At the end of World War I (1914-1918), there was no longer a balance of power in Europe.
At the end of World War I
With the exception of the persistent threat of Communism, the 1920’s witnessed a lessening of international tensions, with the drafting of the Locarno Pact
Everything changed, however, after the U.S. stock market collapsed in
International tensions escalated after Hitler began to rebuild
In 1936 military-age Germans outnumbered their French counterparts two to one. France, the key to Allied defense against
Meanwhile, Britain had decided that some kind of accommodation or
Neither France nor Britain had begun to rearm seriously until the crisis over the Sudetenland, and they thus negotiated from a position of weakness. For example, all of the aircraft used by Britain to fight the Battle of Britain
The United States was even further behind its European allies in military development. Preoccupied with the efforts to deal with the Great Depression and perceiving no immediate external threat to national security, the U.S. Army was less prepared to wage war than it had been in any time since the American Civil War (1861-1865). Ranked equally with Britain and Japan in naval power, in 1939 the United States was ranked seventeenth in overall military strength, behind both Spain and Romania. The U.S. armed forces had no tanks, few first-line fighter aircraft, and barely enough rifles for its army.
It should be remembered that the United States, disillusioned by the outcome of World War I, was determined to stay out of World War II. However, as British and French power in the Pacific diminished as a result of the fighting in Europe, the
Smoke looms on the horizon after the first mass air raid on London during World War II.
The military role of France during World War II was limited by its early defeat and surrender in 1940. Hampered both by its reliance on the fixed fortifications of the Maginot
The British army did no better than the French. Defeated on the frontier of France in 1940, it was forced to retreat to Dunkirk and had to be evacuated, leaving behind all of its heavy equipment. Only in the initial battles against the Italians in North
British military performance, even when supported by a large infusion of U.S. aid, improved little in the desert battles against German commander Erwin
Although the United States had not been prepared to fight a war when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the nation quickly mobilized its vast resources and was able to launch offenses in both North Africa and the South Pacific within less than a year. Although its initial performance was unimpressive, the U.S. Army was victorious at the Battles of the Kasserine Pass
Due in large measure to the training provided by the government and armed forces service schools, senior officers were intellectually prepared for a global war. The logistical accomplishments of the army and navy were formidable. Despite initial problems and some brief shortages of critical supplies, the U.S. servicemen and their allies were amply supplied with everything they needed to fight the war. Another area of exceptional performance was the U.S.
An F6F-3 Hellcat crash-lands onto the USS Enterprise in November, 1943. Lieutenant Walter L. Chewning, Jr., climbed up the aircraft to assist the pilot to a successful escape.
British and American
Normandy Invasion, 1944
Perhaps the greatest military achievement during World War II was the development and use of the atomic
World War II witnessed the development and deployment of a large number of weapons ranging from the M1 Garand rifle to the atomic bomb. Science and technology played a greater role in the operational aspects of World War II than in those of any other war in history. In fact, a whole new area of military operations, called operational analysis, developed from the application of science to military problems. Operational analysis dealt with everything from the best depth at which to set depth charges to the most efficient force structure for combat divisions.
During the 1920’s and 1930’s the British experimented with a wide variety of armored vehicles, as well as other weapons systems. However, due to a lack of funding and a perceived lack of a serious military threat, these experiments were carried no further. The British went to war in 1939 with an army that was essentially equipped with slightly upgraded World War I weapons, except for the Spitfire and Hurricane fighters and some heavy bombers, which were developed late in the war. This failure in military modernization resulted in an increasing reliance throughout the war upon U.S. weapons, especially tanks and armored
General Dwight D. Eisenhower briefs paratroopers in preparation for the D-day invasion.
Within a year after the United States’ entry into the war, the country had become the “Arsenal of Democracy,” providing weaponry and supplies for all of the Allies, including the Soviet Union. At the same time, it equipped the ninety-division U.S. Army with excellent weapons. The standard infantry weapon was the M1
In the air, the U.S. heavy
The greatest failure of American weaponry was the M4 Sherman medium
At the beginning of World War II, the British Expeditionary
After the United States entered the war, the British army, although more experienced, came under U.S. field command. At the highest levels, the military command structure was the Combined Chiefs of
The war was fought by the Allies–mainly the United States, Britain, and France–in four theaters of operation. The European theater was commanded by U.S. general Dwight D.
The reconstituted French army served not as a separate force but rather as one of the armies under U.S. command. One of the primary reasons for this arrangement was U.S. responsibility for logistical support. At the end of the war, the First French Army was separated and given its own sector of Germany to occupy.
Cooperation between the Western Allies and the Soviet
A nation’s military doctrine generally determines the nature of its weapons development, strategy, and tactics. During the years immediately following World War I, all of the major powers reevaluated their military in light of the lessons learned in that war. The French came to the conclusion that defensive fortifications such as Verdun were their best option along with an infantry force supported by artillery and some armor. They believed that such a force would be able to take the offensive only in a limited way, using armor basically as mobile artillery to support the infantry rather than as an independent force capable of disrupting the enemy’s lines.
Britain experimented with a variety of armor
Omaha Beach, June, 1944, in the early days of Operation Overlord following the D-day invasion.
American planners such as Colonel George S. Patton did conceive of the use of large armored formations but the absence of any real threat, the financial restraints created by the Great
By not entering the war until December of 1941, American planners were able to take advantage of the experience of both the Allies and the Germans. The decision to create only a ninety-division army hampered some operations, especially the large-scale armor attacks favored by the Germans and the Russians. Much of American doctrinal development during the war centered on the use of the vast material advantage that the United States possessed, especially in artillery and airpower.
In the area of
From the beginning of U.S. involvement in the war, the Allied strategy was “Europe first.” Although unable to launch a cross-Channel invasion in 1942, the Allies attacked Germany first in North Africa (Operation
After the successful landings at Normandy, Allied strategy in Europe was a broad-front strategy. Rather than concentrate on one or two major thrusts, as the British commander Field Marshal Montgomery advocated, Eisenhower opted to attack along the entire front, forcing the German army to retreat back into Germany and ultimately destroying its ability to fight. Probably the greatest failure of American strategy was Eisenhower’s decision to stop his advance at the Elbe River, allowing the Soviets to take Berlin and consequently to occupy all of Eastern Europe.
In the Pacific, General MacArthur directed an island-hopping strategy that avoided Japanese strong points. At the same time the Japanese were further stretched by the U.S. decision to shift the axis of their attacks along two fronts: the Southwest Pacific from New Guinea through the Philippines and the Central Pacific. The Japanese surrendered before they were actually invaded.
Discussion of the role of armor and airpower dominated writing about military theory both before and during World War II. French military thinking was dominated by the French World War I experience, as seen in the Provisional Instructions Concerning the Tactical Utilization of Larger Units drawn up in 1921 and revised in 1936, which stressed firepower, the power of fortifications, and the need to increase the offensive power of the infantry. Colonel Charles de
Two British theorists also were important in the development of armor doctrine: Major General J. F. C.
No one made greater claims than the air theorists. Air marshalls Hugh
Bull, Stephen, and Gordon L. Rottman. Infantry Tactics of the Second World War. Botley, Oxford, England: Osprey, 2008. Chamberlain, Peter, and Charles Ellis. British and American Tanks of World War II: The Complete Illustrated History of British, American, and Commonwealth Tanks, 1939-1945. New York: Arco, 1969. Davies, Norman. No Simple Victory: World War II in Europe, 1939-1945. New York: Viking, 2007. Doubler, Michael D. Closing with the Enemy: How GIs Fought the War in Europe, 1944-1945. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1994. Ellis, John. Brute Force: Allied Strategy and Tactics in the Second World War. New York: Viking, 1990. Hart, Stephen A. Montgomery and Colossal Cracks: The Twenty-first Army Group in Northwest Europe, 1944-1945. New York: Praeger, 2000. Mansoor, Peter R. The GI Offensive in Europe: The Triumph of American Infantry Divisions, 1941-1945. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1999. Marston, Daniel, ed. The Pacific War Companion: From Pearl Harbor to Hiroshima. Botley, Oxford, England: Osprey, 2007. Meyers, Bruce F. Swift, Silent, and Deadly: Marine Amphibious Reconnaissance in the Pacific, 1942-1945. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 2004. Murray, Williamson, and Allan Millett. To Win the War: Fighting the Second World War. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000. _______. World War II. Vol. 3 in Military Effectiveness. London: Allen and Unwin, 1988. Overy, Richard. Why the Allies Won. New York: W. W. Norton, 1995. Rottman, Gordon L., and Derrick Wright. Hell in the Pacific: The Battle for Iwo Jima. Botley, Oxford, England: Osprey, 2008. Schaffer, Ronald. “The Bombing Campaigns in World War II: The European Theater.” In Bombing Civilians: A Twentieth-Century History, edited by Yuki Tanaka and Marilyn B. Young. New York: New Press, 2009. Van Creveld, Martin. Fighting Power: German and U.S. Army Performance, 1939-1995. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1982. Watt, Donald Cameron. Too Serious a Business: European Armored Forces and the Approach to the Second World War. New York: W. W. Norton, 1975. Weigley, Russell F. Eisenhower’s Lieutenants: The Campaign of France and Germany, 1944-45. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981. Willmott, H. P. The Great Crusade: A New Complete History of the Second World War. Rev. ed. Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2008. Band of Brothers. Television miniseries. Home Box Office, 2001. The Bridge on the River Kwai. Feature film. Columbia, 1957. A Bridge Too Far. Feature film. United Artists, 1977. Casablanca. Feature film. Warner Bros., 1942. D-Day: The Total Story. Documentary. History Channel, 1994. Enigma. Feature film. Miramax Films, 2001. Enola Gay and the Bombing of Japan. Documentary. Brookside Media, 1995. Letters from Iwo Jima. Feature film. Malpaso/Amblin, 2006. Pearl Harbor: Two Hours That Changed the World. Documentary. ABC, 1991. Tora! Tora! Tora! Feature film. Twentieth Century-Fox, 1970. The War. Documentary series. Public Broadcasting Service, 2007. The World at War. Television miniseries. British Broadcasting Company, 1974.
World War II: The Soviet Union
World War II: Germany and Italy
World War II: Japan
Small Arms and Machine Guns
Tanks and Armored Vehicles
Aircraft, Bombs, and Guidance Systems
Rockets, Missiles, and Nuclear Weapons
Chemical and Biological Weapons
Sieges and Siege Techniques: Modern
Armies and Infantry: Modern
Naval Development: The Age of Propulsion
The Age of Bismarck
The “Great” War: World War I
The Spanish Civil War