World War II Technology: Combat Environments

World War II terror bombings
Figure 1.--Aerial war began in World War I, but to a limited degree. It was aprincipal part of World War II. Military commanders, however, were just beinning to work out effective tactics. Despite the German failure with terror bombing in World war I, many war leaders and military commanders continued to believe that terror tactics could be effective and terror especially appealed to German Führer Adolf Hitler. Many military commnders preferred pinpoint bombing attacks on military targets. The provlem was that the technology permitting such tactics did not exist. Fear of bombing was one of the terrors that gripped the public mind as Europe drifted toward War. And the new German Luftwaffe began to demonstrate its capabilities in Spain. Here women in Republican-controlled Madrid gather their belonings and children as the German Condor Corps began bombing the city in 1937.

There are three principal combat environments: land, air, and sea. Land combat is probably as old as mankind and sea combat extends back to ancient times. As in most wars, World war II was settled by in the modern vernacular by 'boots on the ground'. The military forces of the world closely studied World War and developed weapons and war plans designed to avoid the costly stalemate of World War I. In this thery suceeded. The German Wehrmacht was the first to perfect moder mobile warfare and combined forces. This was partly because it was essentially and update of Prussian/German military doctrine with modern weapons. And the Wehrmacht received striong backing from a national leader who ws determined to launch another war. The modern doctrine and commitment to war explains the early German victories over poorly prepared enemies that desperately wanted to avoid war and sought to appease the Germans. As the central area of combat was a titanic land struggle on the eastern Front between the Soviet Union and NAZI Germany, sea combat was a secondary combat environment, but one of critical importance. The Soviet victory on the Eastern Front was supported in many ways by the the naval war. The British Royal Navy helped keep Britain in the War and this was a distraction to Hitler's central goal of seizing the resources of the East which would give Germany a resource base from which it could pursue global dominance. And command of the sea ensured that a massive flow of Lend Lease supplies abnd equipoment reached the Red Army. Command of the sea also allowed the Anglo-American alliance to reenter Europ and ensure that Western Europe would nbot become part of the post-War Soviet Empire. The Pacific war was a naval war, but even before Pearl Harbor, American and Britain agreed that the priority had to be against Hitler and the NAZIs. Air combat was new. It first appeared in World War I, but played only a minor role because of the still basic technology. By World War II the technology had developed to the extent that the air war was a major factor. With the entrance of America into the War, the Germns were denied one of the key elements of Bilizkrieg, close air support. The strategic bombing campaign at first had only a minor impact on German war production, but it forced the Germans to shift resources from the Eastern Front and the French beach defenses to the skies over Germany. And it impaired important German orograms such as U-boat construction and the V weapons. The air war also helped destroy Japanese war industries and ultimately forced the capitulation of an enemy that showed every intention to fight to the death.

Land Warfare

World War I began as a war of movement, but after the Miracle on the Marne became a 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 suoerior resources of the Allies and the arrival of the American infantry. 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. Other countries also worked on these weapons, but the NAZIs after seizing power (1933) launched upon a massive military spending program that left them with the world's most poweful air force. German commanders also conceived of an inovative method of effectively employing the new weapons, a combined arms tactic which has come to be known as Blitzkrieg. The NAZIs seemed to have believed that racial superiority meant that Germany would be able to create the most poweful weapons. I am not sure Hitler believed this, but his strategy was to divide potential enemies and striking before his targets were prepared for war. Unfortunately his failure to defeat Britain and the Soviet Union meant that major industrial powers had the time to develop weapms that could match the Germans and the industrial power to produce them in quanties beyond the capability of Germany, But it was not just tanks that were needed for mobilr warfare, it was other tracked vehicles and the prosaic truck. Blitzkrieg not only involved panzers to pierce the enemy front line. Tanks were vulnerable. They needed infantry soldiers to protect them as well as to exploit the gaps opened in the enemy line. And the infantry as well as the needed supplies had to move as rapidly as panzers. The Wehrmacht, however, was not fully motorized. It did not have the trucks needed to fill the logiistical demand of Blitzkrieg. This weakness was not immediately apparent in the short early campaigns conducted on relatively small areas. This chnged dramatically with the invasion of the Soviet Union (June 1941).

Naval Warfare

Naval technology and tactics durinh World War II evolved around two areas that none of the navies thought to be critical before the War--carriers and submarines. Naval commanders in a tradition firmly implanted by Nelson at Trafalgur were wed to the idea of a major decisive fleet action. The Germans in World war I called it Der Tag--the Day. The German Navy ws no longer capable of a major fleet action when World war II broke out. They had plans to build a massive fleet, but Hitler launched the War before that fleet was built. They had no choice but turn to a commerce war and use U-boats again. Once the War began, Hitler gave a priority to U-boat construction and the Germans made substantial technical advances. The Allies managed, however, to make even greater advances in anti-submarine warfare (ASW). The British before the War did not think the German U-boats were a threat. The ASDAC (Sonar) developed in World War had helped defeat the U-boat threat and British commanders were convinced that it made the submarine obsolete. The Americans and Japanese in the Pacific had each planned their war winning fleet action, all based on the big-gun battleships. The Japanese termed the acton Kantai Kessen--Decsive Battle. The American plan to respond to a Japanese attack on the Philippine Islands was War Plan Orange. The Japanese plan Yogeki Sakusen was to use cruiser and submarine screns to weaken the American fleet and then finish it off with their battleships. The core of the Japanese battleship force was the massive Musashi and Yamato. Each had 18 inch guns which could outrange the 16 inch guns of the American battleships. The importannce of carriers was not understood before the outbreak of the Pacific War. One innovation that reached the Pacific Fleet just as the War began was Radar. The Japanese failure to develop effective radar technology serious impaired their naval operations. Unlike the Americans, they did not use their sizeable sumarine force in a commerce war.

Air Warfare

It was aeronautics that most destinguished World War II from earlier wars. The Germans began World War II with the word's most modern air force. They did not, however, have the largest industrial capacity to build aircraft. The German advantage was gained by a crass building program before the British and French began to rearm. Even so, the Luftwaffe was a tactical airforce designed to support the Wehrmacht's land offensive as part of Blitzkrieg. Germany did not have the indstrial capaity to buld a strtegic air force and had no substantial force of plans to wage a statehic bombing casmpaign. America and Britain did have the industrial capacity to build a strategic air force. World War II, as a result, was the first real air war. Both the Bitish and Germans were preparng a strategic bombing campaign in World War I, but the War ended before it had begun. Thus air commanders when World War II erupted had no real idea how to wage a strategic air campaign. Theorists had addressed the topic, but without actual experience, they remained theories when Hitler invaded Poland launcjhing the War. Nor except for the Germans did they understand how air forces could be used to efficely support land operations. This was in part due to the fact that the Luftwaffe was not created until 1935 and the Germans used officers recruited from the Heer. Britain and America on the other hand had a staff core that were focused on air warfare and an industrial base that could supply both strtegic and tactical aircraft. Radar and electronic beaming was to have a major impact on the air war. The Germans introduced jet aircraft. As Hitler delasyed the program, they did not become operational until the final year of the War, but it was to late to affect the outcome. Anerican and Britain wre also working on jets, but the Germans had a substantial lead. Allied inteligence helped to reduce the impact of the pioltless ram jets (V-1s). The German secret balistic missle weapn (V-2), while a technological marvel, had no real impact on the War.


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Created: 9:14 PM 8/22/2014
Last updated: 9:14 PM 8/22/2014