Many of the innovative weapons of World War II were high-tech weapons, but not all. The Allis blasted their way through the Bocage country of Normndy, because a seargent came up with the low tech 'rhinoceros', a standard Sherman tank wigh a scrap iron blade welded onto the front. Most World War II weapons were refinements of World War I weapons which made them more lethal. Here the Germans were particularly succeful. There were, however several entirely new weapons and devives. The Germans created some high technology weapons, but the German weapons (missles and jets), while technical marvels, for a variety of reasons had little impact on the War. The Allies on the other hand developed new weaponry that had a very significant impact on the War. These weapons included the atomic bomb, radar, the VT proximity fuse, the hedge-hog, primitive computers, and much else. And the Allied eapons did change the course of the War. The German V-1, V-2, and other missles were weapons of the future, but unfortunately for the Germans just that--the future. They had little real impact on the War. The German jets might have had a significant impact, but Hitler's interference delayed and misdirected the project. The Allies also were working on jets, but were behind the Germans. The atomic bomb was the supreme technological achievemment of the War and herlped end the Pacific War. Radar was developed by both the Allies and the Germans, but significantly aided the British in the Battle of Britain before the Germans were fully aware of its importance. And because the Germans held back their technology, played an important role in the Pacific War because the Japanese were far behind the Allies. Of all the major technical innovations, perhaps the most important is the VT proximity fuse. It played a major role in the Pacific War after it was introduced (1943). The Japanese Kamakaze attacks would have been much more difficult to beat off withoutv the VT fuse. Because of fear that the secret might be compromised it was not used in ground operations, but was finally introduced in Europe after the surprise German Bulge offensive (December 1944). The British develveloped a primtive computer (called a bombe) to help crack the German Enigma machines.
Science had played an important role in World War I, but no war up to the time was as affected bu science as World War II. The reason of course was the tremnendous advances in scince made in the 19th ad early-20th centuruies. One author writes, "The Second World War was fought as much by scientits, or 'boffins,' as they were often known, as by soldiers, sailors, and airmen .... One leading scientist said during the war tht thereis hardly a phase of the national life with which are not associated' and that you could 'hardly walk in any direction in the war without tumbling over a scentist.'" [Downing] Most World War II weapons were refinements of World War I weapons which made them more lethal. Here the Germans were particularly succesful. There were, however several entirely new weapons and devives. One historian tells that his book, "... is an analysis of how Grand Strategy is achieved in practice, with the explicit claim that victories cannot be understood without a recognition of how these successes were engineered, and by whom. In this sense, 'enginners' are not strictly meant here as people possessing a B. Sc or PhD. in Engineering (although the founder of the Seabees, Admiral Ben Morell, and the inventor of the mine-detector, Josef Kosacki, certainly did), but as those falling into the Webster Dictionary's eider definition: 'a person who carries through an enterprise through skillful or atful contrivance'." [Kennedy] Many of the innovative weapons of World War II were high-tech weapons, but not all. The Allis blasted their way through the Bocage country of Normandy, because a seargent came up with the low tech 'rhinoceros', a standard Sherman tank with a scrap iron blade welded onto the front.
The principal war leaders with important scientific establishments took a very different attitude toward scientits and science. And that difference had a profound impact on the War. Hitler who considered himself a virtual expert on everything was often more prone to lecture even destinguished scientists than listen to them. The renowned physicist Max Plank, president of the prestigious Kaiser Wilhelm Gesellschaft (Kaiser Wilhelm Institute), was disturbed about the NAZI anti-Semetic policies. He was a moderate German nationalist who expected Hitler to become more moderate after becoming Reichchancellor. Distressed with the plight of his Jewish colleaues, he met with the new German Reichchancelor to discuss German science (May 1933). He told Hitler during the meeting that forcing Jewish scientists to emigrate would 'mutilate' Germany. And the benefits of their work would go to foreign countries not necessarily favorably disposed towad Germany. What followed shocked Planck. Hitler was obstinate and refused to accept any of Planck's points. Towards the end of the meeting Adolf started to fidget around and mumbled 'You know what people say about me? They say I suffer from weak nerves.' Hitler then started shouting, 'Slander!' Hitler finally launched into one of his trade-mark rants against Jews and the Jewish menace. "Our national policies will not be revoked or modified. Even for scientists. If the dismissal of Jewish scientists means the annihilation of contemporary German science, then we shall do without science for a few years!" President Roosevelt knew vey little about science and was not prticulrly interested. He was, unlike Hitler, capable of understanding his intlectul weaknesses. He thus found experts with a solid grounding in science and took their advise. The most important was Vannevar Bush who the President chose to head the new Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD). One of the outcomes ws the Manhttan Project which produced the atomic bomb--the supreme scietific ccomplishment of the War. Churchill was vry different. He reveled in military history and took a keen interest in how science could be harnassed to aid the war effort. As a result, Churchill opversaw an extriodinary flood of inoovative new idea. Churchill reied heavily on physicist Frederick Lindemann, 1st Viscount Cherwell, as a scienticic adviser, athough he made some serious mistakes. Britain locked in a struggle for its very exitence did not have the industrial capacity to perfect and actually produce many of the ideas conceived by its scientuits--but America did. One historian writes, "Churchill took a keen interest in the aplicatin of science to the technology of war. [His] encoragement of science and of new ways of approaching military chllenges was at the core of Britain;'s final victory in the long struggle of the Second World War. At one point the head of Bomber Command, Sir Arthur 'Bomber' Harris, remonstrated with Churchill about a new approch the Prime Minister was championing. 'Are we fighting this war with weapons or slide rules?' Hrris asked. Churchill replied, 'That's a good idea; let's try the skide rule for a change.'" [Downing] Stalin was another matter as well. He seems to have applied ideology to science, essentilly taking the same approach as the medieval Church. Stalin gutted Soviet biology with Lysenkoism. We are less sure about his impact on other sciences, but the closed, often pranoid system he fashioned was not one which promoted scientific innovation. Tojo did consult with the Japanese scibntific community. But like most of the miitarists who seized controlof Jaan, he was a man of limited vision and experience. At the heart of the Japanese military was the spirit of Bushido and te core beief tht it was the sueriority of the Japanese people and warrior spirit that would conquer superior numbets (China) or greater industrial power (America).
Scientist are generally seen as the source of high-tech, war weponry. And this is probably the case. Not all innovative World War II weapory was high tech. Thus scientistswere just one group of the War-winning waponry. Also important were engineers, businessme, and the ordinry soldier. Especially for the Allies, some major innovations were introduced by very practical thinking soldiers and airmen. The B-29 superfort was he most advanced and complex weapons system of the War. Ir twas created by scientists and industrialists. But it was ordinary air crews that would perfect it and make it into a aar winning indtrument of victory. [Kennedy] And we might even add politicans to the list. Pimeminister Churchill who was attracted to war at an early age came up with the idea of Mulberry, the modular floting harbor which played a key role in the Success of the D-Day invasion. It was these innovators, one historian tells us that were "... responsible for realising their commanders' vission of success." [Kennedy]
The Allies mastery over technology was particularly apparent in the North Atantic. Technical advances in radar, sonar, Huff-Duff directional finding, code breaking, the hedgehog, the Leigh light, and other innovations all combined to defeat Dönitz's U-boats in the most important Allied enggement of the War. The Germans had their own technical advances such as the snorkle, but some efforts actually hurt the U-boats. Hee the Germand were at adisadvatage because without commnd of thesea, Dönitz was never sure of what happened to missing U-boats. At theend of the War, the Grmans wre ready to introduce a brand new, technologically improved U-boat, but did not have the induistrial capacity to bring it off.
The Germans and the British were the primary innovators of World War II weaponry. The Germans had the most fururistic weapons concepts. They also had aeader who interfered in weapons research and production, often with adverse affects on development and usage. The British pioneered many weapons that had a huge impact on the War and when America cane into the War had the means to mass produce them. American industry had played a minor role in World War I, but it was at the center of the Allied World War II effort. Neuther the Axis or for that matter America's Allies accurately assessed the productive capacity of American industry.
When talking about American and British advanced wepnry, it is difficult to separate the two countries, so integrated was thei war effort. Many but certainly not all of Allied weaponry was premiosed on British innivation and research, but brought to the battlefield by American industrial might. And the Allies in contrat to the Axis dis develop new weaponry that had a very significant impact on the War. These weapons included the atomic bomb, radar, the VT proximity fuse, the hedhe-hog, primitive computers, and much else. And the Allied weapons did change the course of the War. Mothing symbolized the Anglo-American alliance mote than the P-51 Mustang. Marrying the Nritish Rolls Royce Merlin engine to the North American Aviation air frace created the Luftwaffe bisting plane. The atomic bomb was the supreme technological achievemment of the War and was another Anglo-American project. It helped end the Pacific War. Radar was developed by both the Allies and the Germans, but significantly aided the British in the Battle of Britain before the Germans were fully aware of its importance. And because the Germans held back their technology, played an important role in the Pacific War because the Japanese were far behind the Allies. Of all the major technical innovations, perhaps the most important is the VT proximity fuse. It played a major role in the Pacific War after it was introduced (1943). The Japanese Kamakaze attacks would have been much more difficult to beat off withoutv the VT fuse. Because of fear that the secret might be compromised it was not used in ground operations, but was finally introduced in Europe after the surprise German Bulge offensive (December 1944). The British developed a primative computer (called a bombe) to help crack the German Enigma cipher machines.
The Germans created some of the most effective weapons of World War II. This included high technology weapons, including balistic misles and cruise misles as well as yje jet engine. The German high-techweapons, while technical marvels, for a variety of reasons, these high tech weapons had little impact on the War. The German success were primarily achieved by Blitzkrieg tactics, not the superiority of their weaons. The Allies had effective tanks and planes when the Germans launched Case Yellow leading to their stunning victories on the West. It was their tactics that brought their victory, not a massive superiority in weaponry.
We know of no innovative Italian weaponry. The Italians were largely dependent on the Gemans for innovative and high-tech weaponry. Unlike America, however, the Germans did not have the industrial capacity to fully equip its own armies, let alone those of its Allies. And Hitler was not over anxious to provide his Allies advanced weponry.
We know of no innovatiove Japanese weaponry during World War II. The Japanese did develop two highly effective weapons which helped explain their early success, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero and the Longlance Torpedo. Once the War begn, the Japanese did not have the academic or industrial capacity to compete with the Allies in the develop of high-tech weaponry. And their German Ally does not seem to have been overly anxious to provide their technology, at least while the Whermacht was achieving stunning success. The Japanese Navy before the Americans had radar on most of their ships were better skilled in night action because of their training and better quality binoculars they had that while not the 'night vision' ones of today, did have a much clearer view at night. We are not yet sure of this, but we think that the Japanese binoculars were made with lenses made by the excellent German lens manufacturer Carl Zeiss.
The innovative use of pontoon bridges helped just enough Red Army soldiers escape the NAZI Blizkrieg unleaseed in Barbarossa. [Kennedy] And the slopeing armor of the T-34 played a major role in the outcome of the fighting on the Eastern Front.
The German V-1, V-2, and other missles and tyhe jet were weapons of the future, but unfortunately for the Germans just that--the future. They had little real impact on the War. The German jets might have had a significant impact, but Hitler's interference delayed and misdirected the project. The Allies also were working on jets, but were behind the Germans. The Allied weappnry developed during the War did have a major impact on the War, weapons like the VT proximity fuse, thehedhehog, radar, sonar, and above all the atomic bomb. Except for the atom bomb, the Allied weaponry was not as innovative as the German weapons. The question here is why were the Allies more successful in brinung forward innovations to the battlefield. It could have been simple dumb luck. We believe, however, there were actual reasons for this dichotomy. First was Hitler. He had absolute power and was convinced of hos superior judgements. He impeded weapons development. He ordered reasearch on jet engines stopped at a critical momment. He delayed the mass production ofautomatic wepns because they did notg hve the deel of beautifully crafted German rifles. He had no interet in atomic bombs, in part because he saw it as based on Jewish phsics. Hitler was more apt to lectgure NAZI pysicists then listen to them. Allied leders like Cgh\hurchill and Roosevelt were more aware of their linitations nd his willing to listen to the scientists. Second, the NAZI race obsession drove many talented scoentists out of the Reich and enriched the Allied scientific capability. This was especially true of nuclear physics, but by not mdans limoted to tht dicipline. Third, by bringing America into the war, the Axis fised Britiish high tech weapinsresearch go AmericAns vast indisyril capacity whoch proved to be a war winning combination.
A question arises as to whether democratic or totalitarian countries are most capable of waging war. It looked at the beginning of the War that is was clearly the totalitarians. By the end of the War the Germans, Italians, and Japanese found that an enranged democracy can be a fearful force to reckon with. Of course the Western Allisachieved ther victory in large measure because the Soviet Red Army hd battered the Wehracht. Here we are just speaking about one aspect of this question--the ability to harness science to generate military force. This is not a simple questiion to answer. Totlitarian powers can very quickly make decisiions about allocating resources and with liottle public debate. Both Stalin and Hitler adopted policies alocating important resources to scientists for weapons develoopmet at a time tht American, British, and French scientists were operating on a shoe string. A especially German scienists made major advances in severalkey areas. The Soviets did as well, but Soviet scientific achievements were much more limited. The German scietific achieveets can not be credited with NAZI totalitarianism, other than the NAZIs aproved the commitment of resources. The scientists, institutes, companies, and other research groups responsible for the German scientific achievements were all a product of Imperial Germany and the Weimar Republic. Ad there is every indication that the NAZis were weakening the educational system reponsible for these achievements. Stalin also devoted substantial resources to science and weapons research. And their were successes, although rather limited given the resources committed. Here a factor may be Stalin;'s interference as well as the culture of fear and secrency which is not condusive to scientific achievenment. A reade writes, "I guess you can say that dictatorship did not trust scientific ideas because they were so narrow minded on their goal for ultimate control while democracy allowed the leaders to be more open minded towards the trial and error of science." We believe several factors are at play in the democracies. First, resources for weapons developmnt are limited until the opublic is convinced a danger exists. Second, the openess of a free society is the best environmnt for scientific inquiry. Exchan\ge of inforation and ideas is vital to the scientific process. Three, the democracies once the decesion to commit resources are made, is likekly to better administer the research effort. Success as a dictator takes a certain mind set which also operate on your mind, neither of which are likeky to lead to the effective administration of a scientific effort. Fourth, democracy is most likely to foster a scientific effort without political and ideological considerations. Fifth, democracies are most likely to have capitalist economies and corporations which tend to be more efficient and imginative than government structures.
Downing, Taylor. Churchill's War Lab (2011), 416p.
Kennedy, Paul. Engineers of Victory: The Problem Solvers who Turned the Tide in the Second World War (2013).
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