An article in The National Interest entitled “A lot of what we think we know about WWII is wrong,” caught my attention (http://nationalinterest.org/print/blog/the-buzz/lot-what-we-think-we-know-about-world-war-ii-wrong-24656). The basis of the article, written by James Holland, is his new book “The War in the West: Germany Ascendant,” the first of three volumes. Most histories and commonly held beliefs about WWII are based on analysis of the battles that took place and the strategies taken by the various actors involved. Holland claims that his approach is different and provides a new insight into the War, based on detailed analysis of production and comparison of armaments developed and used by each side.
In this “operational” analysis of WWII, the Western Allies had a great advantage. For example,
- It is widely believed that the Germans had the best engineered and built arms and tanks. Their “Spandau” machine gun was considered the best, yet in actual combat it greatly overheated and became very inaccurate and jammed.
- The dreaded and terrible Tiger Tank, that had virtually impenetrable steel, but was so heavy that it had to stop in order to fire and was grossly over-engineered with a six-speed automatic gear box that was very hard to drive and continually broke down.
- By comparison the American Sherman tank was much simpler and cheaper to produce, could be driven easily and was robust. And then consider the production figures, the US produced 74,000 Shermans, while Germany built just 1,347 Tigers.
- In the West, when the men went off to war, the women went off to work in the munitions and aircraft factories. They were well-fed and committed. But, in Germany, instead of employing their own people, to a large extent the Germans relied on slave labor to produce their armaments. This was a big mistake because their production was extremely inefficient and although it was very cheap to employ and hardly feed slave labor, it was also very self-defeating.
- The British gave highest priority to aircraft production, and managed to build 132,000 planes during the War, while Germany built only ca. 80,000.
- Another apparent mistake was that Germany under Hitler built two massive battleships, the Bismark and the Tirpitz, but neglected to build many smaller ships. Because of their cost and prestige, Hitler kept these battleships out of battle and when he did commit them they were surrounded by many smaller British ships and sunk.
- They also failed to build any aircraft carriers and they were crucial since battleships were more easily destroyed from the air, as the Japanese discovered in the Pacific.
- Also, Hitler and Doenitz put all their eggs in the U-boat submarine basket, but this too failed, not only did they sink a very small proportion of the merchant marine boats (only 1.4%), but the U-boats were destroyed by depth charges and aerial attacks.
- One could also say that by committing a very large number of soldiers as guards and many administrators in the concentration camps and in the killing of Jews and other undesirables, the Germans failed to use their limited manpower when it was crucially needed.
- Finally, Hitler had a penchant for super-weapons, including the V1 and V2 rockets that rained down on London and killed about 30,000 people, the first jet plane, that was developed too late and in too small quantities to influence the War, and the atomic bomb, that his scientists, for whatever reasons, failed to develop. These major projects sapped Germany’s limited resources while failing to critically affect the outcome of the War.
In summary, the Germans produced armaments that were over-engineered and more expensive than those of the Allies, and they lacked the production capacity to match any of the three main allied countries, Britain, the US and Russia. This analysis indicates that ultimately the Germans were bound to lose the War.