* war and social upheaval: World War II -- technology electronics








World War II: Technology and Tactics--Radio and Electronics

World War II electronics
Figure 1.--Wireless was developed just before World War I. It was the height of technology after the War. American boys were fascinated with the technology. The boy here has builtavery ipressive crystal set about 1920. America developed a whole new industry. The United States at the time of World War II had the largest radio industry in the world, producing huge quantities of radios and related equipment. The United states also had the largest elreical power industyry in the world. The United states did not, however, engage in extensive research to develop military applications. Britain with a much smaller production capacity did purse research on military applications. It was one of many areas that made the Anglo-American Alliance a formidable military force. Even before Pearl Harbor, British research was being transferred to America where important corporations were gearing up for war production.

Wireless communications or radio was developed just before World War I. It only played, however, a minor role in the War. The role of electronics in World War II was very different. Radio and other electonics including sonar, radar, nvigational beams, and proximity played major roles in the War. Command and control is important in any military campaign. This is true whatever the combat environment. It is especially important in mobile warfare so a commander can direct fast moving mechanized units. And of course radio gave commenmders just such a capability. Only the Germans at the onset of the war had fully thought this through and had a military force prepared to operate with modern command and control methods. Radios were an important part of that, but not the only electronic equipment which appeared on the battlefield. Radar was a key element leading to the British victory in the Battle of Britain. Part of the Battle of Britain was the less well publicized Battle of the Beams. Both radar and sonar were vital in the Battle of the Atlantic. Germany's industry, however, was not capable of fully equipping their army with needed weapons, including radios, and other electronic equipment. German scientists invented a range of weapons that the country's industry could not produce in large enough quantities to affect the War. Britain was the only country to begin the War with a fully mechanized army. And America was the only country with the industrial base and resources to produce the implements of war, including electronic equipment in the quantities required by its oen military as well as that of Allied countries. One important area was electronics. The America radio industry provided the basis for a huge output of radio equipment and other electronic equipment such as radar and sonar. Radio while it enable commanders to direct mobil units was also ingerently ensure. Thus signals intelligence became a vital aspect of the War. The Germans thought they solved this problem with their Enigma Machine. They were wrong. With signals intelligence the Allies proved much more adept than the Axis, although the Germans did have their successes as well.

Pre-War Era (1895-1014)

Wireless communication was developed in Europe and virtually all of the eraly reserach on radio was done in Europe. Wireless was invented by Italian electrical engineer Guglielmo Giovanni Maria Marconi (about 1895). He moved to England because Italian comoanies showed little interest in his invention. The first commercial result was the radio telgraphy sets on shios like Titanic. Navies also began installing radio sets.

World War I (1914-18)

Wireless communications or radio was developed just before World War I. Most famously the RMS Titanic sent out a distress call saving the urvivors (1912). It only played, however, a minor role in the War. The primary applications were in naval warfare. Radio sets were large and bulky. Only naval ships were large enough that they could be equipped with the large, bulky wireless equipment. Thus naval ships could be controlled over long distances. And these signals could be amf were intercepted. Wireless technology did not advance fast enough to create small radio sets for army and field units. An army headquarters could be equipped wit radion, but nit fielkd units, esoecially field units on the move. Aircraft at first could not be equipped with radios, but this gradually changed with advances in aviation and radio. As a result, the British established The Wireless Intercept (Y) Service. It was mostly used in the naval war. This is what set off the Battle of Jutland, the major naval battle of the War. As a result, this was an important assett the British had at the outset of World War II and it would play a vital role in the War.

Inter-War Era (1920s-30s)

With advances during World War I, radio exploded. It vecame a huge commercail success. And no where like in America. Americans in partivcular had the eranings to buy radios. As a result a huge electronics inducstry developed. The ame process occurred in Europe, but not where near the number of people could afford radios. This varied by country. Britain had the highest concenbtration of radio users. Middle ckass Germans could afford radios, but notg weorking class radios. This is why the NAZIs when they seixed poer am up with an in iexpensive People's Radio--Volksempfänger radio sets. Radio owenership was lower in Italy and Japan. Even fewer people in the Soviet Union could afford a radio. All of this is important because because it determined the size of the electronics industries in the beligerant countries that fought World War II, not only thevfactories, but the number of techbicians competent to wor on and develop electronic equipment. Another important matter was scentific research. The companies involved with commercial radio conducted research, but with a focus on commercial operations. Researchers in Europe (primarily Britain and Germany) pursued other areas which rathef accidentally carries them toward radar and other areas. As War approached, Britain and Germany had about the same technical level, the Germans if anything were slightly ahead. But it was the British that took it most seriously because it seemed to have real potential as an air warming system. And thus became oart of the Chain Home Network. The Germans did not need an early warning systen, at least at first, because they planned to do the attacking. The Grmans were the first to insatll radar directed gunnery systems on naval vessels. The first victim was HMS Hood. The United States did very little military reserch, but the British after the onset of the War, turned their high-tech secret research over to the Amerians--the Tizard Mission (1940). Notably, the German did not share their secreat reserach with the Japanese until late in the War. And the Americans with their huge electronics industry had the capacity to not only perfect the British prototypes, but to produce all the varied electronic equioment developed by the military in quantities that no other coiuntry or comination of countries could begin to match. This included the cavity magnitron, arguably the most important secret wepon of the War.

Military Applications

The role of electronics in World War II was very different than the very limited role in World War I. Radio and other electonics including sonar, radar, naigational beams, and proximity played major roles in the War. Command and control is important in any military campaign. This is true whatever the combat environment. It is especially important in mobile warfare so a commander can direct fast moving mechanized units. And of course radio gave commenmders just such a capability. Only the Germans at the onset of the war had fully thought this through and had a military force prepared to operate with modern command and control methods which were required by their Blitkrieg tactical doctrine. Radios were an important part of that, but not the only electronic equipment which appeared on the battlefield. While radid gave the German Panzers a critical advantage in the Battle of France, it would be radar that would turn that advatage to the British in the Battle of Britain. The Germns began the War with many serious limittions (force size, industrial capacity, raw materials, and agricultural productivity), Hitler believed that surperior scientific and indistrial capabilities aswell as fighting spirit would in the war. It was not an optimistic sign for the Germans that they would be defeated by British technology when held most of the advatages. The Germansould develop impressive new weapons systems and technologies, but in the critical area of electonics it would be the Allies who would prevail. Especially when British technology was married to American industrial capacity.

Campaigns

Electronics equipment played a major role in several key World War II campaigns. The two most imprtant were the European air war and the Battle if Britain. Electronics were especially imnportant in the European air war, beginning with the first major battle--the Battle of Britasin. Radar was a key element leading to the British victory in the Battle of Britain. Part of the Battle of Britain was the less well publicized Battle of the Beams. Both radar and sonar were vital in the Battle of the Atlantic. Improved sonar and radar helped find German U-boats. The British Y Service played an impoortant role. American minaturization and mass production of British developed cavity magi=nitrins helped to put radars on Allied aircraft that were able to track down German U-boats throughout the North Atlantic. Electronics also played a major role on the Pacific War and was an area that America in part because of British technology had a huge lead over the Japanese. Radar was vital to the important role played by the American submarines. The proximity fuse played a major role in increasing the accuracy of naval antiaircraft fire. Mass production of radio equipment gave American infantry a level of artillery and air support unprcedented in warfare when it finally came to grips with the Wehrmacht in France (1944).

Radio Broadcasts/Messages

Some of the most important radio broacasts/messages of history were made during World War II. This includeed both military messages and broadcasts by leaders. Few broadcasts in the television era have matched the World War II radio broacasts. Perhaps the most importnt military message was the weather reports that allowed Group Captain James Stagg the ability to inform Gen. Eisenhower that there would be a brief window of good weather allowing the Allies to land in Normandy on June 6, 1944. Other important military broadcasts include the fake water outage Midway broadcast that allowed Station Hypo to reliably inform Adm. Nimitz that Midway was the Japanese target. An intercepted Japanese message enabled American aviators to intercept and shoot down Adm. Yamanoto who had planned the Pearl Harbor attack. The message sent by British double agent Garbo (Joan Pujol Garcia) informing the Abwehr that the allies were landing in Normandy was another important message. He not only left the Germans no time to react, but managed and added that it was a diversionary attack. This was very importabt in the success of D-Day because the Germans left many Panzer division in the Pas de Calais awaiting Gen. Ptaton and the fictious FUSAG force. Incredably he managed to convince OKW and Hitler. The Germans even awarded him a Iron Cross. Also important was Air Marshal Harris informing the Germans that they had 'sewed the wind and will reap the wirlwind'. As for broadcasts by political leaders, several stand out. Hitler's address to the Reuchstag mocking President Roosevelt's request that he guarantee the security if a long list of countries that he and Stalin would subsequntly invade. The Reichstag and Göring roared in laughter. He then blamed the Jews for any war which would result and warned that it would result in their destruction. Unlike Churchill and Roosevelt, Hitler spoke less and less after he and Stalin launched the War. Propaganda Minister Goebbels became increasing the radio voice of NAZI Germany. His Total War speech after Stalingrad is his most noted. Churchill was a masterful orator with a an unsurpassed command of the English language. He made several memorable broadcasts, includung the 'what kind of preople do they think we are' and the 'never have so many owed so much to so few' speeches. President Roosevelt was another gifted orator. Here his Arsenl of Democracy, Pearl Harbor, and D-Day addresses stand out. Stalin in contrast was not an efectivec orator and is best known for the speech he did not give. Unlike President Roosevelt, Stalin was stupified on hearing of the German invasion--even though he had been warned by both Churchill and Roosevelt as well as his own intelignce services. Rather than speak to the nation he withdrew to his dacca and fell into a deep drepression. He did not speak to the Soviet people for 2 weeks (July 3, 1941). Also notable is Gen. DeGulle's brodcast from London launching the resistance movement. And of course there is the final broadcast of the War. Emperor Hirohito spoke to the an astonished Japanese people who had never heard his voice before. They were living in cities that had been reduced to glowing cinders and were informed by the Emperorv that 'the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage'.

The Resistance

Radio changed the nature of warfare, giving a tremendous advatage to the offensive. Advance elemets no longer lost contact with commanders. It also changed the nature of popaganda. Occupying powers no longer had a monopoly on information. And it changed the possibilities for resistance. Individuals were ble to obtain accurate information on the War. After the fall of France (June 1940), the BBC's Radio London broadcasting in different languages became a beacon of hope for the oppressed people living under NAZI rule throughout the continent, the major source of information about the War and resistance to the Germans. It soon became very dangerous to listen to foreign radio broadcasts, both in Germany and occupied countries. This is one reason that the Germans even before the War took radios away from Jews. Churcgill after the fall of France hit upon the idea of setting Europe aflane through the resistance. This was impossible because of the German grip on the continent and vast secuity operation. The resistance could and did play an important role in the Soviet and Allied war effort. A key aspect of totalitarian rule is controlling infomtion. It was an important part of the NAZI dictatorship in Germany and the Germans cought to replicate this in their expanding empire. It thus became a serious crime to listen to foreign broadcasts. Radio also increased the capabilities of the resistance. As German rule became increasingly oppresive and as the Soviets and Allies began to reverse the Axis tide, resistance begn to grow. And radio provided a means for the soviets and Allies to easily communicate with resistance groups that the Axis powers could not interupt, although code breaking was a problem. Communication in the other direction werre far more dangerous, but a vitlm part of the Allied effort ahainst the Axis. Axis response to the resistance was brutal and given the highly urban environment of Western Europe (unlike the Soviet Union and Yugoslvia), armed resistance was virtually impossible. The major objective of the resistance in the West became preparation of th Cross-Channel invasion, essentially reporting on German preparations and troop movements and orders for the resistance to prepare and support the invasion. Sending such messages in German occupied areas was dangerous because the Germans could detect and locate sending stations. As the invsion would come in France, it was the French resitance that becme key to the Western Allies.

Country Trends

Hitler before the War pushed the production of inexpensive radio sets for workers. It was a similar effort to the Volkswagen. Unlike America, many German workers did not have radios. The German elctronics industry was the lrgest in Europe. Even so, it was much smaller than American industry. Germany's industry, however, was not capable of fully equipping their army with needed weapons, including radios, and other electronic equipment. German scientists invented a range of weapons that the country's industry could not produce in large enough quantities to affect the War. They also reserarched radar, but attached much less importance to it than the British who were more concerned with defend against aerial bombardment. Britain attached much more importbce to SONAR than was aranted by the level of the existing technology. With the outbreak of the War, the British launched a crash program to improve both SONAR ad RADAR equioment. Britain was the only country to begin the War with a fully mechanized army. And America was the only country with the industrial base and resources to produce the implements of war, including electronic equipment in the quantities required by its oen military as well as that of Allied countries. One important area was electronics. The America radio industry provided the basis for a huge output of radio equipment and other electronic equipment such as radar and sonar.

Signals Intelligence

Intelligence was a matter of substantial importance in World War II. It was of greater importance than in virtually any other major war in history. The primary reason for this was that huge advances were made in radio (wireless) communications. This occurred primarily because of commercial development of radio during the inter-War era. The vast expanse of World War II battelfields as well as the nature of modern mobile warfare required that radio be used. Bltzkrieg required radio communications that could be easily and quickly understood. During World War I, commanders lost control of lead units once they set an offensive in motion. This was no longer the case in World War II. Thus huge amounts of electronic communications were broadcast. Even surrounded units could maintain communications with headquarters. And nothing could be any more insecure than broadcast messages. It meant that vast amounts of vital military communications was up for grabs. It was readily available to any country which was willing to string up radio antenna and invest in training staff to receive and analize the messages. Many mesages were sent in the clear. The most important were encoded. World War II was the first war in which electronic (radio/wireless) messages were a major factor. The telegram became important in the 19th century, but telegram messages sent over wire lines or undersea cables were much more difficult to intercept. They were not impossible (as the British showed with the Zimmerman telegram), but they were difficult to intercept. The major concern in World War II was radio messages, but there was also telegraphic messages sent by cable that were used, mostly by diplomats. And mobile warfare as initiated first by the Germans and subsequently the Allies required vast numbers of easily intercepted (but less easilly decoded) messages. These messages needed to be encoded through a system that could be quickly decoded by the country involved, but would defy code breaking by the enemy. A complicated decodeong system was impossible given the number of messages. Naval warfare also required large numbers of radio messages. Both the Germans and Japanese learned after World War I that their codes had been cracked by the Allies. And the Soviets learned that their codes after the War had also been cracked. As a result, these countries adopted much more elborate code systems. The Germans and Japanese developed cypher machines. The Soviets developed a single pad system. The Germans and Japanese proved particularly vulnerable because they had such confidence in their vaunted cypher machines. And they sent a huge volume of messages which significantly increased the vulnerability of the machines. The Germans also attemptd to read Allied signals. And they had some successes, mostly with British communications. They generally failed at breaking Allied codes. Neither did the Japanese manage to break Allied codes. Very little is known about Soviet code breaking efforts.







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Created: 6:37 AM 9/23/2012
Last updated: 3:31 AM 9/22/2020