air superority. The Allies were about to pound German positions well beyond the range of artillery. Japanese artillery was inferior, but effective enough to cause substabtiak casualties in several island campsign. The Japanese became very adept at concealing their artillery pieces. There were three types of artillery used during the War, not counting tanks. 1) field, 2) infantry, and 3) emplaced. Field artillery is what one usually thinks of when discussing artillery. Field artillery served both offensive and defensive funtions. It was use to prepare or soften up an area to be attacked or to help hold a defensive position. American use of field artillery and its mobility at Bastoign helped save it during the Battle of the Bulge (December 1944). Field artillery fired various projectiles (high explosive and covering smoke to anti-aircraft and armour-piercing, anti-tank rounds). Unlike World War I, poison gas shells were not used. There were various types of guns including howitzers and mortars. Three of the best known guns were the German 88-mm, the American 105-mm, and the British 17 pounder. The German 88 was probably the single best artillery weapon of the War. It was developed as an anti-aircraft weapon. Rommel found during the campaign in France that it was a highly effective ati-tank weapon. Unfortunately for the Germans, the Allied strategic air campaign forced the Germans to deploy many of their 88s in massive FLAK batteries around German cities rather than on the Eastern Front to destroy Red Army tanks. 2) There was also infantry artillery. Infantry units were provided light mortars, giving them their own artillery coverage. 3) Emplaced artillery was of less importance. Enplaced guns were used by the French on the Maginot Line. They were never tested as the Germans went around the Maginot Line. The Gemans wasted enormous resources in building huge railway guns. Other resources were wasted in static batteries on the Atlantic Wall. The Germans were not impressed with American tanks, but American artillery was a very different matter. Not only were American artillery excellent weapons, but they were produced in great quantity. Even more important to the effectiveness of American artillery was the large number of field radios which American units had from the beginning of the War. Virtually every American leiutenant had the ability to call in for artillery support. The Germans also had radiod, but in much smaller numbers.

Wheeled Vehicles

Wheeled vehicles appeared and played an important rule in World War I. As motor vehicles developed considerably during the inter-war era and World War II proved to be a war of movement. Thus wheeled motor vehicles proved to be critical to the War. Britain was the only country to enter the War with a fully motorized military. America with its huge capacity to build motor vehicles finally retired horses as it was preparing, The Germans despite popular notions enteresd the war still using horses to move both artillery and for logistics. It is tanks that dominate many World War II histories. Less often considered are the more prosaic wheeled vehicles. There were wheeled fighting vehicles such as armored cars. Many armored cars were partially tracked vehicles. Although not often conceived as a major weapon system, the truck proved to be along with the tank, played a critical role in the allied victory. Not only did American trucks make possible the rapid drive liberating France, but Studabaker American trucks delivered to the Soviets through Lend Lease were a key factor in the 1944 battles that demolished the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front. Many American servicemen recall with affection the utilitarian jeep. The motor cycle was important during World War I, but less so during World War II. It found its greatest with the Germans, in part because they lacked the industrial capacity to build utilitarian four-wheeled vehicles as the United States did.

Infantry Weapons

World War II saw the perfection of many older weapons system as well as the introduction of many entirely new weapons system. Perhaps no changes were more profound than the fire power which could be provided the individual infantry soldier and small unit teams. This included both auomatic weapons, arillery, and tank killing weapons. And the indistrial capacity of the major combatants mean that these weapons could be supplied in quantity. World War I inantrymen had bolt-action rifles, no easily portable artillery that could be carried, and no way of stopping tanks. The World War II infantryman, despecially after the first 2 years of the War had tremendously increased firepower capable of stopping majpr attacks with rmored support even if air cover and artillery were unavailble. Infantry units received light-machine gun and asault rifles asx well as heavy rifles like the American BAR. The Americans hesitated to use the BAR in World War I because it used so much amunition and might fall into enemy hands. Therecwere no such hesitation in Workd War II. And the American M-1 Grand was argubly the best infantry weapon of the War. Infanyry units also got mortars which were light and coulkd be operated by awo-man team. This provided infantry units their own artillery that could provide immefiate fire. The tank was aeapon thst infahtru men had no way of resisting in the first years of the War. This was the case in Poland, thecLow Countries, France, and the Balkans. This changed with the invention of the merican Bazooka and German Panzerfaust. This gave a single infantryman the ability to stop a tank in its tranks. And as a result, tanks could not be sent into battle without infntry support. Other imprivements were weapons like flamethrowers and grenade lsuncjers. The Germans built some of the finest weapons, but theyu were often complicted nd difficult to mass produce. Here Hitler intervened. He often resisted the massproduction of weapons that did not have the look and feel od axfinaly grafted weapon.

Land Mines

The landmine was not invented in the 20th century. The Germans devoped land mines during World War I, primarily to stop British tanks. It was not until World War II, however, that they were employed in large numbers and the techololy developed an increased leathality and effectiveness. As a result, some authors insist that the modern landmind was developed during the War. The primary focus was on stopping tanks which enmerged as a key weapon during the War. The early anti-tank (AT) mines were were large, heavy weapons. And they were not uncommonly dug and redeployed by the enemy. This was the initial impetus for the much smaller anti-personnel mine (AP). They were deployd to prevent enemy soldiers from removing the AT mines. The Germans launched the War without giving much thought to landmines. They did not fit it to the German concept of blitzkrieg with its offensive, highly mobile foundation. The Germans had just two types of AT mines and one AP mine. German concepts chabnged sharply as their stunning early victories ceased and major defeats were exoerienced in the East and North Africa. Germab sciebtists developed new mine tyoes which were produced un large numbers. After 1942, the Germans were forced to fight a largely dfensive war, with the exceotion of Kursk. And German commabnders clammored for huge quabtities of mines to defend their positions. German scientists developed 16 types of anti-tank mines and 10 different types of anti-personnel mines. German soldies thought up many different types of improvisesd booby traps. An estimated 300 million AT mines were used during World War II, mostly by the Germans. Other millions of AP mines were also layed. One of the most effective AP mines was the German 'bouncing betty' which was designed to shoot up from the ground to hip height and then shooting out hundreds of jagged steel fragments. World war II commanders began usingblandmines as weapons in their own right.

Animals

A range of animals were used by the various belgerant powers during World War II. The principal animal used in warfare had fot millenia been the horse. Horse calvalry had been proven obsolete in World war I. Even so there were calvalry units utilized to a minor extent. More importantly, horse were used as draft animals. Britain and the United States were the only two countries entering the War with fully medchanized aermies. The German Wehrmascht despite its mechanized reputation laubched the War heavily dependent of horses as draft animsls. German industry did not have the capacity to fully mchanize the Whermacht. A mahor problem for the Germans was the inability of German horses to withstand the rigors of the Russian winter. As winter set in at the end of barbarossa, huge numbers of German horses died. Dogs were also important during the War. The Germans based on theor World war I experiences trained an incredible 200,000 dogs for the military. The fact that the Germans occupied many countries, meant they were operating in unfriendly bid not necesarily hostile territorty. The dogs proved useful in security duties. This included the vast system of labor and concentration cmps established throughout NAZI-occupied Europe. The dog forces of other countries were much smaller. The United States did not begin to train a Canine (K-9) Corps until after Pearl Harbor (December 1941). This began with the civilian Dogs for Defence Inc. training nione dogs. Eventuially the military trained more than 10,000 dogs. As in World War I, the dogs were used for sentry duty as well as scouts and messengers. They also proved useful in finding mines and booby traps. They were deployed domesticlly, especially with Coast Gusrd coast waters. They were also deployed in both the European and Pacific theaters. Other animals were used. Carrier pigeons were used, although because of the developmednt of radio, were much less important than in World War I. The United States experiment with bats to use in an aerial weapon.








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Created: 4:50 AM 10/8/2009
Last updated: 11:53 AM 7/28/2011