marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,

Why the Allies Won

Why the Allies Won by Richard Overy

A look at World War II, taking in a few of the most crucial battles in about half the book, to take in a slew of other issues in the other half.  Interesting stuff.  Lots of interesting details.

The battles he cites are the Battle of Midway -- determined by ten American bombs -- the Battle of the Atlantic, the Battles of Stalingrad and Kursk, the strategic bombing, and D-Day.

The Battle of the Atlantic was seriously helped at one point by the Leigh Light, which had been developed contrary to orders -- an enormous spotlight, which would allow an airplane that was losing track of a sub because it was too close for the radar, to turn to the naked eye to spot it, even at night.  It was briefly very useful, until it inspired the Germans to develop a technique to detect the radar and so render it useful.  So then it was a question of developing new, centrimetric radar that they couldn't detect, deploying more Leigh lights, getting more airplanes and deploying escort carriers.  Steadily mounting losses hid that the techniques were a success in one sense:  the Germans were inflicting higher losses by having more subs, each of which was sinking fewer and fewer ships, and having a more and more restricted area of operations.  But one month, everything hit critical mass.  It went from their worst losses, to the Allies sinking more submarines than they got merchant ships in two months.  The Germans pulled back the subs.  After a bit, with two months with no losses, it dawned on the Allies that they had won.  A while later, the Germans tried again -- the Allies sunk three times as many subs as they sank ships.

Stalingrad -- one reason they won was that Stalin finally managed to listen to his generals, who laid out a plan to cut off the supply lines and explained that they had to cut it far off to ensure that the Panzer division could not turn its tanks back on the force.  And it took a long time to assemble the appropriate task force.    Once they had managed to cut Stalingrad off, the battle there went on and on and on -- partly because the Soviets had grossly underestimated how many Germans were in the city.  When the commander finally surrendered, Hitler put all the blame on him personally, betraying all the courage of German soldiers with one cowardly soul.  But then the Soviet were pursuing the Germans so hard that they lost their own supply chain, the Germans managed to actually rebound, and then the Battle of Kursk tried to seize the German initiative again.  It was ugly.

About as ugly as the strategic bombing campaign, which started by smashing Hamburg to smithereens, with flames that could be seen for 120 miles, a million people homeless, and 40,000 dead.  The notion of throwing aluminum through air to foil the enemy radar took some argument before implementation, for fear of giving Germany the idea to use it, but they finally went with it.  Though the bombing campaigns were enormously dangerous until finally the Allies sent escort fighters.  That took adding new fuel containers, so they could fly the distance -- a bright idea that they had had earlier rejected because of the added weight.  He discusses the impact of bombing and points out that it definitely had an impact.  One that can be quantified, because large chunks of industrial production was turned from generating other war material to producing stuff that fought off bombing.  Also, it appeased Stalin, who really, really, really wanted a Second Front.

He wanted it so much that the Americans finally resorted to dragging him into the British-American discussions.  Great Britain wanted to fight it like the Napoleonic Wars, the United States like the American Civil War, and that we had D-Day told you which side won.  The whole elaborate rigmarole of the FUSAG -- First United States Army Group, which didn't exist.  It didn't keep the Germans from finding about the intended Normandy invasion, which was just as well -- the Germans assumed that they intended as a diversion, or part of a pincer attack, which helped them not commit enough forces to fight off D-Day.  The Mulberries, which were basically artificial ports to take supplies.  The Rhinoceros, where a Sherman tank was given means to tear through hedgerows while Germans were confined to roads.  And how they had a terrible storm the next open period, if Eisenhower had decided to push D-Day off.

Then the book gets into the industrial side of things, which is fascinating.  The Soviet Union packed up factories and sent them off to Siberia.  Many workers were getting factories going again on packed, frozen earth.  And production plummeted.  But within a year, they had rebounded, producing more than Germany did, and improving still more the year after that.  They managed to improve production processes while they were going, and the destruction of the equipment was beneficial in that it allowed them to rebuild from the ground up, with better stuff.  And they sent repair crews into battle with the tanks.  The factors that allowed this -- he has some fun disentangling such effects as the personality cult, the resurgent patriotism, and the command economy.

The United States did even better.  But what happened was that the guy in charge of the Office of Production Management called together a bunch of businessmen, listed what was needed, and asked for volunteers.  Which meant they unleashed the mind behind mass production.  They invented a new way to build ships, so that instead of building it from the hull up, you welded together pre-fabricated sections, and that meant that while they chopped the man-hours needed to a third of the old, they chopped down the actual number of days to one-nineth of before.  Retooling was daunting -- weapons needed a lot more precision than cars -- but once they got rolling they started to over-produce their orders.  Plus, of course, the Great Depression meant that the United States did not have that much trouble attracting a work-force, at least compared to Germany and Japan, and even the Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, in Germany, they tried to mobilize the country, and while the Soviet Union was cut off from assets, they captured assets.  They produced nothing like it.  Then, they had a tradition of contempt for American mass production and favored craftsmanship.  They did produce a lot better weapons, the Allies stole the notions to use in the following decades, but they didn't produce the quantity.  They didn't even produce standardization.  And spare parts.

All of which meant the Allied forces, increasingly mechanized, blasted through the Axis ones.  And in other things -- in the Pacific War, there were four tons of supplies for every American soldiers, and two pounds for every Japanese one.  Japan had compensated for inferior weapons by intensive training of its armed forces, but as the war chewed up the trained men, they were a lot harder to replace than equipment.    And Germany would never have put men, such as Marshall, who had no combat experience, in high command.  But Marshall treated supplying the army as important as fighting it.  American forces had 18 personnel behind every combat soldier.  In the Soviet Union, the Director of the Red Army Rear was treated as a figure as important as the combat commanders.

Denying the Axis oil helped still further.  Japan had captured its oil, but never got the conveying under protection going sufficiently to get it back.  And both Italy and Germany didn't capture oil fields, and were methodically denied it.

The personalities of the leaders were also important.  All the Allied leaders -- even Stalin -- had good managers under them that they let manage, and they had their personality flaws that interfered with the war, but the system managed to cope with them.  Not so Hitler.

And the populations of the Allied nations were more behind their leaders.  The Axis powers roused some enthusiasm with victories but lost it with defeats.

Like I said -- lots of interesting details.  0:)
Tags: history reviews: communism, history reviews: far east, history reviews: world war ii era

  • The Roman Empire and the Silk Routes

    The Roman Empire and the Silk Routes: The Ancient World Economy and the Empires of Parthia, Central Asia and Han China by Raoul McLaughlin An…

  • The Manchu Way

    The Manchu Way: The Eight Banners and Ethnic Identity in Late Imperial China by Mark Elliott A study of the practices of the Qing dynasty with…

  • Religions of China in Practice

    Religions of China in Practice by Donald S. Lopez Jr. Primary source from China. Includes discussion of whether the Buddha is eternal or has…

  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded