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Category Archives: World War II – General

The Long Goodbye to the Greatest Generation

Photo from the National Archives

From the National Archives: ” GI’s at the Rainbow Corner Red Cross Club in Paris, France, whoop it up after buying the special edition of the Paris Post, which carried the banner headline, `JAPS QUIT.'” T3c. G. Lempeotis, August 10, 1945. 111-SC-210208. National Archives Identifier: 531309

As Christmas nears, I am moved to make mention of the declining number of World War II veterans who are alive and with us today. The National WWII Museum in New Orleans cites the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: “They are dying quickly—according to US Department of Veterans Affairs statistics, only 620,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II were alive in 2016.” [1] Illustrated another way, 620,000 represents just 3.875% of the 16 million Americans who served during that war. This low percentage is sobering and is projected to be 0.5% (80,000) in ten years. The percentages could be similar for those other nations that fought for the Allied and Axis Powers, depending on mortality rates and standards of living in those countries.

In the liner notes of his 1985 CD Scarecrow, John Mellencamp wrote: “There is nothing more sad or glorious than generations changing hands.” It is needless to paraphrase Mellencamp’s quote or explain its appropriateness here. The long goodbye accelerates as we “change hands” with the men and women of the Greatest Generation. If you still have a loved one among this group, hold them close this Christmas season.

[1] The National WWII Museum, http://www.nationalww2museum.org/honor/wwii-veterans-statistics.html. Accessed 23 December 2016.

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2016 in World War II - General

 

The Economics of the Allied Victory

Not Why the Axis Lost – Why the Allies Won
This is an interesting final chapter for Overy – one that takes the same title as the book. As Overy tells the reader early on in the chapter, Hitler’s Germany did not lose the war because of the “two-front” hypothesis or that he was up against a “greater GDP” than he and Germany possessed. Overy adds that: “Materially rich, but divided, demoralized, and poorly led, the Allied coalition would have lost the war, however exaggerated Axis ambitions, however flawed their moral outlook.”[1] So Overy’s statements beg the question – was it not so much that Germany (and possibly Japan) lost the war as much as it was that the Allied “Grand Alliance” won the war? Perhaps it was so. To Overy’s point that had the Allies been divided, demoralized, and poorly led the Allies might have lost; Gerhard L. Weinberg notes in A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II that “In a global war of great complexity, personal relationships at the top were of even greater importance than usual; and, in addition, at least a few of the highest commanders had to acquire the ability to work with allies and to understand global relationships.”[2] This in turn, brings us back to Marshall’s statement of “Allied military unity of action.” As dysfunctional as the management of the war was for the Allies both on the battlefields and in the international conferences, it still managed to work in the end – because it had too – and the Allied leaders knew it.

The Sleeping Economic Giant is Awakened
America’s full-entry into the war in 1941 created a “perfect storm” for an economic boom. This enabled what Overy calls “moral energy” amongst a nation, its leaders, and its people. Propelled out of the Great Depression and into bustling wartime factories the new American labor force was able to out-produce their German and Japanese counterparts. This new moral energy was typified in the demographic shift of African Americans from the south to the new factories in the northern and western United States. For the first time in America women now had a strong presence in these same shipyards and factories. Hundreds of thousands of women entered military service for the first time in order to alleviate manpower shortages across all branches.[3] In Great Britain, nearly 23% of the 22 million member workforce in the period of 1944-45 were serving in the armed forces. Nearly one-third of the men between the ages of 14 and 64 were in uniform.[4] Across the Soviet Union this moral energy took the form of patriotism and what the Soviet citizenry now called their ‘Great Patriotic War’. Fighting for their lives, their homes, and what they thought would be a better post-war life, the Soviet citizens toiled in the factories displaced by war; turning out vast armaments and munitions which were found to be superior to their German foes.[5]

Endnotes:
1 Richard Overy, Why the Allies Won (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1995) 325.
2 Weinberg, Gerhard L., A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994) 918.
3 Ibid., 496
4 Ibid., 489.
5 Ibid., 502

Bibliography:
Overy, Richard. Why the Allies Won. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1995. Page references are to the 1997 edition.
Weinberg, Gerhard L. A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Page references are to the 2005 edition.

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2012 in World War II - General

 

“Our greatest triumph lies in the fact that we achieved the impossible, Allied military unity of action.” – General George C. Marshall in 1945

General George C. Marshall felt that the “impossible unity” was the Allies greatest achievement; knowing the difficult path to victory with such a broad alliance. Richard Overy notes in Why the Allies Won: “Marshall’s ‘impossible unity’ was maintained through to unconditional surrender on 8 May. The willingness to fight in a common coalition for so long Marshall regarded as the single greatest achievement of the war.”[1] Marshall realized that the Allied leaders and commanders rarely saw the management of the war the same. His statement is rhetorical; overly dramatic to highlight the incredible achievement of the Allied victory.

The US, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union all had their eyes on what the post-WWII world would look like in each other’s view of geo-political and economic reality (the “Cold War” was already taking shape in late 1945). Great Britain, while surviving the midst of the war thanks to the “Lend Lease” program, needed help from the United States after the war, as noted by Gerhard Weinberg in in A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II. This already strained relationship between America and Great Britain was further challenged by the Soviet Union and the overall management of the Allied Alliance during the war.

Each theater had its challenges of cooperation: The European Theater of Operations became of war of wills between FDR and Churchill. FDR’s focus on a “Germany First” strategy via France conflicted with Churchill’s strategy of attacking the “soft underbelly of Europe” through the Mediterranean.[1] Although Italy would tie-up German divisions, that peninsula was ultimately a dead-end. British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery was difficult to get along with in Italy and after the subsequent invasion of France in 1944. The disaster of operation “Market Garden” was pinned on Monty and his flawed strategy within the operation itself. He lack of diplomacy noted by Weinberg: “… the prior experience of the Americans with Montgomery as a commander who had troubles leading the armies of two nations in harmony, to say nothing of the three – British, Canadian, and United States …”[2] On Sicily, a clash of leadership egos kept the invasion from being more successful than it could have been. Montgomery split his 8th Army forces and US General George Patton made an unnecessary push northwest to Palermo; both moves allowing the Germans to leave the island across the Straits of Messina.[3]

US General Mark Clark, already a questionable military commander more suited for administrative and training duties, commanded and led the Allied invasion of mainland Italy’s eastern coast. His unsound and deadly decisions overshadowed his penchant for ego and the inability to get along with his British counterparts: “As, in Clark’s opinion, Kirkman was to prove as great a disappointment as had McCreery and Freyberg earlier in the year, and there mutual incapability was to prove a stumbling block in the operations that followed, it is necessary to explain and, we emphasize, understand their opposing points of view.”[4]

The Five-Star sideshow in the Pacific Theater, MacArthur, looked down upon his British and Australian counterparts and realigned his staff mid-stream, replacing commanders as the war progressed.[5] MacArthur even had great difficulty in cooperating with his own Allied counterpart US Navy Admiral Halsey during Operation “Cartwheel”, the challenges of the “split-command” in the Southwest Pacific.[6]

Endnotes
1 Richard Overy, Why the Allies Won (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1995) 280.
2 Gerhard L. Weinberg, A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994) 723.
3 Ibid., 699.
4 Ibid., 594-595.
5 Dominick Graham and Shelford Bidwell, Tug of War: The Battle for Italy 1946-45 (South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military Classics, 1986) 370.
6 Ronald H. Spector, Eagle Against the Sun: The American War with Japan. (New York: Vintage Books, 1985) 159.
7 Ibid., 223-224.

Bibliography
Graham, Dominick and Shelford Bidwell. Tug of War: The Battle for Italy 1943-45. South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military Classics, 1986. Page references are to the 2004 edition.
Overy, Richard. Why the Allies Won. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1995. Page references are to the 1997 edition.
Spector, Ronald H. Eagle Against the Sun: The American War with Japan. New York: Vintage Books, 1985.
Weinberg, Gerhard L. A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II, 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Page references are to the 2005 edition.

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2012 in World War II - General

 

The Industrial and Economic Power of the United States during the Second World War

US Economic Potential and Power Prior to the War
To fully consider the economic and industrial might of the United States during the Second World War in context, it is imperative to remember that America out-produced Germany, Japan, and Italy in vital economic sectors prior to her entry into the war in 1941. Although still mired in the Depression, the US output of steel and coal dwarfed that of Germany in 1938 – with the latter doubled by the US.[1] More importantly, in the US, American auto manufacturers produced 4.8 million cars in 1937; while at that same time Germany produced just 331,000; and, Japan just 26,000.[2] This is fact is key – it is these same factories which were producing Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler vehicles in America prior to 1942 shifted their focus and turned over production-lines to tanks, armored vehicles, and aircraft. As Richard Overy notes in Why the Allies Won, economies and weaponry alone have never won wars; however, the US had a superior supply and logistics system in place to bring this endless supply of war materiel to the theaters of war. Notes a German divisional commander in Normandy, in Why the Allies Won: “I cannot understand these Americans. Each night we know that we have cut them to pieces, inflicted heavy casualties, mowed down their transport. But – in the morning, we are suddenly faced with fresh battalions, with complete replacements of men, machines, food, tools and weapons. This happens day after day…”[3]

The Economic and Military Mobilization of America
As Overy adeptly reminds the reader in Why the Allies Won, America wisely kept its best and brightest minds in the laboratories and factories at home in the newly mobilized war economy. It was in the public and private sector’s mobilization to a wartime economy whose strength won the war for the Allies.[4] The strategies conceived by FDR and Congress in December of 1941 turned the US into a military super-power on the backs of American industry: “American industry provided almost two-thirds of all the Allied military equipment produced during the war: 297,000 aircraft, 193,000 artillery pieces, 86,000 tanks, 2 million army trucks. In four years American industrial production, already the world’s largest, doubled in size.”[5] This is an incredible statistic. That the US produced two-thirds of the materiel for all of the Allied nations is astonishing.

As the military mobilization grew throughout America post-1941, dramatic demographic and sociological shifts began to transcend barriers which contributed to the economic and industrial might from 1942 through 1945. Unemployed Americans who were previously shut out of the Depression-era workplace, now found solace in regions of the country whose industry needed their hands. African-Americans, although still segregated within branches of the US military, found a place in the new workforce. Women were also beneficiaries of the new economy, whose place alongside this new and diverse workforce earned them the nickname “Rosie the riveter.”[6]

From Liberty Ships to B-24’s
The new industrial and economic might of the US, coalesced by a new, diverse and hungry workforce along with the best minds from the public and private sector, was able to complete the production of individual builds of military materiel in record time. Just as “speed in combat saves lives,” so did the speed realized from new production methods contribute to Allied victory: “[Henry] Ford put them to work making airplanes the way he made cars and the way Kaiser made ships, by dividing and subdividing the manufacturing and assembly processes into hundreds of repetitive tasks… By 1944 Willow Run’s crews were rolling a B-24 through the main assembly shed’s gaping exit and out on to the airfield every sixty-three minutes.”[7] David M. Kennedy in Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and the War, 1929-1945, offers that in 1944 an astonishing 96,318 military and naval aircraft exceeded the combined production of Germany, Japan, and Great Britain.[8]

A Democracy or Totalitarianism?
America’s transition in production from “cars to tanks” by such private sector behemoths as Ford, Boeing, and GE, among others, supplied a patriotic citizenry at war. From Niall Ferguson’s The War of the World: “The real news, as Charles E. Wilson of General Motors put it, ‘is that our American methods of production, our know-how about the business, could be applied to mass production of all these war things … and that is the one factor that I think our Axis enemies overlooked.’”[9] Out of patriotic necessity, corporate America “shifted gears”. However, like any profit-driven corporation, they were paid for these ‘products’ by the US federal government. Ferguson addresses this paradigm shift: “As John Hancock and Bernard Baruch observed: ‘With the coming of war a sort of totalitarianism is asserted. The government tells each business what it is to contribute to the war program.’”[10] The patriotism and genius of Hancock and Baruch notwithstanding, the industrial and economic power of America transcended ideologies – as attested by Germany and Japan in World War Two.

Endnotes
1. David M Kennedy, Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and the War, 1929-1945. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) 616-617.
2 Ibid., 617.
3 Richard Overy, Why the Allies Won (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1995) 319.
4 Ibid., 325.
5 Ibid., 192.
6 Gerhard L. Weinberg, A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994) 496.
7 David M Kennedy, Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and the War, 1929-1945. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) 653-654.
8 Ibid., 654.
9 Niall Ferguson, The War of the World (New York: Penguin Books, 2006) 527.
10 Ibid., 527-528

Bibliography
Eisenhower, D.D. Report to the Supreme Commander to the Combined Chiefs of Staff on the Operations in Europe. London, 1946.
Ferguson, Naill. The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West. New York: Penguin Books, 2006.
Kennedy, David. M. Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and the War, 1929-1945. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Overy, Richard. Why the Allies Won. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1995.  Page references are to the 1997 edition.
Weinberg, Gerhard L. A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Page references are to the 2005 edition.

 
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Posted by on January 2, 2012 in World War II - General

 
 
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