Showing posts with label WWII. Show all posts
Showing posts with label WWII. Show all posts

Friday, November 13, 2015

Doing National Hari-Kari

World War II was a total disaster for Japan.  They suffered enormous casualties, we sank their navy, we sank their merchant marine, we nuked their cities, and the ones we didn't nuke, we firebombed.  Then we occupied the Home Islands, hauled Japanese leaders up in front of a War Crimes Trial, imposed a new constitution, and rewrote a lot of Japanese law to make it favorable to free market capitalism and democracy.  We ran the place until the 1950's. 
   A worse outcome to a war is hard to imagine. 
   And the leadership that took Japan to war with the United States knew they would loose. And they did it anyhow.  There was an independent staff study by top Japanese academics predicting total disaster.  There was Admiral Yamamoto who had spent a lot of time in the US, spoke English well, and he said "For the first six months we shall run wild, but I have absolutely no confidence after that."  There was Matsuota, the foreign minister who had grown up as a foster child in California.  The Japanese knew that America had a huge population, a vast national territory, highly industrialized, blessed with abundant natural resources, and out weighed and outclassed Japan in every category. They knew war with the US would lead to defeat.
   And, they should have known that they didn't need to go to war with the US.  Japan's national goal in those days was to take over China. They had made a good start, and there was no reason to beleive that they could not finish the job.  Japan was depending upon imports of iron and steel and crude oil from the Unitied States.  And we did not approve of a Japanese takeover of China.  We finally imposed an embargo (traditional American action) upon Japan.
    This put a bind upon the Japanese.  They all knew that they would run out of steel and oil in a matter of months.  But, there was plenty of oil in Dutch Indonesia, not far away.  Hitler had invaded and occupied Holland, which left the Dutch colonial regime in Indonesia kind of blowing in the wind.  Japan could have obtained plenty of oil from Indonesia, either by trade or by force.
   We, the Americans, would not have approved, but we had Nazi Germany to deal with.  The entire American establishment, political, military, business, the papers, all agreed that proper US strategy was to do Germany first.  Germany was bigger, stronger, more advanced, and closer than Japan. Plus the isolationists made life difficult for the Roosevelt administration to do anything internationally.   The Japanese should have known that they could do pretty much anything they wanted on their side of the Pacific, and all the Americans would do about it is write diplomatic nasty grams.  
   But, the Japanese plowed ahead and attacked Pearl Harbor.  They didn't have to do it, it led to a disastrous military defeat, they knew it would, but they did it anyhow.  

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Could the Germans have won?

We now think of allied victory in WWII, which set the pattern for the rest of the 20th century, as inevitable.  America, Britain, and Soviet Russia had a vastly greater population, vastly great industrial capacity,  and all the natural resources needed to fight a war.  But,  you need to look at the world as it was in 1940, Hitler's high tide.  His armies had crushed Poland and then France, occupied Denmark, Holland, Norway, Belgium and Luxemburg, and driven the British into the sea at Dunkirk.  Hitler owned most of Western Europe.  Britain alone stood in opposition. 
   Starting from this high point, what could the Germans have done to win the war, and dominate the world, probably until today?  To be real about, or even semi real, we have to have Hitler running Germany.  Without Hitler, we would not have had WWII.  In 1940 everyone in Europe remembered the horror that was WWI, only twenty years in the past.  Nobody, except a madman, which Hitler was, could think that any diplomatic gain, territorial expansion, anything at all, was worth doing WWI over again.  If Hitler is removed from the scene, say by assassination in the 1930's, the world would have been spared WWII.  Under any other leader, the Germans would have thrown their weight around, and obtained concessions, but they would have not sent their army into Poland in 1939. 
    First of all, Hitler could have gone for the bomb.  It was Otto Hahn, a German physicist working in Germany, who discovered nuclear fission in 1938.  If the industrial resources the Germans poured into the fairly useless V2 rocket program been applied to creating nuclear weapons, Germany might well have been able to nuke London or Moscow by 1944. 
    Second, Hitler could have polished off the British in 1940.  This would have destroyed one of the three great allied powers.  It would have allowed Hitler to throw more force against the Russians in 1941 without the British sniping at him from the West.  It would have deprived the allies of the airbase from which the RAF and USAAF  bombed Germany flat by 1945.  It would have captured the launch pad for Operation Overlord, which sealed the fate of Germany.  Overlord's vast armada of shipping was largely short range shallow draft landing craft, seaworthy enough to cross the Channel in good weather, but incapable of crossing the Atlantic.
   The British Army had abandoned all their tanks, artillery, motor vehicles and heavy equipment at Dunkirk.  Only a few troops still had their rifles when evacuated to England.  Had the Germans put three or four divisions ashore in England that summer, the place would have been theirs.  The trick was to get those divisions across the channel in the face of the Royal Navy.   Barges and landing craft full of troops are dead meat when the British steam up along side with a battleship.   The German counter to the Royal Navy was the Luftwaffe.   Air attack with bombs and torpedoes will sink anything that floats.  The Luftwaffe needed to achieve air superiority, namely beat down the RAF to the point where the slow and vulnerable Stuka's could operate over the channel without being bounced by RAF Spitfires.  The Luftwaffe nearly achieved air superiority during the 1940 air battles, doing it the hard way,  flying into British airspace and dog fighting with RAF Spitfires and Hurricanes.  If they had concentrated upon knocking out the coastal radar stations, the sector stations, the air fields, and the aircraft factories they might have done it.  All the British accounts of the Battle of Britain stress how close the Germans came to winning it. 
   Thirdly, Hitler could have given Rommel and the Afrika Korps more support.  Rommel only had a couple of German divisions, going up against the British with eight to twelve divisions.  A couple more divisions for Rommel taken from the 140 sent into Russia would have made all the difference in the middle east but wouldn't have made much difference on the eastern front. If the paratroops sent to take Crete had been used to take Malta instead, Rommel's supply lines across the Mediterranean would have been secure.  Had Rommel taken Egypt, the Suez Canal, and the Iraq oilfields it would have solved Hitler's fuel problems, and dealt a crushing blow to the British. 
   Fourth, Hitler could have refrained from declaring war on the United States after Pearl Harbor.  He had made no binding treaties with the Japanese, he didn't owe them anything.  As it was, he made Roosevelt's job in pursuing a "Germany First" strategy far easier.  And he drove the last nails into the American isolationist's coffin.  Without Hitler's gratuitous declaration of war, the isolationists might have kept America out of the European war for months and months.  For Hitler, locked in a death struggle with the British and the Soviets at the time, a delay of months in American belligerency is not to be sneezed at. 
   There are others, but the first four above are enough for this post.  And a world where the Third Reich won would have been very bad indeed. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Keeping Production Up. Sherman Tanks

Tanks, key weapon in WWII.  The Americans rushed the M4 Sherman tank into production.  Drawings were complete  by March 1941 (well before Pearl Harbor).  Pilot model was tested at Aberdeen proving ground in September 1941 , quick work.  First production models were coming off the line by February 1942.  again quick work.  Two hundred Shermans were sent into action with the British 8th Army for the Battle of El Alamein in October 1942.  That's a total of 18 months to go from drawings to action. 
   Upon introduction, October 1942, the Sherman, with a short barrel 75 mm gun was competitive with German tanks. However, the Germans shortly introduced new bigger tanks (Tiger and Panther) which were better than the Sherman.  The Germans had thicker armor and bigger guns. 
   Back in Washington, the Army Ordinance board wanted to introduce a heavier American tank, but Army Ground Forces (the generals in action in the field) feared a loss of production and held the Ordinance folks at bay.  It wasn't until the Battle of the Bulge in 1945, where German tanks clearly outclassed the Sherman, that Ordinance got the go ahead to ship the heavy M26 Pershing tank.  A few Pershings saw action before the end of the war and it was generally agreed that they were a match for the German Tiger tanks. 
   During the war US industry churned out 50,000 Sherman tanks, four times the number of tanks built in Germany.  During this massive production run, a number of really heavy duty design changes were made.  Engines for the first Shermans were 9 cylinder air cooled radial engines.  When this went into short supply  later production Shermans received twin GMC 6-71 diesels, or the Chrysler multibank 30 cylinder engine, or a Ford V8 of 500 horsepower, or the Caterpillar radial diesel engine of 450 horsepower.  Those of us who have done an engine swap in hot rods, are impressed with a production line that can do an engine swap and still churn out 50,000 units on time.
  The first Shermans had a bolted together cast nose on a welded hull.  Later models had a one piece steel cast hull, and even later models had an all welded hull. Again, impressive redesigns pushed into production with hardly a hiccup in output.  The early model short barrel 75 mm gun was replaced by a much longer barrel higher velocity 76 mm gun in American service, and the British had their even fiercer 17 pounder anti gun (75 mm but much higher velocity) installed in their Shermans.  
   In short, production was able to swallow five different engines, three different hulls and three different guns with hardly a hiccup.  They probably could have switched over to the M26 Pershing with little more effort and no drop in output. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Stuff flows downhill, swiftly

Lessons from history.  Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933.  In 1936 he re occupies the Rhineland.  This was a stretch of German territory bordering Belgium and Holland.  The treaty of Versailles, which ended WWI, declared that the Rhineland must be demilitarized, no soldiers, fortifications, no so much as a foxhole.  A mere three years after taking power, Hitler felt strong enough to defy the Versailles treaty and send the German army into the Rhineland. 
   What should have happened,  didn't.  The British and the French had ten times Hitler's troop strength in 1936.  They should have moved troops into the Rhineland, arrested or shot any German in uniform, and restored order, the Versailles way.  If the Americans had supported the British and French (which we did not) it would have worked.  Hitler would have lost enormous amounts of prestige, and might well have lost his office and his life.  And that would have prevented WWII.  But we did nothing, the British and the French did nothing, and WWII broke out 3 years later.
   In 1938, Hitler "absorbed" Austria. A sizable territorial gain, Austria is maybe 10% the size of Grmany, kind of like California is to the rest of the United States.  Austria was the Germany speaking part of the old Austro Hungarian empire, the part that used to run said empire.  They had been trimmed back from Great Power status to third class European power status and they wanted to join the successful Nazi juggernaut, rather than be a footnote to history.  With this kind of popular support for Anschluss, there wasn't much anyone could have done.  But if the Rhineland reoccupation had been crushed two years before, the Anschluss probably would not have happened. 
  Later the same year, Hitler demanded the German speaking parts of Czechoslovakia be turned over to him.  Hitler threatened war if he didn't get his way.  The British and the French came to the infamous Munich conference, and joined hands with Hitler in browbeating the Czechoslovakians into yielding to Hitler's demands.  The Americans stayed out of Munich.  What should have happened.  The British and the French declare war on Germany then and there and launch an invasion thru Germany's western border.  This would have been trickier than the Rhineland, 'cause the German army was a lot stronger in 1938 than in 1936.  But it wasn't yet strong enough to grab Czechoslovakia and fend off an Anglo French invasion at the same time. 
  Next year, 1939, Hitler managed to start up a Czechoslovakia Nazi party and take over the rest of the country by "legal" political subversion.  By summer of 1939 Hitler decided to take over Poland.  To his surprise, the British and the French had grown a pair between them and told the Poles they were 1000% behind them.  Poland refused Hitler's demands. Hitler invaded in September of 1939, France and  Britain declared war on Germany and WWII was off and running. 
   Moral of the story.  Let a bad guy get away with just one little thing, and the whole world can slide down the tubes. 
   So far we have let Assad stay in power in Syria, let Libya dissolve into chaos, pulled our troops out of Iraq  letting ISIS take over, let Putin grab big chunks of Ukraine. For our next smooth move we pull our troops out of Afghanistan.   That's more than just one little thing.