Sunday, July 8, 2012

Could the Allies have won the war without the United States?


Some readers of my earlier articles have asked me to consider discussing this, and I am feeling a bit light hearted, so here goes with a bit of what we Australians call 'shit-stirring'. (Ie: a post inviting furious, sometimes rabid, response... Enjoy)

The answer is yes.... and no.

Let me put it another way.

Would the Allies have won the war better if the Americans had been contributing as an 'arsenal of democracy' but NOT involved in the fighting?

Probably yes.

American industrial reserves and financial reserves were as important to the Allies winning WW2 as British industrial and financial reserves were to the earlier Allies winning WW1, and the Napoleonic Wars (in which by the way the US fought on Napoleon's side).

In fact in the Napoleonic war, as in WW1 and in WW2, the money and equipment delivered by Britain/the US was far more important than the numbers of their actual boots on the ground. (I am perhaps understating the importance of the British army in WW1, but realistically its input in ground troops during the Napoleonic wars were as negligible as American input to WW2 prior to 1945.) The vital impact of Britain in both the earlier wars was in equipping the millions of Prussians or Austrians or Russians or Italians or French or Serbs or whichever warm bodies were available. I would contend that the same goes for the US in WW2 (especially on the Eastern Front).

Let us consider a few negative impacts of the Americans joining the war.

1.    The battle of the Atlantic, well on the way to being won in 1941, was almost lost in 1942 and 1943. Up to three quarters of shipping lost during the war was because of the loss of the American 'safe zone' in the Western Atlantic - and particularly the second 'Happy Time' for the U-boats - the diversion of US Navy vessels to the Pacific, and the latter withdrawal of escort carriers to invade North Africa. A very, very good argument can be made that this alone caused many extra military losses for the Allies, and slowed their resurgence by.... well by the number of ship loads that would have got through without those horrendous losses. It is no joke to suggest that a still neutral US, guaranteeing the Western Atlantic, and putting all the resources needed for replacement shipping into tanks and aircraft and landing craft, would have greatly improved the fighting position of the many millions of under-resourced Allied troops fighting with inadequate supplies. Net effect on the length of the war... incalculable.

2.    The equipment lost to American entry had a terrible effect on Allied fighting resources for years. By this I literally mean that the Allies - particularly Britain, but also Russia and China and many others like the Netherlands East Indies - had commissioned, and sometimes paid for, the development and production of vast quantities of equipment needed for winning the war: much of which was then syphoned into American training programs for recruits who would not be available for several years. Some of these things, ranging from ships and tanks to planes and guns, were supposed to come on line in 1942, but did not get into action large scale until 1944. (Consider the Mustang fighter for instance, a design commissioned by the British, and on order for the British, and eventually  - when equipped with a British Merlin engine - a war winner. Supposed to come into Britain's arsenal in 1942. Arrived in useful numbers 1944.) It is not just the fancy items that count here. The thing that eventually gave the Soviets the maneuverability to drive the Germans back was tens of thousands of American trucks. They were supposed to start arriving in 1942, but between American requirements, and shipping losses, they actually started arriving in numbers in 1944. (See Russia's 1944 Blitzkreigs and the loss of Germany's Army Group Centre... Hmmm.) Net effect on the length of the war... vast.

3.    Roosevelt 1: Invasion North Africa. Possibly also a useful military exercise to practice amphibious warfare, but it was hardly vital. (The invasion of Madagascar was actually more informative, and Sicily was just as easy.) But enormous resources had to be wasted on it for two reasons. First, because Roosevelt needed American troops in action somewhere in 'Europe' by election time. Second, because American troops desperately needed exposure to real combat in the easiest possible environment to counter Marshall's fantasy that his new conscripts were ready to face German veterans. (Thank God for Kasserine Pass.) Would Montgomery and 8th army have pushed the Axis out of Libya any faster? No. Would Germany have invaded Tunisia without such provocation? Unlikely. Would it have made a long term difference if they had anyway? Probably not. The most damaging part of the whole operation was stripping all the new escort carriers and vast numbers of naval escorts away from shipping routes for several more months leading to: A) greatly increased shipping losses, and B) another huge slowdown in when counterattacks in Europe could begin. Net effect on length of the war almost certainly negative.

4.    Roosevelt 2: Unconditional Surrender. What an idiot politician will do for a good sound bite. This statement cost the lives of more Western Allied soldiers than any other piece of stupidity since President's Wilson and Clemencau's willful destruction of any prospect of a workable WW1 peace settlement. German soldiers in the rubble of the Ruhr preferred to die than to be shipped to Canadian forests and American mines (yes really Goebbels was that good), while Japanese resistance went on endlessly because this seemed to threaten the sacred Emperor. Long term effect on the length of the war... absolutely indescribable.

5.    Admiral King. Need I say more?... All right, I will just comment that British CIGS Alan Brooke later bemoaned that he hadn't accepted King's offer to go 75% Europe and 25% Pacific, because that is way, way better than what happened. Effect on lengthening the war... quite a lot. (See shipping loses in Atlantic and King's refusal to run convoys for a start. In fact most of points 1 and 2 are magnified by King.)

Having definitively stated that American involvement and decisions made the war longer (and there are many other examples, but they amount to nit-picking and could have been committed by non Americans... the above couldn't), is still not necessarily going to prove that leaving the American forces out of the war would have made it shorter. For although I think this is at least arguable in the European case, there is Japan to consider.... Not the Japanese army, because American supplies to Russia (particularly via the Bering Strait if the US was not a belligerent) and China and Australia and India would have more than made up for the negligible numbers of troops the Americans actually used prior to 1945; and possibly not to the air force, where the same follows. But there is the problem of the Japanese Navy.

Put simply, would the continued security of the Western Atlantic, due to continued American neutrality have given Britain the extra flexibility needed to win in the Indian Ocean? (Given option A: that if Japan had attacked Britain and the Netherlands and NOT the US in the East the Japanese would have had to keep a constant guard against the still vast American naval presence in the Pacific/Philippines, or B: the unlikely possibility that had America backed down and surrendered after Pearl Harbor, a guard against their ever increasing West coast navy would have still been somewhat desirable for the Japanese.)

This, as far as I am concerned, is the only issue about whether the Allies could have won the war without US military involvement. The Allies simply had too many millions of underemployed - because under-equipped - spare men in Russia and North Africa and India and China to not have benefitted from the US sending more equipment sooner, rather than less for a long time, and then badly trained conscripts later. (The British Empire and Commonwealth alone had several times the population of the Axis, as did the Russians, and the French Empire, not to mention the Chinese... manpower was never a problem. Equipping and moving it was. See 1 and 2 above, again.)

So it comes down to this.

On April 5 1942 the Japanese launched their only serious attack on the Royal Navy in the Indian Ocean. Effectively it was the Pearl Harbour task force less 1 carrier. (Pearl Harbor was the biggest concentrated Japanese force of the war because it was the only time they had surprise and could take such a risk.)

5 carriers and 4 battlecruisers was certainly one of the biggest raiding fleets possible that far from the home islands unless any other possible opponent was not a threat. (Could they have left NO home fleet even if the US was still neutral? Of course not. Nor can I push the somewhat unlikely 'US surrendered after Pearl Harbor' concept as far as NO need to have a screen against the mainland US. There is the impossibly unlikely, and then there is pure fantasy.)

The Royal Navy force was still incomplete, having only 5 battleships and 3 aircraft carriers of the 9 battleships and 5 aircraft carriers due within the next few weeks. (The two sides were about even in cruisers, destroyers, and submarines.) But the British still used radio intercepts to be in position to ambush the Japs on April 1, unfortunately deciding to return to base just before the Japs arrived 3 days late.

The result was inconclusive. Despite a few days of maneuvering (the Japanese advancing in daylight and retreating at night, and the British doing the opposite), the British were not able to undertake their ambush, and lost dozens of aircraft, two dozen merchant ships, and a few warships (including an ancient escort carrier with no planes on board and 2 cruisers) and temporarily relocated units to other ports in India and Africa while waiting for re-inforcements. The Japanese lost a, never admitted, number of irreplaceable aircraft and pilots (perhaps only 40 or 50 directly but probably more written off), but failed to win the much desired decisive victory. They had to rush back to try again against the Americans, only to see their weakened and increasingly exhausted units lose consecutive rounds at Coral Sea and Midway.

But what if the Americans were not in the war? What if the Japanese could push harder? What if the British had been able to send more, faster? (The delay for some British capital units had been waiting for American battleships and carriers to move to British ports, which was caused by the expanding losses in the West Atlantic - which required more ships, which was caused by America joining the war... You can see where this is going.)

The conflict could have seen approximately equal naval forces facing off for a proper Midway style battle at Ceylon. In which case the same factors hold true as at Midway.

The Japanese had more aircraft on their carriers, but both aircraft and carriers had a tendency to explode easily in combat. The British (like the Americans at Midway) had back up aircraft on land.

The Japanese think they are doing a sneak attack. The British (like the Americans at Midway) know from intelligence that the Japanese are coming.

The Japanese are under an irresolute commander who time and again (Pearl Harbour where he didn't finish the job, Ceylon where he didn't find the British fleet, Midway where he waffled inconclusively) proved he should not be leading an aircraft strike fleet. The British (like the Americans at Midway) have a brilliant commander whose war record is almost faultless. (In 1942 Admiral Sommerville had been commanding the worlds first and best 'Carrier Task Force' - Force H, successfully in battles and raids for 2 years. Spruance was actually an beginner at Midway, but his war record thereafter was pretty good.)

But then there are a few differences.

The British have radar, and two years combat experience using it. (See Cape Matapan  for instance). The Japanese don't have either.

The British have much slower strike aircraft, but they are radar equipped and trained for night strikes. They have successfully demonstrated their abilities at places like Taranto and against the Bismarck. Japanese (and American) attempts in 1942 or 1943 to use aircraft in the evening usually led to scores of invaluable aircraft and pilots lost at sea, or trying to land on each others carriers.

The British carriers are armoured, and easily shrugged off bombs and Kamikaze attacks throughout the war. Both the Luftwaffe and the IJN repeatedly declared kills of British carriers that were back in operation within a few hours. (Both Japan and the US were trying to get armoured carriers in operation by 1945, but mostly too late.)


The Japanese battlecruisers are far faster, but show the fatal tendency to blow up when facing battleships (or even American 8 inch cruisers of Guadalcanal) that always bedevilled battlecruisers. The majority of the British battleships are much slower, but have radar to guide them that the Japanese don't. (For speed vs radar see Matapan for instance.)


The British have also used years of experience in the Mediterranean to perfect using radar to vector in defending fighters out of the sun. For the entire war British carriers need much smaller fighter patrols than Japanese or American ones to achieve the same results. (American naval co-operation officers comment extensively on this in 1945.)

I don't want to make it sound too simplistic what the result would be. The Japanese had individually skilled pilots, and their cruiser commanders showed considerable flair. (And most naval battles of 1942-3 had extremely high components of pure luck.) However I am on record as being generally appalled by how the Japanese admirals handled fleet actions. It may have been understandable when both they and the Americans were feeling their way in early 1942, but by 1944, when they should have been a bit more experienced, they were just pathetic. (When they finally, at immense cost, achieved their unlikely goal of a general fleet action, and were in a position to annihilate the American amphibious forces and put off threatened invasions for years: they sailed around in circles for a while and went home!) Their likely opponents in the Indian Ocean, Somerville (possibly even Cunningham), were considerably better, and had literally years of experience at winning combats with inferior forces against combat veterans (which the Japanese certainly were not yet).

It may not have been a route for either side. A drawn out melee as in the Mediterranean was always more likely than something as accidentally decisive as Midway. But with American aircraft supplies and dockyards on the British side, the end was probably just as inevitable.

So (with these reservations about the IJN), on the new and improved 'would the Allies have won without the Americans in combat', I will go not only with 'yes', but also with 'possibly quicker'.


(In fact I am drafting another post on production too, which will provide more thoughts...)

37 comments:

  1. Re: the unconditional surrender demand, it didn't necessarily lengthen the war.

    First off: which war? You make the claim that the war would have been shorter if the USA remained the Arsenal - and I disagree - but to stay on point: this only applies to the ETO.

    The Pacific was essentially a US War. Without the USA, Japan would have been quite powerful by August of 1945.

    Unconditional Surrender did nothing to shorten or lengthen the ETO campaign. Stalin and Hitler were already committed to a war of annihilation long before Roosevelt put the idea forth. There was never any doubt in the mind of Hitler or his generals about what happened if/when they lost to Stalin.

    As Hastings states: the Soviet army was an Army of Barbarians. There is no "negotiated peace" in that situation.

    Which leaves us with the Pacific Theater.

    The Japanese demonstrated an unwillingness to surrender long before Roosevelt's "US" statement, so it's hard to claim that Roosevelt forced the Japanese into this mind set.

    The threat that unconditional surrender made to the Emperor was real enough, and would likely have driven the Japanese to fight savagely if/when an invasion came. But, then again, didn't they already fight savagely, long before Roosevelt's threat?

    The really interesting question is "why invade Japan at all?" The political pressure was enormous, and that's your answer. Hindsight is 20/20, and devoid of the emotion that existed in the moment.

    But hindsight tells us that Truman could have declared that Japan was going to be bombed and starved into capitulation - and that might have worked. If this had been coupled with a large-scale land battle in China in 1946, using the ETO forces, it's hard to see how Japan could have resisted.

    The US Army of 1945 was formidable (finally). It would have steamrolled the Imperial Army, as Stalin so clearly demonstrated during his brief battle with the Japanese. Japan's army in 1945/6 was an army equipped for 1939 combat: inferior in just about every way.

    A battle in China would not have included fighting civilians armed with bamboo spears, as a battle for Japan would.

    No, Japan would have been crushed in China in 1946, her people would be starved and burned and demoralized at home (even without the nuclear weapons), and it's very possible that this would have been enough to bring them to the negotiating table - with or without "unconditional surrender" as a back-drop.

    Would the USSR have participated? Probably... but that only speeds thing sup.

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  2. Unconditional surrender was a major problem raised by German generals who refused to join coup attempts against Hitler. It was quoted as the reason or fighting on by thousands of German prisoners. The pro-surrender lot were trying to surrender in the West, not the East (and still trying to negotiate this right up until the end. No effect?

    Worse the Japanese case. Allied intelligence was well aware the Japanese had approached the Russians as intermediaries for surrender negotiations before the decision to drop the Atomic bomb. the Russians ignored this because they were preparing their own attacks. The Americans possibly went ahead with dropping the bomb because, knowing both these things, they felt the need to overawe the Russians more than the Japs. No effect?

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  3. A couple of points.

    1. By shortening the war in the ETO, I assume you think Churchill's schemes to attack Norway or the Balkans had some hope of suceeding because there is no way the British were going back across the channel without the US twisting their arms. So no western front ever. Would the Soviets have won in the East as quickly without the Western Front? Probably not.

    2. Much reduced Strategic Bombing campaign, which contribution to the fight in the ETO was significant. The British would have continued to make night raids and insignificant flights across the channel, but without daylight raids and long range fighters that forced the Luftwaffe to actually fight and bleed, the Luftwaffe would have remained strong on the Eastern Front and the majority of the war industry would have continued to produce at increasingly prodigious rates. Would the Soviets have won as rapidly against a Germany not crippled by oil shortages, with more resources, and with some effective air cover? And of course, if the Germans were largely free to concentrate on the night raids, what would the effect have been on the British raids?

    3. How do you pay for all those resources that the US is freely giving away? Without the US as a co-belligerant, a very significant part of the war material that was provided to the Allies during the war, and certainly the large amounts of food, raw materials (petroleum, bauxite, rubber, etc) that was shipped to the USSR and China would never have been provided. Shoot, just in food alone, the US for all intents and purposes fed the Red Army from 1943 on. Those P-39s, P-40s, Brewster Buffaloes, ect that the allies had purchased in 1939 and 1940 were not going to turn the tide. And without the US being in the war, most of the other weapons weren't going to be built, at least not in the number that were ultimately provided.

    4. Where were the millions of trained men, waiting for arms to spring into combat in 1942? Certainly not in Britian, they were pretty well tapped out. Australia, Canada, and New Zealand? please. And much of the British war material to upgrade forces in the Pacific and India was syphoned off supporting the USSR and not because of lack of delivery for US systems. In the USSR, it was only the entry of the US into the war, and the dramatic increase in aid to the USSR, especially in food and raw materials, that allowed them to put so many people under arms. If the US hadn't entered the war, the USSR would have had to devote far more people to industrial production and farming, Britian would have been broke, and China would have had virtually no capability.

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    1. "Where were the millions of trained men, waiting for arms to spring into combat in 1942? Certainly not in Britian, they were pretty well tapped out. Australia, Canada, and New Zealand?"

      Not that it matters but, all of Canada's trained men that they were to field were in Britian in 1942, and they weren't waiting for arms, they came with their own.

      "And much of the British war material to upgrade forces in the Pacific and India was syphoned off supporting the USSR"

      Lets not forget that some of the British war material, namely planes, were syphoned off supporting the US in North Africa. Nor that Canadian war material, hundreds of rail cars worth, meant for Commnwealth forces already in battle, were syphoned off and sent south to support the newest entry into the war after December 7 1941.

      "Tose P-39s, P-40s, Brewster Buffaloes, ect that the allies had purchased in 1939 and 1940 were not going to turn the tide."

      How about the best fighter of the war? The Spitfire. You should read what the Soviets did with the P-39. Yes, the tide was turned. One Russian pilot in a P-39 shot down two Mustangs in the same day, the Americans made the mistake of taking him for the enemy.

      "f the US hadn't entered the war, the USSR would have had to devote far more people to industrial production and farming,Britian would have been broke, and China would have had virtually no capability.
      "

      The USSR never had a shortage of people, Britain was broke and China virtually had no capability.

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  4. to continue...

    5. If the US hadn't entered the pacific war, and it is difficult to think of a way the Japanese could have bypassed the Phillipines to get to the Dutch East Indies and Malaysia but if, the Japanese army could have attacked the USSR and probably had a fair shot at most of the South Sea Islands and Austalian/New Zealand. As it was, they were increasingly tied down in China and against the US.

    6. There are a few factual issues.

    The British had Mustangs in 1942, they rejected them as fighters (great ability below 10kft) and they weren't very long ranged. It wasn't until the middle of 1943, by a convenient accident, that the British figured out that they had potential as long range fighters and tried a Merlin in one. Without a fully ramped up US production base, and the ability to rapidly re-equip huge American air forces, the impact of the Mustang would have been significantly less. But it wasn't just Mustangs, the P-47s and P-38s both out-ranged their British counterparts and played a significant role as well. Plus, since there would have been no daylight bombing campaign, no one would have seen a real neede for a long range day fighter to begin with.

    In 1942 the primary IJN ship attack weapon was the torpedo and all the armored flight decks in the world wouldn't have saved the British carriers and battleships. Your assertion that "The delay for some British capital units had been waiting for American battleships and carriers to move to British ports, which was caused by the expanding losses in the West Atlantic - which required more ships, which was caused by America joining the war... You can see where this is going" is beyond belief. Why would the US send capital ships to Britian if they weren't fighting the same country? Its not like the US entry into the war caused the Tripitz or Italian fleet to suddenly appear. The submarine war had nothing to do with disposition of the British capital ships. You are arguing that the US entering the war allows the British to win the war without the US entering the war!

    Sorry, I just don't find the analysis compelling. It boils down this:

    If the US had not entered the war, but

    1. The US acted as if it was in the war (and not just things like production, resource allocation, giving stuff away, etc but also things like intelligence sharing, etc)

    2. the Axis continued to act as if the US was in the war but at the same time continued to respect the neutrality of the US.

    the war could have been won without the US actually engaging in combat.

    Neither of those points is reasonable so I reject your hypothesis. But it is interesting to think about.

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  5. Some further factual problems:

    "(When they finally, at immense cost, achieved their unlikely goal of a general fleet action, and were in a position to annihilate the American amphibious forces and put off threatened invasions for years: they sailed around in circles for a while and went home!)"

    1. They managed to attack 6 escort carriers and 7 escorts, hardly a general fleet action at Leyte. Or were you referring to Phillipine Sea where they did even less.

    2. There was virtually no amphibious shipping off Leyte, they had been unloaded and were already leaving. Most estimates indicate fewer than a dozen ships were left near the invasion beaches and it is unlikely Kurita could have bagged even these ships.

    3. Had Kurita continued to Leyte, he may have sunk a limited number of ships, but would have been wiped out in short order by the 400+ Carrier aircraft from the other untouched escort carrier groups, the 300+ aircraft of TG38.1 approaching from Ulithi, the six fast battleships of TF34, and the 7FLT slow battleships which were all converging on his position.

    4. Even had the Japanese managed to sink a significant portion of the amphibious shipping, which was little more than one division of lift, the net effect would have been virtually nil. Even within 7FLT, forget the six or so divisions of lift available to 5FLT, there was more than twice the amphibious lift that wasn't used at Leyte. So no significant disruption of any further invasions.

    Critisize the IJN all you want, there are numerous instances where they clearly squandered opportunity. But at least conform to reality while doing it.

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  6. Dear Anonymous, glad you find the 'what if' musings stimulating. I found your comments interesting, though the vast majority of them come down to my point 'American money and production was vital, American manpower much less so"'. (Particularly talking about campaigns in late 1944 and 1945... not much relevance to a 'shorter' war there.)
    I will leave aside the theory that the British COS never intended to invade France ever... another of the childish squabbles between the various self righteous generals who never listened to each other and wrote endlessly trying to justify their positions later. I think that is wrong, but I am too lazy to challenge people's passionately held theories.
    Millions of men... see India (3.5 million VOLUNTEERS under arms, and only stooped there because no way to use more than 1 million at a time in action). French North Africa, 1.5 million available 1943, very little equipment until mid 1944. Several million more available once France invaded... China... East and West Africa only deployed a single active division each, regardless of available volunteers. Poland, the artificial Allied limit to a 40,000 man corps in Italy was hiding an admitted 80,000 man ration strength, and there were plenty more volunteers. Yugoslavia, only a few thousand tons supplied to activists... what could have been supplied?
    No manpower was not a problem. Equipment and transport was.
    And a comment on the Atlantic. The American warships on 'neutrality patrol' were worth ten times the effort after America entered the war. When I say British warship deployments were held up by the vast vacuum created when America entered the war, I really do mean that the British would have been able to send far more ships elsewhere without the new front opening. A couple of American battleships enforcing neutrality was worth 6 Allied battleships in active duty. 50 american 'neutrality 'escorts worth 2-300 in wartime.
    I suppose it is fair to suggest that the American 'neutrality' situation in 1941 could not have been accepted by the Germans for long.... World War One submarine campaign response is an example... but as everyone thinks Hitlers declaration of war was lunacy, that is a pretty big 'what if' too, isn't it? World War ONe proved you should NOT commit to unrestricted submarine war unless you want US in. I think it is fair to mention that plenty of Germans would have argued for keeping US 'neutrality' as being in their favour?
    Hope that's more to stimulate you.
    Enjoy your musings...

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  7. Dear Anonymous 2,
    I was interested though by your claim that the Japanese carriers relied mainly on torpedoes against aircraft carriers. That jut didn't seem right to me.
    I went looking for carrier losses during 1941-3 in actual fleet engagements, rather than by submarine ambush while sailing in general.
    Indian Ocean raid, aircraft carrier Hermes and cruisers Cornwall and Dorsetshire sunk by dive bombers.
    Coral Sea, Shokaku hit by dive bombers. Yorktown avoids torpedoes, and hit by dive bombers. The oversize Lexington was hit by both.
    Midway, Akagi, Kaga, Soryu hit by dive bombers. Yorktown damaged and reduced to 20 knotts by dive bombs, then hit by torpedoes. Hiryu hit by dive bombs.
    Solomons, Ryujo hit by several dive bombs and a torpedo.
    Saratoga damaged (again, torpedo spotted, but Saratoga too oversize to dodge), and Hornet hit by dive bombers.
    From the above, it appears that only Saratoga was solely a victim of torpedo, and that from a submarine, not a carrier aircraft. Lexington too got hit by torpedo as well as dive bombers, but that seems to say more about converting old battlecruiser designs into oversize carriers than it does about a Japanese reliance on torpedoes. Against modern carriers (or even the ancient Hermes), Japanese (or American) torpedoes were apparently not very valuable.

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  8. I said trained manpower, but lets look at it.
    Indian manpower, see the battle in Burma, Malaysia, etc, enough said, certainly not trained until 1944.
    French manpower, who was it that said:
    "3. Roosevelt 1: Invasion North Africa. Possibly also a useful military exercise to practice amphibious warfare, but it was hardly vital." So no French manpower since it never was attacked, you don't get to be on both sides. By the way, they are not real happy with the UK as opposed to the USA.

    "A couple of American battleships enforcing neutrality was worth 6 Allied battleships in active duty. 50 american 'neutrality 'escorts worth 2-300 in wartime."
    Sorry, just not true. The USA ships that allow the release of British Home Fleet ships were the WASHINGTON (needed to match the Tripitz, which it couldn't do on Neutrality Patrol) and the WASP/RANGER (needed to replace the British Carriers. Capital Ships, not escorts. No US, the British Far East Fleet faces the Japanese Alone and sinks rapidly just like the Repulse and Prince of Wales.

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  9. As for torpedoes, the simple fact is that against modern AAW defenses as deployed from mid-1943 on, torpedo planes tended to die in great number. So lets look at early in the war.

    1. Discount most ETO combat, the Luftwaffe never put any emphasis on ship attack, so most attacks were by dive bombers against ships. Also British ships were never attacked by large groups of bombers at one time.

    2. Feel free to discount Taranto and Pearl Harbor, both were special cases, but look at the damage caused at Pearl Harbor.
    a. 3 Battleships hit solely by bombs (with the exception of the Arizona). None sunk, all back in service in less than 2 months, less than 20 deaths combined.
    b. Battleships hit by torpedoes - all sunk and out for extended periods of time.

    3. Prince of Wales and Repulse - sunk by torpedoes from dedicated naval attack aircraft.

    4. Trincomalee - Hermes sunk by lots of bombs largely because the torpedo planes were being used as level bombers (as well as being conserved for a strike on the British fleet).

    5. Coral Sea - Bomb hits on large carriers (Yorktown, Lexington, Shokaku) result in no losses. Torpedo hits (and poor damage control) doom the Lexington. Shoho sunk by torpedoes but whose counting.

    6. Midway - Lucky bomb hits on fully loaded carrier sinks 3 large carriers (mostly by secondary explosions). Massive hits on last carrier sinks the carrier. Yorktown hit by multiple bombs, out of action for less than an hour. Put out of action permenantly by torpedo hits.

    7. Santa Cruz - Hornet hit by 3 bombs and crashed by 2 bombers, damaged but ultimately disabled by two torpedo hits and sunk by two more.

    At least for the Japanese, the torpedo was their deadliest weapon.

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    1. Lucky hits at Midway?.....surely you jest, the Americans in the devastator torpedo planes that sacrificed themselves to bring the Japanese fighter cover down to sea level giving the SBD's clear path to the Japanese carriers. The SBD hit their marks purposely and skillfully, the US sunk 4 dam Japanese carriers, if you call them all luck then you are not as smart as you think you are....my god, where does the arrogance of you Brits come from?

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  10. Anonymous wrote:

    'British ships were never attacked by large groups of bombers at one time'

    I think you are seriously mistaken here: the air attacks on RN ships in the Mediterranean in 1941-2 were on a scale that would have horrified US admirals accustomed to weak attacks from Japanese carriers. You only need to read some accounts of the battles off Crete to realise the truth of this.

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  11. Dear Anonymous Sept 22,

    you are correct of course, Anonymous August 7, has missed a little bit of history if he thinks that neither the Italian or German air forces ever made significant attacks in the Mediterranean.Operation Pedestal alone saw over 300 Axis aircraft attacking a Malta convoy for several days in a row as 4 British carriers fought them off - losing HMS Eagle in the process.

    In fact FliegerKorps X was a specially trained anti-shipping unit, and was ably supported by Italian professional aviators (you know, from the country that invented the bomber doctrine).

    Here are a few good Wikipedia pages for those who might be interested.

    Malta Convoys.

    Operation Pedestal.

    Battle of the Mediterranean - Crete.

    FliegerKorp X

    Regia Aeronautica - Malta

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  12. It seems to me if we are talking about a European only war but the US is still providing Lend Lease at high levels (although I don't see Lend Lease in this scenario approaching anywhere near the combined production of the US actually did during the war), then the Allies win. It's all a matter of how far you want to see the Red Army push west.

    If we are talking about a war where the Japanese enter, but the US is never involved, things get a lot more dicey. First, no Philippines Campaign means those forces can move into SE Asia and Burma much quicker. Second, no US naval involvement means Japan takes Port Moresby in May 1942 and isolated Australia. Instead of Midway and Guadalcanal, the Japanese Fleet likely takes Ceylon summer of 1942 and begins to raid all those undefended British convoys in the Indian Ocean. This greatly hurts the ability of the British to supply the 8th Army in Egypt. Third, no US daytime air campaign which - for all its errors - did force the Germans to commit much of its fighter strength and gun production.

    Given that strategic situation, what happens in late 1942 and 1943 when the tide of the war turned? Do Stalin and Hitler decide for a negotiated peace between them that leaves Britain by itself? What can Britain really do if it must commit much of its forces to regain control of the Indian Ocean? At best, we have a repeat of the Red Army controlling Europe, but with more dead all around. Britain might technically be a victor, but it's in far worse position.

    Neither situation seems ideal. I think you are discounting the importance of the US being 100% committed to victory to maintain support to the Allies, the morale benefit to everyone that the US is in the war with its ships, planes, tanks, and men, and the improved strategic position of the Allies by 1943 (even though, as you explained, the initial entry of the war made 1942 worse for the British in the Atlantic) and the large number of US troops available to enter Europe in 1944. The British and Canadians alone might be able to occupy Italy, but not invade France.

    After much thought, I have come to the conclusion that the "unconditional surrender" comment was not as bad as many claim. Who really believes that even if a coup succeeds against Hitler, that the Allies will actually have a negotiated peace with the Germans by that time? There is certainly no deal that Britain could accept (Stalin, maybe, but he could likely even make a deal with Hitler in power) that such a Germany would make. Or worse, that future Germans can now say that once again there was a dolchstoss that made Germany lose a war it could have won, meaning there is a much greater chance of a third war? The short term increase in German will and defiance by the statement is offset, I think, by increased resolution among the Allies, and that the certainty of the statement means the Allies have absolute confidence they will win which helps erode long term morale. Certainly, that statement did not prevent the Italians, Romanians, Finns, Germans, and Japanese to attempt to try negotiate at some point (and sometimes succeeded). Which means that ultimately, everyone really did understand that as long as your name wasn't Hitler, something could be worked out.

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  13. Dear anonymous October 2,

    good lateral thinking, and good possibilities.

    Couple of possibilities I throw out there for you to consider.

    If Japan only attacks Britain, France and the Netherlands, and leaves a large, intact, and hostile, US military presence in the Pacific and Philippines unmolested, can the Japanese ever risk taking enough of their military away from the home islands to achieve your suggested win in New Guinea and the Indian Ocean? (They would effectively be in the same situation that was preventing the British from sending the bulk of their fleet from home waters to the Indian Ocean, wouldn't they?)

    If they were willing to take such a risk, would the resulting easy victory promised to an American attack on Japan itself look too tempting even for American isolationists to oppose?

    If the US suddenly declares war on an overstretched Japan, and seems headed for a quick victory, would Hitler feel as enthusiastic about declaring war on the US?

    The thing is that changing one circumstance changes others. You really can't say that if the US is neutral the entire Japanese navy can safely go several thousand miles away. Even when the US Pacific Fleet was smashed at Pearl Harbour, and the battleships retreated to the US West Coast, the 'Indian Ocean Raid' as the Japanese called it was a strictly short term and opportunistic exercise.

    There was never any chance of leaving the main Japanese fleet that far away, even with no US forces closer than Hawaii (and Doolittle even gave them cause to reconsider that idea then... see reasons why Japanese high command finally approved the Midway operation).

    Interested to see what you come back with...

    But as to unconditional surrender not slowing the war... rubbish. It did certainly prevent any successful negotiations (except Italy, sort of), and was a major factor in potential coup members backing out of anti-Hitler plots. The Japanese Emperor issue cannot be underestimated either. (I suggest investigating the discussions of why the bomb was really dropped a bit further...)

    FAs another side thought though, I have often wondered what would have happened if Patton hadn't screwed up in Sicily, and had led the invasion of Italy. He had demonstrated in North Africa his willingness to ignore Washington and do deals with whoever he had to to get results. He may have been able to swing the Italians into actual combatant Allies, rather than make them surrender. He certainly would have been willing to risk the paratroop drop at Rome that Eisenhower wasn't. (Despite comments since, it may have been more mobilising of Italian enthusiasm to resist than has been assumed... They really could fight if they felt it was worth it... And Patton would have been more than willing to appoint a more fiery commander if necessary... Ah, what-if's...)

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  14. anonymous October 2 wrote:

    "It seems to me if we are talking about a European only war but the US is still providing Lend Lease at high levels (although I don't see Lend Lease in this scenario approaching anywhere near the combined production of the US actually did during the war)"

    Would it be safe to remember here that US combined production wouldn't have to reach the levels that it did because without the US forces in the war they would not have to be supplied? Lend Lease was only a supplement to other allies own production. Who was the largest supplier of munitions to the British Commonwealth? The largest part of US production of course went to itself.

    wrote: "Given that strategic situation, what happens in late 1942 and 1943 when the tide of the war turned? Do Stalin and Hitler decide for a negotiated peace between them that leaves Britain by itself?"

    The tide of war would have still turned the way it did if the US had not entered since the US was not involved in the turning of the tide. So why would Stalin and Hitler decide for a negotiated peace?

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  15. Nigel: “The thing that eventually gave the Soviets the maneuverability to drive the Germans back was tens of thousands of American trucks. They were supposed to start arriving in 1942, but between American requirements, and shipping losses, they actually started arriving in numbers in 1944”

    The soviets were driving the Germans back before 1944 were they not? I don’t think trucks were supposed to be arriving in 1942, what they wanted at that time was weapons and Britain and the US provided them in equal quantities. While the Soviets made less than 200,000 trucks during the war they made over a million before and not all were ruined in the opening months.



    The US was still not living up to it’s commitment of being the arsenal of democracy by the end of 1942. A production and supply statement at that time showed that UK and Canadian production of war material in some areas was still larger than that of the US and of overall stocks of war material the US was much behind the other two. It was a wake up call for the US with their much higher population and production capacity. They got serious after that little bit of news.

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    1. Dear Anonymous Oct 25,

      Yes, the Russians made some advances in 1942, and some retreats. The back and forth battles of 1942 and 1943 in Russia look impressive, but neither side had the advantage in manoeuvrability to expand into a proper war winning Blitzkrieg.

      The smashing of Army Group Centre in 1944, and what followed over the next few months (even through winter) was war winning Blitzkrieg .

      Frankly it was tens of thousands of US trucks that made the difference to manoeuvrability in 1944 and 1945.

      So I woud still say more American trucks earlier would have caused more problems for the Germans earlier... (though this raises the interesting point that Germany's losses in high tech elements - particularly armour and air forces - was biased to the western front even as their losses in infantry numbers were biased to the Eastern front... so they might have had more armour available on the Russian front without the US in the war... maybe... they certainly would have had more AA/AT artillery available...)

      Your other point about US production being slow to start, emphasises my point about how much of a reduction of supplies to the actual fighting allies there was.

      It took more than two years for the US to ramp up production to cover both US needs and Allied needs. during that two years the vast majority of US production went to US buildup, and the deliveries - lend lease or otherwise - to allies was much reduced on what it would otherwise have been.

      IN fact a lot of US production statistics are worse than that. For instance the US production numbers in 1942 and 1943 include thousands (perhaps tens of thousands) of obsolete aircraft that were never delivered or used in action. Whereas overseas orders had been pushing for improved types over what the US military wanted/ordered/produced/didn't use.

      All niggly give and take bits, but I still hold that US production supplied to allies in 1942 and 1943 was more valuable than US armed forces participation in 1942 and 1943. And that US neutrality and neutrality patrols were more valuable again to allied shiping and buildups than US armed forces participation.

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  16. Anonymous August 1: "The British would have continued to make night raids and insignificant flights across the channel, but without daylight raids and long range fighters that forced the Luftwaffe to actually fight and bleed, the Luftwaffe would have remained strong on the Eastern Front and the majority of the war industry would have continued to produce at increasingly prodigious rates."

    Reducing the steel capacity of the Ruhr by 80% can hardly be called insignificant and the British also did daylight precision raids. The British had something called Fighter Command which also involved small and medium bombers and flying across the channel to engage the enemy, to keep it short, the Luftwaffe was forced to fight and bleed over it's own territory since the Battle of Britain 1940. Hate to break it to you but the majority of German war industry did continue to increase at prodigious rates. You make it sound like US strategic bombing was more valuable than the British one.

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  17. Larry Huss

    1- Isn't it a little optimistic to have the US not fighting after Germany took the opportunity of the Japanese attack to declare war? I doubt that the German U-boat assault would have been lessened by the US ignoring that. And there goes all the savings in shipping and cargo vessels anyway. In fact, the German navy had been chomping at the bit for a chance to use U-boats without restriction, and their only regret was that the Japanese hadn't let them know in advance so they could have been pre-positioned.

    2- How would any US politician justify, after being attacked, the continued and increasing shipment of materials to the Allies without payment on such a scale as to allow them to equip millions of Indians, et. al.

    3- Without an Allied North African invasion Vichy isn't invaded by Germany, and all those French North Africans aren't recruited, so they aren't available for Italy, France, later on.

    4-Everything I've read about both Germany and Japan points to them only wanting to negotiate after the next big victory, which allow them to keep everything they currently held, at a minimum. The Unconditional Surrender slowing the war's end is a red herring, neither major Axis government would have surrendered any faster than they did anyway.
    5- In 1944 Britain was disbanding divisions due to manpower shortages. Canada had trouble finding new formations to ship overseas due to local political deals.
    6- Wasn't the British General Staff postulating an invasion of Western Europe no earlier than 1945? Sometime after the East Front would have been approaching Berlin? Or perhaps after all the ME 262s were deployed?
    7- The differences in the North African campaign from having only one front to defend against, would have probably meant that Italy would be in the war, for good or ill, on the Axis side until 1944 at least.
    8- And in the Pacific: the Japanese army, undisturbed by the sending of divisions to New Guinea, and the lose of thousands of planes and pilots in the air war, finishes off China, and starts to digest it.

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    1. Point 6: good call. In fact, I understand that bit of strategic horror came from Alanbrooke (known affectionately as "Bwookie" by his main protege and other Empire luminary Monty). D-Day in either 1945 or even 1946: CIGS et al could have got Knights Crosses for such inspired sabotage of the US war effort.

      And this is no mere speculative hindsight; it has serious moral dimensions. How many more innocent civilians would have been murdered by such delay. Indeed, how many more were actually lost due to the stubborn delay of Second Front from 1943 to 1944, and the waste from the Mediterranean sideshow?

      Matt Davies

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    2. Dera Matt,

      I have always thought that the Italian campaign was taken too far at too great a cost. Once the Italians had surrendered and bomber bases in south Italy secured, why not do other things?

      But I am also amazed at the truly weird idea that an invasion of northern France could have possibly worked with the resources the allies had available in 1943 (against the resources the Germans had available in 1943).

      A few questions:

      How many combat ready divisions did the US have ready in May 1943?

      How did it plan to get them to Europe while the u-boat campaign was in full swing?

      What ships could have been diverted to move an extra 50 (untrained) divisions, even if they had been available?

      Where were the thousand odd landing craft needed for the operation? (To paraphrase General Marshall in 1944, 'apparently the problem is all about shortages of something I have never heard of called 'tank landing craft'.)

      How was the German army weaker in 1943 than after the horror Russian offensives of winter 1943 and summer 1944?

      How was the Luftwaffe weaker before 8th airforce had even really started battling it successfully?

      In what possible way could sacrificing against impossible odds the dozen British and half dozen US divisions then available, (particularly with the inadequate shipping resources making it practically impossible to reinforce them)?

      In 1944 the Allies - having pretty much won the u-boat war, had almost 100 combat divisions available, and had adequate shipping resources to keep both them and their supplies coming, and the German army was much weaker (and their air force practically non-existent), and still Normandy was a damn close run thing.

      In 1943 it was simply not possible.

      I will paraphrase 'Bwookie' back at you about an invasion in 1943, "It will end the war, but not in the way we would like'.

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    3. Hi Nigel,

      Encouraging that you can see the wastefulness of the Italian campaign. But Brooke and Churchill didn't: they were its prime movers, as part of the whole Mediterranean Strategy. Moreover, both Brooke and Churchill demanded a yet costlier push to Vienna and Hungary through some of the best defensive terrain on Earth via the Piave and/or Istria into the Ljubljana Gap. Brooke later tried to cover his tracks on the outrageous plan (as with the Dodecanese fiasco), but the written records, including subordinate persistence, make his key role clear.

      Therefore, to simplify: Bwookie = strategic & military knucklehead or feudal-imperialist and anti-republican hero, whichever aspect of his career you regard as more important. I notice he seemed to miss out on even the most token of US decorations in his entire career - please correct me if I'm wrong there.

      On Op Roundup for 1943: your questions seem to reflect the very obstructionism of Brooke and staff in conference with the Americans from Washington to Casablanca. It's a circular argument: get the resources to Africa/Greece/Yugo/Italy, let the campaign drag with Monty's pedantic farces, then decry a lack of shipping and troops in UK for BOLERO. Clever...FDR compromised just to keep such "allies" from yet worse sabotage and petulance.

      As for the your Q on u-boats: they were smashed by late-1942, with one minor month of success (140K shipping sunk) before mid-1943. To paraphrase Mel Brooks: U-boats, schmu-boats.

      Matt Davies

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  18. Hi Nigel

    I think you are being a little unkind to the British efforts in the Napoleonic Wars. While I agree that Wellington's army in the Peninsula was smaller than those deployed in Eastern Europe (though not THAT much smaller) the British remained in the field pretty well continuously from 1809 to 1814, whereas the Prussians, Russians and Austrians tended to fight for a couple of months and then sign a peace treaty.

    On top of this the British were also fighting in the Caribbean, South Africa, East Indies, Mediterranean and Baltic. I think if you used battalion-months of combat you'd find that the British efforts compare well with those of their allies.

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    1. In fact I have had a discussion of this sort of point in another blog called 'Statistical Confusion', where I point out that having lots of divisions fighting while scattered all over the world for several years is actually more difficult than having a concentrated force fighting for only a few months.

      It is interesting that since ancient times, any army can assemble a lot of troops for a big push, but that very few can deploy lots for long periods in wildly separate places.

      Most powers in the Napoleonic war fought short campaigns, and then stopped, at least for a while. Same in World War Two. Only World War 1 and some fronts in WW2 saw long term combat, and the nations that fought on multiple fronts long term had it much harder than the ones that fought in one or two places at a time for campaigns of only a few months at a time.

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    2. "It is interesting that since ancient times, any army can assemble a lot of troops for a big push, but that very few can deploy lots for long periods in wildly separate places"

      The US in the Pacific was able to operate at full strength far from major bases because they had the foresight to have many forward bases such as Ulithi, The Philippines, Guam, Espirito Santo and a few others that allowed them to repair any size warship including the fleet carriers, have you ever seen the "dry docks" they brought from Pearl or the west coast of the US? Many escort or Jeep carriers didnt operate as carriers in the strict sense, they were aircraft supply ships that kept the offensive carriers supplied with planes as they were shot down, damaged by AA, landing accidents and some escort carriers were floating aircraft repair shops. The US also had dozens and dozens of support ships that did a myriad of jobs that kept the US Navy at full strength for the duration of the Pacific War. The Japanese themselves were amazed at the US ability to stay at full strength so far from Pearl Harbor or even the West Coast of the US...The Japanese just never really had any chance of victory with that type of planning and foresight to have such capable facilities keeping the US forces so well supplied with whatever was needed and wherever it was needed...

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  19. You commonwealth sure love doing your level best to downplay the US role in WW2....what the hell is your guys frikin problem? Are you all that dam jealous of us?.....grow the hell up...I sure didnt see many Brit divisions at all those islands during Mac's Island hopping Capmaign...we got along just fine without you. The US Navy and Airforce far outdid any British units in either theatre. The US Mustang, Hellcat, Lightning and Corsair far outfought any plane fielded by you Brits....think I'm lying?...check the numbers of how many enemy planes each of those shot down, the Spit comes no where near any of those US planes....time for a re-think guys...

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    1. The mustang was a British design mounting a British engine. It was also inferior to the marques of spitfire that were contemporary to its development. There were far more P-51's than spitfires, which would explain your statistics. Divide by the number f planes fielded.

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    2. The Mustang was a design conceived AND built by the North American Company from a specification given directly to the North American Company from the British Purchasing Commission and was ready for flight 102 days afterwards. The Mustang was inferior to the Spitfire at altitudes above 10,000 feet until mated with the Rolls-Royce engine, then there is NO question its wing design and long-range capability made it the finest fighter of the war fielded by any country. More enemy aircraft were shotdown by Mustang pilots than any other allied fighter....the F6F is a close second, then came the p-47...the war could have NOT been won without American involvement, but the US was not the only reason the Allies won the war, all allies giving what the could were the reasons for allied victory...

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    3. In practical terms of course, how many planes were shot down is more effected by who they were shooting down than how good they were. The poor old buffalo, which was pretty hopeless, had a very effective rate at shooting down pathetic Russian pilots in theoretically more advanced planes when being used by good Finnish pilots. The oldest German designs had phenomenal success on the Eastern front for the same reason, even though they had failed to break even in the Battle of Britain. Again the issue was bad Russian pilots.

      By 1944 or 1945 German and japanese pilots were being thrown into the air with only a couple of hours of training, so massive kill numbers could probably have still been achieved by Buffalos and Hurricanes and P40's with good pilots. The fact that the Mariana's Turkey Shoot was such a wipeout was due more to pilot skill than plane quality.

      It always helps to have a fancier plane, and in even matches that might be vital. But generally massive kill rates tell you more about the failures of your opponents pilot training, than the superiority of your engineers.

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  21. I think you are approaching this backwards.

    It isn't that the entry of the US into the war made things take longer than they would have otherwise.

    It is that the entry of Japan into the war made things take longer.

    Why should anyone be surprised that introducing a new enemy and forcing the diversion of resources to fight it should delay the fight against the first enemy?

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    1. Correct of course, so I will put it another way.

      The German decision to declare war on Japan was made on teh very god grounds that if the US was only fighting Japan, then the Germans could not try and defeat Britain by Uboat.

      Hitler, possibly correctly given the sinking stats for 42-43, believed that declaring war on the US gave him a better chance of victory.

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    2. I'm sure that was Hitler's thinking, because no doubt he knew that the USA wouldn't immediately institute a coastal convoy system, thus giving the Uboats their second happy time. Old Adolf was a natural clairvoyant...just look how it turned out for him.

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    3. Well Hitler was pretty good about picking which Western politicians would act stupidly... from 1936-1940 he had 100% success. Pity Stalin wasn't Western...

      In practical terms, having failed to invade Britain, and apparently failed to knock out Russia in a single blow, Hitler needed to get out of a two front war. Given that the WW1 U-boat campaign came close to working, he was not being entirely stupid to throw more eggs into that basket. Seeing the USN had been more and more active against the Germans anyway, he was just taking an opportunity to get in ahead of what seemed inevitable, and get a head start on his own terms.

      And you will note that it almost worked. The only time the U-boat campaign came close to wining was 1942.

      Never underestimate a madman with genuine insight. Alexander the Great, Attila the Hun, and Ghenghis Khan were all madmen who knew how to grab a good opportunity...

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  22. You make a good point. I agree that Americans should have just supplied arms and let the "Military Professionals" do all the fighting. Just think of all the debt we could have avoided along with the loss of American lives in WW2.

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    1. Well exactly. Britain won the Napoleonic wars by letting Austria and Prussia do most of the dying. Why not US do the same in WW2?

      (Yes that is sarcasm, but yes it is nonetheless a serious point. The economic power often IS better off providing money and shipping materiels to people rich but tech poor nations rather than reducing it's skilled work force to get footsloggers to the front.)

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