20 thoughts on “Wars Of The Twentieth Century”

  1. We would never have lost the way Britain would have lost though. The worst case would have been a loss in our objectives to keep Britain and East Asia free from Fascist control. Neither Japan nor Germany the ability to take the homeland.

    It would have been bad though.

  2. how close we came to losing the second World War

    I suppose it depends on who you mean by “we”.

    I don’t think there was much chance of the US being defeated. If Hitler and Tojo had taken on the British empire instead of the USSR and US, it seems likely that the USSR and US would have sat the whole thing out. That would have left the world with four great powers: Germany, Japan, the USSR and the US. An ugly world, but the US would have been safe until the nuclear age.

    It’s the countries of Western Europe and East Asia that should be glad that Hitler decided to attack the USSR, and that Tojo decided to attack the US.

    1. A minor quibble….the Japanese (Hirohito, not Tojo…) did in fact decide to attack the Commonwealth and the european empires….they ALSO decided to attack the US. Really no choice…there was no way to safely get at their real targets (Indonesia and Malaysia, not to mention what is now Vietnam) without exposing their supply lines to American interference if we choose to do so. More to the point, however, the US embargo left them with little option….

      1. In my opinion the biggest mistake the Japanese made was not attacking the Soviet Union instead of spending time in Southeast Asia. It made them vulnerable to the two largest navies in the world and they never linked up with Germany. But then again they never had a chance of succeeding in a land war with the Soviet Union since their armor was pathetic. You just need to read about the Battle of Khalkhin Gol to figure that out and that was with the tanks the Soviets had before Barbarossa… In reality they never had a chance really. I have little doubts the US would enter the war eventually even if there was no Pearl Harbor attack.

        1. Post-Khalkin Gol/Nomonhan there was about zero chance of the Japanese attacking the USSR. Not only had they had their backsides handed to them, the Germans not telling them about the Nazi-Soviet Nonagression Pact was widely viewed as a punch in the face (Tit for tat – they hadn’t exactly been forthcoming with the Germans either).

        2. What would the Japanese have gained by an attack upon the Soviet Union? There was no significant oil (recoverable with 1941 technology) there, and the other resources in the area were also available in Manchuria, where they had been since 1931. One does not start a war wtih a very powerful enemy (and has been pointed out below, the Japanese got their ass handed to them by the Soviets at Nomonhan) without a very good reason, and there was simply no useful advantage to be gained.

          As for the US entering the war even without Pearl Harbor, perhaps, but just how would we have engineered that? One could argue that the embargo was doing that already, and the presence of the US Navy at Pearl Harbor (and Manila) provided additional complications for the Japanese. Had the IJN moved south (against the British and Dutch colonies, as well as Australia), I suspect that we would have become involved, but it is difficult to imagine the japanese doing this without taking some measures (like say, an attack on Pearl Harbor….) to neutralize the threat of American forces already in place.

    2. There was an article a few days back about the German A-bomb effort. The article claimed that the Germans seemed to be on the right track, that without the sabotage and later bombing of the heavy water plants the Germans could have had a working bomb. If the US had sat the war out (the Edith Keeler scenario) Germany would have gotten the bomb first. Turtledove wrote an alternate history (at least one) along those lines.

      Oh. I guess that goes along with what you said–the US would have been safe until the nuclear age, which would have occurred maybe two years later in that history than in this.

  3. Germany, Japan, the USSR and the US

    …and China.

    Germany captures England and the middle east oil fields. There is no cold war with Russia. China does not go communist. Japan becomes a diplomatic superpower. Nobody drops the bomb and everybody has it (including Japan that loves nukes.)

    The U.S. and China work together as the light of the world. The Japanese never develop an auto industry. Nobody thinks of Korea at all. Hitler dies mysteriously in the early 1950s.

  4. All of these near run thing pieces just retread the same things, though VDH’s should be in every basic textbook.

    The real question to ask is why France fell apart so fast. With only a few different events it would not have happened. France in 1914 was in just as much disarray in the first two months as it was in 1940. A couple of things going differently and it would have been a grinding war of attrition all over again and everything we assume would be completely unrecognizable.

    1. The real question to ask is why France fell apart so fast.

      I think by 1940, the political divisions had grow so vast, that the factions which eventually made up the Vichy government had already decided that defeat under Germany was better than the alternatives (such as France remaining France). There was also a remarkable amount of fatalism in French military leadership.

      So crippling internal conflict, a willingness to work with invaders, a defense system that depended on the Germans not repeating their invasion plans of the First World War, and dropping the ball with appeasement many times in a row.

      1. De Gaulle wanted all tank formations in the French military. His superiors denied his request. The same clique of “heroes” from WWI, i.e. old men, that later composed the Vichy government refused to make reforms in their army structure. The French tank force was mostly diluted among infantry divisions.

        The French had more than enough equipment and personnel their problem was they didn’t know how to use it properly. In many cases the Allied equipment back then was even superior.

        In the Battle of France Allied organization was horrible.

        1. De Gaulle wanted a lot of things, and few of them (including that) would have helped much. While you are right that the ‘old heroes’ from WWI were a big part of the problem, the bigger part was the pre-war planning that led to the Allies moving deep into Belguim just as the Germans cut them off by moving through the Ardennes.

          You are absolutely right that the Allied equipment was far superior (though there were some real problems…one-man tank turrets, for instance, and the lack of radios, for another), but they used it very badly. That, plus their absolutely awful high command, doomed them from the start. Fortunately for all of us, they had the strategic depth to suffer the losses that they did, and prevail.

  5. “…were only saved by bad decisions on the part of Hitler and Tojo.”

    Not that I’m belittling Hanson’s article, but isn’t this true of ANY war / skirmish / battle?

    The winners typically make better choices, than do the losers. Even if the choices are minute or just before they are defeated. Likewise the enemy makes a small bad decision that affects the end game.

    Hitler deciding NOT to pursue either the ME 262 jet fighter or the HO 229 long range stealth bomber.

    Even the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor without KNOWING 100% that the bird farms were in port.

    Unless the loser is absolutely defeated by weather [Napoleon and Nazi Germany for instance] or some equipment failure or something not controlled by the enemy. And off hand I know of no instance where a WAR was won because of a protracted weather event or a drawn out equipment failure.

    1. If the Germans wanted to have jet fighters earlier it would have been much more viable to build the He 280 rather than the Me 262. I think jet engines in WWII were a waste of time really.

      The Ho 229 was one of those experimental airplanes that would have never got anywhere. The Ju 290 was a nice heavy bomber had it been mass-produced.

      Most of their issues with equipment were related with small production rates on too many models.

    2. The Go229 was NOT a stealth aircraft, it was simply made of materials that were not good radar reflectors. This had to do with the lack of those strategic materials at the time the aircraft was built, not any design choice by the men who designed it. Since it proved quite unstable in its limited test flights, and only a handful were ever built, the notion that it was some sort of a game-changer is unproven at best. Like so many other wunderwaffe, the Germans would have probably been far better off building more Fw190s and Ta152s, along with an infrastructure to fuel them.

      As for the Me262, it was an exceptional aircraft, but it had some serious problems. Like all jets, it had a long takeoff and landing run, which meant that it was very, very vulnerable during this period. A common practice was to station P-47s (which had a superb dive capability) over airfields used by Me262s, and pounce upon them during landing/take-offs. Another problem was that while the aircraft itself was sturdy and reasonably reliable, its engines were not. the Jumo004s were absolutely awful (the MTBF being under 5 hours for most of the war), largely as a result of strategic metal shortages (mostly tungsten) which led to poor turbine life. Even if Hitler had been willing to build more Me262s, it is unlikely that the materials were available to do so.

      This points up the real problem that the Germans (and Japanese) faced. They did not have sufficient resources (strategic materials, manpower, etc.) to fight the wars that they engaged in. They coudln’t build the weapons that they wanted to, in numbers that they needed, nor could the crew them successfully. I am as big an alt-history fan as any (far more than most), but WWII was not winnable for the Axis under any circumstances short of the Allies simply giving up out of exhaustion. The war could have been longer, bloodier (it more likely could have been shorter and cleaner), but the results were going to be the same.

      1. One of the problems with the Germans was their inability to concentrate their resources on a small number of proven designs. Instead, they jumped from one “wonder weapon” to another. That wasted resources and made logistics much more difficult. You can see that in the Luftwaffe and the Army with their proliferation of competing designs. Sometimes, innovation isn’t enough; you need production in quantity. Take the Soviet T-34 tank. It was, by most accounts, a very good tank for the day. The Soviets built them by the tens of thousands. As Stalin reported said, “Quantity has a quality all its own.” Now, consider our Sherman tank. It had many serious flaws and was no match head on to most of the German main battle tanks. But when you could outrun and outnumber the enemy, even an inferior tank can come out on top (at the cost of a lot of blood).

        1. Overall I agree with you, but let me quibble a bit regarding the Sherman vs Germany’s WWII offerings. The Sherman (and I am referring to the 76mm version, not the earlier 75mm version) had a faster turret traverse (crucial in mobile warfare), was far more reliable, and yes…was faster and more easily deployable. The real key was trained tank crews, and by late 44/early 45 (when our crews had acquired sufficient experience, and the German veterans were being killed off and replaced with less capable crews) crew quality had evened out between the opposing sides. At this point the Shermans had a fairly good battle record against the Panzer IVs, and could perform creditably against the Panthers and Tigers. Perhaps they wren’t better tanks, but they weren’t all that inferior either….

          1. Training is an interesting issue in WWII. I usually hear more about it from the aircraft point of view–the US would bring its combat-experienced pilots home and use them to train the next set. Neither Germany nor Japan had that luxury–they kept flying their pilots until they were shot down, and new pilots had to go in green. It makes sense that this would apply to tank crews as well.

          2. Training was huge back then. I’ve read that the US alone trained over 500,000 pilots during the war. Neither Germany nor Japan had a very good pilot training program. They both began the war with a cadre of highly trained and experienced pilots but couldn’t produce enough new ones to keep up with the inevitable combat losses.

  6. Interestingly, the invisible hand of SIGINT isn’t being mentioned, either in the article, or in all these comments. Signals Intelligence had a *MAJOR* effect on all theaters of WWII. The reason why US strategy in the Pacific worked as well as it did was that we were, for most of the war, reading the mail of the Japanese, while for the most part, they couldn’t read ours.

    Similarly, you can see the hand of SIGINT in much of the conduct of the Allies against Germany, and when Germany *DIDN’T* use radio to coordinate actions, like in the Ardennes in 1944, the Allies were caught off guard because they were depending on it. In the Atlantic, SIGINT was crucial in routing convoys around known concentrations of U-boats.

    The Axis largely lost because they didn’t pay enough attention to signals intelligence: The Japanese largely ignored it, and what attention they did pay towards it was largely perfunctory. Of all the major combatants, the Japanese were the absolute worst in this regard. The Germans were somewhat competent, but even so they had some major slip-ups and missed opportunities to figure out that the Allies had broken Enigma. The Tarafal Bay incident, for example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Action_in_Tarafal_Bay

    The US and UK, on the other hand, poured millions and millions of dollars into effective signals intelligence organizations and made a serious effort to integrate them together (after a halting start) in order to pool resources and reduce duplication of effort, an effort that bears fruit even today with the close relationship the NSA and GCHQ have with each other.

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