Weirdly enough – and this apparently happens to authors at random – I had a dream about the plot of a new book late this past summer and woke up just in time to remember it all. A novel set in WWII, which is at least half a century or more out of my fictional headspace; I like the 19th century. Got all the reference books, the books or art, a grasp of the vocab and the look of the whole 19th century universe and outlook. But – WWII. For me, it is just enough close in time that I knew a lot of people personally involved, from Great-Aunt Nan, who was one of the first-ever women recruited for the WAACs, to any number of high school teachers (some of whom were more forthcoming about their service than others) to the Gentleman With Whom I Kept Company for about a decade, to a neighbor of Mom and Dad’s who had been a prisoner of war in the Far East and fortunate enough to have survived the experience. In short, the books, the movies, even the TV shows that I watched as a kid and teenager, were all marinated in the memories of the Second World War. I was born a bare decade after it was all over; shows like World at War were in the ‘must watch’ category at our house, as well as any number of now slightly cringe-making series like … never mind. Just take it for granted that WWII was inescapable for a person of my age. I also scribbled some bad and derivative juvenile fiction with a WWII setting. And I had a self-directed exploration into the 1930s-1940s in college, when I had access to a college library with microfiche scans of a certain big-city newspaper; I read every issue from 1935-1945, which was like seeing a whole decade of history’s first draft narrowly through a key-hole.
Anyway – enough of the throat-clearing. As is my wont when working out the fine details in a plot, I set up an Excel spreadsheet broken out by month and year, marking events in various theaters, all the better to work the travails of my fictional characters against. It struck me all over again that 1942 was the year That Everything Happened.
For Americans, it was the first full year of war on two fronts; for Britain and her colonies and the governments-in-exile of her allies, it was the start of a third year of a war formerly limited, more or less, to Europe and North Africa. And then all merry old hell broke out in the Far East. Possessions, colonies, independent small countries began falling like nine-pins to the Japanese war machine. British Malaya and Fortress Singapore, Dutch Indonesia, the Philippines, Guam and Wake Islands, a good chunk of New Guinea and other islands all across the South China Sea – all fell in the first few months of 1942. It would have been a depressing thing, reading any major Western newspaper during those weeks; weeks where Allied confidence in their own ability to fight a balls-to-the-wall war and win took a considerable beating. The Allies reeled … but in May, the fortunes of War began to smile on the Allies.
A naval clash between Japanese, American and Australian naval forces in the Coral Sea checked Japanese attempts to take Rabaul in New Guinea. In the next month, another sea battle – again between dueling aircraft carriers in the defense of Midway Island – blunted further Japanese advances in the Central Pacific. In July and a world away – the Germans were blocked and turned back from Egypt at the first battle at El Alamein, and then again three months later, in the same place. In the month of August, the Americans began landing on Guadalcanal and the Australians began taking back New Guinea. The Axis tide was checked, and slowly began to retreat. In November, the Allies (American and British with Canadian, Australian and the Free Dutch naval backup) opened a second front with the Torch Landings in French-controlled Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco – this not quite a year after Pearl Harbor. In barely a year, the Allies went from disaster and defeat on practically every front, to regroup and to begin effectively striking back. It would take another two years and more to completely defeat the Axis Powers, but it is striking to look at the timeline for 1942 and to see how the war situation turned from humiliating defeat, through resolve, and then to begin the long march back.
Discuss as you wish.
42 thoughts on “The Year That Everything Happened”
Above all, 1942 was the peak of Axis power,and by the end of 1942 Japan and Germany were on the decline. The Germans were stalemate then crushed at Stalingrad, and the Japanese were halted at Guadalcanal.
There is a fellow who, inspired by Neptunus Lex, has started writing serials which, like an old radio show, posts an episode top his website. And he is pretty good!
We are following his fictional exploits from Normandy – currently in the Hurtgen Forest, but the unit is getting ready to go to Aachen for their first urban warfare.
Anyway, oldAFSarge made a good point: that WW2 didn’t truly become a “World War” until Pearl Harbor.
The Japanese had their war oin the Pacific and the Germans in the Atlantic. Until Pearl Harbor they were 2 separate wars joined by our entry.
Actually until Pearl Harbor the Japanese were just raping China. It was after pearl that they started their sweep across the Pacific
I was born about half a decade later, Sarge, and WWII was pretty omnipresent in my recollection of history. I don’t think it really got supplanted by Vietnam until I was into my teens in the mid-1970s.
Bill, good point. I’ve been watching the TimeGhost series on WWII history (a week by week review presented as if in real-time, i.e. trying to avoid foreshadowing) and it’s been interesting how disconnected the two wars are from 1939 through the end of 1941, even though Japan and Germany were putative allies from late 1940. The Japanese even signed a non-aggression pact with the Russians shortly before Hitler invaded.
It wasn’t until I began mapping it all out that I was struck by how rapidly the turn-around came. Here, Corregidor surrendered in early May – and in six or seven months, the turn-around began in the South Pacific and in North Africa. What an enormous amount of planning went into all that, and a lot of it must have begun being skulled out even before 1942. One thing to “know” all this, and other to actually see it mapped out, and imagine how it would have looked to people living day by day.
Another interesting sidelight is discovering characters like “Pappy” Gunn and his family, and really off-beat ones like Rudolph van Ripper, who at first sounds like someone made up by a Hollywood screen writer.
There are two major reasons the relatively rapid turnaround in 1942 took place. The first is that the Allies (with the major exception of France) took concrete steps well before the war to improve their warfighting capabilities. The Japanese knew that if they did not knock the US out of the war at Midway, the huge backlog of new, modern warships pushed by Carl Vinson was soon to arrive. Albert Einstein’s letter to FDR on nuclear weapons was sent in 1939 and things rapidly started on the Manhattan project as well as Radar and other key technologies. The second is that both the Germans and Japanese did not plan for long wars. They assumed that their sheer ruthlessness would intimidate the Allies into signing early peace agreements favorable to them. So logistics, new armaments and better strategies were neglected.
Exactly, DJG – I was looking at the preparations for the Torch landings, and seeing that they already had developed landing barges, and produced enough of them to be useful. The jeep was conceptualized in the late 30s and put out for bid in 1940, developed and tested in 1941, in full-production by the end of that year, and in the field by the next.
French preparedness was seriously impacted by the activities of the Communist Party, which (up until the German invasion of the Soviet Union) was asserting that any war would just be one between ‘the London bankers and the Berlin bankers,’ so the outcome didn’t matter to working people. More generally, the internal divisions in the population and among elites were extreme: perhaps even more so than we are seeing in the US at the present time, though I’m not too sure of that.
France *did* spent a lot of money on preparedness, in the form of the Maginot Line. It was not irrational to put fortifications on the frontier, but it should have been done less-lavishly, and the money saved used on extending the fortifications through the Ardennes sector…and, of course, on aircraft, tanks, and, especially, better radio communications.
I’ve been reading this fascinating book on world war 1 and of the many things that jumped out at me was the fact that if the Germans had stayed with the von Schlieffen plan fully manned all that trench warfare would’ve been gone and they would’ve been in Paris. And if the French had rushed all of their available manpower to confront the Germans coming through Belgium instead of rushing into the Alsace-Lorraine maybe they could’ve stopped them
They went through Belgium in the France just like they did in World War II
Although there was lots of wrangling, the British- American planning was really quite good. FDR recognized that the Germans had to be dealt with first, without a standstill in the Pacific. Overall strategic goals were maintained pretty well in 1942 to 1945. The home fronts were also well informed and understood the peril. Samuel Elliot Morrison is a great historian and sailor (his book on Columbus Admiral of the Ocean Sea is worth looking at today) and was assigned by FDR to server with the US navy to prepare a first hand history. He noted that had Japan been left with its winnings in the Pacific it would have controlled one third of the world under a military dictatorship. Combined with German gains, most Americans understood the peril we would face in the future.
This level of public support was maintained almost to the end of the Cold War despite the Vietnam war. Quite an accomplishment. Kudos are well deserved for our leaders of both parties in this time.
From what I have read Americans were getting pretty weary of fighting by 1945.
The Japanese had implemented this civil defense program called Ketsu-Go Which called on every civilian from children on up to fight the Americans with pitchforks if necessary.
Okinawa was a prelude to invasion of Honshu and Kadena airbase was supposed to be the launching point
The goal of the Japanese was to make the invasion so bloody and costly that the Americans would just want peace
The goal of the Japanese was to make the invasion so bloody and costly that the Americans would just want peace
That’s one reason why I think it would not have happened. There were enormous problems getting the US army from Europe to the Pacific. The point system was only one. Second is the 1946 typhoon. Eisenhower had a hell of a time getting combat troops for the Bulge. The draft was not renewed.
I suspect that B 29s and submarines would have finished them off. Kamikazes were no threat to Tinian and Iwo Jima.
The whole war for us lasted just over three years and nine months. Conditioned by Iraq and Afghanistan, it seems almost impossibly brief. Virtually the entire country was mobilized. I wonder if that would be possible now? What would it look like?
On any given day, major battles could be taking place on three or four continents, four oceans, at least four seas.
How long would it take to train modern soldiers. Could we even find enough men fit enough to field a mass army? How about all the technicians to keep everything working. Would we have any allies capable of more than token assistance? Or any assistance at all?
Every major weapon was either in production or very near on 12/7/41. Now, we can’t even adopt a handgun without years of controversy.
When we were squared off against the Soviets, none of these things mattered because any war wouldn’t last long enough to for anything to be produced or anyone to be trained. Strictly table stakes.
China is the only possible opponent for a long duration, conventional war. Russia is a hollow shell that would likely implode at the first contact. What’s missing is a plausible reason that we’d go to war or the probability that it would remain conventional. I don’t see any President making much more than a gesture over Taiwan. That gesture could include losing a couple of carriers but probably not saving Taiwan. It would be a very long time before we had the wherewithal to storm ashore on the mainland. China has many of the same raw material vulnerabilities that Japan had.
We’ll soon, if not already, be in the same position versus China as with the Soviets. If it weren’t for the remnants of the Soviet nuclear forces, Russia would matter about as much as Nigeria.
I recently finished Victor Davis Hanson’s “The Second World Wars” and in it found a large number of insights, even though I was rather familiar with much of the information and all of the history for most of my life. One of its theses is that the War was not initially best seen as a single integrated action on the part of the Axis forces. Indeed it never fully was. I think it would prove to be quite informative for most serious readers.
This is the definitive book on 1942. For the USA it was a pivotal year and we came very close to losing it all in the Pacific.
Both Sam Houston in 1859 and Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto c. 1942 expressed the same foreboding of awakening the American Republic’s dormant “Sleeping Giant”: We –the U.S Confederacy and Tojo’s Imperial Japan– will attack and win every battle for some eighteen months, whereupon an aroused U.S.A. will swoop to devour everything (and they meant everything) our wee, small hearts hold dear.
And so it proved… with the unstated corollary that epic defeat of the Confederacy and Hirohito’s “Empire of the Sun” was followed not by slavish exploitation by but a benign rebuilding, ensuring that hateful menaces would not recur.
We could have lost the Battle of Midway, Japan could have invaded Australia. We would have still been building a Liberty Ship every three days and a B-24 every hour and the only A-Bomb.
I don’t believe that any of Japan’s conquests ever yielded more in resources than they cost. Certainly not China. An occupation of Australia wouldn’t have been either quick or productive. Australia would have been at the end of a very long, easily attacked supply line. While the Germans had some success enlisting troops from some of their occupied territories, I never heard of the Japanese even trying. They were going to run out of people. They were never able to effectively replace the pilots they lost at Pearl Harbor or any after that. They were in a bind where every new success bled them of manpower as effectively as a battle lost.
This is why the alternate histories where they occupy North America lose inevitability. The route to victory would have been different, probably longer and more costly but never in doubt.
Bill got me thinking a bit off topic …
Second guessing Von Schlieffen is probably the second most debated modern European alt-history, after speculation about Sea-Lion. Moltke the Younger did mess with the plan but I’ve listened to some talks that speculate even Von Schlieffen didn’t think it would work, given the lack of security about its existence and the the fact that Germany never had enough manpower to fully implement it. They think he used it to more to lobby for additional army funding than as a real strategic document. However, assuming flaws like overtaxing reservists are mitigated and the Germans do take Paris in 1914, what happens next?
The Germans would still be facing the British who have their blood up from the destruction of the BEF (1914 version), have a causus belli in the restoration of Belgium, and are going to be very unhappy with German control of French and Belgian ports on the Channel, Atlantic, and Mediterranean. A blockade would be declared, and we’d see something like the WWII Battle of Britain except fought more on and under the sea than in the air. The German surface fleet was no match for the Royal Navy so something like unrestricted submarine warfare would probably break out again which raises the possibility of eventually involving other nations (e.g. the United States). The Italians continue as a minor ally of Central Powers, for now.
On land, given what Ludendorff and Hindenburg did during the real war, no Western Front means they can unleash their inner Napoleons and plan deep attacks into Russian territory. I suspect, however, that after initial stunning successes they’d run into the same issues as the still mostly horse-drawn German army in 1941-1943 and their logistics train would breakdown in the unimproved Russian hinterlands as their army was stretched to breaking across the wide expanse of the steppe. They might make it to Moscow but the winter of 1916-1917 would bring brutal retreats westward. In this timeline, Lenin is still rotting in prison so there’s nobody fomenting revolution against the Czar. Even without Nazi ideological warfare the German occupation of the Ukraine and other regions is likely to be brutal ala Belgium so they gain little help from those groups.
Britain would be able to mobilize the Commonwealth, still about 20% of the world in the early 20th Century, and, taking advantage of the Suez Canal, would begin a push from Egypt up through Asia Minor and Greece into the Balkans in 1917 with the aim of cutting off the Central Power armies in Russia. The US would at the very least be extremely pro-British even if a fig leaf of neutrality was maintained though I expect unrestricted submarine warfare and the Zimmerman telegram would still pull us directly into the conflict by then. Anglo-American success in the Balkans would cause Italy to flip sides again to guarantee restoration of Italian territory held by Austria-Hungary.
This 1918 would see much the same situation as the real 1918, except on an Eastern European Front rather than a Western European one. American marines and British soldiers would be pushing up the Danube river valley, aiming for Prague and a follow-on drive up the Elbe to Berlin. The Germans would be fighting a holding action to the south as Austria-Hungary disintegrates while making one last push to knock the Russians out of the war. The capture of Prague in late summer, as the German drive in the East stalls out again, trigger uprisings in Germany that eventually force the Kaiser to abdicate. By the spring of 1919 British and American troops have occupied Berlin, and are setting about to implement a treaty very much like the one dictated at Versailles.
Yamamoto promised his superiors that he would run wild for 6-12 months and after that no guarantees. Midway was 6 months, Japanese were still competitive until defeat at Guadalcanal which was about 12 months. Looking back, it appears obvious but it didn’t feel that way at the time.
Good essay, but a couple of things:
— The Japanese were preparing for a seaborne invasion of Port Moresby, on the southern coast of New Guinea, when the Battle of the Coral Sea scuppered those plans. The Japanese had captured Rabaul in January.
— You can’t mention 1942 without mentioning the German catastrophe in the East. In November, the Soviets closed the ring around the Stalingrad meat-grinder, and by the end of December the German relief efforts had failed. Due to Hitler’s stubbornness, well over a quarter million quality troops were consumed in Stalingrad after the city was cut off, along with a big chunk of Germany’s air transport fleet being destroyed in the attempts to resupply the pocket.
One thing not mentioned, but quite important, is that the US broke the Japanese navy code very early, and exploited it exceptionally well. That was a key to the win at Midway. My mother was one of the Navy’s enlisted Japanese cryptographers, something I didn’t learn until I was in my mid-teens. Dad was part of the 9th Artillery Regiment, and was caught at Bastogne with the 101st. He had some interesting stories. They were married right after the war, and I was born in 1946. I grew up listening to their war stories and those of the rest of the family.
On land, given what Ludendorff and Hindenburg did during the real war, no Western Front means they can unleash their inner Napoleons and plan deep attacks into Russian territory. I suspect, however, that after initial stunning successes they’d run into the same issues as the still mostly horse-drawn German army in 1941-1943 and their logistics train would breakdown in the unimproved Russian hinterlands as their army was stretched to breaking across the wide expanse of the steppe.
Interesting speculation, yet Germany was able to defeat Russia despite those limitations even though they did in fact have to fight a two-front war. If I recall, they were worried enough about Russia early on to send several divisions to the East, which meant they were unavailable for use against France and didn’t arrive for use against Russia until after the German victories at the battles of Tannenburg and Masurian Lakes.
In other words, sending them East turned out to be a mistake. Ooops.
The Germans would still be facing the British who have their blood up from the destruction of the BEF (1914 version), have a causus belli in the restoration of Belgium…
Someone wrote an alternate history in which the Kaiser didn’t invade Belgium, therefore giving the English not enough reason to join the war, therefore allowing Germany to crush France like a bug.
I don’t remember the name of the author, alas.
D’oh! That last comment was me, apologies to anyone annoyed.
What fascinates me about midway is that yes we had a tremendous initial advantage but the Japanese soon suspected that we were up there and both were trying to find the other’s carriers. It came down to who found who first. And then with our initial attack the fighters did not rendezvous with the torpedo planes and the torpedo planes were annihilated.
Still came down to a lot of luck.
On World War I, this book is fascinating. I am amazed at the ineptness of the French and British overall commanders. Who thought nothing of sending men into withering machine gun fire. The British commander, general Haig, initially felt that machine guns weren’t even a necessary part of an army.
There was one unit that begin the attack with 650 men and 28 officers, and came back with one officer and 50 men.
Von Schlieffen died before the beginning of world war 1. But his successor used fewer men then he had in his plan. Yet the French at the outset of war were interested in settling old scores and didn’t confront this main force of Germans with full strength. The author implies that they could’ve stopped the German advance right there.
The author mentioned that they went to Alsace-Lorraine for one thing. He made a point of saying, or inferring, that if the van sleeping plan has been implemented as designed, the Germans most likely could’ve occupied Paris.
Just as they did in World War II.
World war 1 did not have to result in a stalemated 450 mile long trench line from the North Sea to Switzerland.
It makes me realize as I have long expected that with the onset of battle it’s generally not brilliance that wins but who makes the fewest mistakes.
It almost always comes down to luck and in a long war, who learns form their own and the enemy’s mistakes fastest.
In WWI, occupation of Paris doesn’t equal French/British defeat. If they could continue their withdrawal in good order, every mile was taking the Germans farther from their supply bases and forcing them to deal with refuges and poor roads. They weren’t dealing with the mobile, mechanized army of WWII. Absent a complete collapse, the front was going to stabilize wherever the Germans ran out of steam, probably pretty close to where it actually did.
If the Allied armies had immediately withdrawn to a defensible line instead of fighting for every inch, they might have been in a position to throw the Germans back on themselves before they had a chance to dig in. An orderly advance against light opposition is as challenging as a withdrawal under fire. Always a lot of ifs and maybes.
“World war 1 did not have to result in a stalemated 450 mile long trench line from the North Sea to Switzerland.”
I have to disagree with you on this one. Given the state of military technology and the understanding of its uses, it pretty much had to result in trench warfare when the opponents were the Germans, French, and English. Also, given the nature of the battlefield, it was inevitable.
The Eastern Front was too damn big to lock down in full-bore trench warfare, and the opponents were unevenly matched in terms of industry and sophistication.
Change the conditions and the opponents, no trench war. Leave it the same, and nothing changes, really–The Germans still run out to the end of their logistical tether, and the French hold on. Losing Paris early on might have made a difference, just as losing Moscow in WWII could have.
The big thing that made trench warfare inevitable was the state of technology and the understanding of the various military powers had of that technology. Five years earlier, and the Germans wouldn’t have had the Haber-Bosch process, and because the German general staff didn’t think industrial mobilization and critical resources were things, well… They’d have run out of nitrates to turn into explosives very early on, and then been blasted back into Germany by the Allies who had access to Peruvian guano…
Likewise, had the war come ten years later, when the automobile and truck industries were a bit more than a gleam in industrialist’s eyes? Germany would have probably done the same thing they did in WWII, and literally rolled over the French. Assuming that the French were the ones who didn’t have their mobility act together. Portable radio is another development that might have made trench warfare less of an inevitability, along with all the other 1920s developments in aviation.
A war started in 1914, between the opponents we had, over the terrain it was fought over? Trench warfare becomes an inevitability, I think. The Germans were going to shoot their logistical bolt somewhere about where they did, and that makes what happened happen. Likewise, the French–I can’t see any form of generalship that makes the trench issue go away. Better understanding of what was then-modern warfare, and the French Army might have avoided the massive losses it took, but then if they’d had that, they wouldn’t have been the French. It’s a lot like arguing how the Nazis could have won WWII: If you make sufficient changes to what they did, then they wouldn’t have been Nazis, and the war would probably not have happened in the first place.
“It almost always comes down to luck and in a long war, who learns form their own and the enemy’s mistakes fastest.”
Given that that descriptions pretty much fits the Germans in both wars, which they lost…? I’m not sure I can agree with you.
Being able to learn and adapt is great. Trouble is, that ability often creates the arrogance which leads to your downfall when you try taking your oh-so-excellent military out to play, taking on forces that are both far less competent, and far larger. Size has a quality all of its own, and when you’re taking on two largish colonial empires at the same time you’re trying to finesse that massive land empire to your rear…? Ya might want to use some of that “learning organization” factor to actually pay attention to the realities of scale. Excellence at war might have enabled the victory in 1870, but the confidence that came from that suckered the Germans into taking on opponents whose combined masses were well out of their weight class.
You can learn all you like, but if every lesson costs you a bigger fraction of your forces and resources than it does the enemy, you’re gonna lose no matter how good you get. There’s also the factor of “learn the right lessons”. Germany came out of WWI convinced that the way to win was to be excellent at war, while the reality was more “Be good enough to win, and have the resources to do it…”. Germany’s excellent General Staff never quite got its head wrapped around industrial mobilization and strategy, leaving that to the politicians–Who munged it up beyond all possible recovery.
I was speaking in the context of an individual battle. Each side has whatever they have on the field at that instant. The tanks and planes rolling of the assembly lines count for nothing. At Midway we got more things right and the Japanese got more things wrong and that’s what told in the end.
We saw them before they saw us. Some of that was planning and a lot was luck.
Over a long war, preponderance of power is the way to bet. If we had lost more carriers at Midway or even the island. It could have happened easily enough. It would have been a setback but we were building more carriers. The Japanese weren’t.
Every piece of ground they took was another drain on a limited pool of manpower. That was probably their most critical shortage. Is far as I know, aside from Korea, every weapon and piece of ammunition they used had to be produced and transported from Japan. How long and how many men would it have taken to pacify Australia? I’m willing to bet far more of either than they had.
And we would have still been building thousands of bombers, hundreds of ships, training and equipping millions of men. Things could have gone far worse for us in the Pacific in 1942 but losing the war in the Pacific was never going to happen.
I look at it more from a macro-level; the Germans had a most excellent army, with some really nice toys and a solid understanding of how to use them up to about the operational level. Start talking strategic? Industrial? LOL… There was no way on earth they were going to win. The only reason that they got as far as they did was down to Allied ineptitude during the opening phases of the war. Same-same with the Japanese–There is really no excuse for either Malaya or the Philippines; both campaigns should have resulted in eventual defeat for the Japanese forces committed, but because the commanders on our side were overconfident and arguably incompetent, the Japanese ran the tactical and operational tables on them.
Japan is a really interesting case. We assess them as “really good” when they were beating us, but ignore how the “second-rate” Soviets trounced them in Manchuria. If Zhukov could do what he did to the Japanese with the same tools that the Soviets were using in Finland, what does that tell you about the Soviet leadership and the comparative strengths of Japan vs. a real major power?
I suspect that putting Zhukov in Singapore with enough time to prepare would have been an educational experience for all concerned.
You get right down to it, the Japanese were always a paper tiger; it is just that our side was tissue-paper, and they were more Kraft paper. That they and the Germans got as far as they did is simply down to sheerest incompetence on our parts, going back decades. The loss of the Philippines should have sucked in dramatically more Japanese forces, and Singapore/Malaya should never have fallen in the first damn place. That neither case eventuated? We sucked, and sucked badly.
“Industrial? LOL… There was no way on earth they were going to win.”
The Germans managed to increase fighter production every month until December 1944. Considering the very large tonnage of bombs we were dropping to try to thwart that production, they must have been doing something right. They expected to harness the resources of the entire continent, including the people and succeeded to an extent. They managed to invent and deploy in fair numbers both cruise missiles and ballistic missiles.
The Japanese troops in Manchuria in 1945 weren’t likely a match for the ones in 1931 but then the Soviet troops there weren’t the ones that had beaten Hitler. By 1945 I expect a Cub Scout troop could have conquered Manchuria.
Putting anyone in Singapore with the sense to prepare would have been an improvement. Not that the ultimate defeat was ever in doubt.
Why did the Japanese go after Port Moresby? It’s not like they needed another cannibal infested island, they already had several in inventory. It was to be the jumping off place for the invasion of Australia.
They desperately needed both the raw materials and especially the people of a technologically advanced country. Australians were the only ones handy. They had all the jungle they needed.
I can’t imagine it would have worked out and is probably lucky for Japan that they never got a chance to find out. If they had practiced their well known, benign occupation on Australians for as long as it would have taken to liberate them, there might not have been many Japanese that survived the war.
MCS…”They managed to invent and deploy in fair numbers both cruise missiles and ballistic missiles.”
Probably would have been better off had they *not* devoted a vast amount of resources to the V-2 project.
OTOH, the jet aircraft could have been a real threat, if the development had come just a little earlier. (Although the unavailability of certain raw materials had a very bad effect on engine life…overhaul required after something like 10 hours.)
And, who, precisely, was going to crew those fighters? What was going to fuel them? Good intentions?
Both the Germans and Japanese were lost in the make-believe land of elite quasi-nobility as aircrew. They never applied the rules of industrial production to training their pilots, and they both ignored the fact that they had no real indigenous fuel supplies.
German late-war production was too little, too late; by the time they had it ramped up, the Reich was in ruins, the enemies had kicked in the door, and there was nothing to put in their gas tanks. They’d pissed away resources galore on idiocies like the V-2, and never actually produced a lot of their weapons via mass production–It was all artisanal batch production, with every tank series slightly different, and necessitating a return to the factory for real repairs.
Then, there’s the really terrible design/production work on things like final drives. Detroit churned out hundreds of thousands of synchro-mesh mechanisms, and the Germans couldn’t get a tank transmission out the door that was good for a hundred miles. Good God, there were some Shermans that went from Normandy to the Elbe without major refit, and there were no German tanks ever that came close to that.
Saying they upped fighter production is meaningless, because all that really did was give the Allies a bunch of scrap aluminum right after the war as reparations, which the French loved.
The essential insanity of both nations when it comes to the logistical side of things is truly mind-boggling. Just the back-of-napkin calculations on the V-2 program should have shut that down in a horrified fit of pragmatism; instead? They gave von Braun his way, and put proportionately more resources into the V-2 than the US did the B-29 program, the biggest of the war. The decision-tree that led to that? Madness. The amount of foodstock taken up to make alcohol alone could have kept German soldiers and workers in much better shape
They would have been vastly better off if they had never started the war in the first place. I can’t imagine the projections going into the V weapon programs were any better than the ones we get today. It did give them the only way they had to attack behind the front lines and potentially North America after the collapse of their air force.
The British had jets before the Germans but delayed development in favor of current production. This turned out to be the right decision. There was no realistic chance of developing a jet escort fighter in the time available. The German situation was different, they could make use of a very fast fighter with a very limited range.
It wasn’t realistic for the Germans to believe that they could produce either in enough quantity to make the difference but by that time they weren’t living in the real world.
I am aware that the Germans lost the war. A great many of their calculations turned out to be wrong. Ersatz is a German word for a reason. Directing industrial production was the cornerstone of Nazism, they started as soon as they got power.
If they had delayed the start of the war until they had the number of U-Boats planned, there’s a good chance they could have won the War of the Atlantic. This would have eliminated England. It was close as it was. They expected to have all the resources between the Urals and the Atlantic for phase 2 with The United States and the rump of the Empire relegated to nibbling around the edges. This is what they very nearly got.
“If they had delayed the start of the war until they had the number of U-Boats planned, there’s a good chance they could have won the War of the Atlantic. This would have eliminated England. It was close as it was. They expected to have all the resources between the Urals and the Atlantic for phase 2 with The United States and the rump of the Empire relegated to nibbling around the edges. This is what they very nearly got.”
Except that a.) they could no more delay the start of the war than reach the moon by putting their heads between their legs and farting, and b.) they never took realistic steps to exploit what they captured beyond looting resources and material to take back to Germany. You read Adam Tooze’s Wages of Destruction and it’s pretty clear that the Nazis were never, ever going to do anything rationally. Instead of exploiting France and the other conquests rationally, making them part of an integrated Europe, they simply raped the industrial facilities and commandeered the labor force to take back to Germany, where they then starved them.
They followed the same idiot policy in the East, choosing to immediately set about replacing the population and looting everything else. A rational policy would have set about co-opting the Ukraine and Belorussian resentment and hatred of the Communists, and using them to build forces that they could have fought with, rather than against. Smart policy by a true empire-builder would have been to recruit and turn those populations against the Communists, get them killed off doing most of the fighting, and then move in their Germanic replacements (which didn’t really exist in the first place, as of yet…) a few generations later. Hell, with the right propaganda, they could have made it all look benign as hell, and the survivors would have loved them for “saving” them from the Communists. Same-same with the Jews; there was no need to put an immediate Dalek “Exterminate-exterminate” policy into place during the war. That was an economic distraction, and a distraction for the military–Smart move would have been to exploit economically, and only make the move to commit genocide after the war was won. And, if you’re smart, you make the enemy do your killing for you. However, comma… The Nazis were not rational actors.
German policy of the era was insanely focused on fantasy. They bankrupted themselves, were forced into looting the Jews of Germany to make up for it, and when that money ran out, it was either admit to the public that they were economic idiots and had done that, or they had to start on a program of conquest and looting their neighbors. Which is what Hitler did, and why the war started in ’39. It had to–They were out of money, and could not borrow any more. And, once they started on the program of looting, they couldn’t stop.
I’d wager that if you could somehow run the experiment to see what a victorious Germany would look like, you’d see economic collapse in about, at most, two generations. By the 1960s, they’d have been about like one of the oil-based totalitarian states, having run through the seed capital the way Venezuela has, and be near total economic collapse. Socialists are basically fantasists that think they can hand-wave everything, and the German variety was no different.
Good God, look at the duplication of effort in their wartime production. It was “build all the things”, and political favoritism top to bottom–There were some excellent aircraft that didn’t get built simply because the designers or manufacturers were out of political favor, which was nuts. Same with the rest of their equipment–Internal politics drove decisions in all too many cases.
The Nazis were basically amateurs in terms of empire-building, who had no idea of how to go about it all. Put them in charge of India during the early days of the East India Company, and they’d have turned that into a charnel house as well…
OTOH, the jet aircraft could have been a real threat, if the development had come just a little earlier. (Although the unavailability of certain raw materials had a very bad effect on engine life…overhaul required after something like 10 hours.)
Because of the material shortage I read that critical parts of that jet engine were steel, and not the alloy they needed. TBO was….8 hours!
Albert Speers Book was fascinating. He was minister of Production, and despite all of the bombings, managed to keep production up. One thing he said, and I forget the exact quote, but had we concentrated on the petroleum facilities just a few months more the Nazis war machine would have ground to a halt. This of course he said to the allies after the war.
I think had Hitler stopped after the Czech territories, Germany would have been the most powerful force in Europe.
Another thing from Speer’s book that I had long suspected – that Hitler expected no material reaction from the British or French after the invasion of Poland. According to Speer, when they declared war on Germany, Hitler was in a deep depression for a week.
And why should he have expected them to declare war? The Rhineland worked in 1936, Austria in 1937, Czech in 1938, then Poland in 1939.
Fascinating article at the Daily Mail about weather patterns contributing to WWI carnage…
Goes to show that timing is everything in history. Just like the cold snap we had for WWII, which wasn’t exactly a non-factor in a lot of the battles on the Eastern Front, or at the Battle of the Bulge.
You have to wonder what the effect was on human behavior, or if there’s a real tie at all between weather patterns and wars; certainly, there are a lot of nasty correlations that can be found.
On the other hand, it may just be down to that observed factor that most battles occur where the mapsheets join up at the corners–An observation I’ve always taken as meaning that wherever and whenever it’s the most bloody inconvenient, that’s where the fight will be…
Bill Brandt: “… Hitler expected no material reaction from the British or French after the invasion of Poland.”
And apart from the English & French starting WWII by declaring war on Germany, there was only minimal material reaction — hence the “Phony War”, which continued for the better part of a year until Germany invaded France.
But even the English/French empty action of declaring war and then doing not much must have been a game-changer for Germany. The invasion of Poland was a joint action with the USSR (Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact) which put German & Soviet armies facing each other directly at the line of division in conquered Poland. Conventional wisdom today is that both Germany and the USSR fully intended to breach that pact at some point and invade the other. The conundrum facing Hitler was whether he could march east into USSR-occupied Poland while leaving declared belligerent France on his Western border? There is a plausible argument that if the French & English had not declared war on Germany, Hitler would have been quite happy to focus his military on the USSR and leave France alone. As a logical German, Hitler must also have been confused that the English/French would declare war on Germany for invading Poland — but not also declare war on the USSR for doing exactly the same thing.
20/20 hindsight can make it difficult to understand what motivated people at the time. There is a fascinating little volume, “Events Leading Up To World War II, Chronological History, 1931 – 1944“, produced for Congress, House Document No. 541, dated 1946. From the terse notes in that chronology, Germany’s issue with Poland seemed to have been securing a corridor to the substantially German city of Danzig. The impression given by that document is that the Polish government was not prepared to negotiate — perhaps because of promises of support from the English & French? History could have taken many different paths.
Like I said, the Germans did lose the war. The U-Boat gap was about 8-9 months production as I remember. It’s just one more speculation with no proof how it would have worked out either way. There is nothing in your list that I’m not aware of.
If Hitler and his regime had been more effective, less race obsessed and insane it might have made the difference. Then they might not have been compelled to start a war in the first place. As it was, our margin was thinner than was comfortable. We have often been lucky in picking our adversaries.
Roosevelt probably had a few things up his sleeve short of war. Hitler’s unprovoked declaration of war against us was one of his bigger mistakes.
Race obsessed and insane also describes the Japanese. Mussolini was probably the only half sane one in the bunch, he was just a corrupt thug.
The joker in the deck was Stalin. He was as likely to be satisfied with part of Poland as Hitler was with Czechoslovakia or the other part of Poland.
Sgt. Mom’s point remains. On New Years Day 1942, everything was up in the air and defeat seemed possible, even likely to some. By 1943 it should have been clear to the Axis that their days were numbered. None of the trends were ever again in their favor.
My point is more that the trends were never really in their favor. The conditions obtaining throughout that period of history did not make it at all likely that either the Germans or the Japanese would be able to attain their self-chosen victory conditions.
All three of the main Axis nations were run by nutters. Only one of the major Allied nations was, and he (Stalin) was mostly lucid enough not to over-extend. If he’d been as crazy as Hitler was, we’d have had Soviet divisions continuing westwards into the rest of Europe after Germany was conquered. As it was, he stopped where he did.
Although, I think you can make a pretty good case that the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union stemmed directly from the overextension into the Warsaw Pact and all the other misadventures they got up to. You wonder what sort of nation they could have built, were they not spending their seed corn to fund “international socialism”.
Some historian is going to look back on this era from a few centuries forth, and the conclusion he’s going to reach will be that they were all nuttier than a bagful of squirrels. I mean, for a wannabe empire-builder, Hitler sure didn’t seem to grasp how to go about actually doing it effectively. You do not tell your victims ahead of time what the hell you’re planning for them, and you certainly don’t start active measures against them until you’ve actually secured victory. Japanese did the same damn thing across most of Asia, which was incredibly stupid. Why speed up the creation of resistance forces by abusing the populations you’re trying to take over?
What’s funniest about it all? I doubt you could market fiction that accurately reflected the reality of it all, mostly because fiction has to be plausible.
Exactly, MCS – the situation turned around in months – from catastrophe in the Pacific and stasis on everything save the Russian Front (which I didn’t get into, as it’s not part of the plot for my two characters) -into the start of the cascade which would fall like a ton of concrete bricks onto the Germans and Japanese at the end of another two or three years.
As for Kirk’s points – yes, we can see that the Germans and Japanese totally bungled their imperial ambitions, BUT NO ONE AT THE TIME COULD SEE THAT! How it looked to ordinary people, living day to day, and without any special insight – it looked pretty freaking horrific. To people in Singapore, and the PI, and to ordinary citizens in France or Poland or Belgium … it was grinding and awful, just trying to live through it all, put food on the table and ensure that the children survived.
That’s what I’m trying to put into the book – what it looked and felt like to two women, on opposite sides of the globe.
The discussion is awesome, BTW.
for a wannabe empire-builder, Hitler sure didn’t seem to grasp how to go about actually doing it effectively.
Hitler had the best generals in the world. He was still hoping that England would give up, maybe even an armistice in place. Had Halifax won the PM struggle, Hitler might well have been right. There were more Mosley supporters than history records.
His original ambition was Russia but Stalin fooled him. There were Soviet Field Marshals released from concentration camps to take command of armies.
Comments are closed.