I actually just finished a book that will be out in May next year called Armored Champion which is a general look at tank warfare in World War 2 that puts it into a broader context. One of the things I did in the new book Armored Champion is try to distinguish between what I call “tankers choice” and “commanders choice.” And what I mean by that is the tankers choice is what the tanker wants, the individual tank crew wants. The individual tank crew obviously wants a tank that is extremely powerful, very well armored, had a very powerful gun. So if you compare a Tiger or a Panther or a Sherman, the tanker is going to want the most powerful tank available. The commanders choice is very different, because the commander wants combat power. And combat power doesn’t necessarily come from the best technology because in many cases the best technology has issues.
So the Tiger during World War 2 cost the Germans something in the neighborhood of 300,000 Reich marks. You can buy a Stug III assault gun for about 70,000 Reich marks or a Panzer IV tank for about 100,000 Reich marks. So in other words you can get three Panzer IV tanks for every Tiger that you buy. And on top of it, the Tiger, because it was so big it was extremely unreliable. Things like the Stug III and Panzer IV had about double the reliability of Tiger. So if you’re a German senior commander, it’s an open question whether you want a force built up entirely of Tigers because they are unreliable and expensive so you are not going to get a lot of them. You’re going to get a lot more Panzer IV or Stug III vehicles for your Reich marks. So in that book I’m trying to compare those type of issues. And you know, that comes up with the Sherman. One reason there is 11,000 US tanks and tank destroyers In Germany in April 1945 is because the US decided to concentrate on a tank that was extremely reliable and relatively economical to build. And I don’t think anyone would claim that the Sherman was the best tank from the perspective of the tank crew, it didn’t have the best armor, it didn’t have the best gun, but from commanders perspective it was an excellent weapon. There were just lots and lots of them, so they gave the commander a lot of battlefield power. That can’t be said for a lot of the better German tanks because they simply were too expensive to be built in large numbers and they weren’t reliable enough, you couldn’t count on them. So it depends on the perspective that you are looking at it from.
“Interview with Steven Zaloga”, Tank and AFV News, 2015-01-27.
January 3, 2017
December 22, 2016
The other issue with historical analogy is that it ignores, well, history. Before World War I, an alliance system had never resulted in such catastrophic outcomes. The very fact of the war — the knowledge every actor in the drama now carries — changes the calculation every player makes. In 1914, no one knew something like the Great War, with its destructive, devastating results, could happen. Now, everyone does.
We are in a season rife with historical analogy, with many Americans glancing fretfully toward Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, drawing on the experience of those decades to illuminate this one. But historical analogies can often obscure rather than enlighten, assert rather than explain. Easy historical analogies lead us to think we understand more about the world and the future than we do.
The truth is, we don’t know what will happen next, nor the best way to respond. History provides lessons for the present, not spoilers for the future. As such, it should inform our understanding, not dictate it. Those who fail to learn from the past may be doomed to repeat it, but those who over-learn are doomed, as well.
Nicole Hemmer, “The Ankara shooting isn’t 1914. And historical analogies can often lead us astray”, Washington Post, 2016-12-20.
December 15, 2016
Robert Beckhusen on the ongoing attempt to bring a long-ago crashed de Havilland Mosquito back to life:
The de Havilland Mosquito was arguably the best British plane of World War II, the war’s most effective fighter-bomber and one of the most versatile military planes ever built. That’s why it’s strange so few of the wooden, twin-engine machines appear at air shows.
There are currently only three airworthy Mosquitos in the world.
A group of British engineers are trying to change that by bringing a Mosquito back from the dead. Since 2012, the U.K.-based People’s Mosquito project has raised funds and begun working to restore an ex-Royal Air Force Mosquito which crashed in 1949, was buried and then recovered 61 years later.
“A much beloved friend of ours, and our patron, Capt. Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown, once said that three British aircraft were preeminent in World War II,” Ross Sharp, the People’s Mosquito’s director of engineering told War Is Boring. “One was the Spitfire, the other was the Lancaster and the third was the Mosquito, and if you had to rank them, you’d put the Mosquito first.”
“That was due, I think, because it performed so many roles and performed them superbly.”
On Feb. 14, 1949, the NF.36 fighter RL249 suffered failures in both engines after takeoff and crashed near RAF Coltishall in Norfolk. Sgt. W.B. Kirby, the plane’s navigator, later died from his injuries. RL249’s remains were recovered in 2010, but the pieces are almost entirely unusable.
Instead, the People’s Mosquito team is building — largely from scratch — a Mosquito FB.VI variant, a highly-configurable fighter-bomber. The plane will thus be a “data plate restoration,” meaning the airframe, wings and engines will be fresh, but it will also contain some non-structural bits from the original RL249.
The original Mosquitos did not contain data plates. But that’s not necessary for the team to get the finished aircraft certified as a restoration.
“Providing you possess everything that is left of that aircraft, legally you are in possession of what our civil aviation authorities call ‘the mortal remains’ — that’s the technical term — and you can then restore it,” Sharp said.
“It’s going to be mostly new parts, of course, which in a predominantly wooden aircraft like the Mosquito is vital.”
November 11, 2016
A Remembrance Day slideshow using Mark Knopfler’s wonderful “Remembrance Day” song from the album Get Lucky (2009). The early part of the song conveys many British images, but I have added some very Canadian images also which fit with many of the lyrics. The theme and message is universal… ‘we will remember them’.
A simple recognition of some of our family members who served in the First and Second World Wars:
The Great War
- Private William Penman, Scots Guards, died 1915 at Le Touret, age 25
(Elizabeth’s great uncle)
- Private David Buller, Highland Light Infantry, died 1915 at Loos, age 35
(Elizabeth’s great grandfather)
- Private Walter Porteous, Northumberland Fusiliers, died 1917 at Passchendaele, age 18
(my great uncle)
- Corporal John Mulholland, Royal Tank Corps, died 1918 at Harbonnieres, age 24
(Elizabeth’s great uncle)
The Second World War
- Flying Officer Richard Porteous, RAF, survived the defeat in Malaya and lived through the war
(my great uncle)
- Able Seaman John Penman, RN, served in the Defensively Equipped Merchant fleet on the Murmansk Run (and other convoy routes), lived through the war
- Private Archie Black (commissioned after the war and retired as a Major), Gordon Highlanders, captured at Singapore (aged 15) and survived a Japanese POW camp
- Elizabeth Buller, “Lumberjill” in the Women’s Land Army in Scotland through the war.
- Trooper Leslie Taplan Russon, 3rd Royal Tank Regiment, died at Tobruk, 19 December, 1942 (aged 23).
A recently discovered relative. Leslie was my father’s first cousin, once removed (and therefore my first cousin, twice removed).
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD Canadian Army Medical Corps (1872-1918)
August 25, 2016
At Reason, Glenn Garvin looks at the role government subsidies had in the survival of the Cunard Line and the building of the RMS Queen Mary:
The most interesting thing about the Queen Mary, which for several decades was the largest passenger ship ever built, is not the 20-foot propellers so perfectly balanced that they could be spun with a flick of the wrist; or the 35,000 tons of metal that went into its construction; or the 10 million rivets that hold the whole thing together. It’s not even the still-mysterious question of how the ship became the springboard for the very first cheap-shot joke about Joan Collins. (Q. What’s the difference between Joan Collins and the Queen Mary? A. It takes a few tugs to get the Queen Mary out of her slip.)
No, the really special thing about the Queen Mary is that it was one of the epic government bailout boondoggles of the 20th century. In 1931, barely a year into the ship’s construction, the Cunard line went broke. The British dutifully forked over a loan of a staggering 9.5 million pounds — that’s $684 million in 2016 dollars — to keep the company afloat (dreadful pun not intended until I actually typed it). Which, as the documentary Mighty Ship at War: The Queen Mary notes, saved a whopping 2,000 jobs — at $342,000 a pop, I can only conclude that shipping lines employ a lot more neurosurgeons than I was aware — and, more importantly, England’s image: “Great Britain was at risk of losing its reputation as the world’s leading maritime nation.”
Its wide-eyed admiration of pork-slinging statecraft aside, Mighty Ship at War is a peppy and quite watchable little documentary about an oddball chapter in maritime history: the conversion of luxury liners into troop transports during World War II. When war broke out in Europe in 1939, unleashing German submarine wolfpacks on commercial shipping in the Atlantic, the cruise ships were drafted just like able-bodied men. They even got the maritime equivalent of a GI haircut, repainted a dull naval gray while their posh staterooms were ripped out to make way for towering stacks of bunks.
Even before its military makeover, Mighty Ship at War relates, the Queen Mary had found its business model remade by Europe’s gathering war clouds. Because the ship’s London-to-New York route included a stop in Cherbourg, France, it became the escape route of choice for many Jews fleeing Europe. Even families of modest means often traveled in plutocratic splendor, blowing their life savings on first-class tickets, because the Germans would confiscate any money or valuables the refugees tried to carry with them. “Give the money to the Brits, not the damn Nazis,” one refugee who made the crossing as a small child remembers his parents saying. By early 1939, every London departure of the Queen Mary was sold out.
July 16, 2016
… the whole group of prominent American World War II foreign correspondents — Cronkite, Edward R. Murrow, Eric Sevareid, Theodore White — pretended to a more sophisticated geopolitical worldliness than they possessed as they introduced isolationist America to the world in a hazardously simplistic fashion. Cronkite was energetic, and was present at many events, especially Anwar Sadat’s trip to Jerusalem, but his opinions were never based on anything more than good, old-fashioned, Norman Rockwell American altruism. Ed Murrow’s sepulchral smoke-wearied voice did wonders for British war propaganda as he narrated the Blitz from London in 1940. (He was ardently courted by the British government and even had a torrid affair with the prime minister’s daughter-in-law, Pamela Digby. She eventually married the wartime Lend-Lease administrator, Averell Harriman, while the U.S. ambassador, John G. Winant, took up with the prime minister’s own daughter — Mr. Churchill was an indulgent father and a full-service ally.)
Conrad Black, “Tip of the Iceberg”, National Review, 2015-02-11.
July 5, 2016
At Samizdata Patrick Crozier points out some things that are necessary to understand why it took so long (relatively speaking) for the “new army” (and the other freshly raised Dominion and Empire forces) to begin winning battles:
First of all, Britain was fighting a war in Western Europe against a large, well-equipped and tactically skillful enemy. That is a recipe for a bloodbath. Britain repeated the exercise twice in the Second World War (May 1940 and June 1944 onwards). They were bloodbaths too. We tend to forget that fact because overall the numbers killed in the Second World War were much lower than than the First and because they achieved a succession of clear victories.
Secondly, Britain began the war with a small army. To make a worthwhile contribution Britain was going to have to raise and train a large army. Soldiering, like any other job, is one where experience counts. Anyone who is familiar with the rapid expansion of an organisation will know that this is a recipe for confusion and chaos. In the case of the British army the inexperience existed at all levels. Corporals were doing the jobs of Sergeant Majors, Captains doing the jobs of Colonels and Colonels doing the jobs of Generals. Haig himself (according to Gary Sheffield) was doing jobs that would be carried out by three men in the Second World War. Talking of the Second World War, it is worth pointing out that it took three years for the British to achieve an offensive victory (Alamein) over the Germans which is much the same as the First (Vimy).
Thirdly, Britain began the war with a small arms industry. Expanding that involved all the problems mentioned above plus the difficulty in building and equipping the factories. It comes as no surprise that many of the shells fired at the Somme were duds and even if they were working they were often of the wrong type: too much shrapnel, not enough high explosive.
Canada’s army in both 1914 and 1939 was a tiny cadre of what the nation would eventually raise, train, equip, and send to foreign shores. The amazing thing is that they managed to become a valuable fighting force to the British army in particular and the allied cause in general from such a tiny, unmilitarized population. Britain’s highly competent regular army was effectively expended to gain enough time for the volunteer forces to train and organize, and even then the early going was far bloodier at least in part because the troops had still not been sufficiently trained and had to be lead in ways that exposed them to higher risks of casualties whenever they were on the attack.
June 16, 2016
So how can an otherwise functional intellect close itself to all this irrefutable evidence and claim that the Holocaust was either a hoax or nowhere near as large in scope as claimed?
The answer, of course, lies in the nearly unlimited human capacity for self-deception. We are really, really good at both rationalizing our own preferences, and “explaining away” evidence that points to something we don’t want to be true. Denying Auschwitz is a piece of cake for someone with conviction when you consider that people can deny, on the spot, the reality of things that happen right then and there. That’s how you can have 9/11 truthers. That’s how you can have people claiming that the Charlie Hebdo attacks were a false flag operation perpetrated by a sinister race of “magical Jews” who can shape-shift. That’s why it doesn’t even matter if police officers wear body cameras — because you can videotape the most justified shooting of an armed perpetrator, and there will still be people who will watch the video and claim that the police officer executed someone in cold blood for no reason.
It’s because when you are invested in an ideology, you have to make reality subordinate to that ideology. And when the physical evidence points to the possibility that your ideology doesn’t match reality, then you have to deny that reality, or face the possibility that you ideology is wrong. It’s much easier to dismiss historical records or claim that a video was doctored than to examine your beliefs and concede that everything you believe is wrong.
But reality doesn’t go away when you deny it. Those buildings and crematoriums at Auschwitz still stand, and every time someone denies what they were used for, they deny the humanity of all the people who died there. And just as importantly, they deny the human ability to commit such atrocities, which in turn paves the way for a repeat of those atrocities. To borrow my friend Kathy’s words, there’s a world of difference between “Never Again” and “It can’t happen here.”
Because if a society of civilized, educated people, the nation of Goethe and Schiller and Beethoven, can build and staff a place like Auschwitz and systematically murder millions of people in just a few years — if orderly, fastidious Germans can go from bookkeeping to putting on a uniform and herding women and children into gas chambers at gunpoint because they perceive the approval of society and enjoy the power they are given — then it can happen anywhere, at any time.
Marko Kloos, “on the holocaust and self-deception”, the munchkin wrangler, 2015-01-28.
June 8, 2016
Published on 26 Apr 2016
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A series of missed airstrikes resulting in the death of civilians sparked the no-holds-barred Battle of Britain. Germany launched a Blitz to bomb London into submission, but inadvertantly sparked more resistance and gave British industry a chance to bounce back.
On August 25, 1940, a group of German bomber planes got lost on a night-time mission over England. They wound up dropping bombs not on their industrial target, but on the city of London itself. Winston Churchill ordered a retaliatory strike against Germany, but this time it was the RAF who missed their target and hit civilians. Hitler was convinced this was intentional, so he rescinded his prohibition against targeting civilians. The Luftwaffe organized a massive attack against London, intending to break the British people’s will to fight. The Blitz backfired in several respects. First, it diverted Germany’s attention from strategic targets, which meant they were no longer putting real pressure on the British industrial war efforts. Second, they wound up bringing the British together and strengthening their will to fight on in the names of those who’d been lost to German bombs. Ultimately, the cost in men and material for Germany to wage the Battle of Britain exceeded the cost of damage they inflicted.
June 6, 2016
The Great Depression was the worst economic crisis in U.S. history. From 1931 to 1940 unemployment was always in double digits. In April 1939, almost ten years after the crisis began, more than one in five Americans still could not find work.
On the surface, World War II seems to mark the end of the Great Depression. During the war more than 12 million Americans were sent into the military, and a similar number toiled in defense-related jobs. Those war jobs seemingly took care of the 17 million unemployed in 1939. Most historians have therefore cited the massive spending during wartime as the event that ended the Great Depression.
Some economists — especially Robert Higgs […] challenged that conclusion. Let’s be blunt. If the recipe for economic recovery is putting tens of millions of people in defense plants or military marches, then having them make or drop bombs on our enemies overseas, the value of world peace is called into question. In truth, building tanks and feeding soldiers — necessary as it was to winning the war — became a crushing financial burden. We merely traded debt for unemployment. The expense of funding World War II hiked the national debt from $49 billion in 1941 to almost $260 billion in 1945. In other words, the war had only postponed the issue of recovery.
Even President Roosevelt and his New Dealers sensed that war spending was not the ultimate solution; they feared that the Great Depression — with more unemployment than ever — would resume after Hitler and Hirohito surrendered. Yet FDR’s team was blindly wedded to the federal spending that (as I argue in my 2009 book New Deal or Raw Deal?) had perpetuated the Great Depression during the 1930s.
FDR had halted many of his New Deal programs during the war — and he allowed Congress to kill the WPA, the CCC, the NYA, and others — because winning the war came first. In 1944, however, as it became apparent that the Allies would prevail, he and his New Dealers prepared the country for his New Deal revival by promising a second bill of rights. Included in the President’s package of new entitlements was the right to “adequate medical care,” a “decent home,” and a “useful and remunerative job.” These rights (unlike free speech and freedom of religion) imposed obligations on other Americans to pay taxes for eyeglasses, “decent” houses, and “useful” jobs, but FDR believed his second bill of rights was an advance in thinking from what the Founders had conceived.
Burton Folsom, “If FDR’s New Deal Didn’t End the Depression, Then It Was World War II that Did”, The Freeman, 2014-12-26.
May 30, 2016
Published on 19 Apr 2016
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The armies and technology of World War II required a vast supply of resources. A close look at Germany and Japan shows how the need to secure those resources played a significent role in determining strategy throughout the war.
The armies of World War II needed a vast supply and variety of resources. The Allies had many of those resources on their side, but the Axis powers did not. Germany imported many of its resources from countries it would soon be fighting, and needed their war strategy to account for the acquisition of those resources. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed with the USSR set up a trade agreement to bring them oil from Russia for a while, in addition to establishing temporary non-aggression with the Soviets. When the war began in earnest, Germany targeted Norway with its supply of aluminum and iron as well as its access to the even more resource-rich Sweden. Conquering France also gave them access to rich farmland to feed the troops. But even though they had gained control of the oil fields in Romania, it wasn’t enough to power their war machine. Many Nazi generals wanted to target North Africa for this, but Hitler had his sights set on the Soviet Union and wound up squandering much of Germany’s reserves in a fruitless effort there. Meanwhile, Japan’s entrance into the war had cost them their primary trading partner: the United States. The Japanese army wanted to pursue the Northern Expansion Doctrine (Hokushin-Ron) and push through China into Siberia, wounding the USSR in the process. They attempted this strategy, but the Soviets met them in Mongolia and pushed them back in the Battle of Khalkhin Gol. So they turned to the Southern Expansion Doctrine (Nanshin-Ron) advocated by the navy, and began to sweep up islands in the Pacific. They planned to strip the European colonial powers of their holdings, and they succeeded in capturing 90% of the world’s rubber production. But the US responded by synthesizing rubber, and built an industry so large that even today, more rubber is synthesized than harvested. If World War I was the first industrial war, marked by mass production and industrial capacity, then World War II was the first scientific war, marked by advancements like synthesis, radar, and jet engines.
May 29, 2016
Published on 12 Apr 2016
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After Germany’s early push, the situation looked dire in Europe. The United States had resources to help out, but initially clung to an isolationist policy. Gradually, measures like Cash and Carry and the Lend-Lease Act expanded their involvement.
Germany’s blitzkrieg had been largely successful. France fell early, and Great Britain appeared on the verge of collapse. Europe needed more resources to sustain their resistance, but the United States was bound by the Neutrality Act which established a policy of isolationism and forbade the US from supporting foreign wars in any way. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt skirted those restrictions. He lobbied Congress to reinstate a provision in the law called Cash and Carry, which would allow other nations to buy US war materiel with cash and transport it themselves into the warzone. He also established an agreement which allowed him to place American military bases on British colonies in exchange for destroyer ships, thus safeguarding the far reaches of the United Kingdom from possible Axis invasions. When it turned out that the English won the Battle of Britain and successfully staved off the attempted Nazi conquest, America decided to support them in a more substantial, long term way. Thus the Lend-Lease Act was signed: the US would loan equipment to their strategic partners (who were not the Allies yet). Though supposedly the equipment had to be returned, it was pretty obvious that war materiel would not come back in the same shape if at all, so this was really the largest donation of war supplies ever. But it wound up benefiting the US in turn, since the increased production galvanized an economy that had been stagnant since the Great Depression. It also kickstarted the involvement of the US Merchant Marine, who were among the earliest US citizens to give their lives in World War II and suffered the highest casualty percentage of any branch of the service. These unarmed ships navigated U-boat infested waters to bring much needed supplies to Europe, North Africa, and Asia. Despite this, their service has gone largely unrecognized and unrewarded as they are still denied many veterans’ benefits and were not even formally thanked by Congress until 2012.
May 28, 2016
Published on 12 Apr 2016
The rebirth of Germany and growth in power of the Nazi Party leading up to the outbreak of war. Interviewees include Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist-Schmenzin, Werner Pusch and Christabel Bielenberg.
May 25, 2016
Published on 5 Apr 2016
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To understand nations at war, you have to look at how their economies function. With World War II on the horizon, Europe and Asia dug themselves in for a fight – and a look at each other’s resources told them what to expect.
European economies were so closely connected that some people expected they have to avoid another world war or destroy their finances, but in fact World War I had taught them how to prepare for just such a scenario. Germany, France, and Great Britain all invested in their military before war broke out. When evaluating these economies to see how war would affect them, we look at four main factors: GDP, population, territorial extent, and per capita income. Broadly, this helps us determine how resilient, expansive, self-sufficient, and developed a nation is. All of those factors determine how a nation must conduct its war. For example, the vast territorial holdings of the British Empire meant that they had vast resources to draw upon but needed a long time to mobilize them, which helped Germany determine that they needed to strike fast and win big if they hoped to win the war before Britain’s full resources came into play. Japan also estimated that they could win a war in the Pacific if they managed to win before the US had been involved for more than 6 months. These calculations drove the early strategies of the Axis powers, but the participation of the US would later prove to be a crucial factor.
BONUS! Economies of Japan and China before WWII:
GDP (Bn USD-1990)
Japan – 169.4
Japanese Colonies – 62.9
China (exc. Manchuria): 320.5
Japan – 71.9
Japanese Colonies: 59.8
China (exc. Manchuria): 411.7
TERRITORY (thous sq.km)
Japan – 382
Japanese Colonies – 1602
China (exc. Manchuria): 9800
AVG ANNUAL WAGE (USD-1990)
Japan – 2,356
Japanese Colonies – 1,052
China (exc. Manchuria) – 778
From: The Economics of World War II: Six Great Powers in International Comparison by Mark Harrison