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Author Topic: The Second World Wars
Timothy-
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Post Re: The Second World Wars
on: November 3, 2018, 19:35
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Hanson brings up some interesting points about airborne forces. Early on, they had some (expensive) successes, in the Netherlands (and at Fort Eben Emael) in 1940 and on Crete in 1941. Allied air landings in Sicily and Normandy did work, but left troops scattered all over the place due to winds. And Market-Garden failed, as did the little German landing during the Battle of the Bulge. Russia made a few airborne landings that were total failures. The British did succeed during the crossing of the Rhine, but it didn't make any difference. And since then, while we have helicopters carrying troops into and out of battle, we don't have much in the way of paratroop assaults. They worked early on by taking the defenders by surprise. And even on Crete, strong winds and poor intelligence led to 4 German battalions landing on top of British troops -- one at each site. (Hanson doesn't go into that much detail, but I still recall from a very detailed book on Crete that I read at Purdue.) You can guess the results. The results on Crete may be why Hitler never tried a landing on Malta.

Airborne forces were often elite units, though. You need to be to fight that way, even if you don't end up doing so. German paratroopers played a key role at the Third Battle of Cassino. On the other hand, an untrained paratroop unit was routed in the assault on Berlin. Calling them paratroopers didn't make them so.

Hanson points out the effectiveness of the better German troops, through good equipment and excellent training (and, though he doesn't mention it, superb NCOs). Japan had good, fierce troops, with good infantry weapons. But Japan was poorly supplied with heavy equipment -- and also with food, ammunition, and medicine. After the fall of Corregidor, they never won another major land battle. Germany was more successful, since they had good heavy equipment and maintained some air power longer.

Italy we can forget about. They had the least industry of any major power, and were exhausted by fighting in Abyssinia, Spain, and Albania before they decided to pick up a few cheap conquests at the end of the war in the West -- only to discover that Britain was staying in. Those cheap conquests, mainly in British Somaliland, ultimately came at a heavy price.

The Allies were much better supplied and (thanks largely to American truck factories) more mobile than Germany, and had superior air cover as well most of the time after mid-1942. They were also much better troops than their enemies thought they were. And superior troop quality can erode during a long war, as happened to Prussia in the Seven Years War, the Army of Northern Virginia after Gettysburg, and Germany (especially its infantry) as their losses mounted. By late 1944, many of their infantry divisions were converted to Volksgrenadiers made up of green troops with doubtful leadership. Some of them were described as armed mobs.

Timothy-
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Post Re: The Second World Wars
on: November 4, 2018, 19:54
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Hanson brings up some interesting points in discussing the land campaigns. One is that the Germans were more worried about the strength of the French Army than the Red Army, but it sure didn't work out that way in the end. Of course, the immense size and population of the Soviet Union had a lot to do with that. From the Western Bug to the Terek was a much longer journey than they had ever done previously, and they were still a long way from success. In all probability they needed to conquer the Urals as well as the northern tundras of European Russia, perhaps going all the way to the Ob and a series of its tributaries, going down to the Emba (where a new, large oil field was opening up).

And Hitler probably didn't even realize it. Hanson notes that Germany should have known what it was up against, including how to deal with cold weather (it's a northern country with cold winters itself, after all). It may have been unreasonable to expect Germany to anticipate the Soviet ability to move factories eastward, but they should have known that much of what Stalin did in his Five-Year Plans was to industrialize in the east. I read a Reader's Digest article I think from the early war period on the Magnitogorsk-Kuzbas economic link.

He also, amusingly, suggests that Hitler's goal (to the extent that he had a specific goal other than "go east, young man, go east") was basically to use "shock and awe" to win. It didn't work in 1941 just as it didn't under the Bushes.

Kung Fu Zu
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Kung Fu Zu
Post Re: The Second World Wars
on: November 4, 2018, 20:30
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I have read that a fundamental mistake of the Luftwaffe was their not developing and building a long-range bomber. As a result, there was no way for them to attack any of the huge industrial complex which Stalin had built East of the Urals.

Whenever I hear the names Magnitogorsk or Chelyabinsk, I get an odd feeling. I know their importance to the Soviet Union during WWII, but I also sold some steel from both back in the 1990s, when Russia was opening up. I never visited either place, but there were some very bloody mafia-type wars going on in those days to gain control over production of steel and aluminum in the ex USSR.

And Chelyabinsk has now has the added distinction of having that huge meteorite explode above it.

Timothy-
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Post Re: The Second World Wars
on: November 4, 2018, 20:59
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The idea of a "Ural bomber" started in 1936, when Luftwaffe Chief of Staff Walther Wever called for designs for a 4-engine long-range bomber. But then he was killed in a flying accident, and his successor saw the Luftwaffe as specializing in tactical support. But they did later start on a promising heavy bomber, the He-177. But Ernst Udet was running procurement and insisted that all bombers be able to dive-bomb. A 4-engine bomber couldn't, so they paired the engines on each wing to sort of create 2 engines out of 4. No surprise, it didn't work, and meanwhile the paired engines for some strange (to Udet) reason tended to catch fire. They never changed the design to a straight 4-engine bomber.

Udet committed suicide in late 1941, feeling that Göring had left him exposed to Erhard Milch. On the way to the funeral, German fighter leader Werner Mölders was killed in a flying accident. Most embarrassing having to announce both deaths in such a short period of time.

Timothy-
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Post Re: The Second World Wars
on: November 8, 2018, 18:29
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Hanson has a chapter on World War II sieges, of which there were many. The largest and most famous is Leningrad, but there were also Stalingrad (though it wasn't a genuine siege), Tobruk, Malta, Sevastopol, Singapore, and numerous late-war German strongholds given Festung status by Hitler. Many French ports remained German-occupied to the end because the Allies decided not to bother with them (perhaps figuring that if they did the ports would be utterly destroyed anyway, and the captures would come at a heavy cost). They did take Cherbourg in June 1944 and Brest a few months later, and I think a few others as well. (Some, such as Marseilles, Toulon, and Antwerp, were captured quickly enough never to becomes fortresses). In addition, a few of the Eastern ones held out a long time, such as Budapest and Königsberg. Breslau held out to the end of the war. (Gauleiters Erich Koch and Karl Hanke called for such self-sacrificing defense, then slipped away at the end. Anyone surprised by this?)

One interesting aspect of some of these is that some of these were multiple sieges involving both sides as the besieged. This happened at Stalingrad, where Operation Uranus trapped the Sixth Army in a Stalingrad-area pocket for over 2 months. It also happened to some degree at Tobruk, where the British surrounded the Italians and then captured the fortress, then Rommel besieged it for several months without success, and then later he surrounded and captured it after the Gazala battle. After El Alamein, Rommel made no attempt to hold it, so there wasn't a fourth siege.

Hanson has sections on many of these sieges, and also on Bataan and Corregidor. There were others (such as Odessa and Tallinn) that he doesn't discuss. Unsurprisingly, he points out that trapped Anglo-Americans were much likelier to surrender than Russians, sometimes Germans, and especially Japanese. He also briefly discusses the aerial sieges of many cities (in fact, that was largely the case with Malta).

I also appreciate that his brief mention of past sieges included a brief reference to the only monarch I know of to becomes famous for his sieges (though not for his successes), Demetrius the Besieger of Macedon. (His most famous siege was Rhodes, and despite his great siege engine the Helepolis or City-taker, it failed after Ptolemy I came to the city's rescue -- hence his sobriquet of Ptolemy the Savior.) There's a reason a biological novel about Demetrius was titled Besieger of Cities. No one ever called Homma, Yamashita, Küchler, Manstein, Rommel, or especially Paulus anything like that.

Timothy-
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Post Re: The Second World Wars
on: November 10, 2018, 12:29
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Hanson's discussion of tanks makes some interesting point. He notes that the Soviet T-34 was based on an American design (the Christie tank, designed by private enterprise). He discusses the various qualities of American, British, Russian, and German tanks. It's not just armor, armament, and speed. Crew comfort and internal storage capacity (for fuel, ammunition, and other supplies) could be important, and were adversely affected by wider treads (which helped mobility on soft ground) and sloped armor (which was harder to penetrate). The advantages of reliability and ease of maintenance are obvious. Even machine-guns could be important, as was demonstrated when the Germans unleashed the Porsche version of the Tiger at Kursk. Devastating against armor and fortifications, its lack of a machine-gun proved costly against infantry.

One problem the Sherman had was lack of improvement. The Sherman of late 1942 was about equal to the newest (and still rare) model of the Panzer IV, and superior to every other German (or British) tank. But by 1944 it was no match for the Panther and the Tiger until the British figured out how to replace its medium-low velocity 75 mm gun with their 17-pounder antitank gun. But it was reliable and mobile, and quite effective against infantry (unless it got hit by a Panzerfaust or Panzerschreck, the two best hand-held antitank guns of the war). One problem Hanson may not have been aware of is that the Sherman used aviation gas instead of regular gasoline, making it more flammable than most other tanks (hence its German nickname, the Tommy-cooker; Allied soldiers compared it to the Ronson lighter).

One interesting point Hanson makes is that a weapon such as the Panzerfaust was a far more cost-effective way of destroying an enemy heavy tank than another heavy tank. Rommel had already commented on this in his memoir even before those came out. Antitank guns are a lot cheaper than tanks. Of course, the original idea for many armor specialists was that the tanks would go after infantry while the artillery (especially antitank guns) would stop tanks. Every weapon has its advantages and disadvantages.

Kung Fu Zu
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Kung Fu Zu
Post Re: The Second World Wars
on: November 13, 2018, 19:04
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He notes that the Soviet T-34 was based on an American design (the Christie tank, designed by private enterprise)

Christie tried to interest the U.S. Army in his tank before shopping it overseas. Of course, the Army wasn't interested.

If I recall correctly, Christie's suspension design was unique at the time.

Timothy-
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Post Re: The Second World Wars
on: November 13, 2018, 19:22
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The original design involved being able to move either on its treads or on its road wheels.

I once read a book on the misadventures of the Ordnance Bureau. The US had perhaps the first reasonably effective machine gun (the Gatling gun, which predated the French mitrailleuse), but was slow to make use of it and slow to improve on it. Our World War I machine guns were designed by our allies. The US did at best a mediocre job of designing tanks, though they were very reliable thanks to US industry. On the other hand, the M-1 was the best non-automatic rifle (probably ever) and the bazooka was an innovation. But even there, the Germans copied the idea in superior form with the Panzerschreck.

Kung Fu Zu
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Kung Fu Zu
Post Re: The Second World Wars
on: November 14, 2018, 08:26
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Our World War I machine guns were designed by our allies.

We can thank John Browning for the .30 caliber M1919 machine gun which we have all seen in WWII movies. It came too late for WWI.

Even better was his M2 .50 caliber heavy machine gun which is still in use. That a gun designed close to 100 years ago is still in use is amazing. Of course, his 1911 .45 semiautomatic pistol is still in use and I think it is still about the best handgun out there. It sits very well in the hand and is easy to shoot.

Timothy-
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Post Re: The Second World Wars
on: November 14, 2018, 08:44
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I believe the M2 was also the main gun for American fighters and bombers during the war. Certainly they relied mostly on .50 caliber weapons (though the P-38 had a 20mm in addition, and the P-39 had a 37mm), which gave them lethal firepower. The B-17, B-24, and B-29 all relied entirely on it, as did the P-47 and P-51. The best light machine gun of World War II was probably the German MG-42, which fired 24 rounds a second (though the barrel and the belt both had to be changed frequently).

Browning also came up with the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), which was the top infantry squad weapon, at least according to the official organization. Americans tended to pick up extra weapons when they could.

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