Monday, 4 June 2012

The Second World War, History, Propaganda and Why We Still Haven't Moved on,

Second World War is still a focus of historical and media attention. And so it should be. There is much to be learned from a nightmare struggle that cost the lives of 50 million people.

Unfortunately 70 years later we still haven't learned many of the lessons.

Those who actually took part in the war often had a better appreciation of what it's about the modern writers and readers of popular history. There is a gritty realism about the film and book "The Cruel Sea" and "12 O'clock High" that is not to be found in modern media.

We are given a picture of war that corresponds with our expectations, not the reality. We still believe the propaganda picture not the one recorded and witnessed by the historians and people who took part.

American perceptions of the US role in World War II are clouded by the fact that the US Armed Forces in World War II were very inexperienced and made just about every mistake in the book - and that had to be covered up. The British and the Americans had a strong interest in making sure support the war by the USA was strong. Stories of failure and incompetence doesn't help that.

So the US public is still filled with the  image of a strong and robust United States coming to the aid of the United Kingdom and Europe.

The history is somewhat different, as the official histories written by British and American historians make clear.

The U.S. Army in 1939 comprised some 200,000 men of which approximately 30,000 were in the Army Air Force. Other than a few months action in the First World War the last war it was involved in the American Civil War. The European powers in the 1914 to 1918 war has fought a life-and-death struggle in which the whole of the nationstate was involved. They had learned much about the nature of modern war, very little of which the USA had taken on board.

The four major European nations had learned different things. Germany had learnt concentrated attack on the weakest point the line and rapid exploitation behind strong points would break the enemies will to resist. Mobility and concentration of firepower with a key to success. The French had learned the opposite, that strong fortified positions could not be taken by direct assault. In in Russia they learned the lesson of history that numbers and distance could always defeat stronger and better equipped enemy.

In the UK, they didn't learn one lesson, the learned three. Firstly they learnt to mobilise their production base. War was not about tactics, it was about who could build the most ships, tanks, munitions, and aircraft. It was also about how many adult men could be released into the field. To that end they employed women to an extent that no other nation did in World War I. It was out of desperation. They almost ran out of men (as Germany was to do in 1945). The second lesson they learned was that the traditional doctrine of naval warfare had to be changed because of the arrival of two new weapons. The submarine and the aircraft carrier. Finally they learned that the air weapon was to be used strategically to attack cities. 1500 civilians were killed by German air raids in World War I and the British learned well from that lesson.

USA, its Army, its Air Force and it's Navy had none of this experience, so went to war in 1941 with an oulook that saw war through 19th century goggles.

The huge resource and production base of the USA meant that its role in World War II would be decisive, but it would take time for it to be deployed. In the meantime the UK and the USSR beyond be on their own.

Militarily and in terms of production World War II was won, or at least made unwinnable for the Germans before the end of 1942 and the first deployment of American troops.

The Germans, in spite of their initial massive lead threw it all away in the first two years of World War. We can talk about battles and generals and the specifications of various types of tank and aircraft but the reality is Germany lost the war because they switched to a war economy too late. The figures are very clear. If we know the British were building twice as many fighter aircraft as the Germans in 1940 we know why they won the battle of Britain. This wasn't isolated. Here are the figures for Russia, UK and Germany in 1941. Germany was doomed.

Fighter Aircraft

The entry of the USA and Japan into World War II didn't change that picture. The USA went through the same psychological shock with the Japanese as the French and the Russians experienced when they were attacked by the Germans.

Although there were notable pockets of resistance, the U.S. Army could not offer any serious resistance the Japanese. They were fighting a battle hardened Japanese army navy and air force that had some four years of experience. The USA was very lucky in that the Japanese failed to recognise the importance of Hawaii until far too late. Had it been invaded in the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbor there  is little doubt they would have captured the islands. It might not have made a difference to the final outcome of the war, but launching the attack on Japan from California would never have  been easy.

To the British the  USA was in 1942 a liability. The failure of the USA to learn the lessons of the First World War and sail ships in convoy was catastrophic. The U.S. Navy was directly responsible for the loss of 25% of all the merchant shipping lost in World War II. 600 ships were sunk in American waters in 1942 by U.S. Navy incompetence. The British ended up having to send ships and aircraft to defend the US East Coast. In 1942 New York harbour itself was defended by a British RAF antisubmarine air Squadron. Something you will have to search for in the history books.  It is also not generally known the British also sent fleet aircraft carrier to the Pacific (disguised as USS Robin) in 1943, when the USA was down to one carrier.

The idea of the USA making an immediate difference the war in 1942 is an illusion. It was the British who were helping the USA,  not the other way around.

Although the war against Japan looms large in American histograpy. It was a minor theatre. One of the first Allied decisions was "Germany first" as Germany was seen as the major threat.

A picture can be gained by comparing British and US naval losses. Overall the British lost twice as many ships as the USA in World War II. Almost as many ships were lost by the British in the battle for the Mediterranean as the USA lost in the whole the Pacific.

Aircraft Carrier
US Total
UK Total

A similar picture appears if we look at bomber aircraft losses

To 1942

Most of the air and sea war  of WW II was fought by the British, which at that time had a population about 3rd that of the USA.

The land war was fought by the Russians. Both the British and the Americans focus on the battle of Normandy as a 'major battle', yet compare to the huge battles that took place on the 2,000 mile Russian front it was minor. Some figures.

Tanks Deployed June 1944
Russia 4470
Normandy 804
British and Americans Normandy

The US Army failed in Europe on 4 different occassions - all of which were covered up or distorted so as to hide what really happened.  If the interest is there I post more - for the moment, just consider that the facts tell a different story to the propaganda.

No comments:

Post a Comment