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February 20, 2007

In Memoriam: World War Two, 1939 - 1945 - Jeremy Black on World War Two - Part One

Posted by Jeremy Black

Jeremy Black - Professor of History, University of Exeter - offers a history of World War Two and explores the concept of total war.

Fighting quality, a constant factor in conflict, rather than a characteristic of total war, however defined, was a key element that plays too little role in the assessment of why the Allies won World War Two, but it is one that demands attention. Indeed a stress on Allied fighting quality reverses the emphasis in much of the literature. There, the focus is on Allied resources and, in particular, the ability to out-produce the Axis, this seen as the key element in the total war interpretation of the conflict.

This latter emphasis reflects a number of factors, but, in particular, the dominant interpretations of the nature of conflict that put a stress, first, on material factors such as the number of tanks - more/better resources apparently beats fewer/worse resources - and, secondly, on war and society. The eventual Allied resource base was indeed impressive, the USA spending $82 billion on military spending in 1944 alone, and contrasted with German deficiencies in economic mobilisation.

The war and society approach, which enjoyed much favour in academic circles from the 1960s, placed much of the explanation for victory on the 'Home Front', and, specifically, on the ability to mobilise the factors of production, particularly labour for wartime production of weaponry. From this perspective, the Allies won because their more integrated and benign societies enabled them to take part in a total mobilisation, while the conservative, not to say reactionary, or worse, attitudes of the Nazis and Japanese, for example towards the employment of women and conquered peoples, ensured that they lost. 'Rosie the Rivetter', and her equivalents in the USA and Allied countries, thus won World War Two.

This was an interpretation that brought together Western democratic and Soviet Communist public myths and, like most public myths, rested on a degree of accuracy, although it underplayed the cruelty of the Soviet war economy. Nazi racism and Japanese oppression made it difficult for Germany and Japan to derive the benefit that might have been anticipated from conquests, and even led to a degree of popular resistance, especially in Eastern Europe, that soaked up a lot of Axis military resources. The Allies did not encounter comparable resistance, with the important exception of the Soviets in areas they brutally (re)conquered, at the same time as they drove out the Germans, such as Poland and Lithuania. Resistance to Soviet occupation was weakened by divisions and by a lack of Western support, but the NKVD was also successful in striking at the leadership of the Underground, and was greatly helped by war weariness and by offering a number of amnesties. The last in 1947 led most of the remaining underground to surrender. In contrast, the weakness of popular resistance on behalf of the Nazi regime during and after the conquest of Germany was a demonstration of its eventual unpopularity and sense of failure, although the formal surrender of the German regime after the death of Hitler was also important in undermining the legitimacy of any resistance.

Valuable as it is to look at resources and Home Fronts, and it would be very foolish to neglect either, these interpretations will not suffice. Like all-too-much analytical work on military history, they risk taking the fighting out of war; although the protection or destruction of resources did play a major role in strategic and operational planning. This was mostly the case with naval and air warfare, the former focusing on communications, and the latter on production, but was also seen with land warfare. A British strategic review of August 1941 noted

Iranian oil and the Abadan refinery are essential to us. Our present positions afford a defence in depth to the shores of the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf.
In the case of World War Two, the focus on Home Fronts and resources underrates the extent to which the Axis was outfought: on land, in the air, and at sea. In doing so, they also appear to support self-serving Axis interpretations that emphasise their fighting quality and suggest that they lost only because they were outnumbered. This indeed takes up themes of the period, for example the Nazi argument that they were defending civilisation against Asiatic 'hordes', in the shape of the large Red (Soviet) army. To this day, on the German side, there is still a tendency to regard their defeat as due to being beaten in resource production by the Allies, and to minimise or ignore the extent to which they were outfought. This is a parallel to the earlier tendency, after 1918, to blame defeat on everything other than the Allied ability to defeat German forces on the Western Front.

For World War Two, all-too-much of the work on the German side is based on post-war analyses of their own campaigns by German commanders and staff officers. These place the responsibility for defeat on resource issues, as well as the size and climate of the Soviet Union, and, above all, Hitler's interventions. Hitler indeed was a seriously flawed commander, especially in defence, due to his unwillingness to yield territory, and his consequent preference for the static, over the mobile, defence. In large part, this was a reflection of Hitler's obsessions with willpower and with battle as a test of ideological and racial purity. By concentrating decision-making, and being unable to match Stalin's ability to delegate, Hitler ensured that there was no alternative way to provide sound command decisions, and, by 1944, his diminished grasp on reality exacerbated the difficulties of German command, and undermined support from within the senior ranks of the military.

It is important, however, to stress that Hitler's deficiencies were part of a more general failure of German warmaking, not least its emphasis on will: specifically the inability to make opposing states accept German assumptions. As in 1914, the will to win could not be a substitute for a failure to set sensible military and political goals. Post-war German analyses also ignore archival evidence that highlights battlefield mistakes by German commanders, and do not consider the issue of Soviet fighting quality, a subject highlighted by excellent American work, especially by David Glantz, that has benefited from the widespread (although not complete) opening of Soviet archives after the fall of the Communist regime.

An understanding of German deficiencies in the war with the Soviet Union is in line with the tendency to offer a reading of the early German campaigns that emphasises the extent to which they were not easy victories. The advantages the Germans derived from poor strategic choices on the part of their opponents, for example the French dispatch of their strategic reserve towards the Netherlands in 1940, rather than from a totally different quality of conception and fighting, is now general to the literature. Weaknesses on the part of the Germans can also be stressed. For example, although planning for an invasion of Poland was well-developed, the conquest of Denmark and Norway in 1940 was far more improvised, and, indeed, the latter attack was particularly vulnerable to maritime interception by the stronger British naval force. Far from a pre-determined result, the Germans benefited from comparative advantage: both less-flawed planning than the Allied forces that intervened, let alone the poorly-prepared Scandinavians, and a greater ability to respond, indeed improvise, under pressure. Furthermore, an emphasis on the ability of well-led Allied forces to create problems for the Germans by mounting appropriate defence operations can also be found.

German warmaking rested on a greater willingness than their opponents to centre operational planning on the tactical potential of combined arms and joint (air-land) operations, the two combining to make manoeuvre warfare possible. This potential, which was enhanced by generally good tactical and operational command, and by a high level of tactical skill, did not, however, mean a certainty of success, and should not lessen an awareness of the large-scale improvisation that characterised German war-making and military support systems, and of the variations in German effectiveness. For example, in the Bulge offensive of late 1944, the infantry's low morale and lack of tactical skill contrasted with the higher fighting quality of the German tank units.

Nevertheless, the views of both victors and defeated combined to endow the German military with extraordinary strength and proficiency, not least overwhelming mechanised forces. This helped boost German confidence, and the sense of being at the cutting edge of progress, and also assisted the defeated in dispelling attention from issues relating to their fighting quality, morale and command skills. In practice, there was no such general superiority in weaponry, and other aspects of German effectiveness were exaggerated. Subsequent claims that, in 1940, the Germans had many more modern tanks than the Western Allies were unfounded, and indeed the Germans had fewer heavy battle tanks suited to fight other tanks, whereas the French were relatively well-provided. An American account of 60-ton German tanks equipped with flamethrowers and communicating by radio directly with Stuka dive-bombers was inaccurate for 1940 when the heaviest German tank weighed 19 tons, there were no flamethrower tanks, and no such communication.

A belief in Axis effectiveness was a key element in the contest over morale, which was seen not only as important in a strategic sense with reference to the maintenance of war economies - but also operationally, specifically for countries that were invaded. In April 1941, General Henry Wilson, the commander of the British Expeditionary Force in Greece, under successful attack by the Germans, was concerned about Greek morale,

The question how to raise the morale of the people as well as that of the Greek forces who are showing signs of disintegration.
There is a parallel with the treatment of Japan. It is clear that its attacks benefited from poor Allied operational command, particularly in the Philippines, Malaya and Burma, but also from strategic inadequacies that in part stemmed from the range of British commitments. Concerned about the war with Germany, the British mistakenly hoped that the defence of Malaya and Singapore would benefit from the strength of the American fleet in the western Pacific, and also mishandled their own naval units. At the same time, Soviet success in earlier clashes with Japan along the borders of Manchuria, particularly near Nomonhan in 1939, indicated deficiencies with Japanese warmaking.

The German tendency to underrate Soviet fighting quality in the analysis of the conflict in Eastern Europe is not simply a matter of technicalities, but, rather, an aspect of a more wide-ranging modern German failure of perception. For example, most German commentators do not appreciate the extent to which the German army was involved in atrocities and, indeed, that military violence against unarmed civilians was not a matter of rogue commanders, but, instead, was integral to its conduct during the war. This is, in part, because this argument challenges the sanitisation of the Wehrmacht's reputation during the Cold War.

The Japanese equivalent in explaining failure includes an over-emphasis on Allied bombing, especially the dropping of the atom bombs. There is also an unwillingness to address the issue of comparative fighting quality in the field in 1944-5. Furthermore, the military and political reasons why the Japanese had failed earlier to knock China out of the war also repay consideration as they indicate why an ability to plan and execute major advances (equivalent to German blitzkrieg offensives) did not lead to victory.

Before turning to consider fighting quality in greater detail, it is important to understand that an emphasis on it does not imply that resources played little role. Instead, such an approach is partly a matter of a shift in focus. Clearly, both resources and fighting were crucial. For example, the extent of American shipbuilding capacity, and the consequent ability to do far more than just replace losses, was central to the ability to secure, and then exploit, naval superiority in the Pacific. Yet, in addition, the Japanese navy had to be both beaten in battle by the Americans, and weakened by their air and submarine assault on the Japanese war economy. More generally, the strength of a state does not explain the operational successes of its forces. Japanese defeats in part reflected the balance of fighting quality, command skills, and luck in particular battles; as well as flawed Japanese doctrine, seen, for example, in the less successful use of submarines compared to that by the Americans.

It is also necessary to direct attention to the idea of a synergy between resources and fighting quality. More and better weapons themselves are not sufficient until victory. They can increase fighting quality, for example by enhancing confidence and morale. Conversely, they can also compromise it, by encouraging a misguided confidence, or by leading to tactics in which there is a reluctance to close with the enemy for fear of affecting aspects of the weapons' performance. Rather the relationship is the opposite: instead of more resources increasing fighting quality, better quality can make a more effective use of resources. This implies both that forces with superior fighting quality will benefit disproportionately from enhanced resources, as the Americans did in the Pacific in the latter stages of the war; and, also, that, in the absence of such resources, they can use their quality to lessen, indeed sometimes close, the capability gap.

In World War Two, the general trend was that a gap in combat effectiveness and fighting quality at the outset that favoured the Axis (Germany and Japan, but not Italy) was overcome by advances in Allied proficiency that the Axis did not match. Initial Axis successes - by the Germans in 1939-41 and by the Japanese in 1931-42 – were not simply due to fighting quality, although both were important, as the success of German blitzkrieg attacks amply demonstrated. Other factors also played a role from the tactical/operational - for example the surprise nature of the German assault on the Soviet Union in 1941, and that of the Japanese on Britain and the USA later that year - to the strategic/geopolitical.

Crucial to the latter was the sequential nature of Axis warmaking. Japan was able successively to invade Manchuria (1931) and to launch a full-scale attack on China (1937), without the intervention of other powers, despite the fact that they were not otherwise engaged in warfare. Japan was also able to fight a limited border war with the Soviet Union (1939) that did not escalate, and to attack Britain and the USA in 1941 without having to fear Soviet entry into the war with her. Germany engaged first in rearmament, and then in sequential aggression against Austria and Czechoslovakia in 1938-9 without any united hostile response. Hitler then successively attacked Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Yugoslavia and Greece, with the Soviet Union at least neutral (and in the case of the attack on Poland an active participant), and with the USA unwilling to come to the aid of fellow-neutrals, although in late May 1940 Roosevelt requested planning for support to Brazil in the event of German attack. Similarly, Norway and Sweden refused to help Finland when it was attacked by the Soviet Union in 1939-40 and also refused to allow any Anglo-French relief force transit.

The combination of the skill and success of German military operations, and the wider geopolitics of the conflict, ensured that, by the end of May 1941, Germany had really won the war as then conducted. Most of the powers attacked by Germany were in effect isolated: Anglo-French military support was ineffective, and Soviet backing was crucial to Germany's ability to gain control of Eastern Europe, as it removed any effective counter. Britain and her empire fought on, but had been unable to save Greece when Germany attacked, and with Germany dominant in Europe and linked to the Soviet Union, and the USA neutral, there appeared no way in which Britain would be able to reverse the verdict of recent defeats. Indeed, the British were concerned that German successes in the Mediterranean, successes that might be enhanced if the Germans advanced through Turkey, could compromise their position in the Middle East. This encouraged interest in fall-back positions in Iraq and Persia.

At this stage the war was far from global, even if German naval operations, the contributions of the British empire, and the impact of Italian entry together ensured that it was more wide-ranging and varied than the conflict between Japan and China. Nevertheless, the absence of any German invasion of Britain (or British landing in France) ensured that the British and German armies did not fight between June 1940 and March 1941. This followed on from the very different Phoney War between the major powers the previous winter. Each situation can be variously explained, and involved more than habitual winter pauses and preparations for spring operations, important as both were, but they scarcely match any definition of total war. In contrast, all-year-round campaigning was to be the characteristic of the German-Soviet war launched in 1941, while in Burma the British came to fight through the monsoon.

The impact of Soviet, and then American, entry into the war on its eventual outcome is well rehearsed, but that of improved Allied fighting quality is less well so. Take, however, either the German-Soviet conflict or the war with Japan. In late 1941, the Germans had been able to inflict very heavy casualties on the Soviets, not least by being more successful at the tactical level in linking firepower and mobility, while, operationally, they outmanoeuvred Soviet defenders and were more successful in imposing their tempo on the flow of conflict. Yet, with time, the Red Army learned first to cope with German tactics (by, for example, negating the impact of German tank attacks with the skilful use of anti-tank guns) and operational methods (coping with breakthroughs by establishing defences in depth). The latter was also seen in changing British doctrine. General Claude Auchinleck, the Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East in 1941-2, drew up instructions in October 1941 in which he stressed the value of engaging the Germans in manoeuvre warfare, but also offered 'general principles governing all the strategy of the defence' that reflected the challenge posed by the greater mobility of contemporary warfare,

All main communications, road or rail, will be denied to the enemy by a series of defensive areas sited astride of them, and arranged in depth.

These defensive areas will be made tank proof, and capable of all round defence, and stocked so as to make them self supporting for at least 60 days … In no circumstances will a garrison abandon its area, unless ordered to do so by a superior commander.

Adequate air support for these defensive areas is essential and whenever possible they will contain one or more landing grounds to enable communication to be maintained with them by air and, when feasible and desirable, to enable air forces to be operated from within their perimeter.

It will, however, certainly be necessary to operate air forces from aerodromes situated outside these defensive areas. The general protection of these aerodromes should be assured by the action of mobile reserves operating between the defensive areas.

It is essential that all idea of maintaining a linear defence in the face of superior enemy armoured forces be abandoned. Penetration between the defensive areas … must be expected and accepted … so long as these areas hold firm and thus deny to the enemy the use of the main arteries of communication, he can not continue for long to press forward with large forces.

The garrison of each defended area will include anti-aircraft artillery and should, if possible, include infantry tanks for counter attacking purposes, but the bulk of such armoured and motorised forces … will be held … to bring the enemy to battle on ground of our choosing and not to make the fullest possible use of the defensive areas as pivots of manoeuvre.

Aside from their growing success in defence, the Soviets also developed an eventually effective offensive doctrine that could cope with the resilience of German defenders. The Soviet determination to learn from mistakes had already been demonstrated after the end of the winter war with Finland (1939-40), launched in order to enhance the Soviet defensive zone, in which they had initially done very badly before concentrating on an artillery-led breakthrough of the Finnish defensive positions in Karelia, the Mannerheim Line. The Soviets held a secret high-level analysis of the conflict that has recently been published as a result of the opening of their archives. It led, in May 1940, to the issue of Order No. 120 which pressed for changes, including better training, more fluid infantry tactics, and better all-arms coordination.

An improvement in Soviet fighting quality was clearly demonstrated in the war with Germany, not least by the differences in Soviet offensives. At the same time, effectiveness has to be considered not in the abstract but relative to the fighting capability of the opposition. This can be seen in Operation Uranus - the encirclement of the German Sixth Army, in and near Stalingrad - in November 1942. The Soviets benefited greatly in this operation from their build-up of forces, not least as a consequence of the recovery and development of their munitions industry, for example in tank production.

The earlier evacuation of Soviet industrial plant in the face of German advances was a major achievement, that reflected the control wielded by Soviet institutions. Their advantages were also magnified by the success of their planning and preparations, and thanks to the poor quality of German command decisions, including the allocation of what became key flank positions to weak Romanian forces. A poor German response to the Soviet breakthrough was also crucial.

Earlier, the large-scale Soviet counter-offensive in the winter of 1941-2 had eventually ran out of steam, in part because, like the German offensives on the Western Front in 1918,it was on too broad a front. The Soviet counter-offensive in early 1943 was eventually stopped by Manstein's successful fighting defence. Thereafter, however, the Germans proved far less successful in stemming Soviet advances. Instead, the major constraints, in both 1944 and 1945, proved logistical, specifically the re-supply of advance units, especially with fuel. The Soviets showed, for example in Operation Bagration - the overrunning of Belarus and the destruction of Army Group Centre - in 1944, as well as in their advance into the Balkans the same year, and, finally, in the Manchuria campaign of 1945, that they had mastered the capabilities of their weaponry and fighting systems, learned how to outfight their opponents, and acquired the ability to maintain the pace of a fighting advance.

In 1944, the Red Army proved adept at developing good co-operation between armour, artillery and infantry, and at making the latter two mobile, successfully executing encirclements. The Germans were outnumbered, particularly in artillery and aircraft, although not so much as to make the verdict obvious. They suffered, however, from the consequences of 'no retreat' orders which robbed them of mobility. The campaign was less well handled by German commanders than that of early 1943, although the different verdict also reflected an increase in Soviet operational effectiveness and tactical skill: as a consequence, German counterattacks were less successful than hitherto, which affected the flow as well as the tempo of the Soviet advance.

The Soviets used their reserves well to maintain the pace of the advance and to thwart counterattacks, and were helped by the combination of simultaneous attacks and the breadth of the front, which made it difficult for the Germans to move forces so as to block breaches.

The Germans were more successful in delaying Anglo-American advances in Italy and (initially) Normandy, as the fronts were more constricted, and because Anglo-American forces were less adept at switching to the exploitation phase of battles and, subsequently, in maintaining the advance when it encountered resistance. Both problems were seen in Italy and France. This reflected a lack of understanding of operational art and less experience than the Soviets in large-scale manoeuvre battles with the Germans.

At the same time, it was only possible for advancing Soviet forces to achieve so much before exhaustion, losses and supply difficulties had an impact and led to, first, the slackening and, then, the stopping of the offensive. Until 1945, there was to be no one-campaign end to the war. This gave the conflict an attritional character, and led to an emphasis on the quantity as well as the utilisation of resources. Indeed, British planners considering post-war scenarios and the risk that the Soviet Union would resume pre-war hostility were troubled by the resilience and extent of the Soviet military-industrial base, as well as by Soviet fighting quality.

In Manchuria in 1945, the Japanese were outnumbered, particularly in artillery, tanks and aircraft, but they were also badly outfought: the Soviet forces were better trained and many had had combat experience in Europe. Aided by skilful deception techniques, they seized the initiative and advanced rapidly to envelop their opponents. Although the Japanese fought tenaciously, using suicide tactics, including carrying explosives and detonating them against tanks, their planning was disoriented by the speed of the Soviet advance.

The Japanese had failed to appreciate the advances the Soviets had made in 1943-5 in developing and sustaining 'deep operations'. In particular, the Japanese underrated Soviet mobility and inaccurately assumed that the Soviets would need to stop for re-supply after about 250 miles, providing the Japanese with an opportunity to respond to the Soviet advance. The Soviets were able to move faster than the Japanese had done in Operation Ichigo in late 1944 when, in a combined offensive, they had successfully opened the land route from Japanese China to Vietnam.

The Soviet skill in deception - particularly in deceiving the Germans about the axis of advance in 1944 - matched that of the Western Allies in Operation Overlord, and suggested that the Germans had also lost the intelligence war, and thus the capacity to out-think their opponents. This argument, however, has to be employed with care, as the German success in gaining surprise at the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944 indicated. Furthermore, British failures on Crete (1941) and at Arnhem (1944) indicated that the use of intelligence information was as important as its availability; the British ULTRA system was a strategic resource that had varied operational consequences.

The Western Allies also improved their fighting quality. In initial clashes, they had been found seriously wanting: the British conspicuously so in Norway in 1940, and the Americans in the battle of the Kasserine Pass in Tunisia in 1943. With time, however, improved Allied training and the benefits of experience, especially at the command level, told. The Allies also became far more skilled at integrating their forces. Thus, air support played a major role in the eventual success in the Battle of Normandy, although, arguably, a lack of appropriate direction and coordination at the strategic level ensured that too many air resources were directed into the bombing of Germany. This was an instance of the way in which the range of available resources and policies created particular demands on command and control skills, enhancing the role of the latter in fighting quality.

At the same time, the difficulty of making general statements about effectiveness is underlined by the different conclusions of detailed studies. For example, American fighting quality in the winter of 1944-5 has been affirmed in a study of the Vosges campaign, but work on the Huertgen Forest operation has been less positive due to a questioning of command skills. Such differences reflect not only scholarly emphasis, but also the frequently underrated issue of variations between units, as well as the extent to which particular command decisions could accentuate the nature of such differences. The relatively small size of the American army also ensured a lack of reserve divisions, and the resulting duration of combat without a break for individual units in 1944-5 created serious difficulties.

A comparable process of improved Allied fighting-quality occurred in the war with Japan. In the winter of 1941-2, the Allies were outfought: the British and Australians in Malaya and Singapore, the Americans in the Philippines, and the Dutch in modern Indonesia, conspicuously so. Training and experience, however, helped lead to a major improvement in quality, seen, for example, with the Australians in New Guinea, the British in Burma, and the Americans in the Pacific. British training now emphasised the need to patrol the jungle aggressively, instead of handing it to the Japanese, and the importance, if flanked or enveloped, not of retreating in disorder (as in Malaya in 1941-2 and Burma in 1942), but of forming defensive boxes with all-round fields of fire and standing firm. In contrast, Japanese tactics did not change, as was noted in both New Guinea and Burma.

Resources, obviously, were part of the equation, as with the ability to air-drop supplies into defensive boxes on the India-Burma border in 1944. Yet, more significant was the ability to fight on successfully on the ground, and this was the prelude to the reconquest of Burma, a feat that involved the defeat and outmanoeuvring of a Japanese filed army. The Americans displayed the same improvement in their two campaigns in the Philippines. General Thomas Blamey, the commander-in-chief of the Australian army and commander of Allied land forces under MacArthur in the Southwest Pacific Area, who, in September 1942, took personal command of the Allied operations in New Guinea, produced, in July 1943, a report on them, in which he argued that

the chief reason for our success in this campaign was that our ground troops proved to be better led, better equipped and better trained than those of the enemy and were man for man better fighters.
In his report, Blamey drew attention to the role of resources, arguing that air support in particular was crucial, but his stress on the difficulty of the terrain underlined an emphasis on human resilience and effort:
Throughout the region the tangled undergrowth, broken ground and ever prevailing damp made movement off the track difficult and arduous in the extreme… Beyond Nauro the track is inches deep in mud while whole leeches abound everywhere.
A subsequent report, by General Stanley Savige on the operations of the 3rd Australian Division in the Salamanca area of New Guinea in 1943, again emphasised air support, but also underlined the need for physical fitness on the part of the troops and on very good junior officers and NCOs. The stress was on greater Australian effectiveness in fighting on the ground, and on the role of training and determination in achieving this:
All companies must retain their mobility and be capable of dealing with enemy parties endeavouring to infiltrate between the companies … Standing, reconnaissance and fighting patrols must be constantly active … At least three days food, water and ammunition must be placed in each perimeter. It is inevitable that, when attacked by large and determined forces, perimeters will be surrounded, but defenders must hold out. In every instance where this was done the enemy were beaten off and the defenders were relieved … On occasions when withdrawals were attempted the casualties suffered were heavy … the rules of hygiene and sanitation and anti-malarial precautions must be strictly observed at all times, no matter how hard the fighting, or how weary the troops … Patrolling must be aggressive and continuous and is the key to success in the jungle … A high standard of training is necessary.
In contrast, the Japanese were reported as reliant on simple and inflexible tactics, as disliking moving in small patrols, and as lacking accuracy with small arms. In Burma, the British were to find that Japanese inflexibility provided opportunities to achieve flanking attacks.

The quality of disease-prevention and medical care was particularly important for jungle warfare. Work on medical care has shown, again, that resources and technology were important, but that so also was the way in which these were employed. In the British army, the care of the sick and wounded was transformed during the war by new medical practices and drugs, such as active immunization against tetanus, sulphonamide drugs, and penicillin. In contrast, the Germans lacked antibiotics, so that many of their wounded suffered from severe sepsis. Penicillin permitted a British offensive, not only against wound infections, but also against the debilitating inroads of venereal disease.

Yet, at the same time, the use made of resources was important. The significance of administrative advances was particularly the case with the British system for blood transfusion established after the foundation of the Army Blood Transfusion Service in 1938. In contrast, the German collection and storage of blood in forward areas was inadequate. The British showed a capacity to learn during the war, leading to a marked improvement in the provision of their medical care.

Defeat in the early years of the war led to many problems, not least because the level of care available in the field was affected by the disruption attendant on defeat and rapid retreat. These early campaigns, however, provided some valuable experience: it became apparent that blood transfusion apparatus needed to be available in all forward units, and not just in specialist ones. The early campaigns also indicated that larger field hospitals were of limited use in mobile warfare, and this led to a later emphasis on field ambulances and mobile specialist units.

By 1944, most British casualties were receiving treatment within hours of wounding. Resources and organizational culture were also complementary in disease prevention. Rates of admission to hospital from disease on the part of British troops fell in South-East Asia, the Middle East and the Central Mediterranean, and the British had an important comparative advantage, with rates of sickness considerably lower than those in the German, Italian and Japanese armies. Anti-malarial drugs, for example, complemented an emphasis on hygienic and anti-malaria discipline. This situation contributed to the retention of troops in, and reentry of troops to, combat formations and to morale.

At sea, also, more than resources were at stake. For example, there was an important development in Allied anti-submarine tactics, weaponry and doctrine in the Atlantic. Accumulated experience increased Allied operational effectiveness, both for convoy escorts and for aircraft. Incremental steps included not simply better weapons, such as improved radar and more effective searchlights, but also the development of more relevant formations and tactics.

In the Pacific, it was necessary to develop carrier warfare techniques, a formidable task because of limited pre-war experience in this field. These techniques and doctrines had also to include the unfamiliar sphere of co-operation with other surface warships. A variety of factors, aside from carrier numbers, were involved in American victory. In the crucial Midway campaign of 1942, Japanese failure reflected factors particular to the battle, as well as more general issues. In the campaign, the Japanese were seriously hit by flawed planning and preparation. They underestimated American strength, while their deployment in pursuit of an overly complex plan and their tactical judgment were both very poor. Admiral Yamamoto also exaggerated the role of battleships in any battle with the Americans.

In contrast, American preparation was superior. This included the ability to intercept and decipher coded Japanese radio messages, enabling them to out-think their opponents: the American intelligence failure of Pearl Harbor was more than rectified. Furthermore, the Americans were able to mount an effective repair effort, returning to service the carrier Yorktown, damaged at the battle of the Coral Sea in 1942.

Despite these systemic advantages, the battle of Midway still had to be won. Far from being an inevitable result, it reflected American tactical flexibility, as this was a battle in which the ability to locate opposing ships and planes, and to respond to both, proved crucial; while, as with combined arms operations on land, the combination of fighter support with carriers (in defence) and bombers (in attack) was important in order to minimise losses.

In the air war with both Japan and Germany, alongside the great increase in Allied aeroplane numbers, there was an improvement in such spheres as ground-support. The training of large numbers of air crew was a formidable undertaking. It paid off for the Americans in the Pacific. There was a growing disparity in quality between pilots, a matter of numbers, training and flying experience, and, as a result, the Japanese could not compensate for their growing numerical inferiority in the air.

At the same time, it would be foolish to neglect the extent to which the Americans by 1943 benefited in the Pacific from better aircraft. Whereas the Japanese had not introduced new classes of planes, the Americans had done so, enabling them to challenge the Zero fighter, which had made such an impact in the initial Japanese advances. The Corsair, Lightning and Hellcat outperformed the Zero, while, as their specifications included better protection, they were able to take more punishment than Japanese planes. The Japanese had designed the Zero with insufficient protection, in part because its light-weight increased range and manoeuvrability, but also because the safety of their pilots was a low priority.

The contrast in resources in the closing stages of the War in the Pacific was readily apparent. Although the Japanese XIV Area Army in Luzon in early 1945 had more than a quarter of a million troops, its condition reflected the degradation of the Japanese war machine. There were only about 150 operational combat aircraft to support it, and their planes and pilots could not match the Americans in quality; most were destroyed by American carrier planes before the invasion of Luzon. The Japanese troops lacked fuel and ammunition, and the relatively few vehicles available had insufficient fuel. Nevertheless, although the Americans overran the key parts of Luzon, they suffered over 140,000 casualties in their operations on the island.

Pacific operations exemplified a feature of World War Two that was different to World War One: the extent to which joint tri-service operations were a matter not only of tactical co-operation, greatly enhanced by radio, but also of operational and strategic importance. An emphasis on the value of air power for ground support, sea support, specifically anti-shipping and anti-submarine attacks, and strategic bombing led to a stress on the acquisition and protection of air bases. This helped determine operational and strategic options, leading the USA in 1944, in response to the Japanese overrunning of bases in China that had been designed for the bombing of Japan, to emphasise gaining control of islands such as Saipan from which similar sorties could be mounted. This was also an issue in Europe, with, for example, the occupation of Iran in 1941 seen as the basis for British air attacks on the Baku oilfields if the Germans seized them from the Soviets, and the capture of southern Italy in 1943 providing a base for Allied strategic bombing, including of the oilfields in Ploesti, Romania, the key source of oil in Europe.

The vulnerability of naval units and merchantmen also made air bases of particular importance in the war against Germany. The need to close the 'air gap' in the Atlantic, in order to ensure air support to convoys, a crucial pre-condition to the buildup of Allied forces in Britain in preparation for the 'Second Front', led to a stress on acquiring bases in Atlantic islands, particularly Iceland and the Azores. They were also seen as crucial in the Mediterranean. Control of Malta threatened Axis lines of communication, and possible German advances into Turkey and Cyprus were feared by British planners for the same reason. In 1941, Blamey wrote about eastern Libya,

Cyrenaica is regarded as most urgent problem of Middle East as control to Benghazi would give fleet freedom of movement as far as Malta and advance air bases to allow cover of sea operations.
Training was also an issue in the air war with Germany. In 1944, the Luftwaffe lost many planes over combat zones, while, in part thanks to the Mustang's superiority to German interceptors, the Luftwaffe lost large numbers of planes responding to American air raids. Pilots were very difficult to replace, in large part because German training programmes had not been increased in 1940-2, as was necessary given the scale of the war. This helped to ensure that, irrespective of aircraft construction figures, the Germans would be far weaker in the air. Towards the end of war, the Germans could not afford the fuel for training, while a lack of training time was also a consequence of the shortage of pilots. The net effect was a lack of trained pilots comparable in quality to those of the Allies. By the time of the Normandy landings in 1944, the Germans had lost the air war, and their units treated aircraft as probably hostile.

One major area of improvement, in which training and doctrine were both crucial, was Allied close air-support. Blamey reported in 1941 that air support had become a priority for Allied forces planning to attack the Germans and Italians in North Africa,

Great advance in this in last two months. Attitude Air Force here most co-operative … All suitable air squadrons to be trained in army co-operation and joint control organization for field co-operation being set up. During operations specific air units to be allotted to military organizations under control army commander with air controller on his staff.
Aside from training and experience, there has also been insufficient attention to the geopolitics of the conflict, and, in particular, to the failure of the Axis as an alliance. It is unclear how best to integrate this factor into ‘total war’ discussions, but it was important. This was a matter both of planning and of execution. Hitler was unable to direct his allies and their attacks, that of Italy on Greece in 1940, and of Japan on the USA in 1941, led to serious problems for him. His timetable was overtaken, and the gap between his determination to impose his will on events and the pressure of reality became not only ever strongly. It had, indeed, been a factor from the outset: Hitler had not wanted a major war in 1939, as he was not ready for one then.

The implementation of the Axis as a military alliance was also a serious problem. Germany and Japan were unable to create a military partnership, or to provide mutual economic assistance that in any way matched that of the Allies, strained as relations between the latter were. German plans for war with the USA made little of the prospect of Japanese assistance and preferred to focus on the possibility of using naval power exploiting bases in Vichy North Africa or the Canary Islands, or indeed on long-range bombers, multi-stage rockets, space bombers, or submarine-launched missiles. These schemes included attacks on New York City and Washington.

The ineffectual German-Japanese attempts at naval co-operation, which included the dispatch of German technology, indicated that, even where co-operation was possible, it did not achieve much. Furthermore, the Germans and Japanese failed to mount concerted operations in the Indian Ocean. The loss of Japanese offensive capability as a consequence of the sinking of so many of their carriers at Midway, made thoughts of joint action with the Germans implausible. This was important because the major role that Japan played in the war was an important aspect of its novelty, obliging Allied planners to confront challenges on a far greater scale than in World War One. The operations of German warships then in the Indian and Pacific Oceans were no preparations for the challenge posed by Japanese advances in 1941-2. In 1942, for example, a successful Japanese naval raid on Sri Lanka led the British to withdraw their fleet to East Africa and Bombay as it was now necessary to think about the need to protect the Arabian Sea, and thus tanker sailings from the Persian Gulf, as well as the route down the coast of East Africa to the Cape of Good Hope. The Japanese bombing of Darwin that February had dramatised the extension of the war in another direction. Yet, the carriers that had mounted the raid on Sri Lanka were sunk by the Americans at Midway and there was to be no repetition of this threat to the strategic resource presented by British control of the Indian Ocean.

To continue reading Prof. Black's account of World War Two, see Part Two.

Jeremy Black is Professor of History, University of Exeter. He is the author, amongst much else, of The European Question and the National Interest (Social Affairs Unit, 2006), The Dotted Red Line: Britain's Defence Policy in the Modern World (Social Affairs Unit, 2006) and The Slave Trade (Social Affairs Unit, 2007).


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