Medium 9780253010032

Patterns of War-World War II

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Drawn from the second edition of Larry H. Addington’s The Patterns of War since the Eighteenth Century, this e-book short discusses the evolution of warfare during World War II. Addington highlights developments in strategies and tactics and logistics and weaponry, providing detailed analyses of important battles and campaigns. It is an excellent introduction for both students and the general reader.

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1. Hitler’s War, 1939–41

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A. The German Armed Forces to the Eve of War. From the time Adolf Hitler took power in 1933, he was determined to carry out a German expansion over central and eastern Europe (including western Russia) that would establish the dominion of the Herrenvolk (“master race”), as Hitler conceived people of Germanic origin to be. The Greater Reich of which he dreamed would be independent of overseas resources and based on the enslavement of the Slavic peoples, the union of all ethnic Germans, and the annihilation of “inferior races,” especially the Jews. With the resources and Lebensraum (“living space”) afforded by a centralized eastern European empire, Hitler believed that his Greater Reich could last a thousand years. He recognized, of course, that the realization of his dream of continental expansion would require the ruthless use of force and an especially powerful army designed for offensive operations.

Hitler’s dream also required armed forces responsible to his will. Because they were opposed to Hitler’s policies, Field Marshal Werner von Blomberg, the Minister of War, and General Werner von Fritsch, Commander-in-Chief of the Army, were dismissed in 1938. At that time, Hitler replaced the Ministry of War with the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW or High Command of the Armed Forces), with himself as Oberbefehlshaber (Commander-in-Chief), and made the high commands of the Army (OKH), the Navy (OKM), and the Air Force (OKL) subordinate to the OKW. General Wilhelm Keitel was appointed as Hitler’s deputy in the OKW. Hitler appointed General Walther von Brauchitsch as the new Commander-in-Chief of the Army, a talented soldier but one unlikely to stand up to Hitler in a difference of opinion. In August 1938, General Franz Halder succeeded General Ludwig Beck, another opponent of Hitler, as Chief of the OKH General Staff. At least covertly, Halder was more willing than Brauchitsch to oppose Hitler, and he involved himself in the so-called Green Plot to remove the Führer from power during the height of the Sudetenland Crisis in 1938. But both Halder’s opposition and the plot were quickly abandoned after Hitler’s triumph at the Munich Conference. Willingly or unwillingly, most German soldiers went along with Hitler’s leadership until nearly the end of the war.

 

2. The European War, 1942–45

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A. From Moscow to Sicily, January 1942–July 1943. In the immediate aftermath of the German reverse at Moscow in December 1941, Brauchitsch submitted his resignation as Commander-in-Chief of the German army and Hitler appointed himself to that position. He also decreed that the OKH would henceforth have responsibility for the Eastern Front and the OKW would assume responsibility for any others. Of course, Hitler was effectively supreme commander at both headquarters, located near each other in East Prussia as the war went on.

Winter weather forced a suspension of major operations on the Eastern Front until the spring of 1942, by which time the effects of climate and battle had raised the total of German casualties on the front to over a million men. Nevertheless, Hitler did not despair of a final victory over Stalin. At the Führer’s direction, the OKH planned an offensive intended to overrun the Russian oil fields in the Caucasus and to undermine both the Red Army and Soviet industry. After preliminary operations, the main German effort was launched on June 28 and immediately created a great gap in the Russian front in the south. Of the reorganized German forces carrying out the offensive, Army Group A advanced 300 miles before a combination of fierce Soviet resistance and German logistical problems brought it to a halt almost in sight of the Russian oil fields. Army Group B, protecting Army Group A’s northern flank, advanced toward the Volga, but its Sixth Army was engaged in a street-by-street battle for Stalingrad by late summer. Halder urged Hitler to allow General Friedrich von Paulus, commander of the Sixth Army, to break off the battle and withdraw his army from the dangerously exposed salient, but Hitler’s reaction was to dismiss Halder as chief of the OKH General Staff on September 24. General Kurt Zeitzler, Halder’s deputy and successor, shared Halder’s opinion of the situation at Stalingrad, but obeyed Hitler’s orders to continue the deadlocked battle there until late in November. Then a powerful Russian offensive north and south of Stalingrad encircled the Sixth Army inside the city and severed its communications. Though Hitler promoted Paulus to field marshal in order to encourage his determination to continue the fight, all German attempts to relieve his army or to supply his forces by air were unavailing. On January 31, 1943, Paulus and his remaining 91,000 troops surrendered. His was the first German army to surrender in the field since the Napoleonic Wars. Hitler’s battle for Stalingrad had cost his forces some 300,000 men.

 

3. The Pacific War, 1941–45

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A. The Road to Pearl Harbor. Tensions between Japan and the United States over the “China Incident” began to reach crisis proportions when France and the Netherlands fell before the German blitzkrieg in the spring of 1940 and Britain was forced to concentrate its forces at home and in the Middle East. The United States was left as the only major power that might check Japanese ambitions on British Burma and Malaya, French Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia), and the Dutch East Indies (Sumatra, Borneo, Java, and western New Guinea). This “Southern Resources Area,” as the Japanese termed it, was rich in rice, rubber, tin, bauxite, and oil; in Japan’s possession it could make the island-country self-sufficient in raw resources.

As early as May 1940, President Roosevelt ordered the United States Fleet (soon renamed the U.S. Pacific Fleet), then on maneuvers in waters off Hawaii, to remain indefinitely at its Pacific war station at Pearl Harbor instead of returning to its permanent base on the West Coast. But, despite the warning that the fleet’s presence was intended to convey, in the summer of 1940 Japan sent troops into northern Indochina, and in September signed the Tripartite Treaty with Germany and Italy. Roosevelt countered by adding scrap iron and aviation gasoline to a growing list of forbidden exports to Japan, a measure which seemed to work when the Japanese made no further moves into Southeast Asia for the time being. Actually, Japan’s councils were divided over what course to take. But in April 1941 Japan signed a nonaggression pact with Soviet Russia, securing Japan’s rear in the event of war with the United States, and that summer Japanese forces occupied southern Indochina. (The French administration there was left intact as long as it cooperated with the Japanese, the only such Western colonial government to survive in Southeast Asia until nearly the end of the war in the Pacific.) Roosevelt retaliated by severing nearly all trade relations with Japan and imposing a total embargo on oil shipments. The oil embargo was especially damaging, for Japan normally imported 90 percent of its needs from the United States. When the British Middle Eastern and Dutch Far Eastern oil companies joined the embargo, Japan was left with an oil reserve that could last only eighteen months. The American price for resumption of oil shipments and other trade with Japan was stiff: total withdrawal of Japanese forces from Indochina and China.

 

4. World War II and the Patterns of War

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The patterns of war in a global conflict like World War II were necessarily diverse. The importance of machine warfare, mass production, and scientific development and application are so self-evident that they hardly require comment. Less obvious, but of as great importance to the trends of war, was the emergence of combined operations which increasingly erased the dividing lines among land, sea, and air forces. Especially among the Anglo-American forces, interservice doctrine and leadership became crucial to success. Combined operations implied close cooperation among Allied forces as well, and the Anglo-American Combined Chiefs-of-Staff was as unprecedented as it was necessary. The forthright debate within its councils over strategy and measures not only helped to point the way to final victory, it managed to do so with a remarkable economy of force, considering the scale of the challenge. And perhaps equally striking was the effectiveness of amphibious operations so soon after an earlier world war in which the very future of amphibious assault seemed in doubt.

 

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