125 Things you May Not Know about World War 2

1).  Britain and France had a decisive strategic advantage over Germany when they declared war in 1939:  With the exception of Germany having a bigger air force the British and French allies held all other strategic advantages.  This included bigger naval forces, more tanks and artillery, more manpower (remember the colonial empires), superior industry, economies and access to worldwide resources.  This is why it was important for the German leadership to attack France as quickly as possible and why the British and French in 1939-1940 did not attack Germany because they knew that as time passed they would outproduce Germany and enlist more manpower.  Germany did not beat France in 1940 due to material factors but to her superior military doctrine, aggressive operations and superior communications.

2).  German occupied Europe had more manpower, industry, and resources than the Soviet Union, especially by 1942: One of the biggest myths of the war was of the Germans being horribly outnumbered and outgunned on the Eastern Front.  In one sense it is true that Germany and her allies were usually outnumbered in men and weapons against the Soviets but the ratio of forces was far smaller than usually thought, certainly rarely over 1.5 or 2.0 until late in the war.  What is false though is the idea that the Soviets had more manpower, resources, or industry than German dominated Europe.  After the Fall of France in 1940 the Germans and her European allies were superior to Russia in these regards and after the 1941 campaign in Russia that overran her industrial and economic heartland this was much more so of the case.  That the Russians were usually able to produce more weapons and deploy more manpower on the front has more to do with effective Russian production, inefficient German production, the effects of the combined bombing campaign, and the fact Russia could focus her forces on a single land front while Germany fought on 3 eventually. 

3).  Germany won her battles and campaigns when she had inferior tanks to the allies but lost them after her tanks were superior:  While German super tanks like Panthers and Tigers are idolized versus the less glorified Shermans, and other allied tanks, it should be noted that the former tanks never really helped win Germany any major battles or campaigns.  In 1940 the French had more and better tanks than Germany and lost.  From 1941-1942 Rommel beat off masses of superior British tanks.  On the Eastern Front in 1941-1942 the Germans beat Russian forces in battle constantly despite the superiority of the T-34s and KV-1s.  Meanwhile after the introduction of super tanks like Panthers and Tigers in 1943 the Germans lost every major battle from Kursk to Berlin.  Tanks were merely one facet of warfare, and the German key advantages in the early years were due to superior military doctrine and combined arms tactics which the allies generally emulated or marginalized by the time 1943 dawned.

4).  Finland was the only enemy nation that was not occupied:  Although Finland was technically never a member of the Axis Powers she was a de-facto Axis partner and the only member of the opposing forces to the allies that was never overrun and occupied.  Finland was a democracy sandwiched between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia and could not be effectively aided by the western powers.  After the unprovoked attack and defeat by Russia in the Winter War of 1939-1940 the Finns reluctantly threw their lot in with the Nazis for self interest in the hopes of weakening Russia and regaining territory lost in 1940.  After fighting Russia again from 1941-1944 in what is called the Continuation War the Finns managed to inflict enough reverses and Russian casualties to motivate the Soviets to offer terms to Finland.  Although these were still harsh Finland maintained her independence and as such remains the only de facto axis member of the war that escaped allied occupation.

5).  Britain and France fought a de facto world war against each other from 1940-1942:  After the Fall of France in 1940 what remained of unoccupied France, and the French Empire, became a Nazi puppet as Vichy France.  Other French Forces, the Free French, wanted to continue the war while the British undertook several campaigns from 1940-1942 against French colonial possessions, or targets, due to various strategic and political factors.  This includes the British attack on the French fleet at Mers El Kebir and the British raid on Dakar, Senegal in 1940; Britain’s invasion and occupation of French Lebanon and Syria in 1941, Britain’s invasion of Madagascar in 1942, and the British and American invasion of French North Africa in late 1942.  Interestingly enough despite all of this there was never an official state of war between Britain and Vichy France.

6).  German bombing killed 500,000 or more Russians during the war:  While literature about the war has often detailed the massive bombing of Germans and Japanese cities, particularly Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo, there is surprisingly little detail on similar German bombing of Russian cities that killed perhaps 500,000 Russians (about as many Germans killed by the Anglo-American bombing campaign).  There is even more mention of the German bombings of Warsaw, Rotterdam, London, and Belgrade than the more widespread destruction of Russian cities.  Besides the admittedly dubious statistic suggesting the Germans killed 40,000 Russians via bombing in Stalingrad in one day most books on the war have little to say about the German bombing of Russian cities.  It does nevertheless provide an interesting counterpoint to the dubious idea that regarding the bombing of civilians in Europe at least that the Germans supposedly had it worse than anyone else. 

7).  The German Navy was crushed by the Norwegian Campaign:  While the Norwegian Campaign is often seen as a brilliant feat of German arms in one sense it was crippling in another as the German Navy suffered disproportionate losses that it never recovered from.  Several capital ships were sunk or damaged, Germany’s fleet of destroyers was butchered, and in the summer of 1940 there was little chance of the German Navy facilitating and supporting an invasion of Britain (which even had the German fleet been at 100% would have been unlikely anyway).  The idea that the Germans ever really had the prospect, or even need, to build a fleet to challenge the Royal Navy is laughable today as it was back then but either way this dream was impossible after the Norwegian Campaign.

8).  From 1937-1941 Japan attacked all of the major allies and expected to win:  Between 1937-1941 Japan attacked all four major allied powers.  In 1937 Japan invaded China and became stuck in a brutal war until her defeat in 1945.  Despite being tied down in China the Japanese provoked border skirmishes with the vastly bigger, and industrially superior, Soviet Union in 1938 and 1939 which led to the decisive defeat of Japan in the battle of Battle of Khalkhin Gol.  Japan also attacked Britain and America in late 1941.  Thus between 1937-1941 the small island nation of Japan, with limited industry and resources, attacked China (the World’s most populous nation), Russia (the world’s biggest country), Britain (the world’s biggest empire) and America (the world’s foremost industrial power).  Spoiler alert for those who do not know how World War 2 ended:  Japan lost.

9).  Japanese atrocities were as bad as German ones:  Regarding numbers and cruelty the Japanese warcrimes from 1937-1945 were comparable to those of Nazi Germany.  Unfortunately perhaps due to Japan’s shame culture, or America and Asian nations’ efforts to prop up Japan and have good relations with her after 1945, these are not as well known as German crimes.    Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the firebombing of Tokyo are often more known to people outside of China, Korea, and East Asian nations where most Japanese atrocities were perpetrated.

However, in numbers and sadism the Japanese warcrimes were far in excess of any American or allied atrocities in China, Asia or the pacific.  Some notable Japanese War crimes include the Rape of Nanking where at least 200,000 Japanese civilians and soldiers were murdered, raped, tortured or abused; the systematic poor treatment of allied soldiers captured by the Japanese (at least 1 in 4 died) and the Bataan Death March where 1000 of Americans and  Filipinos were massacred per day.  Other Japanese War crimes include the inhumane experiments of unit 731 which killed thousands via surgeries, exposure to diseases, experiments in hypothermia and other general unpleasantness, as well as famines which killed millions in China and Vietnam.

Japan was also the only major power to use chemical weapons, against the Chinese, and it should be noted that the Emperor personally authorized the use of such weapons dozens of times.  In statistical terms Japanese crimes resulted in the intentional, or non intentional, death of at least 10 million civilians while Japan’s war in China created as many as 80-100 million Chinese refugees.  The likelihood that most people who oppose the dropping of nukes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki also know about most of these war crimes is probably below 50%.

10).  Russia wanted to play the Western Allies off against Germany but in the end suffered the consequences:  In many modern accounts of the war it is rightly emphasized that Russia did the lion-share of the work crushing the German Army and that between 1941 and 1944 the allies were unable to create a strong second front in France to help the embattled Russian army.  What is often forgotten is that Stalin purposely made a de facto alliance in 1939 with Germany which included giving countless amounts of oil, food and supplies to the Nazis in the expectation that the Western Allies would fight a brutal war of attrition against Germany which Stalin could later exploit to take over Europe.  However, with the swift defeat of France in 1940 this calculus was undermined and in 1941 Russia was invaded by Germany and the two nations bled each other out, Russia lost 27 million people and the main victor of the war was the United States instead.

11).  China fought the longest of any ally, since 1937:  A case can be made that the war started in Asia in 1937, not Europe in 1939, since Japan invaded China in 1937 and the war ended with Japan being nuked and surrendering in 1945.  Considering that the war was a set of inter connected conflicts from Asia to Europe that combined by late 1941 to include all great powers this is plausible.  What is not debatable is the fact that China fought the longest during this period, eight years from 1937-45 while Britain and her empire fought for six, and Russia and America fought for four.

12).  The Chinese Nationalists did much more fighting against the Japanese than Maos Communists:  Despite overwhelming documentation, and common sense, the idea that the Communist forces in China did more fighting, and fought more effectively, against the Japanese versus the Chinese Nationalists has never been decisively quashed.  In terms of the sheer number of engagements, comparing the numbers of combatants fighting each other, the casualties inflicted, and the focus of Japan’s efforts there is no debate that the Nationalists fought most of the battles against the Japanese, fielded far more troops, inflicted considerably more casualties on the Japanese and were the focus of attacks by the Japanese versus Mao’s communist forces.  Today it is well known that Mao purposely avoided fighting the Japanese as much as possible and focused on building strength for the postwar struggle against the Chinese Nationalists.  Considering that today even academics and officials in Communist China’s heavily nationalist, and authoritarian, state acknowledge most of these historical realities proves how false the original myth was.

13).  The Italian Campaign was justified:  Many accounts of the Italian Campaign of 1943-1945 emphasize allied reverses, disproportionate casualties, and disappointing returns for the efforts involved.  However, there were many valid reasons to invade Italy and it did have several important strategic successes.  The allies in mid-1943 simply did not have the resources or combat experience to invade France.  Failing this they had the chance to invade Italy, kick her out of the war and reap several rewards.

Such rewards included neutralizing the Italian Army and Fleet:  The former had dozens of divisions in Europe which the Germans had to replace after her surrender, and the Italian Fleet was the 3rd biggest in Europe and erasing her from the Axis order of battle freed up many allied naval formations to fight elsewhere.  Additionally, taking Italy out of the war opened the Mediterranean completely to allied trade which could now go through the whole sea from Gibraltar to Suez and thus save the British sea routes having to go around South Africa and vastly improved British sea logistics.  On the political level the allies also had to show the Russians they were fighting and since Italy was the only real arena they could do this against Germany from mid-1943 this was perhaps unavoidable.  Finally, even if the Italian Peninsula was not a great place to attack given the logistics, terrain and topography it at least held down many Germany forces that could have been deployed elsewhere.  Given that in mid-1943 it was either a land campaign in Italy for the Western allies or nothing it made sense to attack Italy.

14).  Germanys advanced weapons were a waste of resources:  Much like the attention given to the German super tanks in the latter years of the war too much admiration has been given to German advances in rocketry and jet fighters.  In reality the V-1 weapons were easy enough to produce but besides hitting a big target like London they had little military use.  The much more lauded V-2s and jet fighters were technical marvels but cost to much per unit to be military effective.  Countless more German fighters that had real tactical use could have been made versus every expensive V-2 that could do little more than hit static targets with little more explosive power than a single German bomber.  Even the German jet fighters would have struggled to match allied numbers and would have been hard to be produced en mass many given the allied bomber campaign.  Finally it should be noted that the British Meteor (an allied jet fighter) was also introduced during the war so the idea that the Germans could have won through super weapons is laughable.

15).  The German Army was not very mechanized but based mostly on horses:  The image of an advanced mechanized German army overrunning Europe is pure myth.  From Poland to France, and Yugoslavia to Russia the German Army was supplied mostly from an army of horses.  Whereas perhaps 5-10% of German divisions were motorized the rest marched on their own and depended upon horses for logistics.  Meanwhile the British and American forces were more or less totally motorized and thanks to lend-lease the Russian Army later in the war was as well.

16).  Italys Navy was superior the British Mediterranean Fleet on paper:  Whereas a disproportionate amount of Britain’s Royal Navy, including their Mediterranean fleet, was relatively old by 1940 the Italian fleet was much newer and modern in many aspects.  However, a combination of superior British naval experience, training, leadership and aggression meant that the British navy beat the Italian Navy in nearly every naval engagement including the raid at Taranto, the Battle of Cape Matapan, etc. 

17).  Lend-lease was vital for Russia:  Given that Russia did the lion-share of fighting to crush the German Army, destroying as much as 80% of it, many accounts have downplayed the importance of western lend-lease to Russia. However, while most lend-lease did come after the critical years of 1941-1942 it became crucial to maintain the Russian war effort thereafter.  Around 12,000 tanks, 20,000 planes and enough equipment to supply 60 divisions was sent to Russia.  Two thirds of Russia’s 400,000 jeeps and trucks (which facilitated the Red Army’s impressive advances in 1943-45) was supplied via lend-lease, as was 95% of Soviet locomotives, 90% of train cars and even 56% of Soviet rails; all crucial for Soviet logistics.  Soviet communications were vastly improved by the delivery of 35,000 radio stations, 380,000 field telephones and 956,000 miles of telephone cables.  Other important supplies included 57% of all aviation fuel, 53% of all explosives, and almost half of the Soviets’ aluminum, copper and rubber; all of which were vital for Soviet industry.  While the Soviet leadership often publicly downplayed the value of lend-lease many of their leaders like Stalin, Khrushchev and Zhukov realized its importance in private.

18).  Americas armed forces were vital for winning the war:  Whereas many books on the war, mostly American, exaggerate the impact of American military efforts in the war the exact opposite (arguing that American forces were not important) is just as absurd.  While Russia’s army broke the back of the German Army the British could not have succeeded in the Italian Campaign, or accomplished D-Day and the advance from there to the Elbe without American might.  Likewise American bombers helped make the bomber offensive against Germany effective and the American naval operations, island hopping campaign, and air operations against Japan were the key factors which defeated Japan.  If American forces could not have won the war without the Russian or British forces the same applies for the latter two needing American forces. 

19).  Germanys potential Mediterranean option after 1940 instead of attacking Russia was absurd:  The idea that Germany could have won the against Britain via attacking in the Mediterranean is far fetched and unrealistic.  Given the logistics, distances, naval inferiority of Germany, and her reliance on Italian naval power in the Mediterranean versus a strongly entrenched British presence there it is highly unlikely that the Germans could have taken the whole area from Gibraltar to Malta and Egypt, Palestine and Syria. 

Even had this been feasible, if the Germans and Italians managed to mass enough military forces in this theatre (and ignore the continuously growing power and reforms of the Red Army) the complete domination of the Mediterranean would not have been decisive to defeat Britain or give the Axis a major advantage.  Britain did not need the Suez Canal Canal for trade in the war to survive, and her major oil fields in the region were in Iraq and far to the east of what the German and Italians could realistically have conquered.  More likely the sheer manpower and supplies needed to control these newly conquered territories would have been a burden in the inevitable conflict against the Red Army, and potentially the United States, in the long run.

20).  The French Army was not inept, feeble or cowardly:  The French Army gets an especially bad reputation in the war despite the fact that British armies from 1940-42, Russian armies in 1941-42, and even America in 1943 did not do much better under similar circumstances.  The French forces fought relatively well in 1940, and had plenty of good soldiers and weapons but were let down by poor communications, faulty doctrine, and passive leadership.  France was quickly occupied as she did not enjoy advantages like the English Channel, the vastness of the Atlantic or the sheer size of Russia which saved these other nations from occupation.

21).  Pearl Harbor was not a conspiracy by Churchill and/or Roosevelt to get America into the war:  The idea that America knowingly let the Japanese sink 8 battleships (the most expensive, time consuming weapons of the day to make) just to have an excuse to enter the war is completely false.  There has never been any credible evidence to support this conspiracy theory.  The Americans and British did receive intelligence of an imminent Japanese attacks but it was never deduced in time where such attacks would occur.  Most assumed the attacks would concentrate against British possessions in Malaya, or the American held Philippines but few thought the Japanese would be audacious enough to go half way across the Pacific to hit Pearl Harbor.

22).  The Chinese Nationalists breaching the Yellow River dikes was the worst man made environmental disaster of the war:  In 1938 the Japanese were advancing on Wuhan during the late spring and were close to reaching a vital rail junction that would have been decisive for the quick capture of the city.  In desperation Chiang Kai-shek ordered the dikes along the Yellow River near the Japanese advance to be breached in order to slow down or halt their progress.  This was successful, Wuhan was not taken until much later in the year and the Japanese did not decisively defeat China in 1938.  However, the human cost was considerable with estimates between 500,000-900,000 dead and 3 to 10 million refugees.

23).  None of the major powers used chemical weapons except Japan:  While Italy had used chemical weapons in her war against Abyssinia in the 1930s, and many of the major powers had stocks of chemical weapons, Japan was the only nation to use such weapons during the war.  This was limited to China, arguably because China could not respond with chemical weapons in retaliation while America and Britain could have.  It is noteworthy that the Japanese Emperor Hirohito personally authorized the use of chemical weapons many times, including several instances during the Battle of Wuhan.

24).  The RAF was not vastly outnumbered in 1940 and actually had many advantages:  The idea that the German air force had a big advantage over Britain during the Battle of Britain is pure myth.  The Germans did have considerable more bombers and dive-bombers, but regarding single seat fighters (which were the vital weapon for gaining air-superiority) both sides started the battle with fairly even numbers.  The Germans did had some advantages such as her pilots in general having more experience while they also had more Me-109s than the British had spitfires.  However, Britain had arguably more important advantages regarding radar, an excellent command and control system and especially superior aircraft production.  In fact Britain’s air defense system was probably the best in the world in 1940 and it is debatable if the Germans really had a decent chance of crushing the RAF.

25).  Americas B-29 program cost more than the Manhattan Project:  Despite the massive costs of the Manhattan Project to make nuclear weapons the B-29 program to make state of the art bombers was more expensive.  While the Manhattan project cost $2-3 billion (in 1940s dollars) the B-29 bomber program cost $3-4 billion.

26).  The B-29s were also used differently than intended:  Although the B-29 bomber was designed to fly and bomb from a very high altitude to avoid anti-aircraft, and enemy fighters, the efforts to bomb Japan from such height produced poor results and bad accuracy due to many conditions.  As such Curtis LeMay changed tactics by low level bombing combined with incendiaries bombs.  This was brutally effective against Japanese cities as the low level bombing gave good accuracy while the incendiary bombs wrought havoc with Japanese buildings made out of paper.  The culminating point was in March 1945 when a single air raid against Tokyo killed perhaps 90,000 Japanese in one night (more than Hiroshima).

27).  Kamikaze attacks were actually a rational, effective tactic:  By mid-1944 the Japanese bomber and fighter formations in the pacific were inferior to the American ones in quantity and quality, and given superior American production and mounting Japanese casualties, it was pointless for the Japanese to fight the Americans in the air head on.  As such Kamikazes had the chance to destroy or damage major targets like cruisers, destroyers, carriers, etc, at relatively little cost.  While countless Japanese Kamikaze planes were shot down before hitting anything they did inflict impressive losses on the Americans including destroying or damaging 400 ships and inflicting 10,000 casualties while losing 3800 less experienced pilots and usually obsolete planes.  Whereas in the last year of the war only 2% of Japanese conventional air attacks succeeded about 20% of Kamikaze assaults succeeded.  Many studies after the war suggest the Americans underestimated how many Kamikaze planes would have been used during any invasion of Japan by as much as half while others have suggested that with more numbers, better tactics and munitions Kamikaze attacks could have been effective at stopping the American advance across the pacific.

28).  Malta was the key to the war in North Africa:  Logistics and supply were the Achilles heel of the Axis war effort in North Africa given the distances involved, the limited ports and shipping available to Italy and Germany, and the poor infrastructure in North Africa.  British controlled Malta, conveniently placed in between Sicily and Libya, was in a good position to interdict Axis shipping via submarine and air attacks and did so for much of the war between 1940-1943.  The German General Staff knew this and suggested to Hitler using paratroops to capture the island in the Spring of 1941 after the conquest of Yugoslavia and Greece.  However, Hitler overruled his generals and instead used the paratroops to take Crete in the foolish belief the British could have used it to seriously threaten the Ploiesti oilfields in Romania.  Malta also escaped capture when she was vulnerable in the early summer of 1940 (famously she had only a handful of obsolete planes including 3 named faith, hope and charity) as well as in the summer of 1942 when her air defenses had been pummeled and the British were falling back into Egypt. 

Yet the Axis never attempted an invasion of the island and by holding out, and serving as a naval and airbase, she helped cripple Axis supply to North Africa at critical times such as the winter of 1941 and the late summer and autumn of 1942.  In the end Malta survived a 3 year siege (often helped by desperate convoys launched by Churchill that were attacked mercilessly) and was one of the most heavily bombed places of the war with at least 3000 bombing raids launched against it.  In lieu of this courage and sacrifice the people of the island were awarded the George Cross in April 1942.

29).  The German generals, and regular army in general, were not as clean as they portrayed themselves; it was not just the SS who engaged in war crimes:  Guderian, Rommel, Manstein and other regular army brilliant military tacticians, and operators, are often glorified but seldom are they held to account by posterity by their complicity, or at least turning a blind eye, to Nazi war crimes that were well known to them.  After the war they wrote memoirs claiming ignorance, and non-culpability, regarding any war crimes but historians have since found overwhelming evidence that the vast majority of them were pro-Hitler, benefitted from his regime, and did not care about the plight of the Jews, Poles, Russians or countless other people oppressed groups murdered by Nazism.

Most of these Generals enthusiastically obeyed all of Hitler’s illegal orders under international law which resulted in the deaths of millions of captured soldiers and civilians.  Even the 3 golden German Generals idolized by too many military historians are not untainted:  Guderian accepted bribes and estates forcible seized from Polish land owners, and Rommel was notoriously vain, pro-Hitler, politically naive and Hitler’s favorite General.  Manstein also accepted estates, and bribes, and failed to mention in his self serving memoirs the various war crimes committed by German forces in the Crimea while he commanded there.  Some good sources exposing these myths, and hypocrisies of the German Generals, are lectures by professor Robert M. Citino regarding the German Army in WW2 available on YouTube. 

30).  The Russian Army raped millions of German women, and plenty of Hungarian, Polish, Russian women as well as holocaust survivors:  According to considerable statistics, documentation and other evidence, near the end of the war the Russian army raped millions of women across Eastern Europe.  It is hard to confirm numbers but it seems reasonable based on the evidence to conclude at least 2 million German women were raped and perhaps 50,000 Hungarian women in Budapest at the end of the war as well.  Even Polish and Russian women captured by the Germans, and holocaust survivors were caught up in this frenzy.  Needless to say such accusations have not gone well with Russian Nationalists and authors such as Antony Beevor who have highlighted such instances in their writings, have often been threatened or denounced.

31).  The Americans took very very few Japanese prisoners.  Some of this was due to the suicidal tendencies of Japanese Soldiers, but often it was pure racism:  Although it is well documented that Japanese soldiers were often fanatical, suicidal, fought to the end, or even played dead only to attack unsuspecting enemy soldiers, it seems as though the Americans were not in a habit of taking prisoners.  Some of this was due to the considerations mentioned above but it seems as though racism against Japanese, and anger over Pearl Harbor, also combined with these to produce very few Japanese soldiers being taken prisoners during the war.  This frustrated American intelligence officers who wanted to take Japanese soldiers alive and apparently the most effective means to encourage GIs to take Japanese prisoners was to promise them ice cream if they did so.

32).  British neglect, or even callousness, resulted in the Bengali famine of 1943 which killed 2-3 million Indians:  It has been debated how much Churchill knew, or cared, about the famine in India in 1943, as well as how much of this was caused by British policies or natural occurrences, but there is little doubt that British racism, mismanagement and caring more about military concerns, versus the civilian population in Bengal province, created a terrible famine that killed 2-3 million Indians.  While it is doubtful the British and Churchill purposely allowed such a famine to exist it is obvious that they did not do enough to prevent the famine from happening or doing enough to alleviating it once they knew of the sheer scale of deaths.  British Generals such as Auchinleck and Wavell were appalled by the seeming British indifference in London with the latter being outraged that Churchill later seemed willing to aid the starving Dutch much sooner than effectively stopping the Bengali famine in 1943.  Either way it is clear that this dark chapter in British Imperial History was not Britain’s finest hour.

33).  The Japanese bombed Australia:  While fear of a Japanese invasion of Australia was perhaps overrated considering the logistical issues and lack of sufficient troops that were occupied elsewhere, Japan did bomb Australia several times during the war.  The major raid occurred in February on the Port of Darwin to prevent allied forces in the region from interfering with Japan’s campaign against Indonesia.  Other smaller raids were directed against Northern Australian cities, and airfields, in the next few years but these never developed into a significant, or sustained, campaign as was seen against Germany and Japan by the allies in the latter years of the war.

34).  Japan planned to send subs to the American West Coast to infect American cities with diseases:  Japanese submarines were to be sent to the American West Coast near the end of the war with diseases (complementary of Unit 731) to be launched against American cities to produce outbreaks and massive death tolls.  The war ended before this could have happened but it is interesting to wonder if this plan could have worked, and if so how many people would have died via disease. 

35).  The German campaign to conquer Yugoslavia was surprisingly quick and decisive:  Few campaigns in the war are as forgotten as Germany’s conquest of Yugoslavia in April 1941.  Despite the rugged, mountainous terrain, and a decent sized Yugoslavian Army, the battle was over within a few weeks.  Yugoslavia was occupied, Belgrade bombed ruthlessly, and the German army suffered about 500 casualties.  Admittedly it helped that Germany benefited from attacks by allied attacks via Hungary, Bulgaria and Italy but there are few campaigns in modern history where such a large country with forbidden terrain was conquered with such few casualties by the attackers. 

36).  However Titos insurgents survived the war and helped liberated the nation:  If Germany’s campaign to take Yugoslavia was quick, and relatively bloodless, her occupation of it was anything but.  Instead a brutal war of insurgency, and counter-insurgency, was waged throughout the rest of the conflict which saw many German deaths and terrible reprisals against partisans and civilians alike.  Although Tito’s communist partisans could not have liberated Yugoslavia on their own (the main  effort was eventually done by the Soviets) they were strong and numerous enough to guarantee that they would be in a good position to take over the country in 1945 when the war ended.  Indeed Tito and his Communists did take power and proved to be one of the very few communist nations that remained independent of Stalin’s grip.

37).  Insurgents/partisans were generally overrated regarding WW2:  The idea of the romantic, glorified partisans in WW2 is vastly overrated.  Besides a few notable occasions, like the French partisans at the time of D-day, the Russian ones destroying German communications before Operation Bagration, and some sensational moments like Norwegian partisans destroying  Germany’s supply of heavy water to potentially build nukes, most partisan movements were either crushed, marginalized or struggled to survive.  In Europe the Germans usually killed 20 partisans for every soldier they lost and even on the vast Eastern front they needed relatively few divisions to retain order.  Same with Asia where Japan managed to control the better part of populated China (100s of millions of people) with 1 million soldiers, a similar amount of puppet troops, and a healthy dose of violence and cruelty. 

38).  Submarines were decisive in the pacific:  While Germany’s submarine campaign in the Atlantic, and even the British one against Italian shipping in the Mediterranean, are well known American subs in the pacific actually had the most success.  Although the American submarine campaign against Japanese commerce was plagued in the first few years by faulty torpedoes, and insufficient numbers, by the time of  Japan’s surrender in 1945 most of her merchant fleet had been sunk, her homeland cut off from vital resources from her empire, and it is estimated Japan would have had to surrender or starve by the Spring of 1946.  On the conventional level American subs were also a major success in the Pacific as they took out close to 1/4 of all Japanese ships sunk in the war despite only representing 2% of the American navy in the Pacific.

39).  Americas Army was not inferior to British or Russian troops:  The idea that American soldiers, and generals, were inferior compared to British or Russian ones is false.  Besides America’s defeat at Kasserine Pass in 1943 and some defeats in the Philippines, and the pacific, in late 1941/early 1942 American forces were generally victorious during the war.  The Russian forces from 1941-42, or British ones from 1940-42, which constantly lost to German forces, did not show superior leadership or skill compared to the few American defeats in this period.  Nor did they show superior casualty ratios, or skill, during the victorious years from 1943-45 onwards. 

Any American setbacks in Italy, France or North Africa from 1942-1944 could be compared to British ones in the same theaters, and the Russians also suffered disproportionate casualties versus the Americans throughout the war.  In general Russian, British and American military tactics emphasized firepower, and numbers, and there is no evidence to suggest that American units on average were less combat effective than their Russian or British equivalents.  The Great Military Historian Antony Beevor (who is British) suggested during an interview that in his view the American military actually learned from its mistakes quicker than the British Army during the war.

40).  France is unfairly scapegoated regarding the prelude and beginning of the war:  While America withdrew into isolationism after WW1, Russia actively partnered up with Germany on the eve of the war, and Britain attempted appeasement and did not bother rearming seriously until the late 1930s, France was left holding the bag to confront German militarism, and the rise of Nazism after 1933.  In this context it should be noted that France had less population, money and industry compared to America, Russia, Britain and of course Germany!  As such it is impressive that by 1939 the French Army managed to have (on paper at least) superior armed forces to Germany at least regarding tanks, artillery and ships.  Perhaps France could have done better in 1940 but at the time America and Russia did nothing, and Britain had minimal forces to help France resist Germany.  Meanwhile France did not have the territory like Russia to outlast Germany in 1941-42, or the English Channel or Atlantic Ocean to protect Britain and America from the Germans as well.

41).  Most German generals were not against Hitler regarding strategic and operational decisions:  With the exception of the invasion of France in 1940 most German generals backed Hitler unreservedly regarding his strategic and operational decisions throughout the war.  This includes controversial campaigns like Barbarossa, Stalingrad, Kursk, The Battle of the Bulge, his no retreat policies, refusing to surrender before Germany was occupied and ruined, etc.  While there was a vocal minority of Germans who stood up to Hitler and disagreed with him on certain things (like Model, Manstein, Halder, Guderian, etc.) even their qualms were mostly military and rarely moral.

42).  Japanese leaders wanted to fight to the death after Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Russia’s invasion of Manchuria, firebombing, blockade etc.  The Emperor had to end war:  While disproportionate literature has dissected the question of dropping nukes on Japan it is not nearly as well known how bellicose, and stubborn, Japan’s leaders were at the time of their surrender in 1945.  Even after two nukes had destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Russian Army crushing Japan’s last big army in Manchuria, firebombing gutted the majority of Japanese urban centers, US subs blockading Japan, and Japan’s economy, industry and society were the verge of collapse many of Japan’s senior rulers wanted to keep fighting in August 1945!  The Emperor had to personally intervene to end the war.  Even after this some Japanese leaders tried to overthrow the emperor, many Japanese leaders committed suicide while others led final suicidal attacks against American forces.  These facts are usually unknown, or at least ignored, by most critics of the American use of nuclear weapons against Japan.

43).  Chinas Western allies treated her terribly:  From 1937-1941, when China was fighting alone against Japan, western powers like America and Britain gave some moral encouragement but little material aid against Japan (in fact American oil and trade was vital for Japan’s war effort in this time).  Ironically first Nazi Germany, and later Soviet Russia, were the main foreign suppliers of China’s war effort from 1937-1941.  However, after 1941 the western allies, mostly America, fulfilled this role.  Unfortunately the British and Americans did not see China as an equal partner despite the latter’s massive sacrifices, her successful resistance against Japan, and the fact the biggest portion of the Japanese Army was tied down in China during the entire war.

From 1942-45 the American-Chinese relationship was often strained as the Americans continuously renegaded on their promises to provide sufficient weapons and lend-lease for China, put off or cancelled campaigns they had promised to launch in order to help China, and offended the Chinese by the arrogance and heavy handed manner of officials like General Joseph Stilwell.  The breaking point was when the Americans demanded control of the entire Chinese forces and Stilwell insulted Chiang Kai-shek so thoroughly that the latter demanded his recall in 1944.  While there were often legitimate strategic reasons why the Americans emphasized priority to the European and Pacific theaters, versus the China one, during the war there is no question that Britain and American broke many promises to China, should have done more to help her and treated their ally in a shameful manner that the Chinese have never forgotten.

44).  China did well given her disadvantages:  Many histories of the war disparage China’s contribution unfairly.  It is true that Japan won most battles, occupied the heartland of China, and that China had to remain on the defense most of the time.  Other allegations about Chinese corruption, poor leadership and training, and infighting between the KMT and CCP also have some merit but this is not the whole story.  China did surprisingly well in the war given her many disadvantages against Japan.  While Japan was an united, thoroughly industrialized state with strong modern armed forces which were well trained and led, China was not united (split between the KMT, CCP and warlord factions), had little industry, military forces that well not as well equipped and the quality of her soldiers and generals varied considerably.  Despite this China survived 7 years of war (a stronger France fell in 6 weeks), inflicted several defeats on the Japanese Army, tied down the majority of Japan’s army for most of the war, and forced Japan to look elsewhere such as South East Asia to expand the war to quash Chinese hopes of resistance.  Few military experts, and diplomats, at the time thought China would last long against the Japanese Army but in the end she fought the longest of any allied combatant in World War 2.

45).  Russia gave countless oil, food and vital resources to Germany from 1939-41, did nothing to help Britain in this period, then whined constantly about Britain and America not helping her effectively after Germany invaded in 1941:  Proponents for the Soviets always brag that the Red Army destroyed the lion-share of German divisions.  However, they inevitably gloss over Stalin’s de facto alliance with Germany from 1939-41 which was decisive in securing Hitler’s eastern flank and providing him with enough fuel, food and resources to keep the German war machine going (remember that Germany was deficient in many raw resources and that the British blockade limited her trade).  This de facto alliance between Stalin and Hitler allowed the latter to concentrate on France and beat her in 1940, and also gave Germany an uninterrupted year to attack Britain in the air, attack her convoys at sea and fight her in the Mediterranean.

However, after the German invasion of Russia the Soviets hypocritically adopted a false morally indignant attitude about the British, and later Americans, regarding what they perceived as western reluctant to adequately fight the Germans to relieve pressure on Russia.  This came to a head during a stormy meeting between Churchill and Stalin in Moscow where after considerable bullying by Stalin an angry Churchill launched into a tirade blasting Stalin for backing Hitler with material aid and doing nothing to help Britain in her darkest hour.  Even though Stalin had needed an English interpreter to communicate with Churchill the latter’s rebuttal was so harsh, angry and focused that Stalin knew what Churchill was talking about and signaled his interpreter to stop until Churchill was done.

46).  The Soviet Union did the lion-share of fighting against the German army, and suffered the worst losses in the war:  Whatever one can say about Stalin, and Communism, there is no doubt that Russia did more to destroy the German machine than any other nation including Britain or America.  Soviet forces destroyed 80-90% of all German divisions and bore the main brunt of Germany’s assaults from mid-1941 onwards.  Without the Red Army, and the meat grinder that was the Eastern Front, there is no realistic way the Western Allies could have defeated the German Army, let alone executed successful campaigns in Italy or Western Europe.  The cost was arguably 27 million Soviet soldiers and civilian deaths which was close to half of all deaths during the war and vastly overshadows the much lower British and American death tolls.

47.  America did the most to win the war against Japan:  While it has been well documented that China held down the majority of Japanese troops, and that British, Indian, Australian and other empire troops, fought major campaigns against the Japanese from Burma to New Guinea there is little doubt that American efforts against Japan were decisive.  It was American campaigns and battles which destroyed the Japanese Navy, reduced Japan’s air force, blockaded her home islands, firebombed and nuked her cities, and threatened to invade Japan itself that decided the war.  Chinese, British, and even later Russian efforts at the end of the war, played their part in the  struggle against Japan but there is no question that American forces played the lead role in defeating Japan.

48).  Japan had the the strongest battleship during the war and it did nothing useful for her:  America and Britain are usually censored for their massive investments in Battleships, before and during the war, but by far Japan was the most guilty given the creation of the tactically smart, but strategically bankrupt, Battleship Yamato.  In terms of tonnage and guns it was the biggest, best armed battleship ever made but it never effectively engaged the enemy and was rarely used thanks to the crazy amount of oil it needed (Japan’s oil shortages got worse throughout the conflict).

Ultimately it was sent on a one way trip in a do or die mission during the American campaign to take Okinawa but was sunk by swarms of American naval aviation, in a barrage of bombs and torpedoes, which proved once more the vulnerability of capital ships to small planes and the folly of needing Battleships in modern warfare.  While the Japanese would have been smarter to invest all the steel, and resources, into dozens of smaller ships like destroyers, they chose a brute force weapon like the Yamato that did nothing important during the entire conflict.

49).  Japans bombing of Chinese cities (especially Chunking) is ignored or forgotten:  Much like Japan’s war atrocities her bombing of Chinese cities is usually forgotten by history.  Students of AirPower during the conflict will most likely list off Rotterdam, London, Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo but few would cite the sustained bombing of Chunking (China’s wartime capital) throughout much of the war.  While Japan’s efforts, and sorties by planes, against Chinese cities during the war were ultimately small compared to later British and American efforts the point remains that while the British were appeasing Hitler, and America struggled to stay out of the war that Japan was bombing Chinese urban centers with impunity.  Certainly the Chinese had less fighters, anti-aircraft and resources to combat strategic bombing than Germany or Japan did against allied bombers.

50).  Japan had by mid-1942 an empire from Manchuria to New Guinea and Wake Island to Burma:  By the time Japanese expansion was more or less halted by the battle of Midway in June 1942 they had amassed a vast, wide empire.  This Empire stretched from Burma to the Solomons, and the Aleutians to Indonesia.  It included much of populated China, the Philippines, Indonesia and most of New Guinea, Malaya and Singapore, Hong Kong and Burma among other far ranging territories.  Regarding dry land the Japanese Empire in 1942 makes the short list of biggest empires in history.  If this includes the pure geographic area with sea lanes, and islands, it is arguably among the top 3 or 4 empires regarding size.

51).  Italy won only one campaign on her own, the conquest of British Somaliland:  The accusation that the Italian forces, Generals and soldiers in general were incompetent, ineffective and lacked courage is unfair.  Many Italian forces, especially working with German forces in North Africa and Russia, did prove to be effective fighting forces much of the time.  However, the Italian military leadership, and forces, were usually not as effective as their German and Japanese counterparts and often needed German help bailing them out of trouble in Africa or the Balkans.  The only real instance of the Italians winning a campaign on their own was versus the small, poorly defended, colony of British Somaliland in 1940 which the British wisely evacuated when attacked by superior numbers and managed to inflict more casualties on the Italian invaders.  In the end this campaign was for naught when British troops overwhelmed Italian East Africa in the spring of 1941 and liberated British Somaliland.

52).  Fighting allied generals like Patton, MacArthur, Montgomery and Zhukov were overrated:  These names are often remembered, and glorified, but while these generals were often skilful and important they were far from replaceable, let alone being military geniuses.  Patton was great on the attack and in maneuver warfare, best seen by his pursuit of the German forces across France after the breakout from Normandy, but he was never really tested in a major crisis or capable of being a supreme commander given his acidic temperament.  Montgomery was a great showman Britain needed to boost morale but his lackluster efforts in North Africa, and controversial generalship in Normandy, and Market Garden, suggests he was not an equivalent to Wellington.  MacArthur was the ultimate prima-donna who was arguably necessary to give hope to Americans (and the Philippines) in the dark moments of the Pacific War but his supposedly great ideas, and operations, were often borrowed from others while his strategic acumen can be questioned by his quest to liberate the Philippines although the strategic merits of this has been fairly questioned since his time till today. 

Even Marshal Zhukov, arguably the most important allied general of the war, does not deserve such high praise.  Certainly he deserves credit for standing up to Stalin, showing smart strategic thinking in critical situations as during the battles of Moscow and Stalingrad, and did much to improve the capabilities of the Russian army.  Yet along with this came a heavy butcher bill (Zhukov was just as willing to expend Soviet soldiers as the average Red Army commander including marching troops over minefields) and petty rivalries with Generals like Konev and Rokossovsky over petty matters which suggests he was not the selfless hero he made himself out to be.

53).  Administrative allied generals like Brooke, Marshall, and especially Eisenhower, are underrated:  Britain and America’s military heads under Brooke and Marshall, and the Supreme Allied Commander of the Western Allied forces in Western Europe from D-Day until the end the war, Eisenhower, are often downplayed or mocked in many histories of the war.  In the case of Brooke and Marshall this is arguably due to their administrative roles in London and Washington that seem less glorious than field commands, while in the case of Eisenhower every mistake, or criticism, regarding the campaign from D-Day to the Elbe is laid conveniently, often wrongly, at his door.  This is unfair as Brooke and Marshall’s major decisions on strategy (especially Germany first), and other vital matters, were vital in shaping the Western Allies’ successful war effort and guaranteeing that British and American forces were well equipped, supplied and led.

Meanwhile Eisenhower has been portrayed, unfairly, as a political General with little combat experience, but he was the best candidate for Supreme Allied Commander because he had superior diplomatic skills, and especially patience, versus any of the other potential commanders like Patton, Montgomery, Bradley or Brooke who would have been more likely to play national interests over allied ones, get easily angered over allied disputes, and forget the political factors which kept the western alliance intact.

54).  Besides submarine warfare South America witnessed at least one significant battle:  During the early months of the war the German pocket battleship Graf Spee raided allied shipping lines until she was found by 3 British cruisers near Uruguay.  The subsequent Battle of the River Plate saw a tactically indecisive result as Britain’s inferior ships engaged the Graf Spee, and despite suffering significant damage, forced the German warship to retreat to the neutral port of Montevideo.  Although not overly damaged the Graf Spee had exhausted much of her ammunition, and taken hits to systems which would have been vital for her to return home.  Meanwhile the British did a deception ruse to suggest that stronger Royal Navy ships were about to arrive.  Faced with a fight he probably could not win, or a journey home his ship could not make, the Captain of the Graf Spee ordered it to be scuttled.  The pursuit and sinking of the Graf Spee was arguably the only notable allied victory in the grim autumn of 1939.

55).  Most lend-lease to Russia did not come until after Stalingrad:  While lend-lease was critical to improve the logistics, communications and capabilities of the Red Army most of came in 1943-1945 (practically after Stalingrad and the crucial years of 1941-1942 where Russia was at her most vulnerable against German forces).  Only 16% of all American lend-lease to Russia was delivered in 1941 and 1942.

56).  Britains involvement was crucial:  While Britain’s war effort has often been disparaged,  compared to the American and the Soviet equivalents, it was crucial to the allied victory.  Without Britain’s navy, and home islands, the Americans could not have set foot in France or bombed Germany.  Without Britain’s Mediterranean and Middle Eastern forces and bases America could never have set foot in North Africa or invaded Italy.  With no Royal Navy or British bases the Soviets would not have gotten any vital lend-lease or help from Western allied forces which were both decisive and necessary to defeat Germany.  In the Pacific British and Empire forces and bases also helped China and American forces, and tied down many Japanese formations.

Britain, with her navy, vast armed forces and widespread bases, provided the glue which allowed the allies to conduct most campaigns, supply each other, and complement their efforts.  After all, outside of the Soviet Union, the Philippines and some small pacific islands what did Russia and America have for strategic bases?  Very few.  What did the British have?  Bases and posts at strategically important points across the world.

57).  Besides North Africa there was plenty of fighting in the Middle East (Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran):  The Western Desert Campaign with Rommel and the British is well known but subsidiary campaigns in the Middle East are often forgotten.  A pro-German Revolt in Iraq in 1941, supported loosed by Germany and Vichy French forces in the Levant, was put down by Britain.  Afterwards a British, and Free-French force, invaded French Syria and Lebanon in retribution for the cost of perhaps 10,000 allied and Vichy casualties.

In August 1941 Russian and British forces invaded neutral Iran, ostensibly to remove the supposedly pro-German Shah from power, but more likely to guarantee the Iranian oil supplies for the allies and to create a vital corridor for British and American lend-lease to support Russia.  However cynical this was there is no doubt that the Persian Corridor was the largest artery of lend-lease for Russia which was arguably decisive to keep Russia in the war and improve her forces.

58).  America originally planned to use the nukes against Germany:  All available documentation and evidence suggests that nuclear weapons were not some racist weapon saved for Japan but were originally to be used against Germany.  In the event America only managed to successfully develop the weapons and test them by July 1945, two months after Germany surrendered.  Given that American Air Force Generals had no problem area bombing (including firebombing) Germany and helped create horrendous death tolls at Hamburg in 1943 and Dresden in 1945 it seems questionable to assume they would have hesitated to use nukes against Germany to end the war had they been deployed before Germany surrendered.

59).  Britain and America backed Communist insurgents globally but this should not be seen as cynical when looking at the subsequent Cold War:  During the war there many insurgent movements that sprung up in German and Japanese occupied territories.  Many of these were communist ones, including French and Italian Communist groups, Tito’s group in Yugoslavia and the Vietminh in Vietnam.  The Western Allies gave weapons and supplies to these groups to fight the Japanese and Germans, distract the latters’ forces, and hopes that the former would give them intel or perform vital sabotage against targets such as railroads and communication targets.

However, after the war when the Axis were defeated, and Soviet Russia emerged as the new menace to Western Europe, America and East Asia, Britain and American actively undermined or attempted to crush their former insurgent allies of convenience.  This could be seen as cynical but it simply represented geopolitics, the balance of power, new strategic priorities, and Western action against what they perceived, rightly or wrongly, as Communist expansion after 1945.

60).  The invasion of Southern France in 1944 was useful and not a pointless distraction:  The invasion of Southern France, especially after the successful breakout of Normandy, is often seen as a waste of resources.  However, given the logistical difficulties allied forces had in Western Europe (such as failing to take a major working port until Antwerp) the conquest of Southern France helped immensely as eventually 1/3rd of all supplies for the allies advancing on Germany came through these southern ports.  Given the small forces needed to take Southern France, and that this helped bridge logistical issues, the invasion was worth it.  This invasion also allowed many allied forces in the Mediterranean, Free French especially, to be deployed into the last battles in Europe. 

61).  Stalin killed thousands of Polish officers and intelligentsia:  Stalin’s betrayal of Poland in 1939 with his temporary alliance with Hitler, and his later betrayal of Poland after 1945, are well known but perhaps the murder of around 20,000 Polish officers and others during the spring of 1940 is less so.  Most of these were killed in the Katyn Forest and after the Germans discovered the mass graves in 1943 they invited neutral observers to show it was the Soviets who had murdered them.  For the sake of allied unity the Western Allies went along with Stalin and blamed the Germans but Churchill admitted privately that the atrocities were probably committed by the Soviets.

62).  Canada had the 4th largest air force and 3rd biggest Navy by the end of the war:  Although Canada’s armed forces were tiny at the outbreak of war by the end of the war conflict they had the 4th largest air force and 3rd biggest Navy. Admittedly the navy was mostly corvettes, or anti-submarine vessels, and of course much of this had to do with the fact that by September 1945 the Axis air, and naval forces, had been crushed, but there is little doubt that Canada’s forces played a notable role in the allied war effort and Canada’s massive contribution is often downplayed by Canadians who prefer Canada’s reputation as peacekeepers.

63).  America produced 50% of all weapons in the war including 2/3rds of the allied total:  While American forces, particularly her navy, air force, and eventual army in Western Europe, were crucial to the allied war effort, perhaps her war production was even more decisive.  There is little chance the allies could have won without American production that made 50% of all weapons made during the war, including 66% of the allied total.  Given that the Axis, especially Germans, often had superior weapons, and usually a better kill ratio against the allies, there is no doubt that numbers were critical in order for the allies to defeat the Axis.

64).  Poland suffered the most proportionately via human terms.  Polish territory was also fought over several times:  Proportionately Poland saw the worst death toll of the war.  Approximately 6-6.5 million died of an original population of around 30-35 million which is roughly 20%!  Even the Soviet death toll was proportionately lower.  To make matters worse Poland was fought over several times including in 1939 when she was divided between Germany and Russia.   Eastern Poland was then attacked by the Nazis in 1941 with their invasion of the Soviet Union, and finally in 1944-1945 Poland was conquered by Russia during its advance towards Germany.

65).  Many German Generals thought attacking France was suicide:  With hindsight the invasion of France appears like a cakewalk but at the time many German Generals were not enthusiastic about the venture.  As already noted the French had more tanks and artillery, her generals and soldiers were respected, and many considered the French Army the best in Europe.  However, a few clever and ambitious generals like Manstein, Guderian, Runstedt and Rommel felt the French Army was overrated and Hitler was convinced by studying French politics and newspapers for years that France would fall quickly.

66).  Indias army in WW2 was the largest volunteer army in history:  While Indian hostility to British rule and Gandhi’s efforts at independence are well known it may surprise some that during the conflict the Indian Army became the largest volunteer army in history.  Starting at 200,000 in 1939 it ended the conflict with perhaps 2.5 million men which served in Europe, Africa and Asia.  The Indian forces lost nearly 90,000 men which nearly matches the combined death tolls of Britain’s dominion countries of Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.

67).  Strategic bombing was decisive (although it took a long time):  There is considerable literature regarding strategic bombing which suggests that the campaign was flawed, ineffective and immoral.  While the latter consideration is debatable a good case can be made that strategic bombing was decisive and important.  In the case of Japan this it is easier to show as firebombing gutted her cities, infrastructure and production and was one of the key reasons for her defeat.  Even regarding Germany the bombing did severely hurt production (especially regarding production targets), more or less destroyed Germany’s synthetic oil capacities, destroyed Germany’s infrastructure by 1945, forced the Germans to produce more defensive weapons like fighters, and distracted vital manpower and weapons to defend the homeland that could have been useful in Normandy, Italy and the Eastern Front.  Notable in 1944 allied strategic bombing either destroyed, or diverted, 50% of German war production which cannot be considered a poor feat.

68).  On the Western front 90% of German casualties were via AirPower and artillery versus 50% on the Eastern front: On one hand Soviet military casualties were much higher versus the western allied ones due to the much higher amounts of forces on the eastern from, the longer period that significant Russian forces had to fight against the Germans, and the often callous indifference of Soviet officers to casualties suffered by their soldiers.  However, the Russian forces also suffered worse casualties because the Western Allies’ advantages in technology, communications, and artillery and AirPower allowed them to often pummel the Germans with firepower before attacking whereas the Russians often had to resort to battering rams of tanks and infantry which inevitably caused more casualties. 

69).  In the Pacific War 47% of Japanese casualties were caused by small arms:  Images of battleships and bombers dominating the island hopping campaign in the Pacific via softening up Japanese held beaches, as well as tanks, and well equipped American forces, overwhelming isolated garrisons of Japanese troops across the pacific are not an accurate representation of the Pacific War.  Almost half of Japanese losses were inflicted by small arms in usually close quarter, chaotic, and personal conditions instead of the often long range death inflicted by artillery and AirPower in Europe.  While American forces in Europe suffered more casualties overall this is deceiving as proportionately those in the pacific were much smaller and suffered a considerably bigger portion of casualties in relation to their numbers.

70).  The vast majority of Germans and Japanese backed their cause and leadership to the bitter end.  The often modern day view that they were coerced, or actively resisted their leaders, is false:  It is true that not all Japanese and Germans were dedicated Nazis, or fanatics, who committed warcrimes or hated enemies which they considered subhumans.  However, the idea that there was a sizable portion of German or Japanese society, let alone among the military establishment, that opposed their leadership, and resisted their worst excesses, is not supported by historical evidence.  The German and Japanese forces fought stubbornly, ruthlessly and usually effectively, until the end of the war while their home-fronts never rebelled, resisted, or seriously questioned the legitimacy of the war.

There were few active resistance groups, or plots in these nations, while after the war these populaces found it more convenient to claim ignorance about war crimes and the evil deeds of their nations instead of admitting their complicity.  Thanks to the advent of the Cold War after 1945 the British and Americans ultimately found it more convenient to ignore most guilty parties in Germany and Japan as they wanted to harness the people in these nations to fight communism.

71).  The Holocaust had supporters across Europe (France, Eastern Europe, Ukraine, the Baltic States, etc:  While Germany never hears the end about the Holocaust much of Europe was willingly complicit in these crimes as well.  Vichy France was rife with anti-semitism and rounded up Jews without any prodding from the Germans.  Poland had its ghettos for Jews, the Ukraine and Baltic states had no lack of willing locals who actively rounded up and murdered Jews, and nations like Hungary, and Romania sold out their own Jewish citizens to appease the Nazis.  On the other hand there were notable exceptions such as German allies like Finland and Bulgaria who refused to persecute their Jews, as well as Denmark who helped her Jewish population escape the Nazis.

72).  Accuracy from strategic bombing was atrocious and remained so for most of the war:  The accuracy of so called precision bombing is questionable even today with GPS and advanced technology but in WW2 it was ridiculous to claim even remotely regarding strategic bombing operations.  A famous study by the RAF concluded a minority of bombs fell within even 5 miles of their targets, America’s supposedly brilliant Norden bomb sight proved to be mostly useless in Europe’s cloudy skies, and even the state of the art B-29 bombers only succeeded when they were used as low level bombers.  In general strategic bombing only accomplished results when bombers were massed, once advanced radar and radio technology were widely available, when elite pathfinder bombers highlighted the main targets beforehand, and Axis anti-air assets could be neutralized or overwhelmed.  The fact that the British and Americans adopted area bombing and carpet bombing and often had to attack the same cities, and targets, over and over again suggests that the accuracy of strategic bombing was anything but impressive.

73).  Rommel was not decisively stopped in 1942 by Montgomery but by Auchinleck:  Whatever deficiencies Montgomery had as a general it was not regarding public relations.  According to many histories Monty inherited a beaten, demoralized army in mid-1942 that was vulnerable to Rommel and that if it were not for his genius Egypt, the 8th Army and the British Middle East would have fell to the Nazis.  This has been exposed as nothing but myths. Auchinleck, having already beaten Rommel in late 1941, also stopped Rommel’s advance in July 1942 at the First Battle of Alamein.  This effectively stopped Rommel’s chances of taking Egypt and ended the  winning streak he had enjoyed since May 1942 which included the Gazala battles, Tobruk and Mersa Matruh.

Although he had been the British commander-in-chief in Cairo Auchinleck had decided after Rommel’s successes to relieve the local commander against Rommel (General Ritchie) and take command himself.  Using the constricted terrain around Alamein, innovative tactics, and focusing attacks on Rommel’s Italian allies, which forced the latter to go to their aid and lose the initiative, Auchinleck won the battle and turned the tide in the desert.  Montgomery and his followers since have ignored or downplayed these successes, as well as placing credit for the planning for the subsequent Battle of Alam Halfa (which had been designed by Auchinleck) with Montgomery.  Finally, it merits mentioning that Montgomery enjoyed considerably more material advantages in soldiers, tanks, planes, etc, than Auchinleck and that after July 1942 the Germans had no real chance of winning the war in North Africa.

74).  America offered Vietnam to China but Chiang Kai-shek refused:  President Roosevelt was known for his anti-colonial sentiment and strove to end Europe’s Empires so it is not surprising that he once suggested to China that it should occupy Vietnam at the end of the war.  However, Chiang Kai-shek, perhaps more cognizant of the centuries of Sino-Vietnamese conflict, and realizing the potential of being bogged down in a potentially protracted guerrilla war, refused by saying “under no circumstances.”  Certainly this seems wise in hindsight given the disastrous French and American wars against Vietnam from 1945-75.  On the other hand Chiang Kai-shek did temporarily occupy North Vietnam after the war, and cleverly negotiated the withdrawal of Chinese forces by forcing the French to drop all their concessions in China.

75).  Paratroopers were overrated:  Histories of the conflict often laud the skills of German paratroopers and shows such as Band of Brothers glorify American ones but ultimately they were not decisive or immensely important.  German paratroop operations in Norway, Western Europe and Crete had their successes but were costly and did little to win these campaigns (the exception being Crete).  Perhaps the Germans could not have won without paratroopers in their operation against Crete but the cost was so heavy that Hitler never authorized an airborne operation again and the conquest of Crete had little strategic benefit for the German war effort.

On the British and American side no one doubts that their paratroopers were elite forces who did impressive fighting in Normandy, Holland, Bastogne and beyond but none of these battles or campaigns would have been lost without them.  It should be kept in mind that paratroopers by design were lightly armed, and reliant on surprise so besides raids or the opening of campaigns they could not operate independently and could be quickly wiped out as was seen at Arnhem in 1944. 

76).  The Western Democracies concentrated their bomber forces on civilians while the dictatorships focused on tactical targets:  It is a historical irony that Hitler, Stalin and the Japanese focused their bombers on soldiers and military targets while democracies like Britain, America and even Canada, hoped to win the war by bombing civilians targets like enemy cities and industries.  Of course this has to be nuanced:  Germany tried a half hearted attempt at strategic bombing in the Blitz while the Japanese also tried some attempts to knock China out of the war by bombing Chunking and other cities.  However, in general the western allied bomber chiefs were obsessed with delivering knock out blows against cities and industries while the Axis and Soviets were more focused on bombing enemy forces to win on the battlefield. 

77).  The German conspirators who tried to kill Hitler were not saints and still wanted to continue the war in the east:  The famous attempt to kill Hitler in July 1944 is often glorified but the conspirators were hardly motivated by altruism.  Certainly they did not favour democracy, wanted to retain much of the territory occupied by the Nazis and wanted to continue the war against the Soviet Union.  They felt little warmth to the Jews, Poles and Russians who had suffered terribly during the war.

78).  In general the Germans did know about the holocaust:  It was convenient after the war for most Germans to claim they were not Nazis and knew nothing about war crimes and the holocaust.  Unfortunately evidence and documentation does not support this.  There were many newspapers which described concentration camps, their conditions and what happened there.  Correspondence regarding soldiers, killing squads and there families often described the details of the holocaust.  Many Germans found out about the final solution from listening to foreign radio stations.  Perhaps most damning was the vast army of volunteers (as in not conscripted) from all walks of German life which were vital to running the holocaust:  Nurses, doctors, teachers, bureaucrats, accountants, tradespeople and industrialists, etc, volunteered to work in the camps and thus knew about their grim purposes.

79).  The Battle of the Atlantic was probably the most important campaign of the war:  While it is hard to know which campaign on the Eastern Front was the most significant to defeat Germany, and western campaigns from the Pacific to France are also debated regarding their importance there is no doubt that the Battle of the Atlantic had to be won to win the European  war at least.  Had the British lost this struggle and therefore could not import enough food to eat, or weapons to fight, so many other theaters and battles would not even have been allowed to continue.  A British surrender would have meant no fighting in North Africa, Italy, France, Burma, etc. 

It would also mean no effective lend-lease via the North Sea or the British held Middle East.  The strategic bombing campaign and blockade of Germany would not have been feasible.  No British base means no American troops on the ground in Europe.  The Americans admittedly could have still fought and won the Pacific War, but the conflict in Europe would have been lost without a victory in the Atlantic since the Russians would not have gotten the necessary lend-lease to adequately improve their forces, as well as the considerable allied forces to fight Germany as well.

80).  Despite the Germany first policy most Americans wanted to fight Japan instead:  While American politicians and generals realized it made sense to fight the Germans, who were stronger and threatened Britain and Russia more than the Japanese, first American public opinion would have preferred concentrating on Japan.  After all Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, American racism was more intense against the Japanese, the Americans sympathized with China since 1937, etc. However, Hitler made the mistake of declaring war on America 4 days after Pearl Harbor and while the Pacific often got more emphasis during 1942-44 than was necessary the American leaders wisely focused on defeating Germany first.

81).  By the end of Operational Barbarossa Russia had lost 4 million troops, perhaps 20,000 tanks and 20,000 planes and most of her industry, resources and a big chunk of her manpower:  Many people today are unaware how massive Russia’s losses were in the last months of 1941.  This included 4 million troops, and maybe 40,000 tanks and planes (effectively what had been the Red Army when the Germans invaded on June 22, 1941).  As Germany overrun the Soviets’ industrial, agricultural and economic heartland Russian Iron, coal and steel was reduced as much as 3/4th, 1/3rd of the Soviet railway network was lost, and Soviet manpower was reduced from 190 million (including territory annexed by Stalin since 1939) to 130 million.  Grain supplies fell by half, Germany’s Empire now had more vital resources to make war (the notable exception was oil) than the Soviets, and Russia’s economy had been temporarily reduced to 1/4 of the size of German occupied Europe.  Russia’s subsequently unlikely survival was due to their cost effective methods of production, German’s likewise inefficient methods of production from 1941-1944, and western lend-lease to Russia.

82).  Hitler and Stalin were both amateur generals who meddled too much.  However, Stalin proved better able to adapt and trust his sound advisors in the end:  Hitler and Stalin were both brilliant political operators but in general were military amateurs.  Some say Hitler was a decent commander-in-chief but realistically he benefited from an immensely gifted military from 1939-42 more so than any strategic or operational brilliance he most likely did not possess.  On the other hand Stalin’s Army was backwards, out of date, and ineffective from 1938-42 (mostly thanks to Stalin himself due to the purges against the Red Army).

The real test occurred between Hitler and Stalin from 1941-43 and ultimately Stalin won out as he was perhaps more willing to realize his shortcomings as a commander-and-chief and began listening more and more to his military experts.  Meanwhile Hitler let his early successes go to his head and never relinquished any real strategic, or often even tactical control, to his generals and soldiers in the field. 

83).  Churchill faced a vote of no-confidence in mid-1942:  While Winston Churchill is seen as the allied cheer leader of WW2, and his speeches and anecdotes are widely noted in most histories of the war, there was a possibility in mid-1942 of him losing power.  While Pearl Harbor had brought America into the war in late 1941 a succession of defeats by German and Japanese forces in the subsequent 6 months took a big toll on the British:  The Japanese conquests of Hong Kong, Malaya, Singapore and Burma, as well as German ships running the English Channel and Rommel defeating the 8th Army in North Africa, severely demoralized the British Homefront and some British MPs organized a vote of no-confidence against Churchill.

While some of the blame in these instances can fairly be put at his door in general Britain was so bankrupt and overextended at this point that it is hardly surprisingly these disasters (and it should be noted the Americans and Russians suffered their share in this period) occurred at the height of the Axis war effort.  In the end British resilience and Churchill’s silver tongue prevailed and the vote of no-confidence was defeated 475-25.

84).  Most military experts and people at the time thought China would lost in 1937-38 and Russia in 1941:  Today most people would think it crazy that Japan invaded China or Hitler Russia during WW2 but at the time few thought China and Russia would survive or win in the end.  China was seen as weak, divided and backwards and would soon capitulate as she had done in countless times since the Opium Wars to the Boxer Rebellion.  Meanwhile the stagnant, oppressive Stalinist regime that had murdered millions via starvation and purges, and had barely defeated Finland in the Winter War was not expected to last long against the supposedly invincible German Army in 1941.  However, the sheer space, manpower and resilience of China and Russia surprised the world and in the end they created quagmires that wore down their invaders.

85).  Hitler would have given generous terms to the British in 1940 had they wanted it:  There is a disproportionate focus on the summer of 1940 in WW2 literature regarding Britain and her decision to keep fighting but it is likely that Hitler would have allowed Britain to quit the war without much cost.  Hitler admired the British Empire and had no designs on it; he was obsessed with attacking Russia and creating living space, but never thought much creating a worldwide empire or attacking Britain or America.  In fact after the Fall of France Hitler sent peace feelers to Britain wanting to end the war without major British concessions but Churchill consistently rejected them.  While with hindsight it is lucky for Europe and the world that Britain fought on there is a case to suggest that Britain was offered an easy way out of the conflict in 1940.

86).  The British bribed Spain to stay out of the war:  For much of the conflict the British paid considerable sums of money to convince Franco to remain neutral.  Franco’s fascist nation had sympathy for Italy and Germany and the latter states had helped him come to power during the Spanish Civil War.  However, given that Spain was bankrupt and devastated in 1939 (the year its civil war ended), and considering she was also reliant upon the goodwill of Britain and the Royal Navy for sea trade it was wise for Franco to take British bribes instead of joining a war that would have done little to benefit Spain.

87).  The British always had a division on standby to take the Canary Islands if Spain entered the war:  Although the British were weary of Spain joining the war on the Axis side they were prepared to invade and capture the Canary Islands had Spain done so.  After all these would have been a boon to either side regarding the Battle of the Atlantic.

88).  Some Jewish terrorists in Palestine saw the British as a bigger enemy than the Nazis:  While the major Jewish military forces, including the Jewish Legion and Haganah, backed Britain against Germany in the hopes they could get concessions regarding Palestine after the war some such as the small Lehi group saw Britain as the main enemy.  In fact they actively sought an alliance with Nazi Germans on several occasions and wanted to negotiate Jewish immigration to Palestine with the genocidal Nazi leaders!

89).  Many Arabs and Arab leaders were pro Hitler:  Perhaps given the repressive nature of British and French colonialism in the Middle East it is unsurprising that many Arabs and Arab leaders saw the Germans as potential allies to rid themselves of the Imperial yoke.  Notable people who admired Hitler included the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, the Iraqi Prime Minister and a then young Anwar Sadat.  Another common interest of the Nazis and many Arabs was anti-semitism given the fighting between Jews and Arabs in Palestine.  However, it should be noted that in general the Arab Street was not pro-Nazi or Hitler and that there were many critics of Nazism in the region as well.

90).  The Canadian Army was not involved in major and sustained combat until mid-1943:  While Canada made a disproportionate contribution to the allied cause; especially regarding the Battle of the Atlantic, the Air-war over Germany, and war production, her main army spent most of the war standing around in England doing nothing.  Besides an abortive attempt to send Canadian troops to France at the end of the Battle of France, the heroic but doomed stand of Canadian troops at Hong Kong in December 1941, and the tragic fiasco that was the Dieppe Raid there were no other significant land actions by Canadian forces until the invasion of Sicily in mid-1943.  This is unfortunate as Canadian forces were keen, motivated and generally effective as can be seen by actions such as the Battle of Ortona, their advance on D-Day, and the Battle of the Scheldt.

91).  On average 1000 horses died in the German Army every day of the war:  As stated above the German Army was never close to being fully mechanized and they relied heavily on horses.  The cost was millions of horses as perhaps 1000 died on average per day during the war.  If you are an animal lover like me this is probably the saddest thing you will see on this list.

92).  On average from the invasion of Russia until Germany was defeated (June 1941-May 1945) the Soviets lost roughly 20,000 dead every day, which was the same amount of British soldiers killed on the first day of the Somme Offensive in 1916:  If you are well acquainted with British military history you may know that nearly 20,000 British soldiers died during the first day of the Somme Offensive in 1916.  This was the worst day in the history of the British Army and has been well documented and lamented.  However, the Soviet Union lost roughly the same number of civilians and soldiers on average EVERY DAY from Hitler’s invasion to the surrender of Berlin in 1945.  To put this in perspective Canada lost 45,000 during the war, while Britain and America themselves did not suffer over 500,000.  The point being that on average every month the Soviet Union lost more people than either Britain and America.

93).  The deadliest day of World War 2 was not in Russia, or even Hiroshima, but a raid on Tokyo in March 1945:  Despite the Holocaust by the Nazis, and the barbarism shown by the Japanese the single worst death toll of any day of the war, in fact of all history, was due to the American fire bombing of Tokyo on March 10, 1945.  At least 90,000 people, mostly civilians, were killed and this outstrips even Hiroshima and Nagasaki (in the short term at least). 

94).  The Axis forces killed far more people, mostly civilians, than the the allies which killed mostly soldiers:  As the Historian Victor Davis Hanson often notes the Axis forces killed a disproportionate amount of civilians whereas the allies killed mostly Axis soldiers.  First off it needs to be EMPHASIZED that the Axis forces killed far more people, soldiers and civilians, than allied forces did.  This may surprise some people given that the allied powers ultimately had massive advantages in manpower, resources, production, as well as the carnage wrought by strategic bombing, nuclear weapons and Russian war crimes.

However, total Axis deaths represent 17-20% (including 4-5% civilian) of all deaths in the war compared to a stunning 77-83% (including 50-58% civilian) regarding allied deaths.  This means that for every Axis civilian death there was perhaps 10 to 15 allied ones while the Axis still killed at least 2 soldiers for any they lost (although on several fronts like the Eastern Front and China the Axis managed higher kill/death ratios).

The lion-share of allied civilians deaths occurred on the Eastern Front, China and Eastern Europe and were mostly the result of genocidal practices, or unnecessary cruelty, that served no military purpose while the FAR fewer Axis civilian casualties were often the results of strategic bombing and nuclear weapons, that were aimed at destroying Axis production and ending the war sooner (although admittedly Russian atrocities and other allied shameful acts like the Bengali famine or American treatment of Japanese captives show the allies were not saints either).  Needless to say Neo-Nazis, holocaust deniers, and ultranationalist Japanese tend to ignore these inconvenient truths.

95).  Japan was an expanding empire, America wanted to be left alone:  The quip that “history is written by the victors” is relative.  While the nations who suffered under Japanese imperialism know a lot about Japan’s war crimes and aggression many people in the outside world, including America, Canada and Western Europe often hear little of this but usually know about Hiroshima and the firebombing of Japan.  The fact remains that after the Meiji reforms Japan was set on making a widespread Empire and kept expanding from her wars again China and Russia (1894-1905), taking Germany’ pacific colonies in WW1, and attacking China, Russia and South East Asia from 1937-1941.

Meanwhile, besides the brief Spanish-American War and some small conflicts America had little wish to expand and get involved in wars during this time.  Again it should be noted that it was German subs that provoked America into WW1 and Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor that forced America into WW2.  Today people often see America as the world’s police at best, or an empire at worst, but in the 1930s had America retreated into isolationism and wanted to be left alone.

96).  The Russian intervention again Japan at the end of the war was arguably decisive but it also created a host of postwar issues that would plague America and East Asia:  The Soviet campaign against Japanese forces in Manchuria and Korea at the end of the war was brief but potentially decisive in ending the war.  Although it has rightly been pointed out that the Russian campaign came around the time of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and that Japan was close to surrendering the Soviet intervention in the war was important in convincing the Emperor that Japan could not continue the war.  The Japanese were shocked by the Soviet attack (indeed they had been hoping for Soviet mediation to end the war) and in a matter of weeks their big army in Manchuria and North Korea was decisive routed and 100s of thousands of Japanese prisoners were taken (a big portion of which would die in harsh soviet captivity.  This, coupled with the American nukes, effectively shocked the Japanese leadership and motivated Emperor Hirohito to surrender in mid-1945.

However, the price of Soviet intervention was steep as it gave the Soviets significant influence in East Asia by their capture of Manchuria and North Korea.  In the former they handed territory, as well as Japanese arms, over to Mao’s Communist forces who used Manchuria as their base in the subsequent last phase of the Chinese Civil-War (1946-49).  This helped Mao beat the Chinese Nationalists in this conflict and led to the establishment of Communist China, and later to Chinese support of the Vietminh which proved decisive in the latter outlasting the French and Americans in Vietnam.  The Soviet occupation of North Korea also resulted in the division of the Korean Peninsula, the brutal Korean War in the 1950s, and the standoff between American and South Korean forces and the brutal communist dictatorship in the north that continues to this day. 

Perhaps Stalin would have attacked Japan without American prodding anyway but there is no doubt that America’s desperation to win the Pacific War as quickly as possible led to quick Soviet intervention which helped America beat Japan in the short term but resulted in long term head aches from communist influence spreading across East Asia.

97).  America executed a single GI in the war for desertion:  Although many American soldiers were charged and convicted of desertion only one, Private Eddie Slovik, was ever executed.  Slovik deserted during the controversial, bloody, and generally forgotten battle of Hurtgen Forest in late 1944 and as American desertion rates increased dramatically in the last months of the European war Eisenhower ignored Slovik’s pleas for clemency and approved his executed in early 1945.  In contrast the Soviet’s treatment for desertion was widespread and bloody, including countless thousands of executions and often the imprisonment of the offenders’ families.

98).  British and American casualties form Normandy until the end of the war were often as equal to the brutal slogs of WW1:  Despite considerable advantages over their predecessors in WW1 regarding firepower, equipment, a far weaker German Army, and the fact that the Russians tied down most of the German forces, casualty rates in the Western Armies in Western Europe in the last year of the war approached the brutal rates of the Western Front in 1914-1918.  Posterity has been kinder to the WW2 western generals than those of WW1, arguably because of their more impressive advances (thanks to advances in maneuver warfare and communications) and less death tolls overall.  But the fact remains that their respective casualty ratios were similar and given the former’s advantages there is little reason to believe western generals in WW2 were superior to those in WW1.

99).  The Germans made jet fighters, rockets and tiger tanks but never a single reliable truck model to ease logistics:  While the Germans produced the best quality tanks during the war, and had a lead in jet propulsion and rocketry they never focused on producing, simple, easy to mass produce, supply trucks that would have been more beneficial to their war effort.  German super tanks, jet fighters and V2s were impressive on paper but their sheer cost and small numbers overall did not make any notable difference in the war.  Meanwhile exceedingly cheaper fleets of supply trucks that could have eased logistics and elsewhere (which arguably could have been decisive in 1941-1942) were never produced or contemplated.  Instead the relatively few rockets, tanks and jet fighters scored some minor tactical victories while Germany’s massive hordes of horses proved unequal to supply her armed forces versus the Western Allies, and eventually Russia, that benefited from fleets of trucks that were much more efficient.

 100).  Germany did not think France and Britain would declare war over Poland:  Hitler was evil, irrational and genocidal but he did not expect a war against the Western Powers in 1939.  Rather, given the appeasement and indifference he saw from them since WW1 he expected France and Britain would back down over Poland in 1939.  As stated above the British and French had the overall geopolitical advantage versus Germany, Hitler’s Generals were nervous about a major war in 1939, and according to Hitler’s doctrine and Mein Kampf his focus was to attack Russia and expand eastwards.  As such it was a real shock to Hitler and his underlings when Britain and France declared war.

101).  The Germans sucked at cost effective war production for most of the war:  Given the myth of ruthless German efficiency, and the fact Britain and Russia often outproduced Germany in many weapons in most years of the war, people are often shocked to realize that according to manpower, resources and industry the Germans should have been able to outproduce Britain and Russia COMBINED after the Fall of France (and especially after the loss of Western Russia in 1941).  However, there are several reasons to explain why German production was sluggish for most of the war.  Firstly, unlike the British and Russians who mobilized their industrial manpower fully at the outbreak of war, including women, the Germans refused to use women initially and often had factories working only 1 or 2 shifts per day for much of the war while the allies were more thorough and usually had 3 shifts working per day.  More shifts and more workers unsurprisingly means MORE weapons produced. 

Another German disadvantage regarding mass production was that the average German war platform (tank, plane, etc.) had far more modifications and specifications versus allied ones, as well as more input from Generals and soldiers, which put production plans in chaos as production models had to be changed constantly which again meant far fewer tanks, planes, and other weapons.  It should be noted that such German modifications often gave significant combat edges to these weapons but since they were heavily outnumbered it really did not matter if the Germans could produce 1400 Tiger tanks versus 50,000 Sherman ones. 

Finally the Germans had countless more models of weapon platforms, usually dozens or more versus a handful of equivalent allied ones, which again means far fewer Axis platforms and weaponry.  As noted in Richard Overy’s Why the Allies Won while the Allies tended to have a few reliable models of aircraft, tanks, etc, the Germans at one point had 425 different types of planes, 150 types of lorries and even 150 types of motorcycle… hardly a recipe to maximize mass production.  Admittedly by 1944 smart measures but Albert Speer increased German production to more impressive levels but the combined strategic bombing campaign against Germany and America’s massive war production meant this was too little, too late.  Germany did produce some amazing tanks and planes that could outfight their allied equivalents but they were never sufficiently superior to compensate for the hordes of allied weaponry.  On paper the Germans should have outproduced the Russians and British and had they focused on production of simple yet efficient weapons (like Panzer 3s and 4s and Me-109s) instead of overly costly ones they arguably could have won before American arms became overwhelming after 1942.

102).  The Finns nearly defeated the Russians with skies, and Molotov cocktails:  Being outnumbered in manpower 50-1, with little industry, resources, or outside help, the Finns did very well against the Russians during the brief Winter War of 1939-1940.  The Russians had tanks, bombers and masses of soldiers but for most of the war the Finns used terrain, mobility, guerrilla tactics, scorched earth, and skies and small arms to inflict disproportionate casualties and hold the Russian advance.  Admittedly Finnish territory was littered with lakes, forests, and poor communications that hampered the Russian’s moves but it is impressive that the Finns with small weaponry inflicted at least a 5-1 casualty ratio, and held out several months against the biggest country and army in the world.  In the end the Russians won but did not inflict a decisive defeat as the Finns, allied to Germany, would attack Russia in 1941 and fight until late 1944.

103).  The Germans did not understand the Russian winter:  The German Generals pretended they were experts of military history but that did not save them in late 1941 when the Russian winter hit them brutally.  German soldiers did not have warm coats, their tanks, planes and other equipment often could not work, and their whole advance broke down.  In what was arguably the overall turning point of the war the German Army was hit hard, pushed back and suffered disproportionate casualties from which it never really recovered.  Even if the Germans had expected that most Russian resistance would have crumbled before the end of 1941 it was sheer hubris, incompetence, and poor planning that they would not have had the proper clothing, equipment and supplies to deal with winter conditions if the war been won and they merely had to occupy Russian territory.  The average person knows that it snows, and gets very cold, in Russia during the winter.  Nothing shows how overrated German efficiency was during the war than this.

104).  The German investment in battleships and big ships was stupid:  Too many histories glorify the Bismarck, Tirpitz, Graf Spee, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau although strategically they won no campaigns or notably influenced the war.  Germany won in Norway due to her AirPower, and better preparations and not because of the actions of her surface fleet (which suffered prohibitive casualties there).  The Bismarck sank the hood, and the Graf Spee had an interesting career in 1939 but both were quickly found, hunted down and destroyed.  Germany’s other capital ships did admittedly tie down significant British naval forces, often messed with British convoys to Russia, resulted in disproportionate raids by bomber command to take them out, and humiliated Britain in the Channel Dash of 1942.

However, none of this affected the out outcome of the war and most of the time these ships sat in port and saw little combat.  Some estimates suggest Germany could have built 20 or more submarines instead of the Bismarck and one wonders how many other subs could have been made had the German navy not built her other over costly capital ships.  Certainly Britain already had an unbeatable lead in capital ships, carriers and cruisers in 1939 and there is no way the Germans had the capacity or even ship building industry to challenge, let alone surpass, this even with their subsequent territorial acquisitions.  Meanwhile the Germans could have invested more in subs, and submarine tech and some of their more modern designs arguably had potential to wreak havoc in the Atlantic. 

105).  The idea that the war could have been ended by conditional surrender is absurd:  The allied policy of non-conditional surrender has been vilified but realistically there was little chance that Hitler, Tojo, or the Japanese Emperor would have accepted such terms.  Again they started the war, supported such grandiose and ruthless war aims, and actively encouraged genocide and an all out fight to the death.  The one supposed exception, the plot to kill Hitler in 1944, still saw the conspirators wanting to continue to fight on the Eastern front and keep much of Germany’s captured territories, rather than surrender.  The Axis leadership who thought they could conquer territories and nations that were superior to them in manpower and resources, and who relied on ideologies that were racist, heavily militaristic, darwinistic, and fatalistic were obviously not the best rational candidates to accept conditional surrender. 

While proponents of conditional surrender express outrage regarding supposed allied stubbornness they have never effectively articulated how the war would have ended earlier with a compromise peace?  Would Hitler remain in power? Would Germany have been able to keep some of her gains?  Would the Japanese have been allowed to keep Manchuria, much of China or other territories?  Would war criminals have been excused and reparations forgotten?  Most proponents of unconditional surrender fail to realize that power hungry, often evil, irrational and fatalistic Nazi and Japanese officials were committed to fight to the death and kill as many as people as possible rather than surrender.

These people were not bean counts, career politicians, or rational actors who by the turn of the war in 1943 suddenly realized they should have made peace but were constrained by the allied declaration of unconditional surrender!  The fact that Italy (that other major Axis player) was allowed to surrender with reasonable conditions in 1943, or that many Japanese die hards wanted to fight to death after nukes were dropped, Russia entering the war, and an impending invasion of Japan by America beckoned in late 1945 suggests that the allies were more reasonable than the Axis were not crazy.

Meanwhile if there was an assumption that the lack of unconditional surrender would have lead to uprisings or coups in Germany, and Japan, that would have led to quicker peace this is again absurd since the German resistance was tiny, that the conspirators against Hitler in 1944 were still committed to fighting the Russians, and that no resistance worth the name existed against Japanese militarism and warmongering in Japan at the time.

106).  It made sense for Hitler to attack Russia:  There is a lot of literature suggesting that attacking Russia was Hitler’s ultimate mistake but it was arguably his best option in 1941.  The British, who had good war production and helped by American lend-lease, were far from weak and vulnerable in the spring of 1941.  With a vastly superior navy, and strong air force, there was little chance of a successful German invasion while Germany’s submarine fleet sunk a lot of ships but was in no position to starve England at the time.  Likewise even a full fledged German and Italian effort to conquer the Mediterranean from Gibraltar, Malta to Egypt would not have been decisive even had it been logistically feasible.

Meanwhile Germany’s land forces were potentially far more lethal against the Red Army in 1941 which was still relatively inept, and ill-equipped, despite Stalin’s efforts to improve its capabilities since his purges in the late 1930s.  Frankly time benefited Russia as she was continuing to reform and improve her forces and Russia’s war production was also superior to Germany’s at the time.  Given all of these factors it is hard to believe that the Red Army would have been weaker in 1942 and since there was little chance of beating Britain Hitler’s invasion of Russia was arguably the best option he had considering Stalin was planning to backstab Germany in the long run anyway.

107).  Luxembourg is usually forgotten despite its key location in 1940 and 1944:  Unsurprising for a small country with little international pull Luxembourg is often forgotten in many histories of the war.  Yet her location saw important fighting during Germany’s offensive against France in 1940 and Hitler’s last gamble in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944.  By attacking through the Ardenne forests of Luxembourg, and southern Belgium, in 1940 the Germans took the French completely by surprise and conquered France in 1940.  Likewise the Germans fooled the allies again in December 1944 and initially pushed back the American forces in France to a significant degree.  Despite this, and Luxembourg’s fair share of suffering in the war, many histories do not even mention the nation even regarding these campaigns. 

108).  The Atlantic Gap was finally beaten by escort carriers and the Azores:  For much of the war a big part of the mid-Atlantic, which could not be covered by air patrol launched from bases in Europe and North America, saw German U-Boats wreak havoc on allied merchant ships.  Without air cover allied merchant convoys suffered disproportionate losses in this area.  Eventually though the allies addressed this situation by acquiring air bases in the Azores (via Neutral Portugal) as well as constructing a fleet of escort carriers (small aircraft carriers) which could launch planes to provide constant air cover for convoys.  These initiatives, along with advances in radar, more escort ships, and better anti-submarine technology, effectively won the Battle of the Atlantic by mid-1943.

109).  The Allies did not fight for democracy, minority rights, religious freedom etc, but balance of power, miscalculation, and being invaded:  Despite the fact that World War 2 was probably the most costly, inhumane, and destructive war in history with unparalleled warcrimes, it is often labelled the Good War; seen as more just than subsequent wars like in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq or previous ones like WW1, the Napoleonic Wars, etc.  Yet the allied causes of the war were generally not altruistic or noble.  China’s war was admittedly pure as she simply wanted to resist Japanese expansion, and be left alone, but regarding the other main allied nations the truth is less palatable. 

It is respectable that France and Britain finally took a stand against Germany in 1939 but it was not about lofty principles like stopping Anti-Semitism or protecting democracy:  There was plenty of hostility against Jews in Europe, including France and Britain, and it is ironic that Britain and France drew the line against Germany by backing Poland (a military dictatorship) while they abandoned democratic Czechoslovakia at Munich in 1938.  Russia initially backed Germany to bleed out Britain and France in what Stalin expected would be a mutual war of exhaustion that he could exploit to ultimately dominate Europe but was betrayed by Hitler in 1941 and fought merely to survive.  American books talk about how the war saved democracy and guaranteed tolerance, and equality, yet America had to be attacked to enter the war and not only were American forces racist against Japanese enemies but also their own black and other minority troops.  Essentially Britain and France declared war to maintain the balance of power in Europe, Russia miscalculated and got punished for it, and America had to be attacked to enter the war.

110).  But despite all the terrible things the war was just overall:  As cynical as the allied cause often was, and even with Stalin on the winning team, their triumph was immensely more beneficial for the world versus any potential Axis victory.  The Germans would not have been as merciful, tolerant and built up Western Europe after the war versus America and Britain.  Meanwhile although Stalinism was not exactly soft to East Germany, or Eastern Europe, they never implemented the crazy genocidal plans Hitler had for the East which deliberately planned to depopulate the region by starving or killing 10s of millions of Slavs and Russians.

Whereas the Japanese were cruel, sometimes genocidal, against a weak China, and others, the Americans not only showed benevolence and mercy to a defeated Japan but also propped her up and helped her become an economic powerhouse.  America would be plagued by the wars in Korea and Vietnam but realistically the Japanese occupation and oppression in both were already bad enough (Japan’s occupation of Korea was exceedingly) cruel while several million Vietnamese died via famine during the war.  Given that Japan killed 10s of millions of Asians in her short  Imperialistic timeline, and showed no tolerance of dissension, is it really realistic that East Asia would today still have the economic prosperity, increased standard of living, and democracies in the region had Japan won?

With the establishment on the UN, along with initiatives to end diseases, attempts to enforce human rights, make mechanisms to prevent wars, and at least attempt diplomacy it is hard to see an Axis led world being more peaceful and progressive (whatever the UN or postwar order failures).  Notably there has been no wars between major powers since 1945 (although plenty of proxy ones admittedly) and it is hard to believe strengthened, and emboldened, Axis powers would have been less bellicose after winning a world war.  It is always hard to calculate the what ifs of history never made but perhaps the best verdict on the justice of the allied cause was summed up by Max Hastings in the conclusion of All Hell Let Loose

“Allied victory did not bring universal peace, prosperity, justice or freedom; it brought merely a portion of those things to some fraction of those who had taken part.  All that seems certain is that Allied victory saved the world from a much worse fate that would have followed the triumph of Germany and Japan.  With this knowledge, seekers after virtue and truth must be content.”

111).  Switzerland stole Jewish wealth (via the Nazis) and never gave it back:  The Swiss love portraying themselves as neutral but they had no problem of accepting blood money from Jewish victims of Nazi oppression.  On one hand this is understandable, and potentially forgivable at the time at least, if you consider that by the end of 1940 Switzerland was surrounded by German and Axis forces and had to accommodate them to survive (the idea that the Swiss could have held out against a German invasion where countless nations had not is a myth and not based on any credible military analysis). What is less forgivable is that since 1945 the Swiss have never given this wealth back or acknowledged these historical unpleasantries after the threat of Nazism was removed. 

112).  The Maginot Line was impressive, state of the art, and failed:  The Maginot Line can be seen as overly defensive but it was remarkable sophisticated, modern, lethal, and arguably the strongest defensive line of either World War. However, despite all of this it was surely a waste of money and resources, with hindsight at least, that the French could have spent creating a stronger air force, modernizing their antiquated communications, investing in anti-tank weaponry, or anything else instead of propping up a static line that was ultimately outflanked and rendered useless.

Besides the obvious defensive mentality it influenced on the French perhaps the most damning indictment was by General Alan Brooke who lamented it “gave me but little feeling of security, and I consider that the French would have done better to invest the money in the shape of mobile defenses such as more and better aircraft and more heavy armored divisions than to sink all this money into the ground.”

113).  America fought on countless fronts:  Many histories of the war emphasize Germany fighting on 2 or more fronts, or Britain’s or Japan’s far fledged campaigns but America arguably had to fight on the most fronts (or at least had to fight strongly on the most fronts).  Russia deserves credit for crushing the German but only had to fight on one front.  China had to hold down most Japanese divisions but again only had to fight on two (if you include her fighting in Burma).

Meanwhile at the height of the war America fielded the strongest army on the Western Front in 1944-45, waged an aggressive strategic bombing campaign over Germany from 1943-45, was heavily engaged in the Battle of the Atlantic from 1942-45, was involved in the bitter Italian Campaign of 1943-45, fought the Japanese along the Central Pacific along island chains to Okinawa, and through New Guinea to the Philippines, and conducted a strategic bombing campaign that brought Japan to her knees.  America did this as well as providing lend-lease to Russia, Britain, China, the Free French and others.  It is fair to point out that the Chinese, British and Empire, and Russian forces all fought longer in the war, and had their decisive contributions to the war, but it is unfair to disregard America’s considerable efforts over many fronts.

114).  The Ford Company produced more weapons than Italy:  According to Richard Overy’s Why the Allies WonAmerica’s Ford company produced more weapons than Italy during the war.  While statistics without context could be considered irrelevant it is surely a sign of how much the allies enjoyed a decisive industrial lead that a single American company could outproduce Hitler’s primary ally.

115).  Britain did ok for herself when she was alone:  While it is often implied that Britain fought a desperate, and losing, battle when she faced Germany mostly alone from June 1940 to June 1941 Britain actually did well given her situation.  She won the Battle of Britain on her own, humiliated Italy’s modern fleet in the Mediterranean, and defeated the far stronger Italian forces in East Africa and Libya.  She also neutralized many Axis and Vichy French forces in Europe and the Middle East.  If Britain did suffer defeats against Germany in Greece, Crete and North Africa she also inflicted disproportionate casualties against German paratroopers on Crete and stopped Rommel decisively during his first assaults against Tobruk in 1941 (the first time the German Army lost a significant land battle in WW2).  Whatever defeats Britain suffered in this period her arms production was impressive, the Axis never gained a notable advantage or came close to beating Britain, and the British accomplished many notable victories despite being more or less alone in the war. 

116).  Germany and Japan never had any realistic chance or means to invade America:  That annoying quote that says “amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics” is ultimately correct regarding military history.  Even forgetting the fact that the Germans did not have the forces or supplies to conquer Britain and Russia, or Japan to conquer China and India, there is simply no realistic way the Japanese and Germans, even together, even had they conquered the rest of the allies, could have built enough forces, amassed enough supplies, or been able to support a campaign against a strong, industrial power 1000s of miles away across the oceans.  What looks good on T.V, HBO, or in military fiction often bears no reality to real military history.

117).  The German Army’s biggest defeat was not in Normandy, at Moscow, Stalingrad, or even Kursk but during Operation Bagration:  The Normandy Campaign, and the Battles of Moscow, Stalingrad and Kursk are perhaps better known than Operation Bagration in 1944 but the latter operation was by far the worst defeat suffered by the German Army.  The allied victory in Normandy was impressive, led to the liberation of France, and bloodied the German Army but the numbers were never on par with those on the Eastern Front and the failure to close the Falaise Pocket quickly enough, and the weeks of indecisive attrition in June-July 1944 suggests it was not a model battle.  Moscow was a decisive battle which saved the Soviet Union in 1941 but the Soviets still took disproportionate losses, failed to encircle many German units, and did not retake significant amounts of territory.  Stalingrad was an impressive feat of Russian arms, encircled and reduced 22 Axis divisions, and pushed the Germans far back but a skilled counter-offensive near Kharkov in the spring of 1943 by Manstein ultimately stopped the Russian steamroller and temporarily returned the initiative back to Germany on the Eastern Front.  Kursk was Germany’s last major effort against Russia and was decisively beaten back but the Germans maintained a relatively coherent defense throughout the rest of 1943 and their Army Group Centre was not overwhelmed.

Meanwhile Bagration quickly overwhelmed the German Army, crushed Army Group Centre along with at least 30 divisions, and advanced all the way to Warsaw in two months.  This time the Germans did not hold the line, manage an orderly retreat or affect a decent counter-offensive.  Instead this successful offensive allowed the Russians to advance south and knock Romania and Bulgaria out of the war, and go North to convince Finland to make peace as well.  Any chance of the Germans holding back the Russians and avoiding defeat was lost in the summer of 1944 by this campaign and it remains the worst defeat suffered by German arms during the war.

118).  Most leaders of the major powers were replaced in the war except Chiang Kai-shek and Stalin:  Of the 8 major warring powers (Britain, France, Italy, Germany, America, Japan, Russia and China) only Russia and China saw a continuity in leadership throughout the conflict.  Britain’s war was not just Churchill’s as it was Neville Chamberlain who initially declared war over Germany while Churchill was voted out of office in mid-1945 and replaced by Clement Attlee who oversaw Japan’s defeat.  For France Daladier was replaced by Reynaud before France fell, while Petain took over occupied Vichy France and De Gaulle led the Free French forces who ultimately won the peace after 1945 (although few observers in 1940 would have bet on this).

Mussolini was in power until mid-1943 when he was imprisoned and while he led a northern Italian rump state after freed by German commandos it was obvious that the allied sponsored government in the south would win the conflict.  Hitler was close to being the only de-facto German leader of the war but with his suicide in late April, he passed on succession (via his will) not to expected successors like Goering and Himmler, both of whom abandoned Hitler at the last minute, but to Admiral Donitz, who resided over what remained of German forces which surrendered within a fortnight.

FDR, who enjoyed a nearly complete unprecedented 4 terms as President, died in mid-April 1945 just on the cusp of Germany’s defeat and was replaced by the feisty, honest, but temporarily overwhelmed Harry Truman who went on to become one of America’s best Presidents.  Japan, which ironically did not enjoy the iron-fisted or decisive leadership as would be assumed, went through several Prime Ministers from continuous war against China from 1937-1945, the most notable of which was Hideki Tojo, who reigned from late 1941 to mid-1944.  To complicate this further the Emperor was not some simple, or innocent, figurehead as he actively supported militarism, expansionism and showed little scruples regarding the terrible war crimes, and excesses, his forces inflicted under his reign.

Only Russia’s Stalin, with his brutal police state (far more expansive and efficient than even Germany or Japan) and China’s Chiang Kai-shek (who was an expert at political survival against insurmountable odds) managed to remain in charge throughout the whole war period, which is perhaps ironic considering Russia and China suffered the worse invasions, deaths and destruction of all countries in the war.

119).  There was a Korean man who had the poor luck of being continuously captured and conscripted into enemy armies across Asia and Europe:  In Antony Beevor’s masterpiece The Second World War we are quickly introduced to Yang Kyoungjongk, a Korean man who was captured and conscripted into what were probably the three most cruel armies in the world.  There is some suggestion that he did not exist but according to historians he was first conscripted by the Japanese (who controlled Korea at the time) to fight the Russians who captured him in 1939.  The Russians held him in a gulag for several years but eventually conscripted him into the Red Army in 1942 after severe manpower losses fighting Germany.

After fighting for the Red Army for a year he was captured by the Germans in 1943 who then conscripted him into the German Army which eventually sent him to Normandy in France.  Captured shortly after D-Day by the Americans he supposedly settled in America after the war.  Forgotten by many histories of the conflict he was the subject of the South Korean movie My Way in 2011 and is now sometimes used as an example of how ordinary people suffered unimaginable fates during a war which encompassed the whole planet.  What is seemingly forgotten in all of this is how lucky he must have been to survive serving in the Japanese, Russian and German armies, as well as the gulag system and the greatest amphibious assault of all time (D-Day).

120).  In Germanys 1942 summer offensive against Russia the Caucasus oil fields were the original target and Stalingrad was not even meant to have been captured:  Stalingrad is arguably the iconic battle of WW2 but this brutal urban battle, and supposed ultimate turning point of the conflict, was originally never suppose to have happened.  The German plan mid-1942 was to cover and contain (not occupy Stalingrad, let alone take the city block by block) while the main  German force was suppose to occupy the oil rich Caucasus oil fields in succession from Maykop, Grozny and Baku (the last on the shores of the Caspian Sea).  Yet inevitably Hitler, in one of his predictable strategic mood swings, decided half way through July that he could divide what were already weakened forces between Stalingrad and the Caucasus and eventually become seduced by taking the namesake city of Stalin instead of focusing on the very oil that kept Russia’s war effort alive.  It is very questionable if the Germans could have gotten to Baku but after Hitler’s interference with the campaign the chances were all but zero.

121).  Japans capture of Singapore was impressive but overrated:  The Fall of Singapore in 1942 is often seen as the culmination of British imperialistic hubris and the efficiency of Japanese arms.  Certainly British racism, hubris and complacency did much to lead to the neglect of Singapore’s defense, as well as the lackluster efforts to defend Malaya and Singapore, but according to most reasonable scholarship Singapore was far from being a formidable fortress (in fact the British expected it would likely fall).

Several studies, and analyses, made by local commanders as well as staffs in London at the time assumed that without decent air power and other strong forces that Singapore would fall, and considering Britain was fighting for her life against Germany and Italy in Europe it is hardly surprising that when Japan attacked that Malaya and Singapore had few real assets and second rate forces available in the Far East.  Given that the Japanese forces had superior naval forces, AirPower, and more experienced troops with better commanders it can hardly be claimed that the British had the advantage.

122).  Stalin could not really have helped the Polish Home Army uprising in 1944:  Considerable ink has been spilt accusing Stalin of purposely allowing the Polish Home Army being destroyed in 1944 in the lieu of the successes of Operation Bagration.  On the one hand Stalin had few incentives of supporting the uprising of a non-communist group that was generally hostile to him.  On the other hand the Western Allies were watching and Stalin had to at least acknowledge their interests and protests.  Yet despite Stalin’s potential reasons for not caring it should be noted  that realistically the Red Army had no decent chance of coming to the aid of the Polish Home Army at this point.

The Red Army had covered massive distances from Belorussia and Poland over forbidding terrain, as well as infrastructure that was either neutralized via scorched earth from the Germans or destroyed via combat.  Their casualties in manpower and equipment were also high; higher than the decisive losses they inflicted on the German Army in fact.  Most crucially the logistics were strained as their lines of communication were now stretched over 100s of miles whereas the German Army could support forces closer to home more effectively.  Clausewitz once described the “culminating point of the offensive” and without a doubt the Soviets had hit this by the time they neared Warsaw. 

It should also be noted that the Soviets had been preparing subsequent offensives towards Romania, Bulgaria and Finland and these were the priorities of Stalin and the Red Army Staff instead of Warsaw which was a city too far.  In the event the Western Allies pressured the Soviets to allow western aircraft to drop supplies to the Home Army but after most of the these were captured by the Germans the Soviets disallowed such attempts.  Again, although Stalin probably had little incentive to help Polish Home Army there were legitimate reasons why he could not have sent sufficient help even had he wanted to.  One thing that should be noted is that even HAD this occurred was it reasonable to expect that a poorly armed guerrilla force like the Home Army could have dominated Polish politics after the war, withstood Stalin who murdered millions, and prevented the Russians from absorbing Poland into the Soviet sphere?

123).  The capture of Moscow in 1941 could arguably have been decisive for Germany:  Given how widespread, and how many nations, were involved in the conflict it is hard to see how a single battle could have been decisive, or won the war, for the Germans.  However, had the Germans taken Moscow in 1941 it is at least plausible Germany could have won the won.  Unlike Napoleon’s invasion in 1812 Moscow was not only the Soviet’s political centre of gravity but also her logistical one.  Even today you can look at European Russian railways and Moscow is the hub.  Had the Russian’s lost Moscow it would have been hard to supply Leningrad in the North, maintain the struggle in central Russia, or hold onto southern Russia in Ukraine, or the Caucasus, given how decisive railway traffic was in the war and that the major railway point in Russia was Moscow.

Two more points are important.  The German Generals realized that the Russians would mass everything in 1941 to protect Moscow so to take the city would involve destroying the lion-share of what was left of the Russian Army in 1941. Secondly, Stalin was committed to staying, fighting, and if necessary dying, in Moscow so that if the Germans had taken it either Stalin would have died or been captured.  Stalin, whatever his cruelness, incompetence or genocidal death toll, was decisive for Russia’s war effort so had he been captured, killed or discredited, it is likely no one with enough power or prestige could have emerged to lead Russia to victory, especially if Moscow’s central logistical position been captured.

124).  The T-34 was overrated, especially after 1942:  Like the American Sherman tank the Russian T-34 was easy to mass produce, maintain and operate versus the more deadly but ultimately costly, cumbersome and relatively few German super tanks like Tigers and Panthers.  Certainly quantity beats quality if the better tanks cannot be produce a k/d (kill to death) ratio that is superior to the relevant rates at which your enemy can outproduce you in tanks, which admittedly the Russians and Americans did against Germany in the end.

Yet unlike the Shermans many historians and others have also suggested that the T-34 was not only an okay tank that could be mass produced but also a high quality fighting tank weapon for most of the war.  Statistics and combat simply did not bear this out.  In 1941, when admittedly the T-34 was superior to any German tank in German service, she was still destroyed in disproportionate numbers versus German tanks (4-5 knocked out for every German one).  Some of this was due to bad design flaws, some due to the poor training, communications and morale of the Red Army at the time, some due to the poor combined armies of the Red Army; and of course some due to the German Army which excelled in all of these areas in 1941. 

Which again illustrates that tanks on their own do not win wars, that the best tanks in the world cannot win battles on their own, and that tanks are just one instrument in a vast and complicated symphony of war.  In 1942, when the Germans T-34 was again superior to any German tank, and where you would expect that the Russians would have learned many lessons fighting the Germany Army, a better destruction ratio would be expected.  Yet her losses were 3-4 for every German tank.  Even in 1943-1944 the losses do not seem to have be better than 3-4 for every German loss.

One excuse for the latter years is that the Germans had super tanks like tigers and panthers but they had relatively few in service, and by 1943-44 the Red Army had vastly improved her efficiency, training, morale, communications and combined arms (all of which the Germans had used with a numerically inferior army in 1941-42 to inflict a disproportionate kill ratio on enemy tanks).  In the end the T-34 never accomplished (at the height of the Red Army effectiveness) a better ratio of being blown up 3 times for every time it blew up a German tank.

125).  The war killed as many as 50-60 or potentially even 70 million people:  Casualty estimates are always difficult given different (or incomplete or missing) sources and documentation, when historians consider the war began (1931, 1937, 1939, 1941), national biases, omissions, if all non-combat casualties are included, etc.  But it is acknowledged that at least 50 million people died in the war which makes WW2 the bloodiest war in history.  While casualty estimates again can be equivocal there are some notable figures: 

Russia lost the most people with 20-27 million.  China’s death toll is more debatable, with ranges between 10-20 million but perhaps the respected historian Rana Matter’s figure of 14 million can be considered a reasonable guess.  As noted earlier Poland’s at least 6 million war deaths by far represented the worst losses proportionate to any country’s population.  Perhaps 12 million died in the holocaust which was not only the murder of perhaps 6 million Jews but also millions of people from other groups ranging from Serbs, Russians, Gypsies, homosexuals, mentally and physically handicapped people, free masons, Jehovah’s witnesses, etc. 

By contrast the Germans and Japanese did suffer significant losses but not as many as the previous nations (and certainly much less proportional civilian losses).  Despite the stereotype of German fastidiousness and record keeping the German death toll usually varies between 5-8 million deaths (mostly military but also significant civilian death tolls via strategic bombing, Russian atrocities, postwar ethnic cleansing, etc).  The Japanese death toll is usually never cited as above 3 million although disproportionate focus has been on American firebombing and nukes.

Italy, the often laughable Axis ally, suffered around half a millions deaths, which is also close to the death tolls of France and Britain (minus their empire or commonwealth forces).  It should be noted that although WW2 did begin an irreversible decline of Italian, French and British influence, and power, throughout the world but in WW1 all of these nations had significantly greater death tolls.  America lost around 400,000 dead which was much higher than the 100,000 or so lost in WW1 while Canada lost approximately 45,000 dead in WW2 versus at least 60,000 dead in WW1.  Besides this Asian, East European and Balkan nations suffered disproportionately and it is hard to calculate all death tolls, misery and suffering on a global scale.

It has always been tempting for historians and latter generations to label WW2 as The Good War, a conflict somehow more noble that Korea, Vietnam, Iraq or the countless wars since 1945 but this is nostalgic nonsense produced by the distance of time, the rise of media which has exposed the true horrors of war since 1945, and perhaps the foolish glorification of historians, and military enthusiasts, who have noted the decisive campaigns from 1939-1945 versus the often micromanaged, politically sensitive, and indecisive endings of wars ever since the event of nuclear weapons, TV, and the rise of populations who are neither nationalist, politically engaged or often adequately aware of the outside world. 

In reality this so called Good War saw more war crimes (allied or axis), torture, bombing and starvation of civilians, sadistic medical experimentation and genocide, and every other conceivable cruelty, betrayal and man’s inhumanity to man than any other conflict BEFORE OR SINCE!  This was often plotted, organized and carried out by cultured, educated and conscientious leaders and people not only in Germany and Japan but Russia, China, Italy, Britain, America and elsewhere.  If World War 2 has been labeled successfully as The Good War despite being the most cruel, bloody and inhumane period in human history what could possibly be called the Bad War?


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A Brief History on the First Year of the “Korean War”

The “Korean War” never really ended.  North and South Korea did not make peace and the rogue North Korean regime which has nuclear weapons, and a massive army, continuously engages in sabre rattling and provocations even nearly 70 years after the conflict ended.  As volatile as the situation seems now it was much worse in 1950-1953 when civil war between both Koreas pulled in America and China and arguably could have unleashed nuclear war.  What was suppose to be a quick conflict became America’s first major war of the “Cold War” and saw dramatic advances and retreats, major victories and setbacks, and ultimately stalemate within a single year.  However, despite its forgotten status and indecisive ending the “Korean War” arguably had a better legacy than most of America’s major wars of the 20th Century.

Korea is like the Poland of East Asia being sandwiched between great nations which have historically wanted to occupy it either as a buffer zone, or launch pad, against enemy states.  The Mongolians tried to invade Japan from Korea, China and Japan went to war over Korea in 1894-1895, Japan and Russia did the same in 1904-1905, and Mao was motivated to intervene in late 1950 during the “Korean War” when American forces approached the Yalu River.  From 1910 to 1945 Korea was a de-facto colonial possession of the Japan which used it to support her occupation of Manchuria in 1931, her brutal war of conquest against China from 1937-1945 and skirmishes against the Soviet Union.

Korea’s fate after “World War 2” was settled at the “Yalta Conference” in early 1945 where America offered the Soviet Union many enticements in the Far East to join the War against Japan which the former assumed would last a few years.  America would continue the island hopping campaign across the Pacific to Japan as well as intensify its firebombing campaign against Japanese cities and naval blockade to starve the Japanese islands of food and resources.  Meanwhile the Russians would attack the Japanese in Manchuria and advance down the Korean Peninsula to further tighten the stranglehold around Japan.

The Soviets invaded Manchuria and crushed the Japanese army there but Japan was forced to surrender unexpectedly via the late development of nuclear weapons which were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 as the Soviet Union entered the war.  With Japanese forces surrendering en masse Russia and America rushed to liberate Japanese occupied territory and it was arbitrarily agreed to split their occupational zones in Korea at the 38th parallel.  As such Korea was divided at this line between what became a communist regime in North Korea backed by the Soviets and a pro-west dictatorship backed by the Americans in South Korea.

With the “Cold War” heating up in Europe, China, Vietnam and elsewhere from 1945-49 Korea was not preordained to become a major flashpoint between Communism and the West.  America and the Soviet Union were concentrated on Europe and the Chinese Communist Party had just taken over China and were focused on consolidating their rule.  However, the North Korean regime was obsessed with reunifying the Korean Peninsula and wanted a green light from the Soviets and Chinese to do so via military means.  This was given as America seemed unlikely to fight for Korea as they had provided little military aid and resources to South Korea versus the considerable modern forces the Soviets built up in North Korea.  America’s failure to include South Korea in their pacific defensive perimeter as articulated by Secretary of State Dean Acheson in early 1950 probably supported this impression.  Thus the Communist Bloc gambled North Korea would swallow up her southern neighbour without serious complaint, or retribution, from America and her allies.

The “Korean War” began June 25, 1950 when the much stronger forces of North Korea invaded South Korea.  The North Korean forces made quick headway against southern forces who fell back in disarray.  Against Soviet expectations America joined the war to help South Korea because they did not want to give the impression America would tolerate blatant communist aggression.  However, the small US forces sent initially from Japan suffered reverses against the well equipped North Korean forces and fell back as well.  Soon only a small bridgehead around Pusan on South Korea’s coast was all that remained as many expected a Dunkirk like situation where American forces would retreat to Japan in defeat.  

Yet things began to tell against North Korea.  America quickly gained aerial supremacy and started providing close air support for allied forces as well as interdicting North Korean supplies.  Additionally, the North Koreans began to suffer logistical difficulties as their lines of communication became severely stretched during their impressive advances.  American and UN reinforcements also slowly trickled into what was left of South Korea to hold the line.  After several close calls during aggressive North Korean attacks against the Pusan perimeter the US and South Korean forces rallied and managed to prevent what was left of South Korea from falling.

What really doomed the North Korean campaign was America’s daring amphibious assault at Inchon in September 1950.  This was risky given the treacherous tides around Inchon, the fact the area was far behind enemy lines, and lack of intelligence regarding the area.  However, General MacArthur’s gamble paid off as the operation went brilliantly and defeated the few local North Korean forces as most of their army was fighting around the Pusan perimeter.  MacArthur remains a controversial figure in military history but he deserves credit in this case.

The results were nearly instantaneous as the North Korean forces in South Korea became cut off from support and resupply and were quickly routed while American forces liberated South Korea.  Of the 130,000 North Korean soldiers who crossed the 38th parallel to invade South Korea only 30,000 managed to retreat to safety.  At this point American and South Korean forces could have stopped at the 38th parallel and declared a ceasefire.  However, the UN and American government gave MacArthur the green light to cross the border and invade North Korea.  

While MacArthur is generally blamed for the subsequent Chinese intervention and expansion of the war this is not completely fair.  Rather than order MacArthur to halt at the 38th parallel while they debated their options the American government and UN goaded him on.  Unlike today in 1950 the 38th parallel was not an internationally recognized border and Truman and his advisors were tempted by the prospect of unifying Korea under a pro-American state and to roll back communism there.  Therefore Defence Secretary George Marshall told MacArthur to be “unhampered” by moving across the de facto Border, the UN set up a commission of re-unification and re-habilitation for Korea, and South Korean forces initially crossed the 38th parallel to be followed by American forces a week later.

Meanwhile China became nervous as American forces advanced up the Korean Peninsula.  While MacArthur had initially been told to only have South Korean forces near the Chinese border this was later relaxed as American officials assumed Chinese warnings about intervening in the war if allied forces kept moving north were bluffs.  This would prove to be a grave miscalculation.  Mao Zedong and the CCP had only just taken over China in 1949 after decades of fighting against the often western backed Chinese Nationalists as well as Japanese forces in “World War 2.”  As previously noted Japan used Korea as a spring board to occupy Manchuria in 1931 and support her war against China from 1937-45.  As such it is understandable that Mao was afraid not only of a potential unified Korea allied to America but that it could also potentially serve as a base for America to attack Communist China.

On the other hand Mao and the Communist Bloc were hardly innocent bystanders.  The Soviet Union and Communist China had given North Korea the necessary material support and green light to invade South Korea while America had more or less forgotten South Korea to focus on Europe.  North Korea and the Communist Bloc started the war and while Truman made the decision to come to South Korea’s aid there were never any American plans to expand the war into China.  Admittedly MacArthur was tempted by this but there was never any real chance of America doing this as the war came as a surprise to Truman and Americans wanted the war ended as quickly and cheaply as possible.  Given that America’s defence budget in 1950 was a mere tenth of what it had been in 1945 America would not have been able to seriously attack China even if she had wanted to.

In many histories of the conflict MacArthur gets a disproportionate amount of blame instead of American policymakers, and the UN, that did not adequately gauge the likely consequences of crossing the 38th parallel which obviously worried the Chinese.  In the event despite China’s recent turbulent history, and wariness of Western powers, Mao’s advisors were generally against intervention in the war but he overruled them and gambled America would not escalate the war unduly if China entered the conflict.  This suggests a more prescient allied policy regarding Korea and stopping at the 38th Parallel might have had a good chance of ending the war in late 1950.  On the other hand since Mao was tempted to intervene in Korea even before the UN forces crossed the 38th parallel and made the decision to do so well before these forces came close to the Yalu river suggests that both sides did not do as much as they could have to avoid escalating the conflict.  While Sun Tzu recommends in “The Art of War” to “know the enemy and know yourself” it is clear America and China in 1950 knew themselves but not each other, especially regarding intentions.

Either way Chinese forces, lightly equipped and mobile, mostly escaped American detection while being mobilized near the Yalu river in late 1950 and after being unleashed produced a series of reserves on American, and allied, forces and made them retreat from North Korea and much of South Korea once more.  America’s mechanized forces were relatively spread out, their lines of communication stretched, and at a disadvantage in North Korea’s broken terrain while the Chinese foot borne army utilized their numerical superiority, and mobility, to exploit the terrain to often surround and ambush American forces.   However, while Chinese forces deserve credit for inflicting reverses on a superior equipped and technological army the extent of the damage has often been exaggerated.  Certainly battles such as “Chosin Reservoir” suggests that parts of American retreat (especially regarding American marines) were conducted with considerable skill, the Chinese took disproportionate casualties throughout this campaign and whatever defeats the US Army suffered it was never routed or lost a significant amount of prisoners.  During the whole war approximately 7000 American soldiers were captured and this was a small number compared to the other major combatants as well as the total number of American soldiers who served in Korea.

Perhaps the worst American losses were political and symbolic.  Not for the first time in history was it promised American forces would be home by Christmas and given North Korea collapsed in the autumn of 1950 this did not seem impossible.  But China’s intervention in the war upset this expectation and as American forces fell back, and suffered significant losses, the American people were shocked.  In this period MacArthur failed in his capacity; not only did he fail to foresee and prepare for Chinese intervention (having dismissed numerous intelligence reports) but his conduct of the American retreat was not stellar either as he alternated between despair and arrogance.  Luckily for MacArthur Truman did not sack him as he felt American soldiers in Korea, as well as the American people, would be demoralized and lose confidence in the war effort if such a legend was fired during an ongoing battle.

Unfortunately instead of being grateful MacArthur committed one of the gravest sins a military commander can do in wartime:  Publicly criticizing his political superiors’ policies.  MacArthur was by all accounts an egotistical primal Donna used to getting his way and being publicly adored.  At this point he forgot his place and criticized Truman for not giving him the power to expand the war against China and do measures he felt would improve the military situation.  Yet whereas MacArthur’s ideas would have made sense in an expanded war against China Truman wanted to limit the war and de-escalate the conflict.  Unsurprisingly America, and her allies, were not keen on starting World War 3 over Korea and disagreed with MacArthur’s suggestions.  Therefore MarArthur was sacked for his impropriety and replaced by General Matthew Ridgway who had a solid military career, had done an excellent job managing the retreat of American forces, and was politically astute not to question the American government regarding policy.

In the spring of 1951 things looked bleak for America and South Korea as Chinese forces crossed the 38th parallel, took Seoul and kept advancing south.  However, Communist forces suffered logistical difficulties once more as their lines of communication became stretched, America and her allies continued bringing in more manpower and resources, and Ridgway revitalized his forces.  If MacArthur defeated the North Koreans by a brilliant maneuver at Inchon Ridgway would stop the Chinese cold with attrition via firepower.  Chinese forces may have done well against complacent American forces that were dispersed, and at the end of their supply lines in North Korea, but the farther south they advanced the harder resistance became.  The numerous but lightly armed Chinese forces soon became cannon fodder against reorganized American forces with prodigious firepower from a menagerie of armour, artillery and airpower.

Thus for the fourth time in the war an army was defeated and forced to retreat across the Korean Peninsula which became accustomed to misery, suffering and death.  Ridgway, more methodical and sensible than MacArthur, moved carefully and managed to liberate Seoul and advance up to a line roughly along the 38th Parallel.  There his forces dug in, consolidated and waited for an expected Chinese counter-offensive.

At this point the Chinese misread the situation as badly as MacArthur had in late 1950 and felt confident they could attack and repeat their successes of the previous autumn and winter.  Unfortunately for them with a few exceptions such as the eventual over running of the brave Gloucestershire Regiment in the “Battle of Imjin River” their attacks were broken up by superior firepower and well manned defences by America and her allies.  Given China did not have the industry, expertise and technology in 1951 point to create a modern military to tackle these obstacles there was no chance she could break the deadlock.  On the other side America had plenty of these assets but not enough troops, or political capital, among her populace or leaders to make the requisite efforts, or sacrifices, needed to break the stalemate either.  The only conventional power that could have broken the stalemate were the strong armoured forces of the Soviet Union which probably could have intervened and kicked American forces out of Korea but at the risk of seeing American nukes falling on Moscow and Leningrad.

As such after China’s failed attempt to win a decisive victory in the spring of 1951 both sides knew the war would probably end in stalemate.  What is really absurd, and sad, is that the war continued on, although on a much smaller pace and intensity, for two years.  There were many skirmishes, America napalmed Korean cities to ash, and both Korean regimes committed many war crimes and atrocities but the last two years became increasingly anti-climatic.  Eventually the death of Josef Stalin, China and North Korea conceded on a few negotiation points, and subtle American threats regarding nuclear weapons finally resulted in a ceasefire that effectively ended the war but did not lead to peace between North and South Korea.  Regarding prisoner exchanges over 20,000 Communist prisoners refused to be repatriated versus 300 South Koreans and 20 Western soldiers which perhaps illustrates even at this early stage of the “Cold War” that Communism was not seen as a pleasant form of governance.

Although the war did last 3 years most of the crucial events and fighting occurred in the first year.  This period saw incredible advances and retreats up and down the Korean Peninsula.  Like the “Western Desert Campaign” of 1940-1943 territory switched hands multiple times as North Korea initially overran all of South Korea except the Pusan perimeter only to be defeated at Inchon and lose all but a small corner of North Korea to American and allied forces.  Then China attacked America’s over extended forces and pushed them out of North Korea, took Seoul and was seemingly on the verge of overrunning South Korea as well.  However, American forces were reinforced, rallied and then first stopped the Chinese advance and then counter-attacked, liberated Seoul a second time and regained much of the line at the 38th parallel.  Finally China launched a fifth round of major fighting by attempting to gain a decisive victory and once this failed stalemate was inevitable.  Therefore in less than a year the fortunes of war turned no less than 4 times between the respective sides, favouring one and then the other in numerous successions.  This is a rarity in military history.

Pyongyang was taken by American forces then re-taken by Chinese forces while Seoul changed hands four times!  Unsurprisingly most battles, serious fighting and casualties occurred during this first year.  Forty percent of all allied casualties occurred under MacArthur’s brief tenure which did not include China’s “Fifth Phase Offensive” in the spring of 1951 or Ridgway’s subsequent counterattacks which pushed the Chinese north of much of the 38th Parallel.  Meanwhile North Korean forces had been gutted during the first year and as China became more sensible regarding tactics her forces suffered less casualties in the last two years as well.  Thus the period from late June 1950 to July 1951 witnessed at least more than 50% of all military casualties during the war.  

After this the tempo of the war slowed down and later events of the conflict are not rememberer as well.  Even military history enthusiasts who know the main battles and events during the first part of the war would be hard pressed to detail the chronology from mid-1951 onwards.  Given after mid-1951 no impressive advances or victories occurred this is understandable but also regrettable.  Perhaps it is one reason why the “Korean War,” sandwiched between America’s finest hour in “World War 2” and her ultimate humiliation and failure in Vietnam, is a mostly forgotten conflict.

What about the results of the war?  Unsurprisingly everyone claimed victory.  America claimed victory despite losing her chance to unify both Koreas and China claimed victory although failing to overrun South Korea.  South Korea claimed victory despite much of her territory being overrun four times while North Korea claimed victory even though her invasion failed, she had to be bailed out by China and most of her urban centres were levelled by bombs and napalm (America dropped more bombs on North Korea than she used in the “Pacific War”).  As such Jan Halliday and Bruce Cumings’ observation that “Each side proclaims that it won, yet each actually seems to feel that it lost” initially appears indisputable.

In an operational sense the war resulted in stalemate as neither side decisively defeated the other and territorial changes were minor (both sides roughly occupied the 38th Parallel again but the Americans and South Korea gained a bit more territory overall).

China was able to present the war as a victory to her people by claiming she had saved North Korea from occupation as well as fighting the American superpower to a standstill.  Certainly North Korea was secured as a buffer zone to protect China against foreign aggression and China’s reputation was enhanced by the war.  Meanwhile Americans were less satisfied by the war’s outcome as they were disappointed by the stalemate, heavy casualties, and indecisive results so soon after “World War 2.”  Indeed Harry Truman’s approval rating fell as low as 22% during the war and was only 32% by the time he left office.

These are among the lowest approval ratings of American Presidents in modern times.  Only Nixon had it worse with a 22% approval rating in January 1974 and 24% when he left office.  George Bush Junior did better than both with an approval rating that never went below 25% even during the worst days of the “Iraq War” and left office with a 34% rating.  Even the erratic, divisive Donald Trump has so far beat these figures with initial approval ratings hovering in the 40s but admittedly falling into the lower 30s recently.  Ironically Lyndon Johnson, the architect of America’s most divisive war in Vietnam beats all of them as his lowest approval rating was at 34% but he left office with 49%.  To be fair to Truman he is well regarded in more recent times (much more so then the other Presidents listed here) and is generally cited among the top ten most effective American Presidents.

Despite Truman’s poor approval ratings America and South Korea were the real winners in terms of strategic objectives and long term effects.  The “Korean War” was an attempt by North Korea, and her communist supporters, to change the status quo in East Asia by force whereas the main strategic goals of South Korea and America were generally defensive (the abortive effort to reunify Korea in late 1950 being mostly opportunistic).  Therefore a stalemate technically benefited American and South Korean interests.  Seen from the context of 1950 where Russia had just acquired nuclear weapons, the CCP had recently triumphed in the “Chinese Civil War,” and where Communist insurgencies were popping up from Malaysia to the Philippines the “Korean War” gave America a chance to draw the line in the Far East.  From 1950 onwards America responded more to Communist actions including defending Taiwan, supporting nations against communist insurgencies, intervening more in the war in Indochina and tripling her defence budget.  If the Communist Bloc hoped the “Korean War” would gain them an advantage they clearly miscalculated.  To be fair this was a double edged sword considering the end game in Vietnam but with the eventual “Sino-Soviet Split” (whose genesis arguably dates from the “Korean War”) and end result of the “Cold War” no one doubts America and her allies won in the end.

Likewise for South Korea the war was terrible and tragic but at least she escaped the conflict free from North Korean occupation.  Fast forward several decades later and South Korea’s dictatorship transferred to a democracy while the nation became rich and prosperous.

Ironically given she did the most to provoke the conflict North Korea was the biggest loser in the “Korean War.”  By failing to overrun South Korea, her cities reduced to ruin, becoming a virtual vassal state of Communist China, and most of her captured soldiers refusing to return home, North Korea’s results in the war were less than satisfactory.  As North Korea continues to be the last holdout of Stalinism, and is associated with concentration camps, famine and oppression no reasonable or objective person could credit her with victory of any sort.

What of the costs of war?  While the “Vietnam War” is disproportionately cited as a bloody, dirty war the mostly forgotten conflict in Korea was worse.  Whereas the “Vietnam War” saw 2-3 million casualties in a decade of war the conflict in Korea saw 3-4 million casualties in 3 years (with a disproportionate amount caused in the first year).  As in most conflicts casualty figures are varied and controversial but there is no doubt China and North Korea suffered the worst casualties whereas South Korean casualties were a bit lower and America and other combatants got off much lighter.  

Chinese casualties were almost exclusively militarily and are estimated between 400,000 and 900,000 dead, wounded or captured.  North Korea probably lost between 650,000-750,000 military casualties while South Korea likely suffered 600,000 military casualties (although some estimates suggest approximately 900,000).  Both Koreas had disproportionate civilians casualties numbering perhaps 1 million for the South and maybe as high as 1.5 million for the North (in the North mostly due to American bombing and privations and in the South due to most of the land war being fought on her soil).  American casualties were roughly 50,000 dead which was similar to Vietnam.  America’s UN allies and a few Soviets airmen should not be forgotten but their casualties were minuscule versus the main combatants.

Finally we should compare the “Korean War” to America’s other major wars of the 20th Century.  Regarding both World Wars, Vietnam and the “Gulf War” only “World War 2” can be said to have benefited America as much as the “Korean War.”  “World War 1” boosted America in the short term economically but America quickly withdrew into isolationism, the subsequent “Great Depression” set back America by a decade and she found herself fighting Germany and Japan twenty years later.  The “Vietnam War” was not only a political failure for America but severely undermined her confidence in war making which she has never really regained.  Meanwhile America’s best military showing in the “Gulf War” did not result in the expected settlement of Middle Eastern issues in her favour but instead helped usher in decades of terrorism, wars and instability which still plagues the region, and much of the world, today.  Despite the looney rogue state in Pyongyang the legacy of the “Korean War” appears favourable to these outcomes indeed given the Far East has been relatively stable and growing more prosperous, and democratic, ever since.

The “Korean War” was America’s first major war of the “Cold War” and despite the dramatic advances and retreats, triumphs and tragedies, disappointments and stalemate America and South Korea can claim victory.  The Communist Bloc wanted to change the status quo in East Asia with this war and by meeting the challenge, and holding South Korea, America contained communism in the region and reassured her allies.  The war was disproportionately bloody, even more so than the “Vietnam War,” but since South Korea is a prosperous democracy while the North is a Stalinist nightmare it is clear the South benefited more in the end.  Thus despite being America’s forgotten war of the 20th Century the conflict in Korea had a better legacy than Vietnam, the “Gulf War” and “World War 1” whose long term affects were more mixed and less beneficial to American interests.


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